Google Analytics

Thursday, July 29, 2010

EDITORIAL 29.07.10

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: 


media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month july 29, edition 000583 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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











  1. THAT '80S SHOW






























  6. 1 Soldier or 20 Schools? - By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF






  5. ARE WE IN THE 1960S?




























It's not a pretty sight to see a senior Congress parliamentarian and former Union Minister berating his own Government for hosting the Commonwealth Games, admittedly at a price many times more than what it was estimated to cost when India won the bid in 2003 to host the event in Delhi. When the NDA regime had proposed that India should host the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the purpose was three-fold. First, to bring home a large sports event that would enthuse our sportspersons as well as the youth. Second, to showcase rising India with world class infrastructure — Delhi was to reflect a country on the move and rapidly bridging the gap between the developed and the developing nations. This was also the reason why China hosted the Olympic Games with such great fanfare and extraordinary expense. The third reason is common to all countries that bid for mega sports events: It gives a big boost to the economy both during the preparatory period and after the event. The UPA regime inherited the project from the NDA and the execution of the various plans has essentially been undertaken by the Congress Government of Delhi. While the project may not have gone as it was planned, the reasons for hosting the Games have not been rendered invalid. Hence, it is extremely unfortunate that Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar should have overlooked them while lashing out at the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee for the cost over-run and the poor state of preparedness that has become cause for concern. In his defence, Mr Aiyar could argue that he has all along opposed the hosting of the Commonwealth Games and as Union Minister for Sports had clashed with the Government on more than one occasion, insisting it was a waste of resources. That others, including his own party, did not look at it in the same way seems to have had no impact on him; he continues to cavil against what is clearly his pet peeve. That could have been ignored had he not resorted to particularly harsh language, going to the extent of wishing that the Commonwealth Games are a failure and hence a blot on the organisers — that is as good as saying that he wants to see the Congress-led UPA regime embarrassed and humiliated

Had the issue been limited to a Congress parliamentarian slugging it out with party colleagues, it would not have been worthy of comment. But the real issue is not the spectacle of people in the Congress calling each other names: It is of upholding the nation's prestige and honour. The Commonwealth did not force the Games on India; it was India which sought the opportunity to host the games. Having done so, it is now the responsibility of all concerned, especially the Congress which heads the incumbent Union Government, to ensure that the Games are successfully held and a positive impression is created of India. There is no percentage in spending tens of thousands of crores of rupees from the public exchequer and then squandering it all by Congress parliamentarians pulling down each other; we can do without public recriminations at this point of time. Yes, there are questions about the expenditure incurred on the Games and the shoddy manner in which the entire project has been handled that need to be answered by those in charge. But that can wait till the event is over. 







One can understand the Congress's desperation to win over Muslim votes in the run-up to next year's Assembly election in Kerala, but it is shocking that the party should stoop to the level of openly backing the radical Islamist outfit — Popular Front of India. The PFI is credited with the shocking misdeed of chopping the right hand of a professor who allegedly defamed Mohammed while setting a question paper. According to the police, it is also said to be involved in a number of other dubious activities aimed at creating communal discord in the State. Yet the Congress has found merit in condemning Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan for saying, and rightly so, that the PFI is trying to "Islamise Kerala". This remark, in the Congress's twisted wisdom, amounts to 'insulting' Muslims, an interpretation that by no stretch of the imagination is credible. The PFI is not a role model for the community, and there is nothing to suggest that its conduct has the backing of Muslims at large. By lashing out at the State Government for its tough stance, the Congress is only strengthening the hands of subversive elements who seek inspiration from the Taliban. As an experienced politician, Mr Achuthanandan knows what he is talking about. That he has had to use such strong words only shows the threat posed by the PFI to Kerala and to the nation.

Thankfully, the Chief Minister, who is otherwise waging a battle against detractors in the CPI(M), has found support among his adversaries like Mr Pinarayi Vijayan. The State party secretary has backed Mr Achuthanandan's remarks and said they do not amount to criticising the the Muslim community. Even CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, who does not share a very cordial relationship with Mr Achuthanandan, has reiterated that the PFI and its associates are taking Kerala towards Islamisation. Similarly, LDF members like the Forward Bloc have also been forthright in their condemnation of the PFI. The Congress, thus, stands not only isolated but also exposed: It is shameful that it should forge a communal agenda in the belief that this will help it secure the support of the Muslim community. This is insulting Muslims, not least because most of them are aghast over the frightening attempt to emulate the Taliban.

Interestingly, the Congress attack on the CPI(M) has only served to bridge the divide within the State Government and the CPI(M). The patch-up may not necessarily hold until the election, but if the Congress persists, chances are the various Marxist factions will unite. Whether that will eventually help the Left to retain power is anybody's guess, but at least it will serve the purpose of putting down Islamists in Kerala. That is the most immediate task and should be undertaken without any delay.








For once, former Union Sports Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar seemed to make eminent sense in his virulent attack on Commonwealth Games 2010. With only two months to go for the mega sports event — the biggest India has ever hosted — both critics and votaries of the CWG are understandably worried about Delhi's preparedness. As days slip by, it is increasingly evident that an event intended, in all good faith, to showcase India to the world, may soon go down as an epic disaster, courtesy that good faith sadly metamorphosing into brazen greed and a mindless zest to waste the taxpayer's hard-earned money. While citizens of Delhi are bearing the direct brunt of the chaos and woeful lack of vision informing the CWG preparations, the entire country, when we meet on the other side of the Games on October 15, will be able to grasp the real price each one of us has paid for this colossal misadventure.

Consider this. India bid for the CWG in 2003. Comparisons may sound tedious but Glasgow bid for the 2014 CWG in 2004, giving itself exactly a decade to get games-ready. The overwhelming reason for Scotland winning that bid was that Glasgow had nearly 70 per cent of the sports venues in order, a majority of them located within 20 minutes of the Athletes' Village already in place. In 2010, the city is completely equipped to host the Games four years later, this when Delhi is desperately floundering to keep a semblance of order 60 days short of the event. One cannot even begin to speak of the preparedness of cities like Beijing (in 2008) and London (for 2012) for a much larger event like the Olympics. Mr Aiyar indeed cannot be blamed for dreading the thought of India hosting the Asian Games or the Olympics, given the dismal mismanagement that 21 agencies of the Government have jointly displayed in Delhi for CWG 2010.

Even if one were to concede the premise that the Games would help raise India's stature as a sporting nation, one would still demand credible evidence from the Government to this end. In Delhi such evidence is hard to come by. Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium which will host the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games, apart from athletics and weightlifting events, was inaugurated this week. Upgraded at a whopping Rs 960 crore, this was to be Delhi's showpiece venue. While on paper the stadium has been handed over to the Organising Committee, debris around the venue remains an eyesore even as a day-long shower leads to huge puddles of water in the middle of the brand-new astroturf. 

Other venues tell an equally sorry tale. After the lashing rains earlier this month the Kadarpur shooting range suffered extensive damage while the roof at the partially inaugurated Yamuna Sports Complex caved in. If the Siri Fort complex suffered groundwater seepage, the new swimming venue at Talkatora developed floor and wall seepages. Flooding is a regular sight at Talkatora Boxing Stadium while construction activity continues in the hockey stadium. Approach roads to all these venues remain dug up with debris clogging the drains causing further, peripheral damage. As for the Games village, it is a merry season of passing the buck as no agency is willing to answer why only six of the proposed 34 towers with 1,100 flats are ready. Last heard, catering contracts for the Games stand cancelled, entailing fresh bids and consequent delay. As for the much anticipated private sponsorships for the mega-event, the begging bowls are still out. Finally, less said the better about the state of upgradation of Delhi's roads and underpasses and various tourist attractions where agencies involved have openly admitted that deadlines cannot be met.

Can all this be conveniently blamed on one inclement monsoon, some inexplicable shortage of finances or mere lack of manpower? No. Someone must now stand up and admit that the tax payers' money has been put to severe misuse, that substandard venues on display in Delhi do not make a great sporting nation and that the Government's so-called CWG 'Legacy Plan' is a seriously flawed one. Accountability is the crying need of this hour because the one thing that various arms of the Government involved in the Games preparation have clearly not fallen short of is funds; the figure is now conservatively estimated at Rs 40,000 crore. Despite this huge cost, the last thing that comes to mind while describing Delhi's sports infrastructure is "world class". 

Another premise forwarded in favour of the CWG is that it would help boost Indian sports, an ideal international exposure for our domestic talent. Noble as the thought may be, one would again like to see its credible implementation. Ironically, Indian participants in the October Games still do not have ready venues to train at. Callous officials dismiss this saying the humidity is too high in Delhi for practice or that these venues are "competition facilities" not "training facilities". Did someone talk about India having a 'home advantage' at the 2010 CWG? As per the dates projected, our domestic participants will get their first glimpse of the venues almost simultaneously with our visitors who come in by September 15 for pre-Games practices. Indeed, there is merit in the argument that money spent for the Games could have been more constructively employed to create training facilities for our sportspersons that would have given them the world-class edge needed to compete in such mega events. We could have played host at a later date. China swept the 2008 Beijing Olympics; one doubts India will go beyond the single digit at the Delhi CWG medal tally.

Admittedly, mega sporting events bring along massive infrastructure build-up that far outlasts the events themselves. There are such instances the world over. The 1982 Asian Games gave Delhi some brilliant state-of-the-art infrastructure in terms of then world-class stadiums, flyovers, a games village, colour television and a network reaching out to the remotest of villages, a legacy that lasted years after the Games. Almost three decades later, Delhi has not added to the list of the five Games venues that came up back in 1982. What one has seen instead is some unacceptable 'upgradation' that has left roofs leaking, walls seeping, drains clogged and roads choked, a legacy Delhiites will have to suffer for days to come. 

For now, one can only hope for a miracle — that, the Games are a spectacular success rather than an occasion for Delhi to make a spectacle of itself. 







At last, our wild guesses and informed surmises have seen the clear light of the day; they are reality now, thanks to the documents leakage from WikiLeaks.

More than 90,000 secret military records of the US war in Afghanistan were published online in WikiLeaks which provided new and revealing insights about how Americans have been misled for years in this war against terror by their so-called 'strategic partner' Pakistan.

And the real and horrific countenance of the so called 'strategic and trusted ally' has been unmasked for everyone to see. Of course there are obvious denials from both sides, but let them do the rites, truth needs no spokesperson. Pakistan's Pashtun-dominated ISI has shown that it can betray its bread-giver but can't cheat its own brethren who are running the Taliban.

Pakistan is getting one billion dollars of aid every year to fight terror. Most of these bucks are being passed to the Taliban which has grown fat on dole in all these years. Documents revealed the CIA covered up evidence that the Taliban has acquired d.adly surface-to-air missiles. 

In one of her frequent visits to Pakistan, its 'daily bread' Ms Hillary Clinton again announced an aid of 500 million dollars this month as an assistance to fight the war. What a funny war US has indulged in where money is being indirectly paid to kill its own soldiers and make its enemy stronger and wealthier. 

By cooperating closely with Taliban, Pakistan has long back signed a death warrant for any possibility of success of this war for the US . Hundreds of dead soldiers and loss of billions of dollars is what the US has got in return of trusting Pakistan — which has now successfully replaced India and the US in Afghanistan as a major player with groups of its brethren Talibs, Haqqanis and Hekmatyars ruling the roost.

Does it not amount to the betrayal of the coalition countries whose soldiers are fighting and laying down their lives? Are they only cannon fodder for charming politicians who indulge in a war in some alien land without knowing the equations of local politics? Keeping India out of this war and not trusting its intelligence agencies is the biggest mistake that the US has made in which both the US and India have suffered, and the only gainer is Pakistan.







The LDF has finally woken up to the threat posed by radical Islamists who have been emulating the Taliban and pushing Kerala to the brink of communal conflict. The Marxists are now denouncing the mullahs. Not surprisingly, the Congress has decided to embrace the Islamists.


Last Saturday, Kerala Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan stirred a hornet's nest in his home State by saying in Delhi that the radical Islamist outfit, Popular Front of India, was aiming to turn god's own country into a Muslim-majority State in 20 years. He also said that in order to achieve this goal, the PFI (the new avatar of the erstwhile NDF that had come into existence after the Ayodhya episode with the slogan that resistance, too, was a form of protest), was using money to attract youth into their fold and luring them into Islam by making them marry young Muslim women.

Everyone, from the Government to the political parties to the common man, had known these facts all along, but the octogenarian Mr Achuthanandan's stature as Chief Minister and a veteran Marxist leader gave his statement a special aura of credibility. Also, the context in which he spoke these things added to that credibility: Perhaps for the first time in its recent history, Kerala is witnessing a State-wide police hunt for Islamist operatives (of the PFI) in the wake of the Taliban-model attack on a college professor for preparing a question paper that allegedly blasphemed Prophet Muhammad.

The Indian Union Muslim League, which has not yet revealed how different it is from the League of Muhammad Ali Jinnah's times, was the first to attack Mr Achuthanandan for the statement, saying he had humiliated entire Islam in the name of the Popular Front. Its major ally, the Congress, and other constituents of the Opposition UDF in the State followed suit. But neither Mr Achuthanandan nor his party was to be shaken by the hullabaloo. The Congress raised the issue in Kerala Assembly on Monday, demanding that Mr Achuthanandan withdraw his statement and tender an apology. But he was unfazed.

"Why should my statement about the Popular Front, an Islamist organisation which is a minority even among the Muslims, hurt the Muslim League and the Congress, parties that are opposed to that organisation?" Mr Achuthanandan asked the Assembly, implying that the PFI and the Opposition parties were still companions. He quoted text from a Popular Front pamphlet to prove how this organisation wanted to establish Islamic rule in the State. But nothing satisfied the Muslim League or the Congress, which had taken the support of the Popular Front in the last Assembly and Parliament elections.

In the face of the concerted attacks from the Opposition and various Muslim organisations, the Marxist party — for the first time in many years — threw its whole weight behind Mr Achuthanandan. State CPI(M) secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, arch rival of Mr Achuthanandan, and Polit Bureau member and Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan endorsed the statement. The reason was simple: Mr Achuthanandan had not made a statement of his own but what he said was the official position of the party, taken with the intention of appeasing the Hindus of the State ahead of the polls as all pro-minorities strategies had failed.

What Mr Achuthanandan said in Delhi or in the State Assembly is nothing new. Keralites have known for the past several years that god's own country had already become the breeding ground of terrorists. Those behind several of the 2008 terror strikes in the country were from Kerala and even PDP chairman Abdul Nasser Madani, a CPI(M) ally, has now been accused of crucial role in the Bangalore bombings. When parties like the BJP persistently reminded the Government and the people how Kerala had become a recruitment centre of forces like the LeT, the Left, the Congress and their allies termed it as Islam-baiting.

The Kerala Government itself had deposed in the court that no evidence was available of Love Jihad, an Islamist programme of Muslim youth luring women belonging to other religions into Islam through romantic intimacy and the promise of marriage. Reports had said that over 5,000 women had become victims of Love Jihad and many of them could have been packed off to terror camps in Pakistan and other countries to work as sex slaves and couriers. The Left and others called such reports figments of anti-Muslim imagination. But all of a sudden, Mr Achuthanandan and his party are claiming that a reverse Love Jihad is being practiced

 by Islamists: Luring men belonging to other religions into Islam by giving them Muslim women in marriage with the objective of making Kerala a Muslim-majority State in two decades.

In fact, Mr Achuthanandan's statement in Delhi and the Kerala Assembly was not in any way an act of assertion of the Chief Minister's authority. It had come immediately after a meeting of the central committee of the CPI(M), which had taken a position that the Popular Front had to be opposed in all possible ways. But the party is yet to disprove the allegations that Popular Front activists had campaigned for Mr Balakrishnan in the Assembly election in Thalassery constituency. Nor has it been ready to abandon the association with Mr Madani, a key accused in the Bangalore blasts case. The Congress and its allies, on the other hand, have been receiving the Popular Front's active support throughout Kerala in the elections, and they have not so far said they would not take that outfit's support in the coming elections.







Kashmir and Kerala. One, paradise on earth, and the other, in its much-touted words, god's own country. One defining the northern frontier of the Indian state, the other its southern end. Both identified strongly with their culture.

Kashmir stands defined by its Kashmiriyat and Kerala by virtue of its unique language and culture regardless of religion. Both, in their own respects, are among the oldest outposts of Islam. Sufism in Kashmir was as syncretic as Islam could get. And in Kerala, Hindus on pilgrimage to this day pay homage to Vavar at Erumeli before they embark for Sabarimala. Islam in both these States was anything but similar to its original West Asian version. That is as far as history goes.

Nobody would have ever thought that a similar tale could potentially weave together these two distant States. Until the fateful day when a handful of Malayali-speaking persons were apprehended trying to cross the border into Pakistan to wage jihad against the Indian republic.

Kashmir's descent into fundamentalist oblivion is well known. Somewhere in the 90s, Pakistan-sponsored ideologues wrecked the idea ofKashmiriyat after driving the Kashmiri Pandits out of the Valley. Slowly but surely, Kashmir Valley was converted into an outpost of their degraded idea of Islam. Shrines began to be wrecked, houses of those driven out occupied and, slowly but surely, Kashmiriyat was replaced by 'Islamiyat'. 

The Amarnath pilgrimage - an important pilgrimage for the Hindu community — was stopped for a few years in the 1990s and started again in 1996 after the militants assured the Government that the yatris would not be targeted. Today stone-pelters and separatist ideologues rule the roost. One would barely recognise the Kashmir romanticised in many movies. (Much of this is due to the inaction of both the State and the Union Governments as much as due to external influence and interference.)

Today the idea of studying the trajectory of one and trying to predict that of the other might seem absurd, but it is worth taking a look at what Kerala might become 50 years down the line. 

The history of the two States is anything but the same. Kerala was ruled by Communists (who got into bed with monotheistic religions). It had a highly educated population. It sent workers to Dubai and other West Asian countries and came to be known as the famed Gulf economy. As we saw a few weeks ago, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Many of those who returned came back with more than just money. They came back with a renewed zeal for imposing the version of Islam they learned back in the Gulf on their fellow citizens. And the cycle of events that has followed cannot be recounted in a single feature. A few weeks ago, a professor had his hand chopped off by a couple of fanatics for a question in an exam paper that allegedly insulted the Prophet. This is a small example of the radicalisation that has taken place. From here to destroying the idea of Kerala that one has today may seem far-fetched, but in 50 years, it is entirely possible that it may not exist.

The transition will not be sudden: It will have its cycles of violence, driving out of non-believers and the creation of Hindu and Christian enclaves much like the State of Jammu & Kashmir with its nearly three distinct regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. And then a day will dawn when the Sabarimala pilgrimage will have to be conducted under heavy security cover thanks to the looming threat of militants.

Between Kerala today and the coming true of this grim prediction stand the State and Union Governments and the steps that they take to prevent the latter from taking place. Otherwise, at the current rate of degradation, the day our fears become reality is not far away.






The Congress party has dominated the Indian political landscape and it truly deserves its moniker of the Grand Old Party of India. The party has remained in the summit of power because it once successfully led the country on the basis of its distinct, even distinctive, socio-economic and political agenda. 

It is a well established fact that parties in a competitive democracy contest on the basis of their own agendas and voters make their choices by supporting or opposing agendas presented by different parties on the eve of elections. What is the performance record of the Congress-in-Government in its seventh year of managing the affairs of the country? 

Does the Congress have any distinctive sociocultural and political agenda except the liberalisation and privatisation of Indian economy? The most important agenda of the Congress has historically been the modernisation of society through democratic methods. But today the Congress has not only abandoned its essential agenda of social modernisation but it is playing a reactionary and socially regressive role while dealing with important issues. 

All-India Congress Commi-ttee president Sonia Gandhi claims to be a great protector of women rights and gender equality, yet she and her party has completely refused to play any activist role against the cruelty meted out by the Jat-Gujjar dominated khaps which are violating every law of the land in the States of Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The Congress-led State Governments here have given full licence to the panchayats to act as a 'State within a State' and pronounce judgements which are in the domain of established courts of law. 

The worst culprits in this regard have been Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and two MPs, Mr Deepender Hooda and Mr Navin Jindal, who jointly form the 'modern face' of the Congress from the State. The trio is carrying on its shoulders the burden of legitimising thekhaps' notorious atrocities. Leaders of the Jat and Gujjar communities have been encouraged to demand legal recognition for the khaps and also an amendment of the Hindu Marriage Act. Union Ministers Mr Kamal Nath, Mr Kapil Sibal and Mr MS Gill have also expressed serious reservations on the issue of Government action against khaps. A proposal on bringing to book the crime of abetment of 'honour killings' brought by the Union Government under pressure to act on the matter has been referred to a Group of Ministers as a time-wasting measure. In the light of this narrative, it is impossible to imagine that Ms Gandhi has any convictions regarding the women's reservation Bill which is lying in cold storage owing to vacillations by the Congress leadership.

A ruling party not only leads the country on the basis of its own agenda but also accommodates parts of the agenda of Opposition parties that are in tune with its own ideology. Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru always 'stole' important ideas of the Opposition parties. Nehru never allowed any Opposition party to raise the flag of Socialism because he presented himself as a better champion of Socialist ideals. Mrs Indira Gandhi, whose only commitment was to remain in power at all costs, was able to steal a march over her opponents by projecting herself, rightly or otherwise, as a "protector of the poor" in India. However, the present Congress leadership is in no position to appropriate the progressive agenda of Opposition parties.

After the Supreme Court upheld the Bombay High Court's lifting of ban on a book on Maratha leader Shivaji, Maharashtra's Congress party Chief Minister Ashok Chavan joined issue with the Shiv Sena and prohibited sale of the book in the State. Is Ms Gandhi not capable of defending the basic values of democracy? Why should Mr Chavan not hand over power to Shiv Sena if he has no alternative political value system to uphold as Chief Minister of the State? 

The same story is repeated by the Congress on the issue of the dispute between Maharashtra and Karnataka on Belgaum. The all-India vision of the Congress has collapsed under the threat of the movement launched by Telangana Rashtriya Samiti. What is the utility of appointing the Justice Srikrishna Committee to study the demand for Telangana unless the Congress has lost its capacity to decide on a purely political issue like the creation of a new State?

The Janata Party emerged with great fanfare in 1977 but ended up in fragments because of casteism and also because it did not have a cohesive ideology of its own. Caste in politics or narrow regionalism cannot be a substitute for the project of modernity of India which has been the hallmark of Congress. But the Congress party organisation is pursuing its own goals and interests at the State level. Perhaps, the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy's son, Mr YS Jaganmohan Reddy, cannot be faulted for pursuing his own agenda of winning the Chief Minister's chair in Andhra Pradesh only because the Congress has no ideology except self-promotion and dynasty politics.







FORMER sports and panchayati raj minister Mani Shankar Aiyar has never been known to pull his punches when he speaks on issues he has strong opinions about. And he has strong opinions on virtually everything.


In 2004, for instance, when he was in government, he ordered the removal of plaques containing quotes of freedom fighter Vinayak ' Veer' Savarkar from the Cellular Jail in the Andaman Islands. Six years later, he held Savarkar and Mohammed Ali Jinnah equally responsible for Partition.


Clearly, then, Mr Aiyar is no stranger to controversy.


Yet, when he said on Tuesday that he would be unhappy if the Commonwealth Games were successful, he had clearly gone over the top. There is no doubt that the preparations for the Commonwealth Games are not going as planned. As this newspaper has pointed out — almost every day for more than a year now — the management of the prestigious sporting event has been atrocious.


The stadia leave a lot to be desired, the roads across the city are in a pathetic shape, the city's beautification projects have failed so miserably that Delhi looks uglier than it was when it won the bid for the Games, the infrastructure is a mess and it will be a miracle if the Games take place without any logistical hitch.


Yet, it is one thing to grumble about all this and quite another to perversely wish that the Games don't go well. Mr Aiyar is in a minuscule minority when he wishes the Games ill.


Allegations of large- scale corruption and utter mismanagement aside, it is true that the Games are a matter of prestige for the country.


Just as South Africa showcased all it had during the recent FIFA World Cup and Beijing did the same during the 2008 Olympics, Delhi has a unique chance to make its presence felt on the world stage.


Notwithstanding all this, there is certainly need for the authorities to pin down the lapses and the waste that has visibly accompanied the Commonwealth Games preparations.


There is every reason to believe that people have made an enormous amount of money by undertaking shoddy work. Such people must be brought to book.


Despite their skepticism, the people of Delhi have taken the inconveniences in their stride.


In exchange, the Chairman of the Organising Committee Suresh Kalmadi and Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit and her officials must provide for an accurate accounting of all the public moneys spent on the Games.



WITH inflation staying well above 10 per cent, the Reserve Bank of India has expectedly tightened key rates. It has increased the repo rate ( at which banks borrow from the RBI). The reverse repo ( at which it borrows from banks) has been increased by a higher 0.5 per cent, though this is more to bring the gap between the two rates in line with the RBI's current thinking.

The RBI has said that the repo rate is its key indicator, so clearly, the hope is that this will lead to higher interest rates, which in turn would disincentivise credit- fuelled demand and dampen inflation. But if liquidity- fuelled demand was the only problem, it could have achieved as much by clamping down on money supply by hiking the cash and liquidity reserve ratios.


That the RBI chose not to do so, reveals the intricacies of the inflation and growth conundrum as far as the Indian economy is concerned, at least at the present juncture. The nature and contours of inflation have changed, spilling over from a supply- shortage driven rise in food prices, to a more generalised increase in prices of core articles and manufactured goods.


At the same time, growth continues to be somewhat fragile and still driven in large measure by government spending. Further, liquidity — availability of lendable cash— is actually quite tight, with large volumes having been sucked out because of the spectrum auctions and tax payments. Choking credit flow at this point may well derail the recovery.


However, it is a moot point whether a lower growth rate would be a bigger problem for the country than higher inflation.


We would argue that in a country comprised largely of the very poor, higher inflation is the bigger evil. To that extent, the RBI could have moved more aggressively on the inflation control front.








IN THE last month, there have been a flurry of official visitors from the United States to New Delhi— Afghanistan Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, and Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Robert O Blake. Last month top officials of the two sides met each other under the auspices of a strategic dialogue in Washington DC chaired by their respective foreign ministers, S. M. Krishna and Hillary Clinton. Indian officials who attended these events and meetings are struck by the strong undercurrent of pessimism going through the Obama Administration in relation to its AfPak policy.


The problem according to some officials boils down to the infirmity of the Administration, as well as those rooted in the fundamentals of the US government system. The first is a product and a consequence of the inability of the Administration leaders to see through the fog of war in the AfPak region and determine who and where the enemy is, and even if this can be determined, just what can be done about it.


The deeper problem is the ideological and structural problems afflicting contemporary American politics. There was an era when foreign policy operated in a consensual framework and it was difficult to tell the difference between a Republican and a Democratic administration. But the US of today is deeply divided in terms of politics.


This is evident from the difficulties the Obama Administration has had in getting bipartisan support for any major legislation that it has sought to pass.




The result is that it is difficult to determine the impact of the political shifts that will occur in Washington this November, after, as expected, the Democrats lose control of the US House of Representatives. By itself this may not be a disaster, but should the Democrats lose the Senate as well, the outcome could be devastating. Try as he might, President Obama is unable to regain traction with the electorate. Since the beginning of this year his approval ratings have been below 50 per cent and this month, for the first time, he has more people disapproving his performance than approving it.


In this scenario, US officials who manage the AfPak policy and who are political appointees are in a state of listless confusion.


What will the next review on Afghanistan, scheduled for the end of the year, bring up? How long will they be relevant to the Administration's scheme of things? As it is the whole situation has been roiled by the need to change commanders mid- stream.


The leaks of the US documents on Afghanistan have told us in just how much deep water the US is. American forces are fighting shadows on the ground and behind these shadows are shadier characters who are supposed to be their allies who are seeking ever greater rewards in exchange for this duplicitious support.


The documents have laid out in some detail the manner in which Pakistan has been backing the Taliban and the way in which ISI operatives work with the Taliban to push the anti- India agenda in Afghanistan. Yet in the period 2004- 2009, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was the chief of the ISI for the first three years and has since then been the chief of the Pakistan Army.


This is the man who is today being touted as the great American hope for stabilising the situation on America's behalf. But it would be wrong to portray Kayani as a villain.


He is merely the corporate head of the Pakistan Army which is the real Pakistani protagonist in the AfPak war.


Just how deep the rot has gone in Islamabad is brought out by K Subrahmanyam in an article on Wednesday. He points out that Pakistan had requested the United Nations to probe the murder of Benazir Bhutto in 2008. The three man UN commission found that the threats to her came from the establishment ( read Pakistan Army and ISI) and that the parallel investigations of that agency prevented the full truth from emerging.


Instead of acting on the issue, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a member of Benazir's Pakistan People's Party, protested the verdict, compelling the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to reendorse the findings of the inquiry team.


Clearly Qureshi's compulsions came from his fear of " the establishment." That this malign entity is able to overawe the party that formally rules Pakistan, led by the husband of the late Benazir, tells its own story.




In these circumstances, the Obama Administration's policy of putting 40,000 more troops for the limited period of a year is tokenism of the worst kind. That Obama announced the date of withdrawal well in advance indicates how much of a symbolic gesture it was. As it is, these troops are not finding much work to do because the offensive that was planned around them has been delayed, some say indefinitely.


The problem with US policy is that it is seeking to catch the tiger by its tail, when it ought to be confronted head on. That would require the US to first understand where the tiger is — in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. When the AfPak policy was announced, this writer had made the point that the circumstances had actually demanded a PakAf policy. What the year gone by has revealed instead is that the policy would have been better off with a marked Pak- Pak focus. Losing Afghanistan to the Taliban would be a disaster, but having assorted radicals led by the Tehreek- e- Taliban Pakistan assuming power in Islamabad would be a catastrophe.


Unfortunately, the US policy remains set on trying to work with the military- led Pakistan to stabilise Afghanistan. Holbrooke's remarks in his recent visit to Delhi, " You cannot stabilise Afghanistan without the participation of Pakistan as a legitimate concerned party," are accurate enough, but the question you need to ask is " What kind of Pakistan, and led by whom?" Certainly not the people who call the shots today.




The evidence that has come from Wikileaks and the Mumbai attack case suggests that the people who run the country are deeply contaminated by the jihadist elements who have skillfully used the Afghan crisis to strengthen their own position, never mind that in the process they are undermining the fundamentals of Pakistan itself. They have adroitly played a double game with the United States. America may pay a price for this, but the cost to Pakistan could be greater. None of this should give India any comfort. Whether it succeeds or fails, the Pakistan Army will remain India's bane for a long time to come.


For reasons of its own, the United States believes that promoting this Army serves its short term interests. But this has implications for us, be it in the short or the long term. The Pakistan Army is politically naïve and is particularly prone to miscalculation.


This is the lesson of Operations Gibraltar and Grand Slam in August 1965, as well of the ill- fated crackdown in Dhaka on March 23, 1971. Now this Army is also the custodian of Pakistan's nuclear weapons which makes the challenge of dealing with the situation very difficult indeed.


India's situation is fraught. It has foolishly depended on Washington to keep Islamabad in check. Now that America's own determination is fraying, New Delhi is floundering.


Unfortunately, it is not as though any Republican- dominated system will make a difference to the situation. Given current trends, the party seems to be veering towards Sarah Palin's way. There is probably little to choose between a wimpy Obama Administration and the flaky Palinesque Republicans.







IT IS cold in Bangalore with grey skies and chilling wind. It reminds the city's international travellers of the British weather — wet, windy and gloomy. But Bangaloreans love it. It is an excuse to go overboard with fried stuff, and filter coffee. But we are also worried as it is the time of floods.


Not only in the city, where cars sometimes float on the streets and trees fall on them, but also across its borders. That is, borders of the city corporation, district, state and the country.


The point is that disasters like floods do not respect borders.


Last season, there was a crossborder flood in northern Karnataka and adjoining parts of Andhra Pradesh. One of the main reasons for the flood was unusually heavy rain. It flooded rivers, reservoirs, and villages on their shores. A contributory factor was a lack of coordination — despite robust government systems.


Reservoirs were kept filled to the brim even when it was known that there would be heavy rains. As we reported then, better communication on either side of the border could have improved the situation.


The current focus is on the rain and flood in parts of north India.


Heavy rains in Uttarakhand and Nepal led to heavy flooding in Uttar Pradesh. As of Wednesday, the Ganga is rising, while the Brahmaputra, Yamuna, Padma and Meghna river systems are showing a falling trend.


As these rivers flow across the region, information regarding them too should flow freely, scientists argue. However Indian officials often show a certain reluctance to part with crossborder river- flow data, as the BBC recently reported. It seems anything that moves across the border is seen with a lot of suspicion.


However, scientists at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development ( ICIMOD), a Kathmandu- based knowledge hub, say that India and China have now agreed to part with such data in their new regional flood forecast initiative.


Observers see this cross- border initiative as a major achievement in disaster management.


" This is an important system required to facilitate preparatory activities to deal with extreme events," says G Padmanabhan, emergency analyst at UNDP– India. He underscores the climate- change nexus of extreme events. In simple terms, it means there are heavier rains and more intense storms in a warming environment. Commenting about the flood forecast he notes: " This is also critical as we are unable to forecast the exact area that would witness incidence of such hazards. At best we can be prepared to manage these if we have a warning." Officials of Bangladesh's Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre have also gone on record welcoming the initiative as a lifesaver.


Himanshu Thakkar, an analyst at the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, calls it a " welcome and long overdue" move. " Inter- governmental sharing of data has been going on at bilateral level ( e. g.


Indo- Nepal, Indo- Bhutan, Indo- Bangladesh, Indo- Pakistan and to a limited extent Indo- China) but for some inexplicable reasons, none of that is available in public domain," he notes.


Now what lesson does this hold for Bangalore? Builders are busy filling up lakes and valleys. Scientists point out that some of these are important drainage routes and sinks that take away excess rain water. Right from the city bus stand, Bangalore's story is full of reclaimed lakes and forest patches. Indian Institute of Science ( IISc) environmental scientist Prof TV Ramachandra's studies have noted the pattern of growth in Greater Bangalore — 76 per cent decline in vegetation cover and 79 per cent reduction in water bodies over the years.


It not only means an increase of ambient temperature, but also more chances of flooding.


Encroachment, reclamation of water bodies and dumping of solid waste that prevents water percolation are clear contributors to floods in the city.


So being considerate to neighbours is important for the safety of a city family, state or nation.


In that sense no city is an island.



NANDAN Nilekani has always made news in Bangalore — as Infosys CEO, a brand ambassador, an inspiration for an influential book like Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat and as an author and a philanthropist.


So he may not worry too much about the media criticism that the unique identification number project, Aadhar, that he heads gets in the city.


A group of civil rights activists are claiming that the biometric data gathered for the project could be misused.


There is a lot misinformation and rumours doing the rounds – like the police can collect fingerprints and implicate people in crimes, officials can collect bank and credit card details and so on.


One group earlier leaked out some internal documents and distributed them to the media – implying that personal data could also leak.


Maybe it is time for Aadhar to engage in some high- voltage public relations exercise — even with a curtailed budget.



THE KARNATAKA government has banned the export of iron ore from its ports. The idea is to discourage illegal mining, according to Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa. The question is whether banning export from the government- controlled ports in the state alone will stop mining.


Illegal mining has changed the face and colour of many parts of Bellary in north Karnataka and the mining lobby led by the Reddy brothers is holding the government to ransom. At least the CM is making the right noises. Thank God for tender mercies.



'RIVERS of Ice' — the exhibition in New York by David Breashears, 54, an American mountaineer, photographer and filmmaker — has attracted a lot of attention in Bangalore. It is the buzz among environmentalists, shutter- bugs and trekkingbuffs here. Many Bangalorebased blogs are showering accolades on Breashears.

An Asia Society project, it is about disappearing glaciers.


Breashears retraced the 1921 British Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition Team. He used photos taken by surveyor Major Edward O. Wheeler and photographer George L. Mallory, Returning to the same vantage points, Breashears has meticulously recreated their shots, pixel for pixel.


It is visual evidence to the effects of climate change.


Breashears is known for his work in films like Seven Years in Tibet, Cliffhanger and Red Flag of Tibet and the four Emmy awards he bagged for cinematography.


He grew up as one " who couldn't do a pull- up" but dreamt of the Everest, has made five successful expeditions to the summit.


Mountaineer and writer Jeff Long has called him one of the strongest climbers on earth and " a high- altitude machine". His fellow adventurer and former wife Veroniuqe Choa once told People magazine: " I always found David at his sexiest when climbing. He has an elegant, effortless style."








Striking a balance between growth and inflation has so far characterised the RBI's monetary policy. Its latest review marks something of a departure, in that it signals a markedly less accommodative stance. The repo and reverse repo rates at which RBI lends to and borrows from banks have gone up, the latter by 50 basis points. Whether or not higher borrowing costs lead to a hike in banks' lending rates on, say, car, home and corporate loans anytime soon remains to be seen. But if bankers reassure customers for now, they'll eventually need to shield their margins. Meanwhile, the reverse repo move will encourage banks to park funds, draining liquidity from the system. 

Riding at double digits for five months, inflation, then, gets more attention this time round. Food prices are still steep, but June's wholesale price index shows non-food items fuelling inflation as well. That generalised inflationary expectations do need anchoring could be said to justify the central bank's action. Yet the old conundrum remains. Though GDP growth has been projected at 8.5 per cent for 2010-11, a reviving economy needs greater private demand. As remarked in some quarters, year-on-year factory output data has brought cheer since end-2009. But statistics month-by-month, January 2010 onwards, show fitful sequential expansion in industrial production. Given this, squeezing industry's access to funds can dampen business confidence and performance. 

Looking at the larger picture, we need to think ahead. If the slowdown has shown India to be a buoyant economy, it's also brought home the lesson that systemic lacunae need correcting to cushion inflationary impacts and sustain high growth that's necessarily inclusive. It's shocking, for instance, that people should be price-hit for essential commodities or go hungry even as grain, fruits and vegetables rot courtesy lack of proper storage and shoddy distribution. Structural weaknesses make inflationary crises sharper. They demand action on multiple fronts, ranging from reforming PDS or creating alternative delivery systems to liberalising retail, which would ensure farmers and consumers fair prices while building waste-reducing infrastructure. 

As seen last year, rain-dependence too is linked to both inflation and growth. Output of water-intensive crops is slated to see exponential increase, causing huge groundwater depletion in regions producing rice or wheat. Managing water resources is therefore imperative, as is overhaul of irrigation. In this context, the Planning Commission deputy chairman rightly calls for curtailing power subsidies, which encourage massive waste of water. The prime minister, on his part, has laudably pointed to the urgent need to lighten the load of various subsidies and use technology for stricter targeting of beneficiaries. Clearly, the government needs to get cracking on a whole range of unfinished business. India's future economic health depends on it. 







The Commonwealth Games could turn out to be a disaster for India's global image unless authorities step in with emergency measures. With just about two months to go, a lot of work remains to be completed. On Tuesday, a young swimmer hurt herself after a grill gave way at the newly constructed S P Mukherjee swimming complex. Reports indicate that the complex, which was formally inaugurated this week, is far from ready for use. Unfortunately, the swimming complex is not an exception. Civic work related to roads and pavements is far from complete. It appears that not many Commonwealth athletes and sports stars with top billing intend to come for the Delhi Games. A star-less Games would dampen public interest in the event and drastically bring down advertising and other revenue. And creaking infrastructure is unlikely to help us woo top sportspeople to New Delhi. 

The repercussions of a flop show will not be limited to Indian sports. A poorly organised event could also deal us a psychological blow. Countries stage big events also as a step to boost the collective confidence of their people. For instance, China used the Beijing Olympics as an opportunity not just to showcase its organisational might before the world but also to raise the morale of its own citizens. India, like China, is on the path to shed the diffidence of a third world nation and become a country confident of its people and their capabilities. The government must, therefore, move fast to salvage the Delhi Games. It's in danger of becoming an exhibition of ineptitude and incompetence. 








It is a pity that just when the rupee has had a makeover with an exclusive new symbol of its own, its value on the home front is rapidly eroding. Today, the rupee will buy only about 80 per cent of what it would have bought two years ago; less if you are buying food. Are its prospects brighter on the external front? Will the value of the rupee appreciate or depreciate? The short answer is that nobody really knows. 

However, we do know the main determinants of the exchange rate, and these can point us towards the long-term trend. Start with the current account balance, the difference between the value of exports and imports plus the net inflow of income from services, remittances and investment incomes. India has typically had a current account deficit. Given its high growth relative to trade partners, India's imports will continue to grow faster than exports and the current account deficit may continue to widen over the next few years. 


Prior to the post-1991 reforms, when foreign investment was negligible at 1 per cent of the current account deficit, the widening of the current account deficit would have been enough by itself to signal that the rupee would depreciate. Today, the story has changed. By 2007-08, the last normal year before the 2008 financial crisis, foreign investment had risen to over $43 billion, almost two and a half times the current account deficit. Hence, the quantity and quality of foreign investment is now a major determinant of the exchange rate. 

The most stable form of foreign investment is foreign direct investment. The other component is portfolio investment. This footloose capital trawls the world in search of high returns and usually vanishes when economies come under stress. However, as the 2008 financial crisis gathered momentum in the US, the pattern was reversed. Wall Street firms pulled their money back into the US in their struggle for survival. Over $14 billion in portfolio money flowed out of India in 2008-09, causing the stock market to crash and pulling the rupee down at the same time. Unfortunately, this volatile form of investment accounts for the bulk of foreign investment in India. 

The country is back on a strong growth path and the RBI has just raised policy rates to dampen inflationary pressures so portfolio investment will now increase, driving up both stock prices and the exchange rate. But any faltering of recovery in the US, including knock-on effects of the European sovereign debt crisis, could also reverse this trend. Over the long haul, portfolio investment will continue to drive exchange rate volatility. But this should be around a rising trend value of the rupee if market forces are allowed to reflect the strong growth fundamentals of the economy. 

This trend would be reinforced by the balance of two other closely related factors, India's stock of foreign exchange reserves and external debt. Apart from foreign investment, varieties of debt flows add to the country's reserves. These flows are double-edged, adding to the stocks of both reserves and external debt. International investors closely monitor these aggregates. India's reserves were negligible at $6 billion when the country launched its economic reforms in 1991, but it grew to a peak of $315 billion by 2007-08. The accumulation of reserves has resumed after a temporary drop during the financial crisis of 2008. Though small compared to China's $2.5 trillion, India's reserves are still the fourth largest in the world. Moreover, the reserves are larger than India's total external debt, about seven times its short-term debt and enough to cover eight months of imports. Thus, the overall reserve position is very comfortable, leading to a progressive improvement in India's credit rating. 

Clearly, market fundamentals would suggest that the long-term value of the rupee should appreciate. However, such appreciation could seriously hurt the competitiveness of Indian exports. It should be no surprise if the RBI, the custodian of India's exchange rate policy, leaned against the wind to prevent such appreciation as China has done for many years. The announced policy is a managed float: allowing the market to determine the exchange rate, with market interventions to prevent excessive exchange rate volatility or any sudden depletion of reserves. We should then expect an orderly and gradual appreciation of the rupee. The observed pattern however is quite different. 

Temporary fluctuations apart, the nominal value of the rupee has consistently depreciated against the dollar, the main valuation currency, over the past 40 years. The cost of a dollar has risen from Rs 8 in 1980-81 to over Rs 46 today. However, adjusting for cross currency value movements and inflation, the trade weighted real effective exchange rate turns out to be remarkably stable around an average six-currency index of around 105. Thus, whatever the announced policy, RBI interventions have in effect maintained a stable real value of the rupee. This has been achieved by allowing the nominal value of the rupee to depreciate, offsetting India's higher inflation rate relative to its trade partners. This trend is likely to continue unless market forces grow so strong that they overwhelm the capacity of the RBI to lean against the wind. 

The writer is emeritus professor, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi. 







Children were encouraged to spy on their parents during China's Cultural Revolution. It is ironical, therefore, that the Chongqing local legislature in China has passed a law that forbids parents from monitoring their wards' computers and mobile phones. The law has been justified in terms of protecting the privacy of children. But it goes against a fundamental assumption of the parent-child relationship, that parents should exercise some supervisory capacity over their children till they are adults. That's the reason, for example, that movies have ratings with some categories open to adults only, and others that children of a certain age can watch with parental approval. Little wonder then that even in China's controlled society 42 per cent of the respondents in an online survey conducted by a Chinese portal gave the new legislation a thumbs-down. 

Children nowadays are extremely tech savvy, and can virtually lead a parallel life via platforms such as social networking websites. These platforms, though extremely productive when utilised in the proper manner, can lend themselves to exploitation and inappropriate exposure. As a result, children can fall prey to online stalkers and blackmailers, or come across unsuitable content such as pornography. In such a scenario, it makes good sense for parents to keep tabs on their children's online activities. 

The Chongqing law creates a bizarre situation in which the state finds it perfectly natural to play Big Brother and censor content on the internet, but the local government will not allow parents to monitor what their children have access to. It's as if when the government wants to play parent to all its citizens, it doesn't want the real parents to get in the way. Such heavy-handed state intervention in the parent-child relationship isn't a good idea. 








What most societies, especially Asian, fail to recognise is that even children have basic privacy rights including against their parents. Just like adults, they have a private sphere where they must retain some kind of autonomy. Hitherto, the laws have protected children from privacy intrusions by outsiders, but not by their parents. Given the context, it is welcome that the Chongqing government has recognised the need to protect the privacy of children against being spied on by their parents. 

It has been observed that more and more parents are using technology to snoop on their children, like taping or using software to track phone calls and e-mails. Such behaviour of parents is not justifiable by any standards and will only alienate their children if they are caught. If parents are suspicious about their teenagers' online behaviour, they can always go for an open dialogue with them. Parents will end up losing if they try to impose their will, as the child will find other ways to deceive them. Moreover, they may end up physically abusing their kids, further widening the gulf. Psychologists across the world insist on open conversations between parents and their estranged children. 

Let's stop diluting the issue of parental control and supervision. Can we forget that the same parents once ranted at their own parents to get out of their lives? It is time to legally recognise a child's space and ensure a boundary where they should have control over private information. The unrestricted use of technology is an integral part of such an independent natural environment for personality development. 










Doing business with friends, especially old friends, can be an awkward affair. Much is taken for granted, and yet, when one looks at the table, banter and bonhomie aside, there can be very little on the table. On his first prime ministerial visit to India, Britain's David Cameron understands that and has pulled out all the stops to 'do business' with India. But he has one big disadvantage: he comes without a 'big ticket item' to sell. Instead, not unlike a real estate agent selling the idea of a yet-to-be-constructed apartment block, Mr Cameron will be making a pitch for something more substantial that is yet to come. On top of that is Britain's challenge of working up a charm offensive in an atmosphere where the island nation needs India more than India needs the island nation.


Mr Cameron should be healthily wary of mistaking a smile and a handshake for a memorandum of understanding — a traditional ailment that India had long suffered. By going to Bangalore first with a posse of businessmen more keen on setting up key stalls in a hyper-competitive market than on strengthening 'deep cultural ties', the prime minister has shown pragmatism. One key area where the two countries need to sign on the dotted line at some stage in the future would be education — and one is not talking Oxbridge and spoken English here, but technical education. India's proverbial 'demographic dividend' faces an obstacle in the form of quality education and, even though an increasing number of Indians are moving to other parts of the world to pick up skill sets and use them at home and abroad, Britain can play a big role in this domain once our Parliament decides to give the green signal for foreign educational institutions setting up shop in India. One can guess that Mr Cameron's talk of India having a 'say' in his government's policy to cap immigration in Britain is dovetailed to a demand for skilled labour in his country.


On the geopolitical front, matters are far trickier. New Delhi may have 'needed' Britain during the 'non-aligned' years to try and find a toehold on the world stage and reach out to developed economies. With India shuffling closer to the US, especially after the embrace of George W. Bush's India-US nuclear deal, London is become peripheral to New Delhi's goals. But as in the commercial field, India-Britain policy ties were auto-piloting during the Blair-Brown years. For Mr Cameron, it's catch-up time. For India, it's an opportunity to find what an old friend can bring to the table.







It will be in Rhinebeck, a picturesque New York village, 400 people will attend it, the bride's father is busy getting into shape, her mother has taken time off from running the world, the whole shebang will cost up to $5 million and Barack Obama may drop in. Oh, and before we forget, this is a top secret wedding though the world seems to have got its hot little hands on every detail barring what the formidable mother, Hillary Clinton, she who seems to have been born to pantsuits, will wear. All we can ask is why all this cloak and dagger nonsense for what is being billed as America's version of a royal wedding? The very culture of America is anti-secrecy and so we wonder why old Bill and Hill are trying so hard to keep things under wraps despite the fact that we know more than their fair share of secrets.


We are so glad that we hardly ever have to contend with this secrecy business when it comes to our great Indian weddings. Our nuptial assault begins with a card the size of a small apartment out of which will fall several invitations for a host of programmes spread over a week. If you are lucky you will also get a nifty gift along with the invite. The setting for  the wedding will be an imperial monument of at least a medieval European city, tickets included. All details, howsoever slight, are communicated to slavering mediapersons in the run-up to the event.


Which is why we resent the Clintons trying to stop us from getting all the juicy bits like whether dad's old flames will get an invite or whether Hillary will share some space with the uber elegant Michelle. The Bill we knew and loved was a great one for letting it all hang out. Which is why this wedding doesn't quite fit the bill.







When the powerful fall, they never go quietly.


And so it is as Gujarat Minister of State for Home Amit Shah enjoys his home-cooked khichdi in Sabarmati Central Jail, where a certain Mahatma Gandhi was once incarcerated. Outside, Shah's BJP noisily accuses the government of being, at best, partisan; at worst, unpatriotic.


Let's address the allegation of partisanship first.


If history is any indication, the BJP is not far off the mark. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has displayed enough servility to fit the BJP's derisive abbreviation — Congress Bureau of Investigation.


This time, the CBI's officers are reporting to the Supreme Court, and their 30,000-page chargesheet against Shah reveals a sordid world of corrupt builders, rich marble traders, rogue police officers, shadowy politicians and extortionists — each dependent on the other in an intricate dance of greed and power. In the coming days, we will know if cellphone records, depositions from Shah's imprisoned former police associates, and a sting video of builders planning to fix evidence prove the CBI's allegations.


Let's take a look at the BJP's other argument: that Sohrabuddin Sheikh, the extortionist-who-grew-too-big-for-his-boots and was allegedly bumped off by the police on Shah's orders, was a 'terrorist'. Sheikh was Muslim, and there appears to be no evidence he was anything more than a criminal. The BJP makes no such allegation about Sheikh's partner, Tulsiram Prajapati, also allegedly slain by the police.


In any case, the BJP line continues, is the life of an extortionist and 'terrorist' more important than the careers of 'patriotic' police officers, some of them decorated, and a minister?


Asked BJP president Nitin Gadkari: "What kind of a nation have we become?"


Indeed, what kind of a nation have we become?


We are now a nation sliding inexorably towards becoming a police State, where torture and extra-judicial killings are virtually accepted as crime-fighting techniques and to settle private scores. The Amit Shah affair is an unholy mix of these imperatives.


The Indian euphemism for police executions is the gentler 'encounter killings'. When I was in college, I was so ignorant of such executions — despite a father in the police — that I always pictured a criminal wildly firing at brave officers, who reluctantly returned fire. I did wonder at the precision with which such criminals were taken down, usually with no injury to the police. But my blind faith in the police as an institution helped obscure such questions.


It is a blindness that threatens Indian democracy. As most police officers — even the honest ones, and there are many — will tell you, we may feel horror at torture and extra-judicial killings, but if my home has been burgled, or my son killed, I want the suspect to pay, never mind if he's hung upside down and administered electric shocks or burned with cigarette butts. We want justice; we just don't want to see how it's achieved.


It is a blindness that impedes emerging India's forays into the first world. No nation that aspires to greatness can continue with a criminal justice edifice built on torture and execution.


Too often have we seen 'encounter specialists', as usually feted and decorated officers who specialise in executions are called, sink so deep into a quicksand of immorality that there is no hope of extrication.


In March this year, eight officers of the Special Task Force (STF) of the Haryana Police were arrested and the STF disbanded after some of them were caught on a closed circuit camera robbing a Panipat jewellery store. The Haryana officers were particularly brazen, but their downfall followed a now-familiar pattern.


Handpicked for their intelligence and bravery under fire, such officers usually get the freedom to create specialised units, in which case they become 'encounter specialists', or are amalgamated into STFs or ATSs (Anti-Terror Squads). In most cases, they are, unofficially, sanctioned to go beyond the law.


Sometimes, India has benefited from the twilight zone. Punjab rid itself of terrorism in the 1990s largely because a systemic, often brutal, police action against terrorists and their families. Mumbai freed itself from the underworld's grip this decade because of the terror spread by its 'encounter specialists', officers immortalised in movies with titles like Ab Tak Chhappan (Until now, 56).


But most officers who ran such campaigns of executions soon crossed the thin, grey line into extortion and contract killings.


Nearly all of Mumbai's 'encounter specialists' have been dismissed or arrested. Delhi's Assistant Commissioner Rajbir Singh, once a public hero for killing criminals, was killed in suspicious circumstances in a property dealer's office. Gujarat's ATS, headed by Deputy Inspector General D.G. Vanzara, the man who allegedly shot Sheikh and his wife Kauserbi (and burnt her body), supposedly did it to earn promotions, bestowed by minister Amit Shah, who the CBI says was using Sheikh to extort money before it all went bad. Local cesspools of official criminality are one reason the Maoist insurgency has become what it is today. 


If India is to break such chain-links of criminal behaviour created by its law-enforcers, it might want to follow the examples set by many Latin American countries that were once dictatorships. Peru, Brazil, Chile and Argentina were once notorious for extra-judicial killings. As they became democracies and prospered, they realised they could not truly enter the civilised world and retain their police states. India — save for the shameful two years of Indira Gandhi's Emergency — has always been a democracy. It must now arrest its slide towards a police State.






David Cameron's over-the-horizon strategic thinking on India is viewed as both visionary and consistent. India was the first country he visited after becoming Conservative leader in Britain in 2006. He appreciated then what many were still reluctant to embrace: global power was shifting fundamentally away from the dominance of the developed, industrialised West.


"India, one of the great civilisations of the world, is truly great again," he wrote four years ago. "So this is India's time. For most of the past half century, we in the West have assumed that we set the pace and we set the global agenda. Well, now we must wake up to a new reality. We have to share global leadership with India, and with China."


Cameron's appreciation then is British government policy now.


The Conservative election manifesto three months ago also found space to promise specifically establishing "a new special relationship" with India. That commitment had a place among the bleak policy options for a Britain that confronted having to take severe measures to pull itself out of recession and massive debt.


Less than three weeks after the British election in May, Queen Elizabeth read to the State opening of her new parliament in Westminster this single, sharp line


that confirmed the policy of the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government: "My government looks forward to an enhanced partnership with India."


So two Cameron phrases: "Special relationship" and "Enhanced partnership". Special? Enhanced? What might the difference be? The political commitment for new British relations with India in those four words must now find shape and direction that can somehow secure achievement. There is not much time to achieve it. Neither is there great clarity on what form it will take.


Like Cameron's intriguing but shapeless British election promise of a new 'Big Society' earlier this year, there is now an overarching expectation for India. But an achievable ambition and meaning must now be defined for those two alluring phrases. Both in Britain and here in India, official and unofficial sources give 10 Downing Street's ambitions a fair wind. Yet there is also diplomatic head-scratching, plus an understandable caution laced with scepticism.


In London the current Britain-India relationship is one of 'under-achievement' that has gone off the boil, partly because of the negative legacy left by the previous Labour government over Kashmir and diplomatic style. It is like a "long-standing marriage where there is a need to inject more excitement and ambition". The aspiration must be a "newer and even deeper relationship". 


In Delhi, I have heard warm official appreciation for Britain from senior political voices like those of the Union Transport and Highways Minister Kamal Nath, and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. Even with the new cacophony of fast-growing international attention from the US, Russia, France, Japan, Canada and many other countries, they volunteered to me that Britain still has a 'special' place. And it is nothing to do with being the ex-colonial power. I have heard under 30s here describe how Britain now has 'special' resonance with India's next generation for a host of reasons. But that is not apparently matched in Britain.


