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Thursday, July 22, 2010

EDITORIAL 22.07.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month,  july 22, edition 000576 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


EDITORIALcation of all daily- published newspaper  EDITORIAL  at one place.














  3. TWO TO GO































  1. COUNTDOWN TO 2014 






























  1. YES OR NO?

































What Minister for External Affairs SM Krishna flaunts as "civility" in the face of provocative comments by Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi increasingly appears to be timidity — some would prefer to use the word cowardice — and not what he pretends it is. Nothing else explains why Mr Krishna should have publicly rebuked the Home Secretary, Mr GK Pillai, for briefing the media about what the Chicago-based Lashkar-e-Tayyeba operative David Coleman Headley has told Indian investigators in the presence of FBI agents. The Government of India has long maintained, on the basis of evidence it has provided to the Government of Pakistan and shared with other countries, that the ISI had a direct role in the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai. That finding has been corroborated by what Headley has told Indian investigators: The ISI was involved in orchestrating the carnage from the beginning till the end. And this is precisely what Mr Pillai told mediapersons. He was correct in doing so as the people of this country have the right to know who were behind the ghastly blood-letting. If that upsets the Pakistanis or offends the Americans, so be it. Given Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's strange obsession to appease Pakistan at any cost because America desires so, it is not surprising that the PMO and its virtual adjunct, the Ministry of External Affairs, should feel enraged that the truth about 26/11 should have become public knowledge; left to Mr Singh and Mr Krishna, it would have remained a secret — ever since the UPA came to power in 2004, foreign policy has been conducted by keeping the people of India in the dark although the Prime Minister claims to be acting on their behalf. We have been witness to Parliament being misled by a Government eager to conclude agreements without taking anybody into confidence, most noticeably when the India-US civil nuclear cooperation deal was being negotiated; that mindset remains unchanged with the Prime Minister keen to go down in history as a 'peace-maker' regardless of the price paid by the nation.

It is, therefore, not entirely surprising that Mr Krishna should have glossed over the obnoxious behaviour of Mr Qureshi during his recent visit to Islamabad for what was touted as "talks to reduce the trust deficit". Nor should it amaze anybody that he failed to rebuke Mr Qureshi when the Pakistani Foreign Minister compared Mr Pillai to the chief terrorist of LeT, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed. In hindsight, Mr Krishna's silence was not that of a person too polite to join issue with an irascible upstart, but of a person who lacks the courage to speak up for India. As much has been proven on Wednesday. Within hours of the US expressing its 'displeasure' over Headley's damning indictment of the ISI being made public, Mr Krishna, dropping his mask, has unleashed a vitriolic attack on Mr Pillai, a bureaucrat with a far more impressive track record than that of a cynical politician. This is clearly a command performance with three intentions. First, to protect American interests. Second, to ensure the Prime Minister's mission is not derailed. Third, to keep the Pakistani Government in good humour. There's a fourth purpose too: To put down Union Home Minister P Chidambaram who, unlike Mr Singh and his factotums, takes a more realistic view about Pakistan's intentions and has no agenda other than protecting India's national interest. It's a shame and a pity that things should have come to such a sorry pass. 








Heavens would not have fallen had the Maharashtra Government allowed TDP leader N Chandrababu Naidu to visit the controversial Babhli barrage site in Nanded district of the State. At the most, Mr Naidu would have made some fiery remarks aimed at his constituents in Andhra Pradesh where he is fighting for a political comeback, and then would have returned home. But the Ashok Chavan regime overreacted and went out of its way to stop Mr Naidu, slapping cases under the IPC, CrPC and the Bombay Police Act on the former Chief Minister. While in the end the Maharashtra Government succeeded in its mission to sabotage Mr Naidu's Babhli visit by unceremoniously packing him off in an aircraft to Hyderabad, the victory, if at all, is only pyrrhic. Not only has Mr Naidu gained an enormous amount of publicity in the process, but has also emerged as a 'Telugu victim' of Maharashtra's excesses. The administration says it feared that Mr Naidu would have made inflammatory remarks at the project site. But what could he have said that would have been any different from Andhra Pradesh's stated position? At the most, he would have accused the Maharashtra Government of violating the Centre's directive to halt work on the barrage on Godavari that is a source of water for both the States. Again, this would not have been something startlingly new since the point has been made in the past too. It's an old dispute and much has been already said by both sides. The Andhra Pradesh Cabinet has even passed a resolution terming Maharashtra's action of building dams that would restrict water supply to the Andhra region as "illegal" and "unconstitutional'. There have also been allegations of territorial intrusion to build the barrage.

As an astute politician, Mr Naidu realises the utility of raking up the issue although it is pending before the Supreme Court. The districts of Andhra Pradesh that will be adversely affected by the Babhli project are in north Telangana. Farmers there have been agitating against the height of the dam for over a year, since they claim it will limit the flow into Sree Ram Sagar Dam which provides them water for irrigation. With by-elections round the corner in the Telangana region, Mr Naidu can't be faulted for taking up a popular issue. The Maharashtra Government's assertion, that politicians should not play with people's emotions for political gains, is not without merit. But such pious declarations are laughable because they are rarely followed by those who seek to take the moral high ground, in this case the Congress-NCP Government of Maharashtra. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court would do well to deal with the issue at the earliest, instead of letting the dispute fester. That would only cause further conflict and benefit neither Maharashtra nor Andhra Pradesh. 








Few developments have so profoundly affected the course of India-Pakistan relations as the stunning revelations by Daood Gilani aka David Coleman Headley about the direct involvement of the ISI and Hafiz Mohammed Saeed in the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai. Just on the eve of Foreign Minister SM Krishna's visit to Pakistan, US National Security Adviser Gen James Jones remarked in Delhi, "In our bilateral relationship with Pakistan, we have expressed strong concerns over the existence within the borders of Pakistan, of terrorist organisations that have goals to destabilise our way of life, your way of life, to prevent (our) strategic goals from being achieved in Afghanistan."

Cornered by pressure from the US on the role of its favourite jihadi groups in India and Afghanistan, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has evidently worked to get a weak civilian Government to divert attention from its role in the Mumbai outrage by reverting to a Jammu & Kashmir-centric agenda, even going to the extent of demanding "time-bound" efforts to resolve "core issues" to its satisfaction. India should realise that Pakistan's politicians, who have watched elected Prime Ministers executed, assassinated or exiled during Army rule, have no stomach any longer to defy Army diktats.

The cooperation extended by the Obama Administration in the interrogation of Headley appears to be part of its larger strategic review of global policies. The US State Department has rejected Pakistani accusations of "human rights violations" during recent protests in the Kashmir Valley. Referring to these events, the State Department Spokesman has said, "We regret the loss of lives in this incident. It is an internal matter (of India). We respect the efforts of the Government of India to resolve the current situation in Kashmir. In terms of the protest, we would urge everyone to refrain from violence and conduct protests in a peaceful manner."

Moreover, the new Obama National Security Doctrine states, "Collective action is needed in terms of engagement with friends and allies. The US must also work to build deeper and more effective partnerships with other key centres of influence — including China, India and Russia, as well as increasingly influential nations such as Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia." It adds, "We value India's growing leadership on a wide array of global issues, through groups such as the G 20, and will seek to work with India to promote stability in South Asia and elsewhere in the world."

On July 1, the Pentagon's Under Secretary for Defence Policy (the counterpart of India's Defence Secretary), Ms Michele Flournoy, outlined the US approach in Asia. She asserted that it no longer makes sense to discuss the increasingly inter-connected Asian region in terms of 'East Asian' security or 'South Asian' security. She said, "It also means that the security of Asia's two dominant powers (India and China) can no longer be viewed as a zero sum game. A safer and more secure India that is close to the United States should not be seen as a threat and vice versa. Indeed all three countries play an important role in that region's stability." Ms Flournoy also remarked that the economies of both India and the US rely on effective maritime security to preserve free passage in the Indian Ocean and surrounding waterways.

India believes that its interests are not served when US-China relations are marked by collusion, as was apprehended in the first year of the Obama Administration, or by confrontation, which marked the early years of the Cold War. Moreover, emerging American policies appear to reject Chinese efforts to undermine India's 'Look East' policy. China views India's engagement with its Asia-Pacific neighbourhood with suspicion, asserting that India is merely a "South Asian power".

While Ms Flournoy indicated that the Obama Administration recognises that India has a "lot to offer" in space technology and that agreements are being finalised to permit "frontline American (defence) technologies to be shared" with us, substantial spadework remains to be done if the relationship is to grow significantly. American firms are still restricted in developing relations with the Indian Space Research Organisation and key defence industries.

Though India has already moved to acquire C 130 J transport aircraft and P 81 maritime reconnaissance aircraft and appears interested in meeting its shortages in field artillery by purchases from the US for its mountain divisions, future high value Indian defence acquisitions should have detailed provisions for technology transfer and imports from India by American suppliers — provisions which the American defence industry needs to get familiar with. 

The US is now realising that despite all its solicitude towards and assistance for Pakistan, Gen Kayani has no intention of ending support to Taliban groups like the Quetta Shura led by Mullah Omar and the Haqqani network based in North Waziristan which are inflicting heavy casualties on American forces in Afghanistan. Moreover, these groups are now being reinforced by the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba.

In these circumstances, there are now calls in the US, led by influential Congressmen and Gen David Petraeus, to declare the Haqqani network as a terrorist organisation. Thus, contrary to earlier perceptions, it now appears that while the US may nominally thin down its forces in Afghanistan and even move its forces out of southern Afghanistan, the Americans will not permit a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and will retain adequate air power and ground forces to inflict continuing damage on the Taliban and Al Qaeda bases on either side of the Durand Line.

Moreover, there are now indications that as the Pentagon readies for an extended stay in Afghanistan, an improved US-Russian relationship is leading to the US reducing its dependence on Pakistan for its fuel and logistical supplies which will now come increasingly through Russia and Central Asia in the coming years. 

Preparations now appear to have commenced for US President Barack Obama's visit to India this November. While the Obama Administration is now showing a better understanding of India's security concerns, New Delhi would be well-advised to prepare even now to utilise his visit for addressing other concerns also like the existing sanctions on Indian Defence Research and Space Organisation. A strategic partnership can have little meaning if such sanctions persist. Moreover, India needs to work with both the US and Russia in thwarting Gen Kayani's jihadiambitions of installing a Taliban-oriented regime in Kabul. India should ensure that Pakistan's men in khaki pay a heavy price for their jihadiambitions.







This refers to the article 'A dream gone horribly sour' by Shobori Ganguly (July 15). Our politicians are victims of overconfidence and fallacy. Like Canute, they assume that they can control the tide. They take up ambitious projects but do not ensure time-bound execution of work. Consequently, as the deadlines approach, they get butterflies in their stomach. Otherwise boastful of its paltry achievements, the Executive develops cold feet and resorts to passing the buck when it comes to delivering on its promises.

With less than three months to go for Commonwealth Games 2010, the complete infrastructure for it is still not in place. Multiplicity of authority, ego clashes between agencies and tardy land acquisition have led to belated clearance, award and commencement of projects, many of which will not meet their rescheduled deadlines. The problem is compounded by an equally complacent bureaucracy that has an unhealthy practice of scuppering efficiently-moving projects. Although Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit is moving heaven and earth to get the work finished on time, she cannot hide the palpable fear of the inevitable.

What defies all argument put forward by those in charge is Delhi Metro Railway Corporation's sterling performance. If E Sreedharan's firm can finish all routes of Metro phases II and III well before schedule, why do Delhi Public Works Department and Delhi Urban Art Commission lag behind? Should one attribute the delay to the politicans who are all fire and brimstone in the Assembly but make a habit of failure on the ground? Now that the country's credibility and prestige are at stake, they are busy scouting for palliatives and alibis to justify themselves. 

The ripple of concern coursing through political and bureaucratic circles regarding the Games is not without basis. Not only do the various agencies need to complete work but they also need to conduct dry runs which now seem unlikely owing to paucity of time. How else does the Government plan to showcase Delhi as a 'world class' city on a par with Beijing and Shanghai — as it has so grandly envisaged? Never mind that a single downpour converts the city's roads into rivers, bringing traffic to a halt and inviting youngsters for boating.







Stone-pelting at security forces is nothing new in the Kashmir Valley. In the past, the police, the CRPF and the Army would deal with street violence with greater tact. As would politicians. Sheikh Abdullah could calm a mob by just telling them why security forces are needed

Officers of the Jammu & Kashmir cadre, especially those who joined the cadre before the 1980s, would tell you that the most serious law and order problem in Srinagar was when unruly mobs would indulge in intense stone-pelting. If it were wintertime, an occasional fling of the 'kangri' (a small earthen pot containing burning charcoal) would add spice to the proceedings. The local executive police, aided by the Jammu & Kashmir Armed Police and the CRPF, would counter with lathicharge, and tear gas. Officers who manned the district police, and the district Special Branch and the CID Special Branch, were carefully chosen for their local knowledge, and would invariably give advance information about upcoming law and order problems. 

And what were the issues? They could be anything that pulled an emotional chord with the people. This writer remembers one such issue, with which neither the Union nor the State Government had anything to do. I was promoted to the rank of Superintendent of Police in March 1980, and was posted as Commandant of the 3rd Battalion of the JKAP. While most of this unit was in the winter capital, Jammu, its headquarters were in Srinagar. In the last week of March, I was asked to be in Srinagar along with my men to be in place to tackle the expected law and order issue on the first anniversary of the hanging of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan.


Neither the Government of India nor the State Government had any role in the hanging of Bhutto, but there we were, ready to face a situation in the city. The State had serious law and order problems immediately after Bhutto's hanging, with members of the Jamaat-e-Islami and their properties coming under heavy attacks in the Valley. That is how the Valley reacts. Invariably in all cases, everyone goes home in the evening, and peace reigns. On the occasion of the first anniversary of Bhutto's hanging, detailed deployments of the police, JKAP and the CRPF had been made. The Inspector- General, the legendary Peer Ghulam Hassan Shah, was himself present in the Control Room, monitoring the situation. District SP and Commandants of the JKAP and CRPF were available on the spot to direct and guide their men. 

As usual, the stone-pelting in Bohri Kadal and Maharaj Gunj areas was intense. We soon received information that the CRPF Commandant was seriously injured. He was brought to the Control Room and taken to the hospital for treatment. But there was no firing on the mob. By evening, the situation, as usual, was brought under control. The Commandant of the CRPF who was seriously injured was then on deputation with the CRPF and was commanding the 40 Battalion. He rose in time to become the DGP of the State. 

The force, whether it is the Jammu & Kashmir Police or the CRPF, has to be personally led by the officer cadre. In those days, SPs and Commandants would be present in the Control Room during briefings, and be with their men in the field when facing situations. The men follow their leaders. Only when there is failure of leadership do men go out of control. Political leaders constantly kept in touch with the people, even during serious law and order situations. 

In the last week of July 1980, there was a civilian-military clash, when some civilians allegedly roughed up some Armymen late in the evening, which was followed by retaliation by the Army unit. The SSP of Srinagar was also seriously injured in the attack. The whole of the following day there was curfew, and attacks on the police by stone pelting mobs. This writer was in charge of the police deployed in the city. 

Around 3.30 pm, when clashes were still going on, there was a message from the house of the Chief Minister, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. The message stated that the Chief Minister would like to visit Lal Chowk and address the people. This was a time when the battle between the stone-pelting mob and the police was still going on. When my view was sought, I said that the situation was not conducive for the Chief Minister to visit Lal Chowk, a typical police answer given the circumstances. But in the next half-an-hour, Sheikh sahib was on his way, and there was nothing that we could do except pray. 

The Chief Minister arrived at Lal Chowk and somehow got on top of a bus, and then he addressed the mob for about an hour. He explained the reason the Army was in Kashmir, said that it is going to remain there, and that the people should learn to live with the forces. He explained to the people the ground realities, and the role of various actors, including the State Government. The people then dispersed peacefully. 

That was the last time I saw a mass leader in communication with his people during a crisis. It may not be as easy to speak to people today, and may need much more security for a Chief Minister to go around. But the need for communication between the ruler and the ruled in a democracy cannot be overemphasised. 

The writer, a former Director-General of the NIA, is associated with Institue of Peace and Conflict Studies. 







There is something about the monsoon that stirs romance, heightens longing and makes the imagination soar. In Kalidasa's Meghadootamthe exiled Yaksha pines for his wife on the first day of Ashadh — the month when the rainy season traditionally begins in north India — when the sky is overcast with clouds. Rabindranath Tagore wrote in his famous poem 'Nirupama' (a woman without a metaphor), "O one without a metaphor, forgive my eye if it does something improper today" — a line which several contemporaries of this writer in Kolkata's Presidency College had recited to their girlfriends in India Coffee House across College Street or on the Baker Laboratory ground. They had also quoted Tagore's explanation for lapsing into impropriety: The first day of Ashadh had arrived and the forests were overwhelmed and wrought.

Tagore was fascinated by the monsoon, which he had seen unfurl, in imperial splendour and power, on the skies above the Padma river in Shilaidaha (now in Bangladesh) where he spent time on his houseboat. Several of his poems are about its grandeur, sights and sounds, and life-giving, life-renewing abundance. He found rains enchanting and wrote, "One can tell (propose to) her on such a day/ In such dense, and heavy downpour." Of course, many others have also been similarly captivated, though none has had the sensitivity, imagination and the command over language to translate their feelings into metaphors and verse that enthral and last. For many, less romantically-inclined and more engrossed in quotidian life, the monsoon comes as the provider of much-awaited relief from the parching heat of summer when the fishermen of the rivers Padma and Meghna pray to Allah for megh (cloud) and paani (water), leaves droop in weary thirst, and asphalt melts on the streets of sultry urban jungles of brick, cement, concrete and sheet glass.

For all, romantic or pragmatic or crass down-to-earth, monsoon comes as the provider of food. If memory serves, the Reserve Bank of India's Rural Credit Survey of 1954 described the Indian Budget as a gamble in the monsoon. This writer might have erred in recalling the exact words or the year, but it was the Rural Credit Survey and, what is important, it underlined the Indian Budget's and economy's critical dependence on the rainy season. It is certainly not as great now as in the 1950s but still is very considerable. The prices, which have been soaring relentlessly for months, will, sarkari economic pundits assure, begin coming down when the crop produced by monsoon's bounty begin arriving at the mandis. 

Of course, it may go the way of all official assurances regarding prices, which have been hopelessly belied. Practioners of the dismal science have not always proved sound soothsayers. But, close to 53 years after independence, the country should have devised some ways of keeping prices under control even in years of unkind monsoons and ensuring that the Green Revolution, which was justly hailed in the early-1960s as the great transformer, did not lose its momentum. Unfortunately not much is being done about the matter, suicides by farmers notwithstanding. Nor is much being done about terrible, grossly-overstretched and choking drainage systems in cities whose streets get flooded and traffic snarls to a crawl, come every heavy shower. And every time one hears, "Next year!"

Of course, next year, like tomorrow, never comes! And every year, the threshold of urban tolerance rises. People curse and bear. No wonder that those who can are fleeing to the hills in search of relief from the heat and mounting urban chaos, and for refuge in the magic that the monsoon weaves among the smoke-blue ranges and the sky above. One can spend hours watching the rain come over the valleys like a translucent curtain, the mist hide the hills and reveal them again, the hills suddenly bright with sunlight dappled with the shadows of passing clouds, and evening skies aflame with the crimson of the Sun setting behind the distant ranges. One hears with awe the primeval roar of the wind sweeping down hillsides and wakes up to the tattoo of raindrops striking roofs of corrugated sheeting. 

Of course, not everyone is sensitive to all this. Some of the plains sahibs and babalog come and play video games all day! Clearly, city-life does strange things to people. 








The Farnborough International Airshow, a seven-day international trade fair for the aerospace business held biennially in Hampshire, England, opened on Sunday. In all, 1,500 companies from 39 countries attended the 2008 show, while this year's involves 1,350 participants from 52 countries. In all, 59 Russian companies, including 27 defence industry contractors, are taking part in the event.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner, a long range, mid-sized, wide-body, twin-engine jet airliner, has made its first transatlantic flight and will be on display at the 47th Farnborough Airshow.

The B-787, which performed its maiden flight in December 2009, is called a revolutionary aircraft, and with good reason. The Dreamliner, which features more composite materials than any other large passenger aircraft to date, also consumes 20 per cent less fuel than other planes in its class. Consequently, Boeing has signed contracts for the delivery of more than 800 B-787s, and this is certainly not the limit.

The Dreamliner highlights one main trend in the development of civil aviation. State-of-the-art aircraft technology is primarily used to facilitate fuel efficiency, while the performance and specifications required were attained many years ago and are unlikely to change in the near future.

Oil was cheap in the late 20th century when many people predicted the onset of the supersonic transport era. However, these hopes were dashed by skyrocketing petroleum prices in the early 21st century. At the same time, civilian airliners need to go supersonic in order to attain entirely new specifications. Consequently, new supersonic transports are currently being designed. Engineers hope that it will be possible to develop a fuel-efficient passenger supersonic transport in the next 15-20 years.

Other new planes, including the Ukrainian-made Antonov An-158 regional twin-jet which first took off earlier this year is also displayed in Farnborough. The An-158 is, in fact, an elongated version of the An-148 regional airliner. The An-148/An-158 airliner family was developed under a Russian-Ukrainian cooperation project and offers tough competition to the Sukhoi Superjet-100 modern, fly-by-wire regional jet. The An-148 is already in service with various air carriers, while the SSJ-100's commercial operation is still being delayed. 

The SSJ-100 is also displayed at Farnborough, and a contract for the sale of 30 SSJ-100s to the Indonesian company Kartika Airlines has been signed.

The Russian aircraft industry, which has always prioritised warplane production, hopes that the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-35 Fulcrum-F and Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E fighters, basically modified versions of the MiG-29 Fulcrum and Su-27 Flanker aircraft, will also steal the show at Farnborough. Top Sukhoi Company managers pin high hopes on the advanced Su-35 featuring elements of a fifth-generation fighter.

Russian military aircraft will vie with their Western equivalents such as the Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle, the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, the Boeing F/A-18-E/F Super Hornet, the Dassault Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon and others featuring structural components from the 1970s. These planes were upgraded by installing new equipment and weapons systems.

Apart from traditional warplanes and helicopters, numerous unmanned aerial vehicles are displayed. Some will make their first ever flights in the history of the show.

The show's organisers say the companies involved insisted that UAVs take part in 30-minute demonstration flights in the run-up to the main flight programme. Subsequent UAV flights may last up to 60 minutes.

The UAV display and demonstration flights are expected to highlight their rapidly growing significance in the aviation world. For instance, it is hard to overestimate the role of unmanned combat air vehicles, or combat drones, which accomplish numerous and diverse objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The US, Israel and other countries are expected to unveil their UAVs at Farnborough.

The current airshow also highlights several military aviation trends, notably the modernisation of sturdy and dependable designs. Generation four-plus and four-plus-plus fighters, which are far cheaper than the exorbitant fifth-generation aircraft, can accomplish most objectives at a fraction of the cost.

The second trend implies the gradual introduction of multi-role UAVs now performing additional reconnaissance missions. 


The writer is a RIA Novosti military affairs commentator 







Some of the hundreds of Gaza factories idled by Israel's blockade are cranking up rusty machines to can tomatoes, mix concrete and press pills again now that Israel is allowing in raw materials for the first time in three years. But Israel's recent easing of the closure appears unlikely to get Gaza's battered economy back on its feet.

While Gaza's entrepreneurs can now import most consumer goods, they still can't export, cutting them off from traditional markets in Israel and the West Bank. Key raw materials, such as cement and steel, continue to be restricted. Imports are funneled through a single, congested crossing. And it remains unclear which spare parts and new machines will be allowed in, and how quickly. "The steps taken by Israel are a great development, but not enough," said Mr Amr Hamad of the Palestinian Federation of Industries, estimating that only a few hundred of Gaza's 3,900 factories and workshops will be able to start up again. Israel says allowing Gazans to export and travel still poses too much of a security risk. However, it is under growing pressure from the international community to throw open Gaza's gates to allow an economic recovery.

Israel, along with Egypt, sealed Gaza in June 2007, after the Islamic militant Hamas seized the territory by force. The blockade aimed to weaken Hamas and pressure the group to release an Israeli soldier, but seems to have failed on both counts. Hamas remains firmly in control and Sgt Gilad Schalit has entered his fifth year as a captive. 

Instead, Gaza's private sector was hit hard. More than 90 per cent of Gaza's factories closed and tens of thousands of workers lost their jobs. About one-third of the labour force are currently unemployed.Over time, a few hundred manufacturers resumed partial production, using raw materials smuggled through hundreds of tunnels dug under the border with Egypt. But tunnel shipments are often unpredictable, and the contraband often more expensive or of lesser quality than what used to come from Israel.

In recent weeks, some factories have been getting supplies from Israel again, with the initial cargo including timber, fabrics, thread, industrial quantities of cocoa, and packaging containers made of metal, plastic and glass. Mr Ayman Hamada's tomato paste cannery in the small Beit Hanoun industrial zone in northern Gaza was able to bring in 4,00,000 empty cans that are now stacked up to the roof in his warehouses. The cannery works eight hours a day, but Mr Hamada says he can't resume full production because the Gaza market is small and he can't export. Also, the closure easing came at the end of the tomato season, so he doesn't have enough produce for full production. During the full blockade, Mr Hamada's factory operated at just 20 per cent capacity, using smuggled cans, he said.

Mr Hamada says he urgently needs new equipment and spare parts for machines that have gone without maintenance for three years. Since many of these parts are made of steel still restricted under the new rules it's not clear if and when he can import them. He dreams of setting up new factories for juice and potato chips, but for now he says that's unthinkable. "If the Israelis let us bring in more machines and improve our work, we can expand," he said. "If they still make a siege, we cannot." His second business, importing halva and jams from Egypt and Turkey, has revived now that Israel lifted its ban on sweets. Under the old closure rules, only basic foods and medicines were allowed, as humanitarian goods.

One of his neighbours in the industrial zone is not benefiting from the changes. Mr Sami Abu Obeid, 37, makes cinder blocks and concrete, and the ingredients he needs are all blacklisted. Israel argues that construction materials, such as cement and steel, could be diverted by Hamas for military use, and only allows their import for internationally supervised aid projects.

Owner Mr Teissir Abu Eida showed EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton around his factory as she visited Gaza this week and he asked for international pressure on Israel to open more. While people understand Israel's security needs, Ms Ashton said, those concerns should not prevent "the free flow of goods into and out of Gaza in order that houses can be rebuilt, children can go to fully functioning schools and businesses can flourish." 

Israel has signaled it will respond more quickly to requests from Gaza.The current priority is to expand the cargo crossing, Kerem Shalom, from 180 to 250 trucks a day and move forward with 45 international aid projects, including the construction of schools, clinics and infrastructure, said Maj. Guy Inbar, a Defence Ministry official. Of those, 31 were approved by Israel after the easing of the closure, he said    








THE KILLING of Right to Information ( RTI) activist Amit Jethwa in Gujarat is a grim indicator of how the most revolutionary of peopleempowerment laws can be subverted by vested interests who have come under intense public scrutiny.


It also underscores the need for protecting such activists, especially when the information they seek has the potential to expose a deep nexus between lawmakers, law- enforcement officials and criminals, as has allegedly been the case in the Jethwa murder.


In April this year, an RTI activist who had exposed irregularities in a Maharashtra village school was killed, seemingly in a clash between two groups. Incidentally, one of the groups was led by the son of the head of an educational society, whose financial irregularities were exposed by RTI activist Vitthal Gite in Aurangabad district. The society is headed by a local politician.


In January this year, another Maharashtrabased RTI activist, Satish Shetty, was murdered near Pune for exposing land scams of the last 15 years. In June, Datta Patil was killed in Kolhapur district of Maharashtra. He was instrumental in exposing corruption involving local politicians and bureaucrats.


Sadly, Shetty had asked for police protection after he received several calls from unidentified persons threatening to kill him. The police were " processing" the request when he was shot dead.


The RTI Act is a landmark law as it has truly democratised information which, until a few years ago, was the domain of a select few.


It is this democratisation that needs to be strengthened by bringing RTI activists under the ambit of the Whistleblower Protection Bill scheduled to be introduced in Parliament soon. Whistleblowers and RTI activists are, in many ways, the new pillars of democracy whose basis is the belief that information is the currency of power in modern society.


Good sense as a scarcity


THE controversy arising from an elite Delhi school's decision to throw out a boy studying under the Economically Weaker Section ( EWS) Scheme because his father's income had crossed the income ceiling shows how bureaucratic rules trump common sense.


There is nothing wrong with the Delhi government's stipulation that only children whose parents earn less than Rs 1 lakh per year are eligible under the EWS scheme.


What is anomalous is that the rules don't envisage the possibility of such income going up during the course of a child's study — which can often stretch beyond ten years.


The result is the unseemly scenario we have before us. Where is a parent supposed to admit his ward in the middle of an academic session? Consider also the psychological impact on a child being abruptly asked to leave a good school because his father's income has crossed an arbitrary marker.


The Delhi government must amend its rules so that only the income of parents at the time of a child's entry into school is taken into account for the purposes of the EWS scheme.


As for the G D Goenka Public School, the manner in which it threw the boy out indicates that the spirit of the EWS scheme has been entirely lost on its management.


Rain shames Delhi again


CLOGGED drains causing waterlogging on the roads, traffic moving at a snail's pace and most areas covered with slush, the rains seem to have brought Delhi and its residents to their knees. The rain, which was supposed to bring relief from the sweltering heat, has only added to the city's woes, mainly due to the shoddy governance of the city.


Almost everything that goes wrong in Delhi these days can be traced to the Commonwealth Games and the waterlogging is no exception. Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has stated that the debris created by construction work for the Games is responsible for much of the waterlogging in the city.


This is questionable considering that in several cases flooding seems to have taken place due to poor design and construction.


The moot issue here is that after spending upwards of Rs 10,000 crore of taxpayers' money on the Commonwealth Games, is this the product we get: a city that is brought to a standstill after a few showers?









FIFTEEN years separate the bomb blasts that shook Mumbai in March 1993 and took more than 250 lives, and the jihadi commando assault of November 2008 where 157 people were gunned down. A lot changed in that period apparently except one thing— the unrelenting hostility of the Pakistani establishment towards India. This has been brought home to us from the remarks on Tuesday of the National Security Advisor, Shivshankar Menon who confirmed what Home Secretary G. K. Pillai had said earlier: That the Headley interrogation had revealed that there are clear links between the terrorists, official establishments and intelligence agencies in Pakistan.


And, in Menon's bleak words, " the link was getting stronger". The NSA's remarks came a day after Pakistan signed a trade and transit deal with Afghanistan, one that barred India from transit trade with Kabul. The triumphal manner in which this was reported in the Pakistani media suggests just how far we are from the prospect of friendly relations with Islamabad. But the big question that Menon's remarks raise is: Is there any use at all in trying to befriend Pakistan? Should we not shift our perspective a bit and begin viewing Pakistan as an adversary which needs to be contained, rather than a country waiting to be befriended?




What the Headley revelations do is to raise questions about the very premises of this government's Pakistan policy.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's belief that there can be normality in the near term is pious sentimentalism. India, despite its size and good wishes cannot transform Pakistan; all it can do— and aim to do— is to manage its relations with its important neighbour.


In the 15 years between the two set of atrocities in Mumbai, India made a major effort to befriend Pakistan by seeking to resolve the disputes between the two sides and putting in place a trade and visa regime that would promote people- to- people ties. The engagement was sustained even as Pakistani terror offensive against India intensified in the late 1990s. It did achieve some success, but if you do the sums you will find that we have failed to make any dent in the basically hostile strategic outlook of Pakistan towards India.


Pakistan has been much more focused.


It has obtained a water sharing deal from India and now seeks an Indian withdrawal from Siachen and Sir Creek, and a resolution of the Kashmir issue favouring its position. All of these require Indian concessions.


It has steadfastly refused to provide anything in exchange— MFN status for India, transit rights for Afghanistan and Central Asia, leave alone the cessation of terrorism. After all, India is an adversary nation.


The main details of the Pakistani complicity in the 1993 blasts came through Yakub Memon who surrendered in 1994.


He revealed that the ISI took people from the Mumbai underworld, trained them in the use of weapons and explosives and sent them back to wreak havoc in the city.


In 2008, the principal evidence of Pakistani official involvement has come through the agency of David Coleman Headley. The US is silent as are our Indian investigators who actually interrogated him. But statements of Pillai, and now Menon, confirm the worst.


The failure of the recent talks between the External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi has been attributed in part to GK Pillai's statement that the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate was involved in the 2008 Mumbai operation from the beginning to the end.


Mr Pillai does tend to misspeak, and you can question the timing of his statement.


But surely there is something bizarre about taking umbrage to his timing but not what he said. And what he said is indeed sensational. If an agency of the Pakistan government was involved in the Mumbai attack, why is India bothering to talk peace with that government? The Indian government's policy works on the belief that there is a tussle between the civilian and military wings of the Pakistan establishment, and that it is in India's strategic interest to back the civilians so as to forever marginalise the selfappointed guardians of the Islamic Republic— the Pakistan Army.


All this is possibly true, but not on a practical timeline. Policy is usually made for a two to five year time horizon, with a perspective of, say, ten years. The civilians may triumph in Pakistan, but given present trends, they will do so at an indeterminate time in the future which has no practical benefit for India.




The policy would make sense if there was an actual struggle. The person who had the political clout to challenge the Army— Benazir Bhutto is dead, assassinated, many say, by the instrumentality of the Pakistan Army itself. Asif Ali Zardari lacks the political authority or credibility to pose even a mild challenge to the military establishment. As for Nawaz Sharif, he, too, has taken on the Army, but was bested. He was a creation of the military establishment to start with and his quarrel was with Pervez Musharraf and there is nothing to show that he is keen to take on the military again.


At this juncture, the military controls what it wants to in Pakistan. What it doesn't is not significant from the politico- military point of view, and so has been left for Zardari, Gilani and Co to look after. The dismal conclusion from this is that India's efforts to " befriend" Pakistan are misguided and futile. This is not to say India and Pakistan cannot ever be friends, but that in the near term— for which policy is usually made— they are unlikely to be so.


There was a time, till just a year or so ago, when many in the Indian system thought that " flexible engagement" could be a viable option— engage Pakistan where possible and contain it when necessary. But Menon's Tuesday speech seems to suggest that this is not working and, in fact, things are getting more difficult. In these circumstances, the only option open to India is to resort to a policy of containment.




This means emphasising that it is not friendship that we seek with Pakistan, but the ability to manage a difficult situation in a difficult region, with a nuclear- armed adversary. Instead of seeing the relations in a framework of give and take, we need to underscore that our ties will be based on reciprocity. In other words, treat Pakistan as an equal, notwithstanding the actual asymmetry of the size and economies of the two countries.


This is the kind of mental shift that the United States made with the erstwhile Soviet Union in the 1970s. One of the more urgent requirements of this should be the effort to try and freeze the nuclear arsenals to lock the nuclear relationship with Pakistan on the basis of parity. This undergirded the Lahore agreement of 1999 and its logic has become more manifest in the years since.


Containment is not a military doctrine, but a politico- military one. Even while focusing on structures to keep peace with our neighbour, we must enhance our own deterrence capabilities and at the same time aggressively combat the ideology of Islamic fundamentalism, jihadism and militarism across the wider region.


Mao Zedong once said that one must despise one's enemies strategically, but respect them tactically. The Indian tendency has been to do the opposite. We have tended to elevate in our minds the ideological mishmash that passes off as Pakistan's raison d'être , but only fitfully dealt with Islamabad's effective covert operations and diplomacy across the region, if not the world.








BELIEVE it or not, the Chief Executive Officer of one of world's biggest food companies notorious for marketing its carbonated sugary drinks to children ( thus contributing to the obesity epidemic) has been described as a leading obesity ' expert and policy maker' by a top American public health outfit in its annual obesity report card.


Yes, Indra Nooyi — the bubbly CEO of PepsiCo — has earned this title in the report ' F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future' released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Her two- page ' perspective' on obesity in a major public health document is nothing short of a coup for food giants whose products are being blamed for the tsunami of lifestyle diseases all over. The ' perspective' is motivated to water down the debate on obesity and the demands for imposing ' soda taxes' to reduce consumption of fatty and sugary junk food — discussed in the very same report. This is not an isolated episode but part of a well crafted strategy by Big Food to masquerade as ' champion of nutrition and health', basically to stall any regulation on junk food.


NOOYI cleverly hired some of the most ' credible' names in public health from the Center for Disease Control, Yale University, Mayo Clinic and the WHO, and gave them fancy titles like ' Head, Global Health Policy', ' Vice- President, Global Nutrition' etc. Her plan is to subvert scientific debate on obesity and lifestyle diseases and confuse consumers — what tobacco and alcohol industries have been doing for decades. PepsiCo's health experts have begun infiltrating scientific journals.


PepsiCo's Derek Yach — who formerly worked for WHO — recently wrote a ' research paper' in the journal Globalisation and Health , brazenly pushing Pepsi's PR stuff on nutrition. He says ' scientists and policymakers have yet to find large- scale examples of what works well to reduce obesity at the population level and most clinical studies demonstrate that early weight changes are not sustained beyond a year.' Yach has also written an invited editorial in another journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases . It is shocking how scientific journals are accepting unadulterated commercial propaganda as scientific research and becoming willing partners of Big Food? To say the least, Nooyi's health agenda — blindly lapped up by many in the Indian business press — is as fizzy as the sugary water her company sells. Just look at one of PepsiCo's ' nutrition' goals: ' Reduce the average amount of added sugar per serving in key global beverage brands by 25 percent by 2020'. Every word has been selected in such a way that nothing will change in the cola for next several decades. The plan is so longterm that by then a whole generation of children would have got addicted and become obese. If this propaganda goes unchallenged, don't be surprised if Nooyi is appointed honorary nutrition ambassador of WHO or heath advisor at FAO.



IT SEEMS transparency and Medical Council of India ( MCI) don't go handin- hand, no matter who is at the helm. The six- member Board of Governors — appointed by the government to replace disgraced president Ketan Desai and his henchmen — has not made any difference to the MCI as far as the issue of transparency is concerned.

Dr Shiv K Sarin, chairman of the Board, had proudly announced in his first press conference that the council would work in an open manner and everything — including inspection reports of medical colleges — would be made available online. Nothing of this sort has happened. Just the names of colleges approved and rejected have been posted on the council's website.

Forget inspection reports, no reasons have been given for rejection or for approval of previously rejected colleges.

MCI under Desai was at least posting on its website the minutes of the Executive Committee meetings. The Board under Dr Sarin is not doing even this.

Ganga all but ' dam'ned

THE ISSUE of the Loharinag- Pala power project is on the boil with the Group of Ministers ( GoM) appointed by the Prime Minister giving the goahead for resumption of work, despite protests from various groups. This is surprising because the matter was under consideration of the National Ganga River Basin Authority ( NGRBA).

A team of three experts of the NGRBA, had recommended in March 2010 that it should be decommissioned.

The GoM has ignored this, saying that already Rs 600 crore has been spent on the project.


This decision undermines the environment ministry's stand and the NGRBA itself. Ravi Chopra, an independent member of the NGRBA, feels that independent members are being ' used by the government'. He says " they call us for meetings only when they need our support. But when we want to discuss something urgent, we get no response. This manner in which this decision has been arrived at and communicated makes a mockery of the NGRBA".


Viagra cures hypertension in this list

THE HEART Care Foundation of India ( HCFI), headed by cardiologist Dr KK Aggarwal, this week released a list of ' common drugs used unconventionally for conditions other than those approved by the FDA'. The name given to such drugs is off- label drugs.


The list includes Viagra, which Dr Aggarwal says, has now been used in the treatment of pulmonary hypertension in patients with Chronic obstructive pulmonary Disease ( COPD). An epilepsy drug, phenytoin, is used to heal wounds. Another drug mentioned in the list is a cancer drug which is useful in inducing ovulation among women. Nifedipine, a common drug used to treat blood pressure, can be used for clearing small kidney stones.


Dr Aggarwal says " off- label use of drugs is a common practice all over the world". But he has forgotten to mention that there is no provision of " off- label" drugs in Indian drug laws.

A drug — even if old— is classified as a " New Drug" and is required to go through clinical trials if it is to be used for a new disease condition.


So, it is unethical and illegal to promote the use of off- label use of drugs in India as the HCFI is doing.


Sun Pharma was warned by the drug controller for promoting letrozole — a cancer drug — for infertility and ordered to destroy all promotional literature.


When I asked Dr Chandra M. Gulhati, Editor of Monthly Index of Medical Specialities, ( MIMS) for his comments, he told me: " for purely commercial reasons, drug manufacturers and their incentivised professional sympathisers cite laws of other countries to justify similar practices in India ignoring laws of the land. These are deplorable acts." Will HCFI withdraw its list of off- label drugs?








What was and wasn't said at the just-concluded Kabul meet provides an interesting indication of the broad policy contours that are likely to dominate in Afghanistan, until the reassessment of US troop levels there in July 2011. Given what has come out of the meet, there is reason to be optimistic, at least as far as policy and commitment are concerned. Operational issues on the ground are another matter. 

The most important issue in this context one that Afghan President Hamid Karzai brought up in his opening remarks was the removal of foreign troop presence, setting his administration's deadline as 2014. It is an ambitious goal, dependent on adequate troop levels in the Afghan military and police, by no means a certainty. Nevertheless the handover cannot be put off indefinitely, and nor should it. Apart from breeding local resentment, as long as NATO remains the guarantor of Kabul's security, there is insufficient incentive for the administration to take responsibility for it. The US response has been nuanced, focusing on an accelerated handover after July 2011 but refraining from setting a concrete date for complete withdrawal, focusing on goals and conditions rather than preset timelines. 

Under the circumstances, that is the only viable line to take. Equally interesting is the distinction between Kabul's and Washington's stances on dealing with the Taliban. While Karzai has seemed increasingly keen on cutting a deal with the Taliban, Washington has been careful to rule out dealing with hardline elements within the Taliban, as US secretary of state Hillary Clinton again made clear here. On this, to judge by external affairs minister S M Krishna's statements, New Delhi has taken the sensible stand of dropping its strict 'no differentiating between good and bad Taliban' line but maintaining that hardline elements are not welcome at the table. 

Another point that Krishna brought up regional cooperation to enable Afghanistan's economic growth is worth noting. The former's mineral wealth estimated at $1 trillion is not a quick-fix solution. There are numerous examples of natural resources dooming African nations to civil conflict rather than saving them. If the people of Afghanistan and those investing in them are to profit from these resources, cooperation that facilitates investment flows is a must. Given that direct efforts to lower the temperature between Islamabad and New Delhi have been a bust of late, perhaps cooperating in Kabul could get the peace process moving once again. But that would require Islamabad to readjust its current triumphalist belief, that it holds all the keys to Kabul.







The government recently issued an ordinance allowing the finance minister to play referee in turf wars between financial regulators over hybrid products. It's now slated to move a Bill aimed at formally tasking a joint committee with dispute resolution. This raises doubts about regulators' autonomy. The government has assured that it will act as a last resort arbiter. Reportedly, in case of a spat, the parties concerned will have the first chance to settle matters. If this doesn't work, the high-level coordination committee on financial markets (HLCC) would step in. Only when all else fails would the FM-led panel move in, that too upon a regulator's invite. On paper, the plan seems well-intentioned and forward-looking, seeking as it does to tackle the knotty issue of regulatory overlap. The expectation is that quarrels will erupt more often as innovation in the making of financial instruments grows. 

In practice, the government's apparent bid to assume a super-regulator's role isn't healthy. Not merely because doing so via an ordinance representing rule by fiat is bad form. What's the guarantee that partisan politics will not in future dilute the promised safeguards against undue meddling? More, financial regulation requires expertise and professionalism that government representatives as deciding authorities may not always be willing or able to provide. Certain binding decisions could negatively impact the financial edifice as a whole. Besides, rifts are exceptions, not the rule. Altering an existing mechanism that's worked so far is hardly urgent. More so, when the RBI governor-headed HLCC exists, and is better placed to deal with friction if and when it arises. Cooperation among regulators in overseeing hybrid products is also possible. Regulators need jurisdictional freedom to function without pressure from politicians or powerful institutions under regulatory purview. The government should strengthen, rather than appear to weaken, their hand.








When India and Pakistan went overtly nuclear, neither country had any idea where their arsenals would end up. There was no strategy for closure in either capital, which politicians and scientists averred would come from 'Asian wisdom'. But sceptics in both countries had warned that nuclear arsenals had a life of their own, that the technology trajectory brooked no boundaries and that, without sustained and serious talks, an arms race would inevitably follow. That is precisely what has happened. 

Not that there were no attempts to reduce nuclear dangers. Barely seven months after the tests, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then prime minister, went to Lahore to sign the historic Lahore Agreement, and negotiated eight nuclear CBMs similar to the early US-Soviet agreements. Unfortunately, Pervez Musharraf's Kargil misadventure put paid to the Lahore Agreement within three months. 

Inspired by what had been done at Lahore, retired military chiefs, diplomats and academics from India and Pakistan broke new ground in a series of Track-II talks. There were some successes such as paving the way for the Missile Firing Warning Agreement. While this agreement did reach fruition, moving subjects from Track-II to Track-I was, discouragingly, near impossible. 


Officials on both sides treated disarmament as a passing fancy, and were content with brief meetings over weekends, unmindful of the fact that the shortest US-USSR arms control agreement had taken four years of continuous negotiations. As a result they could discuss only minor topics, leaving the larger problem of preventing an arms race untouched. By 2004, discouraged by the lack of further progress on Track-I, most funding agencies and influential Track-II experts had given up trying to stop the arms race and attempts to prevent nuclear misperceptions. 

Meanwhile, there has been a steady growth of missiles and warheads in both India and Pakistan. India has developed several missiles from the 300-km Brahmos to the longer range Agni series. Pakistan has developed a parallel series of nuclear capable missiles, including the Shaheen 1 and 2 and the Babur long-range cruise missile. Both countries have mastered warhead-making technologies. Warheads are limited only by the availability of fissile material, but stocks can be relatively more reliably estimated. 

According to the latest report of the International Panel on Fissile Materials, India has a stock of about 560 kg of weapon-grade plutonium generated in the spent fuel of its CIRUS and Dhruva reactors. This is good for about 110 fission warheads. India is also enriching some uranium, but it is generally agreed that this is meant for submarine fuel. Pakistan has generated about 115 kg of weapon-grade plutonium in the spent fuel of its first Khushab reactor, and is building two more plutonium-producing reactors also at Khushab. But Pakistan's mainstay for weapons has been highly enriched uranium (HEU) produced in the centrifuges set up by A Q Khan at Kahuta. The capacity of the Kahuta plant remains disputed in the public realm, but it could have produced between 1,600 and 2,600 tonnes of HEU by now, worth 64 and 104 warheads. 

Both countries are vigorously continuing to produce more fissile material and presumably weaponising as quickly as possible. India's fast breeder at Kalpakkam, outside International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, as per the Indo-US deal, is a source of concern to Pakistan. South Asian arsenals are now open-ended. The introduction of cruise missiles and anti-ballistic defence systems acerbates the situation further. 

Nuclear-armed neighbours must talk to each other continuously, irrespective of the political climate. The US-Soviet CBMs and arms control talks were conducted at the height of their hostility. In the subcontinent, mutual accusations have been made of nuclear weapon-readying activities during the Kargil crisis and during Operation Parakram. 

The recent talks between the foreign secretaries and foreign ministers of India and Pakistan could have done with a carefully planned agenda that had nuclear CBMs as one win-win item on it. In a significant new Track-II initiative, sponsored by the University of Ottawa, a series of discussions have been going on between academics, senior retired diplomats and military officers from both India and Pakistan, along with their Canadian hosts. The latest such meeting at Copenhagen last month was characterised by very frank and fruitful exchanges. Among the conclusions was a united appeal worded as "a necessity for talks between India and Pakistan, insulated from the political climate, to reduce the danger of growing nuclear arsenals and to introduce transparency to prevent an arms race". 

The India-Pakistan group also made five specific recommendations, which could conveniently form the agenda for nuclear CBM talks by experts. The recommendations include a joint acceptable lexicon of 'nuclear terms', a common understanding of the respective nuclear alert statuses and the inclusion of cruise missiles in the existing pre-notification agreement on missiles. The group also recommended the setting up of nuclear risk reduction centres in each country and the beginning of nuclear talks addressing expanding arsenals. India as the larger country with more institutions must give the lead. 

Menon is a writer on nuclear strategy and Rajaraman is emeritus professor of physics at JNU, New Delhi.







The recent report that a limited edition of cricket maestro Sachin Tendulkar's soon-to-be-published autobiography Tendulkar Opus will feature a signature page infused with his own blood has led to criticism from some quarters that the move is a deplorable publicity stunt. However, in a country where celebrities are regularly deified and movie stars have their own temples, the autobiography is simply going to be a part of the legend of Tendulkar. For, here is a man who is arguably the best cricketer of all times and one of the most loved sons of India. Even in a diverse society like ours, his appeal transcends all opinions and differences. Whenever he walks out to the middle of the cricket field, a billion people collectively pray for his success. If cricket is a South Asian religion, Tendulkar is definitely one of its deities. Such is the adulation that this man inspires. 

In this background, Tendulkar's autobiography with traces of his own blood will be of immeasurable value to his fans. We must remember that this is no ordinary book but an opus. The only other individual sportsman who has been the subject of an opus is Argentine football great Diego Maradona. In that sense, Tendulkar Opus which will also feature a DNA profile of the master batsman will be a rare collectors' item that will seek to encapsulate the greatness of this cricketing genius. 

Also, only 10 copies of the 'blood edition' will be produced, the proceeds from which will go towards Tendulkar's charitable endeavours there are reports that he is planning to start a school with the money. This completely shatters the publicity argument. Critics should know that Tendulkar doesn't need to resort to publicity gimmicks. His contributions to cricket speak for themselves. The book is just a romantic manifestation of the fantastic role model he has been over the last two decades. 








