month march 09, edition 000450, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
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- VICTIMS DESERVE JUSTICE
- ISLAMABAD'S POSTER BOY
- MORE PRIVILEGED THAN OTHERS - A SURYA PRAKASH
- FOCUS ON THE FUNDAMENTALS - ASHWANI MAHAJAN
- LAHORE BOMBED AGAIN - B RAMAN
- SENSING THE MOOD IN US - BARRY RUBIN
- THE AFPAK ENDGAME IS NIGH
- FIGHTING TO KEEP UTTARAKHAND GREEN - DINESH PANT
- YADAV TROIKA SHREDS BILL AND HOUSE SANCTITY TO PIECES
- SUBTERFUGE BY MALE MPS ACROSS POLITICAL DIVIDE - BY SOWMYA AJI IN NEW DELHI
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- BLOCK AND TACKLE
- RAPE RUCKUS
- HOW TO END A GREEK TRAGEDY
- GIVE VOICE TO THE VOICELESS
- FIRST, ENSURE RIGHTS OF HUMANS - KAUTILYA KUMAR
- A BLOG BY A BAINGAN - SATISH K SHARMA
- CUT OUT THE MIDDLEMEN
- THIS WOMAN'S DAY
- ALL OUT IN THE OPEN - ANAND VASU
- WHAT A CHARADE
- MANDAL FADE-OUT
- ONE-THIRD DONE - PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
- NOWHERE TO GO BUT DOWN - YOGINDER K. ALAGH
- LITTLE MOVIES THAT COULD SHUBHRA GUPTA
- AN IIT OF ITS OWN? - SARITHA RAI
- A HARD TRUDGE TO DEMOCRACY
- OBAMA'S TRANS-ATLANTIC DISCONNECT
- BIG SUGAR DRAMA
- THE GENDER EQUATION
- IN FAVOUR OF THE SMALL INVESTOR - SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN
- WHY AUTO WILL NOT HIT BRAKES NOW - DARLINGTON JOSE HECTOR
- RANBAXY NEEDS A BOOSTER - MG ARUN
- DINOSAUR-EATING SNAKE
- A REVERSAL OF STANCE
- TO HESITATE NOW WILL BE FATAL FOR CONGRESS - SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN
- AT THE OSCARS, AUSTERITY IS SO 2009 - ALESSANDRA STANLEY
- A TURNING POINT FOR GENDER EQUALITY - HELEN CLARK
- KARZAI RECEIVES A MIXED RECEPTION IN MARJAH - SANGAR RAHIMI AND RICHARD A. OPPEL JR.
- BAD SHOW
- PEACE OFFERING
- THE PLIGHT OF THE FARMER - NILOTPAL BASU
- RESERVATIONS AND THE IDEA OF EQUALITY - PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR
- TRY SAEED FOR 26/11
- GROUNDWATER DEPLETION
- WORLD CUP LESSONS
- DISRUPTIONS IN LEGISLATURES - BY K. SUBRAHMANYAM
- RIGHTING MY WRITING - BY SUDHAMAHI REGUNATHAN
- DELHI SCHEME COMES TO RESCUE OF DAUGHTERS - BY O.P. SHARMA AND CARL HAUB
- IRAQ PAYS A PRICE FOR 'DEMOCRACY' - BY ROBERT FISK
- DELHI DURBAR
- DON'T SLAM THE WRONG PEOPLE
- REST NOW, GYM LATER
- THE OPTIONS IN AFGHANISTAN
- TAKING COVER
- HARVESTING FRESHNESS - SURINDER SUD
- MANAGING INDIA'S IMAGE IN AF-PAK - AJAI SHUKLA
- DEBT AND EXIT - SUMAN BERY
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- HALF OF HALF THE SKY
- IPL'S OVER-THE-TOP DOLLARS
- WHEN TOO LITTLE IS TOO MUCH
- THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
- 15% GBS hike decent amid funds crunch - Amiti Sen
- ACTIONS OF SOME MPS DISGRACEFUL
- DO A STRATEGY RETHINK BY SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY
- LOOKING AT US RECESSION IN AN IRISH MIRROR - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- WILL WOMEN'S BILL CHANGE THINGS? YES. - BY JAYATI GHOSH
- LIFE, VERSE AND ADAB - BY MUZAFFAR ALI
- ASHRAM DEATHS
- POETIC LICENCE
- JAWANS' HOUSING
- AFFLUENCE FOR THE FEW... - BY AMIYA KUMAR BAGCHI
- WHAT'S YOUR LEGACY, DR SINGH?
- HEARD THAT BEFORE - SUDHA PALIT
- STANDING BY CHILE IN DISTRESS
- MAJOR DEMAND
- NEW FRONTIER
- ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT - ASHOK V. DESAI
- QUESTION OF HONOUR - - MALVIKA SINGH
- DREAMS, SONGS, LAUGHTER AND ROSES, BUT ALSO BREAD
- DRACONIAN BILL
- FUND DEVOLUTION
- TOWARDS SETTLEMENT - BY B G VERGHESE
- LOOT IN THE NAME OF MALNOURISHED CHILD - BY VATSALA VEDANTAM
- WINNING THE HEART - BY DOROTHY VICTOR
THE JERUSALEM POST
- ASHKENAZI GOT IT RIGHT
- OPPOSING THE DIGITAL POGROM - BY DANIEL SEAMAN
- SOME THOUGHTS ON 'ISRAEL APARTHEID WEEK' - BY LARRY DERFNER
- CANDIDLY SPEAKING: THOSE BLEEDING-HEART JOURNALISTS - BY ISI LEIBLER
- WASHINGTON WATCH: QUID PRO BUPKISS - BY DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD
- SELF-RESPECT ISN'T A HANDOUT - BY GREG TEPPER
- WHAT A HUTZPA - BY BEN-DROR YEMINI
- A TROUBLING WARNING IN HOLLYWOOD
- AN OBLIGATION TO RUSH IN - BY YOEL MARCUS
- FAILING TO LEARN FROM GREECE - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
- SHEDDING LIGHT ON THE IMBROGLIO - BY MOSHE ARENS
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- IRAQIS VOTE
- A NONFRIVOLOUS SUIT
- HEALTHY SOLUTION: TAXING SODAS
- TELEVISION IS NOT FREE AND DOES NOT WANT TO BE - BY EDUARDO PORTER
- THE EMOTION OF REFORM - BY DAVID BROOKS
- THE SOURCE OF OBAMA'S TROUBLE - BY BOB HERBERT
- FOR IRAQI VOTERS, A DIZZYING DEMOCRACY - BY BARTLE BREESE BULL
- LESSONS FROM LAHORE
- CREATIVE APPOINTMENT
- CAPTURE IN KARACHI
- PREVENTING THE MILITANTS' COMEBACK - RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI
- THE STAR THAT FAILED TO SHINE - JAVED JABBAR
- THE NEXT FINANCE MINISTER - MOSHARRAF ZAIDI
- DOERS AND TALKERS DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
- THE THAW THAT WASN'T - DR MALEEHA LODHI
- THE WAY FORWARD IN FATA (PART II)AYAZ WAZIR
- TO PROVIDE MORE FACILITIES TO FARMERS
- UPGRADING WOMEN'S ROLE IN PAKISTAN
- "NAKED" FULL BODY SCANNING
- UNWARRANTED INDIA'S CONCERNS - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
- TALKS FOR THE SAKE OF TALKS? - DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN
- WHO IS PROPELLING OBAMA ON WARPATH? - DR S M RAHMAN
- JUSTICE FOR ALL - SHAIMA SUMAYA
- IT'S TIME FOR US TO END OCCUPATION - JOHN CONYERS JR
- ECONOMIC INVENTORY
- MRT PROJECT
- COAL OR DIAMOND..!
- STRENGTHENING THE FOREIGN OFFICE - M SHAFIULLAH
- CURRENT INFLATIONARY TRENDS: VIEWED FROM OTHER SIDE - HARADHAN GANGULY
- A PITCH TO 'WORKING FAMILIES'
- NOW IS THE TIME TO BUILD ON THIS KEY RELATIONSHIP
- WEN WANTS TO SHARE THE WEALTH
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- A DEPARTMENT ON THE SPREE
- HIS HONOUR V VINDICTIVENESS
- SBY VISIT SHOWS NEED FOR CLOSER PARTNERSHIP
- IRAQ'S PURPLE BADGE OF COURAGE
- IRAQ AFTER THE ELECTIONS: SLOGGING TOWARDS STABILITY
- IN PRAISE OF LISA JARDINE
- NORTHERN IRELAND: THE CONSERVATIVES AND THE PEACE PROCESS
THE KOREA HERALD
- ABORTION DEBATES
- WOMEN'S STATUS
- SINO-AMERICAN TRADE CONFLICT LOOMING - LEE JAE-MIN
- HOW SAFE ARE YOUR DOLLAR INVESTMENTS? - MARTIN FELDSTEIN
THE JAPAN TIMES
- LONGER ARM OF JUSTICE
- CLUSTER BOMB BAN MOVES FORWARD
- HATOYAMA'S GROWTH STRATEGY FOR ECONOMY RAISES QUESTIONS - BY SHINJI FUKUKAWA
- INTOLERANCE IN INDIA PUTTING ARTISTS TO FLIGHT - BY GAUTAMAN BHASKARAN
THE JAKARTA POST
- NIGGLING NEIGHBORS SOUTH
- MODERNIZATION, SEX AND HIV IN BALIEM - RONALD GUNAWAN
- BRIDGE BUILDING BETWEEN RI AND AUSTRALIA - DEWI ANGGRAENI
- POST INQUIRY: EFFECTIVENESS OF GOVERNMENT IS AT STAKE - BAHTIAR EFFENDY
- KUDOS TO REVISION OF LAW
- POOR MARKS FOR PROPOSAL
- THE UNFINISHED WAR GAME IN IRAQ BY AN HUIHOU (CHINA DAILY)
- A TURNING POINT FOR GENDER EQUALITY IN ASIA - BY HELEN CLARK (CHINA DAILY)
- THE RUSH TO UNTIE PURSES - BY SUN LIJIAN (CHINA DAILY)
- DON'T MISS THE FOREST FOR THE TREES - BY CHEN WEIHUA (CHINA DAILY)
- TROPHY THEATRICS AND FONSEKA FAST
- THE UN PANEL OF EXPERTS AND A RECONCILIATION COMMISSION ALTERNATIVE
- MIGRANT WORKERS AND THE RIGHT TO VOTE
- SEPARATING THE WHEAT FROM THE CHAFF - BY MILINDA RAJASEKERA
- HEAVY STAKES
- EYES ON PIES
- DEMOCRACY IS SUBLIME: FREEDOM IS GREATER THAN BREAD - BIRENDRA P MISHRA
- TOPICS: AT LOGGERHEADS - UDAY LAMA
- BLOG SURFS: CARE GIVING - DONNA RYAN
VICTIMS DESERVE JUSTICE
MARRIAGE OFFER CANNOT MITIGATE RAPE
Speaking at a conference called on the issue of justice to and rehabilitation of rape victims, the Chief Justice of India, Mr KG Balakrishnan, made the observation that "due regard" be given to the "personal autonomy" of a woman who may want to marry her rapist. As he explained, social compulsions and the issue of paternity of a child born of such "forced intercourse" may cause some women to agree to withdraw charges against their assailants and instead marry them. Of course, what sort of a father and husband such a man would make is quite another matter. In theory, the Chief Justice has not said anything objectionable it would be absurd to deny social realities as they exist, especially beyond our cities and towns. Moreover, if an adult woman wants to marry an adult man, whatever his previous misconduct, society has to accept it. The danger is this does not necessarily serve the purpose of the law. With the victim and her family forced or persuaded into withdrawing their complaint and not providing crucial evidence in exchange of what could prove to be a sham marriage, the rapist could simply get away. Without deterrent action, a criminal would be out on the streets and potentially a danger to other women. The fact that he is now married to a former victim and is the father of her child would not necessarily mitigate his essential criminality. As far as the legal system is concerned, this man would still need to be punished.
True, India is an immensely patriarchal society. In large parts of the country, women simply don't have the freedom and individual liberty that is their natural and constitutional right. It is also a fair assumption that a victim of rape, other than in enlightened sections of society, just does not have the family and social support structure to recover from the psychological trauma and get on with life. Even marriage becomes a big question mark. In these circumstances, especially if the assailant and his family make what appears to be a reasonable offer, the girl is sometimes nudged into accepting the idea of becoming the wife of the very man who violated her honour and dignity. While being completely sensitive to this situation, the judiciary has to, however, uphold the law and ensure quick and effective punishment for what is the most bestial of all human crimes. A murder cannot be compensated, much less forgiven, if the murderer agrees to pay his victim's dependants a lifelong person. That is not justice, it is barter. It can be decreed by illegitimate khap panchayats and qazi courts but certainly cannot be approbated by the Supreme Court of India. It would be best if the issue of legal remedy for a rape victim were kept entirely separate from the provision of societal justice, relief and rehabilitation. The two are different and must remain different even if the villain (and convict) in the first becomes the husband in the second.
One of the problems with dealing with incidents of rape and curbing this crime in India has been an abysmally low rate of conviction. In fact, suggestions that rape be made punishable by death have been contested precisely on the grounds that the level of evidence required in case of a capital crime is extraordinarily high and conviction will be rendered even more difficult. If it becomes apparent that an offer of marriage will become a consideration in any manner before the court, the chances of confusing the course of evidencegathering will only rise. Conviction rates, as Mr Balakrishnan must know, will suffer that much more.
ISLAMABAD'S POSTER BOY
HAFIZ SAEED REFLECTS PAKISTAN'S TAKE ON TERROR
It is absolutely astonishing that Pakistan is now claiming that India never even raised the issue of Jamaat ud-Dawa'h alias Lashkar-e-Tayyeba chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed's arrest during the Foreign Secretary-level talks between the two countries held last month. The truth is that not only was the issue forcefully brought up by New Delhi on that occasion a detailed dossier on Saeed's nefarious deeds was handed over to the Pakistani delegation but that India has been demanding action against the terror mastermind ever since the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai. For Islamabad or Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to be more precise to now claim that it is not even aware of the fact that New Delhi wants Saeed to be brought to book for perpetrating terrorism is as mischievous as it is provocative. The very fact that Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, after the talks with his Indian counterpart, had stated that the dossier on Saeed was, in his opinion, more of 'literature' than evidence is proof that the issue had indeed been brought to the table by the Indian side. Meanwhile, Pakistani authorities continue to give Saeed a huge amount of latitude in making hate speeches against India. He had threatened India with jihad on the eve of the Foreign Secretary-level talks and again indulged in vitriolic speeches last Sunday, accusing India of 'stealing' water from 'Pakistani' rivers by building 'illegal' dams. This is a man whose organisation has been proscribed by the UN for terrorist activities. Yet he enjoys the freedom to stand in the middle of downtown Lahore and indulge in jihadi hate-mongering.
It is quite clear that Hafiz Saeed has emerged as a useful pawn in Islamabad's hands. Perhaps the 26/11 attacks convinced the Islamabad-Rawalpindi establishment that Saeed should be given a more prominent role in conducting Pakistan's foreign policy vis-à-vis India. Islamabad's handling of Hafiz Saeed only confirms the fact that it continues to see terrorism as a convenient tool to achieve its vested interests. Pakistan believes that Saeed and his terror network can bog down the Indian security establishment more than anything else. This is precisely the reason why it continues to handle the JuD chief with kid gloves. Mr Bashir, after his talks with Ms Nirupama Rao, had said that India should not keep naming one individual and predicate everything on action against him. But there is good logic behind India's insistence and no reason why it should change its position. Action on Hafiz Saeed is a must for the composite dialogue process to move forward.
MORE PRIVILEGED THAN OTHERS
A SURYA PRAKASH
On March 13, 2009, I had drawn the attention of the Election Commission of India to the unfair advantage accruing to the Congress because of the naming of Central and State Government schemes and programmes after icons of that party. Since a majority of the schemes of the Union Government are named after just three members of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, I had said that there could never be a level playing field for all political parties unless this process was reversed. I had urged the commission to issue a direction to the Government to ensure that the nomenclature of public schemes and programmes remained politically neutral.
The main points made in this letter to the Chief Election Commissioner and the legal issues involved were discussed in articles published by this newspaper at that time. On the first anniversary of this complaint, I am constrained to inform readers that I have not received any communication from the commission until now. Although hundreds of crores of rupees are spent to run this key constitutional body, the Election Commission obviously lacks discipline, the democratic temper and basic manners to write back to citizens who raise substantive issues.
The main points made in that letter to the CEC were as follows:
Over the last 18 years there has been a sustained effort by the Congress to name all major Government programmes, projects and institutions in the country after three members of the Nehru-Gandhi family Jawaharlal Nehru, Mrs Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Roughly about 450 Central and State Government programmes, projects and national and State-level institutions involving public expenditure of hundreds of thousands of crores of rupees have been named after these three individuals. All the social sector schemes, barring one, are named after these them.
While there are hundreds of Government schemes and programmes, some of the programmes that involve huge outgo of funds are the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana, with an allocation of Rs 28,000 crore during the Eleventh Plan period; the Rajiv Gandhi Drinking Water Mission with a budgetary allocation of Rs 21,000 crore over three years; the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission with Rs 50,000 crore over seven years; the Indira Awas Yojana with an annual allocation of approximately Rs 8,000 crore; and, the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme with an annual budgetary provision of over Rs 3,400 crore.
However, the greed of the Congress, when it comes to appropriating public schemes for party advantage, knows no bounds. The allocation for the national crèche scheme is just Rs 90 crore a year whereas that for the Udyami Mitra Yojana, a programme to help promote micro and small entrepreneurship is a meagre Rs 1 crore to Rs 2 crore a year. Yet, even these programmes are named after Rajiv Gandhi.
State Governments too have been vying with each other to name programmes after these three members of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. For example, children in Pondicherry are expected to remember Rajiv Gandhi whenever they have breakfast, the poor in Andhra Pradesh must remember him whenever they use their health insurance card and farmers in that State who are into calf-rearing must remember his mother. In Haryana, poor women must remember Mrs Indira Gandhi at the time of marriage because the shagun paid out of the public exchequer to them comes in her name.
There are hundreds of such schemes and simply no space to list them all. The entire list of 450 schemes, programmes, scholarships, institutions and sports trophies named after these three members of the Nehru-Gandhi family is on my website www.asuryaprakash.com.
I requested the Election Commission to issue directions to the Union Government and to all the Governments in the States to remove the names of individuals, who are seen by the people as icons of specific political parties, from all programmes and schemes funded by the public exchequer.
I said such a direction would also ensure enforcement of the model code of conduct in letter and spirit. The code prohibits even minor misdemeanours like misuse of Government vehicles and personnel by the ruling party during an election, yet it allows the Congress to hijack almost every Government scheme and name schemes worth over Rs 1 lakh crore after just three members of a single family who are icons of the party!
I also drew the attention of the commission to many of its own orders, in which it seemed to be keen to ensure fair play in the electoral arena. In one such direction issued in 2006 it restrained Central and State Ministers from making statements which could affect the conduct of free and fair elections and disturb "the level playing field among political parties in the election arena". If mere statements of Ministers can disturb the "level playing field", how is it that the commission allows a single political party to go on a naming spree and derive electoral advantage for perpetuity over all other political parties?
Though the commission has been silent on my complaint, there have been some developments over the past year. I had said a year ago that while Union Government programmes involving annual expenditure of lakhs of crores of rupees were named after members of the Nehru-Gandhi family, no major Government programme was named after Mahatma Gandhi. Anxious to hide its bias, the Union Government has now named the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme after Mahatma Gandhi!
However, after this show of tokenism, it has once again lapsed into its old ways and named the Worli-Bandra sea link after Rajiv Gandhi. Since this bridge is an engineering marvel, it ought to have been named after one of India's greatest engineers someone like the engineer-statesman Sir M Visveswaraya but it seems we are asking for too much when we insist that the Congress and the Nehru-Gandhis honour the true builders of modern India.
What do you make of the Election Commission's silence on the issues raised a year ago? Is this indeed a public institution that is still competent to fulfill its constitutional mandate and is it capable of taking independent decisions? I would leave it to the readers to determine what implication the commission's silence has in regard to its impartiality and commitment to the conduct of free and fair elections in the country.
FOCUS ON THE FUNDAMENTALS
During the 1990s, eight to 10 per cent of our planned expenditure was spent on agriculture. In the last decade, this figure has come down to 2.5 per cent. Although the Government shows concern about agriculture in every Budget, this is nothing but mere lip service. Last year the Government spent a meagre Rs 10,123 crore on this crucial sector of the economy, which amounted to 2.37 per cent of the planned expenditure and hardly one per cent of the total expenditure of the Union Budget. In this year's Budget, the figure is 2.34 per cent of the planned expenditure. When the country is facing an agriculture crisis, this depicts insensitivity on the part of the Government.
In this year's Budget, to the surprise of many, wastage in handling of agriculture produce was put down as the biggest problem with agriculture in India. The Union Finance Minister reiterated the Prime Minister's earlier proposal that this problem be mitigated by bringing in foreign retailers. His argument is that these retailers have an efficient supply chain which can help in reducing wastage. But since the Government has not come up with any study to prove this point, the move to throw open the agro-retail sector to foreign retailers is devoid of any logic and amounts to nothing but avoiding the hard task of implementing an efficient system of storage and distribution.
Unemployment is another area of major concern. Even though according to the Government's own statistics unemployment is on the rise, the Finance Minister has chosen to keep mum on the issue. Perhaps the Government thinks that its duty in this regard ends by allocating funds for schemes like NREGS. But such schemes do not provide a long-term solution to the problem. It is imperative to create avenues for permanent employment. This can be ensured by adopting labour intensive policies wherever possible.
Our country's overall infrastructure status is also not up to the mark. We have failed to meet our targets consistently on this front. This trend must be reversed. Unless the Government starts paying more attention to fundamentals such as agriculture and infrastructure development, there cannot be sustainable growth.
LAHORE BOMBED AGAIN
MONDAY'S BOMBING OF THE FEDERAL INVESTIGATION AGENCY OFFICE IN LAHORE WAS EITHER CARRIED OUT BY TEHREEK-E-TALIBAN TO DEMONSTRATE THAT IT STILL HAS THE CAPABILITY TO ATTACK TARGETS IN NON-TRIBAL AREAS OR LASHKAR-E-JHANGVI TO AVENGE THE DEATH OF ITS LEADER IN A US DRONE STRIKE
At least 12 people are reported to have been killed in a suicide bomb attack on a rented building of the Federal Investigation Agency of Pakistan in the residential Model Town area of Lahore on Monday. The large quantity of explosive used brought down the entire building.
This is the first terrorist attack in Lahore this year. Last year, there were five terrorist attacks in Lahore:
October 15: Terrorists attacked offices of law enforcement agencies.
June 12: A prominent anti-Taliban cleric killed by a suicide bomber at his religious school.
May 27: A car bomb attack on police buildings killed 23 persons.
March 30: Gunmen attacked a police academy, killing eight people.
March 3: Gunmen killed six police guards in an ambush of the Sri Lankan cricket team.
The latest attack has taken place after an interval of about five months. There are two possibilities either it was carried out by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan to demonstrate that it still had the capability to attack targets in the non-tribal areas despite the losses suffered by it since the beginning of this year including the reported but unconfirmed death of its chief Hakimullah Mehsud after he was injured in a US drone strike in January or it was carried out by the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in retaliation of the reported death of its leader Qari Mohammad Zafar in a US drone strike in North Waziristan on February 24.
The greater possibility is that the latest attack was carried out by a bomber of the LeJ, which has been operating jointly with the TTP and Al Qaeda and which has the capability for spectacular strikes in Lahore.
Police and FIA-connected targets and a target of the Inter-Services Intelligence have been attacked in Lahore since the beginning of last year because of the terrorists' calculation that instability in Lahore could make the Army and the FIA go slow in their operations against the TTP and the Punjabi Taliban. The targeting of the FIA and the ISI in recent months is due to their being perceived by the TTP and the LeJ as working in close co-operation with the US intelligence agencies in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas. The FIA has also been in receipt of increasing assistance from the US for strengthening its counter-terrorism capability.
The Lahore attack came a day after sections of the Pakistani media had claimed that the Pakistani intelligence agencies had managed to arrest Adam Gadahn, the American convert to Islam, who heads the As-Sahab, the propaganda wing of Al Qaeda from a hideout in a Pashtun inhabited area of Karachi where a large number of Mehsuds from South Waziristan live. Western sources have expressed scepticism about the correctness of the Pakistani claim.
If the Pakistani claim proves to be correct, this is a significant breakthrough in the fight against Al Qaeda. If the Pakistani authorities allow the US agencies to interrogate him, they could have fairly correct information regarding the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Sources in Mr Altaf Hussain's organisation are now alleging that not only leaders of the Afghan Taliban, but also many absconding elements of Al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden, and his No 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri, have shifted to Karachi from North Waziristan to escape the intensified drone attacks by the US's Central Intelligence Agency and that they have been given shelter by their Pashtun sympathisers in Karachi. They further allege that the Pakistani authorities and some of the political leaders are aware of this.
There is no reason to believe that the Lahore attack might have been connected with Gadahn's claimed capture, but retaliatory attacks in Karachi, Rawalpindi and Lahore are likely if it turns out that he has in fact been captured. Whether Gadahn has been captured in Karachi or not, there is a need for an intensified hunt to smoke out Al Qaeda leaders and members from Karachi. After Tora Bora in 2001-02, many of them including Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and bin Laden himself had taken shelter in Karachi, but they ran away from Karachi after Ramzi Binalshib was captured.
If the capture of Gadahn in Karachi proves to be correct, there is bound to be panic in the terrorist hideouts in Karachi and the others taking shelter there might flee back to the tribal areas or might try to escape to Yemen. Strong surveillance to prevent this is necessary.
The writer is an expert on counter-terrorism issues and a former senior official of R&AW.
SENSING THE MOOD IN US
IT IS AT VARIANCE WITH THE WAY OBAMA THINKS!
International relations isn't a popularity contest. But public opinion polls can be useful in countering myths and examining the impact of policy-maker, elite, and media campaigns on the masses.
Which brings us to Gallup's latest poll measuring how Americans feel about different countries. The more one examines the results, the more amazing they are. Americans' two favourites are, not surprisingly, fellow English-speakers Canada and the United Kingdom. Then come Americans are very forgiving two former enemies, Germany and Japan.
And next on the list is Israel. Even the basic numbers 67 favourable, 25 per cent unfavourable are impressive. But that's only the beginning. Around 10 per cent of Americans don't like anybody, and only one-fourth of those 25 per cent nay-sayers on Israel, that is six per cent, are really hostile.
In other words, the percentage of Americans who hate Israel is only six per cent and the number who single out Israel for partly unfavourable views among other popular countries adds about 10 per cent more.
And since 10 per cent of Americans say they like Iran (85 per cent don't), having only a bit more than that number really disliking Israel isn't very impressive.
After 20 years or so of intensive media criticism, hostility on campuses, double standards, and controversy that's nothing short of remarkable.
This conclusion is intensified further by considering the equivalent results for the Palestinian Authority. Remember that one can like both Israel and the PA. Moreover, the PA receives constant good publicity in the media, campuses, and among policy-makers as moderate and friendly to the United States. Yet only 20 per cent are favourable to the PA and a whopping 70 per cent are negative.
Even that understates the results. How popular is the PA? Well, it's at the same level as Yemen, and that's after a suicide bomber trained and indoctrinated there was captured trying to blow up a US airliner near Detroit.
What about the idea that young people are steadily becoming more hostile to Israel? There is a difference but not a huge one. While 70 per cent of those over 55 are favourable to Israel, that number only sinks to 63 per cent for those between 18 and 34. Given the fact that Americans become more moderate and less eager to rebel against prevailing norms as they get older that gap seems even smaller.
The equivalent generational difference for those favouring the PA is 28 to 15, but again a favourable view of the PA does not mean an unfavourable view of Israel. For example, those who see the two as the only conceivable peace partners or consider the PA to be far preferable to Hamas would be favourable toward both.
By the way, support for the PA sank to only 11 per cent when it appeared Hamas was going to seize control also showing how small hardcore support is for the Palestinians. Presumably that same 11 per cent many of them also among the pro-Iran crowd is the hardcore hostile group to Israel.
The other astounding result is the size of the Republican-Democrat gap on Israel. While 80 per cent of Republicans are favourable, only 53 per cent of Democrats are. Democrats are twice as likely to like the PA. In comparison, 64 per cent of Democrats like Egypt, a repressive dictatorship despite its moderate foreign policy, and 56 per cent like Russia.
This might be somewhat misleading since we aren't told whether the other 47 per cent of Democrats who weren't favourable to Israel had no opinion or were only mildly critical. Only 25 per cent of Democrats were favourable to the PA so even there (again, remembering it quite possible to be favourable toward both) a wide gap exists in Israel's favour.
Another indicator is that Israel is the only country that Republicans who presumably include more elements whose patriotism, xenophobia, nationalism, or isolationism make them generally less enthusiastic about other countries generally like more than Democrats, suggesting that it is high support by the former rather than low backing by the latter which could account for the gap.
Two fascinating questions arise from this analysis: What does all this matter, since public opinion doesn't make foreign policy, and why is there such a gap between the most vocal elites and masses on Israel?
The answer to the first question is that it matters to members of Congress who are running for election in November and know that voters don't want to see them bash Israel or support a President in doing so. Indeed, as Mr Obama's popularity has fallen and even the media has become more critical, Congress is reclaiming an independent role on foreign policy-making.
And of course the White House, too, is watching the polls. This is one of the most heavily politicised presidencies in history and the standard there is very high and clearly attacking Israel either isn't seen as beneficial for its ambitions. This isn't the only factor affecting its behaviour but it is one of them.
As to the second issue, there are many factors but let me try to list them briefly. Those who are unhappy with the status quo that is, the US-Israel special relationship, are going to be noisier. Another is the concept of 'realism' which is, unfortunately, extraordinarily unrealistic, the idea that all Governments think alike, defining interest the same way regardless of all other factors.
The writer is director of the GLORIA Center and editor of the MERIA Journal.
THE AFPAK ENDGAME IS NIGH
Gen Kayani's moves suggest that he sees the final lap, argues Nitin Pai US President Barack Obama gave his AfPak speech at West Point on December 1, 2009 where he announced his intention "to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011." Pakistani Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani signalled his policy by the end that month when a suicide bomber attacked a CIA facility at Khost in Afghanistan Mr Obama's speech might have triggered the Pakistani military-jihadi complex into implementing its endgame strategy. Pakistani actions over the last three months suggest that it is both attempting to hasten the US exit from Afghanistan and neutralising the other regional actors Iran and India which might oppose a pro-Pakistan post-US arrangement in Kabul. From the attack on the CIA at Khost; to the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Karachi; to the terrorist attack at German Bakery in Pune; to the raid on Kabul City Centre; to the rendition of Abdolmalek Rigi to Iran; and most recently, the attack on Indian officials at Kabul, Gen Kayani & Co have executed their moves masterfully.
Mullah Baradar was not only a 'moderate' among the Quetta Shura Taliban, but also actually negotiating with the United States and the Karzai Government, against the wishes of the ISI. 'Capturing' him not only allowed Pakistan to undermine the US-Afghan political initiative but also allowed Gen Kayani to be seen as arresting a 'high-ranking Taliban leader'. This was a brilliant move Washington had to praise Pakistan even after receiving a kick below the belt. It was, nevertheless, a significant setback for independent US political efforts in Afghanistan. It meant that the US relies a little more on Pakistan to act as the, well, interlocutor with the Taliban.
Abdolmalek Rigi, the leader of a Iranian-Baloch-Sunni terrorist organisation called Jundallah, was almost certainly a CIA asset. The Iranian Government has accused him of both being a US agent and of having links with Al Qaeda. Both these charges are perhaps true contradictory as they might seem. The ISI allowed him to operate from Pakistani territory, for the CIA, against Iran for several years. But after India, Iran and Russia whose interests were ignored at the London Conference on the future of Afghanistan started coming together, the ISI played the CIA out and handed him over to Iran. The US can't complain too loudly, after all, like Mullah Baradar, hasn't Pakistan just acted against a terrorist with links to Al Qaeda?
(There was the little issue of how to hand Rigi over without setting a precedent that New Delhi might exploit-so an elaborate drama became necessary.)
With Iran it was mollification. With India it is aggression. The attack on Indian officials in Kabul is intended to scare India out of Afghanistan. Even as the Pakistani military-jihadi complex seeks to hasten US military withdrawal, it is working towards installing its proxies into the corridors of power in Kabul. It will allow President Hamid Karzai to remain in office just long enough to provide a political cover for the US but before long, a pro-Pakistan regime will take his place.
Is Gen Kayani overplaying his hand? Maybe. But bringing the situation to a head before 2011 works to Pakistan's advantage.
Will the US watch silently as the Pakistani military-jihadi complex destroys its assets and brazenly, if cleverly frustrates its designs? Will the vaunted COIN campaign work fast enough? Will the US intensify its covert war inside Pakistan to counter Gen Kayani's moves? Let's see.
FIGHTING TO KEEP UTTARAKHAND GREEN
FROM CHIPKO MOVEMENT TILL NOW, WOMEN HAVE BEEN IN FOREFRONT OF FOREST CONSERVATION, WRITES DINESH PANT
Today women's empowerment has become a buzzword. Yet there is a niggling question: Are we really conscious of the myriad roles that women take on to sustain and protect not only their family but also community and environment? More specifically do we fully understand and appreciate their contribution in various spheres, not merely as an 'event' but an ongoing process for strengthening society?
A glimpse into the lives of Uttarakhand's women will answer these questions. The difficult mountain terrain and the cold climate mean a harsh life for its people. For the women here, the burden is more acute. Yet in the midst of their daily struggle, time and time again, they have raised their voice and taken collective action to protect environment.
Many a time, it begins with a lone voice, like that of Gaura Devi, an illiterate woman from Ranai village in Garhwal who in 1973 began spreading the message of saving forests by visiting every house in her own and surrounding villages.
Devi's impassioned plea flowered into the famous Chipko movement. Not only did they stop this mindless destruction of forests, women undertook reforestation in areas which were denuded.
Since then a large number of Mahila Mangal Dals in Garhwal have taken up this cause. Thalisaind, Dabsoli, Tangsa, Khula to name a few.
Women from Bacher village, Chamoli district came into direct confrontation with local mafia, involved in illegal felling of trees. Wood-laden trucks were waylaid by these women emboldened enough to question contractors directly.
The stellar work of Mahila Mangal Dal was recognised by the Government and it was presented with the Indira Priyadarshini Vruksha Mitra Award in 1984 by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. It was a reiteration of the spirit of these women to oppose those who were plundering the green wealth of their hills.
Prema Devi of Upradi village, Uttarkashi, could not bear to see the surrounding forests being denuded. She began a one-woman crusade that gradually gained momentum. Today these women have the motivation and resilience to take on the forest mafia operating in the region.
In Tangsa village it was quite different. Here unlike Bacher village, there were no trees to protect. The land was denuded and barren. Women here decided to begin a movement to plant fruit trees outside the village. In a few years the area went through a transformation with abundant greenery putting an end to the problems of fuel and fodder. Today the fruit-bearing trees provide economic sustainability to many. Here in Tangsa village, through collective action the women had effectively become the protectors of their land, water and forests.
The spirit of these women seems to resonate across the mountainous region. And the issues they have taken up are critical to the region. For instance, in 1977 women in Kheerakot, Almora had raised their voice against the mining for soapstone which was reducing their entire village to a dust-bowl. Pitted against the powerful mining lobby, these women were threatened, coerced and alternately offered incentives to quit. Yet all this came to naught in the face of their unflinching belief. Finally, in 1982 the Government was forced to shut down mining activities.
All over Uttarakhand, such movements have spontaneously risen but in a sense they go beyond being location-specific events. They reflect an underlying belief running like a common thread through the women in the region.
Their efforts, at individual level and community
These women living in villages, near forests, in tiny hamlets all over the hilly terrain are far from being tutored formally in principles of science, ecology, economy or social behaviour. Yet they represent a voice of reason, sanity and harmony in the region.
Whatever they do reflects wisdom and an understanding of core principles on which a society can live in harmony with the environment. This message needs to be spread across the world.
YADAV TROIKA SHREDS BILL AND HOUSE SANCTITY TO PIECES
BY SOWMYA AJI IN NEW DELHI
p> IT WAS 1998, 1999 and 2008 revisited on Monday as the women's reservation bill was torn to shreds after it was moved in the Rajya Sabha. This time, too, the instigators of the turmoil in both houses of Parliament were the three Yadavs.
In fact right from 1996, when the bill was introduced, the troika has opposed it tooth and nail. While none of the three Mulayam Singh Yadav of the SP, Lalu Prasad of the RJD and Sharad Yadav of the JD- U are members of the Upper House, their followers used violent methods and unparliamentary antics to put a spanner in the works this time too.
They jumped onto Vice- President and Rajya Sabha chairperson Hamid Ansari's table, grabbed his mike, tore up the bill and threw the pieces at him, leaving all the others in the House of Elders aghast.
In the Lok Sabha also, members of the SP and the RJD rushed into the well of the House shouting slogans, tearing up legislative papers and throwing them.
An SP MP trying to advance towards Speaker Meira Kumar's chair stopped only after Mulayam signalled him to.
Several floor leaders in the Upper House as well as senior ministers later apologised to Ansari for what actually appeared an attack on his chair by MPs of the SP, RJD and a suspended JD- U member. But the Yadav troika was unapologetic. Nor did any of their floor leaders express any regret.
Instead, Lalu stood outside Parliament and proclaimed: " Ninety per cent of the men are against this bill and we will not allow it to be passed at any cost. This bill is political dacoity, we will not tolerate it." Mulayam was even blunter: " We will cross all Lakshman rekhas and stop it." Lalu and Mulayam, being old hands at political gamesmanship, also announced that they were withdrawing support to the UPA government. This had the immediate effect of putting the Congress- led UPA on the back foot, particularly over upcoming finance bills.
The government will be in a minority with 267 members in the 545- member Lok Sabha five short of a simple majority if all the opponents of the bill withdraw support.
Mulayam's argument for opposing the bill and withdrawing support is the same he, Lalu and Sharad have been mouthing for the past 14 years. " This draft law is an attempt by the Congress and the BJP to appease the influential upper class. Women from only this section will benefit from the bill." Mulayam is also projecting himself as the guardian of the other backward classes ( OBCs) and Muslims by demanding a sub- reservation within the 33 per cent women quota This is worrying the Congress because Muslims are their major votebank.
Mulayam's strategy has been precise.
On Sunday, the eve of the women's bill being tabled in Parliament, he said: " There are no Muslim MPs from Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Haryana. How will a Muslim woman win without reservation?" He has played the same card on the OBCs also, leaving the Congress scurrying for cover.
The third operator, Sharad Yadav, was invisible this time round. One of the most virulent opponents of the bill, he had earlier ruffled feathers by making the observation that " only parkati ( short- haired) women will benefit ( from the bill", implying middle and upper middle- class women.
Sharad's stand was severely criticised and condemned by women's organisations and women MPs. But he appears to be sticking to his guns, for he extolled in Parliament just last week: " Like Socretes drank poison to establish the truth, so will I to show the truth about the women's reservation bill." Sharad has, however, had to operate backstage this time because his party colleague and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar suddenly changed his mind about opposing the bill.
Consequently, the JD- U is a house divided.
SUBTERFUGE BY MALE MPS ACROSS POLITICAL DIVIDE
BY SOWMYA AJI IN NEW DELHI
ON INTERNATIONAL Women's Day, the bill meant to give them reservation in Parliament appeared to have been stalled by male MPs cutting across party lines.
With the bill stipulating 33 per cent reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and assembly seats, male MPs are staring at the prospect of being displaced from their political perches. This has led to wide- spread dissatisfaction and gloom among them. In fact, they see their salvation only in the hands of the Yadav troika which has stalled the bill since 1996.
The whip issued by the Congress, the BJP and the Left to support the bill has tied the hands of MPs of these parties. But they are now hoping that the Yadavs will continue to be successful. " If the bill is put to vote without a whip, 90 per cent of the MPs will vote against it. We are forced to and we are hoping it will not happen," a senior Congress MP, who did not wish to be named, told M AIL T ODAY . There is cloaked dissension in other political parties, too. These include the BJP. The Left is the sole exception to this, as even the male MPs from the CPM and CPI have extended whole- hearted support to the bill.
The lack of interest and planning was most evident in the Congress on Monday.
Though party chief Sonia Gandhi whose word is normally law stuck her neck out and said the bill must
be passed, none of the Congress crisis managers got When confronted with the antics of the Samajawadi Party,
RJD and JD- U MPs, the Congress legislators just wrung their hands and kept silent. " Why didn't they ( Congress members) stop those MPs from rushing into the well? What does it mean but lack of support for the bill from the male MPs?" asked a woman MP, who was disgusted with the proceedings.
Women MPs across the party spectrum, who had come to both Houses bubbling with enthusiasm at the prospect of the long- pending bill being passed, were thoroughly disheartened by the way things panned out. And the blame was placed squarely where it belonged on the shoulders of the Congress floor managers and backroom workers, who had not done anything to get the bill passed.
MPs from both the BJP and the Left said that not a single floor leader from any UPA managers to coordinate with them for the passage of the bill.
" Instead we, the Opposition, have been calling them and trying to get the bill passed. No one in the Congress is interested in pushing it through, except the Congress president. And she has not been able to convert her conviction into action by her partymen," a senior BJP MP said.
Congress trouble- shooters including, Pranab Mukherjee, Ghulam Nabi Azad and M. Veerappa Moily kept saying all through the day that the bill would sail through. But as the day progressed and the lack of Congress strategy became evident, they got more and more sullen, with Mukherjee finally snapping at women journalists: " I don't have to answer questions."
THE TIMES OF INDIA
BLOCK AND TACKLE
Fourteen years after it was first tabled, the women's reservation Bill - which faces stiff opposition from regional outfits that depend on caste vote banks for political survival - looked set to be passed fairly easily in the Rajya Sabha yesterday when the BJP and the Left pledged support. Both these parties must be commended for displaying exemplary bipartisanship on such a nationally significant issue and we hope they will remain steadfast in their commitment. But as was proved yet again yesterday, one can never underestimate the resolution of parties like the RJD, SP and BSP to employ any tactic possible to stall the progress of the women's reservation Bill.
When outnumbered, legislators from these parties resorted to unruly obstructionism, which increasingly seems to be the preferred mode of expressing dissent at the highest platform of our democracy. The RJD and SP have withdrawn support to the government, a choice they are entitled to. But they have no right to create a ruckus in Parliament, wasting precious business hours funded by taxpayers and holding the nation to ransom. The hooliganism we witnessed yesterday underlines the need for an overhaul of parliamentary politics in India. Easing the path for women to participate in greater numbers at the highest levels of legislation cannot come a moment too soon.
The government should have seen this coming and have been better prepared to ensure that the Bill went through this time around. Every time this Bill - which holds the potential of transforming India's political reality and substantially empowering women - has been tabled in the past, it has met with stiff opposition from the RJD, SP and BSP, among others. These parties want further quotas for their own constituencies (OBCs, Muslims and Dalits) within the 33 per cent women's quota, ostensibly because they are concerned about women from these disadvantaged groups getting fair representation. As we have pointed out before, if that concern was indeed genuine, why have these parties not nominated greater numbers of OBC, Muslim and Dalit women candidates so far? In fact, it's the deep-rooted reluctance among some sections of our political class to create more space for women in our Parliament and state legislatures that is the real issue.
The government, along with the BJP, Left parties and other supporters of the Bill like the JD(U), should stand up to the opponents of women's reservation and ensure that it is voted upon and passed today. Otherwise it will not only cut a very sorry figure but also pay a heavy political price.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
On the eve of International Women's Day, Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan came up with a strange suggestion. Addressing a meet on justice for rape victims, the CJI said that "due regard" must be given to the wishes of a rape victim if she wants to marry the rapist or give birth to a child conceived following the crime. The CJI's statement sends out mixed signals. It almost makes it appear that marriage is an alternative to punishment for perpetrators of rape. Indeed, it could have the unfortunate effect of minimising the seriousness of rape which is a fundamental violation of a woman's body. Besides, it does not take into account that rapes can occur within marriages too.
The courts or the state shouldn't have any say on the course of action that a rape victim intends to take. It is paternalism - something that the CJI has accused activists and lawyers of - to decide on behalf of rape victims. What should be of utmost importance for law-enforcing agencies is to ensure that rapists are convicted and handed the maximum possible punishment. At present, rape figures in India tell a sorry story. According to some statistics, only one in 69 rapes is reported, and out of these the conviction rate is a pathetic 20 per cent. Law enforcement agencies should be looking at ways to increase the conviction rates as well and put in place conditions where victims feel comfortable to report rapes. This is a big ask. Let's not deflect from the real task at hand by suggesting marriage between a rape victim and the perpetrator.
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HOW TO END A GREEK TRAGEDY
The tragedy in Greece is out of character. It is premature: the traditional Dionysia festival for Greek tragedy is at the end of March. Besides, a Greek tragedy brings a great figure down, thanks to his own mistaken action. But here, the Greek mistakes on fiscal policy are bringing down the euro, and distressing big European players Germany and France for sure (while Britain basks in Margaret Thatcher's wisdom in resisting the invitation to exchange the British pound for the euro). These are greater nations than Greece today, even as we properly glory in Greece's distant past that is the western world's past as well. But these nations are certainly not the cause of the immediate crisis, which lies instead in Greece's profligacy.
Of course, the bigger European Union nations that masterminded and propelled the euro are, in the ultimate analysis, not entirely blameless in their overlooking the fragility of a common currency if a tight control of fiscal policy was not accompanied by a zealous monitoring system. We all know that several German economists had predicted what has just happened, and that fiscally handicapped nations like Greece would be nations that busted fiscal discipline and then threatened the euro.
Scapegoating Goldman Sachs and other financial firms for having helped Greece mask its excess spending is rather ridiculous. This masking was suspected and could have been pinpointed without difficulty and was therefore ignored as unimportant until it grew into a Frankenstein's monster. In fact, we know that several other European nations also violated the Maastricht discipline on fiscal spending, in transparent and non-transparent ways. So, we see here the kind of scapegoating that we were witness to during the earlier East Asian financial crisis, which was precipitated by browbeating the East Asian nations into premature current account convertibility and the blame was sought to be shifted to Asia's "crony capitalism"!