Cameron's India focus seven days after visiting President Barack Obama in the White House is not bringing with him even a measurable minority of Brits. The leading think-tank, Chatham House, is undertaking an ongoing appraisal of Britain's new place in the world. It commissioned polling on the host of foreign policy initiatives from the new coalition government. Despite the Cameron determination, it discovered apparent indifference on India. The British public is not that interested.


In two separate British samples of both the general public and elite 'movers and shakers', the idea of an 'enhanced partnership' with India found little interest. YouGov concluded two weeks ago: "The poll shows ambivalence from the general public, with a low score in both positive and negative perceptions of the country." But Cameron wants his initiative of bringing senior ministers and 90 leading businessmen with him to fan out to several leading Indian cities to start what must be a long, determined re-asserting of a new British relationship with India.


As one diplomatic source said, two days will only lay a foundation stone here. Meanwhile, the imagination back home of a British public coming to terms with the new realities of economic austerity will somehow have to be fired up. Britain must sustain its new efforts for India in parallel with many other nations. It, too, recognises its vital need to adjust and realign itself with India's new economic and political power.


The simultaneous red carpet treatment given by India this week for a five-day State visit by the reclusive leader of Burma's junta General Than Shwe underscores the variety of foreign policy priorities for India. Within weeks, Presidents Obama, Medvedev and Sarkozy will be here. Like Cameron, each will reinforce the US, Russian and French claims for a new place in India's attentions. The British challenge is to ensure Delhi remembers London's calling card, along with the hopes and promises.


Why? Because other leaders will be leaving their own cards just as loudly and hopefully. And they will do it not long after the Cameron entourage has boarded its British Airways jumbo jet within sight of Indira Gandhi International's sparkling, newly- opened Terminal 3, and returned home.      


Nik Gowing is Presenter, The Hub, BBC World News.


The views expressed by the author are personal






Mani Shankar Aiyar is probably expressing the views that few politicians will openly state on how those supporting the Commonwealth Games are evil. He is candid that he hopes the Games collapse at the starting block.


You have misunderstood the dear man. He is making sure that his cutting remarks encourage the organisers to come up with innovative ideas on how to make the Games work.


What do you mean? Don't you think that he has damaged the reputation of the country by saying that work is in various stages of deconstruction?


Not at all. Now the organisers will feel called upon to come up with better ideas on how to make use of the infrastructure. For example, given that the rains may extend into the Games, we should perhaps think of inventing new sports to fit the infrastructure.


What Games could those possibly be apart from swimming?


The whole theme should be aquatic sports. We could have the track and field events under water. The shooting events could take place with the aid of aqualungs. We would not have to worry about the stadia being rained in as this would suit these sports to the hilt.


Don't say: Let this be treated as water under the bridge.


Do say: We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.











From his first role, as the chain-smoking wastrel in Chashme Buddoor, Ravi Baswani has been a familiar face in India, in many, many movies, TV serials, plays and adverts. But he was best remembered for his role in the 1983 cult classic, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro.


In the depressing cinematic wasteland of the mid-'80s, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro was a standalone. It was caustic social commentary with morally ambiguous characters, but 27 years later, what sticks in the mind is how much roaring good fun it was. As Baswani's comrade in the caper, Naseeruddin Shah wrote later, "the script of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro seemed to have been revealed to Kundan Shah in an inspired moment of transcendental, if not downright hallucinogenic, lunacy." Made on a tiny Rs 8-9 lakh budget, the movie had an improvised, home-made quality to it. It has a distinctly film-school sensibility, with its in-jokes (a scene in "Antonioni Park" pays direct homage to Blow Up) and internal references — Baswani and Shah are called Sudhir and Vinod, the names of the film's assistant directors Sudhir Mishra and Vidhu Vinod Chopra. It took on the collusion between builders, bureaucrats and the press — but held off from any earnest messaging and the social comment seemed almost incidental. It stung, but remained a nutty situational comedy to the end. Has there been a bigger belly-laugh of a finish than its Mahabharata climax?


Baswani once wistfully told an interviewer, "Had I died soon after Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro had released, I would have become a legend, like James Dean." Perhaps. But then again, to have inspired such affection, and been an indispensable part of some of India's best loved movies is not a bad fate.







Battling and defeating the Maoists has for some time now been neatly defined as a two-prong strategy of field battles using the police forces of affected states and Central paramilitary as well as undertaking developmental work in the backward areas where such insurgency thrives. Doubtless, the risk to this strategy, indispensable and alternative-less as it is, is the vicious cycle of violence precluding development and lack of development sustaining violence. The imperative of defeating the Naxals and thereby guaranteeing the efforts at economic progress under restored law and order couldn't be understated. On the other hand, given that Maoist violence is a multi-state problem, police forces across such states have to coordinate with each other as well as with the Central paramilitary.


The proposal from the Andhra Pradesh government to the Centre — to develop road and communication infrastructure from the Andhra side to Maoist strongholds in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Orissa along the boundaries Andhra shares with these states — is therefore thought-provoking. Its worry is that not only have Maoists been safely entrenched in these almost inaccessible borderlands but the chances of their amassing strength to reassert themselves in Andhra also remains a distinct possibility. The police, as of now, can reach these dangerous zones only after traversing several kilometres on foot. That doesn't just corrode their battle-hardiness but also exposes them to chances of ambush. Accessing what's called the seamless corridor that Naxals have created from Visakhapatnam district to Gadchiroli in Maharashtra, via Orissa's Koraput-Malkangiri districts and Dantewada in Chhattisgarh, by building roads and bridges that can quickly move security forces will be a big blow to Maoist safe-houses. Moreover, worked into this infrastructure project will be the pre-emptive strategy of identifying where the insurgents are likely to spring up next.


There may also be merit in allowing the Andhra police to chase Naxals into the bordering districts of neighbouring states, since a lot of precious time is wasted on inter-state police coordination, allowing the insurgents to escape into oblivion. However, it's reasonable to be circumspect about a police force operating outside its jurisdiction, and the problems of competition with their counterparts and dangerous misunderstanding with locals it might engender. But that only reinforces the case for everybody to be on the same page.






Even to the most distant, detached of observers, it must by now be clear that Mumbai's airport just cannot handle the city's growing traffic. Pressure has built on the current airport, in Santa Cruz, for years; and the civil aviation ministry has warned, over and over again, that air traffic through Mumbai is quick approaching capacity for a single airport. And now comes news that, in fact, the airport is beginning to cut back. Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel told this newspaper that "there will soon have to be a general ban on additional flights for turboprop jets in the private category." Even if there aren't that many of us who travel in private turboprop aircraft regularly, enough people do visit major financial centres of the sort Mumbai wants to be, who use planes in that category. This is an unmistakeable signal that that long-warned-of saturation of the airport is finally at hand.


Indeed, Patel went on to say that "without additional capacity, I can tell you that by the end of 2011 it will become very difficult for Mumbai to take more flights." For the business hub and largest port of a country trying for double-digit growth, that is more than troubling: it is close to being disastrous, and for the country as whole, not just Mumbai or Maharashtra. And what progress has been made, you might well ask, on expanding that capacity? Why is not another airport in the works? The answer, of course, is that the second airport, destined for Navi Mumbai, and planned almost as long as troubles at Santa Cruz have been foreseen, has been the victim of lazy, dilatory, license-raj "environmentalism".


The environment ministry continues to insist that there's no rush, that we can sit around while endless impact reports are drafted on slack bureaucratic-academic schedules, all to save a couple of hundred acres of mangroves. But that's not all. The land in Navi Mumbai has been identified but the assumption now is that another 1200 contiguous hectares near Mumbai can also be found. This laughable condescension has, of course, been shot down by the environmental impact assessment report prepared by IIT Bombay, which says that the Navi Mumbai site is "the most feasible and viable location" for the second airport. But, in its continual search for cheap applause from the green galleries, the environment ministry has single-mindedly decided to wrap reams of red tape around the decision. It's time for someone to tell them to cut that tape, and cut the delay.








 Avoid nostalgia. Don't think, even for a moment, about the Raj." That has been the near unanimous advice from the British media to the visiting Prime Minister David Cameron as he sits down with the Indian leaders on Thursday.


Whether Cameron refers to the Raj or not, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should. There has been much realistic commentary from London on why Britain, presumed to be on relative decline, needs an India on the rise. This proposition has a flip side too. An emerging India too has everything to gain by deepening its British and Anglo-Saxon connections.


If London and Delhi do need to recast their relationship, Cameron seems just the right interlocutor for India. Unlike his post-modern political rivals in New Labour, who could not resist the temptation of telling India how to solve its problems, Cameron brings both realism and enthusiasm to the project of building a "special relationship" with Delhi.


Any suggestion of the Raj as a template for the proposed special relationship may irritate the nationalists at home and embarrass our guests from London. But Dr Singh broke that taboo five years ago this month when he spoke at Oxford University.


Underlining the many positive legacies of the Raj, Dr Singh cited Mahatma Gandhi's hopes for a productive post-colonial partnership between Delhi and London. Asked in 1931, during a short stay at Oxford, on whether India would distance itself from London after independence, Gandhi said, "The British Empire is an empire only because of India. The emperorship must go and I should love to be an equal partner with Britain, sharing her joys and sorrows. But it must be a partnership on equal terms."


Dr Singh also referred to the decision of India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who took India into the British Commonwealth against much criticism in Delhi. Nehru explained his decision by underlining the "free basis" of the political cooperation he visualised with Britain.


India should not deny itself a beneficial engagement with Britain "simply because in the past we had fought and thus carry on the trail of our past karma along with us. We have to wash out the past with all its evil."


Despite the optimism of India's founding fathers about a future relationship with Britain, Delhi and London steadily drifted apart. The Cold War, the Anglo-American tilt towards Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir, India's drift towards the Soviet Union, and the steady erosion of economic links removed all foundations for a partnership — equal or otherwise.


It is only the end of the Cold War and India's outward economic orientation that opened the doors in the early '90s for renewing a serious bilateral engagement. Much has happened in the last two decades, but a lot remains to be done on bringing the British and Indian economies closer.


Beyond trade and commerce, Dr Singh and Cameron should focus on liberating the bilateral ties from the political constraints that have prevented a genuine security cooperation since the proclamation of a strategic partnership in 2005.


One important obstacle to stronger political ties had been Labour's condescension towards India. Whether it was Robin Cook's "values-based foreign policy" or David Miliband's emphasis on addressing the "root causes" of anti-India terrorism, the Labour governments could not mask their itch to meddle in India's disputes with Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir.


If Cameron can bury the ghost of Kashmir, once and for all, he will remove an important source of lingering Indian distrust of Britain. That should, in turn, open the door for Dr Singh to explore the prospects for long-term security cooperation between Delhi and London in pacifying the turbulent lands between the Indus and the Hindu Kush, which have become the source of a great national security threat to both the countries.


Through much of its history, the Raj was obsessed with the security of its northwestern frontiers. Six decades after the dissolution of the Raj, that frontier is the world's epicentre of violent extremism.


A reconstituted Raj would involve Delhi and London looking beyond the question of a few arms sales. (A widely expected deal on the supply of additional Hawk jet trainers was signed in Bangalore on Wednesday.) Dr Singh and Cameron should try and define the framework for a strong bilateral defence partnership.


That security vision in turn must have two elements. On the question of "ends", the emphasis must be on returning India and Britain to the Raj tradition of keeping the global commons secure and open for all. This would involve India and Britain pooling their resources to keep open the sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean and beyond. It should also include joint efforts to counter the growing threats to cyberspace, so critical to the functioning of international society and the world economy today.


Then there is the question of the "means". As Britain cuts its military expenditure, downsizes its armed forces and limits its political objectives amidst a big resource crunch at home, India should take the opportunity to propose a comprehensive partnership between the defence industries of the two countries.


Creating a policy environment for greater private sector investment in each other's arms production would help sustain the defence industrial base in Britain, its expansion in India and their eventual integration.


For all the talk of "decline" in London, Britain would want to keep punching well above its weight in world affairs. A strong partnership with India should help Britain prolong its place at the global high table.


India on the other hand needs partners who can ease its path to a larger international role. The people, resources and institutions of Britain are India's welcome force multipliers. Delhi and London, then, have every incentive to pool their resources — in other words reinvent the Raj — for mutual benefit.








 I remember an evening many years ago as clearly as if it was yesterday. I was with a girl, sort of a friend, the kind you speak to but not talk to. We were in a tiny dhaba close to college, where you could smoke illicit cigarettes and drink oversweet adrak chai, and she was speaking. The words were bullet-like, hard things about myself, things I hadn't heard before. When she was done, I was raw and unpeeled: on that hard dhaba bench, I left behind my old self, and started being what I am today.Udaan reminded me of that "before and after" day of my life, as I watched the 17-year-old Rohan running, breaking free into a future which promises to be very different from his present. Vikramaditya Motwane's beautifully-written debut feature, which took him seven years to bring to the screen, is also a coming of age of this kind of film in Bollywood. A coming of age implies that you've lived a life before, that there's been a journey, and that there's significance to both. The perennial Peter Pan heroes (and heroines) of Hindi cinema usually have no history, no credible backstories: they just are, and from whence they leap mid-screen, fully formed, there to jibber and jive, no one knows.


In this, as ever, Hindi cinema has taken its cue from society at large. We are not people who've encouraged our children to take wing and fly. A boy was deemed to have come of age when the patriarch decreed that it was time to marry. A docile bahu would be procured for the beta', the dutiful beta would carry on the family business, and a third generation would be readied for what their elders and betters declared was good for them. Rebellion would brew, but it would stop at choosing between an arranged bride, or a "love marriage": ordered romance, or a falling in love outside of the extended family's purview, was the acme.


For decades, mainstream cinema started with lead players ripe for romance, and ended in a mandap. The two iconic films of the ' 90s, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai lined up their winsome stars, and created a cosy, familiar, us-vs-them conflict between young love and confrontational parents, which closed with a convenient, conventional co-opt : those "girls" in threatening short dresses became daughters-in-law in sedate saris. And the boys became married men.


It's only in the last 10 years that the Me Generation has come to the fore, and new age Bollywood has kept pace. The Dil Chahta Hai boys were both representative as well as aspirational stars for the '00s: the parents were supportive, distant, backgrounded, the boys (not the girls, note, we still haven't got to the point where Bollywood girls can be allowed to come of age) did what they had, to grow up. One's love for an older woman defines him, another stops flitting between hare-brained, short-lived romps to snaffle a nice girl, and the third finds himself via true love.


It's interesting that Farhan Akhtar, who directed Dil Chahta Hai at a point when he was not much older than his leading young men, also made Lakshya, which focuses on one boy becoming a man. The first half focuses on the young layabout laying about, yawning through classes, squabbling with his ultra-focused girlfriend: in the second, he steps out of his comfort zone and goes to do battle for his country. His journey takes him from a shaggy-dog look to a stern crew cut, a manicured park to a stark mountainside pockmarked with gunfire, and in the end, he emerges a man.


Two other recent films, where boys head out to become men, come to mind. Wake Up Sid has a newish younger boy-older girl story, but Sid is a carryover from the past in terms of what he does and how he does it. And in Dev D, we have hopes that the dissolute Dev will one day become a man, only because a strong woman has decided to take him in hand.


Udaan is Bollywood's first genuine coming of age tale, because it takes an unformed adolescent and lets him struggle with his demons by plonking him in a place where there's no readymade comfort: no dream sequences, no song-and-dance, no artificial crutches. No girlfriend or crush to smoothen things. Rohan has to find his own way, and has to carve it from himself: his authoritarian father, who is given the sort of impressive detailing parents do not get in Bollywood, has his own dragons to slay. It's easier to smack a son than to give him respect, particularly if he is the antithesis of who you are. Udaan is also a subtle study of masculinity, of men and what they can be: the only females in this all-male story are a dead mother, an alive stepmother-to-be, and her daughter, all on the periphery. Leaving his old life behind, Rohan takes off into an unknown future, not knowing where it will take him. Only knowing who he is.








 A day before the prime minister was to hold a meeting with state chief ministers, the band of "armchair advisers of the UPA" — a term coined by a Union cabinet minister, no less — struck again. This time, this lobby wanted to censor electricity supply to the toiling farmers of the country. The reason quoted for this unique development prescription is much funnier: it would help conserve the groundwater level. Yet another glaring sample of the actual intentions of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance towards "inclusive growth" in the country.


The sad part of the story is that it came from not just Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself, who echoed many of the plan-man's views in his speech at the National Development Council (NDC) meet on Saturday — though without adding much substance. This not only strengthens our view about the political bankruptcy of the Congress, but it also compels the common man on the street to believe that his fate and his nation's destiny have now been mortgaged to the numb-bureaucrat lobby.


Ever since Manmohan Singh took over from the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance, the country has been witness to more than one fictitious claim of inclusive growth. The veracity of the NREGA saga is now being questioned by the UPA's very own experts in the


National Advisory Council (NAC), though Ahluwalia and his team of development specialists have once again exercised the liberty of proclaiming their verdict of successful, inclusive growth in the Plan mid-term review — and this time, too, without any data to support their claim.


The mid-term review exercise is aimed at reviewing the scope and pace of the present Five-Year Plan. After more than three years of its execution, the government seems happy quoting some superficial indicators like the growth in investments, exports, savings, etc. It appears to have no clue that social statistics or any development indicators exist. A bullish stock market, or generous certificates from international organisations and funds — of which many of the UPA's office-bearers were either members, or of which they


intend to be employees in the future — are last among any indicators of the development and financial health of an agriculture-heavy nation like India. While Yojana Bhavan argues over details of economics' regression methods to support its claim of inclusive growth, the voters of the country will have made up their mind about UPA rule, and are waiting eagerly for a chance to exercise their franchise.


Sadly for the common man, while it voted the Congress back to power in the summer of 2009, the fruits of the inclusive growth promised have reached only as far as the studios of some English-language television channels — which are, as per UPA standards, the harbingers of public opinion in a country of which 80 per cent does not speak English. While UPA strategists misrepresent development as mere economic growth, the point the opposition wants to convey to the government is that no amount of media gimmicks or data juggling can save them while Bharat suffers.


The apathy here is not just limited to the misrepresentation of facts but also a doctored effort to avoid a debate on people's concerns, by propping up other issues on the eve of this session of Parliament.


The opposition would also like to caution the government against any move to continue with its actions against state governments, and specifically NDA-ruled states, and to retain at least the bare minimum of respect to the federal structure of the nation. One cannot have one's cake and eat it too: if the Central government expects states to share the expenditure of its Central schemes, why does it shy away from giving them due credit?


To borrow a phrase from my friend, Congressman Digvijay Singh, "intellectual arrogance" seems not just limited to the home ministry. This special strain of arrogance, unknown to the Indian polity till recently, overflows from North Block to South Block, travels through Shastri Bhavan, Krishi Bhavan, Udyog Bhavan, Shram Shakti Bhavan and Nirman Bhavan, to be manifested best in the corridors of Yojana Bhavan.


At the end of the much-publicised National Development Council meet on Saturday, the nation has inherited one more farce: a solemn assurance from the prime minister of India that the price situation would improve by the end of this year. It completes a full half-dozen in the series of assurances, and is certainly not the last one before the aam aadmi chases the Congress out of power.


The writer, a Rajya Sabha MP, is a national spokesman for the BJP








 It's time to say goodbye to good intentions. It's just not good enough to say: television entertainment is doing good by tackling serious social issues such as child marriage, female infanticide, colour and caste barriers, class discrimination, farmer suicides, and so on and so forth. After watching most TV serials, any of them, on any given evening, you sense the seriousness is just a bluff.

So let's call their bluff. Let's watch Balika Vadhu (Colors), not because it is the only bluff-master around, but because it was the one we liked to watch most and the one whose success set off this obsession with "doing good". Last Friday was young Anandi's last appearance before she took a big leap forward, and rejoined us on Monday five years older (she's now around 17), with a new actress taking over the role from the winsome Avika Gor.


For those not in the picture, Balika Vadhu is about the life and times of a child bride, Anandi, in Rajasthan. Throughout Friday's episode, there was a great deal of (unnecessary) crying. Anandi cried, her mother cried, her husband cried — in fact, anyone close to her was in tears. They had their reasons of course: Anandi is living with her parents, separated from husband Jagdish, something she cannot bear. Nor can Jagdish. So what does he do? He disappears from home one fine day and sets off to visit his wife.


As he nears her village, he begins to run, shouting out her name; that echoes across the desert and reaches Anandi, dressed up like a doll, who gazes out at the vast expanse of the sand dunes, sees a moving dot on the horizon and identifies it as her lord and master. Then she, too, begins to run.


It is such a lyrical moment. There he is running towards her, rather like Shah Rukh Khan does in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, there she is running towards him, rather like Kajol does towards SRK in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. There's the sun-kissed desert between them, the lilting music, love is in the air. Finally, they're face to face. They hug, or embrace, clutching on to each other as though they will never let go, all the while crying copiously.


Before this can go any further, his wicked uncle arrives and yanks him away, separating them once again. Jags looks back at Anandi, sadness and yearning battling for ascendancy in his expression; she returns his look, longingly, alone in the sand.


It's all so touching and heartrending, and it would be very tragic and romantic if this was Romeo and Juliet or the Hindi film equivalent. But this is about two young children who have been married before puberty behaving like young lovers. Don't they remind you of the kids on the talent shows who imitate adults?


If a serial about child marriage becomes a Hindi film then you can write anything you want in the fine print against this social "evil", but to the viewer, it looks very, very attractive. Anandi always looked gorgeous, Jagdish was boyish-baby faced, his parents loving and giving. If only Dadisa would go away, life would be wonderful for the child bride.


Watching the serial, every evening at home, we tend to suspend disbelief. We become so intimately involved with the characters that we forget we are watching a young boy and girl in a marriage situation. We begin to react to them like they are characters in any other soap. That's the danger of these well-intentioned serials.


Moving on: the "Sohrabuddin tapes" on Times Now, Monday and Tuesday may indeed provide clinching evidence in the Sohrabuddin case — but frankly, for the average viewer, the conversations were incomprehensible, and we spent most of our time staring at the ceiling.


And if Mani Shankar Aiyar is at all "unhappy" about the Commonwealth Games, he manages to conceal it. On NDTV 24x7 and Times Now, Tuesday night, he looked like he was enjoying himself hugely at the expense of everyone else. Ha, ha.








 It's time to say goodbye to good intentions. It's just not good enough to say: television entertainment is doing good by tackling serious social issues such as child marriage, female infanticide, colour and caste barriers, class discrimination, farmer suicides, and so on and so forth. After watching most TV serials, any of them, on any given evening, you sense the seriousness is just a bluff.


So let's call their bluff. Let's watch Balika Vadhu (Colors), not because it is the only bluff-master around, but because it was the one we liked to watch most and the one whose success set off this obsession with "doing good". Last Friday was young Anandi's last appearance before she took a big leap forward, and rejoined us on Monday five years older (she's now around 17), with a new actress taking over the role from the winsome Avika Gor.


For those not in the picture, Balika Vadhu is about the life and times of a child bride, Anandi, in Rajasthan. Throughout Friday's episode, there was a great deal of (unnecessary) crying. Anandi cried, her mother cried, her husband cried — in fact, anyone close to her was in tears. They had their reasons of course: Anandi is living with her parents, separated from husband Jagdish, something she cannot bear. Nor can Jagdish. So what does he do? He disappears from home one fine day and sets off to visit his wife.


As he nears her village, he begins to run, shouting out her name; that echoes across the desert and reaches Anandi, dressed up like a doll, who gazes out at the vast expanse of the sand dunes, sees a moving dot on the horizon and identifies it as her lord and master. Then she, too, begins to run.


It is such a lyrical moment. There he is running towards her, rather like Shah Rukh Khan does in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, there she is running towards him, rather like Kajol does towards SRK in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. There's the sun-kissed desert between them, the lilting music, love is in the air. Finally, they're face to face. They hug, or embrace, clutching on to each other as though they will never let go, all the while crying copiously.


Before this can go any further, his wicked uncle arrives and yanks him away, separating them once again. Jags looks back at Anandi, sadness and yearning battling for ascendancy in his expression; she returns his look, longingly, alone in the sand.


It's all so touching and heartrending, and it would be very tragic and romantic if this was Romeo and Juliet or the Hindi film equivalent. But this is about two young children who have been married before puberty behaving like young lovers. Don't they remind you of the kids on the talent shows who imitate adults?


If a serial about child marriage becomes a Hindi film then you can write anything you want in the fine print against this social "evil", but to the viewer, it looks very, very attractive. Anandi always looked gorgeous, Jagdish was boyish-baby faced, his parents loving and giving. If only Dadisa would go away, life would be wonderful for the child bride.


Watching the serial, every evening at home, we tend to suspend disbelief. We become so intimately involved with the characters that we forget we are watching a young boy and girl in a marriage situation. We begin to react to them like they are characters in any other soap. That's the danger of these well-intentioned serials.


Moving on: the "Sohrabuddin tapes" on Times Now, Monday and Tuesday may indeed provide clinching evidence in the Sohrabuddin case — but frankly, for the average viewer, the conversations were incomprehensible, and we spent most of our time staring at the ceiling.


And if Mani Shankar Aiyar is at all "unhappy" about the Commonwealth Games, he manages to conceal it. On NDTV 24x7 and Times Now, Tuesday night, he looked like he was enjoying himself hugely at the expense of everyone else. Ha, ha.







Furkan Dogan was proud of his American passport and dreamt of coming back to the US after completing medical school. Five Israeli bullets — at least two of them to the head — ended that dream on May 31. Dogan was 19. The young American, who had just completed high school with excellent grades in the central Turkish town of Kayseri, had seen an online advertisement for volunteers to deliver aid to Gaza. The ad, from a Turkish charity called the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or IHH, said the goal of the trip was to show that Israel's "embargo/ blockade can be legally broken."


Little interested in politics, but with an aspiring doctor's concern for Palestinian suffering, Dogan won a lottery to go. How he was killed is disputed — as is just about everything concerning the Israeli naval takeover of the six-boat Gaza-bound flotilla — but his father suspects a video camera carried by his son may have provoked Israeli commandos.


That's the start of the story you haven't read about the short life of Furkan Dogan, an American killed by Israeli forces in international waters on the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara. I do find the effacement of Dogan since his death almost two months ago at once offensive and instructive.


I have little doubt that if the American killed on those ships had been Hedy Epstein, a St Louis-based Holocaust survivor, or Edward Peck, a former US ambassador to Mauritania, we would have heard a lot more. We would have read the kind of tick-tock reconstructions that the deaths of Americans abroad in violent and disputed circumstances tend to provoke. (Epstein had planned to be aboard the flotilla and Peck was.)


I also have little doubt that if the incident had been different — say a 19-year-old American student called Michael Sandler killed by a Palestinian gunman in the West Bank when caught in a cross-fire between Palestinians and Israelis — we would have been deluged in stories about him.


But a chill descends when you have the combination of Israeli commandos doing the firing, an American with a foreign-sounding Muslim name, and the frenzied pre-emptive arguments of Israel and those among its US supporters who will brook no criticism of the Jewish state.


This chill is a bad thing. Let's do whatever it takes to find out how Dogan died — and the eight other victims. The Middle East requires more open debate and the dropping of taboos. Let's face it, without the flotilla outcry that allowed the Obama administration to question Israel's self-defeating suffocation of Gaza, Israel would still be imposing the blockade that handed Hamas control of whatever was left of the Gaza economy. Now that blockade has been eased.


I contacted the office of Congressman Paul Tonko, who represents the Troy area, to ask about Dogan. A spokesman, Beau Duffy, wrote that Tonko had no comment. Hardly a surprise: Nobody in Congress has had anything to say about this American death. I called the State Department, where an official said the US ambassador in Turkey has offered the Dogan family assistance.


Professor Dogan, who teaches at Kayseri University, told the Wall Street Journal's Marc Champion that he's been wondering what the US response would have been if his son had been a Christian living stateside. Having lived in America, he said, "I know what people do there when a cat gets stuck in a tree."


It's different, however, when an American Muslim male gets stuck in a hail of Israeli gunfire.






In denial mode over the involvement of some of its pracharaks in saffron terror, the RSS believes that the UPA government is focusing only on cracking the Malegaon blasts — a "minor" incident, according to the Sangh — and alleges that the Congress is working overtime to implicate the RSS while almost all the terror attack investigations in the past six years are stymied both for want of evidence and political will.


The latest edition of the RSS journal Organiser carries a full-page article rubbishing the concept of Hindu terror. Amazingly, it says that not only was Malegaon a "minor incident", but that the UPA chose to blow it out of proportion and behaved as if it was the only terror attack worth investigating: "because of the outrageous acts of the investigating agency and its politically-motivated media hype and the repeated allusion to an alleged Hindu terror mastermind, it will continue to haunt us for a long time as a mark of the UPA's monumental folly. It damaged many reputations. For the first time Hindus were accused of terrorist links," it says.


The article claims that the Maharashtra ATS has not cracked the Pune blast case nor has it solved the Mumbai serial train blasts, and its record is similar for all other terror cases. Investigations are pending on major blasts in Jaipur, Hyderabad, Guwahati, New Delhi and Varanasi, "but our premier investigating agency is busy with tidbit cracker blasts in Mecca Masjid, Ajmer Sharif and Malegaon which on the face of it look minor, and most likely, according to some observers, the handiwork of some official agencies or a deliberate attempt to camouflage the bigger crimes," it says.


Freeing the CBI


At a time when the BJP is crying itself hoarse over misuse of the CBI, its former director Joginder Singh in an article in Organiser says no government, irrespective of the party in power, wants an independent investigating agency, or for that matter any independent institution, which may not be willing to toe its line. "The government has more than one way to disable independent functioning. It is not only through checks and balances, but through delays and manipulations exercised in different ways," he says. "There is a kind of a mistaken impression, that the CBI is an autonomous or independent body. It has become fashionable to bash it for any reason, whether for deserved or undeserved reasons. The CBI cannot either investigate or function in any state without the consent of the state government," he points out.


The solution, Singh feels, is to accord constitutional status to the CBI, and give power to the judiciary, including manpower and equipment, so that no case remains pending beyond six months to one year.


Muslims for cows


The Organiser carries an article by Anwar Manippady, the former chairman of the Karnataka Minority Development Corporation, justifying the ban on cow slaughter imposed by the BJP government in the state. "Cow and her progeny is revered and worshipped by 85 per cent of people in India. We Muslims as good citizens should respect the sentiments, faith, belief and culture of the majority and should support cow slaughter ban which will bring about great brotherhood," he says. He says that a ban on cow slaughter was very much in existence in the past and talks about how Mughal rulers had enforced it. Political parties and pseudo-secularists oppose the ban, he argues, because they want to use it for dirty, votebank politics.


Compiled by Manoj C.G.






That the Chhatrapati Shivaji airport in Mumbai is about to hit saturation point is not new news. After all, it was exactly this prognosis that led to a search for a site for a new airport, which led to the pinpointing of a Navi Mumbai location. From the civil aviation ministry to the City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra and the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the project got the backing of various concerned agencies. But what with the chronic Indian affliction of delays and the newly-infectious web of environmental stalling, the new airport simply hasn't taken off. Now, as The Indian Express reported yesterday, the Union civil aviation minister says that the existing airport's saturation point will be reached sooner rather than later, perhaps by 2011-end. He is considering a mini-counteractive measure—banning any more turboprop aircraft in the private category to accommodate more commercial flights at Mumbai. Used by the top echelons of the corporate and political class, we are told these turboprops are slower on take-off, therefore delaying the arrival and departure of commercial jets. But constraining these will have little impact on the big picture. Air traffic congestion in Mumbai is such that 'peak hours' run through almost the entire 24-hour cycle. Additional capacity is desperately needed; leave alone the experts, even the lay person is able to recognise the urgency of this need.


The Navi Mumbai location is placed among mangroves. These have ecological significance because they serve as a natural buffer against sea erosion. But expert committees have already suggested how these mangroves can be replanted and regenerated at alternative locations. Mumbai, more than other cities, is well-placed for pulling off such a manoeuvre. The entire marine drive is, after all, built on reclaimed land. A city that could pull of such an engineering feat in years past can surely meet the mangrove challenge facing it today. As our columnists have pointed out, we no longer inhabit a universe where the twin goals of environmental conservation and development was a zero-sum game. Given the monumental advances in science, reconciling infrastructure development with environmentalism is quite practicable now. Political will is key; all else is just an excuse. And Mumbai is India's commercial capital, accounting for around 40% of the country's income tax collections. It should be setting the benchmark that smaller business hubs emulate. But instead of building a new airport on super-fast footing (comparable heavy traffic centres like Los Angeles boast complex, multi-airport systems), things seems stuck in dally and pass the buck mode.







A universal food security Act remains an important agenda item for the National Advisory Council and the UPA government. And while it is difficult to object to the end goal, there are a number of very problematic issues in implementation that need to be addressed. The Supreme Court, on Tuesday, criticised the government for the wastage of foodgrains, rotting in various government godowns. Earlier, an SC appointed committee headed by retired SC judge DP Wadhwa had described the public distribution system (PDS) as 'inefficient and corrupt' and run by a 'vicious cartel of bureaucrats, fair price shop owners and middlemen'. The committee had also said that the government's Rs 25,000 crore subsidy was being pocketed at many points by vested interests. There is little doubt that there is a very serious problem with the way the government system distributes foodgrains. Yet, the government wants to push ahead with an ambitious food security Act, which will commit more money to be channelled through this very same leaking system. The NAC and the government would be well-advised to consider reform of the PDS before going ahead with food security legislation.


Unfortunately, there seems little original thinking on this front. The minister for agriculture and food responsible for the PDS, among other things, requested that his ministerial duties be pared down. Nothing has been done so far. There is a curious level of inactivity (at least of the reformist kind) in the department of food, given that the government is grappling with serious food inflation. If not the food security Bill, at least inflation ought to have spurred some action. But we continue to wait. There is, of course, one radical alternative that the government can consider instead of attempting piecemeal reform of the PDS, and that involves abolishing the PDS altogether. The goal of food security can also be achieved by transferring cash to the poorest households who can then use that money to buy from the free market. The UID programme can help target the poor more accurately. That has the potential to completely eliminate middlemen and corruption from the food distribution system. It would also help the agricultural economy by reducing government procurement, which only distorts the market. And it would certainly help reduce the kind of wastage the SC is so dismayed about. But does the NAC or the UPA government have the political will to push through more radical reform?









Monetary policy requires a handful of good people. There is little political economy in play. A few announcements a year from a monetary policy committee (MPC) sum up the action. And once proper accountability structures are set up, there is little discretion. Financial regulation is much unlike this. It is transaction-intensive: regulators interact with financial firms hundreds of times every day. A financial regulator may try to make rules, but there is no escape from judging compliance with principles in a discretionary fashion. There is a corrosive political economy where vast profits can be obtained by subverting regulation. Monetary policy is easy. Financial regulation is hard.


Lant Pritchett of Harvard has a deeply insightful classification scheme about the complexity of government, done jointly with Michael Woolcock. For all government functions, they ask two questions: Is it transaction intensive? And, do government employees have discretion?


From a public administration viewpoint, it is easy to organise government when there are few transactions and government employees have little discretion. The hardest problems are those with a large number of transactions and where government employees have discretion.


Monetary policy is held up by Pritchett and Woolcock as an example of an easy problem. Once a central bank is set up properly, it has a calendar of MPC meetings, which make a few decisions per year. Once a central bank is set up properly, there is a strong accountability mechanism—inflation targeting. The MPC then has relatively little space to exercise discretion.


To set up monetary policy in a country requires roughly five people for the MPC and roughly 20 people to support them with research. There is little political economy in these decisions: it is an exercise of technical skills. Good countries have started recruiting globally into these functions, reflecting the fact that this is technical expertise without complex politics. If the MPC were replaced by computer programmes that made decisions, remarkably little would be lost. Doing monetary policy is roughly as easy as being an air traffic controller who schedules a few flights a year. All it needs is a small team or a computer programme where the requisite arcane technical skill is combined with the right mandate.


In contrast, from the viewpoint of public administration, financial regulation is hard. Financial regulation and supervision involves hundreds of interactions every day between employees of financial firms and employees of financial regulators. It is hard to set up these processes properly.


We might try to do financial regulation with a well-specified set of rules. But financial firms will always come up with clever dodges where the spirit of a rule is violated but the letter is not. The only way out is 'principles-based regulation', where employees of financial regulators have discretion in judging whether principles are upheld or not.


RBI has a long tradition of financial regulation, but there are two essential hurdles. First, RBI deals with mostly public sector firms where profit maximisation is absent. Second, RBI runs a central planning system where firms are given little flexibility. For India to make progress, both these elements have to be shed. India cannot get to $4,000 per person of GDP without a domination of private financial firms and a removal of central planning. It is Sebi that faces the brunt of complexity in financial regulation.


Once a regulator faces private firms, and once a regulator steps away from central planning, financial regulation is the hardest of problems in the Pritchett/ Woolcock classification: with many transactions and where government employees have discretion. Complex judgements have to be made, such as determining when a management team is 'fit and proper' to run an exchange. Regulators will be deeply concerned about their choices in these matters, for there will be only 2-3 exchanges in the country, and mistakes (e.g. the problems of the Bombay and Calcutta exchanges in 2001) have nationwide ramifications. Similarly, regulatory staff have to judge who is fit and proper to run a bank (though failures such as Global Trust Bank have smaller ramifications). Facing these challenges is a daunting prospect.


It is very hard to evolve a resolute, competent and uncorrupt workforce in financial regulators. Financial firms will attempt unpleasant tactics in trying to make more money. They can lobby politicians and regulators to bend the rules, cheat customers, buy press coverage, and steal in various ways. All over the world, the real difficulty of financial regulation lies not in the technical questions, but in the real world interplay with political economy.


The project of institution building, which is currently underway at Sebi, is thus of crucial importance for India's future. If we follow through fully, we will learn how to do financial regulation with the highest ethical and technical qualities, where sound decisions come about despite lobbying. If we fail on this project of institution building, finance will remain stunted. We will either fall back into central planning or collapse into the crises of crony capitalism.


The author is an economist with interests in finance, pensions and macroeconomics








A major takeaway from the credit policy is the addition to the number of policy statements that will be made by RBI. This is interesting because it accepts the fact that there has been quite a bit of surprise attached to its own actions in the past, which may not exactly have been market-friendly. Nonetheless, some interesting questions arise. The first is quite fundamental that provokes the question as to whether surprises are good or bad. If you were a follower of Lucas and Sargent, you would say that only monetary surprises work because if all the information in terms of policy targets was made available at a point of time and never changed. Then we, as rational economic agents, would take in this information and plan accordingly, and move towards an efficient solution guided by the 'invisible hand'. In such a case, discretionary monetary action does not deliver. This is the reason why the proponents of rational expectations maintained that monetary policy would not matter.


Moving from the textbook to reality, we have seen that when the market expects RBI to increase rates by 25 bps, and RBI does so, then nothing changes. This means that if RBI goes by the script and makes changes only in the eight policies then the changes will not matter. Taking the theory forward, Lucas would say that only surprise monetary action works. But, not for too long as the markets discover the same and then revert to their equilibrium.


The second is that if we can expect changes on eight occasions, then will there still be surprises in between. Here, RBI has played safe and said that it would retain the prerogative to intervene in case the situation demands. In such a case, it means that there can still be surprises before September 16. But such an intervention should only be rare or else the purpose of having eight reviews would become superfluous.


The third is that the market is quite touchy and is always on the look out for signals to the extent of finding them where they do not exist. Therefore, whenever RBI officials make a statement in any seminar or outside a seminar, they run the risk of being quoted or quoted out of context, which, in turn, can spook the markets. A RBI official stating that inflation is a major concern can be interpreted as impending action on interest rates. Hence, even if RBI sticks to the eight-policies rule, and does not spring surprises, the market will be monitoring the words of RBI in every forum to pick up signals, which cannot be avoided.


This is significant because today RBI has a problem in so far as that the market is forever guessing what it is going to do, when it will do and what it wants to do. If it does nothing till the policy, then it becomes predictable and may not matter as they buffer in such changes. For monetary policy to be effective, the desired results must accrue. If rates are increased, all interest rates must go up or else the measure falls flat. Hence, if RBI has focused on demand-pull inflation, then when the repo rate is increased, lending rates must also rise. If not, then the purpose will not be achieved and we will end up saying that monetary policy could not control inflation. This leads to another issue of whether the policy change has to be substantially large to actually make a difference. Or alternatively, there has to be a surprise element and the quantum of change must be substantial to be effective.


Today, all central banks meet often—the Federal Reserve had eight meetings while the Bank of England and Bank of Japan meet every month to provide a view on the monetary sector. The ECB meets twice a month, though admittedly only the first is meant to discuss monetary policy. Hence, such fine-tuning is not really out of place in the global context; although changes in interest rates are of a lower frequency in general and there have been times when the central banks have announced monthly changes.


It may be recollected that we used to have two policies earlier—slack and busy seasons, and these concepts were abandoned when it was realised that there were no slack and busy periods, and that we should have four policy reviews. Hence, a further multiple to eight looks in order. However, considering that the market appears to guess right each time what RBI will do, to be effective, there may be a strong case for arguing for more discretionary action to deliver so that the market is impacted.


In a theoretical sense, it will mean abrupt Keynesian fine-tuning within the rational expectations framework.


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








It is like the heydays of 2007. Well, almost. Million-dollar salaries are back, executive level hiring is in, project managers are difficult to find and everybody in India's IT industry has plenty of choices. The attrition numbers at India's most respected IT firms say it all.


The country's second largest software exporter Infosys reported an attrition of 15.8% in the June quarter, a historical high. So was the case with Wipro where such high attrition rates were last seen when the company emerged out of the dot-com bubble. Most companies are now raising their hiring targets for the year. India's biggest IT firm TCS plans to hire 40,000 in FY11, 10,000 more than what it had guided earlier. All this is quite an about-turn from a year ago when nobody wanted to jump jobs. As the recession took hold and business volumes dried up, the LIFO (last in, first out) fear gripped the industry; bottom performers were weeded out and many more took pay cuts. IT majors had shrunk their recruitment engine.


But letting many HR folks leave appears counter-productive now, with almost a hockey stick-like curve in the demand environment. The pace of recovery, particularly in Indian IT's biggest revenue geography—the US—has clearly taken firms by surprise. Volume growth at TCS (8.1%), Infosys (6.9%) and Wipro (4.7%) beat all expectations in Q1. Discretionary spending, capped over the last several quarters, is opening up. Many of the discretionary projects demand skills that are in short supply, leading to the now clichéd 'war for talent'.


What is the way out of the attrition mess? IT firms don't have an answer in the short-term and would rather allow the storm to pass. It could take two quarters, even three. They have already tried most tricks in the book—promotions, salary hikes, restricted stock units. The IT services industry had long realised that wage inflation, which could erode India's advantage as an offshoring destination in the future, is not sustainable. Non-linearity is the answer—de-link people growth from revenue growth. We have seen early traction in traditional services firms developing IP and solutions they can licence. A decade from now, they could closely resemble software product firms.








The governments of the United States and the United Kingdom have reacted with predictable shock and dismay to the appearance on the non-profit website WikiLeaks of some 92,000 U.S. military documents on the calamitous war in Afghanistan. Material on the conduct of German, French, and Polish troops — fellow-members of the International Security Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) — is a sort of bonus. The New York Times, the Guardian, and Der Spiegel collaborated in analysing and placing substantial amounts of the information on the Internet, though they have withheld details that are likely to heighten the danger to U.S. troops and their partners. The White House, however, says the leaks might put American lives and those of partners at risk and could threaten national security. The U.K. expresses similar concerns. The documents show that intelligence is unreliable and often unverifiable; that ISAF communications frequently break down; that there are technical problems with equipment, including drone aircraft; and that troops are so frightened of suicide bombers and Taliban collaborators that they have killed hundreds of civilians by shooting and bombing indiscriminately. Furthermore, large numbers of ordinary Afghans fear and hate the foreign troops and are victims of the corruption and brutality that pervade the U.S-backed Hamid Karzai government. Taliban forces, for their part, are increasingly well-trained and adept, and their roadside bombs have killed over 2,000 civilians.


The WikiLeaks exposé has been likened to the 1971 leak of the Pentagon Papers, the contents of which significantly strengthened worldwide opposition to the Vietnam war, and also to the publication of pictures of U.S. torture at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. It turns out that the CIA has its own secret operation to kill suspected Taliban leaders, that incident reports conceal civilian deaths and other failures, and that the U.S. military has covered up the Taliban's acquisition of heat-seeking missiles. Politically speaking, there is deepening international concern that the ISAF presence is not doing anything other than wrecking Afghanistan and strengthening the Taliban. The U.S., in particular, has persistently underestimated the weakness and incompetence of the Afghan government. Therefore, prosecuting anyone found responsible for the leak amounts to nothing more than shooting the messenger. That will address neither the chaos in Afghanistan nor the fact that a war effort that has already cost over $300 billion is totally directionless. The very concept of a victory, military or political, is now completely unintelligible and the official lies about Afghanistan can no longer be sustained.







When Andre Borschberg recently piloted Solar Impulse HB-SIA to a smooth landing at an airfield near Bern in Switzerland, he did what almost everyone believed to be impossible — fly a manned aircraft using only solar power through the night. The 26 hour and nine minute flight of the four-engine plane did not merely set an aviation record. It spotlighted the role of renewable energy. It was eloquent testimony to the vision of aeronaut-psychiatrist-innovator Bertrand Piccard, co-founder of the project. The Lausanne-born Mr. Piccard, who made the first non-stop, round-the-world balloon flight with Briton Brian Jones a decade ago, is keen to push back the limits of the impossible. It is quite natural, therefore, that he now wants to pursue his grand plan to fly around the world in a solar-powered aircraft. The key message to emerge from the programme is that consistent effort to enhance efficiency can enlarge the role of solar in the mix of energy sources. The proof lies in the fact that the 11,628 solar cells on the 1,600 kg Solar Impulse delivered enough energy to power the engines for take-off and for the aircraft to stay aloft for a day and more. Nobody is talking yet of flying 300 people in a solar plane but why is this renewable, risk-free option not used more widely for energy-intensive equipment, for example, air-conditioners and heaters, when unit costs are falling?


A move away from fossil fuel for energy production, and a speedy transition to power from wind, water, and solar is a progressive way to combat climate change. Such an energy pathway would make it possible for people to maintain a good quality of life and yet not degrade the environment. Indeed, some scientists have argued that a smart shift to renewables can reduce projected global energy demand in the coming decades, because massive electrification would enable more efficient technologies to emerge. Such an energy revolution would be impossible, however, if the energy mix continues to rely heavily on fossil fuel, primarily coal and oil, which are implicated in climate change. Dr. Piccard points out that most people are unwilling to give up comforts they are used to, a factor that is perhaps not adequately acknowledged by the Green movement. What is within the realm of the possible is tapping renewable energy. The countries in the global solar belt, of which India is a part, are making some encouraging moves to tap the potential of the sun. They need to speed up their efforts, and get goal-oriented in pursuit of technologies that can raise output from both solar photovoltaics and solar thermal power generation.










It is 23 years since the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement was signed on July 29, 1987. The agreement is popularly referred to as the Rajiv-Jayewardene Accord, after its architects — Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President J.R. Jayewardene.


Unfortunately, the event is today remembered only for its unpleasant fallout after India unwittingly got entangled in a counter-insurgency war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from 1987 to 1990. After sacrificing the lives of over 1,200 of its soldiers, India felt cheated when President Ranasinghe Premadasa joined hands with the LTTE to send the Indian troops out of Sri Lanka before they had completed their job.


But India had an even worse experience after the troops were pulled out: in 1991, an LTTE suicide-bomber killed Rajiv Gandhi at the venue of a public meeting near Chennai. The killing, masterminded by LTTE chief V. Prabakaran, had more than a symbolic impact. It ended the popular support Tamil militants had enjoyed in Tamil Nadu. India scaled down its active involvement in Sri Lanka, and adopted a passive approach to the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. Prabakaran's strategic blunder ultimately cost him his life: Sri Lanka, helped by India, crushed the LTTE in the fourth round of the war in 2009.


The Rajiv-Jayewardene Accord was perhaps too ambitious in its scope as it sought to collectively address all the three contentious issues between India and Sri Lanka: strategic interests, people of Indian origin in Sri Lanka and Tamil minority rights in Sri Lanka. Its success depended on sustained political support from both the countries. So the Accord got sidelined when political leaders who were unhappy with the Accord came to power in both countries almost at the same time. As a result, the Tamil minorities, who had put their faith in it, were in limbo. These unsavoury developments have clouded the understanding of the positive aspects of the Accord. After all, it was the Accord that enabled Sri Lankan Tamils to gain recognition for some of their demands in Sri Lankan politics and in the Sri Lankan Constitution.


The Accord was unique as it marked a new beginning with respect to India's articulation of power, never exercised after India's war with Pakistan in 1971 that helped the birth of Bangladesh. India's Sri Lanka operation was more complex than the Bangladesh war on a few counts. The operation had to be carried out in an island-nation; this imposed severe strategic constraints. It was an unconventional war waged against a Tamil insurgent group with strong connections in Tamil Nadu. And, India's vague articulation of its military intervention in support of the Accord triggered an emotional backlash against it in both countries.


The focus of the Accord, signed in the waning years of the Cold War era, was undoubtedly strategic. It aimed to keep Americans from gaining a foothold in Sri Lanka. This was a departure from India's traditional policy that was fixated largely on two issues — the status of people of Indian origin in Sri Lanka, and the Tamil minority's quest for democratic rights. India's new-found articulation of military power in Sri Lanka, though halting and probably unintentional, sent a strong message to its neighbours and global powers. This was further reinforced in 1989 when India sent a military contingent in response to a request from the government of Maldives — another island neighbour — and crushed an attempted coup there.


India's military intervention also demonstrated the country's readiness to fulfil its commitments to its neighbours. Significantly, it delineated India's strategic zone of influence in the Indian Ocean region. Since then, India has expanded its real-time naval capability. This was seen during the December 2004 tsunami strike: an Indian naval ship was at the scene on the Sri Lankan coast within a matter of hours to bring succour to the affected people.


India's strategic strength in this part of Indian Ocean is now recognised by the major powers. Perhaps this influenced the U.S. decision to build its strategic security relationship with India. India's keenness to find a lasting solution to Sri Lanka's Tamil issue was again demonstrated during the international peace process in Sri Lanka in 2002. Though India was not actively involved in it, the sponsor-nations, notably the U.S. and Norway, regularly sought India's counsel during the implementation phase. It is a pity that India failed to use its influence to ensure the success of the peace process.


India's military foray into Sri Lanka also proved to be a unique learning experience for the Indian armed forces in conducting operations across the seas. It brought home the nitty-gritty of joint operations command for smooth overseas operations. Carrying out counter-insurgency operations that had political ramifications both at home and abroad highlighted the limitations of New Delhi's decision-making process. The absence of a structure at the top to coordinate political and security decision-making did affect India's campaign. These lessons have greater relevance for India now as global and South Asian regional strategic security architectures change rapidly.


India had consistently affirmed its support for a unified Sri Lanka and opposition to the creation of an independent Tamil Eelam. At the same time, India was sympathetic to the Tamil quest for equitable rights in Sri Lanka. Even the Rajiv-Jayewardene Accord had its roots in India's effort to give form and substance to it. The strong sympathy of the people of Tamil Nadu for their brethren in Sri Lanka was an important factor in shaping India's policy on this issue. Sri Lanka had to reckon with this factor in its strategic calculus in its three military campaigns against the Tamil militant group.


However, India's benign Sri Lanka posture after its ill-fated military intervention and gory aftermath enabled Sri Lanka to build bridges with India. Wisely, India also did not allow the frictions of the intervening decades to come in the way and reciprocated Sri Lanka's efforts. Both countries have adopted a win-win strategy to build upon the positives of their relationship. These efforts culminated in the signing of India's first-ever free trade agreement with Sri Lanka in 2000. As a result, India-Sri Lanka relations now have a unique status in South Asia.


Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected President in 2005; his campaign focus was on defeating the LTTE and crushing Tamil separatism. The advantages of close relations with India came in handy when he decided to clip the LTTE's wings after the peace process of 2002 failed to make progress even in three years. Though India was not a significant arms-supplier during Eelam War 2006, it had helped train the Sri Lankan armed forces and provided valuable intelligence inputs on the LTTE's intricate international logistic and support network. Sri Lanka managed to dismantle this apparatus and crippled the Tigers, paving the way for their defeat. More than all this, the governments in New Delhi and Chennai together managed the tricky fallout of the Eelam war in Tamil Nadu and saw to it that things did not get out of hand. This thwarted the efforts of the pro-LTTE parties and supporters in Tamil Nadu to create a pro-Tiger upsurge.


As a result, the LTTE could neither use Tamil Nadu as a logistic and support base nor influence India's political decisions during the war. India's own bitter experience with the LTTE probably shaped its public posture during Sri Lanka's war. At the same time, perhaps India realised that it would be untenable to allow the LTTE, which had grown into one of the world's strongest insurgent groups, to operate as a loose cannon in its strategic neighbourhood. This was perhaps one of the reasons for India's hands-off attitude as the Sri Lankan Army relentlessly pursued and ultimately crushed the LTTE.


Unfortunately, India was unable to significantly influence the Sri Lankan government in the aftermath of war. Even a year after the war ended, a political solution to meet the Tamil minority's demands has not been evolved. Normal life has not been restored to a sizeable population affected by the war in the Northern Province. They are yet to recover from the trauma of war as the pace of reconstruction is not consistent with their colossal needs.


It is people, not treaties, which make relations between nations meaningful. Unless India makes a difference in the lives of the people of both countries, its relations with Sri Lanka will not address the broader aspects of strategic security. This is the important takeaway as we look at the Rajiv-Jayewardene Accord after over two decades.


(Colonel (retired) R. Hariharan, a military intelligence specialist on South Asia, served as head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka between 1987 and 1990. E-mail:










The debate over troop deployment in Chhattisgarh, always a subject of intense discussion, has acquired urgency after Home Minister P. Chidambaram suggested that the deployment pattern of the CRPF in Bastar be "revisited."

Mr. Chidambaram's remarks were made after the June 30 attack in which 27 CRPF personnel were killed in a CPI (Maoist) ambush four kilometres from their camp in Narayanpur district. The Narayanpur ambush occurred three months after 76 security personnel were fatally ambushed 5 km from the CRPF camp in Chintalnar.


The CRPF has assisted the state police since the creation of Chhattisgarh in 2000. In 2003, a Central High Powered Committee decided to deploy the CRPF in Chhattisgarh on a permanent basis and use the force in anti-Maoist operations. At the time, Chhattisgarh was hosting about six CRPF battalions (about 6,000 men) and one Naga battalion. In 2006, the State asked for 7 to 10 additional battalions to tackle the fall-out from the rising Salva Judum-related violence.


"At present the CRPF has about 14 regular battalions and another 2 CoBRA battalions in Chhattisgarh," said R.K. Dua, Inspector-General CRPF for Chhattisgarh, "of which four battalions are currently posted in Dantewada."


As seen in the map, most of the CRPF camps in Dantewada are strung out along a 150 km arc connecting the township of Kukonda to the Salva Judum camp at Dornapal, via Jagargunda — perhaps the most fortified square kilometer in Dantewada.


A police station since the 1950s, Jagargunda expanded into a major government backed settlement during the Salva Judum: a controversial programme in which the state government tried to move villagers from the forests into fortified camps. Today it houses about 3000 civilians and a company of the CRPF, and provides a useful illustration of the CRPF's deployment troubles.


Although the camp is only about 80 km from Dantewada town, the Maoists have extensively mined the 20 km stretch between Jagargunda and Aranpur, the closest CRPF outpost on the Dantewada-Jagargunda axis. Thus, Jagargunda can only be accessed via a 100 km detour running south-southeast from Kuakonda to Dornapal via Sukma along NH 221. From Dornapal, one must traverse another 70 km past the CRPF camps at Polampalli, Kankerlanka, Chintagupha and Chintalnar before reaching Jagargunda.