Sachin Tendulkar commands a special place in cricket's history. It's understandable that people should revere him in India. But there's still a distinction between being revered and being superhuman, and we had expected Sachin to respect that distinction. Along with the statistical feats that the maestro has achieved, his humble and unassuming nature all through his career has contributed greatly to his legendary status. Therefore, it is surprising to see the great maestro giving his blood for Tendulkar Opus, by the London-based luxury publishers at a live press conference. 

Nothing captured the sense of how bizarre this is more than what his childhood friend Vinod Kambli had to say, "This is something you could have expected from a Vinod Kambli and not Sachin Tendulkar." It is baffling that a sportsperson of his stature has fallen for a publishing gimmick of this kind. Even the charitable cause the proceeds of the book will reportedly go to Tendulkar's charitable foundation to construct a school in Mumbai cannot justify the implicit act of deification involved. Sachin could easily have raised money for charity through other means, had he wanted to. Relic worship is something that one associates with religious saints and prophets, not sports heroes. 

There's too much deification of people in the subcontinent, whether they be politicians or sports heroes. Raising mere mortals to divine status is a manifestation of an unequal society where people ascribe insufficient value to their own lives. Sachin has sullied his otherwise impeccable middle-class image by participating in gimmicks like this. Remember, worship of sports heroes can often boomerang on them if they happen to lose matches. It's unlikely that the crowds will turn on Sachin now, but he ought to have set a better example. 








It's Shining India again. Uday Kumar's cool and clever Rupee symbol elevated our once-lowly rupee into the league of swaggering currencies. Two days later came the news that a TERI scientist could well end the eco crisis which has defied the world's brightest and best ever since BP's Deepwater Horizon exploded last April.


It is claimed that Banwari Lal's 'four-strain bacterial consortium' could make a meal of the estimated 184 million gallons of crude which have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico 'Look Oba-ma, no leftovers!' Big deal. We'll be truly impressed only if this fabled creation can clean up the cruder politicos who pollute our shores, the sophisticated slick chicks who litter Page 3 with their tar balls, and/or the slime who go by the name of urban developers.


Do i sound churlish? I don't mean to undermine Banwari-ji's microbial miracle. His Oilzapper fully deserves its formidable reputation, its hordes of awards and heaps of patent fees. 'Bioremediation' techniques are a slime a dozen. But this one is the most undeterred of bio-detergents, a purposeful all-purpose cleaner. It can chomp through all four layers of crude the waxy element of saturated hydrocarbons, the aromatic component of benzene compounds, the nitrogen and sulphur compounds plus the asphaltene or tar. Inside sources have told us with obvious heartburn that this combo can binge on such a rich, oily diet without so much as a bilious belch.


So, Dr Lal may become the saviour of BP, the US president, and the literally tar-feathered pelicans mired in the Gulf of Mexico. But, i'll genuflect only if his allegedly omnipotent Oilzapper can also take on species far hardier than some sludgy oil spill.


Politicians, for starters. They produce more gas than the Ambanis can ever squabble over; the sons of the soil are more compromised than a field crisscrossed by faulty oil pipes; they are hazardous, whether they seep into land deals, water wars or underground mines. The potentially fatal 'leaks' in their domain may be capped more easily, but this doesn't mean that the exposed parties can be cleaned up in toto, or in a hurry. Confronted by them, it's the Oilzapper which will get degraded.


It's the same with party animals of a different stripe, or faux fur. These slicks gush like a blown-out oil well; they sashay around in a cloud of aromatic compounds; they too have waxy elements; and they can tar a restobarful of reputations with nothing more ostensibly lethal than a lip brush. True, they are no strangers to a detoxification similar to the benefits of bioremediation, but believe me, it would take far more than a bacterial martini to shake them off completely, or even stir them from their self-absorption.


And, finally, can the much-touted Oilzapper bulldoze its way through the civic blighters who spread like slums, and rise up like tower blocks? These entities have proved that they can equally withstand sophisticated technology and the crudest methods to check their slimy, unstoppable march. Banwari's baby will be eaten alive by corporators, slumlords, builders and assorted criminals before it even starts teething.


Yes, you can bet your last vote/stiletto/encroachment that the Oilzapper will be outzapped when confronted by the political, social or urban versions of BP's killer oil slick. But, wait, the four horsemen of the Spillocalypse could yet triumph. They have a two-pronged higher weapon. Unlike their human adversaries, Banwari's bacteria do not fight among themselves, and each feeds only on its own designated layer. May the least scum win.








Given that the 60-odd countries who attended the international conference in Afghanistan were seeking to endorse a compact between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his own people, it was appropriate that the meet was for the first time held in Kabul. The compact, largely drafted by the Karzai regime, is a wonderful document. It lays out roadmaps by which Kabul would enforce rights for women, ensure domestic law and order, seek to curb corruption and improve governance. In return, the international community pledged to not only provide aid but to see that more of it went directly to the Afghan government.


Unfortunately, the conference was little more than smoke and mirrors. Behind the diplomatic niceties seen in Kabul is an intractable conflict whose main protagonists are interested in pushing their interests at all costs. At the top of this list is Pakistan and its proxies among the Afghan Taliban. Islamabad is obsessed with the idea that Afghanistan is another theatre for its rivalry with New Delhi. Even an independent Afghan government is seen as unacceptable. Pakistan believes it can only be secure if its Taliban allies are present in Kabul. Today, Islamabad smells victory. The US, whose military presence is the primary bulwark against the Taliban, seems uncertain about its commitment to the war. One fallout: Karzai has begun to seek a compromise solution with Islamabad. This, in effect, would mean the Taliban coming to power in some form or another.


Such a development would be disastrous for the people of Afghanistan and for the security interests of India. Pakistan's talk of being caught between an Afghan-Indian nutcracker is an armchair fantasy. But New Delhi's concerns that a Taliban regime will provide a haven for militants who will target India is based on the experiences of the 1990s. Afghanistan is at a fork in a road. Which path Kabul takes will not be decided by aid projects or international conferences. It will be decided by the decision that Washington makes about its Afghan strategy. India, which has more at stake in this decision than most, should also be clear what this means: that its own Afghan strategy is best advanced in trying to help the sole superpower clarify in its mind what the stakes in the New Great Game are and what policy alternatives it should be considering.




                                                                                                                                                          THE PUNDIT



It could be a question on Amitabh Bachchan's megahit TV quiz show Kaun Banega Crorepati. Would you rather be a galactic superstar whose very presence at any place translates into sums that could run a small country or a humble farmer in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh? (a) a superstar (b) a farmer (c) neither of the two. The answer is (b), silly before you rack your brains and come up with something as improbable as (a). We have seen Baritone B's empathy with the farmers in Agneepath. His ability to relate to the underdog in Sholay sowed the seeds of fame and fortune. So now he wants to go back to his roots and reap the fruits of his success from the land of his birth.


In case you are wondering whether he will have to plough a lonely furrow given his former sympathies to his former friend Amar Singh's former boss Mulayam Singh, you have not understood what a savvy cultivator old Amitabh is. He has been irrigating several channels which explains why Singh's arch rival Mayawati has agreed to water his ambitions to become a gentleman farmer. Now the possibilities are endless. We suggest the Bachchan brand be introduced to promote his harvests. Be honest, would you not rather buy B's broccoli than some common and garden variety grown by some organic-espousing shyster? He could even nourish prospects of turning UP into a land of milk and honey by


setting up Amit's apiary and the Don's diary. Before you know it, franchises could mushroom across the state. In fact, there could be a collaboration between behenji and Bachchan, or B&B for short.


So, does this mean that the actor formerly known as Big B may turn in his make-up kit. Not so soon. You never know when he'll have the ground cut out from beneath his feat and realises that his role as a son of the soil was all maya.







Nearly three years ago, I was bemused by a sight that confronted me in a Mumbai classroom: eight Muslim school teachers in black, full-body niqabs sat in a semi-circle around me, with only their eyes showing from the slits.


My approach to the veil — Muslim or Hindu — is the same: I think it's regressive, but to each her own belief and practice. I grew up accepting every religion and faith. My father taught me the language of the Hindu scriptures, Sanskrit, but questioned the existence of God. My mother did her daily puja, read me the classics in Marathi but grew angry at the venom of those who claimed to represent her, the Shiv Sena.


So, why was I ill at ease? It's just that I never had a meaningful conversation with a veiled woman before. If I now found the prospect of talking to eight women whose reactions I could not judge, I think I could be allowed my unease.


Once we got talking, I found all the veiled teachers of the Al-Mumin School were articulate young women. Twenty-one-year-old Suraiya Khan told me how she came to teach junior kindergarten in a classroom that sat atop a bar (which shut its doors when class was in progress).


"My father was illiterate, and came to Mumbai from a conservative UP town, knowing nothing more than to deal in scrap," said Khan in fluent English. "We found it hard to speak even Hindi when we came. We speak (a UP dialect) Bhojpuri, at home…but five of us sisters, my father put us all through convent school."


Her students, all boys — most from poor Muslim families, about half their parents illiterate — reminded Khan of her own family's struggle to reconcile tradition with opportunity.


It seems obvious the world has taken a hard turn to the right and towards religiosity since the turn of the century. Whether a temple in Mumbai, a mosque in Istanbul or an evangelical church in South Carolina, most religious congregations report increasing attendance and a search for identity in a globalising world where change is the only constant.


For many Muslim women in India, as across the world, the veil has become equally an affirmation of faith as a declaration of identity. A good example is a school principal I know. Shahnaz Shaikh, like her mother, never wore a veil of any kind while attending the best convent schools, becoming a medical doctor and manager for a French pharma company, roaming the world, and living in the best hotels. As the 21st century rolled in, Shaikh 'rediscovered' her faith — and the hijab, which covered her head but left her face open. Nine years ago, she started the English-medium Al-Muminah school in a Mumbai Muslim ghetto.


In the West, wracked by self-doubt, slowing economies and fear of the other, the veil has become the most visible — and contentious — symbol of Islam as country after country has succumbed to a strange, sweeping paranoia.


France, with no more than 2,000 Muslim women who cover their faces, is close to proscribing the veil. Spain is close to political consensus on a ban. Seven other countries (Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Canada, Britain, the Netherlands and Italy) have either introduced legislation against the veil or debated a ban. The British government says it will not follow suit, but 67 per cent of Britons favour a ban.


The only western country where public and government sentiment appears to be holding out against the ban is the US, where 65 per cent of those polled in a recent survey said they would oppose it.


Personal liberty is — I'm guessing — a stronger concept in the US than Europe. But in many parts of the land of free and home of the brave, they are still not free or brave enough to accept leaders who are non-Christian.


Why else would Nikki Randhawa Haley avoid all reference to her Sikh upbringing (she is now an evangelical Christian) as she tries to become the first Republican female governor of South Carolina? Why else would Bobby Jindal (a Hindu convert to Catholicism), the Republican governor of Louisiana abstain when the US Congress in 2007 overwhelmingly passed a resolution recognising Diwali as an American festival? For the conservative right in the US, Christianity is closely equated with patriotism. Hence the unceasing whispers, psst, that President Barack Obama is Muslim.


India has its anti-minority paranoia. Try getting a house when Muslim in middle-class Delhi or Mumbai, or try taking on the right-wing army that patrols the Net, spewing venom at anyone suspected of being against Hindu interests. Hindu terrorists are now blamed for at least five bombings, previously attributed to Islamic terrorists.


But the paranoia has stayed on the fringes. Private prejudices don't usually become public policy or gain wide support (Gujarat, religious profiling and the crackdown in Kashmir are grim exceptions). Nearly 18 years after the destruction of the Babri Masjid sparked Hindu revivalism, Hindu parties haven't fired popular imagination or paranoia. Electoral battlegrounds are increasingly driven by aspiration, not religion.


No political party would question the right to office of an elected representative or public official on religious grounds. Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis and Jews have at various times led India, its states, its defence and police forces.


Despite its spread, the veil in India will never be an issue for government legislation. If we can understand the revival of religion but keep its poison out of our body politic, there is much we can, still, teach the world.








After two Law Commission reports and several Supreme Court verdicts in favour of making 'irretrievable breakdown of marriage' a ground for divorce, the Centre is ready with a Bill to amend the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA), 1955, and the Special Marriage Act (SMA), 1954. But contrary to popular perception, the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010, does not add it as an independent ground for divorce in the two laws. 'Irretrievable breakdown of marriage' is a situation where a marriage is damaged to such an extent that it cannot be salvaged.


The proposed amendment, which is likely to be introduced in Parliament in the monsoon session, is limited in its scope. It intends to save from harassment only those individuals who first file divorce petitions by mutual consent but later one of the two parties backs out of the court proceedings.


Traditionally, divorce was alien to Hindu marriage and it was recognised under the Hindu law for the first time in 1955 when the HMA was enacted. Its Section 13 enumerates various grounds for divorce: adultery, cruelty, desertion and mental illness. All these grounds are based on a fault theory: a spouse has to prove matrimonial fault on the part of the partner to get a divorce. Section 27 of SMA lays down similar grounds.


 But there was no provision to deal with a situation where both parties wanted to end the marriage. To address this problem, Section 13-B was added to HMA in 1976 to provide for divorce by mutual consent. Section 28 of the SMA has a similar provision.


A petition for divorce filed by mutual consent, if not withdrawn before six months after its presentation or not later than 18 months, gives the courts ground (on being satisfied after making enquiry) to grant a decree of divorce by mutual consent.


But in many cases, one of the parties often abstains from court proceedings and keeps the case pending to the disadvantage of the other. The amendment seeks to address the legitimate concerns of the party "in dire need of divorce".


People have expressed apprehensions about the possible fallout of the amendment on the institution of marriage and women, particularly in rural India. They say that women who are not economically independent will lose their 'bargaining power' during divorce proceedings if this amendment is passed.


But these apprehensions are baseless. The Cabinet's decision makes it clear that the amendment is only to the provision dealing with divorce by mutual consent and 'irretrievable breakdown of marriage' will not be an independent ground for divorce. Even after this amendment translates into law, no one can file a divorce petition on this ground. It can be invoked only in cases for divorce by mutual consent and that too if one of the parties withdraws from the proceedings after filing a joint petition.


Second, despite the rising number of divorce cases, particularly in cities, the overall divorce rate in India is just 1.1 per cent, much lower than 55 per cent in countries such as the US and Sweden.


In fact, the issues involved go much beyond a husband-wife relationship. As the primary unit of society, marriage plays a crucial role in providing emotional and economic security to men and women and provides an environment conducive for the upbringing of children. A failed marriage can have traumatic psychological impact not just on the man and the woman but also the children, who are the worst sufferers in most such cases. It was for this reason that the Law Commission in 1978 recommended that 'irretrievable breakdown of marriage' should be recognised as a ground for divorce. The Commission reiterated its recommendations in its 217th report last year. The Supreme Court, which has been reminding the government of the need to give it statutory recognition, has granted divorce in several cases using its power to do complete justice under Article 142 of the Constitution.


The breakdown theory cannot be limited to cases filed under the provision for divorce by mutual consent alone. The proposed amendment does not address the problem of men and women fighting it out in courts for years. It would be better if a provision is added to the proposed amendment to give discretionary powers to courts to invoke the breakdown theory in all divorce cases pending for 10 years or more.








I say, old chap. Did you hear that awfully silly woman, Sarah Palin, sending the English language to the cleaners?


No, Chatterjee-saab. What was it about?


On her micro-weblog site that goes by the name Twitter, Ms Palin told people to 'refudiate' a proposal to build

a mosque at the World Trade Center site.


Um, so? She has a right to have an opinion.


Oh, Mr Bhosle! There is no such word as 'refudiate'! She mixed the words 'refute' and 'repudiate' to come up with a totally nonsense word!


Well, I'm sure people understood what she meant — oppose. That's all that matters.


By Jove! Don't tell me you didn't howl when George W. Bush used that horrible malapropism, 'misunderestimate'?


Chatterjee-saab. What do you think of the word 'lonely'? Do you think it's acceptable in the English language?


Well, of course, silly man. Lonely is a perfectly legitimate word in the English language.


Well, it wasn't till Shakespeare first used it as an adjective for 'alone'. As for Bush's 'misunderestimate', it's something that the English metaphysical poets would have loved to use. Like Donald Rumsfeld's delightfully poetic 'unknown unknowns' that's straight out of John Donne.


Do say: I've just preponed my trip towards the dictionary.


Don't say: Sarah's such a fantoosh!








Tuesday's gathering in Kabul of Afghanistan's international donors with representation from nearly more than 70 countries and multilateral organisations was not a debating forum. Its objective was to endorse a political transition in Afghanistan, the broad outlines of which were agreed between the Hamid Karzai government and its main external benefactor, the United States. The principal outcomes of the Kabul conference were two. One was the plan to transfer security responsibilities from the international forces to the Afghan national army and police by 2014. The other was to express support for a political reconciliation between the government in Kabul and its opponents from the Taliban, which has gathered momentum in Afghanistan's Pashtun areas in the south and south east, thanks to the sanctuaries in Pakistan.


That Afghans must begin to take charge of their country, after nearly a decade of international occupation, is not in doubt. That there is no military solution to the current conflict with the Taliban too is not under question. But the moment these two propositions are put to scrutiny, a range of difficulties come into view. Given the declining domestic political support in the US for the war in Afghanistan, the Obama administration has been under some pressure to specify an exit strategy. The Kabul conference's 2014 deadline complements President Barack Obama's earlier announcement that he would begin withdrawal from July 2011. How and in what form this important military transition might take place and what kind of a role, if any, the international forces might have in Kabul after 2014 are questions that have no clear answers. Not everyone believes that the Afghan national forces will be ready to defend their country four years from now. Reconciliation with the Taliban too is easier said than done. The Taliban, betting that the international forces are in retreat, are under no compulsion to negotiate. Kabul and Washington disagree on the terms of endearment with the Taliban. Karzai's non-Pashtun allies are uncomfortable with his outreach to the Taliban.


The Afghan conflict is entering a dynamic and unpredictable phase. It will be driven by the changing political conditions in Washington and the evolving military balance inside Afghanistan. The paradigm shift in Karzai's relations with the Pakistan army will be another important driver of change. In announcing the inevitability of military and political change in Afghanistan, the Kabul conference has reminded New Delhi of the urgency of reviewing its Afghan policy. India has enjoyed a good run in Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban from power at the end of 2001. Delhi must now prepare for more difficult and demanding times in Afghanistan and the many consequences for India's own national security.






On July 12, seven people were injured when a bomb exploded on a moped, targeting Uttar Pradesh's minister for institutional finance, Nand Gopal Nandi. Among those hurt were people entirely unconnected to the minister or his political enemies —


a reporter tending his beat, a sanitation worker, a PR officer. Indian Express reporter Vijay Pratap Singh finally died in hospital, leaving a young family behind. How are they to make sense of the random violence that killed Singh? UP is


not a conflict zone — how can the carrying out of daily duties be accompanied with such danger? Suddenly, what looked like a tawdry and unrealistic plot device in a film like Raajneeti became sickeningly real. A state where a cabinet minister can be so casually attacked, and ordinary people become collateral damage, is clearly one plunged in deep crisis.


The police and administration claim that the attack can be traced to Samajwadi Party MLA Vijay Mishra, who along with his relative, the block pramukh who allegedly planned the blast, was involved in 88 criminal cases. Chief Minister Mayawati hit out at the opposition that accused her of running a "jungle raj", saying that her government had exerted all its energies into punishing criminals, while there had been 38 political killings, with 42 more attempts to murder, during Mulayam Singh Yadav's tenure.


The fundamental and ancient promise of a state is that it guarantees protection — but successive governments in UP have not been able to provide even that. When Mayawati came to power, she committed herself to stamping out the crime and everyday intimidation that was a given in the state for so long. That promise has helped her transcend her own votebank, and after a few instances of exemplary action against those in her own party, it was thought that UP was finally on the mend. However, as this tragedy proves, when politics and criminality are coiled together as tightly as they are in UP, it takes much fiercer dedication to improve security.








Muttiah Muralitharan came to this, his last Test at Galle, with a record in sight. Over 132 previous matches he had taken 792 wickets, and at the end of play on day four he was just two short of 800. Muralitharan, one of the greatest spinners of all time, has never had to reach for bowling statistics as a mark of domination. His stamp on the game is his unique resilience, his record of overcoming every adversity with a smile. But now, during his swansong, it is apt that his staggering statistics hover over the match.


The point has been made all too often that Test records like Muralitharan's (a possible 800 wickets) and Sachin Tendulkar's (more than 13,500 runs) are unlikely to be surpassed. The argument is that with Twenty20s and one-dayers now crowding the playing calendar, enough Tests just will not be scheduled for these feats to be achievable. Of course, these cricketers are not special just because of their long stints in the game. They continue to excel. Murali took yet another, his 67th, five-for in the first innings at Galle — and Tendulkar already has four Test centuries this year. Yet, such domination yields the hypothesis that while numbers alone may not quantify greatness, they matter.


T20, with so much of it played in leagues, is still to discern a standard to compare players on their statistics. But in all probability it will. For now, T20 still compares players by their statistics in the longer versions of the game. And it is not incidental that the long marchers of Test cricket reign in the Indian Premier League. For instance, the three men who revived spin bowling in the '90s and noughts, Muralitharan, Anil Kumble and Shane Warne. Muralitharan's bountiful last Test is a reminder of the format's still special place in cricket.











The spectre of malevolent hubris is haunting South Asia again. It would be foolish to underestimate the signals Pakistan's recent attitude sends about the unfolding strategic scenario in South Asia. The core issue is not that its foreign minister's conduct represented a diplomatic slight to India. Rather, his conduct represents a new warning on how the strategic game is changing in the region.


Pakistan clearly believes that it now holds all the strategic cards. If anyone wanted a case study of how a colossal superpower can be run on puppet strings by a seemingly weak state, surely the way Pakistan has run the US would be a prime example. Despite billions of dollars and a slew of technology and arms, the US has not been able to get Pakistan to move on securing its core objectives, whether it is Al Qaeda, non-proliferation, Afghanistan or greater peace in the region. Pakistan has consistently positioned itself as being indispensable to two superpowers, and in doing so has exposed their limits. As India rises it will have to think more subtly about what power means. It must not get trapped by the self-fulfilling bravado of what passes as strategic thinking, one that has consistently failed to explain how great superpowers can seem so abject and dependent in the face of a country like Pakistan.


Second, this episode is yet another warning that the Americans are incapable of exercising the requisite pressure on India's behalf. The idea that two regimes, bankrolled by American funds, can sign a trade agreement at the cost of India should be a wake-up call. Forget larger strategic matters. If the Americans cannot even prompt a wider and benign trading relationship in the region, what hope do they have of fixing larger issues? American power is now limited to absorbing the cost of failure, it is not capable of achieving objectives, and it has no instruments with which to target the Pakistani elite that matters. Under such circumstances, India would be wise to keep many options open; we would be better off not developing relations with other countries in the region, including Iran, through the prism of American interest.


Third, if Pakistani hubris was not enough, there are more follies afloat. Robert Blackwill, a former US ambassador to India, has floated an argument, now gaining some ground in India, that a division of Afghanistan, premised on nurturing Pashtun nationalism, would help stabilise the region. The situation on the ground in Afghanistan is so messy that it would be unwise to second guess the contours of a "solution". And this may be part of a pressure tactic on Pakistan.


But what strikes you most about this argument is its unrepentant sense of hubris. Does anyone have a credible basis for saying what the character of successor states in Afghanistan will be like? Is there any reason to think that stoking more nationalisms may not create unintended instabilities in the region, including the demonstration effect it might have on Kashmir? Is there any reason to think that this solution will make a dent in the thicket of cultures of violence that now characterise the region? Has any power in the region been able to control the consequences of its own actions? All the strategic talk has a surreal quality to it, almost as if it were the next move in a video game. The relations between intention and action, ends and means, instruments and goals, costs and benefits seem to all be obscured by the self-satisfaction that we are at least making a next move.


In our frustration we should not readily jump to whatever happens to be the next alternative thrown out by Washington pundits. It might seem like a weakness to our bravado-driven strategic community, but India has done itself great service by playing within its limitations as a power; it should not be tempted into actions whose consequences it cannot control. And our newfound enthusiasm for Pashtun nationalism would have been more credible if it had come before rather than after it has become a subject of talk in Washington circles.


Fourth, and most tragically, Qureshi's posturing portends ill for the people of Pakistan. It once again decisively reminds us that the move towards genuine civilian control and democratisation of foreign policy in Pakistan remains a pipe dream. We may diplomatically finesse minor movement in the talks, but there is no getting away from the fact that the trust deficit has deepened. But there are deeper dangers. As K. Subrahmanyam has pointed out, hubris leads to a greater risk of misjudgment, and the regime in Pakistan may now be tempted to try new moves.


The source of Pakistan's current confidence is its ability to regain "strategic depth" in Afghanistan. But the phrase "strategic depth" needs be given an Orwellian reading. For the great tragedy for the Pakistani people has been that what the army thinks of as strategic depth is actually the digging of a hole right through the heart of Pakistan. The Pakistani people think of themselves as victims of terrorism and refugee flows; but these have been a direct consequence of their state's doctrine of strategic depth. And the Pakistani state's engagement with Afghanistan is going to exacerbate this problem not solve it.


The so-called quest for strategic options has become a game too clever by half in most strategic establishments. For a minor example consider China, a power juggernaut that seems to be unstoppable. But there is evidence that Chinese over-reach has backfired. North Korea may be a strategic asset, but China's unwillingness or inability to rein it in has diminished its lustre as a power capable of exercising leadership. A year ago all talk in Asia was how the US would have to accommodate China; now all the talk is about hedging. The sense of fear it projected was perhaps responsible for handing the Americans the Okinawa base on a platter. This is just a small example of how strategic establishments work on their momentum, not on foresight.


South Asia's tragedy is that it has a state, Pakistan, whose military establishment is besotted with a culture of strategic depth even at the cost of the ruination of their own country. It has two superpowers who continue to feed this military machine, under the delusion that some strategic purpose is being achieved. Qureshi was disquieting not because he offered a diplomatic slight, but because he reminded us how much a fatal combination of self-delusion and hubris is still governing our destinies. Perhaps we need a deconstruction of strategic cultures rather than revelling in them.


The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi







How nice — finally, Krishi Bhavan has decided to push hybrid paddy in the eastern region, as a Chinese best practice. When it was discovered by Indian scientists way back in 1993, it was the first successful case of research leading to the development of hybrid paddy as a public-private partnership. But its application and adoption was neither impressive nor fast. The Hybrid Paddy Project was developed in 1989 as a special initiative of then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and guided by E.S. Siddiqui. Seeds were developed in a number of centres, and meant to be replicated in others. A national network was set up. By the early '90s, around seven varieties were released in the south and east. The northern centres did not take off. Its research achievements were APHR I and II, with a yield of seven to seven and a half tonnes for Andhra and Rayalaseema, MGR I with a yield of six tonnes for Kuruvai in Tamil Nadu, and the KRH- IV in Karnataka, which gave a yield of 82 quintals of paddy. The CNHR-III in Bengal for boro paddy was close, at 81. India and China were the only two countries which developed it with a smaller contribution in the Philippines through International Rice Research Institute(IRRI). In India, the large hybrid rice seed producers in the private sector included Mahyco, SPIC, and Lever and in the public sector, Krishi Vigyan Kendras, seed corporations and universities. Once the seeds were developed, the production was also in a PPP mould. Again Mahyco, Pioneer, SPIC, ITC, Indo-American, Nagarjuna, Zuari, EID Parry and others were involved.


The experiment failed in the '90s. The reasons are unclear, particularly since the original high yield varieties in the '60s and '70s were such a grand success. The governments in the '90s were cool, if not hostile to the achievements in the '80s. The project lost its champions. As late as 2002, after the Mount Abu meeting of Congress chief ministers, Captain Amarinder Singh was to brief the press that he and a senior economic policy-maker of the party were opposed to me when I advocated raising grain production. Since my whole presentation was on raising grain yield, including spreading hybrids and releasing land for diversification, I did not know what they were saying but decided to keep uncharacteristically quiet since politicians should best be ignored on technical matters. Later, grain prices were to prove me right. Therefore, this time before food security gets off the ground, the fact that the agriculture and finance ministers were in Bengal when it was kicked off, is significant. Such initiatives need support, otherwise they tend to wilt under the first problem that inevitably emerges. China roared ahead with more than five million hectares, but in India after an initial thrust it just tapered out.


Apart from cussedness at high levels and lack of support, the reasons of failure need to be analysed and responded to. Financing the higher cost and taking care of the front-up initial costs may be one possibility. China was subsidising them in a big way. Initially the idea was that water would be saved. Later it turned out that per unit of output of paddy, the water requirement was lower, but the stress requirements were severe. If water did not come on that day, the yield fell. In the south and the east, with poorly managed canals and groundwater getting scarce, this was probably a reason. Again, if the yield was not there, the farmer had nobody to turn to. The company would say it was his fault, and we had no regulatory mechanism. The state, which in its heyday really looked after the duplication and supply of seeds, just walked away.


The IPR questions are more complex. The germplasm we now have is much richer and more promising. But the seeds used are, as in cotton, mostly pirated. These do four quintals in eastern UP as I discovered in my wanderings from Lucknow to Barabanki but seven tonnes is better than four, which in turn is better than the present paddy yield average of three. My take on this complex issue is that we should encourage the big boys, around 30, to network with the hundreds of small players who saturate the illegal supplies. These are agricultural science people, who know enough to pirate. They should be brought under the official net. Otherwise the poor farmer, having bought an expensive seed which is illegal has nowhere to go when, in one in many cases, it fails.


Two years ago a hybrid paddy initiative was announced in the kharif conference. This time it must succeed. With a food security structure getting into place, there is too much at stake.


The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand








Little Sneha was smiling. She had just received a Barbie doll. She had danced well, the judges had been "mind-blown" by her performance. Her parents were watching with benevolent smiles. Then all smiles stopped: the anchor told the story of her older sister's tragic death and Sneha began to cry, her parents lowered their heads. More followed: Sneha was voted off the show.


It's enough to make anyone weep, including the viewer. A few days later on the same show, Chak Dhoom Dhoom (Colors), a young boy was doing just that: weeping his little heart out because he had been eliminated from the contest. Flipping channels, we encountered yet another child in tears: on either Boogie Woogie (Sony) or Dance India Dance (Zee), a kid was injured during a performance and was inconsolable — apart from being in serious pain.


It's tough just being a kid, must we reduce them to tears merely for the viewing pleasure of millions who have nothing better to do than to watch — and even enjoy watching — them cry? What kind of enjoyment is there in seeing children perform badly? Sadistic?


These talent shows involving children are popular; they encourage children to display their undoubted talents; we are astonished and delighted by their proficiency. So a hearty congratulation to channels for providing children with such opportunities. However, is it worth the tears and the tumbles and the trauma of being publicly reproached for a poor performance by the judges, who only minutes before had bestowed superlative compliments on them: "Brilliant! Mind-blowing! Superb!"? Think of what it must be like for Sneha, Barbie doll in one hand and "Superb!" in the other when the anchor told her that she was going home empty-handed. Older performers on Indian Idol, etc, are crestfallen when voted out — the impact is that much more on young children, who, often, dance like marionettes controlled by over-ambitious parents.


Their visible disappointment at being booted is more offensive than watching them rotate their hips like grinders, in imitation of item girls or boys (if such creatures exist). Honestly, if it's waterworks we want, we'd be better off looking out of the window at the monsoon or watching Uttaran (Colors) where everyone is crying over the dead Vansh.


For a few smiles, better to have watched Zara Nach Ke Dikha (Star Plus) because even though the two teams of

actors were often upset by the judges decrees, they kept you in good humour. Can't wait for another season.


And then there's Madhavan: he grins hugely but it may not be enough to save Big Money (Imagine) from being a loser for anyone whose evenings stretch beyond TV serials, Bollywood and bakwaas. Questions on this mock-alike-KBC (you have "insurances" instead of "lifelines") are about television: "In Agle Janam..., name the daughter of so-and-so she killed by mistake." Or, "Which cold drink claims 'baaki sab bakwaas ?' " You need more patience than the Buddha for enlightenment here, since Madhavan gives the contestant innumerable opportunities to change her answer before he says "Fix?" (as opposed to "Lock kar diya jaye?") and by then you've already attached yourself to another channel.


Last Tuesday, the chances are you fixed to watch Indian Idol (Sony) because someone arrived in a helicopter on the contest and if you said it was Aamir Khan, you'd better not play for Big Money. Aamir did make an appearance, along with with Rajkumar Hirani and Sharman Joshi to promote Sony's premiere of 3 Idiots on Sunday (as though the film needs any promos). Clearly, Sony wants to break all "idiot" box office records (irresistible pun). Khan did his usual charming number, Joshi and Hirani were a solid supporting cast but the rehearsed jokes — especially anchor Abhijeet Sawant's memory loss (Ghajini?) — were about as funny as David Headley's testimony. Thank God for some great singing.








Jante hain aap?" Whenever Vijay started a conversation with this question, I knew he had a solid, interesting story.


Most often, it meant he had something new. On other occasions, it wasn't new — but Vijay would come out with interesting insights, significant little-known details, or something important which everyone had missed in the noise that usually accompanies a big story.


Vijay (as I would call him) joined The Indian Express some time in April 2008 and was posted in Allahabad. Daily he would either call me or I would ring him up to find out what stories he was planning for the day. Initially, he would sound somewhat diffident. Maybe this had something to do with the fact that this was the first time he was working as a full-time reporter for a national daily. Before long, I realised that he was a sincere, hardworking man.


Then, one morning, he called up and said, "Jante hain aap?", and went on to tell me that an octogenarian Hindi writer, who had won several awards, including one from the Sahitya Akademi, had fallen on bad days, that he was suffering from osteomyelitis which had made his bones brittle, that the treatment was expensive but he had little money, that he had sold his manuscripts for a pittance, that the man had shunned sarkari favours when he was young, but now wished somebody could help.


I hadn't heard of Amar Kant, but a quick check confirmed that he had indeed been a widely respected name in Hindi literature. Nor had I met a reporter of an English newspaper who had shown such interest in a story about a Hindi writer past his prime. In this case, the story was picked up by Hindi papers after The Indian Express prominently carried Vijay's report.


Soon offers of help started coming in, and Amar Kant could not thank Vijay enough.


This was the first time I had heard Vijay start a conversation with "jante hain aap?". Before long I knew this was his way of introducing a good story idea. Over about the next two-and-a-half years, I would hear these words several times, and often it would reveal a new quality of Vijay's.


For instance, the encounter in which the UP police killed dacoit Ghanshyam Kevat in Chitrakoot last year after four days. The first day, it was inside-page news for Lucknow newspapers, let alone the national media. In his usual morning call, Vijay started: "Jante hain aap? Kevat is alone, single-handedly fighting 400 policemen!"


Here was something that every reporter had missed. I asked Vijay to proceed to Chitrakoot, which is quite some distance from Allahabad. His description of how 400 policemen were finding it difficult to smoke out or kill a single dacoit hit the front page of The Indian Express. Next day, it was all over — in newspapers, on TV. Vijay stayed on in Chitrakoot and filed the best reports on the encounter and subsequent events.


In mofussil towns, politics, crime and local universities and colleges usually constitute the staple of newspaper reporters. Allahabad has its share of politicians, criminals and also a renowned university. Add to these the high court and the UP school board. But these weren't enough for Vijay who had diverse interests. He consistently wrote on research activity at the Indian Institute of Information Technology and at the Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology.


From whatever I could gather, he was a self-made man who did not believe in short cuts. Injustice and unfairness deeply moved him. In a profession where one tends to get thick-skinned and cynical, Vijay was extra sensitive. Whenever he came across an instance of somebody trying to ride roughshod over a helpless man or woman, he would take great pains to collect details and put out a story — be it the case of a BSP leader who stalled a housing project for the poor in Shankargarh just because he did not get the contract, or the policemen who, in order to please an influential man, booked the widow of a Kargil martyr under the SC/ST Atrocity Prevention Act after some men who had taken shelter in her under-construction building died when it collapsed in a storm. None of Vijay's stories were ever questioned.


To say that Vijay's loss has created a vacuum is stating the obvious. You don't easily find reporters who can write with equal facility about Atiq Ahmed and Amar Kant, a minister hijacking the Sangam to organise his son's wedding, or a scientist working at the Great Hadron Collider.


The writer is Resident Editor, The Indian Express, Lucknow








The Food Security Act's success will depend on how the customer is able to enforce accountability on his neighbourhood fair price shop. Such shops, about 5.3 lakh of which currently exist, cater to customer groups as small as 500, are generally licenced by State Civil Supplies Departments, and are the last mile for delivering subsidised grain to the needy under the subsidy regime the Centre and states decide. That is where our problems lie.


The operation of the current PDS shop can only be magical. A more unviable commercial entity cannot be imagined. The margins allowed are so minuscule that no retailer can meet his costs. However, no civil supplies commissioner in the country has had any difficulty in finding vendors. In fact for every vacancy, there are more than a hundred applicants willing to even offer huge bribes to be the licencees of the state — thanks to the possibility of arbitraging the cheap grain.


Diverting the subsidised grain is considered "standard operating procedure" even in states which do generally well. Some even argue that diversion of APL grain is pro bono since it helps deliver BPL grain in a somewhat Robin Hood approach. The response of many has been to deride the Fair Price Shop (FPS) owners as a generally corrupting influence, and put him under a rigorous inspection Raj. The standard response, therefore, has been to inspect, search, seize, prosecute, de-licence, imprison etc.


The proper operation of the FPS was discussed in the recent brainstorming the food ministry conducted with state food officials. In fact the session on innovation on PDS was overwhelmed by well-meaning "innovators" who had invented dungeon-grade torture tools to ensure "good behaviour". States have invested in CCTVs to monitor them, fitted GPS on vehicles ferrying grain, delivered grain in bulk to villages under commodity inspection or audit, engaged bulk SMS and other audio-video communication to inform PDS consumers about stock arrivals, and of course arrested and incarcerated scores of errant dealers. These efforts are as infertile as they are sincere.


The root cause of pilferage of subsidised grain is the differential price of grain, and the monopoly of the licencee. The customer cannot decamp from his designated shop, and buy from another better vendor. If his vendor defaults or defrauds him his only recourse is to approach the state with a grievance, which officials will dispose of. He is completely disempowered in the process. Under the proposed new bill, the unserved customer has recourse to a food subsidy allowance in lieu of the grain he was promised. Questions remain on how fast redressal can be.


Therefore, the rational course of action would be to remove the factors that predispose the FPS dealer, in collusion with a hierarchy of inspectors, FCI officials and politicians to sell grains in the black market. FCI grain must move in the country only at MSP plus applicable freight charges. Retailers must buy at that rate. The subsidy must be delivered as cost reimbursed on a smart card the BPL customer is provided. The difference between the BPL rate and the economic cost must be credited to the FPS retailer from the card provided to all PDS customers.


This would weed out the root cause of large-scale corruption in PDS. Its strength lies in two additional benefits, which have huge managerial potential. Firstly, the chip-based card can allow rapid portability of the benefits. In an era of large-scale migration and rapid urbanisation, the poor will find it easier to transfer from one state or district to, say, a metro where the card can be registered afresh. The present method to obtain a fresh ration card is difficult without political clout.  


Also, in urban areas people will vote with their cards and the FPS owner with better service credentials and performance will be automatically selected. More margins can be paid to FPS that disbursed more poor grain. Instead of officials sending SMS to customers the shopowner will now ask customers to collect their grain. Imagine FPS owners competing to get their poor users to come for their grain! That is reform.


The entire system's logistics will become demand-driven. Withdrawals by users in the PDS shops will be the basic metric which will finally determine procurement levels. Stock replenishment, storage, inventory management etc will follow that metric. The higher organisation will have to respond to the user's demands.


This isn't rocket science. Every retail chain worth its name practices it day in and day out.


However, entrenched vested interests are unlikely to favour electronic mediation since it hits at the root of the corruption that serves them well. Instant counter-arguments: "storage insufficiency" in retail points and "how to serve remote areas?"


These are specious. Firstly, the storage required at the retail point is a function of effective demand and the retailer must be allowed the storage he needs to serve his enhanced customers. In remote areas where there is only one FPS dealer one has to continue without the competition element, but with accountability gains. A valid question: would not smart card-based competition render some FPSs unviable? But the purpose is not to serve the poor performer. It is to tilt the balance towards the customer and the better vendor. Shops not being preferred would move on to other merchandise.  


A last possibility the smart card offers is to include more items in the subsidy net like edible oil or coarse grains and give choices to the PDS customer. As incomes rise, the customer may need other ingredients than grains.


Back of the envelope calculations show that a smart card-based system can be implemented across the PDS system at around Rs 7000 crore. This is minuscule compared to the diversionary losses in the subsidy, currently estimated by the Planning Commission at Rs 20,000 crore per annum.  


The real roadblock,however, would be the present element of discretion, the possibility of "creative accounting", and the grease these add to the system's wheels. 


The writer is Minister of State for Agriculture and Food. The views expressed here are personal







The Bellary brothers, at the centre of a controversy over their role in illegal mining in Karnataka, have received the crucial support of the RSS. It has endorsed the BJP's claim that the Congress was playing dirty in the southern state to unseat the B.S. Yeddyurappa government. And as far as Governor H.R. Bhardwaj's role is concerned, the Sangh, in the lead editorial of Organiser, reiterates the BJP line that the "office of Governor has always been a situation of convenience for the Congress. Whenever it is in power at the Centre, the Congress appoints the most pliable crony Congressmen as governors in opposition-ruled states."


"The Congress party is demanding a CBI inquiry into allegations of illegal mining. Going by the track record of the CBI under the UPA, would any opposition party trust its probe with the central agency? ...The Lok Ayukta is already seized of the matter in Karnataka. It should be allowed to function without bullying by the Congress," the edit says.


Arty cartel


VHP leader Pravin Togadia talks about a cartel which is at work against Hindus and India's art, culture and tradition. He draws a parallel between two movies — the recently released Lamhaa and the Shahrukh Khan-starrer My Name is Khan — to argue his point. In an article, he points out that scenes and dialogue in Lamhaa were cut by the censor board as these were deemed anti-Muslim.


"A few months back many objections were made about My Name is Khan by Hindus... Those who opposed the film were termed, by a section of the media, politicians and NGOs, as fanatics who have no sense of art. Same media, politicians and NGOs seem to have forgotten to even do "chun" about their pet theory of freedom of speech when Muslims are objecting to Lamhaa," he says. "This is nothing but a cunning cartel... specifically created to influence the judiciary and lawmakers as well as budding young minds. Lamhaa is not the issue here; this cunning cartel is. Such cartels are seen in almost all walks of life," he says.


He says "we always see the same faces making similar arguments about freedom of speech when Hindus or the majority object to anything. The same faces are seen when Kashmiri jehadis allege fake encounters, the same faces justify Naxals, the same faces demean traditions and established institutions like marriage, culture and heritage," he concludes.


Caste and secularism


Even as the BJP is divided on the issue of a caste-based census, the Organiser continues to oppose the idea. An article in this issue says that caste-based enumeration would divide the country into groups and subgroups. "Tomorrow the same politicians (who demand caste-based census) will insist on reservation of seats in Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha on the strength of their castes. Even today the politicians select candidates for contests based on their caste, their caste-based voters, money- and lung-power. In such a scenario strength of castes in each district would be known and there would be infighting," it says.


The author argues that on one side politicians belonging to the Congress, TDP, CPM, SP and RJD call the BJP non-secular. "Why cannot these politicians remove the caste tag at the end of their names and get their children marred outside their castes thereby showing their secular credentials? Why do these politicians visit temples, take baths in river Ganges at Allahabad or Hardwar on Kumbh mela days? These politicians are mokaterains or opportunists or selfish, and are not selfless," he says.


Compiled by Manoj C.G.







The highlight of my day last week was when a seven year old came into the office proudly bearing a little box he wanted me to look at. Nestled inside was a little figure, made entirely of discarded sweet wrappers. Ingeniously he had used an old rubber band to outline the face and screwed up the toffee wrappers as eyes, nose, and mouth, complete with Beyonce-like tresses! "Its wealth from waste," he announced proudly. "We did it in class."


If there is any hope for our planet, it lies with our children. Credit for this must go to eco-conscious schools and supportive parents who have embraced and encouraged the environment friendly strategies that schools initiated. And it did start with the schools in the last 15 years.


As young children growing up in the late '50s we lived in an environment of shortages. We were the first post-Independence generation and grew up with rationing, recycling and reusing whatever we had — nothing was thrown away. Wrapping paper, string, beads, everything was stored away to be reused. There was a flourishing trade in "fixing things" — the tailor stitched, altered, made bags and cushion covers out of bits of material left over; the "kabariwallah" was a friend; life was one long saga of continuous repair and maintenance. Your car, fridge, television, phone, house, job and marriage were for life. In short, you threw nothing away.


Once the Indian markets opened up and we joined the global consumer rat race, the explosion of satellite television was grist to the mill for our advertisers. We changed our mantra of "reduce, reuse and recycle" to consume, consume and then consume some more! Children as consumers and a youth market were the prime targets and as essential resources became strained, schools initiated several environment campaigns.


Conservation of paper was one of the first followed by a highly successful "say no to plastics" campaign. This has been such a successful initiative. Schools devour paper. In an effort to reduce and reuse and recycle, many schools use paper on both sides for printing, one-sided paper that has been used is used to make scribble pads and when both sides are used they are put in cardboard boxes to be totally recycled. Boxes are placed in every classroom and the administrative areas and children are aware that all used paper needs to be carefully gathered and deposited in the boxes. Some schools have their own paper recycling units and produce lovely handmade sheets and others use the excellent services of NGO's like Vatavaran.


Children are zealous about campaigns and they insisted that we should review the school policy of covering exercise books with brown paper. What a sensible idea. Why did we cover books with brown paper? Search me! So it was out with the brown paper and in its stead came a hardened card with an absolute ban on lamination. Gift wrapping paper was substituted by cheerfully block printed newsprint that busy hands had made in art classes and then sold at the open days to raise money for their favourite charity.


"Say no to plastics" is one of the most successful eco campaigns, second only to "say no to firecrackers" at Diwali. Again, both of these were spearheaded by schools in conjunction with the Government of Delhi. Many schools became no plastic zones. We began by producing cloth bags to carry our meals, to help parents shop, paper bags to give away school books and uniforms and served tea in earthen "kulhars" and snacks in plates made of leaves.


Children insisted that we should not have a bonfire on Lohri or burn the effigies on Dussehra. On one Dussehra they suggested toppling over the effigies made from waste materials since burning the traditional Ravana would add to the air pollution.


Over the years, children have been alerted to the human rights issue of child labour being used by exploitative firework manufacturers and of the environmental hazards of indiscriminate firework displays. Much to the chagrin of adults, children have refused to buy fireworks leading to tearful confrontations in families. Many parents went so far as to tell us that we were indoctrinating the children and they were becoming fanatical about environmental issues! If this is fanaticism then roll on. Why can't we arrange communal firework displays that bring together the neighbourhood and the festive spirit is shared and enjoyed by all? It happens in so many countries across the world. Why do we have to outdo each other in a flagrant and obscene display of wealth and bad taste?


This face-off on environment issues between adults and children is not limited to Diwali and patakas. I had a weary father who wanted to know just what it was we were doing in our environment programme that had resulted in his son insisting on a bucket bath; not letting him run the water while brushing his teeth; checking if he used a mug for shaving; crying if he jumped a red light; and getting really angry if he tossed wrappers out of the car window. Juxtapose this with the tearful face of an eight year old who told his classmates, "I tried telling Papa about not bursting crackers, but he just thinks I am stupid."


Many schools are "going green" and there are some marvelous strategies which include the use of environment friendly building materials, solar energy (expensive at the moment), recycling of waste water for irrigation and rain water harvesting. Segregating waste results in wet waste finding its way to compost heaps and vermiculture pits. Students can observe these worms assiduously converting their waste from the dining areas into rich manure that can be used by the school.


Schools with strong environment campaigns will produce young activists and we need a generation of eco-conscious, committed catalysts of change. So if this Diwali your children refuse to blow up your hard earned money and are conscious of the levels of air and noise pollution, say thank you — and join them.


The writer is a Delhi-based education consultant









The decision by MCX-SX to drag markets regulator Sebi to the Bombay High Court over the latter's continued refusal to permit MCX-SX to begin trading in equities, bonds and interest rate futures may be unusual and even unprecedented, but has justifiable reasons. Sebi mandated last year that MCX-SX had to bring down promoter shareholding to comply with the MIMPS (Manner of Increasing and Maintaining Public Shareholding in Recognised Stock Exchanges Regulation) regulations. MCX-SX complied with the same and informed Sebi in December 2009. For good measure, the reduction in promoter shareholding and its compliance with Sebi regulations was endorsed by the Bombay High Court. Doubts were, however, raised about the manner in which the promoters of MCX-SX had gone about complying with the regulations. So while there was a reduction in the promoters stake to 5%, much of this was done by restructuring equity through warrants. In their defence, the promoters of MCX-SX argue that investors were not forthcoming in a stock exchange that was only allowed trading currency derivatives in a market environment where the dominant exchange was allowing completely levy free trading in currency derivatives. And, therefore, restructuring through warrants was the only way of complying with the rules.


The plain fact of the matter is that MCX-SX is now technically in compliance with the rules. And that is what matters. Its shareholding pattern mirrors that of the National Stock Exchange quite closely, dominated by holdings of banks and financial institutions. Sebi should, of course, try to enforce the MIMPS in both letter and spirit, but MCX-SX can be given some more time to move beyond complying with simply the letter of the regulations to also complying with the spirit. Once MCX-SX actually gets permission for trading in equity, bonds and interest rate futures, investment will be more forthcoming and the promoters can unload their warrants at a good price. That would seem like a reasonable compromise. What should ideally matter to Sebi much more than MCX-SX's compliance issues is to ensure adequate competition in the stock markets domain, as is global best practice. That will help reduce transactions costs and encourage more participation in the equities space from retail investors. This is something that is urgently needed to add volume and depth to Indian stock markets, which still depend disproportionately on FIIs and DIIs for momentum. At the moment, the largest stock exchange, NSE, is simply not exposed to enough competition. Granting MCX-SX a licence to trade in equities will be good for the cause of competition. And it will also help the cause of complete compliance.