There has been no shortage of prescriptions for the sick patient, Greece, even as events moved forward over the last week. Let me first dismiss some wrong-headed prescriptions even though they have been advanced by prominent economists and columnists. For example, the distinguished American economist Martin Feldstein, who frequently writes with great insight, has suggested that Greece should be allowed to opt out of the euro, set its house in order, and then be allowed to rejoin the euro. Unfortunately, this is not like sending a disruptive student out of the classroom and then bringing him back after an hour's exile. Contracts would have to be rewritten in different currencies, for example, and there would be huge transaction costs in making the currency changes.
Then again, columnist Sam Brittan has suggested that Greece should issue its own currency "so it can pursue a fiscal policy attuned to domestic needs". As the noted economist Benn Steil has remarked, this is a pipe dream. If Greece then continues excess spending, and does not set its fiscal house in order, can it seriously expect that private funds will flow into it? A sovereign drachma, with extravagance of fiscal policy, in fact would be a deadly combination that would induce capital flight rather than capital inflow.
So, the real issue has been whether the EU steps in with support funds, while imposing draconian fiscal conditionality of the order which is called for, or whether Greece should turn instead to the IMF for support (an action which Greece has now said it is in favour of). There are two reasons why the former course of action by the EU would be imprudent. The EU can be sure that Greek populist anger will be directed at it for the austerity that it would impose. Equally, Germany (if not France as well) will find that its citizens will object to EU funds transfers to Greece to ease the transition to necessary fiscal prudence: by contrast with the frugal Germans, the Greeks treat themselves better on issues like retiring age and pensions.
The only sensible solution would, therefore, be for the EU to acquiesce in the proposed Greek turn to the IMF for liquidity assistance and for the IMF to impose the necessary fiscal conditionality. All member nations of the IMF can turn to it in crisis of the kind Greece has brought on itself. Let the IMF do the job, take the opprobrium of imposing conditionality as it often does, and bring Greece back into fiscal responsibility.
This may not please President Nicolas Sarkozy who, as a cynic has remarked, would rather use German funds to finance Greece and bring glory to France. But another distinguished Frenchman and the managing director of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, would be glad to have yet another client and possibly more. The European Central Bank (ECB) president, Jean-Claude Trichet, yet another Frenchman, frowns upon Greece turning to the IMF: sharing the "management" of the Greek crisis means, for the ECB, the sharing of crisis-resolution with the IMF. But such gratuitous battles are inappropriate at a time of crisis: the Greek turn to the IMF remains a measure that the EU should support.
The writer is University Professor at Columbia University.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
GIVE VOICE TO THE VOICELESS
Switzerland has very strict animal rights laws. Yet, even in that Alpine Eden for creatures big and small, legal representation for animals seems an idea whose time hasn't come. In a referendum, Swiss voters rejected a proposal that would have seen each canton in the country install a lawyer to defend rights of abused animals at taxpayers' cost. The naysaying doesn't mean the idea doesn't have merit. Or that its time may not still come one day, as societies get increasingly sensitised to the ugly truth of cruelty to animals.
For proof, consider why Swiss citizens said no. Switzerland's protective cover for animals, most argue, is so strong it needs no reinforcing. Others wanted to avoid an unwieldy bureaucracy. So, the proposal didn't sink because Swiss citizens feel animals don't need human pleaders but because they think existing laws are good enough. If anything, Switzerland is a global exemplar on fair, kind and eco-sensitive treatment of non-human species. All pets and farm animals benefit from humane policy. A constitutional change was made to even conserve the dignity of plant life. Many other countries are yet to even get used to animal "rights" conceptually, leaving compassion to individual caprice.
Some convincingly argue that since animal abusers hire lawyers, their non-human victims need legal voice. Predictably, others say we ought to focus on humans in distress. This is mere sophistry. Serving humanity and helping brutalised animals aren't mutually exclusive. Both efforts have ethical underpinnings. Given scientific evidence for the interdependence of all living beings, narrow anthropocentrism is a weak basis for organising human life. Besides, how do we tell how civilised a society is? Wise men have long told us to look at the way it treats defenceless animals.
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FIRST, ENSURE RIGHTS OF HUMANS
The Swiss have done the right thing at the referendum. Animal rights are fine, but to call for lawyers to represent them in court is silly.
Think, for a moment, what would happen if such a legislation is enacted in India. We are a litigious people and our courts are burdened with cases. Do we wish to spend public funds and drown our courts with more cases? Spare a thought for the judges. Let's first ensure that the law enforcement mechanism works well for citizens. Make sure the concerned institutions, from police to courts, are receptive to genuine grievances. Then we can discuss animals.
It's nobody's case that we needn't be sensitive to animals. But there is an inherent flaw in the moral argument made out for animal rights. To begin with, do we humans have the right to impose our notion of justice and well-being on animals? Who knows what a cow's idea of justice is? And, are we sure that a dog and a cat share the same notion of rights? A rights-based welfarist approach surely can't assume that some animals are more privileged than others. If that is not so, then a rat or a snake must have same rights as a cock or a bull. We can't argue that we are concerned only about pets and livestock, and perhaps other animals in captivity.
As these examples suggest, there's a strong element of hypocrisy in animal rights campaigns. It's okay from the point of view of its votaries to keep animals away from their natural habitat, held captive as pets in kennels and cages, as showpieces in zoos, and as food in farms, provided their rights are respected. That sounds like having the cake and eating it too.
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A BLOG BY A BAINGAN
SATISH K SHARMA
They have got it all wrong. I mean those who tried to sow seeds of discontent between me and my putative Bt, sorry, bete noire. They don't know how grateful i am to it. But for it, i would still be a nobody, an extra, so to say, in the galaxy of greens. If today i compete with the likes of Shah Rukh Khan and Sachin Tendulkar for countrywide popularity, it is entirely owing to my genetically altered ego.
Just look at it. Despite my stellar qualities, i was just the 'Ghar ki murgi daal barabar'. They did not take a cue from the hit Bollywood number, 'Dekhi lakh lakh pardesi girl/ Sab toh soni saadi desi girl/ Who's the hottest girl in the world?/ My desi girl/ My desi girl.' They recognised my worth only after the foreigners did so.
For a quintessential Indian could anything be more painful? I can't understand why i was treated with such indifference by my own countrymen. I am on their plates whether you go east or west, north or south of India. But when it came to getting credit there was always the aaloo or the foul-smelling pyaaj ahead of me.
Imagine how sidelined i felt when an out and out desi politician tried to make aaloo- a fellow with decided foreign origins - immortal by saying, "Jab tak rahega samose mein aaloo/ tab tak rahega Bihar mein Lalu." Talking of samosas it beats me why they never stuff me into them or into curvy parathas but instead pack me into pathetically shaped pakoras.
You have desi phrases honouring even as knotty a thing as ginger. Thus you say, 'Bandar kya jaane adrak ka swad?' But if i had ever asked a man of letters to coin a complimentary phrase around me, i am sure he would have said, "Tum kis khet ki mooli ho?" All they can do to me is to poke fun through cliched Akbar-Birbal tales.
When the westerners realised that their children disliked spinach, they gave it an iconic status by making it the power-munch of Popeye. But not one Indian cartoonist thought of making me the chosen chomp of an Indian superman so that children here could take to me withoutthrowing tantrums.
Even my great looks were overlooked. Nature has endowed me with the softest of skins, the brightest of colours and curviest of contours. And yet no Indian painter has done my portrait, not even M F Husain when i would have gladly allowed myself to be painted in the nude. I cared little when the westerners launched computers called apple and cellphones called blackberry. But when an Indian manufacturer chooses lemon over me as the brand name for its cellphone, it hurts. However hard the times for housewives, i have never acted pricey. Among all vegetables, i alone seem to defy the laws of demand and supply. I remain the shining symbol of the quintessential Indian trait called resilience. But rather than appreciating it they call anyone who is wary of taking a firm stand a 'Thali ka baingan'.
Forget about making me an election issue as they made that arrogant tuber - the onion - in the not too recent past, i wasn't even picked up as the symbol of any political party, national or regional. You have an entire bazaar of Mumbai named after that slimy thing - the bhindi- but not even an alley of Bareilly is named after me. Perhaps i should not think like this. So what if i arrived late? Haven't i arrived with my desiness intact? But now that i have become a celebrity, i can't wait for campaign managers to sign me up for promoting the products of their clients. And the first thing i am going to endorse would be potato chips. Imagine that imported abomination - the aaloo - needing my endorsement. It would be an event no less momentous than an Indian buying the East India Company.
CUT OUT THE MIDDLEMEN
In the brows-furrowing debate about whether the Government of India should hold talks with the Communist Party of India (Maoist), one fundamental question is being relegated to the side: what is the ultimate purpose of putting an end to the Maoist menace? The question, perhaps sounding too obvious to merit a reply, is a valid one because answering it could change the modality in which any engagement with the Maoists should be made. Of course, one of the criteria by which New Delhi and state governments decide their policy will be how to disarm the CPI(Maoist) and take its violence out of the equation. The latter is waging battles against the State and the State is right to ensure that the Maoists don't win the war. But the central point of bringing law and order in Maoist-affected areas is to take the people in these areas out of a war zone and set up a permanent solution that will enable them to be part of India in peace and prosperity. For which purpose the government must not only think of talking to the Maoists but also to the real stakeholders of these violence-hit regions: the groups, especially comprising tribal communities, who have been clubbed under the Maoist tag without anyone checking their credentials.
The CPI(Maoist) has been largely successful in convincing mainstream India that its cause is inextricably linked to the cause of the downtrodden and dispossessed. It would be wise to consider that there are indeed groups in large swathes of the country that have protested against the Government of India's policies whether about mining rights or developmental projects in a non-violent manner. To protest against the government hardly makes them automatically Maoists or even Maoist sympathisers, although between their perception of the devil and the deep sea, many have indeed moved closer, perforce, towards the devil with the ideology of power flowing from the barrel of a gun. It is these groups that the government should reach out to for an honest exchange.
CPI(Maoist) leaders like Koteswar Rao a.k.a. Kishenji would like the affected tribals as well as the rest of the country to believe that they are the sole representatives of tribals' concerns. They aren't and it would do the Government of India a great deal of good if it works out the modalities of holding talks with not only the CPI(Maoist) which seems to be pulling out all the stops in the rhetorical and public relations department while not bothering to stall its violent ways but also to engage with non-Maoist tribal groups. These disaffected people have been looking for a solution to their conditions much before the Maoists entered the picture and will remain there long after they have gone to play revolutionaries elsewhere.
THIS WOMAN'S DAY
Kathryn Bigelow did not win the Best Female Director Oscar. Neither did she win the Best Film By A Woman Oscar. What the 58-year-old American filmmaker did win were the Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Film for her movie, The Hurt Locker. This is the first time that a woman has won these awards. She broke the gender barrier not through any mode of 'affirmative action' from a feminist jury but by sheer gender-neutral filmmaking talent.
Even the subject of The Hurt Locker can be seen in some patronising or downright narrowminded circles as being 'male': the raw depiction of a United States Army explosive ordnance disposal team in the Iraq war. But Ms Bigelow is an old hand in genres traditionally associated with 'the boys', having been firmly behind the camera while making films like the 1987 horror flick Near Dark and the action movie Point Break.
Ms Bigelow's win brings us to a larger point about Oscar categories. With 82 Academy Awards ceremonies down the years, perhaps it's time to consider having one Best Actor award and one Best Supporting Actor award rather than splitting them along 'male' and' 'female' lines. After all, if Ms Bigelow's ex-husband can have talent enough to have won a Best Film Oscar in the past (for Titanic), surely nominated male actors will be happy to take up the challenge from their female counterparts?
ALL OUT IN THE OPEN
You probably haven't heard of Subhash Dixit, but you should listen to his story. In 2000, he was captain of the Indian under-15 cricket team that played the World Cup. Talented kids like Irfan Pathan and Ambati Rayudu played under Subhash, a player from the cricketing backwater of Uttar Pradesh.
Wind the clock forward seven years. Dixit, still young at 22, hasn't been able to kick on from his teenage success. He has played under-19 cricket for UP, but can't make it to the Ranji team. Over several sittings and years he has managed to pass his 10th standard exams. Subhash's stylish batting would hit it big, his family thought, surviving at the time on the young man's grandfather's pension.
On June 9, 2007, Dixit left home to go to practice at the Green Park stadium, but made a stop on the way, at Krishna Tower, a nine-storey shopping complex overlooking Kanpur's Test ground. On the 6th floor, he took a detour from the staircase, stepped onto a ledge, and threw himself to his death.
Today, few remember Dixit, and those who do blame arbitrary, occasionally corrupt selection for his ultimate death.
Selection. Any cricketer from a small town will tell you what that word means, even if he knows only three others of the English language. Rejection, anyone who has been in a romantic relationship that ended, will tell you how this can permanently scar. Two words seemingly meaning opposite things but ironically comprising the same set of alphabets in the most popular modern medium of writing. Try typing either word in an SMS on a standard phone's keypad with the dictionary on. Funny?
In no other profession does being picked for something assume so much importance. Able-bodied, agile-minded men give up so much of their childhood and youth to cricket that they're often not good for much else if they don't make it. Catching the selector's eye becomes an all-consuming pursuit, and occasionally, a matter of life or death.
You must have heard of Murali Kartik, but not as much as you should have. For a decade now, Kartik has been the best left-arm spinner in the country and among the two best in the world. He won India a Test and an ODI against Australia, in 2004 and 2007, and was promptly dropped, on both occasions. He's been dumped so many times it's ceased to be funny, and despite wavering from frustrated to angry to bitter, he's fashioned a good life in cricket, thanks in no small part to the support of his wife and family. He's loyal to his Ranji team, the Railways, when he could have easily moved somewhere more fashionable, and is highly successful and respected in the English county circuit where he plays for Somerset.
The first part of Kartik's career was understandably up and down, with Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh in harness. But even when Kumble retired, the selectors would not find a place for him. It sounds silly, but perhaps there's just something about his face that different groups of selectors didn't like, for the skills certainly weren't lacking.
You should not have heard of Harshal Patel, but probably have. He was India's reserve seamer in the recent
under-19 World Cup, a steady bowler with no stand-out features that prompted charitable observers to describe him as a "partnership breaker." What's that anyway? It's not as though there are any bowlers whose job it is to build partnerships.
Patel, who wasn't even among the three best medium pacers in India's under-19 team, was snapped up by the Mumbai Indians, and will be paid Rs 8 lakh to share the dug-out with Sachin Tendulkar. Unless, of course, he can somehow replace Zaheer Khan, Lasith Malinga or Dilhara Fernando, the other Mumbai Indians quick men. The team's cricketing brains include former South Africa quick Shaun Pollock, and T.A. Sekar, who ran India's premier fast bowling academy for decades. Neither would have seen Patel, and if they had, they certainly wouldn't have hired him. So why, then, did the Mumbai Indians pick young Patel?
The cynics and it's always hard to argue with that lot point to the surname, and suggest Patel was a snug fit with the very Gujarati owners of the team. Perhaps Nita Ambani wanted to help one of her own? It sounds offensive, almost, but that's how perverse cricket can be, where someone gets picked simply because his name sounds right.
Of all the fundamental changes that the Indian Premier League has brought to cricket, this is the most serious selection to your national team doesn't mean half as much any more. Your life can be made even if you never play for your country.
It's good, because today's Subhash Dixit perhaps won't resort to extreme measures. It's bad, because a future Murali Kartik might settle for less and be lost to the Indian team. And it's plain ugly, because there will be many more Harshal Patels who will take home a pretty packet without ever having earned it.
WHAT A CHARADE
For most of March 8, the date chosen for its presumably pro-women edge, there was a dispiriting familiarity to the pictures transmitted from Parliament. On the issue of the Women's Reservation Bill, debate has not been allowed to move on in more than a decade. Most memorably, in 1997 it was snatched from the hands of the prime minister at the time I.K. Gujral and shredded to bits. Paper went flying too on Monday in the Rajya Sabha, where enough political parties, including the Congress, BJP and those of the Left, had issued whips to ensure that it would pass with the requisite two-thirds vote. The original paper-snatcher, Sharad Yadav, has this time round found it difficult to carry his entire party with him in opposition to the bill, but unwavering resistance from the SP and RJD not just put Parliament through successive adjournments together, they articulated their same old obfuscation.
The hysterics of the Mandal politicians have done greater disservice to parliamentary debate. But their hysterics have also been co-opted by the bigger parties to hold the moral high ground and reactively espouse noble aims of gender parity in our legislatures. These parties have used the unruliness of the opponent to affirm fidelity to this cause without having to show due diligence on procedures. A Left party, the BJP and the Congress have each been present in a government that's in these 13 years readied the bill for introduction in the House. Not one has addressed the serious flaws in the proposed legislation. Embedded in the law is the rotation of constituencies each election to mark out one-third for women candidates. In one stroke then, the women's bill could unburden a legislator of accountability to his or her constituents. Our Parliament would by this law be unhinged from the most basic building blocks of parliamentary democracy. Various alternatives have been suggested to circumvent this problem for instance, multi-member constituencies or ordaining that each party nominate a certain percentage of women in each election. It could be that none of these alternatives would best the utility of a direct quota but at least a wider debate would have yielded a more nuanced understanding of the implications of rotation.
Righting the gender imbalances in our legislatures would be a momentous step. After what's been termed the democratic upsurge of the '90s, it could be the game-changer to shake the established hierarchies of our politics. But it should not be done in a way that inflicts new contradictions on our electoral democracy.
We are not anti-women but we want reservations for women hailing from minority and backward classes first," Mulayam Singh Yadav chanted a familiar plaint, as he stuck by his opposition to the long-pending legislation to reserve 33 per cent of seats in legislatures for women. Meanwhile, Lalu Prasad Yadav slammed the bill as a "diversionary tactic", intended to deprive women from backward and minority groups. As they watch the slow waning of their political pitch, the Yadav chieftains are clinging desperately to the same appeal to identity.
In both Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the post-Mandal dynamic seems to have given way to greater complexity and flux. The Muslim-Yadav solidarity that used to undergird a whole generation of politicians like Mulayam and Lalu now finds itself besieged. For decades, it appeared as though they had cracked the code as inter-caste jostling was channelled into the electoral skirmish, bringing new aspirations and agendas into politics. But social and economic progress hasn't always kept up with this electoral triumph, and their vote banks simply want more than just symbolic empowerment. The SP, RJD and others have also witnessed an explosion of political ambition among their own ranks, as leaders compete with each other for slices of the political pie. Yadav identity politics seems to have caught up with itself. As Dimple Yadav's recent, devastating defeat in Firozabad revealed, something subversive is at work in these former strongholds caste and community are still relevant but they no longer command automatic loyalty. The remarkable Congress revival in 2009 came at the expense of these parties in particular, the Muslim vote swung away from the SP.
In short, the search for new mobilisations is on. In Bihar, for instance, Nitish Kumar, who cannot claim a readymade patchwork of caste groupings, has had to practise a more inventive, forward-looking politics. He has, on his initiative, reserved 50 per cent panchayat seats for women. Meanwhile, his party colleague Sharad Yadav struggles to hold on to the only game he knows.
Public ownership is generally the kiss of death for a corporate enterprise. But, time after time, in lists of the largest and most profitable multinationals, some state-owned companies figure: because they extract, refine, or burn natural resources. Sinopec, from communist China. Gazprom, from Putin's Russia. And an entire rogue's gallery of dodgy companies from countries with distinctly dodgy governments companies that have prospered through state backing, through foreign ministries that haven't hesitated to intervene to strong-arm concessions for their utilities' overseas operations.
Now the Prime Minister's Office reportedly wants to add India to that list of dodginess. This isn't to say that state-owned Indian companies should be somehow prevented from expanding: several have made important acquisitions abroad. Just last week it was reported that the National Mineral Development Corporation packed up an important Australian source of iron ore. And the PMO will say that all they wish for is a loosening of the regulations on the hiring of "technical consultants" abroad, and that India's resource security is at stake.
These aren't bad arguments, as far as they go. But they're so short-sighted that they don't go very far. Remember, India has a reputation in resource-rich but capital-poor parts of the world for not being an arm-twisting and extractive, but a cautious and supportive, trading partner. Will jeopardising that aid India's security? And there's another problem. Expansionist resource PSUs come to depend on state support and are, indeed, hamstrung without it, since they aren't efficient at exploration and discovery. Pushing India's resource companies into quick-and-dirty overseas purchases will lock us into dependence: our energy and mineral supplies will depend too strongly on our foreign policy. Not to mention on state-owned companies staying state-owned. That is the most short-sighted step of all: true energy security will come only through comprehensive reform.
PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
The Women's Reservation Bill is a powerful normative signal about the desirability of the empowerment of women. It comes against the backdrop of profound social change. Women have, by the dint of their capabilities and efforts, torn down so many barriers. Even in politics, at the top echelons, there is a striking story to be told. Sonia Gandhi, Sushma Swaraj, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Brinda Karat hold top leadership positions in five of the most consequential political parties. The president of India, speaker of the Lok Sabha, the foreign secretary are all testament to the fact that the normative barriers to women assuming leadership roles have mostly dissipated; gender ratios in higher education are also telling an encouraging story. But there are spheres where old boys' networks remain operative: law and bureaucracy perhaps the most prominent. But modernity has also unleashed an appalling contradictory dynamic: declining sex ratio, continuing nutrition discrimination and increasing violence against women. This bill is a moment in that larger history.
But while the bill's normative intent is laudable, there is reason to be a trifle disappointed over the short shrift serious constitutional and institutional issues have got in the debates. The political debate has largely been structured around the discourse of power: displacing one set of power holders with another and the resistance this process unleashes. Other opponents of the bill, particularly OBC-based parties, have expressed worries about other marginalised constituencies this bill might disempower. But several important institutional issues have not received political articulation.
The first is simply this. India's electoral system is now becoming an incoherent patchwork of contradictory principles. We are trying to get "proportional" outcomes from a first-past-the-post system. If we genuinely believe that proportional representation based on ascriptive characteristics like caste and gender are the litmus tests of political legitimacy, then it would have been wiser to state it explicitly and design an electoral system (through perhaps a list system) accordingly. A territorial-based system had its own normative integrity, which we have now given up on.
The second issue is the normative questions the rotation of constituencies raise. The rotation principle is a peculiar one in a democracy because it produces democracy without democratic accountability. You don't, as an individual, now seek the verdict of those whom you claimed to serve. Even the rightly heralded reservations at panchayat level have generated this problem, producing both an accountability deficit and a weakening of an institution as a whole.
The third issue is a normative one. We know that in terms of how power operates in society the idea that we are free and equal as individuals is a fiction. All kinds of hierarchies of gender, caste and class characterise the operations of power, and in a healthy polity these need to be redressed. Affirmative action is often necessary in this context. But Indian politics has been dangerously close to enshrining other normative propositions that are dangerous for democracy. The first is the equation of identity with reason, where the assumption is policies track the identities of those who promulgate them. This is often true as a matter of fact, but legitimating it into an organising principle is detrimental to the idea of public reason. It needs to be asked whether it befits a free society to restrict the choice of candidates available to particular constituencies based on particular identity. While it could be argued that de facto this choice is restricted for a whole host of reasons anyway, there is still a great deal of difference between a de facto reality and a dejure acceptance of a principle that it should be restricted.
While the critique of the SP and RJD does not carry much weight, underlying it is a kernel of truth. The question raised by their critique is this. Let us accept that constituencies need to be empowered through reservations. What classifications are appropriate for designing quotas? Why not sub-classifications? Why not minorities? Why not more representation for the poor, who seem most disadvantaged in our electoral system? Of course these very parties closed off just these questions when it came to OBC reservations. They themselves exemplified what they are now alleging: that the classifications that are used by the state in quotas are, barring the case of SC/ STs, rarely classifications to empower the weak. They get enacted because they are classifications that favour the strong, or newly emerging, not the downtrodden. Other groups will be demanding quotas as well, and our normative basis for saying no to any quota demand is diminishing. So the enactment of quotas has this ambiguous status: it is as much an exercise in power as it is a sign of justice.
Finally, there are several practical issues. The first is this. As we have seen with other quotas, representation does not translate into empowerment. This is for several reasons. In India, normative acceptance has seldom been a problem; the problem has been the gap between normative acceptance and the ability to implement. Partly it has to do with sticky dynamics of power. We know for instance that reserved constituencies for SC/ STs produced weak representation because they by definition became dependent on the decisive votes of others. Strong SC representation emerged post-political mobilisation, not post-reservation. It is an interesting question, the degree to which reservation de-radicalised demands for justice rather than push them further. But in India reservation also brings to closure a deeper question: that of ethical responsibilities. Quotas are our justice on the cheap; as happened with SCs, once we gave them, we absolved ourselves of larger and more difficult ethical questions about discrimination and so forth. Formal representational equality makes it politically harder, not easier, to articulate the case for substantive equality.
There were also several alternatives, from well thought out voluntary proposals, to proposals for list systems, to multi-member constituencies that might have mitigated some of the institutional concerns. The fact that they did not find political space is another sign than we do not often want to match ends and means.
But the time for all this has past. Quotas will certainly open up the political system in expected and unexpected ways, although their political effects are indeterminate. Indian democracy has improvised solutions, even if they are messy and ad hoc, and this bill is better than many other ad hoc improvisations. But while we celebrate this desirable normative leap we are about to take, we should just wonder, whether we are celebrating it because we take justice seriously, or because we don't take it seriously enough.
The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi
NOWHERE TO GO BUT DOWN
YOGINDER K. ALAGH
I like the Budget; but, frankly, am not very impressed by the specific agricultural proposals. They are in themselves unexceptional but merely more of the same sort as haven't worked in the Eleventh Plan. One experienced friend said we have not had sectoral reform here as elsewhere; another said that we don't work for outcomes. Since a lot of agriculture's problems lie outside the sector, and this is an economist's (and blissfully not a "dream") Budget, it may be useful to look into this larger context.The Economic Survey makes the point that "hype" about kharif failure affects prices, and has nuanced discussion of inflation. I have been saying since August that the big rainfall failure is in areas with full irrigation, and so the impact will be low. Earlier finance ministry forecasts of a two to four per cent fall in agricultural supply are now behind us. January food stocks are the highest in six years.
Inflation is a more complex issue. The Survey laments the decline in private investment in agriculture, but the Budget does not get into the issue of the incentive mechanisms for revival of agriculture. With rabi prices clearly falling as we move into harvest time, this is a serious issue. The Survey very correctly shows that (if one uses the national income deflator) inflation in food prices at the level of producer prices is only six per cent. There are now reports of rabi oilseed-based oil and pulses falling in retail markets as also potatoes and vegetables.
The reports on wholesale and farm harvest prices are more distressing. Tur dal in western Maharashtra village markets which I visited in the week beginning February 16 were at Rs 27 to Rs 30 per kilogram, just above the government-mandated minimum support price. West Bengal has sent an SOS on potato prices. UP mills are rejecting cane at the going price for crushing.
I have argued for a medium-term stance on agricultural prices and, indeed, for an exercise of mild tariff
possibilities for the kharif crops now that the damage for rabi is done. I make this point since the macro strategy
of the Budget is promising, so it is possible that we will be able to fight inflation with macro policies. The Survey has a brilliant section on policies, the now-so-famous Chapter 2. If all goes well we should blunt the inflationary edge, bring down interest rates and then will be the time to think of capital account convertibility, from strength.
Can we use reform of retail trade in agriculture to reduce prices? You need reform of the links between villages and larger villages and towns through the market; agri-processing in a rural-urban continuum for accelerating the larger transformations taking place the diversification of agriculture from grain to non-grain crops, to horticulture and animal husbandry. But, again, expectations that prices will fall in the short run through this effect are a little overstated. In fact, recent market studies show that retail channels give higher prices to farmers in mandis, perhaps for improved quality of vegetables; so expecting prices to fall is unrealistic. In the long run, better competition will play a role. But let us, at present, be satisfied if the farmer gets a better price. He will produce more and import dependence, expensive and uncertain, will be lower.
The FM has promised more money for agriculture in the eastern region and for pulse and oilseed villages. The Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana is for area-based agricultural development schemes which the FM says will be; the Food Security Mission, which includes pulses and oilseeds, was seen in the Eleventh Plan. These need to work in a framework of local initiatives and of improved incentive mechanisms for crops. There is absolutely no reason that the corporates who want to enter agriculture can't do so in this framework, given that strategic partnerships with farmer's companies (and other mechanisms) are now mushrooming.
The FM has said that he will implement the Finance Commission's recommendations on local resource devolution later in the year. These were developed also in a seminar at IRMA, are outcome-oriented in design, and may well be the beginning of accelerating a more diversified and resource-conserving agriculture. It is unfortunate that the largest increase in water guzzling paddy is in Gujarat a natural oilseed, pulses and cotton area on account of the Sardar Sarovar project. To move over to a higher agricultural growth rate we have to solve the water and land issues at the local levels. It may sound far-fetched but plant pulses and oilseeds and the farmer will only prosper.
The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand
LITTLE MOVIES THAT COULD
The big story of the 82nd Academy Awards wasn't just about the small, practically unseen The Hurt Locker besting Avatar, perhaps the most-seen movie in motion picture history. It was also equally about black actor Mo'Nique being able to accept her trophy for the heart-felt drama, Precious, with these words: "it can be about the performance, not the politics".
The Hurt Locker, about a bunch of American soldiers surviving the horrors of Iraq had been begging to be noticed, but the sheer magnitude and scale of Avatar made it seem like it was just one among the ten nominees for Best Picture. Also, the sheer noise that James Cameron's 500 million dollar film generated drowned out all else, as the number crunchers got busy telling us just how much money the biggest film in the universe had raked in. Proving all punters wrong, Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker got it. And she got Best Director, too.
So little David bests giant Goliath, in a year when the beautiful people who handed out the awards forgot the Academy's strictly politically correct phrase "and the award goes to", blithely replacing it with the older, punchier "and the winner is". Even if The Hurt Locker isn't the best film that has ever aced that category, the win is reason enough to cheer. Cameron's film was more spectacle than movie, eliciting from the millions of people who put on their 3D glasses, a collective intake of breath. Yes, it blows you away, into a world that is home to tall blue people with pointy ears and long tails. No, it doesn't move you.
What does, immeasurably, is Precious, for which Mo'Nique got the Best Supporting Actress award. It is about a young girl, brilliantly played by Gabourey Sidibe, a victim of vicious parenting and sexual abuse, and how she rises above it. They are black and dirt-poor, and Precious could easily have turned into a big movie cliché about colour, poverty and circumstance. It is the unsparing telling, and the brutally honest performances, as Mo'Nique put it in her succinct thank-you speech, that make it an extraordinary document of courage.
By rights, Sidibe should have got Best Actress, but it wasn't her turn (it was Sandra Bullock's for the syrupy The Blind Side). But just the visual of Gabby sitting in the same row as Oscar darling Meryl Streep, who was showered with much love even if it was clear she wasn't going to get it this time for Julie and Julia, was a big strike for small-budget, intensely personal visions making it to the attention of the hard-nosed moneybags who bankroll movies.
The Academy has often divvied up the Best Picture and Best Director award between two contenders, covering itself in little glory. How can you have the best director not making the best movie? Kathryn Bigelow, who is James Cameron's ex-wife, a factlet which has delighted gossip rags no end for the past several months, getting the Best Director evens out that anomaly. It also takes the awards to a place they've never been before: a woman holding aloft that trophy, for that award. It may not be as significant a glass ceiling as the first time a black actor broke through, but we heard the glass shatter, loud and clear, at the Kodak auditorium, and we are glad. Very glad.
As the ecstatic Hurt Locker team raced to the stage, minus the poor over-eager producer who was banned from the ceremony simply because he sent out emails dissing his "big" competitors, one of them could be heard over the din: "maybe now we will find a distributor". An Oscar win means that finally The Hurt Locker and other movies like it, that get made minus blinding special effects and computer generated images, which is what most Hollywood films seem to coast on these days, will reach many more people, not stay on the periphery of art-house cinemas.
It also means that female directors will get to helm more of the sort of "serious" films that traditionally get Oscar nods. The Hurt Locker is a badass war film, with Jeremy Renner (who was up for a Best Actor award for his terrific turns as a bomb defuser who gets so turned on the knife-edge of combat that life back home, with wife and baby and shopping for cereal at the mall, becomes near meaningless) and his compatriots getting completely in the zone. Flesh is rent, blood is spilled, and Bigelow shows she can do it without flinching. So now maybe such brave producers like Weinstein and Miramax may be more comfortable putting together more "serious" films for women to make, rescuing them from perennial rom-com hell.
More power women. More people of colour. Finally, the Oscars are taking baby steps towards being part of a
multicultural world, even if that world is confined mostly to the United States of America, imagined by
Americans for Americans. About time.
AN IIT OF ITS OWN?
Bangalore appears set for a scorcher of a summer. It is only early March and temperatures are already hovering in the low 30s. Kicking up the mercury a tad higher is the debate on whether Bangalore needs an Indian Institute of Technology.
Leading the push to get an IIT located in or around Bangalore is Union law and parliamentary affairs minister, M. Veerappa Moily. The minister says his Chickballapur parliamentary constituency, neighbouring Bangalore's new international airport, would be a befitting location for an IIT. The famed engineer of Mysore state, Sir M. Visweshwaraiah was born in a village near Chickballapur.
Bangalore has premier institutions such as the Indian Institute of Science and an Indian Institute of
Management. It has a concentration of technology companies, defence R&D laboratories and multinationals. It is the hi-tech hub of India. So does it need another top engineering institution?
A city such as this can never have enough, says Prof. H.P. Khincha, former chairman of the electrical sciences wing of the Indian Institute of Science and currently vice chancellor of the Vishweshwariah Technological University. The world over, institutions are judged by three parameters, says Prof. Khincha teaching, research and output impact.
The all-important third dimension output impact is a measure of an institution's effect on its environment in the form of launching new start-ups, helping develop intellectual property and partaking in the economic development.
If decision-makers were to benchmark other potential locations against Bangalore on any of the parameters, the city would come up as the most ideal. "In terms of returns, it would make government investment most worthwhile," says Prof. Khincha.
Bangalore already has an IIT on Bannerghatta Road, says S. Sadagopan, founder director of the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Information Technology. He jokes that he is referring to an engineering college called Islamiah Institute of Technology, which abbreviates itself to IIT.
Institutions can never be about land, buildings, funds or appeasing some lobby or the other. "It is about people," says Dr. Sadagopan. To attract the best students, the best faculty and the best resources, institutions need to go where people want to go.
Bangalore has the social and corporate infrastructure to attract the best of students, faculty, industry speakers and collaborators, says Dr. Sadagopan.
"The whole world wants to go to Bangalore, this city can galvanise an institution such as IIT," says Dr. Sadagopan, who has earlier taught at IIT Kanpur and IIM Bangalore. Young Indians want to be in a high-energy city like Bangalore. "An IIT could feed off this energy," he says.
As part of the Eleventh Five Year Plan, the government allocated funds to set up eight new IITs in states such as Bihar, Orissa and Rajasthan. But setting up an IIT in far flung locations will defeat its purpose. "If Obama wants to set up an institution in Wyoming, is it possible to make it world-class?" Sadagopan asks.
Infosys Technologies chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy rues that despite so much being made of IITs, India does not have a single top-notch institution. "If you take the Shanghai Ranking, we don't have a single institution from India in the top 300," says Murthy who is on the board of Tokyo University.
Whether in Bangalore or elsewhere, India needs to make its institutions first-rate. Murthy says institutions such as IITs need more autonomy, they need a meritocracy, and they need to forge collaborations with the best in the world outside.
Rather than set up more institutions, India should strive to make the existing ones world-class by putting in incremental infrastructure, says Murthy. "Setting up more and more IITs, having retired people teach there, and it becomes a formula for mediocrity," says Murthy, adding, "It does not excite me to have one more mediocre institution".
A HARD TRUDGE TO DEMOCRACY
"Here is another ballot, go vote again and let him take your picture," Nabil al-Janabi, the Iraqi chargé d'affaires in Beirut, said while handing me a paper on the Day of the Great Crawl, when we Iraqis at home and abroad were required to vote for the only presidential candidate, Saddam Hussein.
It was in October 2002, and since I had to drive to the Iraqi Embassy in the upscale Beirut suburb of Hazmiyeh, I requested half a day off at The Daily Star. When the desk editor learned why I was cutting work, he said, why not write a story? "I will arrange for a photographer to meet you there."
I arrived before the photographer. After a security check, I was let into the embassy's main lobby, where dozens of Iraqi voters were sitting in utter silence. The embassy, whose staff came from Saddam's feared intelligence agency, could not rise up to make the reelection of Saddam, 23 years into his presidency, into a happy occasion.
The staff distributed ballots with the question: "Do you approve of the renewal of the term of President Saddam Hussein?" There was a "yes" box, and, surprisingly, a "no" box. A staffer then said, "Brothers and sisters, whoever wants to vote behind the curtain, feel free to do so." We were all scared to mark the ballot behind a curtain, so we checked "yes" in full public view. We were then led into an adjacent room, where a single ballot box stood on a table. On the wall was a picture of Saddam, decorated with colourful lights.
I was keeping my fingers crossed for my newspaper's photographer to arrive by the time I dropped my paper in the box. But he arrived late and I told him I wish he could have taken my picture voting. Al-Janabi, who overheard our conversation, offered me a new paper ballot, and I voted a second time, while Mohamed took a picture of me. I still have it on my computer.
On Sunday, I will be driving to Arlington, Virginia, to vote for Iraq's second post-Saddam Parliament. This time I have a choice of more than 6,000 candidates.
The election is the fifth national vote since 2005, a year in which Iraqis voted for a National Assembly, then
approved the Constitution, and then elected their first Parliament. Last year we voted in provincial elections.
In 2002, I interviewed al-Janabi as part of my assignment, and I can never forget my fear. What would be appropriate questions for a "mock election" story? Should I ask about when to expect results? Or was such a question offensive because there was no doubt that Saddam would score a sweeping victory? Should I ask about logistics, or would that give away their scam?
In the evening, I read Iraqi official statements claiming a 100 per cent turnout, with Saddam receiving all the votes. I thought: My parents had not voted, because the embassy did not know they had just arrived from Baghdad, yet Iraqi officials were still claiming that all Iraqis had cast ballots for the "perfect president."
Since 2002, all has changed. I called my parents in Beirut yesterday. My mother plans to vote for ticket number 319. In the background, I heard my father saying "no, no, 337, they did a good job on the oil contracts." My father was wondering if he could vote for different people from different tickets.
Democracy has transformed most Iraqis from people who either voted scared or were apathetic to Saddam's fake election, into people who are driven to vote by a sense of ownership of their country.
Iraqis realise that their democracy is not the best, but they also know that practice makes perfect. Since 2002 Iraqi elections have been evolving. While still not perfect, democracy is striking root.
Meanwhile, what Iraqis like me have learned is that transformation from autocracy to democracy would not have been possible without the 4,700 brave American and allied servicemen and women who lost their lives, and the many others who were wounded, for the sake of Iraq's freedom. It is on days like Sunday that these sacrifices most strongly comes to Iraqi minds.
OBAMA'S TRANS-ATLANTIC DISCONNECT
President Obama learns with interest that Europe now has a phone number. He's told that, responding at last to Henry Kissinger's famous jibe, the European Union has appointed a President named Herman Van Rompuy from Belgium and given him a 24/7 phone line. So, Obama decides to try out Europe's phone number. But the president forgets about the time difference and gets an answering machine: "Good Evening, you've reached the European Union, Herman Van Rompuy speaking. We are closed for tonight. Please select from the following options. Press one for the French view, two for the German view, three for the British view, four for the Polish view, five for the Italian view, six for the Romanian view..." Obama hangs up in dismay.
This self-deprecating little story was told by the Finnish foreign minister, Alexander Stubb, during a meeting here last week on NATO's future. NATO, which is to define a new doctrine this year, wants to work more closely with the EU, but of course it would help if Europe first defined what its strategic priorities are.
The Obama presidency has been a shock to Europe. At heart, Obama is not a Westerner, not an Atlanticist. He grew up partly in Indonesia and partly in Hawaii, which is about as far from the East Coast as you can get in the United States. The great struggles of the Cold War, which bound Europe and the United States, did not mark Obama, whose intellect and priorities were shaped by globalisation, and whose feelings are tied more to the Pacific and to Africa.
These truths have taken a while to sink in because Europe, in its widespread contempt for President George W. Bush, saw in Obama a saviour who would restore trans-Atlantic ties. One by one European leaders have been disappointed by the president's cool remoteness. A jilted feeling has spread.
In fact, Obama is a pure pragmatist. He wants Europe's help, particularly in Afghanistan, but he has no misty-eyed vision of Atlanticism and sees more pressing strategic priorities in China, India, the Middle East and Russia. He is transitioning the United States to the post-Western world, which is another way of saying he is adapting America to a world in which its relative power is eroding. Europeans, meanwhile, are wondering what hit them.
I'd say China earns more respect from Obama for its clear if confrontational sense of strategic direction than Europe does for deference in the service of disarray. Europe needs to get over America to discover itself. That discovery might provide a basis for strong ties going forward. To use Baloo's memorable image in The Jungle Book, the old trans-Atlantic world is "gone, man, solid gone."
If the Lisbon Treaty is to mean anything, the European Union needs to develop coherent strategies for China, Russia, Middle East peace, Afghanistan and energy security, to name just five areas where it seems to have no unified position.
Now that even France has seen that EU-NATO rivalry is of comical silliness in a world where the West needs coherence just to hold its own, Europe must also work hard on harmonising its military strategy.
US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates was scathing about Europe in a recent speech: "The demilitarisation of Europe where large swathes of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st."
I think that was over the top. The European contribution and sacrifice in Afghanistan have been immense. I don't see European defence budgets increasing, even if they lag the US by a huge margin. But what's essential is that duplication and waste in Europe be cut by coordinating defence spending priorities. In defence, as in foreign policy, it's clarity, not voicemail hell, that America's non-Atlantic president needs from Europe.
BIG SUGAR DRAMA
The Securities and Exchange Board of India's recent ruling making it mandatory for qualified institutional buyers (QIBs) to put 100% of the application money as the margin for subscribing to public issues will create a level playing field for all categories of investors subscribing to public issues. Currently, QIBs have to pay just 10% of the value of shares at the time of application while anchor investors were required to pay 25% at the time of application and the balance amount has to be paid on allotment. As a result, issues are getting heavy subscription from QIBs and they gain an advantage in terms of applying for several issues which open simultaneously. Retail investors, on the other hand, have to pay the total application money for any primary market issuances. This can distort price formation in the market. It has been seen in the past that QIBs sometimes put in huge bids to inflate subscription figures or increase their chances of allotment. Since QIB bids come in mostly on the last day, retail investors often fail to get demand and price cues. But with the new rules, money will chase only quality papers. Moreover, the new rule will discourage institutional investors who subscribe just for the listing day gain, as their cost of funding will go up. Overall, the new rule will ensure parity and reduce distortion in demand.
The new rules which will be applicable for all public issues hitting the capital market after May 1 this year will also reduce the time gap between the dates of issue closure and listing. The time gap at present is around three weeks and the market regulator must bring it down to a week as it has been promising for the past two years. Reducing the time gap between the dates of issue closure and listing will further encourage retail investors to participate in the markets. During the global economic crisis and credit crunch, companies in real estate and infrastructure have been selling shares to QIBs to mobilise funds for their working capital needs. Data shows that in the current financial year till date, companies have mobilised nearly Rs 40,000 crore through this route and various estimates suggest that some 90 companies have shown a willingness to take this route to raise Rs 70,000 crore in 2010. QIBs will, therefore, continue to play an important role in the markets, but Sebi has done well to give retail investors a better opportunity.
THE GENDER EQUATION
When the International Women's Day was launched in 1911, women had the right to vote in fewer than five countries. India, of course, introduced universal suffrage at Independence. Women leaders have won wide acceptance here, as in Asia in general, even as the political class continues to stumble over the Women's Reservation Bill in Parliament. In fact, something really interesting came to light when the world was forced to ask, in the wake of the financial crisis, "What if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters?" It turns out that, according to some studies, one in five of India's big banks and insurance and money-managing companies is headed by a woman. Then there are studies that give India really low scores on gender parity. For example, a World Economic Forum report has ranked India 114th among 134 countries because we still do really badly on female life expectancy, health and education. So, how do we make sense of countervailing reports? The answer is intuitive. It becomes visible in the blink of an eye as we scan the public spaces around us. India has seen opportunities open up for women in ways that couldn't have been imagined at Independence. But the advancement that many have enjoyed only highlights the stasis that many others have experienced. That's what needs to change.
For those who need to put a number to the returns that such a change can deliver, let's point to yet another report. UNDP commemorates this Women Day with a study that says that India's GDP would grow by an additional 1.1% annually, if women's participation in the paid labour force rises to the US level. Education is a key factor here. To take the US example, 80% of women with college education are in the workforce compared with 67% of those with a high school diploma and 47% of those without one. So, the Indian government's efforts to keep the girl child in school will eventually pay off and needs to be sustained. Social sector schemes like the NREG that promote financial inclusion and equal pay for women are also making a difference. None of this is to disregard that gender still determines wage gaps even in developed countries to varying degrees, but to emphasise that we can aim for wage parity only on the basis of increasing women's access to education and skills enhancement. Of course, the feminisation of a country's workforce has dramatic sociological consequences. This is the additional challenge: to socialise the public for the inevitable (and desirable) adjustments that they must make as women's under-representation is reversed in one organisation after another.
IN FAVOUR OF THE SMALL INVESTOR
If the idea is to bring in a greater element of seriousness and transparency into the bidding process for public offerings, by asking large institutional investors to cough up the entire bid amount upfront, the capital market regulator is probably on the right track. The Securities and Exchanges Board of India (Sebi) believes that Qualified Institutional Buyers (QIBs) should write out a cheque for the total value of shares that are bid for rather than just putting up a margin of 10% like they do at present. Sebi has been threatening to change the rules for some time now so as to create a level-playing field between larger and smaller investors, who have been paying the entire subscription amount at the time of submitting the application.
For foreign QIBs the new subscription guidelines will certainly come across as very different from those that they are used to following overseas. The book-running process in developed markets is typically conducted in a manner such that payments are made against the delivery of shares. In other words, money is not blocked. That's possible because rarely does book-building involve retail participation in the western world whereas in India half the book is reserved for smaller investors. Money has to be collected upfront from small investors because it would be near impossible to chase them for payments after the issue has closed. Institutions, on the other hand, are unlikely to not pay up once they receive their allotments.
