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Saturday, July 17, 2010

EDITORIAL 17.07.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month july 17, edition 000571 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.




























































For all the atmospherics, the high-profile meeting between the Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers unravelled at a late night Press conference. It became apparent that the two Governments agreed on almost nothing substantive. Pakistan repeated its old charge about Indian involvement in the Balochistan insurgency, despite India saying it had "not received a shred of evidence". More important, Islamabad claimed infiltration into Jammu & Kashmir, across the Line of Control, by Islamists and militants was not its problem and that India should deal with it singlehandedly. How India can deal with infiltration that is sourced from territory under the control of the Pakistani state defies reason. On 26/11, a terrorist outrage that the Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h, a thuggish Islamist cabal based in the heart of Pakistan, planned and carried out, the Pakistani Prime Minister baldly told his Indian visitor that no credible evidence had been shared with Islamabad, never mind the mountains of documents sent across over the past year-and-a-half. As for the revelations of David Coleman Headley, the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba operative whom Indian investigators questioned in Chicago in June, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was positively dismissive. Headley has apparently confirmed that not just JuD leaders and Pakistani non-state actors but even senior officials of the Inter-Services Intelligence were involved in plotting the November 26, 2008, attacks on multiple high-profile targets in Mumbai with ghastly consequences. Not only did Mr Qureshi brush aside this embarrassing reality, he actually attacked an Indian civil servant, Home Secretary GK Pillai, for briefing the media on the Headley confessions. Mr Qureshi claimed this was an attempt to sabotage the so-called peace process with Pakistan and compared Mr Pillai's supposed 'provocation' with nasty and brutish hate speeches by the JuD chief, Hafiz Saeed. That a polite and correct Indian civil servant, with an impeccable professional record, is categorised with one of the world's most dangerous criminals, a man who rivals Osama bin Laden in his potential for evil, speaks volumes for Mr Qureshi's sensibility as well as his sense of hospitality. More than anything else, it is a commentary on the Pakistani state — rotten, degraded, unable to prevent its inevitable collapse, listless in the face of a sectarian civil war involving various brands of Islamists, each more vile than the other. In maintaining his dignity and refusing to be drawn into a war of words, Minister for External Affairs SM Krishna did the right thing. He had been sent on a fool's errand and did the best job in the circumstances.

Where does the revived India-Pakistan dialogue, meant to bridge what the Prime Minister calls "trust deficit", go from here? Mr Krishna has invited Mr Qureshi for the next round of talks in New Delhi. Should he come — and which Pakistani wouldn't want a respite from his blighted country? — Mr Qureshi will no doubt use his fake accent and false bravado to resort to more grandstanding. The familiar cycle of India-Pakistan rhetorical battles will restart. This can actually be deeply damaging for New Delhi because it will trivialise the complicity of agencies of the Pakistani state in executing terror attacks against India, and could completely sideline the issue of bringing the masterminds of 26/11 to justice. Given the level of American pressure on the Prime Minister, it is unlikely India will refuse to talk. Even so, a hard message has to be sent. Pakistan may be a joke. Terrorism isn't. 








The Obama Administration's special representative for the AfPak region, Mr Richard Holbrooke, may not be a very popular person in either Islamabad or Rawalpindi and is known to have upset Indian officials too, but he was not exaggerating when he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Pakistan, with five raging Islamist insurgencies, remains the "epicentre of terrorism". Mr Holbrooke has listed them appropriately: The Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, the Haqqani network and, of course, Al Qaeda. What he should have also mentioned is that apart from the ideology of hate, also known as Islamism, that unites these forces of evil, there is something else which is common to them: Their indisputable links with the Pakistani Army, or, to be more specific, the ISI. Each of these organisations is a recipient of the ISI's patronage and the Islamabad-Rawalpindi compact treats them as 'strategic assets' to promote Pakistan's odious desire to emerge as the master of Afghanistan and the minder of jihadi terrorists. It is another matter that Pakistanis are being slaughtered by the foot soldiers of Islamism in the most gruesome manner — for the Pakistani state, that is a small price to pay for keeping alive the hydra-headed monster it has spawned.

While Mr Holbrooke's blunt comments before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee mark a welcome departure from the Obama Administration's coy reluctance to call a spade a spade and pretend Pakistan is in the forefront of fighting jihadi terror instead of patronisingjihadi organisations (ironically with the help of American dollars that have been pouring in ever since the US President decided that Islamabad deserves to be rewarded and not punished) there's nothing really startlingly new about his assertions. Only the naïve and the knave would be surprised by Mr Holbrooke's description of Pakistan as the "epicentre of terrorism", that is, apart from those who have decided to ignore the reality for inexplicable reasons. The question that needs to be asked is, despite such knowledge, why is the US Administration persisting with mollycoddling the Pakistani establishment? What purpose is served by backing the Pakistani Army and the ISI? If the reason is that Mr Obama doesn't want Pakistan to implode, then he needs to be told that many decades ago another American President and his men turned their eyes away from the reality of Pakistani terror in East Pakistan and backed another Pakistani General. That didn't help keep Pakistan together. Nor shall American dollars stop Pakistan from descending into chaos now. 








It is remarkable how much of the ongoing discourse over the violence in Jammu & Kashmir has been dominated by hyperbole and how little its geopolitical context. One has lost count of the number of times when one has heard that Kashmir is seething with anger. There has doubtless been explosions of violence in Srinagar and some other parts of the State. But then mobs of even 500 determined people can unleash serious street rioting, particularly when, as in Srinagar, they can emerge from scores of narrow lanes and bylanes — which police personnel find difficult to enter — and return after hurling stones and setting tyres on fire.

The ability to unleash street violence is often no indication of the support an organisation or leader commands among people at large, just as the size of pre-election rallies do not reflect the extent of a party's electorate support. A rally attended by 2,00,000 people looks impressive but the same number of people may not fetch one victory in a large Lok Sabha constituency. Nor may the support of 2,00,000 voters enable a party to win even five Vidhan Sabha seats.

To conclude from the violence in urban and semi-urban areas of Jammu & Kashmir that the entire State is in turmoil, or that the political process has failed in the State, would be unwise particularly since the successful holding of parliamentary and two Vidhan Sabha elections has clearly demonstrated the allegiance of the majority of the people to the Constitution of India and the political process unfolding under it, and their disenchantment with Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism.

This is not to argue that the political process in Jammu & Kashmir leaves no scope for improvement. But then no polity is perfect. To a very large extent the quality of political process in any given context depends on the participants. Unfortunately, most political parties in Jammu & Kashmir do not have a shining record in this area. The People's Democratic Party, actively led by Ms Mehbooba Mufti, certainly did not play a distinguished role in the recent troubles. The allegation that it has been lending a hand to the violence, which, as intelligence intercepts indicate, has been triggered from Pakistan, may or may not be true. But it certainly tends to derive credibility from the party's blatantly partisan stand, and its spurning of even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's appeal to join the recent all-party meeting convened to discuss the situation in the State.

No one can, of course, ignore the fact that a large section of the State's population nurses a deep sense of grievance and that the conduct of the police and security forces has by no means been above reproach. The situation in Jammu & Kashmir, however, had been steadily improving over the past several years and the last two State Assembly elections have been widely acknowledged to have been free and fair. Then why this sudden violence? Certainly the political process and the conduct of the police and security forces could not have nosedived so steeply, and in such a short span of time, as to have triggered a massive explosion like the one witnessed!

One must consider the geopolitical context in which the riots occurred for a clue. Significantly, these occurred when the turn of events in Afghanistan had put Pakistan in a most advantageous position in terms of ending the war there with a settlement that installs a Government that is under its thumb and denies India virtually any presence in that country. The escalation of rioting in Jammu & Kashmir began as Pakistan's clout started increasing with the growing feeling in Washington, DC that the war in Afghanistan was going nowhere and the only sensible course was to cut its losses and get out. Both Americans and representatives of the United Nations had been negotiating with a section of the Taliban for a long time. So had been President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.

Pakistan has carefully preserved Mullah Mohammed Omar's Afghan Taliban and the militia headed by Sirajuddin Haqqani which operates from North Waziristan with two objectives. The first is to position itself as the sole mediator in the negotiations between them and the United States and the Nato powers fighting in Afghanistan, and, in the process, swing a settlement that suits it. The second is to use them as strategic assets to push its agenda in Afghanistan to undermine any post-peace settlement that is not to its liking — which it had done in the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 by first promoting Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami and then the Taliban. And, of course, ever present in the background is its perennial objective of annexing Jammu & Kashmir.

The London Conference of January 28, 2010, which sought to draw up a road map for transferring Afghanistan's defence and governance to the Kabul Government in five years time, increasing the size of the latter's military and police force, providing funds for accelerated development and winning over elements of the Taliban which did not belong to the hard core and were prepared to abjure violence and links with Al Qaeda, suggested that Pakistan was set to have its way. Not only were its concerns adequately recognised but India was denied any role in the Afghan peace process and publicly humiliated by its Minister for External Affairs, Mr SM Krishna, being made to sit in the second of the three rows of seats for invitees.

Pakistan's morale must have been further boosted when Mr Karzai, under attack from the Americans and unsure of their will to victory, began reaching out to it. Its entire game plan would be upset if the US and its allies arrive at an Afghan settlement of which it is no part. And, given the huge trust deficit between it and the West and the paranoia of its ruling establishment, it cannot be sure that no such thing will happen, particularly since Washington is not willing to sign a peace deal before seeing whether it can win the war.

Hence its desperate hurry to get as much as it can while the going is good. That includes Jammu & Kashmir, particularly since the way in which India has resumed peace talks suggests weakness. Violence in the Kashmir Valley has been one of its favourite ways of unnerving New Delhi and generating Western pressure on it. 






When we have a problem that we cannot solve immediately, what do we usually do? Most of us worry. And this is self-defeating, because it does not do anything to solve our problems. Worrying is not the same thing as looking for solutions. That would involve some positive action and not keeping on thinking about unpleasant things that might happen. 

When faced with a problem, some of us may speak to a relative or a friend. This is helpful in two ways: A solution maybe forthcoming, and there is a sharing of the problem, which somewhat lessens its impact. However, there is the danger of showing ourselves in poor light in many cases before those we have confided in. 

Some people get depressed when faced with serious problems. They oversleep and tend to lose hope. They do nothing to solve their problem. This is a negative attitude. The fourth way out is to seek expert help, such as going to a doctor when someone falls sick. This is a sensible and constructive approach although help may not always be available. 

This is when we may opt for a fifth way of overcoming our obstacles — that of praying. Praying is not a sign of weakness but that of wisdom. We are controlled by the phenomenon of cause and effect but must remember that praying is also an act worthy of a result. If nothing else, a person who regularly prays with full faith will never become hopeless, tolerance and patience are only some of the qualities one develops when linked to god through prayer. 

Praying never means that one gives up the good fight. It means involving another party — god — who, unlike ordinary mortals, does not have any limitations. God may help directly by solving the problem or may inspire someone else to help us out who then becomes his medium. 

By praying, one breaks the habit of worrying. Some of us are like drug addicts, who worry compulsively even when we have no cause to do so. Isn't praying a boon in itself if we can at least achieve freedom from worrying?








The people of Delhi occasionally get reality checks on the state of their city. Over the past week there have been two, both caused by the monsoon. The usual blame game and excuses followed, but the deadly seriousness of this year's tamasha could not be missed. The much-hyped Commonwealth Games (CWG) is just three months away and though the government had seven years to prepare for it, Delhi is far from ready. It's not only the stadia which are incomplete, but the civic infrastructure of Delhi is still of medieval standards.

Saturday Special's focus this week goes beyond CWG. We are the first to raise the impolite question — who will be responsible for the coming financial and social disaster? 

Apart from development of the Games village and several competition/training venues, a large number of infrastructure projects have been undertaken to ensure the successful conduct of the events. CWG is described as an initiative that has the ability of not only giving the much needed thrust to Indian sports in particular and to the country's economy, but also to bring about a marked transformation in the social, economic and physical character of Delhi.

An important point that needs to be examined in this context is the decision to host the Games at a time when the country is lagging behind in numerous development parameters. For instance, the current state of urban development in India is a well-known story. The impact of planned efforts to improve the condition of towns and cities is not sufficiently visible and the quality of life in urban areas is worsening by the day. Important urban infrastructure and services including housing, public transport, electricity, water supply, drainage and sanitation are in a critical state, and the situation is miserable at most places. 

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and the Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme for Small and Medium Towns were launched by the Indian government in December 2005 to improve living conditions in urban areas. Substantial funds have been arranged for the development of infrastructure and services, as well as the implementation of a series of reforms to strengthen urban governance. A number of projects have been completed in various parts of the country and several others are in various stages of implementation. The progress under the Mission is, however, severely affected by the non-availability of sufficient funds. At a time when higher Central and State sector outlays are required for urban renewal across the country, the allocation of more than a billion rupees for CWG does seem disproportionate. It would have theeffect of crippling the overall national agenda of balanced urban development.

If one critically reviews the nature of arrangements being made for the October games other than the Games village and the sports venues, select parts/corridors of the city are being improved for the smooth conduct of Games. While such development is absolutely necessary considering the significance of the event, this should in no way be carried out at the cost of other far more important priorities. In this respect, one would like to ask: By when would the problems faced daily by the citizens be given due attention? 

Some of the salient problems are common to almost all urban areas. Chaotic conditions prevail on roads, railways stations and bus stands. Inadequate public transport systems, the poor quality of public transport vehicles and the proliferation of private vehicles have all made congestion and traffic jams a daily affair at peak hours. Intensifying the problems are the poor quality of roads, the infrastructure and poor traffic management. The dire shortage of housing has led to the skyrocketing of land and rental costs and the mushrooming of unplanned/unauthorised constructions and slum settlements. Huge quantities of solid waste have piled up over the generations due to the sheer neglect of waste management and pollution and environmental degradation have become the themes of the day. Urban infrastructure and service levels have long been on the decline and there is, of course, the rising rate of crime that is concomitant to endemic poverty.

Specifically, in the case of Delhi, it is observed that the number of slums is growing and living conditions of slum dwellers is pathetic. Such conditions have serious health implications. There is an immediate need of alternative modes of mass public transport such as trams to reduce the chaos on the streets since it is a given that the Delhi Metro would ultimately cover only select corridors. 

Water supply suffers from numerous problems including intermittent supply, inadequacy, inequity and poor quality. The condition of drainage deteriorates considerably during the rainy season and water pools are quite a common phenomenon. And the management of solid waste is abysmally poor especially in the peripheral parts of Delhi. 

The significance of the CWG has been examined by many. According to some, such events are likely to create severe financial problems for the national government. This has been noted in the case of cities such as Athens, Montreal, and Munich, which were caught in a debt trap. The impact is invariably passed on to the ordinary citizens since they are asked to pay higher taxes. Yet another adverse impact noted by analysts is the eviction of more than 1 lakh families from their homes to clear space for the provision of facilities, which is regarded as a clear violation of human rights against the homeless. It would have been fair on the part of the stakeholders to address such grey areas at the stage of planning the event.

It may be worthwhile for the nation to benefit from novel technologies and expertise being used in the development of numerous Games-related projects especially on functional bio-diverse landscaping, energy and water conservation, rainwater harvesting, superior drinking water quality, waste water treatment and re-use. There is immense need for the implementation of innovative measures to address urban problems across the country, and such initiatives may be widely undertaken at the same pace as is being done at present.


-- The writer is Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi






Olympics 2004 bled Greece white, Sydney still repays the debt from 2000 and Victoria continues to count the losses to CWG 2006. Delhi too is awaiting financial ruination, but the social disaster would be of unprecedented magnitude

There is no argument against the advantages of fuelled infrastructural growth. But when it takes the shape of a financial pogrom to cleanse the cities of its ordinary inhabitants and replace them with new elites, you know you are preparing for a power shift. The Rs 30,000-crore extravaganza called Commonwealth Games (CWG) will not mitigate the essential scarcities of the capital of India — housing, water, health, education, transport, employment. It will end up making Delhi the world's most expensive slum. 

A cursory look at the expenses of the CWG would raise your hackles: a popular TV channel recently said Rs 80,000 crore will be spent on the Games and allied improvements. Mani Shankar Aiyar, when he was Sports Minister, said in Parliament that the expected final bill would be in the region of Rs 60,000 crore. A city, which is unable to provide drinking water to half of its population; or house two-thirds of its population in decent homes, provide health services and education to a similar majority and which is battling crime and traffic chaos on a daily basis, bafflingly finds the money for this tamasha. Yet, a programme of national importance such as the UID Scheme headed by Nandan Nilekani has to be budget-halved because a trifling Rs 3,000 crore cannot be found.

The embarrassing spend on the CWG is just a case in point of an entire city being juiced so that the facilities could be spruced in accordance with the wishes of a committee which fulfills its own criteria of success. These hyper events invariably leave cities financially unsustainable. They cater to conditions that cause inflationary trends to solidify. In Delhi for instance, breakneck expansion of the Metro network and the speed to accommodate the deadline has caused property prices to soar manifold in colonies and neighbourhoods lining the routes. Thousands of hutments have been demolished in the name of beautification, but actually the demolitions were used to vacate prime property. It is a recorded fact that event-based development tends to push up property and service rates which refuse to depress once the event is over and add to the inflationary pressures of city living. It has been proved that as a corollary of this, a number of city residents are pushed out of the city towards the suburbs as property prices and rentals go out of reach. The capital of the socialist and secular republic of India (yes, the Preamble of the Indian Constitution says India is socialist and secular) is finally a capitalist's dreamboat. 

This time it is the widening cleavage between the rich and the poor, except that a reverse migration is taking place as against the one where people from poorer parts of the country come to settle in urban centres like Delhi. 

Now original residents of the city are leaving to take up residence in suburbs simply because they cannot sustain the cost of living in our metros or that the economic landscape simply pushes them out while the city looks for wealthier inhabitants to fill up the opening void. 

One would have accommodated this had CWG resulted in meaningful profits for the country. Actually, quite the opposite is foretold by the international experience. The experiences of Sydney and Greece are in the public domain now. The 2000 Olympics caused the housing sector of Sydney to witness sharp escalation. The acceleration of the sprucing up of the city, including renovation and rejuvenation of inner city housing stock, led to house prices more than doubling between 1996 and 2003. Between 1993 (when Sydney was selected as the host city of the 2000 Summer Olympic Games) and 1998, Sydney's rents increased 40 per cent, compared to Melbourne, the Australian city with the next biggest increase in rents, which was only 9.6 per cent over the same period. A report published in June 1998 stated that 160,000 Sydney households faced little choice but live on the city's fringe, leave Sydney altogether or pay more than 30 per cent of their incomes in rent closer to the city. Due to this, a "Homelessness Protocol" was introduced to ensure that homeless people were not subject to harassment. 

As for CWG, it's considered the least attractive of the Olympic family. Its only purpose is to remind the British royal family of its former glory. The few sporting world powers who belong to the grouping (Australia, New Zealand, Britain, etc.) use the CWG to try out new talent — the stars tend to stay away. So, its hardly surprising that CWG everywhere are loss making affairs. The 2006 round held in Victoria, Australia, was originally estimated at $ 200 million, but the Victoria government ended up incurring $ 2 billion. And it's still counting the losses.

For Australians, it was insult added to injury to learn that Olympiad 2000 had actually shortchanged the taxpayer. Sydney incurred an expense that was twice the original estimate of Rs 10,000 crore ($ 2.5 billion) and is yet to come out of the red. Greece, the organisers of the 2006 Games, is still paying up. The wider world woke up to the fact when the economic mess of Greece became a burden for entire Europe in early 2010. Economists found the roots of the disaster in Olympics profligacy. Like Delhi today, Greece too had hoped that "Olympic tourists" would descend on the original home of the Games and ensure profits for the host government. But they didn't realise that the Olympics is not a big deal any more. In the 21st century only one sporting event attracts tourists in viable numbers — World Cup football. For the Olympics and its clones — Asian Games, CWG, etc — finding buyers for even TV rights, what to talk of attracting tourists, is a pipe dream. Host country governments actually end up paying to make TV coverage available for couch potatoes worldwide. 

So a similar disaster awaits Delhi and India. But that doesn't bother doctrinaires of an economic system which takes the taxpayer for granted. Long before the balance sheet of the CWG-2010 is drawn up, a handful of corporate houses and their powerful political and bureaucratic backers would be rolling in money. 

And yet, in all this, the greatest fraud that was ever played on us is still the slew of enabling social justice laws aimed at spreading "inclusiveness" which have been thrown at us with such PR-sensitive precision that everyone is smacked into stupor. Mystified at their potential, we remain sedated by the scope and presentation of such shiny pieces of legislation with celebrity endorsers only to wake up and discover what we always knew — that they failed in implementation and were merely a conduit for currency transfers. But, by then, it would be election time again. 


Sanjay Kaul is the president of People's Action and a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party and can be reached on 






The infrastructure deficit in India's capital had become a matter of national embarrassment. But the CWG gave the government the impetus — and funds — to build Delhi anew and raise it to the status of an international city

Life will never be the same again for the residents of Delhi. Old timers may recall the qualitative leap in the infrastructure of the capital after the 1982 Asiad. Delhi got its first batch of flyovers thanks to that event. It is undeniable that hosting world sporting events give governments the opportunity to plan expansion of civic infrastructure and implement them within a time frame. While the event doubtless benefits the sports, sportsmen and organisers in terms of exposure and competitiveness, it's the common citizen who draws the long-term dividends.

How will Delhi change after October 2010? To begin with, the famous Connaught Place will have sparkling sidewalks reminding one of Europe. As part of the `Return to Heritage Project', the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) is revamping and redeveloping this landmark part of Delhi. This autumn 'New' New Delhi will have heritage sensitive signage, world-class lamp posts and walkways, 

aesthetic facades of shopping arcades, roads that are engineering marvels, drainage systems, world-class sewerage and reliable water supply. In short, everything to give visitors the impression that India has arrived as a world economic power. 

For everyday officegoers, the expanded network of Delhi Metro (200 km with 141 stations) would make commuting anywhere within the National Capital Region (NCR) an easy affair. The network would now spread between Chittaranjan Park and Noida; Dwarka to Ghaziabad and from Model Town to Gurgaon. And now that we have a brand new mass rapid transit system, reaching any corner of Delhi would be a matter of minutes. In addition, the city has a brand new fleet of air-conditioned buses. 

Driving in Delhi will become a pleasure. In recent years, Delhi's rising traffic congestion had become a source of worry. However, CWG gave the government the opportunity to upgrade the road infrastructure. The Delhi government drew some ambitious plans to build new flyovers and bridges to fight the traffic congestion of the city. The national capital has already seen massive transformation in terms of road infrastructure over the past few years. Now with the games due in a couple of months, Delhi would be ready with scores of flyovers and underpasses. It will present itself as a well-managed, clean city to set a shining example for the rest of the country. 

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has instructed officials to give priority to proper maintenance of flyovers and bridges and expedite the remaining construction. The new ones include one between IIT and NH-8 on Aruna Asaf Ali Marg. Nelson Mandela Marg and Rao Tularam Marg, at Naraina, Neela Hauz and an underpass connecting NH-24 to Lodi Road, an elevated east-west corridor connecting Connaught Place to East Delhi and underpass and cloverleaf at ITO Chungi. Similarly, a flyover and an underpass have been constructed at Anand Vihar and Ghazipur benefiting lakhs of commuters between Ghaziabad, Noida and Delhi. Flyover-cum-underpasses have also come up at Apsara border, Azadpur and Mukerba Chowk, and an overbridge near Shyam Lal College. 

The Games are expected to attract millions of visitors, including at least 3,500 athletes from 72 countries. Then there are the officials and media professionals who would be bringing with them valuable foreign exchange. Sports lovers from every corner of India would be in the capital to enjoy the Games. These tourists are going to shop in New Delhi for souvenirs, garments, food, etc. This could translate into a big boost for small business establishments. 

We are noticing new hotels coming up in every corner of Delhi/NCR and the existing hotels are expanding their capacities. A surge in tourist traffic comes with employment spinoffs. Even ordinary householders will be getting slices from the cake as a number of them have converted a part of their houses into guest apartments. The government's Bed and Breakfast Scheme has been prepared for this purpose. 

For young Delhiites, CWG is the harbinger of dreams. It is for them that the sports infrastructure is being developed and with world class facilities the sky is the limit. In fact, CWG is a dream come true for Indian sports lovers. After all, it's the largest sporting event after the Olympics. To host the Games of this stature is indeed a challenge. Delhi has truly risen to the occasion. 

The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium will be the hub. It will host the opening and closing ceremony and the athletic events. The Thyagaraja Sports Complex will serve as a multipurpose indoor stadium. Talkatora Stadium will be the venue for boxing. Major Dhyanchand Stadium will host hockey. Yamuna Sports Complex, Chhatrasal Stadium, Delhi University Grounds and the Siri Fort Complex would host other events. India Gandhi Indoor Stadium will host gymnastics and the Karni Singh Shooting Range will see shooters in action. 

Delhi's water problem was getting acute over the past decade. Thanks to the CWG, the Government of Delhi got funds to take historic steps to improve water supply with a long-term perspective. Against the current demand of 900 MGD, Delhi produces around 815 MGD of water which includes the production of 140 MGD from the state-of-the-art Sonia Vihar Water Treatment Plant. 

The current peak demand for power in Delhi is about 4,700 MW and production is less than 1,000 MW. The rest is borrowed or traded. But with fresh infusion of funds for refurbishment of the existing plants at Bawana and Bamnauli, coupled with a brand new generating station at Jhajjar coming up in the joint venture with Haryana government, Delhi could become, in the words of Sheila Dikshit, a truly "powerful state".

 The author is Chief Reporter, The Pioneer 







There's honour among poachers. Home to some of India's biggest infotech names, Pune's Hinjewadi IT park is proof. The IT sector's cut-throat competitors have always specialised in talent heists. But several top firms now want some soul put into scalp-hunting. They've reportedly reached an understanding: they'll hire from one another only if the recruits-in-transit serve out notice periods with previous employers. Salaries lost through unfulfilled contractual obligations won't be covered by head-hunters. Plus, new employees must produce letters confirming termination of services from the ditched companies. In short, let mian-biwi both be raazi about the modalities of professional divorce. 

Pune's emerging code of ethics is a model for the pan-Indian IT fraternity. The slowdown-hit sector has seen heavy attrition. It's estimated that IT could be losing nearly $2 billion annually courtesy workers' exits, in terms of productivity drain and replacement costs. Necessity, then, is the mama mia of invention, peace pacts between brain-drainers included. Only, job-hoppers are devastated. Imagine: no more corporate lures like half a year's supply of pre-paid pizzas. Ugh. Life without extra toppings. 

Last heard, our netas are studying the Pune pact. With a similar accord in the party-splitters' paradise that is politics, they could exult. For instance, who'd care if the Bellary brothers threatened to carry off 'supporters' from among BJP MLAs to patrons elsewhere? A Pune-like pact between political outfits would stop unscrupulous cadre theft. Deserters would need to give (and serve) notices. And they'd require written permission to leave. With mining turned a mine-field, the Karnataka CM could then rest easy. No matter how many agitating opposition MLAs held pyjama parties at the state assembly or where Bellary's siblings went, he'd never face the fate of the JD(S)'s wrecked boat in the past. And the mining barons would find new job offers harder to extract than iron ore. 

Bengal's Left too could make notice periods a hammer-and-sicken policy against straying flock. And, by staging frequent Bangla bandhs, it could keep its offices closed in order to delay issuance of dismissal letters. The coming into effect of pink slips for Trinamool-bound turncoats could then be timed with a red-letter day: the one after the assembly polls! The Congress, on its part, could tame Andhra's ever-Reddy yatri. Rumour has it he may run away with quite a few MLAs if the town cries of "CM Jagan!" get any louder. But let's say he sought a promotion elsewhere. How'd he get the CM's gaddi if no other parties gave him the blessings (read numbers)? 

If only netas themselves realised the worth of their work stations. Oscar Wilde once said: "The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one." Some don't need to imagine it. Like a just-reinstated BJP prodigal who no longer says: Jinnah bhi do yaaron. Rat-racers often discover it's a jungle out there. A Pune pact variant in rajneeti would help make movement of labour between rival parties orderly, with all horse-traders, neta-abductors and post-danglers laid off. What would that mean for politics? Jungle mein mangal.








Violent images from Kashmir filled television screens last week. So let's look at the tally. Seven Naxal-affected states, disturbances in all seven northeastern states and, of course, the ever-present strife in Kashmir - 15 of India's 28 states have violent internal conflicts at present. In addition, we also have religious/caste/regionalism-based violence in other parts of the country. If that's not enough, add honour killings to that list. While no one strife dominates, we are probably living in one of the most violent times in independent India. This in 2010, when India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, when we have a relatively stable government and we see more affluence around us than any other time. Three questions come to mind: What's going on? Where will all this lead to? Most importantly, what can be done about it? 

The answer to the first question - what's going on? - can be the same cynical response, that this is what India is. Blame the politicians, corrupt officials, illiterate voters and that seems to answer the question. The question can also be answered by a usual 'who cares', especially for us city dwellers who don't really see the impact of these 15-odd conflicts. The Naxalites haven't attacked our five-star hotels, cinemas and train stations (yet) and the north-east movements are tucked away too far to be noticed. 

However, we have to care. Because the next question - where will all this lead to? - is simply not being discussed enough. 

Fact is, despite liberalisation, the benefits are not reaching Indians. Yes, they reach the top 10 per cent of Indians. However, they do not reach the other 90 per cent. In fact, these Indians get the worst of badly implemented capitalism - inflation kills their savings and purchasing power, their land gets stolen by corporates, their politician cares only about the rich guys. They are no advertiser's target group, so the media dismisses them and they don't get a voice. Every now and then, a politician comes and tosses cheap rice or wheat at them, keeps them alive on drip-feed, and hopes to swing some votes. Our rural poor never see the benefits of liberalisation. 

Add to this poor education, archaic caste-based social discrimination, poorly implemented welfare policies and a general lack of job opportunities, and it leads to a kind of passive frustration that urban people can never understand. The leaders of these movements apparently do, and that is why a youth with his whole life ahead of him takes up guns against the state and becomes a rebel. 

So while we might debate endlessly on whether the CRPF is adequate to fight the Naxals, and whether the army is doing a good job in Kashmir or not, the fact is that in these discussions we are only addressing the symptoms. We are trying to bring the fever down while the infection is what needs to be cured. We don't need Crocin, we need strong antibiotics. And unless the rural or underprivileged Indian youth sees a better life coming, the infection is only going to grow. From 15 states, we could have all 28 states infected. Trouble is brewing, and the cities are ignoring it. 

The final question - what can be done about it? - is what we need to spend most of our time on. For one, better politicians who are committed to developing their local areas need to be elected. However, currently they can't. In the interiors, the single-most important critieria for voting is caste. No matter how capable a candidate, if you aren't matching the voter's caste, you will not get his vote. In such a scenario, there is no incentive for a candidate to do a good job. Managing his caste alliances is the only real qualification. And since most of our candidates come from the interiors, we end up with a bunch of politicians that give us the India we have today. How will this change? The city-rural connection needs to be made significantly stronger. Our most educated and modern-thinking people are in the cities. While still a small proportion of the total population, these educated people can be ambassadors for a new India in the villages. 

One suggestion is to use the massive youth student population. A radical move - such as exchange programmes between city and rural colleges - where every city student spends time in the villages, and vice versa, will help a lot. This needs to be done on a massive scale. The city students will spend time in the villages and infuse modern values there, and come back home with a better understanding of rural issues. There can be other similar ideas - incentivising MNCs to base themselves in smaller towns is another one. Sure, there will be lots of challenges but, frankly, there is no other way out. Unless we truly reform the core of our country, things will never really change. 

One insurgency curtailed will turn into another, TV anchors will scream, politicians will offer a Crocin and the infection will continue to spread. Surely, that's not the India we want to leave behind for the next generation. It's time to pop the antibiotics and, most importantly, stay and complete the course. 

The writer is a best-selling novelist.







WASHINGTON : She was then a young IAS officer on her first posting in charge of a subdivision in a district of West Bengal. Today, she is a globetrotting development executive assisting efforts to alleviate abject misery in impoverished societies. 

At a dinner the other night in a suburb of this town, the discussion veered round to a new measure of poverty devised by scholars on behalf of Oxford University and UNDP. As reported in the media, by that new measure, just eight states - Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal - have more desperately poor people, at 421 million, than the 26 poorest African countries combined, at 410 million. And she, understandably declining to be named, told us a telling tale of measuring poverty. 

It was 1993. New Delhi had asked various states to "enumerate" poor people and the West Bengal government had ordered each district to come up with a figure. The districts in turn had asked the gram panchayats to produce data. And so they did. 

When the exercise was over, the figures were tallied in a conference in Calcutta with the then chief minister, Jyoti Basu, presiding. As the numbers began to come up, officials realised that something was not quite right. It seemed the grassroots level officials had assumed that the more poor people they could show the more would be the money flowing into their coffers. As a result, some districts had totted up embarrassingly high figures; Burdwan, for instance, apparently had tallied numbers that came up to 104 per cent of the entire population of the district! 

This won't do, Jyoti Basu declared. The state government could not claim that after 16 years in power it had run up higher numbers of poor people than the state had in 1977. He ordered his ministers to solve the conundrum. Which they did, somewhat arbitrarily, by adjusting numbers for each district until the total figure looked sufficiently high to persuade New Delhi to send money but not excessively bloated. 

On the way back to her district headquarters, our young IAS officer gave a ride in her car to the head of one village council. "Madam Sir," he said, "this property line is difficult to understand. It goes up one day, comes down the next, and then goes up again, just like the power supply." She told the confused gentleman that it was the "poverty" line they were discussing, not the "property" line, and attempted to explain the numerical gyrations. It was then that she realised the village council head had actually grasped the concept with the correct degree of scepticism. 

Measuring the number of poor people living in India has proven notoriously hard over the decades. The Union government comes up with a figure, which it swears is the right one and which shows a clear downward trajectory, particularly in the first decade of the 21st century. Others have come up with much higher figures emerging from other models of measurement. The World Bank, relying largely on the reported findings of the government, agrees that the number of those living below the poverty line of $1.25 earnings a day is declining, as the government says, but is markedly higher than official estimates. 

The newly created Multidimensional Poverty Index cited earlier found half the world's poor people live in South Asia, the largest number being in those eight Indian states mentioned above. This index drew inspiration from Amartya Sen's idea of using 'deprivation', and not just daily income, while measuring poverty. 

I think we can all agree that India has an embarrassingly high number of poor people. Even the sunny estimates say that the number may be 300 million, which is almost the entire population of the United States. True, that number is coming down slowly. True, we also have the world's second highest number of billionaires. But, borrowing terms used by that perceptive village council chief, if the property line keeps rising faster than the rate at which the poverty line declines, we are heading for trouble. Rising expectations from growing prosperity can explode in our faces if we can't rapidly ensure visible fairness in growth. Some fear it is already happening. 







For something that's really just a bit of a squiggle - a combination of the letters denoting the R sound in two scripts, Devanagari and English - the new symbol for the Indian rupee carries a lot of weight. As it stands now, only four currencies have symbols that are synonymous with them internationally - the US dollar, British pound, Japanese yen and European euro. They connote strong economies and global currencies. That should make the power of symbolism clear, and the benefits of India joining this exclusive club. 

Admittedly, the Indian economy, despite its heavyweight status on the basis of sheer size, is not yet as globally relevant as some of the others. But it's swiftly getting there. At over a trillion dollars, it is a powerhouse not just in Asia but internationally. Its performance during the global recession has only enhanced its standing. Factor in its G20 membership and expanding international trade, service and investment flows, and its cachet has never been as high. What better time to exploit this and play up India's global face and the weight of its economy by coining this symbol? 

The object of the entire exercise is to leverage the prestige and the symbolism that having a monetary symbol denotes. It will also be useful shorthand for distinguishing the Indian rupee from the similarly named currencies of its South and East Asian neighbours. India's political leadership is often criticised for lacking ambition for the country. Launching the rupee symbol, however, sends a clear signal about the direction in which it wants to take India and the role India sees for itself in the global economy and world affairs. When so much in Indian politics is insular, this needs to be welcomed. Symbols are important too. The rupee symbol establishes a brand for India which can help shape reality, especially when leveraged well with appropriate actions. 








Since the announcement of the decision to adopt a unique symbol for the Indian rupee, members of the government have been proffering platitudes to justify the resolution. They say that the new symbol is representative of India's growing economic clout, a mark of India's ambitions, an icon of India's civilisational contribution to the world, and a sign that the Indian economy is ready to take the world by storm. Unfortunately, there is hardly any justification for the optimism. 

The basic reason why a currency would have its own unique symbol is so that it can be easily distinguished in global financial transactions. That's why only the US dollar, the Japanese yen, the British pound and the euro are identified with specific symbols. These are the most freely convertible currencies in the world. The majority of international financial transactions take place through them. On the other hand, the Indian rupee is nowhere as convertible. We still don't have full capital account convertibility, which would allow free transaction of capital assets in rupees. This, coupled with the fact that nobody is even remotely willing to treat the rupee as a reserve currency, is a clear indication that the Indian currency simply doesn't have the same heft as the big four. 

It is all very well to come up with a character that combines Devanagari and Roman scripts and foist it on the world. But is there any justification for this exuberance? We might be posting over 8 per cent GDP growth, but continue to be plagued by a huge rural-urban divide, high unemployment rates, farmer suicides and chronic hunger. In this background, advertising our 'economic might' to the world is not only ironical but also downright hypocritical. We are simply kidding ourselves if we think the world will eagerly take to the new rupee symbol. 









External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, an avid tennis player, joked that he might even squeeze in a game as talks got underway with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Islamabad. But he proved inept in fending off a savage volley when Pakistan sought to equate Home secretary G.K. Pillai with Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) chief Hafiz Saeed after the former spoke of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence's (ISI) involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Absurd as the comparison was, it is symptomatic of the fact there is very little meeting ground between the two sides, notwithstanding all the hype that preceded Mr Krishna's visit.


The Pakistanis appeared determined to erase any point of convergence going to the extent of saying that Mr Krishna received instructions from New Delhi throughout the talks, as if to suggest that this was somehow subversive. Perhaps the one truth that Mr Qureshi reiterated is that Pakistan has its own interests and that India should understand this. Clearly, Islamabad has a crucial interest in sweeping under the carpet the compelling evidence that India has provided about the role of the LeT and the ISI in terror acts in India. Pakistan's efforts to portray Saeed as nothing more than a preacher is of a piece with its belief that pushing the Haqqani faction of the Taliban into a power-sharing agreement in Kabul will give it greater leverage in the region. Its own ally in the war, the US has sought to blacklist the Haqqani group, something that's agitated Pakistan enormously.


Now that the meet in Islamabad has been derailed, it would be more credible to wait for a real change in intent from Islamabad before embarking on another confidence-building visit. If, as Pakistan tells the world, it is more a victim of terror than India, it would be well-advised to address that than the liberation of Kashmir or engaging with the Taliban. The same people who have got sanctuary in Pakistan have never hesitated from turning on it when things don't go their way. But diplomatically speaking, it's advantage Pakistan with India's silence being misinterpreted to mean complicity in the attack on the home secretary. Mr Qureshi's over-the-top response to the home secretary's remark should have been clear indication that Pakistan did not expect anything concrete from the talks except notching up a few brownie points. At least, Mr Krishna could have defended India's corner, but unfortunately, Pakistan had already scored a diplomatic victory, though a pyrrhic one.







This month it will be 50 years since the world beheld its first woman prime minister. I was about 14 and knew but little of Ceylon when I read the banner story   'Bandaranaike shot'. 'Will he live?' was the first question that crossed my teenage mind gripped by the description of the outrage and of the stricken prime minister rushing in from the verandah of his home, calling out "Sirima, Sirima!" That must have been the first time the world outside of the island really heard of her. India had seen her visiting with her husband. Prime Minister Nehru, ever the one to take a watchful host's interest in the families of visiting heads of government and State, must have warmed to this traditional Kandyan woman and her three children, beside the westernised prime minister of Ceylon.


Speaking in chiselled English, Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike ('SWRD') soared with his words and ideas. In contrast, she was very much on and off the ground. When reports from Colombo suggested that the sudden vacuum created by SWRD's succumbing to the attack may get to be filled by none other than the demure 44-year-old Sirimavo Bandaranaike, there was surprise. How would she manage? At that stage in her life Sirimavo was what wives of prime ministers are taken to be — non-persons to be greeted and spoken to in thought-free courtesy and then, duty done, forgotten. But soon, a patronising appreciation replaced the earlier surprised scepticism.


The new PM was conducting herself at discussions with ease, if also with modesty; her English was plain but effective, her thinking sharp, her grasp of 'hard' issues sharper, and she was 'growing into her office' remarkably well and fast. Sirimavo discovered the prime minister in herself and invented herself in the prime minister. Where she made an early and acknowledged mark was in her clear realisation that in governance, in diplomacy and in the many dimensions of political leadership, the surest guide is one's own instinct. To Sirimavo Bandaranaike also belongs the credit of consolidating something that had been 'started' earlier by Dudley Senanayake, namely, the principle of a next of kin succeeding a leader in political office. Outside of monarchic arrangements, a leadership vacuum being filled by a next of kin amid acclaim, and then legitimised in free and fair elections, is and will remain a Sirimavo accomplishment and a Sirimavo contribution to the dynamics of political succession in South Asia.


Few could have anticipated Sirimavo's role in the Asia of 1962 and in the non-aligned world. After China announced a ceasefire on the Sino-Indian border, a settlement of the border question could have been expected to come; it did not. Indeed, it could not, given the circumstances. Sirimavo, just over two years' old in prime ministership, invited the governments of five other non-aligned countries — Burma, Cambodia, Ghana, Indonesia and the United Arab Republic — for a discussion on the situation. A set of 'Colombo Proposals' emerged, which India accepted, establishing the PM of Ceylon on the Asian stage, with intercontinental salience.


Bilaterally, India saw Sirimavo take up with verve the question of Ceylon's 'Stateless' Tamils of Indian origin. The issue pertaining to these hard-working men and women on the island's tea and rubber plantations had defied solution for years, with Nehru saying that they "are or should be citizens of Ceylon". In 1964, discussions between Sirimavo and India's new PM Lal Bahadur Shastri led to a policy change culminating in the Sirimavo-Shastri Agreement. This agreement divided that population between the (smaller) number that Ceylon would accept and the (larger) number that would be repatriated to India, the fate of the balance to be decided on a later date. Who stays and who leaves was to be determined by choice — in theory, a voluntary exercise.


But with the 'quotas' determined and the stayers' quota quickly over-subscribed, the agreement lost its voluntarism and became a fait accompli for the plantation workers, with the stayers feeling relieved and the leavers bewildered by the abyss of uncertainty ahead. The Sirimavo-Shastri Agreement was compounded the following decade by a Sirimavo-Indira Agreement in which the 'residuaries' were shared half-and-half between India and Sri Lanka, in another diplomatic accomplishment for Sirimavo. These two agreements, and the decisions on the islet of Kachchativu, showed the world's first woman PM handling negotiations with her Indian counterparts (both newer than her in prime ministership) with the confidence of a 'senior' PM albeit of the 'smaller' neighbour. Size is one thing, strength another.


Sirimavo Bandaranaike lost office around the same time as Indira Gandhi did in 1977, in a democratic corrective to Emergency Rule. Sirimavo then had her civil rights taken away by President Jayewardene, seen by many as Prime Minister Morarji Desai's Lankan equivalent. But the very populace that had voted Sirimavo out, disapproved of that extreme 'punishment' and returned her to power.


Which reminds me that Sirimavo had a striking head and a strikingly broad forehead. And her face, prime ministerial or not, one could not pass by without feeling, 'What an unusual person'. Shortly after assuming duties as High Commissioner for India in September 2000, I called on her in her Rosmead Place residence, the same house SWRD had been assassinated in. She was physically weak. But the stroke she had suffered hadn't got the better of her mind. Her forehead glowed, her voice though soft, had a resonance to it. "How is Delhi?" she asked. The question could have meant many things. And then turning to the Indian High Commissioner's house in Colombo — India House — she said, "Large house, lovely garden." I asked her to visit. "Will be glad to do so," she said. But that was not to be.


On October 10, less than a month after my calling on her, she was gone. It was a polling day. She was returning home after casting her vote in Horagolla when she took ill and was given treatment in a small medical centre that happened to be on the way. But it was too late. I reached the house as the lifeless form was being brought in. It was significant (I told the family) that a person whose voting rights had been taken away should have ended her career as a democratically-elected leader, just after casting her vote. "With voters' ink fresh on her finger," Sunethra, her eldest-born, added poignantly. "She was no ordinary woman," said the younger daughter, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Sirimavo's and SWRD's only son, Anura, came straight from electioneering, crushed.


Sirimavo had, barely a few hours earlier voted in the constituency he was contesting from, but from a party's that was not hers. Such is democracy. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was no ordinary woman. But this wasn't just because she was the world's first woman prime minister.


Gopalkrishna Gandhi was Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka from 2000 to 2002. This is a revised version of an essay in a volume being issued in Sri Lanka to mark 50 years of Sirimavo Bandaranaike becoming prime minister. The views expressed by the author are personal







A week ago, the video site YouTube announced a service upgrade that could change the dynamics of the film industry. But it did it so quietly that only a few online video fans noticed. And most of those who did got mad because they couldn't run it on their home computers. Wonder why they even tried, because it wasn't for the home user at all.


YouTube has hiked the permissible resolution of its videos way beyond HDTV standards to 4k. That's twice the number of pixels you see on an IMAX theatre screen. The 4k format needs serious bandwidth and video processing power to stream smoothly, and a screen at least 25 feet across. And as far as I know, the Red One is the only cine camera which can shoot at this resolution.


So why is YouTube supporting a rare and slightly futuristic standard? Perhaps because Google, which owns YouTube, wants to get into the movie distribution business. Films have been distributed electronically since 2005, when the first standards were published by Digital Cinema Initiatives, a joint venture of MGM, Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Sony, Universal and Disney. The industry likes it because it will save billions of dollars by distributing on rewritable magnetic and optical media instead of film. And now, it looks like YouTube wants to take the phenomenon online, backed by the biggest search engine, Google.


Financially, online distribution holds up because computer communications get cheaper over time. We can't expect a revolution right away but maybe five years from now, the cost of gigabyte internet could fall so low that it would be cheaper to send an encrypted video to movie theatres over the wire than to courier it on disk. YouTube, which currently has a 10.59 minute time limit on clips because it's still so expensive to host and stream video, is already used by filmmakers to host promos and trailers. And when bandwidth costs fall, it — or one of its competitors — could become an online distributor, with interesting implications for the film industry.


Limited or occasional releases would become possible, erasing the contentious distinction between art cinema and the mainstream. Independent cinema would not have to be discovered on the festival circuit and then sink into celebrated obscurity for want of a commercial release. The power of discovery would lie with the audience, where it belongs, and word of mouth would become the most significant element of promotion.


Cinema shovels the goods to the viewer down the distribution pipeline, pushing it with an overwhelming publicity blitz. And then, all too often, the audience is underwhelmed and the film flops. But online distribution opens up the possibility of staggered releases to test the waters as they go along, which would prevent embarrassing bomb-outs like Raavan. And most significantly, it puts choice in the hands of the audience, who would be voting with their wallets and their social networks.


How much choice? Well, if you're dying to see a truly obscure Suomi cult epic on the big screen, you can. All you have to do is harvest a theatre-load of like-minded friends off Facebook, rent a show in a theatre and pay for a download. Easier than piracy and much more comfortable.


Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine. The views expressed by the author are personal








When T.J. Joseph, a lecturer in Kerala's Idukki district "paid with his hand" for purportedly insulting the Prophet in an exam paper he set, it drew the national spotlight to the Popular Front of India, an extremist Muslim organisation that specialises in such acts of brutality. The PFI (formerly the National Development Front) was formed in the seething post-Babri cauldron ofthe early '90s. Though its SIMI antecedents are well known and its clash with the RSS and CPM has torn the region apart, the PFI positions itself as a crusader for the Muslim cause. But despite its venturing into softer outreach activities, its repressive social agenda and its ruthless violence make it a dreaded end of Kerala's political spectrum.


Both the Congress and the Left in Kerala are guilty of creating this spectre — the CPM has previously used it to dilute support for the Congress-allied Indian Union Muslim League, only to have it turn on them. The Congress is now toeing the PFI line, using it to beat up on the government's crackdown after the Joseph incident, claiming that the CPM holds the entire local Muslim community responsible for extremism. On the other hand, its own ally, the IUML, has accused the CPM of going soft on the PFI.


Low political point-scoring of this kind has ensured that the PFI swells in power and importance, and it becomes increasingly difficult to separate and deal with the murderous ideology of parts of the PFI without contending with the entire Muslim community. The Congress is especially culpable, having taken this cynical and destructive tack time and again. It does Kerala's Muslims no favours by shielding criminality.







After the Lok Sabha elections in 2009 and again after the local body polls last May, one was left wondering how the Left Front government's writ would run in West Bengal thereon. But over the past one year the fact that has made itself nakedly manifest is the total lack of interest of the ruling dispensation in governing: no longer a question of inability but of unwillingness. This shirking of responsibility by ministers, entrenched bureaucrats and the police has aggravated the tense political situation and helped the forces of anarchy. Reports of political violence and the deterioration of law and order no longer elicit consternation. Is this how things fall apart when a Goliath falls, a Goliath that's reigned so long and so absolutely that when it crumbles the earth opens up and swallows everything?


Unfortunately, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee cannot afford trite philosophising. It must add to his embarrassment that now it's his own party and Left colleagues putting him in the dock — as did the Left Front's acting chief whip and CPM MLA Rabin Mandal in the state assembly on Thursday, cornering Bhattacharjee (also the home minister) on the performance of the police. Nevertheless, this state of affairs is a comment on the CPM's three-decade long institutional capture and manipulation, its demolition of the democratic edifice and delegitimisation of the notion of competence. At its weakest, even the party's hitherto staunchly loyal police are either awaiting orders that don't come or not listening, to avoid "retribution" after the 2011 assembly polls.


This is no way to run a state. The Bhattacharjee government will legitimately be in power for another year. But since it doesn't intend to govern, the CM might as well advance the polls and let a new administration, of whichever persuasion, take over with a fresh mandate. After all, from the CM to his industries minister, Nirupam Sen, or his fisheries minister, Kiranmoy Nanda, the despondency is clear. Instead of prolonging their agony, they could engage in battle and hope for an unambiguous outcome, one way or the other.







July, it would seem, is the cruellest month for Indo-Pak diplomacy. External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna's visit to Islamabad this week is bound to join the list of earlier fiascos in Agra (July 2001) and Sharm el-Sheikh (July 2009). Even by the dismal standards of Indo-Pak diplomacy, the joint press appearance by Krishna and his host Shah Mehmood Qureshi in Islamabad on Thursday and what followed after on Friday records a new political low. Until Thursday afternoon, it appeared that the two ministers were close to agreeing on ways to build mutual trust, cooperate against terror, and identify a roadmap for the resumption of the peace process that had been stalled since the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008.


Yet by the evening, there was the ugly spectacle of the two ministers trading charges on a range of issues — from Kashmir to Balochistan and from human rights to terrorist infiltration — at their joint press conference. If there was any goodwill left, it was shredded on Friday morning by the intemperate Qureshi who blamed the mild-mannered Krishna and Indian intransigence for the failure of the talks. It is a pity that Krishna's visit which began on such a positive note on Wednesday should end in terrible recrimination on Friday. As he landed in Delhi, Krishna chose, rightly, not to get down into the gutter with Qureshi. But there is no doubt that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's determined effort to put Indo-Pak relations back on track has been set back again. Unlike many previous Indo-Pak engagements, this meeting was carefully prepared. The two sides had already done much of the spadework for a joint statement that would bridge the concerns of the two sides — the Indian demand for early action against the plotters of 26/11 and Pakistan's case for a sustained dialogue. The government had briefed opposition leadership as well as the parliamentary standing committee on its approach to the talks and the expected outcomes.