The idea was, and still is, to complete the severed Jagargunda-Aranpur stretch, thereby creating a fortified perimeter enclosing slightly more than a fifth of the district's area. But at present, Jagargunda is at the dead-end of a broken and heavily mined road to nowhere. Supplies for troops are dropped off using helicopters. Once every two or three months, more than a thousand troops fan out along the road-side to provide cover for ration-bearing trucks moving from Dornapal to Jagargunda.


This linear arrangement of camps allows the Maoists to choke the CRPF's supply lines at will. The 10 kilometres between camps makes it difficult to send reinforcements in case of an ambush. Each camp houses between 100 and 120 soldiers. If 70 are out on patrol, the 30 remaining soldiers are necessary to protect the camp.


In an emergency, troops have to come from camps even further down the line. According to sources, a reinforcement party, travelling on foot, covers between two and 2.5 km an hour. Thus, even though the ambushes in Tarmetla and Dhaudai took place about 5 km from their respective camps, three hours elapsed before reinforcements showed up. By then, the CRPF had lost more than 100 men in the two incidents.


"Right now, instead of us choking their bases, the Maoists are choking ours," said a senior police officer.


So what is the rationale behind the current deployment: to keep supply lines open? Protect the civilian population? Provide cover for infrastructure development? Serve as a strategic forward operating base in the heart of Maoist territory?


"To be honest, I have no definite answers," said a senior CRPF officer involved with deployment, "There is no written record justifying the current arrangement, though my information suggests that the CRPF resisted this deployment."


IG Dua said that the while he could not comment on deployment prior to his appointment, he is insisting that all future deployment have clearly worked out objectives.


"When deploying your troops you need to consider both logistics and strategy," said a senior police officer who has served in Dantewada, "If you keep compromising the strategic in favour of the logistic, your deployment eventually becomes very well supplied but operationally meaningless."


But at present, senior officers in the CRPF and the police admit that deployment has become an objective in itself.


"Commandants spend most of their time and troops on securing 'adam' movement," said a CoBRA officer speaking on background, "All they do is provide security for troops going on leave, or troops coming back to their companies. With the current strength, how can they conduct a proper operation?"


In the past, the CRPF has expressed its preference for a "grid-based" pattern — a troop-intensive configuration where camps are set up in a self-reinforcing network. "It means you place camps at the corners of a grid," said Mr. Dua, arranging the pens on his desk in a series of inter-connected rectangles to make a mesh. This allows the CRPF to effectively control a large area, makes it easier to move men, materials and reinforcements from one camp to another and opens up multiple supply routes.


The deployment in districts such as Rajnandgaon and Kanker is an approximation of the grid pattern, but sources said that the deployment in districts like Bijapur, Narayanpur and Dantewada, three districts with the highest troop casualties, grew "organically" and was critically shaped by the Salva Judum. At its peak over 50,000 forest dwellers were moved into these guarded hamlets which became CPI (Maoist) targets. Areas like Jagargunda, once connected to the rest of the district via three motorable roads, were entirely cut-off by the Maoists and the CRPF was deployed to reclaim the area.


"The Jagargunda supply line was the sole purpose behind the entire deployment along this axis," said an officer at CRPF intelligence, "later on, these same camps were converted into forward operating bases." Setting up a camp from scratch takes about 2 to 3 months, implying that redeployment is a slow and painful process.


"In a counterinsurgency operation there is no strategic retreat," said Chhattisgarh Director-General of Police, Viswaranjan, "that means abandoning a population that supported you and ceding territory to the Maoists." According to Mr. Viswaranjan, Dantewada doesn't have enough troops to support a grid and that the configuration of camps shall improve "incrementally" as more troops are gradually brought in. At present, it appears that deployment may be "revisited," but not reconfigured.










We are told that when we're in a hole, we should stop digging.


When big business is in a hole, it calls in the advertising department and the image consultants to strategise. Their job is to persuade the public that the hole is a three-dimensional, subterranean creative resource and the shovel you were using to dig it is a spatial realignment adjustment device. The problem isn't solved exactly but it is redefined — if you get it right, the company sheds the baggage of an awkward past and heads towards its next set of quarterly results with a whole new image.


BP so nearly got it right. In the wake of an explosion at its refinery in Texas City, Texas, a few years back, the company found itself facing two charges which threatened its image in the United States — that it was careless with the safety of its workers and reckless about the environmental impact of its core business.


The result was an advertising campaign designed to imply that BP was barely an oil company at all — more a kind of New Age purveyor of clean, green energy. In one particularly trippy TV ad, a carload of cartoon toddlers grooves its way past the gloomy, threatening gas pumps of rival oil companies before choosing the broad, sunlit uplands of a BP station.


'Beyond petroleum'


BP didn't stand for British Petroleum any more. The name meant Beyond Petroleum. Here was a company that would give us the energy we craved by communing with winds and waves around the world. The disaster on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, though, has called for something less glib and more convincing by way of response from the company. BP's advertising dollar these days is going on a series of spots in which American—accented company employees deliver straight-to-camera pledges to plug the leak, clean the Gulf and pay the bills.


Chief executive Tony Hayward — whose desire to "get his life back" enraged Americans and whose slightly Pooterish English accent probably grates with them — is nowhere to be seen. His last really high-profile involvement in the battle to restore BP's reputation came when he appeared before a Congressional Committee on Capitol Hill to face the wrath of America's legislators. His dogged stonewalling infuriated them but attitudes towards BP in the United States — even on the Hill — are more complex than you might imagine.


There's anger of course, but there's also a recognition that the company has to remain viable in the longer term. That's not just because it has to be able to pay compensation for fouling the Gulf of Mexico — it's also because BP is such a significant player in the American energy market.


Before I travelled to Texas City, Texas — a humming, hissing network of refineries where memories of the BP explosion are still painfully raw — I spent a little time on the Hill talking to two Texan representatives, Democrat Sheila Lee Jackson and John Culberson, a Republican.


I've no doubt that on some issues they are separated by a gulf as wide as the one that BP has fouled off the southern coast of the United States, and there are differences in their attitudes toward BP too. But they both took the view that BP had to remain in business and in profit to fulfil its obligations.


Ms Lee talked of the need for "remedy and respect" but told me that she had not heard any Americans ``calling for the demise of BP''


Mr. Culberson said his constituents recognised that "oil is a risky business" but added that as voters in a state where Big Oil is a big employer and a big taxpayer too, they also recognised that "this was the first blowout in 50,000 wells drilled in the offshore waters of the United States."


Production before safety?


Part of the charge against BP in the United States is one which tends to wash around in the background of discussions more often than it is put explicitly as a charge. It is the allegation that the company is responsible for more safety violations than other oil companies and has (or had) a culture that put production before safety.


In Texas City I met Katherine Rodriguez, one of four sisters with every reason to want to see the company brought down. Their father was killed in an accident at BP's Texas City plant a year before the 2005 explosion in which 15 men died. Katherine and her family want to see American law changed so that companies who kill their workers through carelessness or bad working practices are punished much more severely. I thought the fine for the accident which killed their father was low at just $102,000 but the average fine for such accidents is only $5,000.


When she heard the news of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Katherine says she was heartbroken: "Because more families were going to go through what we had already been through — you shouldn't have to risk your life for a job to provide for your family." Significantly though even Katherine and her family who have reason enough to hate BP want it to stay in business and in profit. Texas City is an oil town and firms like BP provide secure, well-paying jobs. She still knows people who work there.


Raymond Guidry, who runs a small metal workshop in Texas City, makes the same point. Half his business making replacement parts for pumps and pipes in refineries comes from BP, and without them he'd be in trouble. He says: "if they've got problems, we need to help 'em, not beat up on 'em." But there's one shadow over BP which refuses to lift entirely — Lockerbie.


If there's any truth to the charges — which BP denies — that it may have lobbied for the release of the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al—Megrahi as part of a deal to secure Libyan drilling licences, then the resulting scandal would threaten the company's future in the United States. The Republican Congressman John Culberson, a big friend of big oil, put it like this.... "God forbid — I can't believe it would be true but if they helped get this scumbag released, then I just don't see how they would recover from that."


So for the moment, Deepwater Horizon is damaging for BP but survivable if only because, while the company is hard for Americans to live with at the moment, it would be harder still to live without. But don't forget Lockerbie. BP's executives may feel that the company is over the worst of this but it's not entirely out of the deep, oily water just yet.


— © BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate








If there is one place on the African continent that could benefit from new thinking, it is Somalia, a country that has been mired in mutating forms of civil war for nearly 20 years. But that is apparently not, many analysts contend, what Africa's leaders are prepared to give it. Instead, the various presidents across the continent said goodbye to one another on Tuesday at the close of their annual summit meeting by agreeing on a remedy that has never solved Somalia's problems: more peacekeepers.


The approach goes against the grain of what recent history has taught about Somalia, analysts point out — that no amount of outside firepower has brought the country to heel. Not thousands of U.S. Marines in the early 1990s. Not the enormous U.N. mission that followed. Not the Ethiopian Army storming into Somalia in 2006. Not the current African Union peacekeepers, who are steadily wearing out their welcome.


In fact, the only time Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, was remotely quiet was for six months in 2006, when an Islamist coalition controlled the city by itself. Today, the most stable part of the country is the breakaway region of Somaliland, which just held elections and on Tuesday carried out one of the Horn of Africa's rare peaceful transfers of power, despite little help and a lack of official recognition from the outside world.


Many, if not most, of the analysts who follow Somalia believe that the African peacekeeping mission, no matter how many troops are part of it, is going to fail.


"I cannot think of a worse decision than to not merely continue the strategically bankrupt policy of sending more 'peacekeepers' to Somalia, when there is no peace for them to keep, but to compound that mistake by sending more troops to protect a regime that has no hope of ever governing southern and central Somali, much less the entire country,'' said J. Peter Pham, a senior vice-president at the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.


Somalia continues to be a cauldron of bloodshed, piracy and Islamist radicalism. That volatile mix has spilled over its borders in recent years, but perhaps most intensely on July 11, when the authorities said suicide bombers blew themselves up in Kampala, Uganda — the site of the African Union meeting — two weeks before the presidents arrived. Kampala was thought to be one of the most laid-back capitals on the continent — lush, friendly and secure. The bombings killed more than 70 civilians.


Somali Islamist insurgents — egged on, or possibly aided, by Al Qaeda — claimed responsibility for the attack. There are currently 6,000 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers in Mogadishu, but they are struggling to beat back the Islamist fighters, who are rallying around a group called the Shabab.


Somalia's transitional government is doing worse. Feckless and divided, the government is holed up in a hilltop palace in Mogadishu, unable to deliver services, mobilise the people or provide a coherent alternative to the insurgents, who hold much of Somalia in a grip of fear. The African Union wants to add 2,000 troops now; some African leaders have even mused about another 14,000. The American government is also supportive of adding troops, offering in the past week to increase the peacekeeping money it contributes.


The philosophy is that if the peacekeepers can push the Shabab out of Mogadishu and buy a little time and space for the Somali government, the government can sprout roots, help out the population with food, water, education and jobs, gain some credibility and begin to turn around a country that has become a byword for anarchy.


Johnnie Carson, an assistant secretary of state and the top American diplomat for Africa, said on Tuesday in Kampala that this outside intervention would be different from previous attempts, which were plagued by a "lack of consistency" and "a lack of resolution."


U.S. officials have also said that the peacekeepers cannot fix the situation themselves and that the transitional government has to strengthen its own security forces, which the United States is helping, both overtly and covertly. But many analysts argue that it would be better, in the long run, to pull out all the peacekeepers, let the transitional government fall, let the Shabab take over the country and then allow clan militias and businessmen to rise up and overthrow them. The eventual result, analysts argue, would be a government that would be more organic and therefore more durable than a government that relies on outside forces to survive.


"I don't think there's a strategy that will cause less harm," said Bronwyn E. Bruton, a consultant on democracy and governing who championed a policy of "constructive disengagement" in a report for the Council on Foreign Relations.


Recent history has shown that nothing galvanises Somalis more than an outside occupier. The African Union peacekeepers were initially appreciated for standing up to the Shabab. But as time passes and the fighting intensifies, the peacekeepers are making enemies among the populace by shelling crowded neighbourhoods in response to insurgent fire and inadvertently killing civilians.


In striking Ugandans, the Shabab may have calculated that the Somali population was getting fed up with the Ugandan peacekeepers and that such an attack would play well on the shelled-out streets of Mogadishu.


American officials say they are aware of the risks of injecting more force and more guns into Somalia. But they, along with many others, are unnerved by the prospects of the Shabab taking over the entire country.


There are fears in Nairobi that the Shabab could attack Kenya during a constitutional referendum, when large groups of people are lined up outside casting their votes. People here were deeply disturbed by the pictures from Kampala, of young Ugandans dressed up for a night out sitting dead in white plastic chairs, some still seemingly alive, with beer bottles in their laps. The message the images sent: The Shabab are getting closer to Al Qaeda, and closer to us.








There are several aspects to the hosting of the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in October. Possibly the most crucial for us as a nation was to have used the opportunity to showcase to the world the strides the country has made in many spheres of modern life, and seek to attract gains in diverse areas on the basis of the favourable impression created. China should serve as an object lesson in this regard. The breathtaking show it put up when it hosted the Beijing Olympics in 2008 guaranteed its status as a nation and society that can deliver quality, and on schedule. The Olympics more than confirmed China's position and image as a manufacturing megapower, and the envy of other leading nations. The extraordinarily successful hosting of the international sporting event held every four years would doubtless have given the Chinese an advantage in dealing with the rest of the world, especially developing countries, that would ordinarily take years of hard diplomacy to build. There is thus no surprise that being given the privilege of hosting a mega-event is in effect an opportunity for power projection. The billions of dollars that the event cost China were clearly well spent. The massive expenditure guaranteed bountiful returns by way of trade, tourism, investment opportunities overseas, attracting inward investments, and by helping the expansion of China's soft power as a doer nation and a technological power. In the course of building the infrastructure for the Olympics, the Chinese augmented their infrastructure that would have a long-term beneficial impact on their economy and on the everyday life of ordinary people. The remarkable success of the Beijing Olympics had the profound effect on many of effacing the negative impact of China running a repressive, anti-democratic, political regime. It is quite evident that those in India charged with getting India's capital ready to host the Commonwealth Games had none of the above in view, or they wouldn't be all set to deliver what has all the makings of a shabby show that is likely to attract the world's opprobrium.

The Commonwealth Games are much smaller in scale than the Olympics, and yet the privilege to host it is not easy to come by. Experts take a close look at a country's ability to execute the Games infrastructure. India came through the scrutiny but runs the risk of faltering at the execution stage. This is a poor advertisement for its political executive, especially with those entrusted with overseeing the Games preparations. A little over two months to go for the opening of the Games a day after Gandhi Jayanti, and the nation's capital is choking with uncleared debris, unfinished stadiums and other facilities associated with the Games. News reports highlight the last-minute rush and confusion to meet deadlines, and of passing the buck. Long before now, the dry runs should have commenced to ensure the success of the event on which about Rs 35,000 crores are said to have been spent. The plain reason for this not happening is that Delhi is virtually run by builder cabals that are in league with corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. These thrive on delays. When schedules are slipping, no questions are asked and cart blanche is given to take shortcuts, to cover up the use of below-par materials and shoddy execution through quick fixes, even if these will be exposed in weeks if not days. These are ways to shortchange the public exchequer and ultimately the Indian people. Some of former Union sports minister Mani Shankar Aiyar's criticisms of the CWG appear zany, but he is right when he says that the Games have not been leveraged to improve the lot of the ordinary people of Delhi, as was done in, say, Manchester. Perhaps it is time for the highest levels of the government to bestir themselves.








This is not the first time that a Pakistan Army Chief has decided to stay on beyond his scheduled date of departure. The vers ion that the civilian government of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gi lani granted Gen. Ashfaq Pa r v ez Kayani this extension is a myth that very few believe. In fact, speculation and justificati ons for his extension were making the rounds in Islamabad in early summer this year. By May 2010, there were articles, sponsored undoubtedly, suggesting that Gen. Kayani had become indispensable to the scheme of things in Pakistan; that Pakistan was passing through a critical phase and continuity as the Army Chief was essential; that Gen. Kayani would not seek extension but would gracefully accept if invited to serve the country for a little while longer.

Pakistani analyst Ayesha Siddiqa had earlier commented that a decision to extend the term would depend upon three factors — an agreement within the GHQ, a nod from the United St a tes and support of the governm e nt. With the Zardari-Gilani go v ernment perennially on the backfoot, there would have been ve ry little resistance from the po litical setup. It is true that the US would like continuity and Gen. Kayani became the preferred option, as he was perceived to be able to deliver on US objectives.

In the immediate future, Gen. Kayani will have to keep the war on terror against selected sections going, keep the US at arm's length when it relates to the Pakistan Army's other strategic assets considered vital to its perceived aims in Afghanistan and India without any stoppage of funds from the US. He will also have to make some arrangements for those who will feel they have been deprived of the top slot because of this extension. For instance, at least 16 lieutenant-generals — some of whom are now corps commanders — are due to retire after November 23, 2010 and before Gen. Kayani's extended term expires in November 2013. This includes Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha, Gen. Kayani's successor as ISI chief and who is already on a year's year extension. Gen. Pervez Musharraf had not extended the terms of his generals but accommodated them in civilian assignments. Increasing numbers of Pakistani military officers who will now be due for promotions as major-general and lieutenant-general or equivalent will be those recruited during Gen. Zia-ul Haq's days of excessive Islamisation.
The Pakistan Army — with its ultimate control on policies rel ating to India, Afghanistan and the nuclear button — has shown remarkable tactical brilliance in enhancing its position in its own country but has left the country with very little resilience to tackle its major internal socio-economic problems. Outsiders see the march of folly of a nation with a crumbling economy, dwindling exports and the sole source of dollars being handouts by the US and the International Monetary Fund, with terrorists knocking at various doors even in Punjab. Yet it continues to convince its people that "enemy" India is still trying to undo Pakistan. In the process, Pakistan has been involved in a two-front jihad, has punched above its weight and thus finds itself in the middle of a crippling and tragic blowback. Caught in the brinkmanship of its rhetoric, Pakistan's rulers are unable to retreat from the cul de sac into which they have pushed their country.

Pakistan's tragedy has been th at its civil society is today under siege from Islamic radicals and the Army, and these radicals and terrorists have been raised by the Army. With all other systems of law and order collapsing, civil society is dependent on the same Army for its own security and well-being. That is why at various moments in the history of Pakistan whenever the Army has been seen to take over the reins upfront, there have been many from within this liberal society who actually showered accolades on the Army.
The invisible hand of Rawalpindi was patently visible in the fiasco of the recent talks in Islamabad. Now that we have Gen. Kayani in charge of policy towards India and Afghanistan for the next three years, we should expect some hardening of attitudes. Pakistan's tactics in Jammu and Kashmir have already begun to change. Terrorist violence in the Valley has diminishing returns for Pakistan under the present circumstances; it wins Pakistan no new friends and attracts adverse attention from the US. We take solace behind encouraging statistics, but they tell only a part of the story. Stone-throwing tactics in the Valley portrayed as a people's movement in the new tactic where the state is made to look increasingly helpless and vicious.
Pakistan's postures on India are not going to be affected by the recent disclosures by WikiLeaks. Despite the usual exultation in India forever looking for Western approval, the leaks do not say anything new. They are more about the US. The speed with which US national security adviser James Jones supported the Pakistan government immediately after the disclosures, confirming US commitment to deepening partnership with Afghanistan and Pakistan, the manner in which AfPak special envoy Richard Holbrooke certified Pakistan was part of the solution in Afghanistan and the timing of the release of $500 million during Hillary Clinton's Islamabad visit (where she called on Gen. Kayani) — these only confirm the desperation of America's Afghan situation. Besides, Gen. Kayani's and the ISI chief's closeness to the Haqqani networks, their close liaison and protection of the Quetta Shura impinge directly on the US effort in Afghanistan. Pakistan has strengthened its assets in Afghanistan by inducting Lashkar-e-Tayyaba terrorists into Afghanistan.

Pakistan carefully assessed the limitations of US military power and Indian decibel. The Americans had needed Pakistan to launch into Afghanistan in 2001; nine years later they need Pakistan to come to an honourable ar­rangement in Afghanistan, wh a tever that might be. Given the paranoia that affects Punjabi officers in the Pakistan Army al ong with the desire to avenge 1971, there is need for India to prepare for the future and stre n g t hen its defence and intelligence capabilities substantially — in quality and quantity. We face multiple fronts — Pakistan, Ch i na, terrorism and the unguarded sea.

While India-Pakistan talks may become desirable at some future date under suitable circumsta n ces, they are neither irreversible nor uninterruptable. India must dispel the impression that there is no option except to talk to Pakistan and lose on the negotiating table what we have won on the battlefield. Therefore, bet ween the option to talk and total war there are several options that can be exercised and we should be prepared for the long haul.

Vikram Sood is a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency









Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar has rejected the Opposition's adjournment motion on Wednesday demanding discussion on price rise followed by a vote. The government has of course opposed it tooth and nail.


Finance minister and leader in Lok Sabha, Pranab Mukherjee, had cited chapter and verse to prove that it is not right. His reason: adjournment motions deal with government's failure to discharge its constitutional duties. Mukherjee is implying that while price rise issue is a matter of serious concern, it has nothing to do with government's failure. It was no doubt a quibble at best.


The opposition was keen to nail the government not just through sharp arguments in the course of the debate, but through the voting at the end of it. It was pinning its hope on many of the ruling UPA partners to vote against the government. The UPA too seemed to fear exactly this. It was hellbent on averting the parliamentary mishap.


Though both sides appeared keen to debate, they did everything to avoid doing that. Last time the issue was debated in the House, leader of opposition and BJP leader Sushma Swaraj cited prices from her grocery list to show how things were bad.


Congress members fudged and quibbled over details of that list to parry criticism. Higher prices continue to plague people like the rising mercury in summers, and all that they can do is groan and moan. For politicians it is gamesmanship.







The prime minister's economic advisory council (EAC), headed by former Reserve Bank governor C Rangarajan, has predicted that foreign investor inflows will remain steady this year and the next, thanks to the eurozone crisis and a still worrisome US recovery.


Due to these uncertainties, India is an obvious choice for fund managers to deploy their cash. The interesting thing about the council's statement, though, is not its prognosis, but the composition it has assumed on the funds flow.


According to it, inflows in 2010-11 will be stronger from foreign direct investment (FDI) and less from portfolio flows. The latter is essentially hot money looking for a quick buck. Thus, while portfolio flows are expected to moderate from $32 billion in 2009-10 to $25 billion in the current financial year, FDI is set to rise from $20 billion to $30 billion. Or thereabouts.


If these predictions work out, this is good news. FDI flows are fundamentally long-term in nature, and are usually utilised for building new capacities in manufacturing and services. Portfolio flows — which are fair weather — generally enter the stock, real estate and money markets in search of quick returns.


Given the herd nature of such flows, they not only heat up asset prices, but also create problems for the Reserve Bank in managing the volatility in the rupee's value. Stock valuations are already high and real estate, especially in the metros, has hit unaffordable levels.


The moderation in portfolio flows this year means we need not expect any major fireworks in the stockmarkets, though there is no guarantee that domestic investors will be sitting idle this year.


On the other hand, the council expects foreign inflows to soar to $35 billion in 2011-12, and much of the money is likely to head for stocks. This means the markets may hit the accelerator somewhere early next year or later — depending on how the inflows are channeled.


URL of the article:









Delectably for thriller aficionados, the Sohrabuddin murder mystery is unfurling at several levels. At the primary level, Amit Shah — Narendra Modi's close aide and Gujarat's absconding junior Home Minister — has resigned and surrendered to the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation).


He is charged with murder, kidnapping, criminal conspiracy, extortion, destroying evidence, threatening and influencing witnesses. Besides, it seems that Shah pressured officers to suspend the enquiry, took away enquiry papers apparently for scrutiny, even asked ominously for the list of witnesses whose statements were to be recorded.


Now, two police officers have offered to strengthen the CBI investigation with crucial evidence to nail the minister. Former Gujarat Deputy Superintendent of Police NK Amin, an 'encounter' specialist accused in the case who has been sulking in jail since 2007 while his partners in crime roamed free, wants to turn approver. And GC Raiger, former Additional DGP who looked after the CID probe into the Sohrabuddin case before the CBI took over, has become a CBI witness, offering all his insider information.


At level two of this national thriller, the BJP has swung into action to protect Shah, the finest muscleman of Modi, the finest muscleman of the BJP. It doesn't need more skeletons tumbling out of cupboards, especially about the killing of Muslims in Gujarat. Since offense is the best defense, it has declared war on the Congress-led UPA government.


It refused to go to the Prime Minister's lunch to plan the agenda for the monsoon session of Parliament and has been screaming ceaselessly about the Congress 'misusing' the CBI to target Modi. Shah, they say, is being framed because the Congress wants to stop Narendra Modi from doing his wonderful development work. And to divert attention from the UPA government's failures — Pakistan, Maoists, Kashmir, inflation.


Unfortunately, CBI enquiries are regularly accused of bias by Opposition parties. Because the Centre routinely uses the CBI as a political tool, like state governments use the police. Of course in the Sohrabuddin case, the CBI enquiry was ordered by the


Supreme Court, but let's ignore such awkward truths.


At level three are accusations of Shah being a big-time scamster, making crores from the likes of Ketan Parekh. And there's the cop-criminal-neta nexus with senior IPS officers running extortion rackets. Like they did with Sohrabuddin before double-crossing him for political profit.


At level four is our memory. The same Modi who now talks of Shah's innocence had in 2007 proudly claimed the murder. What should one do with a baddie like Sohrabuddin, he had asked at a rally. The crowd had screamed, "Kill him!" That's just what he had done, Modi had beamed smugly, adding: "If I have done anything wrong, let the government of Sonia Gandhi hang me!"


Killing any Muslim and claiming him to be a wannabe Modi assassin — as they did with Sohrabuddin — was part of Modi's plan to garner sympathy whenever his leadership was questioned. Significantly, Sohrabuddin was killed shortly before the BJP national executive met in December 2005, when Modi was facing dissidence.


Someone could get rich making a computer game out of this multi-level national thriller. But careful when playing it — getting too close to the truth could be lethal.


URL of the article:








Mumbai. 26/7, 2005. Nature unleashed its wrath to bathe the city into submission. Trains stopped and vehicles were stranded. People marooned on the streets. Worse, power snapped and the city plunged into darkness. It seemed Mumbai would not be able to survive the ordeal.


Until yet again, the indomitable spirit, that epitomises the megapolis, decided to rise to the occasion. Everyone came out of their houses in rescuing those in distress. Food was distributed, shelter and clothes given to strangers.


As Mumbai made its way through a spate of insurmountable odds, one saw not just the triumph of human spirit, but of humanity as a whole which can tide over the toughest of circumstances.


Here is a lesson for Mumbai or any other city: if the care and concern shown by all on a day of calamity became an everyday feature, our cities could become a much better place to live in. Why does it have to take a calamity to awaken the humane attributes?


It often strikes me that we have two faces — one that is too impervious to human sufferings and the other, dipped deep in benevolence. On any given day, we would scarcely spare a thought for, perhaps, one who might have met with a road accident and needs to be taken to hospital.


Tell me, how many of us would stop our cars and get him immediate medical care? Indians had always shown their most gracious face in the face of adversity. Likewise, I staunchly feel there is a need to replicate what Mumbai did on 26/7 in our day-to-day lives.


URL of the article:







Disconcertingly, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) did not discuss China's controversial plan to build two new atomic power stations in Pakistan in its annual five-day meeting held in New Zealand. Apparently, the matter did come up but was not placed on the formal agenda.


Earlier, Beijing was requested several times to clarify its position on this plan, but had not bothered to reply. A statement issued after the NSG meeting tamely "took note of briefings on developments concerning non-NSG states. It agreed on the value of ongoing consultation and transparency". Such was the extreme circumspection shown by the NSG for China's sensitivities.


The NSG came into existence in 1974 in response to India's diversion of nuclear imports for its peaceful nuclear explosion. It has transformed itself into a watch-dog organisation that coordinates international export controls over transfers of civilian nuclear material, equipment and technology to non-nuclear weapon states to prevent their use for manufacturing nuclear weapons.


All such transfers can only be affected under international safeguards and inspection arrangements. By definition the NSG's guidelines only apply to non-nuclear weapon states that are members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), although they can be extended to states outside the NPT, provided they place their entire nuclear program under international safeguards and inspections.


India and Pakistan are not members of the NSG and both possess nuclear weapons. But India succeeded in entering the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008 after it secured a waiver from the NSG Guidelines following intense US pressure on its members. India accepted several constraints on its nuclear program in return for this concession.


Like agreeing to separate its military and civil nuclear programs and accept international safeguards on its entire civilian program. Thereafter, India has entered into nuclear trade deals with a number of NSG members.


In truth, the Bush administration undertook these extraordinary actions favouring India for several political and economic reasons, but largely to establish India as a strategic counterweight to China.


China is aware of these larger strategic implications of the Indo-US nuclear deal.


Its role was highly dubious when India's case came up before the NSG. It assured India and the US that it would not obstruct the passage of the Indo-US nuclear deal. But, it instigated several NSG countries to oppose the deal, while asserting that it had the right to offer a similar deal to Pakistan.


Ultimately, a demarche by India and American pressure succeeded in persuading China to moderate its opposition, but it is clear now that China was biding its time for evolving its own reaction to the Indo-US nuclear deal.


The China-Pakistan nuclear deal clearly violates the NSG's rules and regulations in the absence of a special dispensation. China's argument is that its supply of nuclear reactors to Pakistan does not require any NSG approval, since this deal is a continuation of its earlier agreement to supply two nuclear reactors to Pakistan, which is disingenuous.


The US has expressed deep concern considering the appalling nuclear proliferation history of Pakistan. China's nuclear proliferation history is the same considering its linkages to North Korea, Pakistan, Myanmar, Iran and Syria — the notorious aberrant nations in the international system. At the moment China has yet to decide which way to jump — heed the international sentiment or defy the same to progress its 'lip-and-teeth' relationship with Pakistan.


Unsurprisingly, Pakistan's official spokesman has claimed that Pakistan's nuclear program "is purely for peaceful objectives". Apparently, India has sought to influence the NSG members from behind the scenes.


But its official non-officials have gone berserk claiming that the Sino-Pak nuclear deal, by making Pakistan an exceptional to the NSG guidelines, will lead to a collapse of the NSG. Apropos, India had also been made an exception to the NSG Guidelines.


Arguing that this is justifiable because India's proliferation record is shining, but Pakistan's record is besmirched ignores the unfortunate fact that the NSG itself was created after India's diversion of civilian nuclear imports for its "peaceful nuclear explosion".


And the US had ignored Pakistan's steady march to nuclear capability in the eighties when its cooperation was needed to torment the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Even now, the US speaks softly because it requires Pakistan to enable the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by 2011. And, China has huge deposits in US Federal reserves.


The length of the Chinese purse has, indeed, become the beginning of all wisdom. Or, to put it in the Mumbai dialect, "Agar khisey main paise hota, to sabhi Ram Ram bolta".


Realpolitik spells discretion and avoidance of firm positions. Having benefited from US realpolitik, India is protesting too much with its ineffectual diplomatic manoeuvres.


URL of the article:








THE manner in which the Opposition has been disrupting Parliament for the last three days is most unfortunate. Parliament could not transact business ever since its monsoon session started on July 26. The first day was adjourned after obituary references. After that, the Opposition parties, including the Left, the RJD, the Samajwadi Party and others have been demanding a debate on price rise through an adjournment motion. Their concern over the unprecedented price rise is understandable. But when the government is not yielding for a debate through an adjournment motion (which entails voting and thus considerable embarrassment to the ruling UPA in the event of its failure to muster support), the Opposition should understand its responsibility and act accordingly. On Wednesday, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar concurred with Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's opinion that the government has not failed in its duty in checking price rise and that an "extraordinary situation" has not arisen to warrant a debate under an adjournment motion. Mr Mukherjee said he was forced to increase the petrol prices to restore financial discipline. Subsequently, the Speaker rejected the notices for an adjournment motion.


Now that the Speaker has given her well considered opinion on the issue, the Opposition should not sit on prestige and extend cooperation to the government in the smooth functioning of Parliament. As she has rejected the notices for an adjournment motion, the best alternative before the Opposition is to seek a debate on price rise through a Short Duration discussion (without voting) under Rule 193. Through this, Parliament would be able to debate price rise for a full six hours or even longer. Parliament is the chief repository of people's will and the Opposition would do well to make best use of this forum to ventilate the grievances of the common masses.


In a functioning democracy like ours, the government and the Opposition have clear-cut roles and responsibilities. The Opposition wanted to "censure" the government through an adjournment motion (the government falls only if a money bill is defeated in the Lok Sabha). This is a perfectly legitimate activity and there is nothing wrong about it. But when it has failed in its attempt, it has no alternative than to cooperate with the government and allow Parliament to do its normal business. Any other method would amount to violating the established norms of parliamentary democracy.







FORMER Sports Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar is not exactly known to measure his words, but this time he has gone beyond simply shooting off his mouth. He has come out with a fatwa-like statement: "Those who are patronising the Commonwealth Games can only be evil". Thank God he did not say "off with their heads" also. He made up for that mercy by thundering that he would be "unhappy" if the October mega event was successful. The message was clear: he would be happy only if the Games are a resounding flop. Such a statement from even an ordinary person would be off-putting; it is all the more so when it is made by a former Union Sports Minister and a nominated Rajya Sabha member.

Mr Aiyar's logic is that it is a waste of money to make huge expenditure on hosting the Commonwealth Games. If one goes by his line of thinking, every sport, every mega event, every big cultural or film festival must be banned till there is even one poor person in India. He seems to be reading from some moth-eaten book on Communism which even the Chinese have abandoned.


No wonder even his party is finding it difficult to justify his outburst. Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed said he would need to find out in what context and in "what state of mind" the MP had made these observations. Commonwealth Games Organising Committee Chairman Suresh Kalmadi has, of course, termed the sentiments "irresponsible" and "anti-national". Indeed, Mr Aiyar has made himself prone to public ridicule by blurting out that "if the Games are successful, then they will start bringing the Asian Games and the Olympic Games". Perhaps he does not realise that it would be a proud moment for every Indian — except, perhaps, a handful like him — if at all India gets the Olympic Games some day. May be he will brand all of them as evil, then? 









IF the size of a delegation could signal the seriousness a country attaches to the other, then the largest British delegation ever to accompany a British Prime Minister to India would indicate that Mr David Cameron is earnest. He has , after all, arrived at the head of six of his cabinet ministers besides as many as 39 representatives of British business, art, culture and science. Unmistakably, the roles have been reversed and with Europe and the US yet to recover from recession, Britain is forced to look towards the East once again. Both China and India hold the key to a revival of British trade and commerce but while China has been a tough customer, Mr Cameron would hope for India to be more receptive. The shared English language, democracy and the parliamentary system and indeed the shared passion for curry, kebabs and cricket should make it easier for the two countries to reboot and fast-forward the relationship. The disarming Mr Cameron admits that Britain would have to work harder to earn a living and, to the credit of the youngest British Prime Minister in over 200 years, he appears to mean business. On his third visit to India and his first as Prime Minister, he appears focused on fostering a partnership in the areas of security, defence, science and climate change while persuading India to lift restrictions on legal services, banking and insurance.


For India, Britain still remains a gateway to Europe and a hub for higher education. And despite the decline and the fading impact of the Raj, there is little let-up in the Indo-British love affair. It would, therefore, be the wrong time for Britain to drastically cut aid to India or to put a cap on immigration. Both the countries have still a lot to offer each other and in many ways Mr. Cameron's visit marks a generational change. He and his deputy, Nick Clegg, who has reportedly been given the task of dealing with China, represent a new generation of British leaders and reflect the concerns of the 'Gen next' in both the countries.


The impact of British colonialism was not an unmixed blessing for India. But new lessons need to be learnt from Britain about streamlining the bureaucracy and enforcing the rule of the law, both legacies of the British rule but distorted beyond recognition here.

















WITH Nato casualties on the rise, with President Karzai and his western backers keen on reconciliation with the Taliban and the prospect of American withdrawal after July 2011, insecurity and instability sum up the current situation in Afghanistan. With Nato failing to win out, the idea of regional cooperation on Afghanistan, presented by many western officials from time to time — and by Mr S M. Krishna at the Kabul Conference on July 20 — is an appealing one.


Which countries would be involved and what are the chances of their reaching a consensus — whether on the political future of Afghanistan or on promoting its economic development? The countries likely to be involved in any regional dialogue would be the US, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China and Russia.


The US has contributed some 100,000 troops to Nato's Afghan campaign and staked its global reputation on defeating the Taliban. With military victory seemingly elusive, Washington would not be averse to countries in Afghanistan's neighbourhood to work out an agreement that is in line with its interests.


Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai would like to build a strong democratic Afghanistan under the 2003 constitution — a goal he shares with the US. But Nato's failure to make headway, and his own inept brand of governance are obstacles to the achievement of this aim. Meanwhile, Nato's deficiencies have reportedly prompted him to seek reconciliation with Taliban hardliners like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Jalaludin Haqqani and the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar. This has caused some consternation in New Delhi, which regards all extremists as bad.


India does not share a border with Afghanistan, and like Russia and China, is not contributing troops. But its goals are closest to those of the US — to defeat the Taliban and to build a strong state in Afghanistan which can develop the country.


India is opposed to both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban if only because there is ever-growing evidence of their links with the Pakistani-based extremists who continually try to destabilise its half of Kashmir.


Pakistan has sustained, trained and exported terrorists to Afghanistan since the US overthrew the Taliban regime in 2001. So innate in President Obama's concept of Af-Pak is the idea that the key to Afghan security lies in Pakistan. Along with the Taliban, Islamabad can claim to share the dubious credit for frustrating the success of Nato's Afghan campaign over the last nine years.


It is determined to use its hold over the Afghan Taliban to as a lever to secure a decisive say in Afghanistan's political future, and the current signs are that the US and its Nato allies may not be averse to giving it an important place at the negotiating table if it can use its clout to persuade militants to ceasefire.


Pakistan will not be interested in the neutrality of Afghanistan – neutrality would restrict its influence there. It wants to persuade its Afghan puppets to keep India out of Afghanistan, though India has no military presence there and has given $1.3 billion in reconstruction aid. That is unlike Pakistan, whose political method of choice is to export extremism and to 'bleed' Nato and the Karzai government until they make "peace" on its terms.


Iran, which is Afghanistan's western neighbour, remains opposed to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Its historical and cultural links with Afghanistan are symbolised by the latter's Persian-speaking and Shia minorities. Like India and Russia, it does not want to see Pakistan calling the shots in Kabul. Teheran favours more regional trade with Afghanistan and would benefit from a reduction in the cross-border drugs trade. It has given around $600 million in reconstruction aid, and invested in electricity, transport agricultural projects in Afghanistan, notably in the area around the city of Herat. But Iran's relations with the US are fractious largely because of its nuclear programme and its uncompromising stance on Israel.


Saudi Arabia was one of three countries — including Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates — to recognise the brutal Taliban regime until 2001. The links between Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban have sharpened its interest in Afghanistan, as had talk of Nato's retreat from Afghanistan. It has bestowed some $500 million in reconstruction aid. It has also been involved in ad hoc and informal reconciliation talks between the Karzai government and the Afghan Taliban. To no avail: every confabulation only confirmed the wide gap between Kabul and extremists.


Riyadh has a fractious relationship with Shia-dominated Iran and a close one with Sunni-dominated Pakistan. Riyadh and Islamabad are at one in wanting the Taliban included in a future government in Kabul and having a government and society steered by religious "Islamic" (read Sunni) law. That puts it at odds with the US, even as the Saudi desire for a stable Afghanistan coincides with US aims.


Russia would like to see Nato succeed in Afghanistan, the Taliban put to rout, and an end to the narcotics which enter its territory from Afghanistan. It has allowed Nato troops to transit its territory en route to Afghanistan and has supplied fuel to Nato via Central Asia. It is disturbed at attempts by Karzai and the West to work out some sort of reconciliation with the Taliban.


For, like India, Russia does not distinguish between good and bad extremists and does not wish to see Kabul coming under the influence of extremists exporting Islamabad. Moscow also fears that a war-weary US could beat a hasty retreat from Afghanistan, paving the way for resurgence of the Taliban, and the spread of extremist influence into its sphere of influence in Central Asia.


China has fragile historical links with Afghanistan. It would gain from the defeat of the Taliban and the establishment of a stable state in Afghanistan. Both could help check the flow of extremists into its western province of Xinjiang, where it confronts the possibility of growing extremism among its Uighur minorities.


China has invested $ 3.5 billion in the Aynak copper mine in Afghanistan and also in various infrastructure projects in irrigation, communication and health. As an economically expansive power and potentially the largest investor in Afghanistan, it would welcome a politically strong government in Kabul.


But China has close strategic ties with Pakistan. So far it has been unwilling to put pressure on Pakistan to stop shoring up extremists. China fears that Nato's success would consolidate the US position as the dominant power in South and Central Asia, and that its Asian rival, India, would benefit from a prolonged American presence in Afghanistan.


China probably hopes that the US will gain the military vantage point in Afghanistan while refraining from putting pressure on Pakistan to give up its alignment with extremists. Like Russia, China does not have a large stake in Afghanistan at the moment. Both could increase investments there if security were assured.


If New Delhi wants to explore the possibility of a regional approach, it would have to contend with Pakistan's pathological fear and hatred of India, reflected at one level by Islamabad's paranoia about the presence of less than 4,000 Indians in Afghanistan. Pakistan's use of terrorist exports rather than reconstruction aid to counter Indian influence and to increase its clout in Afghanistan does not augur well for the emergence of Indo-Pakistani cooperation on Afghanistan's political future. Added to that is the continuing western military dependence on Pakistan even as it plays its old double game of giving some military facilities to Nato while giving safe havens and training to the Afghan Taliban — and getting American largesse in return.


More generally, divergent national interests and cross-cutting rivalries between the US, Pakistan, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China could block the emergence of a regional consensus on Afghanistan. India would have to work around these differences if it tries to forge a regional approach on Afghanistan. Such an approach could well turn out to be elusive.


The writer is Visiting Professor, Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, New Delh








Distressed at the failure of LPG delivery system, Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Murli Deora has hit upon a novel idea to make the new system consumer-friendly. Deora in his far-sighted approach has commissioned liquor baron and MP Vijay Mallya to take over the LPG distribution all over the country.

According to sources, Mallya has accepted Deora's proposal and has already started chalking out a roadmap to reach the housewives and their husbands, who have so far been suffering at the hands of illiterate delivery boys.


Mallya has started in his usual flamboyant fashion. Unrolling his plan before the media, Mallya promised to make the LPG delivery system cozy and comfortable to consumers.


Riding — read flying — high on the success of Kingfisher Airlines project, Mallya has launched his operations from Goa. He has assured the ministry to cover the whole of the country with his operations once he gets feedback from his delivery girls.


Mallya, who is the Indian version of Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy, has scanned various beaches in Goa to select most beautiful girls to deliver LPG cylinders. From the word go, consumers' response has been tremendous. In most houses where arguments led to quarrels between husband and wife as to who should stay at home to receive the gas cylinder, now all husbands have volunteered to receive refills at home.


Though initially wives did not smell a rat, but having accidentally seen a few scantly clad delivery girls, they quickly understood why husbands preferred to stay at home.


In their brief, delivery girls have told Mallya that some husbands feigned illness to stay at home, others took leave against their wives' wishes.


Having got over-enthusiastic response from consumers, mostly husbands, Mallya has pulled out another trick. He said in future each girl would teach one new recipe with each refill delivery. This move has triggered off more differences than peace at home. More husbands are arguing with wives to learn cooking, insisting when kids return from schools, they would prepare lunch for them.


Grapevine has it that most husbands, under the garb of preparing lunch for kids, first make tea for delivery girls and urge them to relax for sometime before moving to the next household.


Alarmed at the prospect of their husbands taking leave on lame excuses, a delegation of working wives has shot off a letter to the Petroleum Minister, urging him to revert to the old system. Another group of aggrieved wives has written to Girija Vyas, MP and president of the National Commission for Women, to protect their conjugal rights.


According to latest reports, the ministry has directed Mallya to restrict his operations to Goa alone, for the time being.











FOOD security is a fundamental welfare concern of every economy. Even the highly industrialised countries subsidise agriculture for keeping up domestic production. For India, having a huge base of population and its fast growth, it assumes still greater significance. The per capita availability of foodgrains went up from 467 grams per person per day in 1961 to 443 in 2007 even though at times we had to depend upon heavy imports. Within the components of foodgrains, the share of pulses, which so far are considered as a poor man's protein, constantly declined from 69 grams per person per day in 1961 to only 35 grams in 2007.


To meet the shortfall of production over demand, the country had to resort to heavy imports of pulses which swelled to 3 million tonnes, valued at Rs 5,375 crore in 2007-08. The situation is likely to further deteriorate if the existing production scenario continues to persist, accompanied by a fast increase in the population. With almost one-fourth population below the poverty line the recent steep hike in the prices has made the availability of pulses for this section of society still more difficult, jeopardizing their food nutritional security further.


Punjab has played a remarkable role in the food security of the country. The state having 2.4% of the nation's population, contributes 12% to the national foodgrain output, thus feeding about 10% additional mouths. However, the contribution to the national kitty was still faster in terms of cereals but as a result of the Green Revolution, the contribution of pulses has shown a negative trend. For example, the area under pulses, including gram, declined from 903 thousand hectares in 1960-61 to 22 thousand hectares in 2008-09 and thus production declined from 308 thousand tonnes to just 19 thousand tonnes.


Unlike the cereal crops, an ineffective support price, lack of technological improvement, inadequate extension efforts and lack of government policy measures resulted in the concentration of state agriculture on rice and wheat crops and played havoc with the production of pulses. Farmers are obviously guided by a simple comparative crop economics and vulnerability due to high fluctuations in yield and price.


To be more specific, the average yield of pulses could not make much headway while the average yield of paddy and wheat increased almost four fold mainly due to the expansion of assured irrigation, research and development efforts directed to these crops and market support. The realised yield of pulses at the farm level is almost 50% of the potential experimental yield. This gap needs to be bridged by demonstrating technology in the fields.


Further, government policies on zero pricing of water not only caused an indiscriminately overuse of this precious resource, but also created a tendency to ignore pulse crops. Above all, pulse crops are prone to vital diseases, particularly the yellow mosaic virus and serious pests like pod borers, urgently calling for a suitable integrated pest management through research and development efforts.


In the context of monoculture of paddy-wheat and associated emerging problems of water scarcity, deteriorating soil health, increasing seasonality in use of farm resources causing inefficiencies in the production system, burning of huge crop residue causing air pollution, diversion to pulses can play a miraculous role. The recent enormous hike in the prices of pulses has made farmers reconsider introducing such enterprises in their crop pattern. A little encouragement in terms of quality seed supply and extension support at this juncture can work well.


Crop diversification in Punjab is essential but could be done on the basis of ground realities rather than by mere slogans. Areas having a low potential of paddy yield may be earmarked. For instance, there are 15 blocks of Punjab with about 7 lakh hectares of area under rice having an average yield of less than 2 tonnes/ha where the production of pulses can take off easily. The efforts need to be concentrated on such areas.


The intervening period between wheat and rice (particularly basmati) can be gainfully utilized for short-duration pulses like sathi moong. Similarly, the late-sown wheat following cotton can be easily replaced by gram and lentil crops.


Some efforts are made by the extension wing of the state in this direction but it requires proper monitoring rather than mere 'distribute seed and forget' approach. As a long run solution, research efforts through genetic improvement, particularly evolving varieties of short duration, high yielding and resistant to pests and diseases to minimize production risk need to be concentrated.


Apart from targeting production strategy, wide gap between harvest price and retail price of pulses can be minimized and the benefit can percolate to farmers and consumers through formation of self help groups (SHG's) of farmers and resorting to value addition, particularly cleaning, packaging, standardization, storage, transportation and direct sale to the consumers. The minimum support price (MSP) of pulses announced by the central government for the marketing year 2010-11 is Rs3000/qt and Rs3170/qt for pigeon pea and moong respectively. Similarly, the MSP for gram is Rs1760/qt. On the other hand, the market forces have pegged the prices much higher, even three times of MSP, making the support system ineffective and ridiculous. Under such conditions, the role of state government becomes vital in revamping research and extension system in desired direction and even coming forward by intervening in the procurement system, protecting the interest of farmers and consumers.


The writer, a former PAU Professor and FAO consultant, now works as a consultant with Sir Ratan Tata Trust, Mumbai 









THAT the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is detrimental to human health is universally recognised. Hence, even mainstream agriculture scientists and institutions are advocating integrated nutrition management and integrated pest management. For a healthy child the first thing you need is a healthy mother. So the first need is to improve soil health in general and increase the organic content of soil in particular. Through chemical fertilisers we have been regularly and repeatedly feeding soil with only a limited number of nutrients. To ensure soil health, two things need to be done.


First, mono-cropping has to be shunned like plague. If we continue with one or two crops, then we are repeatedly taking out the same set of nutrients in fixed proportions from soil and there is no simple method of chemically replenishing all of these. So, there has to be diversity in crop production. In fact, mixed cropping, with leguminous crops as one essential ingredient is advisable as these crops have nitrogen-fixing property (i.e. ability to convert huge amount of nitrogen available in the air to a form where plants can make use of it). It is common experience that wheat grown in the fields where guar (cluster beans) had been planted earlier gives better yield.


The second important step in improving soil health is to use/sell whatever we can but return the rest to soil. This can be done by using crop waste for mulching. We can cut plant waste into small pieces and spread them all over the fields. Initially, it will provide cover to the soil, retain moisture reducing irrigation frequency and curb weed growth but as it decays, it will also return nutrients to soil. So, mulching is a simple, multipurpose tool.


The use of insecticides and chemical fertilisers has to stop as these kill living organisms of soil. To aid the process of regeneration of living organisms in soil, simple preparations of animal dung and urine are used. These simple preparations introduce living organisms to the field where biomass is available for them to feed on and decompose.


Mainstream agriculture scientists often calculate nitrogen available from cattle dung and come up with huge amounts of cattle dung that has to be used as farm yard manure to replace urea. Actually, in alternative agriculture cow dung is primarily used to introduce micro-organisms to soil and not to provide nutrients per say. Hence, many acres of land can be managed with just one or two animals.


The sun is the only primary source of energy for earth and solar energy is mainly tapped by plants for use of other living beings, including humans. So, another basic principle of alternative agriculture is to maximise the tapping of sun energy. For that the field should, as far as possible, not be left without crops. Trees, with their deep roots, play an important role in providing nutrition to crops. They do so by transferring nutrients from the depth of soil, where they are generally available in abundance but which shallow rooted seasonal crops can not access, to top layer through their fallen leaves and fruits. Hence, every acre of land must have five to seven trees too. Around these trees, those crops can be grown which are tolerant of shade.


If these simple steps are taken, soil health will improve tremendously. With healthy soil, plants, if grown with good agronomic practices, are likely to be resistant to pest and disease. Moreover, crop diversity will ensure that even if there is a pest/disease attack it does not go out of hand and only part of farmers' crop is affected. (By the way most of the farmer suicides have been reported from area of commercial monoculture.) Then, there are various home remedies like Neem preparations which have been found to be effective in controlling most of the pest attacks.


These are some basic contours of alternative agriculture. Of course, alternative agriculture is not limited to these. There are many other things like the right way of irrigating a tree or sowing rice like wheat or producing more rice with much less water. All these need to be learned under suitable guidance but one can begin with the basic principles mentioned here on part of one's land.


In the era of TINA (there is no alternative), it is difficult to convince people of the alternative, particularly if it is a self-reliant alternative with no business interest to promote it, which goes against the trend of the 'latest is best' and which has a laser thin difference with the 'all-past-was-glorious' approach. But we certainly have to look for alternatives for two reasons. One, chemical fertilisers are petro-derivatives and their reserves are fast dwindling. Secondly, we cannot have our food supplies mortgaged to mega corporations as GM technologies do.


Coming back to the integrated nutrition and pest management, one will not have much to quarrel with it and insist on only natural or organic, if it meant using chemicals as a last resort, but in practice integrated nutrition and pest management is used as a smoke screen to ward off well-documented criticism of harmful consequences of these chemicals and gives an impression that chemicals are only one part of the package.


With business interests there to promote the chemical part and no agency to promote other simpler, no-cost local alternatives in a sustained manner, it is not difficult to see what gets promoted. We need to recall that Bhopal happened at an insecticide plant and it had powerful promoters. On the other hand, alternative agriculture, which has nothing to sell and profit from, hence, no powerful promoters, is making a slow progress.


The writer is a Professor, Department of Economics, MDU, Rohtak.









 Looking at biodatas in a pile of books, I discovered that one of the writers had published 240 books. A printing error? Alternatively, the name referred, not to an individual but a team writing in relays. So I checked with trusty old Google: the writer had published over 300 books. I decided I didn't want to read anyone who could write quite so much and still be alive. 


So it was with some relief that I turned to the American novelist Marilynne Robinson (b 1943) who has written just three novels, all highly acclaimed and award-winning ones: Housekeeping (1980), Gilead (2004), Home (2008/9). She's not unaware of the numbers game. Asked in an interview whether she reads contemporary writers, she said, rather acidly, "I'm not indifferent to contemporary literature; I just don't have any time for it. It's much easier for my contemporaries to keep up with me than it is for me to keep up with them. They've all written 15 novels." Later she concedes she wouldn't have minded writing 15 novels, but she's just not disciplined enough. 


To say that the two novels I've read (I haven't read the first) are set in a small mid-Western town called Gilead in the 1950s makes them sound as if they couldn't possibly have anything to do with us. Even the themes may sound unfamiliar, couched as they are in terms such as sin, grace, redemption, pre-destination, the belief that one is saved or damned from birth. Two of the main characters are pastors of different Christian sects, but close friends. 


Is Robinson a religious writer? "I don't like categories like religious and not religious. As soon as a religion draws a line around itself, it becomes falsified. It seems to me that anything that is written compassionately and perceptively probably satisfies every definition of religious whether a writer intends it to be religious or not." 


In Home, a letter arrives for the Rev Broughton from his son Jack who has been away for 20 years, and has not been in touch with them. He says to his daughter Glory, "This letter is from Jack. I know his hand. This is his hand." He sat down and placed the letter on the table in front of him. "Quite a surprise," he said softly, gruffly. Then he was so still she was afraid he might be having a spell of some kind, a stroke. But he was only praying…She thought, Dear God, what if he's wrong? What if this is a mistake brought on by yearning and old age?" 
    But Jack, the prodigal son, does arrive, formal, polite, tentative, unsure of his welcome though his father loved him best of all his children. But love is no guarantee of connection. A reviewer writes, "One of the saddest books I have ever loved." Certainly, there is a great deal of almost unbearable sadness in the book. But there is also anger and social critique. 


The pastors and the town have forgotten that Gilead was once an important centre of the abolitionist movement. But there are no black families living there in the 1950s, and their church was burnt down: "A little arson," the Rev Ames says. When Jack and his father see, on TV, black protestors pushed back by dogs, Jack exclaims, "Jesus Christ!" His father's only response is that he will not allow such blasphemous language in his home. Jack points out that the protestors are non-violent. But for the pastor, even non-violence is wrong because it provokes violence! 

 It's with his younger sister, Glory, now 38, that Jack forms a real relationship, full of empathy. When Jack tells her, half-jokingly that she should try to save his soul, she says firmly that she likes his soul just the way it is. It's a luminous moment, going far beyond the pastor's notions of forgiveness. 