QIBs may carp that they will be out of pocket for a few days because their money would be blocked till such time as they receive the shares. Moreover, they would also need to hedge the currency exposure for a slightly longer period. However, a part of the problem should get resolved once they are allowed to use the ASBA (application supported by blocked amount) facility from May this year, which Sebi has said should be possible. While the interest earned on the application money lying in the ASBA account may not fully compensate for the hedging costs, it would nevertheless take care of some expenses. The ASBA facility is already available for smaller investors.
The problem that Sebi is trying to address by asking QIBs to also pay 100% of the bid amount upfront is one of institutional bids being reportedly inflated so as to create an impression that the issue is one of high quality. Since they needed to put out just one-tenth of the amount, there could have certainly been instances where QIBs have been known to put in bids early on. That should change now and it's possible QIBs will wait till the last day before submitting a bid. So the bids from QIBs could be far more muted than they have tended to be so far. That may not be such a bad thing and is certainly better than bids that are unnecessarily inflated and therefore, misleading. India is among the most attractive investment destinations in the world today and while they may complain for a while, foreign investors should soon get used to the new norms.
Indeed it's the smaller investors who, typically, are known to try to get a cue from what institutions are doing, who may be in a bit of a spot. Since large institutions are in a better position to judge the quality of the paper being sold and, therefore, the price at which it should be bought, they facilitate better price discovery. If QIBs stay away till the very end, smaller investors won't really be able to gauge their interest. Also, the book on subscriptions is now displayed on exchange websites and so investors are able to keep track of the responses from the various categories which are updated every hour. But that may change. Sebi has apparently asked the exchanges to stop making the subscription numbers public while an issue is open and has suggested that information be put up only after the issue closes. That means retail investors will have no way of knowing how much institutions have bid for. Of course retail investors usually invest at the cut-off price or the discovered price or in the case of an alternative book-building, at the floor price. So to that extent they don't seem to be too sensitive to the price. But they are nevertheless sensitive to how much QIBs are buying because that would determine the success of the issue. Perhaps Sebi could close the institutional book a little earlier and disclose the subscriptions so that retail investors can at least take a look. As it is, in the recent past, small investors have been wary of buying into public issues; the follow-on offers of state-owned NTPC and REC saw the retail quota attract very poor participation as have some of the IPOs.
WHY AUTO WILL NOT HIT BRAKES NOW
DARLINGTON JOSE HECTOR
The Indian automobile industry has been dealt a double whammy, or at least what looks like one on the surfacea few banks have decided to play spoilsport by hiking auto loan rates by 25-100 basis points, on top of the finance minister's move to raise excise duty by two percentage points in his Budget speech.
It may seem obvious to then deduce that Indian auto would screech to a halt in such a scenario. But it may not prove to be the case, at least till such time when automakers would look to raise prices further when the government's new emission standards come into effect from April 1.
It is very unlikely that the nominal hike in auto loan rates by up to one percentage point would impact sales this month. It does not add anything substantial to the EMI on a monthly basis. A hundred or two here or there is not likely to hurt today's middle class and analysts feel that the ongoing developments may not even register with carbuyers who are just looking to step on the gas and speed away. In any case, not all the banks have raised the rates and there are quite a few public sector banks that customers can bank on for lower interest rates.
Further, the month of March is usually good for automotive sales, as customers purchase vehicles to claim depreciation in that fiscal year. It would be safe to assume that March will not be any different this time.
To understand the argument that auto sales may not slow down to a great extent, one has to just look at the current demand environment.
According to data issued by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), car sales jumped 33% last month to 1,53,845 units from 1,15,505 a year earlier. That kind of a robust performance is on the back of a 32% year-on-year rise in January and a 40% increase in December. In November last year car sales had surged 61%, which was the fastest pace of growth since February 2004.
So it has been red-hot going for the past six months or so. That's the reason why no manufacturer is sweating over the recent developments. The 2% raise in excise duty has led to carmakers increasing the prices but it remains to be seen whether that's going to have any significant bearing on sales. The government hiked vehicle excise duties in the budget as part of a rollback of stimulus measures aimed at shielding India's economy from the global financial crisis. Analysts believe that there could be a temporary slowdown (compared to the current rate of growth) on account of this, but that too would pass, as there is plenty of pent-up demand still.
As things stand now, the Indian auto market is forecast to treble over the next decade to six million cars a year from the current two million. US-based consultancy Keystonea subsidiary of LaSalle Consulting Associateshas in fact predicted that India will become the world's third largest automobile market by 2030, behind just China and the US. The consultancy has pegged China at 62 million units and the US at 23 million units.
The Indian vehicle market, according to the consultancy, would cross 20 million by then. The next two countries in the pecking order would be Brazil and Japan, whose sales are projected to be in single-digit millions. Currently, the top five motor vehicle markets are the US, Japan, China, Germany and the UK.
But then, it may not be very prudent to look that far ahead. Just around the corner there could be a speed breaker. It is no secret that carmakers are a tad worried about what could happen when new emission norms come into the picture.
Come April, the industry will surely see another round of price hikes as auto companies will pass on the cost incurred on upgrading to new emission norms of Bharat Stage (BS) IV in 13 cities and BS III in the rest of the country. The industry is expecting a similar kind of hike which happened after excise duty was raised, and that is sure to affect the consumer.
Industry watchers say that when a similar event (new emission norms) took place in 2005, it took more than six months for sales to recover. However, it can be argued that 2010 is no match for those days when competition was not as intense.
The recovery could happen faster this time, yet there is a lurking fear that the change in emission norms could be the nail that can deflate the bull run in auto.
RANBAXY NEEDS A BOOSTER
By failing to launch the generic version of the blockbuster urinary drug Flomax in the US on March 2, Ranbaxy has not simply lost a $50 million opportunity. The issue has also raised fresh concerns about the company faltering on more such 'first to file' drugs that it has in its pipeline. It is now clear that the September 2008 US FDA ban on import of products from two of its manufacturing facilities in India will continue to haunt Ranbaxy for some more time. The FDA ban list included 28 drugs from the company's sites in Dewas and Paonta Sahib. Ranbaxy had begun to face the heat of the ban right from its financial year ending December 2008, when it posted losses of Rs 915 crore, including an 8.8% drop in its US sales. However, it was a different story in the financial year ended December 2009, when it showed a net profit of Rs 460 crore. One of the drivers for this was the launch of the generic version of GSK's Valtrex in the US market in the last quarter. Ranbaxy was the first to file an application for the drug in the US and was granted a 180-day exclusivity by the US FDA.
Despite its gains from Valtrex, Ranbaxy has given a tepid revenue guidance for 2010. Although its sales from North America grew close to 70% in the quarter ending December 2009, the performance in Europe was unimpressive. Add to this the loss from Flomax, the delay in Nexium supply (Ranbaxy entered into an out-of-court settlement with AstraZeneca for Nexium in April 2008), and the FDA woes, and the company's own low estimates do not come as a surprise. Some analysts have revised their revenue estimates for the firm in the current financial year by 12-14%. This is why the company needs to come of the FDA muddle, quick and clean. Daiichi Sankyo, which controls Ranbaxy, has reiterated that it will "help" the latter overcome its FDA problems by "working together". But words won't help. Already, the announcement of a three-year plan for exploiting synergies in operations to enhance both companies' global generic and branded business has been delayed by two months. Both firms can no longer drag their feet on putting forward firm plans to realise synergies and tackle issues with the FDA.
If well-preserved snake fossils are rare, the recovery of the nearly complete remains of a 3.5-metre long snake offering insights into its feeding behaviour is exciting news. The 67-million-year-old snake, Sanajeh indicus, unearthed from Dholi Dungri village in Panchmahal district, Gujarat, is an extraordinary specimen. It was found in the nest of a sauropod dinosaur and lay coiled around broken pieces of a just-hatched egg adjacent to two unbroken eggs and a sauropod dinosaur hatchling fossil. S. indicus shares many features with today's derived macrostomatans, notably pythons. The coiled position and its association with the dinosaur hatchling indicate that the snake preyed on just-hatched dinosaurs by tightly coiling around them. The findings are reported in the latest issue of PLoS Biology. Unlike in basal snakes, the 12 cm-long jaw of S. indicus can move laterally as well. The jaw mobility from lateral movement along with the size of the jaw provided a gape of 16 cm; this enabled the snake to prey on bigger animals. The derived macrostomatans have a very wide gape, going up to 60 cm., for a fully grown python. S. indicus is a primitive snake with some advanced morphological features. It cannot be considered a transitional fossil between basal snake and today's derived macrostomatans. With its jaw adaptations relatively well developed, it will occupy an intermediate position in the snake phylogeny.
Interestingly, a scientist working with the Geological Survey of India discovered the specimen in 1984. But while the juvenile dinosaur and the eggs were identified and the finding reported, the fossil remains of the snake went largely unnoticed. The import of the excellent specimen came to light only in 2001 when Jeffrey A. Wilson from the University of Michigan examined it. Detailed investigation was delayed by more than a year as government policy insisted that a memorandum of understanding be signed with the University of Michigan. This is a classic case of bureaucracy going to extraordinary lengths to slow down, if not block, research enterprise by scientists working in government institutions. At a time when countries like China are pulling out all the stops to promote research and encourage their scientists to collaborate with their peers in scientifically advanced countries, unimaginative policies in India stifle research and leave talented scientists de-motivated and frustrated. When will Indian officialdom realise that facilitating, and not policing, is the way to encourage science and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake?
A REVERSAL OF STANCE
In what is seen as a major reversal of its policy, the International Monetary Fund in a recent paper has said that capital controls are sometimes justified "as part of the policy toolkit" for an economy dealing with surging flows. Its recognition of the need for controls comes at a time when many emerging economies, including India, are having inflows at such a high level as to pose a challenge to their macroeconomic management. With the global economy recovering from the recession, capital from the developed world has been turning to the emerging markets for better returns. Historically low interest rates in the rich countries and a greater tolerance to risks have aided and abetted this trend. For the recipient countries, the consequences of such large flows have been mixed. In India, foreign institutional investors and portfolio managers have returned to the share markets in strength after a lull. The rupee has appreciated, hindering the nascent revival in exports. Flows far in excess of the economy's absorptive capacity have necessitated RBI intervention by way of buying the dollars and then sterilising the resultant excess rupee liquidity. While India has so far not opted to restrain flows into the equity markets, it has placed restrictions on their entry into the debt markets. Some other countries have gone further and levied a tax on foreign capital or imposed quantitative restrictions. The most recent example is Brazil. In October last year, faced with a flood of foreign exchange inflows that was driving up its currency, its government imposed a 2 per cent tax on all inward remittances. Earlier, another Latin American country, Chile, had required foreign investors to keep a portion of their remittances with its central bank for a specified period.
By imposing capital controls to support a fixed exchange rate, Malaysia came out of the Asian currency crisis of the late 1990s in a much better shape than some of its neighbours that had allowed a free movement of capital. The IMF's new stance is surprising because historically it has been a strong advocate of capital account liberalisation even for those member countries with a weak external economy. In its view, controls are expensive as they can distort resource allocations and can be evaded easily. In the past, the IMF has urged member countries facing a surge in capital inflows to allow the exchange rates to appreciate or to accumulate reserves. The two related policy options have not always been sufficient, as the experiences of India and Brazil, besides others, have shown. The IMF 's reconsideration of capital controls shows that it is trying to adjust to the ground realities.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
TO HESITATE NOW WILL BE FATAL FOR CONGRESS
WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN A PROUD DAY FOR INDIAN WOMEN AND MEN BECAME INSTEAD A DAY OF SHAME FOR THE GOVERNMENT AND, BY EXTENSION, THE COUNTRY.
The disruption of parliamentary proceedings on Monday over the issue of women's reservation is an indictment of not just the misogynous legislators concerned but of the ruling Congress party as well, whose lack of political judgment, if not half-hearted commitment to the cause of women's empowerment, stood exposed.
In politics, there is a time for caution, hesitation and even cold feet but that time is before a particular course of action is chosen. Once a decision is taken, however, a wobble can prove fatal.
For better or worse, the Congress leadership decided earlier this year that it would do what no party or government had dared to do so far: pilot the constitutional amendment guaranteeing women one-third of all seats in the Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies through the thicket of male chauvinist opposition that has successfully blocked this historic initiative for more than a decade.
Notice of the government's general intent was served in President Pratibha Devisingh Patil's address to Parliament last month. And at some point during the past 10 days perhaps as a strategy to deal with the flak generated by the oil price hike in the budget the Congress decided the time to press ahead with this historic decision was now. A meeting of the Business Advisory Committee of Parliament was held and word was put out that a strategy for getting the bill passed in the face of any disruption had been worked out.
As a serious political party with more than 125 years of experience behind it, one can only presume the Congress took this decision knowing full well the associated risks and opportunities.
It knew, for example, that it would have the support of not just its partners in the United Progressive Alliance but also the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Left and a number of smaller parties like the AIADMK. Getting the required two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament was, therefore, never an issue. It also knew that the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal would behave appallingly and violate every norm of parliamentary behaviour in their effort to postpone and derail the constitutional amendment. They had done it once earlier and would do it again. Finally, the Congress surely knew that the SP and the RJD whose outside support to the UPA gives the coalition a comfortable buffer in the Lok Sabha would withdraw their support should the government press ahead with the women's bill. Party managers presumably understood the consequences of this withdrawal as well: that the UPA would be reduced to a wafer-thin majority and would have to be on its toes during the debate on the Finance Bill, especially with the BJP and the Left threatening to move cut motions.
If despite these considerable risks, the Congress high command decided to go ahead with the Women's Bill, it did so for a very good reason. Unlike signature accomplishments like the Right to Information Act and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act during UPA-I, the achievements of UPA-II so far are rather thin on the ground. Reservation for women could potentially do for the Congress today what the employment guarantee or loan waiver scheme for farmers did for it the last time. The party leadership, therefore, was ready to gamble on the Women's Bill, knowing that the strategic payoff from its passage would greatly outweigh the tactical headache its floor managers would have to suffer in order to get the budget approved by Parliament later in the session.
Thus on March 8, the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, the stage was set for the Congress to strengthen its electoral hand and for India to make history. But what should have been a glorious day for the women and men of the country turned into a day of ignominy and shame for the nation. A handful of MPs were allowed repeatedly to disrupt the functioning of the Rajya Sabha, forcing frequent adjournments. And, in the end, the vote, which had been slated for 6 pm got postponed. There is now talk of an all-party meeting to be chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh but all of this sounds depressingly familiar. Previous 'all-party' confabulations on the subject, as during the prime ministership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, always ended with a tiresome lament about the "lack of consensus" and the need for further consultations. If the Congress wobble continues, the March 9 meeting could well go the same way.
What is truly shocking about the Congress' failure to pilot the bill through as expected is the rationalisation that "forcing through a vote" or "not having a debate" would somehow have been undemocratic. It is one thing for the disruptors to make such a claim but when members of government give the same logic, one can only question their understanding of what democracy and deliberation actually mean. Parliament is the forum for debate and every piece of legislation, including the Women's Bill, must be thoroughly discussed. But discussion must follow rules.
The physical assault on the Rajya Sabha chairperson, Hamid Ansari, was intended to ensure that discussion never took place. If it was serious about democracy and women's empowerment, the government should have sought the use of the prescribed machinery for dealing with such disruption eviction of the offending MPs by house marshals after due warning by the Chair so that discussion could take place. At the time of voting, the evicted MPs could have been given another chance to come back to the house and vote, but with the clear understanding that marshals would be summoned again should they enter the well of the House or turn violent again. Sadly, none of this was done. There was no discussion and no vote. Instead of the Ayes having it, the 'Hai-Hais' prevailed.
One wonders whether such disruptive tactics would be tolerated by a government or ruling party for any other issue. Will the Congress meekly submit if a handful of MPs behave the same way when, say, the proposed Nuclear Liability Bill is introduced? Or a constitutional amendment on some other issue? Unlikely. The fact is that the male-dominated political class as a whole has tolerated such disruptions for a decade because it concerns the empowerment of women and will lead to a direct reduction in its own power and privilege.
If it is serious about women's reservation in legislatures, there is a very, very narrow window for the Congress to make amends. That window will shut in a day or so. If the women's bill is not voted upon on Tuesday or Wednesday, its opponents will seize the initiative and matters will be postponed for another year or two at least. Already, the same sterile discussions have started on television about why there should be no reservation, about how 'undemocratic' it will be that male MPs can no longer 'nurse' their constituencies since seats would be allocated randomly into the women's pool.
If it is the fear of numbers in the Lok Sabha that stays the party's hands, Dr. Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi should steel themselves for four years of doing nothing. Having tasted easy blood, the SP-RJD, or some other combination of "allies", will hold the government hostage to personal and sectional interests, paralysing decision-making. Instead of living in fear till the next elections, the party should have faith in its original gamble. For, in doing right by the women of India, it will also be doing right by itself.
AT THE OSCARS, AUSTERITY IS SO 2009
EVERYTHING ABOUT THE CEREMONY WAS DESIGNED AS A REPUDIATION OF LAST YEAR'S RECESSION-TAINTED SHOW.
The Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday night was one enormous Hollywood stimulus package. Not one host but two, 10 best picture nominations instead of five, two tributes to dead film luminaries and even an unexplained homage to the horror film, a genre that is very much alive. (Of course, the costly Avatar, with the biggest worldwide grosses of all time, was the ultimate public works project: WPA in 3D.)
As with Washington, there was some waste and abuse, notably the opening dance number Neil Patrick Harris and a troupe of Las Vegas-style dancers that was meant to suggest opulent old-fashioned showbiz-as-usual, and mostly tested the clock and attention spans. As hosts, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin did an updated Catskills routine, but were at their best when snubbing George Clooney and mocking the most distinguished nominees. "Oh look, there's that damn Helen Mirren," Mr. Martin said, pointing at the audience. "That's Dame Helen Mirren," Mr. Baldwin explained.
Mostly, everything about the night was designed as a repudiation of last year's recession-tainted show, which cut back on film clips and featured Hugh Jackman as a one-man singing, dancing, announcing buddy-can-you-spare-a-dime master of ceremonies. This was a supersized celebration of film an effort to crown crowd-pleasing blockbusters as well as art-house favourites anything to speed up the recovery.
Anything less than success would be a particularly stinging failure for ABC. Despite, or more likely because of, the atomisation of entertainment via cable, the Internet and web sites and social media like YouTube and Twitter, so called event television has new allure. Ratings for the Olympics, the Super Bowl and even other awards shows like the Grammys were up this year. The Oscars should receive a similar boost. But the producers did not make it easy for the audience. For all the talk of cutting back on technical awards to show snippets of all 10 nominated films, there was a highlight reel from the governors' awards dinner and even a quick glimpse of the science and technical awards ceremony.
All that put winners under stricter-than-usual limits for acceptance speeches. (Christoph Waltz, who spoke four languages in Inglourious Basterds and won the best supporting actor award, barely had time to thank colleagues in one of them.) The 45-second brevity rule not only cut back on lists of names, but it also pushed out false modesty and weepy humility. Mo'Nique, dry-eyed and feisty as she accepted her supporting actress Oscar for Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, praised the academy for showing "that it can be about the performance and not the politics", and thanked Hattie McDaniel and her lawyer. Sandy Powell, who won her third costume design Oscar, this time for The Young Victoria, was downright saucy, saying drily, "I already have two of these."
Young Hollywood was represented by the likes of Miley Cyrus and Zac Efron, as well as a lyrical break-dancers' ballet that was anything but hip. Those gestures to youth were mostly lip-service; everything about the evening, from the monochromatic chiffon ball gowns to the skits and loving evocations of Hollywood classics, was veined with nostalgia.
There was a mournful elegy James Taylor sang "In My Life" by the Beatles to stars who died in 2009, from Jean Simmons to Brittany Murphy. The director John Hughes got his own separate tribute that reunited onstage stars of Ferris Bueller's Day Off and The Breakfast Club with those from other Hughes teen movies: a Denny's Grand Slam version of The Breakfast Club.
And all of that was preceded by Barbara Walters' valedictory pre-Oscar special. The special, ending a tradition that stretches back almost 30 years, was mostly a misty look at an era before Access Hollywood, TMZ and celebrity Twitter pages when movie stars were so distant and elusive that a pre-Oscar interview was considered "special".
Ms. Walters proved that she had mastered the art of rapid extraction, taking only minutes to coax out of Mo'Nique details about incest, adultery (not a "deal-breaker") and why she doesn't shave her legs. That left room for a montage of clips of everyone she has interviewed, including an aged Bette Davis ("I am just too much"), Audrey Hepburn, Cher, Robert Mitchum, Tom Cruise, Liz Taylor, John Travolta and many others). Sandra Bullock was clowning around when she turned the tables and asked her interviewer what she would like to have in five years that she doesn't have now. She looked taken aback when Walters replied, "Time".
The Oscars were fine, but they would have been better if they had taken up a little less of it. - New York Times
A TURNING POINT FOR GENDER EQUALITY
NATIONS IN THE ASIA PACIFIC SHOULD WORK TOWARDS EMPOWERING WOMEN NOT ONLY AS A LAUDABLE GOAL AND A HUMAN RIGHT BUT ALSO TO BOOST THEIR ECONOMIES.
The Asia Pacific region has made impressive progress on many fronts, and seems poised to recover from the global economic downturn more rapidly than other regions. Long term, sustainable progress, however, requires that more support is given to the empowerment of women.
Achieving equality for women is not only a laudable goal and a human right. It is also good economics, helps deepen democracy, and enables genuine long-term stability.
The latest Asia Pacific Human Development Report, Power, Voice and Rights: A Turning Point for Gender Equality in Asia and the Pacific, estimates that the under representation of women in the workforce costs the region about $89 billion each year roughly equivalent to the GDP of Vietnam.
As well, inequalities in the workforce and obstacles to women's advancement there persist. For example, agricultural jobs account for more than 40 per cent of women's jobs in East Asia and 65 per cent in South Asia. Yet, only seven per cent of the farms in these regions are controlled by women.
The inequalities do not stop there. There are large gaps worldwide between the political participation of men and of women. In the Asia Pacific, however, these gaps are among the largest in the world. The Pacific sub-region alone has four of the six countries in the world with no women legislators at all.
In South Asia, on critical issues such as health, adult literacy, and economic participation, the gaps between men and women are very large by world standards.
According to this latest Human Development Report, almost half the adult women in South Asia are illiterate, a
higher proportion than in any other region in the world. Women in South Asia can expect to live five fewer years than the world average of 70.9 years.
South Asia also has the highest malnutrition rates in the world two out of every five children are underweight, compared to one in four in sub-Saharan Africa.
More women die in childbirth in South Asia 500 for every 100,000 live births than in any other part of the world except for sub-Saharan Africa.
To remove these obstacles, far reaching changes are needed in the interlinked areas of economics, social policy, politics, and the law.
In the realm of economics, policies which ensure that women and men have the same inheritance rights and rights to land title will put assets in the hands of women, and significantly improve their ability to make their voice heard inside and outside the home.
The Human Development Report estimates that increasing the proportion of women in the workforce to 70 per cent, equivalent to the rate of many developed countries, would boost annual GDP in India by 4.2 per cent, in Malaysia by 2.9 per cent, and in Indonesia by 1.4 per cent.
Political reforms are needed so that more women can enter legislatures and positions of power. This region has produced a number of women Presidents and Prime Ministers. More women in power at every level will ensure that women's needs get higher priority than they currently do.
Nations in the Asia Pacific committed to achieving real progress for women when they signed the Millennium Declaration in 2000 and backed the Millennium Development Goals. In countries where the needs and status of women are given low priority, there is the least progress on the goals. If women's status is lifted, that greatly improves the prospects for achieving the MDGs.
Reducing maternal mortality will also have positive spill over effects on the goal of improving children's health and access to education, and of reducing poverty and hunger. Providing girls with education will, in time, be positive in reducing child mortality, and improving child nutrition and health for future generations. Tackling the scourge of sexual and gender-based violence not only addresses a basic human right, but also helps reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS.
The Millennium Development Goals summit at the U.N. this September is a major opportunity to show how prioritising meeting the needs of women can transform development progress.
As we commemorate International Women's Day, we can all commit to these goals and to ensuring that women's needs are elevated, not marginalised.
(The author is a former Prime Minister of New Zealand and is the Administrator of UNDP and the Chair of the U.N. Development Group)
KARZAI RECEIVES A MIXED RECEPTION IN MARJAH
SANGAR RAHIMI AND RICHARD A. OPPEL JR.
Once a Taliban refuge, Marjah has come a long way since the Marines invaded four weeks ago, so much so that Afghan Ppresident Hamid Karzai, arrived Sunday with top U.S. and Afghan officials to speak to several hundred residents crammed inside a mosque.
But the visit made clear how much further there was to go if the people of Marjah were ever to throw their loyalty behind the Afghan government.
On his visit to Marjah, Mr. Karzai tried his best to play to the crowd, and appeared to win it over on occasion with his crisp and simple language, spoken in the accent of his native Kandahar, the neighbouring province.
But residents made it painfully clear that his government was despised here for the corrupt, violent officials who preyed on Marjah for much of the past decade before the Taliban arrived.
In fact, residents say, the depredations of government officials here largely explain why the Taliban and their more effective administration of power and justice became so dominant in Marjah in the first place.
"We will tell you that the warlords who ruled us for the past eight years, those people whose hands are red with the people's blood, those people who killed hundreds they are still ruling over this nation," Hajji Abdul Aziz, a leading elder of Marjah, said, referring not to the Taliban but to government officials. "The people here could not dare to mention their problems."
"For so many years there were only promises," he added, shaking his finger at Mr. Karzai as he spoke on behalf of the people of Marjah, "and the people have run out of patience."
Mr. Aziz and others some shouting at Mr. Karzai recounted past abuses by the Afghan government now vying for credibility in Marjah, including the case of a young boy plucked off the street and raped and imprisoned by local officials.
And they outlined newer complaints: innocent farmers arrested by the Americans. No doctors. Destroyed irrigation canals. Schools and homes taken over by American troops. Other homes wrecked.
"You have said on the radio that you want our children to be educated," Mr. Aziz said. "But how could we educate our children when their schools are turned into military bases? The Taliban never built their military bases in the schools."
But Mr. Karzai warned against shunning the Americans, saying the country would fall under the influence of neighbouring states.
"We need their help to rebuild ourselves," he said. "As soon as we rebuild ourselves they will leave."
A man shouted from the crowd, "Are they promising to leave?"
"They would leave now, but we are holding them back," Mr. Karzai said, drawing laughter.
Though he was a punching bag for every manner of complaint, Mr. Karzai energised the crowd, some of whom stared at the President wide-eyed and open-mouthed. He even managed on occasion to turn the complaints to his favour.
When a police officer brusquely told an older man to sit and calm down, Mr. Karzai barked at him: "Let him say whatever he wants. Don't touch him. Don't bother him." He ordered the officer out of the mosque.
At one point, he asked the assembly, "Are you going to stand beside me?" And the crowd cheered.
One unifying presence appeared to be the newly appointed district chief of Marjah, Hajji Abdul Zahir. Revelations in recent days that Mr. Zahir reportedly served time in a German prison for stabbing his stepson did not appear to be an issue for the Marjah residents who, despite their dislike of the government, praised Mr. Zahir.
"You represent the entirety of Marjah," Mr. Karzai told the crowd, then asked, "You are happy with him?" The crowd cheered in response; no one appeared to dissent.
Mr. Zahir continued to deny that he was ever convicted of attempted manslaughter in Germany, calling the charge "absolute lies."
The American-led NATO military command in Afghanistan continues to support Mr. Zahir so long as his boss, Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand province, supports him as well.
NATO commanders have not taken any steps to remove Mr. Zahir or to press the Afghan government to remove him, said Lieutenant-Colonel Todd Breasseale, a spokesman for the NATO command in Kabul, the Afghan capital.
"We're happy with the job he has done because his boss is happy with the job he has done," Lieutenant-Colonel Breasseale said, referring to Mr. Zahir and Mr. Mangal. New York Times News Service
The UPA government efforts to mark the centenary of International Women's Day by passing the historic legislation for reserving 33 per cent of seats in Parliament and in state assemblies for women hasn't quite followed the script. It met with not just determined, but unruly, opposition from the Hindi heartland parties like the Samajwadi Party (SP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Janata Dal (United) in the two houses. One of the members snatched the papers of the bill from Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari and tore them up, an act of utter contempt for the norms of the house.
What is objectionable is not the opposition as such but the manner in which it was expressed. It appears that Sharad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav are overcome with anger and have lost the cool and ability to argue their case coherently. Even if they were to present a cogent case they would not have had a chance of winning. Given the strength of numbers arrayed in support of the bill, they would have certainly lost their case. They are unable to accept defeat gracefully, which is what democracy is all about.
There is much to argue for and against the bill. If those who favour the bill were to carry the day, it does not really prove the moral or rational superiority of their position. But if the majority is convinced that it should be done then it should be done. Of course, the argument based on majority is problematic and even dangerous.
On the whole, it is the only way to work a democracy. What Indian politics seems to lack is a healthy and vigorous debate. The best and the worst in our political class do not seem to believe in making their points cogently - and this does not augur well for a democracy.
What seems to be worrying the Yadav leaders with regard to this bill is the electoral implications. They seem to
fear that the seats which they could win may fall in the reserved category and they may not always be able to field a woman candidate. It is a reflection of the social structure of the backward caste segment. But there is another way to look at this: it could accelerate the emergence of women politicians from these sections as well.
There is no doubt that the Congress, BJP and the Communists hope to reap political mileage out of it. Convictions are not at stake. It is the overriding imperative of expediency that relegates the importance of debate.
The Maoists, by asking for Arundhati Roy and Kabir Suman as mediators with the government of India, seem to show that they are well aware of the power of the gesture in this media-driven world. By picking two big ticket names, they know that they will get the platform they want to push forward their point of view and if they are lucky, their larger agenda as well.
By turning them down, Roy has shown that while she may have appeared to be a sympathiser, she is in fact not so easily taken for a ride. Suman, a singer and a Trinamool Congress MP who has been working with tribals in Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh, is however more than willing to accept Maoist leader Kishanji's offer.
Unfortunately it is difficult to ascertain just how serious the Maoists are in their ceasefire and their offer to talk peace. While no one can deny that development has been grossly neglected in the Maoist-run areas of India and that the people who live there have been denied the very basics of life, it is becoming increasingly clear that the answer does not necessarily lie with the Maoist view of life.
The violence which the Maoists are committed to becomes their biggest stumbling block. Their counterparts in Nepal eventually realised that change through democracy whatever its flaws is not just the most just, it is the most practical. In India, the Maoists would like to continue with their policy of power without responsibility.
In recent times, ill-though-out government initiatives like the Salwa Judum or a militia of civilians has further exacerbated the situation and proved that violence cannot be the solution. Salwa Judum also underlined the dangers of handing over the powers of the state to the general public. The result has been mayhem, even more discrimination and more violence.
If Suman and the bureaucrat-turned-activist BD Sharma indeed decide to go ahead and act as interlocutors for the Maoists, they have to get rid of their rose-tinted spectacles and instead adopt a pragmatic and realistic approach. Roy has pointed out that she is a writer and not a mediator. Many have criticised her for her "left-wing" views and her sympathy for tribals. But the sad truth is that no one involved in the issue of the development of the most backward people of India not the government and not the Maoists have managed to do any substantial good. That change is still to come.
THE PLIGHT OF THE FARMER
For the first time since Manmohan Singh was sworn in as the prime minister to head the second version of the UPA government, he has started appearing vulnerable. The extent can be gauged from the fact that in the face of insistent opposition to the backbreaking food inflation inside and outside Parliament, the Congress has been forced to mobilise the full weight of its president and the UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, to back the budget proposals of the finance minister and the pronouncements of the prime minister This is a rally to salvage the image of a government battered by the increasing irreconcilability between claims of representing the concerns of the 'aam aadmi' and the blatant neo-liberal direction to burden the common man and providing tax breaks to the rich.
She has claimed that the government has done everything possible to tame the incessant upward movement of food prices. She has even hinted apportioning the blame on the state governments as her colleagues have attempted to do. But she is defending the indefensible!
Because in his post-budget interactions in the public space, the finance minister has himself admitted that his budget proposals do contain inflationary elements. But he has tried to reassure the nation that the impact of the oil price hike will be limited. Time will tell.
The finance minister claims that inflation is driven by the rapid upward movement of food prices and essentially because of the failure on the supply side insofar as food grains are concerned. And it can be absorbed by increased production. But the reality of Indian agriculmay prove otherwise.
Some 65% of the population depends on agriculture despite its share declining to 15.7% of the GDP in 2008-09. The tenth plan target for agriculture was of 4% growth. It was achieved only by half. With last year's growth at less than 2% and this year's estimate of -0.2%, the 11th plan target is also slated to go for a toss.
The reason for this is not hard to find. Public investment in agriculture has sharply declined since the onset of reforms in early 1990s from 16% of the GDP to 6 per cent last year. The alternative strategy of supplementing this decline by the engagement of the private sector has not yielded results in augmenting the overall production or productivity.
The individual farmer is being marginalised with adverse terms of credit. An eminent commentator on the sector has brought out a damning equivalence study. In 1990, a cotton grower in Maharashtra could buy 15 gm of gold by producing one quintal of cotton. Today the same grower would need 15 quintals of cotton but would get only 8 grams of gold.That is a 30-fold adverse ratio for the hapless cotton grower. This forms the backdrop of farmers' suicides.
The economic survey has revealed that the total kharif production this year is down by 16%. With rabi and kharif accounting for roughly 50% of the total production each, the estimate of -0.2% appears to be extremely optimistic. What was therefore needed was a sharp enhancement in the allocation, not the current measly amounts of 9.45 per cent of this Union budget and 1.56% of the GDP. These are down from 10.77% and 15.074% and 1.79% and 2.50% of 2009-10 and 2008-09 respectively. This sets out the sense of priority that the finance minister accords to the challenge that grips our agriculture sector. Add to this the sharp reduction in the fertiliser subsidy and the intent to move towards a market-driven international price regime which will further burden the farmer.
The sense of urgency that ought to have featured the budget is conspicuous by its absence. The structure drawback of Indian agriculture lies in the reality of its skewed nature. Some 48 million hectares of irrigated land account for 56% of our total food production while 95 million hectares of non-irrigated rain fed and dry land areas produced just 44%.
Without concentrating our efforts in improving the question of irrigation infrastructure and technology promotion and assimilation in these areas of low production and productivity, the over all growing food needs cannot be met. Private sector-led seed, pesticides, supply chain corporates both domestic and multinationals would never be interested in addressing such an onerous challenge. Huge swathes of backward agriculture and petty growers will continue to remain unviable.
So that is the story of the budget. With the Union finance minister refusing to show the urgency that is needed to draw the Indian agricultural sector and peasantry out of the bottomless pit that they are continuing in a sinking journey, the hope for containing food inflation by managing the supply side deficit will remain a pipe dream.
RESERVATIONS AND THE IDEA OF EQUALITY
PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR
It can be argued with some justification that the right thing should be done even if many people do not like it and even oppose it. Examples can be cited: Abraham Lincoln's proclamation emancipating slaves at the end of the American Civil War and Mahatma Gandhi championing the cause of the Dalits his Harijans in the face of conservative opposition. Of course, a closer scrutiny would reveal that both Lincoln and Gandhi were uncannily shrewd politicians. They were morally committed to their respective issues but they also sensed the popular mood. And they gave the impression that they were doing the right thing in spite of apparently popular opposition.
Lincoln and Gandhi thought deeply and carefully about the blacks and Dalits, talked about it with conviction and argued their case. Of course, Lincoln did not plead for special treatment to blacks. He wanted that the blacks should be treated on a basis of equality with that of whites. Gandhi understood fully the moral degradation inherent in the position of Dalits and argued like Lincoln that they should be treated as equal to others. Gandhi did not ask for reservations for Dalits.
Given his anti-statist philosophy, he would not have supported the idea of state bestowing special favours even to the most oppressed sections of society. Perhaps it is this which must have given both poignancy and strength to the stand that Lincoln and Gandhi took with regard to blacks and Dalits.
In independent India, the idea of reservations has taken deep root as a policy of instrument to right social wrongs. While it is necessary to use the full authority and force of the state to put down practices like burning of widows or 'sati', it is to be debated whether it should be used to make reservations for the oppressed. The principle is unclear if not entirely dubious with regard to reservations. Quotas cannot be used as an argument to establish equality. It revolves, on the other hand, on the principle that the state must ensure numerical representation.
There is something legitimate when the state finds it necessary to intervene forcefully to ensure equality. Despite Lincoln's proclamation of emancipation ways were found to deny blacks both opportunities and rights. That is why the US Supreme Court had to make the famous intervention in 1954 for breaking desegregation in schools. But again, here too the state intervened not to create quotas for the blacks but to ensure for them their legitimate right to attend school and college with white kids.It was only in 1964 that president Lyndon Johnson was able to push through the civil rights bill for the blacks.
The policy of quotas and reservations in India does not promote the right to equality as much as it enhances the power of the state to do social good, which has been expanding continuously for 60 years because it has been felt by political parties that the state must do certain things. That is why reservations for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and Other Backward Classes is a gesture of state benevolence in the guise of fulfilling social commitments which have not resulted in equality but only sharpened the politics of identity.
Women's reservation bill too is supposed to promote gender equality but what it really does is create yet another special interest. And society is turned into a bureau of cubbyholes. And the power of the state is increased yet again. Women will remain beholden to parties and their agendas. The argument that a women's constituency will force the political parties and the state to pay attention to women's issues is not convincing because women do not constitute a homogenous segment. There are as many differences among women as there are in society.
What Indians will have to decide is whether they want to further empower the state or they want greater equality in society.
TRY SAEED FOR 26/11
HE REMAINS A THREAT TO PEACE
Whether or not India and Pakistan discussed the case of Pakistan's Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, there is enough evidence to prove that he is the main brain behind the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack. India has handed over dossiers to Pakistan to bring Saeed to book, but in vain. Pakistan was given fresh dossiers during the February 25 Foreign Secretary-level talks, but it continues to remain in denial mode. Islamabad says no action can be taken against Saeed, founder of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), because the latest dossiers, too, do not contain "actionable intelligence". The truth is that Pakistan's intentions are far from pious. Saeed is being provided all kinds of help, describing him as a man "widely respected in the countries of the region".
Apparently, Saeed is unfazed by what India and other countries think of him. In a recent TV interview, he shamelessly boasted, "Let India prove it (his involvement in the Mumbai terrorist attack) in any court, I will be ready to accept everything." He also indulged in war-mongering by saying that "If India is not prepared to hold talks, Pakistan will have to fight a war at all costs". This shows that he continues to remain a threat to peace and stability in South Asia. An India-Pakistan war suits the designs of terrorists like Saeed. Such a situation provides them an excellent opportunity to strengthen their position in society.
Pakistan is, perhaps, scared of Saeed as he may bring into the open how the ISI has been patronising the LeT to use it for achieving its unholy objectives in the region. When the LeT was banned under international pressure, Saeed began to concentrate on the activities of the JuD. However, the JuD, too, was declared a terrorist outfit by the UN Security Council in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist carnage. This led to Saeed's house arrest in December 2008, but he became a free man within six months. The Lahore High Court quashed the charges against him because the Pakistan Government indirectly helped him by taking little interest in the case against Saeed. Islamabad did challenge the high court ruling in the Pakistan Supreme Court but only for keeping the world quiet. No hearing has been held so far.
INDIA'S FOOD SECURITY IN JEOPARDY
Groundwater depletion has ceased to stir governments. Budgets do make much ado about small allocations for "water bodies" but no one knows where the money goes. There is hardly any material change at the ground level. The water levels in lakes and rivers all polluted and stinking keep receding. Last year when drought loomed, the sinking water table drew some attention. Yet no concrete government plan has emerged to clean and revive the dirty and drying water resources. Farmers, meanwhile, extract every available drop to nurture their paddy crop. The World Bank is the latest to ring the alarm bell by pointing out that the overuse of groundwater could endanger India's food security in 20 years by slashing a quarter of the harvest.
Ordinary politicians may not know how climate change will impact agriculture but even the extremely naive would be aware how agriculture could wilt without water. Eighty per cent of the urban and rural water supplies and 60 per cent of irrigated agriculture depend on groundwater. This makes India the largest groundwater user in the world. The US-based NASA's Grace Mission had last year pointed out how critical the situation was in Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab. Between 2002 and 2008 the water table kept falling as rainwater failed to arrest the decline even when there was normal rain. This means there is no replenishment of groundwater and farmers are drawing on the reserves.
It is common to blame paddy cultivation and farmers for the overuse of water. Governments aggravate the problem by subsidising electricity and diesel, raising the paddy minimum support price year after year and by doing nothing to harvest rainwater or replenish the existing water resources. Gujarat is an exception. In the midst of drought last year its water table went up, thanks to the government's stepped-up investment in irrigation networks and construction of more than one lakh check-dams across the state. It holds lessons for other less enlightened states.
WORLD CUP LESSONS
INDIAN HOCKEY CAN TURN AROUND
IT is tempting to write a requiem for Indian hockey after the national team's failure to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup. But before knives are brought out, it must be stated that the Indian team played passionately and skilfully enough to raise hopes about the future. Players played their heart out and tried hard to match other teams in speed and skill. Flashes of the old magic were often on display and the players showed fighting spirit. While they were outplayed by Australia and Spain, the match against England could have gone either way while against archrivals Pakistan, the Indian team, which started as the underdog, put up a spectacular performance. True, it was let down by its relative lack of fitness and stamina, poor finishing and lack of killer-instinct and possibly also by its inability to play the mind-game. But it is Hockey India which is to be blamed. To cite just one small example, a Spaniard, Jose Brasa, was appointed the national coach barely eight months ago. Typically, we Indians tend to postpone all serious preparations till the eleventh hour.
One of the more perceptive and thoughtful comments, however, was made by Mr Horst Wein, a professor of physical education in Munich and Barcelona, who is also a master coach of the International Hockey Federation. The professor, in Delhi to watch the World Cup, blamed the lack of vision in those who are "running the game in India" for the decline of Indian hockey. Nothing new in that, one thought, till the professor got into the specifics. Five-a-side or six-a-side matches, he said, should have been encouraged at the school level to promote the game. When eleven-year olds are forced to play eleven-a-side matches, he pointed out, half the players on the field never get to touch the ball with their sticks. "Here right from the young age they are playing 11 against 11, which is a cancer in Indian hockey," he said.
The country continues to suffer from a severe shortage of good coaches, doctors specialising in sports medicine, sports psychologists besides experts like Herr Wein, not to speak of infrastructural deficiencies, good planning, regular tournaments, steady exposure and consistent training to raise levels of the game. Intelligent hockey, says Professor Wein, is played in the mind and it is time to focus more on the mental aspects of the game in order to put Indian hockey back on the fast track.
DISRUPTIONS IN LEGISLATURES
FOUNTAINHEAD OF OUR PROBLEMS
BY K. SUBRAHMANYAM
THIS year's budget speech will go down in our history not for the contents of the budget proposals but for the disruption caused in Parliament and the walkout staged by the Opposition. Never before in the 63 years since India became independent has there been such a rude unparliamentary attempt to disrupt the Finance Minister discharging his constitutional responsibility. It is not intended to pass a judgement on the merits of the impugned proposal. Interrupting and shouting down the Governor's address in the state assemblies has become a ritual in a number of states.
Disruption of the proceedings of the two Houses of Parliament and state assemblies has become the regular norm. When the elected representatives at the highest level - the rulers - are so disorderly, is it any surprise that our bureaucracy's high and low are equally remiss in the discharge of their duties? The protesters in the streets are equally inclined to resort to violence. Shouting down a minister or preventing a fellow member speaking on his turn according to the prescribed rules is an act of violence.
The ancient Sanskrit saying is, "Yatha Raja, thatha praja" (As is the ruler so are the subjects). In a country where after 63 years of parliamentary tradition Parliament's members do not observe rules, it is futile to complain that the vehicle drivers on the roads do not do so.
As soon as the Speaker takes her chair, some members start shouting, urging that they should be heard first and their demand should take precedence over everything else though the day's business has been fixed by the Business Advisory Committee and there are prescribed rules and procedures for drawing the Speaker's attention to a matter of extraordinary urgency and importance. Such MPs flout the rules and prescribed procedures to draw attention to themselves and their party. In that sense their motivation is not different from that of a terrorist who carries out an outrage to draw attention to his cause through an act of violence.
Here violence is used in the dictionary sense that it constitutes behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt or damage, though the hurt or damage may not be personal. A number of people shouting together to prevent the normal discharge of duties of an MP causes hurt and damage to him as well as others.
The Indian Republic is founded on the principles of pluralism and secularism. Those principles cannot be practised without the spirit of tolerance. Our netas and MPs expect us to believe that they are capable of practising and upholding these principles in their real lives when they hardly display any sense of tolerance towards their elected colleagues within the chambers of the two Houses under the eyes of the presiding officers. Most of the developing countries abandoned democracy and we in India proudly proclaim that this country has been able to sustain its democracy. Have we really? The regular unruly happenings in the Houses of Parliament are a constant reminder how skin-deep is the democratic temperament of our legislators.
The total lack of accountability among our legislators about their unruly behaviour in Parliament translates itself into an analogous lack of accountability in regard to maintaining law and order in the streets. One leader of the Opposition in a state argues that stone throwing is a form of nonviolent protest. For most of our netas, bandhs, violent closure of shops, public transport burning and damage to public property are legitimate activities just as the disruption of the legislatures are. While, through bandhs they cause a reduction in the Gross Domestic Product, prevent daily wagers from earning their livelihood, disrupt the functioning of hospitals and educational institutions, interdict road and rail traffic, they talk of aam aadmi. If the highest legislatures of the country can be disrupted with impunity without fear of any adverse consequences why should any other activity be considered sacrosanct and spared?
Just as in Parliament, disrupted so often, legislation gets through without debate and disruptive behaviour forces decisions, in states, bus -burning and damaging public property have become regular processes leading to decision making. Our lawyers, who are supposed to be trained to uphold law, follow the example of the lawmakers and disrupt law and order and storm high court buildings.
It hardly occurs to such legislators that future police officers and district magistrates will be recruited from the bus-burning and bandh-promoting young men who get away with their violence just as our legislators do. With that kind of conditioning in their youth, their values and attitude are not going to be very helpful in the enforcement of law and order. Having been used to permissive law enforcement, they are likely to be equally permissive.