The sharp criticism of the power ministry by the parliamentary panel on energy, specifically the scepticism about achieving even scaled-down capacity addition targets for the Eleventh Plan, is timely. Not only has the ministry been unable to learn lessons from its persistent failure to meet targets in the last few years, it has also been unable to change its approach to tackle shortfalls. This is evident from its inability to identify sites for some of the ultra mega power projects that can scuttle even the Twelfth Plan targets. In the mid-term appraisal of the Eleventh Plan, the Central Electricity Authority has assessed that only 62,374 mw of capacity is likely to be built in the Plan period as against the original target of 78,700 mw. And the prospects of achieving the revised targets are highly uncertain, given that only 20,352 mw, which is just one-third of the revised target, has been achieved in the first three years of the Plan. Though the sector could add only 7,965 mw of additional capacity in 2009-10, as against the targeted addition of 14,507 mw, the ministry has continued to present an optimistic scenario by pushing up the targets to 20,359 mw in 2010-11. The only tangible response to this crisis scenario from the power ministry has been to appoint two advisory groups to suggest ways and means to tackle issues and lay down a timeframe for meeting targets. The rut in the ministry is also evident from its inability to fully use even the budget allocations, with actual utilisation coming down from around three-fourths in the first year of the Plan to just above a half in the first 10 months of the third year.


Rather than tackling the problems on its turf, the power ministry has sought to deflect criticism by ruing the non-availability of coal. This is indeed a serious issue, especially given the hurdles put up by the environment ministry. The parliamentary committee acknowledges that the power ministry alone is not responsible for this mess. Some of the important power PSUs have also fallen far short of targets. For instance, while NHPC had originally proposed to set up 5,322 mw capacities in the Plan period, its target has been revised down to 3,272 mw after it set up just 1,030 mw of capacity in the first three years. All this points to woefully inadequate planning and implementation, something that can be counteracted only by a more dynamic political leadership in this core sector.









The surprise in the MCX-SX suit against the capital market regulator is the length of time it took to reach this flashpoint. The differences between the regulator and, one may say, the finance ministry ranged on one hand and MCX-SX, on the other, has been out in the open for a long time. On its part, MCX-SX has also been quite vocal in airing the opinion that it has been dealt a raw hand in the race to set up an equity platform in India.


Those issues will be dealt with in the respective lawyers' arguments in the courts if Jignesh Shah, the founder chairman and group CEO of FTSL—the promoters of MCX-SX— takes it through to its logical conclusion. But that may not happen. Even now one believes the case is more a means to highlight the perceived delay in giving licence to the company and draw the regulator more deeply into a dialogue than it has possibly done so far.


The more interesting aspect of the development is the timing of the suit. Before one judges the merits of the case, the area of concern is how the market regulator is being suddenly questioned fast and furious by so many entities. To put this in perspective, in the past couple of years, Sebi chairman CB Bhave has taken up a large reforms agenda, including in the mutual funds, stock exchanges and in the primary markets, in a relatively short period. The direction of the reforms is unequivocal. But affected parties argue that the speed with which the changes have been brought in has left them little time to adjust.


In the run in with Irda, for instance, Sebi's position that equity market-related products should be regulated by the markets regulator is unquestionable. While Sebi says the dialogue was on for a long time, the build-up to the finale was very quick, giving the government little time to digest it. The government's ordinance shows it did not buy the Sebi position, thereby considerably weakening the position of the market regulator.


Sebi is also facing similar flak from the mutual funds. The abolition of distributor commissions and entry load, among others, has been opposed by the fraternity so strongly that now even politicians are planning to raise it in the monsoon session of Parliament. None of the CEOs have, of course, publicly criticised Sebi, but the declining assets under management of almost all mutual funds has created a large scare zone among the larger fund houses. The smaller ones are more comfortable as they have not had to write off their investment in commissions and agency fees. In his defence, however, Bhave has often said the changes were being delayed for far too long and hence he had to set a deadline in his quiet efficient way.


Surprisingly, the one area where the reforms have not really got going is the governance of the stock exchanges and by extension that of competition among exchanges. The MCX-SX case is a challenge from this very front. Sebi has only recently appointed Bimal Jalan to head a committee to give its report on all aspects of stock exchange governance in India, including that of entry norms.


So, one way of evaluating the MCX-SX position is that they have been left out. Entry of more stock exchanges will certainly create competition, especially for NSE. The latter has yet to really get the corporate bond platform working while the licence for an equity platform for small and medium enterprises is a dead letter in its office. Obviously, the very pace that Bhave has set up to push competition in several placid backwaters creates expectations of a similar waves here, too.


The perceived pressure on Sebi could compromise its freedom of operation. There are enough inter-regulatory issues between it and others, notably RBI, which will need to be sorted out soon and these difficulties do nothing to ease those. The continuing differences over the structure of the corporate bond market is a classic example of that, and even the interest rate futures market has major question marks about which instruments to use and whether it should be delivery-based.


To cap the trouble there is confusion in the finance ministry, with the capital markets division, headless at present, as the previous joint secretary has moved on and there is no word on his replacement. It is also not known if the ministry would like to club the division within the department of financial services, to bring all the financial sector regulators under a single administrative control.


While MCX-SX top brass are clear they had planned the writ independent of the current turmoil, the picture for the capital market is that of a regulator caught in a bind. This is an impression that needs to be cleared up fast and, if necessary, with the government playing a far more visible supporting role than seen so far.









There is a lot of talk of inflation coming down to 5-7% by harvest time—March-end. But is there any basis for this feeling? Also, while the WPI inflation numbers may show a downward trend with statistical props, will the pain of inflation actually be lessened? The truth is that we may be living in the delusion that WPI will come down. Come down it will, as the base numbers were high last year, and juxtaposing any moderate number will show lower changes and one may just feel tempted to uncork the bubbly. But, we may have to wait.


Let us look at some numbers first. In the last 12 months, the WPI has come down only once and remained unchanged on another occasion. This means that month-on-month, prices are going up. In case of food products, the index number has come down, albeit marginally, month-on-month four times and remained unchanged once, moving up seven times. The important thing is that to actually see relief in terms of lower prices, the index must come down. In the last 4 years, such a decline has been marginal during October-December even when the harvest was satisfactory.


The other question to be posed is whether a good harvest actually results in a lowering of prices. The answer is a shoulder shrug because last year's experience has not been too encouraging. According to the fourth advance estimates of agricultural production, output of crops such as wheat, arhar, urad, cotton, etc, had shown an increase in production in FY10. Yet, the price increases registered ranged from 14% for wheat to 67% for arhar as of March 2010. Further, prices of spices, fruits, vegetables, milk and poultry products have increased sharply last year. These are products where prices are typically not mean-reverting and remain at the new levels. There is something amiss somewhere.


First, the fact that higher production has led to higher prices rebuts the theory that prices are rising due to supply shortages. Things have gotten out of control in the distribution process. One is not sure if farmers are earning more, middlemen are taking their share or distribution costs going up. The fact is that the CPI has increased almost commensurately. Second, the government has a role to play in stoking inflation. The high MSPs announced every year have lent an upward bias to prices. For FY11, the MSPs of rice and coarse cereals have been increased by around 5% and 15-30% for pulses. While most of these MSPs are not effective as they are not used by farmers to sell to the government since market prices are better, a higher base exerts an upward pressure on prices. Also, with excess procurement being undertaken for rice and wheat, there is less available in the market for private players, which has led to higher prices. So, we have an anomalous situation where production is normal, buffer stocks overflowing but prices increasing on account of a shortage in supply!


Third, the government has raised fuel prices to lower the losses of the OMCs. While the direct impact on inflation is around half a per cent, the total impact in terms of higher transportation costs for almost all products (50-60% of goods are transported by road in India), would be 1.1-1.2%. Lastly, some product prices, like oil and metals, are linked with international developments. Here, global prices are increasing, which means that there will be a tendency for these prices to also be resilient in the downward direction.


Under these conditions, how can one expect prices to actually come down? Higher inflation invariably feeds into the costs for farmers (diesel for running irrigation and transport). With the cost of living increasing and productivity stagnant, they have to perforce increase their prices. The other components are either induced (fuel) or beyond our control (manufactured goods).


If the government is keen on controlling cost-push factors, the concept of buffer stocks must be taken up. Procurement and buffer models must be revamped and buffers in sugar, pulses and cereals, in particular, must be considered as close-ended schemes. For other products like fruits and vegetables, organised private retail is the solution to improve production as well as stabilise prices.


At any rate, we need to have a clear policy framework relating to all these aspects: MSP, procurement, buffer stock, distribution, fuel pricing. Else, the pressure on monetary policy would be relentless as we take recourse to statistical base years to search for the right images.


The author is the chief economist at CARE ratings. These are his personal views








China has added yet another accomplishment to its mantel—the International Energy Agency has rated the country the world's largest energy consumer. It now exceeds the US's level of energy consumption by a little over 4%, as measured in million tonnes of oil equivalents, a rating strongly contested by China. The Chinese refute this claim saying the figures overstate their consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. They maintain that the economy increasingly uses more energy efficient methods, while continuing to increase the share of renewable sources of energy in their total consumption.


However, the debate on figures is irrelevant. Without China's growing appetite for energy, oil prices would be much lower, spurring higher consumption—especially since the world is still in recovery mode. And besides, if not this year, China will have overtaken the US by next year or the year after. A word of caution—since the US is still recovering from a severe economic downturn, the country's energy consumption is still 20% below its all-time high, causing somewhat of a 'base effect'.


What emerges from this debate, besides China's galloping growth rate despite cooling measures, is the shift in the trend of energy consumption. Non-OECD Asia, the Middle East and Latin America will now fuel world oil demand through rising economic growth. Thus, it is projected that the emerging countries' appetite for oil is large enough to negate the drop in developed countries' demand. Levels of energy consumption are considered a benchmark for economic growth and the world's oil reserves are not sufficient to sustain the current rates of expansion.


Furthermore, although both China and India's overall consumption of energy is very high, their per capita figures are still far below that of the US. Thus, there is only one direction in which to move—upwards—implying that the energy needs of developing countries is only set to increase. Given this data and that both China and India are yet importers of oil, it is all the more imperative for the countries to explore alternative sources of energy. While China still depends on coal for over 70% of its energy needs, it has set a target of obtaining 15% of its energy from renewable sources. However, given the rates of expansion, dependence on non-renewable sources will continue to pose a threat to not only growth but also the environment and must steadily be replaced with greener sources.










An Ordinance, promulgated on June 18, was triggered by a highly publicised jurisdictional dispute between the Securities and Exchange Board of India and the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority over regulation of the highly popular Unit-Linked Insurance Policies (ULIP). The dispute was resolved following the Finance Minister's intervention. However, the government has pounced on the opportunity to promulgate the Ordinance with the ostensible purpose of creating an institutional mechanism to resolve all future jurisdictional issues involving financial sector regulators. A new high-level body chaired by the Finance Minister and comprising the Finance Secretary and the four financial sector regulators will be asked to adjudicate on all future disputes within a specified time frame. Its decisions will be binding on all the regulators. The need to create a new mechanism has been questioned on a number of counts. Disputes such as the one between the SEBI and the IRDA have been rare. In any case, until the ULIP matter arose, the existing High Level Coordination Committee headed by the Reserve Bank of India and comprising representatives of all regulators and Finance Ministry officials was more than equal to the task of settling disputes. Besides, as in all well-functioning markets, informal channels of communication between the government and the regulators have ensured regulatory co-ordination.


The more substantive objection to the Ordinance is that it will undermine regulatory autonomy, especially that of the RBI which has been charged with the task of maintaining financial stability. As the economist Dr. A. Vaidyanathan noted in these columns, "the RBI has earned a richly deserved and enviable reputation among central bankers and regulators the world over for its prescience in anticipating the burgeoning of high-risk bank lending in the domestic financial system...and for weathering two major crises by taking effective preventive measures." Moreover, he adds, there is a near-global consensus on "the need for stronger, stricter and more transparent mechanisms that are independent of the government to regulate the financial sector and coordinate among regulators." It appears that the United Progressive Alliance government has recklessly embarked on a retrograde path of undermining the autonomy of the central bank in particular and regulators in general under external pressure. The Ordinance in its present form gives scope for the executive arm of the government to take effective control of the financial sector. If this is not reversed but is allowed to become a statute, it will be a severe blow to transparency, professionalism, and the integrity of the regulatory process.






Thirty-five undergraduate students from seven engineering colleges, four in Bangalore and three in Hyderabad, have done something that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. One of the five satellites carried by the PSLV-C15 launched on July 12 is a pico satellite, named 'Studsat,' which weighs less than 1.5 kg. A picosat is a miniaturised artificial satellite. This is the first time in India that a picosat with an imaging camera has been designed, fabricated, and built by students, under the guidance of scientists from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The students were also involved in testing the adequacy of the clean room and ground station built for fabricating Studsat, and in receiving data and commanding the satellite. The clean room and ground station were established at one of the seven institutes involved in the project. The camera has a low resolution of 90 metres. The panchromatic images will provide terrain information during the satellite's short lifespan of six months to one year. The idea behind this exercise was to provide students an opportunity to understand the mission aspects and gain hands-on experience in building a working satellite.


Satellite launches by ISRO have always attracted public attention. But it was the Chandrayaan-1 launch in October 2008 that fired the imagination of students. The outcome was an impressive increase in the number of young men and women showing interest in space research. What is more, the trend has been sustained. Studsat, a student initiative backed by some of India's finest higher educational institutions, is an inspiring first — and there is more to come. Two nano satellites (in the less-than-15-kg category) are being built by IIT Kanpur and IIT Mumbai, and two by Chennai-based universities. All four satellites will be launched before mid-2011. If this progressive trend is student-driven, ISRO has played an exemplary role in mentoring and nurturing it. The decision to sacrifice precious payload to accommodate the demonstration satellites shows that ISRO is playing for the future. With the educational institutions required to build their own clean room and ground station, the agency has ensured that they have a long-term commitment to promote space research. At a time when many developed countries are finding it difficult to promote science, ISRO's novel way of attracting talent stands out. With Chandrayaan-2 and human space flight in prospect, it is clear that rising India's space future is very bright.










The ongoing unrest in Kashmir is the result of a failure of politics, political courage, conviction and empathy. If Kashmir burns time and again, it is because politicians in New Delhi and Srinagar have failed to extend a powerful and convincing political argument to the Kashmiris. Gone are the days when a nation state could demand the undiluted loyalty of its citizens by force and coercion; today, a modern multinational state such as India can command the legitimacy of its citizens only by the power, persuasiveness and attraction of its political arguments.


Kashmir's latest unrest needs to be seen in context, wherein the politics of New Delhi and Srinagar has lost favour with the Kashmiris. It is easy and convenient to blame Pakistan, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), dissident parties in Kashmir and the Opposition People's Democratic Party for the troubles. Indeed, they might have even committed their own acts to fuel the unrest. However, the fact remains that it is the National Conference-led Jammu and Kashmir government's deplorable poverty of politics that has set Kashmir alight again.


Forgotten promises


The historic election of 2008 saw Omar Abdullah elected Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir with a remarkable voter turnout of 61 per cent, despite the vote coming in the wake of the Amarnath land dispute. It was hoped by many that the young and dynamic Mr. Abdullah would lead the State towards peace and prosperity. However, the NC-Congress administration in Jammu and Kashmir has failed to accomplish anything more than the preceding governments and has been equally unable to prevent the State from sliding into further turmoil. Mr. Abdullah also appeared to falter on many occasions in the last two years, including recently when he attempted to blame the unrest on the LeT and anti-national elements. This is a sentiment, of course, shared by the NC's coalition partner, Congress. The Chief Minister has said on a number of occasions that Kashmir is a political issue, first and foremost, and rightly so; what then, one wonders, has prevented him from addressing it as such?


The new government in Jammu and Kashmir came to power pledging zero tolerance to human rights violations. But this is observed more in the breach. The Chief Minister also briefly flirted with the idea of setting up a 'Truth and Reconciliation Commission' of sorts; however, it remains one of his pet grand ideas and has never materialised. The process to amend various draconian provisions of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is yet to get under way in a serious manner. The five working groups established by the Prime Minister to resolve State issues at the end of the second round table conference in 2006 have not been given adequate attention, despite the encouraging suggestions proffered by many of them.


In 2000, the NC pushed a resolution through the State Assembly demanding autonomy that was rejected in totality by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government in New Delhi, which termed it "anti-national." One wonders why the NC has not renewed this demand, given that it is now a coalition partner in the UPA government at the Centre. All the NC and Mr. Abdullah have done in this regard, though, has been to make occasional references to it. It is one thing to orchestrate a litany of promises; it is an entirely different thing to have the political will and courage to pursue them.


Premature triumphalism

The previous two years of mainstream politics in Jammu and Kashmir have been marked by a post-2008 election euphoria that has led to a misplaced sense of triumphalism in Srinagar and New Delhi regarding the victory of democracy and the defeat of dissent in the Valley. The politics of indifference and complacency took root in place of a realisation that this sense of relative stability could be used to usher in a programme of political reconciliation and peace. Mainstream politicians in the Valley forget what has always been true in the case of Kashmir: peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of justice, as famously pointed out by Martin Luther King Jr. The politicians of Jammu and Kashmir and New Delhi should have had the wisdom to capitalise on the positive post-2008 atmosphere by promoting substantive conflict resolution processes in the State. The absence of a political reconciliation process has convinced the people, especially the youth, that their trust has been betrayed by the elected leadership.


Meaning of violence


There is also a widespread tendency among officials and those who write on Kashmir to assert that in a purely statistical sense, examining (for example) indices of poverty and other socio-economic indicators, Kashmir is doing far better than most other Indian States: so what are the Kashmiris complaining about? On the other hand, there are those who argue that the way to resolve the Kashmir issue is simply to pump ever more money into the State. Both these positions are half-truths, if not outright absurdities. Those who defend such arguments fail to understand the meaning of violence in its more nuanced sense. Peace and normalcy cannot be measured by poverty levels, or by other well-cited numbers such as the number of deaths by police fire. These statistics cannot capture the extent of political alienation and the severe psychological trauma experienced, especially by the post-1989 generation that has grown up in the shadow of guns and bloodshed. No amount of economic largesse will tempt this generation to buy unconvincing political arguments. When disillusioned youth fight for a meaning to their political existence, the political parties of Jammu and Kashmir ought to pay attention, for it is these youths who will decide their fate.


Pakistan factor


In this context, the argument that peace building and conflict resolution in Kashmir could not progress due to the post-26/11 acrimony between India and Pakistan falls flat. The fact is the governments in New Delhi and Srinagar need not wait to get the green signal from Islamabad to talk to their own people. Non-interference by Islamabad may well reduce violence and keep Kashmir militancy-free. However, the reality is that the current eruption of violence is marginally affected by Pakistan. Ironically, one could even argue that less interference by Islamabad could even prompt the Indian government to become complacent on Kashmir. In truth, it has certainly appeared thus since 2008.


Why should Pakistan dictate our Kashmir policy when we are certain that for the majority of Kashmiris, Pakistan does not even figure in their minds when they take to the streets protesting against injustice? Indeed, barring the marginal Hurriyat faction of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, no other political leader talks about going to Pakistan. Neither does the majority among them demand a complete separation from India.Many of those in New Delhi and Srinagar who swear by the argument that Kashmir should be resolved "politically" because it is a "political issue" fail to comprehend what this really entails. Simply put, it means that we can win Kashmir back only by making a convincing political argument, by devising a politically conscious reconciliation process, and by being sensitive to the many injustices the Kashmiris have suffered.


(Happymon Jacob teaches at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.)









In their attempt to protect their respective home turfs, the Congress governments in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra ended up handing over the political initiative in the Babli controversy to Telugu Desam Party president N. Chandrababu Naidu.


It was quite evident from the beginning that there was little understanding between Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan and his Andhra Pradesh counterpart K. Rosaiah on the implications of Mr. Naidu's planned visit to Babli in Nanded district to enable them to chalk out a strategy pre-empt it. Mr. Rosaiah was trying hard to dissuade the TDP leader from crossing the border through placatory statements and by setting up a meeting of an all-party delegation with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on July 26. In contrast, the Maharashtra government took a tough line after inexplicably allowing the TDP leader and 65 others to enter its territory.


Each of them, perhaps, had compulsions at home for doing so. Having to contend with the demand of the opposition as well as constituents of the ruling coalition and taking into consideration law and order problems, Mr. Chavan had to prevent Mr. Naidu from visiting Babli, come what may, while Mr. Rosaiah, faced with bristling problems, was averse to a new front being opened over an issue simmering for over five years.


Their discomfiture benefited Mr. Naidu, sitting in the opposition for a second consecutive stint, in several ways. He had to bring back into his fold his diminishing constituency in Telangana and galvanise the cadre that appeared confused over his stand on bifurcation of the State.


Attacking the Centre for remaining silent on the inter-State water dispute, he revived NTR's famous slogan of "self-respect of the Telugus", a plank on which the TDP founder trounced the Congress government in 1982-83. He is also seeking to breathe life into the concept of cooperative federalism championed by NTR by questioning the Centre for remaining a spectator when two States were at war over water.


The point lost in this cacophony is the sub judice nature of the Babli dispute. The Supreme Court is expected to deliver on August 16 its verdict on a contempt case filed by the Andhra Pradesh government against Maharashtra for erecting crest gates on the Babli in violation of its directions. No less significant is the fact that S.B. Chavan and Jalagam Vengal Rao reached an agreement in October 1975 which was later made part of the Godavari Water Disputes Tribunal (GWDT) Award. Maharashtra could utilise 60 tmcft (thousand million cubic feet) of Godavari water while Andhra Pradesh could go ahead with building the Sriram Sagar Project (SRSP) and utilise all the balance water.


The TDP's contention is that Maharashtra has used up its quota in course of time by building four projects. Yet, in an action without precedent, Maharashtra began construction of the Babli project on the foreshores of SRSP and 13 other small projects upstream. Eighteen lakh acres under the SRSP ayacut in the Telangana region will become barren if Maharashtra is allowed to have its way.


Political parties in Andhra Pradesh have been vying with one another to champion the region's cause. This competition has intensified after the commotion caused by the Centre's announcement on initiating the process of forming separate Telangana on December 9, 2009.


Tempers have been running so high that the Congress and the TDP leaders were warned by Telangana protagonists not to campaign in the byelections to 12 Assembly constituencies in the region. The Congress, in any case, has no lead campaigner while Mr. Naidu was reluctant to take part in electioneering because of the deep Andhra-Telangana fissure within the TDP, leaving the field wide open to Telangana Rashtra Samithi president K. Chandrasekhar Rao in Telangana. After the Babli row, the TDP leaders can now campaign without



On this score, the TDP's timing was suspect since the bypoll is due on July 27. For at lease five action-filled days, the elections took the backseat as Mr. Naidu and his 65-strong entourage battled with the Maharashtra police with grit demanding that they be allowed to visit the "illegal" Babli project. The extent to which his labours will yield electoral dividends will be known when the bypoll results are declared on July 30.









Jim Steranko. Many of you will not have heard his name before, a dreadful truth that troubles me every day. If he were French they'd have his statue in parks, Italian he'd be on their stamps, Japanese and he'd be doing commercials for videogames and fermented soya bean soda. But in the English-speaking world, we still woefully undervalue these master storytellers who choose panels and word balloons to work with.


To my fellow enthusiasts he is a Genius, a Wizard, a Master, a God. A one-of-a-kind, self-promoting hipster/huckster with the finest hair I've ever seen on a man of his age. He is also one of the handful of pioneers who can be said to have genuinely revolutionised the art of graphic storytelling. Glimpse his work and, before you even know exactly how he's doing it, you instinctively know it is different — better — than the norm. You'll also be hopelessly hooked. For life.


The story of Mr. Steranko's early years — the son of first-generation immigrants who came to America and worked, worked, worked for their family and future, while young Jim studied the funny pages in the Sunday newspapers for escape — is not unusual in the world of first-generation comic-book professionals. But unlike his contemporaries, who headed straight into an art course or an apprenticeship with the older guys in the industry, Mr. Steranko went off and learned stage magic, fire eating, the jazzmaster guitar, escapology. He briefly plied a trade in all those fields, before his exceptional eye for design and a desire to tell stories and create whole worlds took over. He gravitated towards comics, and found himself at the self-styled "House of Ideas": Stan Lee's Marvel Comics in its pop-art, counter-cultural heyday.


Initially, Mr. Steranko's drawing, like that of so many who kickstarted their career at Marvel during the late 60s, was heavily derivative of the "king of comics", Jack Kirby — a one-man powerhouse who contributed more then anyone to Marvel in its glory years, with his prodigious output, remarkable imagination and aggressive, muscular style. But Mr. Steranko soon outgrew his teacher, at least in terms of innovation and sheer in-your-face pizzazz, adding modern design ideas, pop-culture references to Dali and the like, and brilliant cinematic pacing to his pages. Once seen, Jim's work from this period is hard to forget. The art bursts from the page and burns itself into your memory.


To really do justice to Mr. Steranko, I'd probably be able to fill the whole paper. But sadly I don't have that, so here are a few of the high-points.


His work on his first hit book, Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., took the wildly popular Bond secret-agent schtick and gave it a jazzy makeover, with outlandish plots, eye-popping visuals and even "adult themes" that had the Comics Code Authority demanding several panels in one landmark issue be redrawn. His brief stint on Captain America (just three issues) gave one of the oldest of superheroes a pop-art makeover and a bristling energy that, I would argue, has never been recaptured. And while his iconic cover of Giant Size Hulk (issue 1) has been parodied and paid homage to dozens of times, it remains, in my humble opinion, the greatest single comic book cover of all time.


As a publisher with his own company, SuperGraphics, Mr. Steranko was able to revisit and appraise the history of the industry in his remarkable two-volume History of Comics. Then, in 1976, he created, wrote and drew the extraordinary Chandler: Red Tide.


Red Tide is a graphic novel in its purest form. A hard-boiled detective thriller in the tradition of Dashiell Hammett and, yes, Raymond Chandler, it is character-rich, novel-length fiction brought to life on the page by words and illustrations in perfect synergy. You almost definitely won't have heard of it or seen any of it before, but now is your chance: it has been restored by Dark Horse, and is being republished (with its foreword by Federico Fellini) in comic and book stores. To whet your appetite, I spent a little time with the man himself:


JR: Jim, I hope you know how much your work has meant to me. I'm very excited that Red Tide is finally being republished so it can get the recognition it deserves. Tell me how it came about.


JS: It's a homage to the great noir films. It's not comic book storytelling, it's cinematic storytelling. I only had a few months, so I lived in my studio. I covered the windows over with cloth, so I could never tell when it was day or night. I ate at the board. I slept at the board. I played only jazz from that period, the 1940s, and that kept my creative blood up.


JR: That comes across. It came out in 1976; I was 15 when I got it. It blew me away. Someone has called you the Kubrick of comics, in that you haven't produced the largest body of work, but almost everything you've done has been revolutionary.


JS: I did 29 comic books. A number of experts have gone through those books: one said he found 150 narrative devices that had never been done in comic books before. I remember in one of the stories, there was a man and a woman talking. The woman was suddenly very cold, and her answer was an empty balloon. To give it an extra punch, I had icicles hanging from the balloon. That may seem like a small point, but it had never been done before.


JR: And how did Federico Fellini come to seek you out? That puts you in perspective, for people who don't understand the impact your comics were having.


JS: I thought it would be good to have the foreword by a celebrity who appreciated that kind of material. I went over a list of names that included Orson Welles, who I knew from this magic club I was involved in, in New York City: the Witchdoctor's Club. But that would have been a bit too easy, so I thought, who would be the toughest person in the world to get? Fellini. I think it was around 1968-69.


JR: His masterpiece 81/2 had already been filmed. His movies had been a hit all over the world . . .


JS: Well, nothing ventured — I think I sent him a telegram. And he wrote this beautiful foreword. Fellini as a kid had translated American comics, particularly Flash Gordon, into Italian. In return I sent him the cover that had 50 characters on it. He sent me this beautiful note back that said, "I am hanging this above my desk in my office, because I think the magic and mystery of the characters will rub off on all of my projects."


JR: You were also working in advertising, which would have paid more and probably given you more respect. It's one of the things I find romantic about the comic book industry . . .


JS: There is no money in comics. I did it to make a statement.


JR: We haven't mentioned your escapology. It's reported that Jack Kirby based Mr. Miracle (Scott Free) on you and your tales. When I first read about you, I thought this guy is a liar, a fantasist. Now I can see it's probably true . . .



JS: I come from Pennsylvania; my family background is very poor. My father and his brothers would bootleg coal — they would go up into a mountain and open up a shaft. Sometimes, when the ground was wet, my dad would be down in the shaft and it would collapse. He would be buried alive. I used to do it sometimes between doubleheader baseball games as one of my stunts. They would dig a grave in the middle of the field. I would pull a black silk hood over my head — I looked like a superhero. The darkness was as bleak as you could imagine, and I couldn't move a finger. The idea was that I would stay alive for 15 minutes in that grave, then they would dig it up and I would pop out. No gimmicks, no devices. I would form a little triangle with my arms, put my face in it to seal off that little pocket of air, and go into suspended animation. While I was doing it, I used to think of my father, buried alive while bootlegging coal.


JR: So what did your dad make of you when you started showing tendencies towards illustrating? I can't believe he was the sort of dad who had much time for that sort of thing.


JS: I remember asking what he envisioned for me. He said, I thought you'd work in a factory like the rest of us.

He had no dream, no goal, no quest. But when I was four years old, I had an uncle who would bring me bags of comic books. I would make my mother show me the words in the balloons, and I would memorise them — that's how I learned to read.


JR: Do you ever contemplate retiring?


JS: I could never stop working. You know how a shark can never stop swimming? I have too many ideas. I can't just sit on a beach and enjoy the surf and the sun; I'm always creating. I'm an idea factory.


Spend an hour with Jim Steranko and, if he's in the mood, he'll regale you with the most extraordinary tales. Are they true, I have asked myself more than once, or is he a fantasist? Has his love of storytelling and the creation of modern myths bled into his own life story until he can no longer tell the two apart? Well, now that I've met him, I believe them all to be true, just as I believe it when he tells me he still runs miles every day, pumps iron, and fornicates blissfully like a man a third his age. He is unique. He is Steranko. He is the greatest. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010









It is an announcement that will provoke horror among those who can think of nothing better than spending an afternoon rummaging around a musty old bookshop. In what could be a watershed for the publishing industry, Amazon said sales of digital books have outstripped U.S. sales of hardbacks on its website for the first time.


Amazon claims to have sold 143 digital books for its e-reader, the Kindle, for every 100 hardback books over the past three months. The pace of change is also accelerating. Amazon said that in the most recent four weeks, the rate reached 180 ebooks for every 100 hardbacks sold. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, said sales of the Kindle and ebooks had reached a "tipping point", with five authors including Steig Larsson, the writer of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, and Stephenie Meyer, who penned the Twilight series, each selling more than 500,000 digital books. Earlier this month, Hachette said James Patterson had sold 1.1 million ebooks to date.


Neill Denny, editor-in-chief of the Bookseller, said the figures from Amazon were "eye-catching", but added a note of scepticism. He said that while ebooks had outnumbered hardbacks in volume, they were likely to be some distance behind in value. Some of the bestsellers listed on the Kindle top 10 list were retailing for as little as $1.16. Free downloads of books no longer in copyright were excluded from the figures.


It does not appear that the growth of ebooks is damaging sales of physical books. According to the Association of American Publishers, hardback sales are still growing in the U.S., up 22 per cent this year.


The association says that ebook sales in the U.S. account for six per cent of the consumer book market. One

publisher in London said the U.S. was "two or three years ahead of us. But there is no reason to suppose we won't see the same thing happening here."


Kate Pool, deputy general-secretary of the Royal Society of Authors, said most authors would be "delighted" to sell large numbers of digital books. "If you speak to most authors, they couldn't bear to get rid of their old bookshelves, but if their readers want to read on an e-reader, then great. They are in it to earn a living after all." The market is still relatively small in Britain. Digital sales were around £150 million last year, says the Publishers' Association, over 80 per cent in the academic-professional sector, with only £5 million in consumer sales.


The Kindle has been available in the U.K. since October, although customers still need to visit the U.S. site and get the device delivered from America.


The books catalogue is also available only through the American site and the titles priced in dollars. A spokesman said there were 390,000 titles available for U.K. readers to download. The company will not release figures on the number of Kindles sold. "We are nowhere near the same level as the U.S.," Denny added. "I have never seen anyone using a Kindle in Britain. The iPad is more interesting." Amazon cut the price of its device in June in response to the launch of Apple's iPad, which many believe could provide a substantial threat to the Kindle's market. Waterstones has sold ebooks from its website for the Sony Reader since September 2008 and will sell its one-millionth title this year, a spokesman said.


Ms Pool said she had yet to invest in an ebook reader. "I have played around with one, but I haven't read a full book on one. It is not that I am a Luddite, more of a scrooge, which I think is the same for many people. I am waiting for the price to come down, for the amount of content available to go up and I want to be sure I am not buying the wrong thing. I don't want to be left with a Betamax when everyone else is watching VHS." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010







President Omar al-Bashir arrived in Chad on Wednesday for an African summit, the first time Sudan's leader has risked arrest by travelling to a member state of the International Criminal Court.


Mr. Bashir faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for atrocities committed in Darfur. Because Chad is a member of the ICC, it could have Mr. Bashir arrested, but Sudan's government spokesman indicated he did not think that would happen.


"Relations between Sudan and Chad are more important, something beyond [the fact that] Chad is a member" of the ICC, said Rabie Abdel Attie. "I don't think Chad will do anything to harm the president. There is an agreement to end hostilities."


The Mayor of N'djamena presented Mr. Bashir with a key the city upon his arrival, indicating a warm welcome.


Human Rights Watch urged Chad to arrest Bashir. — AP









First the Union home secretary, and now the national security adviser. It is not certain how Islamabad will choose to cope with the avalanche of accusations against its Army and intelligence establishment for being bound up with sources of terrorism. So long as it is the Indians saying this, Pakistan can hide. But once others in the international community begin to speak up, Islamabad will have few places to run to.
Pakistan had maintained after its diplomatic storm troopers sabotaged the recent foreign minister talks that home secretary G.K. Pillai's observation on the eve of that engagement soured the atmosphere. Islamabad held that the home secretary should have given evidence of diplomatic tact by not stating in public that the role of the ISI in the Mumbai attacks was not peripheral but central. The home secretary had made it perfectly clear that he was basing himself on the interrogation of David Coleman Headley, the American national of Pakistan origin who had surveyed targets in Mumbai preceding the November 2008 attacks, and not offering India's own surmises. But this made no difference to Islamabad. Evidently, their view is that any effort to link the Pakistan Army or ISI, its intelligence service, to terrorist agencies would automatically cause injury to the process of interaction.

The contretemps over the Indian home secretary's words has not even died down and NSA Shivshankar Menon has found it necessary to warn that the Headley interrogation showed the "links" of the terror outfits "with the official establishment and with existing intelligence agencies". He was careful not to name Pakistan, but Islamabad has decided to take umbrage anyway. Its foreign ministry spokesman called Mr Menon's observations "baseless". Possibly, they know intuitively where the shoe pinches. Nonetheless, the NSA's comments on the goings-on in the home base of world jihad and terrorism have significance far beyond India — for the region and the world. Mr Menon's words carry an echo when Afghanistan lies in the crucible and when no one can be sure that another major terror strike, post-marked Pakistan, is not in the offing against India, Europe, America, Africa, or some other place. The senior Indian official made two points that are worthy of note. He said on account of official links the terrorism issue was "a much harder phenomenon for us to deal with". Mr Menon further noted that the nexus "would not be broken soon" and "was getting stronger". He also said India had a much clearer picture today of the "ecosystem" that supports terrorism which "affects the entire world". In Islamabad recently, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton informed a clutch of television editors earlier this week that the Headley interrogation had produced "revealing facts" that had been shared by Islamabad.

In the light of all that we know about the intricacy of the links of the Pakistan establishment with the infrastructure of terrorism, fol­lowing Headley's confessions to escape the noose, Islamabad was being a bit rich when it behaved shabbily with external affairs minister S.M. Krishna. Now Mr Menon's remarks have come when the India-Pakistan interactive process is still on. Does Islama­bad propose to repudiate it? Indeed, as Mr Krishna himself noted, the Headley information is now a matter of public record and cannot be brushed under the carpet. This constitutes a welcome reass­u­rance that India does not plan to shove 26/11 under the carpet. Ho­wever, following the NSA's candid talk, can India carry on en­gaging Pakistan? If the military and intelligence establishment in Pakistan is intermeshed with the terrorists, is there any hope that Islamabad will seriously address India's concern on the Mumbai attacks?









On July 26, 2010, the first verdict of the Khmer Rouge trials is awaited. This will decide the fate of Kaing Guek Eav alias "Duch", the jailer at the dreaded Tuol Sleng prison, or the S-21 interrogation centre, in Phnom Penh. He is the first perpetrator against whom the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) will deliver its verdict for crimes against humanity and genocide. Even as the decision is awaited amidst speculation and debates, the July 26 verdict will also be critical for the United Nations which is primarily responsible for the implementation of the trials. The UN's role in the Cambodian conflict will come a full circle with this verdict.
From April 1975 to December 1978, Cambodia went through a period of genocide under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. This period was a reversion to what was called the "Year Zero" when the Khmer Rouge sought to bring to a standstill the entire history of the country and begin its rule from scratch. During this period nearly two million people lost their lives due to starvation, disease and torture. The Khmer Rouge period was ended by Vietnamese intervention and occupation which lasted for over 12 years, until the Cambodian peace settlement of 1991.

Reports of the genocide within Cambodia first emerged because of refugee accounts. The stories contained tales of forced labour in agricultural lands, an agrarian style model that was brutally enforced, and mass execution of people suspected to be loyal to the former government that assisted the United States' war efforts in Vietnam.
What is significant today is the role played by the UN in pushing forward the genocidal tribunal for crimes against humanity and bringing to trial the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge. Five members, including Duch, of the immediate group that controlled Cambodia during this period are facing trial, all of them in their seventies. There's Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea — these four were closest to Pol Pot and were significant players in pushing the agendas and vision of the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot, who should have been brought to book, escaped by a quirk of fate and died as a result of malaria.

While today the UN is responsible to a great extent to push forward the Khmer Rouge trials, at the height of the Cambodian conflict the UN had in some sense kept the conflict alive. The intransigence of the Cold War is nowhere more visible than in the context of Cambodia where the UN was stymied by its inability to assist in finding a resolution in the initial years of the conflict.

During the Khmer Rouge period, the UN was unable to take steps to prevent the genocide because of a clause within their charter. The clause, that pertains to domestic jurisdiction, in effect said that even in cases where there have been gross human rights violations, the UN may not be able to act since the issue may fall within the limits of internal affairs of member states.

In the aftermath of the Vietnamese intervention, the debate in the UN raged over the issue of representation of the UN seat — the seat was occupied by the Khmer Rouge government which was officially known as the Democratic Kampuchea (DK) regime. The government which replaced the Khmer Rouge was that of Heng Samrin and was officially called the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK). However, because this government was backed by the Vietnamese forces, it was not accepted as the legal government within the UN. And as a result, the seat in the UN remained with the Khmer Rouge for most of the conflict.
In 1982, three years after the conflict had begun, three political factions combined together to form the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK). This was a grouping of three political factions that were against the Vietnamese-backed Heng Samrin government. It comprised the royalists under Sinhanouk, the republicans under Son Sann and the Khmer Rouge. In fact, the formation of this coalition lent greater credibility to the Khmer Rouge which handled the foreign affairs of the CGDK and continued to retain the UN seat.
While this dichotomy in the UN's stand was a critical issue, in the run-up to the Cambodian peace settlement the UN emerged as the main arbiter. It was under the auspices of the UN that a transitional authority oversaw the elections in Cambodia in 1993. This resulted in the victory of both the royalists under Norodom Ranariddh and the Cambodian People's Party under Hun Sen. For the first five years, from 1993 to 1998, power was shared between two conflicting groups. The 1998 election onwards Hun Sen has emerged victorious and there has been little political change within Cambodia since.

With the first verdict awaited in the Khmer Rouge trials on July 26, the debate rages over the extent to which punishment should be given. In fact, this first trial sets the stage for the other four high-ranking members of the Khmer Rouge who are to be tried. The trials of these four will be far more significant than the first one against Duch. Duch in his statements has claimed that he was merely an instrument of state policy. He even argued that he was carrying out orders given by the higher authorities within the Khmer Rouge and as a result should be acquitted rather than be found guilty.

There have been debates over verdicts such as life imprisonment, death penalty and other punishments. Interestingly, the political leadership within Cambodia has been less than willing to let the process take a conclusive course. Prime Minister Hun Sen has even hinted that the trials could lead his country to another civil war. While there is an opinion that the degree of punishment needs to be muted, given the age of the perpetrators and the time that has elapsed, it still needs to be weighed very seriously. Bringing justice to the victims of genocidal crimes is a crucial part of putting to rest a phase of history that is best forgotten. However, to forget that history without due justice to the victims would be to undermine the sufferings of thousands of people. The United Nations' efforts to bring the issue to a completion must not be based on principle alone, it needs to be tangible in terms of its outcomes as well.


n Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an associate professor ofSoutheast Asian Studiesat the School of International Studies, JNU








The international conference in Kabul on Tuesday has set the exit strategy for international forces from Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai has assured the international delegates — whose countries and organisations are contributing soldiers and aid — that his government will be able to manage Afghanistan's security operations by 2014. US president Barack Obama and British prime minister David Cameron have declared withdrawal of their troops from next year onwards. The war against terror which began in November 2001 in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington is all set to wind down. The enemies — Al Qaeda and the Taliban — are still at large.


There is however the proverbial silver-lining. There have been two elections in the country in the last nine

years, and there is a democratic government in place in Kabul which is both fragile and incompetent. There are charges of misgovernment and corruption against the Karzai administration which weakens its ability to overcome the Taliban challenge in large parts of the country. This would not have been a crucial issue in any other country. People would have voted a bad government out of office. But in Afghanistan it could become a choice between a corrupt, democratically-elected government and a fanatical, Islamist Taliban.


It is this issue that poses a serious problem to India. Minister for external affairs, SM Krishna, has warned against squandering the gains of the last nine years through a hasty exit of the international forces. On the other hand, Pakistan sees the weakness of the Karzai regime as an opportunity to bring back its protégé, the Taliban, into Afghanistan's political mainstream. The Americans, who had armed the Islamic militants in the 1980s to fight the Soviet Union, are only too ready to turn their back on Afghanistan and let the country descend once more into internal chaos.


There is however a qualitative change in the situation. It is not just the Americans who are involved in Afghanistan. It is the international community as a whole which has camped there.


Afghanistan is not any more a hermit country like North Korea. The global connections are firmly established through the UN and other international aid agencies. Pakistan will not be able to support the Islamists in Kabul as it did in the case of the Taliban between 1996 and 2001. The situation in Afghanistan will remain one of concern for the foreseeable future. But it is now a place which is at the centre of international attention. That is the good news.







The Supreme Court has given the concepts of education, service and privilege much food for thought in its ruling that students are not consumers and universities are not service providers. A disgruntled student cannot therefore take a university to the consumer court for poor service if the student does not get a degree.


In this particular case, a student was not given a degree by the Maharishi Dayanand University because she had failed to disclose that she had twice before appeared for the examinations, which is not permitted. The National Consumer Disputes Tribunal had directed the university to confer on the student a Bachelor of Education degree. But the Supreme Court instead made it clear that a board examination is not a service offered to a consumer. A student sits for an examination after having undergone a course of study to be tested whether he or she is suitable for getting a degree. The final result is not guaranteed either when a student pays the course fees or even the examination fees. The examination fees are for the privilege of sitting for an exam; they do not automatically lead to the conferring of a degree.


The apex court has not removed the possibility of suing educational institutions. It has made it clear that the consumer court is not the right place for redressal in such instances. It may be true that we live in consumerist times and it is certainly true that consumers have rights which must be protected. But in this case, the matter is both an education and a degree and both are achieved by hard work on the part of the paying party. It is a fine but vital distinction.


It may well be true that it is possible to take issue with the quality of education offered by an institution or even with the fact that what was promised was not taught or even that a guaranteed examination was not held. But an education — at any level — required the effort of the teacher and the taught to be successful. And the degree at the end of the course depends solely on the student's ability not just to comprehend the course material but also to pass a test.


Each institution also has its own rules which a student is expected to abide by. Paying money does not mean that these rules are automatically set aside or ignored. The apex court has carefully delineated money paid for education in this case.








It takes extraordinary motivation and commitment to take on a machine. Especially a machine as powerful and ruthless as the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which has been entrenched as the ruling party in West Bengal for more than three decades. So why is anyone surprised to find that railway minister Mamata Banerjee is more concerned about her political stakes in Bengal than how the railways are run?


Opposition to the Communists has been the defining characteristic of her life. Nobody else in the Congress has the guts, gumption or grit to take on the Communists, for they are all ordinary politicians. That leaves Mamata as the only Durga available to slay the demon. The railway ministry is merely the mount from which she proposes to target the beast.


If we can accept that this is what Mamata is all about, we have no right to expect anything better from her. She is not going to spend her time in Rail Bhavan trying to improve railway finances, as her predecessor Lalu Prasad did. Sure, Lalu too played politics when he was the helm. He had his own games to play in neighbouring Bihar. But the difference between him and Mamata is this: while he was willing to bide his time and play politics more or less by the rules, Mamata is not. For her, the ruling passion is jehad against Communist evil. So there is no scope for any ambiguity on what her primary motive is.


Given this, one wonders why prime minister Manmohan Singh gave her the critical railway ministry. It could have been given to one of her acolytes and she could have been given a free hand to hit the streets of Kolkata and become a pain in the CPM's butt any which way she could.


The more important question is this: why did Mamata choose to tie herself down with ministerial responsibilities when she knew her heart was in Bengal? My best guess is that vague political calculations and her all-too-human weaknesses played a part in this. She had been a railway minister in the Vajpayee
government. Though her regime was unmarked by any great performance, the rave reviews Lalu got for his five years in the ministry surely piqued her. This is why in her first budget last year she announced that a white paper would be produced on railway finances. The obvious idea was to debunk the Lalu mystique and bring his performance claims down to earth.


But she forgot one thing: she could have done that only by performing even better. To erase Lalu's legacy, she would have had to really give the ministry her best shot. But given her preoccupation with lighting fires under Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's chief ministerial chair in Bengal, there was no way she could have spared the time for this. On the contrary, by literally shifting her ministry to Kolkata and allowing things at Rail Bhavan to drift, she has shot herself in the foot.


The second human weakness she displayed is the quest for official power. After being in the wilderness for years once she quit the Vajpayee government, she badly needed the trappings of office to enhance her own status and claims to power in Bengal. She probably thought that an independent Central ministry with loads of cash and largesse to distribute would be necessary to overawe the Left in her state.


In retrospect, one can say that Mamata did not think things through when she demanded the railway ministry. She forgot who she was and what she needed to do to achieve her life's ambition of dethroning the Left in Bengal. After her spectacular showing in the Lok Sabha elections, there was no way she could have retired to Rail Bhavan while waiting for the assembly elections in 2011. She had to hit the streets and rural roads to keep the Left on the defensive till she delivered the knockout blow.


Mamata miscalculated the real advantages the railway ministry would bring to her campaign in West Bengal. The ministry worked for Lalu as he knew he was out of power. He knew he had to sit out five years, and a reviving rail economy afforded him an opportunity to rebuild his reputation. In the case of Mamata, she cannot afford to rest, for her challenges lie ahead. It is too early for her to make the transition from streetfighter to administrator. Running a good ministry will do nothing for her in Bengal.


So where do we go from here? The obvious answer is that the ministry should be run by someone else, with Mamata getting full-time into street politics. As her party's prime vote-getter, she need not fear that anyone will run away with kudos in the railway ministry. She can always run the ministry by remote — as Bal Thackeray did in Maharashtra. The advantage: power without responsibility.








I was driving from Washington to New York one afternoon when a car came zooming up behind me. I could see in the rearview mirror that the driver was talking on her cellphone.

I was about to move to the centre lane to get out of her way when she suddenly swerved into that lane herself to pass me — still chatting away. She continued moving dangerously from one lane to another as she sped up the highway.

Beyond the obvious safety issues, why does anyone want, or need, to be talking constantly on the phone or watching movies (or texting) while driving? I hate to sound so 20th century, but what's wrong with just listening to the radio? The blessed wonders of technology are overwhelming us. We don't control them; they control us.
We've got cellphones and BlackBerrys and Kindles and iPads, and we're emailing and text-messaging and chatting and tweeting — I used to call it Twittering until I was corrected by high school kids who patiently explained to me, as if I were the village idiot, that the correct term is tweeting. Twittering, tweeting — whatever it is, it sounds like a nervous disorder.

This is all part of what I think is one of the weirder aspects of our culture: a heightened freneticism that seems to demand that we be doing, at a minimum, two or three things every single moment that we're awake. Why is multitasking considered an admirable talent? We could just as easily think of it as a neurotic inability to concentrate for more than three seconds.

Why do we have to check our email so many times a day, or keep our ears constantly attached, as if with glue, to our cellphones?

A friend of mine told me about an engagement party that she had attended. She said it was lovely: a delicious lunch and plenty of Champagne toasts. But all the guests had their cellphones on the luncheon tables and had text-messaged their way through the entire event. Enough already with this hyperactive behaviour, this techno-tyranny and nonstop freneticism. We need to slow down and take a deep breath.

I'm not opposed to the remarkable technological advances of the past several years. I don't want to go back to typewriters and carbon paper and yellowing clips from the newspaper morgue. I just think that we should treat technology like any other tool. We should control it, bending it to our human purposes.
Let's put down at least some of these gadgets and spend a little time just being ourselves. One of the essential problems of our society is that we have a tendency to lose sight of what is truly human in ourselves — those very special, mostly nonmaterial things that would fulfill us, give meaning to our lives, enlarge us, and enable us to more easily embrace those around us.