******************************************************************************************BUSINESS STANDARD





If there is one phrase to describe Air India's fresh turnaround plan till 2014-15, it is the triumph of hope over experience. Encouraged by the 28 per cent growth in passenger traffic in the first quarter of this year, the state-owned national carrier has eschewed its earlier focus on cost-cutting in favour of expansion. For most corporations, it makes sense to maximise growth impulses in the businesses in which they operate. But Air India isn't in the same place as most corporations, let alone other airlines. It's reeling from accumulated losses of Rs 14,000 crore — losses that were built up even before the 2008-2009 slowdown, when the airline business was flying high — and debt of Rs 18,000 crore. Despite this, the airline's management — endorsed by independent directors, several of whom function in the hard-nosed world of competitive businesses — has approved a plan that appears to defy logic. First, in a business in which competitive advantage increasingly lies in acute cost efficiency, Air India is adding cost with grand plans to buy — rather than follow the industry practice of leasing — a staggering 127 more aircraft over the next five years. This despite the fact that a 2005 government decision to buy 111 aircraft for Rs 55,000 crore played a significant role in raising the airline's borrowings. The red signals were evident in the airline's Q1 results. Higher fuel costs and, importantly, depreciation costs as a result of new fleet induction pinched the bottom line despite higher passenger growth. It is unclear how much good selling assets and leasing its offices will bring when the airline is struggling to meet revenue costs and now needs to come up with fresh funds for aircraft purchases.


The new blueprint marks a U-turn from Chairman and Managing Director Arvind Jhadav and new Chief Operating Officer Gustav Balduf's statements, till recently this year, that the airline needed to cut costs and improve passenger services. As an aside, it is worth noting that the new plan contains little mention of the latter intent, a strange omission for what is essentially a service organisation. But as importantly, there is no template to do what Air India needs most: reduce its 33,000-strong employee base (it is not surprising that the airline's 13 combative unions have extended an exceptional welcome to this latest blueprint). At 214 employees per aircraft, Air India has one of the worst efficiency ratios in the world. The claim that the airline will reduce headcount by spinning off maintenance and ground-handling as separate subsidiaries is little more than a strategic sleight of hand. These functions are not overstaffed; the airline is suffering a surfeit of administrative deadwood that spinning off subsidiaries does not address. Although it is unexceptionable to try and ride a rising market, Air India's challenge at the moment is survival. It is telling that there is some degree of doubt in this fresh strategy with caveats that none of it will work unless the government pumps in Rs 5,000 crore as capital — money the government can ill afford. Overall, it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that this is a cop-out from implementing hard decisions such as job cuts since that would have instantly invited the wrath of the airline's politically powerful unions. Mr Jhadav told reporters that this plan would be subject to review in three months. It would be interesting to see whether these expansionary impulses will survive the resurgence of competition in the airline space







A study by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has brought out startling details of the manner in which several states are operating the value-added tax (VAT) system. Over half of the hundred thousand dealers covered under the CAG audit in 23 states were engaged in tax evasion. Tax evasion of Rs 873 crore was detected from the scrutiny of only 2,600 returns in 15 states. Dealers obtained tax exemption worth Rs 1,000 crore on a turnover of Rs 25,000 crore from the sale of tax-paid goods, without any proof of documentation. In some states, tax-exempted manufacturers collected taxes from the purchaser of their goods, but the states did not collect these taxes. Consequently, the states incurred a sizeable revenue loss as the purchaser of those goods also claimed input tax credit on those transactions. The CAG report lists many more such instances of blatant misuse of the VAT system in several states. Most of these cases had a common set of shortcomings arising out of flaws in the automation process, scrutiny of returns, tax audits, input tax credit mechanism, cross-verification of returns and the operation of the incentive schemes.


The only argument the states can possibly put forward in defence of their failure to plug such revenue leakages is that the CAG study covers only the first four years after the introduction of the new tax in 2005. Admittedly, therefore, the period under study reflects the teething troubles of a new taxation regime that replaced the much older system of levying sales tax constituting several rates and accounting for well over half of the Indian states' total tax revenues. Nevertheless, as the CAG report shows, it is a serious indictment of the new regime that has allowed rampant duty evasion, the very ill it was supposed to have rooted out with the help of a simpler and foolproof system of tax collection.


 For the Centre, which is busy putting in place a far more complex process involving the launch of the goods and services tax (GST) system across the country, the CAG study could not have come a day too soon. Since the state VAT system, which is now suffering from several loopholes, would be subsumed in the state goods and services tax regime, it is important that the operational flaws detected by the CAG report should be understood and steps taken to prevent their recurrence when the state GST becomes operational from April 2011. The way forward is not to go back to the old system of sales tax, but to embrace the state GST system, along with a robust information technology network that prevents its misuse. The transition from sales tax to state VAT and finally to the GST system can be smooth only if the information technology backbone is made stronger and foolproof so that matching or cross-verification of returns does not have to depend on manual intervention.








India must find a way to engage Pakistan's all-powerful Army chief


To no one's surprise, General Ashfaq Kayani, the chief of the Pakistan Army, got his tenure extended by another term of three years by the civilian government. The decision was formally announced by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani in a late night broadcast after he had consulted President Asif Ali Zardari, who also happens to be the chairman of the ruling party. After the recent 18th Amendment, the power to nominate the service chiefs had been restored to the Prime Minister as it was at the time of Z A Bhutto and in the second term of office of Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff.


 This extension of tenure for an army chief by a civilian government is happening for the first time since 1955 when the government headed by Iskander Mirza gave an extension to General Ayub Khan, the country's first army chief. At that time, the Pakistan Army did not have very many senior officers and General Ayub Khan's extension did not create any controversy.


On the present occasion, a leading Pakistan daily, the Dawn, has commented, "Like it or not, the extension does not reflect well on the army as an institution. It is almost an article of faith that the Pakistan Army is the only viable, strong and vibrant institution in the country. Whatever General Kayani's intimate familiarity with the present state of affairs and whatever his unique understanding of the situation, a strong institution should be able to withstand the retirement of one man, however experienced.


A compelling example of institutional concerns coming before individuals was provided recently by the US, where the architect of the present American counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan was replaced. This in the middle of a war that is by all accounts going badly for the US. Here in Pakistan, the public is constantly told that the internal security situation has improved, that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is on the back foot, that progress, while slow, is real and meaningful. If it seems difficult to reconcile the idea of a strong institution having depth in talent and leadership with the 'indispensability' of a single man, then that's because it truly is."


General Kayani is not just the chief of the army. He is also the first Director-General of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to become the army chief. In that sense, he may not be the originator but truly the sustainer of the Pakistan strategy of using the various terrorist organisations as "strategic assets". He is in direct control and charge of the "crown jewels" of Pakistan — its nuclear weapons.


General Kayani is a far more sophisticated man than General Pervez Musharraf, who felt compelled to make himself the president of Pakistan to be able to get proper protocol when he came to meet the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee at Agra in 2002. In the process, he had to rig two presidential elections and earn unpopularity among the people of Pakistan. By assuming direct responsibility for governance, he became accountable for the enormous governance deficit in the country. He got himself associated in the popular mind with the United States and thereby generated the hostility of the public at large and some of the more virulent jehadi organisations. General Kayani has avoided most of those mistakes.


He delinked himself from General Musharraf and gave the green light to political parties to push him out. He earned the reputation of having conducted the second free-and-fair elections in the history of Pakistan. Political parties hailed him as being democratic. He is not blamed for governance deficits and not even for the terrorist outrages committed by jehadi organisations earlier patronised by the ISI. On the other hand, he is hailed for fighting the TTP earlier nurtured by the ISI and he is considered indispensable by the prime minister and president to continue the counterinsurgency operations against the jehadis.


In spite of continuing terrorist attacks on US targets, the Obama administration argues that there is no alternative to the Pakistan Army and its present leadership to pursue the anti-Taliban operations in Afghanistan. Though General Kayani does not hold any Cabinet office, there is no doubt in the minds of Pakistanis and Americans who rules Pakistan. The strategic dialogue with the US is conducted by him with Foreign Minister Qureshi providing the façade of being the leader. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spends more time in discussions with him than any Cabinet member.


On the eve of the strategic dialogue with the US, he summoned all the secretaries to the government concerned with the discussion to the GHQ in Rawalpindi and chaired the meeting to finalise the agenda. When he expressed the displeasure of the Pakistan Army on the Kerry-Lugar legislation, a senator was rushed from the US to mollify him. Clearly, General Kayani knew he had made himself irreplaceable, which is why he was not replaced.


All this highlights that India cannot have effective communication with the real power centre of Pakistan by talking to the foreign minister, the prime minister or the now powerless president. For meaningful communication, India should be in a position to talk to the Pakistan Army chief. This cannot be done by our strictly apolitical army chief trying to talk to his counterpart. Here too, General Kayani has an advantage. He can let loose Mr Gillani on Manmohan Singh, Mr Qureshi on S M Krishna while keeping the ultimate veto power with himself.


Therefore, the Indian prime minister has to think through an innovative solution. That has to be an empowered personal envoy like the one he nominated to talk to the Chinese premier. He has to be knowledgeable to deal with terrorism, counter-terrorism, conventional military balance, nuclear deterrence, Afghanistan, China, evolving strategic balance in the area and bilateral Indo-Pakistan issues. Such missions have to be undertaken without publicity as was done with the "back channel" discussions during President Musharraf's tenure.


In the US, Harry Hopkins was used by President Roosevelt in such a role. Will the Pakistan Army chief agree to receive a special envoy of the Indian prime minister? That will be a litmus test of his intentions towards India and his seriousness to have a real dialogue with New Delhi.








The 2010 World Expo in Shanghai will be remembered as unquestionably the world's first mass celebration of the sun and the first clinching evidence of how close we are to solar power as a mainstream energy source. Now everybody will be rethinking. For the first time, people have realised that solar power isn't merely a boutique idea, nor is it only as good as a candle is when power goes off at home. If solar power is good for a giant show like the Expo, it can be good for even larger applications too. And when perceptions change, governments will be prompted to act.


 The 5.8 sq km Expo is fed by 4.6 Mw of on-site solar power, making it perhaps the largest single solar application demo in the world. The mile-long Expo Boulevard, the main access to the Expo site, has six giant funnel-shaped "Sun Valleys" that gather sunlight to illuminate its two underground levels where many of the commercial activities are located. When people come face to face with such a concrete evidence of what's possible — the Expo site is also served by 34.3 Mw of wind power — their faith in alternative energy is bound to increase.


What the world needs — we certainly do in India — are more Expo-like showcases to remove doubts from people's minds and make renewable energy part of governments' mainstream policy agenda. Unless that happens, progress towards alternative energy will only be halting and desultory.


It's clear that China's mind is firmly set on solar, as on other renewables, with a goal of 20 GW of installed solar capacity by 2020, and it's encouraging that other nations have begun to fall in step. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, aiming to increase grid-based solar generation from a likely 15 Mw at the end of this year to 1,000 Mw by 2013, could change India's alternative energy landscape if the effort lasts and proves it's not an accident. Thailand has announced plans for a 73 Mw solar power plant with assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Abu Dhabi has launched a solar plant, Shams 1, to produce 100 Mw of electricity, enough to serve 20,000 homes. South Korea, with 168 Mw of solar capacity already installed, has asked its power utilities to generate at least 2 per cent of their total capacity from renewable sources.


What's needed now from Asia's hesitant governments is a far greater policy commitment to developing solar power in particular and renewable energy in general. We need to do, for example, what the state of New York is seeking to do. The New York Solar Jobs and Development Act, currently under consideration, wants 5,000 Mw of solar capacity installed in the state by 2025 and will penalise the utilities if they fail to do so. If Asia's nations could show similar determination, many believe the region could account for a quarter of the global solar capacity in five years.


That's why the news that ADB has decided to be the region's solar power motivator is more than welcome. Motivation, prodding, and financial support are precisely what the region's governments need to promote their solar ambitions, and ADB is in a perfect position to help.


Early this month, ADB called ministers of selected Asian countries, high-level public sector participants, key policy-makers, international solar facility manufacturers, industry associations, and knowledge institutes to a meeting at its headquarters in Manila and announced a solar energy initiative that aims to catalyse the generation of 3,000 Mw of solar power in the next three years. In that meeting, ADB proposed to put in $2.25 billion of its own money to support the initiative and hoped leverage an additional $6.75 billion from other, mainly private, investors.


What ADB intends to do is make available a range of projects, financing options and knowledge-sharing mechanisms that might attract private investors and banks. It also expects to raise $500 million from donor countries to "buy down" the high upfront capital costs of investing in solar energy. With such a help at hand, Asia seems destined for a brighter solar future.


Perhaps that's why ADB should also direct its initiative to the technical side of solar power generation. We need to promote solar power, but we don't want acres of solar panels gobble up our fields and hills like a virus. If, for example, a 20 Mw solar plant in South Korea needs an area the size of 93 soccer fields, we have a serious problem. Could solar panels be built into the very designs of buildings and factories? What should be the focus of Asia's solar R & D? What are the needed reforms to attract more solar investments? What about pricing? As the solar mindset matures in Asia, these are the issues that ADB, as a regional institution, should help us address.  









Last week, Kapil Sibal unveiled the prototype of a Rs 1,500 tablet pc aimed at providing an ultra-low-cost solution targeted towards making computer literacy accessible to those who are at the bottom of the pyramid. The minister believes that not only it is possible to see a commercial launch of this prototype as early as in 2011, but also a price-point which could eventually be as low as Rs 500.


 A few months ago, Tata Group launched an ultra-low-cost water purifier (Swach) with the same admirable intention — to make clean drinking water available to the poorest of the poor. Similar efforts have been undertaken towards the development of low-cost, smokeless chulhas; low-cost, solar-powered or conventional battery-powered LED-based lighting solutions; low-cost housing solutions; and other such products for the very poor. And, of course, the world took note when Tata Motors launched the ultra-low-cost Nano for the masses.


Yet, while all these efforts are inspiring and laudable, most may not really make the impact that would have been anticipated when such projects were envisaged and taken up for research and development. The reasons could be many. However, perhaps the most fundamental flaw is that each of these initiatives, at some point in their development cycle, has become an academic exercise in meeting a single objective, namely "lowest cost". The visionary (individual or the organisation) loses track of the fundamental objective, which is to find an affordable solution to a real problem faced by the masses, and finally comes up with products or solutions that end up being sub-optimal or even at a tangent to the fundamental objective. Hence, in the realm of transportation, India needs efficient, very low-cost mobility solution for the masses, but somewhere in the visualisation process, the objective became to produce a Rs 1-lakh car for a few individuals (even if the number of such individuals may be a few hundreds of tho usands) while hundreds of millions still end up using jugaads or hang perilously on rooftops of trains and buses.


The second most fundamental flaw could be that almost all of these efforts are directed towards the individual user (or an individual household) rather than a group of users or communities of households. Micro-solutions directed towards individuals may not be as feasible or as cost-effective as mini-solutions which could be directed towards communities.


India's social infrastructure challenges are well understood. The biggest ones include accessible, affordable and acceptable (quality) solutions for education, health care, drinking water, energy for lighting and cooking, and sanitation. Making these infrastructure available to the hundreds of millions below or on the cusp of poverty line requires financial resources in hundreds and thousands of billions of dollars, and then to meet other logistical challenges, be it in the acquisition and development of land to build physical infrastructure or in the availability of trained human resource, such as teachers, doctors and technicians.


Fortunately, technological advances and digital communication allow conceptualisation of some practical solutions in the near future which could have been in the realms of fantasy even 25 years ago.


India will not be able to train the additional 10-plus million teachers needed right now to staff all the K12 classrooms the country needs if it is serious about providing universal access to education, and nor can it build the hundreds of millions of square feet of classroom space. A PC-based solution which has education-related multi-media/multi-lingual capabilities, with high-speed wireless broadband connectivity, could make basic but quality education reach the slums. Even if such a device costs Rs 15,000, it does not matter since such resources can be raised.


Similarly, small community (say, in units of 50-households)-based water purification systems, community kitchens allowing groups of households to use the facilities, community-based power generating solutions based on solar, coal, oil, hydel or wind energy, community-based sanitation systems (adapted Sulabh models), and even innovative small community-based primary healthcare systems (technology is available for very compact and reliable pathological labs that can be operated like the village PCOs/post offices, integrated with digital access to physicians who could be anywhere, and then dispensation of medication again through such "PCOs/post offices") may offer more feasible and much more impactful solutions to India's challenges. Hence, India first needs to innovate the solution itself, and then focus on the product. 








Takeover regulations were first introduced in 1994. They underwent an overhaul in 1997, based on the recommendations of the Justice Bhagwati Committee. The regulations were then periodically re-looked and amended 23 times, keeping pace with global events and developments in the capital market.


Being one of the fastest developing economies in the world after China, India has seen a tremendous increase in the extent of mergers and acquisitions (M&As). The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), vide an order dated September 4, 2009, constituted the Takeover Regulation Advisory Committee (TRAC) under the chairmanship of C Achuthan (former presiding officer of the Securities Appellate Tribunal) with a mandate to suggest suitable amendments to bridge the gap between the decade-long regulations and a rapidly evolving M&A market in the country.


 Clearly, while drafting any legislation, concerns and interests of various stakeholders are involved and these are very often in conflict with each other. As TRAC has stated, its approach has been one of balancing and calibrating conflicting objectives; however, the goal of protection of interests of public shareholders seems to have been paramount for TRAC members. Also, given the increase in M&A activity and the likelihood of its further acceleration, an attempt has been made to provide clarity on several vexed issues which have emerged over the last few years.


Threshold limit of 25 per cent

TRAC has recommended an increase in the threshold limit for an open offer to be in line with global practices. The threshold limit has been revised to 25 per cent from 15 per cent. Such an increase would help companies raise growth capital by way of inviting strategic investors, without triggering open offer conditions.

Currently, threshold limits for an open offer in some of the countries are: 30 per cent in the UK, 35 per cent in Hong Kong, 33 per cent in Malaysia and 30 per cent in Singapore. Although the threshold globally is generally 30 per cent, the limit has been increased to 25 per cent keeping in mind the limits for passing special resolution and exercising de facto control. While the threshold limit has been increased to 25 per cent, one needs to see whether promoters (having shareholding between 15 per cent and 24.99 per cent) would be required to make an open offer if their shareholdings cross 25 per cent, through creeping regulations or otherwise, under the new takeover regulations. The draft regulations are silent on this aspect.


Definition of 'control'
The open offer trigger is not only a percentage limit of shareholding, but as such, the acquisition of control, and could conceivably be at a level of shareholding lower than the threshold. This aspect of control is clearly a vexed one and in the light of the current controversies, the recommendations of TRAC aim at providing better clarity on the investments made by financial investors, such as private equity funds and venture capital investors, which typically seek protective interest in their target companies. However, it seems that TRAC has tactically dealt with the definition of the term "control" by including "ability to appoint majority of directors or to control management or policy decisions" while determining control. As the Subhkam case, which deals with the term "control", is pending for disposal in the apex court, one has to wait and watch how the interpretation of "control" evolves, given its inherent subjectivity. TRAC has also distinguished between "negative control" vis-à-vis "positive control"; it has refrained from stipulating any dispensation qua the former and recognises the subjectivity qua the latter.


Offers to be made for entire 100%
The offer size from the existing minimum 20 per cent is recommended to be increased to 100 per cent. This will provide full exit opportunity to all shareholders; it, however, substantially increases the acquisition cost for acquirers.

The amount of financial outlay would obviously be significant and, given that acquisition funding in India is relatively less easy to come by as compared to an overseas acquirer, in a sense, it creates a non-level playing field in favour of the latter.


De-listing window
Another major change includes allowing a single window for de-listing if the acquirer discloses his intention of de-listing upfront and the shareholding acquired in an offer crosses the maximum permissible non-public shareholding limit. Such a seamless go-private route is definitely progressive and eliminates the need for passing through the cumbersome reverse book-building process under de-listing guidelines. This window is not available for achieving de-listing through voluntary offers.


Payment of non-compete fees 
A question which often comes up in takeover situations is that of the parity of treatment between exiting promoter shareholders and the minority ones in the context of the payment of non-compete fees/controlled premium. For instance, in 2006, when German cement maker Heidelberg took over Mysore Cements from the S K Birla group (promoters), the open offer price was Rs 58 a share; however, the promoters of Mysore Cements received an additional Rs 14.50 per share as non-compete fee (this was 25 per cent of the open offer price). The current regulation allows a window of 25 per cent of consideration to be paid as "non-compete fee" to exiting promoters which minority shareholders could be deprived of. In a move that aims at allowing parity of treatment, TRAC has recommended removing such exemption by including the control premium amount under the calculation of negotiated price. As such, the 25 per cent differential has been removed.


Other aspects
Currently, the exemption from open offer can be provided by referring the case to an exemption panel constituted by Sebi. However, the draft in question provides for Sebi to grant an exemption and the reference to the takeover exemption panel is sought to be made optional from a Sebi standpoint as opposed to the current situation where it is mandatory. Interestingly, there is a reference in the TRAC report that the present tax regime in India is more favourable towards open market transactions as against open offer transactions, the latter being taxable. TRAC has expressed the view that there is a need to bring parity. It may, however, be noticed that the Direct Taxes Code, which is on the anvil, in any case, contemplates the taxation of capital gains regardless of the mode of divestment.


To sum up, the new regulations mark a watershed in India's M&A landscape and will materially alter the rules of the M&A game in a variety of ways. On an overall basis, the TRAC recommendations seem to have been reviewed well and the next few years should be interesting as far as M&A activity for listed companies is concerned.


The author is executive director and joint leader of the tax practice, PricewaterhouseCoopers









DAVID Cameron, prime minister of Britain, is in India to promote ties between the two countries. Emblematic of what drives relations between the two countries these days has been his first stopover in India, Bangalore, where he visited the Infosys campus and a Hindustan Aeronautics facility that produces a British warplane. What special benefit does a prime ministerial visit bring, it may well be asked, in the era of globalisation, where the rules of the game converge across borders ever more than before, and, increasingly, regimes do not distinguish between domestic and foreign companies, leave alone discriminate against some foreign firms. If a cross-border economic opportunity exists, companies suss it out, with or without the help of global merchant banks and consultancies; and where an opportunity is lacking, prime ministers cannot persuade companies to make believe there is one. So why drag business delegations along, when heads of governments travel to meet their counterparts? Big society or small government or whatever else the slogan of the day, governments play a big role in providing business with comfort, especially when it forays abroad in policy environs where some political intervention could well be the only way to get over a hurdle. A government-level introduction provides an extra fillip, which Indian industry should use to the hilt to make its presence felt in markets abroad. Even the best of Indian companies are not exactly household names abroad. This should change. 

At the same time, Britain has to do more to solve some of the world's festering problems, such as the Israel-Palestine conflict, to allow globalisation to realise its full potential. As yesteryear's superpower that helped found Israel and as the closest ally of today's superpower as it wages war to modernise the Islamic world, Britain can do much more than it has been, to end some key conflicts. Sure, that's not the balmiest terrain out there. But then, Englishmen used to take pride in striking out where the only company they had were mad dogs!









 CONSUMER goods giant Hindustan Unilever (HUL) chairman Harish Manwani devoted his speech at the latest annual general meeting of the company to building human capital in the country. This is a welcome development. It shows that a concern that has been uppermost in policymaking circles for some time has percolated down to the industry and now resonates with some of India's best companies, laying the ground for effective public-private partnership in the area. HUL has done well to launch several initiatives to build human capital, both through its own business and also in the local communities where it operates. Mr Manwani has usefully stressed the importance of developing leadership, while building up human capital. He surveys the areas of responsibility that has to be separately shouldered by the government, educational institutions and industry. The only cavil can be that he tends, as do industry associations, to lay too much stress on acquiring skills at the school level. It is eminently arguable that the emphasis has to be, at the level of schools, on developing cognitive abilities that allow young people to learn, unlearn and relearn skills as required. HUL's initiatives such as skill-mapping, sales internship opportunities and leadership development help not only the company but industry in general. Indeed, HUL used to serve as the primary training ground for managers who would then migrate to populate the rest of industry. Other companies could take a page out of HUL's book on things like training rural women and interning tier-II and tier-III management school students. 
    However, it is not enough merely to send children to schools. Their ability to learn and later be part of a creative workforce depends on growth processes that precede schooling. The levels of nutrition and mental stimulation received in the first three years of an individual's life, research shows, has a major impact on her performance in school and, later on, in life. Improving the effectiveness of programmes such as the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme should figure in the PPP schemes that companies like HUL choose to pursue.









MODELS wading into swimming pools or tip-tapping their way down a ramp that had scantily-clad men slithering around like salamanders, were just a few of the shenanigans at the Couture Week in Delhi, which concluded with its usual share of tamasha. Nor were the designers immune to sprinkling their creations with a bit of stardust, as if their crystal-encrusted garments were simply not sparkling enough. Though fashion weeks all over the world vie for A-listers to attend shows, only in India we determinedly yank them off their front-row seats to sashay down catwalks for their 'good friends'. In the fashion capitals of the world, be it couture or prêt-a-porter, the clothes do the talking, with hair and makeup as the only force multipliers. In India, the actual collections are almost incidental to the overall event — barring a few honourable exceptions. All this points to the emerging mantra of the rag trade here: if designs don't cut it, go in for drama. Of course, it could be said that such a penchant for spectacle is of a piece with the Indian ethos, but that is does not show the Indian design fraternity — some of whom are making a mark internationally for their innovative approaches — in a very favourable light. 


This couture week also showed up a curious Indian trait. In the west, couture is distinguished from prêt, or ready-to-wear, not only by price and handcrafted, custom-made perfection but by its single-minded devotion to originality, bordering on whimsy. Couture creations can be downright bizarre and quite unwearable but serve as a peek into the mind of the couturier, who typically tones down his or her creativity for the more commercial (read: wearable, marketable) prêt collections, which then spawn high-street knockoffs. No such distinctions and percolation pattern is discernible in India. No wonder so many designers fall back on star power.







 LET me start by welcoming the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) move to have a mid-quarter review of monetary policy from now. In a fast-changing and quite unpredictable macroeconomic environment, there is a need for continuous assessment and policy action. By reviewing the monetary policy every six weeks, RBI can provide a more realistic and faster response to developments. This will also take the surprise element out of the off-cycle

actions, as noted by RBI. 


Coming now to inflation, if we look at the headline index, we see that inflation has been at double-digit levels since February 2010. Latest figures show that in June 2010, headline inflation stood at 10.6%. Disaggregated numbers further show that while inflation in primary articles has remained at elevated levels for an extended period, with inflation crossing the 15% mark in recent months, the price rise phenomenon is now spreading to other segments as well. 


Data shows that non-food manufacturing inflation has seen a rapid build-up, rising from near zero in November 2009 to 7.3% in June 2010. This increase in prices of manufactured goods can be explained by three factors. First is the incessant increase in prices of raw materials and industrial inputs. 


Second is the upward revision in wages and salaries, with several companies renegotiating their compensation contracts to match the higher cost of living. Third and most important is the recovery in economic situation with demand holding at strong levels in the economy. This has led to an improvement in capacity utilisation levels with some segments of industry now facing constraints to meet the rising demand. 


The central bank is understandably worried about this increasingly generalised nature of inflation. It has made its concern public and to clamp down inflation, it has introduced a series of quick and successive policy rate hikes. 


On July 2, 2010, we saw the repo and reverse repo rates being hiked by 25 bps. On July 27, 2010, RBI repeated the act, but this time, the reverse repo was hiked by 50 bps against 25 bps that was the consensus view amongst economists who participated in Ficci's latest Economic Outlook Survey. 


With the central bank making it clear that the balance of policy stance has to shift 'decisively' to 'containing inflation' and 'anchoring inflationary expectations', we can pre-judge the direction in which monetary policy will move in the days ahead. 


The question now is whether these moves will help in cooling down prices and bringing inflation back to the more acceptable 5% level. In our view, the answer is both yes and no. Let me explain. 


The tightening of monetary policy by RBI will be followed by an increase in lending rates by banks for all kinds of borrowers. Once this happens, you will see some impact on industrial growth. The logic is simple: a rise in interest rate will compress both consumption and investment demand and this, in turn, will impinge on industrial activity. As a follow up, you will see some relief from capacity constraints and manufacturing inflation will moderate. 


This is what RBI is aiming at, and our experience shows that industrial growth will trend down and manufacturing inflation will get controlled as expected. However, what happens to manufacturing inflation alone does not determine the overall inflation situation in the economy. This is because we also have a more volatile component of primary articles inflation. And this does not respond to monetary policy manoeuvring. Controlling primary inflation, particularly food inflation, requires an altogether different approach. 

TODAY, we are betting on a good monsoon that will give us a favourable kharif output. And once the new crop comes into the market, food prices should settle down. However, this is not a solution to food inflation. We cannot keep chasing the monsoon every year to keep food prices under control. We have to realise that with high growth, rising incomes and aggressive development work being undertaken in rural areas, food demand is increasing rapidly. And the only way to maintain price line here is to have a sustainable policy for the farm sector.We have to increase productivity, match demand with supply and ensure that higher output gets distributed throughout the country. 


Improving the state of farm economy calls for some serious action. 


In case of pulses, which is the main source of protein for a large proportion of our population, we need a quantum jump in yields through intensive R&D. Additionally, government must put in place a robust procurement mechanism for lifting the pulses output. Today, we rely only on Nafed for procurement of pulses, and this has not proved to be an effective channel to extend benefits of higher MSPs to producers of pulses. 

In case of fruit and vegetables, we need to minimise the wastage ratio that can be as high as 40%. Here, government must encourage private sector participation in building the required storage and transportation infrastructure. The supply chain from farm to the market needs to be streamlined and government must leverage the capabilities of private sector including foreign retail players in this mammoth task. 


In case of cereals such as rice and wheat, India has sufficient buffer stocks, but the real problem lies with distribution. The public distribution system in the country has failed. We need to develop and alternate mechanism to PDS. Also, when it comes to releasing food grain stocks in the open market, FCI should extend selling smaller quantities of, say, 100 tonnes, at multiple locations through electronic platforms. Bulk sales through routine tendering process slows down the response time to any shortages that may appear from time to time. 


By deploying monetary policy, we cannot hope to achieve medium- or long-term price stability. The decisive action to tackle inflation has to be in the form of acceleration of farm sector growth and ensuring comprehensive and timely distribution of agricultural produce. Also, focus must go back to economic reforms, which will ease supplyside constraints and bottlenecks. 

(The author is president of Ficci)







FOR most of human history, the two birds More and Better roosted on the same branch… You could toss one stone and hope to hit both. But the distinguishing feature of our moment is this: Better has flown a few trees over to make her nest. That changes everything. Now, if you've got the stone of your own life, or your own society, gripped in your hand, you have to choose between them. It's More or Better. Given all that we know about topics ranging from the molecular structure of carbon dioxide to the psychology of human satisfaction, we need to move decisively to rebuild our local economies. These may well yield less stuff, but they produce richer relationships; they may grow less quickly, if at all, but they make up for it in durability. 

Shifting our focus to local economies will not mean abandoning Adam Smith or doing away with markets. Markets, obviously, work. Building a local economy will mean, however, ceasing to worship markets as infallible and consciously setting limits on their scope. We will need to downplay efficiency and pay attention to other goals. We will have to make the biggest changes to our daily habits in generations — and the biggest change, as well, to our worldview, our sense of what constitutes progress. The old realism — an endless More — is morphing into a dangerous fantasy. In the face of energy shortage, of global warming, and of the vague but growing sense that we are not as alive and connected as we want to be, I think we've started to grope for what might come next. And just in time.







THE waterfall of leaks on Afghanistan underlines the awful truth: we're not in control. Not since Theseus fought the Minotaur in his maze has a fight been so confounding. The more we try to do for our foreign protectorates, the more angry they get. As Congress passed $59 billion in additional war funding on Tuesday, not only are our wards not grateful, they're disdainful. 


Washington gave the Wall Street banks billions, and, in return, they stabbed us in the back, handing out a fortune in bonuses to the grifters who almost wrecked our economy. Washington gave the Pakistanis billions, and, in return, they stabbed us in the back, pledging to fight the militants even as they secretly help the militants. 

We keep getting played by people who are playing both sides. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs recalled that President Barack Obama said last year that 'we will not and cannot provide a blank cheque' to Pakistan. But only last week, secretary of state Hillary Clinton arrived in Pakistan to hand over a juicy cheque: $500 million in aid to the country that's been getting a billion a year for most of this decade, and in 2009, was pledged another $7.5 billion for the next five. 


Gibbs argued that the deluge of depressing war documents from the whistleblower website WikiLeaks was old. But it reflected one chilling fact: the Taliban has been getting better and better every year of the insurgency. So why will 30,000 more troops help? We invaded two countries, and allied with a third — all renowned as masters at doubledealing. And, now lured into their mazes, we still don't have the foggiest idea, shrouded in the fog of wars, how these cultures work. Before we went into Iraq and Afghanistan, both places were famous for warrior cultures. And, indeed, their insurgents are world class. 


But whenever the US tries to train security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan so that we can leave behind a somewhat stable country, it's positively Sisyphean. It takes aeons longer than our officials predict. The forces we train turn against us or go over to the other side or cut and run. If we give them a maximum-security prison, making a big show of handing over the key, the imprisoned al-Qaida militants are suddenly allowed to escape. 


The British Empire prided itself on discovering warrior races in places it conquered: Gurkhas, Sikhs, Pathans, as the Brits called Pashtuns. But why are they warrior cultures only until we need them to be warriors on our side? Then they're untrainably lame, even when we spend $25 billion on building up the Afghan military and the National Police Force. Maybe we just can't train them to fight against each other. But why can't countries that produce fierce insurgencies produce good-standing armies in a reasonable amount of time? Is it just that insurgencies can be more indiscriminate? 


Things are so bad that Robert Blackwill, who was on W's national security team, wrote in Politico that the Obama administration should just admit failure and turn over the Pashtun South to the Taliban since it will inevitably control it anyway. He said that the administration doesn't appreciate the extent to which this is a Pashtun nationalist uprising. 


We keep hearing that the last decade of war, where we pour in gazillions to build up Iraq and Afghanistan even as our own economy sputters, has weakened al-Qaida. 



But at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. James Mattis warned that al-Qaida and its demon spawn represent a stark danger all over west and central Asia. 

While we're anchored in Afghanistan, the al-Qaida network could roil Yemen 'to the breaking point', as Mattis put it in written testimony. Pakistan's tribal areas "remain the greatest danger as these are strategic footholds for al-Qaida and its senior leaders, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri," the blunt four-star general wrote, adding that they 'remain key to extremists' efforts to rally Muslim resistance worldwide'. 

 Mattis told John McCain that we're not leaving Afghanistan; we're starting 'a process of transition to the Afghan forces'. But that process never seems to get past the starting point. During the debate over war funds on Tuesday, Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., warned that we are in a monstrous maze without the ball of string to find our way out. ©2010 New York Times News Service









FAKE encounters are anti-growth, and strike at the roots of the institutions that enable individual creativity to flourish and economies to prosper. Industry and its representatives cannot afford to turn a blind eye to this authoritarian practice and pretend that it is none of their concern. 


If the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government of Gujarat, under the leadership of chief minister Narendra Modi, not just allowed but actively egged on the state's police officers to stage fake encounters and bump off unwanted elements and inconvenient witnesses, should that reflect on the government's ability to promote economic growth in the state? Should an industrialist like Ratan Tata think twice before rushing to accept gushing invitations to invest from a government that defends perpetrators of pogroms and fake encounters? 

The empirical evidence on economic growth in the state does not support an answer in the affirmative. Gujarat has been the country's fastest-growing state for some years. Physical infrastructure has improved in the state. It has excellent road connectivity. Policy has boldly departed from populist tolerance of power theft and, in consequence, Gujarat today can boast of having converted the power sector of the state into a commercially-viable industry. 


It has been most proactive in tapping natural gas to feed industrial growth. Corruption levels are down, the administrative machinery works. Why then make a song and dance about the death of an undesirable character, even if it did not happen in a strictly legal fashion? 


Between 1932 and 1938, Germany grew at an average rate of 8.2%, spectacular by any standards, but particularly so for those times. It built its autobahns, industry flourished, bringing down the share of the workforce engaged in agriculture, creating a mammoth steel and armaments industry and producing a so-called people's car. If anyone had then argued that fascism was bad for economic growth, he would have been cheerfully despatched to join the Jews in the concentration camps. 


Hitler was enormously popular, a powerful speaker and seen as an exceptional leader who was leading his people to a higher destiny. Of course, the science of plastics had not advanced, those days, to a stage that could make Hitler masks a common prop of organised propaganda! 


But all this did not prevent the devastation of Germany. The economy could be rebuilt only on the strength of external aid, under the Marshall Plan. 


Getting people killed directly by state agencies or with their patronage is a fascist trait. The ideology of fascism vests the state with enormous power and control. The state knows best and good citizens submit themselves to its will. Those who do not are obviously not good citizens. Bad citizens are like vermin to be crushed, or gassed or burnt to a crisp in bakeries. The fascist state is so convinced of its self-righteousness that it deems legal-constitutional obligations to be expendable niceties. 


Big business typically has always made peace with the fascist state, whether in Germany or Italy. So, the quintessentially antigrowth nature of fascist politics is not all that obvious. But it is powerfully effective and works at three levels. 

One, curtailment of individual liberty is inimical to innovation and creativity. Capitalist growth thrives on innovation and creativity, which could have quite disruptive consequences for established businesses. The capitalist economy thrives on the basis of decentralised decisions. An authoritarian state that controls everything hampers such decentralised decision-making and makes the whole system suboptimal. 


Two, entrenched big business can use its proximity to the state — and the politicians who man it — to get rid of those who make trouble for them, whether extortionists like the late, unlamented Sohrabuddin or upstart industrialists. Crony capitalism and the fascist state are made for each other. 


Three, the fascist ideology is a combination of authoritarianism with mobilisation of the majority through whipped up hatred of a minority. The social schism created by such antagonistic mobilisation is immanent with disruptive violence. The discrimination that the minority faces under a fascist state deprives the larger community of the creative talents of that minority (First-rate physicists Einstein, Max Born and Schrodinger fled Nazi Germany). More perniciously, it prepares the ground for disruptive violence in society. Often, the violence is directed at, and borne by, the minority. Sometimes, there is retaliatory violence, on a massive scale. 
Those who want the economy to flourish cannot shut their eyes to the political tendencies that gain strength in the country. They cannot afford to tolerate fascist or authoritarian politics, of which fake encounters are one ugly manifestation. 


Ultimately, democratic freedoms underpin human creativity, without which no society can prosper.









SINBAD the Sailor and his companions get marooned on a vast floating island. They're weary and wet and one lights a little fire. That's when the 'island' rises skywards with a groan. It's a whale. 


In another version, the whale is 'as fair as the Garden of Eden with trees that had grown on its back since the world was young'. Reality comes to light only after the fire is started. 


This illustrates the old saying that 'the absence of proof isn't always the proof of absence (of the whale)'. So it is with people who don't believe in God. Nor can they be 100% certain that He does not 'exist' in the sense that the whaledoes. Nor can those who believe in Him prove His existence in the way that Sinbad's sailors did: by simply starting a fire. 


Why not embrace Possibilianism, says neuroscientist David Eagleman, which rejects both extremes of traditional theism and the positions of certainty in atheism in favour of an exploratory, middle initiative. To be a Possibilian is to be simply open to the power of ideas that one has no means of testing right now. 


This emphasises the necessity of holding multiple positions at once if there is no available data to privilege one over the others. Eagleman first presented hismultiple positions philosophy in Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives. He imagined life after death as a playful series of possibilities: what if in an afterlife we confront all the possible versions of ourselves that could have been? What if we experience death in stages: when the body stops functioning, when we're buried, and the moment when your name is spoken by another for the last time? 


Some of these stories were adapted by the Sydney Opera House to critical acclaim. The success of the venture prompted Eagleman to flesh out the concept; in an interview with The New York Times, he said, for example, "Our ignorance of the cosmos is too vast to commit to atheism, and yet we know too much to commit to a particular religion. A third position, agnosticism, is often an uninteresting stance in which a person simply questions whether his traditional religious story (say, a man with a beard on a cloud) is true or not true." 
But with Possibilianism, he's hoping to define a new position: one that emphasises the exploration of new, unconsidered possibilities. Possibilianism is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind; it is not interested in committing to a particular story.





                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




There are several aspects to the hosting of the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in October. Possibly the most crucial for us as a nation was to have used the opportunity to showcase to the world the strides the country has made in many spheres of modern life, and seek to attract gains in diverse areas on the basis of the favourable impression created. China should serve as an object lesson in this regard.

The breathtaking show it put up when it hosted the Beijing Olympics in 2008 guaranteed its status as a nation and society that can deliver quality, and on schedule. The Olympics more than confirmed China's position and image as a manufacturing megapower, and the envy of other leading nations. The extraordinarily successful hosting of the international sporting event held every four years would doubtless have given the Chinese an advantage in dealing with the rest of the world, especially developing countries, that would ordinarily take years of hard diplomacy to build.


There is thus no surprise that being given the privilege of hosting a mega-event is in effect an opportunity for power projection. The billions of dollars that the event cost China were clearly well spent. The massive expenditure guaranteed bountiful returns by way of trade, tourism, investment opportunities overseas, attracting inward investments, and by helping the expansion of China's soft power as a doer nation and a technological power.


It is quite evident that those in India charged with getting India's capital ready to host the Commonwealth Games had none of the above in view, or they wouldn't be all set to deliver what has all the makings of a shabby show that is likely to attract the world's opprobrium. The Commonwealth Games are much smaller in scale than the Olympics, and yet the privilege to host it is not easy to come by.


Experts take a close look at a country's ability to execute the Games infrastructure. India came through the scrutiny but runs the risk of faltering at the execution stage. This is a poor advertisement for its political executive, especially with those entrusted with overseeing the Games preparations. A little over two months to go for the opening of the Games a day after Gandhi Jayanti, and the nation's capital is choking with uncleared debris, unfinished stadiums and other facilities associated with the Games.


Long before now, the dry runs should have commenced to ensure the success of the event on which about Rs 35,000 crores are said to have been spent. The plain reason for this not happening is that Delhi is virtually run by builder cabals that are in league with corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. These thrive on delays. When schedules are slipping, no questions are asked and cart blanche is given to take shortcuts, to cover up the use of below-par materials and shoddy execution through quick fixes, even if these will be exposed in weeks if not days.


These are ways to shortchange the public exchequer and ultimately the Indian people. Some of former Union sports minister Mani Shankar Aiyar's criticisms of the CWG appear zany, but he is right when he says the Games have not been leveraged to improve the lot of the ordinary people of Delhi, as was done in, say, Manchester. Perhaps it is time for the highest levels of the government to bestir themselves.








This is not the first time that a Pakistan Army Chief has decided to stay on beyond his scheduled date of departure. The version that the civilian government of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani granted Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani this extension is a myth that very few believe. In fact, speculation and justifications for his extension were making the rounds in Islamabad in early summer this year.


By May 2010, there were articles, sponsored undoubtedly, suggesting that Gen. Kayani had become indispensable to the scheme of things in Pakistan; that Pakistan was passing through a critical phase and continuity as the Army Chief was essential; that Gen. Kayani would not seek extension but would gracefully accept if invited to serve the country for a little while longer.


Pakistani analyst Ayesha Siddiqa had earlier commented that a decision to extend the term would depend upon three factors — an agreement within the GHQ, a nod from the United States and support of the government. With the Zardari-Gilani government perennially on the backfoot, there would have been very little resistance from the political setup. It is true that the US would like continuity and Gen. Kayani became the preferred option, as he was perceived to be able to deliver on US objectives.


In the immediate future, Gen. Kayani will have to keep the war on terror against selected sections going, keep the US at arm's length when it relates to the Pakistan Army's other strategic assets considered vital to its perceived aims in Afghanistan and India without any stoppage of funds from the US. He will also have to make some arrangements for those who will feel they have been deprived of the top slot because of this extension. For instance, at least 16 lieutenant-generals — some of whom are now corps commanders — are due to retire after November 23, 2010 and before Gen. Kayani's extended term expires in November 2013. This includes Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha, Gen. Kayani's successor as ISI chief and who is already on a year's year extension. Gen. Pervez Musharraf had not extended the terms of his generals but accommodated them in civilian assignments.


Increasing numbers of Pakistani military officers who will now be due for promotions as major-general and lieutenant-general or equivalent will be those recruited during Gen. Zia-ul Haq's days of excessive Islamisation.


The Pakistan Army — with its ultimate control on policies relating to India, Afghanistan and the nuclear button — has shown remarkable tactical brilliance in enhancing its position in its own country but has left the country with very little resilience to tackle its major internal socio-economic problems. Outsiders see the march of folly of a nation with a crumbling economy, dwindling exports and the sole source of dollars being handouts by the US and the International Monetary Fund, with terrorists knocking at various doors even in Punjab. Yet it continues to convince its people that "enemy" India is still trying to undo Pakistan. In the process, Pakistan has been involved in a two-front jihad, has punched above its weight and thus finds itself in the middle of a crippling and tragic blowback. Caught in the brinkmanship of its rhetoric, Pakistan's rulers are unable to retreat from the cul de sac into which they have pushed their country.


Pakistan's tragedy has been that its civil society is today under siege from Islamic radicals and the Army, and these radicals and terrorists have been raised by the Army. With all other systems of law and order collapsing, civil society is dependent on the same Army for its own security and well-being. That is why at various moments in the history of Pakistan whenever the Army has been seen to take over the reins upfront, there have been many from within this liberal society who actually showered accolades on the Army.


The invisible hand of Rawalpindi was patently visible in the fiasco of the recent talks in Islamabad. Now that we have Gen. Kayani in charge of policy towards India and Afghanistan for the next three years, we should expect some hardening of attitudes. Pakistan's tactics in Jammu and Kashmir have already begun to change. Terrorist violence in the Valley has diminishing returns for Pakistan under the present circumstances; it wins Pakistan no new friends and attracts adverse attention from the US. We take solace behind encouraging statistics, but they tell only a part of the story. Stone-throwing tactics in the Valley portrayed as a people's movement in the new tactic where the state is made to look increasingly helpless and vicious.


Pakistan's postures on India are not going to be affected by the recent disclosures by WikiLeaks. Despite the usual exultation in India forever looking for Western approval, the leaks do not say anything new. They are more about the US. The speed with which US national security adviser James Jones supported the Pakistan government immediately after the disclosures, confirming US commitment to deepening partnership with Afghanistan and Pakistan, the manner in which AfPak special envoy Richard Holbrooke certified Pakistan was part of the solution in Afghanistan and the timing of the release of $500 million during Hillary Clinton's Islamabad visit (where she called on Gen. Kayani) — these only confirm the desperation of America's Afghan situation. Besides, Gen. Kayani's and the ISI chief's closeness to the Haqqani networks, their close liaison and protection of the Quetta Shura impinge directly on the US effort in Afghanistan. Pakistan has strengthened its assets in Afghanistan by inducting Lashkar-e-Tayyaba terrorists into Afghanistan.


Pakistan carefully assessed the limitations of US military power and Indian decibel. The Americans had needed Pakistan to launch into Afghanistan in 2001; nine years later they need Pakistan to come to an honourable arrangement in Afghanistan, whatever that might be. Given the paranoia that affects Punjabi officers in the Pakistan Army along with the desire to avenge 1971, there is need for India to prepare for the future and strengthen its defence and intelligence capabilities substantially — in quality and quantity. We face multiple fronts — Pakistan, China, terrorism and the unguarded sea.


While India-Pakistan talks may become desirable at some future date under suitable circumstances, they are neither irreversible nor uninterruptable. India must dispel the impression that there is no option except to talk to Pakistan and lose on the negotiating table what we have won on the battlefield. Therefore, between the option to talk and total war there are several options that can be exercised and we should be prepared for the long haul.


* Vikram Sood is a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency









It is pretty much a tossup for me: Who poses a greater long-term threat to America's Gulf Coast ecosystem: the US Senate or BP? Right now, from what I've seen flying over the Louisiana coast at the mouth of the Mississippi, my vote is the US Senate. BP at least seems to have finally gotten its act together and is cleaning up the oil spill. The Senate, in failing to pass even the most modest bill to diminish our addiction to oil and begin to mitigate climate change, has not even begun to do its job.


I have to admit, I was surprised and pleased that it took us an hour of flying in our float plane over Breton Sound and Barataria Bay and across the marshes, bayous, barrier islands and open water that lie about 70 miles from the site of the Deepwater Horizon rig before we spotted any significant ribbon of oil. "There it is", said our pilot, as he banked the plane for a better view of the small oil slick and as if he were pointing out a pod of whales we had been searching for all day.


Here's the good news. Thanks to: the capping of the broken oil well; the cleanup efforts so far by a flotilla of shrimp boats converted to skimmers; the currents that have blessedly taken a lot of the spill away from the shore; the weathering process that is breaking down a lot of the crude into different compounds that dissolve, evaporate or get absorbed by microbes in the ocean; and the dispersants that have broken up the biggest oil slicks, there is less and less to see here on the surface. Walking along the beach on Grand Isle, the only inhabited barrier island on Louisiana's Gulf Coast, it appears that our worst fears have not materialised — so far.


So much for the good news. The bad news is what you can't see that is happening under the ocean's surface and the stuff you can see — the decades of degradation along the whole Gulf Coast from decades of unfettered development — that no one is talking about.


"From a biological perspective, we know what happens when oil hits the beach. We can see those impacts; we can mitigate those impacts; we can quantify those impacts", said Keith Ouchley, the biologist who leads the Nature Conservancy in Louisiana. "What we don't know are the biological impacts that occur as that oil is dispersed through the deep water columns under the ocean's surface. We don't know what it is doing or affecting today or in the future. There is very little experience with this scale of spill at these depths in such a biologically productive system as this".


The greatest concern, added Ouchley, is what impact the undersea oil concentrations could have on the billions of tiny larval fish, shrimp and other organisms that are at the bottom of the whole marine food chain — and we may not know that for many years. What compounds that worry is that the marshes, sea grasses, oyster beds and barrier islands that provide the nurseries for those larval fish, shrimp and other marine life — and that provide natural barriers against storm surges from hurricanes — had already been dramatically weakened long before the BP spill. That was thanks to the building of levies that have prevented the rivers' natural flooding of life-giving freshwater and sediments into the marshes, as well as the laying of oil and gas pipelines and shipping navigation channels all across the ecosystem. "A football field of marsh is being washed into the ocean every 30 minutes", said Ouchley.


Bob Marshall, an environmental reporter for the Times-Picayune of New Orleans, put the BP spill in the right context when he wrote: "We need to remember this is a temporary problem on top of a permanent disaster. Long after BP's oil is gone, we'll still be fighting for survival against a much more serious enemy — our sinking, crumbling delta. Our coast is like a cancer patient who has come down with pneumonia. That's serious, but curable. After the fever breaks, he'll still have cancer".


That's where the Senate has failed miserably. There are three things it should be doing for the gulf and our other vital ecosystems. First, taking out some minimal insurance against climate change by reducing our carbon emissions; this region is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and the more intense storms that climate change will bring. Second, set us on a path to diminish our addiction to oil so we don't have to drill in ever-deeper waters. And, finally, provide the federal funding to restore America's critical ecosystems. The Senate abandoned the first two but is still working on the third.


The Senate's failure to act is a result of many factors, but one is that the climate-energy policy debate got disconnected from average people. We need less talk about "climate" and more about how conservation saves money, renewable energy creates jobs, restoring the gulf's marshes sustains fishermen and preserving the rainforest helps poor people. Said Glenn Prickett, vice president at the Nature Conservancy: "We have to take climate change out of the atmosphere, bring it down to earth and show how it matters in people's everyday lives."


By arrangement with the New York Times











The introduction of Goods and Service Tax (GST) will require some amendment to the Constitution while the Centre wants it by a resolution in the Lok Sabha through either an absolute majority of the House or two-thirds present and voting. If this is the idea, then you include GST under the Centre list and it becomes a purely Central prerogative. If you don't want to do it that way, and want to go about it properly, that would mean going through discussions at the state level and through their Assemblies. If this is not done, I think it will be an attempt to deprive the states of the right — at different points of time — to adjust their revenue raising capability in order to meet contingencies which may arise from time to time. Removing that right, and introducing GST in the manner that is being thought of, is a threat the states must be concerned about. This issue, I think, is more important than whether there will be immediately some adverse impact on the revenues earned by the states or not.


This whole discussion has to be viewed in the light that over a period of time the states have been faced with significant crunch with regard to finances available for development expenditure that they need to sustain. This problem is likely to be aggravated by the fact that many of them have to respond to the decision at the Centre level to implement the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission. The states will have to respond to this in one fashion or another, and there would be an increased burden which they will be taking on in the coming years. Given that, what the states need is an assurance that there is no loss of revenue which could arise, and in case they are faced with difficulties in financing their important development activities they have the flexibility to raise revenues. So, either generating revenue loss, or reducing the states' flexibility to raise revenue even if there is no immediate revenue loss, is something that they are likely to be wary of.


As for the related question of rich versus poor states, states that have a multiplicity of activities, which have, say, full- fledged industrial complexes, like Tamil Nadu or Maharashtra, these would be less adversely impacted by GST than those where the scale of economic activities is not so layered. If you happen to be a mineral rich state, for example, but you don't have too much activity built on that and mineral resources go somewhere else, then if you have a GST-type tax enforced like this, you may end up with a loss.


— Prof C.P. Chandrashekhar, JNU, New Delhi

* * *

GST is a chance to get extra revenues


By Chandrajit Banerjee


The Goods and Services Tax (GST) will be a multi-stage consumption tax imposed on goods and services by the Centre and states, with the facility of input tax credit on inputs. GST, which promises to do away with the multiplicity of taxes and their cascading impacts, is considered the most important reform in indirect taxes. GST's introduction could help increase GDP by one to 1.5 per cent. But it cannot be implemented without the support of state governments. While states, in general, favour the implementation of GST, some of them have expressed concerns on two aspects — loss of revenue and loss of right to tax after implementation of GST.


There could be some loss of revenue to states with high production and less consumption. This is because the Central Sales Tax (CST), which currently compensates states for non-receipt of tax on goods produced and sold to another state, will be abolished under the GST regime. However, in his address to the empowered committee, Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has said states will be compensated for any revenue loss on account of the adoption of GST.


Under the GST regime, there is also a possibility that some states will get extra revenues. This could arise from the imposition of state GST on imports, service tax on services and better compliance. Therefore, while some states may lose revenue due to the imposition of GST, others might also gain revenue. In any case, compensation from the Centre should take care of this issue.


Mr Mukherjee has also suggested that states should follow the rate structure proposed for Central GST — a standard rate of 10 per cent and lower rate of six per cent for goods in the first year, converging on eight per cent in the third year, depending upon the buoyancy of revenue receipts by the Centre and states. For services, the proposed rate is eight per cent for all three years for both the Centre as well as states.


On the issue of loss of the right to tax, each state will legislate its own GST law and, therefore, will continue to have the right to tax goods. It will get power to tax services too. However, states will not be able to change the GST rate structure on their own. As per the draft amendment of the Constitution, a GST Council would be set up comprising the Union finance minister, the minister of state dealing with revenue and the finance ministers of states. This council will determine changes in the GST rate structure in future. With such a setup, while the states may lose the right to unilaterally change the tax rates, they will not lose the right to collectively set the tax rate on goods and services.


 Chandrajit Banerjee, director-general, CII








Every practice or observance calls for a system. Chanting spells or saying prayers is no exception. They too require a proper system and cannot be whimsical.


Indian scriptures classify chanting into two categories: Nityam and Naimithikom. Nityam (daily chanting), the chanting of spells at home, is also called Kamyam and is linked to the observance of Shad Karmas or the six prime duties of man. In Naimithikom, mere chanting is not enough. Here the devotee should visualise the deity with piety in mind as s/he chants.


The act of chanting can be further classified into three, namely Maanasom, Upamsukom and Vaachikom. If one chants the spells word by word in silence, it is Maanasom. Chanting the spell in a way that it is audible to oneself is termed Upamsukom. Chanting the spells clearly and loudly is Vaachikom.


Sages say that among these three styles of chanting, Maanasom is the most effective. It can give the observer salvation. Upamsukom brings peace and prosperity whereas Vaachikom is intended to have clear effects — such as revenge on the enemies.


Chanting should be done at an optimum pace. Too much or too slow speed can cause problems to the devotee. This warning appears in the ancient book titled Yaamalokom.