Our Home Minister in true democratic spirit asks the left-wing extremists to abjure violence and accept the constitutional rule. While it is far from my intention to defend the extremists, is not the extremist asking for the same thing as the disrupting MP does, that he should have his own way irrespective of the rule of law? How do you fight him when the rule of law is not respected within the chambers of the two Houses of Parliament? How do we expect our young men to lay down their lives to protect the constitutional rule when the republic is wrecked from within by the MPs who disrupt the governance of the republic?
Not only such disrupters do not get disciplined, very often they become ministers. That explains why after 60 years of independence India has not eliminated poverty, illiteracy, gender oppression and caste and communal violence. When some 670 people cannot be persuaded to abide by rules and regulations, how is this country of one billion and three hundred million people be successfully welded into a modern democratic republic?
In every session of Parliament days are lost in interruptions and adjournments without any business, wasting the money that belongs to aam aadmi for whom the legislators shed crocodile tears. Most of them are not in the House most of the time. How do such rulers expect that they can have a governing machinery where the bureaucracy will not follow their example and play truant instead of concentrating on the delivery of goods and services to the common man. It is time those political leaders who cherish democratic values, cutting across parties, the civil society, the academia and the leaders in the legal profession raised their voices and warned the country that if this situation is not immediately addressed, we shall be facing the fate of the Weimar Republic.
RIGHTING MY WRITING
BY SUDHAMAHI REGUNATHAN
SUBBAROYAN was one of those who had come all the way from Tamil Nadu to Delhi as labour. He spent quite a few years carrying bricks and throwing away the malba on construction sites of Delhi's famed flyovers. Age caught on and as he looked for other options to earn, he arrived in our house as a sweeper.
He began by sweeping the outsides and the garden. From a sweeper he graduated rather quickly to become an advisor on whom the whole family was dependent. The one whom he had taken under his wings was me. He felt responsible for me and so not only helped me with everything possible, but also kept a stern eye on my activities.
One day he came and stood by me when I was typing. Those were the days of the typewriter. I had an old one which made considerable noise as I hammered on the keys. "Now all you do the whole day long is bang on that. Just tell me, I will do the banging, I have more strength than you anyway. And you take rest," he told me.
Aghast that my cerebral endeavour could be understood so, I pulled out some of my "achievements" and showed him my name saying, "I have written this, and this too. It requires a lot of thought before I bang." Unconvinced, he went off with an, "Is that so?"
When the computer came I had to convince him that it was not a television but a monitor. And then I thought, why should I? I did not need his approval. And he continued to be skeptical. As luck would have it just the moment when I was playing solitaire, he happened to peer into the screen and was scathing in his remark: "Oh! so you are turning into a gambler?"
A period of research followed when I went to libraries and came back with copious notes. Subbaroyan was happy. He felt he had gently served me away from the vices of the world. To show his appreciation and approval for my "changed" personality, he would make me tea even before he saw the car entering the gate and so on.
When I had to give the book to the publisher I was sorting out the pictures. Subbaroyan who was now kindly disposed to me came to have a look at them. He was silent. Only then did I realise that the tribals, whose pictures I had, were mainly men and most of them almost nude.
Early next morning my husband was reversing the car to go for his game of golf when a silhouette emerged from the bushes and told him, "Forget your golf saab spend more time with your wife if you want to keep her."
DELHI SCHEME COMES TO RESCUE OF DAUGHTERS
BY O.P. SHARMA AND CARL HAUB
THE highly skewed sex ratio at birth in India is a result of the preference for sons and the abortion of female fetuses. The preference for sons has deep roots in India for cultural and economic reasons. It is argued that once a girl is married, she leaves the parental home to live with her in-laws and is perceived to be of little economic benefit, such as support of her parents in their old age. A common saying is that raring a girl child is like "watering neighbour's garden."
In order to (i) enhance the social status of a girl child in society as well as the family (ii) ensure proper education and make the girl child self-reliant (iii) ensure economic security and (iv) protect the girl child from discrimination and deprivation, an incentive-based scheme called LADLI was launched by the Government of Delhi effective from January 1, 2008.
The object of this scheme is two fold the direct and tangible objective is to change the attitudinal mindset of the family towards the girl child by linking cash and non-cash incentives. This encourages the families to look upon the girl as an asset rather a liability.
The eligibility conditions for financial assistance under this scheme are (1) the girl child should be born in Delhi (2) the family should be a resident in Delhi for the previous three years (3) the annual income does not exceed Rs 1 lakh and (4) the girl child should be studying in a recognised government school in Delhi.
The cash incentive under the scheme is that every girl child born is entitled to Rs 11,000 in the case of an institutional birth and Rs 10,000 for a non-institutional birth. Thereafter, the government is to deposit Rs 5,000 each at the time of her admission to class I, VI, IX, X and XII in the name of the girl.
Under the scheme the amount is deposited in the accounts opened with the State Bank of India in the name of the girl child. These deposits accumulate up to Rs 1 lakh on the girl's attaining the age of 18 years. The money can be withdrawn, preferably by her mother, when the girl attains the age of 18.
According to the annual report on Registration of Births and Deaths, 2008, released by the Director of Economic and Statistics, in 2008 Delhi recorded a positive sex ratio in favour of girls for the first time in 2008.
It is claimed that due to the concerted efforts to implement the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, outlawing the practice, and with the implementation of the LADLI scheme the sex ratio at birth has started to give positive results in favour of girls.
According to the annual report for 2008, the number of total births registered was 333,908 of which 166,583 were boys and 167,325 were girls, giving a sex ratio of 1,004 girl babies per 1,000 boy babies.
The number of registered births during 2007 was 322,044 of which 174,289 were boys and only 147,755 were girls! That gave a sex ratio of only 848 in 2007. Why is the sudden spurt in the registration of girl births?
The Government of NCT of Delhi has stated that the higher number of registered births of girls during 2008 manifests a dip in female foeticide and infanticide and to some extent to the effective implementation of the LADLI scheme. This needs to be looked into in depth.
The LADLI scheme envisaged that those girls who were born on or after January 1, 2008, are entitled to cash and non-cash incentives. This resulted in the registration of a large number of girl birth during 2008.
During the month of January 2008 alone, a higher number of girl births were registered and the sex ratio was 1,090 girl births per 1,000 boy births.
From February to June 2008 the sex ratio for registered births continued to be favourable for girls. However, during the second half of 2008 July to December the sex ratio declined and hovered around 975.
The question which immediately comes to one's mind is: Why was the higher number of girl births in comparison to boys reported immediately after the announcement of the LADLI scheme and less in the second half of the year? This may perhaps call for verification of the bona fides of beneficiaries under the LADLI scheme.
There is every possibility that the higher sex ratio during the first half of 2008 is due to the registration of those girl births which did not occur in the NCT of Delhi but elsewhere in the neighbouring areas.
Further, a sizeable number of registered births are non-institutional. During 2007 the share of the non-institutional births was higher in the case of boys (25.4 per cent) than girls (24.9). During 2008 the share of non-institutional births was higher in the case of girls (30.0 per cent) than boys (23.1). The actual place of occurrence of non-institutional births can be quite difficult to verify.
Interestingly, the sex ratio of the registered births during January-June, 2008, taken together, works out to 1,048 which then declined to 969 in respect of those births which took place during July-December, 2008. Why this shortfall?
There is every possibility that some parents might have got the benefit of the scheme on the basis of false claims. The non-institutional girl births which took place outside Delhi might have been registered by those migrants who came to Delhi, leaving behind their families and took the benefit under the LADLI scheme though the girl was born at the native place of the parents.
This argument is strengthened by the fact that the higher registration of girl births started immediately after the announcement of the LADLI scheme and this continued for the first half and declined in the second half of 2008.
During the four months since the launch of the LADLI scheme, the Delhi government opened 6,000 fixed deposit accounts and another 23,000 claims were being processed. One should thus be careful in interpreting this first high sex ratio among the registered births in Delhi and verify the factual position. Recently, the Shagun Scheme which provides Rs 15,000 to eligible Scheduled Castes girls upon marriage in Punjab has come under scanner where some people received money thrice even though it could only be given twice, received three cheques for one daughter and even issueless mothers received money.
An enquiry has been ordered in this case by the Punjab government. The Delhi government should take heed of the possibility of misuse of an excellent and well-intentioned programme, something that can happen anywhere when a windfall of funds is involved. O.P. Sharma is India Consultant, Population Reference Bureau, Washington-DC, stationed in New Delhi. Carl Haub is a senior demographer at the Population Reference Bureau, Washington-DC
IRAQ PAYS A PRICE FOR 'DEMOCRACY'
BY ROBERT FISK
IN 2005 the Iraqis walked in their tens of thousands through the thunder of suicide bombers, and voted the Shias on the instructions of their clerics, the Sunnis sulking in a boycott to prove Iraq was a "democracy". There followed the most blood-boltered period in Iraq's modern history. On Sunday, the Iraqis walked in their tens of thousands through the thunder of mortar fire at least 24 dead before voting stations closed to prove that Iraq was a "democracy".
This time, the Sunnis did vote. And we Westerners tried to forget the past, even the recent past. Few news reports recalled that only weeks ago hundreds of candidates, most of them Sunnis, were banned from standing on the grounds that they had once had links with the Baath Party. It was a clear return to sectarian politics. Shias who were close to Saddam still hold their jobs in the "democratic" Iraq for which the Iraqis supposedly went to vote on Sunday.
Under Iraq's new laws, the electoral system has been jiggled to ensure that no single party can win power. There has got to be a coalition, an alliance or a "broad alliance" as the television analysts were telling us among whomever of the 6,000 candidates from 86 parties gain seats in parliament. But all this means is that the next sectarian government will hold power according to the percentage of Shia, Sunni and Kurdish communities in Iraq.
The West has always preferred this system in West Asia, knowing that such "democracy" will produce governments according to the confessional power of each community. We've done this in Northern Ireland. We did it in Cyprus. The French created a Lebanon whose very identity is confessional, each community living in suspicious love of each other lest they be destroyed. Even in Afghanistan, we prefer to deal with the corrupt Hamid Karzai held in disdain by most of his fellow Pushtuns and allow him to rule on our behalf with an army largely made up of paid tribal supporters. This may not be in the State Department's laughable excuse "Jeffersonian democracy", but it's the best we are going to get.
And always we defend these miserable results with the same refrain. Do you want the Taliban back? Do you want Saddam back? Or, in the cases of Cyprus and Lebanon decades ago, do you want the Ottoman Turks back? And while we think that election results however fraudulent or however complex (Iraq's next government may take months to form) are an improvement, we do not stop to ask who really wins these elections. Iran, whose demented president knows how to handle "democratic" polls, is of course the victor. Its two enemies, the "black Taliban" and Saddam, have both been vanquished without a single Iranian firing a shot.
Sunni politicians in Iraq claim that Iran is interfering, both militarily and politically, in Iraq. But since most of the current ruling parties were nurtured in the Islamic Republic, Iran has no need to interfere. The Dawa Party, to whom we now graciously bend the knee in respect, was 20 years ago kidnapping foreigners in Beirut, and bombing the US and French embassies in Kuwait City. And we are not even mentioning Mosul and other cities in northern Iraq, where the elections are not about democracy at all, but about who controls the oil on the Arab-Kurdish front lines.
Yes, the Iraqis are a brave people. How many Brits would go to the polls under mortar fire? Or Americans, for that matter? It's not that Muslims don't want freedom or democracy. It's that "democracy" doesn't seem to work when their countries are occupied by Western troops. It didn't work in Afghanistan. The withdrawal of American "combat" troops from Iraq doesn't mean that US forces won't remain in great strength.
And as long as the Mubaraks and the King Abdullahs (both of them) have our uncritical political support, their nations will make no real progress towards freedom.
Thus Sunday's election day in Iraq does not represent further proof of the values of our Western democracies. It does mean that a courageous people still believes that the system under which it is voting will honour its wishes.
As so often in the past, however, the election is more likely under our benevolent eye to enshrine the very sectarianism which Saddam once used so ruthlessly to enslave his people.
By arrangement with The Independent
PC TAKES TIME OFF TO ENJOY PHOTOGRAPHY
THIS Friday Home Minister P. Chidambaram stole some time away from Parliament and politics to enjoy some art at the India Habitat Centre's Palm Court complex.
The occasion the launch of the fourth photo show of Ashok Lavasa, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Home. Arriving in his private car sans security, Chidambaram skirted questions on Naxal violence, telling reporters: "No politics please, let me enjoy the pictures".
He was later seen concentrating on the frames which Ashok and his better half, Novel, put together in their ensemble "Inward Eye", often asking them the altitude where some pictures located in the Himalayan ranges were taken.
Leaving the complex, PC left his colleague a warm message in the visitors' book "Photography has been transferred into high art in these pictures; my congratulations to the Lavasas, wanderers and observers." Also present at the show, to last till March 12, was Raghu Rai, who inaugurated it.
Women's Bill: BJP better at it
The BJP seems to have done better management of its members and supporters on the Women's Reservation Bill than the Congress. While the Congress, pushing the Bill, was in a quandary at the prospect of Lalu and Mulayam deserting the UPA camp, the BJP sat coolly unfazed. It has already thrown out all its OBC leaders Uma Bharti, Gangacharan Rajput and Kalyan Singh, who were opposing the Bill.
When JD-U president and NDA convener Sharad Yadav made too much noise opposing the Bill, they had Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar come out openly opposing Sharad Yadav and supporting the BJP on the Women's Bill.
The other day a BJP leader was commenting upon the quality of women who would suddenly come up in politics, thanks to the reservation. But then who cares? Parliament and legislative assemblies would no longer look so drab after all as they do now with all the rustic OBCs muscling their way into the hallowed temple of democracy!
Virbhadra loses prime seat on Budget day
On the Budget day, Steel Minister Virbhadra Singh went to the Lok Sabha after the Cabinet meeting held in the Parliament House and sat behind Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee , who was about to start reading his budget speech.
Suddenly, Virbhadra remembered some work at the Parliament House bank. So he got up from his seat and went to the bank. His earmarked seat was in the direct frame of TV screens since it was right behind the FM.
On returning to the House, much to his discomfiture, he found that his seat had been occupied by another minister from his home state of Himachal Pradesh who until then was seated on the back benches.
Even as Virbhadra stood close to him, this minister, who is seen as a rival of the Steel Minister in state politics, would not vacate the seat.
Seeing this, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal got up and offered his seat to the Steel Minister but he declined. Finally, he had to be content with a seat that somehow was not in the frame of TV cameras.
Contributed by Aditi Tandon, Faraz Ahmad and Ashok Tuteja
DON'T SLAM THE WRONG PEOPLE
It's easy to criticise the players, but the truth is that the hockey team is the only positive aspect of a sport that faces multiple problems
Aformer national hockey captain once told me a hilarious story from a match against Germany in the mid-90s. India were being completely dominated and one of the players from the forward line was upset that no one was passing the ball to him. Finally, midway into the first half, he walked up to a team mate and asked him to give him the ball, "at least once". Without batting an eyelid, his colleague replied: "It's been with the Germans for the last 20 minutes, why don't you take it from them?"
Back then, Indian hockey wasn't anywhere close to being at its highest ebb, but there was still the occasional cheer, the odd flicker, a ray of hope that things would one day get better. Now, 15 years later, the standard has fallen so drastically that an exchange between players like the one in the Germany match no longer has a funny side, it's just par for the course over the duration of a long, harrowing season.
It's easy to lament the general decline in Indian hockey and criticise the players at a time when, at the World Cup at home, in front of a partisan crowd, they beat Pakistan in the opening match but then go on to lose easily to Australia, Spain and England. But could we really have expected any different from a group that was forced to stage a revolt just to get paid one month ago?
There are plenty of problems with Indian hockey some technical, some physical, some tactical but overriding all these is the story of apathy and corruption in the administration of the sport. In the times of KPS Gill's infamous Indian Hockey Federation, the game was run with the iron fist of an unruly dictator. Now in the era of Suresh Kalmadi's Hockey India, it is administered with the negligence of a monarch who is more bothered with other lucrative pursuits.
I've often wondered if there is anything to motivate youngsters to play full-time hockey, except the sport itself. Sport, like war as Oscar-winner The Hurt Locker poignantly illustrates, is a drug. While you are playing it, there is a moment your muscles are inflamed, your limbs are aching, you are out of breath, at the threshold of intense pain when you wonder why you ever got into it. But you still return to the field to torture your body, again and again, because everything else seems dull in comparison. That, perhaps, is the only reason why those who play hockey in India keep going despite no promise of a steady income and no guarantee of a brighter tomorrow.
These players are definitely not a part of the problem, they're the only positive aspect of a system that has been eaten from inside by a group of bureaucrats and politicians for whom there is no accountability, no performance evaluation, just ad-hocism and the skill to balance the votes that decide who gets the largest slice of the pie. The administrators are not even aware of the reality of sport of sweat, blood, toil, and all the other hyperbole that seems inadequate to fully describe it.
Hockey is not an isolated case. Things are similar across federations, with the exception of cricket which, no matter how clumsily it is run, is a ray of sunlight in comparison with other sports in the country. But the mismanagement in hockey rankles the most because of our glorious past, and because it was the one area where India was so far ahead of the world even at a time when it wasn't really a recognised global entity.
As things stand, it's only a matter of time when the few people who are still interested will also turn their backs on hockey. Then, no one will care whether India win or not, except for the players who will continue to burn their energy reserves in spite of everything, just to experience the thrill of dribbling past an opponent and passing the ball to a striker waiting in the D.
REST NOW, GYM LATER
BEING LOYAL TOWARDS YOUR WORKOUT IS GOOD, BUT NOT ALWAYS. FITNESS EXPERT NURI KHAN TELLS YOU WHEN YOU MUST SKIP THE GYM
Discipline and consistency are crucial for an effective fitness regimen. However, blindly going by the book and not listening to your body can render your efforts useless. Sometimes, it is also healthy to skip your workout. And no, we aren't talking about times when you give in to temptation and talk yourself out of workouts.
It is best to give your gym a miss when battling a cold. This is the time when your immunity is low and you are left vulnerable to the variety of germs that lurk around your gym. As a result, you may take longer to recover, or worse, fall prey to new infections. Not to forget, because you are not in the pink of health, there are high chances that you may pass on the germs to others in the gym's AC controlled environment. So for your, and other's sake, stay at home.
When you don't get your requisite number of hours of sleep, your focus goes for a toss which means you cannot concentrate on the exercise at hand. This increases the risk of incorrect form and may lead to an ineffective workout, or worse, even injury. The workout that's meant to refresh you will only leave you agitated. When you find yourself yawning excessively after insufficient sleep, it means the brain is low on oxygen supply. So get the hint. Instead of pumping iron, use that time to make up for the lack of sleep.
For many, the gym acts as a compensation for their otherwise sedentary lifestyles. However, if you have got your workout elsewhere, it is okay to skip the gym. For instance, if your domestic help hasn't turned up and you have spent your morning, spinning around the house swabbing and mopping, there's no reason why you must also hit the gym in the evening. Similarly, you may skip the gym if you have spent your last night dancing at your office party. The point is to make note of the exertion that your body experiences through the day and take a decision accordingly. If you still feel like hitting the gym, the least you can do is exercise light instead of the usual heavy-duty regimen.
Feeling hungry? If yes, it might be a better idea to hit the kitchen rather than the gym. Or else, you will be low on energy and hamper your workout. If you plan to lift heavy weights, you must have carbohydrates 15 minutes before your workout. If it is cardio that we are talking about, it is a must to have something to eat about an hour before your workout. If your last snack was more than three hours ago, eat something first, wait for an hour and then head for a workout. If you workout early morning, do NOT do it on an empty stomach. Remember, the last meal you had was last night which is definitely not enough to provide adequate energy for the morning workout.
A common myth doing the rounds among fitness lovers is that they will lose muscle mass if they rest. However, that's completely false considering muscle mass is made during the 'rest' period. If you feel soreness after getting up in the morning, it's your body asking for rest. Working out in spite of that means you will only be able to utilise 50 to 70 per cent of your total body capacity and be more susceptible to injuries and incorrect posture.
Firstly, the delivery process takes a toll on the woman's body. Then, with the baby around, there's a whole new lifestyle to be dealt with. Understandably, workout takes a backseat. Hence, it is important not to fuss over the changes in the body. Instead assure yourself that you will pull yourself back in shape later and enjoy your motherhood. After the mandatory 40-day rest period (sometimes 20 days if the delivery has been easy), the woman can start with a short 10-minute exercise routine. However, if she has undergone a Csection delivery, a six-month rest is advised for her to heal completely. In either case, it is important to consult your gynaecologist before kick-starting your regimen.
(Nuri Khan is the proprietor of Studio 5 Aerobics Centre, Vashi)
THE OPTIONS IN AFGHANISTAN
THERE ARE NO EASY EXIT ROUTES FOR ANYONE
India has done well to reiterate its commitment to peace, reconstruction, relief and development in Afghanistan. Given the long history of India's friendship with Afghanistan, and the affection that the ordinary people of Afghanistan have for India and the Indian people, India has no option but to stay the course, despite the dastardly attacks on Indians. India's ambassador in Kabul, Jayant Prasad, his brave band of diplomats and officials, and the army of civilians engaged in humanitarian relief, reconstruction effort, healing, educating, training and building infrastructure in Afghanistan deserve the highest praise, support and sympathy. Equally, they deserve security. Both the governments of Afghanistan and India owe it to the Indians, who are engaged in helping Afghanistan, to ensure their safety and security, one way or another. The US and its allies must also show greater understanding for the Indian effort in Afghanistan, viewing the battle in that troubled land not just as a normal war between two armies or a campaign against insurgents, but as an ideological battle between those who seek a liberal and democratic Afghanistan and those who seek to go against the tide of time.
If the US and Nato forces choose to scale down their engagement in Afghanistan, there are only three outcomes possible: first, and the worst, an outright victory for the Taliban, defeat of the Hamid Karzai government and Afghanistan coming under the shadow of the Pakistan Army; second, and messy, a prolonged civil war which Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan and India get dragged into, resulting in a dismemberment of Afghanistan; third, and perhaps the best of bad options, would be a six- or seven-party coalition stabilising Afghanistan over a reasonably long period of time. The parties to such a negotiated settlement would have to be the US, Russia, China, Iran, India and Pakistan, and perhaps Saudi Arabia. The Central Asian republics, especially Tajikistan, would also have a stake in such a negotiated settlement. Such a regional dialogue could be the precursor to a United Nations (UN) solution that brings Afghanistan under a UN administration, on the lines of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) model of 1992-93. Without such out-of-the-box solutions, Afghanistan is unlikely to find peace in our lifetime. From being the battleground of super powers, it is becoming the war zone of regional powers. This drift is dangerous. If members of the UN Security Council lose interest in Afghanistan and let India and Pakistan, and other regional powers, fight it out, no one but the region as a whole would suffer the most. All the countries in the region, including the Central Asian republics, China, Iran, India and Pakistan have more important national priorities like improving the quality of life of their own people. If Afghanistan swings from one extreme of being at the receiving end of focused superpower interest to the other end of benign neglect, with regional powers sucked into the vacuum, it would harm all nations concerned. Perhaps the time has come for the international community to look at the UNTAC option in Afghanistan.
DON'T MIX INDUSTRIAL POLICY WITH SECURITY IN FDI
When a telecom company is asked to stop operations on security grounds, it's time to sit up and introspect, more so if the company in question has a case against the government in the Supreme Court. In the STel case, the government appealed to the apex court after a division bench of the Delhi High Court upheld an earlier judgment in favour of STel, which had in 2008 filed a case against the government's arbitrary policy on granting mobile phone licences. The issue of asking STel to stop operations, the way it has been reported in the press, may have to do with the company using Chinese equipment an earlier government decision had said Chinese mobile phone equipment can't be used in certain states. While the security set-up has traditionally been against the use of Chinese equipment in several industries such as power, we need to worry about whether the government is mixing up the issue of security with that of protection of Indian industry.
There may be good reasons for a "strategic industrial policy" that builds domestic manufacturing capabilities without returning to the now-defunct Licence-Permit Raj. However, it is worrying to see national security considerations get into the business of helping winners, even if not picking them. Why should the National Security Council secretariat have a view on foreign investment, or why should it take a call on whether certain industries, like pharmaceuticals, should be considered "sensitive" in the sense FDI in them could compromise national security? What is it about producing medicines or researching them that can involve national security? If the government has concerns like ensuring there is enough R&D on diseases of local mass interest such as malaria and tuberculosis, for instance this is best done by funding such research directly, rather than protecting firms that produce the required drugs.
As for the issue of protecting Indian industry, it is by no means clear that Chinese firms are getting market dominance in a very wide range of industries. How serious is the China scare? Several years ago, one heard of Chinese motorcycles overtaking Indian ones, but that threat didn't quite materialise. Before that, the same fears were expressed about bicycles, but not too much happened there either. In any case, if Chinese firms are achieving their dominance in the areas they are through unfair means the only condition under which it becomes a strategic matter that the NSC has the right to be worried about this is a matter best dealt with separately. If, for instance, the fear is that the Chinese government is subsidising Chinese power equipment suppliers so as to destroy Indian competitors like Bhel and L&T, then the appropriate forum to deal with this is the anti-dumping mechanism. If the view is the undervalued yuan is helping Chinese manufacturers in an unfair manner, then, apart from the anti-dumping mechanism, there is the finance ministry and the import duty route that need to be used. In the past, the Bombay Club wrapped itself in the national flag in order to get protection for Indian industry we have to ensure national security is not the new cover being used for the same purpose.
NABARD HAS SPONSORED A BOOK WITH 101 SUCCESS STORIES OF FARMERS WHO DARED TO BE DIFFERENT
Indian farmers are known to be second to none when it comes to adoption of new technology. But, what is not so well-appreciated is that many of them are daring enough to take a break from traditional crops and venture into wholly new fields and make a success of it through their own ingenuity or with some institutional or state help.
There are countless instances of such endeavours. The agriculture ministry has, in a Nabard-sponsored initiative, collected 101 such instances and presented them in a well-produced and fully-illustrated publication, aptly entitled "Harvest of hope". Some of these success stories are truly amazing.
One among them is the story of a farmer named Dina Nath Sharma of Una district in Himachal Pradesh who is now producing cultured pearls in this northern hilly state, far away from any seashore. He actually wanted to convert part of his farm in village Ambehra Ramkishan into a pond to rear fish. But, he lacked the specialised knowledge of fish-rearing. So, he went for training to the Bhubaneswar-based Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture (CIFA). There he learnt that pearls could also be produced in freshwater ponds. This prompted him to train in pearl culture as well. He is now a successful producer of this precious product, and that too in a place like Himachal Pradesh where nobody could dream of rearing pearls.
Equally interesting is the case of two women friends from Nagaland who dared to say good-bye to the traditional crops of the area to take up the production of an exotic, as also high-value, fruit like strawberry. These two friends, Tekasangla and Arenla, of village Yisemyong, bought some strawberry runners (seeding material) from a private firm to plant them in small plots in their husbands' fields. Indeed, luck did not smile on them in the first go though they had a good crop, most of the fruit got damaged by inclement weather. However, they did not lose heart and approached the Agricultural Technology Management Agency (ATMA) for advice. They got not only technical advice here, but also support for erecting a poly-house (a covered structure made of plastic sheets, also called greenhouse) for growing strawberry under protected conditions. After that, there was no looking back and the two friends are now truly in the pink of financial health.
Another incredible, but true, case is that of a Nagaland rural woman who gave up her job as a laboratory assistant in a college to become a commercial flower grower, and that too in the vacant backyard of her home. This woman, Amenla J of village Chuchuyimpang, came to know that the horticulture department was trying to promote flower cultivation in the area to boost farmers' income. She decided to give this venture a try and approached the horticulture inspector of the area to seek assistance. The department helped her put up a poly-house in her backyard to grow lilium in a scientific manner. She also got the list of potential buyers of this flower and began selling it directly to an export company. Now, she is earning a net income of over Rs 20,000 every two months and is thinking of getting into cultivation of other lucrative crops as well.
An equally inspiring account is of two men, belonging to different communities, who organised the residents of Madhupur, a remote village in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal, to save their lands from the wrath of the frequently-shifting course of rivulets meandering through the area. Ali Miah and Paresh Sarkar prepared a plan to strengthen embankments of the rivulets with community participation, and later took measures to improve the health of the reclaimed soil to make it fit for growing crops. The agriculture department is now helping them in taking up intensive crop cultivation for steady income.
Similar other reports contained in this anthology of success stories are, indeed, an eye-opener. They can also serve as a source of inspiration for people in the rural areas who are beset with various kinds of problems and are looking for opportunities to brighten their future. They can emulate the examples of these upbeat entrepreneurs. There is, therefore, a need to widely circulate these success stories through all available means of communication. The agriculture ministry will do well to bring out a mass-produced, low-cost, if not free of cost, version of this publication for wider circulation.
MANAGING INDIA'S IMAGE IN AF-PAK
The February 26 gunning down of Indian workers in Kabul, followed by the stoppage of work by Indian doctors at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health, is a tragic step towards what this column has long predicted: that, as the Taliban inexorably extend its influence, India will thin out in Afghanistan; and pull out entirely when a Taliban takeover appears imminent (Planning for doomsday, July 15, 2008; and The Indian ant in the Afghan flood, October 6, 2009).
Assessing whether it was already time to scale down was part of the mandate of National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon during his weekend visit to Kabul. Despite Menon's brave words about not cowing before terror, New Delhi understands that its public has little appetite for receiving body bags from Kabul. Unable to send in troops to protect its aid workers, India's options are narrowing.
What will remain after India's inevitable departure from Afghanistan is an enormous fund of goodwill generated by our billion-dollar aid-driven engagement since 2001. Projecting soft power rather than hard has been a wise and far-thinking strategy. Pakistan's geographical proximity to Afghanistan; its cultural and religious affinity; and its self-destructive wielding of the instruments of radicalisation, all mean that Islamabad can out-kill anyone in Afghanistan. Most Afghans, including the Pashtuns, distrust and resent Pakistan; but the power to kill and coerce looms larger in the short term than the power to feed, teach and enrich.
But from a longer-term perspective, India will retain enormous influence within Afghanistan, a dormant clout that will survive the power fluctuations that characterise that country. When the environment changes, that influence will flower again.
Inexplicably, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), the creator of India's far-sighted and pragmatic Afghanistan strategy, sheds this sophistication while dealing with our more immediate problem, Pakistan. The Indian public is entitled to fulminate about Pakistan's self-destructive support to cross-border militancy and terrorism. But Indian policy-makers, while reflecting public anger, must also have a cooler plan. Instead, while correctly visualising Afghanistan as a patchwork of competing constituencies, the MEA addresses Pakistan as a wall-to-wall bad guy. New Delhi talks to Islamabad, but India remains disengaged from the real Pakistan.
So, which Pakistani constituency should India address? The United States, with its penchant for immediate fixes, has invariably chosen to talk to the Pakistan Army. But there is a structural reason why India cannot follow this path: the most fundamental institutional interest of "the khakis", as Pakistan's liberal fringe calls the army, has traditionally lain in holding up India as an adversary. The India bogey guarantees status, funding, housing and the freedom to run the country.
Today, India is especially vital as the spectre that will extricate the Pakistan Army from messy counter-insurgency operations in its tribal areas. So crucial is the Indian bogeyman that Kashmir is now getting a back-up for keeping the animosity bubbling. India's perfidy in water-sharing is being dragged centre stage, most recently by Lashkar-e-Toiba chieftain Hafiz Saeed, that old and trusted servant of the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. Without a trace of irony, he calls it "water terrorism".
If the khakis are ruled out as interlocutors, what about the candle-lighters: Pakistan's liberal fringe, an ineffectual menage of rights activists, academics, authors, poets and members of the English media. Pleasant individuals for the most part, they have served Pakistan well by masking a deeply regressive society with a patina of western-style modernity. But they have notably failed in bringing change to Pakistan and, because so few are listening to them, are granted their little space in society.
That leaves the Pakistan proletariat, small-town residents and rural peasants, most of whom are inimical to India because of the educational, social and political environment that they live in. Their religious environment is even more worrisome, with an increasingly radical clergy preaching the message of global jehad. At first look, this might appear a wasted cause for India; but deeper thought indicates that this is the audience to be addressed.
Admittedly, shaping opinion amongst the Pakistani masses will not yield results in the immediate and directly political way that shaping opinion in India does. In that under-developed democracy, security policy is only weakly linked with public perception. But, just as in Afghanistan, where India has nurtured roots that will survive a brushfire, a carefully targeted perception campaign can temper rural Pakistan's reflexive anti-Indianism. The most potent weapon in this endeavour is information.
I remember listening, on radio monitoring networks in J&K, to conversations amongst radicalised and indoctrinated jehadis who had just infiltrated across the Line of Control. They had been told in Pakistan that every mosque in J&K had been burnt and that the Indian Army carried off any woman they fancied; all this is uncontested truth in the villages of Pakistani Punjab. It is a reality that India needs to challenge with information.
Such a campaign cannot be mounted by the MEA, which focuses excessively on scoring diplomatic points with Pakistan. Nor can it be an intelligence-led operation, which will quickly lose credibility. What is needed is a multi-disciplinary effort that carefully nuances the message and obtains the means of delivery, perhaps a special organisation under the Ministry of Culture. India needs to think carefully about spreading its message within Pakistan.
DEBT AND EXIT
CAN A DEBT CAP LIMIT FISCAL INDISCIPLINE
Can a debt cap limit fiscal indiscipline.
In his Budget speech on February 26, the finance minister articulated the three important challenges confronting him in preparing this year's Budget.
These were to restore growth (to 9 per cent, ideally higher); to use this growth to make development more inclusive, particularly by strengthening rural infrastructure; and to address bottlenecks in public delivery mechanisms and institutions.
Somewhat surprisingly, the minister started the part of his speech dealing with "consolidating growth" with a call for fiscal consolidation.
"In shaping the fiscal policy for 2010-11, I have acted on the recommendations of the Thirteenth Finance Commission (which) has recommended a capping of the combined debt of the Centre and the states at 68 per cent of the GDP to be achieved by 2014-15. As a part of the fiscal consolidation process, it would be for the first time that the government would target an explicit reduction in its domestic public debt-GDP ratio," the finance minister had said.
As was pointed out by T N Ninan the day following the Budget, this is a vow of temperance after an almighty binge: the targeted fiscal deficit of the Centre for 2012-13 of 4.1 per cent ( presented in the Medium-Term Fiscal Programme, or MTFP), if achieved, would be at the same level as in 2005-06. Even on the best case, it will take seven years to undo the extravagance of the last two.
The MTFP openly acknowledges that the pace of adjustment in the revenue deficit is unlikely to be as aggressive as proposed by the Thirteenth Finance Commission (TFC). This is both because revenue buoyancy in the future, even with fast growth, is presumed to be lower than in the recent past, and because the government has taken on revenue expenditure commitments that are not particularly flexible. Thus the squeeze will remain on capital expenditure.
As the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council noted in its mid-February "Review", the fiscal deterioration at the Centre has been less on account of automatic stabilisers on the revenue side than due to discretionary increases in revenue expenditure. Changes in the revenue deficit are also a good proxy for changes in the saving (or dis-saving) of the public sector. An important part of the improved saving performance of the Indian economy in the last boom was fiscal consolidation on the revenue account. This has also been sharply reversed, primarily at the Centre.
The conclusion is inescapable, even if not particularly novel or surprising. The Central government has been through a massive growth in revenue expenditure prior to and following the general election. This expenditure has used up much of the fiscal space created under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act of 2003. Such expenditure was superimposed upon a revenue boom generated by buoyant growth, itself partly the product of benign conditions in global capital markets.
Both these phenomena are well established in the economic literature. The expenditure surge forms part of the literature on what has come to be called the "political business cycle". Equally, there is a rich tradition, particularly for Latin America, which documents the fiscal consequences of capital surges. Low global interest rates transmit themselves to the local economy via the capital account. The surge in growth and asset values boosts tax revenue and induces expenditure which is difficult to unwind when capital starts to withdraw.
Since both the political and economic cycle will persist, and India's global integration will likely deepen, the TFC's views on fiscal consolidation need to be examined to see what safeguards they provide to manage these pressures and temptations. Given the convention that the finance ministry typically accepts the important recommendations of the Finance Commission, I would not be surprised if the architecture proposed by the TFC had been discussed with the ministry in advance, although I have no idea if this is, in fact, the case.
The basis for the TFC's proposal is set out in Chapter 9 of its report, entitled "Revised Roadmap for Fiscal Consolidation". Two key propositions are asserted in that chapter. The first is that "to create an environment favourable to private investment in the economy", it is necessary that the ratio of consolidated (i.e., Centre plus states) liabilities to GDP be reduced below that targeted by the Twelfth Finance Commission (75 per cent of GDP in the last year of the award). The second is that "a target-based framework" needs to be maintained for the award period of the present Commission.
These two principles then lead to the Commission's recommendations that the consolidated debt to GDP ratio be targeted at 68 per cent of GDP by 2014-15, the figure picked up by the finance minister in his speech, with separate targets for the Centre and the states. In the case of the Centre, the starting point is an estimated adjusted debt stock of 54 per cent of GDP on March 31, 2010, to be reduced to 45 per cent of GDP by March 2015. A similar exercise is conducted for the states.
Based on these targets, and a belief that the revenue deficit should normally be zero, the Commission specifies a trajectory for both the revenue deficit and the overall fiscal deficit, as shares of GDP. As already noted, if the overall fiscal deficit target is to be taken seriously, one implication of these calculations is that any slippage on the revenue deficit will result in compression of capital expenditure. On the optimistic revenue deficit scenario presented, the Centre's capital expenditure is projected to rise to 4.5 per cent by the end of the award period.
It is an act of courage and boldness on the finance minister's part to portray fiscal consolidation as supportive, even essential to sustained growth, in what is sometimes referred to as an expansionary fiscal contraction. The finance minister has given himself six months to develop the rules to implement the proposals of the TFC. Their design will be critical to ensure that the right balance is struck between credibility and flexibility, and the TFC has some important suggestions on how this might be achieved, to avoid the licence that caused so much damage this time round.
The Centre has got away lightly for its profligacy this time round. We may not always be that lucky.
The author is Director-General, National Council of Applied Economic Research, and Member, Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council. The views expressed are personal
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
HALF OF HALF THE SKY
As the world raised a toast on the 100th International Women's Day, many women in the Asia-Pacific region raised only a cry of distress. The UN Human Development Report for the region brings out why. The region treats its women badly and ranked at the bottom on issues such as upholding their property rights or protecting them from violence. This might not be a revelation, but it's worth reiterating that gender justice is a right.
The report's prescriptions for policy interventions, including economic policies to support gender equality, boosting political participation, addressing legal discrimination and providing access to quality education and skills are not new, but remain valid. There is no one size-fits-all cure. As the report rightly points out, the solutions will depend on the specific circumstances of each country. A major inequality, though, continues to be in asset ownership. Women own only 7% of the farms in Asia Pacific compared to 20% of farms in most other parts of the world. Women continue, by and large, not to own assets except in the absence of a male heir.
Asset ownership will enable them to have a greater share in decision-making . There is a need, therefore, to institute extensive financial incentives and ensure inheritance rights for women. In India, this could include providing a lower income tax rate. The story is almost the same in south Asia's labour market, which, again, is rife with inequalities. Corrective action is needed on this front.
The economic spin-offs of gender equality, quantified in the report, are impressive. According to the report , India's Gross Domestic Product could go up by as much as 4% if the employment rate for women is pushed up. That, of course, is a numerical exercise. Empowering women to become productive agents of Indian prosperity calls for radical social change, one that goes well beyond women.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
IPL'S OVER-THE-TOP DOLLARS
Mammon, it seems, is now the official lord and God of cricket. Or at least this franchisee, premier league form of it, where obscene sums of money fuel the giddy exercises of building team brands, peddling merchandise and inventing rivalries where one couldn't see any.
And take the frenetic slam-bang sixes and fours of Twenty20, and phrases like a shot being worth a million dollars acquire a whole new meaning. And it's Lalit Modi's IPL brouhaha which seems to be leaving us all agape with its unabashed celebration of lucre and pelf. Here is an arena where two new teams are supposed to be set up, the criteria being having a bank balance of a billion dollars, clauses that speak of team bidders having to pay up a trifling $100 million as a 'performance deposit', with teams having a 'base price' of $225 million.
Now, we do all know cricket is big money. In India, more so. But it's not quite cricket to prise such sums out of a country where others sports house themselves in cowsheds and crumbling infrastructure. Or is some enterprising soul going to now try and convince us that some sort of trickle-down effect from the rich coffers of the IPL/BCCI is going to better things all around? Or are these vast sums more a reflection of what the bosses of the IPL think their scheme deserves? Of a pure, unadulterated drive to squeeze out the last gold coin from the fervour surrounding the game in India?
But then again, overvaulting ambition does tend to leap right over the horse. It isn't just the fact that the tender process for the two new teams fell through after the bidders blanched at the hefty conditions. But rather, sooner or later, the Indian follower of the game might just turn away from this contrived soap-saga of commercial brand building. Or maybe not. Quite a few might be bedazzled by this 'India shining' story, quite unable to believe we are indulging in sums of money that rival anything on earth, for a sport we play in our local nukkad. But just which version is the real stuff? Again, the two Indias clash, it seems!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WHEN TOO LITTLE IS TOO MUCH
The turn the microfinance industry has taken towards multiple loans pushed by vendors driven by high internal rates of return set by new investors in the sector, resulting in overburdened women borrowers stretching themselves to unconscionable limits (ET, March 08) is a matter of concern. But not a cause for knee-jerk regulatory action.
The RBI, on its part, is clear that the amounts involved are too small to pose any systemic risk and is content to offer advice and no interference. This is welcome. The danger is that state governments , egged on by local politicians who articulate the interests of the direct casualty of a thriving microfinance industry, the moneylender, might impose rules that do more harm than good.
The microfinance industry must be given a chance, first, to put its own house in order. Sadhan, the industry body, and the more rooted microfinance organisations are already on the job, trying to develop shareable databases of borrowers and their track record of loan utilisation and servicing. Investors would do well to chase prudential norms, not just IRRs.
Let's get some things clear. The microfinance agency, whose large administrative costs for disbursing small loans push up lending rates upwards of 30%, is dirt cheap for the borrower compared to the alternative. The interest rate of a moneylender who gives out Rs 90 in the morning and takes Rs 100 in the evening works out to 4,056% a year, 135 times the rate charged by an MFI. Costly MFI loans are a myth.
The other myth is that loans to finance consumption are unproductive. People need to subsist, if they have to produce and service loans. The consumption that MF loans finance keeps body and soul together and so is fine, even if soul occasionally takes the form of an ability to hitch a son-in-law to the daughter.
Microfinance by itself cannot remove poverty. Investment in infrastructure, enabling organisations, functional markets, linkages to markets, awareness, agency all these are important. Too little of these materialise, making microfinance loans look burdensome. The solution is to invest more for rural transformation, not choke off the trickle flowing into India's arid hinterland.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
THE BETTER NETWORK
When Sonia Gandhi gives the by-now familiar advice to Congress MPs to put up good attendance in both the Houses, observers no longer spend time counting heads in the Congress benches the next day. Instead, they recollect the exact number of times she has given similar directions in the past, which only evoked no response. But, how can this happen in a party where a Gandhi wish is supposed to be a command? Explanations vary.
Some say networking in the lobbies and Central Hall has become too enterprising to allow time for business. Others argue that proceedings have become too listless to care for. But, there is a more plausible explanation offered. Since many of the 'Gen Next' and other well-connected luminaries, across parties, these days become MPs without any substantive track-record in public life, they know too well they can prosper even without being good parliamentarians.
THE HORNS OF A DILEMMA
Congress managers recently hosted a dinner for expelled BJP leader Jaswant Singh and some independent MPs as part of an attempt to find new friends against Opposition unity. But the buzz in BJP circles is that a process is on within a section of the party leadership with some Jaswant Singh well-wishers wanting to know whether there is scope for him to make a homecoming. After all, the Nitin Gadkari establishment is supposed to be keen to trigger a series of 'homecomings'.
But then, other saffron leaders who would rather have Singh gone for ever, argue his comeback would have to satisfy either of the two conditions: Jaswant Singh must disown his own biography of Jinnah or else the saffron party should adopt the father of Pakistan as one of its ideological icons. Some choice, that!
TWITTER VS BLOGGER
If Shashi Tharoor 's tweets often lead to trouble being thrust upon him, with the BJP seeking to make the most of it, the saffron party itself is aghast at L K Advani's headline-hunting efforts through his blogs even in these days of having a mere ceremonial role in the party and the NDA.
Tharoor may well be a case of too much being read into relatively lesser words, but it could just turn out that the BJP's problem with Advani the blogger is far more piquant. The saffron camp is quite intrigued by L K recycling his "American hand behind the Indo-Pak talks" take on his blog twice within just 10 days. Many saffronites now are wondering whether their veteran's obsession with 'the American hand' , just like a 'cold war Commie' , would actually inspire or turn off the traditionally pro-US BJP voters.
GETTING IT RIGHT?
Tactical floor tango with the Left notwithstanding, the main Opposition party has become conscious of its conduct in Parliament. First, the BJP agreed to discuss the inflation issue under a non-voting rule after leading the entire Opposition in disrupting the proceedings for two days, demanding an adjournment motion. Then, on the fuel price rise front, the BJP agreed to allow the House to function after a day's forced adjournment.
It does seem as if the party does not want to get into the "denial mode" it suffered from in the 14th Lok Sabha. Neither does the saffron camp want to go ballistic against the government by actually trusting, like it did it in 2004, an astrologers' prediction of a mid-course collapse of the regime. Is that a sign of the 'party with a difference' becoming mature or well, more realistic?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
15% GBS hike decent amid funds crunch
Planning Commission Secretary Sudha Pillai may have completed the onerous task of dividing the government's limited resources for the coming fiscal among central ministries and departments. But it's too early for her to put the calculator down, as she is yet to share the resources with state governments. Between her meetings, Mrs Pillai found some time to chat with ET on the expenditure budget. Excerpts:
Are you satisfied with the increase in gross budgetary support?
Ministries began by asking whatever they thought was right. When we calculated it, it was a hefty sum, about 80% more than what they got last year. Then members began to examine the proposals and moderated them. The increase, as we totalled it, was coming to 18%. But the finance ministry had its resource constraints. Under the circumstances, a 15% increase is satisfactory.
There were some ministries that got a good increase, while some barely managed to get the amount they got last year?
Yes. It was not a 15% increase across the board. We had to allocate higher amounts to the HRD ministry for the right to education (RTE) programme. The increase that has been made in case of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan would go to the RTE. Similarly, a part of the allocation for the food ministry has to go to the right to food programme.