Krishna's visit has once again revealed how accident-prone Indo-Pak diplomacy is. While Islamabad takes much blame for the latest turn of events, Delhi can't avoid its share. The Pakistan army might apparently have seized on Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai's remarks, published in this newspaper, about the involvement of the ISI in the Mumbai attacks to disrupt the talks. But there is no denying Delhi's incoherence in managing the admittedly difficult negotiation process. Good intentions alone will not take the PM to his chosen goal of transforming Indo-Pak relations. He needs to get his government to think and act with greater unity of purpose on Pakistan.








 If you dozed off while being driven through the city of Bangalore, you could end up thinking you were in New Delhi, or Lucknow, depending on where your slumber breaks. If it is in the main commercial area, or the Bangalore equivalent of a downtown where the work on the Metro is moving at an admirable pace, you could mistake it for some part of pre-Commonwealth Games New Delhi. But if you are anywhere close to the Vidhan Soudha, the state Assembly, you might, rather, think of Lucknow's state assembly in a period of particularly bad political turmoil. Only here it looks even more dramatic than UP-style politics, minus, of course, the violence. No MLAs have been beaten up yet, no microphones flung, but for four days now, opposition MLAs have been squatting in the Assembly, even sleeping there. And that was after they staged a dramatic protest by appearing in miners' bright yellow hard hats, to draw attention to illegal mining.


Whatever the MLAs of any party, ruling or opposition, choose to cover their heads or any other part of their bodies with, the state of Karnataka politics, at least as far as the mining-mafia-competition nexus goes, can only be described in that Urdu metaphor, hamaam mein sab hi nangey, which loses most of its sting in translation: everybody is naked in this bath-house (extensively documented in The Indian Express investigative series, 'The Independent Republic of Reddys', started on March 16). A Congress government gave out the initial mining leases, Gowda and his JD(S) added to them, and the BJP expanded them geographically and politically by even including the biggest mining barons in this cabinet — and thereby closing the circle that makes the humongous mining scandal the only truly bipartisan (or tripartisan if you want to be literally precise) activity currently going on in Karnataka.


Then why is everyone fighting over this scandal so bitterly? Why is the opposition, both Congress and Deve Gowda's JD(S), being so self-righteous and demanding a CBI probe? How come the chief minister himself is stating on the floor of the House that illegal mining is a shocking reality? How come Governor H.R. Bhardwaj, who is never tired or retired from running political intrigues, is becoming so actively involved, stretching and rewriting his constitutional powers? And most importantly, what is happening to the one man who chose to blow the whistle on the scandal and nearly paid for it with his job, the state's Lokayukta and former Supreme Court Judge Santosh Hegde?


The contradictions and confusions of Karnataka politics get curiouser and curiouser. Just three weeks ago, Hegde had resigned complaining that the state government was not letting him exercise his constitutional powers and was even sabotaging his investigations into the mining scandal by victimising one of the most honest, effective officers assisting him. Today as I write this lounging in the wonderful Infosys campus in Mysore, the chief minister is with the governor, extolling the personal and institutional virtues and powers of the same Lokayukta his government had done its best to render ineffective.


There is nobody better than Hegde himself to resolve this confusion. And he does it with an experienced jurist's precision in conversation with me for NDTV's Walk the Talk. Everybody in the opposition, he explains, is one in demanding that the CBI take over the investigation from him because they are afraid that he will go deeper into the scandal, to its very roots, and leaders of both the Congress and the JD(S) could come out looking just as bad as the BJP's if not the worse. The chief minister and the BJP, on the other hand, have suddenly fallen in love with an upright Lokayukta whose lunch they would rather have spiced with cyanide until last week, because they think he will at least be fair and even-handed. Much fairer, in any case, than the CBI that nobody trusts, except with doing the bidding of its political masters of the day. So just as the Congress thinks that the arrival of the CBI would protect them, the BJP thinks it will victimise them, to the exclusion of both their predecessors. And so they have turned into Hegde's fans, besides discovering such touching faith in the institution of the Lokayukta that they were systematically dismantling so far.


The most remarkable somersault, of course, has come from Deve Gowda, as you would expect. He is now demanding a CBI probe with the mining scam, but in 2006 when his son led the ruling coalition, he had preferred to go with the Lokayukta instead, describing the CBI under the Congress as Chor Bachao Institution and Conspiracy, Browbeating and Intimidation.


Under the circumstances, the choice should be very clear. The Karnataka end of what is probably India's longest continuing scandal, running through the tenure of five chief ministers, should be left to its Lokayukta to unravel. He has the skill, stature and the motivation to get to the bottom of it. There is no need for the CBI which had better prove its credentials first by solving minor murders like poor teenager Arushi's in Noida. If the prime minister is paying attention to the mess in Karnataka, he would also do well to caution his own party and its governor, given the fact that stability in Karnataka is so crucial for Bangalore, and for India's economy. Whether he, or Sonia, are willing to let the investigation be expanded to dig out its root in neighbouring, Congress-run states like Andhra and even Goa, is a different issue, and may be an impossible task.


But the task for the BJP's own leadership is not that difficult. For a party that got its first taste of big power in 1998, its inability to come to terms with it is truly amazing. Inexperience can no longer be any excuse for a party that has ruled six years at the Centre and controlled 10 states now, directly or in coalition. But its own national leadership's record in handling their chief ministers is so poor, it makes the Congress high command look brilliant, demanding, and magnanimous in comparison. They allow more palace intrigue than the Congress, where the chief minister has to please no more than one or two "bosses" in Delhi. The BJP chief minister's life is much more challenging, as Vasundhara Raje discovered in the past, and Yeddyurappa is dealing with today. So either a BJP chief minister has to be like Modi who only indulges his high command as he pleases, or like Shivraj Singh Chouhan who with his meek schoolboy demeanour keeps everybody happy, particularly the RSS. If just a mining mafia can divide the BJP top brass so badly that it sacrifices its first and only government in the South, it must either be stronger than we think, or the BJP leadership more vacuous than we suspect.








 The Internet, we know, is deeply skewed towards content in English and other languages of the global North. Wikipedia is not immune to these inequalities, and this was a topic of fervent discussion at this year's Wikimania, which recently concluded at Gdansk in Poland. It is an annual gathering, organised by the Wikimedia Foundation, of Wikipedia contributors who meet and discuss the state of various projects, and chart a course for the future.


What was dramatic was the scale of the Wikimedia Foundation's plans. It aims to increase reach to 680 million unique visitors globally by 2015 (from the current 388 million). The aim is to achieve a 12 per cent annual growth in the global South, and 4 per cent annual growth in the global North; in other words, India figures large in Wikipedia's next growth spurt.


Jimmy Wales' keynote address focused on this theme and he did video interviews with active Wikipedians from the Bangla and Tamil Wikipedia, buttressing the foundation's focus on the smaller languages and varied geographies represented within Wikipedia projects. Among other things, the foundation aims to foster the growth of smaller Wikipedias — by 2015, the aim is to have 100 Wikipedia language versions with more than 120,000 "significant articles" each. It also plans to bootstrap community programmes in key geographies:


India, Brazil, the Middle East/ North Africa.


Two presentations highlighted the challenges and the possibilities ahead. Achal Prabhala, a Wikimedia advisory board member, expressed the need for local representative bodies, or chapters, in countries which were linguistically under-represented. His larger point is that there is a distinct relationship between local growth and the existence of local chapters and that geographies in the South present enormous prospects for growth. They also present prospects for an increase in scope — which could mean, in turn, new ways for Wikimedia to grow the world over. On a cautionary note, Harel, from Wikipedia Israel, spoke of his experiences, that have been contrary to expectations, where local Wikimedia chapters may find themselves in adversarial relationships with local Wikipedian communities and that there is often a trust deficit between the two sides. He spoke of the need for local chapters to treat editing communities as peers and equals. Chapters are meant to do outreach, he cautioned, while editing is the preserve of the community and that this is something that the community must be left to do without chapter interference.


Given the inequitable distribution of linguistic content within Wikipedia projects, external organisations have seen this as a possible gap to fill and there were presentations on translation toolkits and machine translations of content to populate otherwise sparse language Wikipedias. This is a route that has met with some resistance. An example is a translation toolkit that Google had introduced to blend computer aided, or machine translation with human translation. Users of this tool have been translating popular English language articles into various local languages with a varying degree of success. However, ironically, the size of existing active user base in each of these Wikipedias may itself determine how successful these efforts will be. Translators using the tool needed a lot of hand-holding and overseeing and after initial hiccups, Tamil Wikipedia has been able to engage with Google such that their contributions now fulfil quality parameters too, thanks to availability of more active users.


It is interesting to see how multiple approaches are being deployed to solve one common problem — a lack of linguistic diversity that matches the proportion of Internet users. It is to be expected that there are some tensions between organic community-led translation efforts and efforts that are focused on automated translation and Wikimania provided both sides a venue at which to engage with each other to resolve their differences and work collaboratively.


Here's what needs to be kept in mind while steaming ahead in India: English, with 225 million speakers in India, is also an Indian language. Several Indian editors already contribute to the English Wikipedia. So the emphasis needs to be on boosting contributions in all Indian languages, including English — rather than just an "Indic languages vs English" paradigm. Innovative ways to boost edits and bring in new editors include holding Wikipedia academies across the country; finding low-cost ways to create public access to Wikipedias in places like public libraries and removing technological obstacles related to scripts, keyboards etc.


With the foundation's new thrust on the creation of local chapters and with the India chapter in the final stages, one can expect a greater deal of focus on these issues both within India, and in other under-represented areas of the world.


The writer is part of efforts to set up the Indian chapter of Wikimedia







The assassination of the moderate nationalist, secretary general of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), Habib Jalib Baloch, in broad daylight in Quetta reflects what may be an emerging pattern in the conflict-ridden, largest but poorest province of Pakistan. Three days before Jalib's death, the assassination of another moderate nationalist leader, Maula Bux Dasti of the National Party, proved to be a portent of things to come.


Balochistan exploded in the aftermath of Jalib's death, enveloped in protest, clashes with police, and followed by a complete shutter-down strike. The BNP-M has declared 40 days of mourning and a three-day strike in memory of their martyred leader.


Balochistan has been subjected to military suppression since Pakistan came into being. The 1948 accession of the province to Pakistan was obtained under duress from the Khan of Kalat, the head of the Baloch tribal confederacy. Revolts took place in 1948, 1958-62, 1963-69 and then in 1973-77. The last insurgency, like the others, ended in a military stalemate, general amnesty for the rebels and political compromise with the Centre. In its wake, the moderate tendency amongst the Baloch nationalists, of which Jalib was a part, won the day and dominated the nationalist discourse for the next 25 years, having convinced the Baloch people that armed struggle was not the way and that the parliamentary road would yield better results by fighting politically for the province's rights within the federation. However, the results of this peaceful political engagement only led to greater frustration, despite moderate nationalists being elected to the provincial assembly and even forming governments. None of the issues agitating Balochistan since 1947, foremost amongst them being control of their natural resources — gas, arguably undiscovered oil, coastal potential and minerals — were even remotely addressed, except as lip-service.


Frustration amongst a new generation finally boiled over and a fresh guerrilla struggle broke out in the mountains of Balochistan in 2002. This low level, sputtering insurgency, the fifth since 1947, received an exponential fillip when Nawab Akbar Bugti, a pro-federation chief of the Bugti tribe (one of the two largest tribes, the Marris and Bugtis), was killed by the Musharraf regime. Following this development, Balaach Marri, the son of longtime nationalist leader and chief of the Marri tribe, Nawab Khair Buksh Marri, was also killed in suspicious and unexplained circumstances near the Afghanistan-Balochistan border. His body was never recovered, while that of Bugti was buried hastily in a sealed coffin without even being shown to his family. These killings came against the continuing backdrop of 'disappearances' of nationalist dissidents, who form the bulk of the 'missing persons' conundrum currently before the Supreme Court in a case that promises no closure because the intelligence agencies, suspected of responsibility for these disappearances, refuse to cooperate or divulge the whereabouts of the thousands of 'disappeared'.


One such prominent but moderate dissident was Habib Jalib, who emerged as a student leader during the 1970s. He was subsequently forced into exile in the erstwhile Soviet Union because of the repression of the Zia-ul-Haq military dictatorship. Upon his return after Zia met his maker, Jalib practised law with emphasis on human rights law and the question of the 'disappeared'. He was a thorn in the side of the authorities in Balochistan for his impassioned oratory and courageous advocacy of the 'missing persons' as well as the rights of his people.


His death is a grievous blow to the moderate nationalist cause, apart from being a tragedy of great proportions.


Jalib's assassination is likely to strengthen the appeal of the insurgents and the armed struggle school amongst the Baloch nationalists. If the pattern of disappearances (reports of torture camps and worse have been filtering into the Pakistani media sporadically) and now, assassinations, of prominent Baloch nationalists becomes a fact, even moderate nationalists will be compelled to revisit their faith in parliamentary politics to wrest their rights within the state of Pakistan. Militant trends, including armed struggle, will probably achieve greater resonance amongst the Baloch youth, and separatist sentiment, which was not universally the anthem of the nationalists, may overtake all other political tendencies in the province.


The logic of repression and the inability of the state to address the essentially political problems in Balochistan in a political manner rather than through heavy-handed military means will ensure the destruction of the bonds that still tenuously bind Balochistan to the rest of the country, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, and all in the name of saving Pakistan. A classic short-sighted case of cutting off the nose to spite the face, this.


The writer is editor-in-chief of 'Daily Times', Pakistan








 In response to an article by Mandakini Devasher Surie ('Watching the watchdogs', IE July 10) and the editorial 'NGO non-governance' (IE, July 8):


The current spotlight on NGOs is welcome. Maybe now we can finally get a coherent discussion going on NGOs and their funding needs and prospects. Let us, though, not fall into the trap of attempting to fit a framework drawn from entirely different organisational experience onto the NGO sector — we need to derive a framework for accountability that is based on the actual situation of NGOs. Moreover, given the heterogeneity of the sector, we need to start by recognising that there is no one "type" that will fit all NGOs, so the seeker of knoweldge must be willing to immerse herself in this universe, to begin with.


First, the term itself. If we refer to NGOs as a type of registration, let's remember that this includes both large think-tanks that place their accounts before parliament and as the voluntary worker in a remote village. Giving total numbers of NGOs and total funding flows to the sector is entirely meaningless without disaggregation by size, location, type of activity. We need to distinguish between NGOs created by the government or the World Bank to implement development programmes — which do indeed receive millions of rupees — and truly autonomous, small and local initiatives. We, therefore, need to think of multiple ways, not a single way, of ensuring accountability; what we recommend for a large established NGO is likely to be very different from what we recommend for a newly-formed village group.


Second, it is not entirely correct to say that "we know very little about them" — or at least it poses the question of who the "we" is . Ask the funding agencies that make grants to small NGOs in remote parts of the country, ask the government or the World Bank. Ask the officers of the government posted in places where there are functioning NGOs. Ask people.


Third, it is suggested that we should know about their "structure, activities, sources of funding, and ... how accountable they are to the people they represent". On structure: most NGOs, the smaller ones that is, have no defined structure and it would be foolish to force them into one. NGOs are usually started by motivated people who are joined by a band of similarly motivated followers; there is little separation of roles or functions, there is little separation between work/ life, and it is precisely this messy structure that draws out the best in people. As the NGO grows in size — if it grows in size — structure develops and then, very often, the "NGO spirit" gets replaced by good managerial "organisation". So: we have to find an umbrella for all of these stages.


On activities: well this is certainly known to the people who are doing them. But if NGOs depend on project funding, which comes for 2-3 years at a time, if donors keep redefining their "strategic goals" and their "organisational priorities", it is hardly surprising that activities change accordingly, whether at the margin or substantially. Again, we have to find a way of documenting this constantly changing scenario. For government-funded NGOs, the activities, amounts, numbers to be targeted, are all specified in advance and cannot be easily changed. Sources of funding: again, always known, but let's also recognise that there is a learning process involved in formal account-keeping and a tremendous shortage of accountants.


Finally the question of how accountable they are — why not ask people? Ordinary people generally know who is corrupt, whether it an NGO or an individual, but "we" seem to have no way to get the views of the ordinary citizen. It is also suggested that there should be "staff directories". This is a hard one. Is it acceptable to say "there are 2-3 people who will stay with the organisation, others come and go?" In the absence of any core funding, or institutional support, NGOs have no option but to let people go when a project ends. Given the insecurities, barring those who find self-esteem and satisfaction in the work, others will leave for better-paid opportunities (usually with other NGOs or government programmes and missions). There is also a class of urban volunteers, often making very substantive contributions, who are truly passing through.


By all means, let us find ways of putting more information into the public domain, and figure out accountability systems that would work. In this debate, we need the views of funders, including the government; of a range of NGOs in different parts of the country; and, if possible, of people whose lives are touched by the work of NGOs.


The writer is the director of the Institute of Social Studies Trust, New Delhi. Views are personal







The Clintons threw a big Washington bash on June 30 for Hillary Clinton's longtime aide, Huma Abedin, and what struck one of the many guests was the absence of anyone from President Obama's tight White House inner circle. Congressional heavyweights thronged the garden of the Clinton spread on Embassy Row, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The city's big powerbrokers and various State Department honchos were there for a party marking Abedin's marriage to Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York. But top White House insiders largely stayed away.


Well, as Bill Clinton told CNN recently, "I did everything I could to defeat President Obama and I wanted Hillary to win" — old wounds do not heal overnight. Indeed, they may not heal at all. When my informant said something about the old grievances not going away, the response from the hosts went something like this: No, they don't and they never will. But, we're public servants and suckers for punishment, so we soldier on.


Speaking of soldiering on, Mrs. Clinton left for Europe the next day and while Americans celebrated July 4, she was in Armenia trying to sort out the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute and — equally thankless task — mediate between Armenia and Turkey on their disagreement over what happened in 1915.


You've got to salute Hillary. She's got guts to go with that razor-sharp mind. It's a heck of a job being secretary of state when the White House puts a tight collar around the big issues — Afghanistan, Iran, Israel-Palestine and Iraq — and you're left with Nagorno-Karabakh, disputed Ottoman crimes of World War I and, if you're lucky, U.S. bases on Okinawa.


The situation might be slightly less troubling if the boys in the White House — and they are overwhelmingly boys — were foreign-policy heavyweights. They're not. Indeed, I'm told Henry Kissinger refers to them as "the kids."


Chief among them, according to my colleague Helene Cooper, is Denis McDonough, the National Security Council's chief of staff. Earlier this month, Cooper wrote: "Forget Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton or Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates. When it comes to national security, Mr. Obama's inner circle is so tight it largely consists of Mr. McDonough, a 40-year-old from Minnesota who is unknown to most Americans." I do know McDonough and I've spent a fair amount of time in Minnesota. He has many of the state's qualities: positive, brisk, can-do, affable and efficient. But am I reassured when I read that Obama's national-security inner circle is comprised of him? Nope. He was a great guy to control the foreign-policy side of a campaign — as he did to perfection for Obama — but he's not a great guy to think big about the world.


Thinking big and bold is required right now. The clock is ticking on momentous presidential decisions. Among them are an Afghan extrication that will salvage a minimum of core U.S. security interests — which will require a bruising negotiation with the Taliban — and what to do about Iran when it becomes apparent by the end of this year that the latest sanctions have changed nothing. Obama's apparent carte blanche to Israel this month on Iran was disturbing.


Then there's Israel-Palestine, where Obama can't decide whether the cost of being an honest broker — pressure on both sides — is worth the domestic heat he takes for being critical of Israel, with the result that he's zigzagging to little effect.


After firing Gen Stanley A. McChrystal, Obama said he would tolerate debate but not division. My sense is his foreign-policy house is divided — and the weaker for it. General James Jones, his national security adviser, speaks fine French — the French love that — but he's left most people unconvinced. Tom Donilon, Jones' deputy, dances around the vacuum as best he can. Like McDonough, David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel were brilliant campaign strategists, but should they be foreign-policy strategists?


In Clinton, Obama has a Baker-class secretary of state. For how much longer is he going to delegate her to Nagorno-Karabakh? The State Department, a repository of other underused talent, cannot be the White House annexe for non-critical affairs.









 Hype is synonymous with any official Indo-Pak engagement. So was the case before this week's foreign minister-level meeting. Expectations ran high in the beginning and tempers ran high towards the end.


A prophetic article in Dawn on July 15 forewarned: "Mumbai will continue to cast its long shadow over Pakistan-India ties as their foreign ministers get together to rebuild trust. The sanguinity being expressed by both sides aside, expectations of a dramatic turnaround in the knotty relations were rather slim and both could at best agree on a schedule of meetings to sustain the engagement."


The morning after, The News quoted Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi as saying: "Indian officials were not mentally prepared for the talks. As a result, the talks ended without any development... Manmohan Singh and S.M. Krishna were ready for the talks a night earlier, but the scenario has been changed in the morning." Daily Times, however, had a positive tone: "Pakistan and India ended their engagement with a positive note, as foreign ministers of both countries termed their talks 'useful' and vowed the talks would pave the way for serious, comprehensive and sustainable dialogue... Qureshi said he would visit India... to continue the dialogue process."


Endless forgery


The ghost of fake university degrees refuses to leave Pakistan. Rather, its need has now been felt in other professions also as the government has demanded a similar verification for the staff of all 132 universities of the country and bureaucrats, too. The law minister himself is complicit, reports Dawn on July 12: "The university from where law minister Babar Awan claims to have done his Ph. D is banned in the US from issuing any degree and cannot even claim it is a legal educational institution..."


An intimidation tactic was reportedly employed to "straighten out" the Higher Education Commission (HEC) chief, tasked to validate parliamentary membership of tainted legislators. Dawn reported on July 13: "Former DCO of Tando Mohammad Khan, Dr Farooq Leghari, who is the brother of HEC chairman Dr Javed Leghari, was picked up by plain-clothed policemen and Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) officials..." Daily Times added on July 14: "The HEC declared 29 degrees of public representatives fake."


Anti-media resolution


Last week, the Punjab Assembly passed a resolution calling for cross-party crackdown on the media. Journalists were termed 'blackmailers' in a resolution moved by PMLN member Sana Ullah Mastikhel. The News reported on July 12: "The next plan was to stop official advertisements to the media and to issue them only on the Internet in addition to asking the federal government to bring in stringent laws to tighten the noose around the uncontrolled media through PEMRA." Protests by journalists erupted across the country. Assessing the damage, the Assembly began warming up to the media again, reported Daily Times on July 14: "The Punjab Assembly has passed a resolution in favour of the media and lawyers despite a lack of quorum in the House, assuring the two communities that the House had no interest in restraining the rights of both 'pillars of the society'." After being a party to the resolution, PPP also went into damage control mode, reported Daily Times on July 16: "PPP has decided to act as a friendly political party to the media and focus on Punjab to 'tell the people the truth' about their achievements regarding services provided for the nation... It was decided all forums would be mobilised, not only to build a better relationship with the media, but also to get due space in both the electronic and print media."


The PMLN leadership pinned the blame of this controversial resolution on 'poor monitoring of legislative work in the Punjab Assembly,' reported Dawn on July 16.


Baloch nationalist murdered


It was the 'murder of Akbar Bugti redux,' Daily Times reported on July 15: "Habib Jalib Baloch, secretary general of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal, was gunned down outside his residence early by unidentified men on a motorcycle... Violence erupted across Balochistan as soon as the news was confirmed..." Reactions came in thick and fast, as former Balochistan CM and Baloch's party chief, Akhtar Mengal said: "Government functionaries are responsible for the assassination... Security forces had re-established violent organisations on the pattern of al Shams and al Badar, which assassinated Bengalis during the Bangladeshi struggle for independence, for killing the political opponents of the government... He said his party didn't expect good things from a government of fake degree holders."


On July 16, the paper reported: "Life remained paralysed across Balochistan for the second consecutive day... all major commercial establishments, business centres and shops remained closed, while streets in the commercial districts remained deserted."







G K Pillai took over as Home Secretary in difficult times, months after the Mumbai attacks. He has had his hands full ever since: following the 26/11 trail to Pakistan, dealing with Naxal attacks and monitoring the situation in J&K. In this Idea Exchange moderated by Ritu Sarin, Editor, Investigations, Pillai speaks about Headley's 'Bombay Project' and the 'Naxal-activists' link

Ritu Sarin: Does the government consider calling out the army in J&K a huge setback? Also, the lack of equipment and training of the CRPF was highlighted both in J&K and in the recent Naxal attacks. What are you doing about it?


The message that I took to Srinagar during my visit was that the paramilitary forces and the state police must act, even though they have their own problems. They need to implement a curfew, if they have imposed one. You can't have a curfew and then allow it to be broken. In Chhattisgarh, I am quite optimistic. It will take about 3-7 years to build up the forces. We are short of forces there even though Chhattisgarh is one of the states that has doubled its forces in the last five years. But it is still not enough. For example, I found that despite deploying five battalions of the BSF in the state's Kanker district, a 400-sq-km stretch on the southern-most tip of the district is a no man's land and has no forces. We have problems in other districts like Bijapur and Dantewada. In Kanker, ever since the battalions came in, there has been road movement, the PDS has been functioning and contractors are willing to take tenders because they are feeling confident. This is the kind of work we are doing, but it will take about 3-7 years.


Ritu Sarin: What is the the confidence level of the local people in the J&K government and the Chief Minister in particular? Is there a credibility crisis?


It is very difficult for me to say because unlike in many other states, the Home Ministry hasn't gone down to the people there. In the north-eastern states, the Home Ministry has held many development seminars. You need to reach out to the people—not only in Srinagar, but in other districts too. If you concentrate everything in Srinagar, people in other districts have to go to Srinagar for everything. Today, if there is something wrong with the primary health care centre, one has to go to Srinagar and meet the health minister. So giving the power to people at the local level is critical.


Maneesh Chhibber: What is your view on the PDP boycotting the all-party meeting on J&K?


I think the PDP is quite a frustrated party. They have yet to come to grips with the fact that they have lost

political power in a democracy and are now in the Opposition. There has to be constructive opposition—it's not only about being in power. That frustration is what is being demonstrated.


Amitabh Sinha: On the Naxal front, the civil society is agitated about the kind of aggressiveness coming from the Centre and the Home Ministry in particular. They say this aggression has led to the Naxal attacks being more vicious.


I don't think we were aggressive in that sense. We wanted to say that this is a serious problem. Many people do not realise that the Maoist problem is something that has been built up systematically over 10-15 years. Tackling it is still not on the radar of many political parties. There is only so much that the administration can do but you have to have political activity on the ground, which is not happening. What the Maoists are doing is terrorism. You have seen that happen in Visakhapatnam—gram panchayat presidents are being forced to resign. The same is happening in Orissa. This year alone, they have killed around 358 civilians, 80 per cent of them allegedly police informers. Anybody who raises a voice against the Maoists gets killed. That's what we need to worry about. I went to a village in Kanker which was called a 'liberated' area till the BSF occupied it this year and put up a company post. Six months down the line, the villagers are happy with the camps set up. We will consolidate the area, provide roads, schools, mobile ambulances and then move to the next area. Earlier, we used to clear out an area and leave after seven days for the Maoists to come back. Only if you stay for a few years and assure them that you will not leave, will the local population support you.


Amitabh Sinha: Has the recent spate of Naxalite attacks forced the Centre to have a relook at its operational strategy?


There hasn't been much change. The casualties have been in Dantewada and Narayanpur. These are not the areas where I moved the forces in last year. We haven't been able to tie-in these areas but the areas where we have moved in, like Kanker and Rajnandgaon, are being consolidated and people are setting up infrastructure. People who went to Dantewada after the massacre said that the troops there were still living in primitive conditions with no toilets or even water. There is still some confusion on whether the state or the Centre should improve conditions. The normal practice is that when a state requisitions the CRPF, they provide the land, money and infrastructure. Now we realise that if we rely on the states, we have to wait for years because they don't have the money either.


Unni Rajen Shanker: Is there an operational or coordination problem with the states fighting Naxalism, particularly in Chhattisgarh? When the last attack took place, the state DGP said that they can't teach the CRPF how to walk. Then, the state police issued a press release saying that the mastermind behind the attack on a Congress leader in Dantewada is in Delhi. Instead of issuing a press release, shouldn't he have been picked up?


The state police have a lot to learn about media management. If there is a mastermind, you do not leak the information in a press release because then the 'mastermind' goes underground. This is what I call 'non professionalism' on the part of the police. They have to learn to protect a scene of crime and keep the evidence intact. That training (of police forces) is so critical is yet to be realised. It has been a decade since Jharkhand was formed out of Bihar, but Bihar does not have a police training college because the police training college at Hazaribagh went to Jharkhand. That shows the level of attention and priority given to police training!


Unni Rajen Shanker: You are up against people who are organised, have a very clear command structure, and a good intelligence mechanism. How do you tackle this?


If I am a DGP in one of these areas and I have 50,000 policemen and am short of people, I keep howling and eventually I get five battalions. Instead of using them as an arm for offensive operations, I set up a CRPF camp at these police stations and use them instead of recruiting more people. In areas like Dantewada, the CRPF has not been used as a force supplement. In the last four years in Dantewada, they were made to sit there at the camp just to show state presence. We are now challenging the state government since the area where the attack took place is still a dirt track. It is only now, after our pressure, that they are calling in tenders. Changing mindsets and training takes time.


C Rajamohan: What is your long-term plan for generating resources, dealing with federal issues and creating a

credible police force to man this country?


The long-term plan is to recruit people. Last year, 36,000 constables were successfully recruited in UP. It was absolutely flawless and none of them had to pay a rupee to get in. Many states have paid lip service to police reforms but we now have to see that they actually implement them.


Shubhajit Roy: You visited Pakistan recently. What is your assessment of the 26/11 trial there?


We have given a series of data to Pakistan and it is up to them to conduct investigations within Pakistan. We have given them the names, the descriptions (of the attackers and their handlers), we have given them their height, their complexion...we have given them voice samples. We are asking them to identify and verify the persons in the samples and if not, give them to us. Their Interior Minister has said, 'You won't be disappointed by our response'. All we can do is wait and watch. The main concern is that you need time to stabilise Indo-Pak relations. If there is another major attack, in the same form as 26/11, I don't think we will be in a position to continue any form of dialogue further. So you need time to build trust and to move forward.


Coomi Kapoor: We are charmed by the fact that you are such a forthcoming IAS officer. Why is it that your colleagues do not want to give out information which should be in the public domain?


I think they are being cautious, they are worried about what comes in the media. I need to put across the policies and the programmes as well as the difficulties of running the Home Ministry because people need to know.


Ritu Sarin: Do we have evidence that activists are involved in Naxal violence? If so, what is the nature of evidence?


Nobody minds activists raising any issue related to the drawback or misuse of any government programme, like mining or tribal rights. We are not concerned by that kind of activism. We are concerned about whether the activists are getting used by the Maoists. As an example, if I tap a Maoist cadre's telephone and I hear him telling an activist, 'Tomorrow, go and do this and then put out a press release', and the activist goes and does that, I would be concerned because the CPI(Maoist) is a banned organisation. I think whether you are an activist or not, you can't be a 'mouthpiece' or be exploited by them.


Shekhar Gupta: Have you seen instances of this?


Yes, we have some telephone intercepts. And we are not intercepting the telephones of activists but those of Maoists. Members of the Maoist central committee are in touch with activists and we hear them telling the activists, 'Hold this rally against Operation Greenhunt'. If activists want to do it on their own, it's fine, but not at the instigation of the CPI(Maoist). The body of evidence is slowly building up on this aspect (of links with activists).


Ritu Sarin: What were the spin-off benefits of the five-day interrogation of David Headley?


Headley was very cooperative. He talked a lot and we also got a bit of gossip from him. The real sense we got is of the significant role that the ISI played (in the 26/11 attacks). It was not just a peripheral role; they were literally controlling and coordinating it from the beginning to the end. The same goes for Hafiz Saeed. He was not a peripheral player. He knew everything. For example, when Headley had a difference with his wife, she went and complained to Saeed. She said, 'This guy is neglecting me'. Headley told Saeed that if I spend more time with her, the 'Bombay project' will suffer. Saeed said, 'Nothing doing, your wife can wait, the Bombay project is more important'. So that's the kind of relationship and knowledge he had about the 'Bombay project'.


Ritu Sarin: Our body of evidence against Hafiz Saeed was weak compared to that for other 26/11 accused. Has the Headley confession added to that?


The rest of the investigation on Hafiz Saeed has to be done in Pakistan. We have evidence from Kasab and others who say that he came here. Let Pakistan say that on such and such day, Hafiz Saeed was in Islamabad, not in India.


Nistula Hebbar: In the last one-and-half years, we have heard about Hindu terror. How seriously is the Home Ministry taking this?


This is a matter of concern, this is the last thing we want. We are taking up investigations wherever there are links. In Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, there are cases. In one case, we have written to the Madhya Pradesh government since they have closed the case. We have asked them to give it to the CBI. So we are concerned.


DK Singh: The Army chief has said that much of what is happening in Kashmir today is because we have failed to build on what the security forces had done there. Do you agree?


I think an effort was made at all levels to push the political process forward. The talks were moving in a particular direction, but the people involved in the dialogue came under pressure from people in Pakistan. And then, (moderate Hurriyat leader) Fazal Haq Qureshi was shot (in December 2009), and they just backed away from the talks. You've got a political vacuum. The separatists are responsible for the vacuum. You can't not talk to India but talk to Pakistan, and expect the problem to be solved.


Amitabh Sinha: Is there a unified view in the government on the use of the army in Naxal areas?


As of now, a decision has been taken in the Cabinet Committee on Security that the army will not be deployed. The helicopters are available for deployments. We are not using them for an offensive role but for moving armed troops and for evacuations.


Pranab Dhal Samanta: The CRPF has taking a battering. Their morale is low, they are losing men, questions of leadership have come up. What needs to be done?


The first is, training in jungle warfare. What the forces do in J&K and North East is totally different from election duty or a lathi-charge. They have not been trained for what they must do if something goes wrong. If you are ambushed, you have to fire and move on, not take positions. You have to be mobile. The CRPF has learned it the hard way.







In a welcome move, the government has restarted the process of decontrolling sugar. If production and supplies remain positive, then a very strong push for breaking the decades-old shackles around the sugar industry could be initiated in late August or September. The initial signs are encouraging for such a push. As per the latest government data, sugarcane has been planted in around 47.37 lakh hectares, almost 13.3% more than the same period last year. If weather remains benign, most analysts and industry associations expect production in 2010-11 could be over 25 million tonnes. With demand of around 22 million tonnes, India should have surplus sugar in the next crop marketing year that starts in October, an ideal time to deregulate the sector. Currently, there are controls on the quantum of sugar that each mill can sell in the open market or export, and farmers are required to sell their produce to designated sugar mills. There are also a host of other restrictions that curb free market operations, both for the farmers and millers. However, only time will tell what the new version of sugar deregulation will actually deliver.


Recently, industry bodies representing almost the entire spectrum of the sugar sector came together with their list of demands to be included as part of deregulation. They wanted the setting of sugarcane prices to be in line with the prices of products like sugar, molasses and bagasse. At present, there is mandatory procurement of sugar for PDS from the mills. The government buys almost 20% of the sugar produced by the mills, but at a price much lower than the market price, for meeting its welfare obligations. Sugar is excluded from the purview of the essential commodities Act. If this was not the case, the storing, transportation and sale of sugar would be much easier. It is also the case that the quantum of sugar that each mill can sell in the open market is controlled at present. The mills are demanding that this control be abandoned. This is a perfectly legitimate demand but why should decontrol be partial? What is needed is a total easing of controls, including those concerning cane reservation areas. Mills should be able to decide the quantum and price at which they sell produce, but the farmers should enjoy comparable freedoms. Similarly, determining cane prices should be best left to market forces. Partial decontrol won't serve the long-term interests of either the millers, farmers or end-users.







Since 1978, China's economic growth has averaged more than 9% a year. Over time, this momentum has attracted what has been called a Jekyll and Hyde attitude that became amplified when the global economic crisis hit hard; Lehman Brothers went down and so did a host of other financial institutions and certainties. China kept powering ahead, its exports kept growing and it kept the US economy propped up. An overpowering stimulus package, enabled by heavyduty forex reserves and surplus helped—the draconian exchange rate policy that the world had long rued was at last bringing it some succour. The unleashing of China's resourceful floodgates helped in counteracting all the bad news coming out of the US and Europe. On the other hand, and this has been a growing concern, was all this booming really healthy? Would there be a hard crash-landing that would set off yet another wave of seismic shocks through the globe? This fear has been somewhat allayed by the numbers released on Thursday. Sure, China has maintained double-digit growth for the third quarter in a row. But in the three months to June 2010, GDP grew at 10.3% as compared to 11.9% in the previous quarter. Industrial output, property prices, money supply, infrastructure investment and other indicators also suggest that Beijing's bubble-countering strategies have begun to pull back the economy from a heated gallop to a healthier tempo.


In the Jekyll and Hyde vein, it follows that not everybody is happy about Beijing's tightening measures, which range from stricter mortgage-lending standards to reining in lending activity in general. If the real estate market really slows down, this will take a toll on a host of other sectors like steel and construction. Assuming that the Chinese goal is to move from export dependence to domestic consumption, the question of balance is still in the balance. Sure, the prices of fruits and vegetables have been coming down but would this compensate for a slowing demand for housing? No wonder calls for yet another stimulus are already ringing in the air. Remember, the country is looking at some serious long-term challenges. Wages are rising—a recent central bank report shows that average wages of migrants have risen 17.8% from a year earlier. This trend will put increasing pressure on competitiveness. Demographics are shifting, so that the labour pool will begin declining around 2015. To add to all this uncertainty, here is another: China only publishes growth figures on a year-on-year basis. It does not release seasonally adjusted data, which would give a more accurate portrayal of the direction of economic activity.









The policy trilemma of international economics is the inability to simultaneously accomplish three objectives: monetary autonomy, exchange rate stability and unrestricted international capital flows. Choose any two and the third must be given up. Or one can try to achieve all three partially. Monetary autonomy is desirable for controlling inflation. Exchange rate stability may help increase or stabilise foreign trade. Capital flows can finance investment and growth. It is not obvious how policymakers should balance the different objectives.


For a long time, India, like most developing countries, chose a (mostly) fixed exchange rate and monetary autonomy, by having strict capital controls. Monetary policy was autonomous with respect to the rest of the world, not India's politicians, but that is another matter. Then India began to open up its economy, starting with trade, and then moving on to capital. Since there are still a lot of restrictions on movements of capital in and out of India, some calculations (in particular, the often-used Chinn-Ito index) suggest that capital controls in India are still very severe. Another exercise in turning complex rules into a single number, by Lekshmi Nair, suggests that India has been steadily liberalising international capital flows.


The actual flows tell the same story. If one adds up credits and debits on the capital account (so looking at gross rather than net flows), and calculates the ratio to GDP, this number was almost never above 20% until 2000. Even then, after crossing that mark a few times, it fell back below until 2003, when it began a steady, then accelerated rise. In the second quarter of 2005-06, it jumped to 35%, and went as high as 85% in the last quarter of 2007-08. The ratio has since fallen back, but remains much higher than it was a decade ago. International capital flows are here to stay.


These increased capital flows have meant that RBI has had to struggle to manage the money supply and the exchange rate. The 'managed float' of the exchange rate has become more difficult in recent years, and sometimes RBI's foreign exchange interventions have impacted its conduct of monetary policy. It seems that the trilemma has been at work in India as well.


Joshua Aizenman has suggested that there is a fourth policy objective—of financial stability. Such stability is easier to achieve in a world of capital controls, but financial integration means that money moves in and out of countries with speed and significant consequences. Financial crises associated with instability of international capital flows can have very high costs in terms of lost output. Aizenman suggests that the need to achieve financial stability with capital account openness explains the increased use of an additional policy instrument.


Asian countries have been building up foreign exchange reserves, even as they have inched towards greater exchange rate flexibility. Reserves provide self-insurance against risks of sudden stops of capital or deleveraging that can accompany financial integration. In fact, Aizenman's work with Chinn and Ito suggests that building up foreign exchange reserves has allowed some Asian countries to soften the trilemma—maintaining exchange rate stability and monetary autonomy while gradually increasing financial openness.


At the same time, Aizenman also argues that there are limits to what reserves can do—the global financial crisis of 2008-09 threatened to be much greater than what reserves could cover. Countries had to resort to reimposing temporary capital controls during the crisis. Swap lines and pooled reserves offer another line of defence beyond individual country reserves, but so far their scope is limited.


The analysis of Aizenman suggests that as India continues to become more financially integrated with the rest of the world it may need to build its reserves up more, or come up with alternatives. It can continue to manage the exchange rate to some extent but, even with exchange rate flexibility, reserves will have a role to play in dealing with volatility.


Alternatively, India can go back into the arms of the trilemma, with increased capital controls, albeit perhaps more rationally designed than the current patchwork. To some extent, this latter option is part of the discussion on the global financial architecture and global rebalancing. More globally coordinated regulation of capital and the financial sector will throw sand in the wheels of massive international financial flows.


One optimistic scenario would be India growing fast enough, with improved domestic financial intermediation, so that international capital flows are less important and restraining them less costly. It would have to do better than China, which has grown faster, but through massive saving and investment that has not always been very efficient. As with other tradeoffs, growth and efficiency improvements can also soften the tradeoffs inherent in the trilemma.


—The author is a professor of economics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. These are his personal views








Environment minister Jairam Ramesh is back in the news for his crusading spirit, this time concerning aviation issues impacting Mumbai. His latest policy attack is on the aviation sector—he outrightly rejected the construction of private helipads on rooftops of Mumbai's buildings. His ministry has issued an affidavit to the Bombay High Court, amounting to a policy statement. There does not appear to be any prior consultation with other ministries. A government department's affidavit should be based on overall government policy and not the ministry's own assertion. But, after a discussion with the chief minister of Maharashtra, he has allowed four public helipads for emergencies. While it is true that helicopters make noise, which is higher than the permitted levels for residential zones, it is also true that a lot of work is going on to reduce their noise levels. Noise from the tail rotor has been reduced considerably by putting a shroud around it and by increasing the number of blades from 2-4 to 8-12.


It may be stated that helicopters have a very important role to play in congested cities with tall buildings,

especially for medical emergencies, evacuation and rescue. The Awaaz Foundation, which filed a PIL against helipads in Mumbai, seems to have forgotten the role helicopters played in the rescue operations for 26/11 victims. Construction of helipads, private or public, on top of tall buildings is an accepted practice in developed countries. Had there been more helipads, it is possible that rescue would have been faster.


Noise produced by such helicopters has to be regulated. But the environment ministry should not be concerned with private or public ownership, as this is best left to the ministry of civil aviation. It is the location of the helipad and the noise created that is the issue. For example, if a private building has an approach from the sea and the noise impact is on sea then there should be no problem giving them permission, from an environment angle. In fact, Mumbai will provide plenty such locations, being an island city. The minister has also been quoted separately in the press that private helipads do not make sense 'when India is talking about equitable access to atmospheric space'. However, a full examination of all issues is necessary before airing a view in public by a minister.


In a similar vein, since Mumbai is the commercial capital of the country and its existing airport is inadequate, a new airport is essential for the city's growth. The current airport cannot take a second parallel runway—a requirement to meet the growth in air traffic. The proposed location for the new airport has ecologically sensitive mangroves along the sea coast—40% of the land. The ministry of environment has refused permission on grounds that the mangroves will be destroyed. It is necessary to examine how stopping the destruction of about 400 acres of mangroves will compromise the growth of city. (A condition attached is to plant mangroves at an alternative site has been accepted by the new airport's project proposal). Further, what is important is to stop the wanton destruction of mangroves for firewood, etc. It is easy for environmentalists to say that mangroves have a critical role in the ecosystem and act as a natural buffer against sea erosion. However, it is also true that this site has been selected by a due process as the most suitable site, keeping in view the distance from the city and availability of flat land. As this is a critical development requirement for Mumbai, the pros and cons have to be weighed to come to a decision, rather than airing opinions that first come to mind. The Mumbai airport has been an issue that doesn't seem to have moved forward. The existing airport has over 1,00,000 shanties encroaching on its land, increasing its security risk. The state government has failed in its task of removing them. If a new airport does not get clearance now, Mumbai's dream of being a commercial capital for the region will evaporate. The only alternative is to build an airport on the sea, as I had proposed earlier in these columns. In other countries, airports have been built on the sea and there is no reason why it can't be done in Mumbai. The last such airport built was at Kansai in Japan and took only five years from the start of construction to the first aircraft landing. However, it is also a more expensive proposition. In any case, we don't know whether even this will clear Ramesh's environment compliance.


—The author is chairman of the International Foundation of Aviation Aerospace and Development (India









The sudden sacking of the MD of one of India's biggest farmers' cooperatives, Nafed, is the latest in a series of troubles that the country's premier cooperative institution has been mired in over the last few years. Nafed was formed in 1958 with the objective of promoting cooperative marketing of agricultural produce for the benefit of farmers, but it has not been in the pink of health, largely because of some faulty business decisions.


One of these is the flawed 'business-tie up' arrangement that it entered into in 2004-05, under which the cooperative had provided bank counter guarantee to 29 private companies to the tune of more than Rs 3,900 crore for undertaking exports in agricultural and non-agricultural items like iron ore, dry fruits, etc. But several of these companies defaulted on repayment to the tune of an estimated Rs 1,600 crore. And the onus of interest payment now lies with Nafed. The interest liability to the tune of Rs 130 crore annually is wiping out even the nominal profit made by the federation, over the last 5 years.


The government, for its part, set up a committee headed by retired Allahabad High Court Judge RR Mishra to look into the 'scam'. The committee has found that top officials were responsible for extending counter-guarantees on loans taken by private companies (probably under some sort of political influence). The agriculture ministry has shied away from heeding the cooperative's request for a one-time settlement to the tune of Rs 1,600 crore to wipe off its bank loans.


Apart from sullying the cooperative's image, such events have done nothing but divert attention from the primary objective of supporting farmers through its vast network. At a time when the government is trying to bring food inflation down, Nafed should channel all its energies, expertise and logistics to help in this process.


Irrespective of whether Nafed's current MD is reinstated or not, the incident is a reflection of the state of cooperative institutions in India. Many have failed to serve their purpose, largely because of excessive political meddling.








India and Pakistan, as Atal Behari Vajpayee remarked famously in 1998, can alter their history, but not their geography. That sentiment has been voiced by other Indian and Pakistani leaders since. It is born of the wisdom that enmity between two countries with a shared boundary can only take both along a mutually undermining path and there must be a commitment to finding peace and cooperation. Only sustained engagement over the long term can bring these. Such engagement is possible only when both sides stop treating every episode as a make-or-break event. When Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gilani agreed that their Foreign Ministers should meet to find ways to bridge the "trust deficit," it was clear that the road ahead would be difficult. The talks between Foreign Ministers S.M. Krishna and Shah Mehmood Qureshi are seen in this perspective. That they could not arrive at common ground in their discussions is disappointing but this should not be blown out of proportion. After the positive tone of the preparatory discussions between the Foreign Secretaries in Islamabad last month, there was an expectation that the ministerial meeting would flag off action on certain "doables" aimed at rebuilding confidence and trust. The inability of the two sides to do so only underlines the extent of the mistrust that has set in since the 2008 Mumbai attacks. India wants Pakistan to go after the perpetrators and masterminds of the attacks; Pakistan says it has already done all that it can and India must get over Mumbai to begin talking about other issues. Nevertheless, the agreement by the Ministers to meet again in New Delhi is a definite plus and both governments must now ensure that it takes place.


Meanwhile, both India and Pakistan can be more restrained in their public statements. An official of the position and experience of the Home Secretary, G.K. Pillai, should have known better than to state in an interview, a day before the Foreign Minister talks, that the interrogation of David Headley had revealed the role of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence in the Mumbai attacks "from the beginning till the end." The relevant information must have been conveyed by Home Minister P. Chidambaram during his talks with his Pakistan counterpart Rehman Malik last month. Its public airing at a sensitive moment raises troubling questions about the motives for doing so, and about who really runs this government. This is not the first time Mr. Pillai has misspoken on sensitive issues. The Pakistan Foreign Minister too has been unnecessarily aggressive in his posturing towards India, perhaps out of domestic political compulsions. Far from being faulted, Mr. Krishna must be commended for the sobriety and statesmanship with which he handled a tricky situation. It is the responsibility of mature political leadership on both sides to take constructive engagement forward.







Symbols are important, and the United Progressive Alliance government has done well to choose one for the rupee. The days of the good old INR (Indian rupees) will become a memory as the world starts using the new rupee symbol. Of course, millions of computers all over the world will have to pick up the ASCII or American Standard Code for Information Interchange for the symbol and that could take time. But for a single geographic and cultural entity with a more or less unified currency for a few thousand years, a decade or so won't matter much. However, it is now also possible to do the conversion quite easily. There are websites that tell us how to do it by presenting the symbol first as a graphic and then in 'Unicode-friendly' fonts. The new symbol is also symbolic of India's new-found self-confidence. Even China, which is altogether more assertive than India, has the same symbol for its yuan as the Japanese yen, namely a Y with two lines drawn across the stem (¥). Many countries have chosen to call their currency "dollar" and simply use the $ sign and, in a rare stab at joviality, the Singaporeans call their currency Singdols. Oddly enough, although one would have expected it as a natural given, the British pound is yet to find a symbol on most keyboards. The letters GBP have to be typed in each time. It was perhaps because they were mindful of the mild insult implicit in this that the Europeans got themselves a symbol for their Euro from the very start, ironically the Greek epsilon with a couple of stakes through its belly (€).


It is hard not to wonder why so many countries choose symbols with lines drawn across them, either vertically like the dollar or horizontally like so many others. The lines across the symbols for the Euro were supposed to stand for stability! These lines do not make an appearance when simple letters are used, like Kr for the Krona or RM for the Ringgit of Malaysia. So what is about a symbol that compels its designer to resort to these lines? It is probably one of those things that get done quite mindlessly. That said, will the new symbol launch the rupee into another currency league? Or is it going to be just one more of those vanities that we Indians are so good at embracing? Some people think that the rupee will become a greatly preferred currency if it is allowed to be fully convertible. Others disagree. Time will tell who is right.










A fortnight-long lecture tour of China in April was revealing as to how little the Indian discourse factors in the winds of change sweeping across that country. The day I arrived in Beijing from Shanghai en route to Tibet, the Chinese capital received a hugely controversial figure in the politics of our region — the redoubtable "Amir" of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) of Pakistan, Maulana Fazal-ur-Rahman, who is suspected to be the "father of the Taliban."


Two aspects regarding Mr. Rahman's visit intrigued me. The JUI-F has no Chinese counterpart but Beijing solved the dilemma with the Communist Party of China (CCP) stepping in to hold Mr. Rahman's hand. The CCP and JUI-F may seem like oil and water but today's China hopes to make them mix. During Mr. Rahman's visit, the CCP and JUI-F signed a memorandum of cooperation. Second, from Beijing Mr. Rahman headed for Xinjiang.


It was an extraordinary moment — the energetic Maulana getting exposed to the violent politics of our region, thanks to the ideology of militant Islam practised by his progenies and on the other hand, the sheer audacity or ingenuity of Beijing's policies in hosting him while Xinjiang is bleeding at the hands of Islamist militants based in Pakistan and is barely coping with the shenanigans of the drug mafia on the Karakoram Highway.