Tomes such as Kularnnavam, Meruparvam, Meruthanthram, Jyotsnika and others also discuss various aspects of mantras and chants and the way they are to be uttered.


According to them, a simple life, observance of celibacy and silence, rendering service to preceptor, daily worship, daily donation, study of scriptures and continuous chanting without break are essential to get effects. Laziness, yawning, sleep, fear, hunger, habit of spitting, vicious friendships, anger, lust etc should be avoided.


While chanting, one should not talk to others. Listening to music, watching vulgar dances, oil-bath, use of cosmetics, listening to amorous talk, indulging in sex, killing living things etc should also be avoided.


Depending on the place one chooses, the effect of chanting varies. It gives the least effect when observed at home and most when done at a temple.


When one prays or chants at home one should see to it that the lighted lamp faces West. Silent chanting calls for no purity of the body or any specific posture of the observer. The devotee can even chant spells amid his/her work.


Meruthanthram on the other hand prescribes different asanas or postures for chanting. Even the seat matters. Ancient sages sat on the skins of deer and leopard to gain salvation. Different types of seats bring different fulfilments.


Many devotees use rosaries to count the number of chants. The number of beads could be 108, 54 or 27, and creates different effects. Various objects such as rudraksha, tulsi, diamond, pearl, turmeric, shells, balls made of different metals can be used to make rosary.


Japa is the word used to denote chanting in Sanskrit. The sound "ja" refers to redemption from further birth and the sound "pa" points to redemption from sins. The fusion of the two becomes japa.


— Dr Venganoor Balakrishnan is the authorof Thaliyola, a book on Hindu beliefs and rituals.


He has also written books on the Vedasand Upanishads. The author can be reached
at [1]








OUTRAGE has ever been the language in which Mani Shankar Aiyar is most fluent. He boasts a sense of humour, it is of the arrogant, deprecating, insulting brand. In his current avatar as a member nominated to the Rajya Sabha for contributing to the arts and letters he has caused enough embarrassment to the UPA leadership ~ 10 Janpath excluded ~ to rue the erasing of traditional propriety to accommodate a man rejected by the voter. Yet he has been consistent in his voluble opposition to the staging of mega sporting events (that cost him the sports ministry), and his latest outburst is in harmony with what he has said before. What was so offensive about it that the Congress party ran for cover? He welcomed the revival of the monsoon for it would benefit farmers, if it impacted adversely on the Commonwealth Games he would be happy ~ but only because a successful CWG would fuel ambitions to stage an Asiad, an Olympiad. Remember the sports ministry has already pulled up the IOC for making a unilateral bid for the 2019 Asian Games. Many would endorse his line that had the funds earmarked for the CWG (he estimates Rs 35,000 crore) been spent on nurturing talent India would flaunt champions in abundance. Who can argue against that? It is the inability to demolish his "case" that resulted in the CWG organising committee's taking recourse to the ploy favoured during the infamous Emergency: denouncing those thinking differently as "anti-national". Aiyar and this newspaper have "issues", still we deem it appropriate to condemn the "treason" charge.

If anything, that charge must be hurled back at the accuser because no skewed sense of patriotism must be permitted to camouflage a multi-dimensional scam underscored by criminal incompetence. To list the mismanagement on several fronts ~ a fresh scandal seems to surface every day ~ would consume far too many column-centimetres. It is awfully disturbing that in response to a parliamentary query the junior minister for sports ruled out any fixing of responsibility for delays etc. That is as despicable as the mess in which the Capital is wallowing. A comprehensive, duly empowered probe panel must be set up immediately to both pinpoint laxity and establish culpability for bleeding the exchequer, endangering Indian prestige. In effect, to nail the real anti-nationals.




THE  priorities of India's foreign policy establishment can on occasion be bizarre. And the disconnect was palpable during the Myanmar junta leader, Than Shwe's visit to Delhi. It may never be known whether he was trying to seek this country's tacit endorsement of his shambolic electoral agenda. Suffice it to register that the government of the world's largest democracy consciously skirted the core issue that has caused considerable disquiet across the comity of nations. Notably, the suppression of democracy and human rights and now the run-up to a fraudulent election. It is quite obvious that fears of a possible impact on insurgency in the North-east was the overriding compulsion. The other factor is China's influence in Myanmar, chiefly the country's large natural gas resources. The extent to which India will be able to undercut Beijing's influence must remain open to question. In welcoming the head of an increasingly isolated military government, India can be said to have given short shrift to the sensitivities of Aung San Suu Kyi, the icon of the democratic movement. In a sense, Delhi has acquiesced in the subversion of democracy. 


In contrast, the five agreements covering anti-terror cooperation, energy ties and development projects are of lesser moment. To say this is not to undermine the seriousness of insurgencies and drug trafficking along the shared border. The two countries may present themselves as partners in progress. The reception to and the dealings with Than Shwe ~ in jacket and tie and not in uniform ~ showcase the calculated distortion of the fundamentals of foreign policy and the democratic engagement. It would be a delusion to imagine that the sartorial change signals a possible shift to a civilian facade.  

Unwittingly or otherwise, India has demonstrated to the world that a military dictator, who has made a travesty of democracy, may yet be acceptable. Has Delhi switched tracks after supporting Suu Kyi for as long as it did? Have the junta's repressive policies been consciously ignored? The conduct of foreign policy is tripping a little too often, and not in relation to Pakistan alone.




WHILE there is reason to welcome the initiative to set up an advisory body to monitor violations of the ban on corporal punishment in educational institutions, it confirms that the West Bengal government has shied away from the responsibility all these years. The minister of the school education department had gone on record as declaring after a tragedy at a well-known school in Kolkata that there was nothing the government could do to bring schools outside the government's control to book. A public outcry has compelled him to change his mind and to demonstrate that the government has a role to play in enforcing the law not only in schools under the state board but in institutions with other affiliations. It should have been obvious that parents hesitate to lodge formal complaints either with the school authorities or with police stations fearing the impact on the future of children. The government simply needed to play a proactive role in creating an awareness among students and teachers to prevent incidents that still take place. 

The committee whose proposals will be binding on all schools derives its authority from laws that exist. To that extent, there is nothing novel or brave that the government has done. The latest move comes under pressure and demands an enlightened approach to a sensitive issue. A department that has so far consumed most of its resources in providing jobs to loyal teachers ~ and is anxious to fill thousands of vacancies over the next few months ~ may find it a herculean task to motivate its staff to shed the old mindset. The hope lies in a committee comprising responsible citizens who can be expected to perform without fear or favour and bring about change. Obviously there are grey areas on the question of discipline that need to be considered. The committee has the delicate task of striking a balance so that reputations and interests on both sides are protected. While the government has failed all these years, the best it can now do is to allow the committee the freedom to do its duty.









AGAINST a mounting chorus of domestic disapproval of the war in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Clinton has just paid a visit to that country. The war is not going well for the USA, on the ground and in its higher direction. Daily incidents take a constant toll of US lives, and accelerated indigenization of security has brought fresh risks by placing weapons in unreliable hands. The set piece battle in Helmand was intended to swing the balance but seems bogged down, so that the major strike aimed at Kandahar has had to be postponed. 
The McChrystal affair exposed divisions at the top and support for the war effort is waning. These are perilous times for the Administration, with a steady decline in the President's popularity. The economy may be the most significant cause for the decline but the Afghan war has contributed. Strong voices in Congress, previously supportive, now favour, even demand, an early end, and feel that continued commitment to the war on the present scale is not commensurate with US interests. Allies in the ISAF have commenced winding down their commitment. 

In these circumstances, there is all the greater need for a clear and convincing understanding on future strategy between Washington and the local leadership, and this may have helped drive Mrs Clinton to Kabul to confer with President Karzai.

Karzai's shortcomings

THE Afghan leader, who has survived many political vicissitudes, currently does not enjoy high regard in Washington, where he is considered uncertain in his ability to handle the Taliban, and ambiguous in matters like democracy, rule of law, and control of corruption. The regional overspill of the struggle also demands attention. In its early days, the Obama Administration tried to drum up support in South Asia with the proposition that for the first time the main players ~ Afghanistan, Pakistan, India ~ had a common foe, the Taliban, and could come together to oppose it. This is true enough, but not all the regional countries see it this way: even in the midst of the crisis, Pakistan would not be budged from the perception that its real foe was India, and it has been more concerned to keep India at a distance from Afghanistan rather than treat it as a partner in a common cause. Indeed, Afghanistan has become a fresh arena of contention rather than an area for India and Pakistan to cooperate with each other. Nor do Afghanistan and Pakistan see eye-to-eye on a number of issues, even though they have drawn closer in recent months.  

Thus there was much for Mrs Clinton to do. One positive outcome of her visit was an Afghan-Pakistan transit agreement, one of whose features is that Afghan goods will be permitted to move across Pakistan to the Indian border. This promises to restore arrangements from the early post-Independence years when Afghan fruits came overland to India where they were greatly prized. In those days, the season would begin with a mad rush of trucks along the Grand Trunk Road, each racing to be first, bringing loads of fresh Afghan fruits from the Wagah border to Delhi. Now Delhiwallas can hope to see a revival of their love affair with the grapes, melons and pomegranates of Afghanistan. The scope of the agreement concluded during Mrs Clinton's visit may be modest but it offers immediate benefits to both producers and consumers of Afghanistan's most characteristic products. 

On the conduct of the war, however, differences between the parties are not to be concealed. The most prominent right now is the question of coming to an arrangement with some of the insurgents who are believed to have given up violence, and re-integrating them into the structure of government. Pakistan is taking an active role in promoting this strategy as a way of hastening the ending of the war, and feels itself capable of bringing back into the fold significant groups of insurgents with which it has maintained its ties. Mrs Clinton's visit drew renewed attention to this idea but many US observers remain skeptical: to draw a distinction between different Taliban groups appears to them doubtful, as does Pakistan's ability to bring back those to which they retain links. But in Afghanistan itself President Karzai is taking further steps in this direction. Efforts to divide the Taliban and co-opt some of them may look like an adroit political manoeuvre but it is not yet certain what it could portend. Thus these developments trouble many in the USA and generate uncertainty about the terms on which a settlement might be made. 

Kayani's extension

IN the course of her tour, Mrs Clinton went to Islamabad. The most important development there, which took place after she had departed from the region, was the three-year extension granted to General Kayani as the chief of the army. Though the Secretary of State was not present when it was announced, it can be assumed that this important decision had the blessings of Washington. The General has been warmly received in the USA during his recent visits and accorded the honours due to a leading ally. To an extent, this is understandable, for the role of Pakistan's army is critical in the last phase of the Afghan war now under way, and General Kayani has been responsive to US needs. Without military cooperation from Pakistan, which has continued to be provided despite periodic outcries from civilian authorities, it would not have been possible to maintain activities like the drone attacks on the insurgents, these being currently perhaps the most important weapons in the US armoury.   

Outside Pakistan, and especially in India, the extension of the General's tenure has only revived fears about the roots of democracy in Pakistan, the entrenched position of the army, and the prospects for peace and cooperation in South Asia. The civilian government in nominal command, when it first came to power, had emphasized the need to turn a fresh page and move towards reconciliation and greatly expanded economic cooperation between India and Pakistan. But progressively that message has become weaker, perhaps on account of the waning of civilian authority. It is now clearer than ever that the main source of power is with the military, not the civilian leadership, and hopes for improved ties are flickering.

For a number of reasons, India has not appeared to have a strong voice in the key discussions on Afghanistan that claim attention within the region and in Washington. Mrs. Clinton omitted New Delhi from her itinerary, which was of a piece with the Administration's careful separation of  'AfPak' from India, but it also suggested that New Delhi's preoccupations are not fully echoed in Washington or in Kabul. Yet India's interests in these regional developments are ineluctable and ways of advancing them need to be found. It is not an easy task but a necessary one. 

The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary







The job of a central bank, said Alice Rivlin, a former deputy chairman of the Federal Reserve Board under Alan Greenspan, is to worry, and the first-quarter review of monetary policy for 2010-11 or FY11 shows that the Reserve Bank of India is seriously worried about inflation. In this quarterly review, the central bank has revised its forecast for inflation at year-end (March 2011) to six from 5.5 per cent. From the wording of the statement of the RBI governor, Duvvuri Subbarao, it is very clear that controlling inflation is the biggest priority, and the measures announced underscore that hawkishness. To begin with, the RBI raised both policy rates — the repo rate at which banks can borrow from the central bank by a quarter of a percentage point, or 25 basis points, and the reverse repo rate at which banks lend to the RBI by a higher-than-expected 50 bps. As he had done when announcing the annual policy in April, Mr Subbarao emphasized even more strongly that inflation has moved from food prices and become generalized across all sectors of the economy. Second, the the RBI governor was categorical about actively managing liquidity, saying it would be kept "in balance". Translate that to mean the liquidity will be kept tightly in check, so that it will not affect the RBI's fight to bring inflation down from current levels of over 10.5 per cent to six per cent by end-March next year.


The impact of the announced measures is likely to be a hardening of interest rates for loans of all tenors: in other words, across the length of the yield curve. In its policy statement, the RBI kept its forecasts for credit growth at 20 per cent, and money supply growth at 17 per cent. Taken together with the shift to a base lending rate by banks, companies may shift from borrowing working capital from banks to issuing commercial paper. Third, there will now be eight monetary policy meetings in a year, up from four. The RBI has been thinking about this, and aligning to international practice: the global average is eight. It might mute criticism about inter-meeting policy surprises like the one in late June, when the RBI raised policy rates after giving the impression it would wait till this review.


It does, however, raise a question: given the relatively poor frequency of economic data availability, will there be enough to go on at these meetings? Even if there were enough data, there's the risk of 'noise' that might confuse decision-making. The review of actual policy decisions indicates that they still tend to be made on a quarterly basis in most of the world. There was good news from the policy review too: expectations of FY11 gross domestic product growth have been raised to 8.5 from eight per cent. That might be a tad optimistic: given global conditions, those expectations could become resentments in escrow.








The legacy of imperialism continues to persist in not-so-subtle ways even in the age of globalization. Outright war, politely termed as military action, is still inflicted upon delinquent nations to make them behave. But war, usually, is the last resort. Before war, comes that more devious weapon, the imposition of sanctions, that is believed to cure poor nations of their intransigence. Iran, by any standards, is now a veteran of sanctions. After being recently hit with a volley of sanctions by the United Nations, it has now earned yet another set of embargoes, from the European Union this time. Iranian banks, insurance companies, oil and gas industries and the transfer of military equipment are the latest targets — all this, ostensibly, to force Iran to give up its uranium enrichment project. Yet Iran has steadfastly refused to buckle under pressure from big Western nations and carried on with its nuclear programme, which, Iran insists, is entirely for peaceful purposes. So, apart from pushing the country into deep economic crisis, the new sanctions are unlikely to achieve their intended effect.


If historical evidence is anything to go by, sanctions have usually spelled more trouble than led to any obvious sense of triumph. In the 1990s, at the height of the Gulf War, Iraq was not only battered by air strikes but also had its troubles exacerbated by the sanctions brought upon it. Child mortality rates in the country soared. Iraq was pushed back to a pre-industrial age after being cut off from imports and exports. However, in Rhodesia, the colonial government was ousted with the help of sanctions among many other factors. Imposing sanctions may be the middle path between resorting to military action and carrying on with diplomatic talks, but it is clearly not as smart a strategy as strategists make it out to be. Between words and warfare, covert or overt, the former remains the more sensible and sensitive option.









The truth, whatever postmodernists might say, has a tendency to sneak through. Who would have expected that of all persons the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Mr Prakash Karat, trained as he is in the Stalinist school of falsification and dissembling, would blurt it out, albeit inadvertently? Or maybe it wasn't that inadvertent.


Last Sunday morning was not a very comfortable time for Mr Karat. A Delhi newspaper carried extracts from the memoirs of Somnath Chatterjee, the former Speaker of the Lok Sabha, who had been expelled from the CPI(M) in 2008 at the behest of Mr Karat. The memoirs contain many allegations against the general secretary of the CPI(M) and the way the party is run. The former speaker has gone to the extent of saying that the decision to expel him was taken with only five members of the politburo present at the meeting. Mr Karat, who was in Calcutta on Sunday, was naturally asked by journalists for his reaction. He said, "I am not reacting, my party will respond."


I have deliberately italicized two words in Mr Karat's statement because the truth lies in those two simple words, "my party". How significant those two words are!


Mr Karat could have said, "Our party will respond." Or better still, he could have said, "The party will respond." But he chose — and Mr Karat is a man of few words which are always well-chosen and well-thought-out — to say "my party". What could he have meant by this use of the possessive pronoun in the first person and by placing it before 'party'?


Mr Karat was a student in Edinburgh where he was under the influence of the redoubtable Marxist scholar, Victor Kiernan. So he must be aware of what the word 'my' denotes. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the meaning of 'my' as "of or belonging to me". I appreciate that in the hallowed precincts of the headquarters of "my party", Mr Karat may not have immediate access to the OED, but if he locates a Concise Oxford Dictionary tucked away somewhere on the shelves among the Collected Works of Joseph Stalin, he will discover that the COD says much the same thing.


Thus, there can be no dispute about what 'my' means. It signifies possession. Mr Karat thus said that the CPI(M) belongs to him. This is Mr Karat's moment of truth.


It might surprise Mr Karat to learn that to some lesser mortals he has, by his remarkable admission, inverted one of the most important tenets that govern the lives of members of communist parties. Members of communist parties are taught to believe that the individual is nothing, the collective of the party everything. The individual belongs to the party. And now we have the general secretary of one of the biggest communist parties in the world saying that the party is his — "my party". Mr Karat has invented a new tradition of the communist party as a personal possession. Where and how — after having spent so many hours in party classes, after having learnt his Marxism at the feet of Victor Kiernan — did he learn the language of possessive individualism?


I cannot readily recall any important communist leader speaking in terms of "my party". It is well known that in that strange system called democratic centralism, the general secretary of a communist party wields enormous power within the party hierarchy and in the running of the party machinery. Yet no general secretary has ever expressed a desire to possess a communist party. Even Stalin, who, for all practical purposes, ran the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as his private institution, did not refer to the CPSU as "my party". He held the life and death of comrades, including old Bolsheviks, in his cruel hands, but despite his authoritarian and tyrannical ways, he took care in his public pronouncements to differentiate the institution of the party from himself. It was almost always "the Party" — the 'p' capitalized as if to suggest the party's power and omnipresence before which the individual lost his own identity. The Party was the individual's identity. Mr Karat cannot be unaware of all this. Yet he said "my party".


It is ironic that Mr Karat should strike a claim to own and possess the CPI(M) precisely at a time when voices within the party — muted of course — and opinion without are remarking on his arrogant ways. Many believe that he forces his own views on the party and often transgresses the party's injunction to lead a simple life. These are the perceptions, and without access to the secret archives of the CPI(M), I am not even suggesting that they are necessarily true. But Mr Karat's description of the CPI(M) as "my party" only confirms, in a bizarre way, the general impression about his arrogance and the suspicion that he runs the party according to his own whims and fancies.


Whatever be the perceptions, the fact remains that Mr Karat claims to be a leader of the people but he has never contested a popular election. He is a leader of the people once removed: the CPI(M) claims to be a people's party, Mr Karat is head of the CPI(M) and therefore he is a leader of the people. It doesn't need a logician to locate the fallacy in the syllogism.


Mr Karat knows he inhabits an illusory world. Without the mobilization of the CPI(M) in West Bengal and Kerala, he would not be able to fill a small classroom. His leadership is an illusion, and hence the desire to assert his authority in the closed-door meetings of the politburo and the central committee. The sudden and unexpected expression of ownership of the party is also perhaps derived from that desire.


There is no need, however, for any psychological analysis. Mr Karat has admitted to his own arrogance by two words, "my party". He stands condemned on his own undeniable testimony. And this being India, and not the imperialist United States of America, he cannot even plead the fifth amendment.


Mr Karat is free, of course, to issue a clarification or a denial. Comrades are rather good at such things and at self-justification. One could alter just one word of a famous epigram of Lord Acton's, and say, "Every communist is followed by a sophist with a sponge."


While talking of justification, one cannot help being amused at the CPI(M)'s condemnation of what Somnath Chatterjee said as "post facto justification". A justification is by definition always post facto. Again one doesn't need a logician to see this. There was a time, even in the shoddy annals of Indian communism, when none of the communist leaders would have ever written such a ridiculous phrase. Neither would they have said "my party". Alas poor Yorick.








The hills of Darjeeling are approaching the autumn tourist season. It is time for hoteliers to spruce up their establishments and tour operators to work out new packages. All that is par for the course. So is the feeling of uncertainty that has become a part of life since the demand for a separate Gorkhaland was renewed by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.


The difference this year is that after ruling the roost for two years, the GJM is facing a united opposition from the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League, the Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The GJM is no longer the only representative force of the hill people. Of course that was never the case, but it had succeeded in creating a kind of frenzy that had caused all other parties to fade away. The killing of Madan Tamang has altered the situation. Today, the ABGL is able to muster the courage to organize a relay fast at the Mall, braving the GJM's threats.


This change in the scenario may appear to be healthy to political observers. That may well be the case, but it also has the potential of deepening the ever lurking sense of uncertainty. Since its inception, the GJM has made it abundantly clear that it is not prepared to tolerate any opposition, and it will be a miracle if it now changes its ways and accepts the fact that in a democracy there will always be more than one player. The outfit has already threatened the hills with fresh spells of agitation, and any resistance from the others may well see kukris flashing again.


Make no mistake about it; the cadre of other parties have lain low for so long because their leaders were waiting to see how things would turn out. Tamang's killing and the revulsion that it has generated in the hills have emboldened them to take their opposition to the streets.


Fluid state


The uncertainty also stems from another factor. Barring the CPI(M), the other rivals of the GJM are not opposed to Gorkhaland.They are only opposed to the manner in which the GJM has gone about demolishing its rivals in its march towards its goal. So, at some stage, the ruling Marxists will have to stop making common cause with the GJM's opponents and target the ABGL and the CPRM. The possibility of this happening is very real: there has never been any love lost between these parties and the Marxists. Waiting in the wings is Subash Ghisingh, who cannot be expected to remain idle in a situation such as this.


The GJM, most certainly, is not the only spokesperson of the hill people. It would have been ideal if the other parties managed to forge an alliance, but right now that seems impossible. The CPI(M) knows it, and perhaps the reason why it wanted the recent tripartite meeting to be postponed was that it needed time to create a platform that is acceptable to the anti-GJM forces. That, however, will take time. And the longer it takes, the greater the possibility of the anti-GJM forces falling out among themselves.


The Centre does not seem to be aware of the complexities in the hills. Unless, of course, it has decided that the political map of Darjeeling needs to be redrawn. Or perhaps it wants things to go on like this till next year's assembly elections in the hope that the new dispensation, which may take over, will not be hostile to the idea of a Gorkhaland.


Whatever may be the Centre's line of thinking, by holding talks with only the GJM, it is antagonizing a sizeable section in the hills. The more these people feel left out, the higher will be their resentment. This will also magnify the threat to peace in Darjeeling which is what tourists as well as the local people are looking forward to eagerly.







Despite their virulent rhetoric, the main target of anti-Israel groups is not merely the Jewish State but also the moderate and the open-minded in the Arab world, writes Eli Belotsercovsky


Among the hundreds of various conflicts that plague even this 'enlightened' era of science and technology, the Palestinian issue would undoubtedly grab the title of 'the most publicized worldwide'. This is particularly interesting since it is, by and large, a localized conflict with a limited number of casualties. The reason for such an unprecedented publicity lies in its perceptions.


These mostly include Israeli versus Palestinians or Israeli versus Arab. But in some circles of Arab society, a more 'Huntingtonian' version of the Jewish (or Western) confrontation with the Islamic world is prevalent and contributes to the more apocalyptic view of the conflict. This image falls in line with conventional wisdom, contributes to an easier, black-and-white way of thinking and appeals to the mainly ideologically motivated.


During the 1950s and the 1960s, the Arabs shared a common uncompromising position that Israel, as a foreign outpost, had to be erased from the map of the Middle East. Since the 1970s, these perceptions have changed and the Arab leadership has gradually developed an awareness of the need for coexistence and, at a later stage, normalizations. This trend developed not only as a result of an Arab move towards historic reconciliation between the two sides but mainly due to the realization within wide segments of Arab society that Israel cannot be destroyed. This has brought Egypt and, at a later stage, Jordan, to sign peace agreements with Israel and normalize relations. Despite this, some factions within the Arab and the Muslim worlds persisted with the idea of the destruction of Israel. The threat that Israel represents for these people is not military.


Since 1967, Israel has not conquered any territories but rather fully withdrawn from Lebanon and the Gaza strip as well as from all territories that were claimed by Egypt and Jordan. The supposed threat of Israel stems from its being a modern, democratic state, whose citizens enjoy prosperity and freedom and whose Arab minority of some 18 per cent enjoys full rights and a standard of living similar to that of western Europe.


Having such a State at their doorstep would deprive some of the more extreme Arab regimes of their formula of Israel as a reason for all their woes, real or imaginary. Deflecting the political, economic or social frustrations towards Israel exempted these regimes from accountability and strengthened their grip on power. These regimes, such as Iran or Syria, fear that recognition of Israel will contribute to the spread of democracy, human rights and tolerance and, by this, will greatly endanger the sustainability of their dictatorships.


Despite their virulent, anti-Israeli rhetoric, the main target of these groups is not the Jewish State. Their real enemies are the moderates and the open-minded within the Arab societies that reject the medieval rules of oppression and tyranny. Far from the limelight of the press, many Gulf countries admit that their main source of threat is Iran. The Lebanese have for years faced a situation of having a state within a state with the Hezbollah, as an Iranian proxy, dragging Lebanon into confrontation with Israel. The Egyptians, who have repeatedly failed to break a peace agreement between the Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, are openly blaming Hamas intransigence for this.


The latest incident with the so-called aid flotilla has been most illustrative. The heated wave of rhetoric, particularly of the more extreme among Arab and Muslim leaders, was overwhelming. Interestingly, it is these leaders themselves who do not miss any opportunity to play to the galleries that commit gross violations of human rights on a daily basis.


But the fact is that the head of the Palestinian Authority went to Turkey and expressed his concern about the growing closeness between Ankara and the Hamas. The Egyptians, who border Gaza alongside Israel, have partially lifted their own blockade of Gaza which was imposed due to reasons that are not dissimilar to the Israeli ones. And even Turkey, with all its inflammatory speeches against Israel, is not considering severing or cutting off diplomatic relations with Jerusalem.


Any attempt to avoid being dragged into the 'politically correct' fad of the day — the 'Israel-bashing festival' — and to try to examine the facts, will expose a few questions that might shatter the widely accepted version of the events. These would include the following: Why were there no incidents and no violence on five of the six ships of the flotilla? And did this have anything to do with the fact that the vast majority of the passengers on the Mavi Marmara belonged to IHH, an organization that has been declared by Europeans as a terror organization and was banned until a few years ago even in Turkey itself? If the aim of the flotilla was to transfer aid to Gaza, why did the organizers reject the conventional way of shipping the aid through the United Nations channels overland? If Israel's aim was to attack, why did it not do so from the air — why put the lives of soldiers in danger needlessly?


Why were Israeli soldiers brutally attacked by the so-called 'peace' activists, and why was one of the most respectable Turkish dailies condemned by the government for publishing pictures of these attacks? At the very least, the issue is not completely clear cut as some have attempted to portray it, and in many circles, questions are now being asked as to why there was such a rush to judgment before all the facts were known.


There are many more questions that can be asked, and it seems that Israel can and probably will be a convenient scapegoat for any future attempts by certain political leaders in the Arab and Muslim worlds to score points in the domestic political arena. However, every responsible person has to take a stand and decide on whose side he or she is — on the side of the moderates or on the side of the extremists.


The author is deputy chief of mission, Embassy of Israel, New Delhi






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





India and Myanmar have signed several agreements that will boost economic and security co-operation between the two countries. A treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters has been signed. This has implications for India's counterinsurgency operations in the Northeast. India can expect more robust action from Myanmar's generals now in denying anti-India insurgents sanctuary on their soil. Agreements under which India will provide financial assistance for improving infrastructure linking the Northeast with Myanmar have been signed. Such cooperation should improve the economic prospects of the Northeast. Bilateral ties have never been better.

Political ties are expanding and trade has grown remarkably from $273.32 million in 1997-98 to $995.37 million in 2007-08. And yet, there is reason for concern. Almost 15 years after it adopted the more pragmatic policy of engaging the generals, India's security concerns over China's growing influence in that country have not diminished. India might wield more influence in Myanmar today than it did a decade ago but it is still a long way off from swinging decisions on issues where it is pitted against China in Myanmar in its favour. One wonders then whether Delhi's wooing of the generals and the consequent abandoning of the pro-democratic movement there has paid off.

India's silence on developments in Myanmar has earned it the condemnation of pro-democracy activists worldwide. Officials often claim that the silence is because raising issues relating to restoration of democracy through the media is unproductive. Fair enough. But is India then raising the issue quietly? Did it do so during meetings with Than Shwe? Amidst the flurry of deals did the Indian government remember to raise the question of Aung San Suu Kyi's release? Shwe's visit presented India with an opportunity to nudge him in the direction of restoring democracy. If Delhi decided to stay silent on the matter, anxious not to annoy the generals, it has lost a golden opportunity. It has failed the people of Myanmar yet again.

The economic and security imperatives that compelled India to adopt a pragmatic policy of engaging the generals are understandable. Not engaging with a neighbour, that too one where China wields enormous influence is simply not an option. India is right in dealing with Myanmar's government. Yet its reluctance to use its growing influence over the generals to get them to take small steps to democratise is unconscionable. Hopefully, India did right this wrong during Shwe's visit.








The Rs 1,500 or $35 laptop unveiled by human resources development minister Kapil Sibal is not just a technological surprise. It is meant to be a major tool in bridging India's digital divide, by moving millions of poor children into the world of letters and numbers and co-opting them into the process of development. A cheap computer available at less than $100 has been a technological dream. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology designed one for children in developing countries, though the cost actually went up to $200. MIT's famous professor Nicholas Negroponte had propounded the idea of lifting all the world's poor children into literacy through digital means. The idea is not outlandish if there is a cheap computer, ways and means to take it to the children.

The laptop, or more accurately the computing-accessing device, was developed by the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and Indian Institutes of Technology. It is not an apology for a computer but is a touch screen device with all the basic functions — a web browser, multimedia player, PDF reader, Wi-Fi and video-conferencing facility. It is based on open source Linux, uses very little power and has a solar power option, which is an important requirement in villages. The price is expected to fall further when economies of scale come into operation and the dream is to provide it to make it available at less than Rs 500, ultimately. And the users can go beyond students and the shores of the country. At present the plan is to subsidise the laptop and provide it to students at Rs 750 after the prototype is developed into a product. Going by the current pace of development and interest in the device it should happen soon.

The laptop can make a difference only when the students come to the schools, teachers are present and when the general educational infrastructure is in place. If all these combine the country will be able to leap across the literacy and digital divide and take full advantage of the demographic advantage in the coming decades. Computers can be used efficiently to impart literacy, improve skills and to empower the people. The cheap laptop is also a testament to the country's innovative spirit and creative talent. The greater challenge is to put it to good use and show results.







In fact, Richard Holbrooke had come to the region with visions of directing not just the US' political interests but even its military gains.


The donors' conference held in Kabul last week and attended by some 60 foreign ministers and other leaders, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was, among other things, a demonstration by the Nato and US-led forces that they have the military muscle to host such a meet.

And yet this statement of adequate military control was punctured by rocket attacks on Kabul airport causing Moon and Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister to divert their aircraft in the direction of Bagram air base for safe landing. Mazar-e-Sharif, the most peaceful city in Afghanistan, became the scene of gruesome killing of allied officers. This month alone 67 US soldiers have been killed.

British prime minister David Cameron had indicated in Washington that his country's troops may start leaving next year. This cannot be honeyed music to the new force commander David Petraeus who, more realistically, would like to retard force withdrawals until some unspecified date.

That president Hamid Karzai promises to be in readiness, with cent per cent Afghan forces and police, by 2014 must be taken with dollops of salt. The dignitaries in attendance had written him off as 'not even a mayor of Kabul' until last year. By what magic has the international community been persuaded to regard him as the ultimate saviour, deliverer or whatever else, remains shrouded in mystery.

At some stage New Delhi too began to shower him with admiration, pleading with the 'international community' to stop calling him names. I guess that was when New Delhi saw him as someone potentially at cross purposes with Islamabad, as he was during theMusharraf phase in Islamabad. Now that Gen Ashfaq Kayani, having earned a three year extension, and his ISI chief Gen Shuja Pasha, by brilliant public relations, established some sort of a rapport with Karzai, New Delhi should be sunk in deep thought.

Some of these deep thoughts must have been shared with Richard Holbrooke, president Obama's special envoy to Af-Pak, who made one of his rare public appearances in New Delhi.

He was, in a manner, barred from visiting New Delhi because the Indian establishment in shrill unison raised hands and all, blocked any institutionalised interest by him in Kashmir. Remember, 'Kashmir' was sought to be added to his Af-Pak mandate. In fact Holbrooke had come to the region with visions of directing not just US' political but even military interests. All of that was, of course, circumscribed by secretary of defence Robert Gates' assertiveness.

And now that Holbrooke has resumed his travels to New Delhi, there must be an understanding that he will keep his finger on his lips on the 'K' word. But for how long?

Happy June

Clearly the return of Holbrooke is for several reasons. American officials are full of glowing accounts of the 'happy June' when a series of Indian delegations to Washington laid the foundations for a successful Obama visit later this year.

Preparation for a presidential visit requires direct participation of the White House and the state department. Hence the need for Holbrooke. Also, the US president cannot be seen to be partisan between India, a rising economic and military power with a formidable naval reach, and Pakistan, an ally in the crucial Af-Pak region. 

Just as the memory fades of the Krishna-Qureshi mishap in Islamabad, the Indo-Pak thread will once again be picked up. New Delhi, however, cannot proceed very far on this track (just watch the sparks during parliament's monsoon session) unless Indian public opinion is assured that the Jan 6, 2004, Islamabad agreement that the 'territory of Pakistan' will not be used for terrorism against India is picked up by the Pakistan establishment as a serious agreement.

Official helplessness in Islamabad at their inability to control 'non state' militant actors appears not to be sustainable after the Headley revelations. Or is there something here which is not in the public domain?

The political minefields on the New Delhi-Islamabad-Kabul-Tehran tracks have to be diligently cleared for a successful visit by the US president. Holbrooke cannot be oblivious to this task.

Once New Delhi's legitimate misgivings on terrorism are removed, prime minister Manmohan Singh will give Indo-Pak talks the sort of acceleration that will enable Islamabad to concentrate on the Pakhtoon areas on both sides.

The hurried, six hour, notional Kabul conference was a desperate way for 60 plus participants to reassure the world that their collective efforts on Afghanistan might bear fruit. But the esteemed participants would have to be victims of a grand delusion that they have not left Afghanistan messier than ever.

Does New Delhi really wish to sully itself in the Afghan slush in a hurry where no Endgame is in sight. It is even more remote after the Kabul theatre. David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy, Medvedev are all New Delhi bound before year end. There is plenty of time to deliberate.

Meanwhile, the Indo-Pak track promises much more provided the US, in preparation for the Obama visit, becomes serious on the elimination of Lashkar-e-Toiba and its affiliates. This too will have to be taken up with other visitors.








Enterprising young people can become achievers by juxtaposing creativity with wisdom.



Century after century youngsters have visualised life to be exhilarating and invigorating. One cannot deny that their realms are filled with immense amazement, novelty, enjoyment and satisfaction in leading their lives in their own terms in accordance to the contemporary developments and requirements. Eventually they grow up and many find that the realities of the world are very different from how they perceived them to be.

Perhaps this is the reason why they become bitter and promptly discourage their successors from experimenting with new ways of life — what they are actually doing is paving way for yet another vicious cycle.

The adults universally find that, "The world of youth has changed noticeably and there appears to be a revised version of social behaviour, etiquette, communication and interpersonal skills. We are living in a world where humility has given way to self-appraisal, demure behaviour to brazenness to a degree, discipline has to laxity, gentleness to a certain amount of boisterousness while dignified presence is usually reserved for solemn occasions for being outgoing, cool and whacky is the name of the game."

Generation gap

These remarks in the behavioural pattern of youngsters make one wonder where the lacuna lies. The youth for their part blame the much clichéd 'generation gap'. It certainly sounds redemptive for when adolescents of the day have thrown caution to the winds and have decided to give vent to their feelings candidly through their speech, dress, appearance and the way they relate to the world around them. While they certainly display a new social order through their personality do they also reflect how they feel from within?

Unfortunately, to most youngsters, youth spells out thrill, titillation, and dwelling over inconsequential trifles and frittering away time. They are insensitive to the realities of the world around them. They seem to be wholly unaware of the current events except in areas which interest them. The media and internet which provides any information under the sun at the click of the button is not availed judiciously by many. Then there are others who glean information but do nothing about imbibing knowledge or apply the concepts in their daily life. Reading habit appears to be hibernating. It is very disheartening to note that many do not even pursue hobbies with a passion. They have clearly lost the power of observation which makes them blind to the subtle spiritual realities of unified sensibility in terms of time and space and in terms of thoughts and emotions.


After wading knee deep through the sea of youth very few find that they have been able to take it beyond being cool and happening. When ruminating on the subject one realises that every generation liked the idea of being different in one's youth. Most youngsters have tried their 'level best' to have trodden away from the 'beaten path' for the simple reason that they want to stand apart in a crowd. Their aim has always been the same, though the approach may have been different. But what most young people fail to realise is the fact that just being different is miles away from making a difference.

A journey through the annals of time will reveal that youth from several walks of life across the globe had endeavoured to make a difference and did succeed in doing so just because they chose to experiment with new thoughts and ideas with conviction. The vagaries of life, its insinuations, exaggerations, subtleties and its spiritual connotations appealed to them. They understood that they were a part of the universe and living in harmony with the forces of nature and with integrity was the only recourse for a better life. A committed approach towards their respective goals with this basic knowledge led them to undisputed success.

Enterprising young people can become achievers by juxtaposing creativity with wisdom. The emotional and intellectual impressions they gather at this impressionable age can actually go a long way in etching their personalities. If their learning experience is suitably seasoned with wit, logic and a generous dose of enthusiasm the results are likely to be spectacular.

It is important that youth realise that 'being different' in the real sense of the word requires a lot of substance by way of knowledge, and an ability to connect their observations with their learning. They must realise that the people in the past had also been young sometime and had, had their share of experimental thinking, but what really stands the test of time is something that has a universal appeal across barriers of time and space. Values like truth and integrity coupled with compassion can never really become outdated if one wants to be a 'path breaker' in right earnest!







The absence of a watch set me off on a search for the real pulse beats of the present.


Twenty-four moons have waned since I last wore a watch and I would  feel distinctly inconvenienced if I put on one today. Now that's a real turnabout. I know how distraught I was the day my old wristwatch (we had started our association in college) decided to take a break from its uninterrupted diurnal sweep, refusing despite any cajoling taps to activate the sweep-second hand.


I showed my watch to old watchmaker Rashid who sat in the quiet alley behind the raucous bazaar. Screwing on an eyeglass he examined the watch. Letting out a deep sigh, he pronounced the diagnosis and said that it needed replacement of a few parts. But suggested to put that aside and get a new one. So I laid my companion to rest.

Being without a watch could be fun, I realised. It certainly made for a more exciting working day. What was previously a straitjacketed aggregate of busy hours, predetermined by the appointments pad and monitored by my wristwatch was now an amorphous mix of issues.

The office had suddenly become an uncertain, slippery place where the mind had to be kept constantly honed and readied for action. I rolled with the tide, taking the jobs as they came. It was all along a heady combination of improvisation and control and a lapse meant getting a cold shoulder from the boss.

But more satisfying than my office roller coasting was the quieter, deeper strain of 'timeless' existence I had begun to uncover with every passing day.  The absence of a watch set me off on a search for the real pulse beats of the present.

From a speeding bus, I had once seen a great red orb sink below the world. The horizon rose and rose till only a fiery afterglow remained in the heavens. For the first time I perceived the steady and near imperceptible stages of the sun's descent. I had gone beyond the calibrated seconds, minutes and hours to see the process in the raw.

I like to imagine that the hominid Lucy, moving through the scrubby African savannah some 3,000 millennia ago must have seen the same, followed the sun's exit with a sharper eye, perhaps quickening her strides just that much so to arrive at her cavernous home with a little light still left over.










While the Claims Conference is not immune from criticism, the critics have engaged in baseless



Recently, The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) has come under a vicious attack from Isi Leibler in "Scandal at the Claims Conference" (July 13) and "The arrogance of Claims Conference leaders" (July 22). While the Claims Conference should certainly not be immune from criticism, Leibler has engaged in irresponsible invective and baseless charges against an organization that for nearly 60 years has been the leading international advocate for the rights ofHolocaust victims and the primary source in caring for their needs.

Leibler's diatribe raises many questions that need to be answered with the established facts. The most important assertion that Leibler makes is about the fraud perpetrated against Claims Conference compensation programs. Firstly, it was the Claims Conference – and not as implied by Leibler, the FBI – that discovered the fraud, a sophisticated criminal scheme, in which expertly falsified and phony documents were submitted to programs that make payments to Jewish victims of Nazism. These programs have been targeted by persons seeking to extract payments to which they were not entitled.

Upon discovering the fraud, the Claims Conference contacted US federal law enforcement authorities and notified the German government. In addition, the Claims Conference mounted and continues a vigorous and thorough investigation to determine the scope and source of the fraud, including a review of all applications and the creation of a task force. All of this information was made available to the board and the public.

Contrary to Leibler's assertion that the organization has "trivialized" the issue and been "dismissive," the Claims Conference has been aggressive in documenting the fraud and bringing all possible evidence to the US federal law enforcement authorities. Believing that this was of public interest, the Claims Conference released a statement explaining the events and provided all the information it was able within the context of an ongoing federal investigation.

This issue is being treated with the utmost gravity and seriousness, and it is appalling for Leibler to impugn the hardworking Claims Conference staff and dedicated voluntary board members who are working on this issue. The Claims Conference is outraged that criminals would exploit programs that are intended to assist needy Holocaust victims for their own financial gain. We have implemented additional measures to protect the system from being taken advantage of in the future. We also want to reassure the community that no survivor payments were affected during the fraud.

TO CITE another example of the gross irresponsibility reflected in the Leibler articles is the spurious claim that $1 billion is allegedly available that could be used to aid the poor, aged and infirm survivors. In the words of Leibler: "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?" Indeed, how could they? And, why would they? If that assertion was true, surely each of the 64 unpaid directors, each with an impeccable record of working in major Jewish organizations throughout the world, should be thrown out. However this figure and the overall assertion is a complete myth, like so much else that was written.

Firstly, $211 million of that sum is to be paid to the heirs of property appropriated by the Nazis. The source of most of the Claims Conference funds is recovered property in the former East Germany, and heirs, under Claims Conference rules, are entitled to receive recoveries.

Secondly, $360 million of these funds has already been allocated for home care, medicine, food and other vital services and programs. The Claims Conference committed the money to agencies which provide home care services to needy survivors.

The funds will be transferred to those agencies when receipts are received. Until such time, the money remains with the Claims Conference. Of course, all of the interest accrued during this time will also be made available for home care and other services.

Finally, out of the remaining $543 million, the Claims Conference allocates $136 million per year for social services for Holocaust survivors and a very small fraction for Holocaust remembrance and education. This means that this amount will last for only four more years. Unfortunately, Leibler and his sources either ignored this fact, or were unaware. What makes this even more problematic is the fact that all the information, including balance sheet and detailed explanation, is fully open and accessible to the public and can be accessed through our Web site (

To my mind, reporting the "billion dollar myth" as fact is much worse than simply misstating a fact. Those that have perpetrated this myth unfortunately mislead the poor survivors into believing that there is a "pot of gold" on the other side of the locked door that, if opened, would greatly alleviate the physical and mental conditions in which they are suffering. This is the height of irresponsibility and is shameful.

HOWEVER, THE damage runs even deeper.

The Claims Conference has an urgent mission to explain the plight of Holocaust survivors to the world audience and bring additional resources to alleviate their plight. Negotiations with governments, 65 years after the end of the war and in the midst of the world financial crisis, become more difficult every year. Despite all of the obstacles, the Claims Conference has been uniquely successful in increasing the amounts available for survivors.

It is outrageous to undermine these delicate negotiations by making false accusations to the media when the true facts are available in open sources.

The Claims Conference, as the largest provider of home care, medicine and food for Holocaust survivors, is painfully aware of the inadequacy of the current funds to meet their worldwide needs. Furthermore, all of our demographic data indicates that survivors' needs will far outlast the next four years and the last available Claims Conference funds.

Instead of falsely accusing the Claims Conference of hoarding funds, we invite all those who are truly interested in survivors' needs, not to engage in malicious and unfounded gossip, but to help spread the word about the needs of survivors and engage in an intensive fund-raising drive to benefit Nazi victims around the world. Given the Claims Conference's knowledge about the needs of Nazi victims, we would be thrilled to cooperate in such an endeavor, which could call attention to the needs among these nowelderly survivors who suffered unprecedented horrors.

While some are engaged in assaulting an organization dedicated to survivors needs, others fully comprehend that the Claims Conference is the primary vehicle for alleviating survivors suffering.

Major philanthropists and foundations have entrusted us to ensure that their money will see to survivors needs.

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, one of the largest Jewish foundations in the world, has just announced a $10 million fund for emergency needs for the victims of Nazism. To their credit, the Weinberg Foundation trustees did the research, studied these issues and concluded that on top of all of the Claims Conference contributions and our four-year spend-down plan, additional funds are needed for survivors. They asked the Claims Conference to administer the funds and their visionary leadership in providing supplemental funds should be an example to all.

In the meantime, Claims Conference work continues at full speed. We have already allocated more than $215 million this year ($136 million from recovered property, another $80 million received through negotiations between the Claims Conference and the German and Austrian governments, and other funds such as those provided to the Claims Conference by the US Federal courts under various settlements) for home care, medicine, food programs, social welfare services for Shoah survivors and other programs in 46 countries.

Nevertheless, as we well know, the needs of Holocaust victims are greater than the resources available. For this reason, we need to work even harder and cannot be distracted from this vital mission by hearsay and gossip.

The nearly 60-year historic endeavor to obtain compensation and restitution for survivors of the Shoah and victims' heirs has been, and continues to be, unparalleled in Jewish and indeed human history.

Had it not accomplished so much and striven so mightily on behalf of the survivors, the Claims Conference might not have received this attention and been so bitterly criticized.

If obtaining $70 billion for Holocaust victims; recovering property; providing food packages and home care; and establishing a historical precedent for compensation and restitution means that the Claims Conference will continue to be a target for perennial critics, then let the critics continue writing, and we'll continue helping survivors live out their final years in greater comfort and dignity.

The writer is the chairman of the Claims Conference.







The majority have privately whispered that the Rotem bill on conversion is retrograde.

Talkbacks (5)


On issues relating to Jewish identity in Israel, Diaspora Jews are not only entitled but are obliged to be party to discussions.

However, the current upheaval over the proposed Rotem conversion legislation has limited bearing on Diaspora or American Jews as it relates only to conversions here.

Ironically however, the brouhaha from US Conservative and Reform groups – while based on false premises – had a positive impact, forcing the government to at least temporarily postpone the legislation.

There was one brief moment in 1998 when current Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman came close to achieving a consensual agreement for conversions that would have been consistent both with Halacha and accommodating the major requirements of the Conservative and Reform Jewish organizations.

Regrettably, it was ultimately sabotaged by hard-liners from both sides. Since then, it has been clear that in the foreseeable future this issue will not be resolved by legislation or fiat and will remain a matter of contention between opposing Jewish groups.

But today we face an impending crisis that cannot await the resolution of this issue.

Since their arrival, 350,000 immigrants, primarily from the former Soviet Union, most having one Jewish parent, remain in a nightmarish limbo.

On the one hand, they consider themselves Israelis in every respect, attend Israeli schools, serve in the IDF and and are willing to lay their lives down for their country. Yet due to historical circumstances beyond their control they are not regarded as halachically Jewish.

As a consequence, 90,000 of them born here, who will soon be of marriageable age are considered "ticking time bombs."

They will become deeply alienated when they discover that they are unable to obtain state certification for a marriage ceremony or even be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

YET IT is not an insolvable problem. There was an equivalent predicament with the Ethiopian aliya, which in terms of Halacha was far more problematic. But due to the foresight and creative intervention of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef the problem was resolved within a halachic framework.

The proposed conversion legislation introduced by MK David Rotem on behalf of Israel Beiteinu was intended to resolve the problem by broadening the conversion authority to a cross-section of rabbis including those more sensitive to the need to exercise maximum halachic flexibility to those seeking to convert.

However, after Rotem naïvely accepted the haredi amendments, the proposed legislation would in reality have worsened the current intolerable situation and further institutionalized control of the conversion procedure by the most extreme elements. Currently applicants to local rabbinical courts requiring certification that they are Jewish frequently undergo a draconian interrogation. Many are treated in the first instance as if they were not Jewish and even obliged to provide birth and death certificates and marriage contracts going back three generations – documents which are frequently simply unavailable.

Currently, the majority of rabbis approved by the Chief Rabbinate are programmed to dissuade potential converts by imposing the most stringent barriers to conversion at a time when it is in the national interest to encourage Israelis who are not halachically Jewish to become part of the formal religiously sanctioned community. They recently even took the unprecedented step of attempting to retroactively annul 15,000 conversions conducted by the unquestionably Orthodox Rabbi Haim Druckman – a step unheard of in Jewish tradition. This is all the more bizarre because the haredim themselves refuse to recognize the authority of the Chief Rabbinate, which they hijacked merely to coerce the Israeli community to adhere to their stringent standards of religious ritual observance.

PROF. BINYAMIN Ish-Shalom, the founding chairman of the Joint Conversion Institute and Beit Morasha, is recognized as one of the most devoted and committed Orthodox intellectuals seeking to promote Jewish values and build bridges between religious and secular Israelis. But even he concluded that the proposed law will incur "more damage than good and set dangerous precedents with potentially disastrous results."

He maintains that the proposed legislation would enable the centralized Supreme Rabbinical Court to control the placement of rabbis and thus exclude any Tzohar or centrist rabbi who has a sympathetic approach to conversion. The legislation would also require a beit din to be composed of three municipal rabbis who could not appoint substitute rabbis – making it practically impossible for such bodies to operate.

Ish-Shalom also points out that by providing for review of conversions by the Supreme Rabbinical Court, the proposed law provides a green light to the annulment of any previous conversion undertaken by the state which could inflict additional suffering on converts.

It is noteworthy that Rabbi Haim Amsalem, a Shas MK, recently published a scholarly book promoting a more positive attitude toward converts, especially children of Jewish ancestry who serve in the IDF, which he claims in itself reflects a sincere intention of becoming part of the Jewish people. However, none of the 34 current conversion judges appointed by the state would concur with his position and the entire haredi establishment bitterly attacked him, describing his work as "a mockery of Halacha," but could not fault the bona fides of his halachic approach.

The immediate problem is the operation of the multimillion shekel state-sponsored conversion enterprise controlled by the Chief Rabbinate, which only converts a few hundred immigrants each year. It should be dissolved and substituted by a process whereby a broader range of Orthodox rabbis should have the authority to form a beit din to process conversions, as has been the case in Diaspora communities throughout the ages.

Those who consider that these conversions are insufficiently stringent are not obliged to recognize them – a situation which already prevails among many haredim, who would not accept within their families those converted outside of their own immediate rabbinical circles.

How are the religious Zionists in the Knesset responding to this? Some, without adequately checking the facts, have foolishly endorsed the legislation and a few have disapproved.

However, the majority privately whisper that the legislation is retrograde but lack the courage to speak out in opposition, fearful of being castigated by the haredim.

If they remain silent on such an important issue, it is high time for them to retire from politics. If their one-dimensional obsession with settlements has led them to abdicating the central religious life issues to haredim, they should become a straightforward settlement party and cease claiming to represent the viewpoint of religious Zionists.

Their deafening silence in this debate is cowardly. There is a desperate need for religious Zionist activists who are willing to promote a religious Jewish world outlook by example, not by coercion, and willing to indulge in dialogue with other sections of the Israeli and Jewish world without being intimidated by haredim.









Republican dreams of control worry democrats and would-be-peacemakers.

Talkbacks (5)

With less than 100 days until the congressional elections, Republican dreams of taking control of both the House and Senate are giving nightmares not only to Democrats but also to those who want to see the Israelis and Palestinians make peace.

As the GOP tries to out-Israel the Democrats by taking an increasingly hard line, Rep.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida lawmaker who could become the next chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) if Republicans win in November, is leading the charge by essentially proposing shutting down the peace process.

That was her reaction to last week's State Department announcement it was upgrading the Palestinian Authority's Washington office – officially the PLO mission – to a "general delegation" and allowing it to fly the Palestinian flag, a move the State Department spokesman called "symbolic."

Despite charges by some critics, the upgrade does not bestow "any diplomatic privileges or immunities," the spokesman said. The Palestinians already have similar status in Europe, Canada and several Latin American countries.

The move was cleared with the Israeli Embassy in Washington and Prime MinisterBinyamin Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem, which approved the decision, but that was apparently irrelevant to Ros-Lehtinen.

She quickly issued a press release declaring, "Instead of giving more undeserved gifts to the PLO, it's time for us to kick the PLO out of the US once and for all, and move our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, where it belongs."

"The unrepentant, unchanged PLO deserves no US concessions" such as flying "the so-called 'Palestinian flag,'" she said.

THAT POSITIONS her well to the right of Netanyahu, not exactly known for his dovishness, as well as the majority of Israelis and American Jews but in line with the notorious bingo baron Irving Moskowitz, who has poured millions into highly controversial housing for Jews in Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem and other provocative projects.

Moskowitz, who rejects any peace with the Palestinians, is a top Ros-Lehtinen contributor, according to He and his wife donated more than $20,000 to her campaigns between 2006 and 2009, according the Federal Election Commission.

This year's figures are not yet available.

There's no question that if she had her way and tossed out the PLO – which, like the Palestinian Authority, is headed by Mahmoud Abbas and is recognized by Israel – and moved the embassy, whatever there is of the peace process would be destroyed. The Palestinians would be certain to walk out and would have the support of many countries.

Ros-Lehtinen is not just another uninformed freshman backbencher who can get away with such rhetoric; she is the ranking Republican on HFAC and, if her party wins control of the House, would replace the highly respected and thoughtful Rep. Howard Berman (D-California) as chair of the panel that authorizes all foreign aid and is responsible for oversight and legislation related to foreign policy.

The Cuban-born Ros-Lehtinen, 58, is the senior Republican woman in the House and first Hispanic woman elected to Congress.

She has close relations to the Jewish community and often speaks of her Jewish roots; her maternal grandparents were Sephardi Jews from Turkey, although her mother converted to Catholicism and she is listed as Episcopalian.

She is considered a strong supporter of Israel, but from the right, as her latest statement demonstrates, and she seems to be moving farther to the right of people like Netanyahu and George W. Bush, and closer to rejectionists like Moskowitz – a dangerous and irresponsible course.

She is smart enough – PhD in higher education – to know that throwing the Palestinian mission out of the US and moving the American Embassy would scuttle any hopes of reviving the peace process. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama repeatedly authorized keeping the Palestinian office open and delaying the embassy move in their efforts to foster peace.

I can't see how she thinks such statements are helping Israel, which she calls our "indispensable democratic ally."

Does she agree with Moskowitz that negotiations with the Palestinians are "a slide toward concessions, surrender and Israeli suicide?" She could have rightly criticized the timing of the administration's decision to upgrade the mission. It is premature so long as Abbas keeps producing excuses to stay away from the negotiating table and anti-Israel incitement in the PA persists. The new status was explained as an incentive, but it should have been held back and used as a reward after Abbas stops playing hard to get. Concessions seem only to whet his appetite for more.

Ros-Lehtinen has a safe seat and is a prolific fund-raiser, so there is no excuse for a senior leader of the Foreign Affairs Committee to advocate policies certain to sabotage a peace process that successive American and Israeli governments of right and left have pursued since before she came to Congress. That is not responsible leadership.








A fluttering Palestinian flag in Washington may help convince some that direct talks will lead to peace.


Will Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finally agree to direct peace talks with Israel? Judging by the recent US enticement – and the reported Israeli concession – of an upgraded PLO mission – now called a "general delegation"– in Washington that will be entitled to fly the Palestinian flag, signaling an American acceptance of near sovereignty, Abbas will be hard-pressed to turn down President Barack Obama's offer.

The White House has expressed confidence that the latest symbolic US gesture is meant to jump-start successful bilateral talks and bring about an eventual "independent, viable Palestine living side by side with Israel." White House spokesman Thomas Vietor noted that "we should begin preparing for that outcome now."

A new fluttering Palestinian flag in Washington may help convince some in the Beltway that long awaited direct talks will finally lead to an elusive peace agreement. However, it seems more likely that American and Israeli goodwill are fuelling Palestinian plans to establish a state unilaterally on the 1949 armistice lines – inaccurately called the 1967 borders – either by declaration as Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has wanted or by a UN Security Council resolution as Abbas has preferred.

Threats by the Palestinian leadership in late 2009 to declare statehood unilaterally, while supported quietly by some European officials, have been flatly rejected by the Obama administration.

In line with the Oslo interim accords of 1995 that still govern Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy, Washington insists that bilateral talks and a Palestinian state by agreement is the legal and proper diplomatic path to take.

However, the recent dramatic announcement by the International Court of Justice that Kosovo's 2008 unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia "did not violate international law" holds substantial ramifications for the Palestinians, as it does for other prospective succession bids including the Kurds and Northern Cypriots.

IT SHOULD be recalled that the US was one of the first powers to recognize Kosovo's unilateral succession from Serbia nearly two and half years ago, despite only tepid international support for the move. However, since 2008, PA officials have invoked Kosovo as a model for "Palestine."

PA senior official Yasser Abed Rabbo said soon after Kosovo's declaration that "our people have the right to proclaim independence even before Kosovo, and we ask for the backing of the United States and the European Union for our independence."

PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, who has worked tirelessly for a Security Council endorsement of a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines, also said in late 2009 that "the EU recognized the state of Kosovo before other official channels."

Abbas and Fayyad have also mentioned the Kosovo model as an option.

The context of the ICJ's nonbinding yet supportive opinion for Kosovo's succession renders the latest US gesture a far more significant step toward Washington's recognition of Palestinian sovereignty than simply a generous peace process outreach.

Even if the Palestinians agree, as Abbas indicated in media reports last week, to avoid making unilateral declarations, the combination of the latest Palestinian "flaghood" in the capital of the free world and the latest international legal backing for unilateralism paves the path for the current Palestinian default position: a resolution in the UN Security Council seeking recognition of "Palestine" on the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital.

Former EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has publicly supported this option, while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has reportedly been positively inclined to the idea in conversations with Palestinian leaders over the past year.

A major question is whether the Obama administration will continue to insist on direct peace talks as the only legal and secure path to peace and whether it will level a veto over this second and dangerous form of Palestinian unilateralism if and when it comes to a vote in the Security Council.

The implications for Israel, the Palestinians and the Middle East are too far-reaching to ignore.

The writer is the director for strategic affairs at the World Jewish Congress and a foreign policy fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.









secular government cannot legislate religious questions.

We have now been advised that the conversion crisis will be put off for six months, during which time, presumably, the debate will continue. Publicists will decry the fact that hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens speak Hebrew, serve in the army, pay taxes, bear the day to day burdens of Israeli life, yet are not and cannot (because of halachic strictures) become "Jewish."

The American Jewish community will foresee a rift between Israel and the Diaspora. Local prophets of doom warn of an ideological civil war.

Pundits will propose solutions – relaxation of halachic standards, authorizing local Rabbis (who are presumably more lenient or more subject to political pressures) to carry out conversions, etc.

Floating above all of this activity will be the question of individuals who have been converted abroad under the aegis of the Conservative or Reform movements (and in some cases even by Orthodox rabbis), who view themselves as Jewish and may find that Israel takes a different view.

The Supreme Court will once again be forced to intervene and its legitimacy will be subject to further erosion.

The ground is fertile for futile debate and much political mud-slinging, not necessarily substantive.

IN SIX months we will be back to square one, not because the problem is so complex, but because once again the discussion is irrelevant and off the mark. Regardless of what the legislature decides, most Rabbinic authorities will never accept a conversion that does not involve a bona fide commitment to full halachic life.

Every conversion will be checked and re-checked by the various bet din authorities. Rather than promoting unity, conversion leniencies will perpetuate rifts.

The six-month hiatus will be useful and productive only if the participants in this saga finally realize that the goal should be, not to reform the conversion process, but to get the secular State of Israel out of the business of legislating religious questions, and to provide reasonable, practical, non-stigmatizing solutions for those individuals who are not halachically Jewish, but nonetheless are or should be fullfledged members of Israeli society.

All participants in the debate must come to terms with the idea that a secular government simply cannot legislate religious questions. In order to solve the problem, we must ask the correct question: As the Talmud says: "lemai nafka minah ?" What is the practical difference and the practical solution ? How can an individual who bears all of the responsibilities of Israeli citizenship, even if not halachically Jewish, also benefit from the attendant rights and benefits? How can such an individual achieve the same civic status as a person born of two Jewish parents ? If the question is thus asked correctly, and only in such case, an answer can be found. As I have suggested previously in these pages, the solution must at the least contain two elements: First, "Jewish" should no longer be a nationality option in the Israeli identity card. If an individual was born in Israel or made aliya under the Law of Return, then his secular nationality is "Israeli."

The identity card should simply state "Israeli" or perhaps one of the following categories: "Israeli by birth" (one who was born in Israel), or "Israeli under the Law of Return."

The latter appellation would apply to individuals who are entitled to make aliya, and do so, whether born of one or two Jewish parents or grandparents, whether or not halachically Jewish, and would be stigma-free.

SECOND, THE option of civil marriage should be provided for anyone who wants it (whether or not halachically Jewish). If one wants to be married by the Rabbinate, it would be the Rabbinate's prerogative to examine whether one meets the requirements for halachic marriage. The same would be true of Christian clerics, Muslims and every other religion.

Whether the religious authority accepts the individual to be married is a religious issue, not a legislative one.

There would be no stigma attached to a civil marriage. It is simply a matter of choice and the rules of the club.

Indeed, civil marriage will avoid many mamzerut and aguna (anchored in marriage) problems. A woman married in the civil marriage regime would not be considered married for halachic purposes (particularly if the civil marriage documentation recites that the individual has "opted out" of a religious ceremony). Such an individual would not require a get (divorce) to be remarried, but rather another form of judicial cancellation of the marriage. A child born out of wedlock after such a marriage would not be illegitimate under halacha. The notions of aguna and mamzer would become virtually extinct.

Once these steps are taken, the non-halachic immigrant would be well on his or her way to achieving exactly the same status as every other Jewish Israeli. The identity card would not in any way disclose personal religious background and he or she would be able to marry in Israel without resorting to trips abroad or clandestine activity. On the other hand, the Rabbinate would maintain its integrity.

I am aware that many groups, including particularly the religious parties and establishment, decry any "secularization" of religious status on the grounds that this would divide the country. I suspect that hidden behind these arguments is a desperate attempt to maintain control of the huge marriage and conversion bureaucracy. But even if the position of these opponents is untainted by personal or pecuniary interests, the logic is simply incorrect.

The split in Israeli society already exists. The fact that an individual was converted by the government sanctioned special conversion court has absolutely no weight before the Rabbinic courts or the marriage registrars, which review each situation anew. If conversion standards are made more lenient, then the notation "Jewish" in an identity card will be even more meaningless.

If today there is a presumption that Rabbinate conversion was proper, even that presumption will be eliminated. Not only the haredi community, but also the more "modern" elements in the religious community will give no credence to the acts of the local Rabbinate.

Thus, rather than strengthening the Rabbinate, the relaxation of standards and the proposed legislation will make the Rabbinate into the laughing stock of the religious community.

After the Jewish Enlightenment movement took hold in Europe, many Jewish communities were split into two: the official community which had a Rabbi mitaam – i.e. a Rabbi appointed by the local political authorities – and a separatist "halachic" community. If the conversion plans and legislation go into force, the same situation will befall the State of Israel.

The six-month hiatus brokered by the Prime Minister should be used, not to find compromise solutions, but to ask the right questions, so the correct answers can flow.

The writer, an ordained Orthodox Rabbi, is an international lawyer based in Tel Aviv.







A fluttering Palestinian flag in Washington may help convince some that direct talks will lead to peace.


Will Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finally agree to direct peace talks with Israel? Judging by the recent US enticement – and the reported Israeli concession – of an upgraded PLO mission – now called a "general delegation"– in Washington that will be entitled to fly the Palestinian flag, signaling an American acceptance of near sovereignty, Abbas will be hard-pressed to turn down President Barack Obama's offer.

The White House has expressed confidence that the latest symbolic US gesture is meant to jump-start successful bilateral talks and bring about an eventual "independent, viable Palestine living side by side with Israel." White House spokesman Thomas Vietor noted that "we should begin preparing for that outcome now."

A new fluttering Palestinian flag in Washington may help convince some in the Beltway that long awaited direct talks will finally lead to an elusive peace agreement. However, it seems more likely that American and Israeli goodwill are fuelling Palestinian plans to establish a state unilaterally on the 1949 armistice lines – inaccurately called the 1967 borders – either by declaration as Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has wanted or by a UN Security Council resolution as Abbas has preferred.

Threats by the Palestinian leadership in late 2009 to declare statehood unilaterally, while supported quietly by some European officials, have been flatly rejected by the Obama administration.

In line with the Oslo interim accords of 1995 that still govern Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy, Washington insists that bilateral talks and a Palestinian state by agreement is the legal and proper diplomatic path to take.

However, the recent dramatic announcement by the International Court of Justice that Kosovo's 2008 unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia "did not violate international law" holds substantial ramifications for the Palestinians, as it does for other prospective succession bids including the Kurds and Northern Cypriots.

IT SHOULD be recalled that the US was one of the first powers to recognize Kosovo's unilateral succession from Serbia nearly two and half years ago, despite only tepid international support for the move. However, since 2008, PA officials have invoked Kosovo as a model for "Palestine."

PA senior official Yasser Abed Rabbo said soon after Kosovo's declaration that "our people have the right to proclaim independence even before Kosovo, and we ask for the backing of the United States and the European Union for our independence."

PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, who has worked tirelessly for a Security Council endorsement of a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines, also said in late 2009 that "the EU recognized the state of Kosovo before other official channels."

Abbas and Fayyad have also mentioned the Kosovo model as an option.

The context of the ICJ's nonbinding yet supportive opinion for Kosovo's succession renders the latest US gesture a far more significant step toward Washington's recognition of Palestinian sovereignty than simply a generous peace process outreach.

Even if the Palestinians agree, as Abbas indicated in media reports last week, to avoid making unilateral declarations, the combination of the latest Palestinian "flaghood" in the capital of the free world and the latest international legal backing for unilateralism paves the path for the current Palestinian default position: a resolution in the UN Security Council seeking recognition of "Palestine" on the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital.

Former EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has publicly supported this option, while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has reportedly been positively inclined to the idea in conversations with Palestinian leaders over the past year.

A major question is whether the Obama administration will continue to insist on direct peace talks as the only legal and secure path to peace and whether it will level a veto over this second and dangerous form of Palestinian unilateralism if and when it comes to a vote in the Security Council.

The implications for Israel, the Palestinians and the Middle East are too far-reaching to ignore.

The writer is the director for strategic affairs at the World Jewish Congress and a foreign policy fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.










About two weeks ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed regulations restricting access to government archives. As Barak Ravid revealed yesterday in Haaretz, 50-year-old materials that were to be opened to the public for historical study will now remain classified for two more decades.


The decision was preceded by intense pressure from the defense establishment and intelligence services on the state archivist, Prof. Yehoshua Freundlich. The archivist accepted their position, and said "these materials are not fit for public viewing."


The information that remains classified deals, among other things, with the expulsions and massacres of Arabs in the War of Independence, Mossad operations in foreign countries, surveillance of opposition politicians by the Shin Bet security service in the 1950s and the establishment of the Biological Research Institute in Nes Tziona and the Nuclear Research Center in Dimona.


The material was not accessible to the public previously, and the new regulations merely put a retroactive stamp of legality on the closure of the archives, which until now was sealed illegally. The state archivist warned that some of the classified materials "has implications over [Israel's] adherence to international law."


His words suggest that the state will be seen as an outlaw if the past deeds of the security and intelligence services are made public. But his explanations are not reasonable. Israel, which this year celebrated its 62nd birthday, can and must confront the less than heroic chapters in its past and reveal them to the public and for historical study. The public has a right to know about the decisions made by the state's founders, even if they involved violations of human rights, covering up crimes or harassing political opponents by security means. The country is mature and strong enough to absorb the criticism that could arise if, for example, previously unpublished testimonies are discovered about the events at Deir Yassin.


The role of the security establishment and intelligence services is to protect the state in the present, not to hide the past. The new regulations, prepared in response to petitions by journalists to the High Court of Justice, reverse the trend of openness set in the Freedom of Information Law, which the Supreme Court called "a guiding law." Israelis should study history as it happened and as it was documented, not just a censored and prettified version.









Sometimes a person who saves a single life destroys an entire world. In the marathon of shocking reports from the scene in Netanya where Itai Ben Dror murdered his three children, the thought given by the police and the prison service to preventing the murderer from committing suicide was mentioned a few times. The suspect has suicidal tendencies and has attempted suicide several times, according to reports from the funeral of the children, the news conference held by the bereaved mother and the reenactment of the murder.


The large numbers of police officers who escorted Ben Dror to his Netanya apartment for the reenactment - a bulletproof vest over his hospital pajamas - exemplified the extensive, and expensive, security measures needed to protect the suspect.


Because Israel is a state of law the police were right to guard the suspect during the reenactment to prevent him from being harmed by incensed neighbors. The police have a duty to ensure that the murderer's fate is determined by the legal and mental health authorities.


The police have a duty to protect the murderer from anyone who might want to harm him before he is brought to trial. And if he is sentenced to prison, it will be the duty of the Israel Prison Service to protect him from other inmates, but who benefits from preventing the murderer from killing himself?


The state will certainly gain nothing. On the contrary, the security measures or lengthy stay in a psychiatric hospital will require significant state spending. Legally, everyone has the right to commit suicide, since Israeli law neither prohibits it nor prosecutes people for attempted suicide.


But the prison service plans to make sure that Ben Dror's cell is free of any pipes or shoelaces so that he will not be able to take his own life, as Assaf Goldring, who murdered his daughter in Moshav Batzra, did a year ago. Why try to prevent a person so clearly despicable and miserable as Ben Dror from carrying out his scheme?


One of the purposes of the Mental Health Law is to protect individuals who pose a risk to themselves or others. The armies of psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers that were called in to do the impossible and to try to identify, after the fact, signs that could have disclosed Ben Dror's intention to wipe out his family, explained that the two risks are not necessarily connected: Not everyone who wants to take his own life wants to take the lives of those who are supposed to be most dear to him, and not everyone who becomes a murderer is suicidal.


Ben Dror is a clear and terrible example of a reverse causal relationship: Had he not been prevented from fulfilling his death wish; had his parents, friends and the mental health services not taken considerable, and costly, effort to keep him alive, against his will, the lives of his three children would have been saved and his family and the world would have been spared this terrible tragedy.









Disasters sometimes happen, and occasionally, they happen one after the other. Words fail us in the face of a

father who murders his three children. The helicopter accident that took the lives of six Israeli airmen and a Romanian colleague in the Carpathians is shocking. There is not a mother or a father alive who does not think of their children; no Israeli can remain indifferent to these two catastrophes.


And after all this has been said, it is impossible not to wonder at the rituals of death that are once again being enacted. These very private disasters - the end of the world for all who knew and loved the victims - have been expropriated and turned into national disasters, making cynical use of pornographic death dances, a mixture of kitsch and death. All proportion is lost as everything gets dished out in exaggerated, crude helpings that go on endlessly, or at least until the next disaster.


The memory of the victims, as well as the conclusions to be drawn from the disasters, if there are any, do not benefit from these death dances, which are devoid of good taste, restraint and sensitivity.


It started with reports of Itai Ben Dror's appalling murder of his three children, Omer, Roni and Or. Words fail? Not at all. The words and weeping of the bereaved mother, Lilach, at her time of unimaginable sorrow reverberated from one end of the country to the other, along with those of all the relatives who were called on to lament in public.


In contrast, we repeatedly saw close-ups of the father bound hand and foot, wearing tattered hospital pajamas, walking barefoot, his feet bloodstained, on his way from the hospital to a jail cell. How many times did we see him helpless, trying in vain to hide his face? How many times did we see him in those pajamas? Why? What for? What is the difference between that and tarring and feathering him, between that and skinning him in the marketplace? Thus shall be done to the man who murders his children; thus shall be done here to almost anyone accused of a crime.


"There is no one to call me Mommy," the mother's cry was splashed in a giant headline. "They won't know the father," the headlines screamed the next day, already announcing the next disaster, which replaced its quickly forgotten predecessor. Just as we recovered from the murder, the helicopter disaster befell us. Pilots instead of children, but once again the ritual. An air disaster instead of a murder, but again the same unbridled craving for ratings and sales, in the name of which almost anything goes.


The parade of psychiatrists who publicly expounded on the killer's psychological condition has now been replaced by a parade of air fleet and squadron leaders, past, present and future, who chatted away in praise of every nut and bolt in the Sikorsky CH-53. Is Ben Dror insane or not? Is the Sikorsky sound or not?


Four months ago, Lior became a father; just two months ago, Yahel had a daughter; in five months, Nir was to have become a father. Endless conversations with bereaved uncles who say their loved ones were the salt of the earth, with aunts who tell how the fallen were so charming and special, not like everyone else. As if it isn't already horrific enough without those details. The morbidness continues ad nauseam as we keep track of the search for body parts. It wasn't enough for us that the Romanian general prosecutor "confirmed death for seven bodies," in the ridiculous language of one of the Israeli military correspondents. Only we will confirm death, in the patronizing language of the Israeli ambassador there. The helicopter's black box has been found, but the black box of a society that wallows in death has not been found and, it appears, never will be.


A day or two more and the fallen will be buried, the circumstances of the accident will be clarified, the bereaved families will never find rest or comfort, and the people of Israel will forget these two disasters and move on to the commercials. Then we will wait for the next disaster, looking ahead toward the next ritual of death, which will one again demand its pound of cheap emotion and cause us to forget all the real national disasters, about which we speak so little.










Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke the truth: One reason for the Palestinians' refusal to begin direct talks is the meddling by various Israeli players ("and not from the right" ). But even without waiting for leaks from the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee subcommittee to which Netanyahu has promised to reveal the spoilers' names, one can easily identify individuals and organizations engaged in persuading the Palestinians to refuse the move to direct talks.


The world is with you, they tell the Palestinians, and the Israelis are worn out. Netanyahu has given you, gratis, the ultimate recognition that no previous Likud leader ever dared to grant: a declaration of your right to an independent state in the Land of Israel. Yet even the minuscule price the Americans asked of you - direct talks - you refused to pay.


When you continued to refuse, Netanyahu froze construction in the settlements. But even then you did not return to the negotiating table. And if you reaped two strategic achievements such as these while giving nothing in return, why should you hurry? This lemon can be squeezed again and again.


In contrast to the intentional spoilers, there are quite a few Israeli organizations that strive, with the best of intentions, to further an agreement with the Palestinians. Yet even though their intentions are good their actions only impede such an agreement. They toil, for instance, over drafting peace agreements, and the Palestinians reject every one of them. For experience has taught them that for every proposal they reject a new one will be put forth, offering even more concessions than the last.


Such proposals, such as receiving sovereign Israeli territory in exchange for the settlement blocs, have sunk roots into the Israeli consciousness. As a result, a return to the 1967 lines is no longer the end point of Israeli offers, but the starting point. And having obtained so much within so short a time, historically speaking, the Palestinians are convinced that they can wait another few decades.


But Netanyahu will not talk about this in the subcommittee session. Nor will he mention another reason for the Palestinians' refusal: the meddling of their brothers in Israel. They, being well aware of Israeli society's weakness, consistently demand - as they did on the eve of the Annapolis summit in 2007 - that their countrymen not recognize Israel as a Jewish state.


On the eve of that summit, George Bush announced that his speech would include a presidential declaration that Israel is a Jewish state and the national homeland of the Jewish people. His administration invested great effort in trying to persuade Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to accept this declaration. In response, representatives of various bodies that represent Israeli Arabs met in Nazareth and demanded that Abbas not consent to the declaration. A delegation headed by MK Ahmed Tibi even met with him to drive home the point.


Netanyahu will also not bare his heart to the committee regarding the problematic conduct of a certain very senior Israeli figure who frequently visits Washington. Initially these visits were for the purpose of strategic coordination, primarily on Iran. But in time the Americans took up this official (though Netanyahu could note that the dynamic was actually the reverse ) in order to boost their own policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians. This official's goal, in full coordination with the Americans, is to force the prime minister to follow the road laid out by the White House.


Netanyahu spoke the truth when he said he is willing to begin direct talks tomorrow. Granted, his stomach must churn when he repeats his commitment to two states for two peoples, and perhaps he is wagering on the Arabs' continued refusal. But if the Palestinians are sincere when they say their goal is a state alongside Israel and not Israel's destruction, Netanyahu, who psychologically has already crossed the ideological Rubicon, will meet them halfway. And he will bring most of Likud with him - an unprecedented strategic achievement for the Palestinians.


But they will continue to reject direct talks, and influential Israelis, Jews and Arabs alike, will continue to support them. And they know why.



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




The federal judge who ruled on Arizona's tragic, noxious new immigration law on Wednesday did not stop all of it from taking effect Thursday, but she preliminarily halted the worst of it. And although appeals are certain, Judge Susan Bolton offered clear and well-reasoned arguments affirming the federal government's final authority over immigration enforcement. We hope this is the beginning of the end of the misbegotten Arizona rules and what they represent.


Judge Bolton explained basic points that those who support the Arizona law have ignored or forgotten:


¶A state cannot require its police officers to demand the papers of people they stop and suspect are illegal immigrants. As the judge wrote, the law places an "unacceptable burden on lawfully present aliens."


¶Arizona cannot require that every arrested person have his or her immigration status checked, or that people be detained until they prove they are here lawfully.


¶Arizona cannot make it a state crime for immigrants not to carry papers at all times, or for an undocumented immigrant to look for work.


¶It cannot give officers the power to make warrantless arrests of anyone they believe has committed a crime that makes them deportable. Deportation is a matter to be decided by a judge in court, Judge Bolton wrote, not a state trooper or sheriff's deputy in a traffic stop.


Arizona's law is not a case of a state helping the federal government do a job it neglected. It is a radical upending of immigration priorities, part of a spiteful crusade to force a mass exodus of illegal immigrants. Arizona still has a governor, legislators and law officers determined to pursue immigration enforcement at any cost. It has the country's most prolific immigrant-hunting machinery, mostly because of the Maricopa County sheriff, who indiscriminately raids Latino neighborhoods. With demonstrators converging on the state this week, Arizona threatens to become a national fracturing point on immigration. The Obama administration can do more than just watch. It can reassert the importance of sensible national immigration policies.


The administration can start by rethinking two troubling programs — Secure Communities, which requires immigration checks for everyone booked into a jail, and 287(g), in which local law-enforcement officials are deputized as immigration agents in task forces and in jails.


The Obama administration has resisted calls to abolish the programs, despite warnings of racial profiling, arrests on pretexts and other abuses. But there is no excuse for not pulling the plug on Arizona's 287(g) programs, the largest in the nation.


It should also listen to George Gascón, the police chief of San Francisco, who was at the center of the immigration-enforcement debate as the police chief in Mesa, Ariz. He believes public safety is jeopardized when officers waste time chasing low-priority targets, and people in immigrant areas fear law enforcement. He has suggested a pilot program in which Secure Communities would restrict its focus to serious offenders. Immigration and Customs Enforcement should have no problem with that; it says its highest priority is removing "aliens who pose a danger to national security or a risk to public safety."


Judge Bolton's ruling reminded us all of the unacceptable price of the Arizona way: an incoherent immigration system, squandered law enforcement resources, diminished public safety, the awful sight of a nation of immigrants turning on itself. Mr. Obama took a big risk when he filed suit against the Arizona law, and deserves credit for that. We hope he goes on to make clear to all the states that the Arizona way is not the American way.









Enrollment at for-profit colleges and trade schools has tripled in the last decade to about 1.8 million, or nearly 10 percent of the nation's higher education students. These schools, partly because they serve poorer students who need more support, receive almost a quarter of the federal aid. This year, federal financing for financial aid is expected to total $145 billion.


Some for-profits provide an important service for students who don't qualify academically for traditional colleges. Too many have been cited for enrolling students who have no chance of graduating and tossing them out once that flow of aid is exhausted.


The Obama administration is right to tighten the operating rules for these for-profit schools and right to press states to vigilantly monitor them.


The need for these changes was underscored last month when Kathleen Tighe, the inspector general for the Department of Education, told Congress that 70 percent of her department's higher education fraud investigations were focused on for-profit schools.


Schools have been caught falsifying data on student enrollment levels, attendance and eligibility requirements. Federal student aid is usually the main source — up to 90 percent in some cases — of the revenue at these often highly profitable schools. A disturbing Senate report also found that many for-profits spent suspiciously little money on teaching, while spending lavishly on recruiting, marketing and administrative costs.


New rules proposed by the Obama administration would finally put an end to the practice of schools paying recruiters based on how many students they bring in. The rules, which should become final in November, also would require states to create credible systems for licensing all institutions of higher learning that participate in the federal student aid programs and reviewing complaints about them. New York State already has adopted a system that oversees the quality of education being offered at colleges.


Another new rule would cut off federal aid to degree and training programs at for-profit schools that repeatedly saddle students with high levels of debt that are judged to be unpayable under a new federal formula.


The for-profit sector will fight these rules tooth and nail. The Obama administration should not back away. Congress also needs to keep closer tabs on this rapidly expanding industry to make sure that it works for students rather than fleecing them.







Congress must soon decide whether to extend federal tax subsidies for renewable energy that expire at the end of the year. The subsidies for wind, solar and geothermal energy are necessary to give these energy sources the help they need to compete with oil, coal and natural gas. While it renews those subsidies, Congress should end tax breaks for corn ethanol, which can stand on its own and is of dubious environmental benefit.


Tax credits for wind, solar and geothermal power have been around for decades. When the economy tanked and tax credits became less desirable to investors, the Obama administration converted them to a direct federal grant as part of the 2009 stimulus program. About $4.5 billion has since helped jump-start hundreds of projects — mostly wind and solar — and created thousands of new jobs.


Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, has drafted an amendment to extend the grant program for two years. The Senate should approve it. To move forward, these industries need to be able to depend on continued investment.


Ethanol, which in this country is made almost exclusively from corn, has been subsidized since the early 1970s, partly because it increases octane levels while helping to reduce certain pollutants, most notably carbon monoxide. Refineries that blend the ethanol with gasoline now get a 45 cent tax break for every gallon they produce. That break is no longer needed.


A 2007 energy law requires the country to produce steadily increasing volumes of corn ethanol — 11 billion gallons last year, rising to 15 billion gallons in 2014 — which guarantees a robust market for farmers and producers of ethanol. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the price tag last year for the ethanol tax break was about $6 billion.


This money mainly benefits refiners and big farmers, and could be better spent elsewhere — perhaps in developing more advanced forms of ethanol from grasses, scrub trees and plant wastes. Corn ethanol can actually increase greenhouse gases if grasslands or forests are ploughed for crop production.


A bipartisan group of senators, have rightly begun to question the subsidy. So have many members of the House Ways and Means Committee. Even the powerful ethanol lobby is showing signs of cracking, with Growth Energy, an ethanol trade group, suggesting a four-year phaseout. It would be far better to end it now. There are many more useful ways to spend taxpayer dollars.







When it comes to the iPhone, Apple has been overprotective. That is the conclusion of the United States Copyright Office, which has granted an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that will legalize "jailbreaking" — modifying a phone so it runs applications that aren't approved by Apple.

Under the old rules, you could be penalized twice for jailbreaking your phone. Apple would void your warranty, and it retained the right to fine you $2,500, though it has never done so. The copyright office rightfully struck down Apple's ability to levy a fine.


In doing so, it also addressed the basic temptation a device like the iPhone can present. It is a highly adaptable tool — just ask anyone with a phone full of apps. Apple's position has always been that it should determine the limits of adaptability.


But no sooner do you erect a fence like that then people want to peer over it — or, in some cases, jump it entirely. Many tech-savvy users find it easy to imagine applications Apple does not allow, and some simply cannot resist the challenge of circumventing Apple's restrictions. The result is a minor technological arms race. Whenever Apple introduces a new version of its mobile operating system, thereby relocking its phones, the race to jailbreak begins.


Commenting on this ruling, Apple said that its "goal has always been to ensure that our customers have a great

experience with their iPhone." For the vast majority of us, having a great experience means leaving the phone pretty much as is.


But for a few, it means jailbreaking. If, in doing so, jailbreakers degrade the phone's performance and void its warranty, they have only themselves to blame. Any other punishment is superfluous.








While conducting my never-ending search for cheerful news, I noticed that one of New York's senators made the Top 10 in a list of the 50 most beautiful people on Capitol Hill.


The second piece of good news is that it was not Chuck Schumer. Congratulations, Kirsten Gillibrand!


Additional happy tidings: The gulf oil spill doesn't look as bad as we thought. Although you never can tell what's going on deep down below. Surface appearance is not everything. Do you hear that, Senator Gillibrand?


Finally, I am happy to report that Chelsea Clinton is getting married on Saturday. Perhaps you hadn't heard.


"This is hard, let me tell you," said Hillary Clinton.


She was referring to preparations for her daughter's big day, not high-stakes diplomacy. Although the two might be connected. Maybe the North Koreans threatened to nuke the American-South Korean war games because they thought our country would be easy to bulldoze while the secretary of state was laboring under the stress of wedding planning.


"I was one of those brides of our vintage," Clinton told me a while back. We are of the same generation, and during her presidential campaign she once said that she was always happy to see me because at least there would be somebody her age on the press plane.


"We agreed to get married one weekend, got married the next weekend," Clinton reminisced.


Chelsea is definitely going in a different direction. The estimates of the cost of her wedding have all been coming from people who aren't actually involved in it, but if they get any more grandiose, we will have stories on Fox News about how the ceremony cost more than the national budget of Burundi.


Let her have her day. She's due. Chelsea has been a national public figure against her will since she was 12, and in all that time she has never embarrassed her family — or us. Before she went off to Columbia to study public health policy, she worked for a New York management consulting firm and a hedge fund where her colleagues unanimously (and off-the-recordly) reported that she was a stupendously hard worker. She recognized early on that when celebrity is thrust on you, the trick is to learn to do something besides being famous.


(Talking to you, Bristol.)


In days of yore, presidential offspring frequently came to grief. Early on, there were quite a few suicidal alcoholics. F.D.R.'s five children managed to produce 19 marriages. I always had a feeling that Amy Carter, who was sent to public school in Washington amid a crush of publicity, did not love the experience.


But she seemed to be happy at her own wedding in 1996 in the yard of her late grandmother's house, cutting a wedding cake she had baked herself. The bride wore an embroidered dress from the 1920s. The groom, a computer consultant, wore a ponytail. Her father did not give her away because, as Jimmy Carter told the press, "Amy said she didn't belong to anyone."


Jenna Bush had a few unfortunate brushes with the law during her White House years. But it was nothing that couldn't have been avoided if the legal drinking age in Texas had been 18. Anyway, she seems to have turned out great. After graduation, she worked for Unicef, taught at an inner-city public school in Washington and wrote a book about a young woman with AIDS in Latin America. She is now a reading coordinator at a school in Baltimore and makes occasional reports on education for "Today."


Her sister, Barbara, worked at a hospital in South Africa, did educational programming for a museum and now leads a Peace Corps-type organization called Global Health Corps. The twins are only 28, but they already seem to have racked up more good works than Mother Teresa.


Virtually everyone in America loathes either George W. Bush or Bill and Hillary. Yet every sensible person, no matter what political stripe, would have to admit that both families produced really good kids.


And they're not untypical. Although no generation lacks warts, our 20-somethings are terrific. We worry about the youth of America turning into distracted Twitterers with superficial values who will never find jobs, but every single day I trip over recent college graduates who are amazing — funny and smart with an astonishing work ethic. They all seem to be working on 14 different useful projects, most of them unpaid. If I had had to compete against them when I was 21, I'd still be working on my graduate school application.


Happy wedding, Chelsea. Excellent job, Bush twins. Good luck, Amy Carter, wherever you are. We are pleased to be a country that produced such nice young adults out of such a lunatic political environment.


"I'm having a vicarious experience," said Hillary Clinton happily.


As are we all.





1 Soldier or 20 Schools?



The war in Afghanistan will consume more money this year alone than we spent on the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War — combined.


recent report from the Congressional Research Service finds that the war on terror, including Afghanistan and Iraq, has been, by far, the costliest war in American history aside from World War II. It adjusted costs of all previous wars for inflation.


Those historical comparisons should be a wake-up call to President Obama, underscoring how our military strategy is not only a mess — as the recent leaked documents from Afghanistan suggested — but also more broadly reflects a gross misallocation of resources. One legacy of the 9/11 attacks was a distortion of American policy: By the standards of history and cost-effectiveness, we are hugely overinvested in military tools and underinvested in education and diplomacy.


It was reflexive for liberals to rail at President George W. Bush for jingoism. But it is President Obama who is now requesting 6.1 percent more in military spending than the peak of military spending under Mr. Bush. And it is Mr. Obama who has tripled the number of American troops in Afghanistan since he took office. (A bill providing $37 billion to continue financing America's two wars was approved by the House on Tuesday and is awaiting his signature.)


Under Mr. Obama, we are now spending more money on the military, after adjusting for inflation, than in the peak of the cold war, Vietnam War or Korean War. Our battle fleet is larger than the next 13 navies combined, according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The intelligence apparatus is so bloated that, according to The Washington Post, the number of people with "top secret" clearance is 1.5 times the population of the District of Columbia.


Meanwhile, a sobering report from the College Board says that the United States, which used to lead the world in the proportion of young people with college degrees, has dropped to 12th.


What's more, an unbalanced focus on weapons alone is often counterproductive, creating a nationalist backlash against foreign "invaders." Over all, education has a rather better record than military power in neutralizing foreign extremism. And the trade-offs are staggering: Forthe cost of just one soldier in Afghanistan for one year, we could start about 20 schools there. Hawks retort that it's impossible to run schools in Afghanistan unless there are American troops to protect them. But that's incorrect.


CARE, a humanitarian organization, operates 300 schools in Afghanistan, and not one has been burned by the Taliban. Greg Mortenson, of "Three Cups of Tea" fame, has overseen the building of 145 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan and operates dozens more in tents or rented buildings — and he says that not one has been destroyed by the Taliban either.


Aid groups show that it is quite possible to run schools so long as there is respectful consultation with tribal elders and buy-in from them. And my hunch is that CARE and Mr. Mortenson are doing more to bring peace to Afghanistan than Mr. Obama's surge of troops.


The American military has been eagerly reading "Three Cups of Tea" but hasn't absorbed the central lesson: building schools is a better bet for peace than firing missiles (especially when one cruise missile costs about as much as building 11 schools).


Mr. Mortenson lamented to me that for the cost of just 246 soldiers posted for one year, America could pay for a higher education plan for all Afghanistan. That would help build an Afghan economy, civil society and future — all for one-quarter of 1 percent of our military spending in Afghanistan this year.


The latest uproar over Pakistani hand-holding with the Afghan Taliban underscores that billions of dollars in U.S. military aid just doesn't buy the loyalty it used to. In contrast, education can actually transform a nation. That's one reason Bangladesh is calmer than Pakistan, Oman is less threatening than Yemen.


Paradoxically, the most eloquent advocate in government for balance in financing priorities has been Mr. Gates, the defense secretary. He has noted that the military has more people in its marching bands than the State Department has diplomats.


Faced with constant demands for more, Mr. Gates in May asked: "Is it a dire threat that by 2020 the United States will have only 20 times more advanced stealth fighters than China?"


In the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama promised to invest in a global education fund. Since then, he seems to have forgotten the idea — even though he is spending enough every five weeks in Afghanistan to ensure that practically every child on our planet gets a primary education.


We won our nation's independence for $2.4 billion in today's money, the Congressional Research Service report said. That was good value, considering that we now fritter the same amount every nine days in Afghanistan. Mr. Obama, isn't it time to rebalance our priorities?








IN February, a month after Haiti's earthquake, I went down to Port-au-Prince as part of a team that was helping to reactivate cardiac care in the city's public hospital. For several months since, I have observed how the earthquake and its aftermath profoundly changed Haiti's health care system. Over that time, I have come to the unorthodox conclusion that Haiti's tragic experience may show us a way to improve health care in the United States.


Let me explain. The sudden availability in Haiti of free high-quality care from foreign doctors put enormous competitive pressure on the private local doctors, who had already been working under difficult conditions. Watching this situation unfold, I found myself wondering if the same would happen to private medical services back in the United States were our government to suddenly provide high-quality, low-cost health care.


Haiti, with the worst health care record in the Western Hemisphere — the infant mortality rate is nine times that of the United States and the maternal mortality rate is 50 times as high — was ill prepared to help disaster victims. For the public hospital in Port-au-Prince, earthquake damage only made things worse. Into this vacuum surged hundreds of international doctors and nongovernmental health care organizations.


In the beginning, of course, those with immediate injuries were treated first. But even after the earthquake victims had been taken care of, lines more than a quarter-mile long still formed at the hospital entrance. There were mothers carrying babies with swollen bellies, prematurely old men and women with waterlogged legs and labored breathing, people with painful sores and lots of people coughing. These were Haitians who'd had no access to medical care in a long time and who suddenly saw hope in a hospital full of foreign doctors eager to help at no charge.


This humanitarian aid came with a downside though: it caused many of Haiti's local private clinics to lose business. One such clinic is Michel Théard's cardiac practice, near the public hospital where I worked. Before the earthquake and during the immediate aftermath, Dr. Théard did echocardiograms (ultrasound images of the beating heart) for cardiac patients, because the public hospital lacks the equipment to do them. His ultrasound pictures, and those done by other private Haitian cardiologists, often at charity rates, enabled us to diagnose many conditions for patients in the public hospital.


But because Dr. Théard, and the private hospital with which he is affiliated, cannot compete with free foreign doctors, there is a danger that he will no longer be able to stay in business and provide echocardiograms for the poor.


There are many other services that only private doctors provide in Haiti, because the public hospitals are so poorly financed. The rudimentary intensive care unit at the public hospital has no heart monitors, oxygen sensors or any other kind of modern medical equipment. The only thing "intensive" about the I.C.U. is that a health care worker (doctor, nurse or nurse-anesthetist) is present at all times. A CT scanner donated to the hospital in the early '90s lies rusting outside one of the buildings, sad evidence of the public medical system's failure to provide adequate care.


Patients who can afford it get specialized procedures like CT scans and echocardiograms at private clinics and then return to the public hospitals for free care. This is also the case for many medicines: family members buy them at a pharmacy and bring them back to be kept under the patient's hospital pillow for dispensing at the prescribed times.


Perversely, by shoring up the capacity of the normally dysfunctional public health system during this crisis, the foreign doctors may be further damaging Haiti's fragile medical sector. Once they leave, who will be left with the will and the capital to adequately care for Haitians?


What may be needed, some have suggested, is for key nongovernmental organizations now offering health care in Haiti to work alongside the government's Ministry of Health to rebuild destroyed facilities and to better train Haitian doctors and other providers. If the organizations could also cooperate financially by directing some of their budget into accounts run jointly with Haiti's Ministry of Health, the government could reimburse providers like Dr. Théard for their work, thus removing competition between the foreign doctors and local private doctors. In time, as the Haitian government took control of health care delivery and education, the nongovernmental organizations would fade from the scene.


HAITI'S crisis — and its possible solution — provides a mirror for understanding our own difficulties

delivering good health care in the United States. After all, it was a similar tension between private and public medical care that made it impossible for Congress, in passing reform legislation this year, to create a single-payer public health system. Many private health-care organizations — primarily for-profit insurance companies — strenuously resisted it, fearing that if the government suddenly provided high-quality, low-cost care for a significant part of the population, they would lose profits or go out of business. Worries about competition between public and private medicine, in other words, are universal.


It is clear that the American health care system functions at a much higher level than its Haitian counterpart does, but that's mostly a matter of national wealth. Our healthier economy has allowed us to have a relatively viable private-sector health care system, though there remains tremendous disparity from one economic class to another in infant and maternal mortality and access to basic care. And now, because the growing cost of our health care system is unsustainable, we are faced with the need to consider an alternative.


The Haitian situation also suggests a solution — a way to provide health care for all in the United States without destroying our private medical sector. (This, by the way, was always President Obama's goal, no matter how the right tried to defame his proposals.)


A public-private partnership like the one contemplated for Haiti could be created here. The government, through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, could team up with health care systems that provide high-quality care to people of all income levels — Kaiser-Permanente, in California, comes to mind, as does the Mayo Clinic network; the Geisinger Health System, in Pennsylvania; Partners HealthCare, in Boston; and Intermountain Healthcare, in Utah — to provide a public option. Private doctors could be paid for the work they did for the new public entity. People who did not want to join such a health plan could remain with their current private insurers.


Health care systems wishing to be part of the new partnership would have to demonstrate competence as well as fiscal responsibility. Those that did not provide good care at a reasonable price might fail, but in the long run the system could serve the broadest cross section of America, and it could do so without undermining private doctors — or at least not those who are motivated by care itself rather than by mere profit.


Although it is unrealistic to expect Congress to rewrite the health care law to allow for this proposal, there is room within the law for a state or regional pilot project to experiment with public-private medical partnerships.


Dr. Théard's clinic in Port-au-Prince has not yet closed, but he tells me it is now fighting for its life, with little or no money for salaries, equipment or rent. "We are still open but without any help from any sector," he said in an e-mail last week. "Equipment needs repair, buildings need repair and we are doing the best we can."


Haiti's need to fix its health care system is, if anything, more urgent than ours. But its best solution, a public-private partnership, is one that could easily work for America, too.


James Wilentz is a cardiologist at the Lenox Hill Heart and Vascular Institute.









When the Libyan terrorist known as theLockerbie bomber was released from a Scottish prison last August, the episode carried a foul odor. Nearly a year later, like a fish rotting in the summer sun, the stench has only worsened.


Scottish authorities cited "compassion" for their decision to spring Abdel Baset Ali Megrahi, the only person convicted in the terrorist bombing that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Never mind that he showed no compassion toward his 270 victims, including 189 Americans, many of them students on their way home for Christmas.


Doctors said Megrahi, 57, was suffering from terminal prostate cancer and had less than three months to live. Well, guess what? Megrahi is very much alive and living free in Libya. It's enough to give humanitarianism a bad name.


Perhaps Libya has a better hospice system than anyone realized, or perhaps Megrahi's failing body was revitalized by the hero's welcome he received when he returned home. But there is a less fanciful explanation for his resilience. Emerging evidence suggests the release was, at best, based on misguided notions of sympathy and bad medical advice; at worst, it involved a sleazy deal by British businesses — including, yes, BP — to improve commercial ties with Libya.


BP, which recently received approval to drill off the Libyan coast, has acknowledged that it urged the British government to sign a "prisoner transfer agreement" with Libya in 2007 but did not specify the Megrahi case. That might be a distinction without a difference, because Libyan officials have said Megrahi was the prisoner they had in mind.


No transfer took place in 2007, but a letter last July from the chairman of the Libyan British Business Council, of which BP is a member, urged Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to release Megrahi promptly because his death in prison would be of "grave concern" to council members. Apparently, doing business with Libya was more important than elemental justice.


Another letter, written shortly before Megrahi's release, raises questions as to whether the Obama administration could have done more to head it off. The letter — from American diplomat Richard LeBaron to Scotland's first minister, Alex Salmond— stated that the administration is "not able to endorse the early release of Megrahi under any scenario." But the document is so heavy on diplomatic niceties and discussions of alternatives, and so light on moral outrage, that Scottish authorities might well have interpreted U.S. opposition as half-hearted. The idea of releasing Megrahi should have elicited a simple, two-word response: Hell, no!


The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was supposed to hold a hearing today into the Megrahi mess, but the session was postponed because of what Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., called "stonewalling" by key witnesses from Scotland and BP. The panel has a duty to the victims' families to follow the evidence wherever it leads, and to provide a full accounting of a decision that new British Prime Minister David Cameron sayswas "completely and utterly wrong." BP has a responsibility to cooperate, and Scottish authorities should release the medical files they've suspiciously withheld.


At this point, there's no hope of shaming Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi into shipping Megrahi back to the prison where he belongs. But those involved in the nonsensical decision to release him deserve whatever embarrassment comes their way. And terrorists everywhere need to get the message that, if caught and convicted, they will be punished without compassion.






 I want first of all to restate the revulsion of the Scottish government and the people of Scotland at the bombing of Flight Pan Am 103 and to acknowledge the terrible pain and suffering inflicted on the victims and the relatives of all those who died in the Lockerbie atrocity. Whatever different views we have about the release of Megrahi, I am sure we stand together on that. ...


I can say unequivocally that the Scottish government has never, at any point, received any representations from BP in relation to Megrahi. That is to say we had no submissions or lobbying of any kind from BP, either oral or written, and, to my knowledge, the subject of Megrahi was never raised by any BP representative to any Scottish government minister. ...


The decision of the Scottish government to release Megrahi was made on the basis of an application for compassionate release. This is a separate and long-standing process within the Scottish justice system under which a total of 39 prisoners — including Megrahi — have been released since the present provisions were introduced in 1993.


During that period, all applications meeting the required criteria and which had support from the Scottish Prison Service, doctors and social work staff, and, in appropriate cases, the Parole Board for Scotland, were granted. I can assure you that consideration of Megrahi's application followed the due process of Scots Law at all stages and that the decision was made in good faith and on the basis of the appropriate criteria. ...


I know that some of your colleagues have questioned how Megrahi can still be alive 11 months after release, when the decision was based on medical advice that three months was a reasonable prognosis for his life expectancy. While he has lived for longer than the prognosis suggested, there was a recognition at the time that he could die sooner or live longer. This was made clear in the Scottish government's public statements, and was an acknowledgement that prognosis in cancer cases is subject to several variables that could affect the estimate of life expectancy. The fact remains, however, that Megrahi is dying of cancer.







Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist. Bob Beckel is a liberal Democratic strategist. But as longtime friends, they can often find common ground on issues that lawmakers in Washington cannot.


Today:Arizona's immigration law.


Cal: It was supposed to be D-Day — or I-Day — in Arizona. Starting today, a police officer, who questioned someone during a legal stop, such as a traffic violation, would have been able to ask that person his or her immigration status.


Bob: And thankfully a judge stepped in and blocked the most controversial aspects of the law — at least for now.


Cal: Arizona's law is simply trying to do what the federal government — under Republican and Democratic administrations — has refused to do: attempt to slow the flow of illegal immigrants into America. Perhaps a higher court and ultimately the Supreme Court will see things differently. I hope so because like a majority of Americans, I am tired of the "law" on too many occasions taking the side of the lawbreakers.


Bob: Cal, it was the right action to take. Without the ruling, what people do you think police would have asked about their immigration status? I suspect they wouldn't ask you or any other white person. But if your skin was brown and — God forbid! — you spoke only Spanish, chances are you'd be asked. The Arizona law is a travesty — and if this ruling isn't upheld — it will flat-out result in racial profiling. And if that happens, I hope the first legal resident who is profiled and happens to be Hispanic sues Arizona and its governor for millions.


Cal: A liberal's first instinct: Sue! Here's a bulletin for you: Those aren't Norwegians running across the border. Of course they have brown skin. That's a description, not discrimination.


Bob: Of course? So every light-skinned person is in Arizona legally? This is what this immigration issue has come to — arguments over skin color?


Cal: I'm just trying to cut through the politically correct nonsense. This isn't about race or profiling. It's about politics. Democrats think they can rile-up Hispanics (many of whom are here legally and oppose illegal immigration) into voting for them. This is a cynical manipulation of the law and ought to shame politicians, if they had any shame left.


Bob: Rockets, cars, the electric light bulb, plastics and much more were invented or brought to our shores by immigrants. All this anti-immigration hysteria might scare off the very foreign talent we will need in this country to compete in the global economy.


Cal: I'm not anti-immigrant. America almost by definition cannot be anti-immigrant.


Bob: You could have fooled me.


Cal: I'm anti-illegal immigrant. Besides, most of the greater innovators and entrepreneurs of our nation's founding were legal immigrants.


Bob: Let's be honest, Cal. Asking for papers, interrogating those who don't look "American." You don't have a problem with any of this?


Cal: It isn't discrimination to ask for identification. How many times must we show our IDs? If I am stopped by a police officer for speeding or a broken tail light, the officer asks me to produce a driver's license and registration. The officer gets back in his cruiser to check for outstanding warrants. I have to show an ID and credit card when writing a check. In none of these situations do I feel discriminated against or put out.


Bob: Let me put this as delicately as possible: You're white. Neither you nor I have experienced racial discrimination, so it's easy for us to say that none of this bothers us. But if the threat of discrimination had been a part of your everyday life, perhaps you'd see things differently.


Cal: That's where I take issue with the entire immigration "debate." Somehow, merely enforcing the law became controversial. Feelings became more important than the integrity of our borders. "Enforcement" became code for "profiling." All a sideshow, a distraction.


Bob: Look, I don't have a problem with police checking for valid registration, outstanding warrants or a current driver's license for anyone stopped for a violation — no matter their ethnicity. You'd be free to go, Cal. The way Arizona's law was written, Hispanic drivers may clear all these hurdles and still be asked to prove they are legal citizens if the officer senses that they're here illegally.


Cal: Well, let's see how the law is enforced before jumping to conclusions, as our federal government already did. I mean, suing Arizona for enforcing a law that has been passed by elected state officials? It's funny that the administration has had nothing to say about the "sanctuary cities," like San Francisco, presided over mostly by Democratic mayors. We don't want a "patchwork" of immigration laws, unless the patches fit into our open-borders quilt. Selective enforcement mocks the law.


Bob: The Obama administration is enforcing immigration laws. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, in the past three years the population of illegal immigrants has declined from 12 million to 11 million.


Cal: Only because the economy has crashed! So we need to hemorrhage jobs every few years to cut down on illegal immigration? Come on.


Bob: The immigration problem is not simply about fences, apprehension and deportations. It's about jobs available to illegal immigrants north of the border.


Cal: I understand market forces as well as you do. But too many criminals — and perhaps terrorists — are sneaking across the border. A drug war is blazing along our southern border, our prison population is already bulging, and our hospitals and public schools are burdened by illegal immigrants. No nation can maintain its character if it refuses to control its borders. If we give amnesty to those now here — as we did in 1986— what will you do with the next wave who violate the law to get here? And when will you say, "enough"? When the majority of them vote for Democrats?


Bob: The federal government is doing a good job protecting the borders, but at a huge cost to taxpayers. Here are a few facts: The Border Patrol, which had 9,000 agents in 2001, now has 20,000 agents at a cost of $4 billion a year. We have spent $4 billion to build 670 miles of border fences. Throw in the cost of the National Guard, surveillance aircraft, detention and deportation, and the costs climb to $10 billion a year. At this rate we might as well pay potential illegal immigrants to stay home!


Cal: The border remains a sieve. I applaud Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for dispatching National Guard troops to the border on Aug. 1. Let's hope that unlike some of the previous Border Patrol and customs agents, these will actually slow the flow. But they can't remain forever, and when they leave the flow will resume unless the wall is finished.


Bob: I am for making the border as secure as possible first, but we should have a policy that addresses the 11 million illegals already here. Let's be realistic: We can't round these people up — roughly the population of the state of Ohio — and send them home. We should follow the outlines of the last immigration bill in 1986 signed into law by President Reagan. Allow the 11 million to register with the government, pay any back taxes and fines owed from income received illegally, and be put on a path to citizenship — but behind those who have followed the rules for legal immigration.


Cal: Agreed. And those who won't should be deported. There also must be stiffer penalties against employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. If the demand dries up, the supply will too.


Bob: That may be our strongest common ground point. Unless and until those who employ illegal immigrants pay a substantial price for doing so, no new immigration policy can work.


Cal: No doubt about it. But I can't fault Arizona for simply trying to do what the federal government has failed to do.


Bob: I understand. Here's hoping we get a federal solution — i.e., reform — so Arizona's law, and those surely to follow in other states, will be rendered moot.









Coinciding as it has with all the 50th-anniversary tributes to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, the ordeal of Shirley Sherrod irresistibly raises the question: What would Atticus do?


Chris Matthews, on Hardball, might have gone a bit far in likening Sherrod, the African American railroaded out of her federal job on fraudulent race-based grounds, to the fictional Tom Robinson— the African American defended in court by Atticus Finch — who was deprived of his freedom on fraudulent race-based grounds. After all, in contrast to the novel's falsely accused black "rapist," the Department of Agriculture's falsely accused black "racist" has been made whole.


Nevertheless, didn't a miscarriage of due process so summary — and a smear so malicious — seem to beg for an Atticus moment? The Obama administration's "a disservice was done" did not quite have the ring of Finch's charge to the jury: "In the name of God, do your duty." And by literally phoning in his "regret" to Sherrod, the president passed up an opportunity to model in agonizing real life what To Kill a Mockingbird has shown successive generations through art: Moral courage is inconvenient, often counterintuitive and rarely unpunished.


The reason Atticus has endured, inspiring a million legal careers and pets' names, is not because of his success — which is nil. On top of her protagonist's having no hope of winning his case, Harper Lee drives home the utterness of his defeat by seeing that Tom Robinson is shot dead after being wrongfully convicted of raping Mayella Ewell. What makes Atticus morally instructive is that he serves the truth even in the face of such dire futility, endangering his children in the process of teaching them what it is to be an honest member of the human race.


A park named Sherrod


If Atticus has no illusions about reforming the evil he is up against — the "normal" of his time — neither does he flinch from confronting it directly. The Obama administration, however, seemed content to settle the Sherrod case on a technicality, implying that what drove her persecution was not the phantoms of the racism that doomed Tom Robinson but a new toxic "normal": "this media culture," as the president told ABC News, "where something goes up on YouTube or a blog and everybody scrambles."


Atticus Finch teaches us this: There are times when one must set aside all rationalizations and take a stand, even if the only reward is the distant potential of ending up on the right side of history. Indeed, the South is filled with examples of men and women who are now venerated for the very actions that once made them pariahs. Virtually every Southern town has a street named after Martin Luther King Jr. ("Martin Lucifer King" when I was growing up in Alabama in the 1960s), and Albany, Ga., has a Charles M. Sherrod Civil Rights Park.


Sherrod is Shirley Sherrod's husband. In 1961, as a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, or "Snick"), he launched a campaign to integrate Albany, facing down a police chief who informed him that their conflict was a question of mind over matter: "I don't mind, and you don't matter."


For all its ambition and stamina, the Albany Movement fell short of its goal of desegregation and was declared a resounding failure by the news media — in the 1960s version of "losing the news cycle." Yet the much-invoked "lessons of Albany" enabled the movement's historic 1963 demonstrations in Birmingham, Ala., which led to the abolition of legal segregation.


Charles Sherrod, meanwhile, stayed on in Albany, undeterred by the "futility" of his mission. "Where's the failure?" he asked the producers of the documentary series Eyes on the Prize more than 20 years later. "Are we not integrated in every facet? Did we stop at any time? ... We showed the world."


Inhibited Obama


Disproportionately few of the South's reconstructed heroes are white. For the white liberal-moderates of the Jim Crow era had bet on a strategy of convenience, hoping naively to advance a progressive agenda while sidestepping the land mines of race. Whatever their short-term accomplishments, those well-meaning whites have been morally disqualified from lasting honor. Their caution encouraged the segregationists to define the proponents of equality as "extremists" — like the Republican senators who recently tried to marginalizeThurgood Marshall, Supreme Court justice and mastermind of the NAACP's epochal Brown v. Board of Education.


Obama, the black liberal-moderate, seems to exercise similar diligence at evading racial controversy. And the race-baiters have grown bolder, not simply misrepresenting Shirley Sherrod but painting her as the opposite of what she is.


Another message of To Kill a Mockingbird is that the thing we fear and avoid most is what holds our salvation. For Atticus' children, Scout and Jem, it is the dreaded Boo Radley, who rescues them in the end from Mayella's homicidal father, Bob Ewell. And so it goes for the South, and the country: Our racial dilemma — the unfinished work — is what precludes us from taking our eyes off the prize of democracy, much as we would like to declare a "post-racial" era, over and out.


So far, our first black president has seemed inhibited rather than empowered by that history. But only by transcending political necessity, risking failure for truth, will he earn a place alongside the heroes of our national mythology.


Diane McWhorter, a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors, is the author of Carry Me Home and A Dream of Freedom.








Chancery courts are different from other state courts in Tennessee, and from most courts in other states as well.

Tennessee is one of just two states that retains chancery courts. Operating without juries, chancellors question attorneys and witnesses and resolve complex issues of equity and contests over the application of all manner of civil law in an exceedingly broad range of cases.


The nature of the court, which derives from old English courts of equity, calls for chancellors who are nimble thinkers, incisive questioners and tireless legal scholars. Their written, annotated and sometimes lengthy opinions often rival those of appeal court panels.


Next week's election of a judge in Chancery Court, Division II, which emphasizes an additional specialty in probate and estate issues, features three prominent attorneys in a contest to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of Chancellor Howell Peoples earlier this year. Three years of his term remain.


The candidates are Art Grisham, an independent; Valerie Epstein, the Democratic nominee; and Jeffrey Atherton, the Republican nominee. All are widely considered by the legal community as capable, well experienced contenders for the job.


Mr. Grisham may be the best known, both because, at 67, he has been in practice longer, and because he is a past president of the Chattanooga Bar Association. He also won the bar association's preferential poll for the position earlier this month, with 58 percent of the 309 votes cast by some of the bar's approximately 800 members.


Mrs. Epstein and Mr. Atherton, though somewhat younger, are seasoned attorneys with more than 20 years of experience in a fairly broad range of civil law. All three, moreover, have admirable records of lengthy community service and leadership in various civic organizations. Indeed, it is that spirit of service and broad public interest that the candidates cite as their motivation to serve on the bench.


Voters are fortunate to have such a group of candidate from which to choose.


We endorse Mrs. Epstein. Her broad experience in private practice, litigation, corporate law, civil and probate cases, conservatorships and her history as an arbitrator in more than 500 dispute-resolution cases suggests an imminently suitable legal resume for Chancery Court.


Mrs. Epstein, a mother of three accomplished students, should be elected to the Chancery Court bench for other reasons, as well. One is her interest in innovation to make the court more open and transparent to the public. She already has discussed with the court's clerk and master how to incorporate electronic filing of cases and how to make the subsequent case files accessible online.


That would be a useful innovation. It would allow online readers to Google case issues by topical references and follow the written arguments in a case and the chancellor's decision. That would let more citizens see what facts are considered and how judges rule in a wide range of issues — for example, property boundary disputes, fraudulent conveyances of assets, disputes over estates, wills and trust, business and partnership disputes, living wills, intellectual properties and anti-competition clauses.


Another reason involves the strictly male lineage among chancery court judges: Since these courts were established in 1835, not a single woman has been elected to a chancery court judgeship.


That should be changed. All judges bring an inherent understanding and unique insight into their decision-making process on equity decisions. Yet no male judge could presume to bring a uniquely female view to bear on an equity case.


Mrs. Epstein pledges that she would base her rulings on the law, period, and we believe her. But it also seems sensible that a female equity judge's application or interpretation of the law — and interpreting subjective circumstance is necessarily a big part of the equity court's job — would help expand the perceived wisdom of the state's Chancery Court case-law decisions. It's past time for Tennessee to have a woman chancellor. Mrs. Epstein merits that honor.







Voters confronted with a slate of candidates for the office of Register of Deeds can be excused if they have to think a moment about the purpose of the office. It is one of the more obscure titles among the Tennessee's constitutional offices, but it is an important one.

The register is responsible for maintaining accurate records of property deeds, titles, mortgages, liens, plats, marriage settlements and a variety of other legal documents essential to the orderly operation of government and society. Still, most citizens have little idea how the office operates or how to judge the merits of candidates who want to be register.


The best measures of a successful register of deeds are the efficiency with which the office is operated and the satisfaction level of those who require its services. By both standards, Pam Hurst, the incumbent Republican candidate for the post, has served well.


First elected in 1994, Ms. Hurst has grown into the job. Her early years as Register were marked by controversy about employee morale, excessive fees and questions about the manner and cost of converting files and documents from paper and microfilm to computer. Ms. Hurst overcame those problems and her office now receives high marks from both professionals who are the main users of the office, and the general public.


Ms. Hurst's accomplishments are many. There's been no turnover in staff in eight years. She's partnered with county data workers to create a system that makes documents accessible at reasonable cost. She's increased online access to records. And she's reduced office operating costs by 50 percent and turned over millions of dollars in excess fees to the county during her tenure.


Ms. Hurst pledges to continue to spend wisely and to pursue increased efficiency if re-elected. She suggests the possibility of purchasing a site for a satellite office rather than continuing to pay rent for the current space. That's a topic that requires discussion, but doing so could save money in the long run. She promises, too, to improve search programs for the office and to make all records — even the most dated ones — available on computer even as the office continues to respond to more than 63,000 calls in a typical year.


Jeff Brown, Ms. Hurst's Democratic opponent, has a different view. He says that Ms. Hurst could save taxpayers more money. He questions, for example, the need and cost of a county-owned satellite office. He says that expanding online services could cut costs. Mr. Brown's ideas might save a few dollars, but he offers little proof that they can do so without unacceptable compromises in vital services.


Mr. Brown, a project manager for the architecture and construction industry, says that his organizational and management skills ideally suit him for the work of register. That might be true in the abstract, but managing the office of Register of Deeds calls for very specific skills honed over the years. Ms. Hurst possesses the requisite skills and has become an efficient, effective and fiscally-minded manager. We recommend her re-election.








Do you believe President Barack Obama and our Congress are providing sound and responsible U.S. government taxing and spending these days?


Do you believe taxes are "too low"?


Or do you believe U.S. government spending is "too high," when we are spending $1.47 trillion this fiscal year more than our high taxes are taking in?


That deficit spending will increase our national debt, which is already more than $13.2 trillion!


Just paying interest on the national debt will cost an average of $6,185 per citizen this year.


Well, what are we doing about it?


We are not doing anything to "solve" or even "reduce" the growing debt problem. In fact, the Obama administration and Congress are headed toward adding about another $1.5 trillion to our national debt next year.


How long do you think this can go without more taxes and other economic problems — for our nation and for you, personally?


Do you think this is the time for the president, our representatives and senators — and us as citizens and taxpayers — to face this problem before it gets much worse?







We are engaged in two very serious wars — in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are daily battle deaths and wounds among our military men and women. Far less important, but shocking, there are also huge financial costs.


And yet if we or our loved ones are not personally engaged, we may have a tendency to pay too little attention to those wars.


But American deaths in Afghanistan are roughly 1,200. And U.S. deaths in Iraq have passed 4,400. There is still no end in sight in either conflict.


The "dollar costs" in Afghanistan and Iraq have exceeded $1 trillion. (In inflation-adjusted comparable dollars, U.S. World War II costs totaled about $4 trillion.)


Most Americans realize we can't "turn loose" and surrender to our enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan without terrible consequences.


But most Americans also would have a difficult time trying to explain what our reasonable goals and expectations are, and what our timetable and prospects are for "success" or "victory."


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





Most Tennesseans are justifiably pleased with the two terms of service that Gov. Phil Bredesen has given to the state. His popularity was reflected in a recent survey commissioned by a Knoxville TV station and the Tennessee Newspaper Network, of which the Chattanooga Times Free Press is a member.


Asked how they rated Gov. Bredesen's performance, 74 percent of Tennessee respondents said it was excellent or good. And while Gov. Bredesen is a Democrat, he actually enjoyed slightly higher ratings among survey respondents who identified themselves as Republicans than among those who said they were Democrats.


Gov. Bredesen has led with a steady hand during his nearly eight years in office. Notably, he sought as best he could to reform out-of-control costs of TennCare and worker compensation, and he had some success. His temperament is also admirable. He is not prone to stoop to mean personal attacks against his political opponents.


Though he may be liberal on certain social issues, he does not regularly use the governor's "bully pulpit" to attempt to advance those views in conservative Tennessee.


Gov. Bredesen's popularity in the state is in sharp contrast with President Barack Obama's intense unpopularity here. In the same survey, only 34 percent of Tennesseans said Mr. Obama's performance in office had been excellent or good, compared with 65 percent who rated him fair or poor.


Gov. Bredesen has been among Tennessee's better governors, and he deserves praise for that.







What sentence would be appropriate for a person convicted of overseeing the torture and killing of up to 16,000 people? Only the death penalty or, if you oppose the death penalty in even the worst cases, life in prison could even begin to satisfy the demands of justice and basic decency for such crimes against humanity.


But justice is not necessarily the goal when unaccountable international judicial bodies are given the power to try vicious killers. And now, a U.N.-backed tribunal has given only a 19-year sentence to a man who admitted he had aided in the slaughter of as many as 16,000 innocent people in Cambodia, in Southeast Asia, in the late 1970s.


Kaing Guek Eav, known as "Duch," was the top jailer for the dreaded Communist Khmer Rouge regime, which killed close to 2 million Cambodians. The country became known for its unspeakable "killing fields."


The court freely acknowledged that Duch eagerly oversaw and sometimes participated in the torture and murder of his countrymen. "(H)e showed a high degree of efficiency and zeal," the judges wrote. Yet the U.N.-backed judges said he had shown some "limited" remorse for his crimes and had been cooperative, so they gave him only 19 years. He may one day leave prison a free man.


"It comes down to serving 111⁄2 hours per life that he took," a woman whose parents were murdered by the Khmer Rouge told The Associated Press.


Disgustingly, even as surviving relatives of Duch's victims wept bitter tears over the lenient sentence, a U.S. State Department spokesman bizarrely praised it: "We applaud the commitment of the national and international judges for their comprehensive and independent work to uphold international standards of justice and due process in this case," said spokesman P.J. Crowley.


Rather than "applaud" such a sentence, the United States should forcefully condemn it. And this case is even more proof of why we should certainly not grant international courts jurisdiction over U.S. citizens.










We at the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic review have been supporters of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government's democratic, or Kurdish, initiative despite its shortcomings.



And we believe that opposition leaders are wrong to blame the recent incidents in Dörtyol and İnegöl on the government's efforts to find a solution to the Kurdish problem.


It is true that the government has failed to convince the Turkish people that the initiative will be a step toward solving the problems and easing the tension in the country. Yet Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, went too far when he said, "The ethnic germ put in the Turkish nation's structure by the prime minister's initiative has paved the way for clashes."


Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, joined Bahçeli in his attack on the initiative. "If you hit the road with an initiative which no one, even you, do not know what it is about, and fail in the process, this is what happens in the country," said Kılıçdaroğlu.


As we reported on Tuesday, a year after the government announced its democratic initiative to solve the Kurdish problem, experts still see light at the end of the tunnel despite increased terror attacks and the controversy the move has provoked.


The only solid steps so far in the process have been the launching of Kanal 6, a TV channel that belongs to State Radio and Television, or TRT, and the recent permission to allow private TV channels and radios to broadcast in Kurdish and other local languages.


But even such small steps, followed by an increase in deadly attacks by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and the welcoming ceremony held for the "peace group's" release by judges at the Habur border gate have sparked a huge public outcry and caused the initiative to come to a halt.


The recent clashes should not be used as an excuse to slow down the process. All the ethnic groups in Turkey deserve, and should receive, more cultural rights and those who believe the conflicts can be solved with guns should not hinder such democratic efforts.


A huge part of the burden here lies on the shoulders of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government. The prime minister should stop ignoring the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, which represents almost half of the people living in the east and southeast. Erdoğan and his ministers should seek and find a way to make the BDP and Kurdish politicians a part of the solution seeking process.


And the Kurdish politicians should lower the volume of their mostly rightful protests.

The country and the nation need to calm down.







Incidents that have taken place in the towns of İnegöl in Bursa, and Dörtyol in Hatay must be quite alarming to show how fragile social peace is.

In both incidents, ethnic grunge between two sects of the society which exists as a roust has the potential to turn into huge unrest, triggered by some simple provocations along with the increasing attacks of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, or by a simple minor event. Just a flare is enough for that as we've seen in İnegöl and Dörtyol.


There are big similarities


In order to learn a lesson or two, if we don't want to see them again, a comparative analysis of both incidents is necessary. A rough comparison tells how reactions and courses of the two were similar.


Incidents in Dörtyol started with the murder of four police officers by the PKK terrorists. But the one in İnegöl rolled up because of a beating incident in which a Kurdish young man together with his relatives raided a café house and six were injured as a result of strife. Both in İnegöl and Dörtyol, the incidents easily got out of hand.


Big crowds gathers in the split second, a wave of rage spread quickly as protests against the PKK and Kurdish people turned into rampage. Kurds were asked to leave in slogans shouted mostly in İnegöl and to a lesser degree in Dörtyol.


Nationalist reflex harming the police


Another parallelism between two incidents is that protestors attempted to score with Kurdish people protected by the police who were reacted or even challenged by crowds. As police stations were besieged by crowds, officers had a hard time to control the upheaval. Additional forces were asked to the scenes.


In İnegöl police vehicles were set on fire, 20 officers were wounded. It shows that a nationalist reflex of masses can challenge the state force, even harm officers. This is, at least, a reaction we haven't seen often.


Mayor of İnegöl is from the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP. The Mayor of Dörtyol is from the opposition Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP. What these two towns have in common is that they have a considerable Kurdish population. A jewelry store and a butcher owned by Kurds were damaged in Dörtyol during the incidents as the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, headquarter was assaulted. Crowds raised a Turkish flag.


In İnegöl about 1,000 Kurdish people split into two groups and blocked the highway between Eskişehir and Bursa.


Incidents in Dörtyol and İnegöl must be read as an early warning by all responsible parties, and politicians and civil servants in particular. We have towns in the southeast similar to these two that are populated by Kurds. A similar roust is felt in many other counties. Retaliation in the southeast is imminent.


Messages to calm down crowds

As PKK terrorism peaked in the 1990's, social peace was in danger. But we managed to save it without getting into any trouble. The last thing we desire in Turkey is if the society being able to act with commonsense in the past runs out of patience in the 2010's.


Social peace is the greatest value a country should pay a great deal of attention to. A society fighting with itself in a country craving for inner peace is the biggest disaster. Such a country can never be a regional power or gain prestige in the international arena.


For the prevention of similar incidents, leading political figures, starting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and Devlet Bahçeli of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, should act responsibly. We need political messages to lower tension. We need messages of harmony. Local party administrations in particular should be on alert.


The incidents also show how Erdoğan was wrong not to communicate with BDP officials. Inclusion of the BDP to calm Kurdish citizens and play a constructive role in the process is a must.


* 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.








Since Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has claimed the chairman's seat of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, eyes are on the new administration's attitude about the latest developments inside.


As terror escalates, heated discussions continue on the Constitutional amendment package and the referendum is at the corner, it is natural for Kılıçdaroğlu to share his views on these specific issues.


In the meantime, critical developments take place in foreign policy. We witness success and trouble at the same time.


Kılıçdaroğlu had no chance to speak about these issues yet. For this reason, an interview by Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review with the new CHP leader shed a light on how he thinks of some specific foreign policy issues.


The interview covered Iran, Israel, Hamas and "political shift".


To sum it up, Kılıçdaroğlu's remarks about Iran reflects a clear-cut stance against the government's policy. According to the CHP chairman, the support that the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government provides to Iran and the "exchange" agreement signed with Iran have caused isolation of Turkey in international arena. As Kılıçdaroğlu put, the P-5+1 group was not in content with efforts of Turkey.


However, the CHP leader said that he doesn't want any of our neighboring countries to own nuclear weapons.


Criticisms targeting the government


Remarks of Kılıçdaroğlu on the Mavi Marmara humanitarian aid ship assault are quite interesting. The CHP holds the government party responsible because of the deaths on board. And the CHP asserts that the ship was sent to the area despite Israeli warnings and the government knew it. Kılıçdaroğlu claims some dark forces were involved in the crisis and the AKP aimed to change political agenda in the country. He asked the release of information that has been held so far.


Kılıçdaroğlu kept on criticizing the government on the Hamas issue as well. Of the AKP siding with Hamas is a deadly mistake, Kılıçdaroğlu said.


Hamas is not a political organization and regarded as a terrorist organization in the West. It is not our policy to intervene in some other's internal issues and support one particular party against others, he added.


On the issue of "shift of political axis" Kılıçdaroğlu reminded that the new foreign policy of Turkey is the cause of concerns. However, he also accused the West for not hearing about the CHP criticisms over the AKP's performance regarding rights and freedoms issue. "But now they see the AKP is not what the one they had in mind…"


A different attitude


Statements of Kılıçdaroğlu during the interview are only a part of the CHP's foreign policy approach. Other than usual criticisms on the government the CHP in at least three or four other specific matters has adopted a different approach, different from the old "leftist-nationalist" discourses. Although they are not in depth yet, all seem something new in the CHP policy.


However, in order to see if the new party administration will adopt somewhat more different approach in foreign policy, we have to hear comprehensive statements by Kılıçdaroğlu.


* Mr. Sami Kohen is a columnist for daily Milliyet in which this piece appeared Wednesday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.








With his prematurely white hair and his Australia-tinged English, 39-year-old Julian Assange has become the face and voice of what is surely the most massive leak of U.S. classified documents in history.


His online organization, WikiLeaks, devotes itself to government and corporate whistle-blowers and the documents they offer. It stands as a buffer between them and whomever had the secrets being bared, whether documents on Cayman Islands bank accounts, video showing Americans firing on civilians in Baghdad or Sarah Palin's e-mail.


But none of that came close to this week's disgorgement of classified military documents. WikiLeaks served as conduit for 92,000 pages of material from a military insider to the New York Times, the Guardian of London and der Spiegel magazine in Germany.


Those three published front page analyses and excerpts, which give on-the-ground accounts of the war in Afghanistan, its failings, its brutality and its corruption.


Assange acts as a document launderer of sorts, an intermediary between the gatherer of the documents, who faces prosecution, and news organizations, which don't.


What about the man in the middle? His organization? Can they be prosecuted?


Better safe


Assange has been staying out of the U.S., just in case. But it's probably unnecessary. The First Amendment's free-press protection shields those who merely publish classified documents that others take.


The need for that protection should be obvious.


"Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government," the Supreme Court said in 1971 in the Pentagon Papers case.


Prosecutors charged the leaker, military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, but had to drop the case because of government misconduct, like breaking into Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office. And the New York Times was free to publish the 7,000-page internal history of the Vietnam War, revealing that president after president had lied about what the U.S. was doing in the region and the chances for success.


It helped turn the tide of public opinion.


The Obama administration has decried the possibility that the document dump could expose those cooperating with the U.S. to retaliation from the Taliban. WikiLeaks and the news organizations say they scrubbed the material to rid it of that risk.


Field reports


No big lies have fallen out of the mega-load of field reports WikiLeaks made public this week, although it looks like two administrations have made the war sound more winnable than it probably is.


"This material shines light on the everyday brutality and squalor of war," Assange told der Spiegel. It "will change public opinion and it will change the opinion of people in positions of political and diplomatic influence."


As he makes clear, WikiLeaks is more an advocacy group than traditional news organization. Its chief aim is to make governments and corporations more transparent, and it is especially eager to unveil possible abuses of power.


But that doesn't weaken its First Amendment protection.


"We are a publication," Daniel Schmitt, a WikiLeaks spokesman said in a telephone interview on Tuesday from Berlin. However different from a newspaper, "We are a publishing organization."


Unless the group or someone inside it solicited the documents or helped the insider obtain them, they probably have little to fear from U.S. criminal law.


Nor could WikiLeaks be forced to disclose its sources. The group located its headquarters in Sweden because it has one of the world's strongest shield laws to protect confidential source-journalist relationships.


"We have been legally challenged in various countries," Assange said in the interview with der Spiegel. "We have won every challenge."


Bank Julius Baer & Co. Ltd., based in Basel, Switzerland, sued because WikiLeaks posted accountholder information from its Cayman outpost amid allegations of money laundering and tax evasion. The bank filed suit in San Francisco against California-based Dynadot, WikiLeaks' domain registrar.


The bank won a short-lived court ruling that attempted to shut WikiLeaks, which had sent no lawyer to argue. Once it did, and once free-speech groups intervened to tell the judge the First Amendment forbids such an order, the judge dissolved his earlier decision and the bank abandoned the case.


WikiLeaks says it doesn't dig for dirt or urge others to. "We do not solicit any information," Schmitt says.


Don't ask


If they did, they could find themselves in a conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act of 1917. That is the law that bans the release of confidential military and national security information. News organizations are exempt, but only if they don't solicit.


Still, the organization may begin skating closer to the edge. It's planning an educational effort for would-be leakers that will say "why leaking is a useful thing" and "how to do it properly," Schmitt says.


And last year the group compiled a list of the "Most Wanted" documents, based on suggestions from people around the word.


Among the entries: the East German secret police file on Federal Chancellor Angela Dorothea Merkel and a list of all political prisoners in Egypt.


For now, at least, Assange and WikiLeaks seem to be in the clear. Not so for the 22-year-old Army intelligence analyst, Private First Class Bradley Manning, suspected as a source.


Already in custody and blamed for an earlier submission to WikiLeaks, Manning is a "person of interest" in the recent disgorgement of secret Afghanistan reports, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.


Assange, meanwhile, isn't taking any chances. He recently canceled an appearance in Las Vegas and said at a news conference in London this week he had been told he would be arrested if he came to the U.S.


No doubt authorities would like to invite him in for a chat. But jail him? Not likely.


* Ann Woolner is a Bloomberg News columnist.







Nobody can deny the impact of Silicon Valley on modern life. The greatest high-tech companies of our times such as Apple, Google and Facebook were all established in the Valley.



It still receives almost one-third of all the venture capital investments. The value created by the firms in the Valley is immense. These companies have become the locomotives of growth of the United States. It is the reason why there is a tremendous influx of the brightest foreign workforce flow into the U.S. Therefore, much research has been done to understand its success.


There are some unique findings of research about the Valley that have been applied by many countries to various degrees in their science and technology policies. The obvious outcome is that when you put together many firms working around the same issues, you have a boost in innovation as the people who work at various firms interact more often and they have a better platform to speak their minds and cooperate. Therefore, after the 1980s, Britain, Spain, Denmark and many others tried to replicate the Valley by physically moving industries into certain geographic locations. They were successful to a degree, but this cannot be compared to the original Silicon Valley. In the meanwhile, veteran inhabitants of the Valley started writing books about the place and the firms that were established there. Almost all of them talked about universities being close to the valley, such as Stanford. Indeed, the first pioneers of the Valley had strong connections to the university. They were either working with or former students of Stanford. In her 1995 book named "Fred Terman, The father of Silicon Valley," Carolyn E. Tajnai, a former director of the Stanford Forum, explains how the funding needs of Stanford led to the establishment of the Valley: "In the 1950s, the idea of building an industrial park arose. The university had plenty of land over 8,000 acres but money was needed to finance the university's rapid postwar growth. The original bequest of his farm by Leland Stanford prohibited the sale of this land, but there was nothing to prevent it being leased … Thus, the Stanford Industrial Park was founded. The goal was to create a center of high technology close to a cooperative university. It was a stroke of genius, and Terman, calling it 'our secret weapon,' suggested that leases be limited to high technology companies that might be beneficial to Stanford. In 1951, Varian Associates signed a lease, and in 1953 the company moved into the first building in the park. Eastman Kodak, General Electric, Preformed Line Products, Admiral Corporation, Shockley Transistor Laboratory of Beckman Instruments, Lockheed, Hewlett-Packard and others followed soon after."


Around the 1990s, the 'technopark' concept was formulated to better replicate the Silicon Valley. Technoparks were established inside universities so that firms had a better connection with research, along with the cream of the crop students. The concept was adopted in Turkey in the 2000's and was fairly successful. There are 29 technoparks in Turkey today. Aside from these, there are 67 research centers and more than 12,000 engineers working for innovation.


The next logical step for Turkey would be to empower the technoparks better. For example, workers of the firms in the technoparks have to stamp in and out and they have to remain in the physical area of their offices for 95 percent of their work time. This doesn't sound like a very progressive necessity does it? Also, new research shows that with the advancement of telecommunication facilities, physicality lost its relevance. In Spain, new technology firms are being established not at technoparks but near the coast of Costa Brava because of the weather and the sea.


But the government decided to bring about a totally new concept instead of trying to work the current structure better. After years of work and vigorous debates, many foreign trips to see what's happening around the globe, they have decided on what Stanford did in the 1950's.


The year is 2010 and we will have an "ICT Valley" in Kocaeli. Minister of Industry and Trade Nihat Ergün says Turkey must develop its ICT industry if it is going to be a regional power. The minister says they have carefully analyzed Silicon Valley, Sofia Antipolis in France and Dubai.


In his 45 minute speech, he didn't give the specifics of how this would happen, but talked about how the government brought more democracy. So I couldn't learn from him the logic behind it. Therefore I have asked and followed some nongovernmental organizations. The General Secretary of Turkish Informatics Foundation Behçet Envarlı says the logic of Silicon Valley is probably a little misinterpreted by project leaders. He says in 2010 there is no need for a physical place for firms to form alliances. Envarlı adds that the industry as a whole is in favor of Istanbul as Kocaeli is not the best place to build the ICT Valley, if we must build one. TÜBİSAD issued a statement saying that funds should be used for a better structure and that regionalism shouldn't be an issue. TÜBİSAD says the concept of Silicon Valley doesn't imply a physical place anymore but an eco-system to support the ICT industry. It also says it would be impossible to transplant firms and human power to Kocaeli.


It is obvious that the ICT Valley is not being embraced by the ICT industry.


The government is once again doing something it thinks would be good without asking the industry. Once again, the ICT industry cannot make its voice heard and will most probably be defeated by another pressure group that thinks it would be beneficial to force all technology firms to move to Kocaeli.


I kindly ask Minister Ergün to explain why Turkey needs an ICT Valley and why it should be situated in Kocaeli.








During an interview with the mass circulation German daily Bild ahead of his trip to Turkey, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was asked: Is Turkey ready for European Union membership?


Ever since the Angela Merkel's government came to office in Germany it is no secret that Berlin's approach to Turkish EU membership has never ever been as supportive as was the case during the previous social democrat-led coalition government of Gerhard Schroeder – to who together with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair Turkey owes a lot in acquiring a date for the start of the accession talks process. It is a fact as well that, despite all her skepticism regarding Turkey's EU membership and her repeatedly expressed opinion that rather than full membership Turkey should be offered a "privileged partnership" all through the past years, the Merkel government has remained loyal to the principle of "Pacta sunt servanda" (Latin for "agreements must be kept") basic principle of international law. Otherwise, it would have been impossible for Turkey to start the accession talks process or engage in negotiation with the EU on those accession chapters that were not held hostage by the Greek Cypriot or French governments.


The question posed to Westerwelle regarding Turkey – which indeed came after a visit to the Greek Cypriot side by the German minister where he declared that the "unbinding and advisory" decision of a top U.N. court stressing that Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia was not contradicting with the international law cannot be applicable elsewhere, including Cyprus – was of course a difficult one to answer. Yet, "If the question had to be decided today, Turkey would not be able to join, and the European Union would not be able to incorporate (Turkey)," said Westerwelle. Nevertheless, he warned against generating the impression that the EU was not interested in Turkey, frustrated with the slow pace of progress in its EU membership effort. "It is in our interest for Turkey to orientate itself towards Europe," the German minister said, adding that this was not only out of economic interests as Turkey "can help us solve several conflicts - whether it be Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen or the Middle East." The German minister also remained uncommitted to the idea of referring Turkey's EU membership to a referendum, saying it was not yet time to make such considerations.


Of course Westerwelle was perfectly right in stressing that the question of Turkey's readiness to EU membership, as well as the EU's preparedness to digest membership of a big country like Turkey, is not something that can be answered today. But, pacta sunt servanda requires Turkey's eventual membership in the EU, as right from the first day Turkey started this journey together with the forefathers of today's EU the aim was clear: Turkey's membership in the EU when Turkey complies with all the criteria of the club. There were no ifs or buts, but a firm commitment that Turkey will eventually be an EU member when it fully complied with the criteria of the club. Thus, if there will be a referendum on Turkey's EU membership, that referendum will be the public vote in Turkey, not one in Germany, France or elsewhere in the EU territory.


On the other hand, the German minister was perfectly right in stressing that Turkey of today is not yet ready for EU membership. The EU, even though still evolving and what shape will it take by the time Turkey's membership comes to a final decision stage cannot be estimated from now, is not just an economic or political organization. It is indeed a set of values of norms headed by freedom of thought, free press, supremacy of law and individual liberties, as well as firm standards in almost all walks of life. That is why it is often referred to as a "club of democracies."


Put aside requirement to comply with other conditions, is Turkey a sufficient enough democratic country to become a member of the EU? Is the supremacy of law principle fully applicable in this country? Has Turkey managed to replace its endemic "culture of confrontation" with a "culture of compromise," which is a must for being in the EU? Has Turkey managed to evolve its democracy to a really participating democracy respecting and protecting minority rights [not only ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities, but ideological minorities as well] and abandoned majoritarianism from which Europe suffered a lot in its recent past?


With a self-catering democratic understanding, self-catering justice notion and rampant nepotism still in the government of Turkey, as a German friend recently told me, Turkey's EU process is like a well-decorated train at the Ankara station. Ceremonies are being held from time to time to mark the progress in the process. Fireworks are fired to celebrate the great successes. But the train is rusting in the station and has not moved much because rails have been forgotten to be constructed…









In the world, Asia has been considered as rapidly advancing with HIV/AIDS infections. Most of the people of Bangladesh are saved from HIV virus and its existence is very slow. But it is suspected that if HIV epidemic entangles our people, it may infect quickly. As the people are in the risky situation, the consciousness of HIV/AIDS among the mass people here is not sufficient at all. 


In Bangladesh, Philippines, and India the frequency of prostitutes are visible but the use of condoms among the prostitutes are rare. The prostitutes or the brothels based sex workers of Bangladesh are conducted with more clients who are not less than compare to the clients of other Asian countries. A brothel based sex worker conducts more than 19 clients in a week and street sex worker meets 12-16 clients and a hotel sex worker gets more than 40 clients at the same time. 

Because of being rigid social tiles, inequitable activities like pre-marital sex and extra-marital sex are hardly visible in Bangladesh. Though it would be proven wrong seeing the scenario of turn over of the clients, it is not a matter of surprising. Though social decay like drug addiction, human trafficking, domestic violence, and dowry etc. are increasing rapidly, it is not comparatively more than other Asian countries. 

In the developing countries women and girls are migrating from place to place to remove their poverty. They live in cities by forsaking their birthplace without any co-operative help or protection from city men and ultimately they are tempted to involve in commercial sex. As a result, they gradually become vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. They become helpless in the midst of new situation and they are not able to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections and they become infected with HIV/AIDS. 

The number of street sex workers in Bangladesh is increasing rapidly. They generally stay nearly one year in a particular place before transferring to other destinations. In a research on sex workers was conducted in Dhaka city by Apex Club of Renaissance shown that most of the street sex workers are poor and uneducated, and they come from rural areas. They are mainly in the midst of HIV risk as they are sexually conducted with many clients per night but they rarely use condoms. New sex workers are generally vulnerable to infect with HIV during the first six months of admitting into the sex industry because they no pre-idea of any STDs. Sometimes they can't bargain with their clients to use condoms that also increase HIV/AIDS. 


Social researcher Md. Altaf Hossain Mahabub said, "As prostitutes work as a catalyst to spread HIV/AIDS, proper steps should be taken by the government to rehabilitate them engaging various works/ jobs. If they get opportunities to engage at any better job, they may give up such profession. Not only government but also different types of NGOs should come forward to rehabilitate them." Professor Md. Aktarul Alam said, "Although they are considered as sporadic inhabitants, they no longer separate from our society. So we should come forward to prevent HIV/AIDS altogether. So we can't think of preventing HIV/AIDS without thinking about them." 

There is no alternative to raise social awareness to control HIV/AIDS. Print and electric media also play a vital role in this regard. Special programs should be telecast on showing the cause and effects of HIV/AIDS. It is true that if we fail to control it, we shall lose our existence in near future. So we have to control it by hook or by crook and it is high time we controlled it. 

Sex workers are considered as the highest risk of being HIV infected because they have great possibility to sexual conduct with such client who is already infected with HIV. Rainbow Nari O Shishu Kallyan Foundation has found that a one year experienced prostitutes can visit about five clients in a week. They make sex in garden, street and marketplace, at night in a park, terminal place and riverbanks etc. Many prostitutes are deprived of stability and family bondages. They are enforced to involve in sex industry. They are also socially banned. So, they are not allowed to get common work and also do not come in high position and are neglected to get work. 

Most of the sex workers and their clients have no clear conception about HIV/AIDS. Not only sex workers and their clients but also the common people of Bangladesh are devoid of the knowledge of HIV/AIDS. It can be explained such a way that there are some people living in rural areas have not ever heard the name of this disease. Most of the people are illiterate. So the illiteracy is one of the main obstacles to aware them easily. On the other hand, poverty is also acute here. As a result, they are not willing to follow the dictate of HIV/AIDS preventive practice because the matter of their livelihood engages in their sex trade. 

Photo: In this Feb. 20, 2010 file photo, children sit behind a fence with and old soccer ball in Shoshanguwe, north of Pretoria, South Africa. (AP photo) 








Before the West invaded Afghanistan Pakistan had no suicide bombers, no jihad and no Talebanization 

There is now a general recognition that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won militarily. All the Taleban have to do to win is not to lose. The Americans won't stay and everybody knows that. 

The focus has come to rest on the inevitable need to talk with all the militant groups in Afghanistan. While most important players are ready to talk peace, the U.S. remains confused and has still to straighten out its policy. This confusion is once again taking its toll, especially on Pakistan. 

As the U.S. and NATO realize the failure of their military policy in Afghanistan, they are seeking to shift the centre of gravity of the war into the north west of Pakistan, the region known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). One of the fears raised in the West at the prospect of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan is that it will lead to a Taleban- controlled nuclear Pakistan. That fear betrays a total ignorance about the evolution of the Taleban movement as well as the impact of the War on Terror on Pakistan. 

Remember, there was no Pakistani involvement in 9/11. Nor throughout the period of the Taleban regime in Kabul was there Talebanization in Pakistan . 

When the Americans were drawing up their military response to the 9/11 attacks, they drew up a list of seven conditions for Pakistan to meet to attract U.S. support. The assumption was that General Pervez Musharraf, the former President of Pakistan, might agree to three or four. Instead he unilaterally signed up for the lot. These conditions were a total violation of the human rights of the people of Pakistan and the sovereignty of the country. 

This was a leader with whom President Clinton had refused to shake hands when he came to Pakistan before 9/11, for fear of being seen to support a dictator. It was quite shameless how the Pakistani leadership capitulated and how the U.S. gave Musharraf the embrace of legitimacy. This was reminiscent of the Cold War era when tinpot dictators were routinely supported by the U.S. 

In 2004 Pakistan's Government sent troops into Waziristan, where al-Qaeda was allegedly present. I was one of the only politicians from outside the tribal areas who had been to Waziristan and I opposed the move in Pakistan's Parliament. Anyone who knows the region and its history could see it would be a disaster. 

Until that point we had no militant Taleban in Pakistan. We had militant groups, but our own military establishment was able to control them. We had madrassas, but none of them produced militants intent on jihad until we became a frontline state in the War on Terror. 

The country is fighting someone else's war. We never had suicide bombings in our history until 2004. Now we have 30 to 40 deaths a day from shells or bombings and the suicide attacks continue to increase. While we have received about $15 billion in aid from the U.S., our own economy has lost about $50 billion. 

We have borrowed a record amount of money from the International Monetary Fund, which was only given to U.S. because of our role in the war, not because we could afford to pay it back. Our social and economic fabric is being destroyed because of the conditions that the IMF has imposed. 

Millions of our people have been displaced and a massive radicalization of our youth has taken place as they see the Pakistani state becoming a puppet doing U.S. bidding. The military operations by Pakistan in FATA have led to 40,000 casualties in indiscriminate aerial bombardment and ground fire. 

The attacks by U.S. drones, in which the Government of Pakistan is complicit, have also killed thousands of civilians, leading to a growing hatred becoming embedded among the local population. There is deep resentment of the war in the frontier regions, where high unemployment feeds the discontent. 

The war in Afghanistan is justified as a stabilizing force for Pakistan, whereas in truth the country is collapsing under the pressure. We are like Cambodia in the Vietnam War. After the Wikileaks revelations yesterday reports are being floated that the ISI, Pakistan's intelligence service, is aiding the Afghan militancy. The fact is that the ISI is not that powerful, but certainly in an environment of chaos and uncertainty Pakistan will need to protect its interests through all means necessary. 

It is unfortunate that the U.S. was unable to use the window of opportunity that it had in the immediate aftermath of the removal of the Taleban Government in late 2001. It could have brought in a truly broad-based Afghan government and invested in the development of the country. Instead, it continued its military actions and brought corrupt and criminal elements into power in Kabul. 

Pakistan, supposedly an ally of the U.S., is bearing the brunt of American failure in Afghanistan. A recent poll showed that 80 percent of Pakistanis consider the U.S. a bigger threat to their country than India. Nor is this view about the U.S. solely because of the "War on Terror". Pakistanis also blame the U.S. for brokering the "National Reconciliation Order", which was intended to sustain Musharraf in power while also bringing rogue Pakistani politicians back into the political landscape. 

The result is a total collapse of governance in Pakistan today. There is no danger of Talebanization in Pakistan but there is a very real threat of chaos and radicalization, especially of the youth. 

There is only one solution to this chaos. This is to implement an immediate ceasefire and commence talks with all militant groups in Afghanistan. Either America leaves or Pakistan withdraws from this war. 

The U.S. should not worry about Pakistan. Once the bombing stops, it will no longer be jihad and the suicide attacks will immediately subside. About 18 months ago the former head of the CIA's Kabul station, Graham Fuller, wrote in the International Herald Tribunethat once the U.S. leaves the region Pakistan will be stable . Political leaders in the U.S. and UK should realize that people in the streets of New York and London are not threatened by the people in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan but by the growing radicalization of their own marginalized Muslim youth. 


(Source: The Times of London) 









Thin smoke was still visible at the site of the crash of the Airblue Airbus A321 late on Wednesday afternoon. The aircraft appeared to have made a 'controlled flight into terrain' (CFIT) impacting on a near-vertical cliff and killing all 152 people on board. Eyewitnesses spoke of the aircraft flying very low and going north on a path they had never seen aircraft fly before. The crash site is densely wooded and difficult to access and it will take days to retrieve all of the bodies and longer to get the wreckage down to a place where it can be examined. Despite the difficulties and because of the proximity to Islamabad and Rawalpindi it was possible to get rescue services on-site fairly quickly, but it was obvious that this was a non-survivable incident and it is something of a puzzle as to where early reports of as many as five survivors came from. Also quick on the scene were the media and footage was being aired by midday not just of the crash site, but of grieving relatives who had been waiting at Islamabad airport. 

It is far too early to point to a definitive cause of this terrible tragedy, and we will have to await the report of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Questions such as if the flight appropriately cleared for take-off from Karachi when local conditions at Islamabad were very poor need to be answered. Were standard operating procedures (SOPs) followed by both pilot and ground control relative to an aborted landing and a 'go around'? Why was the aircraft flying north and not south and at such a low altitude? Was the pilot – a retired PIA officer aged 65 – fit for duty? Did the aircraft have a good safety and maintenance record? Answers to all these questions lie in the future – or maybe they do not. It will be recalled that a PIA Fokker F27 crashed at Multan in the summer of 2006 killing 45 people. The CAA report on the crash has yet to find its way into the public domain, and there are strong suspicions voiced on aviation websites and technical forums that the reason for this is that to publish the report would open the door for relatives of the deceased at Multan to begin litigation. We need to know, and as quickly as possible, why 152 people died in a 'young' aircraft on a misty rainy morning in the hills above Islamabad. We have no interest in face-saving cover-ups or mealy-mouthed obfuscation. And it would be a considerable service to the relatives of the dead in the Multan crash if the report on that incident was published, and fast, as well.






Heavy rains have taken a big toll across the country as the monsoon season gets underway. The thought of how many deaths may take place before the season ends is one that evokes a sense of fear. But it is unforgivable that a number of deaths should take place not due to the force of the rains but due to the poor civic infrastructure of our cities. Karachi, as has been the case in past years too, is among the worst-hit urban centres with heavy rain that began Monday having caused havoc. Six lives have been lost, five of them to electrocution. Life has been disrupted with people unable to get to work or find transport on roads.

Authorities in Karachi, and in other cities as well, need to work out why the problems that come even with moderate rain are so acute. Taxpayers after all pay out money for the maintenance of facilities in cities. It is not too much to ask that this money be wisely used. This quite evidently is not happening at the present time. Designing roads that are drained by an adequate system so that they are not flooded or ensuring electricity wires and poles are kept in good repair is not too arduous or demanding a task. It should be possible to carry it out so that the residents of cities can be kept safe. This is crucial in Karachi, our commercial hub. The terrible scenes after rain in the city have been seen for too long. They should become history so that we can move into the modern age, where such chaos does not strike each monsoon season. 













The Anti Terrorism Act Amendment Bill, moved in the Senate, envisages far greater powers for the police against suspected terrorists. It also tightens existing measures limiting travel and access to finances. The amendments would mean, for example, that the police would be able to hold a suspect for three months without charge. The proposed bill also provides for dealing with FM stations promoting terrorism under the ATA and increases the sentence for those committing terrorist offences to ten years. There can be little doubt we need tougher measures to tackle terrorism. The curse of militancy represents a huge menace which has already destroyed many aspects of life in our country and threatens to destroy others. So far, despite the conflict in the north, there is no clear-cut proof that terrorism will permanently be pushed back. 

But there must be some doubt as to whether the police possess the ability to deal with the problem. Their failures have in some ways acted to fan the fires that fuel extremism and allow groups engaged in it to continue to operate in many parts of the country. Even with enhanced powers, there must be some doubt as to what this force can achieve. As senators have suggested, there should be more discussion and debate regarding the bill. All that is possible must be done to tackle terrorism. But it is also important that the measures are viable and have a real impact on dealing with a problem that has continued to grow rapidly despite the various steps taken over the last decade to deal with it.







And we all thought we had read and said all that was needed to be read and said on Afghanistan! We have read and heard so much on the shenanigans of the coalition of the willing over the past few years that nothing seems to shock us anymore. Yet the shock-and-awe of the WikiLeaks disclosures takes your breath away. 

This is the mother all of all exposes, and perhaps the biggest news story of our time, even for the whistleblowers who have made a name for themselves with stories like the raw video footage of the US soldiers gaily firing on a group of Iraqi civilians including two Reuters journalists from the safety of their Apache gunship in the air. 

All three publications, the New York Times, the Guardian and German Der Spiegel that got the exclusive rights to break the story after the WikiLeaks released it on the Web first, agree that the West's Afghan mission is in far worse shape than admitted so far. 

Nine years after the cowboy coalition walked into the Afghan morass, eyes wide shut, and after even spending $300 billion of US taxpayer's money, it remains a mission as impossible as ever. 


While not even the most ardent America apologists have dared to suggest the West is faring well on the Afghan front, clearly no one in the Western media in their wildest dreams ever thought things could be this bad. The disclosures, based on daily logs of US military operations, paint a picture of the war that is truly mind-boggling and far more harrowing than ever imagined by anyone, including the blissfully clueless Americans. 

In its intensity, geopolitical ramifications and utter pointlessness, this war is far more disastrous and deadlier than Vietnam, a war whose memories still shock the Americans out of their wits. From the friendly fire between the US and Nato troops to the fierce fighting between Afghan and Pakistan soldiers along the border, it's a complete mess out there. 

In the thick fog of war, nobody seems to have a clue what is going on down on the ground. The coalition totters from crisis to crisis and from disaster to disaster, insisting it will stay the course as precious billions are poured down the bottomless pit that is Afghanistan. 

The insurgents get bolder, deadlier and more effective as they hone their skills in a game that they have played for centuries. But we have already been familiar with most of these facts despite the endless propaganda blitz of the US military establishment and the unquestioning US media. 

Thanks to some courageous whistleblowers and independent bloggers, the world is not totally ignorant of the deepening mess in Afghanistan. Only we underestimated the extent of the trouble. 

The highlight of the WikiLeaks expose, however, is the humanitarian tragedy of the war, a story that has found little space in the international reportage of the war. 

While many of us including yours truly have occasionally protested, for what it's worth, against civilian killings and reckless coalition bombings of wedding parties and funeral processions etc., none of us thought the rot is as widespread as it has been revealed by the WikiLeaks. 

This despite the fact that the three publications voluntarily removed material "which threatens the safety of troops, local informants and collaborators."

Still the collective picture that emerges is spine-chilling. The logs record at least 150 incidents of trigger-happy coalition forces bombing unsuspecting civilians including women and children. These incidents have never been reported before. 

So they are besides the incidents those reported by international media like the airstrike in Azizabad, in Western Afghanistan, that killed as many as 92 civilians in August 2008. In May 2009, another airstrike killed 147 civilians. "Bloody errors" include the day French troops strafed a bus full of children in 2008. 

A US patrol similarly machine-gunned a bus, wounding or killing 15 of its passengers, and in 2007 Polish troops mortared a village, killing an entire wedding party including a pregnant woman. The logs detail an unusual cluster of four British shootings in Kabul in the space of barely a month, in October/November 2007, culminating in the death of the son of an Afghan general.

These are just some of the many 'incidents' that haven't been reported or recorded by anyone. One couldn't muster the courage and patience to go through it all. As the New York Times puts it, "incident by incident, the reports resemble a police blotter of the myriad ways Afghan civilians were killed – not just in airstrikes but in ones and twos – in shootings on the roads or in the villages."

This is not all. The war logs also detail how a secret "black" unit of special forces hunts down Afghans for "kill or capture" without so much as a trial. Not surprisingly, many of these "Taliban leaders" happen to be innocent civilians. The diary also reveals how the coalition has been using Reaper drones to hunt and kill "usual suspects" by remote control from the safety of a base in the remote Nevada desert in the US. So much for America's mission to promote freedom, democracy and human rights in the Muslim world!

Commenting on the WikiLeaks story, a White House spokesperson has pointed out that the "time period reflected in the documents is January 2004 to December 2009," suggesting most of it took place under Bush. But can this fig-leaf help the Obama administration justify what has been going on in Afghanistan for years? 

Having inherited this mess from his predecessor, this president had a historic opportunity and all the means at his disposal to turn around America and its troubled relationship with the Muslim world by getting out of Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama squandered that opportunity, just as he has squandered all the goodwill he had generated with his historic election and soaring rhetoric. Instead our hero chose to perpetuate the poisonous legacy of his predecessor. So much for the "audacity of hope" and so much for the promise of "change we can!"

I know, I know. Obama didn't start these wars and he's not to blame for much of the madness. But the least the Nobel laureate president could have done was put an end to the shame of Iraq and Afghanistan. 

As the WikiLeaks logs illustrate in terrifying detail, some of the worst human rights abuses including old-fashioned murder, rape and torture have taken place during these wars fought in the name of freedom, human rights and democracy. If the same were to happen under some other regime, the coalition of the willing would have bombed them back to the Stone Age. 

The two wars have claimed more than a million innocent lives. What for? And who'll pay for these crimes? But who can confront the superpower and its powerful allies with these questions? For all our talk of democracy and fine-sounding international institutions, ours is still a world where might is right. 

President Obama faces a stark choice in Afghanistan: Leave now with some dignity intact or await the humiliation of total and comprehensive defeat, the kind that came the way of the Russians. 

For one thing is certain. The Afghans' legendary patience and their never-say-die spirit will outlive the persistence and fortitude of the invading armies. Ask the Russians and the British. No matter how hard the West tries to pretend all's well, it will have to leave Afghanistan, sooner or later. 

This war has been already unravelling faster than you could say Mission Accomplished! It's up to Obama if he wants to leave now or stay the course and lose thousands of more precious lives and burn billions of hard earned dollars in the Graveyard of Empires that is Afghanistan. 


The writer is opinion editor of the Khaleej Times. Email: aijaz@khaleej








The CIA is arguably the most powerful intelligence agency in the world and maintains an espionage network in every part of the world. Some of the Pakistani rulers, besides being obedient US admirers, are the CIA's informants as well. 

It appears that power has blinded American policymakers regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan. They have committed blunders upon blunders. Despite the thousands of US soldiers present in Afghanistan and a large network of informants extending to remote villages and towns there, US policymakers have failed to appreciate the ground realities. The Americans have yet to set realistic policy goals for the region. Recent history is witness to the fact that the US always tried to convert the impossible into the possible.

The Americans' single-minded pursuit of defeating the USSR in Afghanistan overlooked the consequences of radicalisation of the Muslim world. After achieving this goal, the US pitched Mujahideen factions against each other. Initially they even supported the Taliban movement. But after 9/11, the US presented the throne of Kabul to the same old warlord who had been punished by the Taliban once.

In the struggle against the Taliban, the Americans grew ambitious enough to set new objectives in the region. They tried to encircle China, squeeze Iran, control Central Asian natural resources, punish Pakistan and make India a dominant regional player. In reaction, all these forces covertly supported the Taliban to make Afghanistan another Vietnam for America. If some of the contents of Wikileaks reports are true, then that will be the result of the American tactics in Afghanistan.

Instead of reviewing past blunders, the US wanted to make Karzai a scapegoat for its own failures. After the failure of this scheme, the Americans tried to replicate Iraq's counterinsurgency in Afghanistan to form regional private tribal militias to fight the insurgency. This plan was doomed to fail from the outset. Therefore, the Indian lobbies in the US have now floated the idea of division of Afghanistan into a Pakhtun south and non-Pakhtun north.

The ex-US ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, an Indian lobbyist, has advised the US and Nato countries to follow this path. He suggested that the US and Nato forces should stay in northern Afghanistan and use that area as a staging ground against the Pakhtun south. This US-India plan is unlikely to succeed. 

The idea of the division of Afghanistan is reflective of the sick minds still living in the past. If Iraq, with stronger and more distinct sectarian and linguistic divisions than Afghanistan, could not be divided on these lines, Afghanistan is least expected to go that way. Afghanistan has various linguistic groups and identities, which are airing grievances of exploitation at the hands of the dominant "other." 

But Afghans have proved to be the staunchest of nationalists in the region. Afghan poetry expresses love and longing for the homeland. Afghan songs praise Pakhtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks alike. Afghan literature has the highest intensity of nationalism in the region while the country's music is all about "Afghaniyat." 

Almost all Pakhtun Afghans can speak Darri and every non-Pakhtun Afghan understands Pashto. In contrast with the region, the Taliban movement is predominantly Pakhtun, but it also boasts of individuals from other linguistic groups. The movement is fast spreading in northern and western Afghanistan.

Gulbadin Hikmatyar, who is considered a Pakhtun, hails from the extreme northern province of Kunduz. His party consists of people from other linguistic groups. He has married off his daughter to a Tajik. One of the four most trusted lieutenants of Ahmed Shah Masood and Qasim Faheem was a Pakhtun from Laghman. Abdullah Laghmani was deputy to the Afghan intelligence chief and was killed in a suicide attack some time ago.

Kunduz in the north is a majority Pakhtun province while Herat in the south is a majority Tajik region. The central province of Logar too is a predominantly Pakhtun area but a large number of Tajiks also live here. Northern Afghanistan is not populated by a single linguistic group. Hazaras populate central Afghanistan while Tajik and Uzbek regions in the north are separated by the Pakhtun region of Kunduz. The tension between Uzbeks and Tajiks exacerbates the tension between Pakhtuns and Tajiks. Similarly, the Hazara community is unwilling to live with either Tajiks or Uzbeks. The last presidential election was witness to the fact that Uzbek Abdul Rasheed Dostam, Tajik Qasim Faheem and Hazara Ustad Muhaqqiq supported the Pakhtun Hamid Karzai against Tajik Dr Abdullah. Currently, an Uzbek and a Hazara are vice presidents. In the presidential elections, no candidate from Pakhtun, Hazara, Uzbek and Tajik communities ever invoked race or linguistic affiliation.

The Taliban resistance is not based on language or race. The movement surfaced against the excessively unruly commanders of Pakhtuns like Hekmatyar, Ustad Sayyaf, Yunus Khalis and Sibghatullah Mujaddidi. The Taliban had fought against Pakhtun commanders from Kandahar to Kabul. After the surrender of Kabul, they brutally hanged Dr Najibullah, a Pakhtun, but not a Tajik or Uzbek. Mullah Omar had not sacrificed his rule and taken up a fight with the only superpower for the sake of Pakhtuns, but for Arabs.

Despite knowing these realities, those who plan the division of Afghanistan are living in a fools' paradise.

The writer works for Geo TV. Email:







In another major attack on Pakistan's credibility as a responsible entity among the comity of nations, among the 92,000 secret US documents about the Afghan war leaked to the media by WikiLeak, a number of reports accused Pakistan's premier intelligence agency of being in collusion with the Taliban. The "war logs" also alleged ISI involvement in plots to kill President Hamid Karzai as well as planning strategy for attacks against US and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Independent analysts warned that most of the intelligence material was of questionable value, coming from sources inimical to Pakistan. 

Clearly fabricated, inconsistent and certainly not verified, it was not surprising that most emanated from the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's premier intelligence agency, which was taken over lock, stock and barrel by India's RAW when the Northern Alliance came to power. 

As director general of the ISI in the late 1980s, Lt Gen (Retd) Hameed Gul was actively working with the CIA in aiding the Taliban. His views are well known and have not really changed. His extreme stance is presently at variance with the moderate nature of the "great silent majority" of Pakistanis. One does not agree with him on any number of issues, however one does respect his integrity and patriotism. To suggest that he would support the Taliban actively in any way, particularly when the army that he loves and served with distinction is at war with them, is, in his own words, "preposterous." 

There is a radical difference between the ISI that existed during the Afghan war and the ISI that exists today. Clandestine organisation like the ISI, the CIA, MI-5 and the former KGB, of necessity operate in grey areas. But that any would work against the best interests of the state is ridiculous. The Pakistani army shields Pakistan from its enemies, the ISI provides the outer shield for Pakistan and the army. Our enemies' motives in their constant attacks on the ISI are well known: reduce the shield and you compromise the security and integrity of Pakistan.

The documents leaked by WikiLeak include details of war crimes by US and coalition forces and the involvement of Karzai's family in drug smuggling, yet these got only cursory media attention. Nowhere in the 92,000 documents does there seem to be any mention of India, good or bad. One may well ask: why this golden silence on India? True to form, the Afghan presidential spokesman, Waheed Omar, studiously focused on Pakistan, saying the "documents could help raise awareness on the sanctuaries Islamabad provides for militant groups." That about sums up Afghanistan's hostility to Pakistan and its ingratitude for all the sacrifices Pakistan has made (and is making) for Afghanistan. Only the week before, the Pakistani government had signed a memorandum of understanding under which the Afghans will receive most-favoured free access to Pakistani ports as well as to roads/railways communications infrastructure. 

It is time our foreign policy to discover self-respect. One is forced to use language that is not diplomatic: till they learn to shut up and keep shut, we should allow only food essentials for Afghanistan to transit through Pakistan, and nothing else. As regards transit facilities for India to Afghanistan, either through Karachi port or Wagah, somebody in our government needs to get their head examined for even agreeing to talk about it. We do not need Afghanistan, they need us.

The US has forcefully condemned the leaks as harmful to their national security interests. However, there is a hint of a "wink" and a "nod" to put Pakistan under further pressure "to do none." One has great respect for Admiral Mike Mullen. What he has achieved in calming the suspicions and fears of our armed forces is remarkable but this doublespeak in the US establishment is shocking. One is heartened by comments by US lawmakers who have taken into account the tremendous sacrifices rendered by Pakistani security forces in dealing with the militants. They rightly say that the leaks do not represent facts as they exist on the ground today.

Richard Haass, chairman of the Council of Foreign Relations appeared on a show (hosted by CNN's Fareed Zakaria) to announce blithely that Pakistan allows Al-Qaeda to roam about freely in Pakistan and manipulates Afghanistan in its designs against India. While Indian Muslim Fareed Zakaria (an original "Uncle Tom") has a vested interest in showing himself as being more loyal than the king, these accusations were mind-boggling. We are the ones suffering most at the hands of Al-Qaeda and, to correct Haass, just look at the geography. It is the other way around: it is India that manipulates Afghanistan for its own purposes against Pakistan.

With experience in the White House working with both the younger and elder Bush, Haass was an insider in the making of decisions affecting millions. In his Essay "Dilemma of Dissent," Haass disclosed that "very frequently the rulers and their close aides made important (decisions) without proper enquiry, analysis or debate." Those facilitating such decision-making Haass calls "enablers." One way to avoid becoming an "enabler" was to resign. That unfortunately requires a conscience. Richard Haass became an "enabler" rather than risk "being ignored or overruled." 

Bluntly put, many American soldiers and Iraqis across the board have died (and are dying) because people like Haass wanted to stay within the reaches of power. If any order is unlawful, further action is a matter of morality. People like Haass sacrificed morality at the altar of their own careers. To quote from my article "Defining Character" published on May 28, 2009: "Richard Haass may be brilliant, he is also a self-confessed intellectually dishonest person." Yet, people like Haass proliferate in the upper reaches of US decision-making and can rule the airwaves to spread false perceptions.

Perception is nine-tenths of media law. To quote from my recent article "Pie in the sky": "Propaganda is a deliberate attempt to persuade people by any available media to think and then behave in a manner desired by the source, it is really the means to an end. There could be individual Taliban sympathisers in the ranks of Pakistan's intelligence agencies and other official circles, but to say that Pakistan provides concerted institutional support…is nonsense, it demeans not only the blood that our soldiers have shed fighting the Taliban but that of our innocent civilians also."

As a coherent platform for our national security strategy, our present media policy is quite impractical and is tilted inwards, rather than being focussed externally. The stakes are high, a comprehensive media strategy must incorporate the new ground realities and must project Pakistan abroad by coalescing and force-multiplying the talent and potential of the private sector. The attacks on the army and the ISI have grave national repercussions for us, and they will happen again and again unless we do something.

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email:







The region of Gilgit-Baltistan has remained always an anomaly in the political system of Pakistan. There are several factors that contributed to its status being kept in constitutional limbo. Foremost among these is the Kashmir dispute, as well as regional geopolitics at large. Although the region is not a direct party to the conflict, it remains relevant to the issue because of its strategic location. Various governments in Pakistan have tried to incorporate Gilgit-Baltistan into the country's political structure.

The announcement of the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-governance Order by the government last year was the latest attempt by the state to bring the region into Pakistan's political mainstream. Under the current dispensation a newly elected assembly has elected a chief minister and a governor has been appointed by the federal government. It is for the first time that the region enjoys its own setup with an empowered legislature. People have high expectations regarding the delivery of results from the elected members Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA).

Effective management of the affairs of the assembly and good governance will require that the leaders rise above petty personal interests. The members of the GBLA and the new setup should master the modern mode of governance. Application of worn out strategies for the management of the new system would be doomed to failure.

To ensure good governance it is indispensable for GBLA members and the staff associated with the assembly to be truly empowered. The existing setup and procedures are new to most of the members of the assembly. In the absence of clear understanding of the system the local administration there is a state of confusion resulting from the fact that while the administration has experience of the previous system, the mode of administrative functioning has changed at the upper tiers of the system under the new package. One of the flaws of the empowerment package is that it was hastily put together, without an effort being made to prepare the ground for the new system. Because of this, the bulk of the development last year's budget went to the meeting of the new system's expenses. 

Empowerment entails great responsibility. It is the responsibility of the members of the GBLA to ensure development in the area by using their powers effectively. Too much dependence on the bureaucracy and the central government will render futile all the exercise involved in setting up the new system: the election and the establishment of new institutions, as well as the legislation the assembly will produce. 

Members of the GBLA enjoy perks and privileges and a hefty amount is earmarked for the chief minister and the governor of Gilgit-Baltistan. If this trend continues, the government of Gilgit-Baltistan would end up incurring a large debt on non-development expenditures. Without generation of resources at the local level the Gilgit-Baltistan government cannot meet its expenses. In the long term this will contribute to bad governance. 

Gilgit-Baltistan's failure to manage its own affairs will provide justification to the bureaucracy and some political elements at the centre to take away the powers of the GBLA. Since they are representative of the people it is the duty of the elected members to acquaint themselves well with the new system and ensure development by encouraging effective exploitation of available resources in the region. Gilgit-Baltistan has enormous potential in minerals and mining. 

The government of Gilgit-Baltistan has taken some initiatives by inviting investors from other parts of the country and abroad. However, the process of issuing licenses to investors has not been transparent in the last 15 years. The practice of issuing licenses through questionable means for mining and exploration of minerals has hurt the relations between the local administration and communities.

Leasing out local resources without the consent of the local communities will only make them vulnerable to manipulation by commercial giants. A major challenge that will be faced by the government of Gilgit-Baltistan in the future will be striking balance between exploiting mining potential and protecting the local communities' interests. For that purpose, the GBLA has to pass appropriate legislation.

The first litmus test of the newly elected government in Gilgit-Baltistan came with the aftermath of the Atabad Lake disaster, which became a human disaster because of the sheer incompetence and negligence of the chief minister and his team. This is revealed by lack of coordination between government departments and non-government organisations. The chief minister appears to be confused about his role in the new dispensation in Gilgit-Baltistan. 

The government of Gilgit-Baltistan shirks its responsibilities when it engages in non-issues as to the disaster, such as its moving a resolution to declare protesting Atabad victims traitors. 

The issue of coordination between different departments is urgent because the absence of it will bring administrative functions to a halt, which will be the ultimate failure of governance in Gilgit-Baltistan. 

The writer is associated with a rights-based organisation in Islamabad. Email: azizalidad







The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

The extraordinary ceremony held at the Governor's House in Lahore where a hotel worker from Gilgit was awarded a medal for returning $50,000 in currency notes left behind by a Japanese guest forces one to think.

There is little doubt that the cleaner's act was commendable. For this he was duly rewarded by the hotel. But it is also a fact that he had done, as he himself says, only the right thing. Honesty after all is the expected norm in most parts of the world. The huge fuss made over the act, with the governor presiding over the award-giving ceremony, the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan flying in for the occasion and the prime minister apparently due to hand over yet another medal to Isa Khan on Independence Day, underlines the fact that it is apparently so rare a commodity in the country that politicians have been lining up to pay tribute to a man who exhibited it. In many ways this damages Pakistan's image further – making it obvious just how unusual integrity is – rather than enhancing it, as the governor insists is the case. After all, it is virtually inconceivable to imagine a similar ceremony taking place in, say, Switzerland, or even developing countries like Malaysia or Indonesia. 

But is honesty really so rare in our nation that people need to be summoned to special ceremonies when it surfaces? Perhaps this is a matter of perception among politicians coloured by their own wrongdoing. It is possibly hard to believe that a poor man would be willing to turn over a huge sum of money when he himself is so eager to gather money in any way he can and as quickly as possible. 

This of course is despite the fact that unlike the rather bemused Isa Khan, many of them own palatial homes, a fleet of cars and all kinds of other wealth – large portions of it stowed away overseas. As a result of this greed, public-sector institutions have been looted, dodgy deals of all kinds struck and the possibility of good governance pushed back further. 

The near-farcical fanfare over the return of the money makes it seem too that there are perhaps no other honest people in the country, or that, like the Bengal Tiger or the Alaskan Grey Wolf, this is a species in danger of immediate extinction. Many of us know this is not strictly true. While graft is common, as is wrongdoing of various other kinds, with such petty dishonesty affecting millions, there are indeed still those who act with morality. 

Cases of rickshaw drivers returning wallets laden with cash or purses being handed over to PIA counters have surfaced from time to time. Even in government departments, people who refuse to be corrupted can often be identified. Many, on the basis of their religious belief, or simply their personal sense of what is right and what is wrong, go about their work with the best intent. It is true that few find themselves in the position Isa Khan did, but it is difficult to say how many would have acted just as he did. Certainly there are those who may have done so – even if their number has fallen through the years.

What we should be doing is asking ourselves why ethics and morality have declined to a level where the attention of top state office-holders is drawn when such qualities are displayed. There are many accounts, told in memoirs, newspaper articles and as anecdotes at gatherings, of how this was not the case some decades ago. Work ethics involved far more diligent labour, bribes were not expected when linesmen repaired telephone wires and shopkeepers attempted to over-charge less often than is the case today. 

Ironically enough, the overt displays of religiosity, encouraged through the Ziaul Haq years, have grown on a virtually parallel plane as the dishonesty we see everywhere. The growing climate of corruption has affected many aspects of life, contributing to the growing sense of despondency, even the disgust, of citizens with the prevailing state of affairs and also to a decline in economic growth with few willing to invest in a country where money needs to change hands frequently simply to make things move along.

Small oases of honesty appear still to exist. The Gilgit, Baltistan and Hunza areas are ranked among these – with a carefully preserved community spirit contributing to a situation where in many areas people leave the doors of homes open, informal committees keep a watch to ensure tourists are kept safe and children refuse to accept cash hand-outs offered as 'baksheesh'. This culture may have played a part in Isa Khan's handing back of the money and his comments about how he had never even considered pocketing it. The Motorway Police, which patrol the highway running from Lahore to Peshawar, continue to form yet another oasis – with high standards of vigilance, efficiency and integrity maintained over a decade after the force was created. 

We need to think how this culture can be extended and forgotten parts of it retrieved from our past. The tiers of corruption obviously blend in together, with dishonesty at the highest levels contributing to its existence at the middle and the lower levels. The lack of merit in appointments, cronyism and nepotism at almost all places play a part in promoting dishonesty and the mindsets that go along with it. 

Accountability within institutions of course plays a further part. The views of schoolchildren who see cheating as an acceptable practice suggest how early the problems start. There is a great deal that has gone amiss. It will take time to set things straight again should the will be found to do so.

But even as things now stand, there is something both farcical and sad about the brouhaha raised over the honesty of a single man. The medals hung around his neck expose our inadequacies as a nation where a simple act of honesty creates such a flurry because it is seen as unexpected or unusual for any citizen to demonstrate such a quality. We need to find our way out of the situation which could easily constitute a scene in a comic film – but should not do so in real life.








If the now defunct Monticello University in Hawaii and Trinity College and University in Spain (alma mater of another former minister of state) carried website advertisements such as 'Get your degree today' and 'Click now', it says a lot about the global sale/purchase in the education sector. The fake-degree business has existed in Pakistan for the rich and the poor alike. Obtaining a fake degree was once as simple as getting a duplicate utility bill. The recent, and continuing, disclosures of fake-degree holding parliamentarians represent only the tip of the iceberg. 

The phenomenon of fake educational certification may have worsened in the last decade when the HEC showed serious concern over the relatively small number of PhDs in Pakistan. It then went into overdrive to make up for the numbers (without any mala fide intent, it must be said). But whether enough thought went into liberalising the award of charters to ubiquitous universities without adequate checks and balances is another matter. 

It is unlikely that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was aware of the fallout of campaigning for Jamshed Dasti's re-election which initiated the current heated public discourse on fake degrees. Fake-degree holding politicians were patronised by the former dictator for many years. But a quarrelsome, imperfect and even corrupt democracy set in motion a silent cultural change where far from accepting wrongdoers, there is now uproar in society against them. 

This malignancy, present in society in many forms, has to be rooted out with relentless determination and resolve. Mere disqualification of a few parliamentarians is not the cure. Morality was never known to have too much space in politics, but the ruling party's opportunism in the case of by-elections was hugely disappointing.

Only last month, a major scandal in the health sector surfaced in the media where some unscrupulous government officials granted degree status to diplomas some quacks in KP had received from former Soviet republics. As usual, only low-level officials were punished while the real culprits remained at large.

The legal code needs to be strengthened where all people who share direct or indirect responsibility for a crime can be held accountable -- unlike the present situation where only a few scapegoats are punished. The current fake-degree crisis has provided an excellent opportunity to right this wrong. In the first instance, a moratorium on new universities can be considered for a period of five years so that a holistic review of the entire education system can be completed.

Corruption in Pakistan has increased exponentially. The corrupt are fast outpacing the legal system designed to check their outrageous conduct. Those who are caught invariably attribute their corruption to political motivation. The resolution of the current crisis is very simple: if those under the media glare stop telling lies about their educational qualifications, the media will stop telling the truth about their fake degrees.

The latest twist to this sordid episode is that the HEC chairman has reportedly expressed his inability to continue his job. It is sad to see another good man going down fighting for the collective good of society. At her public meetings, the late Benazir Bhutto would passionately say: tum kitney Bhutto maro gey, har ghar sey Bhutto nikley ga (how many Bhuttos will you kill? For every Bhutto lost, one will emerge from every household).

It may now be time to ask the PPP: how many good men, working in the interest of their fellow citizens, will you put down? How many, Mr President?

The write is a retired vice admiral. Email:








INTERIOR Minister Rehman Malik, who received flak a day earlier even from one of his own seasoned colleagues — Raza Rabbani — for showing lack of interest and concern about what is happening in the country, came up with a strong and comprehensive response on Tuesday while replying to points raised by members of the upper house during debate on two resolutions condoling death of former Senator Qazi Abdul Latif and ex-Senator and BNP Secretary General Habib Jalib Baloch. 

The discussion afforded opportunity to the Senators to speak their mind on growing incidents of terrorism and lawlessness with special reference to targeted murder of Jalib as well as another of his partymen Maula Bakhsh Dasti in Balochistan; almost daily target killings in Karachi and assassination of Mian Raashid, son of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain. There was a clear consensus that the Government was not doing enough to address the challenge with demands that concrete steps should be taken in this regard instead of issuing mere statements of condemnation and ordering inquiries, which seldom produced any positive result. In this backdrop, the Interior Minister not only touched on different aspects of the problem but also introduced a tougher anti-terror law, urging the house to pass it immediately so as to vest the government with stringent powers to tackle the issue. As the debate mostly centered on deteriorating law and order situation in Balochistan, Mr Malik, as one commentator pointed out, showed both an iron fist and an olive branch to Baloch insurgents. The details given by the Minister of what is going on the province conveyed an impression that the Government was in the know of everything but despite all this its attitude remained complacent due to unknown reasons, for a long time. He told the house that four private armies headed by local Balochs being used by some hidden hands, have raised their arms against security forces and they are active to break up the country with the support of external forces. How threatening posture these militant organizations have assumed is manifested by the fact that they have forced about one hundred thousand settlers to migrate from Balochistan in the face of target killings of these settlers. The Minister identified these four armies as BLF, BRF, BLA and Lashkar-e-Balochistan, adding that probe into killing of Maula Bakhsh Dasti, a pro-Pakistan leader, led to Allah Nazir Group, belonging to Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF). Emphasizing the magnitude of the problem, he told the house that from January to July 13, this year, 252 settlers including 13 officers of Pakistan Army, 21 officers of FC, 27 Police officials, 26 Punjabis, 21 Pashtuns, 12 Sindhis and 112 from other parts of the country were killed in Balochistan. While fully endorsing the plan to enact a stricter law against terror, we would point out that the portion of the Minister's statement relating to raising of the private armies is no revelation as these are operating for the last many years. It is also a reality that they are as equipped and organized as a regular army of some small state but the question arises what steps the Government has taken to dismantle and root them out. It is understood that these terrorist organizations did not assume monstrous dimensions overnight and strengthened their roots with the passage of time. There must be a chain of training, arming and funding and as the Minister pointed out some external forces are using them to destabilise, rather break-up Pakistan. Then why we are sitting idle and not taking the much-needed steps to eliminate them and their sources of supplies. Strict legislation is a step in the right direction yet the real improvement would take place only when we are able to address the root causes and take decisive action against those involved in anti-state activities. It is regrettable that the authorities have not even succeeded in countering propaganda of these elements, as they have been able to legitimizing their criminal acts whereas the state is on the receiving end because of lack of concern and commitment to address the challenge. We hope that a coherent approach would be adopted to ward off the threat before it gets out of control.






THE conduct of Indian parliamentarians on Tuesday demonstrated how the democracies work and what true representatives of people are expected to do in the elected houses. Cutting across party lines, members of both lower and upper houses of parliament pressed for debate on increase in prices of kerosene and LPG, which have taken place recently. So strong was their plea and reaction that it prevented functioning of the both the houses, forcing the Government to take refuge behind hollow excuses.

It is pertinent to mention that the hike in prices of kerosene and LPG in India is much less as compared to all-round and frequent increases in the prices of essential commodities and services in Pakistan. However, the way the Indian parliamentarians raised the issue in both the Houses conveyed a vivid impression that they were fully aware of the responsibilities that the electorate have entrusted to them. Elected representatives are not there just to frame laws but also to highlight plight of their voters, raise voices for their rights and initiate measures to resolve their problems. Indian parliamentarians seem to be aware of the fact that they would have to go back to the voters and that is why they are more concerned about their welfare. As against this, the attitude of parliamentarians here in Pakistan is highly deplorable, as not to speak of the treasury benches, even members belonging to opposition seldom speak about the problems of the masses. Price-hike has made life of the people miserable but hardly the issue is raised in right earnest in the National Assembly, Senate or the provincial assemblies. That is why the Government gets a free licence to do whatever it likes, as the opposition is only focused on political point scoring alone. Our parliamentarians seem to be devoid of any sense of responsibility despite the fact that they enjoy hefty salaries, allowances, perks and privileges besides receiving immense undue favours. One is pained to see on television screens many of them sitting crossed-legs in the houses, least bothered about business of the house concerned. This casual attitude on their part is conveying wrong signals to the people and that is why we would urge them to follow the footsteps of Indian parliamentarians who vociferously defend causes of their electorates








Gen Petraeus has taken over same lot of demoralized coalition troops with little heart left to fight purposeless war. US military and NATO have never remained in sync; misunderstanding among them is likely to increase in coming months. Synchronized coordination among six intelligence agencies is lacking. Afghan Army and paramilitary forces are another headache needing emergent refurbishment. Introduction of Blackwater in security and military affairs has its own set of ramifications. He plays with the same battle plan conceived by his predecessor Gen McChrystal and approved by him. He is bounded by Af-Pak plan to draw a wedge between Taliban and Al-Qaeda, divide Taliban and defeat the hardliners. He too is keen for operation in NW for he feels that move into Kandahar with a heavy force would expose his southern flank and rear to militants in NW. 

The Soviets had withdrawn from Afghanistan exactly one year after Gorbochov announced his intentions on 09 February 1988. None had believed that Soviets would ever withdraw since the big bear had no history of retracing its steps. Taliban rightly feel that they have in principle achieved the second miracle within a span of three decades. The day Americans pull out, it will be like the history of rise of Islam under Holy Prophet (pbuh) in 6th century getting re-enacted when the two super powers of the time, the Persians (Sassanian Empire) and the Byzantine Empire under Romans, having fought with each other for a longtime finally got defeated at the hands of ill-equipped Muslim Arabs on horsebacks. 

Notwithstanding that Taliban have an influence over more than 70% of territory in Afghanistan, yet they are far from taking over reigns of country. Until and unless they capture Kabul and dismantle US bases in Baghram and Kandahar, which are the main power centres of coalition forces and Karzai regime, victory will remain illusive. Kabul's fall is obligatory to achieve total victory. Kabul can capitulate if focus of terror attacks is shifted to the capital city, northern route towards Salang Pass is blocked, supplies coming from Pakistan are disrupted, and like IEDs and suicide attacks which have taken maximum toll of ISAF ground troops, means to combat aerial power acquired. Russia would be too willing to provide latest version of SAMs as a quid pro quo to stingers provided to Mujahideen by Americans in 1987-88, which accelerated the rot of Soviet forces.There is growing skepticism among policy makers in USA. The critics say that US military and civil officials associated with Afghanistan lack clarity, vision and have no set goals and their benchmarks are based on vague assumptions making achievement of goals that much unattainable. Shadow boxing for authority is continuing between Pentagon under Robert Gates cum CIA and State Department under Hillary Clinton cum White House. For Obama, next one year period is crucial to achieve some measure of stability in Afghanistan since it will have a direct bearing on the outcome of elections in USA in 2011-12. 

It is time for USA to introspect and to perform postmortem as to why today the US finds itself in such a sorry state. Washington should make a candid assessment as to what the US gained in blindly trusting India and Israel and what it lost in distrusting Pakistan. Isn't it ironic that after punishing Pakistan for nine years on fabricated charges, the US has now begun to realize that stability of Pakistan is critical to stability of Afghanistan, South-Central Asia and for US national security? Who will account for immeasurable human and economic losses suffered by Pakistan? Had the US played a fair game with Pakistan and co-opted the Army and ISI in its war plans, it could have emerged as a victor. At this critical stage, the US needs a General like Gen Patton or Gen McArthur to steady the ship and snatch the victory from the jaws of sure defeat. Like McChrystal, Petraeus too is a spent cartridge with nothing to gloat about. He is no match to one-eyed Mullah Omar who has proved his mettle and has all the qualities of a great leader. Petraeus will swim with the tide but doesn't have the aura and drive to lift the sagging morale of 46-nation troops he commands, galvanize them into a well-knit team and kindle in them requisite warrior spirit to push back the surging tide and turn it in favorable direction. I may hazard to add that best of military plans fail under an indecisive and weak leader while an average plan succeeds under a dynamic leader. 

Therefore rather than wasting time in hatching conspiracies against Pakistan, focus should be on selecting the right man and giving him full liberty of action to run the show. He should dispassionately take stock of the obtaining situation, resources available, go about refurbishing grey areas, revise battle plans in accordance with ground realities and see if pitched battles are desirable. Any military leader with little grey matter would conclude that it is pointless to reinforce failure and would advise that from henceforth all efforts should be made towards salvaging the precarious situation through dialogue only and not through a mix of dialogue and use of force since it would prove counter productive. 

The intellectually bankrupt think tanks in USA instead of publishing anti-Pakistan articles scripted by Indian writers in US newspapers and magazines should critically examine as to why the US failed to usher in democracy, political stability and economic prosperity in war-torn Afghanistan? They should seek answers as to why USA could not win over the Afghans or train ANA and police despite spending trillions of dollars? An answer should be found as to why colossal amount was wasted on futile chase of Osama and other high profile militant leaders without any success? They should search their hearts and come out with honest opinion whether efforts wasted on dividing and killing Taliban will prove productive and whether it will be desirable to waste time and resources on propping up dead horse of ANA. 

The US strategists must now ponder over the coming withdrawal phase of coalition troops, starting in July 2011, whether it will be a clean break under a Geneva like accord or it will be a running battle, or total airlift of manpower leaving behind all the heavy baggage, tanks, guns, mines, explosives and ordnance. They must contemplate upon northern outlet through Central Asia and southern outlet through Pakistan as to what steps are required to make them safe for supplies as well as rearward road moves. The civil leaders like James Jones, Holbrooke, Eikenberry and others in the meanwhile should also do their homework and stick to their domain rather than poking their noses in military affairs and trying to become military strategists. As a matter of fact it was because of hardnosed Holbrooke's aggressive attitude which gave rise to civil-military tensions. He was behind making Af-Pak policy, which was devised to balkanize Pakistan on Yugoslavian model. He tried to assert his authority in Pakistan but his inflated ego was deflated by Lt Gen Shuja Pasha in April 2009 and ever since he has put on the guise of affability. However, beneath the mask of friendliness, he remains firm in his set goals. 

Michael Hughes has once again refreshed balkanization theme through his recent article appearing in Huffington Post, which is another reminder that hawks within Obama Administration pumped by Israeli and Indian lobbies have not given up their nefarious designs against Pakistan. Hillary has reiterated that Osama is in Pakistan and that any terror attack on USA with connection to Pakistan will have devastating impact on Pak-US relationship. It is rather late in the day to indulge in such tomfoolery. America should concentrate on stabilizing Afghanistan.

—The writer is a defence analyst and writes for national, international newspapers/websites.









Democracy is the buzzword these days. Even the United Nations Secretary General, speaking about the situation in Afghanistan of all places declared himself on the side of democracy. He appeared to indicate that the war in Afghanistan was to establish democracy in that war-torn land. Nearer home, one learnt some time back that the so-called "Friends of Pakistan" had transformed itself into "Friends of Democratic Pakistan", thereby connoting that the – so far non existent – assistance was not to support the country but its self-styled democratic leadership. There you have it in a nutshell, as they say.

Ever since the then US President, George W. Bush, announced in his message to the Iraqi people on the eve of the Iraq invasion that, "We are determined to bring (read: thrust-down-your-collective-throats) democracy to your country", the word "democracy" has become something of a sine qua non in all statements emanating from the West. In effect, in so far as the Western states are concerned, democracy is today a big thing, in fact, the one thing to propagate. By that token, any action by the baddies is instantly projected as "an attack on democracy" and woe unto the people who are on the receiving end! As Americans would say, it is either democracy or bust. It is a different matter altogether what democracy brings in its wake. The frightful upheaval in occupied Palestine after the election victory of Hamas – and that in a free and fair election a la western prototype of democracy - is a case in point. The attitude of the sole super-power and its Western allies, at times, defies imagination. One may well be justified in affirming: either accept democracy, warts and all, or stop thrusting it on one and all. You cannot have it both ways. The western concept of democracy it would appear is founded on what can only be characterized as double standards. 

Our own herd of liberal intellectuals has been weaned on Western propaganda. DEMOCRACY, therefore, is bound to figure among the de rigueur words in their lexicon. In their estimation, any person wishing to be counted among those fit to be counted must needs be an admirer of the Western type of democracy or else. There are no ifs and buts about it. It matters not the least whether or not the person in question has the slightest inkling of what democracy connotes or what, if anything, it is made up of. The name of the game is to hold forth on the subject; the more profound (read: complex) a person's dissertation, the more his or her market value in the globalization-obsessed world of today. Democracy, in a word, is 'in'. 

And now the Land of the Pure is awash with the 'revered' cliché: "democracy is the best revenge", whatever that connotes.What is one to make of democracy, then? Not that one would go to the good old dictionary for a definition since that would be banal in the extreme. Everyone knows how the dictionary would define it: something akin to Lincoln's well-known description of it as "government of the people, by the people, for the people". All this, though, is easier said than done. Defining is the easy part; transplanting the definition on to the field – and a field as slippery as that of the Land of the Pure - is something else. Perhaps the most apt definition came from the pen of philosopher poet Muhammad Iqbal, who defined democracy as a form of government based on the premise that "people are to be counted rather than appraised". The stress in the so-called democratic approach to government, in other words, is on quantity rather than quality. 

People see democracy in different perspectives. Alan Coren once remarked –not inaptly – "Democracy consists of choosing your dictators, after they've told you what you think it is you want to hear". G. K. Chesterton adopted an altogether different approach, when he opined Democracy means government by the uneducated, while aristocracy means government by the badly educated. Fisher Ames was somewhat ambivalent. He said, "Democracy is like a raft. It never sinks, but, damn it, your feet are always in the water'. 

Democracy, of course, is a nice rounded phrase that rolls ever so lightly off the tongue. Perhaps it is because of this that fashionable and fashion-conscious persons frequently make use of this phrase in their casual conversation without even bothering to understand its precise connotation. In fact, if one were to hark back at recent history, one would discover that several people who were projected as having 'struggled for democracy' were, in themselves, never quite clear as to its true connotation. 

One example that can be cited is that of the well-known demonstration in Beijing's Tiananmen Square years ago, that was hailed by the 'free' Western press as a 'pro-democracy movement'. If any one had bothered to scratch the surface, it would have become abundantly clear that hardly anyone taking part in that particular demonstration had the slightest inkling about what 'democracy' was or, indeed, what it stood for. Democracy manifests itself in divers (at times, bizarre) facets. Every so often, the unexpected rears its head. The detractors often deride democracy as 'tyranny of the majority'. Yet it can also happen that a veritable minority can actually triumph in an ostensible democratic dispensation. This is what happened during the first term election of George W. Bush as the president of the United States, when the 'winner' had actually 'lost' on the popular vote count. 

The Westminster type of democracy has peculiarities all its own. The 'first-past-the-post' concept is, at best, deeply flawed. If one does one's sums diligently, it would not be far to seek that this system almost never ensures that the winning party would be the one that polled the most votes. As a matter of fact, it is theoretically possible for a party to win an overwhelming majority of the popular vote and yet end up with a minority of members in parliament! These deviations are enough to shake the purist's faith in democratic institutions, such as they are.

Democracy, thus, is at best an over-rated system of government. Hullabaloo about the 'virtues' of democracy appears to have been blown out of all proportion. The Western propaganda notwithstanding, there is hardly any doubt that a system of government can be only as good, or as bad, as those administering it. Given dedicated, honest and well-meaning leaders, any system worth the name would be workable. On the other hand, if the leadership does not measure up, then no form of government will deliver the goods, whether democratic or otherwise! 

Come to think of it, what matters in the long run is how well a people are governed and not how the government in question came into being. It is governance and the welfare of the common man that deserves top billing, rather than merely the form of government. Good governance, then, is what is - or at least should be - the ultimate touchstone. 







Pakistan's security relationship with the United States has been the subject of considerable controversy from the very beginning. But little it is remembered that it was primarily the result of civilian assessment of security challenges facing Pakistan. The military's role was not known to be the determining factor. 

When we talk of civilian assessment, we do not refer exclusively to political leadership. The bureaucracy that opted for Pakistan had in its ranks men of high calibre and were no less fired by patriotic fervour. Besides their own fields of specialty, they made valuable inputs in meeting overall national challenges.

It was they who literally wrought a miracle by putting in position with an amazing alacrity as a functioning State machinery in the anarchical conditions that prevailed a consequence of widespread communal massacres and mass migration of populations at the time of independence. 

It is known that Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was first invited for a visit by the Soviet Union but he stayed put. An American invitation followed, which he readily accepted and visited the United States. He has been upbraided for this as if the Soviet embrace would have made milk and honey flow for Pakistan. 

It is not appreciated that the raison d' etre on which Pakistan came into being was diametrically opposed to the godless ideology of Communism. Any closeness to the Soviet Union at that early stage, when its evangelist drive to spread communism was most robust, could not remain confined to normal inter-State relations. Its fall-out on Pakistan's orientation could neither be ruled out nor countenanced. 


It was in May/June 1952 that Governor General Ghulam Mohammad, after suffering a stroke, came to Quetta for convalescence and recovery and stayed in the newly-built Central Circuit House. I was at that time posted in Quetta as news representative of Radio Pakistan.

To keep the Governor General in good humour, light functions were arranged for him both in Quetta and at outstations. But the most important engagement arranged for him, most probably desired by him, was an address at the Command and Staff College, Quetta, which, since before independence had been a prestigious institution of training for senior military officers. Officers from friendly countries also come to attend its courses. Twice the address was scheduled but had to be cancelled at the last minute because of the Governor General's indisposition. This created a rather unsavoury impression among the people, who started saying that if his health did not permit it, why schedule it all and then face embarrassment of cancellation. But a third time he made it. 

The hall was packed to capacity and only two newsmen, myself as Radio news representative and the late Mohammad Rafique Piracha of APP, were admitted to the function. His smart military Secretary, Col Hamid Nawaz, assisted him a step or two to the rostrum but when he tried to place a glass of water beside him, he made him take it away with a visibly petulant wave of his hand. He had that temper and his illness only aggravated it. But what followed literally stunned his audience. As he began speaking, he appeared a completely transformed person. He did not lisp even once during his about an hour address. He was fluent, articulate, and coherent throughout. And though a man of finance, his analysis of security challenges to Pakistan, which formed the core of his talk, was masterly. 

Naturally, he concentrated on India's spree of aggression against one state after another since independence, in particular its invasion and occupation of Kashmir. He highlighted India's undisguised hegemonic designs and their threat to the integrity of Pakistan. He said given India's size and resources, Pakistan was not in a position to meet any aggressive Indian advantage all by itself. It must align itself with a great power for its security. That is the only way to safeguard its integrity. But he did not name any great power though there was no mistaking about it.

He deprecated woolly thinking on the part of certain political elements, including some sitting in the Government, whose perception of ground realities had become warped due first, to taken for granted Muslim world support and, secondly, of its capacity to bail out Pakistan in the event of Indian aggression. He pooh-poohed the entire approach by saying that he had been to several Muslim countries and knew only too well their

potential and capacity to come to the rescue of Pakistan. 

Towards the fag-end of his address, he talked approvingly of a book he had recently read on the restructuring of the military establishment and advocated its adoption in Pakistan, replacing Commander-in-Chief for every service with a Chief of Staff and on top a Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, which we now have.

With the address over, we as newsmen were in for a great disappointment because we were told not to report it at all. It is in this piece that the veil is being lifted for the first time from that top level civilian thinking about the security challenges to Pakistan and the way to meet them. What Ghulam Mohammad said about the position of the Muslim countries was repeated in a more colourful but controversial expression by Prime Minister Suhrawardy four years later at a public meeting in Dhaka.—To be concluded.








Why are the Americans so flabbergasted by the botch up of the Allied Forces performance in Afghanistan? Are they shocked because civilians, children, women are being killed? Or that CIA had expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan?. Or that these units launch ambushes, order airstrikes and conduct night raids?. Or that from 2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan's spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary? I mean, excuse me. The botch up and misrepresentation was generally known, though of course not the specific incidents.

Nine years is a long time for a war . Any war. Spending $300 billion of US taxpayer's money and having nothing to show for it must have gone off like a bomb for the unsuspecting Americans. Much has been written and shall continue to be written on the WIKI LEAK. WikiLeaks, an online whistle-blower, has released the 'Afghan War Diary', a set of over 91,000 leaked US military reports from 2004-2009. Some 75,000 reports have been released online. There has not been any 'surprise' in the official US circles. US National Security Advisor General James Jones said that the US "strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information...which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk" but the leaks "will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan". Meanwhile, Pakistan's Foreign Office said the leaked reports were not based on facts and "do not reflect the current on-ground realities".

But I will turn to three basic questions here. One, the fact, that the US and NATO forces floundering in USA was well known. It was no secret. Killings of civilians in Afghanistan was pretty much known. Papers are full of stories of how . Just to quote a few examples here; NYT 12th April 2010 ," American troops raked a large passenger bus with gunfire near Kandahar on Monday morning, killing and wounding civilians, and igniting angry anti-American demonstrations in a city where winning over Afghan support is pivotal to the war effort." Derrick Crowe, on April 4th 2010, posted on his site: FDL: The Seminal : "A thorough joint investigation into the events that occurred in the Gardez district of Paktiya Province Feb. 12, has determined that international forces were responsible for the deaths of three women who were in the same compound where two men were killed by the joint Afghan-international patrol searching for a Taliban insurgent.

The two men, who were later determined not to be insurgents, were shot and killed by the joint patrol after they showed what appeared to be hostile intent by being armed. While investigators could not conclusively determine how or when the women died, due to lack of forensic evidence, they concluded that the women were accidentally killed as a result of the joint force firing at the men". 

The point, I hope, established is that news of continuing ongoing criminal incidents was repeatedly reported. Why was it not heeded by those who should have heeded it? Two, Obama did not start this war. But someone, along the line has to be made responsible, in all honesty, and not as a scapegoat , for the official misrepresentation of the war. Three, Pakistan has been an ally to USA in this war and has suffered greatly. It has everything to lose by continued instability in Afghanistan and everything to gain by stability in Afghanistan. Pakistan gains nothing by prolonging the war or running a counter policy of her own. Saeed Quraishi, a political commentator, states," As matter of fact, ISI had deep and close connections with Taliban and others since the time when both were waging a war against the Soviet Union army in Afghanistan .That connection was blessed, approved, and utilized by the American spy agencies then.

However, the connections if these still exist should be a blessing in disguise for NATO and America because this might give them a way-out to bring about some understanding with the Taliban. That is the only hope for the occupation forces to exit honorably." It is also intriguing that for six years the information was sitting there and after six years, it was released now. Afghan war was a failure from the start. Historically speaking, no invader has won against Afghanistan on her home ground. Let us acknowledge a failed war. That's what Afghanistan has been. Always.

—The writer is a Lahore-based lawyer.








Barack Obama the other day claimed that the disclosures about mishandling of the Afghanistan war contained in leaked US military documents justified his decision to embark on a new strategy. Obama, speaking from the Rose Garden after a meeting with congressional leaders to discuss funding for the war and other issues, deplored the leak, saying he was concerned the information from the battleground "could potentially jeopardise individuals or operations".

His first public comment on the leaks came as the US army announced a criminal investigation into their source. Obama chose to play down the leaks' significance, saying: "These documents don't reveal any issues that haven't already informed our public debate on Afghanistan." But he went on to say the material highlighted the challenges that led him to announce a change in strategy late last year that involved sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. The policy is due to be reviewed in December.

The thousands of documents, sent to the website Wikileaks and published in The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel, dealt mainly with the conduct of the war during the Bush administration. Obama has repeatedly accused the Bush administration of ignoring the Afghanistan war because of its focus on Iraq. "We failed for seven years to implement a strategy adequate to the challenge," Obama said today, of the period starting with the 9/11 attacks. That is why we have increased our commitment there and developed a new strategy," he said, adding he has also sent one of the finest generals in the US, General David Petraeus.

Insisting that the strategy "can work", he ended with a plea to the House of Representatives to join the Senate in passing a bill to provide funds for the Afghan war as a matter of urgency. The leaks have focused attention on Afghanistan at a time when the Obama administration would rather concentrate on the economy – the main issue among voters – and have put pressure on him to explain why he thinks his new strategy will succeed where the old one failed. He is also facing pressure to explain continued financial, military and other support for Pakistan, despite allegations in the documents that elements in Pakistani intelligence are supporting the Taliban.

Members of Congress are becoming increasingly sceptical in public about the conduct of the war, and public support is falling. According to the latest Reuters/Ipsos, satisfaction with Obama's handling of the war has dropped to 33%, from 38% in January and 47% in February last year. The US army is leading a criminal investigation into the source of the leak, the Pentagon said today. The army's criminal investigative command is the same body that investigated and arrested Bradley Manning, the US intelligence analyst charged earlier this month with leaking a video and other material relating to the Iraq war. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said he was appalled by the leaks, telling reporters "there is a real potential threat there to put American lives at risk."

As well as discussing the war funding bill, Afghanistan was being talked about elsewhere in Congress. The Senate foreign relations committee held a hearing on potential talks with Afghan insurgents and a Senate armed services committee held a confirmation hearing on General James Mattis, who is set to replace Petraeus as head of Centcom. Mattis, who will have overall responsibility for the US military in the Middle East and Afghanistan, was reprimanded in 2005 for saying: "You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway, so it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them." — The Guardian








THE Coalition has returned to its roots as the party of small business by outbidding Labor on corporate tax for this sector. The difference is marginal -- but in an election campaign where spending and promises are few, Tony Abbott has made the most of a 1.5 per cent cut. The Business Council of Australia points out this must be just the start of real tax reform but, coming on the same day as a better than expected CPI figure, the Coalition's move is welcome.


Mr Abbott has effectively neutralised the issue: Labor offers a 29 per cent rate for all businesses from July 1, 2013; the Coalition 28.5 per cent. The Coalition will still tax big business an extra 1.7 per cent to fund parental leave, lifting the effective rate for these companies to 30.2 per cent, but small business wins. As well, Labor's scare campaign about the "Coles and Woolies" parental leave tax adding to inflation has been blunted.


These are token movements on tax from both sides but there is some optimism that our politicians understand that economic reform is never complete and more tax reform is essential. There can be no room for complacency, even though the economy is in such a positive position. Good times do not last forever. The best way to head off global threats such as a double-dip recession; sovereign debt problems; and China reducing imports of our resources, is to engage in deep, structural reform to create a flexible, robust economy here.


A first step must be to learn the lessons of the past, especially the mistakes made in the global financial crisis. How much better placed we would have been to lock in the benefits of the resources boom if only Labor had not rushed down the Keynesian route of poorly targeted spending. Our politicians need to take a good look at what really saved us last year, rather than trying (as some of the commentariat did this week) to enlist economists such as Joseph Stiglitz in justifying the $52 billion stimulus package.


It is increasingly clear the stimulus was wrong in its quantum, its timing and its direction. The two consumer "cash splashes" in late 2008 and early last year helped protect retailers and jobs, but many of the billions spent on school halls, pink batts and public housing was driven by a Labor government that, after almost 12 years out of power, was determined to grab hold of the levers and spend and build. In these pages yesterday, Griffith University economics professor Tony Makin wrote that the best explanation of why Australia avoided a technical recession was loosening of monetary policy and an exchange rate depreciation -- in other words, the floating dollar, not the fiscal stimulus. Indeed, most of the stimulus was spent after it became clear last October, that a recession had been avoided.


This newspaper has never been opposed to spending on public infrastructure. Indeed, we have called on government for years to address bottlenecks in transport, ports and other areas which threaten growth. But the stimulus money was thrown at the economy without adequate planning and rigour, resulting in scandalous waste. We acknowledge the under- investment in schools but the Building the Education Revolution money should have been spent where it was was really needed, not on shovel-ready projects driven by short-term politics. By promising money to every school, the Rudd government locked itself into a political disaster, unable to pull back because it feared a voter backlash.


It is for these reasons that Professor Stiglitz was so wrong on The 7.30 Report when he said the stimulus was "one of the best designed of all the industrial countries". In contrast, economic historian Niall Ferguson says the stimulus, the third-biggest in the world, was an overreaction and that we spent too much, instead of cutting and rationalising taxes. John Howard would agree: the former prime minister has long argued that cutting payroll tax would have been the most effective way to stimulate the economy.


Politicians on both sides should take note. This is no arcane argument about why we weathered the storm. It is only by understanding what really happened in the GFC, that we will avoid repeating the mistakes next time.







JULIA Gillard showed spirited resilience yesterday, turning the disruption caused by a damaging cabinet leak into a demonstration of her commitment to fiscal discipline. The Prime Minister argued convincingly that she had queried cabinet proposals for paid parental leave and a hefty pension rise because she was concerned about the cost, not out of political motives. It is a side of Ms Gillard we would like to see more of as the campaign unfolds.

Unfortunately, Rudd government ministers asserted the benefits of fiscal discipline over populism all too rarely.

Had they done so, they would almost certainly have been brushed aside. As Ms Gillard said yesterday, $50 billion over 10 years for paid parental leave and pension rises was a lot of taxpayers' money. It does, however, beg the question why Ms Gillard was not equally vigilant in assessing the disastrous ceiling batts scheme and the wasteful excesses of the Building the Education Revolution stimulus, for which she was responsible.


In an era when politicians on both sides succumb regularly to the temptation of promising too much and the lazy politics of buying off the support of various constituencies, it was refreshing to hear the Prime Minister admit that government is about making tough choices from which there will be losers as well as winners. It is a principle Ms Gillard should keep at the top of her mind if she is to avoid being seduced by low-level political stunts like the "cash for clunkers" she announced last weekend. Voters recognise an electoral bribe when they see one, and few will be fooled by the thin layer of green rhetoric. Those in the market for a new car will be happy to take the cash, but the net effect will be to erode the government's environmental and economic credentials.


A damaging cabinet leak at such a delicate moment in the political cycle will have shaken Ms Gillard's nerve but she has no reason to be embarrassed about demonstrating rigorous fiscal discipline towards the ever-encroaching middle-class welfare state. At the end of the Menzies era, just 1 per cent of gross domestic product was spent on what the Australian Bureau of Statistics defines as "family and child benefits". By the end of the Whitlam era in 1975, such handouts accounted for 1.5 per cent of GDP and by 2004, under John Howard, for 2.9 per cent of GDP. The Rudd government did nothing to reform the problem. But at a time when Labor is trailing on the criteria of economic management in Newspoll, Ms Gillard would enhance her credibility by outlining firm plans to overhaul and simplify the complexities of tax and welfare churn.


Tuesday night's leak appeared calculated to hurt Ms Gillard among women voters. It drew fresh attention to the fact that the Coalition's proposed parental leave scheme is far more generous than that of the government -- six months' leave at the mother's own salary, funded, at least initially, by a levy on big business, in contrast to 18 weeks at the minimum wage, funded by taxpayers. As an experienced politician, Mr Abbott will understand how to capitalise on the leak and press the advantage, especially among women who regard the government's scheme as inadequate.


He would also sense that while his support is weaker among women than men, there is potential for him to turn that disadvantage into a positive. Correctly, Mr Abbott insists that the campaign is about the leaders' policies and competence to govern rather than their family status and gender. In bringing his wife, Margie, and his daughters on to the campaign trail, as he is entitled to do, Mr Abbott, without raising comparisons, has underlined the stark contrast between his own family life and Ms Gillard's relationships over the past 20 years. Most voters in prosperous city seats will disregard such factors. In outer-metropolitan and regional seats, however, Coalition strategists will hope that socially conservative voters, who switched from Labor to One Nation in the 1990s, then to John Howard and back to Kevin Rudd in 2007, will identify more with Mr Abbott's family values than with Ms Gillard's lifestyle and again switch their allegiance.


Ms Gillard has every reason to be angry about what appeared to be a calculated cabinet leak but her adroit handling of the issue showed her strength under pressure. The electorate, which is still getting to know her and what she stands for, needs more of what they saw yesterday -- not scripted, finely spun lines and slogans, but candid responses to difficult issues. In the final weeks of the campaign it is up to her to reveal how fiscal discipline would underpin her leadership in government.








DICK Smith is a great Australian, but he is wrong on population. The entrepreneur and adventurer is also mistaken about what he sees as a homogeneous line from News Limited. supporting a "big Australia". In an advertisement in this newspaper yesterday, Mr Smith warned readers off articles and editorials in what he termed "the Murdoch media". Yet we are unaware that other outlets in our group have bought into the debate.


We are flattered Mr Smith finds us so influential, but with Labor, the Coalition, the Greens, the ABC and Fairfax all on his side, we wonder why he's worried about a single dissenting voice in The Australian. Mr Smith is correct that we unashamedly back economic growth. Our first issue in 1964 made that plain when we said our guide would be "faith in Australia and the country's future". That belief has driven our commitment to immigration and growth since.


Mr Smith takes a different view from us on globalisation and trade, with his protectionist "buy Australian" campaign an example of his stance. He argues we will run out of food and water if we don't cut our numbers and he has a documentary on the issue screening soon on the ABC. Mr Smith is usually not shy about calling us for free promotion. We can only be grateful that this time he's opted to pay.









JULIA GILLARD is angry. And with good reason. The Prime Minister's brand name and her political reputation, still glittering at the beginning of the year, have been tarnished by a string of setbacks which have continued with barely time to enjoy the glow of becoming the first woman to attain the office of Prime Minister of Australia.


So soon after her historic elevation she is being undermined by someone leaking against her from within cabinet or the tight circles privy to its discussions. The leaks are designed to portray her as a creature of the Labor machine, a politician driven by opinion polls, factions, focus groups and spin, with a primary focus on power over principle.


The most damaging claim to come out of the cabinet leaks - and the betrayed former prime minister Kevin Rudd has denied he is the source of the rumours - is that she actively opposed the introduction of a maternity leave scheme as something ''politically correct'' that would not increase support for Labor. In her spirited response yesterday, the Prime Minister said she had merely asked hard questions about the cost and affirmed she was not ''a soft touch'' for massive spending programs.


Gillard will have to work harder at this approach. She has to convince voters that the excesses of the grandiosely named Building the Education Revolution, for which she had direct ministerial responsibility, will not be the hallmark of a Gillard prime ministership across the entire budget. She is helped, though, by an opposition leader ready to adopt big spending policies and tax increases without consulting his colleagues, if Tony Abbott's paid maternity leave scheme is a guide.


Whether it's Angry Julia or Simpering Julia, her campaign is notable for its lack of vision or engagement with big issues, beyond platitudes derived from focus groups. We would not expect any grandiosity from Abbott, a man of the status quo ante, but his parental leave idea shows a mind ready to play around with ideas of redistribution, empowerment and opportunity within a conservative context.


The collection of short essays in the Herald yesterday gave us an idea of what this election could be about if the leaders left the image-builders and focus groups behind. They could look through the mostly shelved Henry report for ways to spread wealth and opportunity from big resource enterprises to the general population, or to put more incentives for savings and work into the tax system. They could provide more ideas for lifting indigenous communities, revitalising rivers, engaging with the rising Asia, improving equity and creativity in education. Instead we have strong leaders who will not let any leadership show.



FULL marks to the students of the Monte Sant' Angelo Mercy College in North Sydney for their initiative in getting sales of bottled water banned from their campus. They now revert to the time-honoured method of liquid refreshment: the bubbler in the playground or the tap to refill sturdier bottles designed for reuse.

This comes a year or so after the town of Bundanoon became possibly the first community in the world to apply such a ban, with no evident problems of dehydration noticed among its citizens. Several municipalities across Sydney, while not banning bottled water sales, have at least installed more bubblers.


The cult of the water bottle is one of the more puzzling phenomena in modern society. Bottled water, purified of harmful organisms and minerals by osmosis and ultraviolet light, makes sense for travellers in countries without safe reticulated water. But why, in countries like Australia, pay good money for water that is much the same colourless, odourless, and tasteless stuff as that flowing from taps for almost nothing? We spend about $525 million a year on bottled water, much of it by young women convinced it is a healthy thing to do.


Of course, drinking lots of water is healthy, and standing around at a party with a bottle bearing the label of an exotic natural spring is healthier than sipping from a glass of an alcoholic beverage or sugar-laden soft drink. The problem is not so much the content as the packaging.


The school's ban comes just after the trans-Pacific voyage of the Plastiki, a yacht made from 12,500 empty water bottles, that was aimed at raising awareness of just how serious is the problem of plastic litter by sailing across what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge vortex of human debris and plastic particles.


Plastic, mostly the thin bags used in shops or throwaway bottles, accounted for about 80 per cent of all the rubbish in several seas studied recently by the United Nations environmental program. This survey found plastic debris breaking down into ever smaller pieces that are mistaken for food by fish and other marine life, accumulating toxic compounds in the food chain. Plastic causes the death of tens of thousands of seabirds and marine mammals, too. We - that is, the world - produce more than 200 million tonnes a year of the stuff. Wisdom flows with the drinking fountains of youth.








A STRANGE thing happened in Labor's election campaign yesterday. Prime Minister Julia Gillard came out fighting in response to a leaked news story - and told Australians what she really thought.


The Nine network's Laurie Oakes, citing a Labor source, had reported the night before that in the Rudd cabinet Ms Gillard had argued against paid parental leave and a pension increase, saying: ''Old people never vote for us.'' Yesterday the Prime Minister denied making such a remark, but did not reject the substance of Oakes's report. Instead, she insisted her concern had been whether the increased payments were affordable. ''I wouldn't have put this country in a position where we increase the pension and then have to increase taxes,'' she said.


Those with long political memories may note that this would once have been considered an odd view for a Labor politician. Labor used to stand for a strong social safety net, paid for by increased taxes if necessary, provided the tax burden was spread fairly. But now the ALP is hesitant even in defending new taxes imposed on those who have not been paying their share, as the government's partial retreat on the mining profits tax shows. Nonetheless, yesterday Ms Gillard argued a case based on principles, and sounded very different to the pragmatist Prime Minister who has hitherto devoted her attention - with limited success - to clearing obstacles to Labor's re-election prospects.


Opinion polls continue to favour the government, but for how long? It is difficult to give a positive assessment of Ms Gillard's pronouncements on climate change or asylum seekers or population, or on the supposedly resolved mining tax. Faced with a leak that raised serious questions about whether some in Labor's ranks are more concerned with undermining her leadership than with securing a second term for the government, Ms Gillard argued vigorously and to the point. In doing so she may have disarmed potential criticism about whether she really supports a pension high enough to allow older Australians to live decently, or paid parental leave that makes it easier to balance the demands of family and career. Whether she also disarmed resistance to her among her Labor colleagues is another matter. Her campaign has been damaged. Her leadership has been called into question.


It is evident that not everyone in the ALP approves of Ms Gillard's ousting of Kevin Rudd as prime minister. And, whether or not Mr Rudd is the source of the information leaked to Laurie Oakes - as many believe, but Mr Rudd denies - it is also evident that at least one party insider is trying to undermine the new leader. The leak that sent Ms Gillard so swiftly into damage-control mode yesterday was not the first of which Oakes has been the beneficiary since she became prime minister.


Internecine conflict is hardly a novelty in the Labor Party, which has split three times in its history and each time been consigned to a lengthy spell in the electoral wilderness in consequence. But each of those splits arose from a fundamental ideological cleavage between left and right, and the last and most damaging of them, that of 1955, was triggered when the party was in opposition. Divisions in the modern ALP, in contrast, are almost devoid of ideological content despite the persistence of the ''left'' and ''right'' labels and their use by organised factions. And, with Labor in government and seeking a renewal of its mandate, why would a party so keenly aware of its history have allowed the latest round of rivalries to become so damaging?


The irony is that in times when politics was more strongly about the clash of ideas and beliefs than it is now (please, bring back those days), calls for party unity would have carried greater weight. When politics is reduced to the gaining and maintaining of power, however, the notion of being loyal to something larger than oneself begins to fade.


Source: The Age







A 31-YEAR delay in bringing any Khmer Rouge leader to justice meant up to 2 million victims of the Cambodian genocide were very nearly denied justice. Vietnamese forces ousted the regime in 1979 after four years in which as many as one in four Cambodians was executed, starved or worked to death, but not until 1997 did the government bow to pressure to begin the work of bringing those responsible to justice. This week, a United Nations-backed tribunal recorded the first conviction of a senior Khmer Rouge figure, sentencing Kaing Guek Eav, known as Comrade Duch, to 35 years in jail. He ran the Tuol Sleng prison where up to 14,000 people were tortured before being executed; only a dozen survived.


Duch, 67, will serve 19 years with remissions for time served and a period of illegal detention, but time is running out for bringing to justice those whose monstrous orders he followed. Pol Pot, the ''Brother Number One'' who led the genocidal return to Year Zero, died in 1998. His security chief, Son Sen, was killed on Pol Pot's orders in 1997. Duch's conviction paves the way for the trial of the four most senior surviving Khmer Rouge leaders. He could be a key witness against the four, who were arrested in 2007 and are aged 78 to 85.


Their prosecution has been complicated by political interference by the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge member - although he is not suspected of atrocities - to whom they surrendered in the mid to late 1990s. The ages of the accused and a lack of funding for the tribunal have aroused fears that the trial will not be completed.


None of this detracts from the significance of what the tribunal has achieved with its first case. As with the Nuremberg trials, the main architect of evil has escaped justice. Yet, in ''case one'', the tribunal heard from many witnesses, tested all the evidence and made incontrovertible findings of fact about Duch's role and his place in the Khmer Rouge policy of eliminating all ''enemies'' of its revolutionary return to an agrarian society.


Millions of Cambodians - three out of four are too young to remember the genocide - watched live broadcasts of the trial. Duch is the only senior Khmer Rouge figure to publicly acknowledge his crimes. His trial ensures there can be no rewriting or whitewashing of history, as some of Cambodia's leaders might wish to this day. This evil happened. It cannot be denied. It is documented and proven by the standards of justice. Many individuals may avoid punishment, but they have not escaped this defining verdict on the Khmer Rouge and its killing fields.


Source: The Age