What happens if the allocations for both right to food and right to education fall short?
Later in the year, you actually can increase the allocation. It comes in the supplementaries. Based on the spending trend, miniseries get more. In case of RTE, the estimate is that the money provided is adequate. If it is not, the government will have to dip in and find the resources.
The performance of social sector schemes has not been satisfactory. How can you ensure better utilisation of allocations?
This is purely the responsibility of administrative ministries. In a short time we will release the mid-term appraisal. As per the inputs that we have got, the utilisation of funds has not been good in the rural development ministry in certain sectors.... The Planning Commission reviews performances, but to assume the role of a ministry is not appropriate.
Why have states got a lower increase in Central plan allocation compared with central ministries and departments?
Well, the additional Central allocation to states is not the whole story. The story is that bulk of the GBS will be passed on to the state governments as funding for centrally sponsored schemes.
ACTIONS OF SOME MPS DISGRACEFUL
It is a matter of abiding shame that the Women's Reservation Bill introduced by the government in the Rajya Sabha the House of Elders, no less could not even be taken up for discussion and voting on International Women's Day on account of the disruptive conduct of the opponents of the proposed legislation. What was meant to be a historic occasion was turned into a dangerous farce by a section of the House which appeared determined not to let a sense of occasion prevail. Protest and a show of dissent was widely expected. The Samajwadi Party, led by Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal of Mr Lalu Prasad had given the country notice that they would be vociferous in their protest against the proposed measure. That's completely all right. There have been numerous occasions when proceedings have been brought to a standstill in our Parliament. Democratic discussion is known to be disorderly. However, what was deplorable on Monday was that the protesting parties imbued the legislative chamber with an air of menace. Their MPs even closed in on the Chairman, Mr Hamid Ansari. They wrenched microphones from his desk. We may breathe a sigh of relief that the Chairman was not harmed. But who can deny that the dignity of the Chair was trampled upon? This is indeed a sad day. It is this which sets Monday's disgraceful events apart from other disruptions in our Parliament that have made history. It is time that people clearly signalled the parties that they must learn to draw the line well within the bounds of decorum. The pity of it all was that just a handful of MPs were allowed to get away with creating a battlefield atmosphere in the Rajya Sabha. The political expectation is that the Constitution amendment bill in question was expected to be passed handsomely with well over two-thirds majority as the BJP, the main Opposition party, and the Left bloc have conveyed their open support to the bill and had put their whips out. It is a pity that these parties, instead of having regard for the big picture, have chosen to focus narrowly on the issue of the supposed failure of floor management by the governing side. This sounds suspiciously like trouble-making and can only bring political comfort to the disrupters. It is noteworthy that BJP and Left spokespersons have not seen it fit to reprimand the votaries of Monday's violence. This would be seen as shallow tactics which cannot redound to the credit of any party. Some have wondered aloud if the passage of the Women's Reservation Bill, which first came in for consideration by Parliament as long as 14 years ago, has once again been effectively stalled. Their worry is that the disgraceful tactics can be repeated tomorrow as well. Such fears are groundless. If the zeal of the parties that have taken a public posture in favour of the bill does not flag, there can be no reason why the measure cannot go through at the earliest. Voting in the Parliament lobbies is within the rules, and this can be resorted to if the violent elements once again seek to create pandemonium inside the Rajya Sabha chamber. However, the government must be prepared to deal with trouble-makers effectively. The wider politics of Monday's developments is that the SP and RJD have withdrawn their nominal support to the government. With those numbers gone, the present count suggests that UPA-II will now have a wafer-thin majority of three in the Lok Sabha.
DO A STRATEGY RETHINK
BY SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY
In mid-February this year, a devastating attack by Maoists in the adivasi-dominated Jangalmahal region of the West Bengal-Jharkhand border overran a camp of the paramilitary Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) in Sildah, West Bengal's West Midnapore district, killing 24 personnel and looting 40 automatic and semi-automatic weapons. A Central Reserve Police Force camp at Dharampur in the vicinity was also attacked simultaneously, but proved to be a harder target the men there beat back the attackers, inflicting casualties on them. A week later the special inspector-general of the EFR called a press conference at which he publicly criticised the policies and leadership of the state government and the police hierarchy. He was in uniform, but also sported a bizarre fidayeen head mask more appropriate for the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba or Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, a decidedly unusual spectacle which served only to trivialise both the image of the government as well as the impact of the Maoist threat.
The Sildah incident has to be seen in the overall perspective of an expanding pattern of such attacks, of which the more recent in West Bengal were at Sankrail (October 2009) and Gidhni (November 2009). The bleak countryside surrounding these obscure small settlements have traditionally remained terra incognita to the processes of governance, whether by New Delhi, Kolkata or Ranchi, and are now acquiring media focus as the emerging epicentre of a gathering storm whose warnings had been ignored for decades by governments at all levels. More ominously, the area is also located astride the main highway and rail corridor linking the eastern metropolis of Kolkata with the Mumbai and Chennai regions in the west and south respectively. All these can be snapped effortlessly whenever required, as the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA), a Maoist front organisation in the area, so effectively demonstrated in October 2009 by the "detention" of the Bhubaneswar-New Delhi Rajdhani Express for over 10 hours. Such actions have hitherto been carried out on spontaneous impulses, but the possibility of a guiding hand from hostile trans-border agencies is a possibility that must never be totally discounted.
The Sildah incident is also additionally significant because it signals a new phase in the insurgency, a transition from traditional guerrilla warfare to semi-conventional defence of a liberated zone, in which the Maoists have displayed significantly enhanced military capabilities, undoubtedly through training links with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) remnants sheltering in peninsular India, and their attacks increasingly resemble those of the Vietcong or the LTTE in their heyday. These are almost textbook examples of deliberate well-coordinated operations, which however require extensive preparatory periods during which warning signatures are invariably generated but, incredibly enough, none seem to have been picked up or acted upon by the West Bengal police so far. Perhaps the Maoists will use military bands to herald their attacks in future!
Individual military commanders in the Naxalite hierarchy, meanwhile, are emerging from the shadows, persona like Rakesh, and "Telugu Dipak", otherwise Venkateshwara Reddy, a member of the Maoist central military commission and one of the supposed planners of the Sildah attack, was recently arrested by the state CID in Kolkata (alas, a coup all too rare!), while the ubiquitous Kishenji is acquiring cult status in his own right. His verbal ripostes have definitely placed him one-up in the media contest and his most outrageous off-the-cuff remarks are now being considered as serious proposals, among them his quick-witted demand for a 72-day ceasefire in response to government offer of 72 hours. It is fortunate that he did not pitch it at 72 weeks or 72 months!
The overarching counter-strategy for the security forces lies in the well-established philosophy of "winning hearts and minds" of the local population who constitute the "critical military terrain" and require to be secured against threats from terrorists and extremists (and also ordinary criminals masquerading in their garb).
Consolidation of the civil administration and economic development is another simultaneous requirement. All these require police and other security forces to be deployed in adequate numbers and in close proximity to the affected population, but it is in the tactical applications of these strategic truths that the security establishments keep tripping repeatedly on their collective bootlaces as brought out by the extensive narrative of elementary errors at Sildah camp.
The alleged wrong setting of the EFR camp inside a densely populated area has been a widely highlighted issue, which allegedly totally compromised its security. However, this requires a modicum of retrospection because the same analogy should logically apply to every police station as well, which are also police camps, and necessarily have to be located amongst the general population to facilitate access and interaction essential for developing community-police relations.
Indeed, the entire infrastructure for maintenance of public order is based on a network of such police stations, which also become the nodal centres for operations and intelligence-gathering in any internal security situation. The Sildah rationale would imply that because police stations in terrorist and militant-infested areas are vulnerable, these should be either closed down or shifted outside the communities they are designed to serve, which is a horrendously erroneous inference from the debacle.
The answer, therefore, does not lie in moving security forces away from population centres but rather in further reinforcing their presence and activities there to provide a strong security umbrella to people. Only when they feel secure and protected against retaliation by terrorists will the local population approach the security forces with actionable information. Sildah must never be repeated, but the security forces can never abandon their posts either, and must also maintain their own security while deployed among the people. Both requirements are equally important and have to be satisfactorily harmonised, though it remains open to debate whether this can be best achieved through traditional and time-tested centralised politico-military command structures, or decentralised to state government levels as at present.
On current showing, it must be said that the decentralised model seems to be misfiring on several cylinders, with inter-state coordination remaining the exception rather than the rule. If matters do not improve, the states should prepare themselves for a long hot summer.
- Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament
LOOKING AT US RECESSION IN AN IRISH MIRROR
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
Everyone has a theory about the financial crisis. These theories range from the absurd to the plausible from claims that liberal Democrats somehow forced banks to lend to the undeserving poor (even though Republicans controlled Congress) to the belief that exotic financial instruments fostered confusion and fraud. But what do we really know?
Well, in a way the sheer scale of the crisis the way it affected much, though not all, of the world is helpful, for research if nothing else. We can look at countries that avoided the worst, like Canada, and ask what they did right such as limiting leverage, protecting consumers and, above all, avoiding getting caught up in an ideology that denies any need for regulation. We can also look at countries whose financial institutions and policies seemed very different from those in the United States, yet which cracked up just as badly, and try to discern common causes.
So let's talk about Ireland.
As a new research paper by the Irish economists Gregory Connor, Thomas Flavin and Brian O'Kelly points out, "Almost all the apparent causal factors of the US crisis are missing in the Irish case", and vice versa. Yet the shape of Ireland's crisis was very similar: a huge real estate bubble prices rose more in Dublin than in Los Angeles or Miami followed by a severe banking bust that was contained only via an expensive bailout.
Ireland had none of the American right's favourite villains: there was no Community Reinvestment Act, no Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. More surprising, perhaps, was the unimportance of exotic finance: Ireland's bust wasn't a tale of collateralised debt obligations and credit default swaps; it was an old-fashioned, plain-vanilla case of excess, in which banks made big loans to questionable borrowers, and taxpayers ended up holding the bag.
So what did we have in common? The authors of the new study suggest four "'deep' causal factors".
First, there was irrational exuberance: in both countries buyers and lenders convinced themselves that real estate prices, although sky-high by historical standards, would continue to rise.
Second, there was a huge inflow of cheap money. In America's case, much of the cheap money came from China; in Ireland's case, it came mainly from the rest of the euro zone, where Germany became a gigantic capital exporter.
Third, key players had an incentive to take big risks, because it was heads they win, tails someone else loses. In Ireland this moral hazard was largely personal: "Rogue-bank heads retired with their large fortunes intact". There was a lot of this in the United States, too: as Harvard's Lucian Bebchuk and others have pointed out, top executives at failed US financial companies received billions in "performance related" pay before their firms went belly-up.
But the most striking similarity between Ireland and America was "regulatory imprudence": the people charged with keeping banks safe didn't do their jobs. In Ireland, regulators looked the other way in part because the country was trying to attract foreign business, in part because of cronyism: bankers and property developers had close ties to the ruling party.
There was a lot of that here too, but the bigger issue was ideology. Actually, the authors of the Irish paper get this wrong, stressing the way US politicians celebrated the ideal of homeownership; yes, they made speeches along those lines, but this didn't have much effect on lenders' incentives.
What really mattered was free-market fundamentalism. This is what led Ronald Reagan to declare that deregulation would solve the problems of thrift institutions the actual result was huge losses, followed by a gigantic taxpayer bailout and Alan Greenspan to insist that the proliferation of derivatives had actually strengthened the financial system. It was largely thanks to this ideology that regulators ignored the mounting risks.
So what can we learn from the way Ireland had a US-type financial crisis with very different institutions? Mainly, that we have to focus as much on the regulators as on the regulations. By all means, let's limit both leverage and the use of securitisation which were part of what Canada did right. But such measures won't matter unless they're enforced by people who see it as their duty to say no to powerful bankers.
That's why we need an independent agency protecting financial consumers again, something Canada did right rather than leaving the job to agencies that have other priorities. And beyond that, we need a sea change in attitudes, a recognition that letting bankers do what they want is a recipe for disaster. If that doesn't happen, we will have failed to learn from recent history and we'll be doomed to repeat it.
WILL WOMEN'S BILL CHANGE THINGS? YES.
BY JAYATI GHOSH
It may still happen. If the Women's Reservation Bill which was tabled in the Rajya Sabha yesterday amidst chaos and disruption does actually get passed by both Houses of Parliament, it will bring to closure an issue that has been hanging fire for 14 years in national politics. It may even be law in time for the next general elections in the country.
Of course it will be historic and all that. But will it actually make a difference to overall empowerment of ordinary women, and not just those who are able to get voted into Parliament? Or will it be largely symbolic in its impact on the conditions of most women in the country? While the nature of this unfolding is yet to be seen, there is no question that this particular legislation will set in motion a process that may be hard to reverse. That is why so many feminist activists and women's groups have stressed this particular law as a major part of their mobilisation.
Why should it make a difference? After all, we cannot really claim that thus far all the women who have managed to achieve a certain position of leadership in national politics have really differentiated themselves by highlighting and championing the issues important for women. In fact, aside from some very inspiring exceptions, many elected women MPs have not made much of a mark in any major respect, leave aside the particular concerns of women.
But that is not really an argument, because it is well known that there is a dynamic that can be set in motion by sheer numbers. Currently women constitute only 8.2 per cent of MPs, which is lower (around half) than the proportion of more than 20 years ago. This makes them a potentially lonely minority in a context where raising issues from a women's perspective or demanding that laws and policies be more gender-aware can be an isolating experience if there is not enough support from other members.
But when the numbers increase beyond such a small minority, things tend to change. It has been found in many countries where women are substantially represented in legislative bodies (such as in the Nordic countries) that such a presence increases the likelihood of more gender-sensitive legislation as well as the culture of the House, empowering individual women to speak up more and be heard, and generating many more women leaders who are then taken seriously across the political spectrum.
This does not simply mean a better deal for the few women who are able to get elected it is likely to translate to a different focus on policies and programmes that may help the majority of women in the country. The significant effects of the 73rd and 74th Amendments on the empowerment of rural women through reservation of seats in local bodies are still being realised. And this is likely at the national level as well.
How important and necessary this is may not be so well understood by those who do not see the huge gender gaps that continue to persist in socio-economic outcomes, as well as the gender-blind nature of the design and implementation of policies. A new publication of the United Nations Development Programme, "Power, Voice and Rights: A turning point for gender equality in Asia and the Pacific" (Asia Pacific Human Development Report 2010) that was released in Delhi yesterday, provides a timely reminder of how far we have to travel to achieve even minimum gender equality or be on par with most other countries even within the Asian region.
Thus South Asia (and within that India) ranks much worse than other parts of the Asia Pacific region (and close to sub-Saharan Africa) in terms of most important indicators: sheer survival (sex ratios at birth and missing women); education (literacy, school retention and higher education enrolment); nutrition and health (malnutrition, life expectancy and risks of maternal mortality); employment (work participation, wage gaps); security and voice (violence against women, political participation).
This report is particularly interesting because it highlights the causes of such divergence and of gender gaps in general. The factors affecting economic empowerment are by now well known, such as lack of assets and education, inadequate access to credit and restricted ability to work out of the home. What is particularly important and has direct relevance for a law that provides quotas for women as legislators is the role of legal systems and their implementation in the empowerment of women. The report notes that because of competing influences on legal systems in the region, many countries have ended up with "contradictory or archaic statues and discriminatory practices" that actively militate against women.
The barriers for women come from construction of the laws themselves and shortfalls in their substance (whether in terms of property and inheritance laws, allowing divorce on reasonable grounds, protection from violence) as well as from unequal access of women to the legal system and other mechanisms for justice. The report also notes, correctly, that "Recognising that the law cannot claim to be fully impartial is an important step forward. The law deeply influences development in different ways and also shapes the outcomes of many non-legal interventions. The legal process and the law thus need to be crafted in ways that genuinely advance gender equality".
Given this, the urgency of having more women legislators who can shape the content of law, as well as redirect policies to move away from the traditional male breadwinner model to a more gender-sensitive and inclusive approach, is obvious. The passing of this bill will, therefore, be a critical step forward not just for women, but for Indian society in general.
LIFE, VERSE AND ADAB
BY MUZAFFAR ALI
Verse for the Sufis is an expression of inner truth. Spontaneous, piercing and soothing. Their words reflect a deep anguish and an eternal joy. Sufis don't escape tribulation, they internalise it as His grace.
For them becoming one with the Beloved is the goal of existence. In this world, seeing the reflection of that one and oneself in the Pir comes in stages. Weaving life and verse is the highest state of mystical expression and experience. Often it is the one who is least inclined towards writing finds this outpouring in verse a natural way. Shaykh Mahmud Shabistari, the author of Gulshan-e Raz, the greatest masterpiece of Persian poetry, writes:
Everyone knows that during all my life, I have never intended to compose poetry
Although my temperament was capable of it, rarely did I choose to write poems
In the very same vein Rumi denies that he is a poet. He is drowned in the ocean of spirituality and the overwhelming ecstasy arising out of this, and it is this which brings out his poetry despite himself.
I think of poetic rhymes while my Beloved (God)
Tells me to think of Him and nothing else.
What are words that thou shouldst think about them,
What are words but thorns of the wall of the vineyard?
I shall put aside expressions, words and sounds,
So that without all three I carry out an intimate discourse with Thee.
The spiritual ascent comes as a convergence. A return to the Source. A continual flow of the inner rhapsody of the divine experience. It takes forms and shapes. Adab (grace and etiquette) is the essence of this process.
Like Allah, the Pir keeps trying you. Making you simmer. Burn. As Rumi says, "I was raw, I was cooked, I was burnt". Till you become him and he becomes you.
It is the humility and submission in you that makes you see the true Beloved in yourself.
Verse is the subtext of the life of this Adab. And mystic verse is the convergence of the two. We see around us imperfect things, and through Adab we see limitless beauty in them. We see in them peace and through their verse reach the soul of the mystics. Adab is available to everyone and is something wealth cannot buy.
Muzaffar Ali is a filmmaker and painter.
He is the executive director and secretary ofthe Rumi Foundation. He can be contacted
at www.rumifoundation.i 
NOW, THE SOURCE OF COMPENSATION
IT would be remarkably insensitive to seek a qualifier in the context of an accidental death... whether in a natural calamity or in a stampede as occurred in an ashram in UP's Pratapgarh district last week. Yet that precisely appears to be the attitude of the Mayawati government which has drawn a contrived distinction between the vagaries of nature and a frenzied rush that killed no fewer than 63 faithfuls at Mangarh's Kripaluji Maharaj Ashram. Hence the spuriously convoluted logic that while the government's relief fund is earmarked for those affected by floods and drought, the victims of a stampede must look to the benevolence of the Centre, and not the state. The chief minister has virtually ruled out assistance for the bereaved families on the unconvincing plea that the state is contending with a "precarious financial condition". Oh, really! The perceived fiscal straits haven't quite prevented the BSP government from spending crores of rupees and erecting memorials to Dalit leaders, including the chief minister herself. And as often as not despite Supreme Court directives to halt such exhibitionism in stone at the cost of the public exchequer. No one blames the state government for the tragedy, but to post barely 15 policemen to control thousands of devotees reflects disastrously poor crowd management. Further, an administration that has resources to squander on frills and frippery, ought at least to have offered a gesture of humanitarian support to the grievously injured and the next of kin of those who have perished. While the ashram authorities have doled out a pittance 72 hours after the tragedy, it remains an open question whether Central assistance will be readily forthcoming. There has been no reaction, let alone fiscal assistance, even after four days.
The tragedy has thrown up the wider question of crowd management in temples and the periodic melas in northern India. In their obsession with the fanatical fervour that marks the annual feast, the ashram authorities failed and failed mortally to even make a conservative estimate of the size of the crowd. Even the elementary necessity of a public address system was not in place. The infrastructure would not have been approved had it been monitored by the district administration. It quite palpably wasn't. In varying degrees, both the ashram authorities and the government are responsible for the stampede. So much for spiritual salvation!
TAGORE IN THE TIME OF DISTRESS
Confronted with its penultimate test for survival in West Bengal, the Left has begun to think out of the box to reverse what according to some accounts are ominous signals for the municipal and assembly elections. The need becomes more urgent when the Union railway minister and principal challenger launches a stream of projects extending to health and education, seen to be glaring failures of the Left Front. It would have been suicidal not to respond in adequate measure. But it is perhaps naive to assume ~ as the government has now done ~ that Tagorean links would add value to development projects that have languished for years. It would be pertinent for the Left to ask itself what it has been doing all these years. The chief minister's "personal'' contacts in the districts haven't made much headway, which may have prompted him to order district magistrates to redouble efforts on the development front. Callousness, corruption and vested interests have caused roadblocks in vital sectors and an emergency operation can only depend on whether Alimuddin Street gives the chief minister a free hand to deal with the main sources of distress. These would include interference of cadres who have established close links with the administration but who may have lost the confidence of large sections of the people. It will take a herculean effort on Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's part to correct the imbalance and to get politicised officials to produce the desired results.
A rural community that is deprived of basic needs may not derive inspiration from a name that has been defiled even in its most hallowed ground at Santiniketan. More embarrassing questions are liable to be raised on whether the state has been able to fruitfully spend funds available wholly or partly from the Centre exclusively for rural development. The satisfaction drawn from optimum expenditure on rural employment is small consolation for the distress rooted in non-performance and often in the arrogant excesses of party workers. To this must be added the glaring failure to finalise BPL lists and the bitter experience on the acquisition of land. The Left may have set the right targets in rural Bengal, but the use of Tagore's name doesn't help its cause.
PATHETICALLY LOW PRIORITY
WELFARE projects for the army's jawans and their equivalents in the navy and air force are announced with much fanfare, few beyond the military circle get to know if they are faithfully followed up or fizzle out. Fortunately, or maybe the defence ministry and service headquarters say "unfortunately", the parliamentary standing committee does play the role of watchdog. Its findings on the inept implementation of the much-publicised project to increase the "married accommodation" for soldiers would be shocking if military inefficiency still shocks. The first phase of the project was due to be completed in 2006, subsequently the date was extended to 2009 and the number of units was reduced from 61,658 to 58,391. However no fewer than 20,000 units missed the deadline, and the tardiness, ranging from three months to three years, was reported from 79 of the 86 military stations covered. Worse, there are no indications of a better monitoring system being put in place for the next phase. That lethargy despite the brass having waxed eloquent about how married accommodation would make life more satisfying for the soldier, the comforts of home compensating for arduous duties in difficult conditions. Shamefully, no time-frame has been specified for constructing the apartments where the troops' stress-levels are highest: the North-east and Jammu & Kashmir. In some contrast to the vociferous conduct in the House, the panel's observations have been presented in truly parliamentary language. The report slams the poor show as "rather casual" and "distressing" ~ a clear case of pulling the punches.
Many a military observer would be tempted to perceive this low priority to the project as another reflection of the "class divide" in the military, the army in particular. True the very structure and functioning of the organisation places a premium on all that "rank" signifies, but there are so many other examples that testify to the exhortation in Chetwode Hall at the IMA about who or what "comes first, each and every time" being ignored within days of the "pipping" ceremony. That reality is powerfully portrayed by juxtaposing two of the standing committee's recent reports: Army officers insist on retaining their sahayaks (batmen, widely misused as the family's domestic aide) ~ but care little about the creature comforts of those who serve them.
AFFLUENCE FOR THE FEW...
. AND HUNGER FOR THE MANY
BY AMIYA KUMAR BAGCHI
IN discussing the Central budget for 2010-11, it is useful to recall the developments of the mid-1980s. Despite more than forty years of independence, with halting public expenditures on education and health care and only spotty land reforms, the Indian people remained desperately poor and most of them also remained either actually illiterate or barely literate.
In the meantime, a business community and a prosperous middle class constituting perhaps 10 per cent of the population, had grown up using the labour of the poor Indians and the largesse of the uneven-handed, pseudo-welfare state. They thought that they could do much better for themselves by giving up the cant of egalitarianism in an extremely unequal society. Their assault on the remnants of egalitarian vision began earnestly with Rajiv Gandhi's government.
For more than twenty years, Indian fiscal policy has been aimed at making the rich richer. If the poor remained poor, that was counted not even as 'collateral damage', to use US military terminology (for all those civilians who died in the assaults on Yugoslavia, Iraq or Afghanistan) but as necessary for keeping labour insecure and docile. In a country in which 94 per cent of the work force belongs to the unorganized sector and only 6 per cent enjoy benefits barely approaching the 'decent work' standards of the ILO, some advisors of the government have used false evidence and dubious logic to argue that the development of the country is hampered by the little protection the 6 per cent enjoys and the Central government has proceeded to weaken that protection as far as possible.
A clear indication of the government's thinking is that while India has the dubious distinction of containing the largest number of malnourished men, women and children in the world and a proportion of malnourished persons far exceeding that of China (a country whose performance now serves as the yardstick of growth for publicists and policy-makers), the government has ignored all the signs that the hunger situation is not improving but may in fact be deteriorating. Prices of foodgrain and those of the food bought by industrial workers, and agricultural labourers have been rising far faster than the wholesale price index and yet the Central budget of 2010-11 contains no provision for moderating them.
Instead it has relied on expectations of a better monsoon to moderate the prices, and in the name of fiscal balance, has raised prices of petroleum products inevitably causing prices to rise further. In the week just after presentation of the budget, food price inflation, on annualized basis, rose from 17.58 per cent to 17.87 per cent. Contrary to official claims, food price inflation has been accelerating since 2004-05 and is not just the result of droughts and floods in 2009-10.
During the period 2006-07 to 2008-09 public investment in agriculture has increased by less than 7 per cent in real terms, and the proportion of public investment in agriculture has come down to only 17.6 per cent. Private agricultural investment is almost always dependent on public investment in irrigation and other major inputs used by agriculture, Instead of trying to repair the damage, the Plan outlay under the Central budget on agriculture and allied activities is only Rs 12308 crore and on irrigation only Rs 526 crore out of a total Plan budget of Rs 524,484 crore and a total budgetary expenditure of Rs 11.8 lakh crore. Even adding Rs 55,190 crore for Plan expenditure for rural development, the total Plan expenditure for improving the productivity of more than 50 per cent of Indian population is barely 14 per cent of the total Plan expenditure.
The Finance Minister has announced an allocation of Rs 400 crore for bringing about a Green Revolution in Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal. Apart from the fact that this is a niggardly expenditure for almost a quarter of India's population (it amounts to about Rs 40 per head, less than the price of one kilogramme of sugar), many of whom live in eroded and degraded land, what kind of Green Revolution will it be? One clue is provided by the continued official backing for Bt Cotton, which has been directly responsible for the suicide of at least 2000,000 farmers but netted large profits for the multinational firms and their highly connected agents, and its attempt to introduce Bt Brinjal into Indian farming. Even more sinister is the fact that the Union Cabinet has approved a new agreement with the USA on 'Agricultural co-operation and food security', and that under an India-US Agricultural Knowledge Initiative, multinational agribusiness firms such as Cargill and Monsanto can become members of the policy-making body. This is in spite of the fact that most of US agribusinesses are conducted under the umbrella of huge government subsidies for them. On top of that this budget has cut the measly subsidies poor farmers enjoy in India.
Everywhere you look into the budget, continued tolerance for malnutrition, ill health of the poor and their low levels of education stares in your face.
Take, for example, midday meals for school children. The allocation for the scheme was Rs 8000 crore in the budget of 2009-10, and the revised estimate of actual expenditure is Rs 7359 crore. The current budget allots Rs 9400 crore for the scheme. Given the average food price of inflation of 18 per cent (and for many items such as atta, it is even higher) this is barely 6 per cent higher in real terms, and will certainly not be enough to universalize the scheme across India.
Given this picture, how will the projection of rates of growth of 8 per cent or above be realized? The answer is that growth will be powered by the supply of capital and investment and demand for high-value services and manufactures by the top ten per cent of the income earners and wealth-holders, and the rest of the population will perform as their dependent servitors.
Despite the global recession, during the period April-November 2009, overall manufacturing grew by 7.7 per cent and the star performers in the group were transport equipment, that is, cars, motor bikes, lorries etc., which grew by 13.9 per cent, rubber, petroleum and plastic, which grew by 13.5 per cent, wool, silk and man-made fibres which grew by 13.0 per cent and other products that either directly go into the consumption (including houses) of the rich or into infrastructure that connect big cities with one another or with their profitable hinterlands and into capital equipment or intermediate products for producing those other commodities and services.
Low tax for super rich
THE steep increase in the wealth of the rich has been promoted by government policies such as absurdly low rates of tax for the super-rich and the corporate sector virtually tax-free treatment of gains on the stock market and allowing them to grab public resources by, among other things, allowing their private losses into public subventions.
Only a few years back, the Global Trust Bank, which had been promoted with much fanfare under the Narasimha Rao government, and then went bankrupt under suspicious circumstances, was then absorbed under government diktat by the Oriental Bank of Commerce. When the global financial crisis broke it was the reasonably well-regulated Indian public sector banks that stopped a meltdown of the Indian banking system, and two of the new private sector banks suffered large losses.
Despite this experience, the Finance Minister has announced that licences would be issued to private banks. This is despite the fact that in spite of the Reserve Bank sequestering a considerable amount of liquidity through the raising of the CARR, the public sector banks are still not short of liquidity. The only explanation is that the rich are looking for easy profits, and they have learned the lesson of the global bail-out and the Indian government's practice that bank failures won't be allowed to damage the fortunes of the bankers. It is always the hapless public that the government is supposed to represent who will have to bear the pain.
Make no mistake about it. This budget is internally consistent given the vision of growth for the ten per cent that it embodies. The question is, whether the other 90 per cent will continue to share this vision. It is obvious that the terrorism and secessionist movements that have erupted over large parts of India, misguided though they may be in a formally democratic, well-armed state, are fuelled by the huge discontent with the fate of the majority among the better-educated youth and the rebels looking for a cause. Most of the victims of these outbreaks are again the very poor whom the rebels are supposed to be fighting for.
But even the rich are occasionally scorched by the heat. Are they so eager for more riches that they are willing to live in a state of continual state of insecurity, as has happened in cities from Detroit and Chicago to Rio De Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Johannesburg?
The writer, a distinguished economist, is currently Director, Institute of Development Studies Kolkata, and First Chancellor, Tripura Central University
WHAT'S YOUR LEGACY, DR SINGH?
It is for Manmohan Singh to decide whether he wants to settle for marginal increases in growth rates, another round of talks with Pakistan, or winning for India a Security Council seat; or whether he wants to be placed alongside Nehru as one of two principal makers of modern India, says SUNIL SHARAN
It is said of US presidents that they spend their first term trying to get re-elected and their second and last term preparing their legacy. Well into your second term, Dr Singh, how will history remember you?
Bankrupt Nation. Corrupt Leadership. Returning to India in 1991, I found this banner emblazoned across the Mumbai sun. A former Prime Minister assassinated. A country in despair. You were picked out of bureaucratic obscurity to rescue the country's economy. Few gave you a chance even to survive, forget about succeeding. Two years later, the Indian economy had made a U-turn. You became an icon. Your ineffable role then remains until today your crowning achievement. Were you not already preoccupied as India's PM, you would be highly sought after today worldwide for your financial engineering skills.
2004. An upset victory for your party. After much melodrama, you were appointed Prime Minister. Some called you a regent. Others just a truncated premier. No matter, you soldiered on. Clinched the nuclear deal, what you regard as your signal accomplishment as PM. Went on to win in 2009. The first Prime Minister after Nehru to get consecutive full-terms. Again you were appointed but this time with less fanfare, it being clear to most everyone that victory this time was principally yours. Now rid of the red sickle against your neck, you busily set about governance.
Peace with Pakistan emerged as a top priority. You took the initiative in Sharm el-Sheikh. But your party stymied it. You gave the Padma Bhushan to Sant Singh Chatwal. The party quibbled. Sonia's palm still needs to be read. Your international reputation keeps growing though. Adversaries hail you as a man of peace. World leaders fawn over you. Into the sixth year of your premiership, you are at the zenith of your powers. But life is ephemeral. Here today, gone tomorrow. You have already cheated a failing heart once. Surely it must be weighing on your mind how you will be remembered. Certainly not as Bairam Khan, who kept the Mughal flame burning until Akbar came of age.
Peace with Pakistan is slippery. Many PMs before you came close, only to falter. No one knows how long the current set-up in Pakistan will last. And in your own country too, there is so much resistance. Eight-nine per cent economic growth rates. To be honest, this seems like building on the past. Social programmes. Great to win elections but transforming enough to uplift 300 million people from grinding poverty? Nuclear deal. Too esoteric, too much delayed gratification. No major communal upheaval. Keep it up, but sounds like a negative accomplishment.
Or, would you still prefer that your contribution as finance minister remains your principal bequeathal to the nation, relegating your tenure as PM to but a footnote in your CV. Think, Dr. Singh, think. Think of how China has made itself the factory of the world, thereby saving half a billion of its people from destitution. You once took an indigent nation and added 200 million to its middle class. Now with few encumbrances, what stops you from aiming higher?
Great men are often at their best when facing ferocious adversity. But abate some of the challenges, and they too seem to get diminished. It is then for you to decide, Dr Singh, whether in your remaining time in office you want to settle for marginal increases in growth rates, or yet another round of talks with Pakistan, or even winning for India the coveted UN Security Council seat, or whether you want to be placed alongside that giant, Nehru, as the two principal makers of modern India. Unimpeachable integrity we all know is what you already have in common with him.
The writer is a former Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington
DC-based think-tank. The views expressed are his own.
HEARD THAT BEFORE
Some years ago, when my daughter and I were visiting her 87 year old grandmother, we were treated to repetitive versions of the same incident during the five days that we were there. "How often do we have to listen to the same thing?" my daughter asked me. I told her that we'd have to listen as often as the old lady wished to relate it. I added, "I might start doing the same thing by and by". She smiled and said, "You know something, you are already beginning to do it".
I thanked my daughter for being so honest with me. As a senior citizen, I am aware that I am in for some of the pitfalls that people encounter as they age. Among these, one of the foremost is the tendency to repeat something that has already been related. So now, if I start relating an incident which I think would be of interest to people, I warn my listeners beforehand that if they've heard it before they should stop me before I inflict an alrleady told tale on them.
Elderly people, even if they are not suffering from any kind of dementia, have still to contend with failing memory. This may exhibit itself in many ways. Apart from being repetitive, a frequent problem experienced by those above the age of 70 is groping for the right word to express what they want to say. Words that earlier came to them "in a jiffy" now play hide and seek in their brains till they finally come to the rescue of their owner's exasperation.
Sometimes, words that have similar sounds are substituted for one another, the end result meaning something quite different to what was intended. It helps if the person who utters these words has a sense of humour and can laugh at the howlers he has unintentionally created. I have done this myself on occasion. Recently I had given a friend some Indian made Parmesan cheese that I had bought in Pune from a farm which was producing such cheeses locally. When I met my friend again, I asked her, "What did you think of the Marzipan cheese?" But I immediately realised my gaffe and said, "I meant Parmesan". The two words sound similar, except that the syllables of both are reversed.
A journalist, in one of his regular contributions to a leading newspaper, talked of his lovable but somewhat foggy-headed mother. She was very proud of her erudite son, and was talking about him to her friends. In her conversation, she revealed that he would be at an important meeting that evening where he would be addressing "a group of communists". The phrase she meant to use was, "a group of economists". But the words sound so similar that the mental confusion was easy.
Today's hi-tech age is a particularly trying one for the elderly. An octogenarian neighbour of mine likes to buy new fangled gadgets for his use. His latest acquisition is a mobile phone with multiple features. But its operation is beyond him. So he constantly calls up a younger acquaintance to come over and tell him how to get such and such a feature going. It is all painstakingly explained to him, but the memory of what he has learnt does not last. If he writes the instructions on a piece of paper, he cannot remember where he has kept the paper. So the acquaintance is summoned again, and the process of explaining how the gadget is operated is repeated.
So, if you have not yet crossed the threshold of "senior citizenship", do look charitably at the memory lapses and "slips of the tongue" of your elders. And if you are regaled with the narration of the same episode again and again, try to be tolerant, even if you feel like gritting your teeth. Remember, you'll be in the same place one day, and people younger than you will be at the receiving end.
STANDING BY CHILE IN DISTRESS
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met the Chilean President, Michele Bachelet, and President-elect Sebastián Piñera, during a two-day visit to assess the quake damage and see how the UN can help. He expressed his solidarity with the government and people of Chile, said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky in New York.
"I am very moved to see such strong courage and resilience of the Chilean people", Mr Ban said on his arrival at the airport.
"Chile has been extraordinarily generous in assisting Haiti in its time of need. Now is the moment for the United Nations and the international community to stand with Chile and its people", he said. "We are ready to help provide any assistance that the Chilean Government requests, immediate and long-term", he added. He offered immediate support and aid to Chile through the office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the wake of the disaster.
Chilean officials have assured the public that drugs and medicines will be available free of charge. Catholic Church-based non-governmental organization builds temporary housing for slum dwellers and seeks to provide them with education, social services and micro-credit, as well as guide them in acquiring permanent housing.
According to the WHO, Government has said there is no evidence of outbreaks of communicable diseases, although disease surveillance has been stepped up. WHO is working with the Government to coordinate international health aid arriving from other countries, and to coordinate technical aspects related to mobile field hospitals and to support communication needs.
Sanctions on Iran: Head of the monitoring sanctions committee against Iran over its nuclear programme, Ambassador Yukio Takasu of Japan briefed the Security Council. He provided an update on its latest work to the Council. He added that from 11 December 2009 to 4 March 2010, the committee received two reports of violations of resolution 1747 of 2007, which bans arms exports from Iran. It has asked for explanations about arms-related materials from Iran that was found on board two ships, the Hansa of India and the Francop.
He said that the committee has approved a notice to urge member states to be especially vigilant for violations similar to those involved in the Hansa India incident, which involves the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.
Iran's nuclear programme has been a matter of international concern since 2003 that the country had concealed its nuclear activities for 18 years in breach of its obligations under the NPT.
The Council imposed sanctions against Iran in resolution 1803 in 2008. These included the inspection of cargo suspected to carry prohibited goods, the tighter monitoring of financial institutions and the extension of travel bans and asset freezes, over its nuclear programme.
Mr Takasu informed the Council that the committee had received three notifications from member states concerning the delivery of items for use in the nuclear power plant at Bushehr. It had received 91 reports under resolution 1737, 78 reports under resolution 1747 and 67 reports under resolution 1803, he said. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said that the agency can verify whether all nuclear material in Iran is for peaceful purposes. He urged Iran to cooperate in areas including the implementation of resolutions by both the IAEA and the Security Council, and clarification of issues related to the possible military dimensions to its nuclear programme.
Iran has said it needs more time to provide a response, while the other three parties to the talks France, Russia and the United States - have all indicated their approval of the agreement. IAEA expressed its concern over an announcement by Iran that it will increase its enrichment of uranium. It was informed by Iran in a letter that it will enhance its enrichment of the material to 20 per cent for use at the Teheran Research Reactor, which produces medical radioisotopes for therapeutic and diagnostic procedures.The enrichment process, the nation told the UN body, will take place at a plant in Natanz in central Iran.
Bengal child marriages: Unicef has stated that it is supporting a new anti-child marriage movement in West Bengal, where half of the girls become child brides and one-third become teenage mothers even though the legal marriage age is 18.
"We need to have a zero-tolerance policy towards child marriage, so that every child, boy and girl, has the opportunity to live their childhood and gain an education", said Karin Hulshof, Unicef India Representative in a press release.
The agency noted that some 225 children launched the movement called Amar Shaishab Amar Adhikar at a meeting hosted by the Unicef and the Department of Women and Child Development and Social Welfare, West Bengal.
"Today is a historic day for our children because they have decided to change the status quo and demand for what is rightfully theirs", said Biswanath Choudhury, minister for women and child development and social welfare, Government of West Bengal.
He added that a child bride is "more vulnerable to poverty, hunger, abuse, disease and maternal mortality a legacy that may well be passed on to her own children".
Unicef efforts to prevent early marriages have included implementing a village-level monitoring system to track child marriages and support for a state consultation on child marriage in West Bengal.
"Rights can be declared and policies formulated, but unless laws are actually implemented, they will have little effect. All our efforts as partners are meaningless if the lives of disadvantaged, vulnerable children, their families and communities are not improved", said Ms Hulshof.
UNICEF had released a report in October "Progress for Children: A Report Card on Child Protection" which called for improved child protection systems and for greater promotion of social change to prevent actions against children, such as child marriage.
Climate change: Ban Ki-moon announced philanthropist George Soros and prominent British academic Nicholas Stern along with 19 members of the high-level advisory group to mobilize financing to help developing countries combat climate change. He launched the Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing which will be headed up by the Prime Ministers of Britain and Ethiopia, Gordon Brown and Meles Zenawi. It was revealed that President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway will participate in the group.
The four leaders will be joined by high-level officials from Government ministries, including Mexican Finance Minister Ernesto Cordero Arroyo, and representatives of central banks. The Advisory Group will meet on 29 March in London and will submit its final report to Mr Ban before the next UNFCCC conference in Mexico later this year. It will create practical proposals to boost both short- and long-term financing for mitigation and adaptation strategies in developing countries.
Iraq election: A top official in Iraq Ad Melkert said that the parliamentary election will mark a turning point for the whole country. "It is for Iraq a very decisive moment. I think it's actually the most decisive moment since 2003, the invasion that of course turned the country upside down", Special Representative for Iraq, Ad Melkert, said.
Iraqis will go to the polls to elect a new Council of Representatives Iraq's parliament. Some 19 million Iraqis are registered to vote in the18 governorates, UN mission in Iraq reported. "Now is the chance, against the backdrop of the withdrawal of the American troops in the next few years, that Iraqis really define by themselves their own way forward, their own destiny", added Mr. Melkert. "And the election is of course not the only thing, but it's very vital to bring all Iraqis on board that process towards the future".
A special status, because it is special, always carries with its privileges the hidden threat of reversal. Some of the best Christian academic institutions of the country have found that they may lose their minority status. They could perhaps argue that their respective levels of achievement could not have been reached without the comparative autonomy they enjoy on the basis of their religious denomination. The National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions, however, has announced that, in order to claim minority status, a minority educational institution must have at least 30 per cent of its students drawn from that particular community. Most Christian educational institutions do not. It is beside the point that the NCMEI had earlier bequeathed minority status to numbers of institutions without any such condition. The NCMEI chairman, M.S.A. Siddiqui, now thinks that minority institutions should have a minimum, reasonable percentage of students belonging to the relevant community. Thirty per cent is Mr Siddiqui's own idea of "minimum, reasonable". That is, the government, or its appointed body, will ensure that a minority institution goes minority with a vengeance.
Here it is not just a question of the government interfering with education, assailing institutions with possibly well-meaning but completely uncomprehending legalities, and thus laying education to rack and ruin. There is some of that, and also the hypocrisy latent in giving some institutions autonomy and then dictating how many students they are to take from which community. Christian institutions will find themselves hard put to find 30 per cent of their students from the community when Christians are two per cent of the population. It would also mean virtual quotas in special status schools a stifling of openness and a vertiginous narrowing that seems surreal. But far more important than these specifics is the question of special status. The granting of autonomy to educational institutions run by various religions has a divisive edge. The imposing of percentages and conditions is the reverse side of what goes for affirmative action in this country. It shows up the stinginess at the heart of Indian thinking about education. Why cannot all institutions, majority, minority or deliciously mixed, have the freedom to choose their students, teachers, syllabi and fee structures?
A visit to Mizoram must be especially gratifying for Sonia Gandhi both personally and politically. Her first visit to the state coincided with the peace accord that her husband and former prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, signed with the Mizo rebel leader, Laldenga, in 1986. And except for a brief period soon after the Mizo peace agreement, the Congress has ruled the state. Ms Gandhi has good reasons to be happy about the party's progress in a troubled periphery of India. More important, Mizoram remains the most peaceful state in the Northeast, completely free from ethnic insurgencies that plague all other states in the region. Yet, it is not so much the Congress's electoral successes in Mizoram as the triumph of peace that makes the state's recent political history particularly significant. For two decades, the Mizo insurgency seemed intractable and its social and economic damage almost irreversible. Two generations of Mizo youths lived and died in dense jungles fighting for an "independent" Mizoram. Peace and democracy have scripted a different story for the state since 1986. Mizoram today has the highest literacy rate among the states in the region. Its economic progress and social stability stand out in a region known for ethnic violence and volatile politics.
It is not as if the people of Mizoram do not have grievances against their government. Corruption, in particular, has been a major cause of public discontent. The chief minister, Lalthanhawla, has been synonymous with the Congress in the state for more than two decades. He may legitimately take credit for the party's successes. But he cannot also absolve himself of the charges that are routinely levelled against his party and government. For Ms Gandhi and the Centre, though, peace in Mizoram can serve a far more important purpose. It can act as a guide to peace initiatives in Nagaland, Assam and Manipur. The insurgency in each of these states has its distinct local context. But the big message from Mizoram is that peace and democracy can help the people in ways that armed conflicts never can. Democracy has enough room for dissent and gives the people the freedom to change a non-performing government. Armed rebellions, on the other hand, offer no such hopes. Worse, gun-wielding militants steal all freedoms and rule by blood and terror.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
THE ECONOMIC SURVEY NEEDS MORE ECONOMICS
WRITING ON THE WALL - ASHOK V. DESAI
In the 1950s, the Economic Survey used to be a modest affair some 10,000 words of text and a couple of dozen tables. Apart from reporting on elementary economic magnitudes, it was really an account of how much the government had been able to spend on the five-year plan, which was the deity of that age. This year's survey has some 400 pages, 180,000 words of text, 192 text tables and 125 appendix tables. Its 30-odd Authors Anonymous were so exhausted at the end that they did not even enter the tables and figures in the table of contents. It is so heavy that two hands would be too few to hold it up for reading. Even if the literary diarrhoea could not be controlled, the Survey need not have been bulky. It weighs so much because the AAs prefer, for some reason, to use a space-wasting 12-pitch Arial font. It is easy to read; but it is primitive and not particularly good-looking. The Survey is printed in two colours black and blue. The text is in black; blue is used for headings, and for shading in tables. The paper is thicker than necessary, but not fine enough for colour printing, so the blue is often smudged.
The page-setter is not skilled enough to shrink graphs, so they are all spread across a page. But the volume is so thick already that the page-setter does not feel able to give a graph more than a quarter page. As a result, many series just meander horizontally across the page; whatever the point may be of giving them, it does not come out. Series descriptions are put at one end of the graph, where they take up too much horizontal space. The graph-maker does not know that in Excel, the descriptions are easily tucked away at the bottom of the graph; they take less space, and are more easily followed.