Surely, Pakistan is of immense importance to the Chinese strategies. It is a time-tested friend, a market for China's exports, a vital link in China's new communication chain connecting the Persian Gulf, Middle East and Africa, but most important, a land that shelters Islamist militants from China who may have come under the influence of foreign powers. Unsurprisingly, security cooperation with Islamabad has assumed high priority. The following report in the government-owned China Daily newspaper last week underscored the complexity of the relationship: "An increasing number of members of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which led the riots and is labelled a terrorist group by the U.N. Security Council, are reportedly fleeing to Pakistan and settling down there for future plots. According to latest reports, the ETIM has been in close collaboration with the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. An ETIM leader is also reportedly hiding in Pakistan and there are reports of a "Chinese battalion" made up of about 320 ETIM members of the Taliban forces. 'It is not hard for them to hide in Pakistan. They have similar religious beliefs, appearances and languages as the locals,' the Beijing-based World News newspaper reported on July 1."


Besides, China faces unprecedented geopolitical challenges in carrying forward the "all-weather friendship" with Pakistan. Pakistan has become a hunting ground for the U.S. regional strategies. There is a qualitative difference from the U.S.-Pakistan collaborative ventures of the Cold War era. The U.S. today depends on Pakistani military to end the Afghan war so that without the war casualties complicating the western public opinion, continued American and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) military presence in the Central Asian region becomes sustainable. The U.S. strategies factor in the NATO's future as a global security organisation, trans-Atlantic ties and of course China's rise and the challenge it poses to the U.S. supremacy in the world order in the 21st century. In short, Pakistan is an-almost irreplaceable U.S. ally at the present phase of the geopolitics of the region and will remain so for the foreseeable future, given its geography, political economy and its unique dealings with terrorist groups. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's impending arrival in Islamabad for co-chairing the U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue — second in four months — underscores Pakistan's centrality in Washington's foreign policy calculus.


What emerges is that no more is it the case that whatever China does in Pakistan is with an ulterior motive against India or that Beijing's policy toward Pakistan is quintessentially India-centric. As a matter of fact, the trend for quite some time has been of Beijing trying to keep a balance between its relations with India and Pakistan. Unfortunately, motivated sections of the Indian strategic community in their self-seeking zest to sub-serve the U.S. geo-strategy, often deliberately obfuscate these sobering geopolitical realities. The political symbolism in the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and other leaders receiving the National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon in Beijing and holding discussions with him in his capacity as the special envoy of the prime minister just ahead of the arrival of the Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on a weeklong "working visit" cannot go unnoticed — even while making allowance for the high esteem in which Mr. Menon is held as a scholar-diplomat on China.


Which is why Mr. Menon's remarks in Beijing following his consultations needs to be welcomed as reflective of a profound understanding at the top policymaking level in New Delhi regarding India's most crucial foreign policy challenge in the period ahead – relations with China. Mr. Menon said that India is looking forward to forging "a relationship [with China] which is not externally driven."


Hopefully, a lid has been firmly put on the can of worms that Uncle Sam periodically held out in front of us — an "alliance of Asian democracies" involving the U.S., Japan and Australia. There is great need to shield India's normalisation with China from episodic U.S. interference. On the sidelines of the recent U.S.-India strategic dialogue in Washington, senior American officials resuscitated in their public diplomacy the George W. Bush era ideas of the U.S. and India patrolling the Indian Ocean and working together with Japan and Australia – doctrines which seemed irrelevant and quixotic once the world financial crisis erupted and new realities emerged in the international system.


Equally, India needs to view Sino-Pak ties in perspective and with new thinking. Mr. Menon was spot on while saying that China's close relationship with Pakistan should have no bearing on the momentum of New Delhi advancing the impetus of Sino-Indian ties. Indeed, it is high time to de-hyphenate. "We're no longer in an either-or, zero-sum game kind of situation. Our [India's] relationship with China is not dependent on the state of our relations with Pakistan, or vice versa. And judging by what we have seen in practice over the last few years, I think that is also true of China." He said this while stressing the convergence of Indian and Chinese interests on a range of global issues, which demand a "new stage of the relationship".


The government has done well to refuse to be enticed by the motivated exhortations by sections of our strategic community to join issue with Beijing over the China-Pakistan nuclear deal controversy – despite genuine apprehensions over anyone consorting with Pakistan, which could have a bearing on nuclear non-proliferation. Mr. Menon said, "This [Sino-Pakistan deal] was not the whole point of the visit. This took less than two and a half sentences in the whole visit." The U.S. opinion-makers and the noisy pro-American lobby in the Indian strategic community have been suggesting that the Sino-Pakistan nuclear deal was primarily directed against India. To quote from a western media report, "China and Pakistan are threatening to disrupt India's nuclear aspirations by stepping up collaboration of their own." However, the two reactors that China proposes to set up at Pakistan's Chashma complex under IAEA safeguards do not threaten India's security nor do they shift the "strategic balance" between India and Pakistan. On the contrary, if Pakistan steps into the fold of any form of non-proliferation regime including the IAEA safeguards that China seems to have in mind, it can be a good thing to happen.


Again, the American commentators attempted to insinuate that the China-Pakistan deal raises misgivings in the international community, which in turn may revive concerns about the wisdom of the U.S. making out a special dispensation for India. This is sheer baloney. The litmus test is Japan's readiness to open negotiations to explore the possibility of nuclear commerce with India. What is overlooked is that the NPT as such did not bar nuclear trade with a non-signatory like India. Rather, it was the Nuclear Suppliers Group [NSG] that brought in the "iron curtain". The NSG was a one hundred percent American concoction aimed at penalising India under a designated multilateral regime. Plainly put, as the U.S. began sensing the compelling need in terms of its global strategies to forge partnership with India as an emerging power, the barriers became an inconvenient relic of the past. Similarly, let us not overlook that the US may well offer a nuclear deal to Pakistan at some stage.


In short, Beijing will foster its ties with Pakistan at a crucial juncture when the latter figures as a key partner in the US regional strategies. Pakistan, on its part, has been an exemplary partner who robustly eliminates any U.S. interference in its relationship with China. The US has been savvy enough to realise the virtues of "de-hyphenated" ties in our complicated region. The spectacle offers a morality play for India.


( The writer is a former diplomat.)









Future diplomatic historians will, no doubt, tell a more complex story but the broad outlines of External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna's less-than-successful visit to Islamabad seem clear enough.


Having hosted Home Minister P. Chidambaram three weeks back and heard firsthand from him exactly what India wanted on the terrorism front, the Pakistani side's expectation from the foreign minister-level meeting was that there would be discussion and, presumably, some agreement on a wider set of issues. In the run-up to the meeting, Indian officials, too, had let it be known that they were looking at a range of subjects like trade and people-to-people contact as a way of building trust. When he arrived in Islamabad, Mr. Krishna said India was ready to discuss all outstanding issues. Pakistan knew the formal resumption of the composite dialogue — or some updated variant of it — was still some distance away. It was also prepared to discuss the deepening of confidence building measures as a stepping stone. But it was wary of publicly accepting a formula or roadmap for engagement that frontloads not just terrorism but every other issue that India considers important while leaving issues that Islamabad considers 'core' to an unlit backburner for future 'warming up.'


The irony is that these issues — Jammu and Kashmir, peace and security, Siachen and Sir Creek — are subjects India and Pakistan have wasted several years of formal dialogue over without either side budging one bit. For example, Indian soldiers remain firmly perched upon the Siachen glacier's commanding heights despite officials from the defence ministries of India and Pakistan having held several rounds of talks. Many more rounds can safely be held without our jawans being required to come down by even one metre — if that is what the government wants. Given the long-standing deadlock over proposals for verification of a mutual withdrawal, the Pakistani side knows nothing would be gained by yet another meeting of defence secretaries. But the civilian government which is struggling to assert its authority against multiple power centres within and even outside the 'establishment' needed something to show for its diplomatic exertions.


The Indian delegation, however, did not come to Islamabad with a mandate flexible enough to accommodate the need for these kind of harmless optics. Worse, their limited mandate was undermined from within by Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai's accusation that the Pakistan state — with which Mr. Krishna was going to sit down and have talks — had planned the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.


Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was undiplomatic in mentioning Mr. Pillai's unhelpful remarks in the same breath as Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed's inflammatory speeches against India. But people on the Indian side need to ask what the home secretary hoped to achieve by saying the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate of the Pakistan army had been involved in 26/11 "from the beginning till the end." Indian investigators had questioned Lashkar operative David Coleman Headley well before Mr. Chidambaram and Mr. Pillai held talks with their Pakistani counterparts in Islamabad last month. One can only presume this question of ISI involvement "from the beginning till the end" was raised by them with Rehman Malik.


In Islamabad, Mr. Chidambaram told reporters that India wanted Pakistan to vigorously investigate and follow up the leads available in the Mumbai terror attacks. He said he was leaving Pakistan with the conviction that "[Mr. Malik and I] have exchanged views, understood the situation and agreed that we should address the situation with the seriousness it deserves."


Three weeks have elapsed since the Home Minister made that statement. Is that time enough to form a judgment on Pakistan's "seriousness", let alone decide to gut the possibility of its cooperation by making a public accusation of state complicity? At stake is not the veracity of Headley's information — though it is worth asking why the statements of a terrorist who helped attack Mumbai in order to get India and Pakistan to go to war should be taken at face value — but the utility of levelling a serious charge in public. Did Mr. Pillai or his advisers do a cost-benefit analysis beforehand and conclude that blaming the ISI in this manner on the eve of the foreign minister's talks would make Pakistan more likely to address India's concerns about terrorism?


If Mr. Pillai's comments on the ISI betray a failure of the government to think strategically, the decision to postpone any front-channel discussion on issues like Siachen and Kashmir till there is greater "trust" is also deeply flawed.


In politics, the default option is often the easiest one to take. Having suspended the composite dialogue in the wake of the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, it would have been quite simple for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to keep the dialogue process under suspension indefinitely. There would be no need for him to explain anything to anybody. But just as Atal Bihari Vajpayee had the courage to invite Pervez Musharraf, the architect of Kargil, to Agra in 2001, or to travel to Islamabad in January 2004 despite cross-border terrorism not ending, Dr. Singh was brave enough to say that not talking to Pakistan indefinitely was a bad option. The Prime Minister showed enormous political courage at Sharm el-Sheikh last year and againt at Thimphu in making a case for engagement. He knew full well that his decision would run against the grain of both hawkish political sentiment and the risk-averse attitudes of the security establishment. And in a concession to these quarters, his advisers came up with the formula of incremental dialogue.


In the wake of the acrimony that Mr. Krishna's visit has produced, the government's critics in the opposition and

the 'retirati' are likely to say Dr. Singh was wrong to try engagement. But that would be an incorrect conclusion.

Thursday's fruitless talks and the rather churlish comments of Mr. Qureshi since then are not the product of dialogue and engagement but of the half-way house that Indian officials have parked themselves in. Dr. Singh was bold enough to steer India away from the rigid position of no dialogue but he should have been bolder still in recognising that indulging Pakistan's desire for official talks on Kashmir, Siachen and other 'core issues' would cost India nothing and would actually be a cheap way of moving the CBMs process forward.


India's current rigidity on this question is counter-productive. No doubt Dr. Singh is wary of how a more open attitude towards the resumption of dialogue would play. All democracies — and many non-democracies — have to worry about public opinion. But in this particular case, the burden of good optics weighs much more heavily on the civilian government in Pakistan than it does on the UPA government in India. If India looked at the problem strategically, it would recognise the importance of not allowing jihadi and extremist forces in Pakistan to depict the civilian government as an entity which meekly surrenders to Indian positions. Anti-Indianism is the glue that the terrorists and their backers in Pakistan use to bond with a public which is otherwise under daily attack by them. The creation of a dialogue structure which allows the Pakistani side to hold its head high domestically against extremists of all hues is what India should be striving for, especially at a time when the attack on the Data Ganj Bakhsh shrine in Lahore has outraged the Pakistani people. Mr. Qureshi may have been abrasive and tactless in many of things he said but his remarks on Balochistan and Kashmir and even infiltration ('deal firmly with them and we will back you') led hawkish journalists to attack him as pro-Indian. India is dealing with the complexity of a sharply divided Pakistani establishment and society. It should resist the temptation of matching Mr. Qureshi's desperate grandstanding and instead think deeply about how the process of engagement which has started can be broadened and deepened.









Parents who fail to help an obese child eat and exercise properly, ignoring all advice and guidance, could be guilty of neglect, say British child health experts.


Dr Russell Viner and colleagues from the UCL Institute of Child Health in London say the weight of a child by itself is not a reason for child protection staff to get involved.


But in an article on what they accept is a potentially contentious issue, published online on Friday by the British Medical Journal, they suggest that it may be appropriate to consider the child protection register if the parents consistently fail to change the family's lifestyle and will not engage with outside help.


"Parental failure to provide their children with adequate treatment for a chronic illness [asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, etc] is a well accepted reason for a child protection registration for neglect," they write.


"We suggest that childhood obesity becomes a child protection concern when parents behave in a way that actively promotes treatment failure in a child who is at serious risk from obesity and when the parents or carers understand what is required, and are helped to engage with the treatment programme." That might involve failing to keep appointments or get involved with healthcare staff or other professionals who want to help the child, they say, or "actively subverting weight management initiatives".


Viner said it was difficult to establish when obesity shaded into neglect and became an issue for child protection, because the pressure on everyone to eat too much and exercise too little were so powerful. These factors were so strong that "for some parents, it is very difficult to stop their child gaining weight".


He also pointed to the strong associations between food, feeding, caring and love. "And eating is a pleasure and you want to give your children pleasure." Viner and his colleagues set out to review the evidence for any link between childhood obesity and neglect because there are no official guidelines for professionals.


They discovered increasing evidence linking adolescent and adult obesity with childhood sexual abuse, violence

and neglect, but found no studies examining the relation between child protection actions and childhood obesity.


"Removing children from their parents may not help obesity. There are few data on the weight of children in public care," they say. A recent study found that 37 per cent of children in care were overweight or obese — but almost all of them had put on weight after they were put into care.


Viner and his colleagues say in their paper that there will be particular concerns if obesity is putting a child at risk of disease, such as raised blood pressure or diabetes. Before such a child was put on the register, however, there would have to be clear, objective evidence over a sustained period that the parents were not complying with a treatment plan based on good evidence, they say.

Usually, obesity will be only one of a number of factors causing concern, they say, along with poor school attendance, exposure to violence or involvement in it, neglect, poor hygiene, mental health problems of parents and emotional or behavioural difficulties. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








I am afraid that in the third paragraph of the article, "Some lessons from the Bhopal outcome" (Op-Ed, June 14), the sentences — "A huge hospital financed by Union Carbide was built in Bhopal. But it is not for the poor but the rich. It is over the bodies of the poor that the hospital building was built, and still the have-nots have no access to it" — do not accurately reflect the state of affairs of the working of the hospital, which was set up by the BMHT for the treatment of gas victim patients.


After the formation of BMHT in 1998, it set up a 350-bed super-speciality hospital, the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre ("BMHRC" or the "hospital") along with eight mini units at the various gas-affected wards in Bhopal. The hospital and the mini units were set up primarily for the diagnosis and treatment of gas victims. Those requiring specialised treatment are admitted to the hospital.


Out of the 5.75 lakh gas victims, 3.70 lakh were registered with the BMHRC.


Since inception, 40 lakh visits of gas victims have been recorded in the mini units and provided treatment. At the BMHRC, about 8 lakh OPD patient visits have been recorded. It is also informed that 54,000 patients have been admitted for specialised treatment.


Contrary to the assertions in the article, all the patients admitted and treated at the mini units gas victims and at the hospital, approximately 80 per cent of the patients admitted were gas victims.


The Chairman and Trustees of BMHT are conscious of their responsibility and are committed to provide quality treatment to the gas victims at the mini units and at the hospital. There is no question of any compromise in the admission and treatment of gas victims.


The occupancy of beds in the hospital is, on an average, 60 per cent in a year. Therefore, it would be a waste of infrastructure of the hospital, if a small number of private patients are not admitted for specialised treatment when beds are vacant. This is specially so because of the shortage of specialised medical facilities in the State of Madhya Pradesh. In fact, the Central government has also subscribed to this view and has no objection to using the spare infrastructure at the hospital for treating private patients. The revenue generated from private patients is ploughed back into the hospital for treatment of the gas victims.


In the light of foregoing, the assertions highlighted above are without any basis and are not correct.








Last month was the hottest June ever recorded worldwide and the fourth consecutive month that the combined global land and sea temperature records have been broken, according to the U.S. government's climate data centre. The figures released on Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suggest that 2010 is now on course to be the warmest year since records began in 1880.


The trend to a warmer world is now incontrovertible. According to NOAA, June was the 304th consecutive month with a combined global land and surface temperature above the 20th-century average.


The last month with below-average temperatures was February 1985. Each of the 10 warmest average global temperatures recorded since 1880 have occurred in the last 15 years with the previous warmest first half of a year in 1998.


Temperature anomalies included Spain, which experienced its coolest June temperature since 1997, and Guizhou in southern China, which had its coolest June on record. According to Beijing Climate Center, Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, and Jilin experienced their warmest June since their records began in 1951. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








The sharp anti-India rhetoric emanating from Pakistan right after the foreign minister talks in Islamabad on Thursday would suggest that peace with India is not on Pakistan's mind for now. India suspended the composite dialogue process with Pakistan following the attack on Mumbai in November 2008 by that country's "civilian commandos". Suspicions were later confirmed with the confession of David Coleman Headley, who had carried out the reconnaissance for the Mumbai attack, that the assault on Mumbai was overseen by the ISI from beginning to end. In spite of the likelihood of ISI involvement, India quite inexplicably initiated a series of steps — commencing with the Sharm el-Sheikh talks between the Prime Ministers of the two countries a year ago — to change tracks and re-start a process of engagement. The Manmohan Singh government persisted with this approach, although in the beginning a touch hesitantly, given the strong domestic misgivings. Later, however, it would abandon the timidity with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh taking the high-profile lead on the sidelines of the Saarc Summit in Thimphu last April to inaugurate steps to cut the "trust deficit" between the two countries with a view to hitting the road to peace. First the foreign secretary talks in New Delhi at the end of February, and now the Islamabad interaction of the foreign ministers, offers few signs for us to hope that the path we have chosen has any traction left.

The Prime Minister and his men need to introspect whether the "trust deficit" has in fact increased, not lessened, at the level of the two governments as well as the people of the two countries. This is so much the pity. At the level of ordinary people, there is no fundamental discord between India and Pakistan, although on some questions there are glaring gaps of perception. It has been clear over decades that it is the use of terrorism as an instrument of Islamabad's India policy that has been the source of bitterness in ties. Alas, latterly Pakistan itself becoming a victim of home-grown terrorism that was initially cultivated as an anti-India weapon has not helped moderate the Pakistan government's approach towards this country. In the circumstances, any Indian initiative to dramatically reverse history and move towards peace and normality cannot be inspired to succeed in a vacuum. An attempt to do so is likely to attract failure and scorn. It is likely to look foolish, not valiant. In the light of the sharp public opinion rebuke the Sharm el-Sheikh move had drawn in Parliament and outside, the Congress party was initially wary of the government's Pakistan policy, but in time it came to relinquish that reserve. After Mr Krishna's return to New Delhi on Friday in the wake of the cold blast he was made to endure in the Pakistan capital, the Congress may have been expected to move toward some degree of course correction. In the event, it has not. The BJP, as the main Opposition in Parliament, has its tail up, and has demanded the abandonment of the present Pakistan policy. There is little doubt that the government will be pilloried in the forthcoming Monsoon Session of Parliament, and there are several state elections coming up in the next 12 months or so.

A possible fresh approach to Islamabad can be a subject of debate. But there is clarity on one key issue so far — Pakistan is not well placed to receive peace overtures so long as India continues to demand credible action against those responsible for the Mumbai attack. Its belligerence is fuelled by its perception that the West is about to pull out of Afghanistan, paving the way for the return of its client Taliban to power in Kabul. It is unrealistic to expect that Islamabad will coddle the jihadists in the Afghan theatre and go after them in the Indian context.








 "Q: What's on the drinks menu at Eklav's Cafe?

A: Dhoka Cola and Thumbs Up."

From Bachchoo's

Ancient Quizzes


Occasionally, and when they can't think of anyone else to fill the forbidding emptiness of the broadcasting ether, Indian television stations and programmes ask me to appear and voice my opinion on some topic of the day.

If one is in London, the drill entails driving or bussing down to one or other satellite-linked studio, on most occasions the one on the Albert Embankment in a tall red building adjoining Lambeth Bridge.


From the studio on the ninth floor of this building one has a magnificent view of the Thames and the Houses of Parliament muted only by the darkened-glass walls which shield the cameras from glare and give the world the protected look one gets from wearing "shades".

Very polite young men seat you down in front of a camera which looks like a small flat TV screen and wire you up to listen and to speak. Then they abandon you for the little adjoining room with mysterious monitoring equipment through which they perform their transmitting ceremonials.

One sits in the chair, switching the mobile (or "mo-BILE!", as we Indians would have it) off and waits the five or 10 minutes before the earphone crackles and the host or hostess of the programme can be heard introducing the guests and perhaps bouncing into a question of the topic in hand.

Indian TV debates can get very noisy and sometimes very difficult to control with the participants insisting on getting across what they want to say oblivious of the fact that saying it above the voices of other participants militates against any communication at all.

It's what happened on the last occasion I was invited onto a programme which was supposed to debate an article by one Joel Stein in Time magazine. It appears that Master Stein is a columnist of the international magazine. He wrote a satirical piece about the town of his birth and youth, Edison, New Jersey, which has now been transformed by immigration from the subcontinent. The article was an attempt to be funny — and some may have found it so — as Master Stein lampooned himself and his friends as petty shoplifters, street nuisances and the robust if harmless youth of a community.

The piece would have had some bite if it had been written 20 years ago, as it was no more insightful than to say that the local cinema now showed Bollywood films, the cafes served spicy food and that the young Italian bling-merchants of his adolescence had been replaced by Asians who wore their black shirts open and decked themselves with tasteless gold jewellery.

Nothing new there — and perhaps because he and the editors at Time knew that, Master Stein ventured into hotter territory. He noted that the racists in his old school referred to Indians as "dot heads" and wondered how good the schools of Edison could be if this was the only insult they could think of for people "whose Gods have multiple arms and an elephant nose".

For my generation "dot heads" is associated with the American racists of the 1970s who went around assaulting Indians and calling themselves, the assailants, "dot busters". Not very nice.

Master Stein also ventured the opinion that when Indian immigrants first moved in they were mostly engineers and doctors and were regarded as very clever, but then they brought their merchant-class cousins and this somehow let the tone of the neighbourhood down.

The entire article was intended to be tongue-in-cheek but the editors who approved of it should have noticed that Master Stein's cheek was thin enough to have allowed his tongue through it to rudely protrude and point.
On the occasion on which I was invited to comment on the article the sound in my earpiece, my only indication as to what was happening in the studio in Mumbai or Delhi, was fuzzy. Turning up the volume only deafened me with incoherent ethereal noises of the electromagnetic spectrum. Remember, playing by satellite, one looks into a blank glass plate and can see nothing of whom one is addressing — a sort of blindfold inquisition.
What I could hear was a lot of very angry shouting. I couldn't make out the sentences but it was apparent that our interlocutor, the gifted and acute Arnab Goswami (known in Australia as "Go-get-'em"), had invited someone to assess the article and they had "gone" what the English call "bananas" and the Americans call "ape-shit" (I have always wondered whether ape-shit can be, or is, used to fertilise the growth of bananas, but that's another question).

The person doing the militant interrupting, whose name or provenance I failed to catch, was screaming about racism in America and, though I can't reproduce his argument as I didn't hear his words, seemed to be warning the world that this was the sort of article that led Nazi Germany to acquiesce in the holocaust.
The host did ask me my opinion and I ventured to say that the article struck me as the sort of tosh one finds on an amateur's blog, but felt impelled to warn against a particular vein of objection or extreme reaction. I don't think anyone in the audience heard a word I said because the Don Quixote of anti-racism was in full gallop against the windmill.

The host, with someone indistinct, protested to my argument by saying that Time was an important magazine and by being published there the article had been given some sort of official sanction. Editorial sanction by the insensitive? Yes! An official declaration of war against Indian immigrants which would result in injury? No!
The stuff which borders on ridicule of the avatars of Lord Shiva or Ganesha is, I agree, the most objectionable. But none of Master Stein's observations were to me a call to the barricades.

Neither should the Indian diaspora assume the hijab of intolerance and murderous threat for which the fundamentalist Muslims who place fatwas on writers have become noted. I would urge Quixoteji to burn copies of Time in Edison's town square, to begin a bloggers campaign to stop buying the magazine, to write articles flaying Stein. But Stein mustn't be stoned. The right to write satirical articles, however unfunny and insulting, as long as they fall short of incitement to racial assault, should be tolerated and seen by the world to be taken in our sophisticated kadam.







It's all about the numbers. And right now M.S. Dhoni's numbers are looking just great! Signing a staggering Rs 210 crore endorsement deal isn't exactly small change, particularly in these tough times when even international superstars are accepting pay cuts. What cricket fans are getting all excited over is the fact that Dhoni, at age 29, has gone past the 37-year-old Sachin Tendulkar's record of Rs 180 crore deal which ended in 2009. Come on guys… haven't you heard of that old saying which goes… the old order changeth yielding place to new? Shakespeare sure knew a thing or two about jawaani deewani… and the premium attached to it. Dhoni is on top of his game (and I am not restricting that to cricket). He has displayed the sort of robust common sense that has seen him through various crises, professional and personal. And now as a newly minted bridegroom, even his previous romantic chakkars with assorted Bollywood/fashion lovelies are taken care of. Dhoni is the ultimate symbol of aspirational/inspirational India. What is there not to like and love about this guy? He is handsome, self-made and successful. His entry into the big-ticket world of international cricket has been entirely on merit, without the benevolent hand of a powerful godfather over his head. He has seamlessly negotiated the murky political cesspool that is cricket today, winning the "Captain Cool" tag in the bargain. The man is a bloody modern-day marvel! He can act, he can sing, he can dance… who knows… maybe he can walk on water, too. For all that, Dhoni remains a small-town guy — and that's where his real strength lies.

Something major is underway in small time India that most big city folks have paid scant attention to. One can sense it each time a journey into the hinterland is undertaken. This goes beyond malls and money. But hey — why not begin with the malls and money? Wasn't it a dumb Mercedes dealer who stupidly ignored an order for 83 swanky Mercs, because he couldn't believe that farmers from Aurangabad would be serious about such a gigantic purchase? But guess what? That's where the actual lolly is… in dem hills. And those guys in shiny suits living in India's Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities are the fat cats shrewd advertisers and marketers should be aggressively chasing — instead of the comparatively kadka urban socialites sporting designer logos on their bums. Logos that in all probability have their origins in the fake goods factories in Taiwan. Talking to the Delhi franchisees of the most prestigious luxury labels in the world, I was told that most of their sales are generated by farmers from Punjab, who make special "trousseau trips" to the capital to pick up the priciest "It" bags and designer gear for their darling daughters. It's a strictly "cash-and carry" crowd of dedicated shoppers and these guys justifiably believe money talks. Bundles of thousand rupee notes carried in inconspicuous plastic bags are poured on to the counter, much to the horror of the snooty sales' team, accustomed to bowing and scraping in the presence of Bollywood stars looking for freebies. Not that this lack of so-called "class" matters to their bosses in Milan, London or New York. Those foreign number crunchers rub their hands in glee as the euros, dollars and pounds roll in — from rural India, of all places! Given the dismal economic story dominating Europe, what would these snob stores do without the patronage of our richie rich kisaans and shetkaris?
And so it goes on other levels as well. Small town India has come into its own, be it in Bollywood or in big business. When I read about the 23-year-old Kangana Ranaut from Himachal Pradesh booking a sprawling four-bedroom apartment in Mumbai's tiny Bandra neighbourhood for a whopping Rs 15 crores, I fell off my chair! Here's a girl who gatecrashed into Bollywood less than five years ago, hooked up with a much married, much older Aditya Pancholi, broke up with the same bloke after a few well publicised spats, made a couple of small budget films, got noticed, got fame, got new boyfriends… and… and got rich. Seriously rich. Today, she zooms around in the latest Audi, wears the best designer labels, signs countless movies and is right up there in the showbiz pecking order.

One would imagine that Dhoni and Kangana would have nothing in common — but they do! It is the fascinating journey of two young and daring people to the top of the heap that makes them interesting. On a recent trip to Sri Lanka, I got talking to a hugely successful businessman (you could call him the beer king of the island), who said he was not interested in the pursuit of either money or admiration. Loftily… very loftily, he added such a chase was for the under-privileged and the hungry, who need both. But for someone like him, born into one of the wealthiest and most privileged families, his dream, he said airily, was to appreciate beauty and enjoy life! Lucky bugger, I thought to myself, as he picked at his gourmet lunch in Colombo's smartest restaurant. He pointed to a brand new and very gaudy high-rise apartment close by. "It's expensive… even by Indian standards. But would I live in it? Never! It's for the peasants who have made money and are stupid enough to move to the city." Earlier that day, I had met a tea garden owner whose exclusive "Virgin White Tea"


retails in fancy tea boutiques in New York and Paris for $1,500 per 10 grams! I kid you not. What makes this tea so special? The publicity claims it is picked by virgins ("But I don't certify them", he chuckled wickedly) who cut the leaves with a pair of gold scissors and collect them in a gold bowl. Well, that's a part of the myth. But the extraordinary success of his limited edition tea has made it possible for his workers to dream Technicolour dreams. One of those fit and handsome boys playing cricket in the field close by could well replace Kumar Sangakkara, the dashing captain of the Sri Lankan cricket team, in the near future.
There are versions of Dhonis and Kanganas being born every day in some small, relatively obscure part of our world. Who knows — the Commonwealth Games may throw up a few right here in our backyard. May the best underdog win… and all that rot. While we are at it, let's ask Oracle Paul what the odds are of India winning even a single measly medal?


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ON ONE of the very few occasions that I have met Lord Mandelson (when he was still the business secretary in the last Labour government and a thousand other things) I did say to him that he was the "Sonia Gandhi" of British politics. I meant it as a compliment: He seemed cool and calm, a stabilising force, the "glue" that maintained the uneasy coalition between the then Prime Minister Tony Blair and the former Chancellor Gordon Brown. It reminded me of how Mrs Gandhi had first stepped in and kept her party and later the first United Progressive Alliance government from collapsing. He looked quite pleased. And now it is painfully obvious why, but, alas, not quite in the way I had meant.

From his newly published memoir, The Third Man, it is apparent that more than keeping the Labour Party in power, the tension between Mr Blair and Mr Brown actually kept Lord Mandelson and others around in power. Feeding into the insecurities of the two men, Lord Mandelson played the concerned middle-man, brokering deals between the two and assiduously storing away all the salacious details for future use. Mr Brown was "mad, bad and dangerous" and Mr Blair was "weak and ineffectual". And guess who comes out smelling of roses? Lord Mandelson, of course.

The speed at which Lord Mandelson has churned out his "kiss and tell" book has been astonishing. It is barely two months since the elections — how did the man ever find the time to write a book covering 13 years so quickly? If he has only just written it then he has got through one year in one week which is a breathtaking ratio by any measure. Or more likely, accused as he is of being a master of the dark arts, he may have already anticipated this moment and had been prepared to line his retirement years with royalties, ages ago. He has, not for the first time, pipped both Mr Blair and Mr Brown to the post. They are still struggling with their recollections while he is busy serialising book rights and tours. No doubt there will soon be a film about a gay, powerful minister who controlled 10 Downing Street.

But who do we really believe? Coming so close on the heels of the former spin doctor Alistair Campbell's memoirs, this latest bombshell has pushed us deep into a Rashomon moment, with each new book giving a different twist to our understanding of the Blair-Brown years. Lord Mandelson has very nobly maintained that he rushed his book because he wanted the contenders of the newly-launched Labour leadership contest to learn from history. But already doubts are being shed at his capacity to remember incidents laced with supposedly verbatim dialogue unless he was also tape-recording the conversations? However, his loyal supporters point out that a Prince of Darkness must also have supernatural powers and maybe this is only a small demonstration of that.

Perhaps the book should have been called "The Third Monkey" as it seems the three men had decided that whilst in power they would not notice the evil around them, pretending that they were all influential world leaders. On the contrary, they actually seem like a bunch of squabbling schoolboys at Number 10 and 11 calling each other names and even occasionally pummelling each other — not over policy or even the Iraq war, but over what clothes Mr Blair was to wear. According to Mr Campbell's memoirs this was the reason why Lord Mandelson boxed him during an acrimonious meeting. Clothes! Image maintenance reigned supreme, after all.
Whilst this may not be what we would have liked to think New Labour was all about, it is interesting to see the depths to which hubris can make us plunge. At the same time, I really wish a similar no-holds-barred memoir would come out in India. Mission impossible!


MEANWHILE, AWAY from the Westminister battleground I saw the preview of a really feel-good and unusual film about the Afghanistani cricket team, Out of the Ashes, from filmmakers Timothy Albone, Lucy Martens and Leslie Knott. Shot over two years — the film emerged from Albone's journalistic sojourn in Afghanistan during which the cricket team was announced. Immediately struck by the idea, Albone temporarily abandoned his journalism for the film — even teaching himself cinematography for the purpose. The documentary is especially heart-warming as it does not play upon any stereotypes, but clearly pitches a bunch of very cheerful underdogs against the cricketing might of the entire world, as they prepare for the World Cup. The crew, also often struggling for resources, determinedly shot over 200 hours all over the world to reach the final, brilliantly-edited version of the 86-minute film. However — the film did garner some backers along the way — including the filmmaker and cricket enthusiast Sam Mendes and the BBC.

Out of the Ashes traces the initial grouping of the team, mostly from a refugee camp, under an almost surrealistically optimistic coach Taj Malik to their knockout at the World Cup qualifiers. Armed with very little training, almost no funding and a strict halal diet, the team launch themselves enthusiastically into the championship. Albone was never sure about where the documentary would lead or end — because the team could have been ousted at any of the qualifying rounds. To his astonishment, they travel through Jersey, Tanzania and even Argentina, praying and surviving to play another day. The film with a powerful true-life story, accompanied by strong visuals and rousing music (and thankfully without a voiceover) gifts us a rarely seen side of Afghanistan.

Albone himself says that this was the main inspiration. "I wanted show the human side to Afghanistan, not just the war." In this, the film, with its fairytale ending, succeeds completely. It is a film about the triumph of the human spirit. The politics and ravaged images of a war-torn country are not entirely absent but are integrated seamlessly into the script — for instance, sometimes as a broadcast from US President Barack Obama — so that we can never forget where the indomitable cricket players emerged from. Even their final knockout from the World Cup is like a victory because they had never even dreamt they could, with all their disadvantages, become an internationally-recognised team.

It is the sort of film that a cricket-mad country like India would love — but also viewers everywhere because it transcends boundaries and speaks to us purely about how the most fragile dream can, one day, become a reality. Or as Taj Malik says, "There are a lot of problems in the world today… Everywhere there is complex fighting, injustice... The solution to all the problems is... cricket!"


The writer can be contacted at








The meeting between Indian external affairs minister SM Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Syed Mehmood Qureshi in Islamabad on Thursday seemed to have gone off well, if one were to go by the official, written statements that the two read out at the beginning of their televised press briefing after a long day of parleys.


Had the two stuck to the written statement and not volunteered to take questions from the media, it would have remained a quiet affair. But they did not. The two departed from the script as they faced partisan, provocative and teaser questions from mediapersons from the two countries. That is when the apparent diplomatic calm was breached, and the conference turned into a soft, sparring match between the two ministers.


First, there was the question by an Indian journalist asking whether there was any timeframe for bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks of November 26, 2008, to book. Qureshi gave a measured reply and hinted at the need to access Ajmal Kasab, who is in Indian custody and who has been sentenced to death by the trial court in Mumbai. This was followed by a question on human rights violations from a Pakistan journalist, to which Krishna gave a lengthy, legal explanation. Then an Indian journalist asked Qureshi about the hate-India speeches of Jamaat-ud-Dawa's Hafiz Sayeed. Qureshi drew attention to Indian home secretary GK Pillai's statement on the involvement of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) in the Mumbai attacks.


He then mentioned that Baluchistan figured in the talks and stated the Indian response. Krishna added that Pakistan has not so far given any evidence of Indian involvement in Baluchistan.


The fault-lines were there for all to see. But this is, however, quite unlikely to have a negative impact on future official talks. Krishna has said that he has invited Qureshi to visit India and there will be another round of talks between the two in Delhi. The meetings will continue and there will be progress on some of the issues. But what the press conference revealed was the mood in the two countries. Pakistan is in an assertive, even aggressive, mood because it has gained strategic leverage in the war in Afghanistan. On its part, India is fully aware of its growing global stature and its irritation with what it sees as Pakistan's cussedness.


The two will continue to bicker in public and engage in talks at the official level — and both will happen simultaneously. It is to be hoped that whatever their differences and conflict of interests, which are inevitable, India and Pakistan will learn to bicker less and talk more. It's a long, circuitous road to peace anyway.








China's economic rise, the increasing instances of its muscle-flexing in Asian and global affairs, and perceptions that the US is economically enfeebled have inspired theories that China will inevitably "rule the world" soon. But Dr Robert Sutter, who has worked in the US government for many years — including in the state department, the CIA and the Congressional Research Service — points to China's "encumbrances" at home and in Asia to argue that China cannot, and will not, lead Asia, much less the world. In an interview to Venkatesan Vembu, the visiting professor of Asian Studies at Georgetown University also highlights the risks of India's misreading strategic motives into China's commercial relations with countries in south Asia. 

Strategists believe US influence on Asian and global affairs is waning, and China is filling the void and will "rule the world" soon. Is that inevitable? 

China is a big economy and is growing in importance, but it has its limitations. I don't think China will 'rule the world' or even just Asia. The world is too complicated. Asia is full of independent-minded governments that don't want to be 'ruled' by China. China's legacy in Asia is quite poor; this makes governments of countries around China wary. China is also very encumbered: it has a lot of complications — domestic as well as foreign — which limit its ability to lead. A country's preparedness to lead involves commitments, risks and costs. And the record says China isn't ready and can't do it. 

As for US decline, you can point to various shortcomings. But in areas that matter to governments in Asia, you don't see much signs of decline. The two key ones are the ability and the willingness of the US to undertake security commitments and the willingness of the US to keep its market open. If those two things change, the US will be in decline in Asia. Thus far, I haven't seen the change. 

Why does China's shadow on the world stage seem larger than it really is? 

First of all, the data is incorrect. Some opinion polls show that Americans believe China is a larger economy than the US; it isn't. It's also wrong to extrapolate from recent trends and straight-line them and say 'that's what will happen in the future'. It's been done in the past, and as far as the Asian order is concerned, it's proven to be wrong. We thought the Soviet Union or Japan would be the leading power of Asia. In both cases, the US was supposed to be in decline. This is also why I'm sceptical about China's rise. 

Are there risks in exaggerating China's ascent? 

There are. I was in government for long, and I've seen that Americans make bad policy on China when they get excited about China in either a positive or a negative way. So I don't want them to think that China is a big threat — or that it is a giant opportunity either. It's much more mixed. Keeping that in mind helps make realistic policy. There's a danger in a country's government making its judgement on China 'having a shadow' on world affairs. 

From an Indian perspective, China appears to have made strategic inroads into south Asia at India's expense. Has it really? 


The balance of forces in south Asia still heavily tilts in India's favour. India has tremendous influence, except perhaps in Pakistan — and even there, India's influence is overwhelming, even if it isn't positive. Also, India's relations with Russia and the US give it strategic importance. Whatever China is doing in south Asia is emblematic of what China does all over the world. That Chinese construction companies are building projects in these countries only tells you that China has competitive construction companies. They want the business, they do it cheaply, and they finance it. 

Does China have a strategic concern about India: yes, it does. And would these things be of some use in China's strategic interests: perhaps. But to see this as the advance of a wave of China's strategic influence is overstating it. It may be that to an extent, but mostly it's business. Discerning the commercial from the strategic is sometimes difficult to do.

Is there a risk in India overreacting to what you say are largely commercial relationships?
There certainly is. Take the Gwadar port: Pakistanis need it for their own interests. China is a friend of Pakistan, and can make money developing it. Is it designed to be a port of use by China against India at some point: that seems to be a big jump. In the US, a similar mindset led to a misguided view that the Chinese were taking over the Panama Canal. It was seen in hindsight as ridiculous. 

Does the US have an interest in hedging against China by cultivating India? 
It's unstated, but pretty clear, that the US views its relationship with India as helpful in dealing with a more assertive China. (Former secretary of state) Condoleeza Rice said as much in 2005, and that's probably still the case. The US interest in India is partly viewed as a way of creating an atmosphere in Asia — and the world — that can allow for dealing with contingencies in China that may be negative. 

Should India ally with the US and risk antagonising China further?

Posture is important. None of this should be done by way of overtly competing with China. Your policy should be to improve your interests in the world and expand your relationships for the sake of those relationships. An improvement of relations between India and the US has a series of concrete reasons that are beneficial to both sides, and you must do it for those reasons. This is not going to hurt you in dealing with China, it will probably help you. The Indian government is pursuing a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional foreign policy in India's interest. From the American perspective, that's just fine. What America wants is for different countries to pursue their development in a way that's peaceful and benefits the region and where nobody dominates the region. 









No one got to the top of Mount Everest without the right skills, excellent planning, exceptional teamwork and good decision making. You may not be able to climb The Big One, but it's never too late to make the stunning 180km journey from Lukla in Nepal to Everest Base Camp (EBC) and back. I'd say that the EBC trek should be on the bucket list of every CEO, not because the trek pits you against adversity (it doesn't) but because it teaches you, as mountaineer and filmmaker David Breashears says, a vital lesson in management, one that we may have missed at B-School: you learn to climb on a mountain's schedule, not your own. 

It's really about acquiring an alternate view to goal setting. As students and practitioners of management theory, we are taught to respect the ideas of people like (Dr Edwin) Locke on aspects like task motivation that condense into specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound goals. But not everything needs to be done the SMART way. 

Some of it can happen the natural way — and you can still win in the end. In fact the trek which goes through Namche Bazaar, Tengboche, Dingboche, Lobuche, Kalapatthar and Ghorakshep before reaching Everest Base Camp makes you think about the unexpected external forces that shape goal setting: on a given day the wind may be colder, or visibility may drop, or the lack of oxygen may give you altitude sickness (God forbid), forcing you to take a step back. In this case you have to climb to the schedule the mountain has in store for you. Time doesn't matter, just the goal does.  

The walks through heavily-scented pine forests and rhododendrons, spectacular icefalls and glaciers, may even mesmerise you into slowing down to familiarise yourself with the new landscape you are suddenly a part of. As an aside, I am reminded of a line from Oscar winner The Hurt Locker where Sergeant William James played by Jeremy Renner, is asked what is the best way to disarm a bomb to which he responds, "The one that lets you come back alive." Conquering mountains is the same — you attempt them in a manner that lets you reach the top, win, and come back unhurt.


Doing the EBC trek I discovered that resilience and determination were bigger elements of good managerial character than time management and resource management. It's not about war. It's about attrition.  

Speaking at Wharton's 10th annual leadership conference titled 'Leading with Resilience: Coming Back from Challenge and Adversity', Breashears, who has successfully climbed Everest five times, asked, "So where does a mountaineer and filmmaker fit into this conference?" The response: "Resilience, excellence, determination, conviction, resolve." Aren't these the same attributes we expect from our corporate leaders?  

I did my first trek in the 80s and came back with a resolve: to start a company that would make outdoor gear for Indians so that we too could attempt climbs in the Himalayas. In those days, most of us would go to Namche Bazaar, scrounging for second hand gear left behind by foreign teams. Today, of course, the best gear is available locally and the only thing you need to worry about on the EBC trek is resilience, personal resolve and determination.  

However, I would advice those not familiar with trekking in the high mountains where the descents are long, steep and unrelenting to learn some simple techniques like the rest step. 

Walking all day in the mountains is different than walking in city streets. If you learn this you can push up the steepest hill without getting tired. Learning and adapting to new processes may not be easy, especially when normal walking appears to have no inherent flaw. And here lies the second most important lesson in management I learnt in the mountains: if it ain't broke, it doesn't mean it doesn't need fixing. 

Practically anyone with a good level of fitness can do the EBC trek and come back with personally shot pictures of Mount Everest and proudly tick off an item on their Life's To Do List. 

October to November is a good time to do the trek. It will take you a couple of months to put everything in place for the trek. So, now is a good time to begin chalking out plans, getting in touch with the correct trekking agency and preparing physically for the long walk. Before you know it, you will be in Kathmandu, flying down to Lukla and exploring the rugged mountains, finding adventure and checkmating the worst fears in you by taking on a challenge bigger than a management exam ever was. 

The rewards? A charming understanding of you own capabilities and limitations, your ability to adapt to new environments and, of course, the realisation that a mountain must be climbed for no other reason than that it is there!









THE manner in which the Foreign Minister-level talks between India and Pakistan virtually collapsed at Islamabad on Thursday with the two sides trading accusations at a joint Press conference should make one conscious that the path to peace between the two countries is arduous and long. Yet, the only way they can move towards durable peace and meaningful cooperation is to continue to remain engaged despite setbacks. Having said that, India has reason to be deeply aggrieved over the attitude of Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmud Qureshi and his delegation. For instance, when Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna pointed out that there had been a 40 per cent increase in infiltration from across the border into Kashmir in 2008-09 and that this was "designed to create instability in that part of India", Mr Qureshi's curt response was that it was up to India to deal "firmly" with anyone caught doing so and that infiltration was not the policy of the government of Pakistan or any of its agencies.


When Mr Krishna remarked that the "complete unravelling of the Mumbai conspiracy" would be the "biggest confidence-building measure" and expressed the hope that Pakistan would take into account the fresh evidence presented by Home Minister Chidambaram, Mr Qureshi indicated that there was little that could be done to speed up things since the government could not dictate to the courts. There was virtually nothing on which the two leaders seemed to agree except that Mr Qureshi would visit India before the end of the year. Even minor confidence-building measures regarding the exchange of imprisoned fishermen and making the Line of Control more porous were not agreed upon. If there was any discussion on bilateral trade and on opening up more trade and transit routes there was no mention of these positives in the general atmosphere of negativity and acrimony.


There is indeed no room for India to give up its insistence on the Pakistan government stopping infiltration into Kashmir. Nor can there be any whittling down of the Indian position that Pakistan must come clean and take punitive action against the perpetrators and abettors of the Mumbai blasts. The ball is really primarily in Pakistan's court to put the dialogue back on track. Failure to do so would be to the detriment of both countries.








INTERNAL security has emerged as a major concern for India owing to the unending terrorist problem, the insurgency in the Northeast and the Maoist menace in many states. Yet it seems the country is not prepared to face the challenge from these elements with as much preparedness as is required. The fact that a large number of small and disused ports along the country's large coastline have no proper security arrangement is proof of this sad state of affairs. This is so despite "high priority" given to coastal security after the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist strikes. One wonders what would have been the situation in the absence of the so-called "high priority" factor. Coastal security is too serious a matter to be neglected. Spending crores of rupees and holding any number of meetings for the purpose are not enough.


If this is the style of functioning of those responsible for coastal security, what is the guarantee that the gaps will be completely filled following the "security audit" that has been undertaken after the alarming signals received from intelligence agencies. We must not forget that if trained terrorists can enter Mumbai using the sea route, they can do it again; this time they may choose a less important port for causing mayhem. It is true that many state governments are to blame for the lack of security arrangements at the nearly 200 ports falling under the purview of their maritime boards, which do not exist in many coastal states. But where is the Coastal Command, set up after 26/11 for the overall coordination and supervision of maritime and coastal security?


No one should be spared for putting the country's coasts at risk, including the naval authorities, which are not forthcoming in clearing the states' coastal security plans. Indulging in a blame game will take us nowhere. The main problem that appears to be coming in the way of ensuring adequate security at all big and small ports, including the disused ones, is the civilian-uniform divide that pervades the system. There is need for a system that allows the pooling of the assets of all the agencies concerned besides a regular review of coastal security.









THE rupee has got a new symbol, which blends the Devnagri "Ra" with Roman "R" and signifies India's emergence as a growing economic power. It is a moment of national pride and global recognition. After the Tricolour, it is another significant symbol of Indian oneness. Hitherto denoted by "Rs" or INR, the Indian currency has got a new face that "reflects and captures Indian ethos and culture". Since the currencies of countries like Pakistan, Nepal, Indonesia, Mauritius and Sri Lanka are also designated as the rupee or the rupiah, the new symbol will make India a part of an elite global club. India's is the fifth currency to have this distinctive mark after the US dollar, euro, pound and yen.


The new mark has been designed by Chennai-born Dharmalingam Udaya Kumar (32), who was set to take over as an Assistant Professor at the IIT, Guwahati, when the news of the selection of his design by the Cabinet reached him. His once-in-a-lifetime feat will usher in far-reaching changes. The new rupee sign will require software and telecom firms to grant it entry in all future computer keyboards and mobile phones. Microsoft is not averse to such adjustments as it already provides content and support in many Indian languages.


The Indian currency has definitely come a long way since Emperor Sher Shah Suri first issued the rupiah five centuries ago. From being dubbed a backward state, a land of snake-charmers and beggars, impoverished by floods and droughts, India has moved up the economic ladder to become the world's second fastest-growing economy. Once dependent on foreign aid, India today is a popular investment destination for foreign capital. From being forced to pledge gold to avoid a loan default, India has now accumulated foreign exchange reserves of Rs 279 billion. It is definitely a matter of pride to cover such a distance in such short time. 

















AMIDST the string of pacts on civilian nuclear cooperation that India has signed in the year gone by, it is the Canada-India nuclear agreement that merits top ranking for its wide-ranging impact on developing India's nuclear capability and operational benefits. It is superior in some respects to the accords with big nuclear-capability nations — France, Russia and the United States.


True, the accords with the three major nuclear powers hold the promise of advanced light water reactor imports to India, thereby giving a big push to this country's nuclear power capacity build-up in a short span of time. But the agreements are also laced by a commercial veneer: big money deals. The India-Canada nuclear accord, on the other hand, is largely a technology enhancement agreement. Add to that Canada's commitment to export uranium to India on a large scale — and Canada is a world leader in uranium.


The most important feature of the India-Canada agreement lies in the commonality of reactor technology that both countries have adopted, as distinct from the type of reactors that the three top nuclear powers are constructing. India and Canada are both constructing what is known as pressurised heavy water reactors while France, the US and Russia are engaged in light water reactors — the former fuelled by natural uranium, the latter by low enriched uranium.


These are two different technologies, each having its merits and negative points, and their overall economies are nearly matching. Why then did India and Canada not come to terms earlier? Why the elapse of three decades for this engagement to fructify? The answer is just this: lack of understanding. And thereby hangs a tale.


At the beginning of India's nuclear power capacity build-up, it was Canada that came forward with meaningful civilian nuclear cooperation. Dr Bhabha selected the Canadian reactor technology known as Candu reactors — pressurised heavy water reactor design, fuelled by natural uranium, moderated and cooled by heavy water.


The PHW reactor design enabled India to avoid getting enmeshed in nuclear weapon controversies, since various light water reactor designs required low-enriched uranium as fuel. The PHWR design also had two other benefits. First, it was better adaptable to the thorium path, vital strategy for India because of India's vast thorium resources and meagre uranium availability. Second, the PHWR design was better for handling radiation safety, proved by the four-decade safety record in India as well as Canada.


In the sixties, when India sought to build nuclear power generation capacity, Canada came forward to help New Delhi build its own nuclear electricity generation capacity: reactor construction of two nuclear power stations — Rajasthan I and II was undertaken. Earlier, Canada had cooperated in building the CIRUS research reactor. CIRUS has played a great role in developing India's nuclear research, which included developing the advanced technology of reactor spent fuel reprocessing, essential for extracting plutonium — a man-made fissile element. And it is here that India-Canada nuclear estrangement begins.