There's a character in the August Wilson play Joe Turner's Come and Gone who says everyone has a song inside of him or her, and that you lose sight of that song at your peril. If you get out of touch with your song, forget how to sing it, you're bound to end up frustrated and dissatisfied. As this character says, recalling a time when he was out of touch with his own song, "Something wasn't making my heart smooth and easy."
I don't think we can stay in touch with our song by constantly Twittering or tweeting, or thumbing out messages on our BlackBerrys, or piling up virtual friends on Facebook.

We need to reduce the speed limits of our lives. We need to savour the trip. Leave the cellphone at home every once in awhile. Try kissing more and tweeting less. And stop talking so much. Listen.
Other people have something to say, too. And when they don't, that glorious silence that you hear will have more to say to you than you ever imagined. That is when you will begin to hear your song. That's when your best thoughts take hold, and you become really you. —NYT









The Central and state agencies have failed to lift foodgrains to safer places before the onset of the monsoon.

Lack of advance preparations and planning has resulted in damage to large quantities of foodgrains, particularly in the flood-affected areas of Punjab and Haryana. A preliminary estimate puts the wheat loss alone at 250 lakh tonnes. Haryana has faced floods due to the state government's failure to build check dams across the Ghaggar and Punjab areas which have got inundated due to the faulty design of the Hansi-Bhutana canal and the government's inability to clear the canals of weeds and encroachments. Both states as well as the Centre have not been able to build sufficient storage capacity. Besides, the limited storage facilities are not used properly. Food rots in the open while Punjab warehouses have been leased to private firms for storing liquor.


The persistent high food prices should have turned the government attention to two areas: raising food output and stopping wastage. Since food production has been stagnant for the past decade, efforts should have been made to preserve the produce and cut the waste. According to official information, 13,00,000 tonnes of foodgrains were damaged between 1997 and 2007, mostly in Punjab and Haryana though floods are rare in the two states. The quantity lost was sufficient to feed one crore people for one year. The existing storage capacity is inadequate and its expansion to store the left-out 140 lakh tonnes requires an investment of Rs 4,000 crore. The fund-strapped governments now desperately look at private firms for a bailout.


Like agriculture, post-harvest care has seldom got the required government focus. The construction of more silos and mechanic handling of foodgrains can lower the costs and check pilferage and the loss –fraudulent or genuine — in transit. Last month Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar threatened criminal action against officials found responsible for the rotting of foodgrains in godowns. His own contribution has been less than satisfactory. He may again be in the firing line in the coming monsoon session of Parliament over the issue of foodgrain losses.








It needs no messiah to surmise that the theatrical performance of Telugu Desam leader Chandrababu Naidu in taking a party delegation to Maharashtra, courting arrest for attempting to lead a protest march to the Babhli barrage which is under construction across the Godavari, and his subsequent refusal to accept bail were part of a plan to extract political mileage with an eye on the 12 byelections to the Andhra Assembly from the Telangana region. That Mr Naidu and his men were finally bundled into a special aircraft and flown out virtually by force at the instance of the Ashok Chavan government in Maharashtra has brought the curtains down on a drama that the TDP would have liked to continue for some more time to gain maximum advantage. While it is true that the barrage may reverse water flow and affect inflows into Sriramsagar reservoir that irrigates Nizamabad, Karimnagar, Warangal and Adilabad districts in Andhra, the timing of Naidu's action shows the unmistakable stamp of electoral politics. By organizing a bandh in Andhra over the arrest of Chandrababu Naidu and other leaders, the TDP tried to make it out to be an issue of wounded Andhra pride but it did not cut much ice.


With all parties playing for high stakes in the byelections on July 27, the battle is indeed fierce. The Congress has to prove the supremacy of its Chief Minister, K. Rosaiah, against the onslaught of young Jagan Mohan Reddy who has defied the party high command to undertake a yatra to garner support in the name of his late father and former Chief Minister Rajsekhar Reddy. But the highest stakes are those of the Telangana Praja Samithi whose 10 legislators had resigned besides one each of the Congress and the BJP in support of a separate Telangana state.


All eyes in Andhra are on the battle at the hustings. For the TDP this is a chance to bounce back into public reckoning. For the Congress it is an acid test for Rosaiah, but for the TRS it is a battle for remaining credible in its fight for Telangana.








Tuesday'S Kabul conference of Afghanistan's donor countries clearly brought out at least two possibilities: handing over of the country's security to the Afghans by 2014 and induction of 36,000 former Taliban militants into Afghanistan's regular forces. By July 2011, when the US-led foreign troops will begin to withdraw from Afghanistan, it will be ready with its army and police force to independently take care of law and order in almost every province. A mechanism is going to be set up to identify the areas where Afghanistan's security forces will be deployed in the beginning to replace the foreign troops. President Hamid Karzai seems to be confident of his own security forces to be in a position soon to take on the challenge posed by the militants. His confidence stems from the support his strategy for new Afghanistan has got from the international community, which wants peace to return to the war-torn country as quickly as possible.


President Karzai has succeeded in convincing the US and other donor countries that the cause of peace demands that the Taliban factions which renounce violence must be inducted into the government. His idea is that the strategy will weaken the remaining Taliban groups against whom the fight will continue till they are finally defeated. After winning over some of the Taliban elements to his side and the roadmap getting ready for the departure of all the foreign forces, it will be easier for him to convince the Afghan masses that those indulging in militancy are the enemies of the people.


However, President Karzai's idea of establishing peace may prove to be useless unless he succeeds in convincing the international community that the terrorist bases on the other side of the Durand Line — Pakistan's tribal areas — are not eliminated soon. The ISI-patronised Haqqani faction of the Taliban, besides the one led by Mullah Omar (no one knows where he is), is unlikely to be inducted in the Karzai government. These destructive elements must be handled ruthlessly so that the Afghan peace process goes on undisturbed. India, which is involved in a big way in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, will have to continue to remind the world that there should be no let up in the drive against the terrorists of every hue and persuasion, based in the Af-Pak region.

















When an anxious Andrei Gromyko met Atal Bihari Vajpayee just after the Janata Party government assumed office in 1977, he was assured that Indo-Soviet relations were strong enough to withstand changes in the government in New Delhi. When a populist Barack Obama assumed office in January 2009 there were good reasons for many in New Delhi to feel concerned about the future of India-US relations. Obama made no secret of his view that he intended to resolve world issues in partnership with a resurgent and assertive China.


As President-elect, he averred: "We also have to help make the case that the biggest threat to Pakistan right now is not India, which has been their historical enemy; it is actually from within their borders." While these views are unexceptionable, what raised the eyebrows in India was his assertion: "We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try and resolve the Kashmir crisis, so that they (Pakistan) can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants." President Obama subsequently expressed his displeasure with American outsourcing to India by stating: "Say no to Bangalore; say yes to Buffalo."


Now, in the second year of his presidency, we are evidently seeing a turnaround in President Obama's thinking. His administration is recognising that an assertive China is set to challenge US power worldwide and particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, where the US has alliance relationships with a number of countries like South Korea and Japan. Not only is China strengthening its navy to militarily assert its territorial claims on maritime boundaries with Malaysia, the Philippines, Japan and South Korea, but it is also challenging the presence of the American Pacific Fleet in the South China Sea and the Yellow Sea, off the Korean coast.


The Chinese have introduced new concepts in international relations by claiming that foreign ships cannot enter the waters in their neighbourhood even if they are outside Chinese territorial waters by describing these areas close to their shores as "waters of China's interests," or as being within "China's sphere of influence". Moreover, China's export-led growth and manipulation of exchange rates are seen as producing destabilising global trade imbalances, and its approach to climate change is less than positive.


On India's western borders, the US is now realising that despite all its solicitude towards and assistance for Pakistan, Gen Ashfaque Parvez Kayani has no intention of ending his support for Taliban groups like the Quetta Shura led by Mullah Omar and the Haqqani network, based in North Waziristan, which are inflicting heavy casualties on the American forces in Afghanistan. Moreover, these groups are now being reinforced by the Lashkar- e-Toiyaba.  In these circumstances, there are now calls in the US, led by influential Congressmen and Gen David Petraeus, to declare the Haqqani network as a terrorist organisation.


Thus, contrary to earlier perceptions, it is now clear that while the US may nominally thin down its forces in Afghanistan and even move its forces out of Southern Afghanistan, it will not permit a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. The US will retain adequate air power and ground forces across Afghanistan to inflict damage on the Taliban and Al-Qaida bases there and even in the tribal areas of Pakistan.


On July 1, the Pentagon's Under Secretary for Defence Policy, Michele Flournoy, outlined the US approach in Asia.  She asserted that it no longer makes sense to discuss the increasingly interconnected Asian region in terms of "East Asian" security or "South Asian security". She added: "It also means that the security of Asia's two dominant powers (India and China) can no longer be viewed as a zero-sum game. A safer and more secure India that is close to the US should not be seen as a threat and vice-versa. Indeed, all three countries play an important role in that region's stability". Flournoy also remarked that the economies of both India and the US relied on effective maritime security to preserve free passage in the Indian Ocean and surrounding waterways.


India believes that its interests are not served when US-China relations are marked by collusion, as was apprehended in the first year of the Obama Administration, or by confrontation, which marked the early years of the Cold War. Moreover, the emerging American policies appear to reject Chinese efforts to undermine India's "Look East" policy. China views Indian engagement with its Asia-Pacific neighbourhood with suspicion, asserting that India is merely a "South Asian power".


While Michele Flournoy has indicated that the Obama Administration recognises that India has a "lot to offer" in space technology and that agreements are being finalised to permit "frontline American (defence) technologies to be shared" with India, substantial spadework remains to be done if the relationship is to grow significantly. American firms are still restricted in developing relations with the Indian Space Research Organisation and key Indian defence industries. Though India has already moved to acquire C-130 J transport aircraft and P-81 maritime reconnaissance aircraft and appears interested in meeting its shortages in field artillery by purchases from the US, for its Mountain Divisions, future high-value Indian defence acquisitions should have detailed provisions for technology transfers and imports from India by American suppliers — the provisions which American defence industrial units need to get familiar with.


 The US State Department has rejected Pakistani accusations of "human rights violations" during recent protests in Kashmir. Referring to these events, the State Department Spokesman stated: "We regret the loss of lives in this incident. It is an internal matter (of India). We respect the efforts of the Government of India to resolve the current situation in Kashmir. In terms of the protest, we would urge everyone to refrain from violence and conduct protests in a peaceful manner."  Moreover, during his visit to New Delhi on July 15 President Obama's National Security Adviser Gen James Jones came down heavily on Pakistan-based terrorist groups, stating: "In our bilateral relationship with Pakistan, we have expressed strong concerns over the existence within the borders of Pakistan of terrorist organisations that have goals to destabilise our way of life, your way of life, to prevent (our) strategic goals from being achieved in Afghanistan."


Preparations now appear to have commenced for President Obama's visit to India this November. While the Obama Administration is now showing a better understanding of India's security concerns, New Delhi would be well advised to prepare now to utilise his visit for addressing other concerns also like the existing sanctions on the Indian defence research and space organisations. A strategic partnership can have little meaning if such sanctions persist.


The writer is a former Ambassador of India to Pakistan.








PALAT, palat, palat!" He barked from behind. I turned my back and was surprised to see a dog on my trail. "Bhai Sahab, can you make me understand what is the fault of a dog, if he wags his tail if someone whistles?" "No fault. But how do you know I can talk with you?" "Come on sir, do you not have canine teeth? So you should have canine tongue too!" He could not have been more candid.


"I have some clarifications to seek, regarding the predicament of the Labrador, who is in the news for being claimed by different people, and the matter is in the Hon'ble Court!" And he kept barking with me, taking the canine-cause one by one.


"Is it not a dilemma of sorts, if you have to choose your master, be it a townsman, a bureaucrat or an army man? And why should they prove it, by inciting our instinctive wagging of the tail? Sometimes I feel doing it, when the pressure cooker whistles!" I smiled and waited for his next sal(i)vo.


"Will they obtain the consent of my buddy before implanting a chip in him; or before taking his sample for DNA? What about our rights to privacy and against intrusions? Ye pulis-kachehri ke chakkar kaun katega Bhai Sahab aur kaun jhelega tareekh pe tareekh!" He went on being a little filmy.


"A media-trial is already on, but will they not show in pics, Marshall, or Leo, sitting on his haunches , salivating with his lolling tongue, watching the trial, waiting him to be declared "His Matser's Choice! We have only known to 'cross', but not to be cross-examined. O' destiny!" He lamented.


"We love our masters, or our 'owners' — he chuckled a bit at this ownership — but those of us who are always on a high, in straying here and there, are not considered even for an adoption! Our taut tail not straightened permanently, doesn't mean that we don't take even straight and sagacious counsel. Why have we to now engage counsel, sir!" He was going beyond his brief but I kept mum.


"Well, Bhai Sahab, call me mad but we have been known to be loyal to only one master, and not two, or too many. Till the time the verdict will be announced, our faithfulness will remain in a state of suspended anima(l)ation, almost akin to impeachment of credit and character we are known for. Can you tell us an early solution? Canines are impatient and cannot wait like humans, you see."


I heard someone taking a dig at me then, saying, "Kutton ke munh nahin lagte!" and I decided to beat a hasty

retreat advising our best friend of the species: "File an application of early hearing!" He was not as unworthy and discourteous as me. He wagged his tail and winked before finally parting ways. But I could hear him brood still, "To be owned or not to be, that is the question...!" Thereafter I could not hear his voice.








Suresh Kalmadi Chairman, Organising Committee, Commonwealth Games, Delhi 2010


Suresh Kalmadi is in charge of organising India's most prestigious international event: The Commonwealth Games Delhi 2010. There is a growing concern that when the Games begin on October 3, the infrastructure would not be fully ready or up to scratch. But Kalmadi remains supremely confident of delivering. Part of that confidence lies in the 1,500-strong workforce he has put together to run the show – most of them below 30 years of age. He also has an army of 20,000 young volunteers who are helping out. It's a mammoth effort that involves not just building new stadia but also getting in place infrastructure for Delhi apart from hosting a 10,000-strong sports contingent coming from 71 countries when the Games begin. At the Games office in Delhi, Kalmadi spoke to Editor-in-Chief Raj Chengappa on the challenges ahead in the coming months and how he plans to meet the targets. Excerpts:


There are doubts being expressed whether India would be fully ready when the Games begin.


Well, people say this and that and say it is Indian management. But we are planning and arranging everything systematically. The Commonwealth Games Association has monitored all arrangements being made. They are fully satisfied with the arrangements and say we are fit for organising the Games. We will deliver everything that is required.


What's the magnitude of the challenge for handling the Games?


We got the bid after sixty years of Independence. This is the first time that the Commonwealth Games are being held in India. The last big event that was given to us was the 1982 Asian Games. So, for the last 28 years we did not have a mega sport event. The talent was not there in India to organise such a huge event. But because of the Commonwealth Games, we have now got about 1,600 people working here. Now, we are ready to face any challenge with all Indian talent. Secondly, this is a land of cricket. Through the Commonwealth Games we will be able to highlight Olympic sports and bring young people to these games. This will partly take away the craze for cricket. Cricket is played only in 10 countries of the world while in over 200 countries there are Olympic sports.


What all is involved in organising the Games?


There are different aspects. One is infrastructure. We have now got all world-class stadia. Also, where the sportspersons stay, the Games village, we will have a better one than what Beijing had during the Olympics. We have built infrastructure for the Games to suit the athletes and their comfort. We are expecting around 15,000 people from abroad. We are making arrangements to cook 35,000 dishes, which will include Asian food, Continental food and a wide variety of eatables. Some 20,000 young volunteers have come forward to help us during the Games. The 71 Commonwealth countries had thought because of the negative publicity things were going wrong in India. But recently after they visited India they were fully satisfied.


Has all the infrastructure that Delhi requires come up?

The all-new airport has just come up. We have got the Metro from the airport to the Games village and to various stadia. People ask about the cost of the Games and also include what is being done to the Metro, the airport and flyovers that are coming up into our account. But this is all part of the legacy expenditure. And look what tourism is going to bring about: people were going to Kathmandu, Malaysia, Singapore etc but now they will want to land in Delhi. So tourism-wise and employment-wise also, Delhi is getting a good income. There is a lot of big legacy for Delhi city and its citizens. And the Indian economy too will benefit.


The cost of the Games seems to have ballooned from the original estimate.


The cost of organising the Games is Rs 2,000 crore. The rest is for the legacy infrastructure. The development of Delhi's infrastructure and the cost of building stadia will be around Rs 10,000 crore. But that is investment for the future. If we bid for the Olympics, it will be useful. The biggest challenge is how you utilise these facilities after the Games — it's a global challenge. Even China faced it after the Olympics.


Mani Shankar Aiyar, a former Union Sports Minister, feels the Games are a waste of money and that the money being spent could be better utilised for the development of the country.


Mani Shankar Aiyar lost his job as the minister because of this attitude. India is now a tall country in terms of the economy. But we have to catch up in sports. Unless you hold a big event, and we have not hosted any big event for a long time, people don't know what India is all about. Now all the people are coming to India and will see what the country is. So it's going around the entire sports world. These games are in Delhi, so there will be all-around improvement in Delhi. Naturally, the common man somewhere in Bhopal will not be affected as much as a citizen in Delhi. But to win a bid to get the Games, you can't give a Timbuktu and say we are having the Games. My dream is to have the Olympics in India and that's the next project for us if everybody is willing.


But Rs 2,000 crore is still seen as a lot of money.


Whatever money we have got for the Games is a loan that we have to fully repay. All the other agencies who got the Rs 10,000 crore, whether its the Delhi government or the Sports Ministry, have got it as a grant. We have raised Rs 600 crore up to now by way of television, sponsorships, merchandising and ticketing. There are other revenue sources. And we hope to return a major part of the loan through that.


A few months ago there was a nasty spat between the international federation and you. What's the status now?


They were insisting on getting a lot of foreign consultants and we sorted that out. Such battles between local organisers and the Federation break out in all Games – it happened in Melbourne too. But we have made up now and are in the best of terms.


There are complaints that no top international athletes are participating in the Games.


Well, up to now we have got a tentative estimate, but by early September, we will be able to know the exact

position and the number. Most of the top-class people are coming this time. If we go by the numbers which I have so far, Australia is sending 700 athletes and officers, England is sending 500 squads, Canada is sending 450 athletes and other countries are also sending top athletes and leaders this time.


During the Queen's Baton ceremony, Sports Minister M. S. Gill felt slighted by the treatment meted out to him.

Is there a lack of coordination between the Sports Ministry and the Games Committee?


There are no differences between the Sports Ministry and our Committee as far as Commonwealth Games are concerned. We are working under a team headed by the Prime Minister. Although there might be some differences of opinion, we are working as a perfect team India. We have never had any differences with Mr M. S. Gill. When the Queen's Baton was released in the UK, the President of India was also there and Mr Gill was invited, but he was in China. So he could not go. We have cordial relations with Mr Gill. He has been very helpful to us.

Q. Mr Gill also raised the issue of having fixed tenures for the chiefs of all sports organisations in India. You have been the chief of the Indian Olympic Association for over a decade. Doesn't he have a point?


As far as the issue of extension in my term as the chief of the IOA is concerned, this question does not relate to Commonwealth Games. We are an autonomous body. We are independent of government control. If the government wants some changes, they can have a dialogue with us. We do not accept the diktats from the government either. We can ourselves bring about the changes.


Do you favour a fixed tenure for an IOA chief, say three to five years?


No, no. no. If you are associated with a national sports body, you have international links. You need enough time to understand the situation for the development of the games at the national and international levels. With a short tenure, it is not possible to implement long-term developmental ideas for sports.


Coming to the Indian sports itself, we are a nation of over a billion people, but we do not perform well at the Olympics and other international events. What can be done to improve our medals tally?


Today we have a host of top-level sportspersons – be it shooting, badminton, tennis or other sports. In the forthcoming Commonwealth Games we will get a lot of medals since the government has done a lot for the athletes. Our Prime Minister has done a lot for sports this time by giving Rs 650 crore for the Games and sending sportspersons abroad for practice and best coaching. For the first time scientific training has been provided. Sportspersons are being given good training, diet and modern facilities which will reflect in their performance at the forthcoming Games.









Has technology really made the world a 'global village'? In one sense, yes. Printing made books possible, and now we have the Net. But I sometimes feel the wide reach of modern technology comes in the way of understanding the world. The focus is on politics, wars, famines, floods, terrorism, and disasters of every imaginable kind. With such an overload, it becomes difficult to imagine anybody living even a remotely 'normal' life.


Which is where the 'original global village' comes in. It's a cliché to say that literature gives us insight into other cultures, other people. But each time I read a really well-written book, that cliché stops being a dead statement and becomes a life-saver again.


Telling a story or writing a poem about one individual, recognisably an individual, not just a victim, makes all the difference. Think, for instance, of Alexander McCall Smith whose Botswana novels make us connect with Africa as nothing else has done (he has just published the latest in the series: The Double Comfort Safari Club). The ability to connect makes me feel human again, instead of a zombie unable to react to one more starving baby, or mutilated woman, or child soldier.


Take Pakistan. R K Laxman once created a wonderful cartoon showing a Bharata Natyam dancer dancing for President Zia. She is covered from head to foot in some cloth, and all we can see is some confused movement. It's an emblematic cartoon. We constantly think of our differences, of suppression and oppression, of military coups, terrorist camps, what they are getting from the US as opposed to what we are being given, Kashmir and the rest of the tedious and repetitive stuff.


I have a certain amount of interest in Pakistan because my mother spent some time there with her relatives in pre-Partition days, and made some close friends.


Those relatives still live in Karachi (one was appointed Mayor of Karachi in, of all years, 1946). One of the first films I ever saw was called Lahore. But I really know nothing about the place.


It's only after reading some Pakistani writers, those who write in English, and translations of those who write in other languages, that I have any sense of 'ordinary people', who do 'uneventful' things. For instance, I've just been reading Daniyal Mueenuddin's In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (Random House India 2010). It has wonderful evocations of the land, the rivers, the vast homes and lands of wealthy landowners. It also handles relationships with subtlety, whether they are relationships between servants or the souring relationship of a city-bred woman, and her solitude-loving husband.


At the end of the story 'Lily', the wife is considering her options. "Among the possible futures, Lily now recognised the likely one, the one she must avoid. Murad would be rich and powerful… He would be shrewd, trusted by men, sometimes warm to her in comradeship, but finally cold, irreproachable. And in the very act of drowning she would be left to bear the blame, to injure him, blindly or by neglect, becoming one of those thin sharp women from the cities who can hold their liquor but are desiccated by it, who are well dressed without taking any pleasure in it, living much in London, bored – and ultimately, she hoped, she would depend on this, becoming old and wise, old and self-forgiving."


What a relief to read this after the bluster of presidents and prime ministers! At the very least, it gives us a sense of double awareness – political noise and the way people are, cultural affinities and human affinities. Ultimately we shall probably all go down the drain. But in the meantime, perhaps we can take comfort from the fact that we were human for a moment.





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With the government readying to introduce a Bill in Parliament to modify the powers of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) to include public-private partnership (PPP) projects, many project managers are close to gagging. The main reason behind why the public sector has not performed, they argue along with several in government, is the fear of the 3Cs — the CBI, the CVC and the CAG. Since almost every decision taken is questioned by these bodies, and can result in inquiries and prosecution, the argument goes, this ensures buck-passing instead of decision-making. PPPs were a way out of this since, apart from easing the burden on government as far as financing is concerned, they are out of the purview of the 3Cs. Getting PPPs under the CAG scanner certainly seems a bad idea if the CAG is to focus on minor issues or get stuck in issues like whether a project was even justified or whether it could be executed departmentally — one of the guidelines issued by the CAG on how it would like to audit PPPs some months ago suggests this as an issue worth looking at! Similarly, cost audits have to be done with care since comparing a Mercedes with a Maruti, for instance, is certain to yield the wrong comparisons. Moreover, any audit has to look at the opportunity costs of getting projects ready in time — if PPPs are more expensive than government projects, the shorter time taken by them also needs to be kept in mind.

That said, with the cost of PPP projects such as the Delhi airport or the Reliance KG Basin gas fields rising dramatically in comparison with the original costs, it is obvious that these projects need auditing by neutral parties and that the line ministries/organisations are not always up to the task. In the case of the RIL project, the previous head of the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons, V K Sibal, went on record to say the CAG had audited the costs and found them to be in order — it turned out the CAG had done nothing of the sort and a formal CAG audit was ordered after the CAG formally denied having done an audit. In order to ensure that the projects are properly audited without their efficient functioning getting affected, perhaps the CAG needs to focus on issues like ensuring proper tender guidelines, ensuring there are no related parties in the bidding process, and so on.


Assuming that the CAG is able to ensure this happens, and it is by no means assured that this will happen, the question is what happens next. So far the government's record, when it comes to implementing CAG reports, has been quite poor. Whether it was the VDIS black money amnesty scheme or the privatisation of the Delhi Vidyut Board, where the CAG made valid observations on the faulty scheme design, the government never really acted upon the CAG reports. Unless the CAG can act in a responsible manner and the government promises to act on its reports, the entire exercise of auditing PPPs will be futile.







 horrific train accident on Monday, in which over 60 people have been killed, coming close on the heels of the one in May in which around 150 people died, has torn to shreds the accident record of the Indian Railways which had been improving dramatically over the last five years. The number of train accidents fell steadily from 2004-05 to 2008-09, bringing down the accident per million train kilometre ratio from 0.29 to 0.20. However, casualties and accident numbers are not directly correlated, with a collision being far more lethal in human terms than a derailment. The number of passenger deaths from railway accidents fell through the early part of the decade to 168 in 2005-06; in the current year, with not even four months gone, the death toll has risen to around 250.

It is for this reason that the corporate safety plan of the railways formulated in 2003 visualised that collisions would be totally eliminated by extensive use of anti-collision devices. But progress on this front has been slow, to say the least. With an over 63,000 km route network, anti-collision devices had been installed on only 1,736 km by 2008-09, according to the annual report for the year. A reason cited for the slow progress is that the anti-collision technology currently available is not very effective. But the railways have not come forward to say that they have thrown a challenge to the Indian information technology industry to solve the deficiencies of the global positioning system technology on hand. Funds cannot be an insurmountable issue either. The Railway Safety Fund gets a share of the diesel cess. The Railway Board chairman has been quoted as saying that "we will not wait any more" and import the anti-collision devices if they serve the purpose. It is tragic that it takes a major accident to concentrate the mind.


 Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee has much to answer for the rapidly deteriorating accident record of the railways under her watch. Her first reaction after an accident is to try to blame it on sabotage and if that is too far-fetched, then to aver that there is something fishy. Her agitational temperament, poor attendance record at Cabinet meetings and inability to spend much time in Delhi raise the issue as to whether she is doing justice to such a big responsibility as the railways and whether she is mentally more focused on preparing the ground for winning the next assembly elections in West Bengal. It is often forgotten that sabotage, which requires preventive inspection, and human failure, which has much to do with staff motivation, are both clear management responsibilities. India is justly proud of the achievements of its railways. With a little bit of focused attention, the sort that Lalu Prasad ensured through effective delegation, it can do much better. Ms Banerjee can certainly hope to win more votes in Bengal if she can demonstrate to her potential voters her administrative capabilities in New Delhi. Even those who are desperate to seek change would want to be reassured that the change they are likely to get would be for the better









These are uncertain times for global economic governance. For over six decades after the Second World War, the West framed the rules of engagement for the global economy. In the initial years, the United States was the pre-eminent power, which oversaw the creation of the Bretton Woods system (IMF and World Bank) and the initial Rounds of trade liberalisation under the newly born GATT (which became the WTO at the end of the Uruguay Round in 1993). As Europe recovered from the ravages of war and Japan launched on its high growth phase, these new leviathans (especially Europe) increasingly asserted themselves and won greater voice and roles in world economic governance. But it was still an essentially western enterprise, with a demilitarised Japan content to go along in return for an American nuclear umbrella. The Soviet Union and its satellites were not an integral part of this economic system and the developing countries didn't carry significant economic clout, not even the populous Asian giants of China and India.


 Despite major debates on a variety of issues between the US and European nations, the broad thrust of multilateral trade liberalisation proceeded quite successfully through multiple trade Rounds and cross-border private capital flows revived over time as industrial countries gradually relaxed their capital controls. The 1973 Opec oil price hike was a significant shock to western dominance but was overcome in time through a combination of economic adjustment to higher prices and adroit cooption of the major Opec surpluses via recycling through the western financial systems. In response to the oil shock, the West created the G7 system in 1975 as a potent instrumentality to coordinate western control over the major international economic areas of trade, exchange rate systems and capital flows. Western dominance over global economic governance increased after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 and the subsequent, willing cooption of the "second world" countries into the western system.


The big and sustained challenge to the West's sway over world economic governance came with the rise of China (especially) and other developing countries after 1980. As everyone knows, China's spectacular resurgence began around 1980. By the late 1990s, her economic scale was such that her continued spectacular growth of GDP, industry, trade and capital flows began to shift materially the balance of world economic activity away from the West after four centuries of hegemony. The effect was amplified by strong growth of India (about a third of China's economic size), and moderate expansion of Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey. In PPP (purchasing power parity) terms, Martin Wolf estimates (Financial Times, July 14, 2010) that the share of these countries in world GDP rose from just over 20 per cent in 2000 to nearly 30 per cent in 2010. During the same decade, the share of the G7 countries fell from almost half of global GDP to 40 per cent.

Of course, this shift in economic weight was accelerated by the North Atlantic financial crisis (2007 onwards) and the associated Great Recession of 2008-09. As major western economies foundered and flailed, Asia revived quickly, especially China and India. Virtually all future projections expect these trends in shifting global economic power to persist in the coming decades.


Perhaps predictably, the gradual decline of western economic hegemony has complicated the governance of global economic issues. Rising nations like China, India and Brazil are increasingly assertive of their economic rights and perspectives. Correspondingly, the waning (in relative terms) hegemons of the past are loathe to cede voice and control. Nowhere are the anomalies more obvious than in the voting shares of the IMF (especially) and World Bank, where small European nations still command disproportionate vote shares. Three big and current global economic issues illustrate the growing complexity of economic governance in our increasingly multi-polar world. They are: multilateral trade liberalisation, macroeconomic policy coordination and the response to global climate change.


Unlike its predecessor GATT/WTO Rounds of multilateral trade liberalisation, the Doha Round, launched nearly 10 years ago as the "Development Round", has got bogged down and shows little prospect of an early and successful conclusion. Of course, there are many factors at work, including the reluctance of a recession-hit West to undertake further liberalisation and the intra-West, US-European dispute over agricultural subsidies. However, the loss of western hegemony (compared to earlier Rounds) is surely a significant complicating factor in hammering out an agreement. Some argue that with global trade (outside agriculture) quite free, there is no great urgency to concluding the Doha Round. But this may underestimate the potency of the "bicycle factor": if one doesn't keep moving forward, then trade liberalisation can fall into regressive protection. The danger is particularly acute when unemployment rates are ruling high.


A year ago, macroeconomic policy coordination seemed to have achieved new heights in response to the Great Recession and partly mediated through the freshly mandated G20 Summits. Governments of all major economies found it in their interest to ramp up expansionary fiscal and monetary policies. Since the early months of 2010, that consensus has frayed, especially after the sovereign debt pressures after the Greek fiscal crisis. Most governments are seeking early exits from large-scale fiscal and monetary stimuli, but at different times and with different phasing. As the recent G20 Summit in Canada showed, there is little effective policy coordination, both across western and non-western economies and between western ones. Equally worrying is the absence of effective coordination between the US and China on the key medium-term macro issues of exchange rate realignment and rebalancing of aggregate demand. Without these, there is significant risk of rising protectionism and re-emergence of global imbalances.


Finally, the absence of really meaningful progress at Copenhagen last December showed the clash of interests and expectations between the West and the major developing countries in coping with the clear and present dangers of ruinous climate change. A bare modicum of agreement was achieved between the "coalition of the unwilling", notably the US, China, India and Brazil. The more progressive (on climate change mitigation) European nations were largely excluded form the final "deal".


So, the decline of western economic hegemony appears to have seriously complicated forward movement on key, current issues of global economic governance. It seems a reasonable bet that as multi-polarity increases over time, effective convergence and agreement on major issues of world economic governance will become more difficult. No panacea seems to be in sight.


The author is honorary professor at ICRIER and former chief economic adviser to the Government of India. Views expressed are personal








Some years ago, an executive with a beverage manufacturer facing controversies over the safety of its products suggested that all corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities be conducted in East Delhi, where many of the Capital's journalists tend to migrate, to gain "maximum impact". Later, its corporate communications chief travelled all the way to Bangalore to enthuse a singularly disinterested press in its campaign to install waste bins in parts of the city.


 In western India, a company was mandated by the government of the state, in which it was setting up its giant facility, to plant saplings over a certain area to compensate for the massive deforestation its activities entailed. An internal progress report that was tagged on to the company's annual CSR wrap-up noted the number of saplings planted over a period of time and carefully catalogued targets and achievements (all on track). One sentence in that report was interesting: it stated that almost half the saplings planted did not survive. There was, however, no comment on whether this high failure rate could or needed to be remedied.


These incidents date from the time the concept of CSR had come into vogue in India. The outcomes, like the examples above, suggested that few companies fully understood the real implications of the term.


This was amply in evidence earlier this week when newsrooms received a joint press release from seven multinational food corporations in India announcing "a common commitment to responsible marketing to children". The corporations concerned were Coca-Cola India, General Mills India, Kellogg India, Nestle India, Mars International, PepsiCo and Hindustan Unilever.


Their "India Pledge", as it was called, vowed not to advertise food and beverage products to children under 12 on TV, the print or the Internet or in primary schools (except for products that fulfil scientifically proven "nutrition-based criteria", meet accepted national and international guidelines or were specifically requested by the schools or institutions concerned). The seven corporations will also commission an independent compliance monitoring study starting January 11.


The release explained that the exercise follows similar international initiatives and is in addition to the Code for Self Regulation in Advertising put out by the Advertising Standards Council of India.


Industry self-regulation is both admirable and desirable — indeed, it would do wonders for businesses like health care and education. But this press release was noteworthy for several reasons. The first was the fact that these companies felt constrained to issue a statement to the media at all. The tenor of the message suggested that it was intended to focus attention on these corporations' innate sense of social responsibility. But the question is, does this initiative warrant such publicity. Shouldn't these companies have always abstained from promoting junk foods and beverages to children?


In a sense this joint statement shows that CSR in India has not yet gone beyond the externalities of philanthropy and "good works". Nothing expresses this more unwittingly than a presentation made by the Department of Public Enterprises on the CSR guidelines that were introduced for government-owned companies in December last year.


True to the government's style of functioning, the guidelines specify how much these government corporations should set aside for CSR budgets (a percentage of profits depending on their size). Tellingly, though, the "Implementation Modalities" specify that such activities should be carried out by specialist agencies (NGOs, trusts, missions and so on) and "not by CPSE employees/staff" (emphasis in original).


This is actually light years away from the concept as it first gained currency in the US in the 70s (the term came into vogue later). Far from suggesting that corporations redeem their reputations by investing in "good works", the concept actually meant that companies needed to be responsible in the way they operated.


As Harold Burson, the guru of the public relations industry, said in a 1973 speech he made to Columbia University Graduate School of Business: "A corporation's first duty, as I see it, is to manage its own affairs properly and profitably. This is the greatest service it can perform… It has a duty to create favourable working conditions and to produce goods and services that meet the highest tests of safety and reliability. I am not saying that good management is the answer to all our social woes. But I am saying a poorly managed company can't make up for its inadequacies with good deeds that have no bearing on its daily operations."


CSR, in short, needs to be embedded in a corporation's operating philosophy. Everything else is just an "extra".









There are some aspects in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations that do not catch the fancy of industry at large but hold the potential to spiral into a market access issue in the long run. One such aspect relates to the negotiations on environmental goods and services.

Negotiations in this area have been progressing over the years and there is now a critical mass of proposals on the table from different countries which will cover products and services that account for a sizeable part of global trade. At the special session of the Committee on Trade and Environment in Geneva in the first week of July, there was "solid progress". The next round of negotiations is now slated for September/October this year.


 While there is still no progress on the contentious issue of the approach to adopt for finalising these negotiations, some member countries of WTO seem to have responded to the chairperson's request to identify products of trade interest to them.


Four specific proposals caught the attention of countries in the July meeting. These are proposals from Qatar and Singapore that identify specific tariff lines for environmental goods and products, a communication from Brazil on biofuels, and a joint proposal from Argentina and Brazil on special and differential treatment for developing countries.


The submissions by Brazil, Singapore and Qatar add to similar contributions by other countries, including Taiwan, while they remain outside the "Friends of Environmental Goods" group. The group comprises Canada, the European Union, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Taiwan and the US.


Singapore, for instance, submitted a list of environmental products in seven categories: Waste management, air pollution control, noise pollution control, wastewater treatment, environmental monitoring, analysis equipment, and renewable products & energy sources and energy-efficient products. Brazil and Qatar made submissions on fuels (natural gas and biofuels).


The joint proposal by Argentina and Brazil on special and differential treatment is of significance to countries like India since it raises the concern of providing larger time periods for developing countries to liberalise trade in environmental goods and seeks information from developed countries that want to export environmental products on the subsidies provided in producing those goods.


From an Indian perspective, industry has been opposed to the existing list-based approach where products are identified as environmental goods for tariff liberalisation or elimination. Industry in India has been of the view that there must first be an agreed definition of environmental goods and then goods should be qualified if they fit that definition.


While a definition-driven approach is logical, it is important for industry to closely follow the current proposals. India is already in discussions with like-minded countries like Brazil and Argentina on issues of interest.


A good amount of knowledgeable debate and discussion has already happened in the country on this issue and industry needs to take active interest in the negotiations since this is slowly turning into a market access issue, primarily for developed country members, as is evident from the list of countries in the "Friends of Environmental Goods" group and it seeks to mainly cover high-technology products. There would be several issues involved in the trade of high-end products like intellectual property rights or dual use which hurt developing countries' interests, as has been pointed out by India and Argentina.


It is essential for WTO members to revisit paragraph 32 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration, which states that the Committee on Trade and Environment should pay particular attention to "the effect of environmental measures on market access, especially in relation to developing countries, in particular the least developed among them, and those situations in which the elimination or reduction of trade restrictions and distortions benefit trade, the environment and development". The focus for now seems to be more on the third point of paragraph 31: It states that countries will agree to negotiations on "the reduction or, as appropriate, elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to environmental goods and services.


It is important to refocus on the ministerial objective since the current negotiations are being perceived as a way to enlarge the negotiations on market access for goods and not to protect the environment or help development as was originally conceived at Doha in 2001.


Perceptions differ among countries on what will help global environment. Therefore, indulging in a mercantilist

approach of market access negotiations and not moving towards protecting the environment and aiding development may not yield the objective conceived at Doha.


The author is principal adviser with APJ-SLG Law Offices









They can be patient, Beijing's natural resources strategists who are at the centre of China's global strategy of expansion. They are used to handling setbacks and political opposition from the West. But if necessary, they can act very quickly. For over a week, the strategists have been active and it's likely that they will continue to be busy. After indications that oil major British Petroleum (BP) will no longer be able to cope with its oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, BP CEO Tony Hayward has already travelled to the Middle East to look for investors; the Chinese have begun to sense an opportunity.


It is already clear: the Chinese bidders will be present in case BP has to sell important assets. Two companies play a central role: the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC). Both firms are already maintaining a close relationship with the British multinational. In October 2009, CNOOC in collaboration with BP had secured exploration rights for one of the biggest oil fields in Iraq. Together, they want to invest $15 billion. In March 2010, CNOOC acquired about 20 per cent of Pan American Energy of South America in which BP has 60 per cent interest, for $3.1 billion. Two weeks ago, CNOOC made a tempting offer to BP: For an additional $9 billion it would buy the remaining portions of the energy conglomerate which extracts and processes oil and gas in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile.


 China has plenty of negotiation space in this historically unique expansion strategy, but it is also under massive pressure.


The Chinese need natural resources and they need a lot of these as the country uses so much of natural resources to feed its gigantic boom. The boom needs to continue for the sake of social stability in China. According to the International Monetary Fund, China's economy will grow at an estimated 10 per cent this year. The Chinese, therefore, prefer to pay a bit more than to come away empty-handed.


Yet the Chinese are able to respond to the challenges. They are able to act quickly; they are well organised; they have plenty of money and there are close relationships between the government and companies. That puts them into a position to bring comprehensive offers to the table, for example oil deals combined with infrastructure development.


The most important advantage remains money. Unlike Western nations, China is the only bulk buyer of natural resources not up to its ears in debt.


And the investment advisors of the Chinese central bank are pushing the government to invest its export surpluses not solely in low interest-paying government bonds, but also in natural resources. China's foreign exchange reserves of $2.4 trillion are more than sufficient. And one can no longer depend on the big currencies such as the euro and the dollar.


So what to do with the surpluses?


Oil, gas, copper and iron ore are the new hard currencies in China. This allows China to kill two birds with one stone. First, it secures the needed flow of supplies to the country; second, it invests its export surpluses in a promising way. And a pleasant side effect emerges: With big acquisitions and shares in developing countries, Beijing captures their political loyalty too. That is the case in Iran and Iraq as well as in many African countries. These alliances are meaningful for China in terms of building majorities that do influence global decisions in their favour.


It is, therefore, not a gambling mentality China applies on its shopping trips but a well thought out strategy to position the huge country wisely in times of major global changes. During the financial crisis, China did comparatively well and has started to invest while most Western countries were tightening the belt. "The financial crisis is both a challenge and an opportunity," said Zhang Guaobao, head of the National Energy Commission in early 2009. "Prices for natural resources and shares have decreased." This remains so today.


When it comes to natural resources, China is already a global player. Speed and volume of acquisitions are impressive. In April 2009, for example, the Chinese spent $3.3 billion for a joint venture in oil in Kazakhstan. That gave Beijing control over a quarter of the oil production in Kazakhstan. China was particularly successful in the Middle East. After the American invasion of Iraq, China managed to secure most new oil fields — more than twice of what the Americans did. In Iran, too, China is playing a major role.


South America also figures high on the agenda of China's planners. In November, for example, they increased their shares in Ecuador's oil business. In December, they bought shares of an oil field in Venezuela alongside a $12-billion infrastructure fund. Two thirds of the amount can be paid back with oil.


In December, Beijing reached an agreement with Burma to build a new 1,000 km pipeline from the Indian Ocean to China.


Last March, Chinese investors got together with Shell and forked out $1.6 billion for Arrow Energy, one of the leading Australian gas companies. Since August 2009, China has pumped about $8 billion in several tranches into exploration of Canadian oil sand. Early July, it came to an agreement with the Nigerian government to build four oil refineries in the most populated country in Africa.


At the same time, it became known that the aluminum conglomerate Chinalco intended to buy shares of the biggest copper and gold mine in Mongolia, which sits only 80 km away from the Chinese border. The overhaul of the mine costs $4.5 billion. Once it will be put into operation in 2013, it will produce about 550,000 tonnes of copper and 650,000 tonnes of gold annually for at least 27 years. Currently, the majority of the mine is still owned by a Canadian company in which the British-Australian Rio Tinto has close to 30 per cent shareholding. It is obviously this share that China is targeting in the acquisition, according to an announcement of Chinalco to the American Securities and Exchange Commission. The investment is an additional step by the Chinese to expand their influence in Rio Tinto, one of the biggest mining companies in the world. Since China has failed using the front door, it now tries the back door. Last year, Beijing was dumped while trying to increase its shares in Rio Tinto from 9 per cent to 20 per cent. The generous offer of $20 billion was turned down by the Australian government which had some reservations about the offer. It will now be interesting to see the reaction of the Mongolian government. It tries to avoid too much dependence on its neighbours Russia and China.


However, Beijing's growing shopping power faces regular political opposition. Usually it's for the same reason: The fear of Chinese dominance. In 2005, China's attempt to buy the American oil and gas company Unicoal for $18 billion fell through.


Despite some setbacks, Beijing's decisions already show an influence on the prices of commodities in international markets. China's share in global copper market was 38 per cent in 2009. Record imports in 2009 led to an increase in copper price by 220 per cent. China buys in bulk batches. Over and over again, it led the prices to fall and then it continued its shopping spree at a lower price.


The geopolitical repercussions of the Chinese shopping trip can already be seen. Entire continents like Australia have become a supplier for China and have entered into an uneasy political dependency. Important countries in Africa and the Middle East are also becoming more and more dependant on the voracious giant.


In the case of BP, the Chinese are eagerly awaiting July 27 when BP will make public its quarterly financial report. Then it will be clear how much money the ailing oil conglomerate needs.


Andreas Sieren is a specialist in international relations and development aid. He worked for many years for the United Nations in Asia and Africa. His brother Frank Sieren is a bestselling author and has been living in Beijing for 15 years. He is regarded as one of the leading German experts on China









THIS is the first time that a regulator has been taken to court for arbitrary inaction on a valid request. It is unfortunate that the distinction has gone to Sebi, one of the country's better regulators. MCX-SX, the new exchange that has been denied a chance to trade stocks, debt and derivative products other than currency derivatives has moved the Mumbai high court against Sebi's highhanded silence on its request for permission to commence trading all permitted products, after having complied with the regulatory norms on the structure of the exchange's ownership. Telecom operators have taken their regulator Trai to court, true. But that was to dispute one or several decisions by the regulator, not to challenge a non-decision as in the present case. The power granted to a statutory regulator is not meant to be wielded according to desultory whim, as had been the norm when licence-Raj mandarins ruled over the fates of companies and industries under their charge. Regulators are meant to enhance the welfare of stakeholders. In the case of securities trading, welfare is promoted by increasing the level of competition in the business. MCX-SX promises to offer competition to the dominant player, the National Stock Exchange (NSE), of a kind that the Bombay Stock Exchange has failed to. By denying the exchange permission to trade, the regulator is depriving the economy of the potential benefits of competition among exchanges, such as a larger network of brokers and market-makers that the stunted debt market desperately needs. To add insult to injury, the exchange has been permitted to trade currency derivatives, in which segment it is the market leader but cannot earn any revenue as currency trading does not attract any charges on NSE, which cross-subsidises this segment with income from other segments.
   If Sebi has a problem with the manner in which MCXSX promoters have reduced their stakes in the company to the ill-conceived minuscule levels set by Sebi, it should say so. If it does not, it should give it the go-ahead. Prolonged, ponderous silence on the subject goes against fair play, competition and the common good.







HE contradiction between the RSS' top leaders averring that the organisation would not support or defend any members involved in terrorist activities, and the emergence of fresh allegations linking yet more members, including one from the RSS' top decisionmaking body, underlines both the problem the RSS itself faces and the one it posits for the BJP, its political arm. Of course, establishing the degree of veracity and truth of these allegations has to be left to the investigations. But so far, links have been unearthed between Hindu extremist groups and RSS members and the blasts on the Samjhauta Express and those in Hyderabad, Ajmer, Malegaon and Goa. The question is whether the RSS really believed or thought that its wider ideological beliefs and practices, based on jingoism and hatred stemming from its narrow and sectarian interpretations of concepts of history, identity and nationhood, could not lead to its members committing acts of terror. It is precisely such interpretations of those concepts that drives the Islamic extremists at home and abroad — the difference being one of scale and expertise in implementing terror plots, not of the terror itself. The issue, therefore, isn't solely that a few fringe elements may be involved in terrorist activities, but that there is a wider context of communal hatred and fundamentalism behind such attacks.


The point is that, if terrorism is to be defeated, in all its forms, then it also involves tackling and targeting communal hatred and polarisation. Thus, the other big question is how far can the BJP, the major opposition party, afford to be steered by an organisation whose ideology is linked to terror and whose organisational links to terror acts is under active investigation. And can sheer political, even electoral, compulsions force the BJP, at some point, to re-examine its umbilical cord-connection with the RSS? Can it afford not to? While hardline, even extreme, views can exist in a democracy, violence is immanent in attempts to insert those views into society and the workings of the state.








WHAT'S all the fussila/ About the oracle of Wassila, a latter-day Ogden Nash may well have queried. But Sarah Palin/ Isn't awailin' — because she wants any media attention she can get. If a misspelling can be passed off for a masterly neologism, all the better. Comparisons are odorous, as Dogberry remarked in Shakespeare's Much ado about nothing, but who can refudiate that Palin's wordery has a acquired a certain dramatic resonance, even if they haven't embiggened her image among the liberallati? While the underlying sentimentation of her twittery may have escaped many because they simply could not — to borrow a line from Sheridan's 18th century play The Rivals — 'reprehend the true meaning of what she is saying', the suspicion remains that most people clearly misunderestimate her cool strategery. For, amid the chortling over her supposed malapropism, the effrontery of her original tweet has gone largely, well, unrefudiated. Indeed, the former Alaska governor's clarifying tweet that 'English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!' has to be taken at more than farce value. For the nonce, she has undoubtedly diverted the flak away from the spirit to the letter of her message.


Besides, made-up words are not necessarily malapropriate; some are particularly credent if not always impeccably derived, etymologically-speaking. If the best word to describe the tribe of Bilbo Baggins is J R Tolkein's philological construct Hobbit, surely copycat emasculations that follow Lorena's first vengeful snipping can only ever be described as bobbits. By that same (neo)logic, it cannot be denied that the major interventions of the Bush years can best be described in (literally) his own words. Like Rajiv Gandhi's unequivocal exhortation, Chahey hum jeetein ya losein, the era of Palinapropisms can, therefore, only inbigorate political discourse!






THERE has been much attention, in the media, on inter-regulatory conflicts in finance, and on the proposed institutional arrangements on financial stability. While these issues have been with us for a while, the present debate falls within the context of announcements in the Budget 2010 speech.


In this speech, the finance minister announced the setting up of an agency called Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC) to deal with financial stability and macroprudential supervision, inter-regulatory coordination and financial literacy and inclusion. Equally important but less noticed was the announcement relating to the creation of a Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission (FSLRC).


Inter-regulatory conflicts, over products and policy that straddle regulators, are neither new nor peculiar to India. The dispute about Ulips is only the most recent, and publicly visible, manifestation of this problem. There are many other existing and future products where identical difficulties could arise. The root cause is not regulatory cussedness or turf concerns: it is financial laws that are out of tune with the present state of Indian finance. As an example, consider the core question of the Ulip dispute: should a Ulip with 1% or 2% insurance be treated as an insurance product, or like a mutual fund product? An answer to this question requires a combined reading of Section 12(1B) of Sebi Act, 1992, Section 2(11) of Insurance Act, 1938, and Regulation 3(3) of Irda Investment Regulations, 2000.


Some of these laws were drafted at a time when the country had one government monopoly insurance company. Hence, these laws did not deal with the complexities of today's financial system. The law of 1938 did not deal with a statutory regulator, Sebi, which would be established more than 50 years later, which regulates other products that look like Ulips. These laws did not plan for the complexities of a competitive insurance industry where sales practices evolve in response to profit maximisation by private firms.


The recognition that financial laws require fundamental reform, rooted in a series of expert committee recommendations, led to the FSLRC announcement by the FM in his Budget 2010 speech. To go to the root cause of the problem requires a comprehensive and contemporaneous re-examination of all the relevant laws. Such an effort needs to address overlaps and gaps, clarify roles of agencies, and bring laws up-to-date with today's requirements.


Drafting and enacting new laws after scrutiny by the Parliamentary Standing Committee will inevitably take time. Until a full set of new laws is put into place, a mechanism to deal with the problem of inter-regulatory coordination and conflicts is required to address the difficulties faced today. This issue has been emphasised by the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) that enquired into the Harshad Mehta scam and the JPC that enquired into the Ketan Parekh scam. For the foreseeable future, Indian finance will be regulated by multiple regulators. Given the fastpaced changes in Indian finance, greater and more effective inter-regulatory coordination is essential.


The High-Level Coordination Committee on financial markets (HLCC) — created by a one-line letter of MoF in the wake of the Harshad Mehta scam — does not treat resolution of inter-regulatory conflicts as part of its mandate. By and large, it has not been very effective in resolving turf wars. A combination of these factors motivated the creation of the FSDC. The Parliamentary Standing Committee for Finance, headed by Murli Manohar Joshi, in its 19th report (April 2010) has welcomed this announcement.

TO SUM up, the FSLRC and the FSDC should be seen together as the long-term and short-term answers to the felt needs and problems of the financial sector regulation. They are rooted in the recommendations of many expert committees spread over many years. While these were being acted upon, the Ulip issue broke out in the open, as a public conflict between regulators, leading to an impasse.


Though initially administrative solutions were suggested, the movement towards an ordinance seems to imply a feeling that a problem embedded in ambiguity of law is best solved by amending the law. It has been argued that the solution did not warrant an ordinance and normal parliamentary procedure for enactment of legislations should have been followed. While there is considerable merit in this argument, one also needs to keep in mind that the Ulip industry — not withstanding all the undesirable practices that have come to be associated with it — is per se legitimate and entirely legal.


As a consequence of the regulatory disputes, the industry came to a sudden halt jeopardising a lot of genuine economic interests. It is difficult for a democratic government to sit by and watch this happen. The ordinance route perhaps needs to be seen in this light as well. To get back to the substance of the ordinance, it essentially clarifies, with retrospective effect, that Ulips are to be regulated exclusively by Irda. In addition, a mechanism required for resolving similar disputes — were they to arise in future — was added to the legal framework to fill up a vacuum. The relationship of this new statutory mechanism with the proposed FSDC is something that will need to be worked out by the government and the regulators.


However, on the question of RBI's inclusion in this mechanism, given that the proposed mechanism seeks to resolve disputes amongst regulators who regulate financial markets and products — as distinct from the interest rate setting of a central bank — ipso facto, this mechanism has to cover all products that potentially involve more than one regulator and also cover all the relevant regulators. The attempt, as repeatedly stated by the FM, is not to disturb the autonomy conferred by the law on regulators but to institute an orderly mechanism to handle situations when regulation itself breaks down.

   (The author is a civil servant.

   Views are personal.)








AGROWING body of research reveals that our behaviour and decision-making are influenced by an array of such psychological undercurrents and that they are much more powerful and pervasive than most of us realise. The interesting thing about these forces is that, like streams, they converge to become even more powerful. As we follow these streams, we notice unlikely connections among events that lie along their banks: the actions of an investor help us better understand presidential decision-making; students buying theatre tickets illuminate a bitter controversy in the archeological community over human evolution; women talking on the phone show why a shaky bridge can be a powerful aphrodisiac.


Charting these psychological undercurrents and their unexpected effects, we can see where the currents are strongest and how their dynamics help us understand some of the most perplexing human mysteries. These hidden currents and forces include loss aversion (our tendency to go to great lengths to avoid possible losses), value attribution (our inclination to imbue a person or thing with certain qualities based on initial perceived value), and the diagnosis bias (our blindness to all evidence that contradicts our initial assessment of a person or situation). When we understand how these and a host of other mysterious forces operate, one thing becomes certain: …we're all susceptible to the irresistible pull of irrational behaviour.








IT'S no surprise that in recent years, some on the left have embraced the term 'progressive' as a substitute for 'liberal'. The right has so demonised 'the L-word' that during a Democratic debate in 2007, Hillary Clinton, asked by a voter whether she was a liberal, said that she preferred to identify herself as — of course — a 'modern progressive'. But she doesn't have as much company as you might expect: a recent USA Today-Gallup poll found that only one in four liberals would go by the label progressive, while 17% rejected the term and 57% were unsure. Even stranger, 7% of conservatives considered themselves progressives, and nearly half said they were unsure if the label applied to them.


Why is America so unclear on what progressive means as a political position? 'Progress', it would seem, is pretty simple as words go — moving ahead. Shouldn't it be clear who is committed to moving ahead? Part of the problem comes from the bastard nature of English vocabulary. We know what transgress, aggressive and progress mean. But if someone asked us, 'Gress much?' we'd draw a blank. Gress, like mit in transmit, isn't a word. Gress comes from Latin gradus, for 'go', and thus 'progress' breaks down as 'forward-go'. Or at least it did to an Ancient Roman. Latinate words' meanings are often less immediately precise to us than those from English's Anglo-Saxon rootstock. If our word for progressive were something like 'go-forward-ive', Gallup pollsters would find people less ambivalent.


But only somewhat less. Even as words' meanings start out clear, they drift like the blobinalavalamp,inevitablydistortedbyhumancognitionandculturalevolution.'Liberal' is a case in point. Last year, the writer Timothy Garton Ash called for liberalism to reclaimitsmeaningas"libertyunderlaw,limited and accountable government, markets, tolerance, some version of individualism and universalism, and some notion of human equality, reason and progress".


Butthiswouldhardlyclarifythings:fewon theleftortherightwoulddisavow'libertyunder law' or 'some version of individualism and universalism'; and Mr Garton Ash's espousal of 'markets' brings to mind today's conservative. This antique meaning of 'liberal' is of little use in our modern politics.


Wemustsimplyacceptthatliberalisassociated with an espousal of 'big government' and of possibly envelope-pushing social values. The word has morphed, via the same process that makes it seem odd to us that King James-II is said to have described St Paul's Cathedral as 'amusing, awful and artificial', all of which were compliments in the 17th century. Liberal is about as likely to regain its original meaning as awful is.


Politics is fertile ground for this sort of linguistic shape-shifting. The label 'black conservative' has far less to do with an adherence to the politics of William F Buckley than to something much narrower: a lack of interest in stressing racism as an obstacle to success. Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader, preaches black self-reliance and propounds traditional codes of behaviour, but because he also denounces whites as racists, he does not appear on lists of black conservatives. On the other hand, this writer is often called a 'black conservative' because, despite being a pro-choice Obama voter who opposes the war on drugs, I consider racism an inconvenience to be conquered.


As for that 7% of conservatives who consider themselves progressive: now that liberals seem to have rejected their rebranding, is it so counterintuitive that conservatives might embrace the label in its 'go-forward-ive' sense? Friedrich von Hayek, the Austrian economist revered by American conservatives, argued that democratic socialism threatened a form of brutal tyranny that all supporters of a free society would view as primitive and unenlightened — retrogressive, as it were. Thus, to deny 'progressive' to the right is inaccurate and even disrespectful. Instead of messing around with rebranding, the political left would be best advised to stick with 'liberal' — and to hunker down and defend the positions to which the word now refers. They'd better hurry, since the nature of words is such that 'liberal' will have an entirely different meaning sooner than they think. (The author is a lecturer at Columbia University) ©New York Times News Service









HOW to pay top managers is a vexed issue anywhere. The numbers look outsized and are getting more obscene by the day. In banking, we have an even more difficult problem. It is not enough to align managerial pay with the interests of shareholders. We need to ensure that managerial pay does not become a source of systemic risk.

In the wake of the subprime crisis, regulators worldwide have moved to address the problem of bankers' pay. The RBI has recently followed suit with guidelines on compensation policy for private banks, local area banks and foreign banks operating in the country. The RBI may need to tighten its language in places.

Regulation cannot address the absolute amount of pay. It can only ensure that the design of pay is not a source of risk. The RBI guidelines are based on three incontrovertible principles: compensation must be adjusted for risk, compensation must be symmetric with outcomes — meaning, good performance must be rewarded and bad performance penalised — and compensation must be sensitive to the time horizon of risks.

Bank boards have been asked to formulate acompensation policy by the end of the year. This is to be done a by Remuneration Committee comprising independent directors and non-executive chairman. But how many banks in India are in a position to design a compensation policy consistent with the above principles at all levels?
   Performance-related pay for CEOs hinges substantially on meeting targets for return on equity. In the case of banks, it must be return on risk-adjusted capital. Banks are still at an early stage of implementation of Basel-II that aims at ensuring that capital allocated at a bank matches risk.


In such a situation, an attempt at adjusting the CEO's compensation for risk will have a large element of error. At the divisional or business unit, measurement of risk-adjusted performance becomes even more difficult. Not only has capital allocation to be done correctly, all relevant costs must be accurately captured. One wonders how many private banks have the necessary capability.


The second and third principles lend themselves to relatively easier implementation and are inter-related. Performance in banks is known only over a long period. Staggering performance-related pay over 3-5 years makes sense. Such staggering also allows for 'clawback' in the event of non-performance. In a given year, a significant component of bonus is held in escrow, as it were. If the executive is responsible for losses down the road, the bonus is to be suitably adjusted.


The RBI wants 40-60% of variable pay to be deferred for a minimum period of three years where it is a 'substantial' portion of the total pay. This creates unnecessary ambiguity as to what is 'substantial'. The EU guidelines, which came out a month ago, are clear that variable pay must always be deferred. The RBI may want to do likewise.


The RBI is also not explicit as to the proportion of variable pay that should be awarded in shares or stock options and also what proportion can be paid upfront as cash. Here again, there is merit in falling in line with the EU: upfront cash bonuses to be capped at 30% of variable pay (20% where the awards are high) and at least 50% of variable pay to made in shares.


The disclosure requirements mandated by RBI are stringent and entirely welcome. The annual financial statements must disclose the design characteristics of a bank's compensation system. The RBI may like to go further and ask for a table showing the performance criteria applied to top management and the actual performance. The RBI also wants disclosure of the fixed and variable components of senior executives, amount and forms of variable compensation, amounts of outstanding deferred compensation, etc. There is no reason why Sebi should not extend these disclosure requirements to all companies.


The RBI guidelines are for private and foreign banks. We have a larger public sector in banking, where pay is lower and subject to the government framework. What does the co-existence of these sectors imply for systemic risk? Can public sector banks attract and retain talent when their competitors pay a lot more?
   Our experience so far does not give a cause for worry on this account. Attrition in private banks is higher than in public sector banks, in many cases, as high as 30%. There is no reason to believe that private banks are able to retain people because they pay more. Given the demand for skills in a rapidly-growing economy, all businesses have to build a high attrition rate into their models.


We need not fear employees moving from the public to the private sector either. The fact that experience of 5-10 years at a public sector bank can be encashed later in the private sector is itself something of a selling point for the public sector and will help it attract talent. The public sector must compete by offering a different career and lifestyle choice from the private sector. The worst thing it can do is to try and catch up with private sector pay.


The RBI's recent guidelines on bankers' compensation is broadly welcome Compensation must be risk-adjusted, both in terms of quantum and the time horizon, and linked to outcomes
The guidelines apply, as of now, only to private and foreign banks. The public sector should emulate a different set of norms and not ape the private banks.








LAURA Vanderkam had a moment of insight some years ago: you can have a full life that few of us think possible, when you give structure and purpose to your leisure time. This is like treating one's weekend wardrobe with the respect one assigns to one's weekday suit and tie, she writes in 168 hours: You have more time than you think.


But most people don't 'use' their leisure time optimally. One reason is mental pre-occupation. If you love your job, are self-employed or thrive against 'impossible' deadlines, you tend to spend lots of time thinking about your work, even when you're chilling out or swinging in a hammock.


Also, most people tend to spend big chunks of their leisure in the most 'frictionless' ways — watching TV, for example. If you started exercising every time you wanted to turn to the tube, you'd soon be fit enough for competitive triathlons!


So how does one cultivate such 'virtuous' practices? Start with this basic insight: while most of us think of our lives in grand abstractions, a life is actually lived in hours. If you want to be a writer, for example, you have to dedicate hours to putting words on the page. And if you want to do something or become something — and you want to do it well — it takes time. The noted New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell sums this up in the 10,000-hour rule in his Outliers: The story of success, which says the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practising a specific task for a total of 10,000 hours.


This works out to 20 hours of work each week for 10 years. So, genius may not be the only or the main ingredient of a successful symphony of a person's life, Gladwell emphasises, citing the cautionary story of Christopher Langan who ended up working on a horse farm despite having an IQ of 195 (compare this with Albert Einstein's score of 150)!


Gladwell blames the environment in which Langan grew up: "No one —not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses — ever makes it alone," he writes.


In contrast, Eastern traditions tend to attribute such results to innate or intrinsic causes or disciplines. The Bhagavad Gita, for example, cautions against unintelligent (tamasic) or overpassionate (rajasic) effort.

The best results flow from satvic practice: dispassionate or detached effort, abhyasa backed with vairagya.
Practice makes perfect; but don't lose your cool.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




First the Union home secretary, and now the national security adviser. It is not certain how Islamabad will choose to cope with the avalanche of accusations against its Army and intelligence establishment for being bound up with sources of terrorism. So long as it is the Indians saying this, Pakistan can hide. But once others in the international community begin to speak up, Islamabad will have few places to run to. Pakistan had maintained after its diplomatic storm troopers sabotaged the recent foreign minister talks that home secretary G.K. Pillai's observation on the eve of that engagement soured the atmosphere. Islamabad held that the home secretary should have given evidence of diplomatic tact by not stating in public that the role of the ISI in the Mumbai attacks was not peripheral but central. The home secretary had made it perfectly clear that he was basing himself on the interrogation of David Coleman Headley, the American national of Pakistan origin who had surveyed targets in Mumbai preceding the November 2008 attacks, and not offering India's own surmises. But this made no difference to Islamabad. Evidently, their view is that any effort to link the Pakistan Army or ISI, its intelligence service, to terrorist agencies would automatically cause injury to the process of interaction. The contretemps over the Indian home secretary's words has not even died down and NSA Shivshankar Menon has found it necessary to warn that the Headley interrogation showed the "links" of the terror outfits "with the official establishment and with existing intelligence agencies". The senior Indian official made two points that are worthy of note. He said on account of official links the terrorism issue was "a much harder phenomenon for us to deal with". Mr Menon further noted that the nexus "would not be broken soon" and "was getting stronger". He also said India had a much clearer picture today of the "ecosystem" that supports terrorism which "affects the entire world". In Islamabad recently, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton informed a clutch of television editors that the Headley interrogation had produced "revealing facts" that had been shared by Islamabad. In the light of all that we know about the intricacy of the links of the Pakistan establishment with the infrastructure of terrorism, Islamabad was being a bit rich when it behaved shabbily with external affairs minister S.M. Krishna. Now Mr Menon's remarks have come when the India-Pakistan interactive process is still on. Does Islamabad propose to repudiate it? Indeed, as Mr Krishna himself noted, the Headley information is now a matter of public record and cannot be brushed under the carpet. This constitutes a welcome reassurance that India does not plan to shove 26/11 under the carpet. However, following the NSA's candid talk, can India carry on engaging Pakistan? If the military and intelligence establishment in Pakistan is intermeshed with the terrorists, is there any hope that Islamabad will seriously address India's concern on the Mumbai attacks?









"War is like love", wrote the German dramatist Bertolt Brecht, "it always finds a way". Peace, unfortunately, doesn't seem to work like that. Indeed, the construction of a durable peace requires more strategic planning, operational agility, and plain good luck than victory in war. The recent foreign ministerial talks between India and Pakistan underscore the importance of right timing as well as appropriate tactics in any effort at peacemaking. The need to engage Pakistan is self-evident. The alternatives — a more activist military posture or efforts at diplomatic isolation — have proved either fraught with avoidable risks or difficult to orchestrate. But peaceniks who favour all-out engagement would do well to remember that few things short of war can be as damaging to relations between states as a failed peace process.


In tackling a set of outstanding disputes, states tend to approach the negotiations in one of two ways. The incremental approach is premised on the idea that addressing the easier issues first would help the parties understand each other's perspectives and gain confidence as they realised that deals could be struck and, more importantly, made to work. They could gradually move on to the more difficult issues, until the point where they would realise that they were effectively "at peace". This approach is considered particularly useful in overcoming the endemic problem of commitment: how can I trust you to stick to any agreement that we might reach? Success depends on the impetus given by the gathering momentum to work through a set of progressively more difficult issues. Else, the process judders to a halt.


The comprehensive approach, by contrast, rests on the belief that interim steps that leave the deep, underlying dispute untouched are unlikely to produce satisfactory outcomes. Rather, the trade-offs necessary for a final agreement should be arranged through one grand set of inter-connected bargains. The problem with this approach is its "all or nothing" quality. If negotiations collapsed, there would be nothing to show for the effort. Worse, it would lead to even higher levels of distrust and a discredited peace process.


An excellent case in point is the Camp David Summit convened by Bill Clinton for a comprehensive peace package for the Israel-Palestine dispute. The failure of the summit generated vigorous controversy over who bore how much blame: Did Yasser Arafat turn down an unprecedented offer from the Israelis? Or was it Ehud Barak who missed a wonderful opportunity? The contending narratives of the Camp David Summit so poisoned the atmosphere that when a fresh Palestinian uprising broke, the Israelis responded in a manner that laid to rest the "peace-process".


The comprehensive approach was adopted by India in the negotiations after the 1971 war. Pakistan, however, proved unwilling to make good on the central bargain pertaining to the status of Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, years later when the P.N. Dhar provided an insider's account of the Indian perspective of this bargain, there were heated rebuttals from Pakistan. By the late 1970s, New Delhi was well aware of the problems inherent in seeking a comprehensive solution of disputes with Pakistan. In consequence, it adopted an incremental approach from the mid-1980s. The focus was now on tackling issues such as Siachen which seemed susceptible of resolution and building confidence between the two sides.


However, the onset of the insurgency in Kashmir proved to be the major stumbling block. The "composite dialogue" begun in 2004 was yet another attempt at a comprehensive engagement. The dialogue stood on an assurance from Pakistan that it would cease to abet terrorist outfits operating from its territory. Unsurprisingly, after the Mumbai attacks, New Delhi has been unwilling to revert to the composite dialogue, and has sought to attempt an incremental approach. Pakistan's insistence on a time-bound resumption of the composite format has resulted in the current impasse.


Peaceniks should realise that all-out engagement has little chance to succeed when India remains deeply wary of the complicity between elements of the Pakistani state and terrorist outfits. Unless Pakistan is ready to respond to India's baseline requirements on terrorism, increased acrimony is the most likely outcome.


Contrary to some claims, an incremental approach does not hand a veto to terrorists, but rather creates the capacity to absorb the shock of a potential attack. Furthermore, it is arrogant to suggest that the government should not take into account public opinion. Successful political leaders have always seen public opinion as a useful filter of policy choices. If it is not possible to lead public opinion by making a good case, then it might be because it is a bad policy. New Delhi's decision to focus the dialogue on terrorism and other low-hanging fruit like Sir Creek seems sensible.


Apart from tactics there is the question of timing. Comprehensive negotiations tend to succeed only when the parties are aware of how bad things might get if they fail to end the conflict and are hence prepared to bite the bullet. On this count, the situation in Pakistan is rather unpromising. For one thing, the military continues to believe that it can adopt a differentiated approach in dealing with terrorism, going after groups that threaten the Pakistani state whilst giving a free pass to those focused on Afghanistan and India. The dangers lurking in such an approach are yet to be registered.


For another, the military brass thinks that Pakistan's position will get strengthened with the passage of time. As the Americans look for a way out of Afghanistan, they believe, Washington is bound to seek assistance from them for a negotiated settlement with the insurgents. This will hand Pakistan additional leverages vis-à-vis India as well.


All of this poses tricky challenges for New Delhi. As a status quo power that is dissatisfied with certain aspects of the status quo, India has always placed a premium on patience in seeking change. In contemplating negotiations in such unpropitious circumstances, it would also help to recall Talleyrand's dictum: Above all, no excessive zeal.


- Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi









The hour is late, but there is still a sliver of time to pass a serious energy bill out of this Congress. To do so, though, would require US President Barack Obama to rustle up votes with a passion that he has failed to exhibit up to now, and, more importantly, it would require at least seven Republican senators to put the national interest above party and politics. Yes, I know that is all unlikely. You can laugh now. But just remember this: If we don't get a serious energy bill out of this Congress, and Republicans retake the House and Senate, we may not have another shot until the next presidential term or until we get a "perfect storm" — a climate or energy crisis that is awful enough to finally end our debate on these issues but not so awful as to end the world. But, hey, by 2012, China should pretty much own the clean-tech industry and we'll at least be able to get some good deals on electric cars.


The energy bill now being discussed in the Senate — which would raise energy-efficiency standards, require utilities to get 15 per cent or more of their power from renewable sources, like wind and solar, and create a limited cap on carbon emissions from power plants — is already watered down just to get 53 or so Democratic votes. But at least it gets us started on ending our addiction to oil and mitigating climate change. Unfortunately, right now it is not clear that a single Republican senator will even vote for this watered-down bill.


That is pathetic. Rather than think seriously about our endless dependence on oil, the Grand Old Party (GOP) has focused its energies on making "climate change" a four-letter word and labelling any Democrat who supports legislation that would in any way raise energy prices to diminish our dependence on oil as a "carbon taxer".


Unfortunately, Obama and the Democrats never effectively fought back. They should have said: "OK, you Republicans don't believe in global warming? Fine. Forget about global warming. That's between you and your beach house. How about this? Do you believe in population growth? Do you believe in the American dream? Because, according to the United Nations, the world's population is going to grow from roughly 6.7 billion people today to about 9.2 billion by 2050. And in today's integrated world, more and more of those 9.2 billion will aspire to, and be able to, live like Americans — with American-size cars, homes and Big Macs. In that world, demand for fossil fuels is going to go through the roof — and all the bad things that go with it. If we take that threat seriously now and pass an energy bill that begins to end our oil addiction, we can shrink the piles of money we send to the worst regimes in the world, strengthen our dollar by keeping more at home, clean up our air, take away money from the people who finance the mosques and madrasas that keep many Muslim youths backward, angry and anti-American and stimulate a whole new industry — one China is already leapfrogging us on — clean-tech.


"Nothing would improve our economic and national security more, yet Republicans won't lift one finger to make it happen. They would rather we send more Americans to fight terrorism in West Asia, let petro-states hostile to our interests get richer and let China take the lead in the next great global industry than ask Americans to pay a little more for the gas they use or the carbon pollution they put into the air. If Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec), China and Russia could vote, they would be 100 per cent supportive of the Republicans.


"How about we stop honouring our soldiers and our military families and start helping them? Nope. The Republican view of fighting the war on terrorism is that rather than ask all of us to make a small sacrifice to weaken our foes and buttress our troops, we should ask only a few of us to make the ultimate sacrifice. And that's called being tough?"


It gets worse. As Fred Krupp, the president of Environmental Defence Fund, notes: US utility companies today "are sitting on billions of dollars in job-creating capital — but they will not invest in new energy projects until they have certainty on what their future carbon obligations will be. In just one state, Indiana, there are 25 power plants 50 years old or older. The fleet needs to be modernised, and Senate paralysis is keeping it from happening. A recent study from the Peterson Institute projects annual investment in the sector in the next 10 years would rise by 50 per cent as a result of climate legislation — an increase of nearly $11 billion a year". That's new employment from a private sector stimulus.


Can you imagine how high the stock market would soar and how easy a compromise with Democrats would become if Republicans offered an energy policy consistent with their values and our interests? What if the GOP said: We will support a carbon tax provided one-third of the revenue goes toward cutting corporate taxes, one-third toward cutting payroll taxes for every working American and one-third toward paying down the deficit. The GOP would actually help us get a better energy policy.


Surely there are seven Republican senators who can see this. Aren't there?











There were always questions about why India wants to continue having talks with Pakistan when there is so much evidence that Pakistan's soil, as well as some of its official machinery, had given training to those involved in the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November 2008.


India has given so much proof to Pakistan on this issue, but what has happened so far? Absolutely nothing. Pakistan is running away from the truth, and from facts. It's high time India told Pakistan that unless you take effective and credible action against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks, there is no need to have a dialogue.


What was the outcome of the recently-concluded foreign ministers' talks in Islamabad, or for that matter the foreign secretary talks in New Delhi in February? The Pakistan foreign minister made utterly irresponsible comments against India and our foreign minister.


Terror will always remain the most important issue between both the countries. They signed an agreement in 2004 under which Pakistan was to ensure that its soil and the territory under its control will not be used against India for purposes of terrorism. Pakistan had agreed to act against any such terror outfits. But since then India has witnessed so many terrorist attacks. All the proofs points at Pakistan. Then why should India want to continue talks with Pakistan?


The Prime Minister , Dr Manmohan Singh, went against public opinion when we resumed talks with Islamabad. Everyone knows that those terrorists who are responsible for killing hundreds of people in India are being given shelter in Pakistan. It is a common feeling among people now that until Pakistan takes action against perpetrators of these terror attacks, the talks will only be one- sided.


Pakistan is always evasive and in a state of denial when it comes to the issue of terrorism. It uses every platform, including the recently-held foreign ministers talks, as a media opportunity to strike a posture. How long should we permit this to happen?


It's time India pondered the basic question: What's the purpose of engagement with Pakistan? And the related

question: Why should India continue to hold talks when terror strikes against Indian are an ongoing feature? India should now take a tough stand in dealing with Pakistan and inform Islamabad that dialogue will not be possible until anti-India activities emanating from its soil are put an end to.


— Ravishankar Prasad, chief spokesman, Bharatiya Janata Party


Only dialogue can resolve disputes


Vasant Sathe


Whatever happens, India and Pakistan are neighbours and have to live together in peace for the sake of the economic well being of their people. And the only way to resolve disputes between the two is dialogue. However, the dialogue process has become complicated because of the vested interest of Pakistan's military establishment.


The common man in Pakistan would be happy to have all the disputes between the neighbours resolved, although its military junta is interested in harping only on Kashmir. The idea is to subliminally tell Pakistanis that without the Army in charge, the designs of the so-called aggressor can't be checked. It is under this pressure that the Pakistan foreign minister, Mr Shah Mehmood Qureshi, recently tried to involve the US in mediating on Kashmir during a joint press conference with the US secretary of state, Ms Hillary Clinton. But Ms Clinton rebuffed Mr Qureshi, saying that "her country has no desire" to get involved.
It is true that most of the incidents of terrorist acts in India, including those in Jammu and Kashmir and most particularly 26/11 in Mumbai, have their roots in Pakistan. Major international terrorist groups maintain their base in Pakistan quite openly. There is evidence emerging every day that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence and its Navy trained the terrorists who attacked Mumbai and killed nearly 170 Indian citizens and foreign nationals. All this must change, of course. All the same, and under no circumstances should we stop talking to Pakistan. It is only the negotiating table that gives us the opportunity to provide evidence and to showcase facts to the rest of the world. Therefore, we must keep on the path of dialogue and aim to find solutions to all issues, including Kashmir.


I am of the view that some day a solution can be found by accepting the Line of Control (LoC) as the permanent border between India and Pakistan. But again, this has to be agreed upon only through peaceful negotiations.

We must, therefore, keep on impressing on the Pakistani leadership and people the need to resolve outstanding issues. It is in the interest of Pakistan that it resolve contentious issues with India as much of its expenditure on maintaining a large military establishment can then be diverted for the economic betterment of its people. Today Pakistan's economy is a shambles and depends largely on foreign aid, thanks to the US.


— Vasant Sathe, former Union Cabinet minister and member, AICC








On July 26, 2010, the first verdict of the Khmer Rouge trials is awaited. This will decide the fate of Kaing Guek Eav alias "Duch", the jailer at the dreaded Tuol Sleng prison, or the S-21 interrogation centre, in Phnom Penh. He is the first perpetrator against whom the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) will deliver its verdict for crimes against humanity and genocide. Even as the decision is awaited amidst speculation and debates, the July 26 verdict will also be critical for the United Nations which is primarily responsible for the implementation of the trials. The UN's role in the Cambodian conflict will come a full circle with this verdict.


From April 1975 to December 1978, Cambodia went through a period of genocide under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. This period was a reversion to what was called the "Year Zero" when the Khmer Rouge sought to bring to a standstill the entire history of the country and begin its rule from scratch. During this period nearly two million people lost their lives due to starvation, disease and torture. The Khmer Rouge period was ended by Vietnamese intervention and occupation which lasted for over 12 years, until the Cambodian peace settlement of 1991.


Reports of the genocide within Cambodia first emerged because of refugee accounts. The stories contained tales of forced labour in agricultural lands, an agrarian style model that was brutally enforced, and mass execution of people suspected to be loyal to the former government that assisted the United States' war efforts in Vietnam.


What is significant today is the role played by the UN in pushing forward the genocidal tribunal for crimes against humanity and bringing to trial the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge. Five members, including Duch, of the immediate group that controlled Cambodia during this period are facing trial, all of them in their seventies. There's Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea — these four were closest to Pol Pot and were significant players in pushing the agendas and vision of the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot, who should have been brought to book, escaped by a quirk of fate and died as a result of malaria.


While today the UN is responsible to a great extent to push forward the Khmer Rouge trials, at the height of the Cambodian conflict the UN had in some sense kept the conflict alive. The intransigence of the Cold War is nowhere more visible than in the context of Cambodia where the UN was stymied by its inability to assist in finding a resolution in the initial years of the conflict.


During the Khmer Rouge period, the UN was unable to take steps to prevent the genocide because of a clause

within their charter. The clause, that pertains to domestic jurisdiction, in effect said that even in cases where there have been gross human rights violations, the UN may not be able to act since the issue may fall within the limits of internal affairs of member states.


In the aftermath of the Vietnamese intervention, the debate in the UN raged over the issue of representation of the UN seat — the seat was occupied by the Khmer Rouge government which was officially known as the Democratic Kampuchea (DK) regime. The government which replaced the Khmer Rouge was that of Heng Samrin and was officially called the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK). However, because this government was backed by the Vietnamese forces, it was not accepted as the legal government within the UN. And as a result, the seat in the UN remained with the Khmer Rouge for most of the conflict.


In 1982, three years after the conflict had begun, three political factions combined together to form the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK). This was a grouping of three political factions that were against the Vietnamese-backed Heng Samrin government. It comprised the royalists under Sinhanouk, the republicans under Son Sann and the Khmer Rouge. In fact, the formation of this coalition lent greater credibility to the Khmer Rouge which handled the foreign affairs of the CGDK and continued to retain the UN seat.


While this dichotomy in the UN's stand was a critical issue, in the run-up to the Cambodian peace settlement the UN emerged as the main arbiter. It was under the auspices of the UN that a transitional authority oversaw the elections in Cambodia in 1993. This resulted in the victory of both the royalists under Norodom Ranariddh and the Cambodian People's Party under Hun Sen. For the first five years, from 1993 to 1998, power was shared between two conflicting groups. The 1998 election onwards Hun Sen has emerged victorious and there has been little political change within Cambodia since.


With the first verdict awaited in the Khmer Rouge trials on July 26, the debate rages over the extent to which punishment should be given. In fact, this first trial sets the stage for the other four high-ranking members of the Khmer Rouge who are to be tried. The trials of these four will be far more significant than the first one against Duch. Duch in his statements has claimed that he was merely an instrument of state policy. He even argued that he was carrying out orders given by the higher authorities within the Khmer Rouge and as a result should be acquitted rather than be found guilty.


There have been debates over verdicts such as life imprisonment, death penalty and other punishments. Interestingly, the political leadership within Cambodia has been less than willing to let the process take a conclusive course. Prime Minister Hun Sen has even hinted that the trials could lead his country to another civil war. While there is an opinion that the degree of punishment needs to be muted, given the age of the perpetrators and the time that has elapsed, it still needs to be weighed very seriously. Bringing justice to the victims of genocidal crimes is a crucial part of putting to rest a phase of history that is best forgotten. However, to forget that history without due justice to the victims would be to undermine the sufferings of thousands of people. The United Nations' efforts to bring the issue to a completion must not be based on principle alone, it needs to be tangible in terms of its outcomes as well.


- Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies
at the School of International Studies, JNU







In Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that just as we shed our old clothes in order to wear new ones, the self also gives up many bodies and takes up new ones. The clothes do not even have to be old; they may have just been worn for a while. The body is not affected by the change of clothes. In the same way, atman does not get affected. It does not die. That is the nature of the self. It is imperishable.


"Weapons cleave It not, fire cannot burn It, water cannot drown It, and wind cannot dry It. This Self cannot be cut, or burnt, or drowned, or dried. It is eternal, all-pervading, stable, unmoving, and ancient. This Self is said to be unmanifest, unthinkable, unchangeable. Therefore knowing this to be so, you should not grieve (II:23-25)."


In this verse, Lord Krishna lists the natural sources of destruction. These are nature's ways of destroying. Man has also created weapons of destruction. But even these weapons cannot destroy the atman or the self; they can only kill or hurt the body. On the relative plane we see, for example, that fire exists in space. Fire can burn buildings and forests, but it cannot burn space.


That is why Lord Krishna says that atman, the self, cannot be burned, drowned, or destroyed in any way. Atman is eternal and all pervading. It is not manifest; it cannot be seen; it cannot be apprehended by the senses. Nor can we comprehend or conceive it by the power of the intellect. That is why it is called acintya (unthinkable). When we think of anything we think in terms of its properties, its nature, colour, form and shape. But atman has no properties, so how can we think of it?


Thus Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that he does not need to grieve over death because destruction of the body is inevitable, but atman is imperishable. We want to acquire things that we like, and avoid those we dislike, but the world is not going to change for us. Events will occur irrespective of whether we want them to or not. Fire will not stop burning, that is its nature. Water will be wet, and air will dry. So we cannot expect things to change their nature to suit us.


All we can do is change ourselves: perform our duty without the sense of doership, without pride, and learn to handle the situations of life bravely. For Arjuna, his situation is very clear. He is faced with a war he has to fight. It is his duty, because it is a war of righteousness, a war of dharma.


"Furthermore, having understood your own duty (svadharma), you should not waver. For there is nothing higher for a kshatriya (warrior) than a righteous war (II:31)."


Here Lord Krishna advises Arjuna that from every standpoint his duty is now clear. From the absolute standpoint he knows why he should be fighting and from a relative standpoint he has to remember that he is a warrior. Lord Krishna reminds Arjuna that he now has a great opportunity to fight for a truly righteous cause and to establish dharma (righteousness).


This is what Arjuna has been preparing for all his life and such an opportunity is not likely to come again. Lord Krishna compares Arjuna's situation to that of an actor who has memorised all his lines but when it is time for him to go on stage he develops stage fright and cannot go on. Or to the racehorse that has been training all its life to run and is waiting for a signal to start the race, but the signal never comes. Such an individual's entire life will be wasted. Lord Krishna tells Arjuna not to waver, to perform his duty and establish dharma, for such an opportunity will not come to him again.


But what is the true meaning of dharma and where can we find the guidelines that indicate how we should perform our dharma? In the forthcoming columns, we will examine the teachings of the Gita on dharma.


— Swami Tejomayananda, head of ChinmayaMission Worldwide, is an orator, poet, singer, composer and storyteller. To find out more about Chinmaya Mission and Swamiji,visit [1].
© Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.








IF not discord, there was a measure of disagreement during Tuesday's interaction at the international high table in Kabul. There is nothing definite about the West's complete pullout. President Hamid Karzai sounded fairly assertive when he advanced a "pledge" that Afghans would take care of their security come 2014. But if the Nato secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen's rider is any indication, a free hand to the Afghan forces will not ipso facto mean a Western withdrawal. "International forces would not leave. They will simply move into a supportive role. The transition to Afghan-led security would be based on conditions not calendars." In an obvious effort to convey a message to the West, Karzai has expressed his determination four years before that calendar is fixed on the wall.  Nato has quite clearly placed the onus on the effectiveness of the political dispensation in a volatile land four years hence. The international conference in Kabul was deemed as a vital stage in bringing security to Afghanistan. The message quite clearly is that the roadmap will be charted out as conditions evolve. The West may be desperate for an exit, but preparing the Afghan forces for a takeover is the key plank of that exit policy. The calendar of 2014 is of lesser moment. That precisely was the message that Kabul may not readily be able to digest. It was clear too that the priorities of Europe and America are somewhat different despite the British Prime Minister, David Cameron's statement in Washington that withdrawing British forces by 2014 was "a realistic goal". Europe's concern goes beyond the mere capability of the Afghans to take care of themselves. It is also the probity of the Afghan government that is open to question.  For, within the earshot of President Karzai ~ propelled to power following a fraudulent election ~ European leaders called for stronger measures against corruption. America, which is set to pull out by July next year, has harped on the issue that has been fundamental to the operations since October, when George Bush threatened to "smoke out" Osama bin Laden. Specifically, the Obama administration has sought stronger guarantees on the process of re-integrating Taliban fighters. The conference has served to highlight the red herrings on the trail to crossing the bridge. Secondary was the underpinning to hand over Afghanistan to the Afghans. 



Having followed a scorched-earth policy towards Maoist welfare initiatives, even the belated assurances of tokenism are now set to flounder in West Bengal. It is a commentary on one hand not knowing the other's intentions that the resource constraint was realised only after the announcement was made with considerable fanfare. It is a glaring instance of orchestrating the conclusion without making sure if the premise is convincing enough. The touted subaltern benevolence is a post-budget embroidery. As it now turns out, the backward classes department doesn't have the funds to buy the kendu leaves at a higher price from the tribals. And also, of course, somewhat laughably the 12,000 bicycles that have been promised. The failure of development is thus reinforced by the fiasco over tokenism. It is a debased coinage, to summon the language of the metaphor. On one side, the offensive has been counter-productive; on the other, the government can't afford the token rehabilitation, which remains a non-starter. The two-pronged official policy has thus come a cropper in the forests of Junglemahal.

At another remove, the PCPA's welfare model is based on a spurious foundation. And to the worrisome degree that it carries within it the seeds of renewed strife. As reported in this newspaper, the People's Committee against Police Atrocities has started distributing among tribals the land of the CPI-M activists who have fled the area.  This at once raises the issue of proprietary rights of the new land-holders, let alone the crucial question of mutation. Whichever political dispensation assumes power next summer may have to contend with conflicting claims based on forcible acquisition of sorts, this time by a tribal outfit. And should the CPI-M activists get back to their turf, the scenario is too fearful even to imagine. The PCPA's links with the Maoists are as yet unconfirmed; the Maoist support that it claims is for the tribal cause in general. The Left radicals have never announced their support to this specific outfit, under a jailed leader who was once with the Trinamul Congress. The PCPA's land distribution may turn out to be an explosive issue in the fullness of time. That it has arrogated to itself the right of acquisition and transfer is testament to the overwhelming chaos in the countryside. The political affiliation of the actual owners is hardly the central issue; it is the PCPA's modus operandi that is illegal. The turmoil in rural Bengal has reduced the writ of the land and land reforms department to irrelevance.




PRECISELY what is the status of the Commonwealth Games in the international sporting pecking-order? That is the question the sports minister should be asking himself rather than taking pot-shots at the head of the CWG Federation, in obvious retaliation for the latter's slamming New Delhi's tardy preparations. Top Jamaican sprinters Usain Bolt and Shelly Ann Fraser are skipping New Delhi as participation would impact on their campaign for the European/American "season" which offers more rewards and challenges. Leading cyclists from the UK, Sir Christopher Hoy and Victoria Pendleton have opted for the European Championship (in some proximity to the CWG) because that meet would have on offer the points they must accumulate to qualify for the London Olympics in 2012. Whether a domino effect will come into play only the days ahead will reveal. Yet the Indian taxpayer who is being squeezed so hard ~ even beer prices have been hiked since over-ambitious Sheila Dikshit is cash-strapped ~ is entitled to ask if those who bid for the Games were unaware of its marginal status, and why the government did not assess that before backing the bid. The relevance of the Commonwealth itself is debatable, even nostalgia for the "empire" has worn off as confirmed by Queen Elizabeth leading the Bypass Delhi brigade. As far as that is concerned, India must reject any royal replacement: let the secretary-general of the Commonwealth do the honours. In his latest outburst MS Gill said Mike Fennel should understand that the Games were about athletes not officials. True. How often in the last few months has the minister, or indeed the all-in-all in the local organising committee, spoken about the preparation of the domestic competitors, their medal prospects? Are they afflicted by the same malaise rampant in the construction, management and financial spheres? That is not all. An overstretched Delhi Police and local government would wish to bring the city to a halt during the fortnight for which little enthusiasm is evident. Schools have been asked to modify their Dussehra break, lower courts will have extra holidays, government offices and even popular markets are being pressured to close when the opening and closing ceremonies are scheduled. Now the Police Commissioner wants Ramlilas to be rescheduled so that his men could focus on the Games. Yet that extreme line on "security" combined with irrefutable reports of ill-preparedness could influence both foreign athletes and tourists/ spectators to give New Delhi a miss.









ONE of the last vestiges of the Cold War is to be found in the continuing and seemingly endless standoff between Cuba and the USA. These countries were involved in the most dangerous and dramatic confrontation of an earlier era, when Cuba's readiness to play host to Soviet nuclear missiles brought the world to the brink. The deep suspicions and hostilities to be encountered even today hark back to that era. But in substance the matter is long over and done with, and Cuba today is no sort of threat to the USA. The Cold War itself is forgotten, the former Soviet Union has disappeared, and a sweeping new global configuration has come into being. Former foes have become allies, old enmities are forgotten as everyone tries to push ahead with plans for development and prosperity.  

But the Cuba-US confrontation across only 90 miles of water remains locked in place. There is virtually no coming and going between them, no effort to ease matters or to revive what was once a flourishing relationship. Both sides, especially the USA, remain vigilant to prevent, or keep to a minimum, even minor gestures of conciliation like exchanges of artists and cultural troupes. In this part of the world, the Dark Ages persist.  

The main sufferer

THE main sufferer from this state of affairs is Cuba. It has paid a heavy price for the unyielding hostility of its powerful neighbour. So long as it could take succour from the other super power of the era, the USSR ~ though this support was progressively reduced ~ it could more or less hold its own. It withstood extraordinary attacks like that on the Bay of Pigs, as well as several attempts on the life of its leader. Undeterred, it pursued a very active foreign policy, especially in Africa where Cuban troops were deployed against some of the nasty regimes that had emerged there, and skilled personnel, especially doctors, went in large numbers to aid and support local development activities. At home, Cuba became something of a showcase for an alternative vision of progress, concentrating on the social sectors where the universal high quality health care that it provided its citizens became a byword. Its sportspersons achieved great success and drew worldwide admiration, as did its musicians and dancers. Cuba became a dominant member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), urging it leftward and pushing it in a strongly anti-imperialist direction. Its leader Fidel Castro became a symbol of revolutionary endeavour, and radicals of all hues were drawn to him.  

But all that has faded. The revolutionary message no longer reverberates and the economy is in poor shape. Far from being a picture of a vital, dynamic alternative development model, Cuba appears run down and impoverished, marked by crumbling infrastructure and peeling buildings along its waterfront. Vintage American cars from the 1950s and 60s still ply the streets, kept going by miracles of ingenious maintenance. Reports by visitors tell of considerable hardship in a country that was once rich and prosperous. What has not changed is the grip on power of Mr Castro's party that brought about Cuba's revolution more than half-a-century ago. Fidel Castro himself, after being in charge for most of this time, handed over to his brother four years ago, having had to deal with severe health problems. He is still on the scene, nevertheless, head of the party, frequent source of advice and encouragement, and still capable on occasion of delivering the prolonged, meandering speeches that were his trademark.   

But Mr Raul Castro is the man in charge and he has moved cautiously to bring about a certain amount of change. Internal controls have been slightly eased and a number of political prisoners released. Political repression has been one of the most important complaints against the regime and these steps do something to address the issue. Fifty-four prisoners are to be released and permitted to leave the country, a batch of nine having already arrived in Spain. Some measures to ease the ubiquitous state controls over the economy have also come into effect, with beneficial results. Thus the party retains control but with a lighter touch.  
These steps are yet to have much effect on Cuba's foes in the USA. Very few answering measures are to be discerned. The main reason for the continued US hard line, according to many observers, is the baleful effect of the vocal and well-connected Cuban émigrés who are crowded into the state of Florida, the closest landfall in the USA. This group has rehabilitated itself successfully and has become prosperous and politically active. 

Emigre group

THE passage of time has not reduced its animus against the Castro regime. As generational change looms in Cuba, this émigré group is believed to be more than ever conscious of the properties and other assets it had to leave behind when forced to flee. Many would make restitution of what they left behind part of any serious bid to restore ties with Cuba. Such an aspiration could have been dismissed as the sort of dream all such refugee groups feel were it not for the fact that this particular group has organized itself effectively and has considerable political influence in its area, and is in a position to keep a watchful eye on decisions relating to Cuba. It has become a stumbling block to improved ties, being at present disinclined to follow that course.  

Despite the hostility from that quarter, there are signs that the US Administration may be considering significant easing of the controls it exercises on its own citizens in respect of Cuba. An important move would be the removal of the ban on tourism. Currently, countries like Canada place no bar and a lively tourist trade has started up, as well as a certain amount of investment in facilities like hotels. But because tourists from the USA have not been permitted, tourism has not developed to anything like its real potential. After all, before the Revolution, this was America's playground, and after so many years of deliberate neglect its beaches and other natural resources are in pristine condition, all ready for visitors from its vast neighbour.  

President Obama has somewhat tentatively indicated a readiness to permit tourism to resume, even though this is not an altogether politically simple decision. It is nonetheless the best way forward and would bring dividends to both sides. For Cuba in particular this could be the beginning of something that would bring a measure of prosperity and perhaps even encourage the internal reforms that the USA wishes to promote. Indeed, it is unfortunate that outdated and irrelevant considerations should remain operative in determining US policy towards Cuba, and it is high time that this now unnecessary confrontation was brought to an end.

The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary









If Barack Obama had set 2011 as the time for the beginning of the troop pullout from Afghanistan, it was a matter of honour for Hamid Karzai, the president of the war-torn nation, to claim for himself the privilege of announcing a definitive date for the end of that process. By stating 2014 as that date, Mr Karzai has assumed for Afghanistan, and for himself, some amount of agency over the conduct and the conclusion of the war. This was the high point of the Kabul conference. But what precisely is to take place between these two resolutely set time limits has not been resolved by the conference. To keep Afghanistan's date with history, Mr Karzai has assured its allies that he intends to multiply the strength of the Afghanistan national army and police by several hundred thousands so that they can fully take over the nation's security from the foreign forces (and allow their respective commanders-in-chief to face their domestic audiences free of guilt). Mr Karzai has also demanded, and been granted, control over 50 per cent of the international aid going to Afghanistan in order to provide more effective governance. To quell worries about whether these measures are sufficient to promote the transfer of responsibilities, Mr Karzai has reiterated his commitment to battle corruption and carry forward his reconciliation plan for the Taliban which he sees as a sure-fire way to break the back of the insurgency.


But worries remain. A lot of them, of course, have to do with doubts over whether the Afghan army and police — threatened with desertions, illiteracy, drug abuse, confused loyalties and popular mistrust — would ever become competent enough. Old doubts about the Karzai administration's ability to fight the corruption within remain. But the overwhelming concern is with the likely equation that is to evolve between the administration and the Taliban, and its effect on regional and international security. Mr Karzai, for sure, has grasped Pakistan's hand of friendship as a "facilitator" in furthering his grand plan to "talk" with the Taliban. But Pakistan's own strategic designs in the region are bound to make friendships rather complicated. At Kabul, India called attention to the "red lines" which ought not to be breached in talks with the Taliban. But the desperation to keep the timeline intact may force Mr Karzai and his Western allies to forget the word of caution from old friends








To be first from the bottom is the most dubious of distinctions. But this is precisely what India has earned for itself in a recent index that measures end-of-life care or the 'quality of death' afforded by 40 countries. The United Kingdom tops the list, while India is at the very bottom — below Mexico, China, Brazil and Uganda. It is also significant that many developed nations like Switzerland, Denmark, Japan and Italy — where more people live longer because of good healthcare — fare rather badly in the index. But India's shameful position explodes the myth of Indian society being one in which the traditional family provides the template for the care of the dying. If anything, the assumption that the Indian family is the natural provider of palliative care makes it easier for the State to pull out of its responsibilities in building and sustaining a welfare system that would provide or support such care. Although palliative care should not be identified with care for the elderly (even when the latter forms a major part of its concerns), Indian laws that seek to protect senior citizens, when they do exist, tend to criminalize neglectful or 'uncaring' children, kin or potential heirs in a way that deflects public attention from the State's indifference or inefficiency in doing its bit for the elderly. The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, only urges governments, without making it mandatory for them, to establish old-age homes in every district with a minimum capacity of 150 per home. But old-age homes as well as hospices, left largely to charity and voluntary services, are either associated with abject poverty, and therefore provide poor services, or evoke a kind of shame and dereliction that makes them taboo as a practical alternative.


In some cultures (as in China), the stigmatization of the dead and the dying — the tendency to sweep mortal

suffering under the carpet — comes in the way of proper end-of-life care. In India, the other extreme of being supremely at ease with the spectacle of public abandonment, suffering and death is, perhaps, the problem. The art of looking away while somebody else is dying alone has been mastered well, and at all levels of society and State, so that 'quality of death' sounds like a metaphysical or sentimental issue, or something that only a few can afford to worry about.









If one happens to be in England at this time of the year, one comes across a few interesting and prominent themes running daily in the print and TV media. These include the BP (British Petroleum for Barack Obama and the Americans) underwater oil-well disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the struggle of the coalition government of David Cameron and Nick Clegg with the United Kingdom's annual budget and the economy (it is not as bad as Greece's), and the English team's performance in the World Cup football tournament in South Africa.


Historically, and especially since World War II, the UK has claimed and the United States of America acknowledged, a special relationship between the two countries compared to the US's relations with other European countries as well as the rest of the world. This special relationship has occasionally been rocked — such as during the Suez misadventure, the UK's attack on the Falkland Islands, and so on — but basically has remained fairly firm. In recent times, the unstinted support of the former British prime minister, Tony Blair, for George Bush's misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan reinforced the special relationship at a time when the rest of Europe was extremely cautious in its response and, in some cases, cynical about the UK's anxiousness to support America.


The UK-US relationship cooled somewhat when Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair, but its foundations remained intact and taken for granted. This historic relationship has undergone a change with Obama's entrance to the White House and the recent ascent to power of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition succeeding the Labour government in the UK.


While Nato has been fraying at the edges for a while, and Europe and the US are struggling to get out of the killing fields of Afghanistan (this may undergo subtle changes, based on the recent discovery that Afghanistan may have some of the world's largest deposits of iron ore, bauxite, titanium, platinum and gold), the strains between the allies have become more palpable and open. BP's underwater disaster off the Gulf of Mexico has blown apart any semblance of cordiality between the UK and the US, and has created an atmosphere of full-blown public acrimony between these two countries.


The BP disaster, one of the worst in the oil industry, is being compared to the 9/11 bombing of the Twin Towers, and the American Congressmen and senators, led by Obama, have raised the ante of the BP episode (read the UK, Inc.), seeking the highest level of accountability and punishment for its executives (in words like "we have our boot on the neck of British Petroleum"). Consistently referring to BP as British Petroleum in the US (the company's change of name to BP is more than 10 years old) has served the purpose of defining the common enemy of the crisis — the British, while the CEO of BP is being mauled in the US media and in bruising congressional hearings. Friendly chats to cool the rhetoric between Cameron and Obama have remained just that, without changing the high-decibel American attitude and stance. The US government is in the process of forcing BP to create an escrow account of about $20 billion as potential compensation for damages before the BP board can consider any dividend payments to its shareholders, most of whom are the pension funds.


In other words, the US is treating BP as a foreign pariah although 39 per cent of BP's assets, business and shareholders remain in the US. Seeing the way the wind is blowing, in a display of corporate greed, the other major oil companies have now joined the bandwagon of BP-bashing by suggesting that BP's underwater oil-extraction technology was not robust enough and contributed to a disaster waiting to happen. They are behaving like circling vultures waiting to feast on the BP carcass while trying to persuade Obama not to ban underwater exploration and extraction off the coast of Texas, with its negative political and economic consequences. Their holier-than-thou stand has been demolished in another congressional hearing.


The high-voltage BP-bashing in the US has begun hugely to infuriate the British public and media. There is also a sense of being let down by an ally on whose side the UK has stood through thick and thin. Letters to editors, and some well-known columnists, now feel that Obama is behaving this way because he does not understand the UK and its special relationship with the US, as well as, say, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr and Jr and Bill Clinton did, for Obama may not have the same sense of history as his predecessors, his origins being in the Pacific and his early upbringing in Indonesia.


Given the US's rhetoric on BP, some are questioning whether Obama would be prepared to set up a Bhopal fund for the 20,000 dead Indians following the Union Carbide gas disaster of 1984. This argument led me to wonder whether the UK government should have set up an India fund on the eve of their departure from India, for the 200 years of plunder and the holocaust following Partition.


Be that as it may, these recent events throw into perspective the whole concept of relationships among nations, special or otherwise. This also reminds me of Pervez Musharraf trying to forge a special relationship with the US after 9/11, and the current bonhomie between India and the US.


Some important and indelible lessons will emerge from the BP episode in the US. The rest of the world would learn from it how not to be carried away by the assumed competence of companies or the nature of the relationship between countries.


As far as the recovery of the British economy is concerned, the jury is likely to be out for a long time. How it got to its present state remains unclear. The Labour Party may not be entirely unhappy to take a back seat while the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats take the blame for the consequences of the mess they have inherited. But that is the nature of the political prize. It is ironic that the government has to reassure its people that the state of the British economy will not get as bad as that of Greece.


As far as the football World Cup is concerned, the blame game, a favourite British pastime, has well and truly

begun. The 1-1 draw in its first match against the US was blamed on the English goalkeeper, and the coach, Fabio Capello, though thankfully not on the South African weather. The English team has ended its run soon and a new blame game has started all over again.







As the ferry from mainland China to Hong Kong set sail on the South China Sea, a fat woman took out her tiny battery-run fan and started fanning herself. First her neck, then her elbow, then down the length of her arms. Back to her neck, then her face. The ferry is air-conditioned; but the woman fanned herself through most of the 70-minute ride.


Leaving the mainland every half an hour, these ferries are the quickest means of transport from some of the southern coastal cities to Hong Kong. Their clientele comprise foreigners living on the mainland who go to Hong Kong to catch a flight home, or just to shop — businessmen from both sides; Hong Kong residents visiting relatives on the mainland; mainlanders on a shopping/sightseeing trip to the city, which is China's special administrative region but totally unlike it. A one-way economy class ticket costs 165 yuan (Rs 1,320).


It is not difficult to find out who's who on the ferry. The Hong Kongers are more stylishly dressed, carry genuine-looking branded briefcases and generally go off to sleep; the mainlanders carry fake brands, talk loudly on their cell phones and eat hearty breakfasts. One young couple, struggling to fill in their forms at the immigration counter at the Hong Kong ferry port, were obviously mainlanders. On the back of the woman's trousers was written, "Mr Mouse", with a picture of Mickey Mouse. This, however, was way better than the slogan emblazoned across the bottom of another mainlander: "teeny-weeny''. Of course, being a mainlander, the slogan fitted her to a T.


Lonely place


There's also a marked difference between mainlanders travelling with their kids and Hong Kong residents. The little emperors/empresses from the mainland are fussed over by their parents. And then, you have the mother who deposited her three little sons in one row and went off to sleep in another, oblivious to the trouble the kids were having as the ferry heaved on the choppy waves. Even the ferry attendant looked on with concern as one of the boys retched into the sickness bag he himself had asked for, and cast imploring looks at his sleeping mother.


For outsiders, as well as mainlanders, Hong Kong is one hedonistic place — eat, drink and, of course, shop till you drop. Everything is on "promotion"; stay at a particular hotel, even in a room so small you can barely move, and you get a coupon that entitles you to a discount in half-a-dozen fancy shops and even to a free gift in one of them. Shops remain open till late, even till midnight. If you don't want to sit at a noisy bar, you can pick up a sandwich and a drink from a 7/11, a chain of all-purpose shops spread across the island city.


Right now, 7/11 is in the limelight for the wrong reason: a survey has found it pays its employees the least, just HK $20 an hour (Rs 120). The demand from unions is to raise the minimum wage to HK $33. Retailers are against it, naturally, predicting that once implemented, this cost will eventually become too much for consumers.Crossing over to the mainland, you meet another world. Here, waitresses at bars — not only the small bars frequented only by the locals but even the high profile ones on the Bar Street that are patronized by Westerners — must get customers to reserve tables in advance. The reservation has to be through the waitress, which means she must give her mobile number to the customer. In one very popular bar, a waitress must get a minimum of five reservations a month, or forfeit one day's leave of the three days she's entitled to. Almost all such jobs are filled by migrant labour from villages, girls who have no one in the city to fall back on.




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The ambitious proposal to implement the food security law has gained momentum with the Centre-state meeting on the revamping of the public distribution system and the receipt of the National Advisory Council's recommendations in this regard. They have drawn attention to the problems in the implementation of the idea of meeting the minimum food and nutritional requirements of the poor in the country. It is being pushed as the flagship social security programme of UPA-II. The NAC, headed by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, is in charge of the programme. It has in its last meeting decided to start implementation of the programme in one-fourth of the country's poorest blocks, possibly by April next year. A modest start is better than a beginning with a bang in the case of an ambitious programme, because it is necessary to sustain it over a long period.

The plan is to provide 35 kg of rice or wheat to the country's below poverty line (BPL) population at Rs 3 per kg. It has been found that the present quantum of food production in the country may not be able to support the demand for grains that the food security plan would create even on conservative estimates of the BPL population. The large-scale wastage of procured foodgrains is another problem, with lakhs of tonnes disappearing or rotting away because of inefficient or lack of storage. Food output has to be increased and procurement and storage of foodgrains improved if the programme is to cover the entire the country.  Schemes for these should also be launched as part of the food security programme. In the short term, the success of the programme would depend on the efficiency of the public distribution system. Though proposals for food coupons or a UIDAI-based cash transfer system are all being discussed, at present a mostly dysfunctional PDS will be the vehicle for implementation of the food security programme.

The food secretaries' meeting decided to take a number of steps to revamp the PDS, including the launch of a smart card project on a pilot basis in Haryana. The meeting also decided to computerise PDS operations, ensure timely delivery of stocks to outlets and start a plan to identify potential beneficiaries. If the problems of bogus rations cards, diversion of foodgrains and other ills of the PDS are not immediately resolved, the food security programme cannot effectively take off.








An international conference convened to discuss a roadmap aiming at 'Afghanisation' of Afghanistan's development and security has endorsed proposals that have crucial impact on the transition. President Hamid Karzai's goal that Afghan forces should lead and conduct security operations across the country by 2014 has been endorsed. His plan to engage in talks with the insurgents aimed at integrating them into the government has also been endorsed in principle. With regard to international aid, the conference has decided that 50 per cent of all aid will be channelled through the Afghan government as against only 25 per cent now. Aid agencies and development organisations have been reluctant to channel funds through the government because of rampant corruption of officials. This, however, had negative fallout. It undermined the role of the Afghan state in development and reconstruction. The conference has taken a step to correct that. Many of the promises made at the conference have been articulated before. Whether this conference will be historic as touted by the participants will depend crucially on fulfilment of promises made here.

India has rightly stressed its support for an Afghan-led and owned peace process. However, it is justifiably concerned over the real possibility of the Haqqani networks clout in the government growing. Such a development has serious consequences for India and would be disastrous for Afghanistan as well as the region. Unlike other countries which question the capability of Afghans to take charge of their affairs, India's worries stem from Pakistan's persistent efforts to put in place a regime in Kabul that is friendly with Pakistan. Past experience indicates that such regimes have brought immense suffering to the Afghan people and destabilised the region.

Afghanisation of Afghanistan's development and security is important. It cannot happen if puppet-masters across the border in Pakistan determine who rules in Kabul. The international community must bear this in mind as it looks for exit strategies. Bruised by its difficult experience in Afghanistan, it seems to be anxious to wash its hands off this turbulent country rather than ensuring that the country and people are secure before it leaves. The Haqqani network is a threat not just to India or Afghanistan but to the region and the world. Leaving Afghanistan in its hands even marginally will push the country back to civil war.







New Delhi is now not only picking up the thread with Tehran, but redistributing the eggs it had once placed exclusively in the US basket.


Iran, Pakistan, Israel among others, know more or less, their respective preferred outcomes in Afghanistan. I am not so sure about the US or New Delhi.

Israeli vision, though obstructed at Tehran, does take account of Afghanistan where a few contradictions attend it. For example Jerusalem would not mind a resurgent Taliban pestering Shia Iran, its principal target these days, but Talibanism (extremism) in West Asia is its much advertised anxiety.

So, Sunni Islamic militancy plaguing Shia Iran is okay (in whispers, only) but it is intolerable in Israeli's Arab neighbourhood. Where does Israel place Saudi Arabia in this framework? "Their Bedouin DNA enables them to survive walking on Wahabi egg shells." Very clever.

Islamabad and Jerusalem are scaring Washington on two distinct counts. Islamabad advises Washington that American reversal in Afghanistan would be catastrophic for US prestige and influence in the region and globally. However, should the US depend on Islamabad's deep knowledge of the Mujahedeen, al-Qaeda, Taliban and arrive at a settlement with the Taliban Islamabad knows, Afghanistan will be sufficiently tranquilized to enable President Obama to contemplate a second term with a cool head.

Israel would like Washington to be more alert about the other 'Ogre', a nuclearised Iran. Should Iran go nuclear despite sanctions, American admonitions, egged on by Israel and Europe, in that order, the US, already in decline, will have its nose rubbed in the dust before a risen China, resurgent Russia and an Arab World which will charge down to their respective basements and start assembling bombs. The Saudis, (say the Israelis) may go nuclear with Pak help.

Meanwhile, Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and his Inter Services Intelligence chief, Gen Shuja Pasha, have been shuttling between Islamabad and Kabul. Traffic from Kabul is equally frequent. Likewise between Tehran and Kabul.

Time was when Peter Galbraith, supported by President Obama's special Af-Pak envoy, Richard Holbrooke had asked for President Hamid Karzai's head on a platter alleging election fraud and worse.

Obviously, Galbraith was not aware of intense turf battles in Washington in which the state department's line did not prevail. Galbraith was shown the door. Holbrooke ducked into a low profile.

Sufficient attention has not been paid to the fact that the only person from George W Bush's team retained by Barack Obama is defence secretary Robert Gates. It is he who represents the 'American Establishment's' interests in Af-Pak, Iran and elsewhere.


He is particularly suited to comprehend the region because he was deputy to CIA chief William Casey during the Reagan years when the Mujahideen were being trained and equipped with Stinger Missiles in Afghanistan. Also, he was around during the Iran — Contra affair — transferring Israeli arms to Iran to fight Iraq. The money thus generated was transferred to the Contras to oust the pro Soviet Sandinistas from Nicaragua.
Rise of Rafsanjani

The 'high level' contact the US made during that phase was the speaker of the Iranian Majlis, Hojjetulslam Hashemi Rafsanjani, who later became president for two terms.

American pique at the outcome of recent Iranian elections is largely explained by the defeat of 'their candidate,' Rafsanjani in June 2005 and Mir Hussein Mousavi (backed by Rafsanjani) in June 2009, on both occasions bringing President Ahmedinejad to power. That a tamed Rafsanjani still survives in the expediency council is because he knows too much.

The puzzle in all of this is this: how can the US take such a tough line on Iran at a time when it needs Iranian co-operation in stabilising Afghanistan? Is some obscure Washington — Tehran track still functioning?

Ask Jaswant Singh, who was external affairs minister in November 2001 when the US invaded Afghanistan. "Iranians, more that the Russians, helped oust the Taliban from Kabul."

Iran has lengthy borders with Afghanistan and Iraq — both flowing over with US troops. Equally strategic is Iran's border with Balochistan, the most important supply route for US troops in Afghanistan.

Iran's real quest is for a recognition of its status as regional power: it cites its ancient civilisation, 70 million population, second and third largest gas and oil reserves respectively, its strategic location on the gulf, contiguity with South and West Asia, Central Asia, Caucasus. Iran believes its stand on Palestine gives it influence among Arab populations. Moreover it juxtaposes its 'Dialogue of Civilisations' against Wahabi Puritanism.

All of this causes convulsions in Riyadh and Cairo. In other words a nuclear Iran, or a non nuclear Iran as a regional power, are both anathema to West Asia, Israel and the US. Surely something must give.

In the general pirouette involving Washington, Islamabad, Kabul, Tehran, Riyadh, Jerusalem, where is New Delhi? Well, New Delhi has good relations with each one of these centres except Islamabad and Tehran, the latter disrepaired in Vienna during the Indo-US nuclear deal. Leaders of each one of the countries (except Israel, of course) have visited Kabul several times in recent years. 

On July 20, several world leaders and UN officials were once again in Kabul to attend an international peace conference. India was represented by external affairs minister S M Krishna. Jolted out of its stupor, New Delhi is now not only picking up the thread with Tehran, but actually redistributing the eggs it had once placed exclusively in the US basket.







A majority of Indian politicians and planners are unable to look beyond a few economic sectors.


Indian economy continues to shine amid global slowdown. Its GDP growth clocks at 7.4 per cent in 2009-10 which makes Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee optimistic to say that India would hit two digit growth in 2012. India has witnessed 9 per cent growth consecutively for four years from 2004-05 to 2007-08.

Thanks to the stoicism of the majority of Indians who cut their food intake due to inflation, breath contaminated air, drink polluted water, eat tonnes of spurious food and medicines, pay exorbitant price for basic amenities like health, housing and education. All for the sake of GDP growth! The economic paradox in the country is due to the majority of Indian politicians and planners' inability to look beyond a few economic sectors. India's vast potential in its multiple sectors is not yet explored.

In spite of global slowdown, the demand for Indian handicraft is growing due to its high value addition. The Federation of Indian Export Organisation (FIEO) estimates India's export of gift items has increased by 20 per cent. Transparency in handicraft trade will benefit 47.61 lakh Indian craft makers and many more people involved in this profession.

Yoga industry

Twenty years back nobody had imagined Indian yoga could become a vibrant economic sector. Today, more than 30 million people practice yoga in the US. NAMASTA, the US-based organisation for mind-body professionals estimates there are about 70,000 yoga teachers in North America. According to 'Yoga in America', yoga market is worth $3 billion per annum. India can become the out sourcing hub for yoga products.

Similarly, the pilgrim tourism potential of India has not been tapped fully. Nearly 20 crore people visit pilgrim places every year, which triggers a gamut of economic activities like transport services, sale of handicraft, hotel and restaurant chains and above all communal harmony.  It is the Muslim artisans who make a large number of religious artifacts for Hindu temples and vice versa. In the 12th century AD, the Gajapati King of Puri allotted one village named Pipli to Muslim appliqué craftmen who used to make appliqué umbrellas for Lord Jagganath temple. Today the appliqué work is very popular in international craft bazaars. Recently Sri Lanka had sought India's assistance to develop sites like Warangatota, Sitakotuwa, Sita Eliya, Yudhaganapitiya, Dunuwila, Chilaw, Ramassala and Ramboda which are associated with the Ramayana. Integration of Ramayana sites will immensely benefit both India and the island nation.

Forests in India are the biggest livelihood provider. Forest dwellers worship nature, make all utility and decorative items from bio-degradable material. With the passage of time those hand crafted items have taken the shape of art forms for value addition. The iron and wood craft of Bastar, dhokra craft of Orissa and Chhattisgarh, the bidri craft of Karnataka, Warli paintings of Maharashtra and ragged dolls of Jhabua, etc have good demand in international craft bazaars.

The export of natural honey products has increased from Rs 60.92 crore to Rs 93.30 crore in 2007-08. There are hundreds of minor forest products which can improve the living condition of tribal.

Foreign tourists happily pay a wildlife package of Rs 2 lakh to Rs 3 lakh for sighting tiger in a forest. Madhya Pradesh government makes arrangement for a trip to the tiger kingdom.

Agriculture has tremendous unseen potential. Seabuckthorn is a kind of shrub which grows abundantly in Ladakh region. Its bark, leaves and fruits have multiple byproducts like medicine, fuel, cosmetic for skin care, soft drinks, jams, etc.

Unfortunately, 5 per cent of its potential is harvested every year. There are hundreds of medicinal herbs, plants and animals which have disappeared due to the entry of hybrid varieties. The nomadic Gujjar and Bakriwala communities in Kashmir have lost at least a dozen rare indigenous species of sheep, goats, horses and almost seven species are on the brink of extinction due to the introduction of crossbreed species. A few years back, in Bhadrak district of Orissa, cross breed jersey cows were given to villagers against bank loans. The villagers were not knowing how to maintain those delicate breed. The cows gave less milk due to lack of care and the villagers blamed the bankers for cheating them.

Today the indigenous cows return to dry Vidarbha region for their adaptability and less maintenance cost. Planners must take extra steps to discover economic potential which are lying unnoticed.







Mum is probably adding vinegar to the heavenly banquet.


One of the biggest challenges, a bride faces, is to put her individual stamp on the culinary union of two guts. Twenty six years ago, this bride had to redefine the line of control, between Tamil Christian and Anglo-Indian cuisines. Post-engagement, every special meal was a romantic adventure with the exclamation 'different, but delicious,' but post-wedding, it was risky business. In choosing the menu for 3 square meals a day, the two already hyphenated identities were in danger of losing their original flavours.

The first year was a tightrope walk between bread and rice, kurma and stew, salads and pachidis and between tomato puree and tamarind paste. The mothers-in-law took their roles as defenders of their culinary legacies and as preservers of origin and identity very seriously. They religiously added their incantations to the cauldron of culinary mumbo-jumbo. I was determined to learn and blend both to make my own stew pot or kurma chatti!

My mum-in-law was flattered by my decision to inveigle my way to my husband's guts, (because that is where a large part of his heart lay), through a smorgasbord of flavours. She whipped me under her generous belt and made a devotee out of me. I soon learnt the tricks of the trade and used terms such as vindaloos, stews, pishpash, thin dol, pepper water and fugaths with cultured ease. In turn, I wooed her and her son with the piquancy of Madras fish curries, the delicate flavour of asafetida in sambar and the incredible lightness of idlis and drumstick sambar.

Cooking, as I soon discovered was not only a cultural celebration but also a personal and intimate way of establishing your unique identity or flavour. Mum-in-law's masala chops, brinjal cutlets, tomato sambal or chicken vindaloo were inimitable like her. They had heat and texture, colour and flavour. They were flavourful concoctions of fancy herbs or heady amalgamations of indigenous spices. In the middle of all this stood Wilson, mum's Man Friday. Maker or master of synthetic vinegar, he gained a cult status with his band of believers. Quintessentially Anglo-Indian, it was a Black and White affair. 'Black', this High Priestess of soul food proclaimed, "for curries and white, for table use." God spare the heretic who defied the doctrine of a 'dash of vinegar.'

Till recently, this 92-year-old matriarch sat in a wheel chair, her memory in tatters. The one thing that jogged her memory was a recall of her vindaloo recipe. When we got to the part of the hallowed incantation, 'a dash of vinegar' she would guffaw with much delight. Mum is somewhere beyond the blue probably adding her dash of vinegar to the heavenly banquet. Every time I add a dash of vinegar, I smile at the memory of those early days when mum worked her charm into her cooking and into the willing neophyte at her altar. She had, in turn, become my personal dash of vinegar, that little something that added a zing to things, that made the drabbest, blandest and most ordinary situations, come alive. On my kitchen shelf are two sentinels, Wilson, in black and white, paying homage to mum and her 'dash of vinegar.'








Technology cannot hermetically seal our skies.

Talkbacks (2)

The technological achievement that took the original Iron Dome concept from the drawing board to a deployable multi-tested anti-missile system is remarkable – the latest in the impressive collection of feathers in the caps of Israel's innovative scientists and defense industries.

Within a few months, batteries of anti-missile missiles are to be positioned in vulnerable Gaza-vicinity communities to protect them against indiscriminate rocketry fired from the Hamas bastion. The various towns are already competing hard to make sure they will be adequately covered.

That said, nobody promises that the Iron Dome will offer absolute protection. Even what is touted may well be beyond the system's practical capabilities.

Earlier in the week, it passed its final operational tests with flying colors, but real life is a whole other opera (as Israelis may remember from the disappointing performance, to put it mildly, of the Patriots in the First Gulf War).

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i candidly admits that the Iron Dome cannot intercept all Gazan rockets and that Israeli communities will remain menaced. Nevertheless he is confident that 80 percent of incoming projectiles can be foiled. But can they? Even the optimistic Vilna'i notes that Iron Dome cannot be deployed everywhere and would have to be installed according to "operational requirements."

The Kassams and assorted primitive hardware, however, are highly maneuverable, and there can be scant intelligence as to when someone will fire them or from where.

Hence, unless every inch of the western Negev is covered 24/7, it's unrealistic to expect even an 80% success rate. For how can even the most learned assessments keep up with roving Kassam crews? Adding to the complexity is the fact that some of the communities under Kassam threat are too close to the borderline for sufficient warning time. The Iron Dome system requires 15 seconds to identify an incoming Kassam. But incoming rockets can (and have in the past) hit their targets after being airborne for shorter durations. The Iron Dome, furthermore, doesn't offer protection against mortars.

Last but not least, there's the sticky issue of footing the bill. The popular mantra is that no price is too high to save lives, which – considered strictly on the moral plane – is indisputable. Keep in mind, though, that it costs next to nothing to manufacture a Kassam and that Hamas may have many scores of thousands of crude rockets stored in its arsenals.

One single Iron Dome anti-missile missile costs $100,000.

Clearly, firing against any flying object from Gaza could wreak havoc with the already slashed IDF budget. The army, likewise, would not want to squander all available Iron Dome batteries in a short time and then remain helpless until more come down the production lines.

The prevailing counter-argument is that only Kassams that threaten defined communities would be downed. But such calculations are far from foolproof.

It isn't always possible to forecast where a Kassam will hit. If not every Gaza projectile is targeted by the Iron Dome, there's no telling what the Kassam that is not taken down can destroy.

IT IS imperative that Israelis are keenly aware of all of the above, in order to shatter the dangerous delusion that a magical, defensive panacea exists to the Kassam and mortar threat from Gaza. Such delusions can become addictive. And when the magic is exposed, the bitterness can be all the deeper.

Let there be no mistake – technologically, again, the Iron Dome is a stellar achievement that holds great promise. It may fall short of constituting a major deterrent, yet it could help render the Kassam a less attractive mode of terrorizing Israelis. But its contribution to securing Israel, though potentially valuable, should not be exaggerated.

The Iron Dome underscores Israel's ongoing technological superiority in the region, and it can buy us time. Unfortunately, it cannot hermetically seal our skies. Nor can it replace traditional battlefield offensives to take out terror bases across the lines.







How can these directors not raise an outcry that with a $1 billion investment portfolio, more of this money does not help survivors?


At the annual meeting of the Claims Conference in New York last week, there was discussion of my recent column concerning the fraudulent misappropriation of more than $7 million of Holocaust funds ("Scandal at the Claims Conference," July 13). While I was strongly criticized and accused of "ill intentions," not a single factual remark incorporated in my column could be refuted.

Indeed, additional information emerged, adding greater weight to my calls for reforming an organization which is controlled by a small group of people who in practice remain largely unaccountable.

There was a disingenuous attempt to infer that information concerning the misappropriated funds was suppressed in deference to a request from the FBI.

Yet, it was the New York-based Jewish Week which exposed the fraud and only subsequently did the Claims Conference furnish the details.

More importantly, it was disclosed that the fraud has been going on for more than 10 years and that the $7 million already identified related only to information obtained from computerization of records initiated in 2007. Claims Conference executive vice president Greg Schneider confirmed that additional funds had been stolen and treasurer Roman Kent added that $7 million was "only the tip of the iceberg." It was also suggested that the German government could hold the Claims Conference accountable for the missing funds.

To make matters worse, the auditors, KPMG, declined to sign off on the annual accounts pending further clarification of the actual amount of funds misappropriated.

Any organization is susceptible to fraud. But to trivialize the issue by maintaining that nobody was responsible because there was no deviation from standard procedures is unconscionable. It is surely obligatory for the administrators of the largest global Jewish foundation to ensure that foolproof procedures are in place. Allowing for the absence of malfeasance, there is still a question of accountability, not to mention transparency. It is thus highly inappropriate in the aftermath of such a scandalous fraud for a director to publicly boast that "the Claims Conference is well led, well governed, well staffed and manages its restitution funds in a manner consistent with best practice and probity."

NO RESPONSIBLE public institution encountering a disaster of this magnitude would respond in such a dismissive manner. It is this kind of arrogance that enrages survivors and others concerned with the administration of this crucial organization. After all, when a charitable organization is defrauded out of millions of dollars, is it acceptable to blithely deny any culpability in oversight? But more was to come. Avraham Biderman, a veteran Aguda Claims Conference director, announced that to deal with this problem, the executive had appointed Howard Rubinstein and Associates, "the biggest and the best PR organization in the United States," to refurbish its image. A $500,000 budget was set aside for this purpose as well as for additional lawyers and accountants.

As the Claims Conference already has a fully staffed public relations department, it is surely astounding that not a single board member rose to challenge such a decision.

That should be viewed in tandem with the comment by the chairman of the Claims Conference, Julius Berman, conceding that "tens of thousands of Jewish victims of Nazism around the world are living in need, unable to meet bare expenses or to properly care for themselves in old age."

The Claims Conference investment portfolio this year rose to $1,086,810,179 and yet not one of the 64 directors felt obliged to ask the obvious question: Could not a larger portion of this $1 billion plus fund be set aside for the few remaining Holocaust survivors, whose life span is now extremely limited? Need so much be retained by an organization, one of whose primary functions is to distribute Holocaust funds to needy survivors? There was also no satisfactory explanation regarding the $700,000 paid out three years ago by the March of the Living to a "consultant" at the behest of Avraham Herschson, the disgraced former finance minister currently serving a jail sentence for fraud. Following the damning exposure of this scandal, I wrote in a Jerusalem Post column: "The Claims Conference has much to answer for in this latest scandal. It stands exposed for having neglected to exercise oversight after allocating substantial funding for a worthy venture and thus indirectly enabling a questionable consultant, closely associated with its own president, unconscionably to receive massive payments from March of the Living funds. If the Claims Conference could so badly fail to oversee the utilization of funds in such an important Holocaust-related institution, its oversight in relation to allocations for other enterprises must be reviewed. It would therefore be appropriate to launch an independent forensic audit to cover the broad operations of the organization in order to allay concerns and instill confidence that the Claims Conference is being managed in an appropriate manner.

"This latest scandal also highlights the urgent need to introduce new leadership into the Claims Conference, restructure its board and ensure that the public is satisfied that restitution funds are being managed in an exemplary manner. There is surely no other organization more in need of impeccable transparency than the Conference on Material Claims against Germany."

THE CLAIMS Conference now alleges that it was unable to progress with this matter because the general controller received "limited cooperation" from the March of the Living in the course of a three-year investigation on a number of issues, including lack of information about a Brussels account whose funds went to the US and Israel as well as the $700,000 payment to the consultant. Further payments to the March of the Living were suspended, but there was no effort to recoup the funds that the Claims Conference should never have provided had adequate oversight prevailed.

At a time when many elderly survivors are destitute, the Claims Conference agenda also failed to allow for a meaningful debate on the morality of providing endowments from restitution funds to well deserving charities which are not directly related to the Holocaust.

To suggest that Birthright – an organization I fully endorse – was entitled to receive huge grants from restitution funds because the participants visit Yad Vashem is surely unacceptable.

Not surprisingly, the office holders from the previous year were unanimously reelected to principal leadership positions. It is noteworthy that the chairman of the nominations committee continues – after many years – to be the representative of the Anglo Jewish Association, an almost defunct body which has equal representative status at the Claims Conference to organizations like the Jewish Agency, the French Jewish Community and the American Jewish Committee.

A strong case therefore exists to suggest that the Claims Conference leadership is somewhat of a selfperpetuating private club. In addition, representatives of organizations which receive grants are inhibited and face a conflict of interest on many issues that arise, which is reflected in the fact that the board of directors effectively acts as a rubber stamp to approve allocations and policy decisions. Sixtyfour representatives are flown annually at Claims Conference expense to New York and Jerusalem for meetings to hear reports and validate them. There are never challenges to allocations and rarely substantive debates because the issues are complex and most board participants, even if equipped with sufficient data, are unlikely to rock the boat.

As I noted in my column last week, none of this implies malfeasance or corruption. But it does highlight one single overriding issue. How can these directors sit around a table and not raise an outcry that with an investment portfolio of more than $1 billion in liquid funds, more of this money is not employed to ease the lives of the elderly, ailing survivors living in abject poverty? To me this issue transcends everything.







Politically, the people here are nuts but personally, over the past 25 years, they've changed – for the better.


It's very ironic: In the last couple of years I've grown completely alienated from what the State of Israel has come to stand for, but for the first time since moving here 25 years ago, I find myself beginning to like Israelis as people.

In this country, at least, the personal is not the political.

Here, it seems to me, they're opposites.

Politically, Israelis now operate strictly on fear and aggression; look at them cross-eyed and they think Hitler's back and they're ready to drop the big one. Politically, they're nuts. A danger to others and themselves.


But though living in this country in the 21st century feels to me like living in a Fox News studio, or in Middle America during the McCarthy era, I often find myself in the course of a day thinking: Geez, these people are all right. You can talk to them. They've changed – for the better.

I know: They haven't changed, dummy, it's you who've changed after living here 25 years.

And I agree: That's a part of it. For one thing, it seems I've finally learned enough Hebrew to halfway hold up my end when people are being funny – which is most of the time. You miss a lot here when you can't keep up with the humor; it takes years just to be able to understand it. When you enter the circle of spontaneous Israeli humor, it's a whole new country.

It seems I've lost some of my urban American uptightness with neighbors, clerks and anybody else I haven't known since childhood. Now I can talk with strangers, which is another part of what's best about living here, about Israeli society, that I couldn't appreciate until not long ago. It takes us Yanks a while to loosen up.

BUT BASICALLY, it's not me who's changed. Every few years I see friends I've known since I was eight and they say I seem the same to them, just as I say they seem the same to me. But I also have family members who've been coming to this country since the '60s and they are shocked at the change in the people. They, too, find that Israelis, on the whole, have become civilized human beings.

About 10 years ago my sister Suzie put it perfectly: "Israelis under the age of 40 are sane," she said. Which means that today, Israelis under 50 are sane. That's a lot of sanity.

Sane, meaning they don't scream all the time like people in this country used to. They don't bark at you and make you feel stupid when you ask a simple question or venture an innocuous opinion. They don't act like they know everything and you know nothing. They don't forever seem to be saying "bah!" They're nice. Yes, Israelis have become nice! You go into a restaurant – they're nice. You go into an office – they're nice. A friend of mine, an American who came here about the same time I did, was saying how in public she sometimes feels like she's the aggressive one, while the Israelis are the ones behaving themselves.

I get that same feeling sometimes – and I didn't used to. Israelis have changed – for the better.

They work hard – and they sure as hell didn't when I got here in 1985. (It was only after seeing what socialism had done to the Israeli work ethic that I became a capitalist.) And something I really admire them for becoming, which they weren't before: charitable. Israelis used to think of themselves strictly as schnorrers, charity was what rich Diaspora Jews was supposed to give them. But now, giving money to needy people has become part of daily life – over the phone, to kids going door-to-door, on TV, at the supermarket. You can say it's because of prosperity, which wasn't here a generation ago, and you can say the state, meanwhile, has become a regular Scrooge, but still in all, Israelis have become very generous people, and that is a major, remarkable change for the better.

Politically, in the last decade, this country has become a wasteland – but I look around at the big new national projects it's built, and I'm just stunned. I haven't been to that many international airports, but I cannot imagine one as beautiful, as much a work of art, as Ben-Gurion.

MOST OF all, I look at the city I live in, Modi'in. Like the airport, it's big and modern but also warm and human. People get to know each other. It's a good society that's been built here. It's no place for single people, but if you've got kids, it's a great place to raise them.

I read in the paper about the Israeli teenagers who trashed the hotels in Greece, and I'm completely disgusted – but then I look at my teenage son, who is as Israeli as they come, and I look at his friends, and I see the other side of the young people here. They're all right, they're good kids.

And it just kills me what this country is doing to them. I don't think IDF soldiers are brutal compared to other soldiers, just the opposite: I think if you put just about any other army in the situation the IDF is in, those soldiers would be more brutal.

Israelis are not violent, brutal people, but we've chosen to be in a situation with the Palestinians – chosen it – that invites such behavior, that compels such a mentality.

And at that point, the political comes to outweigh the personal – for the soldiers and for all of us who send them off.

Israelis are good people who, as a nation, are doing something terrible. As individuals, we are friendly, funny, creative and humane, as a nation facing the Palestinian nation, we are a tyrant.

It's because we're good individuals, and getting better, that makes what we're doing as a nation to ourselves, and to others, all the more piercing to see.








The newly surfaced tape made in 2001 of Netanyahu boasting of 'killing the Oslo process' does not bode well for anyone.

Talkbacks (4)


About the only thing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have in common these days is a conviction that the other is bluffing when he says he is ready to make peace. But so far neither has shown the courage to call the other's bluff.

Abbas seems to change his conditions for moving to direct talks almost daily. The only thing that seems certain is that he is in no hurry to meet Netanyahu face-to-face. It's easy to get the impression that he wants to stall long enough for the Obama administration to get frustrated enough to step in with an American peace plan that it will impose on Israel – not a likely scenario, despite the alarmed e-mails of the Jewish right.


Netanyahu has never had much enthusiasm for the peace process and only under great pressure and begrudgingly was he compelled to endorse the two-state solution and adopt a 10-month perforated moratorium on West Bank construction.

Like Abbas, he also hopes the Americans will grow frustrated with the stalled process, but instead of stepping in he wants Washington to walk away from a situation it deems hopeless. He looks to his supporters in the US to make the price of pressing for peace politically unbearable for the administration, especially if Republicans do well in November's congressional elections.

NETANYAHU WAS in Washington this month to make shalom with President Barack Obama after a year of rocky relations that have created political problems at home for Obama but done nothing to advance the peace process. The two leaders declared a mutual desire to see peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and to move quickly to direct negotiations. It was part of Netanyahu's strategy to put the onus for any stalling on Abbas.

Obama declared, "I believe Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I believe he is ready to take risks for peace."

I don't know if he genuinely believed it, but I doubt he would have said that if he had seen a video that surfaced last weekend showing Netanyahu boasting how he had snookered the Clinton administration – he called Clinton "radically pro-Palestinian" – and derailed the Oslo peace process the first time he was prime minister a decade ago.

The newly surfaced tape was made in 2001, two years after Netanyahu was defeated for reelection by Ehud Barak, who is now his defense minister. He was speaking to a group of terror victims in the West Bank settlement of Ofra and was unaware his comments were being recorded.

"I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won't get their way," he said on the tape aired by Channel 10.

"They asked me before the election if I'd honor [the Oslo accords]," he continued. "I said I would, but... I'm going to interpret the accords in such a way that would allow me to put an end to this galloping forward to the '67 borders. How did we do it? Nobody said what defined military zones were. Defined military zones are security zones; as far as I'm concerned the entire Jordan Valley is a defined military zone. Go argue." As a result, he bragged, "I de facto put an end to the Oslo Accords."

THAT WAS nine years ago. Is there a "New Bibi?" Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy wrote, "Don't try to claim that he has changed since then. Such a crooked way of thinking does not change over the years." Netanyahu, he said, is "a con artist" who thinks "Washington is in his pocket and that he can pull the wool over its eyes."

Netanyahu told Obama that he believes it is possible to reach an agreement with the Palestinians by 2012, which just happens to be the president's target date and, coincidentally, in time for bragging rights in his reelection campaign.

What he didn't mention was that signing an agreement is one thing (I'm not convinced Netanyahu really wants an agreement but he finds it useful to say so in light of Abbas's continued refusal to confront him in direct talks), implementing is another; that could take years, perhaps a decade or two.

"Time is a crucial element both for security and for other critical elements of a solution" and it is necessary to "build in a time factor to any type of solution," Netanyahu told the Council on Foreign Relations.

Implementation must be gradual – the Egyptian peace treaty took three years – but Netanyahu's talk of the time element takes on new significance in light of his boasting of how he killed the Oslo peace process.

By now Abbas has seen the tape and read the transcript, and must feel some justification for his mistrust of Netanyahu and refusal to begin direct talks.

Does Netanyahu think he snookered Obama the way he did Clinton? What does this tape tell a president who already had serious doubts about Netanyahu's sincerity? And does Obama really care, or has he concluded that with two such unwilling partners, peace negotiations aren't worth much of an investment by his administration?







It is one thing describing Cast Lead as a legitimate action to a confidential Institute for Jewish Policy Research survey. It is another to state so boldly and unreservedly in the workplace.


Last week's survey by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research into British Jewish attitudes to Israel was greeted with a sense of communal relief. Some 90 percent of respondents had visited Israel. Similar numbers regarded it as the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people – a historical no-brainer but reassuring nonetheless. Our "bond with Israel is strong as ever," bellowed the front page of the Jewish Chronicle. However, it would be premature to start cracking open the sparkling Israeli chardonnay.

Only 29 percent surveyed regard Israel as central to their Jewish identity.

What's more, the survey of sympathetic attitudes did not reflect the levels of knowledge and understanding of Israel within Anglo- Jewry. I fear, we are regarding it on the one hand as a holiday destination, and on the other through the prism of the conflict.


GROWING UP, Israel was at the very heart of my Jewish being. Not identifying as a Zionist was out of the question. My parents and grandparents carried living memories of Jewish statelessness – discrimination, pogroms and ultimately the Holocaust.

As their generations diminish, so does our appreciation of what it was to be a Jew in a world without Israel.

As a child in 1960s Wales, I was inspired by the miracle of Jewish redemption in our ancient homeland.

My bedroom was adorned with posters of
Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan. Unlike most British Jewish children today, I had never set foot in Eretz Yisrael. But I knew its geographical features and landmarks as well as I knew my local neighborhood.

Its heroes were my heroes. Its achievements were my achievements.

At my Cardiff state comprehensive, I stood out among Huws and Gareths. Yet with every feat of Israeli audacity, from the raid on Entebbe to Eurovision victories, I was the toast of the school. My pride in Israel was boosted by my non-Jewish classmates. A child in the same position today would paint a different picture.

TODAY'S KIDS are bombarded with images of a powerful Israel pouring out its wrath on weak, beleaguered civilians. It is a far cry from my enduring image of the Yom Kippur War – of Ariel Sharon's tanks encircling Egyptian forces, but ensuring that convoys of food and water reached the enemy troops.

Since the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Israel's standing within the British media and public opinion has been in decline. British Jews face the fact that it is not perfect. My knowledge, understanding and belief in Israel proved strong enough to withstand this realization, but many in the Jewish community lack the tools to cope with negative press. Fed a media diet of Israel's failures, we are losing our ability to appreciate its successes. As every action Israel takes to protect itself is condemned, so our pride in it becomes muted.

It is one thing describing Operation Cast Lead as a legitimate defensive action to a confidential Institute for Jewish Policy Research survey.

It is another to state so boldly and unreservedly in the workplace.

Our Zionism is blended with our Britishness – our slightly awkward, "don't cause a scene" Britishness. It is scarcely surprising that the first chief rabbi to adopt a more openly passionate Zionism was Lord Jakobovits, a German Jew. Or that one of our few lay leaders capable of galvanizing Jewish support for Israel today is a South African, Mick Davis.

Visits to Israel have increased.

Knowledge of it has declined. The story of Israel is one of the greatest tales of human endeavor, but we have stopped telling it. It is time that we took stock of how much the community knows of its achievements.

How much awareness is there that Israel is the only country with more trees today than in 1900? How much do British Jews appreciate that our daily life is conducted with microchips and software developed by Israelis? In terms of university degrees per head, Israel is the most educated nation, spending a greater proportion than others on research and development. Groundbreaking agriculture, medical excellence and economic creativity should be a source of pride, regardless of the complex politics of the region. But when we survey our attitudes, they don't even register as a footnote.

Talk of rebranding is not before time, but any product launch or relaunch must be meticulously prepared.

Advertisers and marketers must know the product inside out.

With the right depth of information, they can cope with the occasional bad review or product recall.

The Jewish community contains thousands of potential sellers of Israel's unique brand and must not be overlooked. But we are failing to equip ourselves with the tools of the trade. Grumbling about "bad PR" is fast becoming a cliché, but Anglo- Jewry needs to ask whether we are pulling our weight. We remain a Zionist community but the time has come to remind ourselves what that means, update our pride in Israel's achievements and cast off our British reserve in sharing that pride with the public.

Then, I'll be the first to raise a glass of Galilee bubbly.

The writer is a media relations and reputation management specialist who has advised a wide range of clients ranging from multinational corporations, to public and voluntary sector organisations.








Jews in Britain are overwhelmingly supportive of Israel, according to a new survey. For now, that is.


On the face of it, the news coming in from the UK is pretty good. A survey published last week by the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research showed that 90 percent of Jews in Britain believe that Israel is "the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people," 82% consider it to play an important and even central role in their Jewish identities and 72% categorize themselves as Zionists, in contrast to only 21% who do not. Furthermore, an estimated 95% of Jews in Britain have visited Israel at least once, 77% agree that Jews have "a special responsibility to support Israel" and 87% agree that Jews are responsible for ensuring "the survival of Israel."

The report, entitled "Committed, concerned and conciliatory: The attitudes of Jews in Britain towards Israel," is the result of the most extensive and definitive research ever conducted on this topic, and in its exploration of some of the political views of the Jewish population of Britain, it contains findings that will warm the hearts of those both on the Left and the Right of the political spectrum.


The dovishness of the community comes across very clearly: 67% favor giving up territory for peace; 74% are opposed to the expansion of existing settlements in the West Bank and, perhaps most strikingly, 52% think that Israel "should negotiate with Hamas in its efforts to achieve peace."

However, at the same time, the hawkishness of the community is also apparent: 72% consider the separation fence/security barrier "vital for Israel's security" and the same percentage viewed Operation Cast Lead as "a legitimate act of self-defense."

Furthermore, fully 87% of respondents believe that "Iran represents a threat to Israel's existence."

We struggled with how to interpret this combination of dovishness and hawkishness when we were initially analyzing the data, but on reflection, came to the conclusion that, in many respects, the apparent paradox captures perfectly the nature of Israel's ongoing dilemma. The peace versus security equation needs to be balanced on a daily basis; most overtures toward peace involve taking risks on security, and most clampdowns on security involve damaging prospects for peace. What Jews in Britain are saying – in much the same way as Israelis are saying – is that we want both.

THE FINDINGS were greeted positively by the British Jewish community's best known newspaper, the Jewish Chronicle, which ran with the headline "UK Jewish bond with Israel as strong as ever." While it is distinctly possible to read the data in that way, my personal view is that there are signs of considerable disquiet in the findings, which indicate that all is not quite as rosy as some would like to believe.

Consider the following. In our investigation of the state of Israeli society, 67% agree that there is "too much corruption in Israel's political system." Approximately six out of 10 believe that both Jewish and non-Jewish minorities "suffer from discrimination."

Three-quarters think that "Orthodox Judaism has too much influence in Israel's society" and that includes, surprisingly perhaps, almost half of those who self-define as "religious."

Each of these findings suggests that a majority of Jews in Britain is looking at these aspects of Israeli society and struggling in some way to reconcile the realities they see with the values they believe ought to underpin a Jewish state. Perhaps it is the allegations against Ehud Olmert or Moshe Katsav, perhaps it is the growing alienation of Arab Israelis, perhaps it is the stranglehold Orthodox authorities have over the conversion process, but whatever the reason, it is clear that these types of difficult issues are leading some Jews in Britain to view Israel through quite critical eyes.

There's more. A clear majority considers Israel to be "an occupying power in the West Bank." Forty percent do not think that control of the West Bank is vital for security; 43% do not believe that Israel has "little or no choice in most of the military action it takes."

And one-third thinks that Israel holds either as much responsibility – or even more responsibility – for the failures of the peace process than its neighbors.

To date, none of this appears to be eating away at the foundations of the relationship Jews in Britain have with Israel. On the fundamentals, the support is still overwhelming.

But below the surface, there is evidence to suggest that a significant number of people are starting to ask some probing questions.

One can only guess at what the long-term impact will be, but we should not rule out the possibility that the currently strong foundations might begin to crumble in the years to come. Right now, Jews in Britain remain deeply tied to Israel; the future, however, looks far less certain.

The writer is executive director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in London. He is coauthor of the recently-published report 'Committed, concerned and conciliatory: The attitudes of Jews in Britain towards Israel.'








Even if the bill was flawed, I suggest that all who care for Judaism announce 'victory' and support it.


I'm a moderate, traditional Jew. I've been following and supporting the progress of Natan Sharansky's efforts to find a solution to our society's conversion issues for more than a decade, and was very excited when the Neeman Commission proposed its conversion courts. Here was a moderate, practical, halachic forum to move quickly ahead to enable the conversion of immigrants from the former Soviet Union (and others!) who have thrown their lot in with the Jewish people by coming to live in (and defend, and die in) the Jewish state.

Over the past two weeks, I have given talks at and spoken to Jewish leaders and communities in eight cities across America – and I am quite frustrated at the misunderstandings rampant, and even more so at the unnecessary wedge being driven between non-Orthodox Jews abroad and Israelis (of all sorts).


Even if the Rotem conversion bill was perhaps flawed before the recent excising of the section affecting the Law of Return – and I'm not sure it was all that bad – at this point I suggest simply that all who care for Judaism and Israel simply announce "victory" and support it.


ALL OF us – Reform and Conservative rabbis and leaders in the US, modern Orthodox leaders there and in Israel, and all the rest of us who crave a "normal," classical approach to Judaism – can feel satisfied that, with the amendment separating this internal-affairs bill from any treatment of conversions abroad and the "who is a Jew" issue regarding the Law of Return, this is an effective and long-overdue bill.

Personally, I wish Rotem would have waited until Sharansky (now head of the Jewish Agency and specifically tasked by the prime minister recently to help iron out an agreement) had been allowed to negotiate a solution.

Politically, Rotem deserves our wrath.

But the bill is a good one, one which actually promotes the kind of more open, welcoming, tolerant Judaism and a cessation of control by the haredim which the non-Orthodox streams have been supposedly seeking for years.

I'm not sure Sharansky's efforts wouldn't have led to the same law, or one very similar.

Those Diaspora leaders declaring that this law is "divisive" should be told in no uncertain terms: They are the ones who are causing a potential "schism" in the Jewish people, rather than blaming this law for it.

They were successful in removing the offensive elements of it – now it's time to declare victory and move on.

A close reading of the bill (which it appears many Reform and Conservative leaders have not done, if judged by their rhetoric) demonstrates it does exactly what it's supposed to: enable local, community rabbis to streamline the conversion process and to make it more welcoming and, while halachic of course, easier.

The bill, while codifying certain elements of Israeli practice already in place, allows much more freedom for more "modern" rabbis like Shlomo Riskin and the Tzohar moderate rabbinical movement to move ahead with the conversions of immigrants who want them.

This can – and in practice will – break the monopoly over conversions of the haredim.

The Jerusalem Post editorial (July 20) was inaccurate; it said the bill would give "the haredi-controlled Chief Rabbinate 'responsibility over conversions.'" It already has that, even if not codified in law.

Of course we should support the bill – it's (part of) what we've been working toward for decades. (Yes, it's a partial solution, but it's a beginning. And mainly, it's finally an answer to the issue of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who aren't Jewish and want to be but either won't convert through the Chief Rabbinate or who aren't being accepted by it.) MOREOVER, WE must understand the significance of rhetoric and the language used in debates like these. Those abroad who suggest that this law would be "divisive" or "destructive" (as did the Post editorial) are mistaken, as it does nothing to affect conversions abroad. It is they who are stoking the fires of division and a crisis in Diaspora-Israel relations.

These leaders are making this a discordant issue when in fact they should be celebrating it as the first step toward liberalizing Judaism in Israel ever, and toward eliminating the control of the haredim over our Judaism.

We – all of us who look to a more moderate version of Judaism which is open and liberal (dare I use that term, as an "Orthodox" Jew practicing what some might call "classical" Judaism?) – should simply claim victory with the recent amendment. We should explain to the liberal streams abroad just why this is a good bill, even for them and their interests.

The SF Jewish newspaper, The J Weekly, wrote that the bill puts more power over conversion into the hands of Israel's Orthodox- dominated rabbinate. This is incorrect, that power exists there today and it is strangling the Neeman and Druckman – and Riskin and Tzohar rabbis – approach to conversions. This bill will enable local rabbis to take the power away from the haredim, including the more modern, tolerant rabbis.

The Diaspora leaders who've led this fight, for years – Reform, Conservative and otherwise – can be justifiably proud of it, and of their success in removing the one, small, admittedly mistaken clause which was offensive.

I propose we declare victory with the recent changes, support the bill and its liberating effect on conversions in Israel and its ending of haredi control and coercion – "we" including the Diaspora leaders who can now climb on board, communicating this clearly, and as forcefully as they've opposed it – to their flocks.

The writer is director of MediaCentral ( and was an adviser to Natan Sharansky as Diaspora affairs minister








The parties should neither underestimate the binational state movement nor be surprised by the announcement of a Palestinian state.


"State of Israel is born" – The Palestine Post, May 16, 1948

"At 4 p.m., the State of Israel will be established" – Yediot Aharonot/Haaretz, May 16, 1948

"United Nations approves State of Palestine" – date approaching

It is conceivable within the course of realpolitik that despite obfuscation, political filibustering, dancing the diplomatic two-step (direct, indirect), wading through a plethora of plans, initiatives, thinktank reports, white papers and expert opinions (from Madrid to Oslo to Allon to Arab to Fayyad), it appears increasingly likely that all might boil down to a single resolution enacted by the UN Security Council.

When in August 2009, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad laid out his design for perfecting the infrastructure and institutions necessary to support statehood and slapped a two-year time frame on the plan, few realized the speed and intensity with which it would resonate throughout the world, picking up support from a wide range of interests.


Domestically, the Palestinian street became energized with perhaps its first tangible, reachable goals that diverted the populace from the mounting cynicism and skepticism with which it viewed virtually all promises made by its leadership until then. Supplemented by highly visible events showcasing growing private sector entrepreneurialism, the mood on the street improved markedly from where frustration was the dominant emotion slightly more than a year ago.

The international community has bit big time. For reasons ranging from the dynamics of domestic politics to a sense – right or wrong – of supporting the underdog, Fayyad's start of the "countdown clock to statehood" is allowing Western leaders to vouchsafe support for the Palestinian cause with greater zeal and less personal/political risk.

In Israel, leading security officials acknowledge the success of American and European efforts to train a competent security apparatus and the success of the PA security forces in maintaining the peace wherever they have been given the opportunity to do so.

In response, 60 Israeli tour guides are now being permitted to enter PA areas and it appears that other Israeli citizens will soon be allowed to traverse the checkpoints at will.

SINCE ALL of these developments clearly buttress the mantra of the "two-state solution," it belies the growing conventional wisdom that it's primarily the fringe of each camp that prefers the less-fashionable "one-state" option.

On the Israeli right – but hardly "fringe" – former defense minister Moshe Arens recently wrote in Haaretz that Israel "is already a binational Jewish- Palestinian state," a position echoed by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin. Those who adhere to this thought are diametrically opposed to those who argue that the "one-state solution" spells death by demography for the democratic Jewish state.

Opponents offer a vision of a dramatic handing over to Israel's Arab population the keys to the kingdom on the morning that census figures show an Arab majority of one. They even point to support for the one-state approach Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi took in a recent New York Times op-ed as proof positive that it must be "bad for the Jews."

Supporters of the one-state option respond to the demographic argument in part by pointing to minority rule in Jordan and Syria. Some even cite a 1946 piece by Albert Einstein considered supportive of a single binational character for fledgling "Palestine" – the term predominantly referring to the region's Jewish population at the time.

The Palestinian side, too, offers mixed views on the question of one- or two-state option. Adopting the demographic argument, some Palestinian leaders have employed the one-state idea as a threat to push the Israelis toward final concessions. It's an argument many Israelis accept: lose some now or all later.

Munib al-Masri, the Palestinian billionaire whose esteemed position has landed him in the unenviable role as mediator between Fatah and Hamas, recently told The Media Line that "Palestinians can go either way, but the two-state solution is better for Israel."

The sole factor both sides agree upon is that the status quo is not sustainable, an opinion shared – albeit reluctantly by some – with US President Barack Obama.

Throughout years of interviews with Israelis and Palestinians, it has become noticeable that fewer and fewer still offer references to Jericho cafes filled with Jewish Israelis on Saturday nights or recall what Jewish Israelis not clad in army green and manning checkpoints look like, visions lost to both Israeli and Palestinian youth.

In that vein, the Fayyad plan and the apparition of a UN resolution establishing the state of Palestine loom large in catalyzing Israelis to take a position before one is imposed upon them. Conventional wisdom sees Israeli leadership as being more malleable in the aftermath of the Goldstone and Gaza flotilla image debacles and most believe that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Obama share a clear understanding of what the final agreement is going to look like.

Many also see the American interlocutor as losing patience with Palestinian obfuscation in the form of seemingly endless preconditions: the latest being Israel's formal acceptance of the '67 borders and an international force to enforce them.

Those who preach stagnation have it wrong.

Although timing and details are not yet clear, the parties should neither underestimate the movement at hand nor be surprised when the announcement from the UN fills the headlines.

The writer is president and CEO of The Media Line Ltd, an American news agency specializing in coverage of the Middle East, and founder of the Mideast Press Club.








If they are serious about fighting the delegitimization of Israel, PM Benjamin Netanyahu and FM Avigdor Lieberman must transcend their power struggles and personal rivalry and quickly appoint a suitable ambassador to the UN.


Haaretz Editorial Tags: Israel news UN Benjamin Netanyahu Avigdor Lieberman


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman often warn against the "delegitimization offensive" being waged against Israel abroad, and describe it as a great danger. If that is how they see Israel in an international context, they are guilty of a serious failure: dragging out the process of appointing a new UN ambassador.


The United Nations is not the only place where Israel can make contact with foreign diplomats, and perhaps not even the most important one. But it can hardly be dismissed as "Oom shmoom," as in David Ben-Gurion's famous phrase, which plays on the Hebrew acronym for the world body. Its institutions and branches spend a great deal of time on Israel and its actions in the territories and Lebanon, and are leading the effort to keep the Iranian nuclear program in check. Their decisions and reports affect Israel's international standing. Just this week, Israel sent UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a second response to the Goldstone report, with the aim of defending itself against its accusations of war crimes during Operation Cast Lead. The work invested in formulating the replies shows that Israel takes the UN seriously.


Israel needs an ambassador who will present its positions at the UN podium in a clear voice, debate adversaries and facilitate cooperation with friends. Certainly Netanyahu, who served as Israel's ambassador to the UN in the 1980s, should understand the importance of the job. But Netanyahu and Lieberman are finding it hard to find an ambassador to replace Gabriela Shalev, who has completed her term. A few months ago, Netanyahu thwarted the appointment of Alon Pinkas as UN ambassador at the last minute. The prime minister has since found it difficult to reach an agreement with Lieberman on an appropriate candidate. Lieberman, in defiance of Netanyahu, who insulted him in other matters, last week appointed Meron Reuven, a mid-level professional diplomat without UN experience, as interim ambassador.


The delayed decision making and the temporary appointment reflect the damage that intrigues and political power struggles have inflicted on a vital diplomatic position. It's like posting untrained soldiers at the front because of quarrels between commanders.


Netanyahu and Lieberman must transcend their power struggles and personal rivalry and quickly appoint a suitable ambassador to the United Nations. As long as they evade their responsibility, they will find it difficult to persuade the public that they are serious about fighting the "delegitimization offensive."







If they are serious about fighting the delegitimization of Israel, PM Benjamin Netanyahu and FM Avigdor Lieberman must transcend their power struggles and personal rivalry and quickly appoint a suitable ambassador to the UN.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman often warn against the "delegitimization offensive" being waged against Israel abroad, and describe it as a great danger. If that is how they see Israel in an international context, they are guilty of a serious failure: dragging out the process of appointing a new UN ambassador.


The United Nations is not the only place where Israel can make contact with foreign diplomats, and perhaps not even the most important one. But it can hardly be dismissed as "Oom shmoom," as in David Ben-Gurion's famous phrase, which plays on the Hebrew acronym for the world body. Its institutions and branches spend a great deal of time on Israel and its actions in the territories and Lebanon, and are leading the effort to keep the Iranian nuclear program in check. Their decisions and reports affect Israel's international standing. Just this week, Israel sent UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a second response to the Goldstone report, with the aim of defending itself against its accusations of war crimes during Operation Cast Lead. The work invested in formulating the replies shows that Israel takes the UN seriously.


Israel needs an ambassador who will present its positions at the UN podium in a clear voice, debate adversaries and facilitate cooperation with friends. Certainly Netanyahu, who served as Israel's ambassador to the UN in the 1980s, should understand the importance of the job. But Netanyahu and Lieberman are finding it hard to find an ambassador to replace Gabriela Shalev, who has completed her term. A few months ago, Netanyahu thwarted the appointment of Alon Pinkas as UN ambassador at the last minute. The prime minister has since found it difficult to reach an agreement with Lieberman on an appropriate candidate. Lieberman, in defiance of Netanyahu, who insulted him in other matters, last week appointed Meron Reuven, a mid-level professional diplomat without UN experience, as interim ambassador.


The delayed decision making and the temporary appointment reflect the damage that intrigues and political power struggles have inflicted on a vital diplomatic position. It's like posting untrained soldiers at the front because of quarrels between commanders.


Netanyahu and Lieberman must transcend their power struggles and personal rivalry and quickly appoint a suitable ambassador to the United Nations. As long as they evade their responsibility, they will find it difficult to persuade the public that they are serious about fighting the "delegitimization offensive."









France's National Assembly last week passed the "burka law," which bans wearing the full-body veil in public. Although the law passed with an overwhelming majority, other Western countries are hesitant to join the campaign.


Their hesitation is understandable. The burka law touches a sensitive junction in the Western conscience, in which classic feminism meets radical postmodernism, also known as cultural relativism.


From a classic feminist perspective, this is welcome legislation that joins the ranks of other laws intended to overcome acts of violence committed against women throughout the world in the name of tradition. The burka is a long, body-covering garment that reveals only the wearer's eyes and hands. The classic feminist approach sees banning the burka as a continuation of the laws against female genital mutilation and child marriages, legislation that many Western countries support.


But not all the traditions outlawed in the West hurt people as tangibly as the genital mutilation of girls. The early English settlers in North America were disgusted with the Indian tradition of dealing with grief and loss by ceremoniously distributing property and gifts and burning valuable objects. This custom, know as potlatch, was outlawed by the Protestant settlers because it severely infringed on the basic Western value of accumulating property.


The question is whether the burka law is more like banning female genital mutilation or more like banning potlatch. It could be argued that anyone supporting women's rights should support the burka law. There are sufficient accounts describing the burka-wearing tradition as misogynist and as intimately associated with oppressive measures against women in Islamic society, while having no authentic religious quality in the spiritual sense.


If so, why is it so difficult for enlightened leftists to embrace the burka law? One reason is that supporting the law places the feminists beside the radical rightists, who are in favor of the law because it could be seen as anti-Muslim.


This is not the first time feminists find themselves on the same side as the extreme right. The war against pornography is another case in point. But here too, the difference must be underscored. While the religious right objects to pornography because it sees female sexuality as an affront to the public, feminists fight pornography because they see it as an affront to women.


Similarly, feminists do not object to wearing the burka due to anti-Muslim sentiments, but out of concern for women who are deprived of civil rights in large parts of the world. In other words, the cultural relativism approach, which holds that every society is entitled to preserve its cultural values, is harmful in a world in which a fierce ideological war is raging - in other words, our world.


And how can we live with the unpleasant congruence between our feminist positions and those of the right wing? Perhaps it would be easier if we looked at the far-right worldview as though it were a broken clock, even it is correct twice a day.










Sabbar Kashur wanted to be a person, a person like everybody else. But as luck would have it, he was born


Palestinian. It happens. His chances of being accepted as a human being in Israel are nil. Married and a father of two, he wanted to work in Jerusalem, his city, and maybe also have an affair or a quickie on the side. That happens too.


He knew that he had no chance with the Jews, so he adopted another name for himself, Dudu. He didn't have curly hair, but he went by Dudu just the same. That's how everyone knew him. That's how you know a few other Arabs too: the car-wash guy you call Rafi, the stairwell cleaner who goes by Yossi, the supermarket deliveryman you know as Moshe.


What's wrong? Is it only fearsome Shin Bet interrogators like "Capt. George" and "Abu Faraj" who are allowed to adopt names from other peoples? Are only Israelis who emigrate allowed to invent new identities? Only the Yossi from Hadera who became Joe in Miami, the Avraham from Bat Yam who became Abe in Los Angeles?


No longer a youth, Sabbar/Dudu worked as a deliveryman for a lawyer's office, rode his scooter around Jerusalem and delivered documents, affidavits and sworn testimonies, swearing to everyone that he was Dudu. Two years ago he met a woman by chance. Nice to meet you, my name is Dudu. He claims that she came on to him, but let's leave the details aside. Soon enough they went where they went and what happened happened, all by consent of the parties concerned. One fine day, a month and a half after an afternoon quickie, he was summoned to the police on suspicion of rape.


His temporary lover discovered that her Dudu wasn't a Dudu after all, that the Jew is (gasp! ) an Arab, and so she filed a complaint against the impostor. Her body was violated by an Arab. From then on Kashur was placed under house arrest for two years, an electronic cuff on his ankle. This week his sentence was pronounced: 18 months in jail.


Judge Zvi Segal waxed dramatic to the point of absurdity: "It is incumbent on the court to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth, sweet-talking offenders who can mislead naive victims into paying an unbearable price: the sanctity of their bodies and souls." Sophisticated offenders? It is doubtful that Dudu even knew he was one. Sweet talk? He says that even his wife calls him Dudu.


The court relied, as usual, on precedents: the man who posed as a senior Housing Ministry official and promised his lover an apartment and an increased National Insurance pension, and the man who posed as a wealthy neurosurgeon who promised free medical care and other perks. Dudu had nothing to offer but his good name, Dudu, and still his fate was sealed, just like those who promise apartments and perks. Not only fraud, but rape, almost like the convicted serial rapist Benny Sela.


Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein had, after all, defined the test of conviction for rape on "false pretenses": "if in the view of an ordinary person this woman would have agreed to have sexual relations with a man who did not have the identity he invented."


In tune with the public, Kashur's judges assumed, rightly, that the woman would not have gotten into bed with Dudu were it not for the identity he invented. She also might not have gotten into bed with him if he had told her in vain that he was available, that he was younger than he really is or even that he is madly in love with her. But people are not prosecuted for that, certainly not on rape charges.


Now the respected judges have to be asked: If the man was really Dudu posing as Sabbar, a Jew pretending to be an Arab so he could sleep with an Arab woman, would he then be convicted of rape? And do the eminent judges understand the social and racist meaning of their florid verdict? Don't they realize that their verdict has the uncomfortable smell of racial purity, of "don't touch our daughters"? That it expresses the yearning of the extensive segments of society that would like to ban sexual relations between Arabs and Jews?


It was no coincidence that this verdict attracted the attention of foreign correspondents in Israel, temporary visitors who see every blemish. Yes, in German or Afrikaans this disgraceful verdict would have sounded much worse.













The inability, or unwillingness, to meet the needs of more than 300,000 immigrants who are not Jewish according to halakha has been a frustrating problem for many years. These immigrants cannot convert even if they want to because they must promise to maintain a religious lifestyle. Then Yisrael Beiteinu went and submitted a conversion bill that faced a wall of political and media opposition.


Did the bill's detractors ask themselves why it was put forth by the party that is most identified with these

immigrants? Alternatively, is it possible that this party, whose political sense is the sharpest in Israel, would back a bill that is damaging to its voters?


Since there is no reason to believe that Yisrael Beiteinu or its chairman have changed their position, we must ask what is really behind the opposition to the bill and to the threat - yes, threat - that it will divide the Jewish people. And we must also ask why this threat from Reform and Conservative Judaism has been joined by some who take a positive view of mixed marriage and of the secularization and de-Zionization of Israel, via the High Court of Justice. (It should be noted that the overwhelming majority of Knesset members would not lend a hand to these processes. )


There is more than a little ignorance of the bill's purpose among the Reform and Conservative Jews who are threatening to stop the flow of donations from Jewish communities abroad to Israel, a move that I favor in principle, and to convince the U.S. Congress and the media to pressure Israel not to pass the law, which I consider to be pure chutzpah.


Unsurprisingly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, panicked by the pressure from these movements, has accepted the validity of their empty threat that the law would "divide the Jewish people."


Does Yisrael Beiteinu, which has an interest in bringing into the ranks of the Jewish people every immigrant who so desires, seek to divide the Jewish people? The fact that this party proposed the bill should reassure rather than rile up Reform and Conservative Jews. Is it logical for a party so dependent on the votes of immigrants who are not Jewish in accordance with religious law to be behind a bill that seeks to make the conversion process more difficult?


The Reform and Conservative movements want to obtain official status in Israel, alongside Orthodoxy. I support this. It is this desire that is the true reason for their outcry. But even if the High Court grants their wish, their status will remain unchanged. There are fewer than 100 congregations in Israel that describe themselves as Reform or Conservative, and most are small; compare that to thousands of active and growing Orthodox congregations. Only spiritual influence, not High Court rulings, can fill their ranks - and influence legislation.


The purpose of the Conversion Bill is to increase the number of Jews, and as such it must be supported on principle. It is a strategic goal, a matter of survival for our people, whose ranks are dwindling exponentially. Diaspora Jewry is in an accelerated process of extinction, out of choice, and every action that increases the worldwide Jewish population, whether legislative or educational, is welcome.


The bill's opponents are concealing the fact that it would not revoke Israel's recognition of Reform and Conservative conversions performed abroad. The only split in the Jewish people is thus the one carried out daily by those who split off from it. The hundreds of thousands of people who have turned away from Judaism did so irrespective of the admitted difficulties of converting in Israel, and this will hold for those who desert in the future, too. They will not even be aware of the existence, assuming it is passed, of the Conversion Law.




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




American combat troops are on target to leave Iraq by the end of August. President Obama — with the backing of his generals — is right to keep to his timetable, despite a recent series of bloody attacks by insurgents.


The United States, whose forces are now heavily engaged in Afghanistan, needs to relieve some of the strain on its overstretched military. After seven years, it is time for the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own security. They seem increasingly able to do so, although the country will likely be a violent place for years to come.


After Aug. 31, there will still be 50,000 American troops in Iraq, advising the Iraqi military and providing backup. All American troops are supposed to be gone by the end of next year. That makes it even more urgent for Iraq's leaders to get on with running their country.


Four months after national elections gave a cross-sectarian alliance led by Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister, a two-seat lead over Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's Shiite coalition, Iraqi politicians are still squabbling over who should form the new government. Until that is sorted out, Mr. Maliki is in charge — a caretaker with limited authority.


The list of problems for the new government to address is long. Iraq's economy is growing, but even the most optimistic estimate puts unemployment at 15 percent. Despite billions of dollars in American aid — too much of it squandered on corruption and mismanagement — Iraqis still lack adequate electricity.


Iraqi politicians also have yet to settle some of the most difficult, and potentially combustible, political issues. The government has to come up with a better plan for protecting, and employing, former Sunni insurgents whose decision to switch sides helped quell the violence. They are increasingly the target of revenge killings by Al Qaeda in Iraq. The Parliament still has not agreed on laws for negotiating oil contracts and for sharing oil revenues. Competing Kurdish and Arab claims to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk must be settled.


The Obama administration has been careful not to favor any one politician or group, while quietly prodding Mr. Maliki, Mr. Allawi and Kurdish leaders to craft a multiethnic coalition government. The Americans also have been encouraging the Iraqis to consider a variety of political reforms — including trimming the prime minister's powers — to make a deal more feasible and give Iraq much-needed checks and balances. So far, there is no sign of an agreement.


Visiting Washington last week, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari pleaded with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to do more. He told The Washington Post that the Americans have not pushed back hard enough against Iran, Turkey and others that are jockeying to ensure their various Iraqi allies come out on top.


Sending Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. to Baghdad recently was a good idea, but he clearly failed to resolve the impasse. We hope that President Obama is making the case for compromise directly to Iraqi leaders. The promise of continued American economic aid should give him considerable leverage.


If this drags on much longer, Mr. Obama may have to turn to the United Nations to lay compromise proposals on the table and convene Iraqi leaders for a decision-making meeting. There is not a lot of time left for Iraq's leaders to get their act together.






After four bosses in five years, the intelligence community needs sustained and credible leadership. James Clapper Jr., who was nominated by President Obama to succeed the ousted Dennis Blair as director of national intelligence, certainly seems up to the job.


The problem is — as it has been for years — that the job is not up to the challenges that the nation faces.


Mr. Clapper, a retired Air Force lieutenant general, spent 40 years in government service, much of it in intelligence positions, including his current post as under secretary of defense for intelligence.


Mr. Clapper on Tuesday faced the Senate Intelligence Committee, which, of course, was greatly responsible for making sure the Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not have the needed resources or authority in the first place. Mr. Clapper persuaded us that he intends to try to take charge, but we're not sure he fully recognizes the scope of that commitment.


The director's job — the brainchild of the independent Sept. 11 commission — is supposed to tame rivalries among 16 competing agencies and provide strategic direction. Yet Congress deprived the director of the authority to set budgets or hire and fire leaders. Other intelligence power centers — the C.I.A., White House and Pentagon — have blocked the director from doing his job.


Mr. Clapper insisted he did not sign on as a "hood ornament" and said existing law gives him "considerable

authority." He said he would expand the director's authority when possible.


We were reassured to hear him endorse the need for a "clear, defined, identifiable leader of the intelligence

community," and he seemed confident that he has President Obama's full support. Both are essential. But if Mr. Clapper is wrong about being able to make the existing law work, then he needs to figure that out quickly — and press Congress and the administration to enact changes.


We were concerned about his disparaging reaction to a two-year-long Washington Post investigation that uncovered just how huge and unwieldy the nation's spy network has become. The series found that the network built after Sept. 11 was "so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist or exactly how many agencies do the same work."


Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates confessed that he could not get a count on the contractors who work for his office. Yet Mr. Clapper largely rejected concerns about counterproductive and redundant programs. He accused The Post's reporter of "sensationalism" — the standard bureaucratic defense against investigative journalism that uncovers official shortcomings.


Here is the nonsensationalist truth: Nine years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Congress and the executive branch have failed to give the nation the spy network it needs.








In Idaho and Montana, in early 2009, gray wolves were removed from the endangered species list and left to the mercy of state "management plans." Those plans have been crafted to satisfy hunters rather than protect the wolves or the ecosystem in which they play an essential role. They all but guarantee the slow extinction of the roughly 1,700 wolves left in the Rocky Mountain West.


The wolf-hunting quota in Montana was 75 animals last year. This year it is 186 out of an estimated 524 wolves in the state. Idaho, which is expected to announce its quota next month, will allow wolves to be trapped, then shot, and it will let hunters use electronic calls.


These plans are the extension of a weak and outdated recovery plan (approved by the federal government in 1987) that requires each state to maintain only 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs — far below what's necessary to guarantee genetically healthy populations. And since that is the only official minimum on the books, it is an invitation to Idaho and Montana to keep killing wolves, until they approach that number. (In Wyoming, wolves are still on the endangered list because the state has yet to develop even a minimally acceptable management scheme.)


As a coalition of environmental groups has been arguing in federal court in Montana, there also is no scientific or legal basis for splitting the management of contiguous wolf populations among the states. The wolves should be restored to the endangered species list and returned to federal management.


United States District Judge Donald Molloy indicated some sympathy with these arguments when he heard the case last year, but he refused to grant an injunction against the hunts. We hope for a different outcome when he rules later this year.


The hunts are not based on biology. They are political hunts, the result of pressure from ranchers, who rarely lose livestock to wolves, and from hunters, who believe that only they should be allowed to kill the elk on which the wolves feed. Problem wolves that kill livestock should be destroyed. But until scientists can determine how many wolves are needed to sustain a thriving population across the Northern Rockies, the hunts must end.







The Obama administration has been shamed by its rush to judgment after it forced the resignation of a black midlevel official in the Agriculture Department who was wrongly accused of racism by the right-wing blogosphere. Shirley Sherrod was sandbagged by a two-and-a-half-minute clip from a 45-minute speech in which the real message was reconciliation.


Instead of tracking down the whole speech, the administration ran scared. Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, dismissed Ms. Sherrod from her job as the chief of the department's rural development office in Georgia. On Wednesday, Mr. Vilsack apologized that Ms. Sherrod had been "put through hell" and offered her a new job with a "unique opportunity" to help the agency move past its checkered civil rights history. The White House admitted it "bungled" the entire affair.


In her March speech at an N.A.A.C.P. event in Georgia, Ms. Sherrod recalled a period 24 years ago when she worked for a nonprofit agency that helped rural farmers fight bankruptcy. In the excerpt, she spoke of helping a white farmer, but not with the "full force" that she then believed black farmers needed. She said the farmer ultimately opened her eyes to the truth that white farmers faced much the same threat as blacks and that "there is no difference between us." Her message was confirmed by the white farmer's family. "She's a good friend," said Eloise Spooner. "She helped us save our farm."


The N.A.A.C.P. also had to apologize after swallowing the excerpt and condemning Ms. Sherrod. The organization certainly should have first checked with its chapter in rural Georgia, which had the full speech on tape.


The administration's haste to fire Ms. Sherrod was unfair and unseemly. She told of how an agriculture under secretary phoned her to demand she resign instantly via her BlackBerry. The official anxiously cited the likelihood the furor would "be on Glenn Beck tonight."


By the time the conservative commentator took up the issue, the full transcript of the speech was out and Mr. Beck was citing Ms. Sherrod — but as a victim of administration recklessness. This time, he was right.










The yang of America's labor force is this: over a 40-year career, a man earns $431,000 more than a woman on average, according to the Center for American Progress.


The yin of America's labor force is this: in this decade, for the first time in American history, men no longer inevitably dominate the labor force. Women were actually the majority of payroll employees for the five months that ended in March, according to one measure from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's mostly because about three-quarters of Americans who lost their jobs in the Great Recession were men.


Now men again fill a slight majority of payroll jobs because they are more likely to work in summer jobs such as construction. America may now teeter back and forth, with men predominant in the summers and women in the winters.


With women making far-reaching gains, there's a larger question. Are women simply better-suited than men to today's jobs? The Atlantic raised this issue provocatively in this month's issue with a cover story by Hanna Rosin bluntly entitled, "The End of Men."


"What if the modern, postindustrial economy is simply more congenial to women than to men?" Ms. Rosin asked. She adds: "The postindustrial economy is indifferent to men's size and strength. The attributes that are most valuable today — social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus — are, at a minimum, not predominately male. In fact, the opposite may be true."


It's a fair question, and others also have been wondering aloud if a new age of femininity is dawning. After all, Ms. Rosin notes that Americans who use high-tech biology to try to pick a baby's sex seek a girl more often than a boy. And women now make up 51 percent of professional and managerial positions in America, up from 26 percent in 1980.


It's also true that while men still dominate the American power elite, they also dominate the bottom rungs of the ladder. By some counts, America's prisoners are 90 percent male, and most estimates are that homeless people are disproportionately male.


If school performance predicts career success, then women may do even better a few decades from now, for girls clearly excel in school as never before. The National Honor Society, for top high school students, says that 64 percent of its members are girls. The Center on Education Policy cites data showing that boys lag girls in reading in every American state.


Yet count me a skeptic. My hunch is that we're moving into greater gender balance, not a fundamentally new imbalance in the other direction. Don't hold your breath for "the end of men."


One reason is that women's gains still have a catch-up quality to them. Catch-up is easier than forging ahead.


Moreover, the differences in educational performance are real but modest. In math, boys and girls are about equal. In verbal skills, 79 percent of elementary schoolgirls can read at a level deemed proficient, compared with 72 percent of boys, according to the Center on Education Policy.


At the very top, boys more than hold their own: 62 percent of kids who earn perfect 2,400 scores on the S.A.T. are boys.


Some education experts, like Richard Whitmire, author of "Why Boys Fail," argue that the success of girls has to do in part with how schools teach children. Tweaking curriculums by exposing kids to more books full of explosions might lead boys to do better in reading — and if boys continue to lag, there'll be more of a push for boy-friendly initiatives.


I think we exaggerate the degree to which the sexes are mired in conflict. As Henry Kissinger once said, "Nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes. There's too much fraternizing with the enemy." We men want our wives and daughters to encounter opportunity in the workplace, not sexual harassment; women want their husbands and sons to be in the executive suite, not jail. Nearly all of us root for fairness, not for our own sex.


The truth is that we men have typically benefited as women have gained greater equality. Those men who have lost their jobs in the recession are now more likely to have a wife who still has a job and can keep up the mortgage payments. And women have been particularly prominent in the social sector, devising new programs for the mostly male ranks of the jobless or homeless.


So forget about gender war and zero-sum games. Odds are that we men will find a way to hold our own, with the help of women. And we'll benefit as smart and talented women belatedly have the opportunity to deploy their skills on behalf of all of humanity — including those of us with Y chromosomes.










On Jan. 1, Democrats will raise taxes — the question is whose and for how long. By not extending critical tax relief enacted in 2001 and 2003, our nation would face the largest tax increase in history.


OUR VIEW: To help control the deficit, let the Bush tax cuts expire


According to the Congressional Budget Office, our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would take a 1.4% hit — potentially enough to trigger another recession, the last thing out-of-work Americans need.


We need to stop these tax hikes and create a foundation for economic growth that, coupled with spending cuts, will reduce our massive budget deficits.


Dr. Christina Romer, chair of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, found that "tax increases are highly contractionary" and that there's "a powerful negative effect of tax increases on investment." Her analysis showed that $1 in tax cuts results in a $3 increase in GDP, demonstrating why lower taxes are key to investment and an economic recovery.


In contrast, many Democrats argue that Congress needs to spend more money we don't have to stimulate the economy. They didn't learn from the last stimulus that failed to stop unemployment from going over 8%. In fact, these massive tax hikes would be an anti-stimulus — putting our economy at greater risk.


Washington doesn't have a revenue problem; it's got a spending problem. Federal spending is expected to reach 25.2% of GDP by 2020 — up from the 20% average. Revenues, even with this tax relief extended, are projected to reach 20%, way up from the 18% norm.


Some say Congress should raise the top tax rates so the "rich" pay more. But if that happens, it'll be small businesses paying the price — to the tune of a 17% hike in the top marginal rate.


According to a recent Gallup survey, small businesses employing up to 20 million Americans would be hit by these tax increases.


The Joint Committee on Taxation says half of the around $1 trillion in business income in 2011 will be reported on individual returns subject to the tax hikes on the top two tax rates. That doesn't make sense, especially when our economy is so weak.


Let's stop these tax hikes and instead create a climate for economic growth and job creation by keeping taxes low and cutting spending.


Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee.







Democrats and Republicans alike claim to have found religion about the need to control the nation's unsustainable trillion dollar budget deficits.


As it happens, with the so-calledBush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 set to expire at the end of this year, both parties

have a chance to do something about the deficit simply by doing nothing.


So are they prepared to seize this rare opportunity? Hardly.


President Obama and most Democrats want to extend those tax cuts — which slashed marginal rates as well as taxes on dividends and capital gains — for all but high-income households. Never mind thatmost Democrats voted againstthe cuts in the first place, or that the economy had been flourishing before they were enacted.


Republicans, for their part, are not satisfied with extending most of the tax cuts. They want to extend themall. Never mind that these are the very people who turned a budget surplus into a $5 trillion mountain of debt during the Bush presidency and whohave been making the most noise about the deficit recently.


The best approach, though the least likely, would be to put aside the political maneuvering and do what is in the nation's long-term interest. That would be to let the tax cuts expire — first for the wealthy and more gradually for everyone else — then couple that move with large-scale spending cuts in a two-pronged attack on the deficit.


While that might seem a bit harsh, consider this: Nearly half of the nation's households now pay no federal income tax at all, an unhealthy level that undermines the national sense that everyone is in this together. Taxes have been cut so much that federal receipts are less than 15% of the U.S. economy, the lowest level since Harry Truman was in the White House 60 years ago.


Some of this drop in revenue comes from tax cuts in recent economic stimulus bills. But the vast majority

comes from the cuts of 2001 and 2003. At a 10-year cost of $2.3 trillion in lost revenue, their impact on the deficit has been greater than Obama's stimulus, the war in Iraq and the 2003 Medicare drug benefit combined.


No less an authority than former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, who gave a crucial endorsement in 2001 to the tax cuts, now says unequivocally that they should expire. "Unless we start to come to grips with this long-term outlook, we are going to have major problems," he told Bloomberg News. "I think we misunderstand the momentum of this deficit going forward."


Those who support extending the Bush tax cuts argue that the worst time to raise taxes is in a recession. That is true, and it's why Congress might want to let the cuts expire first for the wealthy — who have been the biggest beneficiaries — and for others as the economy recovers. Bigger spending cuts should be added after a bipartisan commission on the deficit reports at year end.


With the nation edging ever closer to a major debt crisis, there simply isn't much choice but to start living within its means.


That message is being heard in other debt-laden parts of the world. British Prime Minister David Cameron, for example, has put forward a budget that slashes spending 25% and hikes taxes. Remarkably, his fiscal responsibility is politically popular.


The message needs to be heard on this side of the Atlantic. Allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire, while simultaneously reining in bloated benefit and military programs, would be an indication that it is.








LONDON — Despite all the false starts and nail-biting repair attempts on the ruptured oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, the stain on the sea will eventually dissipate. But can the same be said about the stain on the "special relationship" between the U.S. and Britain?


As British Prime Minister David Cameron set off for his visit to the USA this week, he said Britain was not dependent upon America and did not owe it "blind loyalty." This comes, of course, in the wake of months of President Obama's tongue-lashing of "British Petroleum" — a name BP had not used for many years. The British people took the president's words very much amiss, suspicious that he was unfairly singling out BP for blame as a proxy for bashing Britain itself.


The British public sourly noted that the role of the two U.S. firms involved in the managing of the Deepwater Horizon rig was ignored, as was the fact that 39% of BP is owned by Americans. The president's aggressive rhetoric, including a White House threat to hold a "boot to the throat" of BP, was blamed for wiping billions of pounds off the company's value. This directly threatened British pension funds, which are heavily reliant on the company's dividend payments.


But there was also something rather deeper and more atavistic in the British response. Obama's aggression seemed to bring to the fore a British resentment of the U.S. that is never far from the surface.


'A toxic mixture'


This comprises a toxic mixture of intellectual snobbery; a historic fury at America's late entry into World War II, after which it was perceived to lay claim to the glory; and perhaps most important of all, a deep envy of American wealth and power by a country that decades ago lost not only its empire but also its cultural way and sense of purpose.


Nevertheless, Britain has some cause for complaint from the disdain that Obama has displayed well before the Gulf oil spill. First, he pointedly returned to the British Embassy the bust of Winston Churchillthat a previous government had bequeathed to the White House as a gift; then he sided with Argentina in its calls for U.N.-brokered negotiations with Britain over the Falkland Islands.


His perceived scapegoating of BP blew the cap off this deep well of bubbling British national affront. AYouGov poll conducted in June found that only 54% of British respondents said they felt favorably toward the United States — down from 66% one month previously. When asked specifically about how Obama's handling of the BP oil spill had affected the relationship between Britain and the U.S., 64% said it had weakened it. And 45% said they thought that the relationship has gotten worse since Obama took office in November 2008 — a dramatic increase from the 25% who responded this way the previous month.


As a result, Cameron was criticized for backing the president in his attack on BP for failing to stem the flow of oil, saying he understood Obama's "frustration." This was almost certainly because, although he is a Conservative leader, Cameron has taken his party to the left by adopting a green and anti-Big Business agenda.


With feeling in Britain running so high, however, eventually Cameron did publicly warn that BP's survival was important, and he was credited here with getting the U.S. president to agree that the oil giant must not go under.


Even though the sound and fury over the disaster has calmed, however, the "special relationship" between Britain and the United States has not returned to normal. Something has changed. And the situation is replete with irony.


When President Obama was elected, the British were delighted. They believed he would usher in a repudiation of the George W. Bush years and end what they saw as America's tendency to throw its weight around the world.


Ironically, it was precisely that perception that got up their noses over BP. They thought that America had now alighted upon some new folk to push around — the British themselves.


Yet even though they have become disillusioned with Obama, the agenda with which they associate him — to end American exceptionalism — is gathering steam in the U.K. It is hard to overestimate the poisonous belief that Britain was dragged on America's coattails into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that were against its national interest. However strongly others might deplore such sentiments, they have led to a cooling toward the U.S. across the British political spectrum.


Pulling away


Last March, the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee said Britain should be "less deferential" and more assertive in its dealings with America, and it recommended that the term "special relationship" be abandoned.


The British government would seem to agree. In a speech a few weeks ago, Foreign Secretary William Hague— while calling the bond with the U.S. "unbreakable" — nevertheless said Britain should pursue "enlightened national interest" through developing alliances with countries such as Brazil and India rather than relying on America and Europe.


In part, the Cameron/Liberal Democrat coalition government is reacting to the public's anti-Americanism. But it also seems to have concluded that Obama is a weak president who has proved indecisive against his country's enemies while lashing out at its allies.


The oil might stop gushing into the Gulf of Mexico — but the waters of the "special relationship" upon which it so toxically poured still remain troubled.


Melanie Phillips is a columnist for the United Kingdom's Daily Mail.









During his confirmation hearings for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991, Clarence Thomas famously described the news media's treatment of the allegations that he had sexually harassed a young female co-worker during his tenure as head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as a "high-tech lynching."


In Thomas' case, the claim was little more than clever hyperbole. In the case of what has just been done to

fired U.S. Department of Agricultureofficial Shirley Sherrod, it is true — and especially poignant since as she makes clear at the beginning of her grotesquely misquoted speech, Sherrod is all too familiar with the good old-fashioned low-tech variety.


We now know that the caricature of Sherrod as a blatant racist who intentionally failed to assist a poor white farmer solely because of his race painted by right-wing blogger Andrew Breitbart and his enablers on Fox News— and sadly swallowed whole by no less than the NAACP and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack— is patently false. To the contrary, the entire point of her speech was to underscore, as she repeatedly says, that "the struggle is really about poor people," and about how the system works almost as poorly for poor whites as it does for poor blacks.


It is only after explicitly making this point that Sherrod recounts her 20-year-old story about a white farmer to whom at first she felt obliged to give only minimal assistance, assuming that the system would take care of his claim. But when she realized that this person, who she assumed came from a position of privilege simply because of his race, was about to slip through a crack in the regulations designed to prevent people like him from foreclosure — and that the white lawyer she had assumed would handle his problem was doing nothing to help — Sherrod jumps into action "calling everyone" to help save the farmer's land. The lesson, Sherrod tells the NAACP audience, is simple: "God helped me to see that it is not about black people but about poor people," and that "we have to work together" to "overcome the divisions we have." Hardly the words of a flagrant racist.


Sherrod's tragic past


But why, her accusers might ask, did it take divine revelation for Sherrod to learn these simple truths? Hasn't it been clear since the Declaration of Independence that we are all created equal and that race shouldn't matter?


Maybe. But if anyone had bothered to listen to the beginning of Sherrod's speech, they would have known that there had been precious little in her life up to the point at which she encountered this white farmer to confirm this fact. Raised in exactly the kind of poor rural community she now serves, Sherrod's father was killed when she was 17 years old — 45 years to the day of her speech. The white man who killed him was never brought to justice, notwithstanding the fact that there were three witnesses to the crime. Another relative was lynched on the courthouse steps by Claude Screws, the sheriff of Baker County, whose conviction was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court on the ground that it could not be proven that he intended to deprive his victim of his civil rights when he killed him. After she left for college, an angry white mob burned a cross on the front lawn with her mother and five siblings in the house and only dispersed when a group of black men with guns rushed to the scene.


Yes, Shirley Sherrod knows something about lynching, and about how hollow the promises in our founding documents have been for so much of this nation's history. And yet, she has found a way to transcend this ugly history by not only helping this particular white farmer but also by urging her largely black audience to see the plight of all poor whites as inextricably linked to their own. The fact that she has now been digitally strung up by the modern-day equivalent of Claude Screws, and that these outrageous actions were given the patina of journalistic legitimacy through the endless repetition by commentators on Fox News without even the most rudimentary fact-checking, is a modern-day tragedy.


NAACP, Breitbart apologize


The NAACP has now apologized. So, too, has Andrew Breitbart, who now claims that his actions have been misinterpreted and that he was only trying to show the racism of audience members who appear to laugh and applaud Sherrod's statement that she failed to help the white farmer because of his race, and not to impute anything about Sherrod herself. This ex-post rationalization is, of course, completely disingenuous because it ignores the fact that the audience had clearly heard Sherrod preface her remarks by saying that her story was a demonstration of how "God puts things in your path" to teach you about your own shortcomings. Nor does Breitbart acknowledge even after hearing the full tape the much louder applause that followed Sherrod's ultimate appeal for everyone to work together regardless of race. But even if one credits the sincerity of these belated apologies, neither the NAACP nor Breitbart could undo Sherrod's firing. Only Vilsack could right this wrong.


In a news media briefing this afternoon, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs apologized on behalf of the entire Obama administration. Not long afterward, Secretary Vilsack called Sherrod to express his "deep regret" and to offer her a new job at USDA. This is as it should be — whether or not Sherrod decides to accept the new job or, as she should have the absolute right to do, to return to her old one. But it should not be the end of our engagement with either Sherrod or these issues.


At the end of her remarks, Sherrod says: "Life is like a grindstone. But whether it grinds us down or polishes us up depends on us."


The same can be said about this nation's struggle to come to terms with its long history of racism and oppression. Whether our efforts to move beyond our past and foster a more productive dialogue about race "grinds us down" or "polishes us up" depends upon our willingness to move beyond sloganeering and sound bites and to really engage with each other about the hard truths about our past — and the equally hard challenges we face going forward.


The sorry way in which virtually everyone involved treated Sherrod is a perfect invitation to begin this badly needed discussion.


Is anyone finally listening?


David B. Wilkins is Lester Kissel Professor of Law at Harvard and director of the Program on the Legal Profession.








Last month an envelope contained an invitation to my 50th Fordham College reunion. We, the class of 1960, were to be inducted as Golden Rams. The insert card suggested jacket and tie. No wife beaters or homeboy pants for "Gen A."


Fordham is in the Bronx, so I'd have preferred to rent an armored personnel carrier, but the only available rental was a sub-compact. My girlfriend and I drove uptown along the Hudson River, hoping to glimpse flocks of Canadian geese making their annual migration along the path taken by Capt. Sully Sullenberger.


The first college reunion I attended was 25 years ago. The Class of 1980 was on hand for its reunion that night, too. Its members were a lively group, dominating the dance floor. A smaller, more sedate number of Golden Rams were celebrating their 50th. To us, they seemed ancient. For me, it was fun catching up with guys I hadn't seen in a long time about our families, jobs, golf handicaps, exotic vacations. We were middle-aged, at the top of our game. Business cards were traded to ensure we stayed in contact.


Middle-class collar and no ivy


Some Fordham buildings were ivy-covered, but comparisons with the Ivy schools stopped there. Most of us were the sons of middle-class Americans. The island we summered at was Coney, not Nantucket. Our dads' clubs were the Knights of Columbus and VFW. My father was a NYPD beat cop. My mother worked the four-to-midnight shift at Kings County Hospital.


No, we didn't walk to school barefoot in the snow. We commuted three hours each day on subways. After classes, we went to work. We were waiters, delivery boys, even toll collectors on bridges. My main job was as an ABC page, hawking tickets to Times Square tourists for TV programs. One game show I was assigned to usher at was Who Do You Trust, hosted by a 34-year-old Johnny Carson.


Fordham can't claim any U.S. presidents. There was no secret Skull and Bones society. No fraternities at all in the traditional sense. What Fordham did offer was a fine education. Its methodology: a liberal arts cocktail that paired a mandated major in philosophy with a chosen major and the traditional college curricula. Plus Theology, Latin and Greek.


Lessons for life


Jesuit classes were not passive. They challenged us to challenge them, and their teaching went beyond textbooks. They showed us the connection between hard work and success, between discipline and personal satisfaction. We learned that if we fully participated in life, we could make a contribution.


At our reunion, considering our ages, we didn't look too bad. Old pals whipped out wallets to show photos of their grandkids. Never having married, I produced my lifetime membership card at Costco. Our unstated mission may have been to defy the insurance companies' actuarial tables. Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, Class of '49, has noted that "the wolves are getting closer to the campfire." It was my good fortune to connect with men who shared a common educational adventure, we surviving members of the last bottle club.


A young band hired to play '50s tunes had valiantly endured the gig. Each generation claims its own music and someday theirs too will be yesterday's, occupying oldies status with Fats Domino. These musicians will catch themselves in the mirror, wondering how it fast-forwarded so quickly and why "these kids today" consider Lady Gaga quaint.


By now, members of the class of 2014 have their letters of acceptance to campuses around the country. Soon bags will be packed and nests will be left. Incoming freshmen, just remember it doesn't matter whether you attend a Fordham or a campus draped in ivy. What's most important is the education you receive, the friends you will make, the lessons you will learn, the memories you'll collect and the diplomas that will be framed. And in the blink of an eye, invitations will be received to reunions 50 years hence. A toast to jubilant tomorrows.


Raymond Siller is a four-time Emmy-nominated television writer and a political consultant.











Republicans have come to consider the 3rd congressional seat theirs for the taking over the past 16 years. Helped by legislative gerrymandering of the district in favor of GOP strongholds and Rep. Zach Wamp's firm hold on the office since Democrat Marilyn Lloyd's retirement in 1994, Democrats haven't mounted a competitive campaign since 1996. Indeed, the Democratic Party — some individual candidates notwithstanding — seems to have given up altogether on the idea of retaking the seat.


This year, however, the political circumstances, if not the Democratic party's dispirited mindset, have changed. Mr. Wamp is leaving his seat open in his all-or-nothing bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. And Republican aspirants have poured in. Eleven made it onto the GOP primary ballot, while just four are on the Democratic ballot.


The common perception about the GOP ticket is that Robin Smith leads Chuck Fleischmann, that the rest of the field will split up the crumbs, and that Mrs. Smith will ultimately go to Washington. That may be the case, but based on our interviews with the candidates, Republican primary voters would do better to consider Art Rhodes or Tim Gobble.


They are more authentic, they think more broadly, and their backgrounds and views reflect far more comprehension of the complexity of issues facing the country than one can find in the national-party's talking points, especially as regurgitated by Mrs. Smith and Mr. Fleischmann, who seem unconcerned about their vast gaps in logic and fiscal facts.


On the Democratic side, there is only one viable candidate among the four: Brent Staton, a family-care physician at Erlanger Hospital. Though he has never entered a political race, his thoughtful views and nuanced insights — particularly regarding the nation's health care debate — and his calm, reasoned approach to other issues suggest more common sense than most voters are accustomed to in the politicians they find on their ballots.


The Democratic nomination: Dr. Brent Staton


A native Tennessean whose family lived a few years in Chattanooga before moving back to Jamestown in the north end of the 3rd District, Dr. Staton says he is running for office mainly because of the many patients he sees who are struggling with health care issues. His priorities include job creation and fiscal responsibility in Washington, but his chief interest is in helping sculpt the implementation of the health care bill to focus on preventive and affordable care, and improvements in the delivery of care.


He disagrees on some points in the health care bill adopted by Democrats and the Obama administration. For example, he opposes a federal mandate on the purchase of insurance and taxes on so-called Cadillac plans. These, he says, are not proper vehicles to pay for health care reform. He does, however, agree with the need, both from a humane and a religious point of view, to create a rational, affordable health care system that serves the needs all Americans. He reasonably believes his medical background in varied specialties, and through his medical schooling at an internationally renowned medical school in Australia (Flinders University), would help bring needed medical insight as Congress fleshes out the health care reform bill.


Raised partly on a farm in rural Tennessee, Dr. Staton expresses genuine insight and concern for the unemployed in Tennessee, especially in the rural reaches of the district. He advocates targeted tax incentives for small businesses to spur job growth, as well as investments in infrastructure projects for roads, water supplies and schools.


He supports maintenance of Medicare and Social Security, and would oppose privatizing the latter due to the inherent risk of financial markets — witness the 2008 financial meltdown and the losses of retirement savings and jobs for so many Americans.


Dr. Staton says his goal, as a physician, a father and a grandfather, is not to become a politician, but to return after several terms to his avocation: his work as a physician.


Democrats who despair of retaking the 3rd District seat, and who have been hoping for an attractive and qualified candidate with the intelligence and vision to provide unusually good leadership, should find fresh reason to rally around Dr. Staton. His stature, intellect and vision are worthy. But he needs party support to win the nomination, and to make his campaign viable in the fall.


The Republican nomination: Art Rhodes


Republicans searching for someone to replace Rep. Wamp seem to focus on Robin Smith, whose prior work for the state's Republican Party have earned her contacts, support and endorsements. But her devotion to the GOP talking points reflect mainly a passion for the sort of political propaganda that fails the test of leadership. When she parrots the line about stopping the Obama administration's "runaway spending," she doesn't pause to consider that the administration put expenses for both of the wars Mr. Obama inherited in the budget, rather than hiding them as off-budget "emergency spending." Nor does she acknowledge that George W. Bush doubled the federal debt, from $5.7 trillion to more than $12 trillion through his last budget, to finance not just the wars, but the unpaid-for tax cuts for the wealthy, Medicare prescription drug benefits and the TARP fund.


Candidate Art Rhodes, of Cleveland, the CEO of a pension plan with $250 million in assets, also wants to control "runaway spending," but he has a far better sense of how to grapple with the issue and how it has developed. He served for 10 years as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Mike Parker, R-Miss., until he left Washington in 1998. He expresses disappointment in both parties, but he at least is honest enough to acknowledge what he calls "the utter failure" of fiscal discipline by George W. Bush and Republicans in Mr. Bush's second term.


His breakdown of the current $3.8 trillion federal budget suggests that mandatory spending (mainly on entitlements and debt service) will rise from the current 60 percent of the budget, to 80 percent in 10 years, and 100 percent in 20 years. But given the uncertainty of ordinary investment returns, he does not advocate privatizing Social Security. He has more informed views than any other Republican candidate in the race on everything from financial reform to excessive partisanship to the IRS tax code.


Mr. Rhodes is clearly conservative, but he articulates a rational reason for every position he takes. He also recognizes the need to find more consensus about what the country needs, rather than the political parties.

He wisely says that the problem with most people in Congress is that they think it's "the best job they ever had, so they'll do anything to keep it." For himself, he says, "it would be the highest honor, but not the best job I've ever had." His goal would be to do something good to deserve the honor. That's the sort of sensible approach that makes him the best candidate in the Republican field.







Our Georgia neighbors had some important voting Tuesday, but final decisions must await Aug. 10 runoffs and November general elections for governor and United States representative.


With able Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue completing his second term and thus not eligible to run for re-election, former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel and former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal led the voting for the Republican gubernatorial nomination — with neither receiving the majority necessary for nomination.


She led with 34 percent of the primary votes, while he won 23 percent in a field of seven Republicans. So the two candidate will face each other in an Aug. 10 runoff.


The winner of the Handel vs. Deal GOP runoff then must face the Democrat primary winner, former Gov. Roy Barnes, in November. He won his party's nomination with 66 percent of the votes in a field of seven candidates.


With Rep. Deal having left his safe U.S. House seat in Georgia's 9th Congressional District (neighboring Tennessee) to run for governor, Rep. Tom Graves succeeded him. In a primary election Tuesday, six Republicans sought the GOP nomination. Rep. Graves led the field — but got just 49 percent of the votes. So he faces a GOP runoff Aug. 10 against former state Sen. Lee Hawkins, who ran second, with 27 percent of the votes. The runoff winner will face no Democrat challenger in the November general election.


Some very important contests are ahead.







With about 10 percent of our people who want jobs suffering unemployment, and millions of them jobless longer than the six months for which they were eligible for economic assistance, the United States Senate moved this week to extend paying benefits to the jobless.


We feel sorry for anyone who is out of work and is hurting. We want to help them. But we are also concerned about the huge deficit spending that Congress is voting.


So wouldn't it be merciful, economical and reasonable for Congress to cut some of its wasteful spending to offset the cost of extending unemployment benefits?


That would help those in real need — without increasing our debt and making economic recovery harder.


Unfortunately, Congress is "good" at spending more, but "bad" about not facing tax-spend-debt realities.


What unites Spielberg, Springsteen and Dobbs?






For months, liberals have been trying to brand the "tea party" movement as racist or perhaps even violent. That characterization has surprised the tea partiers themselves, who are busy attending town hall meetings, urging their fellow citizens to vote and speaking out firmly but peacefully on the need to rein in our out-of-control federal government.


Given the overwhelmingly peaceful approach of the tea partiers, we suspect the real motive behind the attacks on them is that they have been putting an unwelcome spotlight on horrible, bankrupting laws such as ObamaCare socialized medicine and the "stimulus." Those programs are deeply unpopular with the American people and harmful to our economy.


Liberals who support ObamaCare and the stimulus do not want the public to be focused on all the spending that those programs require. So lately, some have intensified their attacks on the supposed racism of the tea party rather than respond to the tea party's arguments. And sure enough, the critics are able to find a few examples of racially tinged posters or statements by a few individuals who claim to be affiliated with the tea party.


But that is hardly evidence that the movement is rooted in bigotry. Recall, for example, the demonstrations against former President George W. Bush over the Iraq War and other issues. Democrats made up large parts of those who were protesting. Yet no one should suggest that everyone at the protests was a crazed radical just because, for instance, some waved the flag of the Communist Soviet Union or the banners of radical organizations.


The fact is, a certain number of "crazies" will attach themselves to any political party or movement.


Most tea partiers are just ordinary Americans who are fed up with Washington's disastrous financial policies. They see our nation heading down a path toward bankruptcy, and they want to turn things around before it's too late.


Their civic spirit deserves praise even from those who may disagree with their views. They certainly should not be condemned as racists.







The state of Arizona, which recently enacted a law to fight illegal immigration, is being criticized for the money it has spent to defend the law. The federal government and so-called "civil rights" groups are suing to keep the law from taking effect as scheduled on July 29.


Arizona has paid $77,000 to several attorneys to begin the defense of the law, which Arizona enacted because the federal government refuses to uphold its duty to protect our country's borders. The final legal bill will ultimately be much larger, unfortunately.


But there are a couple of points to bear in mind. First, Americans who are upset that our federal government is suing a state for protecting itself from illegal invasion have donated a hefty $1.2 million for Arizona's legal defense. We doubt anybody has donated a penny — beyond mandatory taxes — to help the federal government sue Arizona.


And second, no one seems to be talking about how many tax dollars the U.S. Justice Department is using to try to overturn Arizona's sensible law. Lots of money could have been saved, on both sides, if the federal government had not decided to sue Arizona. So if anyone deserves criticism for wasteful spending in this case, it is Washington.


It is troubling that Arizona has been put on the defensive simply for trying to promote law and order.








It may be a campaign gimmick, and it may not be very practical, but Republican U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback has an interesting idea for curbing excessive government in his state of Kansas.


Sen. Brownback is seeking to become governor of Kansas. To show voters he is serious about reducing the size and scope of government, he has proposed creating an office whose job it would be to get rid of outrageous, excessive or redundant state regulations. It would be called the "State Office of the Repealer."


People "feel like they're getting their brains regulated out of them," he told The New York Times.


He's right, and we certainly sympathize with the desire to eliminate excessive government control — especially at the federal level.


Sadly, from a practical standpoint, an "Office of the Repealer" would be difficult to establish. However unwise lawmakers may be at times, they are elected to enact or repeal laws and regulations. It's an authority they cannot delegate to someone else.


Given the unfortunate staying power of bad laws — such as "Depression-era" farm subsidies that never went away — the best course is for lawmakers simply to avoid enacting obtrusive, unconstitutional laws in the first place.









Announcements made from a bus carrying the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu are enough to reveal his political platform as well as to show how eager he is to reach out to people.


As a journalist who listened to these messages for two days over the last weekend, let me say that the announcement repeated often was "Kılıçdaroğlu is coming. We will not be rich, not live in villas with pools."


A point shot from the getting rich theme


Before Kılıçdaroğlu's bus enters a village or a town, we hear the "villas with pools" announcement thorough giant speakers.


We see the expression "villa with pool" on placards carried in squares, like "Yield in the field, farmer in trouble. Recep Bey in the villa with pool."


As he gazes through squares, Kılıçdaroğlu takes such placards as a starting point and works on them. The CHP leader uses this theme to stress that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan got rich and is no more a representative of the poor and the aggrieved.


Kılıçdaroğlu also tries to break the symbol of Erdoğan's being representative of the financially disabled. The CHP chairman makes point of this shot as soon as he gets a chance. "They were wearing shoes with a hole at the bottom, but now they are rich," says Kılıçdaroğlu pointing out the contradiction.


As he corners Erdoğan in the "getting rich" part, the CHP leader doesn't hesitate to include Erdoğan's children in the picture. For instance, he says "The crisis by-passed Recep Bey, but his children are rich now."


From 'Recep' to 'Dear Recep Bey'


Before getting involved in politics, Kılıçdaroğlu chaired the Association of Protecting People's Tax Income. So, corruption is one of his key points. It seems that he feels confident as a politician while competing with the government party in the subject.


As Kılıçdaroğlu leans on the corruption theme against the government, he directly addresses people. Expressions he frequently use are "Administrators exploiting the rights of the poor," "Those who benefit from the rights of orphans," "Officials who steal away the rights of unborn babies," or he talks about "People who fall into unforgivable sins"…


Then he jumps into another theme, "accountability." At this point, Kılıçdaroğlu promises to take the government to the Supreme Council for corruptions. He even said in Yalova the other day, "Tell Recep Bey to rent a house close to the Constitutional Court, and don't let him pay for the cab. We have to hold him accountable of all these."


As he addresses people, Kılıçdaroğlu applies the question-answer technique. In every election square he stops, the CHP leader asks if there are any unemployed among the crowds. After answering with "Yes," a second question follows "Are there any retirees?" Then, he focuses on economic issues. Kılıçdaroğlu usually calls Prime Minister as "Recep Bey." I once witnessed him calling the Prime Minister "Recep" during a conversation with a head man in a small village cafe. The CHP leader uses "Dear Recep Bey" once in a while.


Wiretapping is the government's trademark


One of the main themes Kılıçdaroğlu on tour stresses while addressing people is the wiretapping issue.


First of all, he doesn't hesitate to use the term "wiretapping government." Apparently, Kılıçdaroğlu through inculcation wants everyone to think that "wiretapping" is the trademark of this government.


At times, he sends the message jokingly: "They don't listen to people's complaints and listen to phones. If you want the wiretapping government to hear you out, talk to them on the phone. Perhaps then they will hear you," (Kılıçdaroğlu's Yalova speech).


And other times, he directly criticizes the government: "Universities do not say anything. How could faculty

members remain silent? Why? They are silent because they are being wiretapped just like you are…" (Mudanya speech).


We see the illegal eavesdropping issue as part of the main opposition's complaints or criticisms about the government. This is a first in Turkish political history, we might say.


* Mr. Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece appeared Wednesday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff








A woman is dying under a rain of stones while buried in the ground to the top of her breasts. Her children are watching her bleed and moan as a cruel, ignorant mob is throwing stones at her invoking divine justice.


This is not a terror movie. This nightmare is taking place under the contemporary laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran. 43-year-old Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is just the latest addition to the long list of women and men who have been sentenced to stoning since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. The Islamic Penal Code of Iran specifies stoning as the punishment for a married woman or man found guilty of adultery. And legislators, in a unique act of state-sponsored sadism, set detailed conditions for carrying out the stoning, including that the pebbles used should be big enough to kill the victim, but not so big as to kill him/her too quickly.


Mehrangiz Kar, a courageous Iranian lawyer and human rights defender, recalled how she once approached a cleric who was the judge of one of her stoning cases and asked whether he thought that this cruel and inhumane law should be changed. The judge's compassionate reply was that the stoning was a verdict set by God, and humans had no business messing up with God's will.


In a situation where stoning is a legitimate punishment for adultery, pressure of the international community on the Islamic regime is the only way to prevent such inhuman practices.


Turkey has a role to play in bringing the world's attention to these laws. The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government has gone to great lengths to improve Turkey's relations with Iran. By voting against new sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council, Ankara hoped to gain certain leverage over Tehran. Now is the time to put this newly found friendship to good use and to speak out against stoning in unambiguous terms.


Turkey can do so without appearing to be interfering in Iran's internal affairs. All it has to do is to remind Iranians about the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, or ICCPR, to which Iran is a signatory. Article 6 (2) of the ICCPR states that in countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes. Article 7 explicitly prohibits torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.


Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu did call on Iran to immediately halt the execution of Ashtiani. But as long as the stoning remains on the book, more women and men may have to face her horrifying destiny. To prevent this, statements are not enough. There must be a concerted international effort to achieve an abolition of the stoning law in Iran.


It would be naive to expect the AKP government to play a leading role in such an effort. Governments seldom prioritize human rights when important security and trade issues are at stake, as is the case in Turko-Iranian relations. And in its pursuit of "zero problems" policy with neighbours the AKP has been too willing to accommodate the mullahs by turning a blind eye at Tehran's repressive policies.


It falls then on Turkish civil society to push the government to stand up for human rights. But the passive reaction of Turkish civil society to the stoning case stands in sharp contrast to the mobilisation in support of the Palestinians during the Gaza war in 2009 or during the recent flotilla crisis with Israel. There are, of course, some admirable voices denouncing the stoning and other human rights violations in Iran, like those of the Turkish Human Rights Association and some columnists in the pro-secular media. And there is, of course, nothing wrong about protesting the blockade Israel imposed on Gaza. But a genuine commitment to the defence of human rights requires consistency and does not tolerate double standards. Unfortunately, there was nothing in Turkey like a campaign in most Western countries against stoning. While international press almost daily runs stories about the case, the Turkish media, especially on the pro-AKP side, largely keeps silent.


Some nongovernmental organizations seem to have a highly selective interest in human rights violations in the world. An overview of the activities of such well-known Turkish NGOs as Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, or İHH, the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed People, or MAZLUM-DER, and the Free Thought and Education Rights Association, or ÖZGÜR-DER, reveals their complete indifference to stoning in Iran. A self-avowed pro-democracy group, the "Young Civilians," denounced the president Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni of Israel and King Abdullah of Jordan for "the crimes against humanity in Gaza," but is for some reason hesitant to adopt a similarly belligerent approach towards the leaders of the Islamic Republic.


Hence an invitation to the Turkish citizens: please, urge your government to stop neglecting human rights in its relations with Iran. Prime-Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu should demand from the leaders of the Islamic Republic: a) a complete review of the process by which Sakineh Mohammadi was sentenced to stoning; b) halt on her execution; and, c) a revision of the Penal Code, including the abolition of stoning as running contrary to Iran's international obligations under the ICCPR.


The leaders of the Islamic Republic should be served notice that the world is watching them, and that they will be held accountable, if they fail to comply with the demands of the international community.


* Eldar Mamedov is an international relations analyst based in Brussels.







Monkey see, monkey do. Soon after France's National Assembly passed a law making it illegal to wear a full-face veil in public, British MP Philip Hollobone announced a private member's bill last weekend that would make it illegal for people to cover their faces in public in Britain. Neither bill mentioned Muslims by name, of course.

Hollobone has previously called the Islamic veil "offensive" and "against the British way of life," so we may safely assume that his bill is not aimed at people wearing motorcycle helmets. We can also assume that it will never become law, for British immigration minister Damian Green immediately replied that "telling people what they can and can't wear, if they're just walking down the street, is a rather un-British thing to do."


Good: the last thing anybody needs is for another major European state to copy the French initiative. But it cannot be denied that a great many Europeans feel profoundly uneasy when they see these shrouded, masked women moving silently in their midst.


I grew up in regular contact with women wearing traditional Middle Eastern costumes, and it didn't make me uneasy at all. They were Catholic nuns, wearing the head-to-toe shroud and with not a wisp of hair visible. Their faces were not covered, but in other respects they were dressed just like the women that Philip Hollobone finds so offensive. Indeed, becoming a nun was colloquially known as "taking the veil."


The veil is not Islamic at all. Indeed, it predates all the Abrahamic religions. They all come from the Middle East, and that's why they all – Jews, Christians and Muslims – used to be obsessed with female "modesty."


The principle of "modesty" was a way of controlling the behavior of women who had the power to upset the social order, so how poor women behaved didn't matter. The early Mesopotamian laws ordaining the veiling of women applied only to the wives of powerful men. Several thousand years later, Greek, Roman and Byzantine upper-class women still went veiled, while their poorer sisters moved freely with their faces uncovered.


We cannot know what proportion of women in seventh-century, pre-Islamic Arabia went veiled, but until quite recently poorer and rural Arabian women, and especially Bedouin women, covered their hair but otherwise went unveiled. It seems a safe assumption that the situation was not much different in the Prophet's time.


I do not presume to interpret the Quran, but its injunctions on veiling were simply an endorsement of existing social customs. I would also observe that most Muslim communities down through history have interpreted these customs as requiring the concealment of a woman's hair but not her face.


Traditionally, only rich and powerful men's wives and concubines wore the niqab (a mask concealing all but the eyes) in most Muslim societies. The burqa, a more extreme form of concealment that hides even the woman's eyes behind a cotton mesh grill, was largely confined to the hill tribes of what is now the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier area.


So why have women in non-rich Muslim families living in major European cities now taken to wearing full-face veils or even burqas? Not a lot of women, to be sure: France estimates that only 2,000 women go about fully veiled, and the real numbers for Britain are unlikely to be much different. But why are they doing it at all? Two generations ago, their grand-mothers almost certainly did not.


One reason is fear, on their own part or that of their husbands, that the majority society's values are so powerful and seductive that good Muslims must be completely isolated from it. This also explains why you regularly see little girls as young as two or three wearing hijab (i.e. with their hair completely covered) in Paris and London: their parents believe that the habit must start very early if it is to withstand the majority society's influence.


A second reason is defiance: think of it as a non-gay version of "we're out and we're proud. Get used to it." And both anecdotal evidence and personal observation suggest to me that a large proportion of the fully veiled women in Britain – maybe as many as half – are actually recent converts to Islam who grew up in the dominant post-Christian culture. Same for France. Converts often get carried away.


So which part of this is a threat to public order? None of it, obviously. Why did a ridiculous law banning the full veil pass through the French parliament without opposition, whereas a similar bill will never reach the floor of the British House of Commons? Not because the French are more anti-Muslim than the British, but because they are the heirs of one of the great battles between religion and the secular state.


Britain hasn't seen such a battle since the 17th century, and the official religion just gradually retreated to the sidelines of modern life without a fight. The fight was long, bitter and much more recent in France, so the French state takes public displays of religious allegiance a lot more seriously. But it is still behaving stupidly.


And what about Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland, where similar bans have been or are being discussed at the national level? They should be ashamed of themselves.


* Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.








Turkish politics is usually determined by changing slogans and tides in connection with the slogans, rather than in-depth plans or projects. For instance, the brand of shirt a politician wears, or who stands or kneels in outposts; or whether or not a leader calls the other with "his first time." Sometimes, throwing ropes at each other in election squares etc.


If this is the perspective, it is not odd at all to see how shallow the remarks of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP. Spokesmen who speak on televisions for minutes yet say nothing and speeches based on accessories of words to move crowds.


Not long ago… Two years ago, there was a different MHP. There was a party which I acknowledged the common-sense they have, the helping hand with which they had pulled Turkey out of a chaos by taking a risk of being defeated in elections during the DSP-MHP-ANAP coalition period. The MHP was withdrawn from streets under the leadership of Devlet Bahçeli. As the military e-memorandum was issued, the same party acted very sensitively and gain sympathy of its opponents even. The "367" parliamentary quorum and the presidential election incidents was a test for the MHP which they passed successfully.


The initiative, democratization and the Kurdish question… As the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, pushed the button for solution, the MHP became irritated. But everything was so obvious. Turkey had pushed the button the minute Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, was caught and brought into the country. And the Kurdish conflict was presented to the state-politics for finding a solution. All leaders, Bahçeli in particular, were aware of the situation. In fact, the first step for solution came from him. Bahçeli signed a government communiqué suspending the capital punishment of Öcalan.


Bahçeli defended the court's decision. And I wrote that Bahçeli took an important political risk which could only be explained by understanding of history. I also wrote then that it is impossible to justify criticisms he was exposed to by nationalism. I am of the same opinion. As readers who are following my articles on the Kurdish question know, I shared my thoughts in a conference held in the MHP headquarters two years ago. And I realized that most of my opinions were supported by the party. I thought that was a difference Bahçeli created.


As soon as the initiative process and the constitutional amendment package were brought to the agenda, we lost the old MHP. Now there is a totally different MHP. The constitutional amendment package prepared by the AKP was a chance for the MHP which could easily corner the ruling party politically. If the MHP had announced that they were in favor of the package and that they could've supported a regulation to settle for goof the headscarf and the coefficient issues, the AKP, claiming to be a champion of change, could've had nothing to say against the MHP. We couldn't have had to go through a referendum; we could've cleared the way for democracy as the MHP could've followed a different path from the Republican People's Party, or CHP.


Similarly, if the MHP had brought to the agenda that the government w confused about the solution of the Kurdish question and made suggestions, they could've had public attention. As for the answer to the question why the MHP has been dragged into such point, I believe the 2011 elections and a possible CHP-MHP coalition afterwards as well as local election calculations play a role. Of course the popular vote will show how realistic the MHP is. Besides, let's not forget the MHP officials who got used to applaud Bahçeli's remarks rather than finding solutions to the political wobbling that has been going on in the party for one-and-a-half years.


 * Mr. Avni Özgürel is a columnist for daily Radikal in which this piece appeared Wednesday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.







Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's parliamentary group speech on Tuesday, filled with emotions and tears, was the ruling party's latest attempt to turn the referendum on the constitutional amendments package scheduled for Sept. 12 into a referendum on the Sept. 12, 1980, military coup and its leaders.

Although the supporters of the package argue that it will be an opportunity to "settle the score" with the 1980 military coup leaders, there is only one article in the package that is directly related to this issue.


The 26-article amendments package, sponsored by the government and the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, mainly focuses on changes in two judicial bodies, the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, or HSYK.


The Temporary Article 15 of the Constitution, which bans taking legal action against the generals, will be annulled if the package is approved in the referendum. The article says "No allegation of criminal, financial or legal responsibility shall be made, nor shall an application be filed with a court for this purpose in respect of any decisions or measures whatsoever taken by the National Security Council."


But even if that article is removed from the Constitution, it is not certain that Turkey will be able to prosecute the 1980 military coup leaders. There is the problem of a statute of limitations; next Sept. 12 will mark the 30th year of the coup.


When recently asked if the amendments would pave the way for the prosecution of the coup leaders, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin recalled this fact and said the judicial system would evaluate the situation once the obstacles were removed.


So, how can Prime Minster Erdoğan and other AKP members present the referendum as a way to punish the 1980 coup and it leaders? Will his speech, which mainly addressed voters of the Republican People's Party, or CHP, and Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, and recalled the pains of the coup era, be enough to convince the electorate to vote "yes"?


Unlike some opposition party members, we think that Erdoğan's tears were real. Who would not become emotional when reading the last words or the last letter of a teenager hung after a court ruling strongly influenced by military coup leaders?


As we wrote in this column on March 24, we certainly believe Turkey needs a new Constitution. And we certainly believe the judiciary needs to be reformed. And there is much in this package we would support if it were not simply a naked power grab and a court-packing plan.


But the "yes" or "no" votes in the referendum will be given on the amendments package, not the leaders of the 1980 coup or the pains and suffering that followed.

And many voters are aware of that.

*The views expressed in the Straight represent the consensus opinion of the Hürriyet Daily News and its editorial board members.









Each time Israel fails to keep its "side of the bargain," the Palestinian Authority responds with the same redundant language. The cycle has become so utterly predictable that one wonders why the Palestinian Authority officials even bother protesting Israeli action. They must be well aware that their cries, genuine or otherwise, will only fall on deaf ears. They know that their complaints could not possibly contribute to a paradigm shift in Israel's behavior, or the U.S. position on it. 


Let's take a look at the context for the language of the Palestinian Authority's complaints. In a speech made in early July, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas referred to any direct talks with Israel as "futile." Thousands of newspapers and news sites beamed this "headline," highlighting the word "futile" between inverted commas — as if it constituted some kind of earth-shattering revelation. But anyone following the Middle East, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular already knows that such talks will be "futile." More, Israel has hardly made secret its lack of desire for a peaceful and just settlement. 

Abbas, however, has managed to insert his relevance as a "player" in the conflict, using one cleverly coined word. This word has had as much of an impact in Arabic as has in English. 

Of course, none of this means that Abbas has actually adopted a serious shift in course. One need not dig up old archives to remember that the PA president felt the same way about the so-called "proximity talks" with Israel last May. Before they began, he also expressed his opinion that the talks would be futile. He further insisted that no talks, direct or otherwise, would resume without a complete Israeli halt in settlement constructions in occupied East Jerusalem. After this grand declaration, Abbas went along with the proximity talks charade, while Palestinian families continued to be uprooted from their homes in their historic city. Only one barrier was removed before embarking on the proximity talks: Abbas and his men quit complaining. 

Nearly two months later, when it is evident to all that the proximity talks were indeed "futile" — especially as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has triumphed over U.S. President Barack Obama in his most recent visit to Washington —Abbas finds himself in desperate need for another line of defense. Thus, the new campaign attacking predictably "futile" direct talks with Israel. 

Abbas is not the only actor in this drama. Others have also been doing their job, as efficiently and as true to form as ever. Yasser Abed Rabbo, who has worn several hats in the past and is now one of Abbas' aides, stated that the PA "will not enter new negotiations that could take more than 10 years." This promise — that the Palestinian leadership will not be fooled into talks for the sake of talking and with no timeframe — is not the first of its kind to come from Abed Rabbo, and it's unlikely to be the last. Abbas' aide will most likely continue sharing the same tired insight over and over again, because it's the scripted part that any "moderate" — as in self-seeking — Palestinian official must reiterate to remain relevant. How else could they give the impression that the PA still serves the role of the bulwark against Israeli illegal territorial encroachment and military occupation? 

Ahmed Qorei, former Palestinian Authority foreign minister and ex-prime minister, recently spoke at a Hebrew University Conference, entitled: "The Israeli-Palestinian Proximity Talks: Lessons from Past Negotiations." The conference was organized by Hebrew University's Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace. The place and occasion of this conference could not be more significant. First, much of the Hebrew University was built on "ethnically cleansed" Palestinian land. Second, Qorei spoke at an Israeli university in an occupied city, at a time when activists and academics from all over the world, including several from Israel, are leading a cultural and academic boycott of Israeli universities to protest the terrible role these institutions have played in Israeli violence against Palestinians. 

Worse, immediately before his speech, Qorei met with former Israeli foreign minister and acting prime minister, Tzipi Livni. Livni had ordered and supervised the unprecedented killing and maiming of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza between December 2008 and January 2009. The level of inhumanity she displayed during those days was met with outrage around the world, including from many in Israel itself. But all the blood was brushed under the carpet, as "Livni (and) Abu Ala exchanged 'niceties,'" according to The Jerusalem Post. 

Just try to imagine the fury that all Palestinians — and especially those besieged in destroyed Gaza — must have felt as Qorei and Livni shook hands and smiled for cameras. As for Qorei's academic and political contributions, the Post reported that, "at the conference, Qorei said Netanyahu had not really frozen West Bank settlement construction, and added that Israel's actions were preventing direct talks." 

Considering the numerous compromises that Qorei afforded in his very attendance of the conference, and his handshaking with Livni, one fails to understand the point of such statements. 

These empty declarations will have no bearing on the outcome of events, nor will they force Netanyahu and his right-wing government to think twice as they carry on demolishing homes and uprooting trees. But they are more important than ever for the PA, as voices are rising in Washington, in London and elsewhere, demanding that the U.S. and its partners acknowledge, if not "engage" Hamas. Such a prospect is bad news for the West Bank Palestinian leadership, which understands that its relevance to the "peace process" hinges on the constant dismissal of Hamas. Therefore, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah will continue to adhere to its methodology: Don't criticize Israel too harshly, so as not to lose favor; follow the U.S. dictates, so as to maintain a "moderate" status and many privileges; and always give an impression to Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims that the PA is the one and only defender of Jerusalem. 

One wonders how much longer the Palestinian leadership can sustain this act, which is in fact the real exercise in futility. 

Ramzy Baroud ( is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of









You have to say one thing for Clinton – she is consistent. The last time she was here she stated bluntly that Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan and she did the same this time, reiterating her belief that elements within the government know where he is and are sheltering him. "Not credible", says the prime minister. "Show us the proof". And he is right to say so. The truth is that we do not know the truth about the whereabouts of the world's most wanted man, have not known for many years and if the American intelligence machine cannot find him then who can or will?

With Clinton off to be nice to the mayor of Kabul it was the turn of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Secretary General of NATO to pay us a visit. He was also keen – as was Clinton - to stress the importance of NATO having a long-term partnership with Pakistan, noting that our relationship with NATO should not just be viewed through the window of Afghanistan. His take on the 'yes he is; no he isn't' debate was subtly different. He said that reports of an Al Qaeda presence in Pakistan were 'baseless'. Which is not a precise fit with the Clinton view. If there is no Al Qaeda in Pakistan then by extension there is no Osama bin Laden as the two are synonymous. NATO and the Americans seem not to be on the same page in this important respect, and Clinton and Rasmussen between them have done little to clarify matters. What is clear is that America and most western nations see Pakistan as a primary source of global terrorism. If we are equivocal in how we tackle the terrorism within our own borders, then how can we expect others to trust what we say and do about international terrorism and its star exponents? Prime Minister Gilani could well be right in his denial of the presence of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and we hope he is; but if Clinton is right, and ever proves that, the trust deficit becomes a yawning gulf.







We treat the arrival of the monsoon each year as an almost unexpected event – catching us by surprise each time. The calamity that hits cities, the flooding of the roads, the collapse of homes and the deaths caused as a consequence leave one wondering at the extraordinary lack of preparedness. Each year, it seems, officials persuade themselves the rains will stay away and have no need to try and prevent the havoc unleashed as the skies open up. Across the north of the country, this disaster has already caused devastation. Up to 70 houses are reported to have collapsed in Bannu. In Lahore, where the chief minister has admitted things are bad, markets have remained non-functional and traffic paralyzed. Media reports suggest civic authorities have been attempting to improve conditions in areas where the chief minister has scheduled inspection visits rather than in the worst-affected parts of the city.

As always, it is the poor who suffer most, the katchi abadis are worst hit and the motor-scooter riders and cyclists worst affected. Public-transport fares rise with the first drops of rain and this raises a pressing matter of policy. There is little real point in trying to control damage once it has occurred. What our government needs to look at is a situation where millions lack adequate shelter. The lack of attention to housing since the 1950s has meant that today tens of thousands of housing units are needed. The number of the homeless increases each year and the fact that even many of the houses which stand are built of unbaked brick explains why so many tumble down in the face of the rains. A comparison of the amounts spent on 'beautifying' key areas in our urban centres with what is spent on uplifting the slums where the poor live in squalor would make fascinating reading in our hopelessly distorted priorities. We need a far sturdier civic structure able to serve the needs of all residents. As things stand at present, even newly built roads stand under knee-deep water. We must contemplate why we lack the foresight to do something about this.













There has never been much by way of clarity in the Afghan conundrum and the international conference on Tuesday was unlikely to do much to bring enlightenment. There were representatives from 70 organisations and countries in attendance – an indicator of the importance that the world gives to Afghanistan. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton made it clear that American commitment to Afghanistan is finite, and that the transition of national security to Afghan control among a host of other things is too important to put off indefinitely. She then inserted the caveat that the US had no intention of abandoning Afghanistan and that the goal was to achieve 'a stable, secure, peaceful Afghanistan.' But it is a prospect that seems very remote at the moment. The only group not represented at the conference is the one they are all talking about – the Taliban. In the face of a reality which says that the war now being fought militarily is not being won by the coalition forces and never will be; America is warming up to the idea that now may be the time to talk to the Taliban groups through third-party negotiators, and there are suggestions that back-channel talks have continued with Taliban groups throughout the fighting. Hitherto, Washington has been at best lukewarm to the idea of negotiation. 

The western nations desperately need a coherent exit strategy from a war that long ago lost its way in the minds of their electorates. The proposed handover of responsibility for much of the national security to the Afghan government by 2014 is hugely ambitious. Talking to the Taliban is going to be complicated, messy and slow. They are in no sense homogenous and a deal done with one group may not be a deal with the other groups. Which is no reason not to talk. Ultimately the Kabul conference offered no solution that was Afghan-owned, and until the Afghans own their own decisions rather than having them parachuted in, there is no more reason to be hopeful of its outcome than that of any other in the past years.







If there were half as many coal pits in Thar as the pits into which Pakistan has been led by its present rulers, the country would lick the power crisis. 

While there is probably not a single coal pit in Thar, the number of pits into which the country has been pushed by its current minders would be the envy of any coalminer. These are the pits of galloping corruption, racing inflation, increasing poverty, growing despair, the horrific energy situation, the looming water crisis, dwindling exports, mounting indebtedness, ineffective governance, worsening bigotry, expanding terrorism, the rulers' profligacy…, the list goes on. 

The newest pit to become exposed is that of fake degrees. Unluckily for them, it is mainly the parliamentarians who have tumbled into it. Fake degrees are a measure of the descent of the country's politicians and parliamentarians into ignominy. Even worse are the measures being adopted by the rulers to "rescue" the parliamentarians. These measures have turned parliament, as an institution, into an object of mockery and scorn.

The rulers are using unheard-of tactics and devices to help these parliamentarians climb out of the pit of fake degrees. These include arm-twisting of academic institutions, delaying response to requests by the Higher Education Commission to verify the academic certificates of parliamentarians, and harassing the brother of the HEC's chairman. 

In their latest moves, which remind you of the movie To Catch a Thief, the rulers appear ready to involve in the verification process the federal law minister who himself sports a "doctorate" from a fake university. They also appear ready to involve the federal education minister, who makes light of fake degrees by claiming that these should be no problem since the same people will be elected again, fake degrees or genuine.

The verification reports, with the worthy law minister with the fake doctorate playing a role in procuring these, will be required to be forwarded by the HEC through the very education minister who says "fake degrees are no problem," not directly to the parliamentary committee. As if all this were not enough, the Election Commission of Pakistan has chipped in with the statement that it is the commission which should be verifying the degrees, not the HEC. Why the Election Commission did not do so in the first instance? This is not the kind of questions anyone is encouraged to ask.

If they don't approve of all this, the parliamentary committee or the HEC, can take a hike. Who says parliament is not sovereign? Or higher education is not a serious purpose?

While all the above is going on, the coalminers with a billion dollars in hand have to just wait, although they are trying desperately to draw the rulers' attention to coal pits and coal-fired power plants in Thar.

There are also those who, like hired guns, have saddled up to ride to help the parliamentarians thrashing about hysterically in the pit of fake degrees. Their first shot is at the graduation condition to contest elections, which they claim is not a valid stipulation in a democracy.

Are fake degrees any more wrong, they ask, than splurging on the election campaign far beyond what the rules permit, or with visual self-promotion through billboards, posters, banners, graffiti, and in all other unsightly ways imaginable, or bussing voters to the polling stations against the rules? Are fake degrees worse than cheating on taxes? 

The hired guns are right in their first contention. There should not be a graduation requirement in a democracy for any elective office. The only requirements should be the minimum age, possession of a sound mind, and no conviction for felony. If there are unwarranted stipulations, however, such as graduation, the contestants can show their rejection of these by not participating in the elections. What they ignore is that by producing fake degrees to participate in the elections, they are not only confirming their acceptance of the graduation condition. At the same time, they are proving that they are not above cheating, or instituting fraud, and committing felony. 

By the same token, are fake degrees any more wrong than some of the other violations of rules at election time? Is holding a fake driving license any more wrong than parking improperly, going beyond the speed limit or running a red light? The first is a felony, the others, at most, serious traffic violations. The use of a fake degree is as much a felony as a fake driving license. Convicted felons are debarred from holding public office in most democracies. In many others they cannot even vote.

Tax evasion is a felony too. Anyone convicted for evasion of taxes pays the price any felon would pay. However, unlike a fake degree, tax evasion is not easy to pin down. Tax lawyers can keep finding loopholes in tax laws, and with convoluted interpretations of the laws, can keep cases going for years, often settling in court on the amount to be paid by their client to have the case brought to an end. On the other hand, fake-degree cases are not hard to prove. They are probably the easiest. It is not possible to end them through a settlement in court.

Why are only parliamentarians being targeted for fake degrees, and not generals, bureaucrats, journalists and others? This is sad defence by legislators. In every democracy, parliamentarians are deemed to have a higher national purpose than generals, bureaucrats, journalists and others. In using the excuse of their being "singled out," and not being counted with the rest, our parliamentarians are in denial of their privileged status. This is not surprising, considering that parliament is crowded by those who are not above cheating by any means, including fraud and fake degrees.

These days, genuine democrats in parliament must have their heads bowed in shame over these goings-on. These are democrats who entered parliament and the provincial assemblies without chicanery and fraud and who believe in the legislature's sovereign status and in the high national purpose accorded them by the voters. They should consider what they can do to help save parliament's honour and dignity. 

There are constitutional conditions for a president, such as that he should be a Muslim, regarded as non-political, who has a reputation which is above reproach, and who would serve largely as a figurehead. 

However, if someone who did not fulfil these conditions is voted in, someone who insists on functioning both as party head and president of the country, who interferes in the normal conduct of state affairs, such as vetoing the prime minister's decision to change his IT minister, his validity as president should be called to question in court.

A parliament free of fakes is hardly likely to overlook the president's open and camouflaged violations of constitutional stipulations, whereas as a parliament laden with fakes will. Therefore, if there is a wild scramble by the president's men, led by the worthy law minister who sports a doctorate from a fake university, to stop the parliament from being rid of fakes, there are deep reasons for it, and even deeper fears.

The writer is a former corporate executive. Email: husainsk@








The French National Assembly passed a draft law on July 13 banning wearing of the veil by Muslim women, with all but one member supporting the bill. This rare show of unanimity by an otherwise divided house revolved around the argument that the wearing of the veil was antithetical to French culture and also oppressive to women -- frivolous grounds to warrant such discriminatory adventure. As to the wearing of the veil being antithetical to French culture, one fails to understand how a micro-minority of nearly 2,000 veil-wearing women could be a threat to the culture of a vast majority and refuse to co-exist with it, as is the case in other western countries? The argument also fails to substantiate the nature of the perceived challenges that the veil posed to French culture. As such it hardly provided any justification for this anti-Muslim campaign. The step in fact is antithetical to the democratic ideals.

The other premise that the veil is oppressive to women who wear it is even more ridiculous. The assumption is ostensibly a hypothesis invented by the legislators who voted for the legislation. This farcical notion is strongly falsified by the fact that ever since the movement against the veil has raised its ugly head, the Muslim community, particularly women wearing the veil, has been relentlessly opposing the initiative. The question is: has anyone conducted a survey or asked the women who wear the veil whether they feel oppressed by wearing it or not? The answer is an emphatic 'no'. The effort, therefore, is a crude manifestation of the majority coercing a minority. History is a witness to the fact that cultural integration -- if that was the underlying idea of this endeavour -- can never be brought about through coercive laws and measures. Some western societies that tried this strategy failed miserably and after realising the futility of their indiscretions embraced multiculturalism. In the modern era, suppression of other cultures simply seems repulsive.

Echoes of culture-related frictions between the migrant communities and the natives of the western countries, and even the syndrome of hate for the former on the part of nationalist and other groups preaching purity of race, are not uncommon. But none of these societies or governments has ever officially encouraged those outfits to promote their agendas of hate and discrimination against the migrants. The French move reflects a mindset of hate and intolerance towards other cultures and a negation of the fact that France is a multicultural society. It also tears apart the myth that European societies have respect for fundamental human rights, including freedom of choice. Muslim women who wear the veil in France and for that matter in any other European country do it by choice in the best traditions of their own culture. Coercing them to abandon the veil is outright outrageous and also a violation of the fundamental rights enshrined in the UN Human Rights Charter.

The campaigners against the veil and French parliament may well regard this as a success of their crusade against the veil and the culmination of the controversy over the issue. But the fact remains that this will create more fissures within the French society and may well have serious repercussion even beyond the French borders. France has about five million Muslims. To expect that they will take this onslaught on their culture lying down would be a naivety of the first order. For them the real fight has begun now. The issue might haunt its proponents and the French government for a long time to come. They have, through this imprudent action, also deprived France of the amity and strength that the diversity of cultures brings to a society. This may also trigger unpalatable reaction throughout the Muslim world and prove to be a diplomatic disaster for the French government. It can even jeopardise its economic and political interests in some cases until and unless the French government retracts its path. Another danger is that this could also have a ripple effect in other European societies and encourage anti-migrant elements to unfurl similar campaigns with all the accompanying frictions and undesirable consequences.

The French action also represents an affront to the values that the western countries so dearly cherish and cry hoarse from every convenient rooftop to propagate them and also use them to revile and scandalise the Muslims for their so-called intolerance. Now they have one of their own showing disdain for those values and exhibiting the same intolerance they so intensely repudiate and blame the Muslims for. It will be interesting to see how they view this trampling of the western values by the French. That will be a real test for their love for freedom of choice and human dignity. 

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email:








For some weeks now speculation is rife that Kayani, whose term as COAS expires in four months almost to the day, will get a two-year extension. Normally one talks about a one-year extension or the full term, the two-years period seems to be a trial balloon. The public is being conditioned (psy-war technique). Common belief is that this may likely become a fact. 

People, particularly politicians, find it convenient to forget history about sacking of prime ministers. A political impasse ensued in 1993 when the Supreme Court restored Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif summarily sacked without cogent reason by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. Earlier this former bureaucrat had sacked Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1990. The situation was an invitation on a silver platter for military rule but the army chief, Gen Waheed Kakar, sustained the democratic process by carefully guiding the country out of the political morass, gently nudging Ishaq out of office, and ensuring comparatively free and fair elections that saw Ms Bhutto triumphant. A grateful Ms Bhutto, echoing the sentiments of a broad mass of politicians and citizens alike, beseeched him to take an extension as COAS. To his undying credit, and setting a tremendous precedent, Gen Waheed Kakar listened to the only person who purposefully spoke up against the enormous pressure to accept the offer, Comd 5 Corps, Lt-Gen Lehrasab and refused the extension. One believes Kayani holds Gen Waheed Kakar as a role model.

Extension must never even be under consideration in normal circumstances. In my article "Reforming the JCSC" on May 13, 2010, I wrote: "Once promoted to lieutenant-general a three-star must complete his tenure of four years of service (age should not become a bar), but if he has completed his four years of service an extension can be given for truly extraordinary reasons. Extension of service for a COAS is an entirely different matter. Prime among the many reasons for my saying 'no' is that it sets off a chain reaction of permutations, if not combinations, and blocks promotions in the army. However, loyal and sincere the senior military hierarchy, potential aspirants will feel deprived of their turn at attaining the top slot for which rightfully they have had ambitions throughout their career. Really good prospects down the line will find their careers and ambitions thereof sidelined. All those presently in contention for the COAS have good professional careers, and for the most part are not tainted by real-estate scandals. 'Extension' will mean these officers will retire from service in the next 12-18 months. An extension to the COAS will put an artificial monkey wrench into a natural process." 

Kayani's has great pluses. He has (1) restored the morale and confidence of the Pakistan Army, the one entity that holds Pakistan together, (2) sustained the present democratic process, being run presently by civilians as a dictatorship in contrast to Musharraf's military dictatorship, which to give him his just due, was being run by him more or less as a democracy and (3) last but most important won the confidence of the US and other western powers by his professionalism while not allowing the Pakistan Army to be used as a mercenary force. 

The dilemma provides us with a unique opportunity to make the JCSC into an effective military instrument. In my article titled "Chairman JCSC", I wrote: "Today's warfare cannot be fought service by service, it has to be an all-service combined affair. Not a single military analyst believes otherwise, so why is practice different from theory? The JCSC should be the central HQ for all three services, formulating overall war plans incorporating their combined fighting potential, and the mechanism for implementing the war plans. Things basic to the three services must be unified. Some of it is already being done, e.g. medical and engineering services, why not entities that are common, basic training institutions, workshops, etc.? Constructive reforms should include (1) the JCSC to become the GHQ for all three services and the army's HQ the "Army HQ" (2) The JCSC chairman (re-name him "chief of defence services" or something similar) to preside over the senior promotions, from one star to two stars and from two stars to three stars in all three services (3) all postings of three stars to be done with the concurrence of GHQ (4) creating a joint operations chief (JOC), or any such nomenclature, in the GHQ (5) all military procurement under GHQ aegis and (6) the ISI and the ISPR reporting to GHQ etc.".

What is logical will very rarely fly in the face of reality. A tremendous idea notwithstanding, JCSC's continued effectiveness as a viable institution is questionable. Many multiple times in manpower to the PAF and the Pakistan Navy, the army is loath to have an all-powerful chairman JCSC other than a soldier. The army leadership has a point: in the war environment on the borders and within Pakistan, the army is the measure of last resort in all things. The world powers have large navies and air forces in support of their strategic mission over vast areas of the world map, our wars will be confined to the swath of territory within our land borders. We have very little depth for large-scale manoeuvres. Influenced by the air and the sea, the war will be finally won or lost on the ground, not in the air or in the sea. This is not a theoretical exercise or a game of musical chairs, but a life-and-death struggle with an implacable foe. The PAF and the Pakistan Navy know well how much one respects their capability and potential. But in Pakistan's context the chairman JCSC, commander defence services, the commander-in-chief, etc., whatever one may call the all-powerful principal appointment exercising control over the defence services, has to be from the land forces, and has to be located in the GHQ, perception being nine-tenths of the law. There should be a four-star deputy to the chief in rotation from the PAF or the Pakistan Navy, giving the two services not only an additional four-star slot every three years but someone who can free the chief from routine protocol duties.

The ongoing war, the geo-political circumstances and his track record dealing with foreign powers make Kayani much needed. The respect he commands among all ranks of the armed forces as well as the nation's citizens must take the continuity factor onto a higher and different plane. As per Murphy's Law, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". More importantly he has acquired the prestige to make combined services a fighting reality. Instead of having a titular head of the armed forces as chairman JCSC, make Kayani the executive head sitting in GHQ as "commander-in-chief" (C-in-C) of all the three services.

A new COAS must be promoted. It would be severely disappointing if Kayani should accept the offer of extension being dangled in front of him. He has an image that would suffer for posterity. If he cannot be C-in-C, Kayani should refuse an extension in the Waheed Kakar tradition.

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email:







People don't dream anymore. They don't want change: neither in themselves nor in the social sphere. In conversations they appear pessimistic or frustrated . Those who are neither are taunted as being confused. I do not mind being considered confused or being considered a member of an 'apolitical' minority without a sense of direction. Yes, I am confused and apolitical. Because I am left with very little choice, a choice between two worldviews, which are poles apart and are represented by Obama and Osama (both are misters, of course). I don't even have the choice of not choosing, in the first place.

Thus I am in a dilemma. If I stand by Mr Obama and become a believer in his promises -- that this world will see the realisation of the American dream of global democracy, I could either be killed by a suicide bomber or kidnapped by Taliban militants. I would be condemned by rightwing organisations and their followers could give me the most demeaning name of all, a 'liberal'. If I choose to side with Mr Osama, I will be killed in a drone attack or picked up by local or foreign security agents who have been tasked with transporting people like me to Guantanamo Bay or the Kandahar base, where the values of decency and morality that man developed over the past few centuries have been sacrificed.

Therefore, I choose not to choose, no matter what the consequence. I defy this vulgar choice that today's world politics, designed for wars and famine, leaves me with. Because it's just blood and bones alongside bullets and ballistic missiles. I don't want it.

I stand opposed to war and its most notorious terminology -- "war on terror," Obama or Osama's. Because both of them are running free and wild on this earth, delivering messages with their respective weapons: missiles, their soldiers and suicide bombers. But I, like billions of other citizens of this world, am living a caveman's life where fear is my source of companionship.

That they are free and I am not, that they are living and I will be killed by either of them has led me to believe otherwise. Thus I oppose oppressors--wherever and whoever they are--their deeds, their actions, their policies and their plans. Because all of them are the same: warmongers.

Then who is it that I am with? What is it that I want? What is it that I represent? Where are those who can stand up for me? Where are my people? Where are the dreamers?

To begin with I represent those who hate the sight of blood being spilled -- and who are confused. But confusion may be the first step towards clarity and may also lead to progress. For my clan of people also has to wish and to dream besides being confused in the first place. 

They have to dream of a world which is going to be one where peaceful resistance is the answer. A dream of waging a struggle for a world where wars and battles and suicide bombers and, most of all, Obamas and Osamas, will be a memory of the past. We do not want monsters of wars and of terror invading the peaceful world of our children.

Thus I dream today as a representative of an alternate world for tomorrow. But how is that possible? I have been told to make a choice only from the given choices: between Obama and Osama, the representatives of today's split world. They both operate in and influence the current system, the free market of all commodities, including arms, oil and men. 

You can clearly see I am confused, but I am thinking. Can that be progress?

The writer is a Karachi-based journalist. Email: 







The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

The men and women who draft headlines have been having a field day. 

Clever phrases have appeared in English, Urdu, Persian and no doubt other languages to describe the farcical talks between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan which led nowhere at all despite prolonged bouts of dialogue. 

Attempts at damage control in the immediate aftermath of the debacle are somewhat pointless. They cannot hide the fact that very little, if anything at all, was achieved when Mr Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Mr S M Krishna met in Islamabad. 

The clumsy attacks launched on his Indian counterpart by an obviously angry and embarrassed Qureshi only made things look worse.