The table-maker is not skilled in decimals, so most figures are too detailed. The macroeconomic aggregates these days go up to rupees trillion, or as our nationalist statisticians prefer to put it, to Rs lakh crore. They are given in crores that is, in six or seven digits. No reader wants them in such detail. Neither does he want percentage figures up to the second decimal. All he wants in text tables is to get an idea of trends and fluctuations; two to four digits are quite enough to give him the idea.
The survey, following the Central Statistical Office, calls the non-corporate private sector the household sector. This is misleading, for it contains both non-corporate businesses and genuine households. Using this obscure label, the survey shows that the "household" sector's savings come to almost a quarter of the gross domestic product, but that it invests only half as much. Obviously, the other half goes to finance the investments of the corporate sector and the government sector. How does it do so? What forms does it take? Which financial institutions mediate between the savers and the investors? These obvious questions do not occur to the AAs.
The government produces price indices in great detail, so the survey is replete with detailed figures for commodity groups, periods and consumers. But one is at a loss if one wants an answer to the question: how is it that the government, sitting on some 40-50 million tons of foodgrains, suddenly lost control of prices last monsoon, which was delayed? One can understand why it was powerless to stop the rise in the price of onions or potatoes it had no stocks, and had too many import controls in place for the commodities to come in from abroad. But why could it not have compensated by bringing down the prices of wheat and rice, of which it had stocks?
Regarding the impact of the global crisis, the survey says that India was initially affected: capital started flowing out, the rupee depreciated, and the stock market went down. But the government raised agricultural support prices, wrote off farmers' loans, gave out money under the national rural employment guarantee scheme and the Bharat Nirman scheme, and people became more aware through television, press and cellphones. That stopped the downturn in India. That would be a riveting story if only it were true. But the survey, which spills out figures everywhere else, becomes economical with data on this point. A few pages later it says that exports fell in April-December 2009 by 14 per cent in rupee terms and 20 per cent in dollar terms. Service exports fell by a quarter. The exporters who lost sales surely did not get money out of NREGS and Bharat Nirman. So, until the government produces better figures, this story is best treated as poppycock.
The survey reproduces some none-too-clever tendentious arguments of the customs department. It says that although 77 per cent of the imports in 2008-09 paid customs duty of or less than 7.5 per cent, they came under only 39 per cent of the tariff lines. Since the imports under the other 61 per cent of the tariff lines were only 23 per cent, India could afford to reduce duties on many tariff lines under which imports were negligible. What customs officials do not realize is that imports under those tariff lines are low precisely because they have kept tariffs on them high. Most of them are consumer goods. The pre-reform conventional wisdom still rules that importing consumer goods is a sin. But import liberalization of consumer goods would increase efficiency in their domestic production just as it has in the case of other goods; it would be a low-cost boost to growth.
The survey also gives an extravagant figure of Rs 49,000 crore for import duty "foregone" [sic] on duty-free imports of inputs and capital goods for exports. This revenue is not forgone at all. Export inputs should not bear duty; only the revenue-obsessed customs department would think of killing exports to squeeze out revenue. The survey has an entire chapter on finance; there it gives figures of stock market indices and turnover. But it tells us nothing about the importance of the stock market. It is in the industry chapter that we learn that of the Rs 4.5 trillion raised by the "commercial sector" in 2008-09, Rs 162 billion that is, less than three per cent came from the stock market. This is the achievement of the Securities and Exchange Board of India; its overregulation has killed the market. With its invention of qualified institutional investors, it has created an oligopoly of investors who systematically underprice public issues, and, as if that is not enough, force companies to sell shares to "small" investors at even lower prices.
Such are the things one can glean from the Survey, but it did not mean to tell us. Under the rule of negligent chief economic advisors, the AAs have fallen into a rut. They take last year's survey and replace all its figures by recent ones; that is their idea of writing a survey. This exercise is easy to the point of brainlessness. But it is not economics. I hope the new CEA will ask and answer some serious economic questions next year.
QUESTION OF HONOUR
MALA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH
The master painter, M.F. Husain, remains humiliated as a man, an artist, a creative spirit who cannot be contained within the stifling and parochial confines of a faulty process of what is supposed to be one of the world's most vibrant democracies. The supreme tragedy is that the 'system' in India only wakes up when slapped on the face in full public view. The State has, over the decades, become 'soft', and incompetent to protect the rights enshrined in the Constitution. The politicization of the arms of the government, the corrosion of ethics and values, the overwhelming corruption of the mind and soul are all symbolized in the recent 'life and times' of M.F. Husain. We have behaved abominably, shamefully.
In the first place, there should have been no tolerance for the lumpens on the streets, and the barbaric attack on galleries and exhibitions. Destruction of property, and threats and assaults on individuals must be dealt with severely, and immediately controlled. This, unfortunately, has not been the case in India. Violence seems to be condoned by the administrative authorities, and frankly, their inability to be out in the field, in full control, without the congenital ambiguity because of untenable 'assumptions' or illegal 'orders', is inappropriate and unacceptable in a federal, secular democracy. The government is mandated to deal with destructive elements in the harshest manner and it has failed to do so in this case as well as in endless others. This ineptitude in dealing with anarchic actions leaves much to be desired.
Head held high
Husain epitomizes a synthesis of Indian tradition, culture and compassion. Had he been Hindu, none of these insults would have been hurled at him. But no one wants to say so and call a spade a spade. It is the 'Hindu activists' who are all het up, not the Hindus. Our great treatises, and the manifestations of our diverse cultures as represented in our paintings, sculpture and philosophies, cannot be vandalized by a small group with parochial agendas. Such polarized groups, which are unable to absorb the civilizational truths of this subcontinent, must be kept at bay. By allowing this destruction, the government has failed in its commitment to the Indian people. This phenomenon, which seems to have enveloped us in recent times, can be easily removed from the public domain if there is a will to do so.
Why, then, should an artist in his mid-nineties, who was born in India, then booted out of the country, return to
this 'danger' zone? Husain put modern Indian art on the map of the world as Ravi Shankar did with our musical traditions. How is it that Ravi Shankar's 'experiments' with Western musicians and styles did not merit similar 'anger'? Husain has given up his Indian citizenship because he has transcended the limitations of belonging superficially, via a passport, to a civilization. His roots are here, his spirit reflects India, he is Indian. The 'passport' is merely a document that allows a 'citizen' of that country to cross man-made borders and enter other nations. The soul does not change.
The sad thing is that the Indians who left for a better life abroad, the NRIs the Non Required Indians, in my vocabulary are welcomed with open arms, given special status and more. They are honoured by the prime minister, ministers of the cabinet, civil servants and corporate leaders, desperately wooed with national awards for being liaison men and lobbyists, or even doctors attending to the high and the mighty. Husain stands apart from that pampered lot. He is not protected and honoured in the same way. What has triumphed in this muddle is Husain the person, the painter and his unique spirit. Three cheers to him for holding his head high and keeping his pride.
DREAMS, SONGS, LAUGHTER AND ROSES, BUT ALSO BREAD
March 8 seems like Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and a religious festival rolled into one. But where does that leave most women? asks Anchita Ghatak
As we come marching, marching, we
bring the Greater Days
The rising of the women means the
rising of the race
No more the drudge and idler ten
that toil where one reposes
But a sharing of life's glories: Bread
and Roses, Bread and Roses.
In its last session before the year ended in 1911, the Massachusetts state legislature, after tremendous pressure from workers, had finally passed a law limiting the working hours of children under the age of 18 to 54 hours a week. The huge textile corporations had strongly opposed the law and, as an act of retaliation, the employers cut the working hours of all employees to 54 hours, along with a commensurate cut in wages.
After this, on New Year's Day, 1912, the textile workers of Lawrence, Massachusetts, began a nine-week strike. Some 35,000 workers in the Lawrence factories staged a complete walk out. In the course of the strike, the workers presented the bosses with many demands including a 15 per cent wage increase, double pay for overtime, no discrimination against strikers and an end to discrimination against foreign-born workers. During a parade through Lawrence during the course of the strike, a group of women workers carried banners saying "Bread and Roses".
This poetic presentation of the demands of women workers for equal pay for equal work echoed throughout the United States of America, and James Oppenheim, a poet with strong working-class sympathies, picked up the phrase and wrote a poem, which was later set to music by Martha Coleman. This song has come to represent the struggles of women for different kinds of rights all across the world.
Struggles of women workers for economic rights in many countries of the West in the 19th and early 20th centuries, along with the struggle for women's political rights including the very important right to vote, form the backdrop to the decision to identify a day as International Women's Day. In 1910, a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. Clara Zetkin of the Social Democratic Party in Germany tabled the idea of an International Women's Day.
The very first International Women's Day was launched the following year by Clara Zetkin on March 19. This date was chosen because, during the 1848 revolution, the Prussian king recognized for the first time on March 19 the strength of the armed people and gave way before the threat of a proletarian uprising. Among the many promises he made, which he later failed to keep, was the introduction of votes for women.
Plans for the first International Women's Day demonstration were spread by word of mouth and in the press. During the week before International Women's Day, two journals appeared: The Vote for Women in Germany and Women's Day in Austria. Various articles were devoted to International Women's Day, such as, "Women and Parliament", "The Working Women and Municipal Affairs" and "What Has the Housewife got to do with Politics?" The articles analysed the questions of equality of women in government and in society. All articles emphasized the point that it was necessary to make parliament more democratic by extending the franchise to women.
In 1917, on the last Sunday of February, women textile workers of Petrograd began a strike for "bread and peace" in response to the death of over two million Russian soldiers in war. Opposed by political leaders including the Bolsheviks, who thought the time was not right for a strike, the women workers continued to strike, chanting the slogan, "Down with war, down with Czar, we want bread, NOT war," until four days later the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional government granted women the right to vote. The date on which the women's strike commenced was Sunday, February 23 on the Julian calendar then in use in Russia. This day on the Gregorian calendar in use elsewhere was March 8. Since 1913, International Women's Day has been celebrated on March 8.
India has a strong history of women's political and social action from pre-Independence days. Women's organizations, whether they were affiliated to political parties or engaged in social work, worked on issues of women's emancipation, linking them with issues of citizenship, poverty and development. In India, the National Federation of Indian Women began commemorating International Women's Day from the 1950s. In 1960, they took up several programmes across the country to mark 50 years of IWD.
The United Nations marked 1975 as International Women's Year and later in the year declared the International Women's Decade. This year also saw the first World Conference on Women organized by the UN in Mexico. All this gave an impetus to work on women's rights and development across the world and imbued IWD with new meaning and significance.
Influenced by developments in women's organizing of themselves both in the country and internationally, work with women in India also took on new forms. The influence of the Towards Equality report (1974), of the Committee on the Status of Women in India in shaping this change can never be overstated. The 1980s saw strong mobilization by 'autonomous' women's groups, not affiliated to political parties, on issues of rape and dowry.
Since the 1980s, there are many groups, both government and non-government, working with women at the grassroots to realize women's rights. One of the major contributions of the Towards Equality report was the churning it caused within academia, which finally led to the establishment of several centres of Women's Studies in universities across the country. Consequently, we also have theoretical work on women and their lives, struggles and triumphs.
Even a very brief recounting of IWD in India vis-à-vis women's struggles makes the nationalist and socialist links fairly evident. But many politically-aware women and men in this country are now dismayed to find that the IWD appears to have been appropriated by market forces and is often synonymous with discounts in clothes shops, jewellery stores, restaurants and gift shops. Businesses have become adept at exploiting the commercial potential of IWD and March 8 seems like Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and a religious festival all rolled into one. On this day, men may choose to buy gifts for their wives and girlfriends and take their mothers out to dinner, a group of women may decide to have a girls' night out, or an individual woman may decide to pamper herself by splurging on books, music, clothes or perfume. These celebrations, we can easily see, fit in with the lives of the affluent classes. However, where does that leave the vast majority of women in India?
Women's movements in contemporary India have many successes, both big and small, but the overall picture of women's lives remains bleak. A very recent UN report (2007) estimates that 2,000 unborn girls are illegally aborted every day in India. This has led to skewed sex ratios in regions like Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh as well as the capital, New Delhi, where a census in 2001 showed there are less than 800 girls for every 1,000 boys. Currently, about 50 million women are missing in India. In the late 1980s, Amartya Sen coined the term "missing women" to describe the large number of women in the world who are literally not alive due to family neglect and discrimination. Female literacy is 54.16 per cent as opposed to the male literacy rate, which, according to the 2001 census, is 75.85 per cent.The participation of women in the formal labour force is much lower than that of males (33 per cent versus 67 per cent).
Women's groups have worked to ensure that women and girls are able to access opportunities and services in this country. They have gathered data from the field, fought for redress of wrongs and even pressed for legal reform. From the mid 1980s, women's groups, along with health and civil rights activists, started discussing the issue of abuse of medical technologies for aborting female foetuses. As a consequence, the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act was enacted in 1994, and amendments were brought in later to plug certain loopholes resulting in the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Technique (prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 2003.
Women's movements have interrogated the way patriarchies are manifested in different institutions and social
processes. Patriarchal values and practices within families, marriage, religion, educational institutions, workplaces and the State, have been identified and questioned. The Vishakha Guidelines (1997) against sexual harassment in the workplace and the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005) are a consequence of women's dogged mobilizing against injustice.
As modes of production change in a rapidly changing, technology-driven world, women's movements are grappling with the reality that women are finding it increasingly difficult to get secure employment within the organized sector. The burgeoning of special economic zones is also putting hard-won workers' rights under threat.
It would be a mistake to conclude that women's groups in India are able to easily arrive at a consensus on issues and mobilize effectively. There are some issues that divide activists sharply. The issue of sex work is one such issue. Many women, including large numbers of sex workers themselves, say that sex work is work and are demanding recognition from the State as workers. Another section, including some women in prostitution, believe that prostitution is intrinsically violent and degrading for women and should never be accorded the dignity of work.
Despite a strong grassroots base, many marginalized communities have said that their issues have not been adequately recognized or addressed by women's movements. This has led to an assertion of ethnic or community identities and the rise of movements of Naga women, Bodo women, Muslim women, Dalit women and tribal women to name a few. There has been sustained questioning of the dominant position that educated, upper-caste and upper-class women appear to occupy within women's movements.
Women with disabilities have often said that they are invisible, both within the movement of rights of people with disability and in women's movements. Mentally challenged women have also specifically raised the issue of their exclusion from movements of people with disability. There are strong reasons why sins of omission and commission need to be addressed.
A major challenge facing women's movements in our country today is probably confronting its own essentialist heteronormativity. Heteronormativity is a term used to refer to the institutionalization of heterosexuality in a society and stems from the essentialist belief that there are only two sexes, namely, male and female, and that a certain set of behaviours and expectations follow from one's sex. Queer theory denies the binary of homosexual-heterosexual, positing that gender and sexuality are always shifting on a spectrum where people may position themselves in different places at different times.
The question now has moved far beyond extending solidarity to lesbian women's causes or gay men's marches. If gender/sex and sexualities are no longer fixed, there are far-reaching questions of theory and practice for women's movements. Women's movements are becoming aware of the fact that much of their strategies and programming have taken the married heterosexual able-bodied woman as the norm.
Scholars and activists now agree that we have to speak of women's movements to acknowledge the variety of issues that have been raised in this country. Also, it has to be accepted that all activists will not have the same viewpoint on every issue. Yet, the oppression of women in a patriarchal, class- and caste- ridden society remains. Struggles for equality will result in gains only if people can forge meaningful bonds of solidarity despite differences.
A significant day like the International Women's Day cannot become a hostage to market forces that smooth over the struggles and realities of women. It is a day for celebrating the successes of women's movements, pondering on failures, discussing differences and moving ahead so that the fight against inequality and injustice goes on with vigour. And dreams may live, and songs be sung and there is laughter and roses, but also bread.
''BLANKET OUTLAWING OF CRITICISM IS UNACCEPTABLE.''
The Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill, which the government proposes to introduce in the current session of parliament, contains many undemocratic and unconstitutional provisions which will not only stifle scientific growth but go against the spirit of enquiry and freedom of expression.
The purported aim of the bill is to improve the regulatory processes with respect to research, import, manufacture and use of genetically modified (GM) products in the country. The recent controversy over the introduction of Bt brinjal probably hastened the government's thinking but it seems to have learnt the wrong lessons from the experience. If the government had to backtrack in the face of public criticism in the case of Bt brinjal, it wants to pre-empt such criticism in future.
Section 63 of the draft bill prescribes a jail term of up to one year and a fine of Rs 2 lakh for anyone who "without evidence or scientific record misleads the public about the safety of the organisms and products." Such blanket outlawing of criticism is unacceptable. It is difficult to imagine that the government can think of introducing such provisions in a bill. Who is to decide what is meant by 'misleading?'
In fact freedom means the freedom to hold a wrong belief also without the fear of fine or jail. Another clause seeks to keep information about GM products out of the purview of the Right to Information Act. This is too draconian and is designed to prevent probing and enquiry. Yet another clause, Section 81, makes the proposed National Biotechnology Authority solely responsible for releasing and controlling genetically modified organisms. Agriculture and health are state subjects but the bill does not envisage any significant role, other than advisory, for states in this vital area.
Research and business relating to GM products are caught in controversy. There is need for informed debate and transparency in the government's approach to the issues involved and in its actions. But the disputed provisions of the bill give the impression that the government wants to shut out criticism. Legislation is needed as there is a legal void in the emerging area of genetic research and its applications. But in the present form, the bill is not likely to stand judicial scrutiny. It will be a setback to the general aims of the bill if it is held up in courts for its anti-democratic and unconstitutional provisions. The government should drop these provisions in public interest.
''TRANSFER OF MORE FUNDS TO LOCAL BODIES IS WELCOME.''
The 13th finance commission, chaired by Vijay Kelkar, whose report was tabled in parliament recently, has made important recommendations on the sharing of taxes between the Centre and the states and fiscal consolidation at Central and state levels. It has also provided a scheme for the implementation of the proposed goods and services tax.
The statutory finance commissions evolve the norms for tax sharing which has always been a contentious issue, with the states always feeling that they are not getting their due share. The commission has recommended an increase in the states' share from 30.5 per cent to 32 per cent. This should please them, though the new criteria for distribution of the taxes among states are certain to make many states unhappy. Some states like Karnataka stand to lose in their share of taxes while some small states will gain.
The new norms for transfer of funds to local bodies are welcome because they are likely to result in greater financial devolution to them. States have been tardy in strengthening the local bodies. The new incentive-based scheme may prompt them to transfer more funds to the local bodies.
The local bodies will also be encouraged to increase their revenue collection, as they will get matching grants from the states. The role of local bodies in the lives of people is going to increase in the coming years and therefore it is important to keep them financially strong.
The importance given to fiscal consolidation can be seen from the recommendation for elimination of central revenue deficit in the next five years and a gradual progress towards that goal by the states. The commission has given a road map for this and has recommended that release of state-specific grants be made conditional to achievement of fiscal consolidation targets.
A combined debt-GDP ratio of 68 per cent for the Centre and the states is a good target but even with an independent review commission to monitor progress, it is anybody's guess whether it will be adhered to. A grand bargain between the states and the Centre on GST with a Rs 50,000 crore fund to compensate the states for their revenue loss may be attractive but the empowered committee of state finance ministers is yet to take a view on it.
BOTH THE NAGA AND THE LARGER INDIAN LEADERSHIP NEED TO ABANDON WORNOUT NOTIONS TO EMBRACE EMERGING OPPORTUNITIES.
BY B G VERGHESE
The talks being conducted by the government with the Nagas through the NSCN (IM) appears to have entered the final lap. Both sides by now well understand the other. After meetings with the prime minister and home minister, Muivah is currently in dialogue with the new interlocutor, R S Pandey, a just retired IAS officer drawn from the Nagaland cadre. He succeeded K Padmanabhiah who over several rounds of talks with Muivah and Iasac Swu, patiently constructed the framework within which a settlement is now sought.
The government's acceptance of the 'unique' history of the Nagas laid the foundations of trust and further progress. The NSCN (IM) started with two primary demands, sovereignty and Nagalim, or the unification of all Naga-inhabited areas within India (and 'eastern Nagaland' in Myanmar). Over time, the government has more or less been able to persuade the NSCN (IM) that the states within India's structure of cooperative federalism are co-sovereigns within a commonwealth. Going beyond that, however, it has conceded that the Nagas' unique identity merits unique recognition through additional devolution within the framework of the Constitution.
The NSCN (IM) was asked to consider what part of the Indian Constitution the Nagas were freely willing to accept and what additional heads, safeguards and features they might wish to inscribe within a special 'Naga constitution' that could perhaps be incorporated as a separate chapter within the Indian Constitution. Critics might scream, but a moment's reflection will convince them that there are many mini-constitutions or special dispensations within the Indian Constitution. These are spelt out in Articles 370, 371, and 371-A (pertaining to Nagaland) to 371-I and the Fifth and Sixth Schedules, and extend to special affirmative action covenants pertaining to the scheduled castes and tribes, OBCs, and religious and linguistic minorities. All these subtle variations are so much part of our constitutional and social landscape and have been so completely internalised that we often fail to note their existence.
Some of this might be done by transferring to the State List certain items that are now in the Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule through a constitutional amendment. This should not be problematic as some of this has already been done to a limited extent in the existing Article 371-A. Still wider devolution is possible through Article 258 under which the Centre is empowered to 'entrust' to a state "any matter to which the executive power of the Union extends." None of this will affect the unity and integrity of the country because of the accommodative genius of the Indian Constitution. Nor is there any cause to fear a domino effect, whatever others may claim, as the Naga case is sui generis.
The other issue of Nagalim too is not intractable. The imagined boundaries of Nagalim, as sometimes drawn, have little historical basis as the Naga tribes, like their cousins in much of the Northeast, have been and perhaps still are migratory.
Dimapur, for instance, the most prized territorial plum, was the capital of the Dimasa kingdom. It is now a predominantly Naga city and so it must remain, despite Dimasa claims, as history cannot be rolled back.
The solution lies not in territorial reorganisation, which will be resented and resisted, but in the coming together of these other Naga populated areas in a non-territorial entity. This would permit a coming together of all Nagas for purposes of economic, social and cultural development without derogation of current administrative jurisdictions.
An example of this is to be found in the existing apex councils first created by Hiteshwar Saikia in Assam to accommodate the common interests of small scattered tribes like the Tiwas, Rabhas and Mishings who live in non-contiguous villages spread over a wider area. The apex councils elect an executive body to administer a devolved budget and plan through their own key personnel in case of 'transferred subjects.'
In a non-territorial 'Naga peoplehood,' however, distinctively Naga areas in Assam, Arunacal and Manipur could be empowered to administer common programmes of economic and social development. This could be done by means of any of several administrative devices overseen by the parent state on the one hand that enable the administered units across state boundaries to sing from the same page.
Imaginative and creative solutions are available. Some already exist; others can be enabled by constitutional amendment. The K-group has denounced the IM-group for forsaking 'sovereignty.' These are bargaining counters. Yet, it is absolutely necessary to get on board all shades of Naga opinion, IM, K and the two factions of the Naga National Council that Phizo founded, to endorse an overall settlement.
That Muivah is a Thangkul Naga from Manipur and Khaplang a Hemi Naga from Burma does not matter. Given a just and true settlement, each can find a place of honour in the new scheme of things. Nobody need feel left out.
It is necessary to travel in order to arrive. Both the Naga and the larger Indian leadership and societies need to abandon wornout notions to embrace emerging opportunities. An end to Naga conflict will be a triumph and a balm and will signal that insurgency anywhere is not the path to peace and progress.
LOOT IN THE NAME OF MALNOURISHED CHILD
WHEN UNICEF STARTED THE ICDS IN INDIA, IT WAS MEANT TO BE A PEOPLE'S PROGRAMME.
BY VATSALA VEDANTAM
If, at the end of 35 years, a mere fraction of children in this country benefited from the world's largest children's programmes ever, it is a sad reflection on the authorities implementing it. The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) launched by Unicef in 1975 was an extraordinary and ambitious programme that was meant to eradicate the two worst threats to childhood infant and maternal mortality. In addition, it also envisaged a healthy infancy through wholesome nutrition and proper immunisation against childhood diseases. Education on family welfare completed the picture.
Consisting of a package of six vital components, it offered infants and expectant mothers ante-natal and post-natal care, immunisation against common childhood diseases in addition to referral health services. Older children were offered supplementary nutrition, pre-school education and regular health monitoring. The anganwadis were places where these services were offered.
What made this programme unique was that the child was visualised as the main beneficiary of all the available resources and basic services. It was an innovative project, initially supported by Unicef, to be implemented by the Government of India. It came at a critical time when India ranked among the countries which had the highest infant mortality rate. Nearly 110 babies out of every 1,000 live births died before they completed six months.
Today we find nearly 50 per cent of young infants in the country still underweight. Another 80 per cent of older infants are anaemic. And, most shameful of all, 44 per cent young children are sadly malnourished despite the supplementary 'nutrition' packages said to be distributed to 72 million children and 15 million pregnant mothers!
The allocation for ICDS was more than Rs 60,000 crore in 2009. Earlier findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) have revealed gross misuse of funds resulting in sub-standard nutrition and medical supplies reaching the anganwadis. But, such reports have left the authorities unperturbed. Instead of taking remedial measures, the respective governments have only increased the number of anganwadis, which means more funds.
Apart from the corruption that has seeped into what should have been an invaluable programme for the country's future, the government has misunderstood the very rationale of this concept. When Unicef started it in India, it was meant to be a people's programme, not a state controlled one that it has turned out to be. The generous funds were not to be frittered away on buildings and infrastructure.
The anganwadi, which was the pivotal point where these services were rendered, could be a school, a temple or any other friendly place where the beneficiaries could assemble in large numbers. The anganwadi worker should be none other than the child's own parent, guardian or friendly neighbour. If it was an urban slum, the slum dwellers themselves were to be given the responsibility of ensuring that the child received his or her quota of nutrition, immunisation and proper medicare.
If it was a rural anganwadi, the village elders including the child's guardians shared this responsibility. The government social welfare departments merely had to oversee that the food and medical supplies reached the anganwadis. Preferably, it was planned that the food distributed to the children should be entrusted to the mothers themselves.
Anganwadi workers then are the key persons in this programme. They form the main linkages between the agencies who distribute the services and the child beneficiaries. Anganwadis are not avenues for employment generation. With undue politicisation, they have today degenerated into places where political favours are given and received. Far from being the caretakers of their own children, the workers have turned into militant forces demanding all the perks and benefits of salaried employees.
It is unfortunate that both the governments implementing the programme, as well as the communities for which it was launched, have missed out on this very important truth, namely it is a community programme to be managed by the community and not the government.
If the Karnataka government claims to be one of the better managed states with regard to these services, one can imagine the state of affairs elsewhere. As a Unicef representative once pointed out to this writer, the ICDS will succeed only if it becomes a people's programme with government participation, instead of deteriorating into a mere government programme.
WINNING THE HEART
WE WERE MADE TO FEEL IMPORTANT BY A SMALL, YET THOUGHTFUL GESTURE.
BY DOROTHY VICTOR
Most of us would have experienced moments of pleasant surprises, which leave us speechless. When these moments come at a time we least expect them, I guess the joy is immense. The incident I narrate below is a case in point.
It was a usual, bright and warm day in the Garden city, this time of the year. I was on my way to pick up my high school daughter on the first day of her final examination. On reaching the school and seeing her walk to the car park, I realised that the weeks of preparation for the final exam was already showing on her tired face. In an attempt to brighten up her day, I offered to stop at our neighbourhood pizza restaurant, a branch of a multinational brand, to take home a personal pan pizza of her choice.
We thus made a detour to the restaurant. My daughter was quick to place her order, though the lady at the take-away counter took some time processing our bill, we being the first customer for the day at 11 am. After the reasonable 20 minutes wait proved futile in the pizza making its appearance, I enquired with the restaurant manager on the reason for the delay. The young and dynamic lady explained that the procedure at the restaurant required that a test pizza be baked before taking orders for the day.
As the test pizza for the day had not passed the set quality standard, they had to re-bake the pizza causing the delay. Without much choice left, we took our seats. In a few seconds, came the stewardess apologetically, with two tall, chill, and fizzing coke glasses, and the reassuring words that while the order will soon be delivered, we chill ourselves with the complimentary drinks. Despite the odds, we could not stop smiling at the royal treatment we were being given. Though the restaurant had caused us some undue delay, we were made to feel important by a small yet thoughtful gesture.
Dale Carnegie in his international best seller 'How to win friends and influence people' says, "If you are wrong admit it quickly and emphatically; appeal to the noble motives; and always begin in a friendly way." The restaurant staff by following all these advocated by the author, not only won my friendship but also made me a satisfied customer and an impressed patron. I am certainly going back for more pizzas, whether they are delayed or not!
THE JERUSALEM POST
ASHKENAZI GOT IT RIGHT
We recurrently hear the refrain that the IDF must not judge itself. Whether implied or explicitly stated, the bottom line is that military justice is deemed suspect.
Indeed the Goldstone Report's most unrelenting theme was that IDF inquiries into its own troops' conduct in Operation Cast Lead aren't to be trusted and must be re-evaluated via exhaustive judicial probes.
There is actually a lot to be said for an independent body probing alleged misdeeds by the IDF, if only to offset the international repercussions of distorted assaults such as Goldstone's.
But earlier this week, when Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi ousted the Gaza Division's ex-commander, Brig.-Gen. Moshe "Chico" Tamir, from active service, he effectively put the lie to copious innuendo that threatens to undermine the IDF's credibility.
Ironically, at almost the same moment, Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court Judge Rachel Greenberg cast some doubt on our civilian judicial processes when she lightly rapped senior oncologist Dr. Arie Figer on the knuckles for ruthlessly extorting bribes from terminal cancer patients and their desperate families.
DISSIMILAR AS the cases are, some comparisons are valid. Both cases involved extremely talented individuals who contributed greatly in their own fields and are capable of contributing more. Both defendants enjoyed strong backing from colleagues who spoke up for their professional attributes. Both famous protagonists were convicted.
Tamir agreed to a plea-bargain for letting his 14-year-old son drive a military all-terrain vehicle, with which the boy sideswiped and damaged a civilian vehicle. Tamir initially took the blame for the accident, falsely claiming he had been driving the ATV.
Tamir, considered one of the most promising IDF combat officers, committed a minor transgression compared with the heartless exploitation by Figer, a physician whose specialty requires a most compassionate and benevolent approach. Dozens of complaints were filed against the Ichilov Hospital department head.
Tamir, a man who demonstrated selflessness time and again, was cast out of the service to which he altruistically devoted his energies, often putting his life and limb on the line. Figer, who demonstrated himself to be Tamir's diametrical antithesis, was sentenced to six months of community service, a paltry (by his standards) NIS 75,000 fine, another NIS 100,000 in compensation to aggrieved patients and a 14-month suspended sentence.
The judge claimed that the issue of moral turpitude "slipped" her mind, despite the severity of the breach of trust, exploitation and extortion from the most vulnerable of victims.
The message the civilian judge thus sent Figer's counterparts in other sensitive positions is that the law can be lenient, no matter how outrageous and hardhearted their offenses. Justice was certainly not served by Greenberg's decision and was even more acutely sabotaged by her mind-boggling omission.
An unrepentant Figer, indeed, stated after the proceedings that his conduct was "common practice in the medical community."
ASHKENAZI WASN'T bound to rule as he did. He may have caused the IDF to lose a valuable field commander but he upheld the army's integrity. His judgment may appear excessively harsh. Tamir's offense seems insignificant and anyone familiar with the military knows that it's commonplace.
Yet the fact is that Tamir perjured himself. It may have been on a trifling matter, but Ashkenazi emphasized that he will not abide an untruthful officer, regardless of extenuating circumstances.
Once Tamir was caught in a lie, the only alternative to what Ashkenazi did was to turn a blind eye to perversion of justice. Had Ashkenazi opted to do so, as plenty of his predecessors had in analogous ostensibly trivial cases, he would have added his stamp of approval to a culture of deviating from the truth, while knowingly winking to fellow officers who will fix everything and help cover up minor failings.
The trouble is that minor failings mushroom into bigger ones and in time can cause crucial malfunctions in the military superstructure and the IDF's ability to defend the nation. With a painful decision against a dedicated officer, Ashkenazi struck a blow against mendacity, arrogance and even, to a degree, stupidity, within the echelons under his jurisdiction.
Ashkenazi sent a message to all IDF commanders about what will not be tolerated. That message was the very reverse of the harmful signal issued by the Tel Aviv court in the Figer case.
THE JERUSALEM POST
OPPOSING THE DIGITAL POGROM
BY DANIEL SEAMAN
Last week, the Foreign Press Association in Israel circulated an e-mail to its members containing a Reuters article entitled "Foreign reporting depicted as stupid and condescending." The article related to the Ministry for Public Diplomacy's campaign calling on Israelis to counter anti-Israel prejudice, and complained that the foreign press was personally offended by the videos on the Web site www.masbirim.gov.il.
Surely not, I hear you say. Those foreign journalists who daily dish out an unhealthy helping of material critical of Israel, denouncing its democratically elected government's policies, and some accusing its defense forces of war crimes should certainly be able to take a bit of criticism directed at them.
In all honesty, the videos were in no way meant to offend the press, who I am quite certain are able to recognize satire when they see it. Yet, when they paint a picture so different from the reality in the eyes of Israelis, and with such little regard for their point of view, what do they expect?
Being depicted as "stupid and condescending" as the Reuters article suggests, is not the nicest of punches, but it certainly beats being portrayed as baby eaters, Nazis and ethnic cleansers, as some in the international media has often inferred. Similarly, what of the "gullible European audiences" the article insists are inherent to the sketch? Is the press really decrying the suggestion that they influence those back home to whom they speak?
It is no coincidence that in countries where the media are most hostile to Israel, there is greater anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment in public discourse. Moreover, this becomes even more incongruous when placed in that all-important missing factor context. The foreign media complain of being offended by Israeli government satire, yet there is a deafening silence on the coercion, threats and violence they face from the Palestinians, especially in Gaza.
It is this lack of context, this blatant disregard for the realities of living in the Middle East, that earns the foreign press the perception of being simplistic and monochromatic.
Why are headlines of war crimes and editorials on UN resolutions run-of the-mill during Israel's military operations to defend its citizens, yet when other countries' forces unintentionally kill civilians it is a case of "apology accepted"? The reality of war is brutal anywhere so why does the media adopt such vastly different approaches?
SADLY, THE issue runs much deeper. Israel today faces an onslaught of propaganda aimed at delegitimizing it. This week is bring "celebrated" as Israeli Apartheid Week on campuses worldwide, spreading lies and slander, promoting incitement and hatred. The media is a key tool if not a willing accomplice to this strategy. The manipulation of the rhetoric by human rights groups is all too often typeset in the media, and thus chiseled into history. Massacres are proclaimed where there have been none; terrorists hidden behind civilians remain hidden from the public eye.
These myths become widespread on the blogosphere, with groups on Facebook, threads on Twitter and countless videos on YouTube forming the basis of a digital pogrom against the Jewish narrative, whereby social media and on-line networking are employed to make the demonization of Israel part and parcel of mainstream discourse.
Hence the very purpose of the Masbirim campaign to open up channels of communication. To overcome the mainstream media's often one-dimensional approach. To answer those who seek to silence Israel's narrative with boycotts and arrest warrants. To counter the allegations of those who falsely accuse Israel of breaching international law.
THE JERUSALEM Post's Editor-in-Chief David Horovitz, when addressing a meeting in Jerusalem last week, noted that two areas where the issue of boycotting has been most prevalent have been journalism and academia the two most essential channels of communication and understanding.
Even the most senior journalists are now attacked for being part of Israel's daily existence or even for simply being Jewish; the harassment of New York Times bureau chief in Israel Ethan Bronner being the most notable, yet not the only, such incident.
This isolation and demonization of Israel as a pariah state or an international outlaw reflects a concerted effort to cast it as being beyond the pale. As the echoes of the past color the dark shadows of the future, we see an attempt to cast the Jewish people into a "virtual" ghetto, ethnically cleansing the Jewish narrative from the legitimate international debate on the Middle East.
This process of delegitimization is an affront to freedom of speech and freedom of the press fundamental rights in a democracy.
Zionism itself was conceived by a journalist who looked at the world around him and saw that without a new reality, Jews would no longer be able to speak out.
Today Israel has a free press; the government provides services and accreditation for the foreign media even those who choose to report in the most biased and slanted manner. There are, of course, journalists who carry out their duties in a fully professional way. They give due consideration to both the Israeli and the Palestinian argument, and inform their public accordingly.
However if there are those in the media who feel they are perceived as simplistic or inaccurate, then I would urge them to consider that there is another side to the story; perhaps Israel, as well as their own readers, viewers and listeners, deserves a more accurate contextualized picture of reality.
Otherwise, the historically most enlightened of professions risks being party to the reemergence of humankind's darkest hatred.
The writer is director of the Government Press Office.
THE JERUSALEM POST
SOME THOUGHTS ON 'ISRAEL APARTHEID WEEK'
BY LARRY DERFNER
Myself, I prefer the term 'colonialism' to 'apartheid' when comparing Israel's rule in the West Bank to other regimes in world history.
As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel, it is going to be either non-Jewish or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, it will be an apartheid state."
Those are the words of Ehud Barak, defense minister and former prime minister, at last month's Herzliya Conference, the country's highest-profile gathering of VIPs. Barak's statement begs the question: Seeing that Palestinians in the West Bank haven't been able to vote in Israeli elections since the occupation started in 1967, isn't he saying Israel has been an apartheid state since then?
So, putting Barak's statement in the context of this week's news, should people really be so outraged that a few dozen colleges overseas are staging "Israel Apartheid Week"?
Myself, I prefer the term "colonialism" to "apartheid" when comparing Israel's rule in the West Bank to other regimes in world history. There are important differences between the occupation and apartheid for one, apartheid was based on race, the occupation is based on nationality. Yet there are important, obvious similarities, too, the main one being that in both apartheid South Africa and the West Bank, one group of people harshly, systematically and "legally" keeps another group of people down.
Anyway, however different from apartheid the occupation may be, it's definitely more like apartheid than it is like democracy.
AT THE same time, though, neither Barak nor I are saying that "Israel proper" Israel in its pre-Six Day War borders is an apartheid state, a colonial regime or anything but a democracy (albeit one with a great deal of discrimination). What each of us is saying is that the occupation is killing this democracy, but that if we set the Palestinians free, this democracy will thrive.
That's the difference between Barak, myself and other Zionists, on the one hand, who want to save the Jewish state from apartheid, and the participants in Israel Apartheid Week, who think the Jewish state, even in Israel proper, is by definition apartheid.
They're wrong. While it's possible to compare the condition of Palestinians in the West Bank to that of blacks in apartheid-era South Africa, there's no comparison between the way blacks were treated under apartheid and the way Israeli Arabs are treated in this country.
The most obvious difference is that the demand of the anti-apartheid movement was always "one person, one vote." Arab citizens of Israel, by the starkest possible contrast, have had this right since the day the Jewish state was founded.
Another brightly-lit sign that Israeli Arabs aren't living under anything like apartheid is their wall-to-wall opposition to becoming citizens of a Palestinian state even, as Israel Beiteinu proposes, after a change of borders that would allow them to remain on their land. Israeli Arabs aren't Zionists, and they have altogether legitimate complaints about discrimination, but the overwhelming majority are not out to dismantle the Jewish state, only to make it more fair and equitable. (As much as I wish foreign anti-Zionists knew this, I wish even more that Israeli Jews did.)
Still, I imagine a black South African, or a white South African who fought apartheid, challenging me: Why can't Israel just do what we did forget about Jews and Arabs like we forgot about whites and blacks, and just remake the system into a Western-style, nonsectarian democracy? Wouldn't "one-person, one vote" be the fairest solution for Israel/Palestine, too?
And I imagine myself answering: In theory, yes; in practice, it would be a disaster. The difference between the situation for blacks in South Africa and for Jews in Israel is that you're surrounded by hundreds of millions of blacks living in other African countries, none of whom think whites should rule South Africa while we're surrounded by hundreds of millions of Arabs living in Arab countries, all of whom think Arabs should be ruling Israel/Palestine.
Imagine if you were in our situation. Imagine if instead of South Africa being bordered by blacks, it was bordered by whites whites who believed that their kind were the rightful rulers of your country, and who, if given the chance say, through your color-blind immigration policy would see to it that they ruled your country again.
If South Africa's blacks were a tiny minority in a sea of white people who held such beliefs in a sea of old-style Afrikaners, let's say how secure would you feel, as a black South African, living in a nonsectarian democracy based on 'one person, one vote'?
Now maybe you see why the Jewish state, with all its inequities, is a better, fairer, safer solution for this sliver of the world than the one you South Africans chose rightly and wisely in your homeland.
AND SO much for my imaginary dialogue. In all, what I'm saying is that there's only one way to go for Jews and Arabs here, and that's with a Jewish, democratic state alongside a Palestinian one. The Jews who want to maintain the status quo will turn Israel into a pariah state, while the people pushing for one person, one vote will wreck it altogether.
What this means is that everyone who believes in Zionism, justice and peace has to oppose both the Jewish Right and the international Left. If either of these two forces prevails, sooner or later this land won't be fit to live in for Arab or Jew.
THE JERUSALEM POST
CANDIDLY SPEAKING: THOSE BLEEDING-HEART JOURNALISTS
BY ISI LEIBLER
In recent weeks, our media has indulged its penchant for masochism, depicting every incident in the most self-deprecating manner. This is exemplified in a column by Bradley Burston on the current homepage of the English edition of Haaretz. Titled "I envy the people who hate Israel," he relates to real and imaginary blunders committed by our political leaders, and concludes with the breathtaking comment that "my father did not flee the Soviet Union just so that his son could one day have the chance to live in a place just like it."
I would submit that the publication of such wacky remarks in a purportedly serious Israeli paper highlights the need for soul searching by our bleeding-heart editors.
Burston's principal example of malfeasance was "our apparent violation of the basic conventions of all civilized states in the Dubai murder." It is unlikely that the true facts concerning the assassination of the vicious Hamas killer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh will ever be revealed. The information disclosed by the Dubai police smacks of disinformation. It sounds somewhat bizarre for the Mossad to risk 27 agents and then send some of them on to Iran.
Initially, Israeli media reports of the assassination were exuberant. However, when it transpired that foreign passports belonging to Israeli dual nationals had been used, the euphoria evaporated and commentators who had portrayed Mossad chief Meir Dagan as "superman" began calling for his head.
Ideally, intelligence agencies should be invisible. The use of forged passports from friendly countries is unacceptable, but has been common practice by all Western intelligence agencies. Indeed, one is entitled to ask why the Dubai authorities failed to notice false passports employed by Mabhouh. We might also ask whether there would have been such a brouhaha over passports had it been one of Osama bin Laden's lieutenants who was killed.
Our media critics discounted the fact that our intelligence agencies may have succeeded in eliminating a murderer whose sole occupation was to bring death and destruction upon us. Furthermore, the goal was achieved with no civilian casualties and all participants returned safely. So let's stop beating ourselves up and be thankful that we are rid of a cruel and evil fiend.
ANOTHER ISSUE covered in a distorted manner was the alleged mishandling of J Street and visiting US congressmen. After the incident with the Turkish ambassador, many of us viewed Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon as somewhat of a fallen star. But in this matter, he behaved impeccably, and it was those in the media who permitted themselves to be manipulated by J Street who should be condemned.
Five democratic congressmen visited Israel as part of a delegation organized by Churches for Middle East Peace a group notorious for its anti-Israel agenda. J Street coordinated the visit, and the Foreign Ministry undertook to arrange meetings. However, it declined to invite representatives of J Street, an organization renowned for lobbying the Obama administration against the government. There was no boycott of the US congressmen, merely a decision by the Foreign Ministry to exclude J Street and Churches for Middle East Peace from those meetings.
I recollect numerous occasions when I accompanied high-level Australian and international legislators to Israel. Even though, unlike J Street, I felt obliged as a Diaspora leader to support the policies of the government, I was never offended when I was not invited to partake in direct meetings between the government and visiting lawmakers.
Yet, true to form, J Street saw this as an opportunity to bash the government, and held a press conference attended by the congressmen, falsely condemning the Foreign Ministry "for refusing to allow meetings with congressmen." It is noteworthy that of the five congressmen depicted by J Street as "staunch friends of Israel," Mary Joy Gilroy was the only one who voted in favor of a House resolution (overwhelmingly passed) condemning the Goldstone Report and reaffirming Israel's right to self-defense. That says something about J Street's definition of "pro-Israel."
Despite media accusations that Ayalon indulged in McCarthyism and damaged the reputation of Israel, the Foreign Ministry behaved entirely appropriately, and was justified in condemning J Street for "putting self-aggrandizement ahead of the interests of the State of Israel."
YET ANOTHER example of media self deprecation was its attack on the decision by the government to include the Cave of the Patriarchs, Rachel's Tomb and the walls of Jerusalem's Old City in a list of national heritage sites marked for restoration and preservation. The first condemnation, not surprisingly from the UN, was on the grounds that the sites are over the Green Line and have "historical and religious significance not only to Judaism but also to Islam and to Christianity." This is absurd. It is only since these sites have been under Israeli jurisdiction that they have been accessible to all faiths. The interests of Christians and Muslims are surely not served if these locations are permitted to deteriorate.
Of course, the UN was merely preempting the predictable response of the Palestinians who, true to form, expressed outrage that Israel could even view the walls of Jerusalem as a national heritage site. Hamas called for a third intifada. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas threatened a religious war.
Unfortunately, the US administration, which should appreciate the symbolic connection of the Jewish people to these sites and was aware that the decision does not affect the political status quo of the areas in which the sites are located, chose to issue statements echoing the sentiments expressed by the UN.
This US response must be viewed against the backdrop of the negative Israeli media coverage of this issue, which has had a major influence in molding the perception of the international community.
However, rather than condemning the Palestinian threats and focusing on the irrevocable connection of the Jewish people to these sites, much of the media criticized the government. Such self-defeating attitudes, deliberately downplaying our moral and legal rights to avoid offending the Palestinians, merely embolden extremists. It is surely time to cease apologizing for our national heritage. If we are to be precluded from identifying Jerusalem, the Cave of the Patriarchs or Rachel's Tomb (three of the most important symbols of Judaism) as sites of national heritage, we undermine the entire concept of Jewish nationhood.
While we condemn Europe for caving in to Islamic fundamentalists, we cannot afford to make the same mistake in Israel, where the stakes are so much higher.