When India carried out its first peaceful nuclear explosion experiment at Pokhran in 1974, the fissile core of plutonium had been built by reprocessing spent fuel from CIRUS. Canada, reacting violently, charged India with the misuse of Canadian civilian nuclear cooperation by building atomic weapon devices. The Indian contention that the Pokhran test was a nuclear implosion for peaceful applications — which was an established activity in some countries as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — did not cut much ice, and thereby commenced the three-decade-old India-Canada estrangement.


During these decades, the Indian nuclear establishment has fought the global sanctions imposed on this country by building nuclear capability through the hard indigenous way. It has built research facilities, nuclear infrastructure as well as nuclear power generation capacity, pushing up India to an advanced nuclear capable nation. In the process, Indian scientists have not only made full use of the initial India-Canada cooperation but also made significant advances.


The DHRUVA research reactor built by Indian scientists in the eighties is many times the CIRUS and in some respects better. DHRUVA has become the mainstay of India's atomic weapon programme, and Indian-built PHW reactors are now rated among the best in the world. Kakrapar-I, 220 MW PHW reactor, won the prize, "Best PHWR in the world", during the mid-nineties. Indian-built Tarapur- 3 and 4, 540 MW PHWRs have been registering up to 95 per cent capacity factor, and now the nuclear establishment is moving on to build 700 MW capacity PHWRs. Such is the advance of Indian-built PHWRs that Dr Mohammed el-Baradai, IAEA Director-General, during one of his earlier visits to India, asked: "Why do you call your reactor design as Candu; you should describe it as Indu, since your reactors are in some respects an improvement on the original Canadian design."


Canada has watched Indian nuclear capability development during these decades and sought to reverse the chapter of estrangement. The opportunity came with the Nuclear Suppliers Group's waiver of the sanctions on India, even when it retained its weapons programme. The India-Canada civilian nuclear cooperation agreement inked during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent visit signifies a new chapter for mutual cooperation among the countries that have pursued similar technologies.


Three important areas of nuclear cooperation between the two countries open up. First, technology development of PHWR design and its further improvement jointly. Second, large Canadian uranium exports for Indian projects under IAEA safeguards, as also Canadian nuclear equipment import by India. Third, cooperation and joint exports of PHWRs to third countries. An interesting thing to watch would be India engaging in PHWR repair and maintenance market in Canada. A bright vista of India-Canada nuclear cooperation begins.








BUOYED by the high rate of success of Paul the octopus in predicting the results of World Cup matches, the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee has sought the eight-legged creature from Germany (on loan) for the smooth conduct of the October Games.


According to unimpeachable sources, the Planning Commission has already given the go-ahead to Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. Now, once Germany accedes to India's request, the Organising Committee with Suresh Kalmadi, Randhir Singh and MS Gill in tow will take possession of the octopus right at the Delhi airport and keep it in custody till the end.


With octopus here as a star performer, the games will be conducted in the most revolutionary manner, with the minimum of expenditure and fuss. Winners will be decided without the players doing anything. For this two glass enclosures have been ordered which will be placed right in the middle of the ground with both teams facing the octopus. The enclosures will be painted with national flags of two rival countries.


On the lines of the World Cup, national anthems of the two teams will be played. Then Paul will be released from its sea cage to decide the winner.


The event of the octopus entering the winner's box will be beamed the world over by Doordarshan. It will be followed by an awards ceremony.


By involving the octopus, there will be no fear of protests by political parties. There will be no maintenance of grounds or carrying of equipment. Yes, the octopus could take five or even 50 minutes to decide the winner. But that is hardly a big issue for Indians.


As controversy is a part of any big event, the Delhi organisers have also roped in the services of a long-tail parrot, Mani, from Singapore. If by chance there is a dispute during an India-Pakistan match, the particular tie will be referred to the parrot for final adjudication.


Well, as for entertainment of spectators, vuvuzela, the horn-type musical instrument, will be imported and given free to BPL (below poverty line) spectators and sold at double the price to APL (above poverty line) fans.


But there are rumours that leading astrologers and palmists are planning to hold a massive demonstration. Such deafening sound might affect the performance of the octopus, who is used to conducting his business in the most peaceful environment.









IN a troubled neighbourhood, India now has reasons to be worried about its eastern borders as well, thanks to Myanmar's burning ambition to become a nuclear power. Reports suggesting that the military junta in Myanmar might have embarked on an atomic weapons programme have caused a lot of anxiety in New Delhi.


Though Myanmar cannot be dubbed as a hostile nation like India's western neighour, Pakistan, it is well known that its military rulers, who have scant regard for democracy, have closer ties with China than with India, posing a strong strategic challenge to Indian policy makers.


Is the military junta in Myanmar trying to acquire nuclear capability with North Korea's assistance? Is North Korea trying to shift some of its    nuclear facilities to Myanmar to protect them from a possible attack by the US? If either of these scenarios is true, is China, which has a strong presence in North Korea as well as Myanmar, aware of Myanmar's designs? Has it taken up the matter with the two governments? Has it alerted the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)?


These questions immediately come to one's mind in the wake of the reports regarding an alleged nuclear relationship between Myanmar and North Korea.


Rumours that Myanmar is a new recruit to a shady nuclear nexus that seems to link North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, Syria and possibly others have been floating around from time to time in recent years. The missile link appears quite clear in all these cases. North Korea has either sold missiles or helped Myanmar build its own.


But apart from an agreement in principle in 2007 for Russia to build a small research reactor for Myanmar, the military junta has successfully maintained a veil of secrecy over its nuclear ambitions. The recent defection of a former major in the Myanmarese army, Sai Thein Win, and the documents and photographs he brought with him have taken the lid off Myanmar's nuclear programme. The developments confirm its intent, if not yet capacity, to enrich uranium and eventually build a bomb.


The evidence from Myanmar, formerly called Burma, is analysed in the report by a former Director of the IAEA, Robert Kelley, and published on the website of the non-profit Democratic Voice of Burma.


Myanmar is said to be mining uranium and exploring nuclear technology that is "useful only for weapons," Kelley said in his report.


Evidence from the Myanmarese army defector, quoted extensively in the report, said the plant was inside a mountain at Naung Laing in northern Myanmar and close to a research reactor Russia agreed to help build at another site.


Myanmar has only a "Small Quantities Protocol" with the IAEA. This exempts it from regular inspections on the government's assurance that it has nothing to inspect. Sharper questions are now likely to be asked. The agency had already been trying to dissuade Myanmar and Russia from going in for the research reactor.


Sai Thein Win, who learned missile expertise in Russia, says that since about 2002 hundreds of Myanmarese scientists have been trained in Russian nuclear institutes, including one formerly linked to the Soviet nuclear weapons programme.


Sai Thein Win offers no new insight into the North Korean link. But Western intelligence agencies watch North Korea's activities in Myanmar. There have been reports that a company associated with the construction of a secret nuclear reactor in Syria (until it was bombed by Israel in 2007 just before completion) has worked in Myanmar too.


The military junta has strongly refuted authenticity of the report and alleged that it is "politically" motivated, but then nobody expected it to publicly announce its nuclear programme and earn the wrath of the global community.


Analysts have gone to the extent of suggesting that given the level of progress made by Myanmar, it could realise its nuclear ambition by 2014.


If it is so, the development has serious implications for New Delhi as it would further reduce India's influence in the region, surrounded by a belligerent Pakistan on the West and a well-equipped military dictatorship in Myanmar on the East.








A new example in counter-terror cooperation in South Asia has been set by the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government in Bangladesh which assumed power in January 2009. In fact, within two days of her taking over as Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina declared that terrorists could no longer treat Bangladesh as a safe haven either to operate within this country or to launch operations against other countries. Subsequently, she also floated the idea of South Asia anti-terrorism task force. Through this task force she had expected the cooperation of other South Asian nations as almost all countries of this region have been facing the problem of terrorism. Though the idea of the task force has not been very successful, the government in Bangladesh has been quite actively working against terrorist outfits domestically. Terrorism has, however, not been decisively defeated in Bangladesh; the government action has only forced it to make a tactical retreat.


Bangladesh has now been acting against terrorism of all hues. The present government has carried out operations against the Islamist groups which were active within Bangladesh.  Many of them were also using Bangladesh territory for operations against India. The government action has led to the busting of many modules of the Harkatul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI) and the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), which were domestically active. At the same time, action has also been taken against international terror groups which have links with international criminal networks. The government arrested some members of the internationally notorious Dawood Ibrahim gang. From them the law enforcement authorities came to know about the Lashkar-e-Toiyaba (LeT) operatives who were using Bangladesh territory for operations against India.


The arrest of David Headley in the US also had its fallout in Bangladesh where 15 LeT operatives were arrested on the basis of information gleaned from him. Their timely arrest averted a major terror attack in Bangladesh as the LeT operatives had plans to attack Indian and American embassies in Dhaka on November 26, 2009, on the anniversary of the Mumbai attack. These arrests also revealed a South Asia-wide network of terrorists. The arrested LeT operatives had members from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.


Bangladesh has also acted against Indian insurgent groups, who have been using its territory to launch operations against India. The Sheikh Hasina government, immediately after coming to power, ordered the law enforcement agencies to act against Indian insurgent groups, many of whom had established camps in Bangladesh during the earlier regime and were getting training there. The action of the government made clear to many of these insurgent groups that Bangladesh was no longer a safe haven. As a result, some of them even surrendered. These surrenders were specially noticed in the Indian state of Tripura. The Government of Bangladesh restarted an enquiry into Chittagong arms haul case of 2004, which exposed the involvement of some top intelligence officials of that country. The fresh investigation confirmed that the consignment of arms and ammunition was for Indian insurgent groups. 


In fact, the commander-in-chief of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), Paresh Barua, was named as one of the accused. This forced Paresh Barua to escape to Myanmar. The Bangladesh government also took action against other members of ULFA and actually handed over their all top leaders who were in that country. Subsequently, the Bangladesh authorities in May this year handed over Ranjan Daimary, chief of the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), to India. Daimary is wanted for organising serial bomb blasts in Assam in October 2008.


 There has been a dramatic change in the attitude of Bangladesh. It appears that the country has now realised that neither helping terror groups nor even ignoring their presence is good for them. If terror groups create problems for the neighbours, they also make internally the law and order situation volatile. This has prompted the present Bangladesh government to act against these groups, who also targeted Awami League leaders when they were in the Opposition. These actions against terror groups have, however, also showed that they have managed to entrench themselves in the country. Many of them are still active. Their pan-South Asia spread is a matter of concern. This highlights the need for cooperation at the regional level.


Unless all countries of the region, including Pakistan, show similar commitment against terror, it would be very difficult to handle the menace. No doubt, the present action of Bangladesh has put a lot of pressure on the terror groups, but it has only managed to contain their action. The terror groups are only down. A lot more will have to be done before they are finally thrown out of Bangladesh.

The writer is Associate Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses, New Delhi.









HOW much members of the legislatures in Pakistan are upset after the revival of the controversy over their fake educational degrees can be understood from what happened in the Punjab Provincial Assembly last week. The House adopted a resolution attacking the country's media for its "irresponsibility that is damaging democracy". Most members accused journalists of colluding with the judiciary and the army generals for maligning the political class.


The resolution was moved at the behest of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, as the maximum number of members of the provincial assemblies and the National Assembly who are believed to have submitted fake graduation degrees to contest the 2008 elections belong to his party, the PML(N). Every legislator present in the House signed it, irrespective of his party affiliation.


The politicians indulged in the condemnable act of producing fake degrees as there was a law (now scrapped) that anyone contesting the polls must have graduation as the minimum educational qualification.


The journalists, however, are not taking it lying down. They observed Black Day last Saturday throughout Pakistan, according to Daily Times. Their protest evoked widespread support from different sections of society, including lawyers. A report in The News quoted former Punjab Chief Minister and PML (Q) leader Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi  as describing the PML(N)'s move as a "fascist" campaign, though his party's legislators too supported the resolution. Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, a former PPP leader, has demanded withdrawal of the resolution. Efforts are on to challenge it in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.


All this led to the tabling of another resolution on the subject in the Punjab Assembly on Tuesday —- it was in favour of the media's appreciable role. The pro-media resolution was also adopted by the House but with most members having vacated their seats.


The legislators trying to shoot the messenger are bound to cut a sorry figure at the end of it all, as they are blaming the media for doing what is its primary duty.


According to The News, "Within hours of the passing of the resolution the Higher Education Commission (HEC) declared invalid the degrees of two federal ministers who had received these from "non-chartered universities". Thus, it is, in fact, "not the media that is exposing the fake degree-holders; it is the HEC and the courts, and the media is merely reporting the matter and commenting on the reports", the newspaper added.


A Business Recorder editorial has it that what the PML(N) has done is contrary to what Nawaz Sharif was quoted in a statement of his party's central secretariat as saying on June 16, "Fake degree-holders will not be given the party ticket in future, and those who won the elections fraudulently should submit their resignations to save themselves from embarrassment." The PML(N), however, changed its stand later on. This is a desperate act, which can erode the party's following considerably.  


The uncalled-for media-bashing has provoked many to criticise the politicians for their dictatorial behaviour. Dawn of July 14 carried letters from its readers in support of the media's role. One letter writer said, "This resolution must be criticised by major civil society groups as well as other stakeholders, otherwise the media won't be able to report the truth."


Another letter writer wanted civil society members "to persuade the Election Commission of Pakistan to at least disqualify for life these fake degree holders from taking part in elections, if not initiating proceedings in a court of law for the breach of trust and fraud". His argument is: if doctors with fake degrees can get severe punishment, why can't the guilty legislators and parliamentarians be dealt with accordingly? 












The occasion was the inauguration of the shining new international airport terminal in Delhi. It's a 100-foot tall glass structure with 78 aerobridges and a shopping mall. It will alone handle 34 million passengers annually. That makes Delhi one of the busiest airports in the world. The terminal is a showcase jewel for the city, and is ready just in time for the Commonwealth Games. 


On this occasion, the civil aviation minister, who is from Maharashtra chose to plead the case for Mumbai's new airport. His entreaty was not so much directed at the Prime Minister or investors, but instead at his cabinet colleague the environment minister. The latter has expressed reluctance to approve an airport at the proposed site in Panvel. This site has been identified many years ago, and there's even a prominent sign which proclaims the upcoming airport. In anticipation of the airport there's been hectic real estate development activity, with flats being booked at a huge premium. There's even a new railway station coming up nearby. Much of the land required for this multi billion dollar airport is already acquired. 


Mumbai's existing airports at Sahar and Santacruz are already choking, so there's a strong business case. And yet the environment clearance may be blocked. Because this airport will destroy mangroves wetlands. As per the 1986 environment law, no industrial activity can come up on wetlands. So if the minister denies permission, then he would be merely upholding the law. For Mumbai's development there is already talk of changing the law which restricts building near the coastal zone. 


But here is the rub. Even if the law is changed, or if the airport project gets past the environment minister's objections and gets the green signal, it might still run into rough weather. Even after formal environmental clearance it is possible to overturn that by going to the National Environmental Appellate Authority (NEAA). Just this week the NEAA overturned an approval for a major thermal power project in Sompet in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh. 


That project had gone through the whole process, but local citizen's groups alleged foul play. They said that the destruction of wetlands would destroy fishermen's livelihoods and precious flora and fauna. Either there wasn't proper citizen consultation, or the impact assessment was phony. During the protest and subsequent police firing two people were killed. Srikakulam has five other power projects and two nuclear plants coming up, all of which may be up for renewed scrutiny. The cancellation of Sompet project means writing off 12,000 crore of investment. 

It is not just Srikakulam. Remember Singur? A water tight contract between government and Tata's had to be nullified, not because of environment objections but people's resistance. Then there is the case of a power project inChhatisgarh by one of the country's top power companies, which was stopped after having got environment clearance. It was found in breach of terms of reference which required impact assessment to precede construction activity. This stoppage could not be halted even with big political connections. Then there is the case of Lower Penganga irrigation project whose environment clearance has been cancelled by the Bombay High Court's Nagpur bench. The upcoming biggest ever nuclear plant in Jaitapur also might have to face similar hurdles despite regulatory approvals. 

All these examples show that the interface between industrial development and environment or traditional livelihoods is showing more friction. Successful negotiation between projects and sites, will require not only compliance of the law (which is quite strict), but also assuaging the fears of local peoples that their interests are not being shortchanged. It may be airports, or dumping grounds, power plants, shopping malls or even nuclear stations. There is no substitute for a genuine grassroots support for industrial developmental projects. 



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Societies usually emphasise one of two values: freedom or liberty (as in the United States, where they talk constantly of "libedy") and equality (typically in the socialist states). The two are often posed as a choice; the more you have of one, the less you have of the other. The US was a surprisingly equal society in the late 1970s, in the wake of President Johnson's Great Society legislation of the 1960s, but has become progressively unequal under mostly Republican presidents since. And though the Soviet Union is defunct, the independent countries which were once Soviet constituents, as well as the "transition economies" of Eastern Europe, remain among the most equal societies on Earth.


 Those who drew up India's Constitution in 1950 tried to ride both horses. The Constitution underlined the inviolability of basic freedoms, by enshrining fundamental rights, but also stressed equality (social and economic justice) through the Directive Principles. This has typified the choices made in public policy for 60 years. Through the socialist phase, the fundamental rights were chipped away (for example, the right to property, while the first amendment circumscribed freedom of speech). Through the reform years, it is freedom (in favour of individual volition, and a rollback of state control) that has gained the upper hand.


During the United Progressive Alliance's six years in office, the short-hand for the two values has been personified by Manmohan Singh (who has been for economic liberty, like giving freer rein to the "animal spirits" of businessmen) and Sonia Gandhi (who has extended the aims of state policy to include the rudiments of a welfare state, and to make the system less unequal and less unfair).


But does it have to be a choice, or can the two come together? Elementary education was made a fundamental right eight years ago, and if there is effective action, it will meet the objective of equality while also offering freedom from illiteracy. In the same way, the proposed law on the right to food is intended to provide freedom from hunger. The argument, then, is not about substance but strategy or method. Should the state provide education (i.e. appoint teachers who, if you are lucky, will work at least every other day), or give parents the freedom to choose which schools best meet their children's needs? Should an inefficient, corrupt and incompetent government machinery reach subsidised food to all 600,000 villages, or (since food is already available in all those villages) should the state simply give poor people the money with which they can buy the food?


For some reason, those on the equality platform think that stressing modalities (i.e. minimising waste, corruption, etc.) is somehow anti-poor. Ditto with providing the intended beneficiaries the freedom to choose. They are also opposed to taking away subsidies enjoyed by the non-poor (as on cooking gas) to provide the fiscal elbow room to hand out more subsidies to the poor. Perhaps they think that the efficient and honest delivery of goods and services to a properly selected target population is a pipedream and, therefore, a diversionary tactic by those who speak in the name of efficiency but only want to deny the poor their due. Or, the expansion of the state is an ideological end in itself — as must be the case with the Communists. Also, talk of markets being efficient, or at least working better than bureaucrats do, is to the bleeding hearts the equivalent of waving a red rag. Despite all this, is it too much to hope that the revived National Advisory Council, dominated by well-meaning, civil-society activists, will look to see how efficiency also enhances equity?








The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the only Leninist party (along with its Vietnamese and North Korean cousins) to have survived the turmoil of 1991, despite the Tiananmen wobble in 1989. It has also been the most successful in bringing the mass prosperity promised by the Marxist scriptures through its embrace of capitalism, albeit with Chinese characteristics. It is this implicit contract with its people, suppressing political liberty in exchange for prosperity, which continues to provide it with its legitimacy. The future of the CCP and its likely future geostrategic stance is thus of immense importance, not least for India. This is the subject of this column.


Predicting China's political future has become something of a parlour game amongst Sinologists. A useful book by David Shambaugh (China's Communist Party, California) deftly summarises the various prognostications ranging from a chaotic disintegration into warlordism, to full fledged democracy. Neither of these extremes is likely. The CCP has shown great skill in adapting to the social and economic pressures it has faced. Many of the threats noted by western observers arising from the rising inequality are misplaced as a recent study of Chinese attitudes by Martin King Whyte (Myth of the Social Volcano, Stanford) finds. Instead of anger, the dominat mood was "an upbeat 'rising tide is lifting all boats' view that more and more people would become rich in the future, while the numbers of poor would decline still further".


 With its partial opening to accommodate dissent under Hu Jin Tao, unlike its repression under Jiang Zemin, the CCP's most likely future is what my UCLA colleague Richard Baum has called "Consultative Leninism". This would make China more like the single-party states of Singapore's PAP (People's Action Party) and Mexico's PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), of which the polity evolving in Hong Kong might be a precursor.


The party has already learnt to lighten its controls in the personal sphere. It has co-opted the rising capitalists and the intelligentsia which might provide leadership to any opposition to its rule. Those challenging its rule are dealt with harshly, but apart from the few dissidents, it no longer interferes in people's lives. Its most serious problems are related to the endemic corruption, which has worsened with the growth of capitalism with Chinese characteristics, which could threaten its legitimacy. But, even this downside can be overdone, witness the long success of the corrupt PRI in Mexico.


So, like Shambaugh, I do not expect the CCP to atrophy and disintegrate, rather it will, as in recent decades, adapt. The authoritarian political system in China will last, not least because this is the system the Chinese have known and tolerated for millennia, but also because the party has created a modern, highly skilled mandarin class. Its goals are the ones the Chinese polity has sought ever since the Opium Wars, and which have great resonance with the population: "attaining wealth and power; enhancing nationalism and international dignity; and preserving unity and preventing chaos." (Shambaugh, p.169).


What are likely to be the Chinese geostrategic objectives in the near future, given that the current political system delivering stellar growth rates is likely to continue? From an Indian perspective, there are numerous worrying signs. First, China is on the way to creating potential naval bases from the deep water ports it is building in Burma, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. A benign interpretation can be given to this impending Chinese naval build-up, that these are to protect the vital sea lanes leading to the Malacca Straits through which 80 per cent of China's imported oil passes. But, combined with the large Chinese military presence in Tibet, its close alliance with Pakistan — the crucible of jiahdi terror threatening India — the takeover of Nepal by Maoists sympathetic to China, and the Naxalite threat in eastern and central India, in geostrategic terms, India is right to fear being encircled by China.


Though, it is true that China has never been an expansionist imperialist power outside what it considers its territory, this provides cold comfort to India. Particularly in the light of recent bellicose statements from its military before cancelling a visit by the US defence secretary. For amongst the territories it claims as its own are Arunachal and Aksai Chin. Nor can the Indo-Chinese border war, which so traumatised Nehru and scuttled his policy of placating China, be easily forgotten. Though China has settled 12 of the 14 border disputes with its neighbours, including Russia and Vietnam, with which it too fought border wars, choosing to make large concessions by giving up large areas it had claimed. The long-drawn-out and continuing diplomatic negotiations on the Sino-Indian border offer a glimmer of hope. But, India cannot rely on this alone. Apart from growing its navy and increasing its presence in the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal, and using diplomatic and economic means to ensure that the ports being built in Burma and Sri Lanka are not turned into Chinese naval bases, a two-prong strategy maybe in order. The first is to join the US (which I gather India is already aiding to protect the sea lanes though the Malacca Straits) together with Japan and Australia, which are expanding their naval presence in the Pacific in the face of the perceived waning of US military power, to offer China a partnership in keeping the eastern sea lanes open. This might mitigate its fear of economic strangulation. The second could be to expand the Indo-US strategic alliance to include Japan and Australia.


The Chinese are unlikely to want to replace the US as the global superpower. The main flashpoint with the US, Taiwan seems on the road to reconciliation with China. The weakening of US global power under Obama's watch does, however, pose the danger that if the economy falters, threatening the implicit contract which has provided the CCP with legitimacy, or there are other threats to its supremacy, it may play the nationalist card by attempting to achieve Asian hegemony. An outcome which India must at all cost try and avoid.








Belgium does not make many headlines globally. Other than hazy images of beer and chocolate, the tiny, 10-million-strong country most often evokes a sense of genteel boredom. But beneath its waffle-scented serenity, Belgium seethes with communal tensions that raise persistent questions regarding the continued viability of the country, which, in turn, create doubts about the broader European project.


The primary rift in this 180-year-old nation is linguistic, a divide overlaid and emphasised by geography and differing levels of economic development. The north of the country is home to a fiscally conservative, prosperous Dutch (Flemish)-speaking population, a region called Flanders. The south, a socialist and economically decrepit area know as Wallonia, is dominated by French speakers.

In all there are some 6.5 million Flemings to 4 million Walloons. A strict linguistic apartheid operates between the two regions with everything from schools and shops to road signs rendered in Dutch in Flanders and in French in Wallonia. Political parties are not national, but Flemish or Walloon, and north and south vote separately.


The Flemish resentment of the Walloons has long roots. For decades after the Belgium state was first established, the Dutch-speaking population of the country was forced to adopt French which was elevated to the language of administration and public life, while the Francophone within Belgium rarely made the effort to learn Dutch.


The fear of a French-colonisation of Flanders persists till today although the economic fortunes of the two regions have reversed. Once prosperous, industrial Wallonia now suffers from high levels of unemployment and economic stagnation, while once poor Flanders is rich and entrepreneurial. But, although the two communities operate in large part as separate entities, the country's welfare system is funded federally, which in practice means that Flanders pays for Wallonia's pensions and health care.


The linguistic battles between the two communities have led to a volatile politics, characterised by a frequent collapse of government. The most recent such collapse took place in April this year, precipitating fresh elections on June 13. Once again, it resulted in a deeply divided Parliament, with Flemish separatists winning in the north and Francophone socialists in the south. Forming a coalition could now take several months.


The last time elections were held in Belgium in 2007, the country was without a government for almost 300 days. Many believe that before long Belgium is likely to split into separate nations.


From an Indian perspective, Belgium's woes are puzzling. In India, we balance 22 official languages and almost all Indians are multilingual. The diversity that citizens negotiate on a daily basis is moreover scarcely confined to the linguistic. We are a country of lily-white Kashmiris and coffee-hued Malyalis; of fish-eating Bengalis and herbivorous Gujratis. In our "Hindu" country, there are almost as many Muslims as in all of Pakistan. With no single language, ethnicity, religion or food, India's existence is immensely more complicated than Belgium's.


And yet, somehow, they are unable to function as a nation. The Walloons rarely bother learning Dutch and the Flemings can't find it in their hearts to live next to French speakers. Meanwhile, the rich north of the country resents spending its hard-earned money to support what they see as the lazy, left-leaning unemployed of the south.


More worrying is what Belgium's dysfunctionality says about Europe as a whole. Europe is the birthplace of the "nation state." Carved out of the multi-cultural fabric of the empires that once cut across the continent, modern European countries are based on the idea of one ethnicity, one religion, one language, one nation. Such homogeneity is, of course, an ideal rather than a reality; Spain with its Catalan and Basque minorities being an obvious exception, yet the fundamental idea of "oneness" that underpins European nation states makes negotiating diversity particularly problematic for them.


The creation of the European Union (EU), a hugely ambitious project, could have conceivably helped provide solutions to this problem. The EU is polyphonic with 23 official languages and its ideal of "unity in diversity" is identical to that of India. Driven by the idea that in a new world order Europe must find strength in cooperation, thereby ditching old tribal identities, opening up once insular borders to outside influences and demonstrating solidarity with others within the region, the EU could potentially be a model for a post nation-state world and new multicultural identities.


But unlike India, which despite occasional communal violence and serial coalition governments, faces the twenty first century with confidence and strength, the EU is floundering.


Popular support for the project remains weak. Decades of Europe-wide institution building have largely failed to create a European identity. An even greater failure has been the ability to integrate and absorb non-European ethnicities and religions. Islamophobia is fast on the way to becoming accepted as a mainstream sentiment. Moreover, even the ideal of "solidarity" has been exposed as hollow by the German reaction to the sovereign debt crisis in Greece. The EU faces challenges from every direction.


The current turmoil in Belgium exemplifies many of these and the future of this small country might be an indicator of things to come for the EU as a whole. Belgium is a proof of how difficult resolving the cultural gulf between north and south Europe will be. Even within a single country, large-scale transfers of wealth from north to south, in this case Flanders to Wallonia, are so deeply unpopular that they threaten the dissolution of the nation.


But, if the Flemish find it impossible to help their own countrywomen, expecting Germany to pay up for the debts of Greece and Portugal is highly unrealistic.


Whether Belgium makes it through the next few years intact is unlikely to have major repercussions around the world. But the manner in which Belgium's future plays out could be a reflection of what path the EU as a whole may go down, the economic and geo-strategic consequences of which will certainly be weighty.


In the short term, Belgium's shenanigans will only be an embarrassment. From July 1, Belgium has taken over the rotating presidency of the EU. Always quick to present itself to others as a model of regional cooperation, the EU is thus presided over by a country that can't even get its own two communities to co-operate enough to have a government.


Pallavi Aiyar, Business Standard's Brussels correspondent, moved to Europe recently after more than six years in China







In 1626, Peter Minuit, the Dutch Governor of the New Netherlands, bought Manhattan off a tribe for $24-equivalent — about half a cent per acre ($0.005). By 2000, assessed land value on the island core of New York was $830,000 per acre.


 Did Minuit get a bargain? No. By the compounding formula (a principal of half a cent grows to $830,000 over 374 years), the appreciation is 5.2 per cent per annum. Any Delhi land-shark would sneer at a property market where values doubled every 14 years.


This is long-term compounding where a small sum invested at moderate return (ex-inflation) yields a huge amount compounded over a long time. It directly impacts economic policy. Examine Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) and the suggested policy in that light.


The sums in play are large. So are the time-frames. IPCC's climate science models have very large variations in estimated impact. If AGW continues unchecked, between 3 per cent (minimum hypothesis) and 90 per cent of global GDP (maximum) will be affected by 2100.


Nicholas Stern wrote the influential Economics of Climate Change in 2006. He said it was probable that 20 per cent of 2100 GDP would be affected if AGW was not tackled now. He calculated that 1 per cent of 2006 GDP would have to be committed to mitigate AGW. In 2008, he reviewed his estimates and said 2 per cent of current GDP was required for anti-AGW activity.


Global GDP has grown at a trend rate of over 3 per cent since 1990. That is when Brazil and India restructured and the Soviet bloc abandoned communism. The long-term trend is closer to 1-2 per cent. Reversion to a lower trend is likely as BRIC-land becomes more prosperous and growth moderates in those parts.


If AGW effects were mitigated, compounding over 2006-2100, global GDP in 2100 would range between 2.7 times 2006 GDP (at 1 per cent growth), six times (at 2 per cent) or 16 times (at 3 per cent).


Stern suggests recurrent spending, of course, to stave off AGW.


Assume the 2010 anti-AGW expenditure "protects" 2100 GDP and 2011 anti-AGW spend protects 2101 GDP and so on. Calculating an internal rate of return (IRR) on that "protection money" shows IRR must be somewhere between 3 per cent and 6 per cent (depending on trend global growth). In every case, the protection money's IRR would have to be at least twice, or thrice, the assumed trend rate.


This is possible, in theory. China, India, Japan and the US itself have demonstrated that much larger chunks of global GDP can grow for long periods at multiples of the global trend rate. But the specific policy actions advocated for anti-AGW equate to scaling down energy consumption to avoid spewing CO2. That doesn't promise anywhere near the IRR an investor would want. This is one major reason why there is so much resistance to current anti-AGW policy.


Anti-AGW advocates fudge by talking of the "social discount" rate. The real IRR of anti-AGW spending is low (in fact, it's near-zero). But since it helps protect vast future wealth, the positive externality is high. According to this logic, all our descendants capture that positive externality. But this is cold comfort for an investor.


Larry Karp of UC Berkeley, proposes an alternative concept of hyperbolic discounting (HD). HD draws on behavioural science. People care more about returns in the near future and less about distant returns. So, HD applies falling long-term rates of return. That's elegant. But convincing investors about its efficacy may be difficult since fixed rates with higher returns are available.


Perhaps there is another way. If you accept Stern's conclusions and climate science consensus, formulate anti-AGW policy that offers much higher real IRR. Would major incentives for R&D in green energy do the trick? One way or another, anti-AGW policy must resolve the compounding paradox.








Content is being increasingly accessed via the Net and soon the person who insists on getting the hard copy of his newspaper will be an oddity


When I went out to the front gate at quarter-to-seven and found that the morning papers had not arrived, I was only mildly irritated, muttering to myself silently: when will they learn to be on time? This is how the last informal leg — the thin two of the delivery boy to be precise — of a very organised process let the whole endeavour down, I ruminated with a journalist's slight sense of superiority. Then, as the minutes ticked by, irritation gave way to annoyance and eventually concern.


 What on earth could have happened? Surely, there could not have been a power failure through last night at all the newspaper offices. They were not even on the same street as in Delhi where the Emergency had arrived to a paperless, cheerless morning's unwelcome. At precisely eight o'clock I called the head vendor on his cellphone and asked with a mixture of annoyance and exasperation what on earth had happened. He chuckled softly at having caught me out in my mental disconnect and said, "Sir (they always sir you in the south), the World Cup final ended so late, the papers are all late." I am glad he could not see the sheepish look on my face.


One reason why I get disturbed when the papers are seriously delayed without apparent reason (it's different when you are forewarned by a holiday announcement the previous day) is my first memory of such a happening. Both my father and I (freshly back home from boarding school at end of term) were at our front door that winter morning in Kolkata, down from second floor, wondering what had caused the delay. The papers eventually came to tell us that Lal Bahadur Shastri had died in Tashkent after signing the peace agreement with Pakistan to end the 1965 war in which he had so decisively led the nation to victory.


The morning paper was always much more than just a newspaper. Two rites marked your entry into the world of grownups in a middle class Bengali household — your first cup of the day became tea and not milk and you made an awful fuss if you were not granted the right of first sight of the headlines. (There wasn't very much more to newspapers in those days.) As it happened, one particular newspaper benchmarked my entry and graduation into the world of the Indian economy. Early in my college days, I persuaded my father to buy me the Economic Times (how else could I become a proper economics graduate, I averred) which came from Mumbai and was delivered in the evening. That somehow made it miss the mark of being a proper newspaper (those arrived early in the morning), just as I myself was far from becoming a graduate. Then, over time, the ET came earlier in the day as there were better plane connections with Delhi where it began to print. And finally, the paper came of age in my subconscious when its Kolkata edition was delivered early in the morning as all proper newspapers were. By that time I had started working and in a way both my paper (nobody else in the family cared for it) and I had arrived.


Having grown up in a world in which the newspaper was always delivered at home, I was rather distraught when on landing up in Britain I found that most bought their paper at the tube station while going to work. Getting the paper at home cost a penny more, if I recall right. But I was determined not to let a cherished habit die. So, I paid the extra and had theTimes come home to me. As I relished my morning cuppa, I could not decide which was the greater British institution, a good cup of tea or the Thunderer, no matter how muted it had become by the troubled Seventies. Over time I acquired more costly habits — a taste for Dunhill cigarettes, Scotch and the Financial Times, in that order — until I was broke and ready to return home.


About the only negative part of being a journalist has been to see most of the morning paper the night before. The freshness, surprise and charm are partly lost. It is like getting to know your wife to be a bit too well before being formally wedded. There is certainly a bit of the thrill of the exclusive preview but the inky, fresh from the rotary, feeling is also gone. You had to wait to go on annual leave to get back the unique pleasure of discovering the world every morning form the papers.


As with all living things, if there is a sunrise, there has to be a sunset. One of the greatest disappointments that progress has brought is the realisation that one aspect of civilisation, as many of us know and cherish it, is about to go below the horizon. The days of the printed paper, physically delivered with a thud which can be heard in the morning stillness, are numbered. Content is being increasingly accessed via the Net and soon the person who insists on getting the hard copy of his newspaper delivered at his doorstep in the morning will be an oddity. The romance of being able to physically hold and read a newspaper will take its place in the museum, next to the romance of horses and sailing ships.  







The discussion on financial inclusion ought to focus a lot more on building an economically viable and consumer acceptable business model, with a specially designed regulatory ecosystem appropriate for that model. Evangelism or moral pressure to force banks to serve those not so far served by them cannot help square a circle. But a new tetrahedron that is superior to both the circle and the square can be built if we abandon orthodoxy and do not constrain the business model by saying: (a) Financial inclusion has to be driven by banks because we know how to regulate them, and should not be driven by a new ecosystem that does not have an existing bank as the lead; (b) it has to be offered below a particular price point which is defined either by some fuzzy-logic comfort level or by a mandated number based on somebody's test of reasonableness (not the consumer) (c) the product and service offered have to look like and be like familiar banking products.


The fact is that it is a business economics and a business design problem of how you serve a large, geographically scattered base of consumers who individually have very little money, but collectively are financially attractive. There is plenty of learning to be had from lots of other industries that have been striving to design a win-win business model to expand their consumer base. What is required is to design a "value-right" bundle of consumer-acceptable features at a price that the consumers can and are willing to pay. It is incorrect to assume that poor consumers always want the least benefit at the lowest cost. In fact, lots of studies show what we ought to have known — that people with very little money undertake more complex financial transactions and use more complicated financial "products" than those with a lot more money. Banks should explore how consumers process value (benefits and costs), what complexity of benefits they desire and how they process price. Consumers think about costs more holistically than they do about interest rates — 15 per cent interest is fine, if the roof gets fixed before rains and my husband doesn't get sick. The no-frills low features, low price and no-profit model mindset are flawed, and financial inclusion needs a more complex, integrated life cycle that includes saving, spending and borrowing products that is a win-win for both parties. Having identified the "value-right" price performance point, as perceived by consumers and not as imagined by suppliers and financial experts, the next and seemingly impossible step is to design an internal business system to deliver the chosen features at a cost that is gross margin positive, to a consumer base that is geographically scattered. Once the scale builds, overheads will be covered and net margins will also start looking up. If, however, gross margin itself is negative, financial inclusion will be treated like corporate social responsibility. Who is best positioned to design and meet this challenge? It could be telcos, NBFCs, retailers, agricultural inputs firms, technology companies, or some combination of these. If it's a web, must an existing bank always be the webmaster and the prime mover? Or, can we think about a different category of banks with new players, specific customer segment mandates and appropriate policy as well as regulation?

Again, as we've learnt from other industries, given the hyper growth of the richer end of India and the geographical concentration of these consumers, most established companies are not interested in going after the bottom of, or even the middle of, the pyramid. Even if they have a presence there, it is in a "project/experimentation" mode. The best human resources are not deployed here, nor will it figure in the top management's key result areas. Providing subsidies to encourage banks to focus more on financial inclusion is not a great idea either. Charity cases will never get treated as regular customers. In fact, a mystery shopping experience with big-name banks will show that no-frills account holders get the no-frills treatment. The business design requires them to minimise their face-to-face transactions and use the ATM more. However, using an ATM isn't easy and requires a lot of learning — it isn't as simple as operating a mobile phone. The current design of no-frills products doesn't even offer any assistance or training on how to use these, and to someone who has never heard of a PIN or a telephone ID security system, this is all quite a big blur. A total ecosystem needs to be built for these things. It's like the Bombay-Pune expressway. It needs slums to be cleared on either side or overhead bridges to be built so that kids don't run across the road; it needs radiailised tyres to cope with high speed; it needs mobile ambulances and police to safeguard travellers and cope with accidents.

Business systems that serve customers who have special requirements and are starkly above or below the average customer on any parameter need to be differently designed. Forcing one-size-fits-all products is not a good solution.


The author is an independent market strategy consultant








Journalists, writers, academics and literary agents who earn their living through the spoken and written word often believe that it is just a short step away from being published in a printed book. May be this was true about a decade or two ago, when publishers looked for authors to publish, but advances in print and communications technology that have led to a vast expansion and diversification of media outlets in the last decade, have made getting published so much more competitive and difficult. After all, when anyone can write and publish online and appear on Google News Alerts, why bother to publish a book?


So, caught between the financial needs for expansion and the technological revolution, book publishers have been struggling to come to terms with the market, once noted for long-term predictability that is now hard to fathom and near impossible to predict. Mergers and acquisitions — another phrase for slimming down — has been the received wisdom among professionals, but very few have kept pace with "who's coming in, who's going out". Hence the need for "how to get published" reference books like the annual The Writer's Handbook 2011 (Macmillan, £14.99) that is as complete a guide for writers to get into print as is possible in this fast-changing world.


 Before going into the Handbook and how useful it would be for Indian users, a word about the big change between the traditional school of publishing and the new rules of the game. The old school that divided publishing into acquisitions, editorial, sales and marketing still stands with this difference: publishing today is about selling, or as Henry Ford might have put it, "the business is about money, not about cars!" Success is what counts and success means sales and profits that are the final criteria for excellence.


Closely tied with this change is the realisation that the market today wants choice: the old concept "one size fits all" no longer applies. The customer wants to "cherry pick", which means niche publishing for specific markets, fine-tuned as closely as possible to cater to different tastes and needs. Advanced computer software that can segment differing requirements of the market has made this possible, making economies of scale quite irrelevant for many titles.


Down market publishing, i.e. sex, crime and glitz, still remains but contrary to popular opinion, it doesn't constitute the backbone of a publishing house which comes from the traditional backlist of books that keep getting reprinted year after year. Money comes from identifying the market — who is the book for? — which means a clear readership profile that is made up of a number of interrelated factors like literacy levels, disposable incomes and the needs of the potential customer and, of course, the total size of the market and whether it is easily accessible through the trade channels.


Keeping in mind the central principle that the customer is always right and that her needs could be many and diverse, the Handbook is divided into two sections: the first section contains articles on different facets of the publishing world — fiction, non-fiction, accounts and royalties, and so on — and the second is a comprehensive directory of publishers (mainly British and European), literary agents, book clubs, prizes, fellowships available to writers, magazines and newspapers, and television and radio companies that often call upon writers to fill in their programmes. The information contained in this section will be useful to newcomers to the publishing world, which is a rapidly expanding "universe" that embraces both print and the electronic world.


The battleground for writers today is the disposition of rights that embrace a whole new market unexplored till the computer and communications revolution became the pivot of the publishing world. Beginning with electronic rights, thanks to the digitalisation of the word, there are a whole lot others like translation, TV/film and serialisation rights that have to be sold to different parts of the world on an exclusive basis, which means that the market is closed to other publishers.


Since multimedia has become an industry in itself, rights are up for negotiation as are the sales of the printed

book. Rights have become vital for the survival of many publishing houses and many believe that they are entitled to a share of the rights (and resulting profits) of a multimedia application stemming from the books they developed, published and established.


The question we need to ask is whether the Handbook would help an author negotiate sale of rights of his book to different publishers around the world? To a very limited extent, because rights are a tricky business that involves knowledge of copyright law, territorial rights, translation and serialisation rights, and other factors.


What is important to bear in mind is that no book today is sold in its entirety to the world market, that is, the author invariably reserves some rights with himself which he can then sell to others. These negotiations for bits and pieces are handled by literary agents who know who to go to for the sale of rights. What the Handbook does give in detail, however, is a list of literary agents and their areas of specialisation to whom authors can turn to for help and guidance instead of hitting out in the dark. That's about all a handbook can do.








Ironically, it took the ruling Left Front's industries minister, Nirupam Sen, a tough Marxist with a beguilingly pleasing manner, to remind us that West Bengal is poised uneasily on the cusp of change. What he didn't say in the Assembly on Wednesday was that the Trinamool Congress rule might mean jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Or it could be more of the same.


No one knows Mamata Banerjee's thinking on economic matters. Or, indeed, if she devotes any thought to policy between pouncing on car bonnets, dragging MPs by their collar into the Lok Sabha's well, and flaunting a red band round her head to signify a supposedly close encounter with death at the hands of her enemies. Her indefinite fasts begin in a blaze of publicity and peter out in obscurity.


 Calculation inspires these histrionics. She masqueraded in a burqa to court Muslims who comprise 25 per cent of the population and traditionally vote Marxist. She whips up provincial passion like the Shiv Sena, championing peasants in Nandigram and Singur and vowing to defend Bengali retailers who feel threatened by supermarkets and shopping malls owned by the Ambanis and Goenkas.


But is there anything besides populist posturing to this plump shabby figure whirling through Bengali politics like a storm?


There may well be. After all, she enlisted Sam Pitroda's services. She also seeks to recruit as many retired bureaucrats as will heed her pleas, presumably because of their administrative experience and because they can lend gravitas to her motley crew of dissidents, malcontents, rebels, ideologues and opportunists.


Her only ambition I have seen reported — to turn Calcutta into London — endearingly reflects middle-class Bengali faith in Dick Whittington's conviction that the streets of London are paved with gold.


If Ms Banerjee says no more, I would like to think it's because she believes with Talleyrand that speech was given to man to conceal his thoughts. Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew was dismayed when visiting India before the 1996 elections, he found Lal Krishna Advani and Atal Behari Vajpayee denouncing Narasimha Rao's reforms. "Oh God!" he told me, "This is back to Square One again. It's going to be one step forward, one step back!"


Advani knew Lee had got him wrong. But as he explained afterwards, the BJP was debating the merits of swadesi and multinationals, and he thought it wiser not to commit himself to liberalisation. In any case, he could hardly admit even to himself that India's Opposition must oppose, irrespective of merit or logic.


So, for all we know, Madam Mamata may have bright ideas tucked away in her saree. She dropped hints amidst the furore of Nandigram and Singur that she is not against industrialisation as such. She objected only to the manner in which the Left Front acquired land and dispossessed peasants. If memory serves me right, she didn't say anything uncomplimentary about Indonesia's Salim Group or voice suspicions about the nature of their deal with the West Bengal government even as she chanted slogans in pouring rain outside the Taj Bengal where Salim's CEO, Benny Santoso, was staying. She was fixated on land and peasants.


But even she must know you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. Some land will have to be transferred from agriculture if an industrialised West Bengal is to generate jobs for its unemployed. Objecting to industry would be, as Sen told the Assembly, "like cutting the branch of the tree on which they are sitting."


It's a pity that did not occur earlier to the Left Front. It's a pity they suborned education, politicised the police and administration and destroyed almost all institutions of state during 30 years in power.


But Trinamool's ascent may not be so easy. The Left Front's recent spectacular setbacks are mainly in urban areas. The CPI(M)'s bastions are in the countryside where party cadres backed by peasant beneficiaries of land reform will fight tooth and nail not to be dislodged. West Bengal can expect many more Nandigrams.


Even if the Trinamool takes over, it will be as vulnerable to the blandishments of traders from outside the state as the Marxists were. I remember an Indian Chamber of Commerce meeting before the last election when some expected the Trinamool to win. All the moneybags I had seen paying court to Jyoti Basu were there, obsequiously giggling at Mamata Banerjee's jokes at Basu's expense. As the French saying has it, Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. The more things change the more they are the same.









THE frankly boorish behaviour of Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who virtually called his Indian counterpart a briefless puppet who constantly needs telephonic instruction from New Delhi to conduct himself in official discussions, makes one thing very clear: it is not easy to sustain a dialogue with Pakistan. India needs to continue to talk to Islamabad, however. Open hostility or absence of a flow of information is an inferior option to talking to blustery interlocutors. So, the talks should continue at the level of officials for the most part, and be escalated to the level of a minister only if some reasonable sign of a fig leaf to cover up absence of any significant agreement is in evidence in advance. The Pakistani politicians our ministers talk to have a very limited mandate in the fractured power structure of that country, where the military, the secret service ISI, radical groups all can realistically claim to call the shots. The civilian government of Pakistan is in no position to commit that the ISI would stop launching terror attacks on India from Pakistan. It is such weakness that Pakistani politicians try to disguise when, for example, Mr Qureshi declares that if militants infiltrate into India from their side of the border, it is not Pakistan's responsibility to check them. For all Mr Krishna's restrained behaviour, even when his counterpart dragged India's home secretary into ridiculous comparisons, he made it amply clear that progress on restraining terror emanating from Pak soil remains the core of India's concerns with Pakistan. This is how it should be. 


India and Pakistan are in different leagues, as states, nations and economies. Indian functionaries cannot conduct themselves the way their Pak counterparts do. Any fundamental resolution of India's problems with Pakistan depends on democratic restructuring of Pakistan's society, of its state shedding the notion that terror is a pragmatic means of enhancing strategic depth. If New Delhi refuses to talk to Pakistan, it would, even if only peripherally, hurt any move for democratic change in Pakistan. So, India must always be prepared to talk, without setting high hopes on tangible results in a hurry.








STATE-owned insurers have done well to restore cashless treatment facilities in hospitals, providing relief to scores of mediclaim holders. However, doing this on a case-to-case basis will mean that the insurer has to negotiate an acceptable rate with every hospital. Such a process will be cumbersome and arbitrary. And it does not resolve the fundamental problem of hospitals inflating bills and making business unviable for insurers. Scrapping cashless treatment and allowing only reimbursements is not the answer and goes against the interest of consumers. Ideally, there will be no incentive to inflate bills if the hospital and the insurer are the same. But this is not always the case. The healthcare industry should, therefore, devise innovative models to lower the costs of medical care and make it available widely. More work has to be done to make quality healthcare accessible and affordable using economies of scale. Institutions like the Narayana Hrudayala in Bangalore have shown the way, pruning costs of cardiac care by changing processes and negotiating creative partnership deals. Sure, insurers and hospitals have to recover the economic cost of capital. A low-cost model driven by high volumes is, therefore, worth replicating. The insurance regulator should also ensure that all stakeholders respect and maintain the integrity of the system. 


For long, public sector health insurers have been straddled with losses as their pricing is not commensurate with costs. Whereas private insurers have managed their claims better. Either premiums have to be adjusted to cover costs or costs have to be lowered. Today, top-end hospitals charge significantly-higher rates for the same procedure compared to the small ones and seldom accept rates proposed by the insurer. Costs can be lowered if these hospitals offer discounts to insurers based on volumes. In the long run, we need more hospitals and better quality of services in low-end hospitals. But the fundamental reform in healthcare is to have a base cover for every citizen, whether through functional state delivery or PPP models such as Andhra Pradesh's Arograyasri scheme.








AKEY Indian characteristic is not just being tolerant of diversity but also happily co-existing with contradictions, particularly when tradition comes abreast of modernity. Take the way how we deal with the twin aspects of youngsters wanting to marry each other, be it across gotras or religions, and the proposed Bill on offences against children. On the one hand, we have people openly supporting banning people falling in love with someone in the same village or the next one, and if that does occur, making no bones about either ostracising them or chucking them out of the village, or giving sanction to chopping their heads off. Then we actually have people, supposedly rational and progressive characters from among the political class as well, who seek understanding or downright empathy for these khap panchayats who hand down such sentences and edicts. On the other hand, however, we apparently are so careful and concerned about the welfare of our young ones that we are prepared to bring in a Bill that envisages sending even parents to gaol if children are being corporally punished. 


Now, there's a vast and hoary parental tradition of correcting children's behaviour with a wallop. An entrenched system of thought that holds that kids really can't be taught right from wrong unless they are brought into contact with the rod or cane. At home or at school. Of course, it would be wholly welcome to ban such behaviour. There is no getting away from the fact that children can very well be taught things and disciplined without being hurt. And, per se, it is a sort of moral and ethical crime to hit a child. But, pray, how are we going to have such legislation, make people see its benefits and validity, if those same kids are allowed to be targeted for wanting to marry someone, for instance, from the 'wrong' community or village? Or is it alright to discipline them when they grow up? A case of innocence being legally denied, perhaps.









RECOGNISING the positive effects of broadband — viewed as an integral and basic part of national infrastructure — on economic growth, several developed countries have focused on policy measures to accelerate its growth and penetration and included it as an area for fiscal stimulus. For example, in the US, the broadband stimulus provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 allocates $7.2 billion. 

Only $4.7 billion is being routed as grant through the National Telecommunication and Information Administration — the executive branch that advises US president on telecommunications and information policies — as grant for the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. The remaining $2.5 billion is in grants and loans to the user department, in this case the US Department of Agriculture/Rural Utilities Services Broadband Initiatives Program to accelerate broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas. 

Similarly, as a part of its stimulus package, Australia has launched its National Broadband Network Initiative: the largest infrastructure project in Australian history, with an eight-year rollout and a projected cost of A$43 billion. Sweden, Japan and Austria have similar programmes. In these cases, broadband has been seen as an integral part of the national infrastructure. Most of these plans seek to accelerate the linkages between existing networks and faster fixed-line backbones comprising the next-generation networks. 


Broadband initiatives are seen not only as contributing to job creation but also to productive efficiency of all sectors of the economy. In the case of developing countries, and similar to the effect of telecom on growth, the effect of broadband is stronger than in developed ones and is more pronounced than that of mobile and Internet. Such effects become even more significant, once a critical mass of users is reached. 


The growing gap between developing and developed countries, not only interms of mobile coverage but also broadband penetration that indicates an increasing gap in potential for economic growth, should be a cause of concern to national policymakers and regulators. 

 For example, broadband density in industrialised countries exceeded 25%, whereas in China, Malaysia and India it was 5.1%, 4.6% and 0.3% respectively. An additional dimension of this disparity is the huge differences between the metros, urban and rural areas, especially in developing countries. And these differences are increasing. In the last 10 years, the difference between rural and urban teledensity worsened significantly, from 6.3% on March 31, 1999, to 89.7% on December 31, 2009, as the latest Trai data on Performance Indicators shows. 


Further, the disparities in broadband deployment at national levels are seen asgaps in competitiveness of economies. Therefore, it is vitally important for India to develop a national agenda for broadband deployment: the National Broadband Initiative (NBI). This will not only enhance its competitiveness in an increasingly digital, knowledge-oriented, global and service-oriented economy, but will also reduce the inequities between the digital haves and have-nots. The framework for developing the NBI should take the following into account: 

Public-private partnerships (PPP): While private sector investments in all sectors should be welcome, a national broadband infrastructure, with significant public good characteristics, will require substantive public funding. Developed countries have also invested in broadband through significant public funding, using structural funds, regional support mechanisms, subsidies, funding innovative projects, etc, as outlined above. 

A PPP model will help to leverage the efficiencies of private sector. Analogies can be drawn with public sector funding of other and earlier critical networked infrastructures, such as the railway network, the electricity grid and distribution system, and the large-scale funding of new highways. 


Increasing role of mobiles/wireless: Not only does the government need to focus on the provision of a national broadband backbone but given the growth of mobiles, the role of mobile broadband in service provision is critical. A strategic plan to manage spectrum and leverage the digital dividend, refarming is crucial. 

Integrate with initiatives of other infrastructure projects:Since right of way (RoW) constitutes a major cost and effort element in telecom deployment, it is important to integrate the various other infrastructure initiatives to provide ducting, access to poles and other RoW, and provide the access to service providers at low costs.

This should be done for all government infrastructure, including highways, waterworks, buildings, etc. It is critical to link NBI with the existing statewide area networks as much as possible. 


Integrate with initiatives of other social development projects: The NBI needs to work with a variety of stakeholders in sectors such as health, education, agriculture, etc, as without enabling services that ride on the broadband infrastructure, it would have little impact. This is exemplified in the US through the example given above. 


Make it visible:Just as the national highway programme became a highly-visible programme, and the benefits derived from it led to a lot of public support for it, the national broadband initiative should be made highly visible. This would put pressure on decision-makers to put strong processes for selection and implementation of projects. 

 (The author is executive chair for Idea Telecom Centre of Excellence at the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad. 

 Views are personal.)








 CONFLICT occurs in situations in which people are interdependent, seek different outcomes, favour different methods to the same end, or perceive others are interfering with their ability for rewards or resources. A person's behaviour in conflict situations can be described by two basic dimensions: assertiveness and cooperation. Assertiveness is the extent to which the team member attempts to satisfy his own concerns. Cooperation is the team members' attempt to satisfy the other person's concerns. 


There are five specific methods of dealing with conflict using these two dimensions: competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding and accommodating. Each one of us has a tendency for one or more behaviour styles depending on the situation. Understanding the style with which you are comfortable is important when you are dealing with conflict with one person or in a group. 


 Keep in mind that there are times when every one of these behaviours will appear in each of us. For example, we would not have sports without competitive conflict — football, baseball, basketball, hockey and golf. People get a charge out of this type of win/lose competition. Each behaviour has value, depending on what you need in agiven situation. 


Conflict has value. If you discourage conflict, you will have trouble building good teams. If everyone always agrees, we go along and it's boring and predictable. But what if you don't want yelling, screaming and hitting? When we talk about conflict, we are really talking about our differences. Our differences are who we are.







THE Agriculture Finance Corp, which has over the years transformed itself into a technical support agency for rural producers, now plans to encourage farmers and artisans in the rural belt to form 'producer' companies. Amul, a producer company, has been a huge success story in the dairy sector. Y C Nanda, non-executive chairman of the Agriculture Finance Corp, is spearheading the initiative to promote the concept to improve the bargaining power of farmers across the country. 


The concept of producers' companies was incorporated in the Companies Act, 1956, in 2003. These companies are akin to private limited companies except that there are no limits to the number of members and the voting rights are based on the cooperative principle of one-man-one-vote. However, there are not many takers just yet, with hardly 50 producer companies across the country. 


 According to Mr Nanda, also the former chairman of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard), these companies offer the advantages of economies of scale of a corporate entity along with the social benefits of a cooperative. "This concept can help increase bargaining power of farmers while buying inputs like seeds and pesticides or selling their produce," he says. 


 The Agriculture Finance Corp is keen on promoting the model and is now in talks with the Planning Commission to launch a pilot project in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. "By way of forming producers' companies, large-scale production can be encouraged without taking away land from farmers. We need to have thousands of such companies to make the concept a success," Mr Nanda says. 


Producer companies provide primary producers the flexibility to organise themselves as a company, but on the basis of a one-manone-vote principle that is the essence of a cooperative institution. 


However, Mr Nanda reckons that the oneman-one-vote system may be a restraining factor. "Why would someone put in her money if she does not gain proportionate voting rights? The present order acts as a barrier to enhance the capital of these companies. The absence of exit route is another prohibitive issue that needs to be looked into. Not enough work has been done to see the model grow," he said. If anything, the scheme is still in a nascent stage. 


Mr Nanda believes this could be one of the many ways to raise farm productivity. "The members will have a platform of their own to share technical knowhow," he says. 


He also reckons that the country needs proper and exhaustive planning to boost farm sector growth, that slipped into negative territory in 2009-10. "Regulators often say that the country needs to achieve a minimum 4% growth in agriculture production to propel GDP growth to 9% or to double digits. Butwhat is the plan — and where is the plan to achieve the 4% agricultural growth? I don't see any serious thoughts going to this. An exhaustive planning is seriously missing," Mr Nanda says. 


He, however, applauds the Centre's effort to ensure higher support price to farmers and the minimum 100 days of work programme. "One should not forget the importance of taking steps to improve agriculture production, even if the share of agricultureto-GDP has reduced to 17%. Capital formation in agriculture or lack of it has been a matter of concern for decades and the concerns still remain." 

An alumnus of Delhi School of Economics, Mr Nanda joined Nabard when it was being formed in 1983. He also played a crucial role in framing the self-help group (SHG)-bank linkage programme in 1992. Yet, nearly 20 years after the SHG journey and formation of nearly 50 lakh groups, Mr Nanda finds that something has gone terribly wrong the way most state governments approach the issue. "For most authorities, it's a number game and, so far as the groups are concerned, they err in producing something or the other without locating the market for their products. This is the common mistake we do," he says, suggesting that state governments should find the markets first and then advise SHGs to do business accordingly. 

"We need to find what skills these SHG women have in them and accordingly engage them in economic activities. One should not lead them in something that they are not comfortable with," he says. The West Bengal government has now entrusted him with the task of undertaking a study on SHG development.









THE infrastructure of a city is what makes it, in many ways, a good or bad place to live and work. Cities around the world need to better understand and manage their core operational systems such as transport, communication, water and energy. Replacing the actual city infrastructure is often unrealistic in terms of cost and time. However, with recent advances in technology, we can infuse our existing infrastructure with new intelligence, since vibrant and creative cities drive economic, social and cultural development. 


Next time you're stuck in traffic, think about this: as smart as our cars have become, our roadways are about to get a whole lot smarter. Building new roads and new lanes often just isn't possible any longer, but building intelligence into the roads and the cars — with roadside sensors, radio frequency tags and global positioning systems — certainly is. 


Rethinking how we get from point A to point B means applying new technology and new policies to old assumptions and habits. It means improving drivers' experience, not just where and when they drive. It could lead to advances in the cars we drive, the roads we drive them on and the public transit we might take. 

A smart city requires an ultra-high-speed network that allows people, business and government to connect with each other and systems that seamlessly manage infrastructure and services. Urban infrastructure decisions over the next three decades will determine whether cities will be a major driver for environmental destruction or a sustainable future. 


 Almost 70% of the world's population will live in cities by 2050. This dramatic shift from rural to urban is accelerating at rapid speed towards unprecedented urbanisation. According to a recent study by IBM's Institute for Business Value, A vision of smarter cities: How cities can lead the way into a prosperous and sustainable future, city leaders need three things to transform their region into a smarter city:


Assemble a team:City administrators need to work seamlessly across their own organisational boundaries and partner effectively with other levels of government in order to tackle issues that require significant collaboration among city, state or provincial leaders, as well as national levels of government. In addition to formulating new policies themselves, cities must be able to articulate challenges they may face when policies are made elsewhere. 


Think revolution, not evolution: Building a next-gen city requires a municipality to be more than focused or efficient. City leaders need to look at systems, most of which are interconnected, and enable people and objects to interact in new ways. These systems can use instruments to analyse and report on the exact condition of individual parts, such as city traffic systems that re-route vehicles around accidents. By using intelligent systems, cities can respond to changes quickly and accurately, along with the ability to better predict and plan for future events. 


Target all city systems, not just one:The inter-relationships between the various systems operating in a city mean that while cities obviously must prioritise their challenges, solving problems in just one system is not a viable long-term option. A holistic strategy that looks at all of a city's systems, and builds in system-wide feedback mechanisms, is a better way to deliver sustainable prosperity to its citizens. 
    It is estimated that 1.7 billion people will become urban dwellers in Asia and Africa alone over the next three decades, posing immense challenges to surrounding environment. Therefore, it becomes imperative that future investments are made in sustainable solutions. Efforts are underway in countries across the world towards creating a true smart city. 


Scandinavian nations invest heavily in their clean environments, and Sweden tops the list in northern Europe. Count clean energy sources, efficient public transportation — like green rail networks — and top-notch healthcare as reasons for the high ranking. Singapore, Brisbane and Stockholm are working to reduce both traffic congestion and air pollution through intelligent solutions, including predictive tools to route vehicles around traffic accidents. 


In New Mexico, Albuquerque is using a business intelligence solution to automate datasharing among its 7,000 employees in more than 20 departments. As a result, it has realised cost savings of almost 2,000%. A smart grid is just the beginning; a platform on which urban centres can build brighter futures. 


China is spending billions of dollars to introduce high-speed trains and expand its rail network, adding 25,000 miles of track between now and 2020. The goal is to move people and goods in a transportation system that can fuel economic development without increasing automobile or truck traffic. China expects to have more high-speed passenger rail than the rest of the world combined in the next five years. 


The future is smart cities: using intelligent grid technology in connection with city planning. Here in India, we have quite a few of these smart applications being built — however, the scale and pace of deployment can be stepped up. We can create greener, more efficient municipalities if we can understand and utilise the bigger picture of smart cities. 

The need for change is a need for smart. 

 (The author is director of software group     at IBM India/south Asia)







IN THE process of "wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born", the persistent seeker could perhaps finally find to his delight that his true world has been empowered to be born to real life. He would thus be enabled to live the life of his dreams and aspirations. He would also know then that he has 'arrived'. 

However, in many cases, this fulfilment may prove to be short-lived. On account of various factors and pressures within and without, even earnest seekers could often slip back, landing themselves back almost to square one. 


temptation and lack of clarity are, thus, often the enemies and impediments to true and sustained progress. The Bible (James I: 6 and 7) notes, "he that wavereth is like a wave of sea driven with the wind and tossed… a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways". James Allen writes thus of one who is truly firm and resolved, "Temptation does not find him unprepared, and it assails in vain the strong citadel of his mind. Abiding in virtue, he abides in strength and peace". 


This is that 'strength and peace' that enables one to realise his true self: becoming a sthithaprajnaor samhitah, as conceived of by Bhagawad Gita [II: 55 and VI: 7]. This dheera, would, in the manner conceived of by the ancient poet Bartruhari, not waver from the right path, even if faced with severe provocations or temptations — as noted by the poet, "even if death were to occur now itself".


Progress towards one's cherished world of goodness, meaning and effectiveness thus involves not merely arduous preparation but also clarity inpriorities and obtaining the needed balance, poise, integrity and foresight to become stabilised in one's noble and cherished acquisitions. This intelligent and farsighted seeker would, thus, have conceived of all possible ways by which various factors could influence or retard him, taking into account situations, relationships and all factors that are particular and peculiar to himself. He would, thus, be prepared to meet these and also to make the needed sacrifices in his spiritual quest. 
 Indeed, to be forewarned in this manner is also to be forearmed to deal with doubts, distractions, temptations and cynicism. 


The new and fulfilling world that had beckoned all along would, in this manner, prove to be not merely endearing but also enduring!





                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The sharp anti-India rhetoric emanating from Pakistan right after the foreign minister talks in Islamabad on Thursday would suggest that peace with India is not on Pakistan's mind for now. India suspended the composite dialogue process with Pakistan following the attack on Mumbai in November 2008 by that country's "civilian commandos". Suspicions were later confirmed with the confession of David Coleman Headley, who had carried out the reconnaissance for the Mumbai attack, that the assault on Mumbai was overseen by the ISI from beginning to end. In spite of the likelihood of ISI involvement, India quite inexplicably initiated a series of steps — commencing with the Sharm el-Sheikh talks between the Prime Ministers of the two countries a year ago — to change tracks and re-start a process of engagement. The Manmohan Singh government persisted with this approach, although in the beginning a touch hesitantly, given the strong domestic misgivings. Later, however, it would abandon the timidity with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh taking the high-profile lead on the sidelines of the Saarc Summit in Thimphu last April to inaugurate steps to cut the "trust deficit" between the two countries with a view to hitting the road to peace. First the foreign secretary talks in New Delhi at the end of February, and now the Islamabad interaction of the foreign ministers, offers few signs for us to hope that the path we have chosen has any traction left. The Prime Minister and his men need to introspect whether the "trust deficit" has in fact increased, not lessened, at the level of the two governments as well as the people of the two countries. This is so much the pity. At the level of ordinary people, there is no fundamental discord between India and Pakistan, although on some questions there are glaring gaps of perception. It has been clear over decades that it is the use of terrorism as an instrument of Islamabad's India policy that has been the source of bitterness in ties. Alas, latterly Pakistan itself becoming a victim of home-grown terrorism that was initially cultivated as an anti-India weapon has not helped moderate the Pakistan government's approach towards this country. In the circumstances, any Indian initiative to dramatically reverse history and move towards peace and normality cannot be inspired to succeed in a vacuum. An attempt to do so is likely to attract failure and scorn. It is likely to look foolish, not valiant. In the light of the sharp public opinion rebuke the Sharm el-Sheikh move had drawn in Parliament and outside, the Congress party was initially wary of the government's Pakistan policy, but in time it came to relinquish that reserve. After Mr Krishna's return to New Delhi on Friday in the wake of the cold blast he was made to endure in the Pakistan capital, the Congress may have been expected to move towards some degree of course correction. In the event, it has not. The BJP has its tail up, and has demanded the abandonment of the present Pakistan policy. But there is clarity on one key issue so far — Pakistan is not well placed to receive peace overtures so long as India continues to demand credible action against those responsible for the Mumbai attack.

Its belligerence is fuelled by its perception that the West is about to pull out of Afghanistan, paving the way for the return of its client Taliban to power in Kabul. It is unrealistic to expect that Islamabad will coddle the jihadists in the Afghan theatre and go after them in the Indian context.








"Q: What's on the drinks menu at Eklav's Cafe?

A: Dhoka Cola and Thumbs Up."

From Bachchoo's

Ancient Quizzes


Occasionally, and when they can't think of anyone else to fill the forbidding emptiness of the broadcasting ether, Indian television stations and programmes ask me to appear and voice my opinion on some topic of the day.


If one is in London, the drill entails driving or bussing down to one or other satellite-linked studio, on most occasions the one on the Albert Embankment in a tall red building adjoining Lambeth Bridge.


From the studio on the ninth floor of this building one has a magnificent view of the Thames and the Houses of Parliament muted only by the darkened-glass walls which shield the cameras from glare and give the world the protected look one gets from wearing "shades".


Very polite young men seat you down in front of a camera which looks like a small flat TV screen and wire you up to listen and to speak. Then they abandon you for the little adjoining room with mysterious monitoring equipment through which they perform their transmitting ceremonials.


One sits in the chair, switching the mobile (or "mo-BILE!", as we Indians would have it) off and waits the five or 10 minutes before the earphone crackles and the host or hostess of the programme can be heard introducing the guests and perhaps bouncing into a question of the topic in hand.


Indian TV debates can get very noisy and sometimes very difficult to control with the participants insisting on getting across what they want to say oblivious of the fact that saying it above the voices of other participants militates against any communication at all.


It's what happened on the last occasion I was invited onto a programme which was supposed to debate an article by one Joel Stein in Time magazine. It appears that Master Stein is a columnist of the international magazine. He wrote a satirical piece about the town of his birth and youth, Edison, New Jersey, which has now been transformed by immigration from the subcontinent. The article was an attempt to be funny — and some may have found it so — as Master Stein lampooned himself and his friends as petty shoplifters, street nuisances and the robust if harmless youth of a community.


The piece would have had some bite if it had been written 20 years ago, as it was no more insightful than to say that the local cinema now showed Bollywood films, the cafes served spicy food and that the young Italian bling-merchants of his adolescence had been replaced by Asians who wore their black shirts open and decked themselves with tasteless gold jewellery.


Nothing new there — and perhaps because he and the editors at Time knew that, Master Stein ventured into hotter territory. He noted that the racists in his old school referred to Indians as "dot heads" and wondered how good the schools of Edison could be if this was the only insult they could think of for people "whose Gods have multiple arms and an elephant nose".

For my generation "dot heads" is associated with the American racists of the 1970s who went around assaulting Indians and calling themselves, the assailants, "dot busters". Not very nice.


Master Stein also ventured the opinion that when Indian immigrants first moved in they were mostly engineers and doctors and were regarded as very clever, but then they brought their merchant-class cousins and this somehow let the tone of the neighbourhood down.


The entire article was intended to be tongue-in-cheek but the editors who approved of it should have noticed that Master Stein's cheek was thin enough to have allowed his tongue through it to rudely protrude and point.


On the occasion on which I was invited to comment on the article the sound in my earpiece, my only indication as to what was happening in the studio in Mumbai or Delhi, was fuzzy. Turning up the volume only deafened me with incoherent ethereal noises of the electromagnetic spectrum. Remember, playing by satellite, one looks into a blank glass plate and can see nothing of whom one is addressing — a sort of blindfold inquisition.


What I could hear was a lot of very angry shouting. I couldn't make out the sentences but it was apparent that our interlocutor, the gifted and acute Arnab Goswami (known in Australia as "Go-get-'em"), had invited someone to assess the article and they had "gone" what the English call "bananas" and the Americans call "ape-shit" (I have always wondered whether ape-shit can be, or is, used to fertilise the growth of bananas, but that's another question).


The person doing the militant interrupting, whose name or provenance I failed to catch, was screaming about racism in America and, though I can't reproduce his argument as I didn't hear his words, seemed to be warning the world that this was the sort of article that led Nazi Germany to acquiesce in the holocaust.


The host did ask me my opinion and I ventured to say that the article struck me as the sort of tosh one finds on an amateur's blog, but felt impelled to warn against a particular vein of objection or extreme reaction. I don't think anyone in the audience heard a word I said because the Don Quixote of anti-racism was in full gallop against the windmill.


The host, with someone indistinct, protested to my argument by saying that Time was an important magazine and by being published there the article had been given some sort of official sanction. Editorial sanction by the insensitive? Yes! An official declaration of war against Indian immigrants which would result in injury? No!


The stuff which borders on ridicule of the avatars of Lord Shiva or Ganesha is, I agree, the most objectionable. But none of Master Stein's observations were to me a call to the barricades.


Neither should the Indian diaspora assume the hijab of intolerance and murderous threat for which the fundamentalist Muslims who place fatwas on writers have become noted. I would urge Quixoteji to burn copies of Time in Edison's town square, to begin a bloggers campaign to stop buying the magazine, to write articles flaying Stein. But Stein mustn't be stoned. The right to write satirical articles, however unfunny and insulting, as long as they fall short of incitement to racial assault, should be tolerated and seen by the world to be taken in our sophisticated kadam.








The senior bureaucrat Mr Jannat Hussain became the guardian of the people's right to know. He bagged the post despite the dissenting voice of the Leader of the Opposition, Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu. Even as Mr Hussain is elated at his continuance in a sarkari post, his senior, who recently retired from service, is a disappointed man. This bureaucrat is now complaining that he confided in Mr Hussain about his own attempts to get the CIC post, and what he was doing to secure it, and all the while Mr Hussain said not a word about his own ambitions in that direction! He even told Mr Hussain that he had met Mr Naidu and got his blessings.


The retired officer was shocked to see media reports a few days later that Mr Hussain himself was a strong contender for the post and is likely to get it too.



She may be the home minister of the state but she too had to observe the rules when it came to security and protocol. Sabita Indra Reddy had come to participate in the 500th quincentenary coronation day celebrations of Sri Krishnadevaraya at Ravindra Bharati on July 5, when a constable posted at the gate stopped her. It was decided as part of the security arrangements that only the President, Ms Prathiba Patil, Chief Minister, Mr K. Rosaiah and Governor, Mr E.S.L. Narasimhan would be allowed through Gate-1 near the DGP's office; all other dignitaries had to use another gate. Ms Reddy made fanatic phone calls to top police bosses of the city, who tried to intervene, but the cops on duty refused to relent. A senior police official says those were the protocol arrangements and everyone had to follow them. "It is true that several VIPs felt unhappy on that day," he quipped. Ms Reddy was equally unlucky when she tried to get information about the slain Maoist, Azad. Her office called up the office of the IG Intelligence to find out more details about the encounter killing of Azad so that the home minister could reply to media queries. But no information was provided to her. Her office was told that the home minister should not comment on the encounter.



The Secretariat staff, particularly those in C Block where the Chief Minister's Office is located, are wary these days of encountering one of the Chief Minister's principal secretaries, Mr C.V.S.K. Sarma. Not because Mr Sarma is a hard taskmaster but because of his rather peculiar style of dressing. A workaholic, Mr Sarma often rushes from work straight to the LB Stadium where he plays badminton. He comes prepared with his sporting kit and leaves the office wearing a tracksuit. Which is fine, but recently staff were astonished to find a man getting out of the lift wearing boxers! A closer look showed the inelegantly attired gent to be none other than Mr Sarma! The staff now wonders what sartorial surprise Mr Sarma will spring on them next.








It's all about the numbers. And right now M.S. Dhoni's numbers are looking just great! Signing a staggering Rs 210 crore endorsement deal isn't exactly small change, particularly in these tough times when even international superstars are accepting pay cuts. What cricket fans are getting all excited over is the fact that Dhoni, at age 29, has gone past the 37-year-old Sachin Tendulkar's record of Rs 180 crore deal which ended in 2009. Come on guys… haven't you heard of that old saying which goes… the old order changeth yielding place to new? Shakespeare sure knew a thing or two about jawaani deewani… and the premium attached to it. Dhoni is on top of his game (and I am not restricting that to cricket). He has displayed the sort of robust common sense that has seen him through various crises, professional and personal. And now as a newly minted bridegroom, even his previous romantic chakkars with assorted Bollywood/fashion lovelies are taken care of. Dhoni is the ultimate symbol of aspirational/inspirational India. What is there not to like and love about this guy? He is handsome, self-made and successful. His entry into the big-ticket world of international cricket has been entirely on merit, without the benevolent hand of a powerful godfather over his head. He has seamlessly negotiated the murky political cesspool that is cricket today, winning the "Captain Cool" tag in the bargain. The man is a bloody modern-day marvel! He can act, he can sing, he can dance… who knows… maybe he can walk on water, too. For all that, Dhoni remains a small-town guy — and that's where his real strength lies.


Something major is underway in small time India that most big city folks have paid scant attention to. One can sense it each time a journey into the hinterland is undertaken. This goes beyond malls and money. But hey — why not begin with the malls and money? Wasn't it a dumb Mercedes dealer who stupidly ignored an order for 83 swanky Mercs, because he couldn't believe that farmers from Aurangabad would be serious about such a gigantic purchase? But guess what? That's where the actual lolly is… in dem hills. And those guys in shiny suits living in India's Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities are the fat cats shrewd advertisers and marketers should be aggressively chasing — instead of the comparatively kadka urban socialites sporting designer logos on their bums. Logos that in all probability have their origins in the fake goods factories in Taiwan. Talking to the Delhi franchisees of the most prestigious luxury labels in the world, I was told that most of their sales are generated by farmers from Punjab, who make special "trousseau trips" to the capital to pick up the priciest "It" bags and designer gear for their darling daughters. It's a strictly "cash-and carry" crowd of dedicated shoppers and these guys justifiably believe money talks. Bundles of thousand rupee notes carried in inconspicuous plastic bags are poured on to the counter, much to the horror of the snooty sales' team, accustomed to bowing and scraping in the presence of Bollywood stars looking for freebies. Not that this lack of so-called "class" matters to their bosses in Milan, London or New York. Those foreign number crunchers rub their hands in glee as the euros, dollars and pounds roll in — from rural India, of all places! Given the dismal economic story dominating Europe, what would these snob stores do without the patronage of our richie rich kisaans and shetkaris?


And so it goes on other levels as well. Small town India has come into its own, be it in Bollywood or in big business. When I read about the 23-year-old Kangana Ranaut from Himachal Pradesh booking a sprawling four-bedroom apartment in Mumbai's tiny Bandra neighbourhood for a whopping Rs 15 crores, I fell off my chair! Here's a girl who gatecrashed into Bollywood less than five years ago, hooked up with a much married, much older Aditya Pancholi, broke up with the same bloke after a few well publicised spats, made a couple of small budget films, got noticed, got fame, got new boyfriends… and… and got rich. Seriously rich. Today, she zooms around in the latest Audi, wears the best designer labels, signs countless movies and is right up there in the showbiz pecking order.


One would imagine that Dhoni and Kangana would have nothing in common — but they do! It is the fascinating journey of two young and daring people to the top of the heap that makes them interesting. On a recent trip to Sri Lanka, I got talking to a hugely successful businessman (you could call him the beer king of the island), who said he was not interested in the pursuit of either money or admiration. Loftily… very loftily, he added such a chase was for the under-privileged and the hungry, who need both. But for someone like him, born into one of the wealthiest and most privileged families, his dream, he said airily, was to appreciate beauty and enjoy life! Lucky bugger, I thought to myself, as he picked at his gourmet lunch in Colombo's smartest restaurant. He pointed to a brand new and very gaudy high-rise apartment close by. "It's expensive… even by Indian standards. But would I live in it? Never! It's for the peasants who have made money and are stupid enough to move to the city." Earlier that day, I had met a tea garden owner whose exclusive "Virgin White Tea" retails in fancy tea boutiques in New York and Paris for $1,500 per 10 grams! I kid you not. What makes this tea so special? The publicity claims it is picked by virgins ("But I don't certify them", he chuckled wickedly) who cut the leaves with a pair of gold scissors and collect them in a gold bowl. Well, that's a part of the myth. But the extraordinary success of his limited edition tea has made it possible for his workers to dream Technicolour dreams. One of those fit and handsome boys playing cricket in the field close by could well replace Kumar Sangakkara, the dashing captain of the Sri Lankan cricket team, in the near future.


There are versions of Dhonis and Kanganas being born every day in some small, relatively obscure part of our world. Who knows — the Commonwealth Games may throw up a few right here in our backyard. May the best underdog win… and all that rot. While we are at it, let's ask Oracle Paul what the odds are of India winning even a single measly medal?


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ON ONE of the very few occasions that I have met Lord Mandelson (when he was still the business secretary in the last Labour government and a thousand other things) I did say to him that he was the "Sonia Gandhi" of British politics. I meant it as a compliment: He seemed cool and calm, a stabilising force, the "glue" that maintained the uneasy coalition between the then Prime Minister Tony Blair and the former Chancellor Gordon Brown. It reminded me of how Mrs Gandhi had first stepped in and kept her party and later the first United Progressive Alliance government from collapsing. He looked quite pleased. And now it is painfully obvious why, but, alas, not quite in the way I had meant.


From his newly published memoir, The Third Man, it is apparent that more than keeping the Labour Party in power, the tension between Mr Blair and Mr Brown actually kept Lord Mandelson and others around in power. Feeding into the insecurities of the two men, Lord Mandelson played the concerned middle-man, brokering deals between the two and assiduously storing away all the salacious details for future use. Mr Brown was "mad, bad and dangerous" and Mr Blair was "weak and ineffectual". And guess who comes out smelling of roses? Lord Mandelson, of course.


The speed at which Lord Mandelson has churned out his "kiss and tell" book has been astonishing. It is barely two months since the elections — how did the man ever find the time to write a book covering 13 years so quickly? If he has only just written it then he has got through one year in one week which is a breathtaking ratio by any measure. Or more likely, accused as he is of being a master of the dark arts, he may have already anticipated this moment and had been prepared to line his retirement years with royalties, ages ago. He has, not for the first time, pipped both Mr Blair and Mr Brown to the post. They are still struggling with their recollections while he is busy serialising book rights and tours. No doubt there will soon be a film about a gay, powerful minister who controlled 10 Downing Street.


But who do we really believe? Coming so close on the heels of the former spin doctor Alistair Campbell's memoirs, this latest bombshell has pushed us deep into a Rashomon moment, with each new book giving a different twist to our understanding of the Blair-Brown years. Lord Mandelson has very nobly maintained that he rushed his book because he wanted the contenders of the newly-launched Labour leadership contest to learn from history. But already doubts are being shed at his capacity to remember incidents laced with supposedly verbatim dialogue unless he was also tape-recording the conversations? However, his loyal supporters point out that a Prince of Darkness must also have supernatural powers and maybe this is only a small demonstration of that.


Perhaps the book should have been called "The Third Monkey" as it seems the three men had decided that whilst in power they would not notice the evil around them, pretending that they were all influential world leaders. On the contrary, they actually seem like a bunch of squabbling schoolboys at Number 10 and 11 calling each other names and even occasionally pummelling each other — not over policy or even the Iraq war, but over what clothes Mr Blair was to wear. According to Mr Campbell's memoirs this was the reason why Lord Mandelson boxed him during an acrimonious meeting. Clothes! Image maintenance reigned supreme, after all.


Whilst this may not be what we would have liked to think New Labour was all about, it is interesting to see the depths to which hubris can make us plunge. At the same time, I really wish a similar no-holds-barred memoir would come out in India. Mission impossible!


MEANWHILE, AWAY from the Westminister battleground I saw the preview of a really feel-good and unusual film about the Afghanistani cricket team, Out of the Ashes, from filmmakers Timothy Albone, Lucy Martens and Leslie Knott. Shot over two years — the film emerged from Albone's journalistic sojourn in Afghanistan during which the cricket team was announced. Immediately struck by the idea, Albone temporarily abandoned his journalism for the film — even teaching himself cinematography for the purpose. The documentary is especially heart-warming as it does not play upon any stereotypes, but clearly pitches a bunch of very cheerful underdogs against the cricketing might of the entire world, as they prepare for the World Cup. The crew, also often struggling for resources, determinedly shot over 200 hours all over the world to reach the final, brilliantly-edited version of the 86-minute film. However — the film did garner some backers along the way — including the filmmaker and cricket enthusiast Sam Mendes and the BBC.


Out of the Ashes traces the initial grouping of the team, mostly from a refugee camp, under an almost surrealistically optimistic coach Taj Malik to their knockout at the World Cup qualifiers. Armed with very little training, almost no funding and a strict halal diet, the team launch themselves enthusiastically into the championship. Albone was never sure about where the documentary would lead or end — because the team could have been ousted at any of the qualifying rounds. To his astonishment, they travel through Jersey, Tanzania and even Argentina, praying and surviving to play another day. The film with a powerful true-life story, accompanied by strong visuals and rousing music (and thankfully without a voiceover) gifts us a rarely seen side of Afghanistan.


Albone himself says that this was the main inspiration. "I wanted show the human side to Afghanistan, not just the war." In this, the film, with its fairytale ending, succeeds completely. It is a film about the triumph of the human spirit. The politics and ravaged images of a war-torn country are not entirely absent but are integrated seamlessly into the script — for instance, sometimes as a broadcast from US President Barack Obama — so that we can never forget where the indomitable cricket players emerged from. Even their final knockout from the World Cup is like a victory because they had never even dreamt they could, with all their disadvantages, become an internationally-recognised team.


It is the sort of film that a cricket-mad country like India would love — but also viewers everywhere because it transcends boundaries and speaks to us purely about how the most fragile dream can, one day, become a reality. Or as Taj Malik says, "There are a lot of problems in the world today… Everywhere there is complex fighting, injustice... The solution to all the problems is... cricket!"


- The writer can be contacted at [1]







Let us enter, you and I, into the moral universe of the modern narcissist.


The narcissistic person is marked by a grandiose self-image, a constant need for admiration, and a general lack of empathy for others. He is the keeper of a sacred flame, which is the flame he holds to celebrate himself.


There used to be theories that deep down narcissists feel unworthy, but recent research doesn't support this. Instead, it seems, the narcissist's self-directed passion is deep and sincere.


His self-love is his most precious possession. It is the holy centre of all that is sacred and right. He is hypersensitive about anybody who might splatter or disregard his greatness. If someone treats him slightingly, he perceives that as a deliberate and heinous attack. If someone threatens his reputation, he regards this as an act of blasphemy. He feels justified in punishing the attacker for this moral outrage.


And because he plays by different rules, and because so much is at stake, he can be uninhibited in response. Everyone gets angry when they feel their self-worth is threatened, but for the narcissist, revenge is a holy cause and a moral obligation, demanding overwhelming force.


Mel Gibson seems to fit the narcissist model to an eerie degree. The recordings that purport to show him unloading on his ex-lover, Oksana Grigorieva, make for painful listening, and are only worthy of attention because these days it pays to be a student of excessive self-esteem, if only to understand the world around.


The story line seems to be pretty simple. Gibson was the great Hollywood celebrity who left his wife to link with the beautiful young acolyte. Her beauty would not only reflect well on his virility, but he would also work to mould her, Pygmalion-like, into a pop star.


After a time, she apparently grew tired of being a supporting actor in the drama of his self-magnification and tried to go her own way. This act of separation was perceived as an assault on his status and thus a venal betrayal of the true faith.


It is fruitless to analyse her end of the phone conversations because she knows she is taping them. But the voice on the other end is primal and searing.


That man is like a boxer unleashing one verbal barrage after another. His breathing is heavy. His vocal muscles are clenched. His guttural sounds burst out like hammer blows.


He pummels her honour, her intelligence, her womanhood, her maternal skills and everything else. Imagine every crude and derogatory word you've ever heard. They come out in waves. He's not really arguing with her, just trying to pulverise her into nothingness, like some corruption that has intertwined itself into his being and now must be expunged.


It is striking how morally righteous he is, without ever bothering to explain what exactly she has done wrong. It is striking how quickly he reverts to the vocabulary of purity and disgust. It is striking how much he believes he deserves. It is striking how much he seems to derive satisfaction from his own righteous indignation.


Rage was the original subject of Western literature. It was the opening theme of Homer's Iliad. Back then, anger was perceived as a source of pleasure. "Sweeter wrath is by far than the honeycomb dripping with sweetener", Homer declared. And the man on the other end of Grigorieva's phone seems to derive some vengeful satisfaction from asserting his power and from purging his frustration — from the sheer act of domination.


And the sad fact is that Gibson is not alone. There can't be many people at once who live in a celebrity environment so perfectly designed to inflate self-love. Even so, a surprising number of people share the trait. A study conducted at the National Institutes of Health suggested that 6.2 per cent of Americans had suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, along with 9.4 per cent of people in their 20s.


In their book, The Narcissism Epidemic, Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell cite data to suggest that at least since the 1970s, we have suffered from national self-esteem inflation. They cite my favourite piece of sociological data: In 1950, thousands of teenagers were asked if they considered themselves an "important person". Twelve per cent said yes. In the late 1980s, another few thousand were asked. This time, 80 per cent of girls and 77 per cent of boys said yes.


That doesn't make them narcissists in the Gibson mould, but it does suggest that we've entered an era where self-branding is on the ascent and the culture of self-effacement is on the decline.


Every week brings a new assignment in our study of self-love. And at the top of the heap, the Valentino of all self-lovers, there is the former Braveheart. If he really were that great, he'd have figured out that the lady probably owns a tape recorder.








BRIDGING the trust-deficit was the stated intention. Just a handful of tough, but actually stereotype queries at a press meet sufficed to rip the veneer off a positive projection of the meetings between the foreign ministers of Pakistan and India in Islamabad, indeed widen that deficit. Yet "media mischief" was not the real provocation: the less-than-pretty spat was obviously the release of tensions built up during an estimated six hours of jaw-jaw that led nowhere. Telling was it that in addition to the standard sticking points, fresh controversy was generated by the Indian home secretary's squarely blaming the ISI for 26/11 in an interaction with a Delhi newspaper just a day before SM Krishna took off for Chaklala. India may fume at the ever-strident and acerbic Shah Mahmood Qureshi bracketing GK Pillai's observations with Hafiz Saeed's vicious tirades, but it is significant that Krishna did not immediately and forcefully refute his opposite number saying that both deemed them "uncalled for". Was the home secretary articulating government policy? Are the home and external affairs ministries on different pages? If neither, then the senior official let his tongue run away with him, perhaps not the first time. At Sharm-el-Sheikh was Balochistan injected into the complex equation, the Pillai pickle could be the high point of Islamabad. Qureshi might feel he stood firm (a Pakistani questioner suggested he had not) by using strong language at the press conference, Krishna retained his cool and dignity but "carried the fight to other camp" by talking of Jammu and Kashmir's elected government and asserting Pakistan had not backed up its charge of Indian meddling in Balochistan. No doubt attempts will now be mounted at damage containment, seemingly conciliatory comments and clarifications could flow, but the only achievement was a commitment not to "disengage": as in the past. 

Nothing dramatic ought to have been expected at the talks since the old issues ~ terrorism, inaction on 26/11, the Kashmir imbroglio (recent events fuelling Pakistan's allegations of human right violations) etc ~ remain as intractable as ever. That raises queries about the prudence of high-level dialogue that yield little specifics. Would it not be pragmatic to opt for middle-level official "work" on issues like prisoner/fishermen exchange, removing bottlenecks in cross-LOC trade, further facilitating people-to-people contact? Some progress there would serve as building blocks, maybe open the door a little. A prime ministerial stroll in a Himalayan garden cannot suffice to forge a route through barriers as high as those mountains themselves.



AFTER what Nitish Kumar may claim to be a distinguished tenure of four and a half years during which he masterminded his state's revival, Bihar's chief minister finds himself in the headlines for the wrong reasons. If this is the last thing he would have wanted in the run-up to the assembly election, he only has himself to blame. Some of the wounds are self-inflicted, principally the decision to induct an RJD dropout, Mohammad Taslimuddin, also a former member of Parliament with criminal cases pending against him. If that was meant to send a signal to minorities peeved by the JD-U chief's bonhomie with Narendra Modi in a widely circulated advertisement, there was the "courtesy call'' he made to the family of another MP, sentenced in a murder case and lodged in jail, ostensibly because the tainted leader's influence extended to another ethnic group. For some time, it had been assumed that Nitish would shed the convention of chasing vote-banks on caste and communal lines ~ a herculean task in Bihar. Many believed he would use his administrative skills and hitherto clean image to win him votes. But with Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan breathing down his neck, the chief minister appears to have decided on time-tested methods of challenging rivals. 

Now there is reason to be disturbed by the skeletons tumbling out of the ruling alliance's cupboards. A simple complaint to a special vigilance court has become a full-blown scam worth Rs 11,000 crore involving the chief minister and his deputy which the Patna High Court has referred to the CBI. The process of investigation ~ much like the Rs 1,000-crore fodder scam ~ may take years and could even defy conclusive evidence. But if the RJD boss has paid a heavy price for both the scam and the political shelter he had offered to shady leaders, the JD-U may be seen to be hand in glove with the BJP in a similar offence. How this dilutes the CM's achievements on the economic and law and order fronts remains to be seen. But while this could give Lalu Prasad a political weapon, Bihar's misfortune is that there is little to choose between one set of politicians and another. The silver lining is that the system of legal checks and balances survives in a state where there is otherwise little prospect of social reform.



WHEN Muthaiah Muralitharan fondles the leather-spheroid and marks his run-up to seek a personally-set goal of eight wickets in his final Test match ~ and attain an unparalleled tally of 800 victims ~ he will have true peace of mind upon which to craft his unique campaign. Though his unorthodox bowling action has long been cleared by the authorities, his characteristic grin would have been even wider after reading that Shane Warne had accorded him a seal of approval. For though there is no evidence of anything but sporting rivalry between the "offie and the leggie", comparisons between the Sri Lankan and the Aussie had often been proverbially odious. To start with, if Murali's record was deemed dubious Warne was by far the next in line to claim the record, having bagged 708 scalps. Since Warne's bowling action was truly classical, it was frequently the yardstick against which Murali's was evaluated. And Warne, remember is from the land where hailed the two umpires ~ Ross Emerson and Darrell Hair ~ who had "called" Murali for chucking: former prime minister John Howard's taking the same line has just cost him his bid for the ICC vice-presidency. All in all it was an endorsement that counts, and it could have come at no more significant moment. That it was no sugar-coated, less than sincere parting present that the "colourful" Aussie was sending Murali was evident from his not ducking the tricky issue. It wasn't just a question of scientific tests being passed, "I always thought it was probably legitimate" said Warne but added, "because of the way he bowled I was worried that young spinners would try to copy his action and end up bowling illegally". Honest and forthright, adding the ring of authenticity to Warney's "all clear". It is true that some will continue to entertain doubts ~ one Indian classicist has dubbed the Sri Lankan a "javelin thrower" ~ yet a nod from the man most entitled to nurse a grievance must "register". Most cricket lovers will wish that it adds to the Murali-magic in his quest for glory at Galle from 18-22 July ~ even if those eight "targets" are Indians!









REPRESENTATION is at the  heart of sustaining and legitimising a political system. In the initial stages of constitutional government, representation was regarded as a necessary evil rather than as a means of empowerment and participation of the ordinary voter. In the United States, it is marked by the rigidities of the electoral system which creates a governmental structure that is based on the separation of powers and a system of checks and balances. 

The Electoral College for electing the President and the election process of the Senate and the combination of the roles of the Head of  State and that of government in the President suggest that the founding fathers of the Constitution had viewed the people with suspicion.  To that was added the gender bias that excluded women from the electoral process and added property qualifications to be a voter. This underscored the perception that a functioning oligarchy was preferable to a vibrant and functioning democracy. 

This anti-democratic procedure and distrust of the ordinary person is best illustrated in the writings of Edmund Burke. As a believer of natural aristocracy, he restricted the role of the voter to merely voting. Second, he identified voting with a single dominant interest rather than of a person in an area. His famous address to the voters of Bristol is a classic example of this perception of democratic elitism. 

Aristocracy to democracy

THE perception and the purpose of representation changed from this aristocratic mindset to a democratic one thanks to the exemplary role played by the Classical Utilitarians, pre-eminently Jeremy Bentham and James Mill. Their efforts led to the passage of the Reform Act of 1832 which for the first time broadened the electoral base in England in a substantive manner much to the dismay of contemporary philosophers, such as Hegel.  
After 1832, the unstoppable march towards democratising the politics of Western Europe and the US, leading to the system of one-person-one-vote, began. This, however, solved only one problem of representation, from being selective to becoming universal. But the question of  ensuring the maximum participation of the citizen remained a subject of debate. 

The emergence of the two-party system in Britain and the USA is attributed to the  first-past-the-post system rather than by any other social or cultural yardstick. Maurice Duverger in his classic study of the political parties endorses this point of view. But this formal appearance of a largely two-party system and a measure of stability raises a number of questions. The rise of the Liberal Democrats and their demand for far-reaching electoral reforms is accepted both by Conservatives and Labour. The present system does not adequately reflect the  people's aspirations. Nor does it ensure the representation of different segments of society in parliament. 
There are two issues at the core of the debate: (i) the legitimacy of a system which virtually assures that winners take all; and (ii) the marginalisation of the smaller parties and neglecting their concerns in the decision-making process. As regards the first, both in the USA and in Britain, it rarely happens that the winner gets more than 50 per cent of the votes, with the exception of the 2008 US Presidential election. This means that the government is formed on the basis of winning an election even if the winner has secured less than half the votes. At the heart of the problem is the lack of  legitimacy, that is essential in a representative government. In a fragmented party system the percentage of votes required to win in the first-past-the-post system is much less.  As, for instance, in India, where an MP or an MLA can become a minister by polling 12 per cent of the votes. In the first general election in India, the Congress polled 43 per cent of the votes but due to a fragmented Opposition, secured 70 per cent of the seats. 

Nick Clegg's argument is that such a system is inherently unfair and defective and in this age of democracy it is unsuitable for governing a country. The voice of the majority remains unrepresented in Parliament. For instance, in the recent British election, Mr Cameron's Conservative Party polled 36.1 per cent of the votes, but secured 47 per cent of the seats. Labour polled 29 per cent of the votes but secured 40 per cent of the seats. The Liberal-Democrats polled 23.9 per cent of the votes but secured a mere 8.8 per cent of the seats. In Mr Clegg's reckoning,  the present system is undemocratic because it favours the larger parties and is detrimental to the interests of the smaller ones. In the 2005 British elections, 70 per cent of the votes cast were irrelevant or "wasted" ballots. These votes didn't count in the choice of the elected member. 

This leads to the second important point ~ the plural nature of modern mega-democracies and the need to have a different kind of power-sharing arrangement than what the rigid and over-simplified first-past-the-post system ensures. The European experience reinforces this argument.  Coalitions and delayed formation of the government are accepted as normal and routine. Unlike the British system, parliament is supposed to be hung all the time. This is accepted as an essential reflection of the plurality of  society. In Europe, a coalition is accepted as an essential component of the political process because politics after all is a mechanism which reflects the cleavages and faultlines of a political union. Since this is accepted as given, the delay in government formation does not cause alarm, still less disrupt normal economic and political activities. Denmark took eight months and Germany 40 days to have a government in place after the elections. Though elections are more frequent in Europe than in England, the fact remains that elections in the continent are more in the nature of a cabinet reshuffle. The same people return to parliament and the Cabinet also has familiar faces. This is seen as representing political reality and continuity rather than the first-past-the-post system where the winner takes all. 
Formal stability

THE substantive argument of formal stability that one comes across in the Anglo-Saxon world is unnecessary. The denial, instead of expanding and extending the democratic space, has resulted in alienation of voters and lopsided policy formulations. Formal stability is neither conducive to economic growth nor does it facilitate the democratic experiment. Of the three models of democratic government ~ the presidential, the majoritarian parliamentary system as in Britain and the representational parliamentary system as in Europe - the presidential system provides more stability than even the British one. But the presidential system has been successful only in the USA, and this is attributed to American exceptionalism. The British model is seen as 30 per cent more stable than the continental model, but this stability pertains to legislative and not societal stability. 

The coverage of the recent British elections focused both on the number of seats won and the percentage of votes secured. This reflects the general perception that the existing electoral process is inadequate. The Cameron-Clegg government proposes to hold a referendum on the issue. Judging by the prevailing mood, Britain seems set to abandon its present model and move towards the continental one. This would also mean going beyond a single-party government to a coalition. 

Should Britain abandon the first-past-the-post system, it is bound to have a spillover effect on all Commonwealth countries, including India. The end of British isolationism might spur the demand for electoral reform throughout the world. The verdict of 2010 will then be historically significant.

(The writer is Associate Professor of Political Science, Jesus and Mary College, New Delhi)






Mohamed Higazy has been Egypt's Ambassador to India for almost four years. Before this he was assistant minister for African affairs and even served in various diplomatic positions in the United Kingdom, Australia, Spain and Jordan. He holds a PhD in political science and is set to assume a new post as assistant minister for Asian affairs at the Egyptian ministry of foreign affairs when he returns to Cairo on 1 September. In an interview with SIMRAN SODHI, he spoke about Egypt-India ties and the West Asia situation. Excerpts:

How would you describe Indo-Egyptian relations today? 

I think Indo-Egyptian relations today are very solid, based on their very strong historical background. The bilateral relations are today more like a strategic partnership, especially since the historic visit of President Hosni Mubarak to India in November 2008. That visit signified the culmination of 30 contacts at a ministerial level between the two nations over the past three years. Coordination between the two countries covers many issues in the bilateral, regional and international arenas. In all areas of common interest, particularly the World Trade Organisation, climatic change, UN reform, the Non-Aligned Movement and South-South cooperation and nuclear non-proliferation, there exists an understanding between the two countries. In addition, Egypt-India trade relations are very strong and growing steadily. 

Can you tell us a little about some of the upcoming bilateral contacts between the two countries? 
India and Egypt will be carrying forward their strategic partnership to a higher level during the upcoming foreign affairs consultations between the two countries in Cairo on 5 and 6 August this year. This will be followed on 6-7 September by talks between the foreign ministers of the two countries, again in Egypt. 


India has traditionally been close to the Arab world but of late its relations with Israel have become quite close. How does Egypt view this? 

India has always extended support to Arab causes and particularly to the Palestinian cause and the right of its people to an independent state. In all international arenas and in all multilateral forums, India is always in the forefront of supporting Arab causes. We are happy that the political leadership in India remains committed and supportive to the causes of the Arab world. 

What is Egypt's reaction to the recent flotilla incident and what do you make of Israel's reaction to the same?
We condemn the Israeli attack on the flotilla and the excessive use of force against civilians in a humanitarian mission to Gaza in international waters. We also support the UN Secretary-General's call for an international investigation into the matter and the decision by the International Human Rights Commission in Geneva to do the same. In this regard, the primary question is what Israeli commandos did to civilians on a ship in international waters. Israel could have resorted to different means to divert or block the passageway without resorting to violent military means which led to the killing of innocent civilians. We have to open this to an international investigation primarily to avoid repeating the same kind of deplorable actions. 
If the international community followed the recommendations of the Goldstein report after the atrocities committed during the Israeli attack on the civilian populations in Gaza in December 2008, maybe we could have avoided this intolerable behaviour. Most important, international efforts should concentrate on exerting pressure on Israel to lift its unlawful blockade on Gaza and to end the occupation of the Palestinian territories to allow the emergence of an independent Palestinian state. 

How does Egypt view the Iran situation especially in the light of the latest UN and US sanctions that have been imposed? 
Egypt believes, like India, in a political and diplomatic way of dealing with the issue of Iran nuclear issue. Diplomacy and political means should prevail over any other means. We support the right of any nation to acquire civil nuclear technology according to the guidelines of the NPT and under the supervision and cooperation of the International Atomic Energy Agency. This is the undeniable right of using civil nuclear technology by any nation within the framework of the NPT. We must use the tools of diplomacy to deal with this with international worries and answer the questions raised against the Iran nuclear programme. The window is still open for rational and responsible talks to attain a peaceful and negotiated solution to this issue to the satisfaction of all parties. 

Egypt has always stood for moderate Islam. How do you see the world today where a more radical form of Islam seems to be on the rise? 