It is regrettable that during these troubled times many of our journalists emphasize the negative, using every possible opportunity to demean and deride the positive aspects of our nation. It is surely time to urge them to at least begin displaying a modicum of respect for our achievements.
THE JERUSALEM POST
WASHINGTON WATCH: QUID PRO BUPKISS
BY DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD
On Purim, the president of Syria played host to the modern-day Persian who would be the new Haman and several of his henchmen. They marked the holiday with curses for America, threats for Israel and mockery for the Obama administration.
They were also celebrating a political coup for Syria's Bashar Assad. He had just won some highly visible concessions from the US, and all he gave in return was ridicule. By playing host to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah and exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, Assad made clear who he considers his allies.
And if there was any doubt, he publicly ridiculed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for suggesting that he "begin to move away from the relationship with Iran," sarcastically thanking her for her "advice" and telling her "don't give us lessons about our region."
He punctuated his message by cancelling visa requirements for travel between Iran and Syria and joining Ahmadinejad in pledging to create a Middle East "without Zionists," telling the Americans to "pack their things and leave" the region.
THAT PURIM spiel came in the same week the Obama administration lifted the ban on travel to Syria and named a new ambassador to Damascus after a five-year absence. The last envoy was withdrawn in protest of Syria's role in the 2005 assassination of Lebanon's pro-Western former premier Rafik Hariri.
Assad and his pals understood something the Obama administration apparently did not: In the Middle East, giving something for nothing is considered a sign of weakness.
President Barack Obama was right to try to repair relations with Syria, but he seems to act as though Assad is doing us a great favor just by meeting with American diplomats and possibly whispering a tidbit of information in their ears something the Syrian autocrat learned from his father. But the reality is that he needs us much more than we need him.
He wants to trade his pariah status for international acceptance; he wants an end to sanctions, removal from the terrorist list, access to Western technology, trade and investment, unblocking his application for World Trade Organization membership, and for the investigation of the Hariri assassination (which may implicate him personally) to be dropped. He also needs American backing if he hopes to get back the Golan Heights.
"In the Middle East, favors are not accepted; you always trade something for something," said a veteran Israeli diplomat who supports US dialogue with Syria. "If Obama got anything for all he just gave to Assad, it's a very well-kept secret. He's still problematic in Iraq, tightening his alliance with Iran, smuggling arms to Hizbullah, moving back into Lebanon and refusing any dialogue with Israel.
When [Yitzhak] Rabin was offering Assad Sr. an opportunity to get back the Golan Heights, we asked for the return of the bones of [Israeli spy] Eli Cohen as a goodwill gesture. We were turned down flat," he added.
Topping the US wish list are separating Syria and Iran, stopping support for the Iraqi insurgents, halting the arms smuggling to Hizbullah and ending support for Hamas. Assad delivered his rebuff with Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah and Mashaal just days after the White House announced the return of the ambassador. Hopefully, when veteran diplomat Robert Ford goes before the Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing, senators will have some tough questions, starting with "What has Syria done to deserve elevating the relationship?"
So far, all we know is that William Burns, number three at the State Department, met with Assad to inform him of plans to return the ambassador, and the Syrian leader assured him he is not helping the Iraqi insurgents, meddling in Lebanese politics, smuggling arms to Hizbullah or assisting Palestinian terror groups. Burns came away saying he was "hopeful we can make progress together."
The White House said returning an ambassador "represents President Obama's commitment to use engagement to advance US interests by improving communication with the Syrian government and people," but the White House hasn't answered the big question where's the beef?
Assad made it repeatedly clear that his relationships with Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas and the other terror groups are not negotiable.
When Secretary Clinton called on him to end support for terrorist groups, Assad declared that backing "resistance" movements "is a moral and national... and also a religious and legal duty."
Nonetheless, Assad seems well on his way to getting what he wants: rapprochement with the US, acceptance of his role in Lebanon, and no requirement that he change his relationship with countries and groups working directly against US interests and which seek Israel's destruction.
Dialogue with Syria is important and necessary, and there is a time for gestures, but in the Middle East it is important to remember that giving something for nothing is not considered generosity, but weakness.
THE JERUSALEM POST
SELF-RESPECT ISN'T A HANDOUT
BY GREG TEPPER
The cheers for New Orleans' Super Bowl win were everywhere. Regardless of their own allegiances, people were genuinely happy for the Big Easy's team. The city was destroyed only a few years earlier when the levees broke. But last month the Saints claimed America's Vince Lombardi trophy and the hearts of many.
People were happy there. And people everywhere with the possible exception of Indianapolis were happy for them. I can understand the smiles and cheers. Being happy for those who underwent something horrible but now have reason to smile is a good thing.
But I kept hearing people say that New Orleans, after suffering the devastation of Katrina, deserved the championship. I don't get it.
Maybe it's the capitalist in me, but I thought people deserve that for which they work. The amount of effort put into achieving a goal, as well as the results of that effort those are the means by which we assign deservedness, are they not? If suffering is the measure by which we decide how much one is deserving of something, we Jews have quite the championship coming.
I hear it often in this country of ours. University students deserve to study for free because they are the future. Apparently bus drivers, police officers and postal workers without college degrees aren't part of the future. Poorer citizens deserve financial handouts. No one deserves to own an estate that is "too large," no matter how hard that person or that family worked to acquire the home.
But ask a student who believes academia should be paid for by the rest and who often times doesn't realize that the state (i.e. you and I) already pays for a good portion of his tuition if each citizen should receive funds equal to the cost of tuition, to do with as he pleases, and the answer is often "no." It appears not everyone is equally deserving of everything.
OUR PROBLEM and it is our problem is that we have accepted the idea that we deserve something because we suffer. The state is seen as the provider who must ensure that our suffering is minimal. The provider, when it comes down to it, is simply the sum of all its parts we the people.
Good-bye hard work. Good-bye self-reliance. Good-bye happiness for others.
We can't be happy for someone when haves and have-nots are being compared. Be happy with one's lot? No. We are a nation that struggles. Always. We built a state to save ourselves, and now we are giving our souls over to the idea that we each deserve everything.
Maybe some people deserve a little more. Maybe the guy who heads off to reserve duty deserves a bit more than the kid who shrugged off military service. Maybe the person working a shift job deserves a raise a bit more than some family deserves a monthly child stipend.
Maybe our self-respect deserves to have its hard drive wiped so we can reassess what it means to truly warrant something.
The energy wasted on resenting others or simmering in anger for not having what we insist we deserve that energy will kill us in the end.
Oh, it's been a long, hard road for the Jews, especially Israel's Jews. Yes, we deserve peace and quiet that's what every person alive deserves because life is hard, not because we've endured with assistance from above, showing everyone that this stubborn nation is alive and strong.
Most of us work hard. Perhaps we'll get to the point where all our efforts are recognized and rewarded. That reward should be given. But if some of us aren't given what is deserved, it doesn't mean we, the unappreciated, are entitled to the same had by those who succeeded in achieving the wealth we desire. Our nation deserves a citizenry not expecting anything we haven't worked for.
As a lone immigrant, the writer, in full disclosure, received scholarships for university after his army service. He is an Internet editor on JPost.com.
THE JERUSALEM POST
WHAT A HUTZPA
BY BEN-DROR YEMINI
One of the most important documents about the delegitimization process against Israel was recently published by the Reut Institute. It reported that over the past year, Israel has been the subject of a campaign of unprecendented force which reached its peak with the Goldstone Report against it in North America and Europe, "where Israel is slowly becoming a 'state beyond the pale' as its right to exist is challenged."
It describes two types of networks the "resistance network" comprised of nations, NGOs and individulals who reject Israel's right to exist on the basis of ideology, and the "delegitimization network" comprised of those who reject its right to exist based on a combination of political objections, including branding Israel as the ultimate "human rights violator."
The report states that these networks have devised seemingly effective strategies to advance their claims and that their success "stems from their ability to engage and mobilize others."
The report goes on to mention that Israel has presented an "inadequate systemic response" and offers counter-strategies and proposes policy changes for fighting back against the posed "existential threat."
THE REUT report has yet to be translated into English (an executive summary is available on the Reut Web site) but has already generated a significant buzz and a wide range of incredible responses.
One of these responses is that of Bouthaina Shaaban, a former minister in the Syrian government, who currently serves as a senior adviser to President Bashar Assad.
The text, titled "The Decade of the Victory for Freedom and Justice," published in CounterPunch magazine, is incredible because it confirms the report's claim: The struggle against Israel has shifted to the arena of "human rights," in whose name the campaign to delegitimize Israel is waged.
Shaaban's text is seemingly lifted straight from the hundreds of thousands of publications put forward by those in the human rights field. Israel is a terrorist, racist state which tramples on human rights and kills "peace activists" in cold blood, and even the "Jewish Justice Goldstone," Shaaban pointedly emphasizes, affirms the claims regarding the essence of the State of Israel.
It seems that Shaaban's article proves the central claim on the issue of Israel's delegitimization: The struggle is not that of the enlightened and the humanists against a dark state. Precisely the opposite: It's a struggle waged by the forces of darkness, who have taken control over the "human rights discourse," against the free world in general and Israel in particular.
And how does her article prove this? Because the Syrian regime is one of the darkest regimes in the world. Someone should remind Shaaban, the senior Syrian official, of Aref Dalila, Anwar al-Bouni, Michel Kilo, Mahmoud Issa and many other intellectuals, who were arrested by the Assad regime, first the father's, then the son's, simply because they demanded more freedom.
Shaaban, in her audacity, invokes the name of Nelson Mandela. In response, I'd like to remind her of Riad al-Turk, called the "Syrian Nelson Mandela," who spent two decades in jail and was released only as he was dying, when the regime feared he would perish in jail.
Or of the author Habib Saleh, who was jailed simply for expressing support for al-Turk. They committed no crime, they didn't blame Syria for "slaughter" or for "crimes against humanity," they didn't demand that boycotts be imposed on their country, and they didn't sign petitions opposing the right of the Syrian nation to a sovereign state.
This happens in Israel all the time and nobody gets arrested, and that's a good thing. But in Syria, a simple demand for a tiny drop of freedom of expression is obstructed by the strong hand of a ruthless regime. And we still haven't said a word about the prohibition on forming political parties, or the oppression of the Kurdish minority, which can only view the situation of Israel's Arab citizens with envy. Let's see one of them express one-thousandth of what every Arab politician in Israel says and manage to stay out of jail for even 24 hours. No chance.
This terrible reality doesn't disturb Shaaban when she dares to write such an article. What a hutzpa. She knows that no one will tell her, "Excuse me, madame, from where do you derive your audacity, to open your mouth, when you represent one of the darkest regimes in the world, which sends people to jail on the basis of their opinions?"
Because the real coalition today consists of the human rights industry and the dark forces that have usurped control over it. This is a coalition of the industry of lies. This is a coalition of the Human Rights Council, that founded the Goldstone commission. This is a coalition that activates the delegitimization campaign, and operates between Damascus and the Berkeley campus.
So we have to thank Shaaban. If it wasn't clear before how ridiculous the human rights industry is, the Syrian human rights devotee has made sure to remind us. The good news is that in the Arab world, there are real human rights activists. The bad news is that they're in jail, and the Western-based human rights industry, like the left-wing CounterPunch magazine, cooperates with Shaaban. Not with those the regime of Shaaban sends to jail.
The writer is a regular columnist at Maariv.
A TROUBLING WARNING IN HOLLYWOOD
Scandar Copti, co-director of the film "Ajami" that was nominated for an Oscar, declared in Los Angeles that he does not represent Israel. "I cannot represent a country that does not represent me," Copti said, sparking a predictable chorus of shallow responses from the right. Culture Minister Limor Livnat accused him of being an ingrate because his film received financing from the state. Other politicians demanded that from now on, government support be conditioned on a declaration of loyalty.
But the director's words deserve a more serious response: They ought to prompt deep soul-searching among all Israelis who care about the future of the state. Copti is not a devotee of the Islamic Movement, raised in some isolated village on the country's periphery, or an elderly Palestinian refugee for whom the "Nakba" is still a searing memory. He is 35 years old, born in Jaffa - not far from downtown Tel Aviv - and educated in Israel, where he has received opportunities that brought him to that red carpet in Los Angeles.
It would seem that no one is better suited to represent the state's declared desire to integrate its Arab citizens. If even he feels that Israel does not represent him, then the country has utterly failed to fulfill the promise of equality inscribed in its Declaration of Independence.
Integrating Israel's Arab citizens, who make up a fifth of its population, is not merely a moral imperative necessitated by the country's democratic values; it is also a social and economic necessity. The special reports being published by TheMarker this week and last expose the discrimination, barriers and closed-mindedness that Arabs encounter when they seek to benefit from the plethora of opportunities that Israel offers. High-tech industries are closed to them, as are most other top-quality jobs. There is no greater stupidity. Because of its prejudices, Israel is forfeiting the economic boost that its Arabs citizens could give it and is instead reaping poverty, crime and feelings of alienation.
Despite some worthy initiatives by Jewish and Arab entrepreneurs aimed at changing the situation, it is hard to imagine a turnabout in Jewish-Arab relations in this country while a right-wing government, with the racist Avigdor Lieberman at its heart, is in power. This is utterly unacceptable. Instead of dismissing Copti's warning in a rage, his words should cause every Jew in Israel to ask himself, "What can I do to draw my Arab neighbor closer?"
AN OBLIGATION TO RUSH IN
BY YOEL MARCUS
In all the years since nuclear weapons were first developed, they have been used on humans exactly twice: on August 6 and 9, 1945, against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
That is how the Americans achieved the final surrender of Japan. There are some who claim that the second bomb was unnecessary, but it was important as a warning to the future: This is not a weapon you play around with.
Since then, this deadly weapon has become even more powerful and has spread around the world. Yet not one single bomb has been dropped, nor has a single missile carrying a nuclear warhead been launched.
Even during the hottest days of the Cold War, when the two superpowers were the sole possessors of nuclear weapons, this line was never crossed, or even approached. The only time the world held its breath was October 1962, when Nikita Khrushchev unexpectedly stationed medium-range missiles in Cuba and thereby threatened the American heartland. President John F. Kennedy responded by openly threatening war, and the Soviet Union backed down and removed the weapons.
The second and third episodes were both connected to Israel's policy of denying the Arab states nuclear weapons. Twenty-nine years ago, Israel bombed the nuclear reactor that Iraq was building and thereby dissuaded Saddam Hussein from trying to restart his program. And in 2007, when it bombed the reactor then under construction in Syria, it apparently also eliminated Bashar Assad's desire to try again.
The existence of mutual assured destruction did not prevent wars from breaking out, but so far, at least, the doomsday weapon has not been used. Nuclear states that live side by side, like India and Pakistan, have never dreamed of using their nuclear weapons, though this is not necessarily a guarantee for the future.
The issue is not the ability to develop nuclear capability, but rather who possesses this capability and for what purpose. When such weapons exist in a country under the rule of ayatollahs who have proclaimed it their goal to destroy Israel, a.k.a. the Zionist entity, these threats must be taken completely seriously.
Iran is the only country in the world that belongs to the United Nations yet publicly declares its intention to destroy the Jewish state. We are facing a lunatic, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who repeatedly and publicly declares that the Holocaust never happened, and has now "discovered" that the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers were perpetrated by the Americans to give them an excuse for the war on terror. This is a country whose leaders seek to turn all the moderate states in the Middle East into an unbroken stretch of Sharia extremism.
Alongside its race for nuclear weapons, Iran is building a huge conventional military on both land and sea. It also has an arsenal of long-range Shihab missiles that threaten Europe and even America. The expectation is that a nuclear Iran's first move would be to take over Iraq, en route to achieving hegemony over the entire Persian Gulf.
The rulers of Saudi Arabia and Jordan have as much reason for concern as Israel does. And proxy Hezbollah, armed with Iranian weapons, does not threaten Israel alone. It is already prowling about in Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's backyard.
It is true that nuclear states that hate each other nevertheless live side by side without using their nuclear weapons. But under the heavy shadow of the lunacy that characterizes the Iranian threat, a blow to the Iran of Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs is unavoidable - whether via international sanctions or an American military operation authorized by the UN Security Council.
It is not just the countries of this region, but all the world's sane states that ought to be worried by what is going on in Iran. And that is all the more true for Israel, which has been marked as the first target for being wiped off the face of the earth.
Our American friends, including Vice President Joe Biden, who is now visiting Israel, have warned us again and again not to leap headlong into a military operation before the sanctions track has been exhausted. Israel must indeed give the world, headed by the United States, a chance to act.
But the Iranians, as is well known, are sufficiently cunning to lead the sanctioners astray. Thus we must keep our eyes wide open, carefully scrutinize the manner and speed with which the United States and the "enlightened world" are acting, and not abandon the military option.
When what is at stake is an avowed existential threat, then yes, we have an obligation to rush in - even where angels fear to tread.
FAILING TO LEARN FROM GREECE
BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
Zorba the Greek isn't dancing the sirtaki much nowadays. Instead, he's taking part in stormy protests against what have been dubbed his government's "barbaric cuts," which were approved late last week. Thousands took to the streets, surrounded the parliament building in Athens and stormed the Labor Ministry. The police didn't hesitate to fire tear gas and throw stun grenades. After that, strikes stopped train and bus services, air-traffic controllers grounded dozens of flights, schools closed down and the employees of the government electricity company threatened that they would soon shut off power.
This was the Greek public sector's response to the government's austerity plan, passed by parliament. This was no less than the third budget cut, the first two having failed to convince the world that the Greek government was serious about reducing its budget deficit from 12.7 percent to 8.7 percent of gross domestic product.
This time, the government announced 4.8 billion euros worth of belt-tightening, on top of a previous 11 billion euros. The money is to come from additional slashes in public-sector salaries, a 30 percent cut in holiday bonuses, a pension freeze, and hikes in value added tax from 19 percent to 21 percent and in duties on alcohol, tobacco and fuel.
The problem, as the Keynesian model teaches, is that during recessions such as the one in Greece (unemployment above 10 percent and negative growth), government spending should be increased and taxes reduced to stimulate the economy. So why is Greece doing the opposite? Doesn't it fear a deepening of the recession?
Yes it does, but it has no choice. With so large a debt - 300 billion euros, or 120 percent of GDP, the highest in the European Union - and a huge balance of payments deficit, Greece could find itself with no one willing to lend it one more euro. Then it would be unable to pay or service its old debts and suffer the worst fate of all: bankruptcy.
So is it any wonder that many people have trouble believing in Prime Minister George Papandreou and his socialist government? Last year Papandreou ran a stunningly populist election campaign, promising all good things including increases in public-sector wages, unemployment benefits and the education budget. Everyone loved him and he won. But now Greece is paying the price and Papandreou is hated by all sides because he is not only not keeping his promise to lighten the load, he has to do the exact opposite - make the burden heavier. And that hurts.
Among those who don't believe in him are the Germans, so they're not allowing Chancellor Angela Merkel to lend Greece a helping hand. "Let them eat what they cooked up for themselves," say the Germans. Two German politicians even suggested that Greece sell a few of its islands to cover some of its debts. The tabloid Bild Zeitung urged the Greeks to adopt the German work ethic - get up early, work hard until you're 67, don't expect 14 monthly salaries a year, don't pay a bribe to get a hospital bed, don't claim subsidies on olive trees that don't exist, and don't cheat the tax man. But the Greeks don't want to give up their easy lives.
This Greek lesson is something that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz do not want to learn. They, too, want to live well. They, too, want to be loved, right now. They, too, want to increase spending rapidly and "do good by the people," in the immortal words of Menachem Begin. Because, as Steinitz has claimed without blinking, "the public sector is already lean enough." And without blushing, the "new" Netanyahu declares that he needs more funds "to improve public services."
How touching. How kind they are. Just like Papandreou.
SHEDDING LIGHT ON THE IMBROGLIO
BY MOSHE ARENS
Out of everyone - whether Jewish or Muslim - who has been raising a hue and cry over the Israeli government's decision to add the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron to the list of national heritage sites, how many have actually visited the place? No doubt, many Muslims have visited the ancient Herodian structure and, incited by Muslim extremists in various parts of the world, are taking to the streets to protest a move by the Israeli government that they are being led to believe is liable to prevent them from visiting the building and praying there. They believe that the structure houses the grave of Abraham, whom they consider an ancestor of the Arab people. On the other hand, most Jews who are raising their voices in protest against the government's decision have probably never been there and have little intention of visiting there in the future.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs - believed to house the graves of the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah - is located in Hebron in a structure built by Herod in the first century B.C.E, about the same time the Temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt. (The tomb of Jacob's second wife, Rachel, is located near Bethlehem, which also appears on the list of heritage sites.) The Tomb of the Patriarchs is a site of great historical and archaeological importance, held sacred by the Jewish people since biblical times, second only to the Temple Mount. Jews have come to pray there throughout the ages, except for the periods when Muslim rulers have denied Jews access. Since the Six-Day War, when access for Jews became possible, hundreds of thousands come to the Tomb of the Patriarchs to pray each year.
Those who have visited the tomb know well that the structure and its interior have suffered from neglect over the years and urgently need repair and refurbishment. The government's decision is long overdue. So why the protests from Arabs and some Jews against a decision that would benefit all people, Jews and Arabs, who venerate this important site?
The answer looks clear when considering the reaction to the government's decision to include the Tomb of the Patriarchs on the list of national heritage sites. It is as if the government's decision shone a light that is penetrating the darkness and revealing the emotions of Arabs and some Jews regarding this site held sacred by the Jewish and Muslim religions.
For Arab propagandists it is one more occasion to announce to the world that there is no historical connection between the Jewish people and this land. As Yasser Arafat told Bill Clinton at Camp David some years ago, there never was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. So now similarly, according to them, the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron has nothing to do with the Jewish people. The Palestinians were here before the Jews, who according to this propaganda are just Johnnies-come-lately with no historical claim to the land. Well, we have heard that song before in all its absurdity, but Arab propagandists see no reason not to repeat it ad nauseam and to use it to incite the Arab population of Jerusalem and Hebron to riots, which are broadcast throughout the world.
But what about the Jewish Israelis who are joining the Arab protests and castigating the Netanyahu government for including the Tomb of the Patriarchs on the list of heritage sites to be repaired and preserved? Just what is eating them? Most of these critics have never been to the place and have no intention of visiting it. So why should they care if it needs refurbishment? What's more, although they are highly respectful of religious Muslims and their places of worship, and also respectful of religious Christians, although somewhat less so when it comes to evangelical Christians who fervently support Israel, they seem to have little regard for religious Jews and the hundreds of thousands who come to Hebron each year to pray at the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
It would be wrong for the government to give in to Arab propaganda and the hypocrisy of its Jewish critics. The structure of the Tomb of the Patriarchs is in dire need of repair and refurbishment. And the days during Ottoman and British rule when Jews coming to pray at the site were not allowed to ascend beyond the seventh step on the stairway leading to the prayer area, and during Jordanian rule when they were denied access altogether - these days are gone forever.
TALK TO HAMAS NOW
BY DAVID ZONSHEINE
Israel must talk to Hamas. Not secretly. Not indirectly. Not for a politician to rehabilitate himself on the way to taking over the leadership of a party, as Kadima's Shaul Mofaz tried to do, but openly and seriously. Just as the United States regularly talks to the Israeli opposition, Israel should maintain a dialogue with the Palestinian opposition. The dialogue should cover all core issues including a final settlement.
It's not a simple matter, of course. There is agreement across the political spectrum to reduce the debate to a demonization of Hamas, dwelling on the organization's external attributes as perceived by Israel - religious, extremist and desiring all the territory between the river and the sea. This debate does not focus on the Israeli interest. We should be asking ourselves the following questions: Is it worthwhile to speak with Hamas? What are our reasons for not talking to them? Is boycotting them linked to an erroneous preconception?
Israel rigorously insists that Hamas is not a partner and that our partner is Fatah, headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But negotiations with Fatah have been going on for nearly two decades, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's declaration that he accepts the principle of two states for two peoples looks like just another trick to postpone the demise of the current negotiation process. In 2004, the Israeli government decided that Yasser Arafat was not relevant. Abbas, Israel's leaders have said, is weak. At the same time, Israel has for years been doing all it can to weaken the Palestinian Authority. That way, it will be possible to prove yet again that although "we have to talk, there's no one you can close a deal with." Even if an agreement is signed under American pressure, the PA will not be able to implement it because more than half the Palestinians don't accept its authority. This is why the refusal to speak with Hamas is pointless. It is no more than a continuation of avoiding talking to the Palestinians by other means.
Hamas' rule in Gaza is the outcome of despair with the Fatah leadership. The deterioration of the situation in Gaza after the ongoing failure of negotiations and the total dependence on Israel for receiving basic needs intensify the despair and extremism. (And no one is talking about the right to free movement, to go abroad to study.) Even today, there are groups resisting Hamas that resemble Al-Qaida. We can drag things out as much as we want, but we have to admit that the notion that time is on our side is baseless. The people who led Abbas to consider resigning and who refuse to talk to Hamas will find themselves in five years with a partner who reports to Osama bin Laden.
Nothing is possible without Gilad Shalit. People may say that the fate of a country cannot be dependent on what happens to one abducted soldier. There is no greater mistake. The abandonment of Shalit is symptomatic of Zionism's failure, the elevation of pride over wisdom and tactics over strategy. It's the denial of the sanctity of life and redeeming prisoners, values that are at the heart and soul of the nation.
Precisely here, the soft underbelly of public opinion, it would be possible to makes progress on the delicate matter of contacts with Hamas. More than 7,000 Palestinians are being held prisoner in Israel. There is one Israeli prisoner in Palestine. The suffering of both sides, and with it the tremendous joy that a prisoner exchange would produce, can and should be the lever for a stepped-up conciliation process. For years Israel and its citizens have been paying the price of choosing solutions that were appropriate for the last war. Hiding our head in the sand at such a critical stage is dangerous. We have to declare our readiness to speak with the Palestinian opposition, immediately.
The writer is a joint founder of an initiative seeking direct and open talks with Hamas.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
Final results from Iraq's parliamentary election may not be available for days, but this much we can already say for sure: Iraq's citizens once again showed tremendous courage and determination, defying bombs and a flawed pre-election process to cast their ballots.
We hope that Iraq's political leaders will show at least as much courage in coming weeks as they negotiate the makeup of a new government. With American combat troops due to withdraw by the end of August, there is not a lot of time and still far too many unresolved issues for the new government to address.
The percentage of Iraqis who voted was down from the last parliamentary election in 2005 (62 percent versus 76 percent), the result, in part, of more restrictive voter ID requirements. At least three dozen people were killed in Election Day attacks. But the general assessment is that things could have been far worse, and the Iraqi forces did a solid job handling security.
Also encouraging was the decision by the minority Sunni Arabs to vote in large numbers, despite disgracefully unfair efforts by the Shiite ruling parties to disenfranchise them before the election by disqualifying hundreds of Sunni and other candidates. The Sunnis, who led Iraq under Saddam Hussein and spent much of the last seven years boycotting or battling the Shiite-dominated governments, could have gone back to the streets. They soundly chose the ballot box instead.
That is good news for all Iraqis. The new government must do a far better job than the current one of ensuring that the Sunnis and all of Iraq's minorities have a fuller voice in Iraq's future.
Preliminary returns suggested that two coalitions were the front-runners: one led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, and the other by Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister. Neither coalition appeared to win enough seats in the 325-member Council of Representatives to choose the new prime minister.
That means there will likely be weeks, we hope not months, of political horse-trading ahead. Too many critical issues were delayed until after the election including the long-deferred oil law and Iraq cannot afford protracted wrangling.
While Iraq's leaders should aim to put together a new government as quickly as possible, they also must be careful about boxing themselves in on the tough decisions ahead. The Kurds, who have played the kingmakers in the past, will inevitably demand commitments on the future of Kirkuk, and other players will press their own sectarian interests. Mr. Allawi appears to have done well in putting together an ethnically balanced coalition and campaigning on overcoming Iraq's bitter sectarian divides. We hope that as the bargaining plays out he will continue to champion a national vision.
Mr. Maliki endorsed the pre-election shenanigans that kicked many Sunnis off the ballot and played hard at times ruthlessly to his Shiite base. We hope that he will look at Mr. Allawi's strong showing and decide that inclusion, rather than division, is not only essential for Iraq's future, it may also turn out to be good politics.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A NONFRIVOLOUS SUIT
Supporters of tort reform and late-night comedians like to make fun of what they say are frivolous lawsuits. One they particularly like to lampoon is the case of the woman who sued McDonald's after she was scalded by too-hot coffee. What they don't talk much about is just how hot the coffee was or that the 79-year-old woman was hospitalized with severe injuries. The two sides ultimately settled.
Now another patron has sued McDonald's after his lips were burned when he bit into an extremely hot fried-chicken sandwich. A federal appeals court, ruling out of Virginia, has rightly decided to let his case go forward.
When Frank Sutton bit into his sandwich, scalding grease "flew all over his mouth," a fellow diner recalled. Mr. Sutton's wife took ice from her drink and applied it to his face, but his lips blistered. When he told one of the employees, he testified that she said "this is what happens" to the sandwiches "when they aren't drained completely." The next morning, he found that his lips had bled on the pillow.
Seven months later, his injuries still had not completely healed. He says he avoided certain work assignments at his job of refurbishing and assembling outdoor amusement rides if he thought they would make his lip condition worse. Mr. Sutton sued McDonald's and the local franchisee, alleging that he had suffered $2 million in medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
A federal district court dismissed the suit, ruling that he had failed to prove what standard McDonald's was required to meet in handling its food and that Mr. Sutton bore much of the blame because he had failed to exercise reasonable care. Late last month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., reinstated the suit. If Mr. Sutton's account of the incident is true, the court said, it could well constitute a violation of Virginia's food safety laws and he had presented enough evidence for a jury to reach that conclusion.
The court said that diners clearly "did not expect Sutton's fried-chicken sandwich to contain a hot pocket of grease" and the statement from the McDonald's worker "serves as a strong corroboration for the reasonableness of this expectation."
If Mr. Sutton prevails, expect his case to become a talking point for critics of civil lawsuits and a late-night punch line. What they should be saying is that companies that sell food to the public have an undeniable responsibility to ensure their products are safe. That's no joke.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
HEALTHY SOLUTION: TAXING SODAS
Seldom does one idea help fix two important problems, but a proposal to tax sugary soft drinks in New York State is just that sort of 2-for-1 solution. The penny-per-ounce tax on sodas and other sweetened drinks is a way to raise desperately needed money for the city and state in a bad economy. It also could help lower obesity rates, which have soared in recent years.
The Legislature in Albany should adopt this tax quickly.
Gov. David Paterson dropped a proposed tax on sodas last year in the face of industry opposition, and lobbyists for soda companies are already denouncing the new proposal as unfair to lower-income families struggling through a recession.
It is time for Albany's lawmakers to stand firm against the soft-drink lobby. Their claim to be standing up for New York's poorest residents obscures the fact that those same people are their customers of choice. Poorer people, who lack healthy food choices, too often overload on sugar-laden soft drinks. Even though soft drinks are not the only cause of obesity, people in lower-income areas tend to suffer more from obesity, diabetes and other obesity-related illnesses.
The costs of health care for these illnesses are rising steadily. State budget analysts estimate that obesity-related problems cost the state an estimated $7.6 billion annually. This tax could bring in about $1 billion a year to help with those costs. The soda tax is supported by most health professionals across the state. The idea also got an important endorsement this week from Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, who said it could "make a major dent in obesity."
Mr. Bloomberg compared the tax on sodas to the steep taxes on cigarettes, which helped discourage many people from smoking. He estimated that the soda tax could cut consumption by 10 percent.
If those arguments are not enough to shake lawmakers out of their torpor, they should consider this: If they pass the soda tax, they can lay claim to having done something constructive this year.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
TELEVISION IS NOT FREE AND DOES NOT WANT TO BE
BY EDUARDO PORTER
The proliferation of "free" media on the Internet seems to have convinced an entire generation that the old hacker slogan from a quarter-century ago, "information wants to be free," can be an organizing principle for the information economy of the future.
Google brings us abundant "free" content while raking in billions from the ads alongside their search results. The Pirate Bay delivers "free" music and movies to teenagers while living off the revenue from banner ads. But then there is television. One of the oldest free mediums, it has something to teach us about free information: It can be expensive. And, perhaps, we would be better off if we were allowed to pay for it.
The TV spats of the past few weeks between Cablevision and the Walt Disney Company over payments for ABC, and between Time Warner and the News Corporation over Fox suggest that the future lies in the opposite direction from free.
The most recent tussle was over Disney's demand that Cablevision pay something between 50 cents and $1 per subscriber per month, according to news reports, to pipe ABC to Cablevision's three million subscribers in the New York metropolitan region.
Historically, cable companies have not had to pay for broadcast channels. They compensated broadcasters by buying access to sister networks. Cablevision says it pays Disney $200 million a year for about a dozen channels, including ESPN and the Disney Channel.
On Sunday, as talks hit an impasse, Disney cut ABC's signal from Cablevision for almost 21 hours, including 14 minutes of the Oscars the second-highest ranked program on TV by ratings after the Super Bowl. The signal was restored by a tentative, undisclosed deal.
If I were a Cablevision subscriber, I would probably want to pay. Compared with some of the other costs of free TV, $1 a month doesn't seem too expensive. In fact, for the right broadcast, I would pay even more.
Americans watch 153 hours of TV a month, on average, according to a Nielsen survey. On prime time, ABC has a 9 percent share. At $1 a month, a rough, back-of-the-envelope estimate (assuming families watch TV together) would suggest Disney wants, at most, 7 cents an hour from the average Cablevision subscriber to watch its shows.
Compare that with today's price of TV. Cablevision's basic "family cable" package costs $55.95 a month, which works out at most to 37 cents an hour per home. That is cheap compared with the real price we pay for television: 18 minutes out of every hour that we are expected to spend watching ads. Those 18 minutes are much more valuable to me and you than they are to ABC.
A study in 2009 estimated that advertisers paid about $230,000 for a 30-second spot on ABC's "Desperate Housewives." That amounts to 79 cents an hour for each of the 10.6 million homes plugged into the show on Sunday nights. But if average hourly wages are $22.05 an hour, 18 minutes of the average workers' time are worth $6.60.
Imagine a world in which information isn't free. Your TV set is fitted with a coin slot or a PayPal account. Wouldn't you rather pay 79 cents for an hourlong show to get rid of the ads? Even the 50 or so national commercials on the Oscars, for which ABC reportedly charged up to $1.5 million per spot, amount to about $1.80 for each of the 41.3 million viewers.
While we're at it, why not add 37 cents and ditch the family cable bundle and its dozens of unwatched networks? We could even throw in 7 more cents for Disney. It seems to be a better deal than $55.95 a month, plus 18 minutes an hour.
Technology might move us inevitably in this direction. Broadcast TV networks are badgering cable systems for money because falling ad revenues are forcing them to find new sources of income. Digital video recorders that offer customers the ability to strip out commercials could hasten the trend.
If we're lucky, we'll get a world in which TV is not free, but we will only pay for it when we want to watch it.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE EMOTION OF REFORM
BY DAVID BROOKS
We all have our emotional hot and cold spots. If you asked me about the New York Mets, you'd see a glow in my eyes. If you asked me about banking reform, words might come out of my mouth, but you'd notice me nodding off midsentence.
For the Democrats, expanding health care coverage is an emotional hot spot. Over the past year, Democrats have fought passionately for universal coverage. They have fought for it even while the country is more concerned about the economy, and in the face of serial political defeats. They have fought for it even though it has crowded out other items on their agenda and may even cost them their majority in the House.
And they've done it for almost no votes. The 30 million who would be covered under the Democratic proposals are not big voters, while the millions who would pay for the coverage are strikingly unhappy.
There is something morally impressive in the Democrats' passion on this issue. At the same time, it's interesting to compare it to their behavior on other issues in which they have no emotional investment.
For example, Democrats say the right thing when it comes to helping small businesses create jobs, but there's no passion there. For the past year, small business owners have been screaming that they can't hire people because they don't know what the rules will be on health care, finance or energy. Democrats hear them, but those concerns take a back seat to other priorities.
Small business owners have been screaming about the health care bill that forces them to offer coverage or pay a $2,000-per-employee fine but doesn't substantially control rising costs. Democrats hear their concerns, but push ahead because getting a health care bill is more important.
Then there is the larger issue of exploding federal deficits. A few Democrats are genuinely passionate about this, President Obama among them. He has fought tenaciously to preserve a commission that might restrain Medicare spending. But 90 percent of the people in Congress have no emotional investment in this issue.
They're going through the motions. They've stuffed the legislation with gimmicks and dodges designed to get a good score from the Congressional Budget Office but don't genuinely control runaway spending.
There is the doc fix dodge. The legislation pretends that Congress is about to cut Medicare reimbursements by 21 percent. Everyone knows that will never happen, so over the next decade actual spending will be $300 billion higher than paper projections.
There is the long-term care dodge. The bill creates a $72 billion trust fund to pay for a new long-term care program. The sponsors count that money as cost-saving, even though it will eventually be paid back out when the program comes on line.
There is the subsidy dodge. Workers making $60,000 and in the health exchanges would receive $4,500 more in subsidies in 2016 than workers making $60,000 and not in the exchanges. There is no way future Congresses will allow that disparity to persist. Soon, everybody will get the subsidy.
There is the excise tax dodge. The primary cost-control mechanism and long-term revenue source for the program is the tax on high-cost plans. But Democrats aren't willing to levy this tax for eight years. The fiscal sustainability of the whole bill rests on the naïve hope that a future Congress will have the guts to accept a trillion-dollar tax when the current Congress wouldn't accept an increase of a few billion.
There is the 10-6 dodge. One of the reasons the bill appears deficit-neutral in the first decade is that it begins collecting revenue right away but doesn't have to pay for most benefits until 2014. That's 10 years of revenues to pay for 6 years of benefits, something unlikely to happen again unless the country agrees to go without health care for four years every decade.
There is the Social Security dodge. The bill uses $52 billion in higher Social Security taxes to pay for health care expansion. But if Social Security taxes pay for health care, what pays for Social Security?
There is the pilot program dodge. Admirably, the bill includes pilot programs designed to help find ways to control costs. But it's not clear that the bill includes mechanisms to actually implement the results. This is exactly what happened to undermine previous pilot program efforts.
The Democrats have not been completely irresponsible. It's just that as the health fight has gone on, their passion for coverage has swamped their less visceral commitment to reducing debt. The result is a bill that is fundamentally imbalanced.
This past year, we've seen how hard it is to even pass legislation that expands benefits. To actually reduce benefits and raise taxes, we're going to need legislators who wake up in the morning passionate about fiscal sanity. The ones we have now are just making things worse.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE SOURCE OF OBAMA'S TROUBLE
BY BOB HERBERT
The Obama administration and Democrats in general are in trouble because they are not urgently and effectively addressing the issue that most Americans want them to: the frightening economic insecurity that has put a chokehold on millions of American families.
The economy shed 36,000 jobs last month, and that was trumpeted in the press as good news. Well, after your house has burned down I suppose it's good news that the flames may finally be flickering out. But once you realize that it will take 11 million or more new jobs to get us back to where we were when the recession began, you begin to understand that we're not really making any headway at all.
It's also widely known by now that the official employment statistics drastically understate the problem. Once we take off the statistical rose-colored glasses, we're left with the awful reality of millions upon millions of Americans who have lost or are losing their jobs, their homes, their small businesses, and their hopes for a brighter future.
Instead of focusing with unwavering intensity on this increasingly tragic situation, making it their top domestic priority, President Obama and the Democrats on Capitol Hill have spent astonishing amounts of time and energy, and most of their political capital, on an obsessive quest to pass a health care bill.
Health care reform is important. But what the public has wanted and still badly needs above all else from Mr. Obama and the Democrats are bold efforts to put people back to work. A major employment rebound is the only real way to alleviate the deep economic anxiety that has gripped so many Americans. Unaddressed, that anxiety inevitably evolves into dread and then anger.
But while the nation is desperate for jobs, jobs, jobs, the Democrats have spent most of the Obama era chanting health care, health care, health care.
The talk inside the Beltway, that super-incestuous, egomaniacal, reality-free zone, is that President Obama and the Democrats have a messaging or public relations problem. We're being told and even worse, Mr. Obama and the Democrats are being told that their narrative is not getting through. In other words, the wonderfulness of all that they've done is somehow not being recognized by the slow-to-catch-on masses.
That's just silly. People are upset because they are mired in economic distress and are losing faith that their elected representatives are looking out for their best interests. They've watched with increasing anger as their government has been hijacked by the economic elite. They know that the big banks that were bailed out by taxpayers can borrow money at an interest rate of near zero while at the same time charging credit-card holders usurious rates of 20 to 30 percent.
They know that the financial fat cats are fighting the creation of a truly independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency. They know that while ordinary Americans are kept out of the corridors of power, the elites with their lobbyists and lawyers and campaign contributions have a voice in every important decision that is made.
It's not the message that's a problem for Mr. Obama and the Democrats, it's the all-too-clear reality. People know that the government that is supposed to be looking out for ordinary people for working people and the poor is not doing nearly enough about an employment crisis that is lowering standards of living and hollowing out the American dream.
This is not just a short-term crisis. There are many communities across the country in which the effective jobless rate is higher than 50 percent. Many state and local governments are grappling with disastrous revenue shortfalls that are forcing cuts in services and layoffs, and threatening the viability of even a modest national economic recovery.
A University of Michigan survey of consumer sentiment in February found that 60 percent of American consumers expect to receive no income gains at all in the year ahead, the worst finding in that category in the history of the surveys.
The Republican Party has nothing in the way of solutions to Americans' economic plight. It is committed only to the demented policy of trying to ensure that President Obama and the Democrats fail.
But the fact that the Republicans are pathetic and destructive is no reason for the Democrats to shirk their obligation to fight powerfully and relentlessly for the economic well-being of all Americans. There are now six people in the employment market for every available job. There is a staggering backlog of discouraged workers who would show up tomorrow if there were a job to be had.
The many millions of new jobs needed to make a real dent in the employment crisis are not going to materialize by themselves. Mr. Obama and the Democrats don't seem to understand that.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
FOR IRAQI VOTERS, A DIZZYING DEMOCRACY
BY BARTLE BREESE BULL
DURING the Iraqi parliamentary elections on Sunday, this city's main thoroughfares presented an almost overwhelming visual mosaic of politics. From the Karada neighborhood in the south to the Adhamiya district in the north, from poor Sadr City to rich Mansour, posters for the capital province's 1,300 candidates hung from almost every tree and lamppost. Billboards crowded medians and roundabouts, promising Change, Justice, Unity, Jobs, Security and more.
Iraq's underlying political currents are even more cacophonous: among the candidates are soccer stars, TV news anchors, judges and prostitutes. Still, it is the images of Iraq's big political players that dominate the city's landscape, especially Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and his two predecessors in that post, Ayad Allawi and Ibrahim al-Jaffari.
Winning the poster contest, of course, may not mean much in terms of the actual election. Messrs. Maliki, Allawi and Jaffari are each part of a complex cross-sectarian coalition. Each draws support from intricate and often contradictory sources. Given the convoluted "party list" system employed in the balloting, about the only thing certain is that nobody will win the election outright.
The Kurds, who are likely to win 15 percent of the vote, are open to forming an alliance with almost anyone. The provinces and smaller cities with no big names running in them will return an unpredictable grab bag of members of Parliament. Influential smaller candidates like Ahmed Chalabi, the one-time American favorite in Iraq, and Bayan Jabr, the finance minister, only add to the complexity.
We should know the polling results in a few days. Then, once the parliamentary seats are allocated, the game will start all over again: coalitions will crack, new alliances will form, and every seat in the 325-member Parliament will have its price as a handful of leaders compete to build majorities.
Five years ago, in January 2005, when a free Iraq had its first elections, it was not like this. The politics was simpler. The Sunnis boycotted, and the 2005 election posters many of them remain, faded and tattered, on those spots of wall in Baghdad not blanketed by the current posters referred mostly to a handful of big parties and emphasized the religious figures who forged them, as opposed to today's myriad individual candidates.
The streets were different, too, in 2005. There were no traffic lights, and no solar panels on the lampposts. Drivers did not hurry to put on their seatbelts when slowing for a checkpoint. A police uniform was something to run from, not to, in a crisis. The Iraqi Army then had none of today's organized, fit, self-confident air. The Americans, invisible today, seemed everywhere. A foreign visitor to Baghdad, always in fear at the time of the 2005 elections, now waves at the little boys selling Kleenex in the traffic jams. (However, the city was less thoroughly wrecked back then.)
As I revisited old haunts in Baghdad in recent days, it became clear to me that the increasing order on Iraq's streets and the bewildering scramble in its politics are of a piece. In Sadr City, my old acquaintance Fattah al-Sheikh, who was elected to Parliament in 2005 as part of the bloc loyal to the extremist Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, is now with the Baath-tinted, mostly Sunni party of Ayad Allawi. In Iraqi politics there is no more extreme conversion than that from Sadrist to Baathist.
"I'm a patriot above all else," he told me. "And the Iranians have more or less kidnapped Moktada al-Sadr, so I stand against them." Opportunistic as this claim may appear, Fattah's stand, and his ability to survive in Sadr City as a vocally anti-Iranian candidate, exemplify the post-sectarian flexibility that is the hallmark of these elections.
Salaam Smeasim is another Iraqi I have known for years. She's now 55, and a candidate for the largest Shiite opposition party, the Iraqi National Alliance. Salaam wears a veil, and her coalition, which includes many Sadrists, has relations with Iran.
"Would you agree with something like the Iranian system here in Iraq?" I asked her the day before the vote.
"Of course not," she said, giving me the only angry look I have received in recent weeks while talking to Iraqis about politics. "As a Shiite I do feel something for Iran. But between Iran and America, only America is interested in freedom and human rights in Iraq. There is nowhere like America for freedom."
Walking in the spring sunshine up and down the length of Abu Nuwas Park along the Tigris a green and tempting place I had always admired from hotel rooms across the street but had never felt comfortable venturing into I spoke to a man of about 65 who had a young grandson on his knee in the shade of a tree. "That is my son," he said, pointing at a young man on a nearby bench. "One of his brothers I found beheaded in the street. The other is still missing."
The grandfather would not say whether he was a Sunni or a Shiite. I asked how he viewed these elections in light of his personal calamities. "The rest of the Middle East is in a stage of political infancy, adolescence at best," he answered. "Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, even Lebanon, they are all juvenile. But we are passing this stage of a politics about 'who you are.' This election in Iraq is about the politics of 'what you want.' And we want an end to sectarianism."