Islam, like any other religion, stands for peace and harmony. If you look at the Muslim population, the majority by far is definitely moderate and only a few are misled or driven by causes that are perceived as injustices. Radicalism in general exists in all religions, not only Islam; it exists in many forms in Hinduism and Christianity too. Radical ideology should be met not only through security measures but also dialogue. We also need to look into the root causes that lead to such violent reactions. Those causes are very well known and have to be dealt with. 

On a more personal note, how has the India posting been for you? 

It's almost four years since I came to India and I feel I have contributed to the well-being of our relations and done my share in its present and future. I was amazed at the commonalities, similarity and synergy between our two peoples and the love and respect they share for each other. 






The PMO is miffed at the furore created in the media about the Kanpur incident in which a boy died. It was reported that he could not be taken to the hospital in time owing to curbs in traffic movement as a result of the PM's visit. South Block felt the media had deliberately overplayed the issue and repeatedly harped on the nuisance created by VIP security for the travelling public. Why should the PMO be pilloried ad nauseam when the Cabinet Secretariat, which monitors the SPG, has been advised time and again to ensure that the ubiquitous aam aadmi is not inconvenienced?  Or so goes the reasoning!

New Election Commissioners

Even if the Women's Reservation Bill is yet to go through, the PMO has two women civil servants, Sushma Nath and Shanta Sheela Nair, in its shortlist of four names for the post of Election Commissioner. The names are likely to be put up to the Chairperson of National Advisory Council, Sonia Gandhi.

Inseparables separated

 There was a time when they were like Siamese twins. They were always seen in the same frame. But that is no longer the case. They were recently in London and the Chota Bhai made an effort to break the ice. He sent a text message to Bada Bhai that his twin daughters would like to meet their aunt and Sweta didi. What the response was will be only in the realm of conjecture, but the fact of the matter is that the meeting didn't take place. Bada Bhai and family, who were there for the release of Raavan, were hard-pressed for time. Of course, some politicos who walk around Oxford Street more often than they do Connaught Place guessed that the "big" one was playing truant and perhaps embroidered the narration according to personal inclinations. There are, therefore, several versions! 


Paswan's ploy

Ram Vilas Paswan is up to his tricks again. After his election to the Rajya Sabha with the help of Lalu Prasad Yadav, he has been, not so discreetly, spreading the word that he is being inducted into the Union cabinet. When the Congress is struggling to accommodate its coalition partners as well as fence-sitter Ajit Singh, how can the sole representative of an vanquished outfit, that too a member of the Rajya Sabha, aspire to join government?

   The answer is simple. Paswan knows full well that his joining the Council of Ministers is a chimera. But this is a diversionary tactic to mislead the sniffing hounds. He is worried about the can of worms he has left behind in steel which, if opened, could trouble him till eternity — like the fodder case involving Lalu. So if he spreads the word that there is still a possibility of redemption — like a purported birthday greeting from the UPA chairperson and the PM — it could keep the hounds at bay for some time. What the man doesn't realise is that it is politically expedient to keep him on tenterhooks. As it is, his aide as well as an ex-PSU chief are under scrutiny.

Smarting under a slight

Civil aviation minister Praful Patel has reason to grumble on many counts. First, all's not well with his party. Second, there are too many scams afflicting him and his party chief. Third, after the aircraft purchase, there's nothing very exciting left to do! But what hurt the most was that his name was not mentioned on the plaque marking the inauguration of the new terminal at Delhi airport. It carried the names of the PM and the UPA chairperson. Patel took it as a snub by the all-powerful GMR. But he should realise the snub was authored elsewhere. And there is precious little he can do to settle scores with either the GMR or his senior UPA partners.
Reshuffle that isn't

After intense speculation that a cabinet reshuffle was about to happen, sparked by Sharad Pawar's meeting with the PM, it will happen, it seems, only after the  monsoon session of Parliament. It may well coincide with the recast of the Congress hierarchy. 


Pawar wants to demit office and place his daughter Supriya Sule in the cabinet. And Karunanidhi is not far behind in demanding a berth for his daughter Kannimozhi while not relenting on giving up on Raja of Telecom. The Congress has tried to flex muscle by fanning the flames of the IPL controversy  and occasionally tracking Hasan Ali's money trail. Or by closing in on Raja using the investigative agencies. That's one part of the unfolding drama.   


Fearing a joint onslaught by two irreconcilable parties, the Left and the BJP in the forthcoming session, a big churning is on the cards following Pawar's display of veiled threats. The Congress does not like being arm-twisted by smaller parties. It has sent feelers to Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik so that it is not taken by surprise in any snap vote. Since the DMK is a UPA partner, the AIADMK cannot be seen to support the government, but can stage a walkout "in protest" and ease the position of the ruling benches in terms of numbers. Tense moments indeed!


Are Babus becoming activists?

With elections round the corner in Kerala, are Babus becoming more strident? It seems so, going by recent reports. They appear to have gained the courage, or the gumption, to critically (or trenchantly) appraise official policies or moves. Normally, they comment derisively about the predecessor government so as to win brownie points with the present one. But now the glass ceiling has been broken. Or are they taking advantage of the schisms within the ruling front?

One senior civil servant took up cudgels with the incumbent government on the issue of the closure of a bottling plant at Plaachimada in Palakkad. Without judging the merits of the case, is it proper for a serving bureaucrat to publicly air his views when he has other official avenues to make his point?

There is another case, of a senior police officer against whom a slew of charges are being levelled. An NIA probe has been ordered by the Centre. All this is disconcerting when the state is in the danger of being besieged by terror links! If the steel frame starts creaking, will mere oiling help? No wonder the Babus from the state are eager to flee to the Rajdhani rather than serve God's own country! 


Heard on the street

The current inflationary trend is a problem unique to India — unlike in 2008 when it was part of a generalised global commodity price boom. According to WPI, inflation in food articles in India stood at 16.49 per cent, higher than virtually every other developing country, including Bangladesh (10.8 per cent), Pakistan (14.8 per cent) Thailand (11.92 per cent) and Indonesia (10.27 per cent). No wonder when our economist Prime Minister speaks, the world listens!





It was a big mistake to have joined hands with Kalyan Singh and I apologise to Muslims for doing so. I wish to assure them that I will never repeat such a mistake in future and will have nothing whatsoever to do with those responsible for the demolition of Babari Masjid. 

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. 

The electoral alliance is important to us but we must ensure that both the parties are respectful towards each other. The wind of change is blowing in Bengal and the people of this state would ensure that the reign of terror comes to an end here. 

West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee chief Manas Bhuniya. 

Today, I am in the chair but tomorrow somebody else can be there. We won't remain in power or in the chair forever. We will have to go away. 

West Bengal industries minister Nirupam Sen. 

A large section of people have voted against the Left. So we have to rectify our mistakes. 

CPI leader AB Bardhan. 

I heard that Left-run municipalities are waiving the tax. They must be facing a challenge from the populist idea of adjacent Trinamul-run municipalities, where there is no such tax. But, in principle, our government does not support this waiver. 

West Bengal municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya. 

We're very concerned with the pattern of swine flu this year. Worse, the symptoms of swine flu are almost similar to those of the common seasonal influenza. This is quite baffling. We can't compromise with the precautionary measures to prevent the disease. 

Asit Kumar Biswas, nodal officer-in-charge of swine flu in West Bengal. 

Political might is being used to suppress the aspirations of the people. We will ask the Prime Minister to declare these areas as Union Territory. 

Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan on the Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute. 

The all-party meeting, except for the BJP, urged the state government to have an inquiry conducted to ascertain the circumstance leading to the death of the civilians. 

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah after 15 civilians were killed in firing by security forces. 

All I can say is from our standpoint here in the USA, we would take a different step to balance security and to respect religious freedom and the symbols that go along with religious freedom. We do not think that you should legislate what people can wear or not wear associated with their religious beliefs.
State Department spokesman PJ Crowley 

Didn't kick a single ball and lifted World Cup. 

Amitabh Bachchan on Paul, the octopus.










What exactly are political murders? If they are what common sense suggests, does a total of 26 political murders seem likely for West Bengal for the period from January 1, 2009 to February 15, 2010? But official figures are at least an indicator of the general state of things. With 26 political murders, Bengal comes second to Andhra Pradesh, which has 36. There are no records for the other regions, but what figures there are, for other crimes and including other states, are alarming enough. They seem to have stirred the chief minister of West Bengal to an acknowledgment that there has been a rise in the crime rate. For criminals, that is a big achievement: the chief minister had always insisted that Calcutta, at least, was "an oasis of peace". His trust in his police is unshakeable, untouched by the increasingly worrisome findings of non-governmental agencies or the atmosphere of lurking menace that now surrounds everyday life in the state.


But reality has a habit of catching up. West Bengal recorded 2,284 murders in a year and one-and-a-half months, just below Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. But murders, recorded or concealed, are just one, if extreme, manifestation of criminality. Even the governor is expressing anxiety now at the swelling flow of illegal arms and explosives into the state. Since the flow of arms is not a new phenomenon, it has to be asked what the state administration, with the police under the chief minister, was doing all this time. To acknowledge officially that political parties, including the chief minister's own, are major buyers, would not do. There is no thin red line separating political workers and criminals in West Bengal; each side needs the other. No wonder the chief minister feels the urge to play things down. The situation in West Bengal is not truly alarming, he feels, since there has been an increase in crime throughout India. It is not as if West Bengal is an exception.


This imperturbability is especially telling in the context of crimes against women. Bengal is quite exceptional in its neglect of and violence towards women, but the chief minister's soothing words suggest that what happens to them does not matter. The crime rates are simply a reflection of that attitude. West Bengal has recorded the highest number of rapes in the last year compared to Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. Tortured women number 17,571, while Andhra Pradesh leads with 17,646. Rapes and sexual violence are not always reported; when they are, the police love looking the other way. So these figures are likely to be more optimistic than real. In trafficking and female foeticide too, West Bengal occupies an honourable position. Perhaps the chief minister thinks that noises of mild concern will make the unpleasantness go away. It would take too much to undo the deliberate indifference of so many years.










In the summer of 2006, I travelled with a group of scholars and writers through the district of Dantewada, then (as now) the epicentre of the conflict between the Indian State and Maoist rebels. Writing about my experiences in a four-part series published in The Telegraph, I predicted that the conflict would intensify, because the Maoists would not give up their commitment to armed struggle, while the government would not be able to "put the interests of a vulnerable minority — the adivasis — ahead of those with more money and political power". Thus "in the forest regions of central and eastern India, years of struggle and strife lie ahead. Here, in the jungles and hills they once called their own, the tribals will find themselves pierced on one side by the State and pressed on the other by the insurgents".

That my forecast appears to have come true does not give me much satisfaction. The scholar was obliged to draw a melancholy conclusion, but the citizen still hoped that one side would give up arms and the other more sincerely implement the provisions of the Indian Constitution. In the wake of continuing attacks by Maoists on security forces, and the killings of Maoist leaders in illegal 'encounters', it is even harder for hope to win over cynicism. However, even if one cannot see a resolution of the problem any time soon, one can still seek a deeper understanding of its genesis. This can be had through two recent works of scholarship that take the tribal predicament as their point of departure.


Out of this Earth, co-authored by the anthropologist, Felix Padel, and the activist, Samarendra Das, provides a comprehensive analysis of the social and environmental impacts of the mining boom in Orissa. The authors show how companies split tribal communities by bribes and coercion, such that a division emerges between 'accepters' and 'refusers'. They document the extensive collusion, between politicians and bureaucrats on the one hand and private companies on the other, which has forced tribals off the land they own but below which valuable ores are to be found.


As Padel and Das point out, the autonomous and non-violent resistance to destructive mining has been misrepresented by the State, corporate interests and even at times by the media as a "Maoist threat". This latter label is then used "to crush all kinds of indigenous opposition based on the people's refusal to be displaced, to allow their land to be snatched away and their communities to be torn apart".


The Padel-Das work may be read in conjunction with a study conducted by the Institute of Rural Management, Anand. Closely researched and soberly argued, the study — whose principal authors are Ajay Dandekar and Chitrangada Choudhury — examines the workings of the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act. Passed in 1996, PESA conferred on tribal communities the ownership of non-timber forest produce, the power to prevent alienation of land to non-tribals, the power of prior recommendation in granting mining leases, and the right to be consulted in land acquisition by the government. Assessing the impact of the legislation a decade later, the report found that "in most states, the enabling rules for the gram sabha's control over prospecting of minor minerals, planning and management of water bodies, control and management of minor forest produce, [and] dissent to land acquisition are not yet in place, suggesting reluctance by the state governments to honour the mandate of PESA".


The IRMA study passes strictures on the abdication by governors of their responsibilities. Although they have been "accorded limitless power by the Constitution to ensure the upholding of PESA", the governors of different states "have slowly but surely been neglecting their duties towards the law, and towards tribal communities". Tribal activists told the IRMA team that "Governors have not responded in a single instance to their petitions for interventions in crises that threaten them, such as deepening clashes over land, mining or police excesses".


The Dandekar-Choudhury study speaks of the widespread transfer of tribal lands into non-tribal hands through fraud and forcible occupation. Despite a long-standing promise to repeal or amend it, the colonial-era Land Acquisition Act of 1894 is still being used, or misused, to acquire land owned by households and communities and hand it over to the corporate sector. In the process, the State has sparked a series of bitter conflicts throughout eastern and central India.


"When it comes to acquiring mineral resources for industry," notes the study, "the stakes are… loaded against the functioning of the PESA.… [T]here is still no legal framework in place for communities to dissent in such activity in their area if they so desire, or to secure a direct stake in the earnings, through instruments such as jobs or debentures." In one village in Orissa, the researchers found that a large police station had recently been constructed, whereas in the past five decades, the state government had not bothered to build a hospital or public health centre. The reason for this bias was immediately obvious — in the shape of a new aluminium factory that had come up near the village. "Do our people need better police facilities or better health care?" asked the village headman. "What is the administration's priority?" he continued, before supplying this answer: "This is being done only because the company wants police stations, which can beat us if we ever protest against land acquisition."


In the past decade, it is in tribal districts that the Maoists have made the greatest gains, in good part because of the State's own short-sighted and exploitative policies. The IRMA researchers are no sympathizers of the methods of the Naxalites. They see them (in my view, rightly) as a threat not just to Indian democracy, but to democratic values in general. They quote an activist who notes that while the Maoists might have, in the beginning, fought for greater economic and social rights for tribals, over the years they have "become corrupt, power hungry and intolerant of any difference[s]". The insurgents are also deeply hypocritical; thus "while denouncing the 'loot of adivasi resources', the Party takes money from the mining industry to fund its operations".


If, despite the brutality of their methods, the Maoists have yet gained ground, it is because the Indian State has treated its tribal citizens with condescension and contempt. A course correction would take the form of "implementing PESA with political will, urgency, and creativity". The IRMA researchers suggest that memoranda of understanding with factories and mining companies "should be re-examined in a public exercise, with gram sabhas at the centre…." Each industrial or mining project in tribal areas should be preceded by an environmental impact assessment conducted by qualified and independent experts. More broadly, through "financial and juridical devolution to gram sabhas, a model of participatory and community-centred development should be nurtured", to replace the current model of top-down, industry-centred, resource-exploitative form of development being imposed on tribal areas.


Ironically, although it had commissioned this assessment of PESA, the ministry ofpanchayti raj has thus far refused to allow it to be printed. If the ministry is sincere about its mandate, it should have this study read by all its officials. The officials of the home ministry and the prime minister's office would profit from reading it too. Perhaps four people in particular should closely read and digest its contents: the prime minister, the home minister, the Congress president, and the youngest of the Congress general secretaries.


The IRMA study quotes an activist saying, "The government might not be interested in talking to the Maoists without certain pre-conditions. But what stops it from talking to its own people and understanding their pain?" Mahatma Gandhi once walked through the riot-torn districts of Bengal and Bihar — it may be too much to ask the leaders of today to walk through Dantewada, or Koraput, or Narayanpur, or Gadchiroli, or any of the other areas of tribal suffering and discontent.



******************************************************************************************DECCAN HERALD





The creation of a symbol for the rupee is a sign of national ambition and confidence. It would have been impossible to imagine at the time of independence over 50 years ago or when the economic liberalisation started some 20 years ago that we would want a visual representation for the national currency. But the proposal to create one, come to think of it, is entirely in character. As a people, symbols and images have always had a fascination for us and we have expressed ourselves in the language of symbols in our mythology, philosophy and arts more keenly and fervently than many other peoples. The Ultimate has been represented through ages as a visual and verbal symbol. The currency is the most material of human realities with imagination usually attending to it only in greed and hope, but to dematerialise it in a visual notation is an act of national projection of power.

The sign of the rupee may not be of any immediate consequence and will not bring any returns. The rupee is not a popular international currency and will not in the foreseeable future be a global reserve currency. The bulk of India's trade is done in dollars. The Chinese yuan is closely behind the dollar in importance and acceptability. It still does not have a symbol though the Chinese are also great at creating symbols. Only very few currencies like the dollar, the euro, the pound and the yen have symbols now. With the acceptance by the government of the design created by an IIT post-graduate scholar, India has joined that exclusive club. There is bound to be debate on the design, but it satisfies the basic parameters of Indianness, simplicity and uniqueness couched in commonality. Its future as an icon of international commerce will depend on India's growth as an economic power. There are decades for it to make a mark in financial statements and find its way into computer keyboards, tickers and minds.

A symbol in itself is only a shape and becomes live and potent only when it is infused with human sentiment and energy. It is a tool for communication and a statement of identity, like the national flag or the national emblem. The sign of the rupee is a sign of aspiration now and will hopefully, through passage of time and usage, become a store of emotional value and a flag of economic honour.








With the clearing of decks for the setting up of a unified command structure in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal — the four states worst-hit by Maoist violence — India's anti-Maoist strategy can expect to see better co-ordination between the Centre and states. The unified command will be headed by the chief secretaries of the four states and include a retired major-general. Investigations into recent Maoist attacks have revealed poor co-ordination between various security forces, especially between central paramilitary forces and the state police. The unified command structure that exists in Assam and Jammu & Kashmir is reported to have played an important role in enabling the government wrest the advantage from the militants. The Centre will be setting up more police stations and recruiting more police personnel in Maoist areas. Besides, it is providing helicopters for logistical purposes. Simultaneously, the government has announced an integrated action plan for infrastructure development in 34 Maoist-hit districts.

The proposed unified command structure and development plans announced by the Centre suggest a new resolve in taking on the Maoists. However, its success will depend on whether those manning these structures can put aside their egos, share information and work together. An issue that Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has drawn attention to merits attention. While there are 83 Maoist affected districts in the country, only 34 have been chosen for the integrated development plan. The government should reconsider its decision to exclude 48 Maoist districts as there is a likelihood of local anger growing in these districts.

The Centre's announcement of new structures and more investment to tackle Maoism sounds impressive. However, it is still only tinkering with the issues that underlie the conflict. The main cause of tribal alienation is loss of land and displacement. No initiatives have been taken on land reforms, mining policy and tribal forest rights, issues that lie at the core of the conflict. To many tribals, the rash of roads coming up is to facilitate movement of troops and transport of minerals. What use does a road have to him when his survival itself is under threat? What use are school buildings when troops live in them? Constructing infrastructure is important. But it will be meaningful only when tribals' physical survival, their homes and means of livelihood are ensured.







A major nuclear accident could be more destructive than the Bhopal tragedy, in addition to leaving its scars even on future generations.



Construction and operation of nuclear power plants, involves not only very high technology but also extremely careful handling and operation to ensure totally accident free and environmentally safe operations for long periods of the order of 15 to 20 years. Even the final disposal of the radioactive waste, after the useful life of the nuclear power plant, demands careful planning and execution.

The potential catastrophic hazard in a nuclear accident, in addition to the immediate large scale damage to property and people, could extend over a considerable period after the accident due to the delayed effect on people exposed to hazardous radiation, which could cause dust-related diseases, loss of hearing, deadly leukemia and even genetic disorders.

In spite of the extreme care taken, accidents such as the Chernobyl in Russia and the Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, US, could occur, both of which were fortunately well contained. Even though the modern nuclear reactors are very robust, accidents due to design deficiency, use of substandard materials, poor quality control or natural calamities cannot be ruled out.

It is therefore essential to ensure that the nuclear plant manufacturer and the operator take adequate insurance to provide compensation to the victims of such an accident, even if the possibility is remote.


The extent of damage from any nuclear power plant accident clearly depends on five major factors, viz, the type, location, power level and usage of the reactor and the robustness of the reactor containment.

The spectre of the meagre compensation paid to the victims of the Bhopal tragedy is still haunting us, even 26 years after the accident. A major nuclear accident, could be of magnitude more destructive compared to the Bhopal tragedy, in addition to leaving its scars even on future generations.

Recognising the impracticality of insuring against the consequences of any hazard for an open ended and unlimited amount, it was implicitly clear that the liability of nuclear operators need to be capped at a reasonable amount, beyond which the state government has to assume the liability.

The cap on liability would clearly depend on the estimation of probability of an accident occurring and assessment of the magnitude of damage it might cause to people and property, both of which are extremely difficult to compute. The estimates of the probability of occurrence of a nuclear accident varies from one in a hundred thousand to one in a million.

The extent of injury to lives and damage to property due to a nuclear accident could be as much as 5,000 killed and 50,000 injured or even more, with the accompanying damage to property which could range from about $5,00,000 to $10 billion, the higher amount being for a complete meltdown of the reactor.

Since no single insurer can provide insurance protection for the large amounts, which may be involved in such accidents, many insurance companies join together to pool their resources to provide the required insurance coverage. The cap on liability, to be realistic, has also to take into account the capacity of the pooled amount available from the participating insurance companies, which in the early 1960s was estimated to be around $100 million.

The present available amount in the pooled insurance market is probably double that amount. The second important criteria, which will have a bearing on nuclear reactor insurance, is the magnitude of the insurance premium to be paid. While the actual premium is negotiated between the insurance pool and the reactor operator, it is generally around $1,000 to $ 2,000 per year for an insurance of million dollars, depending on the type and complexity of the reactor.

Even in the case of spacecraft launches, the country or the party owning the spacecraft has to obtain third party liability insurance for any accidental damage or destruction of people or property caused by failed rocket launch, for a minimum of $500 million, beyond which the state owning rocket launch facilities assumes the liability.

Accordingly, when ISRO launched INSAT satellites from Cape Kennedy, the Government of India had to take insurance for $500 million for each launch at a premium of $1,00,000, in spite of the fact that the damage due to catastrophic failure of a space launch is essentially limited for the duration of the launch.

Moreover, unlike the nuclear reactors of 1950s' vintage which were of a few hundred mega-watts capacity, the current nuclear reactors have a power capacity of 2000 to 5000 mega watts and hence, their destructive power is far more than the earlier nuclear reactors in case of an accident.

The fear of accelerated global warming due to the emission of greenhouse gases like carbon-di-oxide is driving even energy starved nations to augment their power generation capacity by installing nuclear power reactors, even though they are at least twice as expensive as the conventional coal based plants.

With the rapid increase in the installation of nuclear reactors the probability of nuclear accidents is bound to go up.  The cap of Rs 500 crore liability for a nuclear power station supplier or operator, which is now being debated, is certainly very meagre and inadequate considering the much larger scale of destruction accompanying any nuclear accident.

Prudence demands that the nuclear accident insurance should be preferably capped at $1,000 million but certainly not below $500 million (Rs 2500 crore), which was the level fixed in 1960s for much smaller nuclear reactors.

(The writer is former chairman, ISRO and secretary, department of space)








The Bharat bundh called on July 5 by the opposition parties brought life to a standstill in many states.


The loss to the country ran into hundreds of crores. Its success is understandable as prices of petrol, diesel and edibles like dals, vegetables and just about every thing has gone up three to four times. But it would have been better if the opposition leaders had specified what they would do to bring them down if they were in power rather than simply blaming the government. Their inability to do so exposes their sinister motives; they came together even though they are bitterly opposed to each other as the BJP and other right-wing parties are to the communists, to try out their joint strength to see if they could bring down the Congress-led UPA and make a bid for grabbing power. And the easiest short-cut is to prevent the government functioning no matter what it cost the country.

Unfortunately, we as a people are prone to abstain from work on the slightest excuse. This is very different from the Chinese who are well-known to work eight days in the week. We, on the other hand, notably our civil servants, take as many holidays as they can wangle: earned leave, sick leave, (whether sick or not), religious holidays, gazetted holidays as a mark of respect to leaders who kick the bucket — and at times with no excuse whatsoever. That is the main reason why the pace of our progress is lower than in China. Besides, we have the largest number of beggars whose only work is to beg on roadside. We also have a large number of shirkers who justify not doing any work on religious grounds: sadhus, sants, nihangs and their likes. We have to cultivate work ethos and erase words like hartal, bundh gherao, chukka jam by making them out-dated.

From across the border

Last month 11 Pakistani journalist came to visit India. Some of them expressed the wish that besides calling on the prime minister and the home minister, they wanted to meet journalists like Kuldip Nayar and me. Who even though refugees from Pakistan went out of their way to foster Indo-Pak friendship. I am now too old to take the strain of meeting strangers. I gave in when I was told that one of them claimed to be from Hadali where I was born 96 years ago and spent the first five years of my life. So Asim Awan, political reporter of 'The Express Tribune' of Islamabad turned at 7 pm. He was not from Hadali but from the neighbouring town Khushab, along the banks of the river Jhelum. All I remember of it is the railway platform and the story I was told of one of my great grandmothers who lived there. She used to go to the river before break of dawn to have a bath. One early morning she felt something sting her in the back. She hurried back and died. When they were bathing her corpse for cremation, they found mark of a snake-bite behind her neck. How many people can boast of a great grandmother who died of snake bite? I can and she lived in Khushab.

Both Khushab and Hadali have undergone a great change in their population since the partition of India in 1947. In Hadali, Hindus and Sikhs were replaced by Muslim refugees from Rohtak. In Khushab they were replaced by Muslims from Ambala. In both Hadali and Khushab remained original Muslims clans comprising Awans, Tiwanas, Waddals, Mastials and Noons.

I asked Asim Awan whether he found any anti-Pakistani bias in India. "Not at all," he replied. "On the contrary when people found out that I was from Pakistan, they went out of their way to be extra friendly." I was happy to know that. He added: "After all we are the same kind of people and speak the same languages."

In the end of the meeting I asked him where they were staying. "In Maurya Sheraton. Even the staff are very friendly."
"It is amongst the most expensive hotels in Delhi." I remarked.

"We are not paying out of our pockets; we are guests of your government," he clarified.
I was happy to hear that. However, the next morning I read in the newspapers that the number of Pakistanis visiting India had dropped by half because our embassy in Islamabad does not grant them visas. I was baffled. Is this what our home minister believes to be the way of reducing the 'trust deficit' that he often talks about?

Modi in Bihar

Nitish has no right to frown at Narendra Modi

And test the poise and patience of BJP

Modi is not only the heart and soul of his party

He is the model of development in the country,

A model of communal peace, harmony and amity,

A man who has booked his place in history

For his treatment of a religion minority

A passionate man who stands tall

And in his speeches pours out goll

Nitish is no match for him at all

And in order to win the election in Bihar

Mr Kumar must win over the minority community

Which Modi alone can guarantee,

So that Bihar CM must realise his mistake and

do the following two things

Apologise to BJP and seek Modi's blessings.

(Contributed by Kuldip Salil, Delhi)







I prayed to god that there should be adequate prasadam left for me.



The Bharat bundh observed recently takes my memory back to my days at Fort Kochi in Kerala 10 years ago. Having spent most of my years in Mumbai and Bangalore, I never took the bundhs very seriously since it usually starts at around 10 am and fizzles out by 4 pm and the life in the city comes back to normal by 6 pm. Even during the peak hours of the bundh, you always find some determined shopkeepers selling bread, milk, tea, fruits, etc in every locality so that no one goes hungry.

Going by my past experience, I took the bundh called by some political party at Kochi very lightly. The company where I was working as a project manager provided me light snacks on the bundh day and as usual, by 6 pm I went back to my room where I was staying alone. However to my horror, I found that even by 8 pm there was no sign of even a single shop opening the shutters. Being a residential locality and with all the shops closed, the streets also looked deserted.

Having acidity problem right from my college days, the pang of hunger was intolerable. I walked to a nearby temple to find out whether I can get any 'prasadm' to satiate my hunger but they gave only a spoonful of 'theertha' which aggravated my problem.

As I was walking on the road up and down at around 10 pm, cursing my bosses who sent me to Kerala on the assignment, I saw a group of people holding an idol and singing 'bhajans.' My intuition told me that this bhajan group would finally end in some temple and would culminate with the distribution of prasadam. Hence I quietly joined this group only to find that I was the only one in pant and a full shirt while all others were in Kerala 'mundu' with the usual towel on their shoulder.

Roaming with this group steadfastly through different streets aggravated my hunger and finally to my great relief, the group entered a temple where after a brief  'deeparadhana', they started distributing prasadam. My heart skipped a beat when I found several men and boys in Kerala mundu waiting at this odd hour (it was 11 pm by then) for the prasadam. Being in alien dress, I did not dare to break the queue and stand ahead of others as I often do in Mumbai or Bangalore.

I took the last spot and fervently prayed to god that there should be adequate prasadam left for me when my turn came. I was fortunate enough to get more prasadam than others since I was the last man. I paid my obeisance to god for having saved me that day and reached home satisfied by midnight.



******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




Six months after Haiti's earthquake, the situation is bleak. Of the 1.5 million people displaced, 28,000, so far, have been moved to safer transitional housing. The rest huddle in tents and pray that the next rains won't wash their meager belongings away. Crime is resurgent and everyone is desperate for some sign of recovery.


The world's leaders swore that this time would be different, that they would use this tragedy to help the Haitians build a viable economy and a functioning state. At a conference in March, they pledged $3.5 billion to finance a host of ambitious projects: new towns away from the congested capital, Port-au-Prince; new roads, hospitals, power plants, schools, forests, farms.


A new reconstruction agency, the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, which is supposed to oversee that rebuilding, is hardly off the ground.


Part of the explanation for the slow progress, of course, is the sheer scale of the disaster. As Deborah Sontag wrote recently in The Times, experts say it would take a thousand trucks three to five years to clear away the wreckage, though fewer than 300 trucks are hauling now. The quake destroyed almost every ministry building and killed 17 percent of the federal work force.


Still, Haiti's leaders have been very slow to make crucial decisions to get recovery on track. For weeks after the disaster, President René Préval was all but absent. Since then, he has made some critical decisions, particularly about holding elections this fall. He is now said to be heavily involved in planning new shelters for a few thousand displaced people who have been living on the doorstep of the National Palace. That is not enough.


Relief agencies say they have the money and plans in hand for sturdier housing, but can't move until Mr. Préval articulates a clear strategy on where to build that housing and decides how land will be acquired, how private landowners will be compensated and tenant-landlord disputes settled.


Mr. Préval also needs to do a lot more to shake up the bureaucracy, which has fallen back on its somnolent ways. Relief organizations talk about rebuilding materials languishing for weeks in customs. Mr. Préval has all of the legal power he needs to break up bureaucratic obstacles, to force people to negotiate, to acquire land by eminent domain. He needs to take charge.


The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission also is moving slowly. Led by Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and former President Bill Clinton — and modeled after the agency created after the 2004 South Asia tsunami — it is supposed to plan and carry out long-term rebuilding projects paid for with donors' billions. It also is supposed to develop a system to ensure the billions pledged are spent in a rational, honest and transparent way.


The commission has a Web site,, where its projects can be viewed. At its first and so far only meeting, it approved more than $50 million for various projects, including building hurricane-resistant shelters. It has chosen an executive director whose name has yet to be announced. Commission officials say it is moving as quickly as its South Asian counterpart. But it needs to start showing measurable results soon, before donors — who have been predictably slow at anteing up on their pledges — turn their attention and money elsewhere.


The United States has been generous. It has already spent more than $1 billion on emergency aid and is now spending another $175 million on projects like cash-for-work programs, debris clearance, school construction and support for agriculture and police officers.


The White House also has a pending request before Congress for $1.6 billion in Haiti assistance. Congress needs to approve that money, and President Obama and his aides need to do all they can to get Mr. Préval and the interim commission moving more aggressively.


Haitians have been extraordinarily patient. But their suffering is real, and they need to see progress. The world needs to see that progress is possible. If not, all of the big dreams for Haiti could evaporate.







If New York abides by the settlement it reached this week with the Justice Department, mentally ill children in four of the state's infamous youth prisons will finally get decent psychiatric care and will no longer be subject to brutal disciplinary practices. As important as it is, however, the settlement cannot be a substitute for the overhaul of the state juvenile justice system proposed by Gov. David Paterson's juvenile justice task force.

The Justice Department focused on New York because of people like Darryl Thompson, an emotionally disturbed 15-year-old who died after being pinned face down on the floor at the infamous Tryon Residential Center. A federal investigation found that children in the system were often brutally punished for minor offenses like laughing too loud or sneaking an extra cookie.


The investigation also suggested that charges of abuse by guards were being swept under the rug and that psychiatric services for mentally disabled children were shockingly inadequate. As Nicholas Confessore reported in The Times the other day, the state's juvenile justice system does not employ even one full-time psychiatrist to treat young offenders.


Under the settlement, the state must now provide a credible program of psychiatric care. The settlement also wisely limits the use of dangerous physical restraints. The Department of Children and Family Services will create a new division to investigate allegations of abuse and excessive force, and the state is required to inform the federal government within one business day when children are injured or killed or when there are allegations of sexual misconduct by staff.


The settlement applies to only four of the state's 26 facilities. But Gladys Carrión, the commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services, is committed to phasing in the new policies throughout the system. The new regime will require a great deal of retraining of prison personnel and a sea change in culture and is likely to face stiff resistance from the unions that represent juvenile facility workers and their backers in the Legislature. The Justice Department will need to keep a close eye.


The state also must follow the call of the governor's task force and work to send as many low-risk children as possible to community-based programs. Albany needs to listen to what the task force and the Justice Department are saying: the juvenile justice system in New York has failed the state and its children.







With the AIDS epidemic still spreading rapidly around the globe, public health programs have to use their resources a lot more effectively. The need for greater efficiency in a time of limited resources is an important theme of President Obama's new national AIDS strategy. The same argument is being made by the United Nations agency that battles the epidemic and by Bill Gates, whose foundation plays an influential role in financing a global response.


While drug treatments are keeping more people infected with the AIDS virus alive in the United States, the number of new infections of H.I.V. has held steady at about 56,000 a year. The White House strategy aims to reduce that number by 25 percent over the next five years and to substantially increase the percentage of people who get tested and treated promptly.


To meet those goals, it calls for redirecting some of the $19 billion that the federal government currently spends annually on domestic AIDS programs to areas where the need is greatest and to groups at greatest risk, such as gay and bisexual men, blacks, Latinos and injection drug users. That sounds reasonable in tough times.


In the developing world, where drug treatments are also saving many lives, new infections are occurring at a faster rate than treatment is being provided. According to estimates from the United Nations, only a third of the 15 million people who need treatment are getting it and $27 billion a year is needed for the global fight — roughly $10 billion to $11 billion more than is now spent.


The United Nations agency is calling for a concerted effort to develop a less-costly and less-toxic single dose pill and simple, cheaper diagnostic and monitoring tests. It is calling for redirecting contributions away from middle-income countries such as China, India and South Africa, which should bear more of their own burden, to free up more money for poorer nations.


A final victory over AIDS will require research breakthroughs. Scientists seem increasingly optimistic that a vaccine will ultimately prove feasible. But that is still a distant dream.






There was not much to like in the Vatican's news conference this week about its pedophilia scandal, but among all the defensive posturing and inept statements, there was one real stunner: The citing of the movement for the ordination of women as a "grave crime" that Rome deems as offensive as the scandal of priests who sexually assault children.


Calls for ending the ban on women priests are only a blip on the ecclesiastical radar screen. Yet Vatican officials gratuitously raised them at the news conference, while they offered limited antidotes to the crimes of sexual abuse and the long history of bishops dithering and covering up these crimes.


They doubled the internal statute of limitations to 20 years for defrocking abusers. Yet they failed to emphasize the problem as a state crime as the American bishops did after being forced to dismiss more than 700 priests. "It's not for canonical legislation to get itself involved with civil law," one prelate airily declared, insisting Rome's existing "guidelines" — not mandates — are sufficient for prelates to obey civil laws.


American bishops finally signaled an end to recycling serial predators through parishes by committing to zero tolerance and requiring secular authorities to be alerted from the beginning. These two steps should be embraced by the Vatican worldwide.


A third measure proposed by the Catholic laity panel that investigated the Roman Catholic Church in the United States is no less important — that there must be consequences for culpable bishops who protected pedophile clergy and paid hush money to victims. Neither the American bishops nor the Vatican have dared so far to bring offending prelates to full accountability.


Catholic parents, their trust violated, deserve to hear clear and firm countermeasures for enacting Pope Benedict XVI's promises for reform. Red herrings about female priests only display the tone-deafness of the Vatican's dominant male hierarchy.









Americans across the land can be thankful, at least momentarily, that BP has at last managed to stop the runaway flow of oil that has wreaked such havoc on the Gulf's ecology and economy and the lives of its people over the last 86 days. It is too soon, of course, to know whether the temporary fix will contain the well's high pressure until the well-bore can be plugged with cement injections from relief wells now being drilled. Still, the moments that don't show the gusher continuing on the monitor provide welcome relief, however brief.


BP and government officials, unfortunately, made it plain that the fix may be far more temporary than we would have hoped. BP ratcheted down the valves that shut off the oil plume slowly and with considerable deliberation precisely because the enormous pressure at the well head could easily blow out the valves.


"The intention of the capping stack was never to close in the well per se," retired Coast Guard admiral Thad W. Allen, the government's spill response coordinator, said Thursday. "It creates the opportunity to (do so) if we have the right pressure readings to shut in the well. It allows us to abandon the site if there is a hurricane."


Experts also cited the possibility that a significantly lower pressure reading could mean that oil had begun escaping from the cased pipe in the well bore, which extends 13,000 feet beneath the ocean's surface. That is far beyond the well head on the floor of the ocean 5,000 feet deep. Low pipe pressure could mean that oil outside the drill pipe in the bore is escaping into surrounding rock fractures, which could compromise the potential of capping the well permanently with cement.


Such considerations surely increase the complexity of fixing the well robotically by remote control in the sub-freezing temperatures at 5,000 feet, where icy crystals of condensation compromise the hydraulic systems that control the critical valves that make the blow-out preventer operable.


They also underscore why Americans have ample reason to be intensely angry over BP's apparently reckless operational conduct regarding this well, and its other operations in U.S. waters and elsewhere.


A New York Times research team's report on Tuesday shows more clearly how reckless BP's conduct has been over the past decade as its executives raced to grow the company from a middle-size oil company to its position today as the world's second largest oil company, behind only Exxon Mobil.


The Times' report found that as BP began acquiring other companies (America's Amoco and Atlantic Richfield were two) it slashed tens of thousands of jobs, including those of technicians and engineers, even as it pushed into increasingly risky deals and exploration in the deep waters of the Gulf and Alaska, and in places like Angola and Azerbaijan.


Its growth strategies from 1995 until 2007 under former CEO John Browne, The Times found, richly rewarded investors and shareholders, but generated greater risks at sites where employees were pushed to the hilt. Some consequences were undeniably negative. A deadly explosion from a careless overfilling of a silo by exhausted overtime workers at its huge Texas City refinery, which had five managers in six years, killed 15 people and injured more than 180 in March 2005. That was far worse than the 2004 accident at the poorly maintained plant that killed two workers and injured another a year earlier.

BP's showcase Thunder Horse offshore drilling platform nearly sank in the Gulf in 2005 because a valve had been wrongly installed in the rush to bring the platform online. A subsequent inspection revealed massive problems with pipeline welds and cracks that could have caused huge leaks from multiple wells, had the platform been put into operation. Repairs subsequently set back production use of the well by three years.


In 2006, a break in a poorly maintained BP-owned pipeline in Alaska's North Slope fields was responsible for the largest spill there. Other ventures with Russia, Iraq and China also turned out to be embarrassing for BP and the oil industry.


And this week, BP confirmed that it had lobbied the British government to consent to the early release and return, to Libya, of the only person ever convicted in the 1988 bombing of an American airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people, including 189 Americans. Its reason: It wanted to secure a $900 million offshore oil-and-gas project in Libyan waters.


BP took another entirely justified hit this week when the House Natural Resources Committee approved a measure that would ban companies from getting new offshore oil and gas leases in U.S. waters due to excessively poor safety records and past violations. BP's record would fall under the ban's criteria of violations of state and federal safety standards at a rate five times higher than the industry average for the past seven years.


With a record like this, plus the worst spill ever in U.S. waters, BP has earned the penalty. Which makes us wonder why so many Republicans jumped to BP's defense when the Obama administration got the company to set aside a down payment of $20 billion for damages from its spill in the Gulf.







Financial operations in our economy are quite complicated. In America, most of our free enterprise system works well — and is generally "self-correcting" in a customer "free-choice" market.


Ours is an economic system that has produced more benefits for more people than any other system in the

history of the world.


But obviously, everything does not always work well. There is need for some rules and regulations. The current concern is that the highly complex and voluminous "financial reform" bill enacted by Congress this week will produce more "bad" than "good."


Congress and the rest of the federal government certainly don't have a record of operating financially very wisely and well.


That's evidenced by trillions of dollars of red ink, despite too-high taxes.


So why should we think Congress has concocted "good" rather than "bad" legislation in its complicated financial "reform"? Time will tell, probably painfully.


We may have some advance clues:


The Senate passed "financial reform" by a vote of 60 to 39, with most Democrats but few Republicans in favor. It is reported the bill has half as many words in it as the King James version of the Bible, and certainly not words as wise!


Do members of Congress really know and understand what's in the bill and how it will work?


Among the 39 senators opposing it were Tennessee's Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, Georgia's Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, and Alabama's Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby.


We have much more confidence in their judgment than in the judgment of the majority in this case.


With Congress not having a good record on financial legislation, and with most free enterprisers in our country operating constructively and well, there are reasons for great trepidation about what the results will be when this very difficult and highly questionable bill passed by Congress takes effect in the months ahead.


Be wary!






Chattanoogans who follow soccer, and those who developed an interest watching the World Cup matches in South Africa recently, would find good reason to head to Finley Stadium tonight for Chattanooga Football Club's 7 o'clock game against Rocket City Unlimited.


In only its second year in the Southeast Division of the National Premier Soccer League, the team has already won the division's season title with a 5-0-2 record and clinched a berth in the NPSL semi-finals on July 29. With the support of a growing band of fans, they've proved to be a popular attraction, and a great crowd pleaser.


In its first season last year, for example, Chattanooga FC drew over 9,000 fans for their four home games. Its 2,000-plus average attendance led the division.


This year, the undefeated club — an enthusiastic, hard-playing band of 20- and 30-year-olds — has been even hotter. It drew nearly 7,000 fans, a stunning number, to its home opener, a friendly international match against FC Atlas from Guadalajara, Mexico, and just kept rolling. The team has knocked off victories over the Birmingham Pumas, Atlanta FC and FC Tulsa twice.


If it beats Rocket City tonight — it tied the Madison City, Ala., club 1-1 in June — it will close the regular season undefeated.


Its record has already earned the team an invitation to travel to Washington, D.C., next week for a game against DC United U20/Reserves. That game will be played in RFK Stadium, which seats more than 46,000.


It will be a while before an NPSL team will fill a stadium like that, but the team is building its fan base here in admirable ways. Helped by support from Volkswagen, its members are networking, sponsoring clinics and camps for young players, making appearances at schools and events, helping with fundraisers and providing camp scholarships for youth and league registrations, and free tickets for residents from disadvantaged parts of town.


The team's civic interest and contributions are a large part of its value to the city and our youth leagues. It also provides a great game, an interesting venue to build relations with our growing band of German, European and Latino residents, and tons of fun for all. All that makes it well worth supporting








Given the high cost of solar power production, we were puzzled by a recent claim that solar energy will soon be


far cheaper than nuclear energy.


As it turns out, there was a big "if" attached to that claim.


A Duke University study said that by 2020, it will cost only 5 cents to produce one kilowatt-hour of solar power. By contrast, it said that production of energy at new nuclear plants will cost an alarming 30 cents per kilowatt-hour by 2020.


But the claim that solar power will be cheap rests on an assumption that is not at all "cheap" for taxpayers: The Duke study said solar power will get less expensive in large part because of help from federal and state tax breaks, the Times Free Press reported.


But wait a second: Who pays for those tax breaks? You do, with your tax dollars, or else future generations of Americans do as government borrows money to fund the tax incentives.


So is that truly making solar power "cheap" — or is it just a shell game that saddles taxpayers with hidden, higher costs for energy? For the record, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that unsubsidized solar energy would cost nearly 40 cents per kilowatt-hour, and that energy production at new nuclear plants will cost about 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.


Government can hide the actual cost of a good or service by subsidizing it, because taxpayers do not get an itemized list showing exactly where every one of their tax dollars goes. That means you pay for agriculture subsidies or energy subsidies or even passenger rail subsidies without necessarily realizing it. But that is not truly reducing costs, it's just imposing those costs in less visible ways.


Do nuclear power producers get some loan guarantees and other "help" from the government at potential losses to taxpayers if they fail to repay those loans? Yes, and we are not going to say that one energy sector should get government aid while another doesn't.


They all ought to produce energy in the free market without subsidies, letting customers decide with their dollars which type of energy they prefer. It's silly to pretend that subsidizing energy or any other sector of our economy makes goods and services "cheaper." It may hide the true costs of goods and services, but it doesn't make those costs go away.



Academy alum raises the bar at Carson-Newman***************************************





We are very thankful that the disastrous oil well leak in the Gulf of Mexico has been sealed off — finally, we hope — after 85 days.

But the disaster continues, of course, because the estimated 184 million gallons (no one will ever really know how much) of leaked oil will have lasting detrimental effects.


Human lives tragically were lost in the initial accident.


Continuing damage is affecting fish, fowl and other animals, as well as Gulf water and shorelines.


In addition, there has been damage amounting to perhaps billions of dollars to fishermen, area businesses and many other people in several Gulf states.


It is ironic that knowledgeable people study the geology of an area to determine the presence of oil underground or under the seas, then invest huge amounts of money to drill — only to have "dry holes." And then in cases such as this one, oil gushes negatively out of control.



Oil and its products are great blessings to us when oil can be found and is produced beneficially. But oil also

can create terrible problems when good intentions are thwarted and tragedy occurs, as happened in this case.







You may remember the slogan of an airline that urged travelers to "fly the friendly skies."

Whatever your opinion of the airlines today, do you think air travel would be cheaper or more efficient if you were "flying the federal skies"?


Unfortunately, we may find out.


Some members of Congress say it's not fair that some airlines charge fees for services such as checked

baggage, extra leg room and changes to reservations.


"Congress will act" if the industry doesn't rein in the fees, Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., said during a hearing in the House of Representatives. "That's not a threat, that's history."


But since when is it Congress' business to tell a company whether it may charge a fee for providing a particular service?


Requiring airlines to put the cost of those services into the base price of tickets forces passengers who do not want the services to subsidize them for passengers who do.


Neither Congress nor the U.S. Department of Transportation is competent to dictate the ticket prices or fees that airlines can charge. More importantly, the Constitution gives them no authority to do so.


Ours is supposed to be a free economy, not one run from the top down by government bureaucrats. Consumers are capable of "voting with their dollars" by giving their business to airlines that charge lower fees or no fees at all if that is their preference. Only if there is evidence of actual fraud by an airline — or any other company — should government get involved.


We much prefer "flying the friendly skies" over "flying the federal skies."







You may remember the slogan of an airline that urged travelers to "fly the friendly skies."


Whatever your opinion of the airlines today, do you think air travel would be cheaper or more efficient if you were "flying the federal skies"?


Unfortunately, we may find out.


Some members of Congress say it's not fair that some airlines charge fees for services such as checked baggage, extra leg room and changes to reservations.


"Congress will act" if the industry doesn't rein in the fees, Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., said during a hearing in the House of Representatives. "That's not a threat, that's history."


But since when is it Congress' business to tell a company whether it may charge a fee for providing a particular service?


Requiring airlines to put the cost of those services into the base price of tickets forces passengers who do not want the services to subsidize them for passengers who do.


Neither Congress nor the U.S. Department of Transportation is competent to dictate the ticket prices or fees that airlines can charge. More importantly, the Constitution gives them no authority to do so.


Ours is supposed to be a free economy, not one run from the top down by government bureaucrats. Consumers

are capable of "voting with their dollars" by giving their business to airlines that charge lower fees or no fees at all if that is their preference. Only if there is evidence of actual fraud by an airline — or any other company — should government get involved.


We much prefer "flying the friendly skies" over "flying the federal skies."











In the wake of the terrorist attack on Data Durbar and the furore over MPAs' fake degrees, it seemed that things could not get worse for Mian Shahbaz Sharif in Punjab. But they did, in the aftermath of the provincial assembly's unanimous passage of a resolution, sponsored by the PML-N, which condemned the media.

A belated attempt has been made at damage-control with the passing of another resolution lauding the role of the media. Nevertheless, the whole episode has laid bare the weariness of political parties with the media, but particularly the PML-N's traditional anti-media bias.

At first, attempts were made to make Sananullah Mustikhel, who moved the resolution, the scapegoat, by painting him as a kind of agent provocateur. He had converted to the PML-N's cause only after being refused a ticket by the PML-Q at the time of the general elections. Mian Nawaz Sharif has asked for his scalp, repeatedly calling from London that he be sacked forthwith. 

Little did he know the extent to which his own people were complicit in the sordid affair. Nor, perhaps, was he aware that sacking Mustikhel would trigger a revolt in the party, whose members greeted him effusively when he attended the session in the aftermath of the passage of the resolution. 

Mian Shahbaz Sharif was in his chambers in the provincial assembly building, and as soon as the controversial resolution was passed he hurriedly left. Later on, he claimed that he had no prior knowledge of the resolution. According to media reports, which are denied by PML-N spokesmen, he was not only aware that a resolution was being moved, he also vetted its draft.

Whatever the true sequence of events, it does not show the PML-N in a good light. If the chief minister had no prior knowledge about the moving of the resolution it was his business to know as the head of his party. On the other hand, if he was aware of the resolution, as is being generally claimed, it is even worse. Either way, it demonstrates a weak grip of the leadership on the affairs of the party.

After failing in their attempts to make Mustikhel the fall guy, the PML-N leadership has decided not to expel him. In the wake of this, it has also been admitted that the anti-media resolution was drafted in a meeting earlier this month in which PML-N and PPP MPAs were present.

It is interesting that virtually all parties represented in parliament are angry with the media's exposure of fake degrees. However, more members of the PML-N are in danger of losing their seats, and the party is facing the negative fallout of the resolution. The very same MPAs belonging to the PML-Q who had been making venomous speeches on the floor of the assembly only a day before the controversial resolution was passed have overnight assumed the role of champions of a free press.

Unlike the PPP leadership, Mian Nawaz Sharif is adamant that his party will not award tickets to those who lose their seats because they possess fake degrees. But the incident has betrayed a certain disconnect between him and the party on governance and political issues. Nawaz Sharif, the quintessential idealist as a consequence of his years in exile, has become more of a democrat than he was during his stints as prime minister and chief minister of Punjab. Hence, despite demands from his party hawks he has consistently refused to upset the applecart.

Before his departure for London the PML-N supremo chaired five brainstorming sessions of his party in which, apart from Mian Shahbaz Sharif and the leader of the opposition in the parliament Chaudhry Nisar Ahmad, other party stalwarts were also present. During these sessions the future of the party as well as the performance of the PML-N government in Punjab was minutely discussed.

There was consensus that the Punjab government under Mian Shahbaz Sharif as its chief executive has badly underperformed. Despite schemes like "sasti roti" and the hard work being put in by the chief minister the provincial government has failed to deliver.

There is no denying the fact that the chief minister is heading a coalition government with the PPP in the province, with which he does not see eye-to-eye. With him preferring to keep most of the key portfolios with him, the cabinet of the largest province has not been expanded; mainly to keep the PPP out, as that party alleges. Nonetheless, there was broad agreement in the brainstorming session that the PML-N must end its coalition with the PPP.

There was some discussion in the sessions on the weak support from the bureaucracy to the provincial government. Immediately after assuming power, the chief minister chose a relatively junior person as chief secretary. who played havoc with his peers before he was transferred as a result of being involved in a hit-and-run traffic accident. As a consequence of frequent transfers and demotions and dressing-downs, the bureaucracy is demoralised. It has not yet recovered from the resultant paralysis.

On his return from London, the 11 committees formed by Mian Nawaz Sharif to improve governance and chart the future course of action for the party, will submit their reports to him in the final brainstorming session. The PML-N Quaid will have a lot more to ponder than these reports, including the inexorable damage recent events have done to the party.

The PML-N, judging by its past record on this score, should have been doubly careful in handling the media. It had been adept at managing media persons and creating a lobby among journalists, with the end justifying the means.

In this age of a free and vibrant media, pampering a particular group of journalists or newspaper owners while intimidating others, simply does not work. The sooner it sinks in that the media environment has diametrically changed over the past decade, the easier it will be to chart the future course of action. Both Mian Nawaz Sharif and his brother have reiterated their belief in freedom of press. They are yet to walk the talk.

The Supreme Court's declaring the provincial prosecution secretary Rana Maqbool a proclaimed offender in a case registered against him in 2005 for allegedly plotting to kill Asif Zardari is more egg on the face of the provincial government. Federal law minister Babar Awan, himself under a cloud for submitting a dubious doctorate degree, has advised the Punjab administration to hand him over to Sindh.

Notwithstanding Awan's own credentials as "law minister," it will be in the fitness of things to relieve Maqbool and others of his ilk. Why should the provincial exchequer be burdened by personal loyalists who in any case are a political liability?

There is a feeling, prevalent even in a section of the media, that the press has become too powerful and now considers itself above the law. As freedom in a democratic dispensation is subject to law, the media should not portray itself as a "holy cow." For this reason, ideas such as an independent and workable Press Council and a voluntary code of ethics should not be resisted. 

The other day a contributor to the "Letters to the Editor" column of a local daily quoted from the late Justice A R Kayani's decades-old address to the Zurich- based International Press Institute (IPI). He said, "The journalists may argue that in a free country the press has the right to publish everything in the first instance, as there is the right to eat everything. But if you eat a snake you take the consequences." It is quite pertinent even today. 

The writer is a former newspaper editor. Email:







The newspaper headline got me out of my writing stupor and on to my desk. The headlines said: "Afghanistan seals Pakistan border trade deal this month".

Now the talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been going on for some time on the Afghan Transit Trade Agreement. One was pleased that no further concession had been given by the government of Pakistan so far. But it appears that US pressure for getting Afghanistan and India what they want, in cross-border trade, is immense, as a tripartite MoU was signed in Washington on May 6, 2009, under the watchful eyes of Hillary Clinton. Thereafter, she highlighted the importance of the agreement with subtle hints at bringing India in, 'only to benefit Afghanistan'. As a follow-up, now Hillary Clinton wants to sign something on May 20 when she comes to Kabul. It will be a feather in the cap if Pakistan allows Afghanistan transit facilities to and from India.

Historically, Pakistan has allowed transit trade to Afghanistan since Partition. However, it was formulised through the 1965 Afghan Transit Trade Agreement. Until 2004 or so, there were scores of items on the negative list, primarily to prevent the misuse of the facility. But since then, due to relentless pressure from Afghanistan (a single-item agenda in all trade talks), this list has been restricted to only a few items like weapons, alcohol etc. Concessions to Afghanistan are at the direct cost of Pakistan. Take the example of black tea. The quantum of tea officially exported into Afghanistan is enough to give 10 cups of tea a day to all Afghans, including the newborns, regardless of the fact that Afghans don't drink black tea. They prefer green tea. Similarly, the quantity of razor blades that is imported by the Afghans could shave the beard of every Afghan many times over. It's another thing that most Afghans don't shave their beards. 

Now all these transit items, released duty-free by Pakistan, come back to the country and destroy the local industry, apart from reducing revenue. I know of Pakistani manufacturers who have given up after urging the government to remove loopholes in the transit trade regime. They have instead devised a strategy to export their products to Afghanistan, knowing fully well that these will be smuggled back to Pakistan. At least in that way they don't have to fight the system and still maintain their production. 

Pakistan's loss (in billions) is, in a way, aid to Afghanistan whose government and traders are thriving on duty evaded in Pakistan. The interesting thing is the immense pressure of the US to give maximum facilities to Afghanistan on the pretext of providing it with economic strength. But this is at the expense of Pakistan. As far as America's own contribution towards the economic strength of the region is concerned, it has not budged an inch on the repeated requests of Pakistan to allow market access to the US, especially in the field of textiles. This is despite the fact that America's own textile production forms a very small percentage of its total demand and its market is in any case taken up by China, Mexico etc. No amount of pleadings by Pakistan works when it is the US protecting its own market.

Similarly, no amount of pleadings with Afghanistan works (yes, we plead, although we are the ones allowing transit trade) in convincing its government to accept quantitative restrictions in keeping with its actual needs or allowing Pakistan to collect customs duty on Afghanistan's behalf at the Karachi port so that importing goods through transit trade for smuggling can lose its charm. It refuses to budge, but continues its pressure, now through the US, to enhance the concessions. What is the moral ground for the US to push Pakistan for giving concessions to Afghanistan when Pakistan needs the evaded revenue badly?

So far, it seems that the government and its functionaries are standing up to the pressure that obviously is being applied on Pakistan by the Afghan-India-US nexus. I also know that the current secretary commerce, Zafar Mahmood, has the ability and reputation to withstand pressure. But I am a bit apprehensive about the high-ups of the government. They may succumb to such pressure for short-term gains or lack of comprehension of the ramifications.

In terms of the lack of comprehension of the effects of the decisions, the recent decision of the federal government to enhance salaries of government servants by 50 per cent comes to mind. It appears that it was a decision taken under pressure and in haste. While taking the decision, probably no one pointed out in the cabinet that the impact of a salary hike upon a provincial government would be proportionately far higher, as provincial governments are the main employers of government functionaries. Departments like education, health and the police come under provincial governments. Resultantly, the greatly heralded benefit of the NFC Award, the Rs160 billion additional transfers to the provinces, was wiped out by one flawed and casual decision by the federal government.

One fears that a similar casual attitude might be displayed by the government in the case of allowing transit trade through Wagha. Not only will smuggling increase, but also the $1 billion export to Afghanistan will disappear in thin air. Pakistan's balance sheet with Afghanistan, which currently has drug-cum-Kalashnikov culture, millions of refugees, a flood of terrorists etc. on the debit side and a captive export market on the credit side, will only have debits and no credits if transit trade between Afghanistan and India is allowed through Wagha.

The writer is a former federal secretary. Email:














When the nation was aflame with moral outrage last year in November, it was because our collective anger about corruption in Pakistan had seemingly boiled over. The NRO was leading the headlines, and the PPP's lashkar-e-haq, led by the venerable religious and legal scholar, Dr Babar Awan, was producing a steady stream of some of the most creative legal arguments we've ever heard in this, the most creative of Islamic Republic endeavours, ever. 

Then, in April this year, Pakistani morality came to know and hate the name Jamshed Dasti. Dasti, an otherwise nothing politician from Southern Punjab, had to resign for having a fake degree, but was still nominated by the PPP, backed by the prime minister, and pulled out another win in the bye-election for NA 178. 

The Dasti saga has now generated an entire industry of moral outrage over fake degrees. Pakistan's moral compass is, once again, in full bloom. Fake degrees are the new NRO. Perhaps seeing a smiling Jamshed Dasti's virtual middle finger is not enough for the urban middle class's insatiable appetite for undignified political awakenings. Which is just as well. The PPP-PML-N--PML-Q nexus of incredibly resourceful political operators are just fine with being labelled village idiots by the uber-sophisticated and morally righteous, newspaper-reading city-folk that hate them. If the Dastis of this world are laughing it is for good reason. The three mainstream political parties in this country are not in any way in short supply of Jamshed Dastis. In fact, there are plenty more where he comes from but there are none of where the moral outrage over fake degrees comes from. The joke is on us. 

What is the outrage over fake degrees really all about? It is about two dangerous and depressing trends. First, it is about demonising politics and politicians. Second, it is about evading individual and collective political responsibility in Pakistan's urban centres. Both trends threaten to keep Pakistan locked up in the 19th century -- where banning Facebook, destroying the Universal Service Fund, taxing the transactions of the urban middle class, and empowering people like Jamshed Dasti all make eminent economic, political and social sense. Getting our understanding of the fake-degree outrage is essential not because of its moral semantics. It is essential because allowing ourselves to be carried away by our emotions about cheating and corruption is to the detriment of this country's future. 

We are outraged by the fake degrees and the fake apologies that accompany them because we feel morally obligated to remonstrate. Corruption, lying, cheating, stealing and deception are all deplorable. But the issue of the corruption of politicians, while an important challenge for public policy in this country, is really a red herring. When it enters the national conversation in Pakistan, corruption has little to do with moral probity in the public space. 

If it did, we'd be obsessing just as much about the rent-seeking and contract-fat in banking and finance, the military, the judiciary, the fast-moving consumer goods industry, journalism and the business of religion. Why did the snack boxes PIA serves on domestic flights become as big as cartons recently? Why do roads keep getting dug up and re-carpeted in Defence? How many judges have been prosecuted for taking bribes since March 2009? Why doesn't the ISPR publish the process of land and plot allotment for military officers on its website? And why doesn't the Establishment Division do the same for all APUG officers? Why should journalists, rather than nurses, be more deserving of government largesse when it comes to plots? Where would PMA Kakul rank on HEC's rankings, in terms of the quality of its bachelor's programme? Where do religious groups get all this money to put up banners and posters? Why do those groups seem more active during certain news cycles than others? Why don't municipal services managers prosecute graffiti religious groups? How many successful businessmen will tell you honestly that they've never paid a bribe? 

We don't ask these questions because we have programmed ourselves into a small box where the only morally repugnant group of Pakistanis worth taking to task are politicians. A demonised and degraded political class is to the benefit of many politically sterile groups of people: military officers who pine for the days of Gen Musharraf, technocrats who will only move to Pakistan if they are made heads of organisations, senior DMG officers who occupy the only win/win space in Pakistan's complex landscape, and judges that are keen to make suo moto the new mode of institutional governance in Pakistan. These folks could never beat Jamshed Dasti in a democracy. And as long as we keep demonising politicians, they won't have to. 

Talking about fake degrees and doing so ad infinitum means that you are either so emotional that you've lost sight of reason or it means that you actively wish to aid and abet the demonisation and de-legitimisation of Pakistani politicians. Neither is acceptable. We cannot do without politicians, or without politics. And we definitely can afford no further irrationality in our public discourse. 

This brings us to the second trend that the fake degrees brouhaha highlights: evading individual and collective political responsibility. Sure, shehri babus -- both of the English medium, and Urdu medium variety -- despise the politics of the thaana-kuthchehri, and the gulli-mohalla. Their contempt is not unjustified. Yet, we seem to be capable of nothing more than ad infinitum condemnations of politicians. This is lazy and arrogant at best and an approbation of the status quo at worst. Pakistani politicians might indeed be overwhelmingly made up of people with whom decent, educated city-folk want nothing to do with. But neither the politicians, nor our 35 million Pakistani brothers and sisters that voted for them in February 2008 particularly care. In short, this moral outrage is generating a grand total of zero positive outcomes. 

If we cannot do without politics and politicians, and we've determined that these politicians and their politics are unacceptable, then the only possible solution to our conundrum is to change the politics and the politicians.

This requires courage and action. Not mere words. Not everybody has to join a political party or run for office. But at least the moral class -- those literate, urban-dwellers that the entire television news industry caters to -- should know who their representatives are. And their representatives should know who they are too. Call them. Go meet them. Tell them what you like and dislike. Of course, if you live in any kind of housing society (you know who you are Defence-wallahs) you won't be surprised to learn that you don't have representation. Think about that too. You choose to disengage from the galli and naala in this country. What grounds do you have for your moral outrage? 

And while we ponder that, perhaps let us take a break from the hyperventilating about fake degrees. We must stop letting feelings dictate our behaviour. A society's politicians are a reflection of the morals and ethos of the society itself. Perhaps we are angry at ourselves, perhaps at the Dastis, perhaps at the tens of thousands of brothers and sisters that voted for him. This anger is useless. We have fake degrees in our politics because we have fake degrees in our society. We choose these things, they do not fall from the sky. This is our society, these are our politicians. Let's not demonise them too much. We are only demonising ourselves.

The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. www.mosharraf







Revelations by the Pentagon and the US Geological Survey that Afghanistan contains vast riches in untapped mineral deposits is not very welcome news: the discovery will not bring benefits to the Afghan people. According to some estimates, Afghanistan contains at least $1 trillion worth of minerals, including gold, cobalt, iron ore, copper, aluminium, silver and lithium. They are particularly concentrated in the border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The country promises to become the "Saudi Arabia of lithium."

Normally, the discovery would have been great news. The wealth would have attracted a flood of foreign investment and led to the development of the impoverished country. But the discovery is a bad omen for the population of occupied Afghanistan. The presence of the minerals may lead to greater conflict in a country which already has more than its share of crises, the war being just one of them. The vast scale of Afghanistan's mineral wealth is likely to transform the region into an arena of intense competition between the various competing actors. The presence of natural deposits can often turn out to be a curse rather than a blessing for the peoples of the countries concerned. For instance, the discovery of oil has led to unending conflict in some regions where it was found.

In an attempt to get hold of the resources, international and regional powers will jump into the likely fray resulting from the discovery of the minerals. The Indian mines minister recently announced that India will take measure for training of Afghans and to establish avenues for bilateral cooperation in the field of minerals. China, which also intends to dominate the development of Afghanistan's mineral wealth, has already signed a $3 billion deal to mine cooper in Afghanistan's Logar province. As well as the United States itself, Russia and Iran will also try to get involved. All this will lead to still greater instability in the country and the region.

The discovery is certain to have an impact on the US-Nato operations in Afghanistan. The Taliban can be expected to put up a greater fight so as to retain control of areas known to be mineral-rich. At the same time, it could spark fierce competition among the various tribal factions in Afghanistan. 

It had already been known that Afghanistan is well endowed with mineral reserves, but most of the resources remained unexploited due to the constant war situation since the end of the 1970s, as well as the country's rugged terrain and lack of infrastructure. Meanwhile, lack of technical know-how and outdated technology hampered the process.

Some analysts say that the ominous timing is of the discovery is an attempt by the US military establishment to continue the occupation of the country. A geological survey of Afghanistan had been carried out by the US in 2007 but its findings were deliberately kept undisclosed. According to the New York Times, NATO officials revealed that private security companies "are using American money to bribe the Taliban" to fuel the insurgency. So it is clear that part of the US military establishment is not in favour of the withdrawal of US forces, which is scheduled to start in July 2011. Apparently these elements are leaving no stone unturned to force US forces to continue their presence in Afghanistan. This could seriously undermine US efforts to win over Afghans, in a bid to defeat the Taliban. 

Revelation of the discovery of the minerals in Afghanistan can also be an attempt to mobilise political support by some vested interests intending to keep the US occupation of the country well beyond July 2011, the time announced by President Obama for the beginning of the process of withdrawal of US troops. The revelation will also invigorate the interest of other allied countries in Afghanistan. It may also be an attempt to create the false impression that if the US departs from Afghanistan soon, it will lose out the vast amount of mineral wealth to other regional powers like Russia and China, India and Iran.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email:








The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.

What our country is presently witnessing is a gory conflict between a new Pakistan struggling to resuscitate ethics and morality in public life and the old guard insistent on defending and retaining a depraved political ethos as Pakistan's perennial ground reality.

This is a fight between two mindsets. The constructive mindset craves change and understands that we cannot afford to cast our future in the shadow of the past. And in the building of a better future the hope lies in institutions and individuals able to learn from past mistakes and willing to take corrective action. The other mindset invested in preserving the status quo is rational too. The institutions and individuals that owe their power and pre-eminence to a debased ethos, tribal loyalties and corrupt processes wish to stay in charge for as long as possible. This lot is loath to change the way it has been doing business.

Some words of Urdu are not amenable to ready translation. How does one translate "badmash," for example? A bully and rogue put together? The status quo mindset of our ruling elites is infested with a syndrome of "badmashi," the ways of the bully and the rogue. This cultivates a sense that they are untouchable--i.e., neither subservient to commands of the law nor constrained by public morality. Over the life of our country's existence the stigma attached to illegal and unethical conduct has been steadily diluting. The mindset responsible for transforming us into a predatory state has been trickling down and is now threatening to convert us into a predatory society. It is manifested in the now rampant general derision of legal authority and public disregard for an ordinary sense of fairness. 

Connected people jump immigration cues without any qualms. The powerful threaten traffic officials when checked for breaking rules. Ordinary citizens are expected to feel deep gratitude if given their due by those exercising state authority. What is horrifying is that the ruling political elite seems to be intent on institutionalising this "badmashi" by (i) diluting substantive provisions of the law, (ii) coercing and compromising the very institutions responsible for ensuring the integrity of due process, and (iii) scuttling the alternative accountability mechanism led by the media and the judiciary that has come into place to fill the void created by the executive's plain refusal to institute a functional accountability process. 

Consider three seemingly unrelated developments for illustration. 

One, parliament is presently debating the Holders of Public Offices (Accountability) Act, 2010. The import of Section 10 of this law is that if anyone caught red-handed returns the loot willingly, the matter shall stand closed, no case shall ever be filed and the corrupt public official can go back to his dishonest ways without paying any price for his guilty actions. Likewise, Section 24 holds that if you don't catch a public official within three years of his act of corruption, he is home scot-free. If passed, this law will guarantee that no public official is ever convicted of corruption in this Land of the Pure. 

Two, the Punjab Assembly recently passed a unanimous resolution condemning the audacity and gall of the media to expose the lying ways of elected public representatives. There couldn't be a more lucid illustration of the "basmashi" syndrome. Without doubt, there are journalists in Pakistan who are unscrupulous and liable to abuse the power and responsibility conferred on them by their profession. But the resolution was not about accountability of the media. It was a sudden outpour of anger and frustration over the ability of this fourth pillar of the state to check abuse of political power and expose the fraudulent ways of public-office holders by subjecting their conduct to public scrutiny.

And, three, the National Accountability Bureau and the Federal Investigation Agency have been throwing up all kinds of roadblocks to prevent the Supreme Court from convicting those responsible for the Bank of Punjab and Pakistan Steel Mills scandals. The media exposed both these scandals and the Supreme Court took suo moto cognisance to investigate allegations of massive loot. In the Bank of Punjab case proceedings, the prosecutor general of the NAB has not only questioned the legitimacy of the present Supreme Court (implying that its judges were validly dismissed by Gen Musharraf on Nov 3, 2007) but also accused the court of meddling in the affairs of the executive and attempting to direct the investigation which falls within the exclusive preserve of the NAB.

Likewise, in the Pakistan Steel case the PPP government replaced FIA director general Tariq Khosa (who possessed an impeccable reputation as a professional, as well as the ability and integrity to resist pressure) with a more plaint individual, in the middle of the investigation. When the Supreme Court sternly communicated to the new director general its concern about the non-recovery of the loot, the FIA, instead of getting its act together, approached all the legitimate businessmen dealing with the Steel Mills. 

It gave them two options: make "donations" to the Steel Mills, so that the "donations" could be presented before the Supreme Court as recovery, or face cooked-up FIRs, arrests and humiliation. As if it was not bad enough that the Pakistan Steel has been reduced to a perpetual loss-making monstrosity, the lead federal investigation agency is arm-twisting and coercing the entire spectrum of businesses dealing with the Steel Mills to fill the gaping financial hole created by a few rotten businessmen and officials.

We have a situation in Pakistan where the executive has made it amply clear by its actions that it has no intention of strengthening institutions, processes and ethics that might curb corruption and abuse of public authority. The media-judiciary combo that is presently running a makeshift accountability process is not perfect. But this is all we have in a desperate situation where the present government, backed by a vast majority of the political elite, is refusing to do its job. We will have to continue to rely on the judiciary and the media until we get to the tipping point where our politicos realise that (i) denying fraud, lies, abuse of authority and corruption or attempting to cover up such acts despite indisputable evidence is no longer an option, and (ii) a bottom-up accountability drive fuelled by angry public opinion might be more unwieldy and destructive than a top-down systematic approach to cleaning the stables.

In the long run there is no substitute for permanent accountability processes housed within the executive. Thus, even in these desperate times the judiciary needs to tread with caution and not take actions that encroach upon the domain of other state institutions. 

For example, instead of getting agitated over the composition of the FIA team investigating the Pakistan Steel scandal, the Supreme Court could be better assisted by a team of amici curiae comprising three leading accountancy firms and the Auditor General with the mandate to carry out a forensic audit into the affairs of Pakistan Steel Mills. Once the flow of funds in and out of the Steel Mills' accounts is documented and the legitimacy of such expense determined in view of international and national prices of commodities and services, the money trail will automatically lead to the culprits. The findings of such a team of leading accountants will not only be more reliable but will also alleviate the need for the Supreme Court to micromanage the affairs of the FIA. 

It is unfortunate that the power elite claiming to represent the people of Pakistan is still largely delusional about the evolving public mood. This nation expects public authority to be exercised as a sacred trust for its collective benefit and is no longer willing to allow a handful of individuals in control of public resources to trample upon its rights with impunity. The sooner our ruling elite readjusts to this changing reality, the better it will for its own sustenance, as well as for the journey of democracy in Pakistan. 








A documentary I happened to watch a while ago on Swedish TV, featuring Hollywood star Mike Myers and philosophy guru Deepak Chopra, introduced me to an enlightening new world. The programme so thrilled me that the very next morning I rushed to Stockholm's Stadsbibliotek (City Library) to lay my hands on whatever pearls of Chopra wisdom were available in book form. I had no idea why Deepak Chopra, an Indian settled in the USA, is all the rage. Stupid me. 

Author of 50 books, 13 of them achieving bestselling-status, "philosopher" Deepak Chopra runs a spiritual business worth $20 million. Pondering over the philosopher's entrepreneurship, I began to question the abilities of Karl Marx, whom I had until now held in great esteem, that German who authored Das Kapital and died penniless. Wasting his life deconstructing capital, Marx did not come upon this simple Indian philosophy brilliantly simplified by our wisdom guru: "Affluence is simply our natural state." 

Patience, dear readers! Deepak Chopra knows you are wondering why the hell 80 per cent of Indians live below the poverty line despite their Indian philosophy asserting naturalness of affluence. "People who have achieved an enormous amount of success are inherently very spiritual," he explains. Also, "both health and wealth are largely self-generated." Why? Because "we reap what we sow." Henceforth, you better ignore saintly fatwas like Tolstoy's: "Behind every big fortune, there is a big crime."

So just keep on generating wealth through a sow-and-reap mechanism. And when you have generated enough wealth, you are welcome to Deepak Chopra's Club of Inherently Spiritual Celebrities. Once a club member, you will rub shoulders with the likes of Demi Moor, Michael Miken, Elizabeth Taylor, Winona Rider, Debra Winger, Madonna; even Mikhail Gorbachev and Hillary Clinton.

The ruling elite's spirituality is a universal trait. Hillary Clinton has only recently reached our wisdom guru. Earlier, she has been wasting time with sacred psychologist Jean Houston and her friend Mary Catherine Bateson, an anthropologist famous for her study on "non-traditional life paths."

In the good old days, when Hillary was a resident of the White House, Houston and Bateson facilitated her conversation with the spirits of Eleanor Roosevelt and Mahatma Gandhi. But let's not be diverted by the subject of Hillary's past, lest we start talking about some bitchy White House intern. "Keep focussed" is the essence of Chopra's wisdom.

At his health centre, our wisdom guru will not merely help you guard your inherent spirituality, he will also help you stay Forever Young. After all, "ageing is only learned behaviour." I haven't found out if 63-year-old Chopra's jet-black hair owes to Kala Kola hair dye. Yet I am convinced when he says: "People grow old and die because they have seen other people grow old and die."

Never mind Princess Diana's lunch with Deepak Chopra shortly before her death. Never mind if Chopra's longevity formula did not work for Michael Jackson either. But because of his teachings, Demi Moore aspires to unheard-of longevity. "Even 130 years isn't impossible," she says. After reading Chopra's bestselling Grow Younger, Live Longer, I agree with her. 

I would suggest that all jobless workers in the USA, hit hard by the current financial crisis, immediately get themselves join the "Seduction of Spirit" Meditation Retreat as our benevolent philosopher is offering a $375 discount in view of the grim economic situation. And, my-fellow jobless comrades! Instead of burning with rage at capitalism or waiting for an stupid economic upswing, read Creating Affluence. Meantime, heal thy soul. A reading of Chopra's How to Know God will certainly help.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: mfsulehria@







The much-hyped foreign minister level talks between Pakistan and India led nowhere at all. Despite the valiant efforts made in Islamabad to add a positive spin to the rather unsuccessful negotiation efforts, it was obvious Mr S M Krishna and Mr Shah Mehmood Qureshi had made very little headway. The reasons could have been predicted weeks ago. The Indian side, we are told, remained determined through the talks stretched over several sessions to demand answers from Pakistan on the questions it put on terrorism, notably the action against the Mumbai-bombing suspects and Hafiz Saeed, the man New Delhi sees as the mastermind behind the daring assault in November 2008. Pakistan, for its part, felt unable to bring up the issues central to its own interest – for instance those concerning Siachen, Kashmir and human rights abuses there with the Indian side stone-walling these attempts and insisting it had no mandate to discuss them.


This is of course somewhat disappointing, though just the fact that dialogue has been opened up and apparently preceded fairly cordially for the most part is welcome. There are lessons too in what happened. Building up too many expectations or putting out too much hope on the table is always unwise; it creates the ideal situation for the kind of letdown we see now, with smiles appearing on the faces of some hawks. The same mistake has been made before. It had been obvious that rebuilding trust after the events of 2008 would take time and effort. It is too soon yet to start talking of failure. Nevertheless, the difficulties Pakistan and India face in getting past stumbling blocks is frustrating. The problems we see now have persisted far too long. They act essentially to hurt both countries and their people, making it less likely that we will overcome militancy in the near future or move towards the stability the region so badly needs. What, then, are the answers to this rather entrenched situation? As the years have gone by the difficulties have grown more and more complex. We need a radical change in attitudes, a fresh vision and a new sense of dynamism. This will come only if people can be pushed forward into the picture and used to build up the momentum needed to take talks forward, past the awkward bends in the road and the tendency of some drivers to apply the brakes too hard. More contacts between people is needed for this, combined with a recognition by leaders that there is really no option but to move towards peace and find the courage to abandon familiar, old positions in favour of something new.







The water problem in some form or another has been evident in the Indus river system for at least 150 years, and challenges of water management have dogged governments since 1857. Those with long memories will recall the problems associated with waterlogged land in the late 1940s, the rising of the water table and the increases in salinity coupled with a drop in agricultural production. Today the problems we face are even more complex. Global warming is eating away at the Himalayan glaciers that feed much of the Indus system and both Pakistan and India are set to become seriously water-poor nations. Water has become political. At an international level there is a rising level of tension between us and India as this diminishing resource is predicted by some as a likely trigger for a future conflict. 

At a provincial level water is now a flashpoint, and its control closely linked to political patronage. Winter rains across the country mostly failed to materialise this year and our stocks of water are low. Dams went to dead level a fortnight before expected. Lower snowfall in the Himalayas and the Karakorums has meant there is less meltwater runoff and at the end of this long 150-year-old chain there are this year's crops – which need watering. Our provinces rarely see eye-to-eye on the water issue. There is a historical trust deficit that has contributed to the failure to build water infrastructures and in times of near-drought – which this is – jealousy, suspicion and rivalry trump any charitable thoughts. On Thursday the Indus River system Authority (IRSA) reopened the Chashma-Jhelum Link Canal (CJLC) on the request of Punjab – contrary to a decision taken a day before and allegedly after the intervention of 'the man at the top' because he knew that his party's vote-bank in southern Punjab would be threatened by a lack of water. Now, political equilibrium is restored, the farmers of southern Punjab get their crops watered and a scarce resource is once again managed by expediency rather than via a process of strategic planning. Political water is a finite resource and one that is perceptibly diminishing across the sub-continent. Effective management of the water problem has, arguably, never been achieved in over 150 years. Both time and water are now of the essence and we have little of either.







The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government has stated it has about 40 juvenile suicide-bombers in its custody and is preparing to deal with them and their families as demanded by their age, gender and so on. We are told that psychiatrists and other experts have been hired for this purpose and a new law put in place that allows child-beggars and other minors to be taken off the streets. This of course is good news. There can be no doubt at all we need a plan to rehabilitate would-be bombers and other categories of militants. This is all the more crucial in the case where they are children who deserve to be handed back a future robbed from them by extremist outfits.

But the KPK authorities, and also those in the centre, must not stop here. The presence of dozens of young boys in custody should be used also as a means to better understand what brought them there and how, for them, the walk towards militancy began. This could be vital to preventing others embarking on the same journey. Some things are already obvious. For all our children, everywhere, we need access to education and to opportunities in life. It is the absence of these which drives so many into the hands of the glib-tongued recruiters for militant outfits who approach families speaking of martyrdom, visions of Heaven and sometimes hard economic gain. This process continues in the north, in southern Punjab and in other places. If we are to prevent further children being netted for this evil purpose we must act to remedy these loopholes in our system and make society a safer place for everyone in it.







PEOPLE of Pakistan have been dismayed over the outcome of Pak-India Foreign Ministers talks which concluded in Islamabad producing nothing more than a desire to continue talking in the future as well. No breakthrough was expected yet one had hoped that the talks could lay the ground for a congenial atmosphere and some sort of trust between the two neighbouring countries. 

In our view Mr Krishna did what he was tasked before leaving New Delhi. Indian Committee on National Security decided the agenda while the External Affairs Minister had a meeting with the Opposition BJP leadership to keep it on board. Indian Home Secretary's interview with a newspaper on Wednesday accusing Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI of playing a key role in the 2008 Mumbai Attacks played the role of a spoiler and gave a clear signal to the approach of the Indian side. During the talks the Indian Minister reportedly demanded trial of Hafiz Saeed and others and indulged in bombardment of all sorts of allegations but without any proof. The Indian Minister wanted a roadmap for the trust building process on their own terms and was not ready to agree for comprehensive discussions on key issues bedevilling relations between the two countries. Pakistani side naturally told him that the Indians could not pick and choose issues and would have to look at the entire spectrum of irritants. In any dialogue between the two countries, both sides are free to raise issues of concern and then move on for their resolution. However it appeared that the Indians just wanted to use the opportunity for international public relationing and advancing their viewpoint. As a result the talks went on for six hours but the stalemate continued because of Mr Krishna's intransigence. The body language of the two Foreign Ministers at the joint press conference gave clear impression that the two rounds of talks had been tense. However we are glad to note that young Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was very forthright and he without being impolite asserted Pakistan's viewpoint in the right earnest. He put up a brave face denying that the talks had hit a dead end and hoped that democracy and the Pakistan-India political leadership would be able to salvage the process of re-engagement. While seconding Mr Qureshi, we wish the process of dialogue to continue but there should be a matching response from New Delhi to Islamabad's goodwill to resolve all outstanding issues within a time frame rather than arrogance and allegations.







RECENT years have seen a sharp change in the attitude of developing countries regarding Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). The growing balance of payments difficulties as well as the decline in concessional aid have forced many developing countries to reassess their stances on FDI and to take substantial unilateral steps to liberalise their inward FDI regimes. 

In spite of liberalising the inward FDI regime, removal of obstacles to foreign investors, and according liberal incentives, Pakistan's has been a lacklustre performance in attracting FDI. The data released by the State Bank on Thursday showed that the inflow of FDI witnessed a sharp decline of over 40% during the year 2009-10. This is a very disturbing development and many factors are behind this downslide in Pakistan. These include unsatisfactory law and order situation including acts of terrorism in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and Punjab and target killings in the city of Karachi, the largest industrial and commercial centre. The macroeconomic imbalances and the slowing down of economic activity have also discouraged foreign investors to increase their participation in Pakistan. There are tremendous prospects for attracting foreign investments in agriculture, industrial and exploitation of natural resources like oil and gas and minerals. Pakistan's agricultural sector can play a big role in this connection as our agricultural products including fruits and vegetables could be processed by foreign investors and exported. Similarly there are many minerals like coal and metals and oil and gas sector which could be attractive to the foreign companies. The need is to market these fields abroad among prospective investors. We have full confidence in the leadership of Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh who enjoys respect among donors and investors and is cognizant of the problems faced by Pakistan to attract foreign investment. We hope he can make a breakthrough to attract foreign investment but he needs to have an enabling environment and a free hand to implement his policies for the benefit of the country and its people







YOUTH unemployment is one of the major problems facing Pakistan like many other countries where population growth continues to be above two per cent and the economy is unable to create the required additional jobs. The main reason is lack of professional education and training facilities in different skills so that the youth could absorb themselves in the local market or get reasonable jobs overseas.

According to an education expert our education system needs to be reviewed as most of the youths have degrees but not proper skill to find a job. Vocational training and technical education can bring more opportunities for the unemployed. According to estimates there are about 30 million people in Pakistan without any education and technical skill and many of them are forced to work as manual labour in construction and other industries. The fact of the matter is that education in Pakistan is not market oriented and conventional system is in force since the creation of the country. The country is spending billions of rupees on education which has no relevance with the demands of the day. It will have serious repercussions in demographic, social, economic, health and environment spheres. Though successive governments had made tall claims to improve the education system and create vocational training institutions, yet nothing significant is still visible on the ground. If Pakistan is to overcome the employment problem, there must be revolutionary changes in the education system on a top priority basis by bringing in improvements in the syllabus at school, college and university levels so that our youths come out of educational institutions with skills in one field or the other. No doubt our education cannot absorb such a large number of people, but with required knowledge they can find jobs in overseas markets, particularly in the Middle East where economic boom is again being witnessed. So in the given situation there is a dire need to improve the skills of our youth as that will have a soothing impact on internal security situation while trained manpower abroad will remit more foreign exchange to the country to improve its economic health.










Each session of the India-Pakistan (now on, now off) dialogue has the tendency to end with a whimper rather than a bang. One has quite got used to it by now - a whole lot of fanfare, a lot of backslapping about the cordial and friendly atmosphere, but very little else of substance. All that emerges is a string of niceties and a promise about parleys to come. All in all, the whole rigmarole has an unmistakable air of being déjà vu. What is more, it is often too ephemeral to latch on to. One only hopes that the forthcoming meeting of the Foreign Ministers does not end with the now familiar declaration - couched in diplomatese - polished and loaded phrases conveying virtually nothing. 

After the Foreign Secretaries' meeting, all that one could fathom was that the much-vaunted 'composite dialogue' is now passé and that yet another 'new beginning' is in the offing. From the Indian side the refrain was once again regrettably on the one item agendum i.e. terrorism. We appeared as always to be bending over backwards to give the whole brouhaha a positive spin. It seems as if a hidden hand is busy in choreographing these happenings. The accent appears to be on attempts to create a mirage of 'progress' without at the same time putting a shoulder to the wheel to push the peace wagon out of the groove it finds itself in. 

The sad part is that nothing is that one hears no mention of settlement of contentious issues between the two countries. All the Pakistan side is repeating is that 'all issues would be raised'. These issues now appear to be destined to be pushed from the back-burner to the cold-storage. It is for the powers that be to think dispassionately about the impact of these virtual measures. The fact remains that no number of CBMs or cordial handshakes are going to take the two sides anywhere unless and until the contentious issues are tackled betimes. And yet no one appears to be giving any attention to these essential steps. The bilateral efforts appear to be akin to those of a surgeon who rushes to perform cosmetic surgery on a patient without waiting for the festering sores to heal first. From the aforementioned aspect, it would hardly be an exaggeration to state that the two sides appear to have actually regressed, if such a thing were at all possible. 

While on the subject, there may be little harm in touching on some of the less intractable issues that must be tackled to set the ball rolling. Take the Siachin dispute, for one. The Indian side has over the years exhibited a marked reluctance to budge an inch from its traditional – and, one might add, somewhat irrational – stand; that of not taking a step unless the "ground realities" are not only recognized but also formally authenticated. 

In the somewhat unlikely event of this issue being followed up in real earnest, one would crave the indulgence of the reader to reiterate some facts of life in respect of this somewhat entangled squabble for the benefit of those who take more than passing interest in Pakistan-India relations. So far, the Indian recipe for the settlement of this issue has been based merely on the perpetuation of the untenable - and one must add unjust - status quo. If preservation of the status quo be the principal objective, what, then, it may justifiably be asked, is the so-called "peace process" all about? Apparently, it is starting to look more and more like a handy means for India to buy time. 

It may not be out of place to set down a few home truths for the record. Until 1982 or thereabouts, the Siachin glacier was just a vast, peaceful expanse with nary a soldier in sight. There was universal de facto recognition – both pre and post Simla agreement – that the area was under the administrative control of the Pakistan authorities. Occasionally, teams of explorers from around the globe would apply to the relevant ministry in Pakistan for permission to carry out scientific expeditions in the glacier area. Such applications were invariably approved and explorers carried out their scientific studies across the formidable glacier without let or hindrance. 

Earlier, in the nineteen-sixties, Pakistan and China had negotiated and signed a border agreement covering the frontier between China and the area under the administrative control of Pakistan. This agreement - that is to be subject to renegotiation after a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir – covered, inter alia, the expanse of the Siachin glacier and extended up to the Karakoram Pass in the east. The government of India went through the formality of putting on record its reservations, but made no attempt to challenge Pakistan's notional de facto control over the area. Subsequently, in the Simla accord of July1972, the two countries undertook to respect the status of the "Line of Control". It is to be noted that India did not challenge Pakistan's de facto administrative control over the Siachin glacier area either during or after the Simla summit meeting. This situation, however, was to change drastically - post 1982. Scientific expeditions returning from the Siachin glacier, circa 1983-84, expressed to the Pakistan authorities their surprise at having encountered armed Indian soldiers in the area. As it turned out, this epoch coincided with the supply to the Indian armed forces of high altitude Soviet helicopters. Taking advantage of this technological superiority, the Indians had surreptitiously landed their soldiers and established advance posts on some of the heights. This represented the first serious violation of the Simla accord. Ignoring Pakistan's diplomatic demarches, India persistently refused to revert to the pre-1972 positions to conform to the relevant provision of the Simla Accord. Pakistan was obliged to move its forces on the opposite heights. Since then, the two forces are dug in, facing each other eyeball to eyeball on what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh somewhat graphically described as the "World's Highest Battlefield". 

The only fruit of the peace bandwagon has been an uneasy cease-fire that appears to be holding. The two sides have wasted so much time, energy and scarce resources on endless squabbling over the past decade and a half. The rub lies in the fact that India, having transgressed the terms of the Simla agreement, now insists that the "ground realities should be formally recognized". In simple language, it expects Pakistan to not only acquiesce in India's unlawful inroad but also to actually "authenticate it" for all times to come. 

Whatever decision is arrived at, it would have a profound bearing on whatever final settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute is on the cards. So much for the Siachin saga; there is also the Sir Creek issue crying out for settlement, but more about that later. 


The writer is a retired Ambassador of Pakistan Foreign Service.








The unceremonious exit of General Stanley MacChrystal, the commander of the American forces in Afghanistan, represents a deepening mess the US increasingly finds itself in, in what has been termed as 'graveyard of empires'. While the sacking of the top American commander in Afghanistan testifies to the long-held principle of military's subservience to the civilian control, it also shows that the Obama's much trumpeted 'surge and exit' strategy declared in December 2009 with a lot of fanfare suffers from serious flaws. The policy, which was meant to reflect President Obama's vision in the arena of foreign policy aimed at realizing his slogan of 'change', appears to have been formulated with a reactive mindset. 

As the analysts have pointed out, the policy represents a mix of surge strategy championed by now disgraced General MacChrystal and 'limited operations' approach espoused by Vice President Joe Biden. In striking a balance between the civilian and military viewpoints on how to approach the endgame in Afghanistan, President Obama tried to please both camps through selective 'pick and choose' approach. He did order a surge of 30, 000 US soldiers in Afghanistan against the demand of 40, 000 to strengthen the planned US offensive against the now resurgent Taliban in the Kandahar province. Coupled with the surge was the President's declaration of timeframe i.e. July 2011 for the withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan. One major flaw that the strategy suffered and whose consequences have clearly been laid bare much to the detriment of the sole superpower of the world is that the military component still dictated the political approach, while the fact remains that this must have been other way round. The Obama administration hoped that its planned surge would enable the US and NATO forces to launch a decisive military action against the Taliban and consequently break their back in Kandahar province, the Taliban stronghold. Following the military success, the US would then be in a dictating position on the negotiating table vis-à-vis the Taliban. It would then set the terms of engagement and make the Taliban comply with the US' demands. It was taken for granted that the US and NATO would be able to achieve military victory easily. This presumption was against the logic of set norms of warfare and defied the military history. The US authorities should have known better given their experience of fighting a full fledged war against the Taliban since 2001. The dynamics of guerilla war should also have been taken into consideration besides the peculiar characteristics of terrain, weather conditions and strength of the enemy.

The second major flaw of the US exit strategy is that it relied too much on the Karzai administration and the quality of governance that it offered to the people of Afghanistan. It was also assumed that the 1, 34,000 strong Afghan forces would be equipped with requisite training and resources by July 2011 enabling them to take over the control of the security in a phased manner. In making such an assessment, the ethnic composition of the Afghan army, which drew majority of its personnel from non-Pashtun pockets, was ignored. Despite having been in power for good nine years or so, President Karzai has failed to deliver goods. He still carries the stigma of being an American lackey, his contrary utterances notwithstanding. The writ of his government does not extend beyond the Afghan capital and he needs the American security for his own safety. His government has miserably failed in giving any relief to the poor Afghans who continue to suffer at the hands of the Taliban, the US forces and the Karzai government simultaneously. Corruption is a buzzword everywhere. There is no doubt about the fact that the international aid, which is meant to alleviate sufferings of the Afghan people, has been ending up in the pockets of the warlords whose support is a critical factor for the longevity of the Afghan president. Hamid Karzai's election to the presidency was marred by serious allegations of rigging and malpractices. 

Marja was supposed to serve as a model of counterinsurgency before the launch of formal operation against the Taliban in Kandahar. The operation failed to progress the way it was thought to be. The battle for Marja exposed the limitations of the American strategy. The local support, which was to play a leading role in the success of war effort, was nowhere in sight. The outcome of the Marja experience compelled the US authorities to delay the launch of formal offensive against the Taliban. 

Michael Hastings, the author of Rolling Stone article, made a very telling remark about the direction of the US strategy: "Whatever the nature of the new plan (for Kandahar), the delay underscores the flaws of counterinsurgency. After nine years of war, the Taliban simply remain too strongly entrenched for the US military to openly attack. The very people that coin (counterinsurgency) seeks to win over—the Afghan people—do not want us there. Our supposed ally, President Karzai, used his influence to delay the offensive and the massive aid championed by McChrystal is likely to make things worse." 

The American exit strategy also failed on another count: the Pakistan factor. There is no denying the fact and even the US authorities have admitted it that the road to peace in Afghanistan goes through Islamabad. Seemingly Pakistan's input was said to be part of the US strategy but practically the Obama administration has not departed any radically from his predecessor's policies vis-à-vis Pakistan. In continuation of President Bush's deep-rooted partnership with India, which reflected itself in the form of Civil Nuclear deal with New Delhi giving it waiver from the stringent conditionalities of Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG), the Obama administration has stayed the course. Despite Pakistan being a frontline ally in war against terrorism, discriminatory treatment is being out to it on behalf of the US on the question of civil nuclear deal with Islamabad. The increase of drone strikes within Pakistan has also angered the people of Pakistan who have sacrificed immensely for war on terror. The efforts of the US to ensure a role for India in Afghanistan once it pulls out its forces have not gone well with the Pakistani establishment. Pakistan remains wary of the US' intentions. 

The American 'surge and exit' strategy is in deep trouble on the above mentioned counts. The foundation-stone upon which the edifice of the policy was erected is shaky to say the least. It calls for a serious review, which is synchronized with reality. Two wrongs cannot make right.


The writer is a freelance columnist based in Australia.









After listening to the joint statement of India's Minister for External Affairs SM Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi, one wonders whether this meeting should have taken place at all. There was nothing to write home about except that both sides agreed to disagree and also to continue the dialogue. Secondly, Krishna invited Shah Mehmood Qureshi to visit India in December 2010, whichy goes to prove that there is no urgency for Indian side to have substantive talks on issues like Kashmir, Sir Creek and Siachin. From the statement of SM Krishna one can conclude that he has built a case against Pakistan, when he said that he got assurances from Shah Mehmood Qureshi that Pakistan would expedite the proceedings of the case against seven persons involved in Mumbai attacks, and also to take strong and expeditious action against those named by David Headley during interrogation by FBI. He got assurance that Pakistan's soil will not be used for terrorists' attacks on India. In nutshell, SM Krishna got all the assurances from Pakistan without giving any assurance in return that India will not allow its soil against Pakistan and its agencies to destabilize Pakistan. It is hoped that Pakistan would stop asking India to resume composite dialogue, because India has nailed Pakistan using Headley's confessional statement.

Many rounds of talks including composite dialogue were held after long hiatuses in the past but no progress could be made on the major issues including the core issue of Kashmir. In fact the list of disputes has become larger with the passage of time, and today Siachin, Sir Creek, and water issues are as important as Kashmir issue. Though war between the two nuclear states is not an option, yet the threat of war will continue looming large if the disputes are not resolved. One can imagine the intentions of Indian government from the statement by Indian Home Secretary GK Pillai issued when SM Krishana was airborne to come to Pakistan. He said: "Evidence based on interrogation of David Headley showed that ISI and LeT chief Hafiz Saeed played a much more significant role in Mumbai terror attacks than was thought earlier". It appears that before foreign ministers meeting, India was looking for some excuse for not starting the composite dialogue, which lays bare India's motive behind seeking access to David Coleman Headley. 

Since the arrest of David Coleman Headley on 3rd October 2009, India had been persuading America to allow Indian intelligence access to him. Headley had testified to his terror training in Pakistani camps and plans to strike several places in India and other countries at the behest of Pakistan-based terror group LeT. There is a perception that America is said to have cut a deal with Headley that it would take a lenient view if he makes a confession. It is possible that he had been cajoled or persuaded to name some serving Pakistan army officers to prove that Pakistan army and state was involved in promoting non-state actors. Political analysts are of the view that once David Headley had made a confessional statement before the FBI officials for his role in Mumbai attacks, there was no need to provide India an access to him. In case there were any questions to be asked, India could have done it through FBI's investigating team. In fact, India waned to prove Headley's linkage with other terrorists to bring Pakistan into disrepute. 


David Headley, 49, a US citizen, was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit terrorist acts outside the USA and to provide material support to terrorist groups. He was arrested at Chicago O'Hare International Airport before boarding a flight bound for Pakistan. In June, 2010 America had given limited access to India to interrogate David Headley. One should question the wisdom of Pakistan's foreign office and leadership as to why Pakistan did not seek access to Headley when a case against seven accused in Mumbai attacks is in Pakistani court, and interrogating Headley could have helped in expediting the proceedings of the case. India's interrogators from National Investigation Agency, however, managed to get a statement out of Headley, which had no relevance at all to the Mumbai terrorists' attacks. He said: "Ishrat Jahan, the Mumbai girl who was killed along with three alleged terrorists in 2004 in a police encounter, was a Lashkar-e-Taiba fidayeen". In fact the entire exercise seems to have been done to pressurize Pakistan into taking action against Hafiz Saeed, who was earlier detained for questioning but was released by a Pakistani court for lack of evidence against him. 

David Coleman Headley is reported to have revealed in his interrogations that "the Pakistani intelligence - ISI is running, at least since 2003, a residential protected compound in Karachi - the so-called Karachi-Project - aimed to carry out terror attacks in India in order to undermine and weaken the Indian stability and firmness over the Kashmir issue". David Headley was first arrested in the US for heroin smuggling in 1997 in New York but earned a reduced sentence by working for American Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) wherein he was facilitated to have ingress into Pakistan-Afghanistan linked narcotics gang. So he could be either FBI or CIA's man, and perhaps it was on their behest that he developed links with religious organizations in addition to his contacts with drug mafia. There is a perception that he was a double agent working at the same time for the CIA and terrorists' organizations. According to international media, he was a very good friend of Rahul Bhatt son of billionaire film producer-director Mahesh Bhatt. One would not speculate that what sort of help they might have given to advance his pernicious plans, but the fact remains that he had developed friendship with scions of big business and celebrities of film industry in India. 

To a question of a reporter, SM Krishna said that Pakistan has not so far given any evidence about Indian agencies' involvement in Balochistan. Pakistan's intelligence agencies and also ministers of Balochistan government, the RAW is supporting dissident Baloch leaders, Sindhi nationalists and the Saraiki Movement in southern Punjab. Regional political Parties like Saraiki Suba Mahaz, Pakistan Saraiki Party and Saraiki Sahaliya Sangam are being helped materially.

It appeared that India maneuvered to hold meeting with Pakistan at foreign ministers' level for one to convey an impression it is not averse to dialogue, and secondly to isolate Pakistan vis-à-vis terrorism. It also seems to be synchronized affair that US National Security Advisor James John said on Thursday that existence of terror groups in Pakistan was against the interest of the region and that country would have to take the tough decision of going after such groups without making any discrimination. "In our bilateral relationship with Pakistan, we have expressed strong concerns over the existence, within the borders of Pakistan, of terrorist", he said. Pakistan should stop persuading or begging India for further talks, and take measures to create unity in Pakistan, as this is the only way to ensure integrity, solidarity and sovereignty of Pakistan.


The writer is a senior journalist and political analyst based in Lahore.








The charred remains of the ambushed convoy lay smouldering on the highway. An armed gang launched a raid on a military base. The security forces struggled to maintain control while a divided society appeared on the brink of collapse. And the international community looked on in horror. The parallels with Pakistan today are stark, but this is a description of life in South Africa back in 1989. Yet today, barely twenty years later, the self-proclaimed Rainbow Nation is opening its doors to the world as it prepares to host the 19th Football World Cup. What a difference twenty years can make. The award of hosting rights for the world's premier football tournament was seen as the ultimate endorsement of South Africa's progress as a nation since the ending of the Apartheid era in 1990. 

Sporting sanctions had been used extensively by the International Community as a tool with which to apply pressure to the old regime throughout the 70s and 80s. Many of us remember the international outcry caused by the rebel cricket tours of the 1980s in defiance of the worldwide boycott orchestrated by the International Cricket Conference - the same body that removed our nation from the roster of host nations for next year's Cricket World Cup following the tragic events of 3rd March last year. So as South Africans welcome the world to their shores over the next few weeks, they are right to feel proud of what they have achieved together as a nation in what is a relatively short space of time. 

Problems remain of course. Poverty and inequality is endemic in many parts of the nation. Unemployment is high. And crime rates in some of its biggest cities are among the highest in the world. But that real progress has been made is beyond doubt. South Africa emerged from the Apartheid era with relatively little rancour. The famed Truth and Reconciliation Commissions - established to promote national unity and ease the transition to democracy - largely worked, helping to bring once divided communities together and embedding a culture of human rights in South African society. Today, the country is a respected and significant player regionally and internationally. It has launched a worldwide advertising campaign to capitalise on the exposure afforded it by the football tournament under the simple slogan South Africa: It's possible.

Our problems today are similar to those of South Africa before 1990, though they stem from different roots. South Africa's wilderness years were the result of a dominant political ideology that sought to demonise and suppress the majority of its people. In Pakistan, it is not the political system that seeks to impose its destructive views on others, but a small number of highly motivated and committed individuals. So while we can be inspired by her example, we must find our own solutions. They will not be found primarily in the political realm as they were in SA, but in the hearts, minds and actions of the people of our nation.

In the past few weeks, we have again seen the men of terror taking to the streets of our cities in a bid to spread carnage and set Pakistani against Pakistani. But amid it all, we have also seen ordinary Pakistanis standing together in defiance of these terrorists; rejecting their methods as well as their aims. Such resolve gives us great hope. It is a resolve that is sure to be tested many times over the years ahead. Yet we can draw hope from South Africa's long struggle which teaches us that right will win out in the end. Resolve, however, is not quite enough. As Pakistanis, we need to fight back with the best means at our disposal; not guns, grenades and violence, but the values and ideals that lie at the heart of our society. 

A plethora of NGOs, civil society organisations and media campaigns have sprung up in recent years in an effort to give voice to these things. Campaigns by leading media groups are indications that Pakistan's highly developed and professional media industry is ready and willing to play its part. The Yeh Hum Naheen initiative, launched to great fanfare back in 2008, attracted 62 million signatures to its national petition against terrorism, but has since failed to capitalise on the momentum it initially inspired. More recently, public support for Azme Alishan movement of which I am a patron – has demonstrated a strong desire among the people for peace, stability and unity in our nation. Amid all the problems that afflict our country on a daily basis, these things give us reasons to hope. 

Such initiatives need our support, but they need our actions too. Being quietly proud to be Pakistani is no longer enough. It is time to turn that pride into action in order to build our nation again. We need to get involved, to reach out to our neighbours, to be active in our communities. We must continue to speak up for the real Pakistan – a country of tolerance, diversity, culture and modernity – far removed from the nation too many in the world think of today. 

These are small things each of us can do, but taken together they could have a big effect. Because if there is one thing we can learn from South Africa's experience over the past two decades it is that anything is possible when people pull together. Only by standing united as Pakistanis can we rid our country of the dark actors who seek to divide us. Only by confidently and actively reasserting our identity as proud Pakistanis will we reclaim our nation from the men of violence and fear, and transform our image and reputation around the world. If we do, one day soon people might be writing of us in the same way they do of South Africa today: as a nation that saw adversity and overcame it; a country that looked into the abyss but pulled back and found a better way; a society of diversity, tolerance, equality and peace, at ease with itself and ready to take its rightful place on the world stage once again.








The 20-year conflict in Somalia has finally bled past its borders: Two bombings hit the Ugandan capital Sunday as locals watched the World Cup. Al Shabab, an armed Islamic group in Somalia, has claimed credit for the attacks. Just last week, a Shabab threat to attack Uganda and Burundi was dismissed by authorities. Western officials and media have predictably spun this as an anti-soccer attack, which will fit neatly into the they hate us for our freedoms zeitgeist Osama bin Laden and other Islamic disgruntleds are simply at war with modernity itself, you see. 

Worse, we may be facing calls to intervene further in a renewed Somali civil war after all, it now has international consequences. But the West, and especially the US, should stay out of it. Despite frequent claims that Shabab has ties to Al Qaeda, the connection is limited to rhetorical support. And for all the warnings about the dangers of a failed state in the Horn of Africa, Somalias bearing on American security is marginal at most. The US has a long history of intervention in Somalia. Dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was courted by both the US and the Soviet Union throughout his post-colonial rule. In 1991 opposing militias overthrew Barres regime and made Mogadishu a battleground in which up to 20,000 people were killed. The militias were hijacking UN food aid and trading it for weapons, which prompted a US-led intervention to safeguard distribution to a starving population. In 1993, the infamous defeat of US troops by the ragtag forces of warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, an event known to Americans as Black Hawk Down, caused President Clinton to order US withdrawal. War gave way in the late 1990s to the businesslike Somalis embracing commerce over conflict. The early 2000s were a comparative golden age of living standards for a population which had rarely seen the likes of running water, electricity, phone, and Internet service, trash pickup, schooling, and health care all now provided in a market unhampered by taxation or regulation. In less than a decade, Somalis went from starving to prosperous, by African standards.

Incredibly, after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Washington began contracting Aidids son (a former US Marine) and other warlords to fight Al Qaeda, which Bush officials feared could operate freely in the power vacuum of stateless Somalia. But millions in cash and weapons simply unleashed a renewed contest for power as the favored militias ignored Al Qaeda and attacked their rivals. The situation worsened until Islamic Courts Union (ICU) militias joined forces to rid the country of these American-financed warlords. The latter fled to Kenya, and together with former apparatchiks of the Barre regime, formed the Transitional Federal Government, (TFG) with the backing of the international community, the 14th such attempt to foist a central government upon the Somalis.

The West considered the ICU a terrorist organization affiliated with Al Qaeda, though it was run by some rather moderate elements who simply looked to impose order; strict as they may have been, Somalis considered them better than the warlords. In response, the Bush administration asked Ethiopia to invade its traditional enemy neighbor and install the TFG to power. As the ICU melted away to become an insurgency just as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan the militant splinter Islamist group Al Shabab flourished in the environment of all-out war. The corrupt TFG now controls only a few blocks of Mogadishu, after Al Shabab last year took even the governments erstwhile base of support in a remote city. Clan-based militias and Islamists of various shades control other swathes of the country. The economy is destroyed after years of war.

This gave rise to another recent boogeyman: fishermen dabbling in piracy to feed their again-impoverished communities. And international intervention has provoked outrage among the Somali Diaspora, leading some of the more impressionable elements into holy war against the occupation and into the ranks of Al Shabab. The African Union, an organization made up of various kleptocratic regimes from around the continent, agree with the UN and US that Somalia must have a traditional European-style central state. Member countries Uganda and Burundi have troops stationed in Mogadishu; Ugandas contingent of 5,000 makes up the bulk of this force. Al Shabab has often threatened to punish these countries for their involvement. It seems they have now succeeded, and scores of Ugandans are dead.

The coming spin will make every attempt to ignore the years of Al Shababs warnings, having nothing to do with sports and everything to do with occupation. Ugandan troops kill Shabab fighters in their own land. This is the plainest example of blowback the modern world can offer our pundits. Washingtons intervention has only exacerbated problems in the region. —The CG News







Though the percentage of pass in the results of the HSC and equivalent examinations has marked an insignificant rise, the number of GPA (grade point average)-5 achievers has increased substantially. While the percentage of pass has gone up by only 1.39 per cent over last year, the number of GPA achievers has increased from 18,222 to 25,512. As usual the Madrasha Education Board tops the list in terms of percentage of pass followed by the Technical Education Board. This year's results are particularly remarkable for the commerce group which has for the first time topped the group list with 80.93 per cent pass whereas the humanities group, still lagging behind, has gained in percentage at 65.40. On that score, the science group's 73.04 per cent pass is definitely unenviable. There is a hint that poor performance in Physics may have been responsible for this. Science group's lower-than-expected percentage of pass, however, has been amply compensated by the far higher number of its GPA-5 scorers. 

So, can we consider the HSC results satisfactory? The answer is both 'yes' and 'no'. Yes, because a gradual improvement in results is noticeable with the number of GPA-5 scorers going up. Besides, the number of educational institutions with zero pass has come down to just 25 this time. No, because about 30 examinees out of every hundred still fail to pass the examinations. Then there are other indices that may prove quite distressing if looked at from close quarters. For example, the percentage of pass in villages on an average is likely to be below 50 whereas in town and cities this rate is 90 or above. 

Of particular interest is the 10 cadet colleges' excellent performance. The cent percent success of the 46 candidates they sent on an average to the exam centres speaks volumes of the kind of care they receive. It would have been unfair if they did worse considering the teacher-student ratio and more importantly the selection process they go through at the time of admission. Some of the reputed colleges could do equally well if they could limit the number of students to a reasonable level where teacher-student ratio is near ideal. Schools and colleges in villages are far behind these settings and the challenge lies in making them catch up with their urban counterparts.        






Construction accidents keep rising day by day due to the non implementation of the National Building Construction Rules as framed by the government in 2006.  According to a report of a survey in the city, during the first four months of 2010, a large number of workers died or were injured because they lacked work place safety or environment.  Although a committee had been constituted to review the labour law to remove the flaws and ensure the protection and rights of workers along with identifying the main causes behind growing occupational hazards, accidents keep recurring. 

The main problem as we see it is that construction workers have no formal training. They usually learn their trade by working as on-the-job apprentices. Lack of modern apparatus hampers their safety. Instead of safety gadgets and kits they have to make do with ropes and traditional scaffolds.  Workers' representatives and rights groups have proposed a set of recommendations to ensure occupational safety and health at the workplace through ratification of the ILO Convention and strengthening the labour inspection system. 

The need is to recruit skilled inspectors to enforce the Bangladesh National Building Code for factories within the ambit of the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006. Only then can safety be kept on top of the agenda.  But with only twenty inspectors responsible for health or safety issues for the whole of Bangladesh, it is obvious that the issue is left uncared for. Moreover the Labour Law of 2006 is no longer pertinent. What was pertinent yesterday is not pertinent today; thus a more efficient, accountable, and specialised factory inspectorate is called for.








Let's start the day with a laugh shall we, so here's one on Obama:

One night President Obama and his wife Michelle decided to do something out of the routine and go for a casual dinner to a restaurant that wasn't too luxurious. When they were seated, the owner of the restaurant asked the president's secret service if he could please speak to the First Lady in private. 

They obliged and Michelle had a conversation with the owner. 

Following this conversation President Obama asked Michelle, "So why was he so interested in talking to you my dear?"

"Ah well Obama, he and I we were lovers before I met you! Don't get jealous this was when I was in me teens!"

"Yeah!" said Obama a little too smugly.

"What you yeahing about like that?" asked Michelle.

"Oh nothin' dear, was jes thinkin' if you'd married him you'd have bin the wife of a restaurant owner!" 

To which Michelle responded, "No husband dear, if I had married him, he would have been the President of the United States of America!"

And in case you think we've had enough of the Americans and their humour, here's a desi one to tickle your palate:

Abdul goes to the Post Office to apply for a job. 


The interviewer asks him, "Are you allergic to anything?" 

"Yes - coffee sir" says Abdul 

 "Have you ever been in the military service? 

 "Yes," he says, "I was in Iraq for two years." 

"That will give you 5 extra points towards employment." 

"Are you disabled in any way?" 

"Yes sir. A bomb exploded near me and I lost my teeth" 

"O.K, " says the interviewer, "You've got enough points for me to hire you right now. Our normal hours are from 8:00 .M. To 4:00 P.M. You can start tomorrow from 10:00AM every day."  

Abdul is puzzled and asks, "If the work hours are from 8:00 A.M. To 4:00 P.M., why do you want me to start here from10:00 A.M.?" 

"This is a government job," the interviewer says, "For the first two hours, we just stand around drinking coffee .No point you coming in for that!"

And here's an aircraft joke: 

"Why did the old lady put a bomb in her suitcase when she flew on a holiday?" "Because she'd heard that the chances of two bombs in the same plane were a billion to one..!"










One stop service is a fast track system generally provided by Government or Private entity to its clients to ease up the procedural steps for a particular job in order to cut down time and effort. It also limits the number of places for a client to visit from many to one. Necessity of one stop service has been felt by the service providers and the people require service (clients) in Bangladesh for quite a few years and rightly so. According to the people experienced in dealing with the Government agencies, most of the service providers are not satisfactory to the clients in general. The Government is not entirely unaware of this fact and over the last few years has introduced one stop services in quite a number of its service providing organizations. Unfortunately, some of the Government departments have not yet come up with such time and effort saving outlets and BRTA (Bangladesh Road Transport Authority) is one of them. 

Once a person becomes a vehicle owner, he is obliged to visit BRTA at least once a year to get his vehicle documents renewed and often return with disgusting experience. In recent times, anybody who got his vehicle's registration paper and fitness certificate renewed at BRTA and made a prerequisite payment of Yearly Income Tax to drive a car, can value the absolute necessity of efficient one stop service at BRTA. It is not only comical but also humiliating for a car owner to spend two to three working days to get the job done. But he is a regular income tax payer; which means he is not a person without self-esteem. To buy a car one has to have Tax Identification Number or TIN and a person who bears a TIN number deserves some weight from the concerned Government people for valid reasons.

To start with, the car owner must get the money deposit slips filled up by the BRTA people; one slip for the tax token and other for the necessary fitness fee. It is hilarious as well as embarrassing to go to the BRTA office to get the slips filled up by the staffs as if the car owner did not learn adequately to fill up slips by himself to deposit money in the Government Post Offices, the depressing designated places for depositing annual government fee to run a car. That is not enough, the filled-up slip for tax token has to be brought to another higher staff there and get it signed and stamped by him to make sure no mistake has been made by his subordinate. There you go, you have already two stops in BRTA even before starting the real job!
Beware!! Proceed to the designated post office before 2-30PM, otherwise you would not be able to deposit money although the Government offices work 9-00 AM to 5-00 PM. The Post Offices of Bangladesh are full of thoughtful people with philosophical look without slightest smile in their faces! They tend to give a posture of being bothered by serving a client even when the person is depositing money for the Government exchequer. Once you get into one of those, you feel like entering an ancient gloomy environment with nonstop sound of noisy stamping, which is done in an ancient way the bluster of which enters your ears that are already sick and tired of noise pollution of the mega city. As if you have ended up in an office of colonial era and as a client you cannot expect slightest politeness during depositing the tax token and fitness certificate fee, the courtesy which is normally showed to you in a private sector financial institute. 

Then you have to go to your taxman who issued you the TIN Certificate in the first place. The income tax for driving a car must be deposited in the very tax office where you are registered as an income tax payer. No other office is competent enough to receive the yearly income tax for the car! Not even the post office where you paid for tax token and fitness fee. Your length of hurdle would have been far less had you been allowed to deposit the income tax to the same place where you had deposited money for tax token and fitness certificate. Unfortunately, that is not the case! 

Instead you must go with a bank draft of a specified amount for a specified vehicle as yearly income tax for the car you drive. You have to have a photocopy of the bank draft and two copies of the filled-up form bearing specification of your vehicle. Generally, the taxman holds the rank of a Deputy Commissioner of Taxes and he is supposed to be a busy person. Of all the persons in his office only he is nominated to receive the bank draft from you and give you authentication of receipt! Nobody else can do it. Isn't it funny nobody else in the office can receive the payment instrument of a bank which is an accounts payee without giving slightest opportunity to anybody of wrong doing? The taxman has a lot of other things to do like attending a meeting elsewhere or inside the office and most of the time unable to receive the bank draft without keeping the car owner seated for quite some time if not for hours together. What a waste of time and rigorous test on patience of a taxpayer!!
After you gather all the money receipts from the post office and tax office, you rush for the last lap of the race. Go to BRTA and get your car checked up to obtain the fitness certificate for one year. There also you will encounter a lot of hurdles with the brokers and insiders. You can speed up your turn of inspection by making people happy. Also, it is an open secret that it is possible to get a fitness certificate without getting the vehicle inspected by the inspectors at all. It is alleged that "Unfit vehicles get fit in BRTA on a regular basis".
The possible reason for introduction of this stringent multi-staged system in the renewal method of vehicle registration and fitness certificate was due to instances of pilferage of money by the unscrupulous people in the process. But why should a person pay the price in terms of time and patience for a crime not committed by him?
Now the question, is it necessary to coerce the car owner to follow so many steps and make unlikable visit to so many offices to get the job done? Perhaps not, it is possible to ease their sufferings by adopting smart ways of collecting money and save valuable time of both the service provider and the client. Almost all the vehicle owners will not disagree to pay whatever the Government fixes them to pay but they want little comfort during payment and some respect in doing so at least.

Any sensible person will agree that all the procedures can be done in two stops. Vehicle related annual taxes can be paid in one stop by making arrangements so that the car owners can pay for tax token, fitness certificate and income tax in one place preferably in a bank. Bank will transfer the money to designated places in no time using technology and avoiding any wrong doing. There is no doubt that people will prefer to pay through a bank instead of two places-post office and income tax office normally located in different parts of the crowded city. Paying through bank should save time from days to hours. The second stop will be in BRTA to collect the fitness certificate

Most of the people are willing to pay Government fees and taxes, but sometimes uncalled for bureaucratic hurdles and unprofessional rude attitude of the concerned persons discourage them. 
It is better for the Government to realize the problem at the earliest and take the corrective measures to encourage people to pay appropriate taxes on time with ease and satisfaction.

(The writer is CEO, JN International)









The condition of expelled secretary general of BNP, Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan is critical and yet to be out of danger. He is on life support at the Square Hospital after his return from Singapore and kept in the ICU with "unconscious and breathlessness condition". He is in fact in a coma and provided with artificial life support. Now he is not even in a condition to breathe naturally. He could not be served with chemotherapy due to such health condition.

He has been suffering from lung cancer and was under treatment at Singapore National University Hospital, where he was given few sessions of chemotherapy. Last time he was given chemo in June. Since then his health began to worsen and then he has been on artificial respiration. On recommendation by physicians in Singapore, he has been shifted to Square Hospital for further long-drawn treatment. He was flown to Dhaka by an air ambulance from Singapore with breathlessness. 

His physical condition is still not free from danger as learned from media quoting the concerned physician. Different political leaders of different parties including BNP have visited the ailing veteran leader at the hospital. BNP Secretary General Khandaker Delwar Hossain also visited his predecessor and wished his early recovery. 

Mannan Bhuiyan, born in 1943 at Shibpur of Narsingdi, was the longest serving secretary general of BNP (1996-2007). Inspired by Maulana Bhasani, he started his political career in 1962 and was an organizer of Liberation War in 1971. He is a man of principle, honest politician and held many important positions in politics. He won the parliamentary elections thrice and was a cabinet minister twice. Last time he was given the portfolio as LGRD Minister.

He was expelled from his post and primary membership by the party chairperson Khaleda Zia just before she was arrested by the then caretaker government in September 2007. His expulsion raises many questions as it was not done according to the rules and discipline of the party. Even he was not served with any notice or asked for any explanation. He was not given opportunity for self-defense that contradicts with principle of natural justice. 
However, some of the BNP leaders have shown their anxiousness about their former leader's health condition and proposed the party chief to withdraw his expelled decision. BNP standing committee though sat on last week to consider the withdrawal against him, but it is yet to take such a decision. Few standing committee members also requested the chairperson to withdraw his expulsion order. 

BNP should be generous to Bhuiyan considering his contribution to the party for long. At least from humanitarian consideration, his expulsion order needs to be withdrawn. 

Let us hope for his early recovery and come back in politics to serve the nation. The country can be benefited from his long political experience. May the Almighty bless us all.


(The writer is Coordinator, Media for Development; can be contacted








AUSTRALIAN conductor Charles Mackerras, who died at the age of 84 on Wednesday, worked until the end of his full, eventful life. Recently, he conducted Mozart's Cosi fan tutte at England's Glyndebourne Festival. The distinguished son of a distinguished clan, Charles Mackerras was born in New York and grew up in Sydney in a large family, including political scientist Malcolm Mackerras, former Sydney Grammar headmaster Alistair Mackerras and leading China scholar Colin Mackerras. They were descendants of Isaac Nathan, Australia's first musical composer.


In a career with many highlights, Sir Charles conducted the Sydney Opera House's opening concert in 1973 and later became chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. His links with the orchestra dated back to World War II, when he played as a casual oboist. Internationally, he conducted many leading orchestras, introduced Western Europe to the operas of Czech composer Leos Janacek and was guest conductor for the D'Oyly Carte company's 1975 centenary. A cheerful, popular figure and stickler for high standards, Sir Charles also led the way in presenting baroque and classical music as it was originally heard. This English summer, Glyndebourne billed him as "the supreme Mozartian conductor" -- a fitting epitaph.







AT last, the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been staunched -- at least for now. It has been an extraordinary long time in coming, but finally engineering expertise has been applied to resolve what is undoubtedly one of the worst environmental disasters of recent times. The leak has wreaked a heavy price, threatening not just the region and its wildlife and fish industry, but the Obama administration, and the share price and reputation of a huge multinational company in BP. It is not over yet, but for the first time in three months the flow of oil has stopped.


The tragedy is that the engineering ingenuity employed by BP to fix the well should have been applied years ago to ensure that this kind of event would not occur. The lesson is not, as some advocates would suggest, that the world should move away from deep-sea oil drilling but that this industry must proceed with far better management of the risks involved.


Nor is this necessarily an issue of government regulation -- although this remains an area to which US legislators need to give careful attention. BP suffered the market consequences of its failure to stop the flow, with its share price hitting a 14-year low last month. Its reputation as a good corporate citizen also sank, with chief executive Tony Hayward publicly humiliated in hearings in Washington and its business reliability tested to the limit. The share price was back up again yesterday, but the BP exercise will serve as a clear warning to other oil operators about the need to manage the risk.


At the same time, Barack Obama was right to force BP to pay the price of this accident. His government may have been slow to react in some areas but there is no argument over who is responsible for the leak. Some weeks ago, when the President, still struggling to get on to the front foot on this debacle, pressured BP to suspend its dividend and put $US20 billion aside to compensate victims, we made the point that the company, which made a profit of $US17bn last year, must pay and keep paying. It would have been wrong for the government to have insulated BP from the consequences of its actions.


The Gulf of Mexico disaster has focussed world attention on the need to ensure the security of such offshore operations. The lessons for Australia, itself on the brink of a dramatic expansion of this sector, are clear for all to see.






IF this were election weekend and we were summarising our position on the parties, we could state with confidence that Tony Abbott wants to be prime minister, but we would be less certain why he wants the job. Since he won the leadership, Mr Abbott has shown his skill as a pragmatic, agile politician. Now his challenge is to present as an alternative prime minister and show he understands the task the incoming government will face: how to lock in the benefits of the mining boom and ensure continuing prosperity. In short, he must show he understands a modern economy and the aspirations of today's Australians, just as did his Liberal predecessor, John Howard.


This week it was Julia Gillard who seemed to better appreciate Mr Howard's legacy. The Prime Minister began with an embrace of the Hawke-Keating years but by the time she got to the National Press Club on Thursday, it was clear she had been thinking hard about Mr Howard's battlers. Her return to the reform rhetoric of the Hawke years was matched by a preparedness to seek creative solutions to ensure prosperity for "hard-working Australians". Her speech signalled Labor is beginning to pinpoint where it lost its way under Kevin Rudd and that it has learnt from his years of big spending and minuscule reform. Unlike Mr Rudd, who had an outdated view of the electorate and did not understand how much it had changed in 30 years of economic reform, Ms Gillard is now speaking directly to the sub-contractors, tradespeople and small-business operators who constitute the new floating vote. These are the people wooed by Mr Howard in 1996 as voters embraced his message of choice and growth and who turned to Labor in 2007 when Mr Rudd presented himself as "Howard-lite" only to be disappointed when Mr Rudd misread that mandate and changed his spots in power. In her speech, the Prime Minister made specific promises to these hard-working people, linking jobs to a market-driven economy. She pledged a Labor government would mean low inflation, low spending, budget surpluses, and taxation as a share of GSP kept below 2007-08 levels. Labor would judge the private and the public sectors through the prism of pragmatism, not ideology. Above all, it would continue micro-economic reform to "benefit families, boost national prosperity, enable more Australians to enjoy the dignity of work and deliver a more competitive and sustainable economy". Her speech was aimed at those who will decide this election, those voters who, like the sensible drivers in the AAMI insurance ad, cry "what about me?" when asked to subsidise those who do the wrong thing.

Labor's move to the centre ground leaves Mr Abbott vulnerable on economic policy. Prosecuting the government for its incompetence, wasteful spending, debt-and-deficit and failures on reform, is the easy part. But with the Coalition's primary vote stuck at around 40 per cent, Mr Abbott must go beyond his base. Till now, he has carried the Howard mantle by default, but Labor is now challenging him for that ground. Yesterday he showed he understood the need to pull back from the harsher aspects of Mr Howard's policies by announcing that while Labor's Fair Work Act was "far from perfect", it deserves a fair go. He must now address reforms that will drive productivity, workplace participation and prosperity. He must explain, for example, how his rejection of the mining tax meshes with the pressing reform issue of this age: the need to lock in the benefits of the resources boom. Mr Abbott must also dispel any doubt that he will allow his faith to dictate policy. Voters are not interested in the politicisation of religion.

Like Ms Gillard, the Opposition Leader must speak in clear terms to the hard-working, aspirational voters in the suburbs and regions. As a "man's man" he has natural appeal to this group but he must show he understands their yearning for economic security. Unlike Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and Mr Howard, who came to power with a clear economic vision, Mr Abbott, and indeed Ms Gillard, are still building their credentials with voters. The coming poll offers a choice between two pragmatic, professional politicians, but it will be their ability to address the real concerns driving modern voters that will determine their success.







After three weeks in her new role, Julia Gillard is now preparing to call an early election. And so she should. Voters deserve to pass judgment not just on her as prime minister, but on the tumultuous events that saw her grab the job and the relative policy merits of the government and opposition.

But in doing so, Australians have rarely been presented with a leader about whose opinions and vision they know so little. Nothing Gillard has done or said has given us the slightest idea of the direction in which she wants to "move Australia forward". Almost everything has seemed designed to scrub clean her image, even until recently, as an independently minded, modern political figure of the centre-left and to reinvent herself as the "hollow woman", offensive to no one.


Most prime ministers have been quite happy to wear their views on reformist issues when they take office, knowing their stand will give their government a brand and spark debate. Paul Keating wanted a republic. John Howard wanted stronger ties with old Anglo-Saxon allies. Kevin Rudd wanted an apology to indigenous Australians. Gough Whitlam wanted almost everything.


In one vital way, Gillard has broken a mould in Australian politics. Her domestic status as a woman without children and unmarried to her partner has caused barely a political ripple in a country that now judges people, more than ever, on merit.


With her commanding intelligence, and lawyer's grasp of debating skills, this might have given Gillard an authority to speak openly when confronted with questions about a republic, gay marriage and other issues that are never going to go away, and are only bound to intensify as public opinion evolves.


Instead, it is as if she is going out of her way to reassure middle Australia she represents no threat to what Howard called "mainstream values" and Rudd evoked as "working families". With Gillard, it is back not quite to the white picket fence, but to a safe world of the mid-1960s, when her parents migrated to Australia.


This week she called a news conference at which it was thought she might announce a momentous new policy, or even an election date. Instead she promised to allow school uniform costs to be tax deductible. Uniforms, she said, gave people "a sense of discipline". Next day, at her National Press Club appearance, the Herald asked her about an Australian republic. It would have been refreshing to hear Gillard say that, speaking as an Australian citizen, she supported the notion of an Australian head of state, and that she welcomed debate. Instead, she threw a damp blanket over it. She said the 1999 referendum failed because it centred too much on views of public figures like her.


This was wrong. It failed mainly because Howard, then prime minister and a staunch monarchist, set it up with enough divisions to make it fail. Gillard's response was quite pathetic. Rudd himself did better two years ago, when he publicly supported a republic in London shortly before he met the Queen.


So too with gay marriage, Gillard has stuck doggedly to the Labor Party's line, into which Howard had successfully wedged it, that marriage is between a man and a woman. Howard's wedge copied one the former US president George W. Bush used. But even in that conservative and religion-focused country, controversy is waning: gay marriage has now been legal in parts of the US for six years. Can there be anything threatening for Gillard at least to throw open the debate here?


In her speeches so far, she has evoked the story of her hard-working parents. There is nothing wrong with that, only in how she has sometimes done it. Her declaration that people like them "can't abide the idea that others might get an inside track" was a dog whistle on asylum-seekers that Tony Abbott, the opposition leader, could hardly have perfected.


Given how she came to power, Gillard is clearly under instructions from backers and party strategists not to threaten the prime reason she was put there: to keep Labor in office. But Australians are perhaps less conservative than their leaders imagine. Above all, they want leaders who are prepared to be bold, offer visions and to show something of themselves. As the campaign begins, it is a pity Gillard has offered little more than sweet talk.







Life follows art, they say. Do we use swear words more because we hear them more from television and movies, or are broadcasters and screen writers merely keeping up with the vernacular? Some war veterans are said to be shocked by current war films, not by the more graphic gore or atrocities, but by the language. But perhaps time has censored their memories, and they are thinking of the war movies made when they were young. Now an American court has decided that the odd ---- is part of normal discourse, if not to be encouraged, thus freeing TV broadcasters from the threat of fines up to $325,000 each time somebody drops a foul word on air, a system in place since 2004, when president George Bush's administration decided to clean up the airwaves. Will this lead to a downward spiral of ''coarse language'', or are the Americans, who have exported so many new terms to our own vocabulary of expletives, just getting real?







TODAY Prime Minister Julia Gillard is expected to ask the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, to dissolve Parliament so that a federal election can be held on August 28. The phoney election campaign that has been conducted since Ms Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as prime minister last month is ending, and the real one is about to begin.


By calling an election the Prime Minister will honour the pledge she made in a news conference on the day the ALP caucus anointed her to succeed Mr Rudd. Notionally voters elect only MPs, not the prime minister; but, as Ms Gillard is keenly aware, it will always be possible to question the legitimacy of her government until the Australian people have had an opportunity to cast their verdict on it in a general election. She is rightly giving them that opportunity - and justified in delaying issuing the writs for the election until next Wednesday, so that eligible voters who are not enrolled can rectify that omission.


The voters' verdict will not resolve the separate question of whether the caucus bargaining and manoeuvring that led to Mr Rudd's downfall involved any breach of trust or dishonoured deal on Ms Gillard's part. That question, however, is now of historical interest. The Rudd era is over, whatever undertakings Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard may have made to each other on the night of June 23, and whether or not Mr Rudd claims the place in cabinet that Ms Gillard has said will be available to him if her government is returned.


The next six weeks will change everything for the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. Hitherto, Ms Gillard has been, if not exactly a caretaker PM, then one whose preoccupation has been putting out the fires that Labor's powerbrokers feared were about to engulf the government under Mr Rudd. She ended the dispute with the big three mining corporations over a resources rent tax, albeit at a cost of $7.5 billion in lost revenue. She appeased those who believe Labor's policies were encouraging hordes of seaborne asylum seekers to head for Australian shores, by announcing a return to offshore processing of applications. This was not handled as deftly as the miners' tax, because she fumbled the question of where the offshore processing centre would be; but it has improved Labor's poll standing on the issue. And, she has yet to say what inducements will be offered to Australians to reduce carbon emissions until such time as she is able to ''reprosecute'' the case for an emissions trading scheme. Ms Gillard has the next six weeks, however, to explain those inducements, together with the rest of Labor's agenda for a second term, which at present is largely a question mark. The voters whose mandate the Prime Minister is seeking will be ill-served if she devotes this campaign to minimising damage that might be inflicted by the opposition, rather than setting out clearly what Labor would do if the voters reward it with a second term in office.


The obligation to develop and proclaim a positive program falls even more strongly on the Coalition, which under Mr Abbott has tended to oppose reflexively whatever the government proposes without feeling constrained to offer better alternatives. Australians know very little about what an Abbott government would do, apart from providing a ragbag of financial incentives to reduce carbon emissions, and imposing an industrial-relations regime eerily reminiscent of the Howard government's deeply unpopular WorkChoices, though unsurprisingly it won't have the name.


Labor and the Coalition will do a grave disservice to Australian democracy if they are content to spend this election campaign concentrating on issues that contain more fantasy than substance. Depressingly, however, they have so far shown every sign that this is what they are likely to do. Far more energy has gone into reassuring voters that fleets of asylum seekers will be turned around if they try to reach these shores than into explaining that the few thousand who arrive by boat each year are a tiny proportion of the total number of immigrants, and an even smaller proportion of the global number of displaced persons.


Similarly, a race to decide which side has the best budget-pruning credentials will ultimately lead to nothing more than shrunken expectations by voters, and increased disenchantment with the political process. As this week's economic statement by Treasurer Wayne Swan has confirmed, Australia's net government debt, which is expected to peak at 6 per cent of gross domestic product in the next financial year, is less than a tenth of the average debt of the major advanced economies. Australia does not have crushing public debt, and in the next six weeks Australia's politicians should concentrate on telling voters what they can do, not what they won't do.


Source: The Age









Westminster City Council might not welcome the parallel, but the charge of a democratic deficit, so familiar to Brussels, could soon be laid at the door of its education department. It is about to be merged with that of nearby Hammersmith and Fulham – not a geographical neighbour, but a close ideological cousin. Penny-pinching, as opposed to continental peace, is the name of the game. But as the European commission has found, when executive functions are pooled but popular sovereignty is not, questions of legitimacy soon raise their head. The two Tory majorities may have a shared agenda now. If Hammersmith went Labour, however, the children could suffer from a messy divorce.


The Westminster experiment is only one of several ways in which fluid politics and austere economics are re-drawing the established lines of local accountability. This week we learned that primary care trusts were for the chop, even though the coalition agreement had signalled they had a future. In education, while Michael Gove talks of local authorities "holding the ring" on particular issues, the great push for academies could see their role wither. In policing, by contrast, the aim seems to be to increase rather than diminish voter involvement, through the direct election of individuals to call the shots. So this programme cannot be easily characterised, as either pro- or anti-democratic. If there is one constant theme amid all the flux, it is a readiness to challenge local officials and councillors within their own borders.


The Conservative wing of the coalition, in particular, seems more inclined to take school governors, doctors and the new police chiefs as the voice of their community, rather than trust any local authority to provide this. Many Liberal Democrats will find that uncomfortable. During the long years during which national power was a distant dream, they built up a base within the town halls, and advocated handing them more power. And, far from abolishing PCTs, their manifesto proposed making them democratic. The coalition has, it is true, handed councils new powers over public health, and freed their hand a little on decisions about expenditure, although latter amounts to little more than a freedom to cut.


In a thoughtful speech yesterday, Nick Clegg suggested that Liberals should want to decentralise power, regardless of whether that power went to councils, community groups or public servants. But his claim that David Cameron's Big Society is merely another name for the Liberal Society will have worried many Lib Dems. Britain's political parties are not used to having to carve out a distinctive identity from within a coalition. They may find that tightly defined local fiefdoms are important in that task.








Even after the final full stop is affixed to the last piece on the great banking crisis of 2007-10, one phrase about one bank will sum up the entire episode. It comes from a Rolling Stone profile last year of Goldman Sachs. The second and most quoted sentence of Matt Taibbi's piece describes the world's number-one investment bank as "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money". As pithy descriptions go, this had it all: the power of the leading firm in an all-conquering financial industry, and how that could be used to print money and to plunge the world into a financial firestorm.


Well, the bottom line at the end of this week is that the vampire squid is doing just fine, thank you. It may not look that way. After all, Goldmans shelled out $550m on Thursday night to Wall Street watchdogs. And it now faces a slew of regulation, thanks to the passage of the financial reform bill through the US senate. Yet in both cases the Masters of the Universe are getting off lightly – showing yet again how the bankers who triggered an economic crisis, which is now turning into a social crisis (as governments across the rich world make all those spending cuts), are ducking their fair share of the bill for the mess.


First, the fine. In paying the biggest ever penalty in a regulatory case, Goldman Sachs is admitting that it wrongly marketed a $1bn deal to investors – a big blow for a firm that prides itself on a good name, and a hefty dent in the balance sheet. Or so you might think. But $550m is as much as the bank takes in trading revenue in just one week. And it is a tiny sliver of the $16bn it paid in bonuses to its bankers last year. More to the point, set against the enormity of the charges it faced, Goldmans has got off lightly. After all, the bank stood accused of creating and flogging a package of dodgy home loans – without telling investors that one of its biggest hedge-fund clients had hand-picked the loans that went into the package, and had bet that they would fall in value. Cut through all the fancy terminology and this was an old-fashioned fraud case, in which Wall Street's finest were charged with screwing over their own business partners (including, naturally enough, our own financial sink-estate, RBS). The regulators have now binned their case in return for some loose change from Wall Street.


Then there is the US reform bill, which last night passed its final hurdle.Indeed, for Mr Obama to pull off another big bill (following on from healthcare and the $787bn economic stimulus), let alone one that has not been eviscerated by the Republicans, is a triumph. The coming mid-term elections may be bloody for the Democrats, but Mr Obama is using his political capital rather than hoarding it. The bill has plenty of sensible (albeit vaguely worded) proposals: a single Financial Stability Oversight Council to monitor markets more closely, more derivatives to be traded in clear sight of the regulators, and financial firms to be quickly wound up. All this is so practical that it simply shows up how bad financial regulation was before Lehman Brothers. Depending on which American papers you read, this is either "another landmark legislative victory" for Barack Obama or simply a "stunning success" for the president.Yet there is nothing in the bill that would prevent another billion-dollar scam such as the one Goldman Sachs was accused of. There is certainly nothing that questions whether finance should be about stiffing investors with dodgy products and forcing subprime credit on low-paid workers. Banks have been given hurdles to jump, rather than obstacles to doing dodgy business. The bottom line? Goldman Sachs and its brothers have been given a slap on the wrists for their part in the crisis, but it is the voters – facing tax rises and huge spending cuts – who will get a kick in the teeth.







The Tudor rogue's autocratic spirit lives on in government, according to the lord chief justice of England and Wales


Not in person, of course. The Tudor rogue was buried in Windsor in 1547 and by all reports he remains there. But his autocratic spirit lives on in government, according to the lord chief justice of England and Wales, who delivered an elegant speech to his fellow judges on Tuesday evening, warning of the dangers lurking in so-called Henry VIII clauses. It was the kind of lecture that matters very much, but which passes most people by. In passing, the perfectly named Lord Judge pointed out that the last government introduced 2,492 laws in 2009 alone. His real target was the executive's tendency to award itself sweeping powers to rip up and rewrite acts of parliament it dislikes, under the guise of greater efficiency. These are known as Henry VIII clauses, although, as Igor Judge argued, the terms of the legislative and regulatory reform bill were more indulgent of the executive than the supine Reformation parliament's 1539 Statute of Proclamations. The bill sought to give ministers the power to amend, repeal or replace any act simply by making an official order. That usurpation of parliament was rebuffed but, as the judge warned, other acts since have had the same effect without anyone noticing. He cited the 2008 Banking Act as a particular offender; the2010 Constitutional Reform and Governance Act is another. There is no record of all the Henry VIII powers in existence: 120 such clauses appear to have been passed in the last session of parliament alone. Even the old king must be turning in his grave.









Cold War buffs slipped into nostalgia last week as the United States and Russia swapped spies. For some, the hasty exchange of 10 Russian "sleepers" convicted in the U.S. for four men held as spies in Russian jails seemed too familiar, prompting speculation that the arrests might have been intended to derail the "reset" of relations between Washington and Moscow. For others, the fear was that the speed of the swap revealed that any "reset" was based on faulty premises.


In reality, the situation showed just how far the much-feared Russian spy apparatus has slipped and how "Moscow Center" remains stuck in a Cold War mentality of its own.


U.S. law enforcement agencies had been following members of the spy ring for over a decade, observing contacts of the first suspects and expanding the number of people under surveillance. Over time, the ring was thoroughly penetrated, with U.S. officials gaining a full sense of the group's membership, tradecraft and mission. The agents had been planted in the U.S. in the 1990s and had burrowed deep into suburban life disguised as accountants, travel agents, real estate brokers and consultants. Their recorded communications are replete with urban woes, such as struggles to make mortgage payments. While some of the couples were not married, they did have children together to lend credibility to their cover as suburbanites.


Their job was not to get hard information; in fact, they were told to stay away from jobs that required probing background checks as their "legends" could not stand the scrutiny. Rather, they were "to search and develop ties with policymaking circles in the U.S.," identifying potential contacts for the future and to keep a finger on the pulse of developments in Washington.


That mission speaks to a remarkable failure of the Russian spy services to understand how an open society works. To get a finger on Washington's pulse, one needs only a broadband connection and a strong stomach. The expanding catalog of blogs, news sources, and databases that are open to anyone would offer more information than this network could ever provide.


The ring was rolled up last month when one of the members was preparing to go to Russia and law enforcement officials feared he would not return. Eleven individuals were named in the complaint. One, the alleged paymaster of the group, was arrested in Cyprus, released on bail, and then vanished. He is still missing. A 12th individual was also taken into custody at the time the other arrests were made. He had only been in the U.S. for nine months and was deported.


Initially, the Russian government denied the agents were in their employ. Soon after, it acknowledged they were in fact spies and worked out a deal. The 10 pleaded guilty in U.S. courts to a single count of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government without properly registering. Ironically, they were not charged with espionage as they had not obtained classified information. Shortly after that plea, Russia announced that President Dmitry Medvedev had pardoned four men held in jail on charges of espionage. Three of the four were former Russian intelligence officials who had had contact with the West; one was a researcher who insisted — until signing a "confession" that was a condition of his pardon — that he had done nothing illegal.


A mere 11 days after the arrest of the sleepers, the 14 were on planes to Vienna, where the swap was concluded on the airport tarmac. The speed with which the deal was concluded shows a desire on both sides to get past the scandal and move forward with the remaking of the U.S.-Russia relationship.


The two — spying and a positive U.S.-Russia relationship — are not mutually exclusive options. Espionage is a fact of life, even among friends. It is with good reason that spying is considered the second oldest profession: All governments seek access to the information that its counterparts consider secret.


That also means that governments should put those efforts in perspective. Of course, vigilance should be a fact of life. But there is no reason to hyperventilate over the capture and release of spies who obtained no classified information and whose tradecraft had been thoroughly observed for over a decade. Moreover, the arrest of the Russian sleepers sends a signal to other countries that the U.S. is neither naive nor blind to the realities of modern-day international relations. Washington's concern with terrorism has not blinded it to other potential threats.


The quick disposition of the case is a clear signal of U.S. priorities. The Obama administration does not want the arrest of hapless suburbanites to derail the ratification of a nuclear arms agreement that is key to the revitalization of the global nonproliferation regime. Some argue that this incident is proof that Russia cannot be trusted to honor such deals, but arms control agreements are not based on trust. They are built on a foundation of national self interest and verification measures. That is as true today as it was in the Cold War.








The cost of providing welfare benefits in Britain has risen by 45 percent in a decade and could rise from £87 billion annually to £192 billion by 2015. These costs are a major element in the national budget.


If the new government is to cut Britain's huge budget deficit, as it has declared that it will, significant changes and cuts will have to be made in the British welfare system.


Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) George Osborne declared in a recent budget speech that increasing numbers of people in the United Kingdom were living on benefits. He wanted to increase incentives to work and would cut benefits such as child tax credits to middle-income families. Housing benefits, which had greatly increased in recent years, would be limited to a maximum of £400 per week for those with large families.


The government has announced that a welfare reform bill will be introduced in the autumn. The aim will be to simplify the benefits system, to make it fairer and to make it clear to claimants that they would be better off in work rather than on benefits. The requirement for medical assessments before disability allowances can be claimed will also be tightened up. A simpler benefits system should reduce the scope for fraud.


British welfare arrangements have a long history. In the Middle Ages, before the dissolution of the monasteries, it was the responsibility of the church, which received money from parishioners under the tithe system to look after the poor.


In the 19th century, laws placed the duty of looking after the indigent on local parishes. This led to the establishment of the infamous workhouse system described in Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist."


It was only a century ago that the state in Britain assumed some responsibility for providing a safety net. The first limited arrangements proved totally inadequate in the 1920s and '30s during the Great Depression. It became clear that a new and comprehensive system was required. So during the war between 1939 and 1945, Sir William Beveridge was commissioned to produce recommendations.


The postwar Labour government, which lasted from 1945-1951, accepted the Beveridge recommendations as a basis for reform and introduced a system that was designed to provide at least minimal cover for all "from the cradle to the grave." A major element was the National Health Service, but a wide range of financial benefits were made available for the poor and the unemployed.


The Labour Party was proud of its achievements despite the inevitable weaknesses that developed or were inherent in the system. But Britain was not the first to introduce a safety net. German welfare measures had been introduced in the 19th century under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Scandinavian countries were also ahead of Britain in providing welfare benefits.


Other European countries developed their own systems, although many were less comprehensive than those in Britain. President Franklyn D. Roosevelt had started the process in the United States. Japan's Liberal Democratic Party introduced various welfare measures in line with the recovery of the economy.


It is generally accepted that there must be an adequate safety net in advanced economies to ensure that no one starves or is homeless, but all the different systems that have been developed have their defects and their costs. No country has found the perfect answer that ensures that no one will fall through the net while at the same time maintaining adequate incentives to work and minimizing the burden on the taxpayer.


The more comprehensive the system, the greater the danger that the work-shy will milk the system for their own benefit. The more complex the system becomes in order to maintain fairness the greater the temptation to fraudsters. Any simplification of the system will, however, inevitably lead to winners and losers. The government's attempts at reform and the cuts proposed will be opposed not only on the left wing of the Labour Party, but also by charities and other organizations seeking to end child poverty and homelessness.


One problem that affects Britain in particular is the nature of the housing market. A much higher proportion of people in Britain either own their houses outright or are buying them on a mortgage. This reduces the mobility of labor. There may be jobs in the southeast of England, but those in the northeast, even if they have the necessary skills, are unable or unwilling to move because houses in the southeast are more expensive and fewer are available. Jobs have to be created where the labor is available.


The nature of the welfare net in Europe and employment laws in the European Union have helped to keep unemployment lower than it might have been in the recession, but they may also have reduced the speed of necessary changes in the private sector. The holes in the Japanese safety net have probably slowed down the deregulation that the Japanese economy requires if it is to remain competitive.


The work ethic is supposed to be greater among people of Protestant countries and in Northeast Asia. This is debatable, but the value and need for incentives to work are clear. If there are no jobs no amount of incentives will get claimants back to work.


In Britain, stories about scroungers, fraudsters and lay-a-beds form the stuff of gossip in pubs, but there is little hard evidence that the situation there is worse than that in other European countries. Britain has largely thrown off the image of a country crippled by strikes. These seem more prevalent in some of its European neighbors.


Our budget deficit is serious and it does need to be brought down soon. We will not default on our debts but we do have to tighten our belts. The necessary cuts in welfare spending and simplification of the rules, however, need to be made in such a way that hardship is minimized while incentives are enhanced. They should also be designed so that the cuts do not add to the recession.


Hugh Cortazzi, a former British career diplomat, served as ambassador to Japan from 1980 to 1984.








One can fight oppression with violence, or one can fight it with education. Hema Konsotia, a 32-year-old Indian woman, has chosen the latter.


She is helping to change conditions for an estimated 165 million Indian Dalits, also known as "untouchables." They are a mixed population of numerous caste groups throughout South Asia. Although the caste system was abolished under the Indian Constitution, widespread discrimination and prejudice still exist against Dalits, particularly women.


Dalits are frequently denied such basic rights as education, housing, property, freedom of religion, choice of employment and fair treatment before the law. This situation led Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to draw parallels between "untouchability" and apartheid in 2006. As a result of discrimination, Dalits are denied full participation in Hindu social and political life.


In rural India, where caste origins are more apparent and Dalits often remain excluded from religious activities, many upper caste members believe that Dalits will pollute the temples if they go into them.


Every 20 minutes a crime is committed against Dalits, according to a 2005 government report. Although distressing in itself, this figure probably represents a fraction of all crimes against Dalits, since most of them remain unreported for fear of reprisals from the police or from member of the upper castes.


For several years now, Konsotia has been working to change that situation. She is a union activist and college graduate, leader of Delhi's sewage workers and their wives. For the last 10 years she has been working to empower them and make them aware of their rights while improving their education through mobile education centers she created in Delhi.


A woman of strong character (when a worker was repeatedly disrespectful to her she held him by his collar and slapped him in the face), she has the unwavering support of her mother, who went through an abusive marriage.


"My mother is my secret guru," she told a reporter. Konsotia is determined that Dalits, particularly women, will not suffer what women of previous generations did.


And they certainly need her help since a situation of centuries of discrimination has affected theirs and their children's health and quality of life. For most Dalits, good health care is unaffordable and inaccessible, and generally their experience of health care is limited to emergency care.


The maternal mortality rate is a reflection of accessibility and quality of health services. Prenatal and neonatal care is extremely limited. As a result, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age. Because most Dalit women are poor, their health status is usually worse than statistics suggest.


The maternal mortality rate is 560 deaths per 100,000 live births (the same rate for industrialized countries is 13 per 100,000.) For every woman who dies during pregnancy and childbirth, approximately 20 more suffer injuries, infections and disabilities that may seriously affect their health. Anemia, which is frequent among poor women, predisposes women to sepsis and hemorrhage during delivery.

Child statistics are equally distressing, since 56 children per thousand who are born alive die before reaching the age of five, a rate that compares with five children per thousand in industrialized countries. In addition, both women and children, particularly among the poor, experience an alarming rate of physical and sexual abuse.


In January of 2007, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women concluded that Dalit women in India suffer from "deeply rooted structural discrimination." Proud and determined, Konsotia's work with Delhi's poor has already made a difference.


Cesar Chelala, M.D., Ph.D, is an international public health consultant and a cowinner of an Overseas Press Club of America award for an article on human rights.








The skyrocketing price of chili peppers is confounding the nation's housewives (who have to spend twice as much for the spice), restaurant owners (who are particularly dependent on chili for cooking) and government economic officials (who are worried that the wild swings in the commodity's price will further increase inflation).  


Early last month, the price of red chilis, for example, was on average Rp 25,000 (US$2.60) per kilogram. Since then the price has increased due to a shortage of the commodity in the market. The price now tops Rp 50,000. The government said the average increase nationally was 45.7 percent in June.  


Chili peppers are not categorized as staple food commodities, unlike rice, sugar, cooking oil, and eggs. The government may not have anticipated the shortage of this commodity, as it previously anticipated a rice shortage.


But like salt, chili is a vital spice used in nearly every Indonesian dish.  


Padang restaurants, whose dishes rely on chilis, have been hit hard by the situation. But households are no less affected by this situation because the increase in the price of chili has been followed by increases in the costs of other commodities.


The media has also reported price increases for rice, onions, tomatoes, eggs and vegetables this month.  
Unfortunately, the price increases will likely continue over the next two months due to the coming of Ramadan in the middle of August followed by the Idul Fitri holiday.  


Meanwhile, the government is also concerned about the impact of the chili price increase on inflation. "I am confused why the price of chili contributes significantly to inflation," said Coordinating Economic Minister Hatta Rajasa on June 14,.  


 The Central Statistics Agency (BPS) recorded a cumulative inflation rate from January-June reached 2.42 percent, while this year target is 5.3 percent.  


Unfortunately, the government only has limited space to intervene the market to curb the increasing price of

chili because, unlike rice, the commodity is perishable and cannot be warehoused.  


The chili shortage will not be resolved in the near future because several months are needed to bring a chili crop to harvest. It becomes our shared responsibility to solve the problem.  


Customers may help the problem by reducing our consumption of the commodity, which is not nutritious. The government may need to find a way to better anticipate future shortages.  


The most important thing is that it is time for the government to pay serious attention to the fate of the 
farmers, including how they are affected by commodity price increases.


The government should encourage them to produce more, but farmers also need protection so that the price of chili will not significantly fall during the harvest seasons.








"It is definitely a growing problem in Indonesia. Officials don't care when they break the law," a friend said in an email when commenting on the Islam Defense Front (FPI) in Indonesia.


Related to incidents of violence conducted in the name of religion, let's look at a story from Yemen.


Tribal elders in Rafadh valley in Yemen's Shabwa province gathered to make a decision. After a series of fatal airstrikes caused fear and destruction, they came to the conclusion that they could not keep silent about the presence of al-Qaeda supporters there. Fahd al-Quso, a former prisoner at Guantanamo who is on the FBI's most-wanted list, and his followers were required to leave the tribe's land.


The decision to expel al-Quso and his compatriots was not easily taken. Traditional solidarity in a tribe bonds its members strongly and even at times illogically. Al-Quso is a descendant of a tribe in the valley. There must have bee