I continued my tour of a city that seemed to be enjoying its election holiday. A Christian car-parts dealer outside the Syrian Catholic church in Karada, which is largely upper middle class, told me he would be voting for whoever would end the religious violence. (The deaths of nearly 40 people on Sunday attest to how difficult that task remains.) Nearby, the manager of Baghdad Polling Station No. 7 said voting was normal for Iraqis now "This is our fifth time in five years," he pointed out and he would be voting for security, jobs and public works, not religion.
Marwa, a 24-year-old accounting student whom I spoke to on Sunday as she voted with her mother, noted that this was her fourth time going to the polls, and that while it was no longer exciting it was certainly her duty to her country.
At the Karkh Hospital I met Jassim, a 39-year-old Army sergeant whose lower leg had been blown off the day before (soldiers voted on Friday so they could provide security over the weekend). Recuperating in his bed, he showed me a purple-stained forefinger and said Iraq needed a leader to serve "the whole nation."
Most Iraqi politicians have caught the anti-sectarian mood. That is why Prime Minister Maliki, a Shiite, had the confidence to break with the big coalition of his co-religionists that dominated in 2005 and run alongside several major Sunni tribal leaders. It is why once virulent Shiites like Fattah, the former Sadrist, now see Mr. Allawi's party as a good bet. It is why the Iraqi National Alliance includes not only Salaam Smeasim, a pro-American Shiite in a veil, but also Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, a Sunni cousin of Iraq's last king and the chief claimant to the long-vacant throne.
With more Sunnis participating this time even as the old religious monoliths break down, Iraq's coming government-formation phase will be slow and complex. During the weeks of horse-trading and grandstanding, the rhetoric will occasionally be vituperative, Iraqi leaders from all parties will be accused of unsavory relationships with foreign powers and the overall winning faction may well have an identity-based core.
Still, as that grandfather in Abu Nuwas Park explained to me, this messy process reflects the decline of sectarianism, a necessary and hopeful step in Iraq's political maturation.
Bartle Breese Bull, a journalist in Iraq from 2004 to 2008, is a founder of an Iraq-based investment firm.
******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS
LESSONS FROM LAHORE
As though we were watching a replay of action that has taken place before, terrorists have once more targeted a building belonging to the FIA in Lahore. A very similar attack on a safe house run by the agency and its principal building in the city had taken place almost exactly two years ago in March 2008. What is unfortunate is that few lessons have been learnt from that attack. At that time it was said that all the offices of the security agencies would be moved out of residential areas. This has not happened. The building struck stood in the residential suburb of Model Town. Had it been shifted, some loss of life could have been averted with at least one schoolgirl listed among the 11 persons confirmed so far to have been killed. There are other lessons, too. As they have done before, both in Lahore and other places, the terrorists struck early in the morning at a time when security was not present anywhere in the vicinity. Despite the fact that the building was an obvious target, there were no pickets around it. What is more, rescue efforts were impeded by the fact that teams had only their bare hands with which to try and shift the massive pile of debris left as the FIA building structure collapsed. One would have thought that by now, with terrorist attacks a not infrequent event, equipment of some kind would have been provided to the rescue workers assigned the task of pulling people out of rubble.
Crowd management is another area where training is needed. The swarm of people that gathered at the site made it harder to remove the injured to hospital or stage rescue work. The police need to be able to shift onlookers away from the immediate vicinity of such incidents. It is clear too that the terrorists remain able to operate. It is unclear so far which of the many militant groups that exist in our midst was responsible for this latest act of violence. But the tactics used, involving a suicide bomber and a vehicle packed with explosives, suggest a distinct link to the attacks staged in the past. There is a need to review strategy and assess to what extent the capacity of the militants has been damaged by the action against them in the north. Clearly, the base of the action needs to be widened and pockets of militancy that exist in other places taken out so that the loss of life, injury and panic seen most recently in Lahore can be eliminated.
I. THE NEWS
Once again we see the triumph of creativity in a convict being appointed to no lesser office than that of the head of the Federal Investigation Agency's (FIA) Economic Crime Wing (ECW). This will definitely go down well with the global anti-corruption body, the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF), which is already so delighted with us that it has putting our country's name on its blacklist. Mr Sheikh has an impressive record. He was charged with, and convicted of, assorted counts of fraud and living beyond his means and sentenced to 14 years of rigorous imprisonment. He was fined Rs20 million and had property confiscated. And how come none of this was noticed by the board that appointed him? Because nobody told them of his conviction beforehand and and this is perhaps the key to this astonishing turn of events he was best-buddies with our now-president when they were both held at Attock Fort and subsequently imprisoned together in Adiala Jail.
Clearly he is the best man for the job. After all, given his skill in abstracting goods and services and then diverting them to his own use, who is better qualified at detecting those who seek to do as he did? A classic case of poacher turned gamekeeper. Of course he had his slate wiped clean in 2008 by the NRO and once rehabilitated was posted to the Intelligence Bureau where he failed to impress as evidenced by his poor grades in the Annual Confidential Reports so he was returned to the FIA which has now placed him in a position where he is once again ideally sited to abuse his powers and privileges. Consequently, we suggest that all child protection services be immediately handed to convicted child murderers and molesters. Any department dealing with services to women should henceforward be managed by rapists and acid-throwers and management of the State Bank be passed to those who committed the biggest-ever bank robbery in our entire history. This is an obvious solution to all our problems, because in a state where criminality has become a refined art form it makes sense to hand the whole kit-and-caboodle over the crooks themselves. Job done next problem, please.
I. THE NEWS
CAPTURE IN KARACHI
There is some doubt as to the identity of the top Al Qaeda figure held in Karachi on March 7. Initial reports had identified him as the American-born spokesman for the outfit, Adam Yahiye Gadahn, who appeared on many of its videos. Officials, however, have been quoted as denying this. But the arrests of key militant figures from various parts of the country in recent days is a reminder that our country has indeed become a favourite place of activity for some of the world's most wanted terrorist figures. It is known, for example, that Gadahn had been in the country since 1998 and had been able to avoid capture for over a decade.
Pakistan now needs to work towards changing its image as a 'safe haven' for militants. Accusations that it has acted as one have come from many quarters over the past years. This has been a consistent factor handicapping students seeking to study in the west and complicating the task of obtaining visas for every Pakistani passport holder. The discovery of key militants in Karachi also shows that our larger cities have become a prime destination for them. The security agencies appear now to have tapped lines of information that are leading towards them. However, in a city that has experienced intense ethnic violence in the recent past it is important that this does not become a means to target a particular community. As citizens, all of us would benefit from the ouster of Al Qaeda. This then is the target that must steadily be worked towards, making our country a better place for everyone living within its borders.
I. THE NEWS
PREVENTING THE MILITANTS' COMEBACK
Militants affiliated to the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have been on the run for sometime now after losing their strongholds in Swat and the rest of Malakand region, South Waziristan, Frontier Region Bannu and parts of the tribal areas of Kurram, Khyber, Mohmand and Darra Adamkhel. Recently, they lost almost all of Bajaur due to renewed and aggressive military operations in Mahmond and Charmang and had to relocate to relatively secure places in the adjoining Mohmand Agency.
But if the latest official claims about the killing of three top militants' commanders, TTP deputy head Maulana Faqir Mohammad, Qari Ziaur Rahman and Omar Rahman (alias Fateh), are to be believed, their new hideouts also proved insecure in the face of airstrikes by helicopter gunships.
The Taliban evicted from Swat, Buner, Shangla, Malakand Agency and the two Dir districts first sought refuge in Bajaur and then relocated to Mohmand and certain districts in the downcountry. Likewise, their fellow fighters, after losing their strongholds in South Waziristan and Frontier Region Bannu, mostly fled to North Waziristan, where an uncertain peace agreement between the government and non-TTP militants led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur is still intact.
The uprooted Taliban militants from Khyber, Kurram and Darra Adamkhel sought sanctuaries in Orakzai Agency, where government presence is almost non-existent. Orakzai has reportedly attracted fleeing militants from other places too due to its strategic location and remoteness. The Tirah valley in Khyber Agency has become the favoured hideout of all kinds of militants, ranging from TTP cadres to those affiliated to Mangal Bagh's Lashkar-e-Islam and his rival Ustad Mahboobul Haq's Ansarul Islam. The once quiet scenic valley is now a battleground for armed men competing for space and influence.
Talking to members of the foreign media flown to Bajaur recently to enable them to see the gains the security forces had made in the militants' stronghold of Damadola in Mahmond area, Maj Gen Tariq Khan, the inspector general of the Frontier Corps, mentioned Orakzai and Tirah as likely new targets of military action. However, full-fledged military operations of the kind seen in Swat, Bajaur and South Waziristan are unlikely in Orakzai and Tirah. Limited action is likely in these places to push back the militants and deny them unchallenged control of ungoverned territory.
Similarly, despite US demands, major military operation is unexpected in North Waziristan in the foreseeable future. Though military spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas had said that no new offensive was planned for the next six months to a year in North Waziristan, or anywhere else in the tribal areas, this timeframe too seems more of a general statement and not part of an actual plan. The military high command would not like to open new fronts, and instead consolidate the troops' positions in the existing areas of operations to enable the civil administration to eventually take control of the situation.
There was the glimpse of a similar policy recently in Bajaur's Mamond area bordering Afghanistan. Army soldiers began pulling out from Mamond once the militants were evicted and the pro-government lashkar, or armed volunteer force, had been raised and strengthened. Brandishing guns and showing camaraderie with the troops, the lashkar presented an impressive sight as they gathered at Inayat Killay during the visit of the foreign journalists to Bajaur. No doubt it was a stage-managed show, but not long ago only the militants could organise such an intimidating show of force.
The regular troops withdrawn from Mamond were replaced by the paramilitary Frontier Corps and the Bajaur Levies, while the political administration of Bajaur has now been tasked to revive government institutions in the conflict-hit area. This isn't going to be easy if one were to compare the situation with the districts of Swat and Lower Dir, in which the transition from military to civilian control has been slow and where the militants have been making their presence felt through occasional suicide bombings. The militants could try to stage a comeback in Bajaur, particularly in Mamond and Charmang, by sending suicide bombers to attack the security forces and the lashkar and through targeted killing of anti-Taliban tribal elders.
Bajaur's Salarzai tribe, which was the first one to raise a lashkar against the militants, knows pretty well the price it will have to pay for standing up to the Taliban. It suffered 51 deaths in suicide bombings and roadside bomb attacks and the tribe's armed volunteers are still required to guard their villages and roads.
The mountainous and porous border between Bajaur and Kunar is another challenge, with Pakistani and Afghan Taliban easily moving across the Durand Line to seek refuge and mount attacks. Maj Gen Tariq Khan, the Frontier Corps inspector general, has been accusing the governor of the neighbouring Afghan province of Kunar, Fazlullah Wahidi, of supporting militants who are active in Bajaur. It is strange, though, that he is alone in making this accusation as neither the military high command nor the Pakistani government and its foreign ministry has specifically accused Governor Wahidi of funding and sheltering the Bajaur militants. (Mr Wahidi lived for years in Peshawar running a German-funded non-governmental organisation.)
It would be odd if the US military, which has a strong presence in Kunar, knew this and still did nothing to stop Governor Wahidi from pursuing such a policy. In fact, it appears unbelievable that an Afghan governor is able to do things that harm the spirit of the US strategy based on increased cooperation between the Nato and Pakistani security forces to deny space to militants on both sides of the border.
For 18 months or so now, the security forces have been busy trying to defeat the militants and stabilising Bajaur. Almost a year ago also, there were muted celebrations that Bajaur has been won back and government functionaries started advising displaced Bajauris to return home. It was bad advice and before long the returnees were again uprooted and on the road to makeshift relief camps in Dir Lower, Peshawar and Nowshera as a new round of fighting started in parts of Bajaur.
Many tribal households have now been displaced more than once and are thus wary of returning to Bajaur. In any case, the destroyed infrastructure, damaged houses and the new security guidelines banning reconstruction near the main roads and rebuilding of certain villages are forbidding enough for Bajauris to think of returning in the near future. The sufferings of the internally displaced persons will continue to haunt the country for years to come.
One issue that hasn't received the attention it deserved is the fate of the more than 2,000 suspected militants and their supporters apprehended in different parts of the NWFP and FATA and now in the custody of the security forces. Most were captured last year during the Swat offensive (some had been arrested earlier), and yet none of them have been put on trial. Special anti-terrorism courts haven't been set up to try the accused. The military authorities want the detained people transferred to the civil administration, but the process is getting delayed due to unexplained reasons.
The Shariah-based judicial system promised under the Nizam-e-Adl regulation for Malakand division by the ANP-PPP coalition government also hasn't been put in place. Lawyers in Swat recently protested the delay and demanded the setting up of Darul Qaza where appeals against the judgement of the lower courts, or Qazi courts, could be made. The establishment of a responsive system of justice is the key to reassuring the people of Swat and Malakand and stabilising the region, because this was the slogan that Maulana Sufi Mohammad's Tanzim-e- Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) raised when it demanded Shariah, and in the process mobilised and radicalised the population.
The militants are no doubt in disarray and the TTP is no longer able to operate and pose a major security threat. But the state needs to do a lot more to improve conditions of life for the people by making the system of government and justice responsive to the needs of the population. This could create conditions to prevent a comeback by the militants.
The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
THE STAR THAT FAILED TO SHINE
On February 8, Zia Mohyeddin and Amitabh Bachchan participated in a poetry recitation at the open-air Bandra Fort theatre in Mumbai, under the laudable initiative called Aman ki Asha launched by the Jang group of Pakistan in cooperation with The Times of India group to promote peace and friendship between the two countries.
By coincidence, this writer was in Mumbai at that time and was cordially invited to the event by the organisers through the courtesy of the Jang group.
With admission on the basis of invitation cards taken in advance from The Times of India office, about 500 people waited in long queues to gain admission and to get seats on a first-come-first-served basis. They represented a cross-section of the citizens of Mumbai and to some extent a cross-section of India itself, though the dominant majority appeared to be from western and northern parts of India.
In his inimitable manner, Zia Mohyeddin recited poetry from the pen of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Zia Mohyeddin's resonant voice, his clear and lucid diction, his careful selection of poems and his calm and assured presentation did full justice to the subtlety, the sensitivity, the sub-texts and the sheer beauty of Faiz Sahib's poetry. Both the poet and the presenter made one proud to be a Pakistani.
From the polite and periodic applause it was clear that only about 30 per cent of the audience grasped the nuances and the shades in Faiz's rich Urdu. Even this semi-literate writer did not always comprehend the meanings of certain words and phrases.
What followed thereafter was virtually a passage from the sublime to the shameful.
At the conclusion of his recitation, Zia Mohyeddin thanked the audience and the hosts and promptly left the stage.
The lady making the announcements took the stage, thanked Zia Mohyeddin briefly and then went on to say that she was getting goose-pimples just thinking about who was coming on next. There was no prize offered for making the correct guess. After all, it was reasonably easy to guess a major film actor who has dominated the screens in India and elsewhere for over 30 years, particularly if his name was mentioned on the evening's programme.
Instead of showing due courtesy to a visitor from Pakistan who had specially flown in to Mumbai for the recital, Mr Amitabh Bachchan deliberately waited for a few minutes for Zia Mohyeddin's exit. He then made his appearance to the expected applause, mumbled a few innocuous words and sentences about the Aman ki Asha initiative and then devoted the remaining 60 minutes plus to a fine recitation of his distinguished father's poetry which received frequent applause. It was immediately obvious that from fear of criticism from racist and religious fascists like Mr Bal Thackeray and the Shiv Sena, Mr Amitabh Bachchan had made sure that he would not be seen simultaneously on stage with the distinguished visitor from Pakistan.
This one facet alone struck a sharp, discordant note that jarred with the central theme of Aman ki Asha, which is to bring people and public figures from both the countries together and to demonstrate a mutual capacity to transcend real or imagined schisms and conflicts of the past and the present.
It was disappointing to note that The Times of India had agreed to this arrangement by which the two personalities making their respective presentations of poetry were deliberately prevented from being seen together.
Granted that the tragic deaths of over 150 people in the atrocious Mumbai attacks in November 2008 have left pain and bitterness in India in general and in Mumbai in particular due to the real or alleged involvement of elements belonging to Pakistan. But all those strangers and acquaintances alike that this writer met in Mumbai during the brief stay expressed no discord or ill-will or bad manners. In fact, every person - be it the immigration or customs personnel at Mumbai Airport or the taxi drivers who ferried me from place-to-place in the city for four days - clearly showed a largeness of heart and friendliness on coming to know that I was a Pakistani.
In vivid contrast, a person who should have risen above the grooves of paranoia and prejudice and fulfilled his duty as a public figure abysmally failed to show courtesy, grace and courage. About the same time, an Indian friend in New Delhi informed me by e-mail that singers and musicians from Pakistan were warmly and heartily welcomed at concerts on stage, by prominent Indian hosts who practised the gentleman's code of conduct expected in any host country.
Fortunately, the spirit of Aman ki Asha is far greater than the physical reach of some of those who participate in this process.
May the Jang group and The Times of India group continue to make their respective valuable contributions for peace and friendship between Pakistan and India.
The writer is a former federal minister of information and senator of Pakistan and also the writer-producer of the international award-winning film Ramchand Pakistani which featured Indian actor Nandita Das with a Pakistani cast.
I. THE NEWS
THE NEXT FINANCE MINISTER
Like the achingly beautiful brunette bombshell that every man wants but no man has the courage to approach, it seems the finance minister's job has become a victim of its own grandness. There are many ways to interpret the desperate difficulty that the present government is experiencing in finding someone that is willing to be finance minister for this country. Perhaps people worry that if Shaukat Tarin (not a man to shirk a good challenge) couldn't handle the job, nobody really can. Perhaps a bad economy is scaring good people away from the job. Perhaps the allegations of unparalleled corruption within this PPP government are causing smart people to want to stay away from the job.
Of course, it's important to remember that not everything that is broken today was handed to this government in any kind of usable condition. The intense opposition that President Asif Ali Zardari inspires may or may not always be fair, but a deeply problematic economic management paradigm goes far beyond this government. After all, we are less than three years removed from an era in which Pakistan's economic managers were claiming the status of the new Asian Tiger for the country.
Experience must have made an entire generation of greying economic and financial savants truly wise men. From Ishrat Husain to Hafeez Pasha, not one of them wants to be finance minister. Indeed, anyone with professional pride seems to not want to touch the most powerful job that an apolitical shehri babu could ever aspire to in Pakistan. Begging the question, why do men for whom the apex of professional achievement is the finance minister's job suddenly have cold feet?
The real answer has very little to do with the incompetence of the PPP government that is sometimes being lead by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, sometimes by President Zardari, and most times by nobody at all. Smart economists know that one could replace this government with a PML-N government today, but the fate of the finance minister in such a government would not be much better than Shaukat Tarin's. The problems inherent in the job of managing the Pakistani economy are not restricted to one kind of political party or another. Nor are those problems linked only to the performance of the global economy, or the prices of commodities like oil. The fundamental problem is much deeper, and worrying, and it is simple.
The traditional model of economic management is unsustainable in Pakistan.
This young and tortured country has only a very slim cadre of economic managers for as long as anyone that is old enough to be finance minister can remember. Since July of 1977 Pakistan has had 13 different men and women serve the country as ministers of finance. Of these 13, four had the chance to serve more than once--Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto herself, Sartaj Aziz, Naveed Qamar and Ishaq Dar.
Of the 13 different folks that have been finance ministers, only three can legitimately be called serious politicians, capable of winning an election in Pakistan without the need to depend on the endorsement of any single family, group, or entity--the late Mian Yasin Khan Wattoo, Shaheed Mohtarma and the always classy Naveed Qamar. Many would argue that Ishaq Dar (a decent and competent man) qualifies as the fourth, but Mr Dar cannot win an election without the endorsement and strong support of the Sharif family.
More importantly, Mr Dar, rather than being a part of the thin group of politicians who have been finance minister, is clearly a member of the dominant club of Pakistani finance ministers that have limited autonomous political clout, but oodles of professional chops.
Since the summer of 1977, ten of the 13 ministers have either been career bureaucrats or finance and/or economics professionals. Often they have been both within the same career, including Sartaj Aziz, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Shahid Javed Burki, and Mahbubul Haq.
The quintessential Pakistani finance ministers are the two that have enjoyed the longest tenures. Ghulam Ishaq Khan was finance minister from July 1977 to March 1985, and Shaukat Aziz was finance minister from November 1999 to November 2007. Both men served for approximately eight years. The most important common strain across these two was that neither would, even in their most courageous and brazen moments, have considered taxing the hands that fed them. The left hand being that of the feudal landowners that help sustain a skewed narrative of economics in Pakistan, and the right hand being that of the Pakistani military, whose appetite for fiscal expansion has never been institutionally challenged, or checked, in Pakistani history.
Simplistic derivations of why Aziz and Ghulam Ishaq Khan enjoyed sustained tenures as finance ministers will always produce a causal link between pure GDP growth and economic success. But the real measure of success in managing the economy has to be the citizen's bottom line. Stock market and real-estate brokers may have enjoyed inflated profits during the Zia and Musharraf eras, but the dramatic falloff in economic performance upon the demise of each military strongman (and their trusted munshis) is the greatest proof of the myth of the GIK and Aziz economic success stories. The only real institutional success these finance ministers had was that they kept Pakistan from imposing the two most important kinds of taxes that this country now desperately needs to impose: a major tax on the wealth of large landowners, and a major "tax" on the unsustainable growth of the defence budget.
The reason that so many of Pakistan's finance ministers have been ex-World Bank or IMF and ex-Citibank professionals has very little to do with the institutional success of the World Bank, the IMF or Citibank. It has to do with the raison d'etre of the finance ministry--whether it is being run by a military dictator or a legitimate government of the political elite. The finance ministry is the articulator of Pakistani financial need. Its primary function is to promote a narrative of Pakistan's economy that will increase the flow of foreign funds into Pakistan. What better spokespersons than those that are straight from the belly of the beasts themselves?
During the GDP growth heyday of the Musharraf era, the fictional narrative was that Pakistan was an emerging market superpower. This was then marketed to investors so that they would pump money into the various Eurobonds and sukuks that helped ramp up Pakistan's debt liabilities. During the GDP growth dog days of this PPP government, the fictional narrative has been that the Taliban are "60 miles from Islamabad," and that Pakistan will be taken over by those Taliban. Unless, of course, wealthier countries begin to throw bigger bones Pakistan's way.
By any means necessary, the bedrock of the management of the Pakistani economy has been to attract foreign money into Pakistan. This is ironic and stupefying, because those very managers, whether times are a-boomin' or a-bustin', stash their own wealth in banks outside Pakistan with alarming consistency.
The traditional model of economic management is unsustainable in Pakistan for two reasons. The first is that there are no more cons left to try. Serious security risks weaken the prospects for major FDI or portfolio investments into Pakistan in the near future. Concurrently, donor fatigue, and the exposure of the potential Taliban/Al-Qaeda domination of this country as a myth, means that the chapter of begging-bowl economics has come to a close. In short, Pakistan will actually have to begin looking at domestic economic supply-and-demand as the starting point for Pakistani macroeconomic analysis.
The second is that since there are no more cons left to try, there are no more decent, educated and serious babus left to take the finance minister's job. Whatever poor soul does take this job will be saddled with an emotional (and most probably legal) toll that far outweighs the glamour of a black Corrolla and World Bank Spring Meetings. Shaukat Tarin is not alone in raising his hands to the sky, in prayer for the poor soul that is the next finance minister, whoever it is.
The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. He can be reached through his website www.mosharrafzaidi.com
I. THE NEWS
DOERS AND TALKERS
DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
There are two sets of countries in the Asia-Pacific region. One, which are engaged in improving the lives of their people, devising their socio-economic policies in order to achieve their goals. They are known as doers and are doing their job silently. Naturally, economy is at the centre stage of their body politics.
There is another set of countries in the region proclaiming to be working for improving the living conditions of their masses in general and poor in particular. And yet, economy is not on the radar screen of these governments. This set of countries is known as talkers. They would talk day in and day out for improving the lives of their common man, achieving high sustained economic growth, bringing inflation down to a single-digit level, restoring macroeconomic stability and so on. In actuality, this set of countries has no vision, and capacity to achieve the stated goals. Pakistan has certainly joined this league in recent years.
What are the issues currently being discussed in the Asia-Pacific region? The doers are discussing the process of economic recovery after the global financial meltdown, when and how to ease out fiscal stimuli, when is the right time to tighten monetary policy, how to sustain economic growth in the range of 8-9 per cent per annum, how much resources will be required to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), how to further reform their financial systems to make them "inclusive" financial systems, how to bring stability in the international financial system to protect themselves from repeated economic collapse, is there a need for Asian Monetary Fund? Do we need a new reserve currency? How to make their economic growth environment-friendly?
None of the above-listed issues are at the forefront of economic policy-making in a talker country like Pakistan. As a result, Pakistan is totally forgotten in the Asia-Pacific region. Hardly anyone invites Pakistan to the various fora where a variety of economic issues are discussed. Even if it is invited, its representatives would hardly speak because we do not send the right people to such fora. Politics has overtaken economics in Pakistan and the government is fighting for its survival on daily basis. As a result, economics and governance have taken a back seat. What we are witnessing today in Pakistan is a race to the bottom the economy is down-sliding, sports are crumbling (whether it is cricket, hockey, squash etc.), governance is deteriorating, currency is losing its ground on daily basis, unrestrained price hike is affecting the poor and fixed-income groups adversely, the country is drowning under debt burden, and most importantly the people are losing faith in their own country.
What a change in just two years! A country which was regarded as one of the four fastest growing economies in the Asia-Pacific region, where investors would take a 30 years risk on its grossly oversubscribed paper, foreign investment was pouring in, foreign exchange reserves started building up, people started coming out from below the poverty line, where 13 million jobs were created in seveneight years, the debt burden started declining and the rating agencies started upgrading their sovereign risks.
Almost everything has been lost in just two years. The government is seen no where on the economic front. There has been no finance minister for a protracted period in mid-2008 and there is no finance minister even today. Since the departure of Shaukat Tarin, the government is finding it difficult to appoint a reasonable finance minister. The government also appears to be in no rush to appoint a finance minister as economy is not on its radar screen. The government believes that a country can be run without a finance minister and yet it would claim to provide roti, kapra and makan to the poor.
To provide these things one would require resources, which can only be procured when the wheel of the economy is moving. The wheel cannot move without a driver and the driver happens to be the finance minister. It is an irony that every political party large, medium or small, would talk about the welfare of the masses, strong economic growth, reducing or rather eliminating poverty, and providing jobs. And yet none of them have any credible economic team. Once they come to power they start looking right and left for an advisor on finance. The advisor being a non-political/non-elected person, does not command any respect of the members of parliament and soon becomes Shaukat Tarin.
It has become a fashion to discredit the good work done by the predecessors and trace every ill that plagues the economy back to the previous government for domestic political consumption. Interestingly, such governments tell the truth to the international financial institutions, but feel shy in sharing the same with their own people. Even when the government acknowledges the good work it does so grudgingly. For example, the growth was impressive but it was consumption-led or the foundation of the growth was weak. Some would even attempt to misguide the political leadership, the classic example being the Panel of Economists. Such an attitude is nothing but living constantly in a state of denial.
Until the government does the following the race to the bottom would continue and Pakistan would remain a forgotten country in the Asia-Pacific region. The government must bring the economy at the centre stage and be forthcoming to take the command of the economy. The country's chief executive should devote quality time to economic issues and appoint a credible professional economic team which aspires to work for national interest. Do we deserve such a state of affairs? Is Pakistan destined to be a forgotten country? I urge upon the readers to decide whether we deserve such a treatment.
The writer is director general and dean at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
THE THAW THAT WASN'T
DR MALEEHA LODHI
The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News.
As widely anticipated meeting last month between the foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India did little to melt the diplomatic ice. That the officials met at all after a 14-month hiatus was billed by some as progress. In reality the Delhi talks did not even live up to modest expectations of improving the tenor of the bilateral engagement. The atmospherics turned out to be as fraught as the differences over substance.
The separate press conferences addressed by both foreign secretaries made this abundantly clear. Nirupama Rao's hectoring tone prompted a sharp response from Salman Bashir who said Pakistan needed no sermons on terrorism from India.
The two sides were unable to reconcile differences over the timing, modalities and agenda for future talks. Even on process the talks reinforced rather than narrowed the chasm. This reinforced the unedifying start-stumble-stop pattern of diplomatic engagement that has long characterised relations. The Delhi encounter may also have ended up hardening positions.
No date was set for the next meeting. Pakistan proposed a time-bound roadmap of meetings leading to a summit-level meeting at the SAARC conference in Bhutan in April where the prime ministers of the two countries could announce a resumption of the composite dialogue that encompasses a comprehensive eight-point agenda.
The Indians stuck to their position and insisted that the time had not come for a resumption of the formal peace process. Delhi proposed a graduated, step-by-step approach entailing meetings at the foreign-secretary level to focus on terrorism. Delhi also reiterated that any renewal of the composite process would be conditioned on progress on the terrorism issue.
The inability to reconcile these clashing visions of how the future dialogue should proceed meant that the diplomatic stalemate continued. The discussions turned more into a re-statement of positions by both sides. The Indian side only wanted to discuss terrorism. This indicated that Delhi envisaged future talks to be recast around one issue.
Indian officials also handed over three dossiers calling for access to the under-trial Mumbai attack suspects and action against individuals alleged to be hiding in Pakistan. An exasperated Salman Bashir later described the contents of these dossiers as more 'literature' than evidence.
Pakistan's principal focus was on Kashmir and the water issue among other disputes. A paper on the water issue was handed over to the Indian side. The Pakistani side also made it clear that Islamabad sought relations based on sovereign equality and mutual respect.
The Indian refusal to go beyond what their officials had been publicly stating for the past year raises important questions. What does Delhi expect to get out of the bilateral engagement if it seems unwilling to let the process lead to a full-fledged, structured dialogue? What use do the talks serve for the Indians?
The first objective may have much to do with increasing international pressure for a resumption of Pakistan-India talks. Urgings for a renewal of dialogue from the world's key capitals, especially Washington, had increasingly made Delhi's no-talks stance untenable and unsustainable. So establishing what Indian officials call 'measured contact' with Islamabad serves to defuse that pressure and make India look reasonable without yielding anything.
Two, Delhi may want to use the talks not as a means of narrowing differences or building common ground but of mounting pressure on Pakistan to comply with its demands. From this perspective every engagement outside a structured framework gives Delhi an opportunity to amplify its terrorism mantra, without having to accommodate any of Pakistan's concerns. Unstructured dialogue becomes the means to apply pressure and shift the onus on to Pakistan rather than engage in problem-solving. Talks, as several Indian commentators have pointed out, give India a tool and leverage on the terrorism issue which its previous no-dialogue posture didn't.
In this diplomatic strategy the resumption of full-fledged, broad-based talks is used as a 'trump card' and offered as a reward in exchange for concessions by Pakistan. Islamabad's firm rejection of a dialogue for dialogue's sake should have reminded Delhi that using talks as leverage will not work.
Another dimension of the second objective could be to use the talks as a political prop for grandstanding at home. Taking a hard line with Pakistan in a blaze of media publicity helps to burnish the Congress Party's credentials of being tough on terrorism. But rather than yield the desired political dividend this stance has failed to blunt the fierce attack mounted on the government by the opposition BJP for agreeing to talk at all to Islamabad.
This was evident immediately after the talks from the face-off in the Lok Sabha between opposition leader L K Advani and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The verbal sparring also served to underscore the confusion in the government mind about its rationale for the talks which in turn explained the feeble defence that Mr Singh put up in parliament.
Whatever Delhi's calculations in pursuing 'incremental' or selective engagement, differences over the scope and framework of the dialogue promise a protracted diplomatic minuet between the two countries entailing more talks about talks. With the very terms of the engagement in contention prospects do not appear promising for the next meeting whenever it takes place.
If Delhi insists on unilaterally determining the frequency and content of the bilateral process Islamabad will be pressed to calibrate its response accordingly. Already it has made it plain that the terrorism issue should not dictate the agenda. And that it is not willing to settle for process at the expense of substance.
What is also certain to complicate fraught relations is the intimidatory environment being fostered by India's enunciation of dangerous military doctrines as well as provocative military exercises. Within days of the Delhi talks Indian fighter jets pounded mock enemy targets close to the border in an exercise witnessed by the country's president. Its timing and intent was not lost on Pakistan.
In this backdrop the immediate outlook for Pakistan-India relations is marked by uncertainty with ties prone to crisis. Three scenarios can be postulated for the near term. The first is a prolonged diplomatic deadlock or standoff with no mitigation of mutual suspicion and a risk of confrontation accompanied by a zero-sum approach to ties. In this scenario erratic or sporadic dialogue becomes a means to score points, not reduce tensions. It is also the most volatile scenario for its potential to relapse into an escalation of tensions, heightening the risk of an uncontrollable crisis.
The second scenario is one of managed tensions. In this differences and disputes continue in a no-war, no-peace situation but where both political will and diplomatic means are available to ensure tensions do not spin out of control. This helps to avoid a confrontation or breakdown in the relationship. This scenario provides space for normalisation of some aspects of the relationship. For part of their troubled history Pakistan and India were able to evolve such a regime but this has always alternated with periods of heightened tensions, confrontation and conflict.
The third is the most desirable scenario but in the immediate future the most improbable. In this both countries adopt a problem-solving approach and engage purposefully to find a negotiated resolution of their disputes while identifying and building on areas of convergence in an effort to achieve a strategic equilibrium. Efforts are directed at confronting and addressing the causes not the symptoms of the conflicts between them. This is the scenario that is urged by the compulsions of the region's nuclearisation especially as strategic relations between the two neighbours remain undefined and potentially unstable. It is also the only model of relations that can deliver durable peace.
For now Pakistan-India relations have reverted to the wearingly familiar pattern of the first scenario with all its attendant risks while the costs of non-resolution of disputes continue to mount for both nations.
I. THE NEWS
THE WAY FORWARD IN FATA
While others areas of the country are progressing, FATA stands at the same point where it was centuries ago. It has the same old rules of FCR for its people and the same despotic system of political agents governing them in the 21st century. The people of FATA want to be at par with the rest of the nation. A ray of hope appeared on the horizon in 2008 when the prime minister announced in his inaugural address in Parliament that the FCR will be abolished. But soon his government sent that proposal to the archives of the National Assembly under the pressure of interested parties. On the 62nd independence anniversary of Pakistan the president announced reforms for FATA, including extension of the Political Parties Act to that area. Nothing has been done so far. Let us hope the president will not go back on his word.
But how far can the people of FATA live on empty promises? How long can they be fooled with slogans like this? In the 63-year history of Pakistan they have seen nothing but wars, deaths and destruction. They are confused and feel betrayed when they see the radical changes in rules of governance elsewhere in the country. The world has changed, and so have the tribesmen. They are now aware of their rights and responsibilities. They cannot be kept in the dark any more. They have realised the strategic importance of their region and the sacrifices that they and their forefathers rendered for the country.
The period of selecting governors and other senior bureaucrats not speaking Pashto or not interested in the development of their area is over. FATA is no more dependent for help on educated people from outside the area. It has not only produced highly qualified persons but has some outstanding generals, ambassadors and other senior civil servants who can look after their areas better than any outsider. Enough experiments have been made by appointing governors from outside FATA. That should end if we are serious about the development of that area.
For FATA to be integrated into NWFP is not the right option at this time. The people of the area are reluctant to accept blindly what Peshawar and Islamabad would like them to do. They want to shoulder responsibilities themselves and develop their area first and consider changes afterwards. They are not prepared to live on empty promises of the rulers anymore who, because of their ill-conceived policies, have turned FATA into hell for them. Today the West feels insecure thousands of miles away due to the situation in Afghanistan. How can the rest of Pakistan remain safe if FATA is left to the whims of Peshawar and Islamabad?
FATA has all along remained an autonomous or semi-autonomous area in the region. It would be in the interest of the country to give it the status of a province, like that given to Gilgit-Baltistan. By doing so we would not only provide the inhabitants an opportunity to exercise their democratic right of electing members to the council/assembly but also enable them to bring changes in the FCR in accordance with their customs and traditions. Let the people become stakeholders in the affairs of their area. Let them develop the area, its communication system and strategic infrastructure which will help ensure safety and security, not only of FATA or NWFP, but the country as a whole.Concluded
(Part I of the article on appeared on March 8.)
The writer is a former ambassador. Email: waziruk@hotmail. com
TO PROVIDE MORE FACILITIES TO FARMERS
AT a time when almost all economic sectors are on the decline due to various reasons, it is good that the Government has started paying attention to the vital agriculture sector that has the potential to help resolve many of the country's problems. The programme to provide twenty thousand subsidized tractors to farmers under Benazir Tractor Scheme is, therefore, a step in the right direction.
Agriculture has rightly been described as backbone of the country's economy as over sixty per cent of the population is directly or indirectly associated or dependent on this sector. As majority of our population lives in rural areas where agriculture and livestock are the predominant activities, the sector can play a crucial role in alleviating rural poverty if proper attention is paid to its development. No doubt, by and large, our agriculture sector has performed well in meeting needs of the ever-increasing population but experts agree that its real potential has not yet been exploited. There is lack of transparent and effective institutional support and government intervention; the loss of wastage, lack of adequate investment and abysmally low national yields. It is estimated that approximately 35 per cent or roughly 800 billion rupee worth of agricultural production is wasted because of the lack of storage, pre-post harvest technology, temperature-controlled storages and transportation and know-how. The country produces some of the finest varieties of citrus fruit and mangoes but unfortunately here again 40 per cent of the fruit and vegetable production is lost due to poor post harvesting techniques. Introduction of modern post harvesting technologies like cold chain and shelf life enhancing procedures could double the incomes of our farmers. The Government has already increased significantly the support price of various crops, which have immensely benefited the farmers and helped increase the output but there is a need to take revolutionary measures to increase the per acre yield. For this purpose, we need investment in the introduction of high yield seed, latest technology and implements as well as optimum use of available water. Pakistan is one of the largest milk producers of the world but regrettably we fail to take any meaningful advantage of the production due to lack of value addition and introduction of new technologies to process, package and market the products. We hope that the Government would pay attention to these and similar other problems confronting our agricultural sector.
UPGRADING WOMEN'S ROLE IN PAKISTAN
INTERNATIONAL Women Day was observed on Monday to highlight the challenges that women face today and to seriously analyse the work done so far to promote their cause. While some cultures have removed the political nature of it and use it as a day to show love to women, others have retained the strong political themes, promoting human rights and economic emancipation for women around the world.
President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani in their messages on the occasion recounted various steps taken by the elected government for the welfare and empowerment of women in Pakistan and urged the Members of Parliament to revisit the laws discriminatory to women to make Pakistan a more tolerant and harmonious country. While one stops for a while and ponders over the state of affairs of women in Pakistan, it is encouraging that for the last few years a realisation has dawned on the law makers, civil society and media that without bringing women in the mainstream the country cannot move forward in any area. In this respect many initiatives have been taken including reservations of seats for women in Parliament and Provincial Assemblies, passage of law protecting women from harassment at workplace, helping poor women through Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) and distribution of land among them, yet a lot more can be done in this regard. There has been some progress towards the equality of women and men in decision-making at all levels, however, the pace remains slow. Women continue to be under-represented at all levels of decision-making and their achievements all too often remain invisible and unacknowledged, and their voices unheard. It is satisfying that women have started joining professions other than education and health and today are contributing their skills in the armed forces and police, yet more needs to be done to accelerate the inclusion of women in formal decision-making bodies. We expect from the incumbent Government that it would give due attention to the emancipation of women as pledged by Shaheed Benazir Bhutto in the Beijing Conference and had set the trend in gender equality and protection of women from violence.
"NAKED" FULL BODY SCANNING
GROWING number of Pakistanis are strongly protesting and refusing to undergo the unilateral and humiliating screening procedure introduced by the United States at its airports, which amounts to 'naked' filming of the human being. Though Pakistan Foreign Office maintains that the Obama administration is giving second thought to this degrading and insulting system yet there are no indications that the administration was really moving towards that end.
The latest incident of FATA lawmakers has once again drew sharp attention towards the need for revision of the procedure. Miffed at being asked to undergo a full body scanning at a US airport, a six-member group of FATA legislators cut short their visit to the United States and flew back home. Earlier too, several Pakistan-bound couples had to revise their programmes when pressed to undergo the 'naked' screening, which staunch Muslims would never accept. The controversy is assuming new dimensions but unfortunately the spokesman for Holbrooke has claimed that the procedure would continue as it is a question of security. This shows that pleading by Pakistan authorities so far has produced no positive results and it is in this backdrop that there is demand that apart from taking the issue seriously with the US authorities, the Government should also raise it at all international forums as it is a question of violation of human rights and ethics. The US insistence to continue with the special procedure is also reflective of the fact that the West is either unaware of the Eastern and Muslim values and norms or is deliberately adopting such tactics to humiliate them. It is because of this discriminatory and derogatory approach that is one of the fundamental causes of growing hatred against the superpower. There could be hundred and one methods to enhance security without humiliating people of a particular faith and background.
UNWARRANTED INDIA'S CONCERNS
The US and the West should understand that India is raising the bogey of threat from Pakistan to neutralize the goodwill Pakistan has earned due to its role in war on terror in general, and by decimating the strongholds of the terrorists in Swat, Malakand, South Waziristan and Bajaur Agency in particular. Though Pakistan's defence budget is around $4 billion and India's $32 billion for the fiscal year 2010-2011, yet India is crying hoarse over Pakistan's meager allocations for defence. India's Defence Minister AK Antony has said: "United States decision to provide sophisticated weapons to Pakistan is a matter of serious concern to India. The US should ensure that these weapons are not targeted against India The American explanation that Pakistan army has to be strengthened to fight terrorist outfits like Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan was not convincing". US aid or no US aid, Pakistan has to have minimum credible nuclear deterrence and also improve its conventional weaponry. Nevertheless, Pakistan's defence allocations pale before India's defence spending.
Since announcement of its new war doctrine, India has stepped up its war preparations. Indian Air force held its biggest-ever air power display at Pokharan, the site in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan where India had conducted a series of underground nuclear tests in May 1998. A statement from defence ministry said that over 100 varieties of combat aircraft, including Mirage 2000s, Jaguars, Sukhois, MiG21s and transport airplanes and helicopters were part of the exercise that showcased the Indian air force's capabilities during day and night operations. According to The Washington Times report, top weapons makers, brought their helicopters, night-vision goggles, mine-proof vehicles and other equipment to New Delhi n hopes of winning a share of one of the world's largest defense budgets. "With its growing economy and emergence as an Asian power, India has rapidly increased its arms expenditures over the past decade, replacing obsolete Soviet-era military hardware with the latest technology in a race to keep up with regional rivals Pakistan and China". India imports more than 70 percent of its military equipment, mainly from Russia, Israel, France and Britain. American companies also are poised to have a reasonable share in the Indian defense market as a result of strategic partnership between the two countries has warmed over the past few years.
In 2008, Lockheed Martin won a contract to supply six C-130J Hercules transport aircraft for India's air force, the first of which are expected to arrive in early 2011. India is also buying 126 fighter aircraft for $10 billion, and 197 helicopters worth about $4 billion. Indo-US Nuclear deal has provided opportunity to India to increase its stockpiles of nukes. The US and the West have double standards - one for their strategic allies and the other for the rest of the world. They slap sanctions on Iran and North Korea but give India and Israel concessions; and in other words reward them for perpetrating atrocities on their minorities and also for showing utter disregard to the United Nations Security Council resolutions. By the end of November 2009, Canada and India reached nuclear agreement, and that means that hypocrisy and greed have won.
It has to be mentioned that Canada had halted nuclear co-operation with India after the country diverted material from Canadian-designed reactors to make a nuclear bomb in 1974, but to have share in the business from India after it signed nuclear deal with the US, Canada has thrown all 'inhibitions' to the wind. If past is any guide, India is not a responsible state, as it had misused Canadian and US peaceful nuclear assistance to conduct its 1974 nuclear bomb test, refused to sign the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and conducted additional nuclear tests in 1998. Yet, Canada agreed to cooperate on nuclear issues, with a pact that ends a freeze in cooperation dating from 1974 and could offer new opportunities for Canadian uranium firms. A statement released after the meeting between Canadian Prime Minister and Indian Prime Minister on the sidelines of the 21st Commonwealth Conference held on 27-29 November 2009 at Trinidad and Tabago said: "Canada and India will now take the necessary steps to prepare the agreement for final signature and implementation."
As regards India-US civil nuclear deal, the Congress had termed it a "landmark development," the BJP as a "defeat for the country" and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), had asked the Government not to surrender to Washington. The CPI (M) had said what was passed was "Hyde Act plus" that went against India on key strategic issues. The day the US House of Representatives had approved the agreement, the most rational, pertinent and pert comment was in the New York Times editorial captioned as "A bad India deal", stating "it shrugged off concerns that the deal could make it even harder to rein in Iran's (and others') nuclear ambitions". Concerns were also expressed by peace-loving people throughout the world, and especially India's neighbouring countries felt threatened by India's additional stocks of nuclear arsenal that will be built up as a result of the civil-nuclear agreement with the US. Anyhow, besides creating asymmetry in South Asia, the US-India nuclear trade legislation granted India the benefits of being a member of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty without requiring it to meet all responsibilities expected of responsible state.
The US and the West have been raising doubts about safety and security of Pakistan's nuclear assets, and President Barrack Obama is on record having said that in case militants succeed, they will have control of the nukes. On the basis of these conjectures, the US president had hinted that the US may act to secure Pak nukes.
The US and the West should review their policy, as Pakistan has made tremendous sacrifices in men and material in addition to indirect losses to its economy in war on terror. At least 7000 armed personnel - soldiers and officers - have laid down their lives, and this figure is much more than Pakistan's losses during three wars with India. Pakistan indeed deserves much better treatment.
The US knows full well that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won, and it needs a strategy for an honourable exit, which is impossible without cooperation of Pakistan. The US therefore should persuade Afghan government to change its attitude towards Pakistan and through practical steps dispel the impression that India is trying to encircle from western border. Afghanistan leadership should understand that India is trying to use them for having permanent foothold in Afghanistan to reach to Central Asian Republics. Having that said, Pakistan has full confidence in people of Afghanistan that if they can fight the super power, they can indeed throw Indian personnel out without difficulty.
TALKS FOR THE SAKE OF TALKS?
DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN