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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month october 18, edition 000654, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
- TWIST TO HEADLEY SAGA
- INTEGRAL TO CULTURE
- CALLOW AND UNRELIABLE - JOGINDER SINGH
- DEDICATED TO SELFLESS SERVICE - RAM LAL
- ELITE'S DISDAIN FOR LOCAL CUSTOM AND FAITH - DEEP K DATTA-RAY
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- IT'S COMMON WEALTH
- STOP THE SENA
- MOFUSSIL INDIA SHINING - SIDDHARTH BHATIA
- 'CHANDRA COULD WRAP HIMSELF UP IN NUMBERS AND SYMBOLS'
- REDIAL MODE - SUMITA MISRA
- DON'T OVERSTEP THE MINE LINE
- THE AUSSIE SPIN CYCLE
- PUTTING THE HOUSE IN DISORDER - MISSION IMPLAUSIBLE
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- BOOK A PLACE
- BLACK GOLD
- ACRES OF THEIR OWN
- NABARD TURNS OVER A NEW LEAF - YOGINDER K. ALAGH
- SPORTING LESSONS - BIBEK DEBROY
- LAYING OUT THE RED CARPET - INDER MALHOTRA
- THE 'BEIJING MODEL' HAS FAILED - THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
- OVER TEA IN KABUL
- "WE WOULD WANT INDIA TO ASSUME A STILL MORE ACTIVE ROLE IN
- INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS, AND TO TAKE EVEN MORE RESPONSIBILITY" - PRANAB DHAL SAMANTA
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- MFIS VS MONEYLENDERS
- THAT BSNL FEELING
- INDIA'S ANTIQUATED FORCES - DEBA R MOHANTY
- INDIA'S YOUTH HAVE MOVED ON - SHAILESH DOBHAL
- KITTEN SWEAT
- BEYOND RESETTLEMENT
- FIGHTING HUNGER
- THE NARCISSISM OF THE NEUROTIC - P. SAINATH
- VACCINE PROBE EXPOSES FLAWED APPRECIATION
- THE TAMILS ARE COMING ON BOARD' - S. VENKAT NARAYAN
- THE ASIAN AGE
- EPFO CAN INVEST IN EQUITY WITH CARE
- TIME TO NAME, SHAME
- SRI LANKA'S 3-LANGUAGE PLAN IS A GOOD START
- WHY IS TATA FUNDING A HARVARD?
- AND NOW, IT'S TIME FOR THE COMMONWEALTH INQUISITION
- YOU CAN ACHIEVE ANYTHING YOU WANT - ROBIN SHARMA
- IS LIFE A LESSER PUNISHMENT THAN DEATH? - ABHAY VAIDYA
- JUNIOR THACKERAY'S FIRST FORAY IN POLITICS IS MORE OF THE SAME - ANIL DHARKER
- FIX A NORM
- CHINA 'S GAME PLAN
- KALABAGH AGAININ AND AROUND J&K - BY D. SUBA CHANDRAN
- RELEASE POOR FROM BPL TRADEMARK
- REALITY OF CYBER WARFARE - BY LT. GEN. ( RTD.) DAULAT SINGH
- PROBE THE 'MURKY GAME'
- DECIPHERING CHINESE INTENT
- GOVT VS COURT IN PAKISTAN
- THE KARNATAKA CRISIS - BY KULDIP NAYAR
- 'YES, WE'RE OPEN' - BY RAJNISH WATTAS
- JERUSALEM SETTLEMENT CLOUDS PEACE INITIATIVE - DONALD MACINTYRE
- CRUMBLING AMERICA HAS A $2.2 TRILLION REPAIR BILL - RUPERT CORNWELL
- MUSEUM STUDIES SOCIETY THAT CREATED HITLER - STEPHEN BROWN
- GAMES OVER, LET THE PROBE BEGIN
- INFLATION AND APPRECIATION
- HEADS MUST ROLL
- IMPORTANCE OF SHUNGLU - SANJAYA BARU
- ON THE EAST ASIAN DANCE FLOOR - NITIN PAI
- CLASH OF CURRENCIES - A V RAJWADE
- THE TALE OF OUR CITIES - VINAYAK CHATTERJEE
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- MFIS YES, COERCION NO
- DEVELOPMENT OR IDENTITY?
- GAME FOR MORE
- DEALING WITH A DELUGE OF CAPITAL - HEMANT MISHR
- 'PACKAGING KEY TO PRODUCT MANUFACTURE' - SMITHAVENKATESWARAN
- DON'T WAIT FOR PANIC TO STRIKE - MYTHILI BHUSNURMATH
- MANIFESTATIONS OF HARMONY WITHIN - K VIJAYARAGHAVAN
- CONSTITUTIONAL MONARCH
- THE DANGERS OF CODEINE OUTWEIGH THE BENEFITS - STEVE CONNOR
- DRAG TEAM
- GOLD STATE
- FUTURE OF THE PERIPHERY - M J AKBAR
- JAPAN GOES FROM DYNAMIC TO DISHEARTENED - BY MARTIN FACKLER, NYT
- A CELEBRATION OF LIFE - BY GAYATHRI NIRANJAN
THE JERUSALEM POST
- PRO-LIFE JUDAISM
- REALITY CHECK: A NEW WAY FOR LABOR? - BY JEFF BARAK
- THE REGION: JIHAD IS THE ANSWER - BY BARRY RUBIN
- PERVERTING PUBLIC DISCOURSE - BY DANIEL DORON
- A SURVEY TO DENY A PROBLEM - BY ROBIN STOLLER AND ALEJANDRO BAER
- DO THE ARABS WANT PEACE? - BY MUDAR ZAHRAN
- BUILDING TO DESTROY THE PEACE PROCESS
- WEST OF THE 'AUSCHWITZ BORDERS' - BY AKIVA ELDAR
- THE HOUSEKEEPER IN THE TOWER - BY ZE'EV SEGAL
- A POVERTY TRAP IN THE GALILEE - BY SHAHAR ILAN
- DEBASING A FOUNDATIONAL IDEA - BY MICHAEL HERZOG
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- IN CLIMATE DENIAL, AGAIN
- STEALTH MONEY
- DEATH, DNA AND THE SUPREME COURT
- FOR A SUBURBAN TEA PARTY, ANGER IS ALL THE RAGE - BY LAWRENCE DOWNES
- RARE AND FOOLISH - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- THE WARS THAT AMERICA FORGOT ABOUT - BY TOM BROKAW
- FOR OUR CHINA TRADE EMERGENCY, DIAL SECTION 301 - BY SHERROD BROWN
- OUR VIEW ON SOCIAL SECURITY: DO A FAVOR FOR THE GRANDKIDS AND DON'T GIVE SENIORS A RAISE
- OPPOSING VIEW ON SOCIAL SECURITY: SENIORS NEED RELIEF TO KEEP UP - BY NANCY LEAMOND
- WE WORSHIP THE GOD OF SECURITY - BY HENRY G. BRINTON
TIMES FREE PRESS
- IN DISTRICT 28, TOMMIE BROWN
- DEADLY VIRUS IS ERADICATED
- THRIFTY JACKSON COUNTY, ALA.
- ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL GOVERNMENT
- TAXPAYERS ON THE HOOK AGAIN
- HONORING DICTATOR STALIN?
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
- FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - A 'RADIKAL' CHANGE FOR THE BETTER
- IMPROVING ECONOMIC RELATIONS WITH CHINA IS NO EASY ENDEAVOR - BARÇIN YİNANÇ
- RADICAL VIEWS FROM THE STREET - EMRE DELİVELİ
- TURKEY UNDER THE AKP: NEITHER A EUROPEAN NOR REGIONAL POWER (III) - SONER ÇAĞAPTAY
- LOWERING THE ELECTION THRESHOLD IS A DEMOCRATIC TEST - SEDAT ERGİN
- THE 'GENOCIDE' THORN IN US-TURKEY RELATIONS - C. CEM OĞUZ
- CYPRUS CONCLAVE - YUSUF KANLI
- VISIONS AND ILLUSIONS OF A NEW EUROPEAN SECURITY ORDER - GÜLNUR AYBET
- OUR OWN FEET
- AID PROCESS
- LIFE IS NOT A VIDEO GAME AIJAZ AFAQUI
- IMPROVING PRIMARY EDUCATION - SAMAD KHURRAM
- DEMOCRACY AND DICTATORSHIP - DR A Q KHAN
- A MIRACLE OF HOPE - SHABNAM RIAZ
- UNCONSTITUTIONAL - ASIF EZDI
- LET THE JUDICIARY DELIVER IN PEACE
- WORLD URGES PAK FOR ECONOMIC REFORMS
- KILLINGS BY US SOLDIERS FOR FUN
- TIME TO WAKE-UP - M ASHRAF MIRZA
- TALKS WITH TALIBAN: THE ONLY OPTION - DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN
- INDIAN ASPIRATION FOR PERMANENT UNSC SEAT - MAMOONA ALI KAZMI
- KASHMIR'S AUTUMN OF DISCONTENT - SHERRY REHMAN
- OBAMA'S FOREIGN POLICY - DAVID IGNATIUS
- MARATHON SERIES FITTED THE BILL
- PINK BATTS DEBACLE TEACHES GOVERNMENT COSTLY LESSONS
- CHALLENGES OF THE 'BABY BUST'
- LEGAL AID: NO ACCESS. NO JUSTICE
- SCOTLAND: THE SAME BUT VERY DIFFERENT
- CHARACTERISTICALLY COMBATIVE STYLE
- IN PRAISE OF DH LAWRENCE
THE JAPAN TIMES
- JAPAN'S STINGY APPROACH TO SCHOOLS HAS NOT PAID OFF - BY TAKAMITSU SAWA
- CIRRUS CLOUD-GAZERS MAY LEARN A THING OR TWO ABOUT EARTH'S FATE - BY MICHAEL RICHARDSON
- ART OF DISSUADING CAR THIEVES IN NEW YORK - BY CESAR CHELALA
- MEASURE OF A HEALTHY PLANET
THE JAKARTA POST
- NOODLES OR RICE FOR DINNER AGAIN?
- WHY THUGGERY IS RAMPANT - ANITA RETNO LESTARI PATI
- FINANCING GROWTH IN A GLOBALIZED ECONOMY - ANANDH R. HARIDH
- THE BALANCE BETWEEN RESPONSIBILITY AND NATIONALISM SUDRAJAT
TWIST TO HEADLEY SAGA
DID FBI SUPPRESS CRUCIAL INFORMATION?
The strange and gripping story of Chicago-based Lashkar-e-Tayyeba operative David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American born Daood Gilani, continues to take intriguing twists and turns. It is now known that three years before the ISI-sponsored, LeT-executed fidayeen attack on Mumbai in November 2008, in whose planning Headley had played a significant role, the Pakistani-American jihadi's wife had lodged a complaint with the FBI, telling the agency that her husband was an active terrorist who had received training in Pakistan. The damning information was provided by her to the FBI over three separate interviews. In keeping with the beliefs and practices of Islamists and jihadis, Headley was a wife-beater who would routinely assault his spouse. She decided to leave him after discovering that he had married another woman in Pakistan. It was then that she disclosed details about Headley's activities to the FBI which should have not only raised hackles but also resulted in immediate action against a dangerous cold-blooded trans-national mass murderer. Among the details provided by Headley's wife to the FBI were facts that left little to the imagination. She had shown FBI agents Headley's cache of Islamist propaganda material, including audio cassettes and printed literature espousing terrorism. She provided the FBI agents with details of e-mails received and sent by him and telephone calls from Pakistan. Headley, apparently, was shopping for material that he would later use during his visits to India to identify targets for LeT attacks. Interestingly, Headley is said to have bragged to his wife and associates that he was a paid agent of the Americans as well as a terrorist trained in Pakistan. The accuracy of the details brought to light by the American media over the weekend need not be doubted; all of it is recorded in court documents and none of it has been denied by the FBI.
It is an established fact that Headley, who had been arrested on charges of drug-trafficking, had struck a deal with the FBI to escape punishment. Apparently he had agreed to provide vital information to the DEA about the Pakistani network involved with smuggling drugs into the US. That did make him an American agent of sorts, paid and protected by the official agencies of the US. What is not known is whether he did provide the Americans with actionable evidence against fellow-drug smugglers. At the same time, it is obvious that even while 'collaborating' with the US agencies, Headley was also acting in collusion with the ISI and the LeT and had set up the terrorist organisation's Chicago cell. The latest revelations once again raise a question that the Americans have sidestepped ever since the Headley saga became public knowledge following his arrest nearly a year after 26/11 when British intelligence agencies confronted their American counterparts with evidence to show he was involved with planning terrorist strikes in Europe. It is anybody's guess as to whether the FBI would have acted had not the British agencies forced its hands. Which brings us to the question: Did the Americans know all along about Mumbai but chose to keep silent?
INTEGRAL TO CULTURE
DON'T LET INDIA'S LANGUAGES DIE
The discovery of a new language in Arunachal Pradesh by a National Geographic team of linguists is both good and bad news. The good news is that it opens a new door for experts to further understand the cultural heritage of the region and the country. The bad news is that the language is spoken by less than a thousand people and is severely endangered. It is a stroke of luck that the team stumbled upon the language; had it arrived some years later the language might have been wiped away. There is now a chance, even if slim, that Koro, as it is known, may be preserved and promoted through the initiatives of academics, including the team members. This will take some effort because Koro is not even a written language, but one can expect the linguists to at least take sincere steps in saving this invaluable piece of our cultural legacy. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the Union Government, which has demonstrated total indifference to the plight of 200 other Indian languages that are in various stages of extinction. When the UNESCO's Atlas of World Languages in Danger, that listed the endangered Indian languages, was brought to the Ministry of Human Resource Development's notice, it had brushed it aside, saying they were not even recognised as languages in the Census of India report. The Ministry's claim was off the mark since the atlas mentioned the 2001 Census numbers for several of the endangered languages like Deori, Kinnauri, Godabov and Bhadravahi. The Indian languages in the 'danger zone' are spread across the country, from the far north in Jammu & Kashmir to Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh as well as Assam and Manipur in the North-East. What is even more shocking is that despite having the Census figures for these languages that showed the high levels of endangerment, the Government has done precious little to keep them alive.
The Ministry has been content with passing the buck to the Mysore-based Central Institute of Indian Languages, claiming the institute was engaged in documenting and digitally recording several of the imperilled languages. But clearly little is happening in reality because the languages are dying. The UNESCO atlas listed 82 languages as vulnerable, 41 critically endangered and 62 as definitely endangered. There is continuing drop in the usage of these languages and the fear is that, with the passing of the older generation that is keeping them alive, the languages will die. And it is not just languages with speakers who can be counted on finger-tips that face extinction, but the relatively well-off ones too. For instance, although Kolami is spoken by more than 1,00,000 people in the Dravidian belt, it is slowly dying with each new generation. Experts believe that in the immediate decades from now, there could be only a few thousand Kolami speakers left. Since these ancient languages are now less a means of communication and more a link to our cultural history, the Ministry of Culture should step forward for their preservation. Not to do so would amount to disowning our past.
CALLOW AND UNRELIABLE
WHEN OMAR ABDULLAH BECAME CHIEF MINISTER OF JAMMU & KASHMIR, THERE WERE GREAT EXPECTATIONS. SADLY, HE HAS LET DOWN THE PEOPLE OF HIS STATE AND THE NATION
The daily spectacle of politicians shifting their stance and saying what will fetch them most votes has nothing to do with religion and ideology and everything to do with political expediency and opportunism. As Lord Palmerston once said, "There are no permanent enemies or friends. There are only permanent interests."
One has no objections to lawmakers playing their usual games for the loaves and fishes of office and these include defection to other parties, forging of new alliances and squabbling for tickets for their kith and kin at election time: Everywhere in the world, politicians behave in the same manner. But when such games result in compromising national interest and the nation's integrity and sovereignty, it is time to sit up and take note.
On July 22, 2008, Mr Omar Abdullah, now Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, said on the floor of the Lok Sabha: "I am a Muslim and I am an Indian and I see no distinction between the two... The enemies of Indian Muslims are not America or deals like these (the civil nuclear agreement). The enemies are the same as the enemies of all those who are poor poverty, hunger, lack of development and the absence of a voice "
As a former Union Minister and Chief Minister of his State, Mr Abdullah had sworn his allegiance to the Indian Constitution. Yet this October he performed a disappointing volte-face. "Ours is accession to India not merger. We have a special constitutional status which should not be ignored," he said. He further added that Jammu & Kashmir was an outstanding issue between India and Pakistan recognised as such by the international community. He urged New Delhi to start a sustained "two-track dialogue" with the neighbouring country and separatists to resolve the issue. Mr Abdullah played into the hands of separatists, to whom his Government has provided security. His statement was lapped up by them.
Ronald Reagan once said: "I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do but I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing." On politics, he had some wry renarks: "Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realise that it bears a very close resemblance to the first." Perhaps, while making these remarks, he did not have Indian politicians in mind.
The young Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir cannot be oblivious of the fact that just a day before he made his latest statement, former military ruler of Pakistan Gen Pervez Musharraf went on record saying that the Pakistani Army had been involved in training terrorists to fight in Kashmir. This is the first such admission made by a top-rung Pakistani leader. He also added that the West considered Pakistan to be a rogue state.
Terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir continues to be dominated by foreigners of the 398 terrorists killed in 2008-09, 304 (76 per cent) were foreign nationals. In 2008, of the 237 militants killed 171 were foreigners and in 2009 of the 161 militants killed 133 were foreigners. Hardly a day passes when there is no encounter and no seizure of deadly weapons. The Chief of Army Staff has confirmed that 25 infiltration attempts have been made by the terrorists across the Line of Control in August and September and 40 terrorists killed by the security forces in the same period.
Those who are forgotten in the melee are the Hindus and Sikhs who form 3.7 per cent of the population and whose ancestors have been forced to migrate due to ethnic cleansing of the Kashmir Valley. According to census figures, the population of Kashmiri Pandits in 1981 was 15 per cent of the total population which fell to five per cent in 1991 and 0.01 per cent thereafter. All of 99.9 per cent of the community had had to leave the Valley.
On March 18, Mr Abdullah declared that around 550-575 terrorists were currently active in the State. Their guns and the slingshots used for pelting the Army with stones serve the same purpose. The Government is powerless to curb either. Mr Abdullah is now speaking the language of separatists who are fighting a proxy war for Pakistan and its terrorists. The trouble is that when in power even mainstream politicians speak a different language in Kashmir and a different one when they visit the capital.
Mr Abdullah may at best be speaking for Kashmir's Sunni majority but he is certainly not representing the interests of the residents of Jammu and Ladakh regions where the terrorists and separatists have no base and on which they have no hold in his speeches. Instead of sermonising to the Union Government and coming up with a list of new demands everyday, all of which are aimed to appease the terrorists, the Chief Minister should focus on governance and keeping his own house in order.
It is being made out as if the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is the root of all problems in the Kashmir Valley. What is the guarantee that if it is withdrawn, the terrorists will either return to Pakistan or stop their nefarious activities?
There is no substitute good governance. A while ago, violence-hit Jammu & Kashmir was rated as the second-most corrupt State in India, only next to Bihar, by Transparency International, a Berlin-based international corruption watchdog. Mr Abdullah, too, mentioned this fact in writing in a reply to the Assembly this month. Two sitting Jammu & Kashmir Cabinet Ministers are among the 14 legislators being probed by the State accountability commission.
On October 10, the Supreme Court of India observed, "It is very unfortunate that there is no control over corruption in the country. There is rampant corruption... Nothing moves without money." The people's resentment against corruption and poor administration has been cashed by the terrorists and separatists.
Yet copious aid from the Union Government is no solution to the problem. Jammu & Kashmir received Rs 13,252 crore in grants from the Centre in the year 2009-10. In comparison, the eight conflict-ridden north-eastern States received grants and loans worth only Rs 29,084 crore in the same period.
The real problem in Kashmir is one of azadi from corruption and malpractices and terrorism. In every society and State, there will always be disgruntled people. The solution lies in firmness of purpose as opposed to succumbing to their ruthless wiles and not in seeking alibis as done by the incumbent State Government.
DEDICATED TO SELFLESS SERVICE
The RSS, from its inception in 1925, has tirelessly worked for the nation and making all Indians proud of their common civilisational heritage. In keeping with the highest traditions of Hinduism, the Sangh does not discriminate on grounds of caste, creed and religion. It celebrates pluralism
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is not an unknown name today. The Sangh's Swayamsevaks are spread all over the world not only in India. There are regular shakhasfrom Ladakh to Andaman and various programmes are organised throughout the year. There are 50,000 shakhas in 35,000 places in the entire country and 9,500 weekly meetings and 8,500 monthly meetings are held. More than one-and-a-half lakh service activities are being undertaken by Swayamsevaks for the uplift of neglected sections of the society, for generation of self-confidence and national feelings among them. Many Swayamsevaks are running several organisations in different. In the event of any tragedy faced by the nation, the Swayamsevaks have rendered selfless service.
The RSS was born in 1925 on Vijaya Dashami. The founder of the Sangh was Dr Keshavrao Baliram Hedgewar. It is said about Dr Hedgewar that he was a born patriot. In his early age he had thrown the sweets given to him at school on Queen Victoria's birthday into the dustbin. Later he asked his brother, "Why should we celebrate the birthday of Queen Victoria?" His life was full of many such incidents.
At an early age he associated himself with the nationalist movement. He joined Calcutta Medical College because Kolkata was the main centre of revolutionary activities. He worked with many great revolutionaries there. On return he worked for the freedom movement alongwith great leaders of that time. Handling the entire arrangements of the 1920 Nagpur Congress Session, Dr Hedgewar urged the Congress leaders to demand full independence. His plea was not accepted at that time. Later when the Congress passed the resolution of full independence at the Lahore Session of 1929, all the Sangh shakhas wrote letters of thanks to the Congress. Dr Hedgewar went to jail twice during the freedom movement as did several Swayamsevaks.
Dr Hedgewar was pained to see the country's subjugation. That is why these words were spoken at the time of affirmation by Swayamsevaks: "I have become a Swayamsevak of the Sangh in order to make the country free." The other thing which pained him was that the Hindu society had forgotten national self-respect and become defeatist and disunited. It was to correct this situation that the Sangh was formed with the aim of instilling the feelings of national self-respect, selflessness and unity in Hindu society.
This concept of Dr Hedgewar was the result of positive thinking. Its purpose was not to oppose someone. So, it would be against the basic principles of the organisation to term it anti-Muslim or anti-Christian. We often hear people prejudiced against any Hindu or nationalist organisation like the Sangh to describe it as "conservative" and "communal". Due to Hindus being tolerant, all religions were welcomed in India. Their followers came here and settled. Some of them merged with the local culture and some retained their independent existence.
The Hindu believes that the manner in which rivers having different sources of origin merge with the sea, people following different paths merge into the creator of all. This view allowed people of different faiths to live in India. And this in turn led to the creation of a plural society. The pluralism we see today is not despite of but because of Hindus and Hinduism. If Hinduism were to be weakened, then neither India would remain India nor would pluralism survive. Can pluralism be imagined in Pakistan?
In this background the RSS is a national necessity of this country. Swayamsevaks of Sangh are discharging their national duty by organising Hindus. In the daily shakhas of the Sangh efforts are made to develop the body, mind and soul of Swayamsevaks and to instil national feelings in them.
After going through the prayer, pledge, solidarity source, solidarity mantra, which Swayamsevaks reiterate daily, one can understand the thoughts of the Sangh, what is taught in the Sangh and how the mind of Swayamsevaks works. Swayamsevaks worship the Motherland and pray for peace and prosperity of the nation. At the conclusion of every event, Swayamsevaks chant Bharatmata ki Jai. There is no room for caste, creed, provincialism, untouchability in the minds of Swayamsevaks.
Hence, at moments of crisis and in times of tragedy, Swayamsevaks do not bother about who are the victims. They are the first to organise relief work. This was evident during the devastating tsunami of 2004. Before that, Swayamsevaks were the first to reach out to the victims of the Super Cyclone in Odisha.
It would be worthwhile to remember that Swayamsevaks toiled day and night after two airliners crashed into each other, resulting in the death of more than 300 passengers. The accident occurred in Haryana. Nearly all the dead were Muslims, and Swayamsevaks recovered their bodies, put them into coffins and handed them over to their relatives who were provided with board and lodging. Later the Swayamsevaks were felicitated at the local masjid.
Whenever there is a natural disaster like an earthquake, floods or cyclone, Swayamsevaks across the country collect relief material and rush to the disaster site. Destroyed houses are rebuilt, ruined survivors are rehabilitated. The Swayamsevaks do all this and more because they see everybody in India as children of Bharat Mata and deserving of their assistance. Swayamsevaks who migrate to other countries carry this spirit of selfless service and sacrifice with them. The good work being done by the Swayamsevaks in Mauritius, Trinidad & Tobago, the US, Europe and across the world bears testimony to this fact.
Thousands of Swayamsevaks have mobilised resources and set up Seva Bharati, Seva Prakalp Sansthan, Banvasi Kalyan Ashram and various other trusts and institutions to look after the welfare of disadvantaged sections of our society. Their purpose is to instil self-confidence among the poor and the under-privileged, those living on the margins, by empowering them educationally and economically. The results of these initiatives have been spectacular.
The Swayamsevaks have in the forefront of organising civil support for the armed forces during wars and conflicts. Whether on the frontline or in cities, towns and villages, Swayamsevaks have toiled tirelessly during the 1947, 1962, 1965 and 1971 wars. They were also active during the Kargil conflict. Many Swayamsevaks have sacrificed their lives also. Others have suffered injuries. They have neither sought nor received either compensation or medals of bravery from the Government. For them it was service to the nation, to be performed with utmost dedication and without any selfish motives. It is such selfless service that makes the Sangh and its Swayamsevaks stand tall and proud.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is a national asset. It should be treasured and its services used for national reconstruction and making India stronger.
A lot more can be said about the good work being done by the Swayamsevaks and the Sangh, especially in the field of social reform and empowerment. This is being done without any publicity; often the Swayamsevaks remain in the background. That is the essence of selfless service. The Sangh is rooted in the soil of the motherland and seeks inspiration from its cultural identity and civilisational history. For the Sangh, the nation comes before everything else. Hence, Swayamsevaks dedicate their lives to the nation and toil for their selfless cause.
The writer is General Secretary, Organisation, of the BJP. He is a lifelong member of the RSS.
ELITE'S DISDAIN FOR LOCAL CUSTOM AND FAITH
IN CONTRAST TO THE MASSES' VENERATION OF THE LAND AT AYODHYA, THE ELITE INFUSE THE RULING WITH SYMBOLIC STATUS BECAUSE IT SIGNIFIES THE SURVIVABILITY OF THE STATE. IT IS VIEWED AS PERPETUALLY UNDER THREAT BECAUSE A FEW INDIANS ABSORBED A FOREIGN RATIONALITY AND BECAME WESTERNISED
DEEP K DATTA-RAY
The collective sigh of relief the Ayodhya judgement elicited from our intellectual elite says more about them than the judgement or India. Reliant on European assumptions to understand our state and society, the elite present elitist explanations which entrap them in a siege mentality. Modifying these readings is requisite not to cure the elite of its pathologies, but to expose the state in terms of itself. Doing so requires teasing out the state's rationality from its very practices and Ayodhya provides the terrain.
The enterprise is complicated by the elite. In contrast to the masses' veneration of the land, the elite infuse the ruling with symbolic status because it signifies the survivability of the state. It is viewed as perpetually under threat because as historians constantly remind us, a few Indians absorbed a foreign rationality, thus became Westernised and imported that rationality and the practices it generated such as parliamentary democracy. Today this vanguard's self-proclaimed descendents educate the masses in that alien rationality.
This story is founded on debilitating assumptions. Foremost is that the masses' rationality opposes or cannot comprehend the elite's Westernised rationality. Hence the state continues despite the masses. Not only does this smack of hubris, but it also explains the pathological insecurity which plagues our elite, permeates their writings and defines their very being. Peace of mind is impossible because they believe their oases of India are constantly under siege from Bharat. In short, having designated themselves civilised by virtue of being Westernised the masses are rendered barbaric, at best infantile.
The Ayodhya ruling renders the elite's binary story chimerical. Examining the verdict for the state's rationality reveals that the European rationality supposedly motivating our state was never there. The intellectual heart of the judgement makes this clear: "This court is of the view that Ram Janmabhoomi is a juristic person. The deity attained divinity. Asthan is personified as the spirit of divine worshipped as the birth place of Lord Ram. Spirit of divine ever remains present everywhere at all times for anyone to invoke at any shape or form in accordance with his own aspirations and it can be shapeless and formless also."
Of interest is not the notion of 'juristic person' a being or object treated as a living human but how it is used. This juristic person is not a nation-state which is regarded so in international law, but a deity. Furthermore the deity is divine because, so long as people choose to see the divine, anything, anywhere and anytime may be divine. The ultimate arbiter of divinity then, is human.
The consequences are phenomenal because the state renders the mundane divine. It is not extraneous to the material and intellectual world but both are inextricably intermeshed with the divine. By making the basis of the judgement the notion that everything may be divine, the state keeps to an ancient, local rationality and reveals something extraordinary. The state presents the possibility of understanding it not in terms of European assumptions but in terms of Indian society, the very people who animate it and hence the divine which the masses including the judges in this instance still believe in.
This is conceptually an altogether different rationality to Christianity, Islam and Western secularism. The first two assume the divine is extraneous and created us and the world. The Book of Genesis explains that humans are to take care of the Earth because it was created by the divine. Meanwhile, Western secularism is based on equality and hence toleration, not divinity which fosters reverence. The notion of the divine as permeating everything has deep roots in Indian society and politics. Mahatma Gandhi upon a deep reading of the Mahabharata concluded politics had to aspire to non-violence because all is divine. Now the judgement shows that this ancient rationality still motivates the state.
Despite not being seized by an alien rationality, alien practices such as parliamentary democracy, secularism and the rule of law continue to thrive. They do so because they help further a rationality resolutely local and of the masses. This puts imported practices on a far stronger footing than the Indian elite ever presumed. The verdict shows there is no need for a vanguard class in India because the local rationality provides a very good reason to maintain imported practices. The local rationality also explains why we took to some European practices while rejecting others. Another riddle undone is why in South Asia only we have maintained democratic politics. Accounting for these phenomena in terms of their rationality also permits the masses their dignity, something the elite denies them by presenting them as brute, in need of civilising.
In other words, alien practices prosper because the underlying rationality is local. In making, at least in theory, everything a manifestation of the divine, this rationality fosters practices which move beyond Western toleration to honouring everything because all is divine. As it happens, some of the practices of governance imported from Europe maintained the integrity of this rationality but not very well. The Ayodhya verdict divides the disputed land and in doing so recreates partition. A cultural unity which traditionally views everything, including the state, as an expression of the divine is once again ripped apart. Indeed, the only difference between today and 1947 is a matter of scale. What is of significance however is the way in which the dispute was settled because it reveals the rationality of the state.
This rationality eludes the litigants. It was not always so and they could take a leaf from an 18th century Persianised Hindu who drew upon the rationality which today animates the state, to manage his response to a destroyed temple. Nik Rai wrote in Persian: "Look at the miracle of my idol-house, o Sheikh, That when it was ruined, it became the house of god." In choosing to view the temple-destroyer and the mosque as divine, Rai sought not to ameliorate the pain of destruction but to prevent pain from mutating into retribution. Undoubtedly Rai chose to imbue the causes of his pain with divinity, but in this he was aided by a rationality which permitted him to do so. In combination, Rai and his rationality provide a route for political action open to all of us.
-- The writer is an historian.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
IT'S COMMON WEALTH
As promised, the Prime Minister's Office has set up a panel to probe irregularities and allegations of corruption associated with the conduct of the Delhi Commonwealth Games. Despite the depressing run-up to the event, the Games turned out to be a roaring success. Those who enabled the turnaround include the thousands of labourers, security personnel, public officials, transport functionaries, especially of the Delhi Metro, and most of all, athletes from the Commonwealth nations and the capital's citizens who turned out in great number to transform the Games into a people's festival.
However, the euphoria over the Games and Indian athletes is no reason to forget the messy start to the event. A survey published by this newspaper is revealing. Of the respondents, 85 per cent thought the Games were a success and 85 per cent believed they enhanced India's image. But a whooping 86 per cent want corruption allegations to be seriously investigated. Clearly, the public is in no mood to forgive venality and corruption. The government must now bring to book all those who defrauded the taxpayer, no matter how well-connected they are. Various central agencies, including the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate, are expected to investigate the corruption allegations. The CVC had, in fact, looked into many of the Games-related contracts and deals even before the event and pointed out massive irregularities.
The media in general and this newspaper in particular had reported large-scale discrepancies in the procurement of goods and services by the Games Organising Committee. Lack of transparency and accountability in signing contracts and rampant cronyism marred the preparations. These ought to be investigated and the culprits punished so that the message goes down the system. If that calls for major institutional reforms so be it. Streamlining processes from issuing bids and contracts to implementation by deadlines and without compromising quality are a must if India is to build much-needed infrastructure. In the absence of open and well-regulated systems, it'll be difficult for us to attract quality investment and personnel.
The reforms ought to extend to sports bodies as well. If athletes are successful, that's despite those running the sports bodies. Sports associations, which claim to be independent and professional bodies, are anything but that. Politicians and their cronies have turned them into personal fiefs and patronage dispensing bodies. A clean-up is necessary. Professionals, preferably with a sporting background, need to be in charge of Indian sports. That's the way to build on the success of the Delhi Games.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
STOP THE SENA
Two recent incidents have once again highlighted the bullying tactics of the Shiv Sena, to which established authorities appear to have no answer. First, the banning of Rohinton Mistry's book, Such a Long Journey, from the English literature syllabus of Mumbai University; and secondly, the intimidation of producers of Bigg Boss, the TV reality show, for featuring Pakistani artistes. In the first instance Aditya Thackeray Balasaheb's grandson and perhaps the future face of the Shiv Sena impressed upon the vice-chancellor of Mumbai University to ban Mistry's classic. The book was banned within 24 hours through an emergency provision. Academic freedom is the cornerstone of a liberal, democratic society and cannot be held to ransom by vested political interests. But instead of upholding academic autonomy, or consulting faculty on the advisability of such a ban, the vice-chancellor of a prestigious university simply caved in.
Similarly, the Sena's umbrage at Pakistani artistes getting a platform in India is completely unwarranted. Bollywood has a huge market in Pakistan, and nowadays there's even official sanction for screening select Hindi movies at theatres. The entertainment industry is a positive link between the people of the two countries. Interrupting these links would give a handle to precisely those forces the Sena finds inimical. Besides, using muscle power and intimidation to make people fall in line with a particular ideology cannot be justified. Both the incidents represent an alarming trend of democratic values and constitutional propriety being subverted by mob rule. The Maharashtra government needs to step in and come to the aid of citizens forced to fall in line by political bullies.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
MOFUSSIL INDIA SHINING
Among the most heart-warming stories to emerge from the Commonwealth Games was surely the victory of the three Indian women who bagged the gold, silver and bronze medals in the discus throw event. The triple medal tally in the sport for one country was unique enough; what made it special for us Indians was also the fact that the women were all Jats from tiny towns and villages in Haryana. Haryana has one of the worst records of male-female ratios and this is one in the eye for all traditionalists who would want to, in any way, keep women from achieving their full potential.
But the discus throwers are just one tiny part of a larger story that has become visible in India in recent years the rise of the mofussil. Achievers of every kind from small B and C class towns are breaching all kinds of barriers and making their presence known to the rest of the country, especially to metropolitan India.
It began with cricket, where the likes of M S Dhoni and Virender Sehwag stormed the barricades with their aggressive, take-no-prisoners approach, and soon after entered the portals of the world of modelling and glamour. Cricket had always been a game monopolised by the urban elite, the odd Kapil Dev being an exception. The costs of equipment, infrastructure and coaching made entry difficult if not impossible for anyone from a small town. Yet, when Dhoni and Sehwag came on the scene, they were not rough diamonds which were then polished by city slickers; they came fully prepared, their technique and thinking skills ready to cope with all the pressure of top level competitive cricket.
Similarly, the assorted weightlifters, discus throwers, boxers and others bringing glory to India at international sports events have trained in the best conditions, quite unlike their counterparts a generation or two ago who did not have the right footwear or equipment. Today's heroes were waiting for the right conditions and opportunity; the talent was already there.
The mofussil's rise is also reflected in other areas, most notably in popular culture. A large portion of television programming, especially in Hindi and other regional languages, is today aimed at small towns. It shows in the content, but significantly, not in style or production values. Whether it is song and dance contests or quiz shows like Kaun Banega Crorepati, the participants are usually from small towns.
But while such reality shows may be largely value-neutral, the invasion of mofussil India's sensibilities and values in soaps and family sagas can be somewhat troubling. Hindi soaps, often in feudal settings, all glossily mounted, have subtexts that promote antediluvian ideas of tradition and culture. Child brides, bride burning and rigid hierarchies are the order of the day, all set amidst swirling silks, glittering jewellery and well-appointed homes. Cosmopolitanism is conspicuous by its absence. And yet this version of the "real India" is beamed into urban drawing rooms.
In cinema, the mofussil invasion is a bit more complex. While Bollywood has virtually bid goodbye to the heartland audience, preferring to concentrate on the urban multiplex and on NRIs, stories set in UP, Bihar and other generic hinterland locations are becoming trendy, with films like Rajneeti, Omkara and now Dabangg. These are films not necessarily made only for small-town audiences; the skill is in formulating a language and a look that also appeals to the big city viewer, which therefore demands a high level of sophistication in storytelling. But the essential point remains the same the mofussil is now becoming a part of the metropolitan consciousness.
Is this necessarily grounds for concern? Conversely, as cheerleaders of the subaltern are wont to say, is it something to celebrate? Old India the so-called PLUs (People Like Us) where networks, old school ties, an urban education and even accents mattered is fading away and a new India, where everyone has a shot at becoming a singer, a cricket captain and even a diplomat is emerging. Never did we win so many medals in an international sporting event; surely the success of our sportspersons is a wonderful thing.
To the extent that everyone now has a shot at realising their full potential and standing tall on the national and international stage, the emergence of new voices and talent from hitherto "unknown" places can only be cause for satisfaction. Indians everywhere are contributing to the nation's growth, they must also get the full benefit of what it has to offer.
Yet, there are legitimate questions on what else comes along with rising mofussil India. Metropolitan India has its shares of problems and prejudices, but whatever modernity we have is here. This modernity is the only bulwark we have against growing tribalism which is in evidence all over the country. Modern ideas also allow us to move in tandem with the rest of the world. But mofussil India has the numbers, which make it attractive to many constituencies, from politicians to policymakers and to marketers of everything from consumer goods to culture. In the end, the brutal logic of numbers will unfortunately trump everything. Or one could be optimistic and hope that the tides of modernity and a desire to join the rest of the world will prevail. This interface, conflict if you will, will shape the India of the future.
The writer is a senior journalist.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
Q & A
'CHANDRA COULD WRAP HIMSELF UP IN NUMBERS AND SYMBOLS'
On the birth centenary of Nobel laureate Subramanyan Chandrasekhar (1910-95), one of the greatest cosmologists of the 20th century, Arthur I Miller , former professor of history and philosophy of science at University College, London, spoke to Subodh Varma. Miller is well known for his book on Chandrasekhar, Empire of the Stars:
What are the key contributions of Chandra to cosmology?
Chandra's greatest contribution was his discovery of black holes. He found that if the mass of a white dwarf star exceeded a certain limit which became known as the Chandrasekhar limit then it would undergo a collapse into an infinitely dense, infinitely small point and become a black hole. Chandra made this discovery in 1930 when he was only 19 years old. This led to a furious and bitter dispute with the greatest astrophysicist of the day Arthur Stanley Eddington. After all, how could something as big as a star collapse to nothing? Then, there was the unspoken point that a very dark-skinned Indian had made this discovery. What happened shattered the personal lives of Eddington and Chandra as well as setting back research on black holes for some 30 years.
Was it difficult for an Indian scientist to work in Europe and USA then?
In the 1930s there was a great deal of discrimination in Britain against non-whites that carried over into the academic sphere with its old-boy network. The great Indian mathematician, Ramanujan, experienced this in Cambridge, as did Chandra. Discrimination followed Chandra to the United Stateswhere his very dark complexion resulted in him being mistaken for a black person and sometimes suffering the prejudice that was rampant there, in the 1940s and 1950s.
What was Chandra's method of theoretical research?
Chandra extensively researched a subject, wrote up his results with incredible mathematical detail and then went on to wrap it all up with monographs, which were eagerly scooped up by astrophysicists. Equations spoke to him. He could wrap himself up in numbers and symbols like a cocoon. Chandra had the vision of the 'big picture' and the mathematical power to carry out the most complex calculations at incredible speed, with astounding accuracy. That was his genius.
What was he like as a person?
Chandra had the persona of a calm and caring person. But he could also be harshly critical of lecturers and even harsher on himself. With his heavy working schedule he worked seven days a week, lecturing and writing he often neglected his personal life. He was the quintessential loner. Chandra led a complex life, as one would expect from a complex person.
What were his views on beauty and creativity?
Chandra was a cultured man, well read in art and literature. He was convinced that 'one may evaluate scientific theories as works of art in the manner of literary or art criticism'. He expressed his thoughts on this subject in a fascinating essay on the relation between Claude Monet's Haystack paintings and the landscapes of general relativity the landscape of space-time, determined by its geometry. Musing over the very complicated equations that described the collision of gravitational waves and those describing black holes, he realised in a moment of sublime insight that they were actually connected by a relatively simple looking equation. Like Monet's unchanging haystack, this equation from which both sets of equations could be deduced was, for Chandra, the unchanging object in the landscape of general relativity. Chandra put all this eloquently: 'If nature leads to mathematical forms of great simplicity and beauty to forms that no one had previously encountered we cannot help thinking that they are true and they reveal genuine features of nature'.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
Technology has wrought far-reaching change in our lives. It has made communication so gloriously easy that you practically have amnesia about "the way things were". Who remembers the arduous challenges once involved in having a long distance telephone conversation? Who recalls booking a so-called 'trunk call' (as if we were elephants trying to talk to each other), and hastily jotting down the booking number? The latter was for future reference, when you called a very bored-sounding operator for the seventh time in four hours for a status update on your call only to be told all the lines were busy. Before you could get another word in, the phone was unceremoniously banged down, leaving you with nothing more than the dial tone.
Not every attempt was fraught with frustration and failure. There were two distinct scenarios in which your trunk call would connect. One, if the situation was so urgent, or so momentous, that you decided it merited spending 16 times the normal trunk call rate to book a 'lightning' call. Lightning, for the uninitiated, was the highest caste of the telecom stratification system, several notches above 'urgent' and infinitely superior to 'normal'. The second scenario, i hate to admit, was simply that you got lucky.
Assuming that, as a budget-minded middle-class citizen, 'normal' was your cattle class of communication (apart from luck), any experienced customer created certain other basic enabling circumstances. Periodic reminders to operators, undaunted by their utter indifference, were a must. Then, it was imperative to have a relatively sensible family member lurk around the phone, somewhat akin to the street Romeos of those days loitering around comely objects of their adoration. This was required in case the telephone exchange did deign to call. If God forbid! some ignoramus answered from your side, you could say goodbye to the trunk call!
The trunk call itself being connected generated sufficient excitement and noise and led to general rushing about and queuing up. So much so that anyone might be forgiven for thinking that either a great calamity had befallen you or that India had just won a Test match. The first thing any trunk call veteran did was to raise his voice by at least 10 decibels. This served to strengthen neighbourly relations, apart from fulfilling obvious requirements of audibility. Because, whether the person on the other side of the line could hear you or not, neighbours on the other side of the wall certainly could.
The second tactic was to push all conversational norms boldly aside and hurtle to the main point, be it exam results, illness bulletins or weddings being 'fixed', etc. Again, some readers may naively wonder why. Well, obviously it's because of the "three-minute limit". With the clock ticking ominously, pleasantries tended to evaporate. Nothing i repeat, nothing could be as soul-destroying as having the operator's robotic voice announce "three minutes over" and the call being disconnected while you were mid-sentence with your breaking news. I know first-hand the nerve-shattering impact this had on some of my family members, leaving them unable to articulate anything but the choicest expletives for hours after.
Thankfully, all that has changed. STD booths everywhere, mobiles in every pocket, e-mail, voicemail, internet chats, internet telephony, SMS, MMS, videophone...the list keeps expanding to ever newer frontiers of technology-enabled connectivity.
But for me, time went into rewind recently when an uncle came to visit. I dialled his son from my cellphone and handed the sleek silver device to him. He rose valiantly to the occasion and, in the revered traditions of the Great Indian Trunk Call, bellowed so loudly into the phone that my dogs rushed in, barking nervously. As i quietened them down, i smiled at all these memories that are alien today to my children, and already fading from our middle-aged minds as well.
DON'T OVERSTEP THE MINE LINE
Even before the dust could settle on Vedanta Resources' bauxite mining lease controversy in BJD-led Orissa, another series of flashpoints have emerged.
The latest eco-tussle between the powers-that-be, the Maharashtra government in this case, and the people over mining leases has begun in full force after the Congress-led state cleared 49 leases for excavating iron and bauxite ores in the eco-fragile Sindhudurg region of the Western Ghats.
Ironically, Sindhudurg has 49 per cent green cover, the highest in Maharashtra.
Moreover, 32 of these mining permits have been given in the Sawantwadi-Dodamarg zone, a part of the wildlife corridor between Koyna and Radhanagari wildlife sanctuaries in Maharashtra and the Anshi-Dandeli tiger reserve in Karnataka.
The people of this area have also accused the authorities of not holding proper public hearings. Many villages, Kalane for example, have also alleged that the environmental impact assessments were faulty because they didn't take into account the perennial water bodies, reserve forests and rivers.
None of these accusations are new or specific to the fight in the Western Ghats. We have heard them before be it in Orissa or Goa.
We have heard similar protests against power projects, mining and hydroelectric projects. We have heard governments irrespective of the party ruling the state going against their own research studies to give the green signal to mining projects.
In 2002, Maharashtra asked Shivaji University to do a report on the importance of the Ghats. When the report identified it as an eco-sensitive area, the government dumped it. In 1997 in Goa, the government refused to accept a report from TERI on the perils of mining.
In certain other instances, for example in the Niyamgiri case, we saw the Union environment minister stepping in. But is that how all eco-flashpoints should be solved?
There is a clear system in place that evaluates such projects: a transparent public hearing and Environmental Impact Assessment are the two basic requirements. The fact that these basics are being tampered with on every single occasion shows that the instituted system has been broken down systematically by vested interests.
Policies need to be sacrosanct and not party/state specific. What is wrong in Orissa cannot be right in Maharashtra/Goa. Meanwhile, the people's protests are gathering pace and coalescing, and turning India into, in the words of the famous India-baiter, a nation of a million mutinies.
THE AUSSIE SPIN CYCLE
Call us all kinds of names, if you will, but one thing we're not is bad losers. No wonder Indians are among the happiest people in the world. Winning or losing, we take it all in our stride.
Some might argue against such non-aggressive acceptance of defeat and its corrosive, long-term effect on our national killer instinct, but we can be as gracious in victory as after a thorough pasting.
This is something that can't be said, at least not with any credible conviction, about certain others.
Now if all of Ricky Ponting's glowering and his miffed refusal to provide V V S Laxman with a runner in the second Test match were not enough, there's the curious matter of a suicidal washing machine hurling itself from the eighth floor of the Commonwealth Games Village along with other random acts of vandalism that followed the very same Test.
Two things stand out here.
One, despite all the earlier brouhaha over the supposedly iffy and under-equipped Games Village, it certainly wasn't the machine's wash cycle that had anything to do with it.
Two, golden bounties aside, it is still cricket that makes some hearts tick. How else would you explain the strange wreckage that followed Sachin Tendulkar's 49th ton on the way to India's clean sweep of the recent Test series?
Well, regime change is never easy and as various Indian sports and their stars begin usurping thrones warmed by long-reigning behinds, we'll do well to learn to be gracious in victory, while watching out for those sour grapes being hurled in our direction. That shouldn't be too tough for us underdogs.
After all we've been sitting on the bench and awaiting our turn long enough to have watched the world from the other side. Now if only some of the others would learn to get comfortable on that hard old bench.
. HINDUSTAN TIMES
PUTTING THE HOUSE IN DISORDER
The developments in Karnataka over the last fortnight have been shameful. It is difficult to point a finger at any one person since everyone from the Governor down to the chief minister to the Speaker and leaders of the Congress, the BJP and the Janata Dal (Secular) have erred. The result is that there has been a virtual constitutional breakdown and the worst is perhaps yet to come.
B S Yeddyurappa won his second trust vote in less than a week. But he could still face the prospect of being voted out of power if the Karnataka High Court reinstates the 16 expelled MLAs who were arbitrarily disqualified by Speaker K G Bopaiah. By seeking the trust vote, the CM does not have immunity against facing a no-confidence motion in the near future.
What is amazing is that the BJP should have agreed to a trust vote at all. In this respect, even the Governor, by asking Yeddyurappa to prove his majority following the withdrawal of support by 16 MLAs, seems to have faltered. Even if the government in power had lost support of some of the MLAs aligned with it earlier, the parliamentary way of doing things is to ask them to move a no-confidence motion.
The onus of proving that the government isn't in a majority should be with those who claim so. Therefore, the appropriate manner would have been that such a motion should have come during an assembly session. If a government survives a no-confidence motion, it is safe for six months. But this immunity is not guaranteed if it seeks a trust vote for which there is no specific provision in the rules of business. Nothing prevents the Opposition from moving a no-confidence motion even if the government has passed the trust vote test.
Earlier rulings by the apex court have held that the floor test is always the ultimate test. But Yeddyurappa thought of using muscle power to prove a point. In the process, the Speaker took an arbitrary decision of not only disqualifying his partymen but also independents under the anti-defection law. This is totally unprecedented since none of the disqualified MLAs were given a chance to explain themselves. To top it, during the first instance, he ruled in the BJP's favour through a voice vote without getting a division done. And that too in the presence of uniformed policemen who had been asked to enter the assembly in a development which is as shameful as the rest of things that have happened in the state.
The final word on the matter will be given by the High Court on Monday. But what Bopaiah did in Karnataka to save his government, another BJP Speaker, Kesarinath Tripathi had done in the UP assembly a few years ago to bail out the Mulayam Singh Yadav government by disqualifying BSP MLAs.
What is happening is perhaps a reflection of the times we are living in. Even Governor H R Bhardwaj's decision to first recommend the imposition of President's rule and, after apparent reluctance on the part of the Centre to accept it, to ask the chief minister to take the trust vote for a second time seems indefensible. The Congress at the Centre must have thought that imposition of President's rule may never get endorsed in the Upper House where its strength is not sufficient.
But what has happened is that the BJP is baying for Bhardwaj's blood and has already met the President to recall him. The campaign for his ouster may gain momentum in the coming days. The BJP wants to defend its southern citadel with all its might but the inexperience of its CM is giving it some anxious moments. The situation could finally lead to the state getting either a new CM or a new Governor or both. Between us
. HINDUSTAN TIMES
It is unfortunate that the most important initiative on Jammu and Kashmir in recent years has provoked such widespread disappointment and dismay. New Delhi's decision to appoint interlocutors to carry out a dialogue with all stakeholders in the state as part of the eight-point plan of action unveiled last month had generated tremendous hope and enthusiasm. And yet the actual announcement of a three-member non-political team has provoked widespread anger and hostility and even invited ridicule.
Although the three members are undoubtedly professionals, who have excelled in their respective fields, the impression has been created that the panel has been finalised without due diligence or a serious application of mind by those who are quite oblivious to the complexities of the problems in the state and are insensitive to the sentiment of the people living there.
Surely the multiple agencies of the Government of India, operating in the state, should have been able to provide a feedback about the likely response of the stakeholders. Why has this initiative almost collapsed before it has started? What can New Delhi learn from this dreadful mistake? And what can still be done to redeem the situation?
Ever since September 25, 2010, when the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) finalised the political initiative on Jammu and Kashmir, expectations were raised that a seasoned politician would lead the panel of interlocutors. This was not a myth created by the media. This perception was built on the successful all-party delegation that had visited the state.
Moreover, inspired news stories, selective leaks, privileged briefings, and even specific names were floated to generate a sense that the dialogue with the people would not be just another bureaucratic exercise to buy time. So much so that at one stage there were sections within the Valley which believed that the only reliable trouble-shooter in the government, Pranab Mukherjee, would be deputed to initiate the dialogue.
The impression was created for two weeks that hectic parleys were going on among the home ministry, the Prime Minister's Office, the leadership of the Congress and the state government to give shape to a high-powered team that could lead to a genuine breakthrough.
The shock and bewilderment are not surprising given this background, and the approval of a panel of names, admittedly eminent but without any political weight, who should have been best part of a legitimate track II exercise, and at least two of them have played such a useful role in the past.
In Jammu and Kashmir, symbolism is almost as important as substance. Consider the history of the last half a century. Almost every political crisis and political agreement has been possible through initiatives led by heavyweights and backed by the political leadership of the country.
It was Lal Bahadur Shastri who was deputed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1963 to help defuse the crisis following the theft of the Prophet's relic. While the chief of Intelligence Bureau B N Mullik also played a vital role and enjoyed Nehru's confidence, it was Shastri who was the public face of the initiative.
The 1974 Kashmir accord was possible because of the confidence that G Parthasarthi enjoyed of then Prime Minster Indira Gandhi. Similarly, in the 1990s, interlocutors like Rajesh Pilot and George Fernandes were able to make a difference because they created a perception that they were leading a serious political initiative backed by the highest political authority in the land. Can the present panel claim to have such a carte blanche?
Indeed even the mandate of the panel has been defined in the most non-anodyne terms. The home ministry's press release says it all: "The three interlocutors appointed by the Govt. have been entrusted with the responsibility of undertaking a sustained dialogue with the people of Jammu & Kashmir to understand their problems and chart a course for the future."
But all is not lost, it may still be possible to save the initiative by broadening its membership and defining its mandate in more specific terms. Inclusion of a seasoned political leader, or leaders, is a must, even if it means that the home ministry may have to stop pretending that it is like Delphi, the oracle of all wisdom.
Similarly, it must be stated clearly that the panel has been entrusted with the task of entering into an unconditional political dialogue with all political sections to arrive at a clear framework for the settlement of the problems of Jammu and Kashmir.
\In an earlier meeting, the CCS had referred provocatively but rightly to the trust and governance deficit that exists within the state. Unfortunately, nothing has been done to substantively reduce these deficits save the removal of some security bunkers, many of them lying in disuse.
\Little has also been done to address the mal-governance that has contributed to the present crisis. A paralysed state administration led by an ineffective chief secretary needs to be made accountable in tangible terms.
\A reminder of the grim state of affairs was revealed during the proceedings of the state legislative assembly. While the state is facing curfews and hartals, and the education system has practically collapsed, the assembly passed a private member's bill approving the creation of a Transworld Muslim University to be run by Jamiat Ahle Hadith.
Although cynics viewed this as a ploy by some to cut into the constituency of the Jamaat-e-Islami, in a real sense it is symbolic of the bizarre state of affairs prevailing in the state, given a free run by the state and central government.
It is time for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and chairperson of the UPA, Sonia Gandhi, both of whom understand the gravity of the situation, to take firm charge before all is lost. It needs to be recognised that claims of a 'near-normalcy' on the streets of the Valley may only be a lull before the next storm, which could be overwhelming.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
BOOK A PLACE
Throughout history, social modernisers have looked to the public library as a crucial tool in their arsenal. Through the nineteenth century, public benefactors and philanthropists set up public libraries; men who strived to be "model employers" gave their millhands reading rooms with modern newspapers. And the state got in the act, too; the Boston Public Library declares across its frontage, in giant letters, that "the Commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty." India has been slow to pick up on this, though, even as our literacy levels have started reaching the point where libraries and reading rooms can start making a perceptible difference.
That's why the recent statement by HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, at a conference where a draft of a National Book Promotion Policy was under discussion, that "neighbourhood reading rooms" should be made a priority, just as neighbourhood schools are, is particularly welcome. Reading rooms with basic books, a set of newspapers, and an internet connection that everyone can use, can serve as the nucleus for community life, for continuing re-education and skill upgradation. It isn't as if people don't reach towards these things anyway. You can't pass a Kolkata street corner that doesn't have people looking up at a (usually partisan) newspaper tacked up on an old bamboo board.
Sibal referred to Tamil Nadu's policy on reading rooms. That famously progressive state was indeed the first to push public libraries as state policy. There's a lot more that can be done, though. If nothing else, the presence of a proper local reading room means a place that's secure, well-policed, and yet publicly accessible of which there are all too few in our towns.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
The initial public offer (IPO) of the until-now 100 per cent state-owned Coal India opens at the stock markets today; the government is divesting 10 per cent of its stake in the coal behemoth. The government has announced a price band of Rs 225 to Rs 245; a price in that range should fetch the government Rs 15,000 crore. That also makes this the biggest IPO to arrive in India's stock markets since the ADAG group raised around Rs 10,000 crore in early 2008. As has been the case with other divestments in the recent past, questions will be asked about the pricing some analysts believe that it is too high to attract retail investor interest, something that derailed the government's IPO of NMDC, in March 2010, for example. What is, however, different now is the highly buoyant state of the Indian stock markets, with institutional investors, both domestic and foreign, keen to cash in the lucrative returns on offer. So, unlike in the NMDC case, the government will almost certainly not need to scramble domestic financial institutions to bail out this IPO.
What about the company itself? Coal India has the largest coal reserves of any coal company in the entire world. It is a public sector monopoly, which ensures high returns. It has a decent sum of cash reserves. Add to all that the fact that in the near future, India's energy demands are likely to be satisfied mainly through power generated by coal, and the prospects of Coal India look good. However, it isn't a company without downside risks. Coal India is forced (by the government) to sell its coal to local buyers at 50 per cent of the international price. The company has problems transporting its vast coal reserves because of a shortage of rail wagons. And if the future is about clean energy, then coal will at some point have to be discarded as a primary source of fuel.
For now though, investors are more likely to look at the upsides. That will help boost the government's stop-start divestment programme and it will also bring greater scrutiny on, and transparency in, the functioning of the largest coal company in the world.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
ACRES OF THEIR OWN
A traveller visiting Mumbai for the first time, looking out of his aeroplane window at the shanties surrounding the overcrowded airport he's flying into, would be pardoned if he assumed that we don't know how to fix our cities. Yet the truth is that, for years, the broad facets of a consensus on how to manage those areas of our cities that we classify as slums has existed. We know we need to chart our slum clusters; to assign their residents property rights; and, in some cases, aid their transition to areas where they can be provided with basic facilities and urban infrastructure, while respecting those property rights that they've been assigned. This will simultaneously allow us to empower and, not incidentally, provide capital to some of our cities' poorest residents, while also allowing us to imagine our cities as more welcoming, better set-up spaces.
And the families that live on 276 acres of Mumbai airport land are the natural place to start, especially as that airport is gasping for breath, unable to meet the demands of a city growing dizzyingly fast. Now news has come that the first 1,000 families will be shifted to new apartments in Kurla, a few kilometres away, next month. Another 3,000 move in December to the complex, which has 370-square-foot flats in 48 buildings; 14,000 more are due to move eventually. These are startlingly high numbers; and yet they are dwarfed by the total size of the project. Eventually, 85,000 families must be found place. The process has been held up for too long by confusion, and by perverse politics; proper surveying of the houses only restarted again recently. Yet the basic idea, and the ambition, behind the plan must be applauded. The communities are being transferred to an area which is connected to the urban grid; a post office, a police station, and medical infrastructure is planned, though it hasn't as yet been completed. The developers acting on behalf of Mumbai airport must go the extra mile: the process mustn't be allowed to stall because of mistrust by the families that have to relocate.
Mumbai, where real estate drives so much political conversation, might finally have woken up to the need to get this right. But other cities aren't doing so well. Delhi, for example, also has large slum clusters that require a proper, inclusive, and far-seeing redevelopment programme to be put in place. Sometimes the attempts are piece-meal, hardly a sustainable situation. Something on the scale that Mumbai airport is attempting, and with the same vision, is what is needed elsewhere.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
NABARD TURNS OVER A NEW LEAF
YOGINDER K. ALAGH
Indian institutional finance was developed by men with alternative visions. For rural areas, it was Dada Saheb Karve and D.R. Gadgil who planned the first rural debt and investment survey and financial structures. Then there was S. Talwar, the SBI chief, R.N. Malhotra and later, people like P.D. Ojha, N.A. Mazumdar and Venugopal Reddy. They have shown great sensitivity to agricultural and rural finance and the need for unorthodox approaches to it. Notice they were all RBI men.
The system has been built with care and could withstand attacks, including those from "reformers" (follow the Basel Convention even if it violates the agricultural crop cycle in India), or worse still, loan melas. More recently, Y.P. Thorat and U.C. Sarangi belonged to that larger tradition, with their heart in agriculture. Now NABARD moves on to the government.
The hope would be that the great tradition would continue.
A serious exercise by NABARD to reposition itself in refinancing agricultural and rural lending and giving a much-needed boost to private agricultural capital formation went almost unnoticed. Private agricultural capital formation as a percentage of agricultural GDP, according to the new series of CSO estimates at 2004-05 prices fell from 12.41 per cent in 2005-06 to 11.58 per cent in 2006-07, which is sad, but preliminary estimates show an increase to 17.55 per cent in 2008-09, which is healthy although the numbers may get revised later. The mid-term appraisal of the Eleventh Plan is correctly happy at investment trends in agriculture and wants them sustained. Whichever way we look at it, shoring up private investment in agriculture is an important priority. A point U.C. Sarangi, the NABARD chief has been making, is that in less developed areas where agriculture has been growing, investment is not showing the necessary revival.
In the late '80s, Rajiv Gandhi pushed me to build the first agro-climatic plan, by going to each of the 18 regions. In Nashik, to save the drought-prone region wasting water on sugarcane, a young collector had built a watershed development programme, followed up with a horticulture and tree crop plan. Grapes, pomegranates, mousambis, sitaphal, onions he had thought through the tree cycle, the seeds, the collateral for the tree-cycle loans, ridge sowing and the markets. It used to take ten hours to go from Pune to Nashik those days, and there was not much apart from cane and jowar. Fights over water had begun. And now, you buy fruit from the roads, see drips servicing tree crops in lines, and prosperity to counterbalance the suicide belt in Vidharba and the Naxals. That young collector was U.C. Sarangi.
In 1990, NABARD wrote its annual report on financing agro-climatic plans, but the V.P. Singh and Narasimha Rao governments were out to scuttle anything Rajiv thought of and the entire system was dismantled. Later a G.K. Chaddha Committee tried to salvage it, but it was too late. The Eleventh Plan is in that mould and its blue ribbon agricultural schemes say that funding will come only if you work out the balance resources needed if your priorities are worked out in the local agro-climatic paradigm. By now a district agricultural plan exists for each district.
The earlier NABARD report was in the old style, funding each programme. NABARD's new thinking is state of the art in the rural development game. It sees its role as developing refinancing for financial products to suit each region's agricultural priorities, leaving the state funding to the Plan. This can really go far. The difficulty when a farmer or a group of farmers (producer companies and co-ops) get together to implement the new profit-making ideas emerging from the demands of a fast growing economy, is that the funds are generally not available from the largely public-sector banking system. Very few private and no foreign banks, apart from the Dutch co-op Rabo, enter this terrain. Some states have worked it out: Maharashtra has an easy scheme to finance watershed development, ridge furrows, seeds for tree crops, even expensive ones as in Bt, drips and for the tree growing cycle for horticulture. But that's an exception. The usual examples are to the contrary. In many states, producer groups incorporated in the Companies Act do not get working capital since the rules are there only for co-ops. If you are a government department you get money, if you are a company or a co-op you get money, but if you are a new organisation, you get compliments but no cash. If NABARD breaks that cycle, it would have reinvented itself for 2020.
Going to the government should not mean loan melas. But a strategic position on agricultural and rural finance is at the heart of the great rural-urban transition India is going through.
The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand firstname.lastname@example.org
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
Two hundred and seventy-two gold medals were on offer at CWG 2010. These were not evenly distributed across 17 disciplines 56 were for aquatics, 52 for athletics, 36 for shooting, 21 for wrestling, 18 for cycling and 17 for weight-lifting. Team events proper accounted for just two medals, in hockey. If one includes netball and rugby sevens, the tally increases to four. At the November 2010 Asian Games (AG) in Guangzhou, 476 gold medals will be on offer. 47 will be for athletics, 44 for shooting and 48 for aquatics (diving and swimming combined), though there will be more medals for core team events than in CWG 2010. 302 gold medals were on offer at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. 47 were for athletics and 42 for swimming and diving combined. The pattern will be no different in the London Olympic Games (OG) in 2012. As a country, if one wishes to make a dent in the overall medal tallies, one can't ignore athletics and aquatics, and most medals are delivered by individuals, not teams. On the last day, there is a metaphor in Saina Nehwal making us touch the magic figure of 38 gold medals, and the hockey team being thrashed 8-0 by Australia.
One can make snide remarks about the Commonwealth and the CWG. The CWG aren't global. Competition isn't global. There is a "Greatest Sporting Nation" ranking, based on the OG, the world championships and other major tournaments. The top four (there is a disaggregated ranking separating men from women) are the United States, Germany, Russia and China. India scores 52nd on this and our ranking declines if performance is expressed per capita, divided by population. How can we preen ourselves with CWG performance if major sporting nations are missing?
Take the 4X400 metres women's relay team. It won gold with a timing of 3:27.77. The world record is 3:15.17. Even when top countries are part of the CWG, the best athletes don't necessarily participate. Haven't several (not just Usain Bolt) dropped out because of dengue and other health and security concerns? In the scare leading up to the CWG, much was made of these drop-outs, concentrated in cycling, athletics, aquatics and the odd tennis-player and archer. In most instances, the reasons for opting out are in the public domain and one discovers that there is more to it than Delhi-belly. Shelly-Ann Fraser tested positive for a prohibited substance and earned a provisional ban. For others, there were injuries and conflicts with tournament and championship calendars.
That the best don't always participate in the CWG is a fair point. However, especially since India underperformed in tennis, and given our concentration of medals, even if these athletes had participated, our medal tally would probably not have been significantly affected. Barring specialised championships and tournaments, the three multi-sport events are really the CWG, the AG (other regional ones are irrelevant for us) and the OG. Surely, we don't want to go to town over the South Asian Games.
At the CWG, India's medal tally has been: 0 (1950, 1954); 3 (1958); 0 (1962); 10 (1966); 12 (1970); 15 (1974); 15 (1978); 16 (1982); 0 (1986); 32 (1990); 25 (1994); 25 (1998); 69 (2002); 50 (2006); and 101(2010). Studies float around, attempting to explain sporting performance. These are mostly about the OG, rarely about the AG or the CWG.
While one study differs from another, the broad consensus is that sporting performance depends on per capita GDP, population and host-country advantage. "Depends" is the wrong word to use. What we have is correlation, not causation. Nor do these studies probe inter-disciplinary spread of medals, the point made earlier. On the basis of such studies, host-country advantage adds around 25 per cent to performance. Therefore, our baseline medal performance, so to speak, is around 75. If trends are extrapolated, that is what we should get in Glasgow.
In gold medal tallies, we have ousted England and that is a matter of pride. But that's partly symbolic. What is more pertinent is the displacement of Canada and whether this third (after Australia and England) can be maintained in Glasgow and thereafter. In the November AG, the baseline should be between 50 and 55 and India will be bunched together with Thailand, Iran, Uzbekistan and Malaysia. China, South Korea, Japan and Kazakhstan will be some distance ahead. Depending on how we perform in that bunched together lot, we can aspire to be fifth. It is fairly obvious that the baseline has improved since the '90s, becoming more broadbased. The baseline seems to have jumped once in the '90s and again in the 2000s. Aquatics remains a blackhole and can't remain so.
However, there has been a dent in athletics, Greco-Roman wrestling and even gymnastics. What explains this? How does one replicate the success in weightlifting, shooting, archery, boxing, wrestling and athletics extend them to aquatics? Sporting federations have begun to claim credit. Cricket is somewhat different. But with the exception of Haryana, there doesn't seem to be any evidence that public policy has directly helped.
What are the forces driving GDP growth? While economists will think of all kinds of reasons, the crux probably is entrepreneurship (interpreted as risk-taking) and a young, ambitious and hungry India. The individual-driven medal success can also be attributed to similar reasons, with liberalisation facilitating participation in competitions abroad, hiring of foreign coaches, expenditure on training and even sponsorships. Let's not forget that several athletes have trained in the US and often (shooting, badminton and tennis are examples) private expenditure is involved. In cross-country studies that use population as a variable, India, Indonesia and Bangladesh are underperformers. If they punch below their weight, that's largely because populations are rural and not integrated.
One should then ask a different question. How has Haryana become mainstreamed and integrated on this factor and what should one do to ensure Jharkhand's success is not one isolated flash in the pan? Haryana also probably demonstrates a critical element in the composition of public expenditure. Having built sports infrastructure, the rest are fiscal incentives (of different types) directed at individuals, not pointless public expenditure on sports federations and public training. There is a similar message in organising the CWG too. The public administrative system is no longer capable of delivering what it did in 1982. There has been progressive deterioration and decay. Witness how the best village in the world became the worst village in the world in a month and then again became the best village in the world in a week. If there wasn't a fiasco, that's largely because of quasi-privatisation. That should be the lesson and the legacy.
The author is a Delhi-based economist email@example.com
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
LAYING OUT THE RED CARPET
In October 1954, Jawaharlal Nehru paid his first and, as it turned out, also the last visit to China after its 1949 revolution. The Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai era was at full blast, but Nehru personally had no illusions on this score, even though he was grievously to misread Chinese intentions in 1962 and grievously did he pay for it. Briefing a goodwill delegation to China well before his visit, he had told it that India's problems with China lay "across the spine of Asia". However, he was keen on the journey to a country most of the world was excited about.
Sadly, I was too junior then to be included in the press party accompanying the PM but I read every word in every newspaper within reach on the "historic visit." Nothing could have revealed Nehru's own exceptional interest in this journey than that for precisely five days in his whole life from October 15 to 19 of that year, when he was in China after a stopover in Vietnam he maintained a diary. He looked upon the sojourn as a continuation of his "discovery of Asia."
On Nehru's arrival in Peking (as the Chinese capital was called then) nearly a million people turned out to line the 12-mile route from the airport to give him a reception that the Indian press corps accompanying him described as "breathtaking." The correspondent for the London Daily Mail reported that the Chinese had offered Nehru "a Roman triumph."
Nehru's own take on the welcome was that he discerned in it an "element of spontaneity." As he confided to the Congress parliamentary party, "I sensed such a tremendous emotional response from the Chinese people that I was amazed." His overall impression of China was that of a country "smoothly running with enormous potential power which was being translated gradually into actual strength." The country was "large not only in size but also in spirit and character", and the Chinese people, "unified, organised, disciplined, and hardworking exuded a tremendous sense of vitality."
]However, greatly impressed by China though he was, he wasn't overawed. To quote his speech to the Congress parliamentary party again, "I am impressed by China. Having said that, let me also tell you that, having been to China, I am very much impressed by my own country." In today's circumstances, it surely looks highly ironic but, at that time, Nehru also assured his party that India was "unlikely to be outstripped by China economically."
Nehru's extended conversations were with his opposite number, Zhou En-lai, who had earlier stopped over in New Delhi on his way back from the Geneva Conference on Indochina, and had received a very warm welcome. He had also invited Nehru to visit China at an early date.
Now that the record of these conversations, as that of the previous talks, is available even if very belatedly thanks to the publication of the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, it is possible to perceive the pitfalls in the negotiations between the two prime ministers. Zhou was both ingratiating and cunning. Nehru, who found him to be "still very India-conscious" and "as eager as in Delhi to be as friendly as possible," was both cordial and frank. Yet he got taken in, as in Delhi in June, by Zhou's spiel that the Chinese government hadn't had time to "review" the Kuomintang-era maps. Zhou also cleverly added that none of the boundaries of China "including those with the Soviet Union and Mongolia, had been precisely demarcated."
Surprisingly, Zhou took no offence when Nehru drew attention to the "fear of China (and perhaps of India) that prevailed in the minds of the smaller nations of Asia." Nehru added that there was the problem of "overseas Chinese" and the possibility of "interference in the internal affairs of other countries through the medium of local Communist parties." Zhou claimed, whether accurately or otherwise, that he had "repeatedly advised the government of Pakistan to draw away from the United States and improve relations with India."
The high point of the visit, however, was Nehru's long meeting with Mao Tse-tung. As Nehru later recorded, it seemed to him as if he was being "ushered before a Presence," and that Mao talked to him like "an elderly uncle giving good advice." China's Chairman made the usual references to "ancient ties as well as new friendship between India and China," and underscored China's need for at least 20 years of peace for development.
What stunned Nehru was Mao's utter insensitivity about a nuclear war. Atomic weapons, Mao argued, had made "no basic change" in warfare except that more people would be killed. Nehru disagreed strongly. Atomic warfare, he said, was not a matter of a greater quantity of deaths but of a "qualitative change in killing." A third world war would be very different from earlier wars. Mao contended that even if half the population died in a nuclear war, the other half would build socialism, and imperialism would be dead for ever.
Let me end on two notes, one amusing and the other bizarre, in that order. At Nanking Nehru had to place a wreath at a memorial to reach which he had to climb 300 steps. Then 64, he practically ran up, as was his habit. Halfway, while coming down, he saw his doctor huffing and puffing on his way up.
Secondly, it is not just bizarre but also tragic that Nehru wrote the top-secret note on his visit to China on November 11, 1954, yet it never saw the light of day until the 1990s when it was published first in Nehru's Letters to Chief Ministers first and then in the Selected Works. But I read it in 1987 in Britain's Public Records Office. How did it get there? Well, Nehru had sent a copy to Winston Churchill while the latter was still Prime Minister. At the expiry of 30 years Downing Street had duly declassified it. I published a gist of it in my column. Mercifully nobody prosecuted me for violating the Official Secrets Act.
The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE 'BEIJING MODEL' HAS FAILED
THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
The Norwegian committee just awarded its 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, the jailed Chinese pro-democracy activist. The message to Beijing, I'd argue, was simple: liberty is a value in and of itself, because without it human beings can never develop their full potential. And, therefore, liberty is also an essential ingredient for any society that wants to thrive in the 21st century. Otherwise, it can't develop its full potential. Can China continue to prosper, while censoring the Internet, controlling its news media and insisting on a monopoly of political power by the Party?
I don't think so. To be sure, China has thrived up to now impressively. But the Nobel committee did China a favour in sending the tacit message with its peace prize: Don't get too cocky and think that you have rewritten the laws of gravity. The "Beijing Consensus," of economic liberty without political liberty, may have been a great strategy for takeoff, but it won't get you to the next level. So this might actually be a good time for Beijing to engage peaceful democracy advocates like Liu, who is now serving an 11-year sentence, or the 23 retired Chinese Communist Party officials who last week published an open letter challenging the government to improve speech and press freedoms. (Bloomberg News said that an Internet link to the Chinese-language version of the letter could not be opened in China. Screens showed "network error.")
My reason for believing China will have to open up sooner than its leadership thinks has to do with its basic challenge: It has to get rich before it gets old. Because of its one-child population-control policy China, over the next few decades, will go from a country where two sets of grandparents and one set of parents are all saving for the computer for one kid, to a country where one kid will be supporting the retirement of two parents and maybe one grandparent with little government help.
The only stable way to handle that is to raise incomes by moving more Chinese from low-wage manufacturing jobs to more knowledge- and services-based jobs, as Hong Kong did. But, and here's the rub: today's knowledge industries are all being built on social networks that enable open collaboration, the free sharing of ideas and the formation of productive relationships both within companies and around the globe. The logic is that all of us are smarter than one of us, and the unique feature of today's flat world is that you can actually tap the brains and skills of all of us, or at least more people in more places. Companies and countries that enable that will thrive more than those that don't.
Curtis Carlson, the CEO of an innovation hub in Silicon Valley, says: "Innovation that happens from the bottom up tends to be chaotic but smart. Innovation that happens from the top down tends to be orderly but dumb." As a result, says Carlson, "on balance, the sweet spot for innovation today is moving down, not up."
Government's job today is to inspire, liberate, empower and enable all that stuff coming up from below, while learning to live with and manage the chaos. But what would happen if China had 600 million villagers on Twitter? In a country that already has thousands of protests every week over land seizures and corruption, its system probably could not handle that much unrestricted bottom-up energy. It is a real problem for Beijing. China can't afford chaos, and China can't afford not to gradually unleash more bottom-up and less top-down energies. I don't know how China's leaders are going to balance these imperatives.
Maybe they should ask Liu Xiaobo.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
OVER TEA IN KABUL
A FEW VIGNETTES TO EXPLAIN WHY I BELIEVE AMERICA'S STRATEGY IN AFGHANISTAN ISN'T WORKING:
Scene 1: A home in Kabul where I'm having tea with a remarkable woman, Soora Stoda, who runs a logistics company serving the American military.
Ms Stoda despises the Taliban and shudders as she remembers her terror as a seventh grader when the Taliban stormed her secret school for girls. She said Taliban thugs beat the girls and murdered the teacher, her aunt.
Yet Ms Stoda, like all contractors, has to pay off the Taliban directly or indirectly to work in insecure areas. She estimates that for every $1,000 her company is paid for work in such places, some $600 often ends up in the hands of the Taliban. It's the same with all contractors, and the upshot is that the American taxpayer has become a significant source of financing for the Taliban. One estimate: one US soldier causes enough money to leak to the Taliban to recruit another 10 fighters trying to kill that American.
Scene 2: A dusty shantytown in Kabul, with a group of hundreds of disgruntled men from war-torn Helmand Province.
The men say that they will probably end up joining the Taliban. What intrigues me is that the men don't seem particularly ideological. They said they were sickened when one commander recently beheaded seven of their fellow villagers. Their preference would be to get regular jobs and live in peace. But there are no jobs, and now they are being told that they will be kicked out of their camp. They say the threatened expulsion is the result of a land deal by tycoons tied to Karzai.
Several men say that they were recruited by the Taliban with a pitch that was partly ideological but also partly capitalist, promising hundreds of dollars a month and free food, tea and sugar. Our counterinsurgency doesn't include enough counterrecruitment.
Scene 3: A group of distinguished Afghans sit on a carpet in an office, telling stories.
They break my heart by wondering aloud whether the Russians or the Americans were worse. "America does development projects," acknowledged a brigadier general in the police. "But not as many as the Russians did." A retired brigadier general in the army added: "If you go to the villages and ask people who was better, the Russians or the Americans, they'll say the Russians."
Grrr! The Soviet invasion helped destroy Afghanistan, while American troops these days try hard to be respectful and avoid civilian casualties But after nine years, many Afghans are sick of us.
My latest visit leaves me with 100 such vignettes suggesting to me that our strategy in Afghanistan is unsustainable. We're inadvertently financing our adversaries. We're backing a corrupt government that drives people to the Taliban. And we're more eager to rescue the Afghans than the Afghans are to be rescued.
-NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
"WE WOULD WANT INDIA TO ASSUME A STILL MORE ACTIVE ROLE IN INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS, AND TO TAKE EVEN MORE RESPONSIBILITY"
PRANAB DHAL SAMANTA
The German minister for foreign affairs, Dr Guido Westerwelle, starts a high level visit to India Monday. Speaking to Pranab Dhal Samanta, he raised concerns over terrorist training camps that are operating in "the region"; he emphasised that terrorist networks in the neighbourhood need to be dismantled for peace in Afghanistan and the region. While he is cautious on China, holding that Beijing is an important partner for the EU and will act in the best interests of peace and stability, Westerwelle says that Germany is keen on sharing its expertise on the safe operation of nuclear power plants with India.
There have been credible reports of Europeans, including German nationals, receiving training at terrorist camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. What are the conversations you are having with Pakistan on this issue?
Global terrorism and violent extremism are serious threats, not only to the region but also to international peace and security. Germany is very concerned about terrorist training camps in the region. It is clear that we all have a common interest in combating this threat and we should join hands to do so. Close cooperation is crucial for dismantling terrorist networks and preventing them from carrying out attacks. We want peace and security not only in Afghanistan, but for the whole region. That is why we seek close cooperation in this matter also with Pakistan.
In this context, do you think the time is ripe for NATO forces led by the US to implement a plan for drawing down troops in Afghanistan? What in Germany's view should be India's future role in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region?
During the Kabul conference in July, with our NATO and Afghan partners, we finalised the so-called "transition" concept. This concept includes the step-by-step transition of security responsibility from the international troops to the Afghan army and police. The Afghan president has committed that the Afghan security forces will assume full responsibility for security by 2014, beginning next year. I am confident that this goal can be achieved. But this transition of responsibility does not mean the immediate withdrawal of all international forces. And even after NATO troops have left Afghanistan, the international community will continue its assistance to Afghanistan and its people. As far as India's contribution is concerned, your country is really doing a lot to help Afghanistan with reconstruction and development.
China's assertiveness has become a cause of concern in Asia as well as among other important powers. As a global power involved in crucial negotiations like those with Iran, how concerned is Germany about ensuring that China's rise is peaceful?
Given China's size and economic as well as political weight, the country is an important partner not only for Asia, but also for the EU and for Germany. I am confident that China knows, as we do, that peace and stability worldwide, and particularly in Asia, is in its own best interest, and will continue to act accordingly.
The civil nuclear power industry is witnessing a splendid phase of growth and there has been a healthy debate in Germany to not foreclose this option as a clean source of power. Is Germany pursuing cooperation with India on this subject, and if so, could you share some details? Only a few weeks ago, our government presented its energy concept, in which nuclear power plays a role as a bridging technology into the era of new energy technologies, including an increasing share of renewables and significant advances in energy efficiency.
Germany has a great deal of expertise on the safe operation of nuclear power plants which we are ready to share with other countries like India. As to cooperation between the Nuclear Suppliers Group and India, it has greatly intensified since 2008 when it was decided to grant an exemption to India. Currently, companies are examining the effects of India's new liability legislation.
What is the state of the Indo-German bilateral relationship? What prospects do you wish to explore during your visit?
India and Germany have very close and friendly relations. We are linked by a strategic partnership that includes a political dialogue as well as an intensive economic cooperation. India's growth rates are impressive and there are many opportunities for German companies. But I would like to add that we feel that our relations are not limited to economic partnership. We share the same democratic values. India is the world's largest democracy and it has certainly become a player of global importance. Given its fast-growing political and economic weight, we would want India to assume a still more active role in international affairs and to take even more responsibility. And we would also like to intensify our cooperation on global issues such a the protection of our climate.
There has been some movement in the UN on the issue of expanding membership in the permanent category of the UN Security Council. Discussions are under way to come up with a negotiated text. Also, we hear proposals for an intermediate solution, such as a semi-permanent seat for 10 years with no veto power. Is Germany warming up to any of the intermediate solutions that are being talked about? Is working together under the G-4 rubric still a useful strategy?
First of all, I would like to congratulate India on being elected to the Security Council for the next two years. I am looking forward to close cooperation with your country. The challenges lying ahead of us are manifold, such as the resolution of regional conflicts or global challenges as climate change or disarmament. With regard to a reform of the United Nations and the Security Council, it is obvious that today's UN structure still reflects the architecture of the world after the Second World War. But things have changed a lot, and it is no longer adequate to have continents like Asia, Latin America and Africa so obviously underrepresented in the Security Council. We have to work on this. A couple of weeks ago, I met with my G4 colleagues in New York to talk about the way forward. I think that working together in this format is still very useful and we will continue to do so. It might also be helpful that three of us, that is India, Brazil and Germany, are non-permanent members next year. This might help to create an additional momentum for reform.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
MFIS VS MONEYLENDERS
The Andhra Pradesh Microfinance Institutions (Regulation of Money Lending) Ordinance, 2010, suggests there's more politics than understanding of economics that went into it. The setting up of district registering authority under the ordinance, with elaborate powers to even cancel licences, will increase risks of operations posing serious hazard to business plans and will jeopardise the whole MFI network. Especially stifling is the requirement that MFIs have to submit a monthly statement to the registering authority giving the list of borrowers, the loan amount and the interest rate charged, which is proprietary information of the credit agency. And though the provision that the interest collected should not exceed the principal may sound reasonable, it can be the first step that paves the way for a direct cap on interest rates at a later stage. Interest rates and repayment amounts vary across board. Some lenders get at the prime lending rate, some above it, and some below. And, in the case of even the most credit-worthy person you can imagine, consumer loans cost more than housing loans since the housing loans have collateral that can be attached by the bank. Equally intriguing is the assurance that high-cost MFI loans be swapped with low-cost bank loans. How the Andhra government can hope to make commitments on behalf of PSUs and private banks is unclear, but surely it must be obvious that borrowers went to MFIs only because banks were not willing to lend to them, and presumably because the MFIs were cheaper than other informal sources, including moneylenders.
Andhra Pradesh chief minister K Rosaiah's threats to take stringent action against the MFIs, for charging what he calls unreasonably high interest rates, and to put down the activities of the so-called unregulated MFIs with an iron hand, will not only discourage the MFIs from providing credit to the poor but also push them back into the hands of the usurious moneylenders, who were historically the only source of loans to the poor. The only reasonable point made by the chief minister was the need to curb the arm-twisting methods used by the MFIs to recover the loans. Coercion and use of unethical practices for loan recovery has to be firmly dealt with by the state and there are enough provisions in the legal statutes to deal with such crimes.
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THAT BSNL FEELING
A standard explanation given by the state-owned BSNL for steadily losing market share, and becoming a loss-making firm in the bargain, is that it has a lot less freedom with tenders than its private sector counterparts. So while a Bharti or a Vodafone can negotiate directly with vendors and probably finalise orders within a few weeks, it can take BSNL a year or more to finalise and then float a tender, and even then there is no certainty as aggrieved vendors will not go to courtunder the tender system, BSNL has no option but to buy from the lowest bidder and if it is seen to be leaning towards a particular technology, anyone can take it to court. This is largely true, but BSNL's brass has to share some part of the blame. When its last tender was cancelled, this was done because it was pointed out that its size was out of proportion with the kind of subscriber growth the PSU had been gettingBSNL's top team were clearly not able to make a case for the order.
Its recent 5.5-million line capacity tender is another good example of this. The tender has already run into rough weather with Swedish vendor Ericsson walking out of it. While BSNL has said bidders must deposit the source code of their software and hardware in a government-controlled escrow account to address government's security concerns, Ericsson says it will not meet this criterion. Other bidders like Nokia Siemens and Alcatel Lucent haven't walked out so far, but have made it clear that they won't deposit their source code, which means that they may walk out soon or that they are prepared to lose. So the only serious contenders for the bid are Chinese vendors, which may not be a bad thing considering Chinese vendors are reportedly 30-40% cheaper.
But here's the rub: BSNL did not have to insist on the source code since, when the European vendors protested, the government allowed a relaxation, allowing vendors to give a self-certification. Some private telcos have used the opportunity to get a mix of Chinese and European equipment, an opportunity BSNL has missed. Even this is not the problem since it is possible BSNL is happy with Chinese equipment. But by insisting on a condition that is not mandatory, BSNL has once again opened itself up to the possibility of someone going to the court, or the CVC, to argue the tender is biased. Who will BSNL blame then?
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INDIA'S ANTIQUATED FORCES
DEBA R MOHANTY
Chief of the Indian Air Force ACM PV Naik has gone on record recently to admit that half of the Indian aerospace fighter arsenal was obsolete. The defence minister, AK Antony, subsequently tried to play down the condition by urging that the Indian defence industry must be encouraged by the state to improve the degree of self-reliance and fight obsolescence in this fast-paced technological environment. If this was not enough, ACM Naik has warned the country that the security situation in and around India was like a 'volcano', which necessitated an extremely high level of preparedness by the air force, in particular, and the entire armed forces, in general. If unstable security conditions as well as strategic global aspirations necessitate India to build a formidable military capability, 'obsolescence' is one problem that should not have affected the armed forces as badly as it has today.
Let's see how prepared the Indian armed forces are for any situation. Not only the Indian aerospace but also land and naval arsenals are fast becoming obsolete. Consider this: IAF has a sanctioned strength of 39.5 combat squadrons, yet is barely 30 squadrons strong now, and aims to have a 45 squadron strength in the near future, if former ACM Fali Major is to be believed. If four to six squadrons of MiGs are to be phased out in time and the 126 MMRCA and LCAs are not replenished in time, India is likely to manage with about 26 fighter squadrons for the next six to seven years! Even acquisitions of Su-30s would not be able to compensate for some time and the joint development of the fifth generation fighter (with Russia) can only happen by the early 2020s, if everything goes according to plan. Transport, trainers, heavy lifts, medium and heavy choppers, mid-air refuellers and others are also in short supply, if the desirable level of Indian aerospace power is taken into consideration. The situation is worrisome.
The land-based arsenal looks no better. Former Army Chief VP Malik's famous admissionwe will fight with whatever we haveis not passé. General VK Singh's immediate predecessor General Deepak Kapoor has gone on record saying that 80% of the land equipment is night-blind. Apart from night-blindness, the land forces are in short supply practically on every frontfrom infantry and weaponry to larger land systems. Heavy tanks may be an exception; India lacks light and medium tanks, and varieties of artilleries, the latter being a hostage to 'Bofors' syndrome. Artillery and air wing have been worst affected as tender after tender has been cancelled in recent years, thanks primarily to non-military reasons (read, allegations and counter allegations by vendors and so-called technical reasons mentioned by the MoD). The Navy seems a little better off among the services, yet its projected plans to have an aircraft carrier fleet, sufficient numbers of submarines, frigates, destroyers and other smaller warships are also in short supply, although to a lesser degree in comparison to its counterparts. Most worrying is a scenario in which even if the MoD is able to acquire 90% of the systems that it envisages for the planned long-term military modernisation programme, 'obsolescence' could still be more than 40%10+% larger than any ideal arsenal should possess.
Obsolescence and numeric deficits in the Indian arsenal are a result of a host of factors, spanning from defence planning to procurement processes. The blame game is easy within defence establishments as any stakeholder can accuse the other without much accountability. However, the worst sufferer is the end-user whose modernisation programme is hit badly, which leads to further obsolescence. Speak to any military leaderwhile they may put on a brave face in public, they are quite worried!
India has been fighting technological obsolescence for several decades as it is not only capital intensive but also involves consistent scientific and industrial endeavours. That's why you have only five-odd aero-engine manufacturers who have held hostage the fighter components of aerospace power in the world. That's why you see only a handful of countries devoting scientific and financial resources towards aerospace and unmanned systems. Where does India standits indigenous Kaveri aero-engine programme now looks towards either GE-414 or EJ-200; its aerospace engineering programmes attract less and less talent, its futuristic programmes are not adequately funded (DRDO budget is $2 billion). The private sector is kept at an arm's length since they are branded 'strategic' and hence have no place for private enterprise! This is despite the fact that Godrej & Boyce, Tata Power, Larsen & Toubro, and other companies have supplied critical components to many Indian strategic military programmes. Long planning processes coupled with delays have also contributed significantly to technological obsolescence. As a former IAF officer put it, by the time LCA is ready, it may well become a trainer instead of a fighter! If LCA takes decades, acquisitions do not happen in two or three years either. The 126 MMRCA deal serves as a case in point.
ACM Naik and AK Antony are true to their wordsthe former lays out the problem and the latter a possible
answer. Betwixt the two lies the great Indian tragedy of a lack of strategic vision and political courage, rigid institutional mechanisms, complex procurement procedures and virtually no accountability in the defence sector.
The author is a senior fellow in Security Studies at the Observer Research Foundation. These are his personal views
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
INDIA'S YOUTH HAVE MOVED ON
The subdued, mature response by all manner of people and organisations to the recent Lucknow High Court verdict on the six-decade old Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute has been rightly read by political commentators and media pundits alike as sign of a new India's desire to move beyond divisive politics to more progressive, development-led agendas.
And it seems the desire to 'move on' has been particularly strong with India's young population for some time now. The country's young demographics, over 65% of the population under the age of 35, is our biggest calling card, not just in terms of achieving the much avowed global economic stardom, but critically the nature of polity that we ultimately become.
Let's look at some proxy indicators. A massive survey of India's youth last year by the National Council of Applied Economic Research for National Book Trust throws of some very interesting findings. The survey takes the National Youth Policy's definition of 13-35 years as youth. The survey, undertaken as part of the National Youth Readership Survey 2009, interviewed over 3,11,431 youth in 432 villages and 199 cities/towns, the biggest by any survey so far. The survey results are for literate youth, who constitute around three-fourths of 459 million youth in the country.
Lest we assume that we're now a country of atheists or 'non-religious' young people, the survey says that a overwhelming proportion, over three-fourths, of India's literate youth (333 million) said they were religious, with the count of atheists at 2% and non-religious at 15%. These numbers are roughly similar across gender, faith, cities and villages and level of education.
But it seems being 'personally religious' (the specific question was "Irrespective of whether you attend religious services, would you say you're a religious person?") does in no way come in way of embracing progressive thoughts and rejecting dogmatism.
Under 1% of literate youth in the country is associated with any political party as a member, lower than memberships for apolitical organisations like self-help groups and youth clubs. The study trashes the 'fairly competitive and intense student politics at the university and college level', as non-representative of 'the political orientation of the literate youth in India'. After all, only a third of all 333 million literate youth in India are students, and less than one in ten literate youth go to colleges for higher education, so indeed why should 'students politics' in big cities based colleges be marker for all youth in the country!
Clearly, Indian youth and not political creatures in the sense of belonging to one group or the other, or espousing one ideology over another, but that doesn't mean they're apolitical. Far from it. Over a third are interested in politics, higher than the proportion that shows interest in fashion. And a high number (72%) is interested in news & current affairs making them aware citizens.
A large majority (67%) of literate Indian youth support reservation for women in Parliament and state assemblies. And around half are aware of developmental programmes like NREGA and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, pointing to a growing trend towards supporting gender & economic inclusiveness.
Importantly, even while two-thirds of India's literate youth fall in the SC/ST/OBC category, the proportion that support the current caste-based reservation in higher education is under half (47.7%). And this, even when unemployment remains high (around 10%) amongst graduate/post-graduate youth. What this points to is a losing traction for caste-based politics of the Mandal kind that tore through the country's social fabric in the early 1990s. However, a caveat here is in order. The NCAER-NBT survey is for a period in time (2009) and we don't have time series figures to compare it with, 1990-91 for instance, the year of the anti-Mandal agitation against OBC reservation. Nonetheless, available anecdotal evidence suggests that indeed caste-based reservation is losing its potency to rally people, for or against it.
What is also important to bear in mind is that a large part of literate Indian youth (75%) still lives in a joint-family, with around three generations under one roof. With conformism a social behaviour even with young people in India, undoubtedly, the general family/elders view has a bearing on the youth's responses and opinions. In that sense, what the youth of India is articulating here points to a vastly changed India. And that, in a sense, proves that we as people are surely moving away from the bitterness, insularity and parochialism of the past, and for the better.
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Tax havens may pose a problem to taxmen, but they're also a boon in some ways. The finance ministry now plans to expand its foreign tax team in a big way. The Foreign Tax and Tax Research division of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) that deals with foreign taxation issues, will now have four directors instead of the current two, there will be eight undersecretaries instead of the current four, and there will be several more section officers for each director.
Fake job mails
At one time you heard of e-mail scams, of rewards being promised in order to get out bank and other details from the unsuspecting. At one time, things got serious and RBI had to clarify that the e-mail ostensibly from it was a fake. After a while, this moved on to SMS scams. The latest is the Siemens job scam, asking for deposits on behalf of the company. Siemens has put out a press release saying it is a 'merit-based employer' and does not charge either security deposits or fees.
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US news makes much of outsourcing. US entertainment refuses to get hysterical
The Simpsons debuted on the Fox network in 1989 and has proved a steady moneymaker since. The show satirises working class America as well as whatever grabs its fancy, occasionally making merry even at the expense of its host network. Over time, audiences have gotten accustomed to the show's bite but they got kicked out of their ennui last week when a really, really dark opening credit sequence was flung at them. In a squalid sweatshop, unicorn horns are used to punch out the show's DVDs and white kittens are mashed up to stuff Bart dolls. The sombre music that plays in the background has reminded some commentators of Schindler's List. There are two empirical notes that must be made here. First, all the above apparently happened in response to news that Simpsons animations were being outsourced to Korea. Second, all the above was brainstormed by a UK 'guerrilla' artist who has formerly created a life-sized replica of a Guantanamo Bay detainee at none other than Disneyland.
So, does this mean that Fox and Disney are comfortable with being laughed at? Perhaps this means that, instead, satire no longer boasts the same scary credentials that it used to with respect to cultural commentary. Or perhaps, and this is most relevant for us Indians, prime time entertainment TV in the US is nowhere as asinine about outsourcing as its news counterpart.
The presence of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was in New Delhi as chief guest at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, gave Prime Minister Manmohan Singh another opportunity to flag the need for a political settlement of the Tamil question and urge the Sri Lankan leader to act decisively in this regard. The resettlement and rehabilitation of Tamils displaced during the war remains an important issue, and the Sri Lankan government did well by attending to this task with the urgency it demanded at the end of the military operations against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. But more than 16 months after that historic military victory, this is not the most difficult challenge before the Sri Lankan government. During this period, President Rajapaksa has won a second term in office. The ruling coalition, which he leads, has also been re-elected; after a few crossovers from the opposition benches, it enjoys a two-thirds support in Parliament. Indeed, Mr. Rajapaksa has already made use of the coalition's parliamentary domination to remove the constitutional two-term bar for a President. As any substantial political package addressing the aspirations of the Tamil and Muslim minorities is likely to require constitutional amendments, the present Parliament offers the best chance in nearly three decades to provide for genuine ethnic reconciliation.
It is true that the political leadership of the Tamil community, such as it is today, is divided on the specifics. However, like most conflict resolution experts, it seems agreed that the best way to resolve the Tamil question is through substantial devolution of power to the Tamil region, going beyond the 13th Amendment, within the framework of a united Sri Lanka. President Rajapaksa is absolutely correct in holding that any political solution to the conflict must be home-grown. He has projected the recently set up Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission as the vehicle for building a consensus among all stakeholders. But the terms of reference of this commission, set up to inquire into events from 2002 until the final stages of the military operations against the LTTE, may be too narrow to form the basis for a solution to a conflict whose roots go back more than five decades. Further, the findings of the All Parties Representative Conference are yet to be made public. All this has given rise to an impression of drift. President Rajapaksa must be aware of these concerns as he gets ready to begin his second presidential term next month. Here is an unprecedented opportunity to turn the page, once and for all, on the country's ethnic dispute. Sri Lanka's powerful leader should seize time by the forelock.
A timely reality check on public policies in the developing world, the Global Hunger Index 2010, (GHI) released by the International Food Policy Research Institute, reveals the disturbing fact that the number of hungry people in the world hovers around the one-billion mark. Although this year's estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organisation place the figure at 925 million, barely a year ago, at the height of the recession, "the number of undernourished people crossed one billion." The recent dip notwithstanding, the messages from the GHI are quite discomforting. For one, there is a striking divide between the haves and the have-nots of the world. Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are among the 29 that face either "extremely alarming" or "alarming" levels of hunger. Secondly, glittering economic growth rates do not mean a hunger-free nation; India, with its large economy and robust growth, is ranked among countries that face an "alarming" situation. Thirdly, nothing works like meaningful state-led intervention policies that directly address hunger; Brazil has improved its performance by more than 50 per cent between 1990 and 2010, thanks to effective state intervention.
The GHI rightly identifies the high prevalence of "child under-nutrition as a major contribution to persistent hunger". Although past policies targeted children under the age of five, it is pointed out that the "window of opportunity" to improve nutrition is much shorter the period spanning (-)9 months to (+)24 months (from conception to the second birthday). This observation should lead to a reordering of public policies to ensure that this crucial period is not missed out. At a wider level, malnutrition is a consequence of multiple deprivations that call for action on related issues as well. For instance, a study earlier this year by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative showed that while 38.9 per cent of the poor in India were undernourished, they encountered severe deprivations in respect of other critical and related indicators as well: cooking fuel (52.2 per cent), drinking water (12 per cent) and sanitation (49.3 per cent). Malnutrition cannot be tackled effectively as a stand-alone issue and what is needed is a comprehensive policy that addresses multiple deprivations. In addition, there is evidence from Brazil that well-conceived conditional cash transfer schemes help in reducing hunger. India must fine-tune its social sector programmes, including the conditional cash transfer schemes, to wage a successful battle against hunger.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
THE NARCISSISM OF THE NEUROTIC
THE COMMONWEALTH GAMES WERE NO SHOWCASE, BUT A MIRROR OF INDIA 2010. IF THEY PRESENTED ANYTHING, IT WAS THIS INDIAN CRONY, CASINO CAPITALISM AT ITS MOST VIGOROUS.
The Commonwealth Games over, we can now return to those of everyday Indian life. For all the protests, though, there was nothing in the corruption that marked the Games that does not permeate every town and city, all the time. Just that, in these Games, it got concentrated in one very high-profile event, under constant public and media gaze. Much of the agonising over what was routine corruption was occasioned by "what the world will think of us." For 'world' read Western world. We care little about what Tuvalu or Tonga or Papua New Guinea think of us.
The corruption or its public manifestation hurt us because it messed with our self-image and our need to be accepted as special by the Western elite, in every way, even at sports. After all, we are knocking at the door of the G-8. Else, there were no surprises in the corruption. Shocking, yes. Surprising, no. Dirty contracts handed out to sleazy builders? That's business as usual in Mumbai, any day in the past three decades. Most of the city's 36 MLAs are builders or contractors, which is its own comment.
Shoddy construction? Footbridges that collapse? We figured out how flimsy were the buildings in Gujarat's cities after the 2000 quake. Yet we continue to build huge high-rises in high seismic zones because there's money in that. It was logical for the authorities to say of the collapsed footbridge in Delhi that it was meant for ordinary citizens, not athletes. (Read: It's okay if ordinary citizens fall off it.)
Kickbacks for the boys? Conflict of interest? You're more likely to win the lottery than find the citizen surprised by these. Appropriation of the resources of the public, particularly of poor people? Well, Maharashtra shows you how. You can grab adivasi land inalienable in law for your private city and hill station. The Revenue Minister will "regularise" these violations for you. Contrast this with the daily struggle of people in Mumbai's slums for 'regularisation.' Their massive contribution to the city's economy counts for nothing.
Shady banking and money transfer practices? The Enforcement Directorate has traced slush accounts involving IPL-linked entities to perhaps a dozen countries. Overpricing for car hire, for catering, for other services all staples of Indian life. And speaking of contracts and food, it's begun with the ICDS. Watch how midday meals, too, will steadily move from the hands of SHGs to those of private corporations in the name of "pre-mix" packages. Even as India falls to rank 67 (out of 84 nations) in IFPRI's Global Hunger Index of 2010. A rank driven by high levels of underweight children. As the GHI report tells us: "India is home to 42 per cent of the world's underweight children and 31 per cent of its stunted children."
Lying about objectives? Like saying the Games residential area would later become university hostels? When in fact several hostels were emptied during the Games (partly because of the water crisis the event entailed). And when the flats are being organised for sale, with prices already in crores. Well, low-cost housing was the excuse used during the 1982 Asiad. And we know who lives in Khelgaon now. There are those who see the Games as a 'Triumph' of the Private Sector and a Public Sector failure. Facts count for little in matters of Faith. Who messed up the Metro Line? Public Sector. Who built the crumbling village? DDA. In truth: that sector of the Delhi Metro which did not get completed in time for the Games was the only line (probably the most profitable) that was privatised. And the giant private corporation failed to deliver. The Games village was not built by the DDA, but by a private entity. In any case, it's simple: every single private scam and racket of our time is introduced through government, in the name of the poor.
Displacement of people in and around The Games areas? Find a city, town, urban periphery or rural region where this is not an everyday fact of life. At any given moment, millions of footloose migrant labourers wander across the country, quite unsure about where the next meal comes from. Throwing out construction labourers when our work their labour was done in Delhi? Tens of thousands of migrant labourers, whether the Oriyas from Ganjam in Surat, or the migrants in Tirupur (owed backwages for months), or millions of others, experience this all the time. Contrast this attitude with this week's good news the anxiety and joy over the rescue of the Chilean miners, also in a society also beset by problems.
A cheering elite, telling us how wonderful we are and how we have "showcased Indian talent for the 'World'?" You can find that in most Indian newspapers or channels any day, any time. "India has showcased for the world," declaimed one television anchor, "that we can and have and always will in the future organise and run world class events." Let alone not looking beyond the world of the White and the western, what millions of Indians, including those thousands adversely affected by The Games, think, bothers us not a whit. Another TV channel ran a programme on "What makes Indians world-beaters?" This, about India's win over an Australian cricket team that has lost Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Glen McGrath and Matthew Hayden. Interestingly, all the panellists gently dissented from the proposition that we could call ourselves world-beaters. That in no way fazed the anchor, though.
Bad conditions? Athletes attending state and district level sporting meets have slept in disused railway wagons, and worse. These Games, anyway, were more about commerce and elite ego than about the athletes or their performance. The fine showing of some athletes came despite their organisers and sports bodies, not because of them. Now, they return to the bondage of bodies driven by profit, corruption and greed.
]It's another matter we should never have organised this 'mega-event.' In all cities holding such events over the past four decades a tiny elite has made billions. The city has gone bankrupt and ordinary people then pay the bills. Los Angeles is a good example. The 'City' (i.e. Big Business) made huge profits. Residents paid the price for years afterwards. As did people in Montreal. As will those in London after the next Olympics there. Imagine, instead, if we had spent our billions on having playgrounds in all our schools? That way, you would really widen the sporting gene pool.
The point simply, is this: The Commonwealth Games were no showcase, but a mirror of India 2010. If they showcased anything, they showcased Indian crony, casino capitalism at its most vigorous. To build such a society and then expect The Games won't reflect its warts and sores is high optimism. But never in our history have an elite been so in love with themselves, so soaked in narcissism; so anxious about what 'the World' thinks. So contemptuous of what our own people think, about anything. (Though the Commonwealth wouldn't exist without them. Indians account for over 55 per cent of all people in the Commonwealth.)
There is one anomaly, though, where the Games do not typify the Indian model. The Minister of Sports,
shortcomings aside, is a person of integrity (as was his outspoken predecessor). He tried cleaning up various sporting bodies and was humiliated for it. He tried curbing the number of years a person could head a sporting body. Some, in their seventies, have been around decades (a couple in their eighties, too). That bombed, as well. On the other hand, the OC was about Organised Cronyism. Many of the tactics by which sporting bodies are run originate in Maharashtra. Sporting-politicians from there have headed more associations than they can count. Everything from kho kho and kabbadi, to wrestling and cricket. In some senses, the Games reflect the national expansion of the Maharashtra model. It's the way this state runs its cooperatives, their banks, its education. The Games, like Maharashtra, were a snapshot of primitive accumulation at work.
Meanwhile, may we suggest a modest alternative to Rahman's theme song: Jeeyo, Utho, Badho, Jeeto (Live, Get up and ready, march forward, win)? It didn't click too well, compelling the maestro to return to his 'Jai Ho' from Slumdog Millionaire at the opening ceremony. There is some irony in that. That film outraged the same Indian elite and India Shining crowd. Leading Bollywood personalities spoke and blogged on how it had upset them. Yet the song found greater acceptance. It won an Oscar showcasing us to the 'world' and that overrode disquiet about the film. Fact is: Jeeyo, Utho, Badho, Jeeto didn't quite grab us. So how about: Jaao, Loot- oh, Utho, Bagho? (Go ahead, loot, get up and scoot).
VACCINE PROBE EXPOSES FLAWED APPRECIATION
The report of the Javid Chowdhury Committee facilitated the resumption, in February 2010, of vaccine production in the three public sector units, one in Himachal Pradesh and the other two in Tamil Nadu. Javid Chowdhury, a former Health Secretary of the Government of India, recommended that the suspension of their licenses for manufacturing vaccines in 2008 should be revoked in the public interest and on the strength of the compliance status reports furnished by the three institutes ('Online and Off Line,' March 8, 2010).
The Central Government accepted the recommendation and the institutes resumed their functioning. The Committee, at that time, did not understandably go into several other aspects of the crisis created by the suspension of production in these units, which had played a vital and substantial role in providing health care to larger sections of people. Many questions raised by the raw deal meted out to these institutions on "quality concerns" remained unanswered. The final report of the Javid Chowdhury Committee submitted this month to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare answers those questions.
The vaccine-manufacturing units are the Central Research Institute (CRI) located at Kasauli (Himachal Pradesh), the Pasteur Institute of India (PII) at Coonoor (Tamil Nadu), and the BCG Vaccine Laboratory (BCGVL) located at Chennai. The first two are more than 100 years old; the third is a 62-year-old post-Independence institution.
When the three well-run, reputed public sector units that had played a major role in immunising India's millions of children from deadly diseases were abruptly ordered to suspend production more than two years ago, the reasons cited by the Union Health Ministry were unconvincing.
Why on earth were three institutions that took care of the more than 70 per cent of the children under the Universal Public Immunisation Programme at low cost asked to fold up or to downsize their operations ostensibly on quality grounds destabilising a highly successful public health programme? And what explains the same vaccine-producing units being put back on the rails without taking any significant "corrective measures" as far as we know? Why should the top personnel in the Ministry play dual roles, indulging in double talk? Who gave them the right to humiliate the dedicated scientists and researchers of these reputed public service institutions? The absence of transparency in such government actions has only led to speculation about the motives.
Ironically, the Pasteur Institute of India had to suffer the ignominy of suspending production in its centenary year. On June 19, 2007, Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss launched a new product manufactured by the Institute to mark the occasion, highly appreciated the crucial role scientists of the institute played in saving millions of lives, and showered praise on their research and related activities. He even wanted them to prepare a road map for the development of the institute. Seven months later, the same Minister told them that "the consensus in the Ministry" was that the entire vaccine production in the country should be centralised at one unit ( Frontline, April 11, 2008). Similarly, while the Minister said that the licences of the vaccine-producing units had to be withdrawn under pressure from the World Health Organisation, there were reports that it was the Drug Controller-General of India (DCGI) who had ordered the three units to shut down on the grounds that they were not complying with current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) norms under the Indian Drugs and Cosmetic Rules (D&CR), 1945 ( Frontline, April 10, 2009). There were other unanswered questions such as the likely impact of the production stoppage in the three units on the public immunisation programme.
The final report of the Javid Chowdhuri Committee has answers for some of these key questions. It notes that there is "ample evidence" to show that although the DCGI was reported to have taken the final decision without consulting the Health Ministry, there was ample evidence to show otherwise. "In this background," the final report says, "the only conclusion that the committee can draw is that the Ministry, at its highest political and bureaucratic levels, was associated with the final decision for the closure of the units. Thus, the constructive responsibility for the final decision would also rest on the apex functionaries of the political and bureaucratic executive, including the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare and the then Union Health and Family Welfare Secretary."
The four-member enquiry committee comprised, besides Mr. Chowdhury, V.M. Katoch from the Department of Health Research, R.N. Salhan, former Additional Director-General of Health Services, and Vincent Chawdhry, Joint Secretary in the Health Ministry, who recently left government service.
The final report has also recorded its observations on the impact of the stoppage of production resulting from the official order. The government did not stop with suspending production; it ordered the three units to ensure that the vaccines manufactured and stored were not sent for use. The shutdown led to a grave shortage in the supplies of vaccine, which badly affected the immunisation programme with the number of beneficiaries falling.
Not coincidentally, private sector units raised the prices, making it difficult even for middle-class families to afford the vaccines. This indictment by the Javid Chowdhuri Committee holds stern lessons for public policy: "By reducing public-sector vaccine supply to zero, in one stroke a crippling blow had been inflicted on the health security of the country. By closing down the existing public-sector vaccine production units in advance of the commissioning of the Integrated Vaccine Complex (IVC) the country would have exposed itself to vaccine insecurity for five years, or an even longer period." The final report, however, registers the hope that the establishment of new IVC together with the installation of new production lines would eventually increase the vaccine availability.
Significantly, the Committee has not failed to record its objection to the Health Ministry's action of allowing the World Health Organisation to inspect the three public sector vaccine units. Noting that this was not the Ministry's mandate, it points out that a similar request had been rejected earlier.
The final report recommends that the Union Government should consider making the three public sector units autonomous, and that a National Vaccine Security Advisory Board should be put in place to advise the manufacturing units. It finds that the suspension of licences to the vaccine units was "incorrect," based on a "flawed appreciation" of the issue and following an "illegal procedure."
The Javid Chowdhuri Committee deserves praise for fulfilling its task of fixing responsibility for the Health Ministry's "flawed" moves affecting life-saving programmes designed for the benefit of the poor, particularly children. The press and broadcast media, which covered the subject in detail and on a fairly sustained basis, played a part in spotlighting the issues and having the damaging official decisions reversed. Several newspapers and magazines published good, well-substantiated articles to show the setback caused to the immunisation programme. Some of them pointed to how the vaccine fiasco led profit-hungry vested interests to make a mess of the public immunisation programme in recent years.
But there is no room for complacency about a job well done. Health deprivation is a huge challenge for rising India and the media have lots of hard work to do in terms of uncovering harsh realities on the ground and agenda building for public action.
THE TAMILS ARE COMING ON BOARD'
AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH SRI LANKAN EXTERNAL AFFAIRS MINISTER G.L. PEIRIS.
S. VENKAT NARAYAN
Sri Lankan Minister for External Affairs Gamini Lakshman Peiris says the Tamils at home and abroad are responding favourably to the sincere efforts President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government has been making to improve their lot since the so-called Eelam War IV ended 17 months ago.
In an exclusive interview to this writer in New Delhi on Thursday, October 14, he said: "The Tamils' response has been good. They are coming on board."
Mr. Peiris further declared: "India is the pivot of our foreign policy. India has helped us in our darkest hour." He was apparently referring to the crucial help India rendered to the island nation during the Eelam War IV that ended in May last year.
"There is close rapport between the political leaders of our two countries," Mr. Peiris pointed out. He recalled that his predecessor Lakshman Kadirgamar used to say that relations between India and Sri Lanka were "so ancient that they are lost in the mist of time," and yet so strong.
Explaining the reasons behind the Tamils' change of stance in recent months, he said Mr. Rajapaksa had met Tamil National Alliance (TNA) chief R. Sampanthan and TNA MPs twice, and invited their suggestions for totally transforming the north-east from a devastated war zone into a zone of peace and prosperity.
Mr. Peiris quoted the Tamil MPs as telling Mr. Rajapaksa: "Trust us. We will work with you."
The President's next meeting with Mr. Sampanthan would take place shortly. The TNA leader had been in Chennai for a long time for medical reasons. He returned to Colombo only a couple of days ago.
The Minister said that, in the past, plans were imposed on the Tamils from above. The absence of a two-thirds majority in Parliament had made it impossible for successive governments during the past 25 years to undertake any worthwhile schemes or devolution packages for the north-east.
But, said Mr. Peiris, Mr. Rajapaksa's re-election for a second term in January and a near two-third majority for the ruling combine in the April parliamentary election had brought about a dramatic change in the island's political scenario.
The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission was holding sittings in Colombo, Jaffna and elsewhere. It had already submitted an interim report. Of the 2,97,000 Tamils of the Northern Province internally displaced due to the civil war, only 20,000 remained to be resettled and rehabilitated in their native places.
Tamil-speaking girls were now bread-winners in many families in the North, he noted.
Mr. Peiris, a Rhodes Scholar with PhDs from Oxford and Colombo Universities, said: "We are resuscitating the political process in the North. Local government elections have been held in Jaffna and Vavuniya. They will be held in the remaining districts as well. We hope to conduct provincial council polls in the North as soon as possible."
As for the nearly one-million-strong Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, the Minister said: "Gotabaya Rajapaksa and I are working on this. We want to engage our Tamil brethren living overseas in our efforts to transform the civil war-ravaged north-east". (Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa is Defence Secretary and Mr. Rajapaksa's brother).
Mr. Peiris said: "We tell them: You have to recognise that the ground situation has changed fundamentally since the war ended. They realise this too, and their response has been good."
Judging by a Sri Lankan airline's passenger manifest, a large number of Tamils who fled to the West from their
villages in the north-east due to the civil war were now flying to Colombo with their wives and children and going to their native places to see for themselves what had been happening since the bloody civil war ended.
And, said the Minister, they were reasonably impressed with what they saw with their own eyes. They now wanted to invest at home, and hoped to return to their homeland in the not-too-distant future.
"At the end of the day, wherever you may live for years and decades, you long to return to your homeland to live in peace and tranquility."
Mr. Peiris added: "The Tamil diaspora is no longer a monolith. We can engage a substantial segment of the diaspora to change things around."
Since the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was defeated and its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran physically eliminated in May 2009, there was durable peace all across the island. There was a mood of optimism. The anxiety and tension that pervaded for nearly three decades was gone, and people were looking to the future with hope, said the Minister.
There was an unprecedented degree of political stability. This was encouraging foreign companies, including those from India, to invest in a big way in a variety of projects in Sri Lanka, the Minister explained.
Investment in infrastructure
"We are putting a multifaceted strategy in place. We are investing hugely in infrastructure projects, like building ports, harbours, a new international airport, agricultural and skill development schemes," he said.
Mr. Peiris pointed out that it took Sri Lanka 12 years to raise the per capita income to $1,000. After becoming President five years ago, Mr. Rajapaksa undertook a massive transformation at the grassroots level, and succeeded in doubling the per capita income to $2,000. "Now, so much economic activity is going on that we are hoping to double the per capita income to $4,000 by 2015."
Thanks to the resounding faith Sri Lankans had imposed in Mr. Rajapaksa by electing him to a second term and giving his ruling alliance a near two-third majority in Parliament, and thanks to the recent 18th Amendment, it was now possible to undertake meaningful and long-term plans that would make Sri Lanka a model state of progress and cultural integration, Mr. Peiris opined.
Concluding his 45-minute conversation with this writer at the ITC Maurya, Mr. Peiris said: "The people's confidence in the President is the most conspicuous feature of life in Sri Lanka today. The people are saying, 'We don't want history to repeat itself as a tragedy. We want a job done. Do it now, and do it well'."
India has given nearly a billion dollars to Sri Lanka as grants and assistance to help rebuild the infrastructure ravaged during the three-decades of civil war, and to build 50,000 homes for war-displaced Tamils in the Northern Province. Several dozens of Indian companies have so far invested nearly half a billion dollars in several projects across the island. Many more are planning to invest in several sectors of the economy, like tourism, and hotels.
THE ASIAN AGE
EPFO CAN INVEST IN EQUITY WITH CARE
The constant tussle between the finance ministry and the labour ministry over the former wanting the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) to invest a percentage of the massive `5,00,000 crore employees provident fund seems to be going nowhere. To be fair, they both have a point. The government feels that the employees provident fund (EPF) will earn better returns through investing a percentage of its funds in the equity markets. Today it earns very low returns with the result that retirees get a measly `200-`300 a month. It invests mostly in government bonds and these bonds are said to give six per cent less returns than equities. The labour ministry says it has no problems about investing a percentage in the equity markets provided the government gives a guarantee on the safety of the funds and a reasonable rate of return. It feels that if the finance ministry thinks the equity markets are so good, there should be no problem in providing this guarantee. It has informed the finance secretary accordingly and the matter seems to have rested there last week.
Votaries of the stock market are hugely in favour of investing a percentage of the EPF in the stock market. They say the stock markets are the best place to make money as long as one invests long-term and does not speculate. They, of course, admit that with such a large corpus, even if one per cent is invested in the market, it would mean around `50,000 crore? It is a huge amount, which would certainly make any administrator greedy. So one would have to have very stringent guidelines, as leak-proof as possible, regarding how the money is to be invested. Vested interests who influence decision-making with kickbacks have to be eliminated. Like, for instance, there could be a provision that fund authorities should invest only in good companies. For example, the returns from the IPOs of public sector companies are far better than the private sector IPOs. The returns from IPOs of PSUs between 2001-09, according to one study, were 32 per cent compared to the returns from private sector IPOs that were a mere 12 per cent in the same period. You don't have to be brilliant, but you need to be prudent while investing in the market.
Those against a portion of the funds going into equity ask how long is "long-term". The PF authorities have to pay out money monthly. Also, we are lucky that the bear market of 2007-08 lasted just a year. If it had lasted longer, there would have been huge problems, even for long-term funds. One can never predict the market. Another problem is the risk involved because of the high mortality rate of companies. Of the 10,000 IPOs that came between 1992 and today, only about 5,200 companies have survived. The fate of the companies that were listed on regional exchanges and which are now defunct is not known. This indicates that the risk rates are very high and a cruel joke on investors.
Globally pension, provident and insurance funds are used for long-term infrastructure projects, which require long-term funding. But globally the governments have social security and other schemes for people in retirement, which the Indian government does not. The bulk of the middle and lower income group largely depend on their provident fund, and that is why these funds have been kept away from the equity markets. If PF and pension fund monies are lost, there would be a huge political backlash. People, and also the EPFO, don't mind low growth in wealth. What they don't want to see is de-growth. Stability is important to them.
THE ASIAN AGE
TIME TO NAME, SHAME
Give credit where it's due. The United Progressive Alliance government has done well to appoint a committee headed by V.K. Shunglu, former Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) and a respected civil servant, to investigate allegations of corruption in the organisation of the Commonwealth Games. That this happened immediately after the Games concluded warts and all, they went off well, with Indian sportspersons doing their country proud belied the widespread cynicism that the political class would use the relatively smooth conduct of the Games to whitewash the wrongdoing.
Mr Shunglu has three months to complete his inquiry. He has a large body of documentation before him, ranging from media reports to evidence already gathered by the current CAG and his office, and by investigative agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate and the income-tax department. In addition, he is expected to call and question officials and record primary evidence.
The budgeting and execution of the 2010 Commonwealth Games has been among the murkiest for any major sports event in recent years. India's private sector skills say in the services sector, from technology to hospitality were deliberately kept out of the preparations. The focus was almost entirely on state agencies and public sector corporations. It was obvious political and governmental control of such bodies allowed for a certain opacity, and made embezzlement that much easier.
Essentially, there are three sets of institutions Mr Shunglu needs to look at: the Organising Committee (OC); the Union ministry of urban development and its agencies; and the Delhi government and its civic agencies. It is taken of course that his report will cover controversial financial deals and how these were entered into. It would also be useful if he were to make an assessment of the structuring of and decision-making systems within these bodies. This would clarify the mistakes India needs to avoid while putting together an event of this magnitude, whether related to sports or otherwise.
Take the OC. This was a strange hybrid body that was essentially living off taxpayer money and government hand-outs but claiming operational autonomy. Cultural institutions and sport federations can demand a similar status on the basis of long-standing tradition. The OC had no such legacy; it was an ad hoc entity, coterminous with the Games. It had a general body comprising over 450 people, besides 1,600 employees. It is an open secret that Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the OC, packed it with his cronies and relatives of cronies. These people were paid salaries using grants given by the Government of India.
The process of making the OC accountable was delayed for two-and-a-half years by Mr Kalmadi and his lieutenants. In May 2007, the ministry of youth affairs and sports issued an order bringing the OC under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The OC took the matter to the Delhi high court, eventually losing its case in January 2010. Mr Shunglu's report would do well to recommend that all such bodies whether delivering a sports event or an international health conference need to conform to RTI provisions if they are seeking public money.
The Union government gave the OC `2,394.25 crore as loans under various heads. The OC's projections were that it would get `1,708 crore as revenue and repay the government. Eventual revenue was less than half the amount, and much of it coerced from Union government agencies such as Indian Railways. The OC needs to explain how it arrived at these projections. The specific project planners need to be identified and their financial interest in the Games investigated. They have caused a loss to the exchequer. They need to be held liable. If nothing else, their incompetence should constrict them from managing public funds in future.
About a fourth of the sum given to the OC `687 crore to be exact was for hire/purchase of "overlays", i.e. temporary fitting inside stadiums that had already been built, covering such items as tents, porta cabins, air-conditioners, generators, fitness equipment. What is the state of this "overlay" material? How much of the money can be recovered by selling it or getting refunds from rental agencies? If specific equipment is declared as irreversibly damaged, can third-party audits happen? If the OC writes off hired equipment as damaged and offers to compensate renting companies, who are the vendors who will benefit? All this needs to be in the public domain.
Move to the ministry of urban development. It built three stadiums and was a partner, along with a property development company, in the construction of the Games Village. The Village was supposed to have been built in Bawana, in northwest Delhi, and meant to trigger urban renewal in an outlying part of the capital. In what circumstances and under whose direction was the Village moved to the Yamuna riverbed? Why were environmental risks ignored?
Who gave permission to the private developer to convert car parking space into incremental flats, and so caused flooding and seepage in the lower storeys following heavy rains in Delhi this summer? Can this be redressed, and the car parking space restored before the company and the Delhi Development Authority (an agency under the ministry of urban development) start selling these flats in the open market? Mr Shunglu's committee needs to tackle these issues.
Finally, the government of Delhi spent `16,560 crore on the Games. Part of this money was used on the Delhi Metro, power plants, flyovers and bridges. About half was spent under decidedly dodgy heads. `650 core was set aside for street lighting, `1,175 crore for widening and resurfacing of roads and street-scaping, `1,800 crore for buying buses. Some of this involved digging up completely good roads and pavements repaired only months earlier and relaying them.
Who approved this? Was there a broader plan? Who drew it up? Who were the contractors? When were tenders issued? What are market prices for comparable tasks? Did covering up nullahs to create parking facilities a job still incomplete in some areas of the city such as Defence Colony really require `400 crore? How did the Municipal Corporation of Delhi choose partners who were given prized plots in key markets of the city and allowed to build toilets cum shops/restaurants? The questions could take years; Mr Shunglu has only 90 days.
Ashok Malik can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
SRI LANKA'S 3-LANGUAGE PLAN IS A GOOD START
Sri Lanka has asked for Indian help to implement a trilingual formula to overcome the political and ethnic divide between the majority Sinhalas and minority Tamils. It may be flattering for India to be called for help, but ourimplementation of the three-language formula has not been a resounding success. The south is getting familiar with Hindi not due to the formula, but because Bollywood blockbusters and the job markets have pushed students to learn Hindi. On the other hand, the Hindi-speaking majority has made few efforts to learn a new language though the recent success of Rajinikanth-starrer Robot suggests that the markets are moving to unify cultures even when politicians are doing the opposite.
But the Lankan master policy aims higher than the Indian formula. It requires the minority Tamils to learn Sinhala, and the Sinhalas to learn Tamil. English continues to be the link language. A resolution of the ethnic conflict, however, needs more than a language formula. Sri Lanka needs to become a federation. An inflexible unitary state will not help it bring alienated Tamils into the mainstream.
WHY IS TATA FUNDING A HARVARD?
Ratan Tata's handsome gift of $50 million to Harvard Business School is sure to have bowled the Americans over. In the American system of higher education, private donations and endowments are the norm. These donations help the institution create a corpus, which then enables them to provide better facilities and create intellectual capital.
But even by the standards of American philanthropy, the Tata donation is significant. And he isn't the only Indian to be pouring money into Harvard. In May this year, the family of Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy decided to give US$5.2 million for creating the Murthy Classical Library of India, which will, among other things, have 100 books from Indian languages translated into English. The Mahindra Group has donated $10 million to the Harvard Humanities Centre.
The Tatas, the Murthys and the Mahindras have favoured Harvard in different ways and for different reasons, but this raises a question: why are they more favourably inclined to a Harvard than, say, an IIM. One answer is that they have been associated with these institutions in some way. But, equally, it seems that they are less sure about how useful their contributions to Indian institutions would be. The Harvards of the world emphasise excellence over every other ideal. The same cannot be said for our babu-controlled institutions.
The problem is clear. In India, most of the higher education institutions are state-funded, and hence, to that extent, compromised. Not only are these institutions not autonomous, they are also subject to undue interference and political pressures. Academic excellence is not their raison d'etre. In such circumstances, it is quite understandable why a Tata or a Murthy is more interested in funding a Harvard than an IIM though they have done that, too. This is the tragedy of Indian academe.
If things are to change, there is only one solution: government needs to move away from running our best institutions and instead induct independent professional and private philanthropists to enter the picture with a broader vision. If this happens, maybe Tata would be happy to finance more institutions than before.
AND NOW, IT'S TIME FOR THE COMMONWEALTH INQUISITION
The resounding success of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) which concluded in New Delhi last week must be attributed largely to the superb show put on by our athletes. That is, of course, what such a sporting extravaganza is all about. Unfortunately, we got embroiled in a lot of controversies in the run-up to the games.
Lady Luck, however, decided to lend us a hand. From the spectacular opening ceremony onwards, and right through the games, the bad news just disappeared. Our sportspersons rose to the challenge by ensuring our largest ever haul of gold medals at the CWG.
But how much credit should be given to the last-ditch efforts made by the various agencies involved to convert a possible debacle into victory? Here is where the problem lies. While India's sportspersons did us proud, the same cannot be said about the organisers and officials, who came close to putting us all to shame. They must now face the nation for the various sins and mistakes they have committed. We need a transparent clean up and the prime minister did promise us "severe and exemplary" punishment for the guilty. This is what we expect and what wrongdoers deserve. We have to bring to book those who caused the delays and those who helped themselves to public funds using the crisis as an excuse. The CWG budget spiralled from an initial Rs300 crore to an astounding Rs70,000 crore, suggesting that most of it went into wrong pockets.
While we have shown the world that we can pull off such an event, before the cries to bid for the next Olympics begin, we need to ask ourselves this: at what cost? If our athletes have performed this well with minimal government help, what could we have not achieved if we had spent the bulk of the CWG money in providing better facilities and training programmes for sportspersons all over India?
It is time to not just rescue sport from the stranglehold of inefficiency and corruption but also ourselves. The middle class is usually exercised about how corruption is ruining this country and it should not now relax because the Games were a success. In a sense, the days before the Commonwealth Games exemplified everything that could go wrong when we give people power without accountability. We now have the opportunity to try and correct some of that. We should not let it slip out of our hands.
YOU CAN ACHIEVE ANYTHING YOU WANT
There's a man I wish you could meet. I was introduced to him while I was in Mexico City to deliver a speech. He moved me with his story. And he humbled me by his courage. David Mejia was born without ears. Doctors predicted he would suffer from poor hearing throughout his childhood and that he would be unlikely to live a full life. His youth was riddled operations, a great deal of pain, and the hurtful taunts of classmates who made fun of his appearance. But David persevered. Greatness, in so many ways, is determined by whether you persist through failure or let it consume you.
David Mejia has been blessed. With a powerful mind. With a big heart. With a strong spirit. And with wonderful parents who told him on a near-daily basis that if he looked for the best from life, he would find it. They encouraged him to find the opportunity amid his challenges. And so he has. The man I met is a leader. Why?
Because he has taken what life sent him and turned it into gold. He now has prosthetic ears. He's healthy. He has achieved success in his career. And he is stunningly positive in a world where people who have nothing to complain about spend most of their time complaining about trivialities.
You can curse the darkness, or you can light a candle and show up as a leader. Life is all about how you exercise the choices available to you. And your daily choices stack up to craft your destiny.
IS LIFE A LESSER PUNISHMENT THAN DEATH?
Less than a fortnight ago, India came face to face with her stand on the death penalty. Although there was widespread disappointment that capital punishment was not announced in the heart-wrenching cases of Priyadarshini Mattoo and Pratibha Srikanthamurthy, how sure are we that the death penalty is the best punishment for the worst of our criminals?
The death sentence of former law student Santosh Singh for the rape and murder of 23-year-old Delhi law student Priyadarshini Mattoo was commuted to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court. In the case of the 22-year-old newly-married BPO employee from Bangalore, Pratibha Srikanthamurthy, the cab driver who raped and murdered her was sentenced to life imprisonment till death.
The general consensus was that the two cold-blooded criminals deserved the death penalty. The courts in their wisdom, however, did not see the crimes as the "rarest of the rare" which would have invited such a punishment.
There is a finality about the death sentence that seems to satisfy the popular perceptions of justice in matters of crime and punishment. This explains the populist stance of some political parties who demanded that the 26/11 terrorist Mohammed Ajmal Kasab be "publicly hanged from the Gateway of India without a trial."
Arguments in favour of the death penalty rest on the call for permanently eliminating the worst criminals from society, not wasting public exchequer on their imprisonment and providing a strong deterrence against serious crimes.
Coincidentally, on the day the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence in the Mattoo case, European Parliament president Jerzy Buzek spoke against death penalty stating that "Death can never ever be considered an act of justice."
The European Parliament has observed that barely 43 countries retain this punishment. According to it, the highest number of executions in 2009 took place in China (5000) followed by Iran (402), Iraq (77) and Saudi Arabia (69).
India has not had a single execution in the last five years, and in that sense has been moving away from capital punishment, although more than 50 people were sentenced to death in 2009.
Nepal and Bhutan have abolished the death penalty.
Innumerable people have questioned this practice. In July this year, former president APJ Abdul Kalam added his voice to the call for a national debate on the need to continue with the death penalty.
Life imprisonment till death (life without parole) is not a soft sentence as it seems but is often considered a harsher punishment than the death sentence. In 2007, 311 Italian prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment till death, petitioned the government for the right to be executed. They described life without parole a "living death".
It is natural for the relatives of victims to support the death sentence as part of their pursuit for justice. Not all, however, feel that imprisonment for life is a soft verdict. As a victim's relative commented following the Pratibha verdict, the sentence will force the criminal to ponder daily "on the diabolic act he committed."
Crime and punishment have a deeper aspect to it. This is the redemptive power and potential of the human soul. The story of the bandit-turned-sage Valmiki, who escaped the death penalty and gave Hinduism the epic Ramayana, conveys this aptly.
JUNIOR THACKERAY'S FIRST FORAY IN POLITICS IS MORE OF THE SAME
So Aditya Thackeray has launched his political career with a bang. Even he and Uddhav Thackeray must be surprised how smoothly it all went: someone pointed out that Rohinton Mistry's Such a Long Journey had passages critical of the Shiv Sena; young Thackeray said it should not be in the curriculum; a spineless vice-chancellor (VC) swiftly and arbitrarily removed it from the syllabus.
That the Shiv Sena got its way should surprise no one: we have all got used to craven governments taking the line of least resistance when faced with the slightest hint of disruption. In this particular case though what is surprising is that the capitulation came so quickly: a mere suggestion from a mere student (although with a special surname) was enough to do the trick.
While despairing at this nadir in our public life, we should look at several questions this particular controversy raises. The first is of the declining standards in the higher echelons of our education system. The University of Bombay once occupied the top position in universities in India, but its steep descent from that pinnacle has to do with the quality of its vice-chancellors. Those of us who have met some recent VCs have been disappointed, to use a polite word, at their scholarship and their vision. As for Bombay University's brand new VC, he does not even satisfy the technical requirements of the job. Is the selection procedure for vice chancellors on Kapil Sibal's ambitious agenda for the reform of our educational system? It should be and it should be on the top of the list.
Another question concerns young Aditya Thackeray's choice of where to study. We are by now used to the phenomenon of the children of language champions going to premier English medium schools and colleges. But why St Xavier's, an institution known for its liberal traditions (as exemplified by the stirring comments of its Principal on the Rohinton Mistry controversy)? When you are lucky enough to get into the best of institutions, why not use the opportunity to broaden your mind to learn of the immense possibilities the world has to offer, to challenge yourself and get out of the well-oiled path that has been ordained for you?
As it happens, Aditya Thackeray does not seem to want to break free from the hackneyed ideas being fed to him. "If you bring the Rohinton Mistry book back", he is supposed to have said, "Javier Moro's The Red Sari should also be in the syllabus". A moment's reflection would tell him that this is not logical. The Moro book is a fictionalised work based on the life of Sonia Gandhi. Even in his native Italy, no one has made any claims for it to be considered a work of literature. The Mistry book on the other hand, is in the syllabus as a piece of contemporary literature. It is set in a Parsi milieu and the Sena, dabbawalas, make fleeting appearances in it as any book's set in current day Mumbai might. It is not by any stretch of imagination a book on the Sena or any of its leaders. Given these two, wide divergences, how on earth can we equate the two books?
Instead of falling into the same old rut of agitational politics, Aditya Thackeray has a chance of thinking of a young Sena rather than just a Yuva Sena. For that he will have to imbibe something from the college he is privileged to be in, from its traditions, from his peer group in the campus, and from its liberal Principal. His starting point should be this: He is a third generation Thackeray and it's now over 40 years from the time his grandfather launched the Sena. Has India itself not changed dramatically? It's well established that the pace of change in the last century has outstripped all previous centuries together and that a developing country like India has skipped generations in technological advances. In such a scenario, why would our mindsets remain entrenched?
The Shiv Sena and the BJP are victims of their own early successes: the Sena's agitational politics brought it into prominence in the early 1970s, while the BJP's Rath Yatra/Babri Masjid brought it political dividends in the 1990s. But as the last two elections have shown and the reactions to the recent court verdict on Babri Masjid has confirmed, these issues have now become irrelevant, not just to the educated and economic elite but also to the rank and file which constitutes the bulk of the electorate. India has moved on and Indians' needs and aspirations have changed completely from what they were half a century ago. Yet political parties like the BJP and the Shiv Sena behave as if nothing has changed at all!
If I were Aditya this is the reality I would confront. I would then urge Uddhav Thackeray to mould the Sena into a party that addresses the real needs of the people of Maharashtra in a meaningful way. It will be a slow process, and there might be no immediate political dividends, but the long term benefits to the party and more importantly, the people of the state will be truly immense.
The writer is a commentator on social affairs.
A report in this newspaper about how less deserving students from the State get nominated to professional medical institutes elsewhere in the country is quite revealing. There is no criterion. As a result there is no concern for merit either. Populist and political considerations prevail to the exclusion of everything else. As many as 13 candidates have got nominations to the MBBS course during the last two years. None of them was able to qualify in the combined entrance test (CET). Thanks to the Government's benevolent gesture they have got admissions in colleges in the national capital, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh among other places. Besides, about 600 boys and girls have secured entry, through the same route, for para-medical training in medical colleges including in this city. They are being trained as ophthalmic, X-Ray, laboratory and dental assistants, pharmacists as well as female multi-purpose workers. Since there are no rules our Health and Medical Education Ministers R.S. Chib and Shamlal Sharma have been swayed by personal and electoral considerations. How else can be it be explained that nearly 60 per cent of the beneficiaries in this district belong to Akhnoor tehsil, which is the assembly constituency of Mr Sharma? Mr Chib, on the other hand, has felt free to issue a blanket order in the case of 32 candidates. The formalities like mentioning the order number, date and month have not been considered necessary to be observed. Both the ministers have been candid in admitting why and how they have gone about this exercise. Mr Sharma, for instance, feels that he owes it to voters in Akhnoor who have overwhelmingly supported him. Together they concede that there is no consideration of merit. The only standard that Mr Chib has applied in "only two medical colleges" falling under his jurisdiction was that the person should have passed the higher secondary with science subjects. Mr Sharma has told this newspaper that he would "try" to reduce the nominations by half from the next year.
In fact, the present free-for-all approach should be altogether abandoned. The system of making such nominations must have been in existence for long. It may not be worthwhile to go into the past. But time has indeed come to apply necessary correctives for the sake of meritorious and truly deserving students. Once a legislator becomes a minister it is his responsibility to look after the interests of the entire State and not simply of his constituency. Moreover, he is required to do his job in a manner that he is not only fair but also seen to be fair. There must be hundreds if not thousands of students who have science subjects in higher secondary. Why should that only a few of them benefit on the basis of there being some access to the minister?
The two ministers have an extremely enthusiastic style of functioning. They should take the lead in reversing a trend which is wrong and which they have ended up perpetuating. The privilege of making nominations should be used in the rarest of rare cases. On the whole it is an unhealthy practice. That it defies logic will be stating the obvious. The best course will be to throw these seats open for competition. The least that can be done is to have clear-cut norms.
Is China a genuine collaborator of Pakistan in the games it plays vis-à-vis India or is it dictated by its own priorities? In our view it will be futile to think that the Dragon is anyone's friend. It has been going along with Islamabad because it realises the merit in having a weak ally which is prepared to toe its line. China finds Pakistan with its fragile political and administrative apparatus convenient to handle. It has Islamabad's uses as long as it sees an enemy in us. It knows that India has emerged much stronger than it was in the 1960s and is the envy of the world as the largest democracy despite its numerous problems. China had tried to humour us too about five decades ago, played on our sentimental commitment towards regional and global peace and ended up betraying us in 1962. We should be grateful to it for having made us wiser about the need for self-defence and the hidden virtues of world diplomacy. China has followed up its 1962 aggression with the totally unacceptable accord with Pakistan to grab a piece of our land in the following year. The accord seeks to strengthen China's hold over Sinkiang (Xinjiang) province where it is ruthlessly crushing an indigenous freedom movement including by ensuring its demographic transformation. Ironically, the document has been signed between the usurper and the self-professed tenant in the name of not only "good-neighbourly and friendly relations but also help safeguard Asian and world peace." Is it not a big joke? Of late China has been again and again raising the issue of Arunachal Pradesh. It has gone to the extent of questioning the visit of our Prime Minister ---- and not merely that of Dalai Lama --- to our north-eastern state. With respect to this State it has taken more than one stance lately in a bid to embarrass this country. It is insisting upon issuing stapled visas for the State subjects while denying it to a senior Army official posed in Jammu and Kashmir. At the same time it is ensuring that the invitations go from its land to separatist leaders of the Valley. It has been striving to nibble further into our territory in Ladakh. This is one very important part of a big story.
The other is in a sharp contrast to this. The two countries are engaged in talks, howsoever meandering these may be, for settling border disputes. China is aware of the emergence of India as a rival economic power. It is seeking to strengthen bilateral trade. As a consequence there are three trading border posts between the two countries --- Nathu La (Sikkim), Shipkila (Himachal Pradesh) and Lipulekh (Uttarakhand). Our country too is enthusiastically going along with the entire exercise. One can come across any number of people in this country who frequently visit Beijing and Shanghai as they do New Delhi and Mumbai. That explains why in a recent newspaper report our officials have refused to indulge in "doomsday conclusions" about the relationship with China. This is in keeping with the Prime Minister's assertion that India is engaging its neighbours without looking at reciprocity. As long as we keep our eyes and ears open there is no harm in following a well-intentioned course.
KALABAGH AGAININ AND AROUND J&K
BY D. SUBA CHANDRAN
During the last two weeks, within Pakistan, there is an intense discussion at multiple levels, in terms of support and opposition to the construction of Kalabagh dam. With the recent floods and the subsequent damage it has created, a section is trying to exploit the disaster, to garner support for the construction of the dam, while another section is opposing the same.
While the debate on the construction of Kalabagh dam and its opposition is nothing new, the current debate highlights the following: the divide between the provinces in Pakistan; efforts by a section within Punjab to exploit the existing situation to bulldoze the opposition to dam; strong views from Balochistan, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly the NWFP); and the failure to build any political consensus.
Kalabagh, which is the center of this entire debate, is a small town in the Mianwali district of Punjab on the banks of the Indus river. Mianwali district of Punjab borders Lakki Marwat, Kohat and Karat districts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), while Balochistan and Sindh is geographically away from Kalabagh. While the objection of KP is primarily because of the physical proximity to the proposed dam in Kalabagh, Sindh and Balochistan have different reasons.
The proposed dam, though will be situated in Punjab, it is likely to displace people living in the KP, hence the primary objection comes from the displacement perspective. The history of rehabilitating the displaced people in Pakistan, in terms of natural disasters or developmental projects, has always been questionable. Even today, one could hear the complaints of victims of the earthquake 2005, and Mangla dam. Hence the KP is worried about rehabilitation package and its implementation. More importantly, KP is also worried about sharing of power and royalties, which will emerge out of power production in the Kalabagh dam. While the reservoir will displace considerable number of people in the KP, the turbines will be situated in Kalabagh, hence the royalties to Punjab.
More than the above concern, the most serious problem is related to trust. While Sindh and Balochistan have certain perceptions peculiar to the lower riparian in South Asia, the real problem is the trust deficit vis-à-vis Punjab. All three smaller provinces of Pakistan - KP, Balochistan and Sindh, do not trust Punjab, in general and specifically in terms of water sharing. One could hear a series of complaints from these three provinces, accusing Punjab of water theft, and using its pre-eminent position to undermine the 1991 agreement reached between then, in terms of water sharing. In 1991, the four provinces of Pakistan reached an understanding - a water apportionment agreement, resulting in the creation of Indus River System Authority (IRSA).
While the IRSA is expected to help the four provinces in water sharing, the smaller provinces have always accused of undermining this institution by clever manipulation and back door pressure. Worse, the smaller provinces also accuse Punjab of water theft. Besides, the smaller provinces also fear that the federal government in Islamabad and the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) has always joined hands with Punjab. The fact that General Musharraf attempted bulldoze the opposition to construct the dam, also make the smaller provinces to fear, that the military in Pakistan is also in favour of the above initiative. Hence, the real problem, in terms of construction of the Kalabagh dam is less to do with environmental concerns or water availability, but more to do with the lack of trust vis-à-vis Punjab.
The resurgence of this debate, during the last one month, on the construction of Kalabagh dam should be viewed in the backdrop of the above divide and the mistrust. The current round of anxiety over the construction of Kalabagh dam started during the floods. A particular media house, which publishes English and Urdu dailies called for a referendum on the construction of Kalabagh, and based on responses to its own advertisements, concluded that a majority (a staggering 99 percent!) in Pakistan wants the dam. An editorial from the above group observed: "The referendum polled over 67,000 votes representing a broad spectrum of life in Pakistan. This also proves the point that the hue and cry against the project is no more than a manifestation of vested interests of insignificant coteries of small minded politicians. The general public, on the other hand, thinks in national, and not parochial terms."
While it may be totally a different issue, whether a vote by 67,000 people in a 170 million plus country can be called a referendum, on a crucial issue, there were a series of editorials and articles in the news papers, besides statements from political leaders in Punjab on the subject. Ultimately, the above debate resulted in the Provincial Assembly of Punjab passing a resolution, for one more time, during the first week of October, demanding the construction of the dam.
Ever since, there has been an intense debate in Pakistan. In the Parliament, there was a heated debate, cutting across the party lines, but clearly divided in terms of provincial differences. While the PPP, PML-N and PML-Q members from Punjab seem to have united over the construction of Kalabagh dam, different parties within Sindh, KP and Balochistan also seems to have united against it. While one is likely to see the three provinces following up with similar resolutions for one more time, there have been already statements against the dam, from political leaders of the three smaller provinces. It should be noted, there are already resolutions (more than once, in certain cases) passed by the Provincial Assemblies of Sindh, Balochistan and KP.
Clearly the provinces are deeply divided. The PPP is in a delicate position; while its roots are in Sindh, it cannot afford to alienate its votes in Punjab. Without adequate support from Punjab, the PPP will not be able to rule Pakistan. Today, the PML-N is more worried about consolidating itself completely in Punjab and the PML-Q is unlikely to have an effective presence outside. Hence, both factions of the PML are likely to play more to the Punjabi audience. The pashtun and Balochi parties including the ANP and JUP, are more regional than national, hence likely to oppose the Kalabagh along with the MQM.
The provinces are divided; so are the four ethnic communities in Pakistan - Punjabi, Pashtun, Balochi and Sindhi. The political parties are also equally divided. Which way will this fault line deepen? Will the four provinces be on flames, over the waters? What will Islamabad and the power centers do to avoid this? Will there be more pressure vis-à-vis India, in general, in terms of diverting the real issues in Pakistan? Especially over the sharing of Indus Waters, in terms of blaming New Delhi, for their internal failure?
What are our options? While the problems within Pakistan may be due to their own failure of governance, ineffective institutions and a lack of provincial consensus, we will be facing the consequences, as well.
(The Author is Deputy Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), New Delhi)
Confusion prevails on criteria to be used for correctly identifying the poor. Family expenditure of less that Rs 11,000 per year was the basis of inclusion in Below Poverty Line (BPL) list in the 1992 survey. But it was difficult to correctly assess the income of nearly 25 crore households. Classification became dependent on the whims of the enumerators. Government could give instruction to enumerators to assess income of households on the higher side thereby reducing the number of poor. In the result, many truly poor households were excluded while rich households were included in the BPL list.
The system was modified in 1997. A list of 'excluded' household was made such as those having a car. The income of remaining households was assessed as previously. This system was an improvement. Certain rich were excluded. But dependence on the Government's policy direction and enumerator's whims continued.
An entirely different system was introduced in 2002. Assessment of incomes of the households was done away with. Instead 13 criteria were made such as maximum level of education in the household. Each criterion was given certain marks and added up. Households were classified on the basis of total number of marks obtained. The whims of the enumerators was somewhat reduced. But criticism continued. A study by Foundation of Agrarian Studies found that many poorest households were still excluded from the list. For example, existence of debt was one of the criteria. But many poorest households did not have any debt. They were so poor that moneylenders did not give them loans. Thus a rich landlord who had borrowed money from bank entered the BPL list while the poorest were excluded. Similar conclusion was reached by the N C Saxena Committee constituted by the Ministry of Rural development. It found that only 49 percent of the genuinely poor households were included in the BPL list while 17 percent rich households found entry.
Saxena has suggested that number of criteria be reduced from 13 to 5. Only such criteria should be made that were transparent and self-verifiable. The suggested criteria were (1) Caste; (2) Source of livelihood; (3) Highest educational attainment; (4) Chronic disease; and (5) Head of the family being a woman or elderly person. Marks were to be given to these criteria and households. Those getting total marks below a certain cutoff level were to be included in the BPL list. But the Government did not like Saxena's recommendation because according to this system the number of poor households in the country would increase to about 50 percent. Therefore, the Government established yet another Committee under the Chair of economist Suresh Tendulkar to undo Saxena's recommendations.
Tendulkar went back to money-based classification. He said expenditure on food, health and clothing should be considered. He suggested cutoff level of Rs 15 per person per day for rural areas and Rs 19 for urban areas. In this way, the problem of classification being at the whims of enumerators reentered the scene. Government could decrease the number of poor according to its convenience by providing suitable guidance to the enumerators. Yet, Tendulkar's recommendations were unpalatable because it led to 37 percent of the households being classified as BPL.
In the meanwhile economist Jean Dreze has suggested that the Saxena formula should be further simplified. He said the five criteria-caste, landlessness, level of education, women-headed family and livelihood as agricultural labourer-were okay but instead of giving points on each indicator, they should be assessed in 'yes' or 'no' terms. A household should be classified as poor if the answer is 'yes' on any one of these criteria. A household should be classified as antyodaya if the answer is 'yes' on any two of the five criteria. Such a system would be transparent and will eliminate corruption and complaints.
The main issue in this debate is whether to include income in the criteria or not. The 1992 and 1997 surveys and Tendulkar Committee included income in some form or the other while Saxena and Dreze suggest that this should be done away with. Certainly, Saxena and Dreze suggestions are better because they are simple, transparent. A person can himself determine whether his household qualifies as BPL or not. But these criteria would lead to increase in the number of BPL households and challenge the success of the present model of economic development. Therefore, the Government has developed cold feet over these recommendations and is going back to the inclusion of income as suggested by Tendulkar. This will make it possible for the Government to reduce the number of 'poor' as it may be convenient.
At the root of the problem is the vexed question of income. Poverty is truly determined by income. But income is difficult to assess. Therefore, true assessment of poverty is very difficult, if not impossible.
We should think afresh on the whole matter. Purpose of identifying the poor is to provide them with assistance so as to lift them out of poverty. Problem is that identifying the poor household as 'poor' precludes its coming out of poverty. The moment a family is identified as BPL, a vested interest is created in it remaining poor. BPL card is valuable these days. The inner energy to earn more and rise out of poverty is dissipated. It is profitable for the poor household to remain poor so that it can continue to access subsidized food grains and other facilities. The problem, therefore, is like this: If we identify the poor as BPL, then they are likely to remain poor. On the other hand, if we do not provide facilities to them then too they are likely to remain poor.
Possible solution is to provide the facilities to the poor but without identifying them and classifying them as BPL. Facilities may be provided to them as their right as an ordinary citizen. The Economic Independence Movement initiated by Bharat Gandhi has demanded that every household-rich or poor-be provided a grant of about Rs 2,000 per month as a right of 'votership.' This amount may be paid to every household from Ratan Tata to the beggar. The large number of welfare programs should be closed down and the money distributed directly to the citizens. This will make available money to poor households without requiring them to be stamped as BPL. The learned economists and policy makers should consider this proposal favourably. They should not spend their valuable energy on trying to decide whether to include or exclude income as one of the criteria of poverty. Such debate is meaningless because in both cases the problem of poverty will remain unaddressed.
BY LT. GEN. ( RTD.) DAULAT SINGH
Chinese are preparing for cyber warfare on a massive scale. The principal targets are USA and India. A very recent assessment by a highly reputed London-based think-tank that cyber warfare between nations is a reality and cannot be brushed aside as fanciful should make us sit up and take notice. The warning is contained in an annual report, The Military Balance, issued by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). This in-depth document analyses each year the competitive arms race that goes on between major nations and predicts its possible fall-out from the point of view of military capabilities and defence economics.
The latest analysis, apart from citing threats in cyberspace, refers to dangers arising from the conflict in Afghanistan, the determined Chinese exercise to diversify its military prowess and the nuclear ambitions of Iran. As a Western analysis, it naturally devotes considerable attention to what is happening in China and North Korea, especially on the cyber front. Releasing the report, the IISS said: "Despite evidence of cyber attacks in recent political conflicts, there is little appreciation internationally of how to assess cyber-conflict. We are now, in relation to the problem of cyber-warfare, at the same stage of intellectual development as we were in the 1950s in relation to possible nuclear war." This may appear to be a strong statement, but it is obviously intended to shake policy makers out of their ignorance and complacence.
It is relevant to recall here events of the past few years in which some small and hapless nations were subjected to a major cyber offensive from their adversaries. First was the attack in 2007 on Estonia, whose economic life was paralysed by Denial of Service (DoS) attacks unleashed from about a million computers, many of which were traced to Russia. It is an open secret that relations between the two nations have been frosty for quite some time. Estonia was under Soviet occupation from 1944 and obtained its freedom only in 1991.
Next was the Russian offensive against Georgia in 2008 as part of a dispute over South Ossetia. Apart from military exchanges, the occasion saw the hijacking of Georgian computers through cyber attacks originating from Russia. Even the Georgian President's official computers were not spared. In July 2009, German espionage agents complained of Internet spying operations by Russia and China with the objective of stealing vital information on critical infrastructure and defence plans. In December, Seoul reported attempts by North Korean computers to hack into the former's databases relating to US-South Korean defence strategies in the event of a war in the Korean peninsula.Also, Google recently launched an investigation into attacks on Internet accounts of human rights activists in China. This has actually ballooned into a major controversy, as a result of which Google has decided not to submit itself to censorship imposed by the Chinese authorities and also revealed the possibility of it pulling out of China altogether.
All this is evidence enough to substantiate the growing feeling that the wars of the future will be fought in cyberspace rather than on traditional battle fields. It is this assessment that has persuaded the Pentagon to prepare itself for a war in cyberspace on par with land, sea and aerial combat. According to one report, it will deploy a large number of cyber experts to look after its 15,000 computer networks spread over 4,000 installations. I presume our South Block has a similar core of trained cyber security team. Or else, in these troubled times, with several hostile neighbours around us, we could be in trouble.
All reports suggest that the al Qaeda is still very active. Its principal foes are the US and the UK. India comes a close third. It is the expert estimate that the al Qaeda may not any longer aim at our defence establishments. It is likely rather to concentrate on our weakest spot, namely, the financial sector. The latter may be strong in terms of business acumen. But what it is generally lax about is in respect of protection of its valuable information networks. The stock market is especially vulnerable. Any interference with its online traffic relating to financial transactions, through tactics such as DoS attacks could be disastrous. Any deliberate corruption of data relating to deals carried out by large-scale credit agencies will be equally ruinous. These are not imaginary but real threats of which financial managers in government and the private sector need to be aware. Any large-scale disruption of the financial market, especially at a time like the present, when economies are passing through a lean phase, could greatly affect political stability. Expert apprehensions of a terrorist use of weak information networks run by financial institutions cannot therefore be ignored.I would like to draw reader attention to an interesting piece, Cyber Warriors by James Fallows in the latest issue of Atlantic, in which he has a lot to say about threats emanating from the Chinese mainland. Its huge population and high computer literacy (with hundreds of millions of Internet users) give an advantage that is difficult to surpass. In crude terms, China could raise a formidable team of young hackers who could cause havoc to other nations with whom China does not enjoy good relations. This is an army that has the might to bring about a total breakdown of the commercial life of any nation of any size. This is an interesting analysis worth pondering over.
James Fallows refers to a forthcoming novel Directive 51 by John Barnes, which depicts a situation where there is such a breakdown. I am sure it is worth waiting for. We can possibly also draw from it some lessons on how to look after our networks! (INAV)
PROBE THE 'MURKY GAME'
CWG GUILTY MUST BE BROUGHT TO BOOK
PRIME MINISTER Manmohan Singh has done well by appointing a high-level committee to look into the Commonwealth Games (CWG) corruption allegations. The Games brought laurels and glory to the nation, but the credit of that goes to the athletes who delivered despite the odds stacked against them. The CWG Organising Committee, on the other hand, failed miserably and indeed caused much embarrassment to the nation. The media stories on corruption allegations, the whispers of the 'murky game' played by the organisers and the harsh reality of potholes and debris around the CWG venues in Delhi put the whole nation in an embarrassing situation. The anger of the public at large can be gauged from the loud booing that greeted CWG Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi, whenever he came to the dais during the Games.
The appointment of VK Shunglu, a former Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) to head the probe that is expected to submit its report within three months to the Prime Minister's Office, will go a long way in reassuring the public at large about the seriousness of the government's endeavour to bring to book those who were guilty of various acts of omission and commission which led to a near-disaster in the organising of the Games. Significantly, the CAG has also resumed its audit which was suspended during the games. The CAG is investigating whether there has been any cost overrun, and if the requisite balance between cost and quality has been maintained.
While the Prime Minister met the new medal winning icons of young India, and felicitated them at his residence, the exclusion of officials of the Organising Committee, including its chief, is significant. Even as the nation basks in joy over the glory of its young sportsmen, it cannot afford to overlook the brush with ignominy that it almost faced. The guilty must be identified and brought to justice, sooner rather than later.
NEED FOR CAUTION BUT NOT HYSTERIA
THE observations made by the Army chief, General V.K. Singh, in an interview with The Tribune that there was peace on the border with China but since there is a disputed border with that country there will always be a concern that Chinese intentions may change is indicative of a cautious approach in the Indian establishment towards China. General Singh emphasized that confidence-building measures were in place. Last month, Defence Minister A.K. Antony had told a military conference that "we cannot afford to drop our guard" in relation to China which was improving its military and physical infrastructure and showing increasing assertiveness. From an establishment that tends to be very measured and careful in statements on China, this is a sign of cautious wariness.
Significantly, China's position on Kashmir used to be similar to that of all major powers, viewing it as a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan that needed to be resolved peacefully. But Beijing's current practice of issuing stapled visas to Kashmiris rather than stamping the visa in the passport and the denial of visa to an Indian army general posted in Jammu and Kashmir who was to lead a military delegation to China mark a strategic shift in China's attitude which amounts to questioning India's sovereignty over the territory. At the same time, China is inducting a large body of troops into the Gilgit region of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Considering that China also claims about 90,000 square kilometres in Arunachal Pradesh and in April 2009, Beijing attempted to block a $US2.9 billion Asian Development Bank loan to India that included a flood control project in that state, there are straws in the wind that can hardly be wished away.
While there is no cause for hysteria over the downward trend in Sino-Indian political relations in recent months, and there is cause for satisfaction over the burgeoning economic ties, it is good for our foreign policy establishment to be watchful over Chinese intentions. That the China-Pakistan nexus poses a security threat to this country with the Chinese even assisting Pakistan's nuclear programme is something that we cannot brush aside as of little consequence.
GOVT VS COURT IN PAKISTAN
POLITICAL INSTABILITY GETTING MORE SERIOUS
THAT an unconfirmed TV report can force the Pakistan Supreme Court to constitute a 17-judge Full Bench on an emergency basis to ward off a purported threat to the judiciary shows how scared the judges are of the PPP-led government in Islamabad. The denial by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani that the government had any plan to withdraw a notification issued last March to reinstate sacked apex court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and many other judges was not enough. Chief Justice Chaudhry declared that Gilani's clarification was not true. The government actually wanted to punish the non-pliable judges hearing an appeal against a court verdict that annulled the amnesty given to President Asif Zardari and many others under the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance. The message from the higher judiciary was loud and clear: the government could go to any extent to intimidate the judiciary, which was functioning fiercely independently.
The Full Bench, headed by Chief Justice Chaudhry, issued an order on Friday warning the government that any action against the judges hearing the significant petition would be treated as subversion of the constitution, amounting to toppling of an important pillar of the State. Taking up of the matter promptly by the apex court, perhaps, forced the government to abandon its reported move to punish the non-pliable judges. It will be interesting to watch what happens now, as there is no love lost between the higher judiciary and the government.
The Pakistan Supreme Court has been looking for opportunities to fix the government because it has not fully implemented the verdict declaring the controversial NRO as null and void, and thereby opening the fraud cases against President Zardari and other NRO beneficiaries. The government has done little against Zardari, citing Presidential immunity, though it has been pointed out again and again that he cannot save his skin in this manner. In February this year the apex court blocked a Presidential order appointing two judges one to the Supreme Court and the other as the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court as the appointments were done without consulting the Chief Justice of Pakistan, a constitutional requirement. The growing tussle between the government and the judiciary is bound to add to political instability Pakistan has been faced with for some time.
THE KARNATAKA CRISIS
CONGRESS, BJP ARE TO BLAME
BY KULDIP NAYAR
INDIAN legislatures have been a spectacle of hooliganism members fighting on the floor of the House, forcibly removing the Speaker from his chair or raising slogans to drown the proceedings in the noise engineered. But never before did any Assembly make a sham of no-confidence vote to save the government.
This happened a few days ago in Karnataka, which is equal to Germany in area. The vote of no-confidence was against the BJP government in the state. The government summoned the armed police in the House to "discipline" the members and get the requisite numbers.
That the whole process was against the letter and spirit of the Constitution goes without saying. Yet the tragedy is that the BJP is not realising the harm it has done to the polity. It is blaming other parties for "murdering democracy". The boot is on the other leg. What is, however, disconcerting is that the BJP has set a precedent which can make a mockery of a "majority" in the legislature if the government gets away with it.
The House has the strength of 224, of which 117 are members of the BJP. Some 16 of them bolted the party out and wrote to the state Governor that they had withdrawn their support to the government. This reduced the ruling party's strength to 106, seven short of a simple majority. The Governor ordered the government to seek a vote of confidence.
Now the Speaker, who is supposed to be Independent, comes into the picture. He disqualifies 16 of them, along with five Independents, under the anti-defection law. (A member who votes against the party on whose ticket he contested the election is disqualified. This, however, happens after he or she has voted, not before.) But the Speaker owing allegiance to the BJP acts before the voting so that the party can have a majority in the reduced strength of the House.
Still the BJP wins only by three votes and that too by disqualifying the Independents. If the party was to win, the Independents had to be disqualified. Since it was a tainted majority that the BJP managed, the House breaks into pandemonium and a free for all follows.
The "disqualified" members and others go to Raj Bhawan and seek the Governor's intervention. He counts the numbers and finds that the BJP has lost the majority in the House. He sends a report to the Centre recommending President's rule in the state because the government had been reduced to a minority.
This was not something extraordinary. He could not only be a spectator when the disqualified members approached him that they were not allowed to enter the House to exercise their right to vote. The disqualified members also went to the state high court.
The point at issue is not the Governor's report or the high court's judgment. The question which needs to be answered is how to determine a majority. There has to be voting, by clearing the House of unwanted elements. A procedure which the Karnataka Assembly Speaker adopted cannot be taken as decisive.
The anti-defection law has to be changed because the action against the defectors is taken after they have voted. Shouldn't their letter to the Speaker three days before voting where they did not accept the Chief Minister as their leader be considered proof of their defection? In that case the Speaker's action gets validity. However, there is also a case to amend the anti-defection law because it gives the rebels a power which they can misuse. At present they can be disqualified only after voting or, for that matter, pulling the government down.
Some of the 16 members have been reportedly bribed. Also the way in which they were moved from one five-star hotel to another in different states their last stay was at a Goa resort gives credence to the allegation of bribe. The nation's indignation over such a practice is understandable. That all political parties have indulged in it in the past is no defence. I know of several instances where the ruling parties, including the Congress, have "bought" members to survive a vote of no-confidence. Giving concessions to regional ruling parties, which even the Manmohan Singh government has done, add up to the same thing.
Ours is a young democracy which can be unsettled if political parties do not think beyond power. It is yet a tender plant which has to be nourished. Knowing that it is too much at stake for political parties losing power or staying in office public opinion has to be built against what has been going on in the country for many years. Parties cannot be allowed to run roughshod. The only wayout is that people must vote out the parties indulging in corruption and defection.
There is some justification in the charge that what happened in Karnataka was the result of a confrontation between the Congress and the BJP, the two main parties. No doubt, the Karnataka Governor, H.R. Bhardwaj, was a Congress minister before he went to Bangalore. And there is no doubt that the Assembly Speaker was a BJP member before he was elected to the office. It is sad that both carried with them loyalty to their original parties when the two offices demanded that they would not carry with them the baggage of the past.
The BJP appears to believe that Karnataka, the BJP's first government in southern India, is a challenge hurled at it to stay out of the region. Summoning the Chief Minister to Delhi to discuss Karnataka proves that the party is trying to make a big issue out of what happened in Bangalore. But it has chosen a wrong ground. The Congress may be charged with having encouraged defection. Yet the manner in which the Speaker went about to manage a vote of confidence exposed the party of its intention to stay in power at any cost.
True, the two parties are on the path of confrontation. But it is too soon to traverse such a path when the parliamentary elections are more than three years away. They can try their strength if and when the assembly is dissolved or fresh elections are called. This may turn out to be the only wayout in Karnataka.
The larger picture needs both parties to reach a consensus for the sake of development of the country as well as defence. Both need to look beyond party politics. The nation is sick and tired of their wrangling. It is looking for an alternative which may not be readily available but is visible on the horizon.
'YES, WE'RE OPEN'
BY RAJNISH WATTAS
YES, we're open'. That is what greets you at many store fronts in America during business hours. The invitation is direct, informal, welcoming to the visitor.
Such gungho American expressions permeate not only signage, street encounters and corner store conversations, newspapers TV shows, .... but almost every sphere of life.
On a sightseeing tour in Chicago, the first myth that our big, burly, black tourist guide broke was that the real reason why Chicago was called the 'Windy City' was not alluding to its bone-chilling winter winds, but to the residents, known for being big, boastful windbags! Thereafter, he went on to describe its tall, soaring skyscrapers designed by iconic architects in terms of their resemblance to food objects. "Okay guys, don't miss out on your left the famous 'Corncob' tower... it's a multi-storeyed parking lot designed by Skidmore...! On your right is the icecream cone tower...!
The recently built world famous sculpture by Anish Kapur called the Cloud Gate, was simply described as the 'Big Bean'. This was the most mouth-watering lesson ever learnt by me in architectural history.
Chicago's food-fixation spills over from its lofty spires to the streets below sumptuously. The downtown has a Pot Belly Sandwich Factory, with the stern directive on its window: 'If you don't step in soon to eat, both you and I will starve'. Petrified of defying such an injunction, one meekly goes in and eats!
And close to Pot Belly is the India Garden restaurant which has a sign on its planter: 'Water the plants, and improve your karma.' Such philosophical discourses near eating places are certainly some food for thought.
A boutique footwear store is called, "Sam the Shoemaker," whereas a well-known company of movers and packers perhaps owned by a doting father has 'All my Sons,' emblazoned proudly on all its giant trucks.
An upmarket home store chain called, 'Bed Bath & Beyond' seduces you with its designer bedroom and bathroom accessories. Even if the most exciting thing you do in your bed is snore, you end up buying some expensive linen from there nevertheless.
And America pampers not only its citizens but also its pets. While walking in New York, I noticed a fancy pet SPA selling designer deluxe dog beds with a deal on herbal dog shampoos.
It's certainly more than a dog's life with Uncle Sam. Who can resist the temptations of a wine store with a bubbly name like 'Uncork'? Although one steps in only to ogle at some vintage Bordeaux and Burgundies from a safe distance the mouth-watering display makes you feel suddenly parched. Before one can even say nimbupani, one has turned into a credit card connoisseur and picked up a combo offer of two Pinot Noirs and a Havana cigar thrown in for free.
Yes, I'm open to America!
JERUSALEM SETTLEMENT CLOUDS PEACE INITIATIVE
ISRAEL yesterday cast a new shadow over prospects for a resumption of direct peace negotiations with the Palestinians when it disclosed fresh plans for 230 housing units in Arab East Jerusalem.
The move in effect ends an undeclared freeze on Jewish construction in East Jerusalem. The plans are the most significant of their kind in the city since the diplomatic row that blew up in March over approval of a major planned expansion of the Jewish Ramat Shlomo settlement during the visit of US Vice President Joe Biden.
It comes as Washington is trying to persuade the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to extend his moratorium on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank in order to bring Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas back into direct talks. The moratorium officially ended last month.
East Jerusalem was never officially included in that moratorium because Israel regards it as its own territory since it occupied it in the 1967 Six Day War. The international community, by contrast, has never accepted Israel's subsequent unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as their capital.
But Mr Netanyahu had restrained settlement building in East Jerusalem since the larger plan for 1,200 units in Ramat Shlomo infuriated the Obama administration and seriously embarrassed Mr Biden on his goodwill mission to Israel. The latest plan for new units in the Pisgat Ze'ev and Ramot settlements was among others announced across Israel itself by the Housing Ministry.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said: "This decision shows the position of the Israeli prime minister has not changed. He continues to take every possible step to prevent the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state. By tendering in the occupied Palestinian territory, Netanyahu has again demonstrated why there are no negotiations today."
The new construction tenders came to light after a week in which Mr Netanyahu has already been seen as tacking to the right, for example by throwing his weight behind the highly contentious proposal of his hard-line nationalist foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman to require newly naturalised non-Jewish Israelis to pledge their loyalty to the country as "a Jewish state".
Western diplomats have expressed uncertainty over whether this was for his own ideological reasons or as a means of securing support from his coalition's right-wing flank before a possible agreement with the US to resume the West Bank settlement moratorium. Mr Abbas has insisted he will not re-enter direct talks without the moratorium being restored.
The US is widely believed to have made a substantial offer to Mr Netanyahu in return for a resumption of the moratorium - in effect a partial freeze. This is thought to include extra military hardware and possibly a measure of backing for Israel's determination to maintain a military presence in the Jordan Valley after the formation of any Palestinian state.
There have been unconfirmed Israeli media reports that Israel discussed the latest housing plans with Washington and had reduced the numbers of planned units in an effort to meet US sensitivities.
Kurt Hoyer, spokesman for the US embassy in Tel Aviv, said yesterday: "We are trying to discourage both sides from actions which appear to, or do, prejudge final status issues."
Mr Hoyer said such issues included the future of East Jerusalem and added: "We have been very clear about this."
Mr Netanyahu said this week he would be prepared to seek an extension of the moratorium if the Palestinians agreed to recognise Israel as a "Jewish state".
But Mr Abbas was quoted by Haaretz yesterday as telling Knesset members from the leftist Arab-Jewish party Hadash that would not happen..
FIRST, a tale of two rail tunnels. One of them is in Switzerland the 35-mile Gotthard Base tunnel, the cutting of which was completed on Friday amid great national rejoicing, and which, when it opens for business in 2017, will be the longest of its kind in the world. It will have cost $10bn, representing $1,300 of taxpayer's money for every citizen in the land of William Tell. But it will bestow huge benefits not only on Switzerland, but on north-south freight and passenger traffic for all Europe.
The other rail tunnel is (or rather was) in New Jersey, and would have linked the Garden State to Manhattan, vastly improving clogged access to New York City, with long-term economic benefits to match. The project, 20 years in the planning, would have cost around $9bn, or roughly $1,000 for each inhabitant of one of the richest states in the US.
Alas, it is not to be. A few days ago, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey announced his state was pulling out, in effect dooming the tunnel even though digging has started and $500m has already been spent. The cost was simply too high, he declared.
The silent crisis that is undermining America is the creeping decay of its public infrastructure. It's happening everywhere, from potholed interstate highways and grimy railways, to congested airports and a creaking air traffic control system that only adds to the increasingly third world experience of flying in the US. A 2005 study found that fully a quarter of the bridges were structurally inadequate or obsolete.
Every now and then, the defects explode into the national consciousness when breaches in scandalously neglected levees led to the flooding of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, or when the Interstate 35 bridge in Minneapolis collapsed one sunny rush hour afternoon in August 2007, sending 13 people to their deaths as their cars plunged into the Mississippi river.
We just saw the opening of the stunning new bridge 890ft above the gorge of the Colorado river, linking Arizona with Nevada and bypassing the congested old road across the top of the Hoover Dam. The new bridge took five years to complete and is said to have the longest single-span concrete arch in the Western hemisphere.
When he won the 2008 election, Barack Obama was being hailed as Roosevelt redux. Just like FDR, he had come to power in miserable economic times, a Democratic president promising to unleash the power of the government on vast public works to revive the economy and generate jobs. Thus far at least, it hasn't happened.
The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that $2.2trn is needed to get the country's infrastructure into good shape. In that context, the $50bn scheme announced by President Obama to improve roads, railways and airports is a drop in the ocean.
But opportunity still beckons. Long-term borrowing rates are rock-bottom; a 9.6 per cent unemployment rate underlines how much spare capacity exists in the economy. As the infrastructure declines, so does the country's international competitiveness. In short, everyone knows something must be done. Indeed, even Governor Christie is said to be open to a rethink over that Manhattan tunnel. The Independent
MUSEUM STUDIES SOCIETY THAT CREATED HITLER
THE knuckle-dusters, truncheons and jackboots in the first case of a new exhibition on "Hitler and the Germans" in Berlin sets the tone for a stark look at how German society embraced the Nazi regime in all its brutality. While lots of memorabilia is on show, from SS and Gestapo uniforms to a sideboard from Hitler's office, the exhibition shows how all levels of German society-media, industry, the church, schools-built up the Hitler cult in the 1930s and clung to it through World War Two until defeat was imminent. Some portrayed the show in the German Historical Museum as a taboo-breaking first exhibition on Adolf Hitler himself. But the curators are at pains to stress that their focus is on the society that created the dictator. "We don't want to focus on Hitler as a personality," said Hans-Ulrich Thamer, curator of the exhibition subtitled "Nation and Crime. We want to look at the rise of the regime, how it operated in power and how it fell, and the tremendous destructive potential that National Socialism unleashed," he said. The show is housed in a modern annexe behind the museum on Unter den Linden-the boulevard that Hitler stripped of the linden trees that gave it its name-with no advertising, in deference to German law forbidding the display of Nazi symbols. But inside the viewer is immersed in a world of propaganda ranging from cigarette packets with the swastika, complete with collectible uniform cards, to a handcart for selling the party paper, "Voelkischer Beobachter".
As the exhibits document the construction of the Nazi state, with its industry, autobahns and folksy celebrations of Hitler, they also reflect the growing racial hatred and discrimination.
After chronicling Hitler's downfall, the show touches on the post-war discussion of Nazism in German society, noting that the top-selling news magazine Der Spiegel put Hitler on its front cover no fewer than 46 times between 1949 and 2010. "Since the 1990s not a single year has gone by without a Hitler portrait on the cover," the curators said.
The final exhibits mention the fascination of neo-Nazis with Hitler memorabilia and displays anti-fascist logos. Reuters
GAMES OVER, LET THE PROBE BEGIN
NOT THOUGHTLESS TRIUMPHALISM, BUT A GENUINE INTROSPECTION WOULD BE THE TRUE MEASURE OF THE CWG AND OUR PRIDE AS A NATION
The Games are over, they have been declared a success, our athletes have done us proud and all is well. If you were only reading the Indian press this week then you could be pardoned for thinking that India has just delivered the greatest event in the world. The despair and handwringing that we saw only two weeks ago has simply vanished in the sparkling lights of the opening and closing ceremonies and the narrative of failure has been replaced with a new one of arrival.
Read the mainstream international press of the past week though and you find a different perspective: one of disaster averted, of a last-minute face-saver, of stadiums that did not crumble and one where an unseemly jostling for credit has already begun after a Games where India somehow just got by. Of course, many of these reporters have their own foibles, including stereotyping and simplification, but there is a point here that any mature nation will readily embrace.
Celebrating the exploits of our worthy medal-winning athletes is one thing and no praise is enough but should we allow their halo to eclipse the darkness of what came before. The afterglow of the spectacular closing ceremony has obscured the rest but now that our immediate job as hosts is over, surely it is time to reflect coolly and calmly rather than shifting from one extreme to another, from the depths of despair to the heights of jingoism.
Perhaps the shift in the discourse tells us something about us as a young, aspirational society, one that hates failure so much that we are ready to celebrate every whiff of the slightest success, of the smallest corner being turned, and simply forgetting about the rest. Or maybe it tells us more about the media that creates the discourse than about us: after all who can forget the public jeers for Mr Kalmadi at both the opening and closing ceremonies.
The primary aim of these Games, according to its own organisers, was to announce the global arrival of India as a new power, as sort of mini-Beijing. It was to have been a wow moment. For all the successes of the past two weeks, has that original aim been achieved, in our eyes and in the eyes of the world? Have we dazzled the world or have we simply got by and saved face? In organisational terms, have we created the perception of a new, different, India like South Africa did with the World Cup or reinforced an older one of an India that moves in mysterious ways and somehow just about gets things done like Greece with the Athens Olympics? The answer is negative and we must be honest to ourselves as talk surfaces again about a future Olympic bid.
The prime minister has rightly instituted a probe and the Organising Committee's files are now locked up for scrutiny. We don't know the exact parameters of the probe yet but irregularities, wasteful expenditure and possible corruption are all likely to be under the scanner.
Perhaps the post-mortem should also look into wider questions of legacies and priorities that shaped the Games. Here are some deeper questions that we should answer:
1. If the Games are about developing the national capital then will post-Games Delhi be better served with a Games Village whose 1,600 plus apartments are sold for a few crores each to rich Delhiites or with a Village that is turned into a student hostel for Delhi University, as was initially promised by Delhi? Why was this decision changed and why was a 700-crore government bailout given to a private builder who is selling the flats anyway?
The government bore the entire operating costs of the Games by giving an unsecured loan to the Organising Committee. The terms of repayment were to be worked out later. What are these terms and when will the money be repaid?
The total cost of the Games, inclusive of infrastructure, went up by 112 times: from 617 crore estimated in 2002 to upwards of 70,000 crore by 2010. Was it the economic situation or was it simply bad management, bad accounting and incompetence? Who will be held accountable for this humongous jump?
4. What will the follow-up be for our athletes who have done so well despite our system? Will resources now be poured into sports and in our rural hinterland for building a genuine sporting culture, as opposed to one where we simply clap our hands patriotically when someone does well against the odds and then forget about them till the next event?
5. What are the plans for the sporting infrastructure built for these Games, so the stadiums turn into beacons of excellence and not white elephants? Hyderabad had similar infrastructure built for the Afro-Asian Games nearly a decade ago and so did Delhi in 1982 but look what happened to it. How can we avoid a repeat?
A genuine introspection would be the true measure of these Games and our pride as a nation. Not thoughtless triumphalism, where we simply shrug our shoulders and move on.
The spectacular CWG closing ceremony
INFLATION AND APPRECIATION
RBI'S TIGHTROPE WALK ON RUPEE AT HOME AND ABROAD
The Re's both good news and bad news from the price front. The good news is that inflation seems to be stabilising with the September number only marginally higher than the 8.5 per cent in August. More importantly, manufacturing product inflation, often described as core inflation by economists, has continued its downward trend. From 6.4 per cent in April, factory price inflation is down to 4.6 per cent in September. A favourable base effect kicks in from November if food prices soften a tad and manufacturing inflation sticks to the current path, inflation could end up around 5.5 per cent by March 2011. The bad news is that the price level remains high. Wholesale price inflation for the month of September printed at 8.62 per cent, much higher than the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI's) target of 5.5 per cent. Despite what appeared to be a bountiful monsoon in most parts of the country, food inflation (and indeed agricultural products inflation on the whole) remains recalcitrant. Thus prices of food articles rose by 15.7 per cent in September over last year, while non-food primary articles' prices increased by a whopping 18.2 per cent. Most economists agree that monetary tightening can hope to impact only on core inflation; curbing non-core inflation such as rising food prices is the remit of supply-management policy. Thus the current pattern of inflation would suggest that monetary policy has been somewhat effective in doing its job.
This should give RBI some elbow-room to exert itself in another domain that needs urgent attention, namely the foreign exchange market. The continuous rise in the rupee, spurred on by relentless portfolio inflows, threatens to damage export competitiveness and left unchecked, would start impinging on growth. RBI, to the surprise of many analysts, has been reluctant to buy dollars from the market to stem the rupee's rise. One possible explanation has to do with the fact that when it intervenes in the currency market, it buys dollars and in the process sells or releases rupees into the economy. Given the link between inflation and excess liquidity, releasing rupees might not be a wise thing to do when core inflation is on the rise. Indeed, RBI has through a series of measures (raising the cash reserve ratio, curtailing its bond-buyback programme in the wake of the 3G auction related liquidity tightness) maintained a liquidity shortage in the market since May this year. Heavy intervention in the currency markets would have infused rupees into the system and compromised the objective of keeping money tight. With inflation stabilising, RBI's degrees of freedom increase and it might be able to "intervene" more effectively in the foreign exchange market without fretting too much about inflationary consequences of enhancing domestic liquidity. The same holds for policy rates. While a hike in the repo rate or reverse repo rate sends a strong anti-inflation message from the central bank, it also widens the rate differential between India and the low-interest economies of the developed world, attracting capital in the process. Thus when it reviews its monetary policy stance on the second of November, RBI might want to keep the exchange rate in mind and maintain status quo in rates.
HEADS MUST ROLL
GAMES ENDED WELL, BUT ALL WAS NOT WELL
India's sportspersons have every reason to be proud of their performance at the 19th Commonwealth Games. While not too many world and Olympic records were broken, the impressive performance of Indian sportspersons, especially women, has done the nation proud. Kudos also to the organisers of the events and to Delhi police and security forces for their handling of security and traffic management. New Delhi was not the chaos many feared it would be. The opening and closing ceremonies were competently handled, even if the telecast was poor and the show failed to inspire, seeking merely to entertain. While the Games ended well, all was certainly not well with the organisation and those guilty of corruption, inefficiency and mismanagement should be punished. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did well not to waste time instituting a high-level enquiry by former Comptroller and Auditor General V K Shunglu. This is welcome activism on the part of the prime minister. Hopefully, it signals a new style. Dr Singh has been far too retiring in his ways in the first year of his second term. The nation would welcome a more assertive prime minister and a more energetic government.
To facilitate a fair enquiry, the ministers and officials whose role may come under scrutiny should be asked to step down till the enquiry is over. To begin with, Suresh Kalmadi should be asked to step down from all his current positions, including from the Indian Olympic Association. Whistleblower protection should be ensured to enable those in the know to depose before the commission of enquiry. The roll call of punishment must begin with former Union sports minister Mani Shankar Aiyar. He should be made to give up his seat in Parliament for the ignominy he has heaped on his government, his party and the country. Next, Union ministers M S Gill and Jaipal Reddy should resign from their present positions. Mr Gill's improprieties, a former chief election commissioner joining a political party and becoming a minister, are many. His unacceptable behaviour towards sportspersons and his incompetent leadership at the ministry are adequate reasons for his retirement from public life. Mr Reddy too failed to deliver at the ministry of urban development. Then come three government functionaries the Lt Governor of Delhi, the Union cabinet secretary and the principal secretary to the prime minister. All three failed in providing leadership even after they were specifically asked to step in and stem the rot and get things going. Most of the last-mile issues could have been avoided if these worthies had been more competent and provided better leadership in the six months preceding the Games. As for Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, the voters of Delhi will have to take a view at the appropriate time. She has argued that she was never empowered to be able to deliver. This is a fair defence. Delhi needs a clear line of command for it to function efficiently as a national Capital. The jury is out on her culpability. But all the other heads must roll.
IMPORTANCE OF SHUNGLU
IN OPENING A CAN OF WORMS, IS THE PRIME MINISTER SAYING ENOUGH IS ENOUGH?
This is the snub-Kalmadi week. Every storm finds its own lightning rod. But when Vijay Kumar Shunglu, former Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), settles down to investigate whatever he is asked to (the terms of reference of his enquiry into "irregularities in the organisation of the 19th Commonwealth Games (CWG)" have not yet been specified), he is unlikely to resort to "scapegoating", as the Americans would say!
Mr Shunglu's career track record as a member of the Indian Administrative Service and, in particular, his tenure as CAG are impressive. Equally relevant to this investigation is how Mr Shunglu spent his post-retirement life. He did not go after corporate cream like many civil servants do these days. He chose to work with Action Aid!
As important as his choice of investigator is the very fact of such early action by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The morning after he went to watch the closing ceremony, his office made public his decision. The decision itself was clearly taken before. If the swiftness, clarity and resoluteness of the Shunglu appointment point to a new mood of Prime Minister Singh, it bodes well for governance in New Delhi. More on that later.
To begin at the beginning, if the job of the Shunglu committee is to probe "irregularities in the organisation" of CWG 2010, the first thing the government has to define is the word "organisation". Will the enquiry be merely into irregularities in the "conduct of the Games", the responsibility of the Organising Committee (OC), or also into the "creation of facilities", which would bring into its ambit at least three ministries of the Union government urban development, sports and information and broadcasting and the government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi?
Depending on how the terms of reference are drawn up, we would know who the lightning rods would be. Clearly, Suresh Kalmadi, the OC chairman, was not the only person at the top of the mess. A report prepared by the Union Ministry for Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) very helpfully tells us that Mr Kalmadi only heads the OC which was responsible for "the conduct of the Games". There were other organising committees a "committee of secretaries", chaired by the Union cabinet secretary, charged with the responsibility of "reviewing and coordinating all activities for the conduct of the Games"; an "empowered committee", chaired by chief secretary, Delhi government, "to ensure speedy clearances"; a "venue monitoring committee", chaired by Union secretary for sports, "to review all aspects related to the Games and coordinate activities of different stakeholders"; and, to top them all, a "group of ministers" (GoM), constituted on September 3, 2004 (hello?!) under the chairmanship of the human resources development minister (remember his name?!) "for coordinating the work related to the organisation of CWG".
Then, we are very helpfully informed by the MYAS booklet: "Subsequently, on 19th June, 2009, a new GoM has been formed, under the chairmanship of Minister of Urban Development, to review the projects and take decisions as required to facilitate smooth implementation of all activities connected with the Commonwealth Games." Everyone you can think of was a member of this GoM which, we are told, "discusses, inquires, urges and pushes the OC and various authorities, for timely and efficient completion of their duties".
Now, what in the view of a former CAG, would all these worthies be seen as being responsible for? For spending a budget that began in millions of dollars and ended in billions? But then, here is how the money was spent: The OC itself spent an estimated Rs 2,394.25 crore on the "conduct of the Games". The MYAS spent another Rs 2,904.86 crore, on "preparation of 14 stadiums and other venues". Then comes the whopper Rs 16,560 crore spent by the government of Delhi, "preparing Delhi" for the Games.
So, what aspects of the organisation of CWG 2010 will Mr Shunglu look at to see if there have been "irregularities"? Clearly, the Shunglu enquiry can become the biggest anti-corruption investigation in post-Independence history. For the investigation to proceed without hindrance, the heads of all institutions being enquired into should step down till their names are cleared.
But it is not "corruption" alone that marred the Games. There was the incredible "inefficiency and delay" which, in fact, may have contributed more to the steep escalation in costs than corruption. Who is to blame for that?
Apart from the monsoons of 2010, there is the irrepressible Mani Shankar Aiyar. He was happily picking up honours at Oxford and delivering speeches on governance at Harvard in the week of the Games he never wanted, and whose costs went up in great part because of his incompetence and lack of interest. Then there are the many officials, from the high and mighty of babudom down, who were made responsible from time to time to get things done in time and properly, and failed in doing so.
Prime Minister Singh has taken a bold decision to open this can of worms, a veritable Pandora's box. In doing so, he has for the first time in his second tenure in office publicly asserted himself, saying "enough is enough". Many will hope this is the beginning of a new phase in his tenure, when he lets his office, the government, his council of ministers, his party and coalition and the country know that he means business, that the buck stops with him, that his colleagues and officers must shape up or ship out.
Is this Dr Singh's message? "Stop playing games, clean up the mess and get to work!" Many desperately hope so and, if it is, it's a message the nation would welcome.
ON THE EAST ASIAN DANCE FLOOR
The quest for an East Asian regional architecture is finally coming to an end. After more than a decade of proposals and counter-proposals, we have in the shape of the upcoming East Asia Summit (EAS) a club that is big enough to include the key players and small enough to avoid becoming a talking shop. Comprising the ten Asean states, India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, it's still not perfect (what are Myanmar, Brunei, Laos, Cambodia and New Zealand doing in there, while the United States, Russia and Taiwan are outside?). The representation is nevertheless far more credible than various other configurations that were thrown up over the last decade.
But why does East Asia need a regional architecture? Sure, there is a need for Asia's most important economies to have a common platform for policy coordination and cooperative initiatives. Moreover, many of the risks to stability and prosperity geo-economic imbalances, jihadi terrorism, environmental pollution, epidemics and natural disasters transcend national boundaries, and can most effectively be addressed within a multilateral cooperative framework. Underlying all this, however, is the big geopolitical reason: the need to create a set of norms that will bind China, the United States, India and Indonesia, and prevent them from rocking the East Asian boat.
At the moment, it is China that is doing all the rocking.
After a series of provocative statements and maritime clashes this year, China toned down at this month's meeting in Hanoi of the defence ministers of EAS countries, the United States and Russia. Beijing's relations with the countries of the region had hit such a low that hallway conversations with the Japanese and allowing the US defence secretary to visit China were considered measures of success. There was no give on substantive issues. Refusing to discuss South China Sea maritime boundary conflicts, General Liang Guanglie, China's defence minister, said that "practical cooperation within multilateral frameworks does not mean settling all security issues". In other words, China will insist and quite likely have its way on negotiating bilaterally with the less powerful disputants. It will also insist on keeping the United States out.
What this means is although the EAS is set to become the pre-eminent regional grouping, bilateral alignments remain in a state of flux.
A divide is emerging between countries that have a dispute with China, and countries that don't. The former a list that includes Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei will seek greater security in the form of alliances with the United States and India.
These countries want a closer tango, not least in the security arena. During Defence Minister A K Antony's visit, his Vietnamese counterpart General Phung Quang Thanh welcomed Indian Navy ships to make more port calls and offered maintenance facilities at Vietnamese ports. Last month, South Korea signed two defence cooperation agreements with India encompassing a broad range of activities, including exchange of visits, R&D, training and joint exercises. An agreement is still some distance away, but the very fact that India and Japan are currently negotiating a civil nuclear agreement is already a sign of how far Tokyo has travelled.
India will have to go beyond defence and invest in building deep, broad and balanced economic relationships with these countries. As the experience with Russia has taught us, a merely defence-centred bilateral relationship can often be troublesome.
On the other side of the divide, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and even Australia countries which do not have territorial disputes with China while desiring an outcome where the big powers balance each other out, will be reluctant to do anything that might attract Beijing's unpleasant attention. Not unlike the Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms of historical South East Asia that preserved their independence by paying nominal tribute to the Chinese Emperor in return for being left alone.
In a recent monograph, Hugh White, an Australian strategist, argues that "(Australia) should try to persuade the US that it would be in everyone's best interests for it to relinquish primacy in Asia, but remain engaged as a member of a collective leadership; staying in Asia to balance, not to dominate... China needs to be persuaded that it, too, should settle for a shared leadership in Asia, a continued strong role for the US and growing roles for Japan and India".
Also, once the EAS gains momentum, it will diminish the relevance of Asean, the core around which all the regional groupings arose. Likewise, dynamics within the South East Asian grouping are set to weaken it. For instance, there is a growing quarter in Indonesia, Asean's biggest power, that perceives the grouping as a constraint on Jakarta's foreign policy, limiting it to a sub-regional theatre. Besides, the very unity of the grouping will be tested if China reneges on its 2002 agreement with Asean on the rules of conduct in the South China Sea. Asean will have to stand up for the interests of those of its members adversely affected by China's positions, but to do so, unaffected members will have to put their own relations with Beijing at risk.
As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gets set to attend the fifth East Asia Summit in Hanoi later this month, it is important to bear in mind that the club only provides the dance floor. India will have to court its dancing partners on an individual basis.
The author is founder and fellow for geopolitics at the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati The Indian National Interest Review
CLASH OF CURRENCIES
IT IS POLITICALLY SIMPLER FOR THE US TO BLAME CHINA'S EXCHANGE RATE POLICY FOR ITS EVER-INCREASING UNEMPLOYMENT
A V RAJWADE
The principal topic of hot debate in the previous week-end's IMF-World Bank meetings was the need for realignment of currencies to reduce the global imbalances (read US deficit and unemployment). No agreement could be reached, with China standing firm on its policy of the last few months, of a more flexible exchange rate for the yuan, which, in practice, means a deliberately gradual appreciation of the currency to give time to domestic industry to adjust (the yuan has appreciated around 2.5 per cent against the dollar since June 19, but the day-to-day movements have been in both directions). The problem has now been escalated to the G20 summit in Seoul next month.
The fact is that, for some time now, countries have been taking actions to stem the rise of their currencies against the currencies of their major trading partners. For example, Switzerland and Japan, both developed economies, have intervened in the exchange market in recent times. But the world's largest exporter, China, is at the heart of the dispute. If these are wars, they seem to be "defensive" wars to protect the domestic real economies, which produce 95 per cent of the output and employment, from the exchange rate gyrations to which speculative capital flows can lead. Japan, clearly, has experienced these, and in spades, in the 1990s. The dollar-yen rate gyrated from ¥147 at the beginning of the decade to around ¥80 in 1995, to ¥146 in 1998 and ¥112 in just two months thereafter! There was no significant difference in inflation rates, or current account balances of the two economies. (To be sure, Japan did undergo a banking crisis.)
The real reason is the so-called "feedback loops" that exaggerate price trends, sometimes grossly in either direction. Basic economic theory suggests that the rise in the price of an asset should reduce the demand for it, and a fall makes it more attractive. In practice, in financial markets, too often, higher prices of assets attract more buyers, leading to a further rise in the price until, of course, the music stops one day. The problem is that the cost of rate gyrations has to be borne by the real economy in terms of slow growth, recession, unemployment, and so on. The 1990s and the last 10 years have been "lost decades" for the Japanese economy because of the gyrations in its asset prices and the exchange rate a fact that China, always conscious of the need for social stability, and with a social security net far weaker than Japan's in the 1990s, is surely aware of.
There are two different strands of the issue of managing exchange rates, one philosophical and the other, more immediate, political. As for the first, the major Anglo-Saxon economies, namely the US and Britain, have been market fundamentalists for the last 30 years or so. The philosophical or academic underpinning is provided by the Chicago School and economists like Friedrich von Hayek. It believes in the efficiency of the markets and that market prices reflect all economic fundamentals. A corollary is that any regulatory intervention to influence the market prices can only distort them and, therefore, give a less than optimum result. The bankruptcy of the concept of markets being always virtuous, and regulation being always sinful, was highlighted in the recent credit crisis, particularly in the two largest Anglo-Saxon economies, leading to a global recession.
Critics of managed exchange rates describe them as "manipulated" exchange rates: by that logic, I suppose every country in world was "manipulating" exchange rates from 1945 to 1970 (the fixed exchange rate era), and, in any case, is guilty of "manipulating" the domestic value of the currency (inflation) through monetary policy!
Despite all the monetary and fiscal stimuli after the crisis, unemployment in the US remains stubbornly high at near-double-digit levels, and the ruling Democrats face the prospect of a major setback in the mid-term elections. In such a situation, it is always politically simpler to blame the foreigner: the Chinese exchange rate policy. With China refusing to be hurried, the US Congress has passed a legislation authorising the president to impose a duty of 20 per cent on Chinese imports. It has been claimed that this would help create a million jobs. This proposition has several unstated assumptions:
The duty will not merely replace Chinese imports by imports from other countries, but be replaced by increased output and employment.
Inasmuch as most of the cheap Chinese imports are purchased by the relatively poor, it is acceptable to force them to pay the higher prices of domestic goods.
The rise in domestic cost level (inflation) is needed to create jobs. (Have we not always been told how great lower inflation is?)
An import duty of 20 per cent means a devaluation of the dollar by that amount against the yuan. The dispute is likely to become hotter ahead of the G20 summit next month as the US' August trade data released last Thursday showed a widening of the deficit, mainly because of higher imports from China.
THE TALE OF OUR CITIES
A MCKINSEY REPORT ON URBANISATION IS A WAKE-UP CALL FOR INDIA
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair ..." Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities)
Any young Indian reading Dickens' 19th century novel in 2010 may be forgiven for thinking that this famous opening paragraph is all about our country's 5,545-odd cities, towns and urban agglomerations. On the one hand, we have an India "shining" in its cities with sparkling malls, multiplexes, condominiums and classy airports. On the other hand, we have a sordid urban India with crumbling infrastructure, unplanned growth, mushrooming slums and utter lack of civic governance and accountability.
It is in this schizophrenic context that a report by the McKinsey Global Institute titled "India's urban awakening: Building inclusive cities, sustaining economic growth" is not just timely, but a loud and clear wake-up call for India to manage its cities better.
It is not that enlightened citizens and the government have been totally oblivious of the enormity of the urban problem. A group in Bangalore, comprising eminent corporate citizens and conscientious NGOs, had set up the Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF) over a decade ago to rejuvenate the city and provide a clear model of how citizenry could work alongside the government. Enthusiasts like Swati and Ramesh Ramanathan and V Ravichandar continue to soldier on for the cause from their Bangalore base.
From time to time, a few bright and committed bureaucrats in urban administration positions provide energetic sparks of reform across a scattering of cities like Thane, Patna, Nagpur, Surat, Indore and so on. They, however, end up getting transferred, and more often than not, the spark dies with their departure.
After decades of somnolent existence allotting bungalows to politicians and bureaucrats, the union urban development ministry found an answer to its existential dilemma by getting to implement the widely publicised Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).
The McKinsey report grimly observes:
"This is a stark warning for India. If India continues with its current unplanned urbanisation path, it will result in a sharp deterioration in the quality of life in its cities, putting even today's rates of economic growth at risk."
The report predicts dire consequences if planned urbanisation is allowed to drift. It notes: "Even at today's urban scale, India is struggling. The infrastructure of its cities is looking decidedly tattered and access to basic services in urban areas continues to be poor. Superimpose a surge in demand for services from an expanding urban population and rising incomes, and India's aspiration for social cohesion and sustainable economic growth could reach a breaking point. The risk is that the quality of life in urban India will deteriorate, gridlock will hopelessly compromise productivity, and investors will decide that India's cities are too chaotic for their businesses to thrive."
The report details five dimensions of the management of urbanisation that together constitute a potential operating model. They are funding, governance, planning, sectoral policies and shape.
In countries around the world, governments have devised mechanisms to ensure that cities have reliable access to four sources of funds: land monetisation; property taxes and user charges; debt and private participation; and a formula-based grant system from the government. With some exceptions, India has barely leveraged these sources of funding, resulting in significant underinvestment (one-eighth of what is necessary) in its cities. In addition, the central and state governments do not follow a systematic formula in their approach to provide funds to cities.
India has not devolved power to the local level, leaving states to run cities from a distance and with weak accountability. India is the only G20 country that has not adopted a system in which empowered mayors run cities, and where dedicated expert agencies deliver services. Moreover, Indian cities have a large shortage of administrative and technical talent.
Effective and systematic urban planning has been part of the fabric of successful cities for decades. Indian urban plans, on the other hand, exist on paper but have little impact on the ground. The choices that India's cities make on land use and other aspects of planning are ad hoc. Exemptions are so systemic that there is a very weak relationship between what plans prescribe and the decisions that unfold at the local level.
This refers to policies in job creation, public transportation, affordable housing and climate-change mitigation. India has not found a large-scale, economically viable model that can be executed nationally. As a result, 17 million households live in slums, a number that could double by 2030.
There is no evidence that the central and state governments in India are addressing the issue of how best to shape its portfolio of cities to maximise their potential to drive growth.
The report goes on to make recommendations for tackling each of these areas. Anybody with even a minimal interest in urbanisation would do well to read this extremely comprehensive and insightful document.
If McKinsey were, at some time, to do an update of this work it could consider including some additional dimensions. Suggestions here relate to:
Implementing the 74th Amendment: What would it take to politically push this through with the states, much like goods and services tax (GST) or the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA)? How could the provisions of the 74th amendment be made to fire the imagination of the civic electorate, much like the Right to Information Act did?
Urban transportation: What are the spectrum of choices and their linkages with urban planning?
Creation of new cities: What is the decision matrix in the allocation of outlays for new cities much like decisions relating to Chandigarh and Gandhinagar in yesteryears; or even like Naya Raipur capital city or the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor towns under planning.
Rural rejuvenation as a solution to urban migration: Under Dr A P J Abdul Kalam's presidency, there was much talk about Provision of Urban Amenities to Rural Areas (PURA) as a means of relieving the pressure on urban migration. Where does this model fit, if at all, in discussions on urbanisation?
In 1927, US historian Katherine Mayo wrote a book titled Mother India, which was a polemical attack against Indian self-rule. Mahatma Gandhi had dismissed it then as a "gutter-inspector's report". Critics of the movie Slumdog Millionaire also chastised it as a gutter-inspector's production. Bharat Mata, in the early 21st century, may earn the same sobriquet if we do not give our urban infrastructure the urgent attention it deserves.
The author is the chairman of Feedback Ventures. The views expressed are personal
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
MFIS YES, COERCION NO
CHECK MALPRACTICES BUT ENCOURAGE GROWTH
ANDHRA Pradesh has promulgated an ordinance to check malpractices in microfinance institutions (MFIs). The state should not throw out the baby with the bathwater: it should check malpractices without checking MFI growth. Globally, MFIs have expanded at phenomenal rates largely because they lend without loan scrutiny to groups of women, and peer pressure of the group keeps defaults below 2% despite the absence of any collateral or legal procedures for loan recovery. MFIs are, in effect, benevolent moneylenders, charging interest rates of around 30% to cover high operational costs. They are a great improvement on moneylenders charging 60% and using force to seize assets. However, the AP media accuse some MFIs of using force too, and claim that some suicides have been caused by such coercion. Proving the connection is difficult: persons commit suicide for several reasons, ranging from psychological to financial issues. The global suicide rate is 14 per lakh persons, it is even higher in rich countries like Finland and Japan which have no MFIs.
No rules or regulations can end suicides. But rules should certainly be framed to stop forcible loan recovery. The top MFIs agree on the need to ensure there is no coercion, and have adopted a code of conduct on this. But while bad apples among MFIs must be dealt with firmly, care must be taken not to create new regulations that encourage corruption or crimp legitimate and desirable MFI lending. Proposals to prevent members of self-help groups from borrowing from MFIs are terribly wrong, and will penalise poor borrowers and hit financial inclusion. People should be free to borrow from all sources, and members of selfhelp groups should not require a no-objection certificate before applying for an MFI loan it will be one more avenue for corruption and harassment. The use of force is an issue that must not be mixed up with the separate question of how the RBI should regulate MFIs. MFIs have reached 20 million people in a few years, a success owing something to light regulation that facilitated much innovation and experimentation. Some MFIs have become large institutions, and large ones need tougher regulation. But care should be taken to give MFIs, especially smaller ones, continued scope for innovation and experimentation.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
DEVELOPMENT OR IDENTITY?
THE LIKELY FACE-OFF IN BIHAR
THE upcoming assembly polls in Bihar may well have political ramifications which resonate beyond the state. For one, it is being touted as an election which will indicate whether issues of governance will trump over caste-and-identity management politics. It is also an election, being the first major one after the Ayodhya verdict, which can indicate whether there is some sort of consolidation around communal issues. At the same time, with reports indicating that as many as 135 candidates in the first phase of polls face criminal charges and that a large number of candidates belong to families of political leaders, it seems the enmeshing of clans and criminals with politics in the state which gave Bihar the reputation of being an electoral badland continues. Within the state, the key question is whether the development and governance plank of chief minister Nitish Kumar has entrenched itself to a degree that the caste agenda, which dominates the discourse of rivals Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), will not work beyond a point. At a wider level, with concerns about support from Muslims forcing the chief minister to put his foot down on the issue of some saffron leaders campaigning in the state, the limitations the BJP faces, even as an ally of Nitish's Janata Dal (United), have been underscored. For the Congress, which has chosen to go it alone, this election will also be a test of how far the notion of the party resurrecting itself in some states has progressed.
Apart from the question of whether the polls will see a return of identity politics, the war of words between the Congress and the JD (U) reflects the possible playing up of the communal factor, with the former questioning Nitish's secular credentials. But so far, political parties have not sought to bring the Ayodhya issue into play. The moot point, however, is whether the issue will become a factor as election-fever intensifies. Bihar, in effect, will show whether larger developmental issues given the acknowledged turnaround in the state's economy and law-and-order situation can be subsumed by old shibboleths.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
GAME FOR MORE
DELHI NEEDS ANOTHER JAMBOREE
ROADS, flyovers and bridges, decent public transport, hotels and stadia, indeed practically everything that the national capital can boast of, has been courtesy some international jamboree. Colour TV and New Delhi's first tranche of world class hotels came with the 1982 Asian Games and the capital's best (for a while, the only) conference facility capable of hosting international leaders was readied thanks to the back-to-back Commonwealth and Non-Aligned Movement summits of 1983. Of course, most of these 'legacy' structures languished from then on, till the Commonwealth Games hove into sight. For most of the 27-year interregnum, new flyovers were all that Delhi could boast of, till the Metro Rail project took off as did the much-reviled Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) corridor. With huge diesel generators at the stadia making up for no new power stations, and with the raging Yamuna providing a convenient excuse for delays, general filth and the mosquito onslaught, the CWG organisers managed to finangle a 'successful' games. But with its chronic power and water shortages, and sanitation woes still unaddressed, and now saddled with unfinished pavements and metro work, stinking drains, slapdash sporting venues and wilting greenery, clearly Delhi is in urgent need of another high-spending shindig. Soon.
Sadly, splashy international summits are few and far between; nor do the Asiad or Olympiad offer hope of renewed official interest to improve Delhi's lot any time soon. The 2010 and 2014 Asian Games are booked by Guangzhou and Incheon; London and Rio de Janeiro have the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. That makes 2019 and 2020 the earliest any Indian city can hope to host another sporting extravaganza. There's no guaranteeing that Delhi would be the natural beneficiary of any bid by India anyway. Can a new games or summit be conveniently invented, then?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
DEALING WITH A DELUGE OF CAPITAL
POLICYMAKERS MUST FOLLOW A TWO-PRONGED APPROACH THAT DISCOURAGES HOT MONEY, BUT KEEPS THE DOOR OPEN FOR LONG-TERM FINANCING REQUIRED BY SECTORS SUCH AS INFRASTRUCTURE, SAYS HEMANT MISHR
CURRENCY wars is the latest economic best-seller in China. One of its key themes concerns currency (mis)valuation and capital controls. Once considered a radical view, this has lately found intellectual acceptance among economists and policymakers alike, especially after the financial crisis.
Currency has been a powerful tool that nations have used to meet their policy objectives. Indeed, the history of finance is replete with several examples where the use of currency as a policy tool has had a tectonic impact on economies. A currency war accentuated the Great Depression of 1930s while the Plaza Accord of 1985 led to the crash of 1987 and the burst of the Japanese bubble in 1990.
The recent bout of interest on currency wars was triggered by the Brazilian finance minister who said he wanted to "blow the whistle" on the "non-declared currency war". Not to be outdone by others, Brazil decided to double transaction tax on its foreign fixed income flows to 4% from 2%. Is this a case of inflammatory language being put to use or will 2010 turn to be another critical turning point? These are early days, but many reckon that the world is already interlocked in another currency war.
In this context, India has been an exception, at least so far. Despite strong portfolio inflows this year, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has largely abstained from intervening in the forex market. Structural factors such as notso-open capital account and a yawning current account deficit have helped the country absorb these inflows.
There is, however, a school of thought that is clamouring for curbs on capital flows of some form, a laBrazil and Thailand. These concerns are misplaced and a call to checks on capital flows, in the Indian context, is premature.
Even in the best-case scenario, capital flows this year will be only 70% of $110 billion received in 2007-08. The situation today is less challenging as accretion to our balance of payments will only be around $30 billion compared to over $90 billion in 2007-08. It should also be noted that our foreign exchange reserves are still below the all-time high of $316 billion in 2007.
There is, however, no room for complacency. As a Latin phrase aptly puts it, praemonitus praemunitusor forewarned is forearmed. Expectations of more liquidity injection in the West through further quantitative easing can trigger another round of flows into the country. This would be further exacerbated by any significant portfolio allocations by investors in favour of the emerging markets tangible signs of which are evident now.
Estimates by the World Financial Stability report suggest that a 1% reallocation of global equity and debt securities held by G4 real money investors would result in additional portfolio flows of $485 billion to emerging markets higher than the 2007 record flows of $424 billion. If India, which continues to be a hot pick among investors, were to get 10% of that, the situation would suddenly alter and could force the policymakers to change tack.
While a surge in inflows justifies active management by policymakers mostly as a deterrent there is need here to discriminate in favour of strategic investors like insurance and pension funds, real money funds and sovereign wealth funds (SWFs). Policymakers need to follow a two-pronged approach that discourages hot money but continues to keep the door open for long-term financing that we need in sectors such as infrastructure that are starved of funds.
AN overwhelming surge in inflows particularly in the short-term, or hot money may necessitate selective capital controls a laTobin tax as sustained RBI intervention can exacerbate the already hurting inflation. Any efforts to sterilise such excess liquidity will eventually push up the government's interest cost on domestic bonds. If the need arises, India should look at cross-country experiences to avoid some of the pitfalls. An IMF study concludes that prudential policies are key for controls to achieve desired objectives. Arguably, this failed in Thailand as the implementation of policy was not backed by comprehensive controls. In contrast, Malaysia implemented a combination of administrative and regulatory measures that ensured a partially positive outcome. Yet, the same study also highlights that such controls lose effectiveness over time as markets exploit the potential loopholes in the system. Nonetheless, caution needs to be exercised as draconian steps can leave strategic investors in bad taste, too.
In fact, we have a unique opportunitytotapintothisdelugeofliquidityand channelise it into sectors that traditionally have been deficient of longterm financing. This is, however, easier said than done.
Recent findings of Sovereign Brands Survey 2010 places India as the least familiar and least favourable destination alongside the US and the UK for sovereign wealth fund investment.
While factors such as host country reputation and concerns over transparency have weighed against strong sovereign wealth fund investments, India needs to acknowledge that SWFs are a permanent part of the international financial market. Thus, there is an urgent need to step up economic diplomacy with SWFs of Gulf Cooperation Council countries. More so, in the infrastructure sector as almost 30% of the $1 trillion investment required over the next the five to seven years is expected to be funded from foreign sources.
The normal presumption in economics is that markets know better than governments and when left to their own, they allocate resources reasonably well. The crisis has proved that premise wrong. For the foreseeable future, India will continue to remain a favoured destination for capital flows.
We have choices let the current frenzy continue, place curbs on capital flows or adopt a policy mix that differentiates between strategic and tactical investors based on the quality of the flows and channelise them into priority sectors in dire need of funds. It will be interesting to see whether India can make hay while the sun shines!
(The author is MD & head, global markets, South Asia at Standard Chartered)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ET I N T E R A CT I V EFRIEDBERT KLEFENZ
'PACKAGING KEY TO PRODUCT MANUFACTURE'
THEdemand for consumable items, including ready-to-cook food, has gone beyond metros to smaller tier-II cities that are mushrooming with the growth in infrastructure. The preservation of these food items calls for good packaging. Bosch Packaging Technology recently invested around . 25 crore to set up a packaging machinery plant in Goa. Friedbert Klefenz, president, Bosch Packaging Division, says the plant will cater to both top-end and midsegment companies.
"Our focus will be to cater to the demands of the confectionery industry. However, for the first time, the company will also make machines for packaging pharmaceuticals. Items such as washing vials. were earlier imported to India," he said. Bosch plans to invest . 2,000 crore in India over the next three years. The plant at Goa is a component of this investment plan. Packaging machinery for pharmaceuticals makes up for nearly a fifth of Bosch's packaging division business. The rest is to meet packaging needs for confectionery and other fast-moving items.
"The company makes vertical form fill and seal machines, dosing systems, weigher & pump and confectionery processing & packaging machines in India. Here, the biggest challenge is to meet rising demands for a glitzy product that is attractive but not expensive," he said.
Industry experts estimate the turnover to touch $5 billion in the current fiscal year. The growth rate in key areas like consumable items will be around 25%. "We expect demand for our packaging machines to grow by 10% year-on-year," Klefenz said. The reasons for the surge in demand include changing lifestyles of the growing middle class. The packaging industry has also become more state-of-the-art to meet the demand for hygienically packed consumables. Companies such as Hindustan Unilever, Procter & Gamble India, Nestlé India, ITC, Coca-Cola India, PepsiCo India and Dabur India began aggressively marketing consumable items to keep pace with the demand. So, they focused also on good packaging to launch new India-specific products in various shapes and sizes.
The industry has seen a flurry of activity over the past few years, with many tie-ups being forged between domestic companies. Foreign packaging players such as Alcan Packaging, an arm of Rio Tinto Alcan, Klockner Pentaplast Group (KP), a Germanbased packaging solutions provider, Polish firm Can Pak and Bosch Packaging too have made a foray.
"Packaging is the most challenging aspect of product manufacturing. With globalisation and the influx of MNCs, the demand for good packaging equipment is on the rise. Modern packaging requires machines to meet high hygiene norms,"Klefenz said. Despite the entry of new players, the domestic market is minuscule compared to the global packaging industry. The Indian packaging industry has both organised large indigenous and international companies, and unorganised small & medium local companies. The organised sector, however, controls over 70% of the market in terms of volume.
The rise of nuclear families and changing lifestyles are fuelling the growth of this industry. "The development of food parks in India, improved hygiene standards in the food & beverage industry, rise in supplies of allopathic medicines and so on are the factors that have acted as catalysts for the growth of this industry,"Klefenz said.
While the consumer market dominates the global packaging industry and accounts for an estimated 70%of sales, industrial applications account for the balance 30% share. Ironically, all this caters to a mere 20% of India's population. Clearly, there's a huge potential for the industry to grow. Other aspects such as hygiene factors, ingredients and the price component are making the segment extremely competitive.
The growth in the packaging industry is higher in tier-II cities and smaller towns where products have a longer shelf life. So, the focus of most companies now is to cater to the rising demand from smaller cities and emerging townships, in addition to the metros. Industry experts reckon that the demand for machinery is rising more at the low end segment such as small confectionery producers. A manufacturing unit for packaging in the country will help them lower costs. The lower manufacturing costs also augur well for the country to become a potential export hub.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
DON'T WAIT FOR PANIC TO STRIKE
AFTER Brazil, it is now the turn of Thailand. Thailand is introducing a tax on foreign holdings of bonds. On Tuesday, the Thai cabinet imposed a 15% withholding tax on capital gains and interest payments for government and state-owned company bonds in a clear signal that it would not be a passive spectator to surging capital inflows. Over the past few months overseas flows have driven the Thai baht up 11% against the dollar, the highest since the 1997-98 Asian crisis.
The Thai move, the latest in a string of attempts by emerging economies to curb destabilising capital inflows amid fears of a global currency war, comes after countries like Brazil doubled taxes on foreign bond purchases and authorities from Switzerland to China have intervened in the market.
Meanwhile, we in India are sitting tight. Let me correct that. We are going the other extreme and easing, yes easing, earlier restrictions on inflows. Limits for foreign institutional investment (FII) flows into both government and corporate debt have been hiked, substantially.
If that is at odds with the rest of the world as well as the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI's) position capital inflows are emerging as a potential threat, says RBI deputy governor Subir Gokarn the reasons are not far to seek. Juxtapose the Thai FM's observation that capital flows are 'problematic' with that of our own FM.
There is nothing unusual about capital inflows. We have not reached the stage where the panic button needs to be pressed. We can always take action when needed,' says finance minister Pranab Mukherjee.
The problem is it is often too late by then. As with inflation, where we have clearly lost out because we failed to act in time, the best policies are pre-emptive, not reactive. Prevention is better than cure is an old saying that has as much salience in the field of economics as in medicine.
As Alan Greenspan discovered, picking up the pieces is not always easy. The former chairman of the US Federal Reserve refused to intervene to prick the asset bubble during the boom years on the plea that it is hard to spot a bubble. He preferred to deal with the consequences after it had burst, he said. And we've all seen where that has led the US (and along with it the world economy)!
It is true capital controls are not always effective. Thailand's decision in December 2006 to mandate that 30% of all inflows be deposited with the central bank without interest for one year had to be reversed a day later after the local stock market benchmark index fell in one of the biggest one-day drops in history. Controls had little if any effect on the currency. The baht continued to rise against the dollar, reaching a post-1997 high in March 2008. It was only in May 2008 three months after the controls were removed that the baht began to weaken.
However, for every Thailand that botches up on capital controls, there is a Chile and a Malaysia, both of which experimented with capital controls and with considerable success. Malaysia's Mahathir Mohammed was ridiculed by the West as a control freak when he imposed capital controls in the midst of the Asian crisis. Many western analysts predicted disaster: a collapse of the economy, hyperinflation, rampant black markets. It didn't happen. Malaysia emerged from the crisis relatively unscathed.
As Paul Krugman, noted economist and Nobel Prize winner admitted, Malaysia 'proved a point namely, that controlling capital in a crisis is at least feasible Preventing capital flight directly, and thereby gaining a breathing space was supposed to be completely impossible, a sure recipe for disaster. Now we know better. Capital controls are not necessarily the answer for every country but it would be foolish to rule out controls as a measure of last resort.'
Chile is another country that resorted to capital controls back in the 1990s and with considerable success. According to a study by Franciso Gallego and Klaus Schmidt Hebbel of the Central Bank of Chile and Leonardo Hernandez of the IMF, capital controls that took the form of unremunerative reserve requirements for banks achieved the limited purpose for which they were intended reining in the deluge.
So far Chile has refrained from imposing such controls though the peso has strengthened more than any Latin American currency in the past three months. Chilean finance minister Felipe Larrain says he prefers the less distortionary tool of curbing public spending growth. This, he says, is 'one of the best ways' of preventing the peso from strengthening against the dollar.
Our dilemma is that the government is neither willing to curb public spending nor countenance capital controls. This despite the fact that such controls have been endorsed by none less than the IMF as a legitimate short-term weapon to deal with the impact of volatile capital flows. The prospect (emphasis added) of heavy capital flows would be destabilising, admits the Fund. Today heavy capital flows are a reality. So what are we waiting for?
Capital inflows in excess of absorption capacity pose a huge risk, especially when these are of the volatile kind
The view that it is not yet time to press the panic button is fraught with danger Policy must be proactive, not reactive. Else, it will be a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CO S M I C U P LI N K
MANIFESTATIONS OF HARMONY WITHIN
THROUGH regulating all aspects of one's personality (those under his own direct control and in this process also those which are not), the intelligent seeker obtains that clarity and resolution of conflicts for obtaining harmony, fulfilment, authenticity and inner power the elements which constitute true spiritual growth.
This state of harmony can be defined as a state of freedomfrom contradicting or conflicting forces, which, acting as they do within, at cross-purposes, would not permit any tangible progress. Harmonising such forces, on the other hand, confers the needed sense of direction. Like a river bubbling along its path, knowing where it goes, the person concerned also, through this process, knows, where he is headed, clear in his objectives, wants, needs and priorities.
This, essentially, is unison with and in consequence, being empowered by one's own evolved self within, whereby all base and retarding tendencies are weakened. This is a state described by Bhagavad Gita (2, 48) as yogastah, as reflected in all aspects planning, organising, controlling and reviewing, for obtaining benefits and returns that would, indeed, improve even further with passage of time. One's approach, attitude, opinions, lifestyle and habits undergo the needed changes, subject as they are continually to scrutiny and thus the cleansing impacts of reason, logic and power.
Very importantly, this is that state, where, in view of the peace, harmony, fulfilment, inner strength and 'flow' obtained, one does not act by impulses, whims or base instincts. Progressing thus to 'victory over oneself', habits including food and sleep need no longer be resorted to as escapism or as tranquillisers or as mad diversions as if from one's own emptiness within. Gita also notes (6:16,17) that yoga is not for one who eats or sleeps too much or too little but only for him who is moderate in these.
Refined in every aspect of one's waking activity, the evolved seeker (sthithaprajna) manifests his inner harmony in the manner elaborated in the Gita (2: 54 to 72; 5-18 to 21, etc.), ensconced in balance, poise, precision and clarity. Tips often are suggestive of the iceberg below.
Similarly, specific outer manifestations can serve as barometers to indicate the state within, enabling better selfanalysis, self-evaluation and self-ennoblement!
WINTRY ARRIVALS In J&K they're called militants RELATIVE calm prevails on the stone-littered streets of the Kashmir Valley these days, which might create an impression that security concerns have eased. And since "demilitarisation" is the current refrain, it could result in calls for further downsizing of the Army deployment: hasn't the removal of 16 bunkers in Srinagar proved that relaxing "controls" does not result in disaster? Sounds good, some of that. Except that it ignores the reality that the period leading up to winter is when very serious bids are made to infiltrate as many militants as possible, before the snows block some of the easier ingress routes. So the next few weeks could require some very intensive anti-infiltration operations, every effort will be made to "stock" both militants and munitions, let them loose when the local forces re-focus on Jammu, to where the "durbar" will be moving shortly. To suggest that the Army will be "on test" from now till mid-December would not be accurate ~ it is on test every day in the Valley, just that periodically the tests become more stressful. It would also be incorrect to assume that militancy is dissipating, just that the security operations have blunted its edge. It was, possibly, the difficulties the militants were facing that prompted their masterminds in Pakistan to switch to stone-throwing mass protests, in which AFSPA was a target though none of the deaths on the streets were the result of army action. The netas and peaceniks must not forget that militancy is, at best, under control ~ eliminating what breeds it must remain high on the political and administrative agenda. Recent years have also witnessed a tactical shift. Winter sees an increase in the infiltration across sections of the LOC south of the Pir Panjal range ~ that was once believed an impassable barrier. Militants have worked out ways to cross the range to reach targets in the Valley; since they tend not to disturb life en route their movements are often not "reported" by the local populace. It all adds up to the Army having to remain as vigilant as ever: intelligence inputs point to some 400-500 militants on either side of the Pir Panjal awaiting opportunities to cross over. The short point being that reducing Army deployment along the frontier must not be confused with "de-policing" the hinterland. RAHUL IN BIHAR Will have to get down to basics RAHUL Gandhi must be seen as a late entrant on the Bihar election scene although he had set the tone earlier with visits to explore the prospects of reviving his party's youth wing. Recent developments such as the scandals involving chief minister Nitish Kumar, and the old stigma that the Lalu Prasad-Ram Vilas Paswan duo carries in respect of corruption and criminal connections, may have encouraged the Congress leader to plunge into the election fray aiming for more than merely recording a conspicuous presence. With Congress eating into rival vote-banks, there is still little prospect of anyone winning a majority in a three-cornered contest where the dividing lines are sharp. But the last parliamentary and assembly elections had suggested that the electorate could keep aside caste factors and this might give Congress reason to hope for more. Mr Gandhi may be seeking to grab that advantage by accusing Nitish Kumar of having communal connections just as his party has been targeting Lalu and Paswan by welcoming high-profile defectors. Like all politicians, he may have discovered the value of the minority vote. But the question remains as to what his party, out of power for more than two decades, can offer minorities in a post-election scenario. The AICC general secretary may be making all the right noises in playing up to Bihari sentiment. Where other parties are rooted in their traditional turf, he seeks to cast the net wider to cover the state's experience as a whole with poverty, migration and discrimination against Biharis as the most compelling issues that need to be addressed. This focus on the overall image of backwardness coupled with Mr Gandhi's arrival as a symbol of new hope may indeed help to take the Congress beyond its present position and signals from the parliamentary elections are that the new drive is well timed. The fact remains that the party will still have to decide what position to take in case of a fractured verdict. It doesn't help to make use of Mr Gandhi's personal charisma to pull down established leaders with tainted records when Congress neither looks like a convincing alternative nor in a position to forge an alliance. After the sermons, he needs to get down to basics. PALACE FINANCES Landmark change in Britain ROYALTY has relented with a landmark development in Britain's constitutional history. The handling of the Queen's budget is on course for a historic change with the monarch's finances set to be opened up for a review in terms of a reported deal signed by palace aides and the government. The Queen has ceded ultimate control of her finances to the government in the wake of the disclosure of documents released under the Freedom of Information Act. What on the face of it is a comedown of sorts for royalty is also a testament to the inherent resilience of Britain's democracy. And in remarkably refreshing contrast, one must add, to India's increasingly grudging and sluggish implementation of the Right To Information Act. In Britain, almost a similar legislation yields momentous changes; as often as not in India, the RTI Act has denied the citizen his right to know. That, in a way, exemplifies the two sides of the democratic coin. Central to the change in Britain has been the prolonged disagreement between the government and Buckingham Palace over the allegedly profligate spending, notably on the maintenance of the Palace, the Windsor Castle and other historic buildings that dot the country's landscape. It is now established that the deal was agreed to by the Queen and the Labour government three years ago. The Conservative-LibDem dispensation has made it public in the face of a groundswell of resentment against royal spending and crucially the increasingly strident demand for an independent review of royal expenditure. Quite obviously, the details of spending ~ 180 million pounds a year ~ could not indefinitely be kept under the hat. The House of Commons will now effectively be kept in the loop. The government will reserve the right to conduct an independent review of the internal audit of the money paid to the royal household. While royalty will now be under public scrutiny, the dominant outlook is remarkably healthy ~ more information about public subsidy paid to the Queen will serve to reinforce confidence in royalty.
SALMAN Rushdie in an interview to The Sunday Times (26 September) has termed the British monarchy and its traditions as 'stupid' and 'archaic', a 'British oddity'. This perception overlooks the fact that the British constitutional monarchy is not only unique but also performs functions that are both suitable and practical within a constitutional system. This distinguishes the office of the Head of the State from that of the Head of Government. Its endurance for more than 300 years has been acclaimed the world over. One recalls the remark of Egypt's King Farouk after he was deposed in 1952 ~ ultimately there will be only five kings, four in the playing cards and the fifth one, the British monarch.
The British monarchy has weathered many a political storm, the most intense being the aftermath of Princess Diana's death when it was criticised for its stiff upper lip attitude and traditions. The demand for the abolition of the monarchy along with the House of Lords dates back to the constitutional crisis of the early 17th century, between the royalists and the parliamentarians.
It centred around the theory of absolute monarchy and the divine right of kings, promulgated by James I in 1610. For the parliamentarians, the key issue was abolition of arbitrary power no matter where it was located ~ the King, the House of Lords or the House of Commons. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 resolved the crisis by accepting constitutional monarchy and parliamentary supremacy and this continues uninterruptedly till today.
The British monarch is often cited as the textbook example of a constitutional monarchy. The powers of the King or Queen are only formal. By political convention, these can be exercised only on the advice of the ministers. The ministers are chosen by the Prime Minister who theoretically is appointed by the monarch. By convention, however, he must be the leader of the party that commands majority support in the elected House of Commons. The difference between the king and crown and the notion that the king can do no wrong are part of tradition that is rooted in the adage. 'The King is dead. Long live the King'.
The monarch is the Head of State of 16 other independent countries that were once under British rule.He/she is also the Head of the Commonwealth consisting of 53 countries that recognise the monarch as their unifying symbol.
Other than Britain, the countries in Europe with a constitutional monarchy are Belgium, Denmark, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden. Outside of Europe, Japan is the only example of a constitutional monarchy within a democratic framework. Bhutan, Cambodia, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Morocco and Thailand are under constitutional monarchies but none has the elementary base to be considered fully democratic.
Equally revered is the Thai King, Bhumibol Adulyadej, a highly qualified scientist who is legally a constitutional monarch but has made decisive interventions in his country's politics. In 1992, Bhumibol played a key role in Thailand's transition to a democracy by urging both General Suchinda Kraprayoon, the leader of the coup group, and the leader of the pro-democracy movement, retired Major-General Chamlong Srimuang, to end the violence and effect a peaceful resolution of the crisis. A general election held shortly afterwards led to a civilian government. In the 2006 military coup, the King's role was the subject of speculation. Since then, the adulation and reverence for the king is no longer total. Moreover, Thailand has the strictest lese majeste laws in the world. Discourtesy to the monarchy is punishable with imprisonment. In the reckoning of its detractors, constitutional monarchy is redundant, an anachronism in a democracy. What additional role does the monarchy play in a democracy that is not covered by the role of existing institutions ?
There is a fundamental difference between a constitutional monarchy and a republic. In the latter, the Head of State is a person who is either directly elected by the people as in the USA, France and Mexico or appointed by an elected state parliament as in Germany, India and Israel. The constitutional monarch, like an elected Head of State, has only ceremonial and official functions. A major advantage of a constitutional monarch is that he/she remains the Head of State despite a change in government. And this ensures stability and continuity. It is politically neutral and thus functions like a safety valve, balancing all groups. A constitutional monarch is a symbol of national unity. The monarchy provides continuity in democratic societies that continually have to adapt to change. It represents the continuum between the past and the present. It is for this reason that Hegel praised the system as it embodies both national character and constitutional continuity.
It would be instructive to see the advantages of constitutional monarchy from lessons drawn from countries where it stands abolished. Its restoration under King Juan Carlos of Spain, after the death of Franco in 1975, laid the foundation of a successful democracy and stability of domestic politics after years of civil strife, world wars and a long dictatorship from 1936 to 1975. Both Austria and Iran rejected their monarchies for different reasons. In 1925, Iran saw the abolition of constitutional monarchy but gave itself an absolute monarchy in its place. In 1979, absolute monarchy was abolished but was replaced by another brand of absolutism in the form of Khomeini's Islamic fundamentalism. It lost the stabilising effect of the monarchy and also the democratic spirit of a constitutional government. Austria abolished its monarchy hoping to end the post-World War I turbulence but ended up by allowing Hitler to capture power in 1934. For many experts, constitutional monarchy is a way out to rescue present-day Iraq from going the way of Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and Lebanon.
The monarchy in Britain attracts greater attention because of its imperial past, reinforced by ceremonial pageantry such as the Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace. Yet the question survives whether it is desirable in the age of democracy not least because of the huge recurring expenditure involved.
In the USA, the President combines the role of the Head of State and government. This, according to Huntington, is a continuation of a medieval practice with one role often in conflict with the demands of the other.
In the other well-established democracies, the functions of the Head of State and that of the government are clearly demarcated. If both the offices are elected there is always scope for friction as witnessed in India during the tenures of Rajendra Prasad and Giani Zail Singh. A constitutional monarch avoids such transgressions as the incumbent is non-partisan and holds office beyond the tenure of an elected head of government. Rarely does it happen that the monarch oversteps the defined authority and role. A constitutional monarch is the sheet-anchor in a democracy and for this reason is not an oddity but a rational choice.
THE DANGERS OF CODEINE OUTWEIGH THE BENEFITS
LONDON, 17 OCT: Scientists have raised serious concerns about the widespread use of one of the world's most common painkillers after studies showing that codeine may be unsafe, ineffective and potentially addictive for the millions of people who take it regularly.
The government's independent watchdog on the safety of medicines has withdrawn codeine-containing cough mixtures for children after hard-hitting criticism by two Canadian experts suggesting that the drug should be phased out in painkillers meant for either children or adults. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) issued its warning about cough medicines containing codeine after receiving fresh advice from its committee of independent experts on the Commission on Human Medicines. The Independent has learnt that the commission had advance notice of a forthcoming editorial in a Canadian medical journal denouncing the widespread use of codeine in painkillers, especially for children.
Some 27 million packs of codeine-containing painkillers are sold over the counter each year in Britain, with a further 20 million prescriptions being issued to people suffering from severe pain resulting from chronic conditions such as arthritis and migraine. Some estimates suggest as many as 30,000 people may be addicted to the drug.
Growing concern about codeine, which has been used as a painkiller for about 200 years, has emerged from recent DNA studies showing that people with different genetic make-ups respond very differently to the opiod drug, which is inactive until it is broken down inside the body into highly addictive morphine. The variability of people's response to painkillers containing codeine, combined with its potentially addictive nature when taken regularly, led Professor Noni MacDonald of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Professor Stuart MacLeod of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, to ask whether the time has come to phase out the drug completely.
In an explosive editorial published in the current issue of the journal of the Canadian Medical Association, MacDonald and MacLeod said that the public perception of codeine as a safe drug is fostered by its widespread availability in many over-the-counter painkillers, sold in Britain as well-known brands such as Nurofen Plus, Solpadine Max and Panadol Ultra as well as generic products. "However, recent advances in our understanding of pharmacogenetics raise serious concerns about the safety of codeine, including emerging evidence that the narcotic can cause death even at conventional doses. Has the time come to phase out codeine altogether?" they asked. Scientists have already identified some genetic factors that significantly affect the rate at which codeine is broken down into morphine by the liver. These genetic factors vary within the general population, making the response to codeine highly unpredictable from one person to the next, MacDonald and MacLeod said. "All of these genetic variations can have potentially serious clinical consequences. The wrong combination can result in toxic levels of morphine, even at conventional doses of codeine. For infants and young children in particular, this can be deadly because age appears to be a key factor in susceptibility to adverse effects of morphine," they said. "Clearly, pre-testing all patients for genetic variants before recommending codeine would be expensive and impractical. A more logical solution might be to restrict access to codeine for infants and young children, the apparent highest risk group," they added. On 4 October, the day that the editorial was published by the Canadian Medical Association, the MHRA wrote to medical authorities in the UK warning that its experts have advised that all over-the-counter liquid cough medicines containing codeine should no longer be used in children under the age of 18, following fresh advice from its independent committee of experts.
'THE TEAM LOOKS LIKE AN ACADEMIC STUDY GROUP.'
The Centre's announcement of a team of three interlocutors to listen to all shades of public opinion in Kashmir and report back to it has come as a bit of an anti-climax. The three are Dilip Padgaokar, a senior journalist, M M Ansari, Central Information Commission member, and Radha Kumar, an academic from Jamia Millia Islamia. Their appointment was part of the eight-point package formulated after the recent visit of an all-party team to Kashmir. The idea was to widen the communication channels with civil society and get inputs from all sections of people. This, it was felt, would give the nation a better view of the reality in Kashmir and help the government make appropriate changes in its Kashmir policy.
But the composition of the team has disappointed many. There was expectation that the interlocutors would be well-known persons with very high credentials. There is nothing wrong or negative about any of the three members who have been named. But the team has the appearance of an academic study group. It is likely that the government wanted it to be a low-profile team, though it has been seriously "entrusted with the responsibility of undertaking a sustained dialogue with the people of J&K to understand their problems and chart a course of the future''. A team of public intellectuals with an open mind and no negative baggage may be better than bureaucrats and persons identified with strong and extreme positions. One committee member has already made it clear that the team has a forward-looking agenda, unconstrained by the past.
But the team will be seriously handicapped by the absence of political representation in it. The situation in Kashmir has many aspects and dimensions, but it is primarily political and any engagement with it would not be complete if a political sensibility is not involved in it. Union home minister P Chidambaram has said that the members have a political 'persona' but their ability to understand politics is no substitute for the knowledge, experience and talents a politician can bring into play. The separatists have predictably rejected the team but this need not be a setback to its working. It might still be able to talk to them in the coming months. But, for the best results, it should have an intelligent, mature politician with the power of empathy as a member.
'HARYANA SHOULD PROVIDE A LESSON TO ALL OTHER STATES.'
While India's performance in the Commonwealth Games, with an unprecedented 101-medal tally and the second position among the participants, has been widely recognised and commented on, a remarkable aspect of the achievement was that a good part of the credit for it should go to a single state. Sportsmen and women from Haryana, which accounts for less than 2 per cent of the country's population and about one-and-a-half per cent of its area, have won 40 per cent of the country's gold medals. They won 15 gold medals of the country's 38, and four silver and eight bronze medals, altogether securing 27 of the country's 101 medals. The number of sportspersons from the state was 54, less than one-tenth of the over 600-strong Indian contingent. The share of Haryana in the Indian tally in the 2006 Melbourne Games was one gold and four other medals.
The sudden improvement in the performance of sportspersons from the state is the result of a sports promotion policy which it has earnestly implemented. It has more than doubled its budget for sports and youth affairs in the last five years and implemented a policy of incentives and encouragement from the school level. Students are encouraged to play at least one game under a programme called Play for India. All games, from kabadi to table tennis, get their due. Infrastructure and training facilities have been developed at different levels like the district and the taluk. Three per cent of Group C and D government jobs have been reserved for sportspersons and increments and promotions are offered for achievers. Boxing academies and panchayats came forward to train boxers and wrestlers. Haryana is also planning to set up human performance labs in all districts, recruit foreign coaches and set up a sports university.
All this changed the sports culture in the state in a short span of time. It is generally considered that plans to enhance sports performance take a long time to show results. Haryana adopted a revised sports policy only last year. The dramatic improvement in the results shown by the state in the last few years should provide a lesson to all other states. It shows that if a sports-friendly environment is created, funds and facilities are made available, attractive incentives are offered, and the message of all this goes to the level of even the small village, there is no long incubation period for excellence.
FUTURE OF THE PERIPHERY
M J AKBAR
'Chennai was seeded by an English adventurer who wanted to live within riding distance of his local girl friend.'
When does a small town grow up and become a big boy? Does size matter?
Geography is a peculiar addiction. Fat makes you large, possibly very large, but it does not make you strong. Some nations have a quarter of their population herded in slums extending in myriad directions because they have not created the capacity to build more cities. America's strength does not lie in New York and Washington but in the fact that Microsoft can be born in Seattle and the world's software industry is controlled from a desert in California. India was weak as long as its strength lay in the traditional four great cities: Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. These urban sprawls became sores instead of cities as the poor flocked toward them, driven by unrealistic hopes. It is only logical that all four were British cities.
Chennai was seeded by an English adventurer who wanted to live within riding distance of his local girl friend; Mumbai harbour came as part of the dowry of Charles II and was then rented by the British monarch to the East India Company. Job Charnock founded Kolkata on a marsh because better points to the north along the Hooghly river were taken by European merchants who had arrived earlier. You might think of Delhi as a Mughal city, and so it was; but every bit of Delhi was razed to the ground by a vengeful Company after the uprising of 1857, and modern Delhi is a British invention with only a whiff of its glorious history. The great capitals of Indian India, Lucknow or Mysore or Patna or Jaipur, stagnated or decayed during the British Raj.
Modern India is rebuilding itself along its old centres of economic and political power, even as it lifts unknown one-street inhabitations into industrial hubs that are, to use a well-known phrase, the marvel of our age.
Jamshedji Tata provided the template with Jamshedpur; Jawaharlal Nehru used state resources to create more steel cities. It was Dhirubhai Ambani who took the imaginative leap forward into the private sector ecopolis; the economic conglomerate around which Indians could create a new future.
Imperceptibly, but indelibly, the map of India is now crowded with dozens of germinal points that make great labour migrations unnecessary. The future is in cities like Kochi or Aurangabad or Barmer: in less than a decade Barmer will rival Jaipur, and within the foreseeable future become the second or third heart of Rajasthan.
It is this India which is crashing through the glass ceilings of our social and economic history. It has turned Marxism on its head; instead of seizing from the rich in order to give to the poor, it is churning out its own cream. It is driven by a passion to improve the individual self, but knows that this is impossible without changing the collective well-being. It is not socialist, and indeed might be suffering from generosity-deficit when it comes to those at the lowest levels of our tragically tiered social order.
But it is social-democratic, in an European rather than American fashion, willing to tolerate positive discrimination even if it grumbles relentlessly while doing so. The grumble is human; but tolerance comes from the fact that it has itself benefited from reservation policies.
It is this Indian who has swarmed across the medal podiums of the Commonwealth Games. Sport is a significant route to recognition as well as economic upsurge. The story of the farmer who could not enter the stadium to watch his wrestler son win a medal because of his unfamiliarity with the big city and its projects, and the contempt which police have for the poor, is both saddening and luminous. That unfortunate father will get over his hurt; pride in the son's glory has changed his life already. These athletes, including the many who did not win medals but learnt to compete, were not manufactured in some state factory machine, as in China; they are champions of free will, as well as champions through free will. China's achievements will be vulnerable to the contradictions inevitable within a state-dominated matrix; the idealism of Marx and Lenin could not prevent such contradictions from eroding its successes. Individualism makes Indian achievement more chaotic, but it is also the bedrock strength that will carry it further.
China irons its dangerous creases once every 50 years; we do so as we go along, perhaps leaving the collar rumpled as we get the rest of the shirt right. The possibility of turmoil is far less in the second model. This is not to make a value judgement; one merely records an ongoing reality.
Chroniclers do not always know how the chronicle will end, but we still have to do our reporting.
China makes the Chinese. Indians make India. Give me the second option any day.
JAPAN GOES FROM DYNAMIC TO DISHEARTENED
BY MARTIN FACKLER, NYT
While Japan remains in many ways a prosperous society, it faces an increasingly grim situation.
Like many members of Japan's middle class, Masato Y enjoyed a level of affluence two decades ago that was the envy of the world. Masato, a small-business owner, bought a $5,00,000 condominium, vacationed in Hawaii and drove a late-model Mercedes.
But his living standards slowly crumbled along with Japan's overall economy. First, he was forced to reduce trips abroad and then eliminate them. Then he traded the Mercedes for a cheaper domestic model. Last year, he sold his condo for a third of what he paid for it, and for less than what he still owed on the mortgage he took out 17 years ago.
"Japan used to be so flashy and upbeat, but now everyone must live in a dark and subdued way," said Masato, 49, who asked that his full name not be used because he still cannot repay the $1,10,000 that he owes on the mortgage.
Few nations in recent history have seen such a striking reversal of economic fortune as Japan. The original Asian success story, Japan rode one of the great speculative stock and property bubbles of all time in the 1980s to become the first Asian country to challenge the long dominance of the West.
But the bubbles popped in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and Japan fell into a slow but relentless decline that neither enormous budget deficits nor a flood of easy money has reversed. For nearly a generation now, the nation has been trapped in low growth and a corrosive downward spiral of prices, known as deflation, in the process shrivelling from an economic Godzilla to little more than an afterthought in the global economy.
Now, as the United States and other western nations struggle to recover from a debt and property bubble of their own, a growing number of economists are pointing to Japan as a dark vision of the future.
Many economists remain confident that the US will avoid the stagnation of Japan, largely because of the greater responsiveness of the American political system and Americans' greater tolerance for capitalism's creative destruction. Japanese leaders at first denied the severity of their nation's problems and then spent heavily on job-creating public works projects that only postponed painful but necessary structural changes, economists say.
Still, as political pressure builds to reduce federal spending and budget deficits, other economists are now warning of 'Japanification' of falling into the same deflationary trap of collapsed demand that occurs when consumers refuse to consume, corporations hold back on investments and banks sit on cash. It becomes a vicious, self-reinforcing cycle: as prices fall further and jobs disappear, consumers tighten their purse strings even more and companies cut back on spending and delay expansion plans.
"The US, the UK, Spain, Ireland, they all are going through what Japan went through a decade or so ago," said Richard Koo, chief economist at Nomura Securities who recently wrote a book about Japan's lessons for the world.
Just as inflation scarred a generation of Americans, deflation has left a deep imprint on the Japanese, breeding generational tensions and a culture of pessimism, fatalism and reduced expectations. While Japan remains in many ways a prosperous society, it faces an increasingly grim situation, particularly outside the relative economic vibrancy of Tokyo, and its situation provides a possible glimpse into the future for the US and Europe, should the most dire forecasts come to pass.
The downsizing of Japan's ambitions can be seen on the streets of Tokyo, where concrete 'microhouses' have become popular among younger Japanese who cannot afford even the famously cramped housing of their parents, or lack the job security to take out a traditional multidecade loan.
These matchbox-size homes stand on plots of land barely large enough to park a sport utility vehicle, yet have three stories of closet-size bedrooms, suitcase-size closets and a tiny kitchen that properly belongs on a submarine.
For many people under 40, it is hard to grasp just how far this is from the 1980s, when a mighty and threatening 'Japan Inc' seemed ready to obliterate whole American industries, from automakers to supercomputers. With the Japanese stock market quadrupling and the yen rising to unimagined heights, Japan's companies dominated global business, gobbling up trophy properties like Hollywood movie studios (Universal Studios and Columbia Pictures), famous golf courses (Pebble Beach) and iconic real estate (Rockefeller Centre).
RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE
A CELEBRATION OF LIFE
BY GAYATHRI NIRANJAN
A simple basic celebration in it's purest form is worthy of emulation.
A lazy Monday morning saw me leafing through the pages of the popular daily, when I saw her there! A survey on the recently concluded 'Lalbagh flower show' had obviously zeroed in on her too, among a few other visitors. The same impeccable sense of dressing that could make even seasoned fashion designers want to consult her on what made her look so good! The understated shade of green with just a hint of embroidery brought out the classiness in her taste as always. And as I studied her face, it was there! Her favourite shade of brown lipstick which she had had used for decades.
My heart leapt with fond memories of the great times we had had for something like three decades. Just hanging out together, seeing every Amitabh movie that hit the screens every Friday, savouring street food together and just about painting the town red every other day made life so full of mirth.
Come to think of it, she has not had a rosy life while she was growing up, which is why her sense of humour and limitless verve are all the more noticeable. Nothing deterred her from finding a reason to laugh. Her fragile health in her growing up years, an average performance at academics, a not so good financial background, a wayward brother who had left home for years, nothing stopped her from enjoying every moment spent on the surface of this earth! She has had never made any grandiose plans for life either and just savours whatever comes her way.
The immense pride she takes in house-keeping makes her home look like an interior decorator's delight. Carefully chosen artifacts, lovely framed pictures of loved ones, and exquisite furniture beckon friends and family to her abode. Bad moods, nosy neighbours, rude auto drivers, nothing can mar her day. Full of beans, she treats all her guests to hot steaming cups of tea and fried snacks (she stacks them religiously in her fridge!) each day. She tends to her plants in the roof garden like she would her children, with great care and love and they in turn spring to life like there is no tomorrow!
With no great achievements to boast of, her life has been a totally unadulterated celebration of life, just being alive keeps her happy. A simple basic celebration in it's rawest and purest form so worthy of emulation. In today's world where we are all wondering where we are headed in a race against time, perhaps this is what we need, to take time out and smell the roses and celebrate the joy of just being alive and kicking!
Perhaps it is this joy she emanates that has brought her on to the pages of the daily too!
THE JERUSALEM POST
Out of a pragmatic reverence for both life and healing, Judaism allows stem cell research as well as IVF.
Robert Edwards of Britain won the 2010 Nobel Prize in medicine this month for the development of in-vitro fertilization (IVF).
Edward's breakthrough technique, in which egg cells are fertilized outside the body and implanted in the womb, was developed together with Patrick Steptoe, who died in 1988. Since Louise Brown, the first baby conceived through IVF, was born in 1978, some four million children have been conceived using this technique.
Today between 1 percent and 2% of all babies born in the US and other developed countries each year are conceived through IVF.
In Israel the numbers are even higher: about 4% of approximately 160,000 babies born annually here both Jewish and Arab are a product of IVFs, according to Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, The Jerusalem Post's health and science reporter.
Generous state funding of fertility treatments partially explains the high percentage of local IVF births. But this public health policy is itself a part of a deep Jewish dedication to childbearing. Call it a Zionist answer to the Holocaust or perhaps the Jewish commitment to continuity and family life.
Whatever the reason, Jews, at least those living in Israel, will go to great lengths to have children, including via IVF.
YET THE Nobel Prize Committee's celebration of all this life was not shared by all. Monsignor Carrasco, the Vatican's spokesman on bio-ethics, said the Nobel Prize Committee's choice was "completely out of order." Because IVF disconnects the sexual act from the procreation, the parents' feelings of responsibility for child's upbringing could be dampened, resulting in the breakdown of the family institution, Church doctrine claims.
This makes no sense. Why should a couple that finally succeeds in having a child through IVF, after failing for years to bear children naturally and after going through the hell of fertility treatments, feel less attached to its offspring? The Vatican does not say.
Another problem the Church has with IVFs is the creation of zygotes or fertilized eggs which never are allowed to develop.
"Without [Edwards' and Steptoe's] treatment, there would be no market for human eggs," Carrasco told Italy's Ansa news agency. "And there would not be a large number of freezers filled with embryos in the world."
That might be true, but there would also be four million fewer people and their offspring in the world. Without these two men's technological advance, scientists would not be able to conduct stem cell research on the frozen pre-embryos left over by couples who used IVF to have babies. We would have to look elsewhere to find cures for some of our worst diseases from cancer, heart attacks, strokes and Parkinson's, to spinal cord injuries.
JUDAISM, IN contrast, has a radically different outlook. The egg and sperm providers are considered the full-fledged mother and father of an IVF-generated offspring, according to most rabbis. In fact, the two are fulfilling the commandment to be fruitful and multiply. Also, if undertaken for the sake of procreation by an otherwise infertile couple, the IVF procedure does not violate the prohibition against destroying sperm.
Regarding the use of pre-embryos for stem cell research, Judaism is open to the idea. However, unlike Confucian China, for instance, where stem cell research is rampantly unregulated, Judaism strikes a balance between respecting the life potential of a fertilized egg and its healing potential.
Judaism prohibits abortion unless the fetus poses a threat to the mother's life. The Talmud, however, maintains that during the first 40 days of gestation, the embryo is "merely water," though its potential for life is respected. An egg fertilized outside a woman's body, which will never develop on its own into a living thing, has even a lower status.
Out of a pragmatic reverence for both life and healing, Judaism allows stem cell research as well as IVFs. Perhaps Catholicism should reconsider its position in light of Judaism's teachings.
THE JERUSALEM POST
REALITY CHECK: A NEW WAY FOR LABOR?
BY JEFF BARAK
Isaac Herzog's decision to run for the leadership is the best news this embattled and dispirited party has had in a long time.
Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog's decision to run for the Labor Party leadership is the best news this embattled and dispirited party has had in a long time. Indeed, given that recent polls have Labor sinking to six seats in the next Knesset elections, Labor has been very short of anything remotely resembling a positive development since mistakenly joining Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition.
Labor has lost its way, and party chairman Ehud Barak is not the person to lead it back to electoral success. Labor needs a leader with a firm voice and a clear direction, and Barak, as shown in his pathetic zigzagging last week over the loyalty oath for non-Jews wishing to become citizens, provides neither.
Herzog called it right: The decision to force a loyalty oath to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state on non-Jews (and not all would-be citizens) reflects, as he told Army Radio, the "whiff of fascism on the margins of Israeli society. The overall picture is very disturbing and threatens the democratic character of the State of Israel. There has been a tsunami of measures that limit rights."
(And you don't have to be a card-carrying leftist to see the danger of the loyalty oath. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, whose loyalty to the Land of Israel is unquestionable, also spoke out against the measure, arguing that the proposal brought no benefits and "could arm our enemies and opponents in the world in an effort to emphasize the trend for separatism or even racism within Israel.")
BARAK STAKED his, and the Labor Party's future on a partnership with Netanyahu. Now, 18 months down the road, it's becoming clear that all the talk of Netanyahu truly being ready to make a historic compromise with the Palestinians is just talk. The prime minister's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a condition for extending the settlement freeze for another two months is a feeble attempt on his part to shift the blame for a breakdown in the peace process to the Palestinians. Netanyahu, it seems, is not prepared to pay the territorial price of a two-state solution.
In this situation, there is no point in Labor staying in the government. In fact, there have been numerous times when Labor should have left, the latest being Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's embarrassing speeches at the United Nations last month, in which he basically called for the expulsion of Israel's Arab citizens.
Netanyahu's limp response to an address by his foreign minister which totally undermined the government's official position, followed by his support for the racist loyalty oath, should make it abundantly clear to anyone who professes to support the values of the Labor movement that there is no place for Labor in a government headed by Netanyahu and heavily influenced by Lieberman.
Barak's argument that Labor can lead Netanyahu toward peace no longer holds water. At the beginning of this government's term, with Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan speech and maybe as recently as his own speech to the UN, in which he reaffirmed his determination to reach a two-state solution, there was hope that Netanyahu had thrown off his ideological shackles and was prepared to seek a deal.
The events of the past few weeks, unfortunately, have shown that Netanyahu has returned to the Bibi of old. The loyalty oath brings back memories of his racist 1996 election slogan "Bibi is good for the Jews," while his refusal to extend the settlement freeze is reminiscent of the way he successfully used settlement building to torpedo any chance of revitalizing the Oslo process during his first term. The decision to announce a building tender for new housing in east Jerusalem at the end of last week casts further doubts on Netanyahu's sincerity when it comes to the peace process.
NOW THAT Herzog has thrown down his marker, he must immediately work to change the Labor Party's constitution, that has the next leadership elections scheduled for 2012. Labor cannot wait that long.
Herzog should also resign his cabinet portfolio and join the other Labor MKs on the backbenches who want to see the party leave Netanyahu's coalition.
By leaving the government, Herzog won't bring about its immediate collapse, but it will be the first sign that the coalition is beginning to crumble.
Labor needs a spell in opposition to reinvigorate itself and shape a new message to take to the voters.
With Kadima siphoning off the center and the center-right vote, Labor needs to return to its social-democratic roots and tack leftward, offering a comprehensive vision, both diplomatically and economically.
This will be no easy task, but Israel is in desperate need of a social-democratic party that will close the ever-widening gaps between the haves and the have-nots, as well as one which will snuff out the "whiffs of fascism" Herzog has detected. The disturbing poll in this weekend's Yediot Aharonot, which showed that only 63 percent of the Jewish population believe that non-Jewish (i.e. Arab) citizens should have the right to vote, shows that the lurch to the far Right is not confined to the country's political margins.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.
THE JERUSALEM POST
THE REGION: JIHAD IS THE ANSWER
BY BARRY RUBIN
The central question for many in M.East has for years been: Why is it since we are a superio people (Arabs) with a superior religion (Islam) that we are behind the West and what can we do about it?
In calling for jihad against America, the West and Israel in terms virtually identical with Osama bin Laden's rhetoric, the leader of Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood uttered one sentence that explains the contemporary Middle East.
Here it is: "The improvement and change that the [Muslim] nation seeks can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as its enemies pursue life."
Here's why that sentence is so important. The central question for the Middle East for many decades has been this: Why is it especially since we are a superior people (Arabs) with a superior religion (Islam) that we are behind the West? How that question has been answered has been the core of Middle Eastern politics. Let's call it The Question.
FROM ROUGHLY around the 1880s into the 1930s, and even until the 1950s, the main answer might be called the liberal developmentalist perspective. The West's advances were seen as being technological, institutional and intellectual. Distinguished historian Albert Hourani called this "the liberal age."
What was needed, said the leaders, in answering The Question, was to adapt and adopt Western techniques. If, for example, the Ottoman Empire or Egypt had a constitution and a multi-party parliamentary system, built up educational institutions and created private enterprises, they too would flourish.
These reformers, of course, made it sound too easy. Some were secular-oriented, others thought Islam could be modernized. Ironically, the latter like Muhammad Abdu and Rashid Rida are often seen in retrospect as pioneers of radical Islamism, even though they were the opposite.
For many reasons, the liberal age failed. One chief factor was that the Arab societies were not ready for such changes, and they could not easily be imposed from above. Another was the fact that authoritarian systems like fascism in the 1920-1940 period and communism in the 1950-2000 era seemed more successful than moderate democracy.
Rampant corruption and extremes of class injustice were prominent, as was imperial intervention (most notably in Egypt). To some extent, the failure to prevent Israel's creation in 1948 made the existing system seem incompetent, though I'd argue the fault was more due to the radical nationalists and Islamists than to the liberals. (I deal with this issue in my book, The Arab States and the Palestine Conflict.) Yet fail the liberal age did, and in came radical Arab nationalism, gaining power beginning with the Egyptian officers' 1952 coup.
Ever since, radical nationalists have dominated Arabic-speaking countries. Their answer to the key question is: The reason we are behind is not mainly due to any internal failing but to the oppression of imperialism and Zionism. The solution is to have nationalist governments with dictatorial control and state domination of the economy.
These regimes will fight, defeat the West, destroy Israel, bring Arab unity, rapid development and prosperity.
These regimes failed to deliver on any of their promises. They led their peoples into losing wars and generally (except for oil and gas riches) stagnant economies. These nationalist governments were generally repressive and corrupt, too, and there was much discontent. The collapse of the Soviet bloc their main ally and model also discredited them.
One reason for this failure is a flaw in their formulation of The Question, an error they share with the Islamists. Once you blame external forces and deny the need for internal reform (such as less statist control, democracy, changes in the status of women, modernizing Islam, getting along with the West, and making peace with Israel), you ensure that you will remain backward.
AND SO here we are in the early 21st century with the Arab nationalist regimes being challenged by revolutionary Islamists. Though the Islamists go back as modern political organizations to the mid-1920s, they really revived in the 1980s. The Iranian revolution and the jihadist war in Afghanistan were important factors, but so was the increasingly obvious failure of the nationalist regimes.
Small new liberal movements have also arisen, somewhat parallel to those of the past but putting more stress on human rights and democracy than on technology and formal institutions. Yet they are very weak. The nationalists, the existing regimes, are far more powerful than they are; so are the Islamists.
At least, though, the nationalists and their regimes are worn down by a half-century of experience and failure. So how do Islamists deal with The Question? By saying: The reason we are behind is not mainly due to any internal failing but to the oppression of imperialism and Zionism, the treason of our governments and above all our abandonment of Islam. The solution is to have proper Islamic governments with dictatorial control, state domination of the economy, unity through a new caliphate, the systematic rejection of Western culture and making our society conform to Islamic law as we interpret it. These regimes will fight, defeat the West, destroy Israel, bring Muslim unity and fulfill Allah's commands.
Here's where Badi's statement fits in as the proposed solution: "The improvement and change that the [Muslim] nation seeks can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as its enemies pursue life."
Not through solving problems by compromise, not by ending foreign conflicts, not by better educational systems that are open to science and other imported ideas, not by modernizing Islam, not by granting equality to women, not by democracy, not by human rights. No and no and no. But only by: "...jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as its enemies pursue life."
Jihad they want and jihad they will get; death they want and death they will get; a generation of warfare they want and a generation of warfare they will get. They will fail and their claims will be seen to be hollow. Unfortunately, it will take about 50 years for that to happen. The result? Arab and Muslim-majority countries will be left even further behind the rest of the world.
The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies. He blogs at www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.
THE JERUSALEM POST
PERVERTING PUBLIC DISCOURSE
BY DANIEL DORON
Last week, the PM's courageous decision to tackle economic concentration problem by appointing a commission was misrepresented by several of our tycoons' media publications.
The facts are clear: An April Bank of Israel study affirmed that a few families control more than half the assets traded in the country, including banks and insurance companies.
Equally clear is the damage: Concentration of assets harms competition. Lack of competition enables a few tycoons to inflate prices, causing every family to pay a monopoly tax of between 20% and 30% on everything it consumes, according to Treasury calculations. This is particularly hard on lower-income families, who spend a higher percentage of their income on consumption.
Little competition results in inefficiency. Workers here produce only two-thirds of what Americans do per capita. The result is low salaries.
Low salaries and high prices make it hard for most families to make ends meet. It makes many of them poor.
Concentration also enables industrial and trade groups to own financial institutions. This means credit is offered mostly to big business groups and their cronies. Misallocation has made credit utilization inefficient (for decades, banks had more doubtful debts than capital), and has caused decades of non-growth.
Misallocation also causes a permanent credit crunch for small and medium firms the engines of growth in every economy. This has had a national impact: the Negev and the Galilee, where mostly smaller firms operate, are credit starved and remain underdeveloped, losing their population.
AS THE Bank of Israel study indicates, economic concentration also poses a systemic risk to the economy. In the recent crisis, the near bankruptcy of some of the large business groups could have caused a general economic collapse, including of our pension system.
In addition, great economic concentration aggravates the already problematic relationship between capital, politics and the media. Our tycoons own most media outlets. This results in a perversion of public discourse that poses a serious challenge to democracy.
It is natural, of course, that our greatest tycoon, Nochi Dankner, who, with an investment of a mere $300 million, controls a pyramidal business conglomerate with combined assets of $35 billion (namely with an investment of less than 1%, he controls 60 firms and all the decisions taken by them) will deny that concentration exists in the economy, or that it is a problem. This very talented businessman is convinced that it is okay for one person to control dozens of managers and huge advertising budgets.
An affable man, he does not seem to realize the vast shadow such conglomerates cast, the chilling effects they have on competitors even when they try to restrain their power (and they do not). Who could dare compete with such a behemoth or cross it?
It is also not surprising that our tycoons, and especially Dankner's IDB holdings, are spending huge sums on PR campaigns designed to deny and obfuscate the concentration problem. What is most worrisome is that a great part of the media is using its news and commentary pages to hide critical information.
LAST WEEK, the prime minister's courageous decision to tackle the concentration problem which he has often defined clearly by appointing a commission was misrepresented by several of the tycoons' publications. They simply refrained from mentioning the crux of his announced decision to especially address the pyramidal structure of our conglomerates.
A popular economic commentator in Yediot Aharonot went as far as to gloat that "the concentration [issue] is dead. The unbelievable has happened.
Despite a vociferous pressure campaign, despite publications that imitated leaflets distributed during the Chinese cultural revolution, despite the blackmail of members ofKnesset, spokesmen and pundits [a serious charge totally unsupported by fact, D.D.] Prime Minister Netanyahu did not capitulate. On Wednesday he announced that he will not form a commission to examine ways to limit concentration in the Israeli economy. Pure and simple, Bibi buried this commission."
This is of course the exact opposite of what happened.
Worse still, some economists and academics have been paid by the tycoons to concoct papers "proving" that no concentration existed. One paper used the statistics of theWorld Economic Forum to claim that Israel occupies a high place (20th) among 140 states in the "general concentration index" that measured averages.
The authors of the study "forgot" to mention another graph depicting the extent of market dominance which deals specifically with conglomerate concentration. Here Israel placed 118 among the 140 nations, a bad place indeed.
The elimination of relevant data was not the sole example of how the authors attempted to muddy the water.
They employed many irrelevant and even misleading comparisons, drew questionable conclusions from their data and made ridiculous claims, such as that large pyramidal structured conglomerates have the advantage of efficiency ofscale. As if there was a market for pyramidal- structured conglomerates in which they could prove their "efficiency."
All these faults were exposed and roundly criticized. This did not deter the media from giving these "experts" wide, uncritical coverage. In fact most media items dealing with concentration featured on both the pro- and con-side spokesmen with distinct leftist agendas, as is generally the case here.
If one needed additional proof on how concentration perverts public debate, last week's debate provided it.
The writer is director of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress.
THE JERUSALEM POST
A SURVEY TO DENY A PROBLEM
The results of a recent government-funded anti-Semitism poll in Spain proved to be an effort to address the phenomenon in the country by simply pretending it doesn't exist.
On the eve of Rosh Hashana, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos presented results of the first sociological study on anti-Semitism in Spain. "Public opinion in Spain is not anti- Semitic," he declared.
This was stunning because it stretches the imagination to arrive at this conclusion. Unfortunately, the full survey data was not disclosed at the September 9 press conference in Madrid. More disturbing, the study's general approach, methods and conclusions exhibit a somber image of the way in which anti Semitism has been treated in Spain. Instead of diagnosing this scourge, the government-sponsored study proved to be an effort to address anti-Semitism in Spain by simply denying its existence.
PEW Global Studies and the ADL, in contrast, have repeatedly drawn attention to anti-Semitism in Spain, showing highly negative opinions of Jews.
THE SPANISH government, meanwhile, has taken some positive steps. It created Casa Sefarad-Israel as a public institution to increase knowledge of Jewish culture and foster closer ties between Spain and Israel as well as other Jewish communities, and programs to train educators on the Holocaust.
Casa Sefarad-Israel, which commissioned the study, reported that "unfavorable opinions of Jews have decreased," "unfavorable opinions about Jews match those affecting other communities," "the positive opinion about Jews has risen to 48%" and "the degree of Islamophobia exceeds by far that of anti-Semitism."
How was data obtained? The first phase of the study was qualitative and involved six focus groups. Its goal was to explore the specificity of anti-Jewish motifs, tropes and discourses in Spain to develop a more detailed questionnaire to measure their depth.
However, the results of the qualitative phase, which confirmed the existence of a large variety of anti-Semitic stereotypes, were ignored. Worse, they were not disclosed.
Casa Sefarad-Israel shifted gears halfway through the study and, disregarding the qualitative part, produced a questionnaire that not only does not measure anti-Semitic bias, but contained questions drafted in a way that would elicit positive answers. For example, respondents were asked whether they agree or disagree with the statement, "The only solution to the Middle East conflict is peaceful coexistence between Israel and an independent Palestinian state," or if they believe that Jews "create problems in Spain."
Jews in Spain, by the way, account for only 0.1% of the population.
nly two questions could be indicators of anti-Semitism, and they yielded even more worrisome data, though Moratinos did not mention these findings.
Fifty-eight percent of Spaniards believe "Jews are very powerful because they control the economy and the media."
Among university students that figure is 62.2%. The statement "Jews use the memory of the Holocaust to their benefit" is viewed positively by 54.9%. Only one-third of Spaniards disagree with these two unequivocally anti-Semitic statements.
THIS IMPORTANT data did not appear in the executive summary sent to media, and was not mentioned at the press conference. The results Moratinos presented refute and at the same time "normalize" anti-Semitism in Spain. Opinions and attitudes about Jews are placed at the same level as those relating to other "religious communities" Protestants, Orthodox, Catholics, Muslims, most of them widely represented in Spain. Muslims stand out as the most rejected group.
So how does the study account for the considerable percentage of the population, 34%, that has a negative or very negative opinion of Jews? It's due to the "association of the Jewish community with the State of Israel and its policies," states the study.
Nothing is said about the reasons why the perception of such policies is particularly negative in Spain, and whether local cultural or religious elements are included therein.
Not surprisingly, El Mundo reported shortly after the study's release that "one-third of Spaniards are anti-Semitic because of Israeli policy."
In sum, the study has not helped to make a diagnosis of anti-Semitism in Spain to design the interventions required in the media, educational and political settings.
What it has done is hide one issue under another (rejection of Muslims), minimize the problem and "normalize" it using a poor justification the problem stems from Israel and "its policies."
The institutional denial of anti-Semitism in Spain exists and everyone not only the Jewish community should be concerned.
Alejandro Baer is professor of sociology at Universidad Complutense de Madrid and at Universität Bayreuth (Germany), and was in charge of the qualitative phase of the study. Robin Stoller is co-director of the International Institute for Education and Research on Anti-Semitism (Berlin/London).
THE JERUSALEM POST
DO THE ARABS WANT PEACE?
BY MUDAR ZAHRAN
Several Mideast countries have gained political prominence because of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Is a peace deal in their interest?
Arab League states have announced their support of Palestinian Authority PresidentMahmoud Abbas's call for a complete halt of all settlement activity in order to resume negotiations. This decision is not all support for Abbas, as freezing the settlement activities has recently been an Arab states' demand rather than a Palestinian one.
Recently, King Abdullah II of Jordan addressed the United Nations and said the settlements posed a major threat to the peace talks, and could actually lead to a major war.
This sentiment has been promoted heavily by the government-controlled Arab media.
This is not the first time Arab states have rushed to create mythological obstacles to peace; they have a history of obstructing their Palestinian brothers' quest for their own state.This goes back to 1947, when the Arab League rejected UN General Assembly Resolution 181, which would have created an Arab state and a Jewish state side by side.
Abbas' predecessor Yasser Arafat, despite his dogmatism, still came under excessive anti-peace pressure even from Arab countries allegedly most supportive of peace. After his death, some of Arafat's advisers claimed Arab interference played a role in his lack of resilience on issues like Jerusalem and the "right or return."
Therefore, Arab leaders' ranting about Israeli settlements is the most recent episode of an old trick playing both ends (the Israelis and the Palestinians) against the middle. Once those leaders have labeled any issues as a "red line" or a "sacred Arab right," it becomes difficult for the Palestinian Authority to negotiate freely over any of them.
Some Arab countries have been playing this game very well, and are putting pressure on the Palestinian leaders to make extreme demands for Israeli concessions and thus bring peace talks to failure every time.
Arab states' influence does not stop with Abbas, as they have a level of influence in America that collectively outpowers the Israeli lobby.
With the above dynamics in action, it seems that many Arab states do not desire the Palestinians to reach a peace agreement; which prompts the questions about what motivates them.
SEVERAL ARAB countries have, in fact, gained political prominence because of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The no-peace-no-war paradox has formed a political lifeline for many of those countries, and therefore it would be irrational to believe they would want the cause of their significance to end, even if only for a while, let alone in "a permanently lasting peace."
This explains why Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been very supportive of the peace process, as those countries have a genuine political presence in the region. Therefore achieving peace would just add to their political prominence. This may not be the case for many other Arab countries, and therefore the way they approach the peace process is much different.
Another reason peace may not be in the best interest of some Arab countries is the fact that all Arab countries hosting Palestinians still label them as refugees, even where they make up the majority, and therefore those countries receive substantial international aid for "hosting" their "refugee citizens." Progress in peace talks will eventually solve the issue of Palestinians living in Arab countries, and would end the economic privileges the so-called host countries are enjoying.
In addition, Arab countries neighboring Israel realize that a future Palestinian state must naturally seek a demographic and a geographic outlet, which poses a threat for those countries' political regimes, as some fear that the dominating Palestinian influence would crush their ruling-class makeup.
Arab states lobbying against peace talks and pushing the Palestinians to adopt extreme positions are jeopardizing the region's stability and therefore the world. Arab states alleging friendship to Israel and the US must officially acknowledge that peace requires sacrifice from all parties, including Arab states, especially on issues such as the Palestinians living in Arab countries, settlements and notions about Jerusalem. If they are not willing to do that, then they can at least stop distorting peace efforts with their lavish propaganda.
An Arab proverb goes: "God save me from my friends, then from my enemies."
As talks are progressing, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority should be very careful while listening to their Arab "friends."
The writer, a Jordanian of Palestinian heritage, is a researcher at the University of Bedfordshire.
BUILDING TO DESTROY THE PEACE PROCESS
The only explanation for the government's approval of 240 new housing units in East Jerusalem is that it was an attempt to sabotage the efforts to renew direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Why did the Israeli government see fit to approve, at this particular juncture, the construction of 240 housing units in Jerusalem neighborhoods east of the Green Line? The only explanation is an attempt to sabotage the efforts to renew direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Washington's angry response, that this announcement was "contrary to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties," and the subsequent cancelation of a scheduled meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in France, both attest to the fact that the attempted sabotage succeeded. The boost given to Abbas' argument that Israel is at fault for the failure of the direct talks, and the simmering tensions in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, demonstrate the extent of Israel's political recklessness.
Israel has offered three rationales for its decision to approve the housing. Firstly, it notified the United States in advance that it intended to build in these areas; secondly, there is a housing shortage in Jerusalem; and finally, under no circumstances should Israel "condition" the Palestinians to treat Jerusalem as just another settlement.
The early notice is certainly consistent with the government's pledge that it would not surprise Washington - as it did during Vice President Joe Biden's visit to the region in March, resulting in a diplomatic crisis between the two countries. But giving early notice on an unacceptable decision does not legitimize it.
And while there is indeed a housing shortage in Jerusalem, the solution to this problem cannot be to construct in areas whose status is in dispute.
On the issue of whether the Palestinians view Jerusalem as a settlement, they are not the only ones who hold this position. The United States also regards the territories that have been annexed and incorporated into Jerusalem as settlements, whose final status must be agreed upon in talks between the two sides.
Expanding construction beyond the Green Line puts Jerusalem at the center of international discussion. It also contradicts the government's goal of postponing any talks on the future of the city to as great an extent as possible. This construction is an inseparable part of our disagreement with both the Palestinians and the United States, and it would behoove Israel to recognize this. The government must stop pulling the wool over our eyes and cease taking such unilateral steps, which not only lessen our chances of reaching a deal with the Palestinians, but also cause considerable diplomatic damage.
WEST OF THE 'AUSCHWITZ BORDERS'
LIEBERMAN'S 'PLAN' FOR A POPULATION EXCHANGE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE DESIRE TO TRANSFORM ISRAEL INTO A MORE JEWISH STATE; INSTEAD, ITS MAIN CONTRIBUTION IS TO MAKE THE ARAB MINORITY IN ISRAEL MORE PALESTINIAN.
BY AKIVA ELDAR
Not long ago, during a meeting with foreign reporters, Avigdor Lieberman quoted a statement made by Abba Eban - who described the 1967 borders as "Auschwitz borders." Immediately afterward, the foreign minister presented the "plan" to move territories west of those "Auschwitz borders" so they would be under the jurisdiction of a foreign element (namely, the Palestinians ) which, he claimed, seeks to throw the Jews into the sea. In order to be rid of the Arab population in Israel in return for annexing the "settlement blocs," Lieberman proposes contracting Israel's narrow waist even further.
In Lieberman's "best case scenario," in which Israel will surrender the Wadi Ara highway (and, incidentally, also have to relocate three Jewish communities ), shifting the "Auschwitz borders" toward the sea, not even 11 percent of the population of Arab Israelis will be "diminished." Their living space accounts for less than two percent of the territory of the West Bank, a little less than the "blocs" that Lieberman and his fellow settlers are eager to obtain.
It is hard to imagine that a patriot like Lieberman does not know the map of the beloved homeland and does not know that exchanging populated areas as a solution to the conflict is baseless. Even from his point of view, which is far from being moral or democratic, his "plan" has nothing to do with the desire to transform Israel into a more Jewish state. Its main contribution, like that of the amendment to the citizenship law, is to make the Arab minority in Israel more Palestinian.
When a child from Baka al-Garbiyeh, who attends a Jewish-Arab school in Kafr Kara, listens to the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister deliver a speech at the United Nations on the transfer of Arab Israelis, he realizes that the country in which he was born does not want him. When a student from Kafr Qasem, who studies at Ariel College, reads about the prime minister's demand that the Palestinians declare morning, noon and night that Israel is the state of the Jewish people, she understands this is not her country.
The research conducted by University of Haifa sociology professor Sami Samocha suggests a trend which the Israel Prize laureate describes as the "Israelization" of Israeli Arabs. His findings indicate that they are undergoing a process of adjusting to the state and are focused on acquiring a status equal to that of Jews.
In the last survey he conducted, three years ago, 79 percent of respondents said they agree with the idea that Arab Israelis need to live in Israel as a minority with full rights. However, the rate of those rejecting the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish-Zionist state - which dropped from 62 percent in 1985 to 35 percent in 1995 (the days of the Rabin government ) - climbed to 64 percent in 2007.
The Or Commission that investigated the October 2000 clashes wrote that "it is appropriate to find methods to bolster Arab citizens' sense of belonging to the state, without undermining their connection to their culture and community." In order to block the irredentist sentiment which Lieberman is so fearful of, the commission recommended exploring means of expressing the common denominators of the entire population, by incorporating public events and symbols which Arab citizens could identify with as well. At the same time, the government misses no opportunity to pass legislation and issue statements that make the chances of creating such common denominators slim.
The attitude of the right toward Arab Israelis resembles that of the guy who murders his parents and then asks for mercy because he is an orphan. Last week Lieberman told Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb that because of the Palestinians' refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, that before a peace agreement is achieved (which he does not believe will happen in this generation anyway ), they may take action to "create various autonomies inside Israel."
Lieberman and his boss actively contribute to the manifesting of this prophecy through excluding Arab citizens of Israel from their country. First they push the Arab minority into the bosom of the Arab leaders, who cultivate the Palestinian and Muslim identity, and then they complain about extremism among them.
It is doubtful whether this government will move closer to peace with the Arabs over the fence. For the time being, it is displaying its power in its confrontations with the Arabs within. "Our enemies have made us one without our consent," wrote Theodor Herzl in "The Jewish State" more than 110 years ago, adding that "Distress binds us together, and, thus united, we suddenly discover our strength." It is interesting to know how that sounds in Arabic.
THE HOUSEKEEPER IN THE TOWER
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL SHOULD REOPEN THE INVESTIGATION OF EHUD BARAK'S WIFE OVER SUSPICIONS THAT SHE EMPLOYED A FOREIGN WORKER WHO LACKED A WORK PERMIT.
BY ZE'EV SEGAL
The decision to close the investigation of Nili Priel, Defense Minister Ehud Barak's wife, over suspicions that she employed a foreign worker who lacked a work permit, evoked amazement even before yesterday.
Yesterday, however, Israel Radio's Carmela Menashe, who broke the initial story, broadcast an in-depth interview with the worker whose whereabouts had been unknown until Israel Radio's morning news program "Yoman Haboker."
The Justice Ministry didn't bother releasing a statement explaining in detail why the investigation was closed and how it is that investigators couldn't find the worker. The ministry sufficed instead with a letter containing six short clauses sent by Raz Nizri, the senior assistant to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, to the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel in response to questions from the organization.
Nor does a response yesterday to an inquiry by MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima ) dispel the uncertainty over the case.
The letter to the Forum for the Land of Israel states that the investigators failed to locate the worker, despite the fact that the Shin Bet security service provided them personal details, such as her last name, citizenship, passport number and birth date, following a Justice Ministry request. The attorney general decided not to ask the Shin Bet to find the woman and not to require the security guards who worked at the defense minister's home to submit an affidavit regarding her identity, because Weinstein did not think the matter was of sufficient importance to justify those steps.
The case should be reexamined. The fact that a housekeeper was employed in such a sensitive location without monitoring her comings and goings, as she claimed in the radio interview, arouses concern. Nor do we know whether her trustworthiness and background were checked out.
The laconic statement in the letter from the attorney general's assistant that there was no evidentiary basis to believe that the defense minister was involved in employing the worker is disturbing. Perhaps that was the case, but it is not possible to establish that contention without summoning the minister himself for questioning, which is even customary when it comes to ordinary couples if an investigation centers on one of the two of them.
It also should be asked why Ehud Barak didn't see himself duty-bound to look into whether the woman could legally work, in light of her "Filipino" appearance, as Priel described her. Many people of a lower status than the minister's would not think of hiring a foreign worker without being convinced that they were not violating the law.
The attorney general's decision to close the investigation is not convincing. According to the explanation provided by Weinstein's office, the statement provided by the minister's wife is a single piece of evidence which "does not provide a sufficient evidentiary basis to file an indictment."
Under Israeli law in general a defendant can be convicted of serious offenses based on the admission of the accused, if there is something in addition to support it. People who saw the worker at Barak's apartment at the Akirov Towers in Tel Aviv at various events, notably Shin Bet employees, who it can be reasonably assumed questioned her before she starting working there, could have provided the necessary evidence to convict Barak's wife. This is perhaps also true of Barak himself if under questioning it turns out Barak was involved in the matter.
The attorney general's assistant wrote that, absent information about the foreign worker, it was possible that she was employed with the status of someone who had been granted asylum in Israel or who was seeking asylum or who had temporary resident status, in which case employing her would not be a criminal offense. Nonetheless, in fairness, he added that no indication was found that any of these ground existed.
An imaginary possibility that could have been excluded by a Shin Bet document cannot provide immunity from prosecution in the course of which the accused can present whatever argument he or she wishes. In any event, the attorney general, who is clearly an expert on criminal law, should provide the public with a clear explanation as to his reasoning.
It is not appropriate to cast aspersions in Weinstein's direction to the effect that he has sought to provide cover for Barak, especially after he faced off against Barak in bitter battles over important issues, such as the term of office of the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff and the authority of the Brik committee looking into the so-called Galant document affair.
Weinstein erred, in my opinion, in thinking the case of the foreign worker did not justify requiring the Shin Bet to find her and provide a statement regarding her identity. It is after all a case involving the possible employment of a worker in violation of the law at the home of a public figure who should set an example. Failure to pursue the investigation engenders concern over improper unequal enforcement of the law. It is a long road, however between a mistake in judgment and a cover-up.
In light of the recent disclosures, Weinstein would do well to order that the investigation be reopened. That would be consistent with efforts by the authorities to prevent the illegal employment of foreign workers. The existing policy does not allow the case of the housekeeper in the tower to be ignored.
A POVERTY TRAP IN THE GALILEE
THE FUTURE OF THE ISRAELI ECONOMY DEPENDS ON HAVING HAREDIM GO OUT TO WORK, AND ISRAEL MUST NOT BURY THIS FUTURE IN POVERTY TRAPS IN THE GALILEE AND THE NEGEV.
BY SHAHAR ILAN
The government's failure to solve the problem of housing for the ultra-Orthodox has been going on for decades. Not enough Haredi cities and neighborhoods are being built. This leads to Haredim entering secular neighborhoods and cities, to bitter battles, and to an exacerbation of the already sensitive relations among various groups.
It is first and foremost the Haredi parties who are to blame for this failure; they have been members of almost every government in the last few decades, but did very little to solve the shortage.
There are two main reasons for the severe housing shortage among the ultra-Orthodox. One is the high birth rate. Today the Haredim need about 5,500 new housing units a year; in a decade from now they will need 12,000. The second reason is the severe poverty among the ultra-Orthodox and the prevalent custom that Haredi parents buy apartments for at least some of their children when they marry; Haredi parents buy an average of 3.5 apartments for their children. That is why the Haredi need for cheap housing is so desperate, and their willingness to live anywhere where there is cheap housing, including in the territories and in financially distressed cities, is so great.
Under the current government, Shas controls the Housing and Construction Ministry, and it is clear to its leaders that the party will be tested by its success in building a large number of apartments for Haredim, and cheaply. Ads in ultra-Orthodox and general-circulation newspapers indicate that the government is planning tens of thousands of housing units for Haredim - including 3,000 in Haredi neighborhoods in Tiberias and 2,000 in Safed. It was reported this week that the mayor of Upper Nazareth, Shimon Gapso, is lobbying to build a Haredi neighborhood of 8,000 homes in his city. The government appears likely to accept the plan and invest NIS 300 million in development. It is also planning to build new Haredi cities in Harish, at the entrance to Wadi Ara, and in the Negev town of Kasif.
Ostensibly, there is nothing wrong with the idea that many Haredim will move to the Galilee and the Negev. But only ostensibly. The assumption that the Haredim can be sent to outlying areas is based on the idea that Haredi men need only a Talmud, that they can study Torah all day and still make do. That's why the city of Betar Ilit, south of Jerusalem, was built almost entirely without places of employment. But one of the central objectives of the Israeli economy is to send the Haredim, both men and women, out to work. Sending them to live in areas distant from centers of employment, where it's not worth building factories, would therefore be shooting the economy in the foot. It means perpetuating the Haredi absence from the job market and Haredi poverty. These plans, if implemented, will ensure that most Haredi men will continue to avoid serving in the army, getting a job and earning a living.
Any plan for a new Haredi community must first be assessed on the basis of the employment opportunities it offers. Harish, which is located near Hadera and Netanya and the train lines in those cities, is definitely suitable, as is the new Haredi neighborhood planned for Lod, which is surrounded by employment opportunities. But if Upper Nazareth wants 8,000 Haredi families, let it show that it is capable of providing employment for them. And what will the ultra-Orthodox do in Tiberias, Safed or Kasif? Fish? Mine phosphate?
Pressured ministers tend to provide unsuccessful solutions. Housing Minister Ariel Atias is under heavy pressure to provide cheap housing at any cost. But we must not allow the construction of Haredi cities that will lock their residents out of the world of employment. The future of the Israeli economy depends on having Haredim go out to work, and we must not bury this future in poverty traps in the Galilee and the Negev.
The writer is the vice president of research and information at Hiddush-For Religious Freedom and Equality.
DEBASING A FOUNDATIONAL IDEA
ISRAEL'S FUTURE DEPENDS ON ITS ABILITY TO PREVENT AND SOLVE TENSIONS BETWEEN BEING 'JEWISH' AND BEING 'DEMOCRATIC.'
BY MICHAEL HERZOG
There are issues in the life of a nation and a country that must not be turned into pawns in an internal political game and must not be cashed into tactical coins. One of them, if not the foremost among them, is the foundational idea of the State of Israel, the unique nation-state of the Jewish people, which practices the universal values of democracy, humanism and human rights.
The future of the country depends on its ability to prevent and solve tensions between being "Jewish" and being "democratic." Such a mission must be approached with great respect. And now we are witnessing the intolerable cheapening of this foundational idea in our public and political lives. We have witnessed, for example, the embarrassing struggles surrounding the loyalty oath, which exuded an odor of the cynical political exploitation of basic values.
After all, this pledge, which in any case will not stop those it is designed to stop, is no more than a sub-clause in what should be an overall immigration policy, which the State of Israel so badly lacks. If maintaining and nurturing "Jewish and democratic" values is important to our government, it would do well to take care of all the issues they entail, including Israel's immigration policy, its treatment of minorities, its conversion policy and a host of other neglected issues. It would also do well to teach these values in the schools.
A similar thing can be said about the demand that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, in the context of a peace agreement. I am not among those who scorn or dismiss this demand. It contains a basic value, not because Israel is unsure of itself and its identity and needs others in order to define itself, but because it comes from a desire to use the historical opportunity of a peace agreement, if one is reached, to redefine Israel's relationship with its neighbors and to stabilize the foundation on which the end of the conflict and the termination of demands will be based.
As an Israeli citizen, it is important to me to know that my neighbors and partners in a peace agreement officially accept the legitimacy of my national existence; otherwise there will not be a stable peace. Of course, in doing so, we cannot make light of the growing international delegitimization of the State of Israel.
But reaching this legitimate goal by turning "policy and strategy into tactics," in the words of the late professor Yeshoshafat Harkabi, makes it more difficult to attain it. Announcing it with great fanfare from every platform greatly increases its price among the Palestinians. The more Palestinian flexibility there is in the face of this demand, which means giving up the Palestinian historical narrative - and in my opinion such flexibility does exist - the more exorbitant will be the price demanded in return. Then Israel will have to consider whether it is worth paying that price, and that will come only at the end of the negotiating process, once the core issues are resolved.
Whatever its motives, what is being conveyed by equating the principle of recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people with the tactical step of freezing construction in Judea and Samaria for a few months? Is this outsize tactics or cheapened strategy? An attempt to advance the strategic objective or to achieve a tactical advantage in a mutual blame game?
Israel must decide whether it is treating its foundational idea with the necessary respect and translating it into systemic and practical action, into a calculated political act and cautious talk, or, as things look, treating it as mere currency. If we don't respect it, no one else will either.
The writer, a brigadier general in the reserves, is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and at the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
IN CLIMATE DENIAL, AGAIN
Former Vice President Dick Cheney has to be smiling. With one exception, none of the Republicans running for the Senate including the 20 or so with a serious chance of winning accept the scientific consensus that humans are largely responsible for global warming.
The candidates are not simply rejecting solutions, like putting a price on carbon, though these, too, are demonized. They are re-running the strategy of denial perfected by Mr. Cheney a decade ago, repudiating years of peer-reviewed findings about global warming and creating an alternative reality in which climate change is a hoax or conspiracy.
Some candidates are emphatic in their denial, like the Nevada Republican Sharron Angle, who flatly rejects "the man-caused climate change mantra of the left." Others are merely wiggly, like California's Carly Fiorina, who says, "I'm not sure." Yet, over all (the exception being Mark Kirk in Illinois), the Republicans are huddled around an amazingly dismissive view of climate change.
A few may genuinely believe global warming is a left-wing plot. Others may be singing the tune of corporate benefactors. And many Republicans have seized on the cap-and-trade climate bill as another way to paint Democrats as out-of-control taxers.
In one way or another, though, all are custodians of a strategy whose guiding principle has been to avoid debate about solutions to climate change by denying its existence or at least by diminishing its importance. The strategy worked, destroying hopes for Congressional action while further confusing ordinary citizens for whom global warming was already a remote and complex matter. It was also remarkably heavy-handed.
According to Congressional inquiries, White House officials, encouraged by Mr. Cheney's office, forced the Environmental Protection Agency to remove sections on climate change from separate reports in 2002 and 2003. (Christine Todd Whitman, then the E.P.A. administrator, has since described the process as "brutal.")
The administration also sought to control or censor Congressional testimony by federal employees and tampered with other reports in order to inject uncertainty into the climate debate and minimize threats to the environment.
Nothing, it seemed, could crack the administration's denial not Tony Blair of Britain and other leaders who took climate change seriously; not Mrs. Whitman (who eventually quit after being undercut by Mr. Cheney, who worked for the energy company Halliburton before he became vice president and received annual checks while in office); and certainly not the scientists.
In 2007, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its most definitive statement on the human contribution to climate change, Mr. Cheney insisted that there was not enough evidence to just "sort of run out and try to slap together some policy that's going to try to solve the problem." To which Mrs. Whitman, by then in private life, said: "I don't see how he can say that with a straight face anymore."
Nowadays, it is almost impossible to recall that in 2000, George W. Bush promised to cap carbon dioxide, encouraging some to believe that he would break through the partisan divide on global warming. Until the end of the 1990s, Republicans could be counted on to join bipartisan solutions to environmental problems. Now they've disappeared in a fog of disinformation, an entire political party parroting the Cheney line.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
We can't turn on the television these days without being assaulted by ads anonymously savaging candidates. Welcome to politics in post-Citizens United America. The Supreme Court allowed unlimited campaign spending by corporations and unions but didn't require the folks picking up the tab to stand behind their words.
It is too late for this campaign. The House approved a measure requiring phantom check writers to identify themselves on their ads and barring money from overseas corporations. Senate Republicans blocked it. Voters who say they're fed up with negative politics and sleazy back-room deals need to demand better.
Republicans, so far, have the advertising whip hand as partisan operatives solicit and spend large under the cover of blandly named "good citizen" committees. There is good reason to fear that foreign corporations are also taking advantage of the new no-tell rules.
The United States Chamber of Commerce, which has unleashed a barrage of attack ads against Democratic candidates and the White House, denies that offshore moguls are anteing up. That would be more credible if the chamber disclosed its donors. Shareholders of the chamber's corporate members should demand that.
Even as it loosed this destructive new era, the Supreme Court stressed that disclosure was the appropriate alternative to limiting political money. Republicans, led by the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, once touted that approach. They dropped it once the lion's share of the lucre began rolling their way.
A campaign finance bill, the Disclose Act, fell a vote short in the Senate last month. Another vote is promised after the election, with Democrats offering to negotiate changes that keep the focus on transparency. Might voters dare to hope that the frenzy of stealth spending could prompt support from Republicans prized for their supposed independence: Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Scott Brown of Massachusetts?
If not, the three and the entire Republican Party should explain why they prefer Senator McConnell's diktat that voters are best left in the dark.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
DEATH, DNA AND THE SUPREME COURT
In an age when DNA technology can help identify the guilty and avoid grave miscarriages of justice, states should not be allowed to block testing of available biological evidence before executing someone.
The Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday over a request by Henry Skinner, a Texas death row inmate, for DNA testing of blood, fingernail scrapings and hair found at the scene where his girlfriend and her two sons were murdered in 1993. In March, less than an hour before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection, the Supreme Court granted a stay of execution to consider taking up the matter of the untested evidence.
Seeking to avoid the legal doctrines and deadlines imposed by the Supreme Court and Congress to limit postconviction appeals, Mr. Skinner filed a civil rights action rather than a habeas corpus challenge. Sparring over that mechanistic distinction dominated much of Wednesday's argument and nearly obscured the larger problem of prosecutors' selectively testing some DNA evidence but not all in a capital murder case.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor correctly noted that Mr. Skinner's trial attorney made a strategic decision not to request DNA testing of the contested material in preparation for his trial, likely fearing the testing would further implicate his client.
But to disqualify Mr. Skinner now from obtaining the testing would elevate game-playing over truth-seeking and ignore the need to ensure, best as possible, that the right person has been convicted. Testing such evidence should not be left to a strategic decision; it should be standard in a serious criminal investigation.
There is a value in criminal law to the finality of verdicts and not permitting prisoners endless legal challenges to their convictions. The state should not execute prisoners. But since it does, the justices should be more concerned with the finality of executing someone when untested DNA evidence might shed light on his culpability and the state cannot be completely certain of his guilt.
In a lamentable 5-to-4 ruling in 2009, the court denied a free-standing right of prisoners to obtain postconviction DNA testing that might prove their innocence. The new case is a chance for course correction.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
FOR A SUBURBAN TEA PARTY, ANGER IS ALL THE RAGE
BY LAWRENCE DOWNES
A loudspeaker was blasting rebel songs along Jericho Turnpike on a day as crisp and perfect as fall gets on Long Island. A couple dozen members of the Conservative Society for Action, or C.S.A., a local Tea Party affiliate, with tricorn hats and yellow rattlesnake flags, held their positions on both banks of a river of cars. They waved signs and bellowed through bullhorns, oblivious to John Lennon's mockery of revolution.
"You say you got a real solution, well, you know. ... We'd all love to see the plan."
Well, you know, the plan is to get rid of Democrats, elect insurgents, cut taxes and rescue America from socialist tyranny. Nobody has explained how that's supposed to work; everyone is still in the fun part, the part with artillery.
The C.S.A. is training most of its fire on Long Island's Congressional Democrats: Timothy Bishop, Steve Israel, Carolyn McCarthy and Gary Ackerman. Wednesday's theme was dump Israel. Thursday was dump Bishop, and Friday was dump Israel again. Saturday and Sunday were dump Israel, and Tuesday was dump Israel, McCarthy and State Senator Craig Johnson.
The C.S.A.'s founder is Stephen Flanagan, an affable man to whom the most garish Tea Party stereotypes do not apply. He looked like a school board member, which he was, years ago in West Islip. He admits to a libertarian streak but says he is mostly just a fiscal hawk.
The heyday he longs for is not the 18th century but the 1990s, when a Republican Congress and Democratic president kept deficits at bay. Ask him for solutions, and he talks about staffing efficiencies and new technology at, say, the Federal Aviation Administration.
The group he leads, on the other hand, can be as rabid as any Tea Party, its members awash in fear and resentment. They proudly shout down candidates, like at the town-hall meeting where Mr. Bishop tried to use the Pledge of Allegiance to explain how Social Security works.
MR. BISHOP: Let me tell you what indivisible means. What indivisible means is that we're all in this together.
MR. BISHOP: Yes. Yes.
Shouting soon ensued, and it was downhill from there.
These rebels recite the talk-radio fear agenda with disciplined precision: Obama is a socialist Muslim. Federally mandated infant blood tests will lead to medical rationing. Congressional Democrats are all radicals, in league with the devilish Nancy Pelosi. Fire them all.
It's a strange switch for Mr. Bishop and his counterparts, who, before the rage machine kicked in, were seen as decent, moderate, well suited for their districts. Forcing incumbents to fight for their seats is a good thing. But the Tea Party's hatred for both baby and bath water is not going to solve anyone's real problems.
It's not going to help people like Jo Ann Riggio, who greeted me at the rally with a smile and readily agreed to chat. Ms. Riggio, a registered nurse from Deer Park, was new to politics, moved by disdain for President Obama and love for her brother Joseph, a Marine colonel who died too young. She said Christ sent her a vision: "Stand up. Carry on," it said. "March forward."
Someday, Ms. Riggio said, when death panels kick in, "the people that voted for Obama will get down on their knees and pray for forgiveness." Mr. Obama is a Muslim, she said, and not a citizen. She said it was his fault that troops overseas weren't getting the protection they needed. Wasn't that Bush's problem? I asked. No, it's happening now.
Didn't Donald Rumsfeld take heat for that? Behind her eyes a curtain went down. She said: Stop blaming Bush! Obama is commander in chief now! She was screaming.
I backed down. I didn't mean to get you mad, I said. She relaxed, and said she was glad we could talk to each other anyway. She reached in to hug me and I hugged her back. "Democrats and Republicans on a human level, we are all the same, right?" she said.
Right. But not right now for Ms. Riggio, or the electronics salesman who was down to working three days a week, or the man who feared his grown children would be forced from Long Island by property taxes and joblessness.
Which is too bad. All that energy and pain, potential for positive change, lost in the service of Republican nihilism.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
RARE AND FOOLISH
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
Last month a Chinese trawler operating in Japanese-controlled waters collided with two vessels of Japan's Coast Guard. Japan detained the trawler's captain; China responded by cutting off Japan's access to crucial raw materials.
And there was nowhere else to turn: China accounts for 97 percent of the world's supply of rare earths, minerals that play an essential role in many high-technology products, including military equipment. Sure enough, Japan soon let the captain go.
I don't know about you, but I find this story deeply disturbing, both for what it says about China and what it says about us. On one side, the affair highlights the fecklessness of U.S. policy makers, who did nothing while an unreliable regime acquired a stranglehold on key materials. On the other side, the incident shows a Chinese government that is dangerously trigger-happy, willing to wage economic warfare on the slightest provocation.
Some background: The rare earths are elements whose unique properties play a crucial role in applications ranging from hybrid motors to fiber optics. Until the mid-1980s the United States dominated production, but then China moved in.
"There is oil in the Middle East; there is rare earth in China," declared Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China's economic transformation, in 1992. Indeed, China has about a third of the world's rare earth deposits. This relative abundance, combined with low extraction and processing costs reflecting both low wages and weak environmental standards allowed China's producers to undercut the U.S. industry.
You really have to wonder why nobody raised an alarm while this was happening, if only on national security grounds. But policy makers simply stood by as the U.S. rare earth industry shut down. In at least one case, in 2003 a time when, if you believed the Bush administration, considerations of national security governed every aspect of U.S. policy the Chinese literally packed up all the equipment in a U.S. production facility and shipped it to China.
The result was a monopoly position exceeding the wildest dreams of Middle Eastern oil-fueled tyrants. And even before the trawler incident, China showed itself willing to exploit that monopoly to the fullest. The United Steelworkers recently filed a complaint against Chinese trade practices, stepping in where U.S. businesses fear to tread because they fear Chinese retaliation. The union put China's imposition of export restrictions and taxes on rare earths restrictions that give Chinese production in a number of industries an important competitive advantage at the top of the list.
Then came the trawler event. Chinese restrictions on rare earth exports were already in violation of agreements China made before joining the World Trade Organization. But the embargo on rare earth exports to Japan was an even more blatant violation of international trade law.
Oh, and Chinese officials have not improved matters by insulting our intelligence, claiming that there was no official embargo. All of China's rare earth exporters, they say some of them foreign-owned simultaneously decided to halt shipments because of their personal feelings toward Japan. Right.
So what are the lessons of the rare earth fracas?
First, and most obviously, the world needs to develop non-Chinese sources of these materials. There are extensive rare earth deposits in the United States and elsewhere. However, developing these deposits and the facilities to process the raw materials will take both time and financial support. So will a prominent alternative: "urban mining," a k a recycling of rare earths and other materials from used electronic devices.
Second, China's response to the trawler incident is, I'm sorry to say, further evidence that the world's newest economic superpower isn't prepared to assume the responsibilities that go with that status.
Major economic powers, realizing that they have an important stake in the international system, are normally very hesitant about resorting to economic warfare, even in the face of severe provocation witness the way U.S. policy makers have agonized and temporized over what to do about China's grossly protectionist exchange-rate policy. China, however, showed no hesitation at all about using its trade muscle to get its way in a political dispute, in clear if denied violation of international trade law.
Couple the rare earth story with China's behavior on other fronts the state subsidies that help firms gain key contracts, the pressure on foreign companies to move production to China and, above all, that exchange-rate policy and what you have is a portrait of a rogue economic superpower, unwilling to play by the rules. And the question is what the rest of us are going to do about it.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE WARS THAT AMERICA FORGOT ABOUT
BY TOM BROKAW
IN what promises to be the most contentious midterm election since 1994, there is no shortage of passion about big issues facing the country: the place and nature of the federal government in America's future; public debt; jobs; health care; the influence of special interests; and the role of populist movements like the Tea Party.
In nearly every Congressional and Senate race, these are the issues that explode into attack ads, score points in debates and light up cable talk shows. In poll after poll, these are the issues that voters say are most important to them this year.
Notice anything missing on the campaign landscape?
How about war? The United States is now in its ninth year of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the longest wars in American history. Almost 5,000 men and women have been killed. More than 30,000 have been wounded, some so gravely they're returning home to become, effectively, wards of their families and communities.
In those nine years, the United States has spent more than $1 trillion on combat operations and other parts of the war effort, including foreign aid, reconstruction projects, embassy costs and veterans' health care. And the end is not in sight.
So why aren't the wars and their human and economic consequences front and center in this campaign, right up there with jobs and taxes?
The answer is very likely that the vast majority of Americans wake up every day worrying, with good reason, about their economic security, but they can opt out of the call to arms. Unless they are enlisted in the armed services or have a family member who has stepped forward nothing much is asked of them in the war effort.
The all-volunteer uniformed services now represent less than 1 percent of the American population, but they're carrying 100 percent of the battle. It's not unusual to meet an Army infantryman or Marine who has served multiple tours in Iraq and/or Afghanistan.
Moreover, the majority of those in uniform come from working-class or middle-class backgrounds. The National Guard units and reserve forces that have been called up, some for more than one tour, draw heavily on first responders, as well as farm, factory and service workers.
Their families live in their own war zone. At a recent Minnesota event for military families, I heard Annette Kuyper, the mother of a National Guardsman who had an extended deployment in Iraq, describe how she and other Guard mothers changed their lives while their children were in harm's way. "We close the blinds on the windows overlooking the driveway," she said, "so we don't see the Army vehicle arriving with a chaplain bearing the unbearable news."
This woman's son returned safely, but too many do not. As the campaign season careens to an end, military funerals will be held in country burial grounds, big city graveyards and at Arlington National Cemetery. Military families will keep the blinds closed on the windows facing the driveway.
While campaigns trade shouts of witchcraft, socialism, greed, radicalism (on both sides), warriors and their families have a right to ask, "What about us?" If this is an election about a new direction for the country, why doesn't some candidate speak up for equal sacrifice on the home front as well as the front lines?
This is not just about military families, as important as they are. We all would benefit from a campaign that engaged the vexing question of what happens next in the long and so far unresolved effort to deal with Islamic rage.
No decision is more important than committing a nation to war. It is, as politicians like to say, about our blood and treasure. Surely blood and treasure are worthy of more attention than they've been getting in this campaign.
Tom Brokaw, a special correspondent for NBC News, is the author, most recently, of "Boom! Talking About the '60s."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
FOR OUR CHINA TRADE EMERGENCY, DIAL SECTION 301
BY SHERROD BROWN
TEN years ago this fall the Senate sold out American manufacturing. By a vote of 83 to 15, it established so-called permanent normal trade relations with China, paving the way for that country to join the World Trade Organization. As a result, Chinese imports to the United States fell under the same low tariffs and high quotas as those from countries like Canada and Britain.
Today, though, our trade relations with China are anything but normal. The 2000 agreement's proponents insisted it would enable a billion Chinese consumers to buy American products. Instead, our bilateral trade deficit has increased 170 percent, largely because China has undermined free-market competition through illegal subsidies and currency manipulation.
Unless the administration takes punitive steps in response to China's unfair trade practices, the American economy and the American worker will continue to suffer.
The old agreement on trade with China was never really about promoting American manufacturing. Rather, it was a cynical ploy on the part of many multinational companies. They lobbied Congress to approve it, promising a boost to American exports; then, once it passed, they closed domestic plants, moved production overseas and sold their products back to American consumers.
As for those billion Chinese consumers? We now know that what the companies were really so excited about was a billion inexpensive Chinese workers.
True, our exports to China have increased. But reporting only exports is like reporting just one team's score in baseball: the Cubs scoring five runs sounds good, until you hear that the Reds tallied 12.
Indeed, our exports pale in comparison to the torrent of artificially cheap Chinese imports. Economists, including free-traders, estimate that price manipulation keeps Chinese products 40 percent cheaper than comparable American-made goods.
Inexpensive products might sound nice, but we lose 13,000 net jobs for every $1 billion increase in our trade deficit. Our $226 billion deficit with China has meant shuttered factories, lost jobs and devastated communities across America.
And it's no longer just Chinese bicycles and electronics that are flooding our markets. China will soon make half the world's wind turbines and solar panels, most of which it plans to export to America. And, as usual, China's clean-energy industry relies on large government subsidies, in direct violation of international trade laws.
In response, the Obama administration recently accepted a petition, filed by the United Steelworkers under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act, to investigate China's state support for clean-energy exports. If the White House finds that the support violates international trade rules, Section 301 allows it to respond with a range of aggressive measures, including tariffs.
This strategy has worked before: in the 1980s and '90s, the United States used its 301 authority to combat Japanese and Korean subsidies and trade barriers. Though critics warned of bitter trade wars, the get-tough approach actually led to more balanced trade relationships, and even encouraged foreign investors, like Asian auto companies, to build plants in America.
In trying to get China to play fair, though, Washington has instead relied on rhetoric and moral suasion. It hasn't worked. Only rigorous enforcement of trade rules by the Obama administration can reverse the harm caused by the permanent normal trade relations agreement.
Congress has a role to play, too: when the Senate reconvenes next month, it should vote, as the House did in September, to expand the president's authority to impose tariffs on China or any other country that unfairly manipulates its currency.
Many politicians claim they support products "made in America." But the phrase is more than an empty slogan; it means standing up for American manufacturers. Only by learning the lessons of "normal" trade with China and acknowledging buyer's remorse can we reach a truly balanced bilateral relationship that works for America.
Sherrod Brown, a Democratic senator from Ohio, is a member of the President's Export Council and the author of "Myths of Free Trade."
OUR VIEW ON SOCIAL SECURITY: DO A FAVOR FOR THE GRANDKIDS AND DON'T GIVE SENIORS A RAISE
Social Security recipients were predictably angry to hear Friday that they won't be getting a cost-of-living adjustment for 2011, the second year in a row that inflation has been too low to trigger one. Seniors and retiree groups such as AARP swiftly demanded that Congress give beneficiaries a COLA anyway, and just as swiftly President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., promised to push for a $250 lump-sum benefit.
That sounds like the right thing to do. It is not.
At a time when politicians ought to be making hard decisions to stop driving up the national debt, spending money the government doesn't have for a purpose its own formulas say is unnecessary makes little sense. That might sound harsh given the tight budgets many retirees face, but let's review the facts:
Rules in place since 1975 have entitled Social Security beneficiaries to a COLA every year as long as there's inflation, and for 34 years inflation hummed along and seniors got their annual raise. But after prices spiked in 2008, inflation disappeared in 2009. Prices actually fell. Prices have risen a little since then, but they're still not back to where they were in 2008. So the rules say: no COLA.
That big price spike in 2008 gave Social Security beneficiaries a big COLA to protect them from inflation in 2009. As things turned out, they got a very good deal. For COLA purposes, inflation is measured from the third quarter of one year to the third quarter of the next. Smack in the middle of that period in 2008, oil prices began to soar, driving gasoline prices over $4 a gallon that summer and raising prices across the board. The price of oil was falling by late September 2008, but by then the COLA was set. Oil prices plummeted for the rest of the year, and by Christmas 2008, gasoline prices were back down under $1.80 a gallon, less than half what they had been. The inflation that the big 5.8% COLA was supposed to protect seniors against had vanished, but no one talked about taking the COLA away. Rules are rules.
Now seniors complain about missing their COLA for two years in a row. Let's look at that another way. The 5.8% COLA was like getting an almost 2% COLA each year for 2009, 2010 and 2011 but all at once. That's way more than inflation has been. Now they want still more? Sorry.
No one should forget how hard it is to live on a fixed income. And it's true that while prices have been subdued overall, the prices for some things have gone up. But seniors have a pretty good deal. Social Security benefits might be modest about $1,100 a month on average but unlike many Americans, seniors never have to worry about losing that income. Over the past two or three years, millions of Americans have lost their jobs to layoffs and have no income at all. Others have had their income cut by furloughs.
Seniors complain that the government had the money to bail out banks and car companies, so why no COLA. The difference is that the bailouts were an emergency measure to save the economy from depression, and virtually all the money has been paid back. Giving $250 apiece to more than 58 million Social Security recipients would be cheaper than a COLA because the cost would not compound endlessly into the future. But it would still cost more than $14 billion. All of it would have to be borrowed. Who'd get stuck with the bill? Recipients' grandkids.
That's a bad deal. Politicians should say no.
OPPOSING VIEW ON SOCIAL SECURITY: SENIORS NEED RELIEF TO KEEP UP
BY NANCY LEAMOND
While the recent recession has hurt Americans of all ages, older Americans are feeling squeezed in unique ways and risk falling further and further behind.
Older Americans on fixed incomes are paying more for utilities and food while suffering massive losses in their home values and nest eggs. Those still able to work face the longest periods of unemployment since the 1940s.
Next year will be the second year in a row without a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) since automatic Social Security adjustments went into effect in 1975. Even if inflation is low, that doesn't mean prices haven't gone up on the things seniors spend the most on, particularly health care, where costs have far outpaced inflation. As just one example, brand name drugs rose more than 8% in 2009.
Social Security's guaranteed, life-long benefits continue to provide essential income for millions of Americans, especially those with modest incomes. Social Security is the primary source of income for 64% of retiree households, and one out of three relies on Social Security for all or almost all of their income.
We hear from our members and older Americans across the country who are worried. For those on fixed incomes, the COLA can mean the difference between getting by and going without basic needs.
For example, Claire E., a widow who raised three children, lives only on Social Security, her small pension and her savings, and her savings have been depleted 30% since the recession began. She struggles to keep up with rising medical costs and wants to stay independent as long as possible.
For Claire and millions like her, the COLA makes a difference.
Claire's challenges are not rare, unfortunately. We believe that Congress and the administration should provide fiscally responsible relief for millions of Americans who count on an increase in their check to help pay their mounting bills.
Providing relief when there's no COLA isn't about getting more it's about keeping up.
Nancy LeaMond is executive vice president of the state and national group for AARP.
WE WORSHIP THE GOD OF SECURITY
BY HENRY G. BRINTON
We live in a culture of fear, and since 9/11 we have grown increasingly anxious about terrorism, pandemics, environmental disasters and nuclear annihilation anything that can injure or kill us. Our method of coping is to make an idol out of any activity, agency or technology that will promise us security.
Sociologist Robert Wuthnow has written a new book Be Very Afraid that examines how we respond to the constant threats we see around us. His conclusion: Instead of freezing when they face a threat, Americans get busy and buy duct tape. Nothing frustrates us more than terrorism alerts such as the one recently issued by the U.S. State Departmentfor travel to Europe. It warns us of potential danger but gives no specific guidance.
I believe that this idolatry of safety is a very unfaithful response. Whether one is Christian, Jewish or Muslim, the challenge of faith is to put trust in God, not in security precautions. Nor is it a sensible response. Atheists realize right along with people of faith that we cannot control every aspect of the world around us. Security is a false god.
On May 4, the front doors of the Supreme Court were closed to the public permanently. The reason: security concerns. "In one swift, final fiat," wrote Washington Post culture critic Philip Kennicott, "the architectural logic of Cass Gilbert's magnificent 1935 neoclassical structure, which dramatizes the open access to justice, has been rescinded."
We are turning into a society in which access to so many public places is being controlled by metal detectors and security guards, and we tend to go along with these precautions. Few people ask questions about checkpoints and closings, and most seem to accept full-body scans, metal detectors and restricted access to public buildings.
Why? Because we worship the god of security.
The alternative is to accept that life is fragile, and to realize that we cannot eliminate all threats to our physical well-being. Over the course of my 24 years in the ministry, I have seen children die of cancer, young men perish in traffic accidents, and healthy women lose their lives during routine surgery. Tragic deaths, every one of them. But religion teaches that death is not optional, and that no amount of duct tape, metal detectors and advanced medical technology will grant us immortality.
Every Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a season of spiritual preparation for Easter, I put ashes on the foreheads of my church members and say to them, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." One longtime member of the church cherished this service and always responded by saying, "Yes, I remember." Her funeral was last fall, and I told this story at her graveside.
One of the goals of religious faith is to fashion a life that is not consumed by fear of death. This can be done by looking for eternal value in each day on earth, eternal salvation in heaven, or some combination of the two. But these approaches are difficult to sustain in our advanced liberal society, where there is little consensus on eternal life, or even on what makes for a good life on earth. "But we can agree on things that we ought to fear," says Thomas Hibbs, professor of ethics and culture at Baylor University. The result is that "the pursuit of happiness gets transformed into the pursuit of freedom from unhappiness."
When we can agree only on what we ought to fear, the stage is set for the idolatry of security. After 9/11, we established a Department of Homeland Security, and borrowed billions from our grandchildren to fight two overseas wars in the name of national security. "We say, on our money, 'In God we trust,' " observes William H. Willimon, bishop of the United Methodist Church in North Alabama, "but our military budget suggests that this is a lie." Our trust is in the federal agencies, military campaigns and cutting-edge technologies that promise to protect us.
Faithful, but ready
Such an investment in national security is to be expected in a country that prizes separation of church and state, and does not use religious principles as the foundation of its defense budget. We are not a nation of pacifists, and our spirituality has long followed the practical wisdom of the saying, "Trust in God and keep your powder dry."
But if the vast majority of us claim to trust in God, then we need to be prepared to put our money where our faith is. In 2008, we Americans put far more money into the Department of Defense and war on terrorism ($623 billion) than we voluntarily gave to all of the churches and charities across the United States ($308 billion). Based on spending patterns alone, the message is that we value national security more than spiritual security.
No amount of money can buy us complete safety, however, because we cannot achieve it by human efforts alone. "We live in an insecure world, and for Americans no other event has brought home that fact as has 9/11," says Miroslav Volf, professor of theology at Yale Divinity School. "Anything could happen, any time. Our lives could change, our way of life disappear. Ground Zero is the scar on the wound of our vulnerability."
Does this mean that we should abandon all screenings at airports? Of course not. Sensible precautions make us all safer, and deter those who want to perform evil, violent acts. But unless we, as a nation, want to descend ever deeper into debt and fear, we need to manage our risks instead of constantly attempting to eliminate them, and accept the fact that being vulnerable is a condition of human life. Remember, we are dust, and to dust we shall return. No further wars on terror or increasingly intrusive high-tech checkpoints are going to change this fundamental fact of life.
We also need to assess what our worship of the false god of security is doing to our souls. If we could somehow achieve invulnerability as a nation, what would this do to our national character?
"We would likely walk through the world with a John Wayne swagger," predicts Volf, as the nation becomes oblivious to the interests of others and comfortable with the prejudices about them. "Living in a secure but unreal world," he concludes, "we would be a danger to others."
National security is an expensive religion to practice, and it tends to increase our insecurity as we become more zealous about it, whether we are people of faith or atheists. We will never eliminate every threat to our personal and national well-being, and our efforts may strain our relations with neighbors as we make our barriers ever more impenetrable.
I believe that it is better to put our trust in God than in metal detectors, and to accept that our greatest security is always found in a power much higher than any branch of the federal government.
Henry G. Brinton is pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Virginia and author of an upcoming book on Christian hospitality.
TIMES FREE PRESS
IN DISTRICT 28, TOMMIE BROWN
E lecting capable and thoughtful representatives to the state Legislature is essential if this area is to be well served in Nashville. That is true at any time, but it is especially so now when economic turmoil roils the political and social landscape. A legislator must be energetic, decisive, forthright and have a broad understanding of myriad issues to serve effectively during difficult times. Tommie F. Brown, the Democratic candidate for the Tennessee Legislature in District 28, is such an individual.
Brown, a retired educator and nine-term legislative veteran, is opposed by Teresa Wood, a Republican who is mounting a spirited campaign with an emphasis on education and jobs, in the only contested state legislative race on the Nov. 2 ballot here. Voters should choose Brown.
The choice is easy. Brown is experienced in the ways of state politics, and she has earned the respect of her constituents and fellow legislators by dint of her hard work. She doesn't always follow the crowd, but is an independent thinker who is exceptionally well informed on issues vital to her constituency and to the state. She has served her district well.
Indeed, the covenant she presented to voters in her initial campaign for office in 1992 remains pretty much the same today as it was then. She amended it four years ago to encompass major changes in the way the nation and state approach public education, but otherwise it is unchanged. There's little reason for her to change the document. Over the years, she's become a powerful, respected and thoughtful advocate for all levels of public education. She's championed the cause of low-income, poorly educated children and families across the state. That is important work that should be continued, even in difficult economic times.
Brown is pragmatic. She is opposed to the levy of any new taxes, preferring to promote better education and the provision of state services through programs that can be underwritten at funding levels the state can support in the current downturn. She is careful to point out, however, that education in its entirety charter schools, concerns about new standards and what they might mean and equitable use of lottery funds among other topics remains the topic central to her legislative service and of utmost importance to the state. "You cannot diminish the necessity of education, " she says, "if we [residents of Tennessee] are going to be competitive in the world." She's right.
Brown has become one of the state's most respected legislators. She likely is the hardest working. She holds key leadership positions on important House committees and has become an authority on many issues vital to the state. She interacts regularly with constituents and has proved a powerful advocate of their interests. Rep. Brown serves her district and the state well. She merits re-election on Nov. 2.
TIMES FREE PRESS
DEADLY VIRUS IS ERADICATED
Most people, unless they are well versed in veterinary science, likely are unfamiliar with rinderpest, a virus that killed cattle and other wildlife by the millions and as a result sometimes drastically affected human life as well. Notice the past tense.
Rinderpest no longer is a threat. Late last week, a United Nations agency announced that the disease was gone. It is only the second disease smallpox was the first ever eliminated from Earth. Its eradication is a tribute to those who employ science for the benefit of mankind and to the international community that supported the effort to eradicate the virus.
Rinderpest, German for "cattle plague," does not affect people directly, but it has nonetheless created hardships for millennia. The disease, with a mortality rate of about 80 percent, struck cattle, water buffalo and other animals needed for meat, milk, plowing and pulling. Because humans depend so heavily on such animals for sustenance, a rinderpest outbreak could have devastating societal consequences. More than a third of the population of Ethiopia, historians say, is thought to have died after a famine that followed a 19th century rinderpest outbreak.
The origins of rinderpest are unknown, though scientists and historians generally agree that it probably started in Asia. There's evidence that it was present in Egypt 5,000 years ago and that it spread to Europe through cattle trading. The Americas and Australia were spared the disease. Infected animals likely would have started dying on ship and would have been killed before making landfall. If not, they certainly would have been quarantined upon arrival.
Eliminating any disease is fiendishly difficult. Scientists say eradicating rinderpest was no exception.
For thousands of years, the only method available to end the spread of the disease was to slaughter or quarantine vast numbers of animals. That was never efficacious.
Efforts to produce an effective vaccine failed, too, until the mid-20th century. Then, a British veterinary pathologist, employing the same techniques used to develop polio vaccines, produced a successful vaccine. Even then, it took decades to eliminate rinderpest through massive vaccination programs and diligent monitoring of animals. The effort was costly and labor intensive, but one that will produce universal, long-term benefits.
The elimination of the disease, to be announced officially next year by the World Organization for Animal health, does not end scientific involvement with rinderpest. Virologists still must determine how much virus, tissue from infected animals and vaccine to keep on hand for research and other purposes. The practice is necessary, but caution is advised. A laboratory accident or an act of terrorism could initiate the public return of the deadly virus that so many individuals and nations worked so cooperatively to eliminate from the Earth.
TIMES FREE PRESS
THRIFTY JACKSON COUNTY, ALA.
W ashington, D.C., could take a lesson from Jackson County, Ala.
Jackson County is Alabama's nearest county to Chattanooga, and its leaders evidently practice a level of thrift that has spared the county's government from having to make massive, painful cuts.
Jackson County commissioners recently approved small raises for county workers, and its new budget eliminates a net of only one county job. Jackson County managed to accomplish that without dipping into its reserves or raising property taxes.
Part of the explanation for the county's success comes from sales tax revenue growth from contractors at TVA's nuclear training center and at Bellefonte Nuclear Plant.
But part of it is just plain common sense: Jackson County has decided over the years to live within its means rather than to spend money it doesn't have.
As a happy result, despite the current economic crisis, the county is in reasonably good financial shape.
Now contrast that with Washington. Just since the end of 2007, the ranks of federal employees have risen by a shocking, unsustainable 240,000 employees, The Heritage Foundation notes. Total federal employment is now well over 2.1 million workers.
Those millions of taxpayer-supported workers earn wages that are about 22 percent more on average than they would earn for performing the same jobs in the private sector. When benefits are added in, average compensation for a federal worker is 30 percent to 40 percent higher than private-sector compensation for the same job.
Unlike Jackson County, which is funding its modest pay raises with money it actually has, Washington has forced our national debt up to well over $13 trillion to fund its vast spending. While some of that spending is necessary, some of it is going to excessive federal compensation and into unconstitutional interventions ranging from Amtrak to farm subsidies to make-work "AmeriCorps" jobs. And hardly anyone in Congress is talking about the runaway costs of entitlement programs such as Social Security, which is going broke.
It's a shame that Washington cannot imitate the financial good sense that Jackson County, Ala., has demonstrated.
TIMES FREE PRESS
In a headline on a McClatchy Newspapers article, we spotted another reason why the federal government should not be dictating Americans' health care: "Workers often ignore preventive-care benefits," the headline read. The story said that despite a "wellness" push by large corporations over the past few years, a study found that many of their employees do not choose to make use of wellness benefits.
So why is that a warning against the government health care takeover through ObamaCare socialized medicine?
Well, what employers and insurers had been offering voluntarily, ObamaCare is now requiring them to provide. They now must "fully cover preventive services for workers," McClatchy reported. That includes things such as "free" vaccines, flu shots and screenings.
"(B)ut that won't solve the problem of getting people to use the services," the article added.
And that is exactly the problem. In a genuinely free market, a company that discovers that the preventive care benefits it offers are going unused by lots of employees could drop or at least modify the benefits to make more efficient use of its resources.
But under ObamaCare, a company won't have the option to stop squandering money on those benefits merely because its workers do not want them. That is a recipe for costly, job-killing inefficiency.
It remains to be seen how many billions of dollars will ultimately be wasted as companies are forced to pay for benefits that may go largely unused.
That is one-size-fits-all government at its worst.
TIMES FREE PRESS
TAXPAYERS ON THE HOOK AGAIN
We are happy for anyone to earn a paycheck, especially in these troubled economic times. And we certainly do not begrudge a Calhoun, Ga., farm's recent decision to install hundreds of solar panels that will let it make some money by selling the excess power that the panels produce.
What is objectionable is that the federal government picked up 65 percent of the $560,000 tab for installing the solar panels at the farm. Thirty-five percent of the funding came from the so-called "stimulus," and an additional 30 percent came from a separate federal grant.
That left the farm paying only about a third of the bill. The owner of the farm acknowledged, "I couldn't have done it without the grants."
But that is precisely the point. He could not have done it because, even with the potential to sell off the excess power, the solar panels simply are not a cost-effective way to produce energy.
Yet taxpayers are being forced to prop up this "alternative energy" plan even though it would not make it on its own in the free market.
The fault does not really lie with the Calhoun farm nor with any other business or individual who accepts such grants. There will always be takers of "free" government money.
The fault lies with our Congress, which has unconstitutionally created "stimulus" programs and layers upon layers of subsidies that promote unfeasible projects while further burdening taxpayers and adding tremendously to our horrible national debt.
Enterprises of whatever sort alternative energy or anything else ought to succeed or fail on the basis of their own merits in the free market, not on the basis of government subsidies.
TIMES FREE PRESS
HONORING DICTATOR STALIN?
Earlier this year, there was justified outrage when the National D-Day Memorial Foundation installed a bust of Communist Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin at the memorial in Bedford, Va.
Among the critics was the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which noted that in the 20th century, only Communist Chinese dictator Mao Zedong was responsible for more deaths than Stalin.
Although the Soviets did fight Nazi Germany in World War II, no Soviet soldiers took part in the D-Day invasion of France on June 6, 1944. So it made no sense to place a bust of Stalin at the site.
Now, the D-Day Memorial Foundation has somewhat relented by removing the bust of Stalin.
But that is not, unfortunately, the victory for common sense that it seems to be. The foundation also plans to remove busts of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and it will group the three busts Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill and put them back at the memorial in one location at some future date.
That is no solution. A mass murderer such as Stalin does not deserve to be honored on U.S. soil or anywhere else. And he most certainly should not be honored at the D-Day Memorial in close proximity to busts of Roosevelt and Churchill.
The American Legion is among the groups that have rightly condemned the placement of the bust of Stalin at the memorial.
Basic decency and common sense should persuade the administrators of the memorial never to return Stalin's bust to a place of honor at the site.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - A 'RADIKAL' CHANGE FOR THE BETTER
In the fast-paced realm of the Turkish news media, it is not easy to declare a "radical" change. But radical change is upon us. And so a few words on behalf of Turkey's newest newspaper, the new "Radikal," we believe to be in order.
Readers following the Turkish media have no doubt already seen the redesigned daily Radikal that premiered on newsstands around the country Sunday. A new size, tabloid. A new suite of columnists, joining many familiar ones. A new editor-in-chief, Eyüp Can. And a new editorial philosophy that Can has been explaining across Turkey in recent weeks. It is a commitment to an equidistant stance from actors on the political stage, a renewed emphasis on field reporting in place of desk-bound pontification and a user-friendly design inspired by some of the best newspapers in Europe. It also represents a deep commitment to economic reporting, as the newspaper is the result of a merger between 15-year-old Radikal and six-year-old Referans, Turkey's business daily.
It is a daring experiment, to be sure. In some quarters, it is a controversial change. But it is one we here at the Hürriyet Daily News welcome for two reasons.
Firstly this is an emotional change for us. As thoughtful readers know, we are formally part of Turkey's leading newspaper, the Doğan Media Group flagship Hürriyet. The former Turkish Daily News was acquired by Hürriyet in 2006. Our editorial policy is independent and our staffs are separate. But we use a great deal of Hürriyet's work.
Along with our special relationship to Hürriyet, we also rely on all manner of support from other Doğan resources. Our business coverage has long been aided by that of Referans. On any given day, many of our stories will come from the team of 600 reporters posted throughout Turkey and the world by the Doğan News Agency. And of course the work of reporters at Radikal, regarded by many as Turkey's most sophisticated newspaper, have long been a staple for Daily News readers through translation. The behind-the-scenes support we have enjoyed from Radikal over the years has been profound.
So for the most selfish of reasons, we welcome a merger that brings both teams into the same building just a few floors above us. We are eager to use this proximity for even deeper collaboration with our colleagues.
Secondly, as loyal readers know, we are a newspaper whose "core competence" in MBA jargon is not the fact we publish in English. Rather, it is the striving for fair and objective reporting, our own commitment to referee the contentiousness of Turkish social and political life with the fairest judgment we can summon. The restated values of Radikal are really our own.
We welcome this new voice and vision in the Turkish media. We welcome our new neighbors. And we welcome our own deeper partnership, which we know will also make for a better Daily News.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
IMPROVING ECONOMIC RELATIONS WITH CHINA IS NO EASY ENDEAVOR
Knocks resounded on the doors to the houses of Turkish students studying in China in mid July 2009. It was the police. Just checking if they had proper documents. The all of a sudden controls coincided in the days following Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan famous statement about the clashes between ethnic Chinese and Uyghur Turks in Sincan that took place earlier in the month. Erdoğan likened the clashes that left 184 people dead to "a near genocide." The Chinese were so irritated that they did not even refrain from harassing innocent students who were in China just to learn the language. What an experience for those who are expected to be a bridge between Turkey and China.
Look at how fate plays its game. Ironically, the Chinese prime minister's official visit to Turkey coincided with the announcement the Nobel Prize was won by a Chinese dissident. Most probably, Erdoğan tried to compensate his 2009 gaffe by preventing the press from asking embarrassing questions of his Chinese guest.
Having forgotten about the genocide gaffe, the Turkish press did not seem anxious to underline this historic irony. It rather preferred to emphasize how Turkish Chinese economic relations would grow following the decision to trade in national currencies.
I have no intention of underestimating the efforts to bridge the huge trade deficit in favor of China, which stands at 1 to 12. But it will be quiet difficult to change this imbalance.
China is a difficult trade partner for Turkey. It is and has been very difficult to penetrate the Chinese market, simply because it is difficult to compete with low paid Chinese labor. The past 20 years is full of stories of Turkish businessmen who, by looking to the huge population of China said, "If I could sell one pencil in China, I could get rich." But those who went to China to export came back as importers.
The approach Turkish businessmen endorse for neighboring countries, especially ex-Soviet republics, can't be valid, Noyan Rona, representative of a prominent Turkish bank in China, told me recently when I was in Shanghai. "The vision for China should go way beyond the mentality of loading a bus full of biscuits and taking them to Moldova to sell," said Rona, who has been living in China nearly for three decades.
Entrepreneurs who want to do business with China need to be patient and have a long term approach, Rona believes. He also said economic relations should not just be limited to trade. There is also room for finance and the service sector, as well as cooperation with third countries.
Agreeing on the difficulties of penetrating the Chinese market, Oktay Özüye, Turkey's former ambassador to Beijing, advises Turkish businessmen to use China as a production base for exporting their products to China's neighboring regions. Turkish government priority should be on attracting Chinese capital to Turkey, said Özüye, who returned to Turkey from China two years ago.
As all countries in the world are competing to tap the growing Chinese tourism potential, Özüye has warned to keep expectations low. The distance is a serious disadvantage, argued the former diplomat. No matter how much THY increases its number of flights it can not tap the potential. Özüye recommended the Russian way, whereby Turkish entrepreneurs bring Russian tourists with their own chartered flights to their own holiday resorts in the south.
Yet, even if the distance became less of a problem, the question still remains to what degree Turkey could become attractive to Chinese tourists. In contrast to European tourists, Turkey can not sell the sea-sun-fun triplet because the Chinese do not like their skin to tan. It is easier to sell Turkey's historical and cultural richness. Yet this in itself is not enough. The Chinese, say those who know them, prefer their own cuisine. Just as a Turk has difficulty in adapting to Chinese food, the same goes for the Chinese when they come to Turkey. Thus, if Turkey wants to host more Chinese, it has to have more Chinese restaurants as well as Chinese speaking guides.
Obviously, all these difficulties are not reasons to turn our backs on China. On the contrary it is a country that has been long ignored by Turkey. Yet dealing with this giant, government and the business sector need to determine the priorities correctly.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
RADICAL VIEWS FROM THE STREET
Their editor-in-chief has been particularly raving about how he intends to change traditional op-eds by molding your average newspaper columnist into a terminator he has named "the street columnist." I have been to quite a few conferences in the past few weeks myself, as well as talk to people who have been to others, so I am in the perfect position to relay my impressions from the street.
At the IMF-World Bank Annual Meetings in Istanbul last year, uncertainty on the macroeconomic outlook was the name of the game, with endless debates on the shape of recovery. That kind of ambiguity has decreased considerably, although some party-spoilers like the great Roubini continue to muddle the future. But that does not mean that the horizon is crystal-clear; macroeconomic clouds have simply given way to others.
The most-discussed of these new uncertainties is arguably woes of a European kind: Isensed a great deal of pessimism on the Euro Area, whether it be short-term fiscal worries or long-run structural problems like declining competitiveness and fallback in innovation. On the contrary, there is quite a bit of optimism on the U.S. economy. Even those opting for a more wary outlook believe that as long as employment prospects do not improve, American policymakers will continue to support the economy every way that they can.
And that brings me to Fed's Quantitative Easing II, which is just around the corner. Many economists, including PIMCO's Mohamed El-Erian, are critical that it will work. Their main reasoning is that investors cannot be bribed into equities; nor can banks be induced to lend by flushing them with liquidity. Agents will take risk if and only if it is attractive for them to do so.
Then, all that money for nothing will end up somewhere else, and judging by thepreemptive strikes, that somewhere looks like commodities and emerging markets. As a result, positions are being built by speculators, and battle lines in the form of currency wars are being formed by policymakers. There is even the worry that there might be another Great Trade War in the making.
In the same vein, there is quite a bit of debate on the future of policymaking, which has already undergone many changes. The International Monetary Fund revamped its crisis prevention toolkit this past year. It was also quick to depart with its well-established mantra by advising fiscal easing for the developed world and capital controls for emerging markets. But now policymakers have taken those radical changes a step further byputting central banking on the spotlight.
Given the financial crisis, it is not startling that there is a lot of discussion on whether central banks should be in charge of financial regulation as well. But I was taken by complete surprise with doubts about inflation targeting. What started as an innocentpissing contest by the European Central Bank, as they claimed their two-pillar approach was superior to inflation targeting, has morphed into something much more sinister.
Economists and policymakers alike are well aware that an inflation-targeter faced with free capital flows is more or less helpless against appreciation pressures on its currency. But they are ignoring the benefits of inflation targeting for the likes of Turkey, or not coming up with an alternative, as one Central Bank of Turkey official lamented in a quick chat over coffee at the Global Economic Symposium in Istanbul.
This is your friendly neighborhood economist reporting radical views from the street
Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at http://emredeliveli.blogspot.com.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
TURKEY UNDER THE AKP: NEITHER A EUROPEAN NOR REGIONAL POWER (III)
Believing that the supposedly reformed Islamist Justice and Development Party, or AKP, could be a bridge-builder between Europe and Muslim countries, some promoted the AKP as a special mediator in the region, shielding it from those who worried early on about the AKP's worldview.
In 2002, many people celebrated the idea that the AKP was the herald of Europe to the Muslim world; now, though, it appears the AKP is the envoy of a politically charged and, by fiat, anti-Western "Muslim world" to Europe.
The AKP's foreign policy vision has failed. Turkey has moved away from Europe and, in doing this, has not become the regional power or trusted mediator in Middle East issues it sought to be. Much to the chagrin of those who want to see a powerful Turkey, it has not become the "center country" which bridges the East and the West, communicates with both Israelis and Palestinians and garners the trust of both Iran and Europe. The European Union needs to face the reality that, despite the country's NATO membership, Turkey can no longer be considered a European ally under the AKP.
The way forward: Turkey must join Europe
There is a way forward: EU accession. If Turkey's EU accession had been stalled in the preSeptember 11 world, I would have said it was a real shame, but no catastrophe. Then, Turkey had room to be outside the EU but still part of Europe and the West. Now, with the EU pushing its boundaries into the Balkans and towards Turkey, and with al-Qaeda pursuing a war between a politically-defined and charged "Muslim world" and Europe, a gray area in which Turkey can position itself no longer exists. Turkey must become an EU member and part of Europe, or else fold into the "Muslim world," as per al-Qaeda's vision.
Turkey's foreign policy involvement produces unconstructive results for Europe and stimulates Islamist tendencies among the Turkish population. The solution is to take Turkey out of the Middle East, and put it in Europe, where it belongs. Therefore, European leaders should make Turkey's EU accession and NATO membership the dominant part of their discussion with the AKP and the Turkish public.
There is hope in this regard since Turkey remains a multi-party democracy and only one-third of Turkey's population supports the AKP. The AKP has been sliding in polls since the opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, elected charismatic, pro-European, liberal, and social democrat leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. As a result, following the Gaza flotilla incident, the AKP has been employing vehement anti-European rhetoric, conjuring hysteria to boost its popularity. It will continue to use populist, anti-European foreign policy to boost its popularity in the run up to next year's elections.
And this would be good for Europe, too
But what if Turkey's EU accession talks fail to move? Membership talks have slowed to such a grinding halt that the proverbial Turkish-EU accession train recalls a joke about the trains in Brezhnev's Soviet Union: with Russia stagnating, the trains did not move and the scenery did not change, so the people said "choo-choo" to create the illusion of locomotion. This epitomizes Turkey's EU accession and, at some point, the Turks will realize that their EU train is not moving forward and will disembark. This will be a disaster, ending Turkey's consolidation as a liberal democracy and exposing dangerous consequences for Europe.
If Europe keeps saying no to Ankara, what kind of a message would the continent be sending to its Muslims?
On a recent trip to Paris, I received a forty minute lecture on Turkey's EU accession from a Parisian whose parents had immigrated to France from Mauritania. He was not only well acquainted with the historic details of Turkey's EU accession "Ankara applied to join the Union in 1963, before my parents came to France," he noted but he also knew more than I did about the details of the accession talks, including on which of the 120,000 pages of EU legislation France is now blocking Turkey. When I asked him why he followed Turkey's accession with such interest, he responded that "this is about whether there is room for me in Europe." What is good for Turkey is also good for Europe.
This column originally appeared in Limes (Rivista Italiana di Geopolitica)
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
LOWERING THE ELECTION THRESHOLD IS A DEMOCRATIC TEST
The Center of Economic and Foreign Policy Research, or EDAM, and the Center for European Research in Europe, or CER, recently organized a round table meeting in the Turkish resort town of Bodrum. The final round of discussions was about the future of Turkish-European Union relations.
Some leading figures of European politics and a distinguished group of think tank organizations from both sides of the Atlantic came together for discussions, which became the scene for a striking move regarding the 10 percent election threshold. A European Parliament, or EP, member suddenly brought the issue to the 10 percent threshold as democracy in Turkey was being discussed. He strongly said:
"A 10 percent threshold is unacceptable for any democracy in Europe. There is no explanation to justify such a high figure."
The never-changing demands of the European Parliament
The EP, therefore, officially reiterated its request for Turkey to lower the threshold below 10 percent.
In the EP decision, it's been voiced that lowering the threshold will allow newly formed political parties, in particular, to participate in political process, minorities and political groups will be represented more; therefore pluralism will be assured.
Until 2007 the European Commission in the progress reports drew attention to high election threshold. However, after the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, in a Democratic People's Party, or DEHAP, ruling in 2007 stated the fact that the 10 percent threshold does not violated the essence of the election, the Commission has stopped pointing out the issue.
The critical point here is that although not seen as violation, the court stressed that the threshold is "excessively" high and the European Council said it is "exceptionally" high and should be lowered below 10 percent. Therefore two institutions seem in agreement.
The Venice Commission also says 'lower it'
The Council of Europe, or CE's, Venice Commission, a reference institution on the subject matter, grants a kind of quality standard certificate for democracy in Europe. The Commission's report, dated Jan. 12, 2010, titled "Limits and Thresholds in Parliamentary Elections" recommends Council of Europe member states to lower the election threshold to 3-5 percent.
Turkey is highlighted in the report for having the highest threshold limit in Europe with 10 percent. And Russia follows with 7 percent.
In international platforms, the EP especially, even the governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, cannot defend the 10 percent threshold. In fact, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin attending an EP meeting last July had said after being pressured, "It is not easy for Turkey to continue with a 10 percent election threshold in the middle and long run. Parliament will make necessary evaluations as soon as possible."
Turkey's new test of democracy
There appear two new items in debates over the election threshold in Turkey. The first is that, after Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was selected the new chairman of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, he submitted a motion last July to lower the threshold to 7 percent.
The second is that President Abdullah Gül, for the first time, adopted a clear stance on the subject. Let me reiterate what he said during a keynote speech at the opening of Parliament:
"In basic issues democracy should work as both representative and participatory aspects of it. Our people are doing their best to enrich representation by forwarding different political opinions to Parliament. We are one of the countries with the highest turnover ratios. Our citizens are sensitive to show their will of power."
The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, deputies in Parliament applauded Gül. Lowering the threshold to a reasonable number as Turkey looks for a democratic answer to the Kurdish question seems necessary. The quality of democracy in a country is measured, at the same time, by how people's choices are reflected in Parliament. A 10 percent election threshold is a handicap to Turkish democracy. Ridding such a shameful memory of the Sept. 12, 1980 military regime is a democratic test for Turkey which can no longer be postponed.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
THE 'GENOCIDE' THORN IN US-TURKEY RELATIONS
C. CEM OĞUZ
In his op-ed of Oct. 11 titled "Prospects for Turkish-U.S. ties not the best," Semih İdiz, a fellow columnist for the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, elaborated on how the Armenian issue has come to affect U.S.-Turkey relations.
According to İdiz, "the general belief in Washington, and particularly in the U.S. Congress, is that Turkey negotiated the Zurich Protocols with Armenia in bad faith, not to actually move ahead in terms of Turkish-Armenian ties, but to prevent President Obama from using the 'G word' in his annual April 24 message earlier this year."
I have serious objections to such arguments and I want to share them with my American friends. First and foremost, the Turkish government did not act in bad faith. On the contrary, there was a sincere good will, actually a kind of naivety that made them think that the protocols would finally pave the way for a normalization of relations with Armenia.
It was, however, the Armenian Constitutional Court's January 2010 decision that profoundly shocked Ankara. As you will well remember, the court declared that the interpretation and application of the protocols should be in compliance with the Armenian constitution and paragraph 11 of the Armenian Declaration of Independence, which states: "The Republic of Armenia stands in support of the task of achieving international recognition of the 1915 Genocide in Ottoman Turkey and Western Armenia."
In the view of Ankara, this reasoning contradicted fundamental aspects of the protocols. Both countries' historians, through a sub-commission envisaged in the protocols, were supposed to discuss what had really happened in 1915. But the court's decision made it clear to Ankara that it had been too optimistic. In fact, it was not only a precondition but also an ultimatum.
Turkish authorities lost no time in sharing their reservations and concerns with Washington and clearly stated that under these circumstances, the protocols could not pass ratification in the Turkish Parliament. Indeed, subsequent to this decision, voices expressing skepticism among members of Parliament grew louder than ever. Yet ignoring these sensitivities, Washington declared it viewed "the court decision as a positive step forward in the ratification process."
In light of this background, to claim that the Turkish government negotiated the protocols to prevent President Obama from using the "G word" is nonsense. Besides, the number of U.S. states that have passed resolutions supporting the Armenian allegations is over 40. To be honest, like many people in Turkey I personally am not really interested in whether the U.S. President uses the G word or not. Turks are indeed fed up with the way this genocide issue is being frequently used as an effective means of blackmailing the Turkish government.
Having said that, I suggest to my American friends that they put pressure on Armenia to change its mindset. I will give an example in that regard. As a gesture to our Armenian citizens and Armenia, the Turkish government restored a historic church in Akdamar with a formal opening held in September. The religious ceremony was attended by Armenians from Armenia and their diaspora.
Elaborating on Turkish-Armenian relations, in an op-ed titled "Armenian-Turkish relations depend on people, not protocols," Richard Giragosian, the director of the Yerevan-based Armenian Center for National and International Studies, just recently wrote about this gesture of the Turkish government, " the long-awaited event turned out quite differently than expected. In many ways, the ceremony was a disappointment. It was also a missed opportunity."
Do you know why it was a disappointment or missed opportunity for Giragosian? Because, in his words, "the ceremony was held in a church with no cross."
Turkish-Armenian relations indeed depend on people, not protocols
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
Egemen Bağış, Turkey's state minister in charge of European Union affairs, came up with the idea of locking Turkish and Greek prime ministers and leaders of the two sides on Cyprus in a secluded place where they would negotiate a resolution of the Cyprus problem without any interruption like a Papal Conclave.
Naturally, Bağış did not suggest the two prime ministers and the two communal leaders of the island meet at the Sistine Chapel in Rome. The leaders could meet anywhere convenient for the four leaders, probably somewhere outside Turkey, Greece and Cyprus. Bağış did not suggest either whether the four leaders would announce a deal with a white smoke, like the cardinals electing the pope. Probably, they would appear at a ceremony participated by a chorus of international dignitaries where they would sign the settlement accord.
Frankly, the idea of Bağış, that is a settlement-oriented meeting of the leaders of Turkey, Greece and the Turkish and Greek Cypriot peoples of Cyprus, is indeed one which was considered many times in the past by many statesmen willing to see a settlement on the eastern Mediterranean island. Former American President George [Herbert Walker] Bush, for example, tried hard and indeed succeeded in 1990-91 in convincing Turkey's then President Turgut Özal who indeed was the copyright owner of the idea as well as the Greek prime minister of the time and the two communal leaders on Cyprus, though they were not at all happy with the idea could not oppose the suggestion, but with domestic political considerations then Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yılmaz killed the idea in fears that a Cyprus deal would further consolidate the power of late Özal at his expense.
Still, the idea of convening such a papal conclave-style conference, like the Dayton peace process that stopped bloodshed and provided a provisional resolution of the Bosnia-Herzegovina quagmire, never ever died out. Indeed, the five-party international conference idea frequently voiced by diplomats and foreign statesmen willing to see a resolution on the island, is nothing further than a rehashed version of the original proposal made by the Bush Sr. administration in early 1990.
Furthermore, should there be a Cyprus compromise resolution it is a fact that both two sides on the eastern Mediterranean island would have to undertake some very serious and painful compromises that neither of the two leaders would be willing to shoulder the blame. However, if such a meeting is "facilitated" by the United Nations secretary-general and if the EU and the permanent five members of the Security Council, that is the P5, are attending it as observers, the two leaders may place the burden of whatever their people might find objectionable in such a deal on either Turkey, Greece or just the international community and thus save their own political fortune. Furthermore, even if the 1960 guarantee scheme might not be touched in a manner outraging the Turkish Cypriot people who consider the 1960 guarantee scheme and within that scheme continued Turkish guarantee for themselves as non-negotiable Greek Cypriots would be accorded a firm guarantee of the EU and the P5, who would sit such a conference as observers, and thus their concerns with continued Turkish guarantee would be soothed.
Naturally, as for now it is not yet clear whether the "Cyprus conclave" proposal of Bağış is an official suggestion made by Turkey. It is not yet clear also whether this idea is one backed by the international community, particularly by Britain the third guarantor for Cyprus independence together with Greece and Turkey under 1960 accords the United States and of course the UN secretary-general. Yet, I personally don't think Bağış would make such an important proposal without getting the nod of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
As expected the Greek Cypriot side categorically rejected the proposal of Bağış stressing that Erdoğan and Turkish Cypriot leader Derviş Eroğlu may have a conclave and discuss as much as they would like how to solve the Cyprus problem, while the northern Turkish Cypriot leadership has so far been silent on the issue.
The December summit of the EU, which would assess Turkey's compliance with the demand to open up its ports and airports to Greek Cypriots, is approaching on the other hand. Cyprus talks do not appear promising a resolution by the end of this year. A crisis is in the making. Bağış is as well rehashing an old idea, mutual lifting of all sanctions on and over Cyprus with Turkey opening its ports and airports to Greek Cypriots and the EU allowing direct trade from north and flights to and from the Turkish Cypriot Ercan airport.
For a change, the EU must take ideas of Bağış very seriously in order to avoid a severe road crash with Turkey.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
VISIONS AND ILLUSIONS OF A NEW EUROPEAN SECURITY ORDER
I remember 'being there' at one of the moments of transition from Cold War to post Cold War era, when the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, where I worked, decided to invite the former Warsaw Pact states to its annual session.
It was a last minute decision, an overture to the opening and subsequent EU and NATO enlargements to the east of Europe. When the parliamentary delegates arrived from beyond what was still quite recently the iron curtain, the "West," was caught quite unprepared for their absorption into its institutions. An East European delegate politely and timidly came over to where I stood: "Excuse me," he said, "but I have no nameplate for my country." We all had to be creative and quick in those days and my contribution to the end of the Cold War was to swiftly move into the stationary storage room, find an old cardboard box, a marker and pair of scissors, and write the name of the certain Eastern European country on a piece of cardboard and hand it to the gentleman in question. He was so happy with his makeshift country nameplate, feeling a real part of what was becoming "Europe whole and free." Since then, the said country has joined both NATO and the EU as a full member.
Much of the early post-Cold War era was dominated by this "democratic enlargement" paradigm. The absorption of a post-communist space into Euro-Atlantic institutions to create a new European security order, one with strong transatlantic bonds based on shared values was a phenomenal project of member-state building and institutional restructuring. What emerged at first as blueprints in various NATO, EU, and OSCE documents did not remain on paper for long, as both NATO and the EU concluded their biggest enlargement spree since their inception. Unlike buildings and monuments, the architecture of regional political orders are not static and require constant readjustment, dismantling and restructuring. It has been a while since Europe has shifted away from the "democratic enlargement" paradigm, as a recent report entitled: "The Specter of a Multi-polar Europe" produced by the European Council on Foreign Relations rightly suggests.
The report written by Mark Leonard and Ivan Krastev with contributions from Dimitar Bechev, Jana Kobzova and Andrew Wilson presents an ambitious panoramic view of the transition that is taking place from one European security architecture to another. The report provides a spot on diagnosis of the problem: An emerging vacuum caused by Europe wavering between the now out dated "democratic enlargement" paradigm and "interest-based realism" where the EU and Russia maintain distinct spheres of influence the EU in Central, Eastern Europe and Western Balkans and Russia in its "near abroad." While the report is right that the latter does not constitute the basis of any viable order, and that one of the reasons for this emerging vacuum is the U.S.'s relative disengagement from Europe, the cures it proposes for this diagnosis are somewhat far reaching.
Leonard and his co-authors propose a European security tri-alogue between the EU, Russia and Turkey, building on the Merkel-Medvedev idea of an EU-Russia security dialogue, but including Turkey. The tri-alogue would then create an action plan for stabilizing and reducing tensions on Europe's periphery. This would involve solving existing frozen conflicts in the region, including the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It seems that the magic key to resolving these frozen conflicts would be to offer the prospect of a security treaty, such as the one proposed by President Medvedev. The resolution of these frozen conflicts would be a pre-condition to such a treaty. Finally the signing of such a security treaty between the EU and Russia would ensure the institutionalization of the EU as a key security actor in Europe.
The report presents an important insight into the changing positions of Russia and Turkey within this evolving European security architecture. While Turkey's rise as a regional power is not breaking news of an hitherto obscurity in fact I argued four years ago that the EU should engage Turkey on wider security issues outside the box of this "acceptance/rejection" impasse of accession talks the changing Russian perspective is one of the most useful insights the report has to offer to policymakers.
What the report calls Russia's new 'Westpolitik' involves building alliances to modernize Russia's economy, including strategic cooperation with the EU and the U.S., to see Russia fully integrated into the global economy while protecting itself from the influence of external actors. This tactical shift in Russian foreign policy, argue the council, should be a new window of opportunity for the EU to engage Russia realistically. This urges to take a fresh look at Russia beyond the cautionary approach to its resurgence as a signal to return to the Imperial/Soviet era. Russia's engagement with Turkey as a major energy hub is seen as part of this new Russian strategy.
While it is necessary to take a fresh look both at Russia and Turkey where European security is concerned, the proposals for a European security treaty should be approached with caution. It is not clear if making the resolution of the region's frozen conflicts a pre-condition to a treaty will have much success in resolving them. This would assume that the sole key in solving these conflicts lies with Russia, and that is simply not true. There is also a discrepancy between the NATO Group of Experts report, which laid the basis of the new NATO Strategic Concept to be announced in November, and the council's proposals when it comes to engaging with the Medvedev proposals. The Group of Experts saw the Medvedev proposals for an alternative European security order contrary to NATO's interests. It is likely that the continuing dismissal of the Medvedev proposals will endure in the Strategic Concept.
Furthermore, there is a plethora of discussion on proposed new structures for a workable European security order that not only gives the EU a more profound role in European security but also manages this transition from the democratic enlargement paradigm to taking into account the changing shifts of power in the region. The OSCE's Corfu process, that is set to identify strategic areas for a new pan-European security architecture, alongside NATO's new Strategic Concept, both to be announced by the end of this year, are all parallel processes in search of a viable European security architecture beyond the post-Cold War era. However, as the council's report rightly points out, there are cracks in the coherence of what was once a unified EU-NATO-led Euro-Atlantic order. What comes to mind is the NATO Group of Experts hinting that Iran could be designated as an Article 5 threat. One could see Turkish resistance to naming names in this context. Similarly, Turkey's reluctance to agree to NATO's proposed missile defense because it would seem to point the finger or the warhead at Syria or Iran, identify tensions in threat perceptions within the alliance. It would seem that both NATO and the EU should get their own house in order while realistically engaging with Russia, before launching into a grandiose plan for an all-encompassing European security treaty.
While the report criticizes the EU's cautious approach as "defending an illusion of order" for holding onto the status quo centered on the EU and NATO, a search for an alternative vision could be a healthy process, as long as there are not too many parallel quests. For this can lead to multiple illusions of what a multi-polar Europe ought to look like. Sometimes it is better to go with the flow than jump ahead with a blueprint of deliberate design. That worked in the 1990s because there was a vacuum to build upon with little hindrance. What we have now is uncertain shifts in three spheres of influence, which is not the same. At best it can be managed, but not ordered.
*Gülnur Aybet is a senior lecturer at the University of Kent, England and a professor at the Izmir University of Economics
I. THE NEWS
OUR OWN FEET
Even Pakistan's foreign minister has had to acknowledge that the message has been heard. It had been delivered before, and ignored. A more strident tone has now been adopted by Pakistan's 'friends' to ensure this cannot happen again. Only days after US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had told Islamabad that its own elite must do more to help flood victims and not depend on tax-payers in the West to fill accounts, delegates meeting at the Friends of Democratic Pakistan meeting in Brussels said much the same. They demanded Pakistan reform its economy, collect taxes from those not currently in the tax net and, in other words, learn to stand on its own feet. The world, quite obviously, is no longer amused by an adult country which has stubbornly refused to develop its capacity to walk even though it suffers no serious ailment. Those which do affect it are primarily self-inflicted. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was clearly discommoded by all this bluntness and responded that 'it takes time' to realign a country after it has been ruled by the military for so long, and that 'old habits die hard'. This is true enough, but if you are sitting before a sceptical group of Europeans who expect to see results after two-and-a-half years of government you should be able to come up with something a bit more solid than 'it takes time'. Simply, they want to see where their money is going and they want to see what we are doing for ourselves and are clearly of the opinion that we are not doing enough. It is not difficult to see why they have formed this view. The government has dragged its feet on many issues including widening the tax net, it has not sought political unity or even a political truce in the endless drawing-room warfare that consumes the nation, and there is little sign of a national recovery plan at the federal level that might attract the interest of donors.
The issue of self-sufficiency is one that has a resounding echo through our history. Our failure to attain it is one reason for the many difficulties we today encounter. The warnings from the world are meanwhile becoming clearer than ever. We need to find a way to help ourselves. The suggestion is that the base of taxation be broadened. There can be no doubt at all that this is required. But alongside the imposition of tax on those who remain outside the net, we must improve the manner in which we collect taxes. In the present circumstances, more is also needed including an austerity drive and a re-thinking of other expenditures. If we do not engage in this there is really no reason why the world should help us. It is already obvious the will to do so is ebbing and we must act to help ourselves while we still can.
I. THE NEWS
The Great Flood is slipping down the news agenda and out of the public eye. A range of agencies, governmental and non-governmental, are going to be engaged in recovery and rehabilitation for years to come. One of those agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has given an insight into some of the difficulties associated with aid delivery. In particular the difficulty of maintaining neutrality by international agencies and avoiding the politicisation of aid coupled with the problems associated with getting access to needy areas. The ICRC has published an interview on its website with Andre Paquet, the deputy head of the ICRC delegation in Islamabad, and he is clear about where the difficulties lie. He says the principal obstacles (for the ICRC) impeding humanitarian work stem from restrictions imposed by the authorities.
The lack of access by expatriate specialists limits the ability of the ICRC and other agencies in terms of supporting local agencies such as the Pakistan Red Crescent. Further, the lack of access fuels widespread resentment and mistrust of humanitarian organisations, particularly international entities such as the ICRC, and feeds the perception that they are ineffective or have a political or security agenda. If agencies are seen to be acting under the control of the local authorities then it is inevitable that they are going to be seen as 'in the pocket' of the government, whereas if they are moving and acting in a clearly independent manner there is no confusion about who is controlling who. The ICRC for instance has a global policy of never having an armed escort when going about its business. The government, responsible for security in sometimes very insecure areas, insists that without an armed escort the ICRC cannot have access, nor can any other agency. The ICRC is well used to looking after itself. It has operated here for many years and has well-developed protocols with respect to establishing its own security. It always operates with the knowledge of the government. Much of the aid delivered by local agencies and groups post-flood has a clear political agenda and makes no pretence of being neutrally delivered. Aid delivered by international entities such as the ICRC has to be neutral, delivered impartially. Of course it would be uncharitable of us to imagine that our government would wish to deliver aid on a differential basis, but we cannot help wondering, can we?
LIFE IS NOT A VIDEO GAME
My son is a video games-fanatic. What makes me uneasy watching him though is the fact that despite being a pacifist by nature and sweet as an angel, he relishes playing those freakishly violent video games on his Sony PlayStation. Most games involve chasing and bashing up of the baddies. And since most of these games originate in the land of the free, most of the games are dictated by the simplistic, With-Us or Against-Us, black and white doctrine propounded and popularised by you know who. Not surprisingly, the enemies are almost always the Muslims.
Often, while he's hopelessly lost in his fictional world, with eyes glued to the computer screen and a sly, mischievous smile on his face, I try to remind him that all this is in the realm of imagination and "terrorists" do not always behave the way they are shown to do in the videos.
'This is just a game, you know,' I tell him. Things are not what they seem to be in the movies and videogames. The Arabs and Muslims are not the rogues they are made out to be in the make-believe world of Hollywood. Reality is a little more complex, I try to reason with my son. He grunts in response.
But I continue to worry about the impression all this must be making on his tender, impressionable mind. What if he grows up loathing his own people, beliefs and values?
Come to think of it, what impact those disturbingly violent, sick video games must be making on the impressionable young minds and those of adults in America, Europe and around the world?
The lampooning and demonisation of Arabs and Muslims in popular Western culture is as old as Hollywood, in fact even older.
The late Arab American philosopher and a passionate champion of the Palestinian cause, Edward Said, God bless his soul, wrote and spoke extensively on the issue, including in his 1978 groundbreaking classic, Orientalism. Said argued that the Western approach to the Orient or Muslim East recreates Islamic society as a "timeless, exotic entity."
Through fine arts, literature and culture, the Orientalists presented the "Middle East" in a naïve and historicising way, divorcing it from 'modernity' and perpetually locking it away in a time warp. Subtly patronised, the Arab-Muslim world is projected as a fairyland only peopled by bedouins, djinns, belly dancers, ruthless and crazy sheikhs and their large harems. So even though it happens to be the birthplace of three great religions and cradle of human civilisation, the Middle East is painted as a place without history, culture and untouched by modernity. As Bushra Karaman notes, "the Arab world 22 countries and hundreds of years of history is reduced to a few simplistic images."
However, the distortion of the Middle Eastern reality has undergone a watershed change since 9/11. Gone is the subtlety of the spin. In fact, in our terrorised times, it is an open but undeclared war on the world of Islam.
And this is done not just by way of Hollywood daily television twaddle like Kiefer Sutherland-starrer 24 but with a constant blitz of murderous video games.
Video games like Prince of Persia, Arabian Nights, Al-Qadim and The Magic of Scheherazade tapped into the reservoir of these familiar and hackneyed stereotypes about the Arabs and Muslims.
There's a whole industry out there churning out video games and movies that have turned the hunting of Arabs and Muslims into a bloody, spectator sport.
Over the past few years, there has been a deluge of these so-called games that encourage and egg you, or the gamer, to go fight the "terrorists" and save the world by taking out one Arab/Muslim after another. It's real, good fun!
The Middle East is the virtual battleground in most of these games such as War in the Gulf, Delta Force, Conflict: Desert Storm, Full Spectrum Warrior, Kuma/War and Conflict: Global Terror.
The player controls American or broad Western coalition forces, while enemy units are controlled by the computer. The enemy is depicted by a set of schematised attributes referring to Arabs or Muslims head cover, loose clothes and dark skin etc.
The narrative links the characters to "international terrorism and/or Islamist extremism. Delta Force: Land Warrior, for instance, creates a scenario in which Arabs from several countries have banded into a terrorist organisation to destroy the US and the West (Al-Qaeda?). Full Spectrum Warrior is set in the fictional, Muslim country of 'Tazikhstan' that is a "haven for terrorists and extremists" (Pakistan?).
Not surprisingly, the US and coalition soldiers are a paragon of virtue and humanised and individualised with names to help the gamer identify with the 'heroes', the enemy is a faceless, collectivised monster, often described as 'various terrorist groups', the insurgents and the militants'. While the coalition soldiers are fighting to promote grand goals like "freedom, justice and democracy", the enemy is alien and not a 'real' soldier, removing the legitimacy of or justification for their actions. No attempt is made to understand or explore the motives of the 'terrorists'.
While in some cases, this "war for hearts and minds" is subtle and clever, it's often crude and unabashedly open in inviting you to eliminate the 'enemy'.
For instance, Muslim Massacre, that came out in 2008 to mark the September 11 anniversary, is a simple game of modern religious genocide. It's a top-down, shoot 'em up sport whose aim is to kill all 'Muslim terrorists' that appear on the screen sporting suicide vests.
Right now a new game, Medal of Honor, is right now in the news for all the wrong reasons. Its release this week has run into a huge storm of protests in the US. Not because of its violent content but for the fact that the gamers are allowed to assume the avatar of the Taliban and fight the US soldiers in the imagined killing fields of Afghanistan.
Some families of US soldiers have gone on the 'fair and balanced' Fox News to complain that it's "disrespectful" to allow players to play as the 'enemy' and "shoot back" at US soldiers.
Karen Meredith, mother of a fallen soldier, protested: "War is not a game, period. Families who are burying their children are going to be seeing this and playing this game. I just don't see that a video game based on a current war makes any sense at all."
It doesn't indeed. What about the other side though? Is it okay to play with the sentiments of the Afghan, Iraqi, Palestinian and Pakistani families? Aren't they burying their children on a daily basis?
And we are not talking of just one game. Most American children and adults and others around the world, have grown up watching such violent and dangerous games that not just induce hatred and bigotry but poison and scar young, impressionable minds forever.
Is it any wonder then there is so much hatred, suspicion and plain ignorance about the Arabs and Muslims in the West? Is it any wonder then that the yawning chasm between Islam and the West continues to grow by the day to dangerous proportions?
For their part, Arab and Muslim countries have paid little attention to this dangerous and constant war on their image and perception, let alone doing something to check this shocking distortion of reality or present their side of the story.
For this is not just about setting records straight or presenting the Arab and Muslim reality before the world.
Our very identity and future are threatened.
In today's world of 24/7 news television and saturation by all sorts of media coverage, wars happen more in the mind, rather than the real battlefield. Most decisions and actions of the movers and shakers of this world are informed, motivated and shaped by perception, rather than reality.
For while facts are sacred, as C P Scott would argue, perception is also, if not equally, important. And we Muslims have neglected this front for far too long to our peril. This is a war of ideas that we just can't afford to lose.
I. THE NEWS
IMPROVING PRIMARY EDUCATION
While in Pushtoon Garhi to distribute supplies for school children, the Khushaal Pakistan team came across a novel model for primary education: low-profit private schools. The schools charged Rs100/student/month and were the first to recover post-floods in the education sector. There were many such schools within a 10 km radius. What was more surprising was to find out that these schools constantly performed better than public schools and even public school teachers preferred to send their children to these private schools rather than the ones they taught in.
The Learning and Educational Achievements in Punjab Schools (LEAPS) study conducted by Professor Asim I Khawaja of Harvard University and others found out that private schools had a 33 per cent student share in the education sector in the 112 villages in Punjab. The study also found out that private schools outperformed public schools considerably children of third grade in government schools take between 1.5-2.5 years to catch up with the private school children of the same grade. In addition, private schools were considerably cheaper every Rs 1 spent on private schooling was equivalent to Rs 3 spent by public schools for the same correct test result. Student and parent satisfaction with schools and teaching was significantly higher for private schools than public schools.
What causes private schools to be more efficient and effective? The strength of this model is due to the profit-motive which forces the schools to cut costs and produce better results. Parents already have the option to send their children to free public schools the minute the private schools lose their comparative advantage of better grades or become unaffordable. The cost-cutting comes primarily through lower salaries for teachers with less credentials than those hired by the government. The schools may also use buildings part-time only, which helps reduce rental costs.
A recent study conducted by the the Pakistan Education Task Force(PETF) sheds more light on why the schools perform better and are favoured by parents. Though the study only focused on schools in five different poor areas in Karachi, inferences can still be made about the situation in other parts of the country. The study found that teacher absenteeism is half of that in public schools. Private schools generally taught in both English and Urdu, maintained lower drop-out rates and had better facilities. 98 per cent of private schools had toilets, 96 per cent had drinking water, 95 per cent had electricity and 88 per cent had boundary walls. The statistics for government schools for the above measures are: 70 per cent, 61 per cent, 49 per cent, and 66 per cent respectively.
There is still a worrying drop-out rate in private schools; only 30 per cent of grade 1 enrollments stay on to matriculate. The PETF study suggests that this is because of a lack of interest (48 per cent) or the inability to afford (32 per cent). The study also found out that non-tuition costs tend to be as high as, and in some cases higher than, the tuition cost. The average cost for admission and administrative fees, uniforms and shoes, stationery and textbooks and other associated expenses amounts to about Rs 2668/year/student.
While the low-profit private school model seems to be performing better than public schools it would be rather juvenile to assume that private schools can provide for the 42 million children who are currently out of school. The model can only run in certain conditions. Firstly, the low costs can be maintained only if there is an ample availability of suitable teachers who have at least matriculated. Secondly, a major cost-cutter is the use of commercial or residential buildings by private schools. The PETF study found that only 11 per cent of the private schools had dedicated buildings. Thirdly, costs will remain down and a higher quality will come up only if there are, or potentially can be, enough competitors in the market. This effectively restricts the application of the model to slums and villages where there is a possibility of joint-use of infrastructure as well as potential and demand for multiple schools. Remote cities or small villages cannot have good private schools and these are probably the reasons why many don't have them by now.
In an ideal world the education needs of a country would be adequately provided by the public sector. However no country has been able to address its education needs without the help of the private sector. For a country of ghost schools and a 2 per cent budget allocation for education, creative solutions are badly needed. It is unlikely that budget allocation will increase in the near future, especially after the catastrophic floods, leaving limited funds for construction of new schools. I understand the government cannot hire people under a minimum-wage. In addition the inefficiencies of the public system, past-track record of failures to deliver on promises (e.g. people are unlikely to rent their property to the government), and erosion of funds through corruption suggest that the government will be unlikely to implement this model on its own.
The best solution in this context, in my humble opinion, is the creation of private-public partnerships which will incorporate the strengths of the low-profit private schools' model while reaching a scale that is impossible for the private sector to reach alone. I suggest the government role be the provision of the necessary subsidy to private school students to reduce drop-outs, facilitation with the registration and documentation of all institutions, and quality control of such schools. This is in addition to the public-school network that the government operates and should continue to do so especially in areas inaccessible to the private sector. The PETF study agrees with the subsidy solution.
The LEAPS report suggests a similar role of the government as a provider of information on the quality of every school private and public in the country, as an actor who corrects imbalances rising from unequal access to schools, and as an innovator who comes up with out-of-the-box solutions. It also suggests the usefulness of private-public partnerships.
Private-public partnerships cannot be and should not be seen as a panacea for all education problems. Efforts to improve the public-school system should go on regardless. This partnership should be seen as a complimentary effort to improve education facilities. However given that sufficient resources will not be apportioned to education any time soon, such novel cost-cutting and innovative solutions may at least help mitigate the primary education crisis, at least in some towns and villages. This will help the country achieve its Millennium Development Goals.
The writer is a graduate from Harvard University and one of the founding
members of Khushaal Pakistan. Email: samad@post. harvard.edu
I. THE NEWS
DEMOCRACY AND DICTATORSHIP
DR A Q KHAN
Our rulers still firmly believe that "the worst democracy is better than the best dictatorship." But ground realities are different. There have been examples in recent times where dictators have changed the fates of their nations. Have we forgotten how Chairman Mao, Stalin and Park Chung Hee changed the fates of China, Russia and South Korea, respectively, within the span of a generation?
In our country, democratic governments have been no better than dictatorial ones, and things have never been as bad as they are today. The whole nation is cursing the corruption and incapability of the rulers. As far as the "patriotic generals" are concerned, they are truly patriotic only as long as they are at the borders, in their units and in their garrisons. Once they get a taste of luxurious Islamabad living, they change like chameleons. Like civilian leaders, they soon surround themselves with sycophants and come under the illusion that they are know-alls. One should not forget that, in a democracy, governance is according to the wishes of the people, while a dictator rules according to his whims.
Allama Iqbal's opinion in the following verse about democracy is thought-provoking:
Gurez az tarz-e jamhuri ghulam-e pukhta-kare shav
Ke az maghz-e do-sad khar fikr-e insani na mi aayadIn another verse, the Allama has defined democracy thus:
Is raaz ko ik mard-e farangi ney kia faash
Harchand ke daana isey khola nahin kertey
Jamhuriat ik tarz-e hukumat hai key jis main
Bandon ko ginah karte hain, tola nahin kertey.
A true democratic system has been practiced and has flourished in Western countries for centuries and its success lies in the literacy rate and well-being of the public. In most Asian and Islamic countries, dictatorship has deep roots and the dictators are devoid of any feeling for the sufferings of the public.
In Pakistan we see family dictatorships in one way or another. These dictatorships continue generation after generation, with no regard for the sweating and suffering public. Members of the same family do not necessarily have similar leadership qualities. If there is no democracy within parties, how can they have a feeling for it when governing? In short, both the individual politicians and the parties must be sincere, honest and just if good governance is to prevail in Pakistan.
Never before have we seen such nasty and insulting words being hurled at the rulers, and the public believe these accusations to be correct. Everybody knows about the past of our president and the "titles" given to him by the foreign media. Painful and annoying is the attitude of Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani. While claiming to be a descendant of Hazrat Ghaus-ul-Azam Abdul Qadir Gilani, he does not hesitate to tell lies with a poker face in defence of his "boss," President Asif Ali Zardari. The prime minister's international standing appears to be so low that not once was he mentioned in Bob Woodward's latest book Obama's Wars.
A few days ago, the former head of the department of international relations of Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad used such scathing words against him that one wonders at his lack of reaction or resolve to be his own man. Mr Gilani's boast that he is a descendant of Hazrat Ghaus-ul-Azam and a Syed is as good as the claim of Gen (r) Musharraf that he is a Syed, and that he has superiority because of his having entered the Kaaba and Roza-e-Mubarak. The less said about the latter the better. The army and the public are well aware of his past.
For almost a year now we have heard so much about the NRO and the 18th Amendment that many are fed up with the topic. Every time, the Supreme Court issues an ultimatum and then backs down, creating serious reservations in the minds of the public about its writ and sincerity. I am far from being a legal expert, but I am familiar with judgments meted out by Qazis in past times. One has only to read about the lives of Hazrat Umar-e-Farooq (RA), Hazrat Umar Bin Abdul Aziz (RA), caliphs Haroon al-Rashid and Mamoon al-Rashid, and Hajjaj bin Yusuf, Abdul Malik, Jalaluddin Khwarizm Shah, Mahmud Ghaznavi and Alauddin Khilji, etc., to see just how quickly justice was dispensed during their rule. All cases were decided in a single hearing and nobody complained of injustice. Contrary to today's large benches, a single Qazi dispensed justice. Nobody could raise a finger at the integrity of the Qazi. Before the Qazi, Khalifa Hazrat Umar-e-Farooq (RA) and a slave were equal, as were Mahmud and Ayaz. The Qazis commanded respect due the judgments they passed, not by statements and/or threats. At the present time we have examples of quick, non-discriminatory justice in Saudi Arabia and China.
Unfortunately, in Pakistan ordinary cases drag on for years, even decades, and the poor don't get justice, leading to serious doubts about the integrity of the judiciary. We saw how the case of Gen Musharraf's eligibility was allowed to drag on and on, enabling him to strike and paralyse the judiciary. That case, according to many legal experts, should have been decided in one hearing of not more than about one hour.
Many such cases are now dragging on and the government, recognising the reluctance and hesitation on the part of the judiciary, is making a mockery of the courts, while ministers and party leaders pass sarcastic comments on the neutrality of the judiciary. This is a bad omen for the future.
It is disconcerting how frequently government officers ignore orders to present themselves in court or to submit documents. Instead of taking immediate, strict action being takens, a new date is simply given. In my own case, eight or nine officers of the Islamabad administration had stopped me by force from attending the high school graduation ceremony of my granddaughter. This was in clear violation of a court judgement. The court issued contempt of court notices to all of them. But to-date, nearly one-and-a-half year later, no hearing has taken place. The mischief still continues with many friends and/or associates being stopped from seeing me, despite prior intimation to the authorities concerned and my express permission.
It is painful to see that in this country of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the orders of an SHO and/or a patwari seem to carry more weight than those of judges. The public fears there will be some sort of compromise between the government and the judiciary on all important government-related cases. Gone are the golden days when we had Justices Hamoodur Rahman, M R Kayani, Shabbir, Samdani, Dorab Patel, A R Cornelius and Abrar Hasan Khan to look after our interests.
The handing down of a correct judgment or the telling of the truth in an apologetic manner is an even bigger sin than a wrong decision. The Holy Quran and Ahadith contain commands on just and non-discriminatory justice. Unfortunately, these edicts are not acted upon.
I. THE NEWS
A MIRACLE OF HOPE
There was no doubt about it. The whole episode of the Chilean miners had an aura of being a blessed event from start to finish. It had a magical quality to it that is the stuff of fairy tales.
While the world remained glued to television sets and viewers sat in apprehension and expectation, we shared the global emotion that unites us as the human species. The joy of celebrating the value of human life and the utter delight in witnessing sympathy born of fellow feeling was evident in every single person there.
Thirty-three miners who were first thought of as dead and lost are now safe and with their families, through a struggle that was won through devotion and utter collective and individual commitment.
There is something about watching miracles happening and witnessing long-awaited emotional reunions. As a viewer, you tend to share these feelings and you seem to connect to all the joy that resonates around. For a minute you can actually feel the joy radiating in the area.
After the mining accident on Aug 5, President Sebastian Pinera cut short his visit to Colombia. He sacked the head of Sernageomin, the national mining regulator, and vowed to improve safety. After that, he remained true to his word by ordering the authorities to give topmost priority to the miners' rescue. Mining Minister Laurence Golborne was a constant presence throughout the crisis. Every man and woman was committed to this rescue effort and delivered more than was expected of the individuals involved.
There was one common factor to this whole episode. Every miner who emerged from the mines was bursting not only with a sense of gratitude but also pride for his country. The Chilean national anthem and the popular chant "Chi-chi-chi, Le-le-le" ("Chile" in the Spanish pronunciation), resounded at the rescue site, Camp Esperanza ("hope"). Rescue workers, officials and the affected miners and their families, all burst into a chorus of patriotism.
Another striking scene was the orderly and smooth way in which the rescue process was executed. It had the precision of a military kind.
One of the miners, Ariel Ticona, who became a father while he was trapped in the mine, named his baby daughter Esperanza, and how apt that name is. Hope is the single factor that kept all those trapped underground, and all those waiting above the surface for the emergence of their loved ones. Indeed, it is hope that keeps your heart beating. Indeed, it is hope that gets you through the direst situation.
But I think the most important scenes we witnessed were the utter jubilation we saw on the faces of the Chilean president and his wife. Here you could immediately sense the utter unadulterated concern that this leader had for the well-being of his people. Every time a miner came to the surface and was relieved of his prolonged misery, emotions ran riot.
The people of Chile have earned new respect in the eyes of the world. What we saw was a nation that had immense patience, unwavering resolve and the deepest sense of pride in the task they were accomplishing. But there is one thing I must admit to. I also felt a wave of envy that swept through me when I witnessed this display of compassion. Inwardly, I yearned for our nation to have leaders such as these. I craved for leaders who showed they were totally committed to the people they had chosen to rule; A government that made meticulous preparations and organised a mammoth task, which was carried out with such precision. And the engineers and technical people who carried out their duty as if their own lives depended on it. The overwhelming sense of devotion that secured the release of all 33 miners trapped under the ground.
It is these things that make great leaders, great people and, in turn, great nations.
Globally speaking, humans need to connect. And on Oct 13, we did so. Through the joy and happiness and the tears of others.
The writer is a poet and works for a TV channel. E-mail:email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.
In most countries, the appointment of the head of the national anti-corruption agency would hardly be headline-grabbing news. But Pakistan is no ordinary country. It boasts a president who could easily have rub shoulders with known world-class kleptocrats like Marcos, Mobutu and Suharto. A rich land-owning prime minister who has not been paying any income tax for years and who thinks nothing of obtaining loan write-offs to enrich oneself; a cabinet with ministers either convicted or accused of massive corruption; and a parliament that is teeming with loan-defaulters, tax-cheats, holders of fake degrees, electricity thieves and other looters of public money.
No wonder the government's policies have been geared first and foremost to protecting Zardari and his cronies from the judicial process for alleged graft. The entire state machinery is being abused for this purpose. Not even a sinking economy, devastating floods and rampant terrorism have deflected the government from this overriding priority. Zardari 's appointment of Deedar, a PPP-loyalist who at one time defended Zardari in corruption cases, as NAB chairman is clearly yet another attempt to save himself from accountability.
Babar Awan, another lawyer once hired by Zardari to defend him in the courts who now doubles as the country's law minister, has tried to justify Deedar's appointment on two main grounds: first, that even Nawaz Sharif had expressed confidence in Deedar's fairness in the hijacking case; and second that the appointment has been made in accordance with the NAB Ordinance. Both these grounds are invalid.
Even if Deedar's integrity had not been questioned, which is not the case, hardly any one can deny that there are serious doubts about his neutrality. There can be no better evidence of his unsuitability for the post than the fact that even Gilani tried to dissociate himself from Deedar's appointment when he first spoke to the media on this subject, saying in effect that it was Zardari's decision, not his own.
In defending this decision, Babar has cited Section 6 (2) (i) of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999, which says that the NAB chairman is to be appointed by the president in consultation with the Leader of the House. But Deedar's appointment cannot even be said to meet the stipulations of this section, which lays down two conditions. Firstly, there must be consultation with the leader of the opposition. Secondly, this consultation must be held by the president.
Whether the first condition was fulfilled is at least highly debatable in light of the decision of the Supreme Court in the Al-Jihad Trust case (1996) that the process of consultation must be meaningful and consensus-oriented. True, that case concerned appointments to the superior judiciary and this ruling is not directly applicable to other posts. Therefore, the question whether this interpretation is also valid for the appointment of the NAB chairman will have to be decided eventually by the courts. But unless and until they rule otherwise, it is the only yardstick to go by. In seeking to justify Deedar's appointment, one of our brightest journalists, the editor of a Lahore weekly, has said that under the definition given in Article 260 of the constitution, "consultation" is not binding on the president. He would have had a point, were it not for the fact that this particular definition was deleted under the Eighteenth Amendment.
The second condition under Section 6 (2) (i) - that the consultation should be held by the president - was clearly not met. It was Gilani not Zardari who contacted Nisar. Gilani claims to have done so on behalf of Zardari. But just as the president cannot delegate to anyone else the power to give assent to a bill passed by parliament, he cannot delegate the function of consultation.
Zardari's failure to contact Nisar directly is however an omission that can be easily rectified. The more important point is that there must be genuine consultation. In addition, the Supreme Court has pointed to its judgements in the NRO case (December 2009) and the Asfandyar Wali case (2001), holding that the post of NAB chairman has to be filled in consultation with the chief justice.
More worrying than the failure of the government to have proper consultations before appointing the NAB chairman are statements by Gilani, our newly empowered prime minister, suggesting that even after the Eighteenth Amendment, the president continues to retain extensive discretionary powers on which he is not required to seek or follow the prime minister's advice. This is an issue much bigger than that of the NAB chairman's appointment because it raises questions about the true nature of our parliamentary system.
Gilani expressed this bizarre view in several remarks he has made in the past few days. First, he said on October 9 that after Nisar had twice rejected the names proposed by Zardari for the NAB chairman, Zardari had used his "constitutional and discretionary power" to appoint Deedar. Two days later, on October 11, Gilani said that Zardari had made the appointment in accordance with law and in exercise of his "discretionary" powers. Then on October 12 Gilani said that the appointment of NAB chairman was an administrative matter, not a constitutional issue. The president was not therefore bound to consult anyone before taking a decision.
In his remarks on October 11, Gilani also disclosed that it was none other than Raza Rabbani, the principal author of the Eighteenth Amendment which was supposed to herald a truly parliamentary system of government, who had advised him that the president was bound by the prime minister's advice only when exercising his constitutional functions. Since the appointment of the NAB chairman was not a "constitutional function", Gilani said, the president was free to exercise his discretion in making the appointment.
This distinction between the constitutional functions of the president and other so-called administrative matters is completely new and unprecedented. It finds no place in the constitution and has been invented by Rabbani and the government only to justify Deedar's appointment and to enhance Zardari's powers. Article 48 (1) is quite clear. It states categorically that in the exercise of his functions, the president shall act "on and in accordance with the advice of the cabinet or the prime minister." There is nothing in this Article or elsewhere in the constitution to warrant the interpretation that this requirement is only applicable to the president's constitutional functions or that he has discretionary powers when exercising his other functions. This is also evident from paragraph (2) of this Article which states that the president can act in his discretion only when he is empowered by the constitution to do so. This power cannot therefore be given to him under an ordinary law.
It follows from Article 48 that if there is any law, such as the NAB Ordinance, which gives any powers to the president beyond those given by the constitution, he can only exercise them in conformity with the constitution, i.e. "on and in accordance with the advice of the cabinet or the prime minister." Deedar's appointment, which according to Gilani was made by Zardari without the prime minister's advice in exercise of the president's discretionary powers, is therefore not only illegal but also unconstitutional.
Gilani also made another goof-up when he said on October 9 that he had not given any advice to Zardari on the appointment of the NAB chairman, because if he had, it would have become binding on Zardari. Gilani's remarks betray not only an attempt to run away from his responsibilities as prime minister but also that he has not read (or understood) the Eighteenth Amendment. If he had, he would have known that under the amended Article 48, with very few exceptions the president can now only exercise his powers "on" the advice of the prime minister or the cabinet. The word "on" existed under the original 1973 constitution but was deleted by Zia. Its restoration under the Eighteenth Amendment means that the president cannot act on his own but only when advised by the prime minister or the cabinet.
LET THE JUDICIARY DELIVER IN PEACE
LAWYERS across the country once again showed their solidarity with the judiciary by holding meetings and rallies on Saturday in the wake of developments in the Capital on Thursday and Friday. At the same time seventeen honourable Judges of the Supreme Court held informal deliberations on the future course of action to be adopted by the Apex Court in important cases before it.
Though it was a holiday but the learned judges thought it appropriate to discuss the happenings of the last 48 hours and have an indepth exchange of views on legal and constitutional issues after the Government failed to give in writing that it has no intention to withdraw the March 2009 order restoring the judiciary. It is sad that the judges have been forced to have a get together like the one on Saturday which is reflective of the fact that the Judiciary is forced to deliberate on issues which could otherwise be dealt on normal working days. Judiciary is an important pillar of the State, empowered by the Constitution and the laws of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It has the sole responsibility of interpreting the Constitution and laws, administering justice and providing other related services. In fulfillment of this mandate, the Judiciary under the authority of the Chief Justice has a duty to assert its independence. It must show commitment to the true and proper interpretation of the Constitution and laws. It also has to ensure the speedy and unfettered administration of Justice brought to the door step of the people and the provision of other services for all manner of persons, groups and institutions without fear or favour and maintain a high standard of efficiency in the delivery of justice. In the current dispensation of our democracy, we have to adhere to simple democratic procedures in achieving our individual political objectives. There is no denying the fact that the judiciary can deliver only if it is in peace, gets due respect and an enabling atmosphere with supportive stance by all institutions and the words of wisdom of the honourable judges and between the line messages are understood and followed. We would warn that the trend to keep the judiciary on the hook would be extremely detrimental for the nascent democratic process. It is about time that we purge ourselves of the dictatorial, lawless and undemocratic tendencies. We would therefore urge all stake holders, particularly the Executive that instead of causing inconveniences, it should create an enabling atmosphere so that the purpose for the establishment of a free and independent judiciary is achieved.
WORLD URGES PAK FOR ECONOMIC REFORMS
NOW it is almost a routine that we get sermons from our international partners that Pakistan must carry out reforms for economic stabilization. The Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP) at a meeting in Brussels on Friday again made it clear that while Pakistan can expect assistance to build a strong and prosperous society for its people yet it must show progress on domestic economic reforms.
The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a day before the FoDP meeting stressed that Pakistan's wealthy people needed to follow in the footsteps of the international community in helping the ravaged nation's long term recovery. Similar advises are being extended by the World Bank, IMF and the Asian Development Bank. It means that bad governance in Pakistan is eroding the system, wealthy people and organisations are not paying due taxes and resultantly the country is forced to go out with a begging bowl to meet its emergency needs like dealing with the disaster of unprecedented floods. We may be excused to point out that these are symptoms of a failed state. Pakistan's plea for billions of dollars to recover from the floods has sparked pressure to reform economy by increasing tax to GDP ratio. Despite years of international pressure, Pakistan has one of the lowest effective tax rates in the world, equal to about 9 percent of the value of the country's economy. The elite class comprised of land owners, and the rising urban upper and middle classes, is loath to give up any of its wealth, some of which is illegally accumulated. According to experts broadening of the tax base, better enforcement of current tax policies and the elimination of key exemptions can produce an effective tax rate of 15 percent generating nearly $10 billion in additional revenue per year. That money, if generated, would go a long way toward repairing devastation from the floods, which affected more than 20 million people and damaged and destroyed over 1.8 million homes. In our view the country, being a strategically located nuclear power, has all the resources to meet its needs but only a strong will to tax the untaxed is needed. This is a time that the leadership must tell the people that we have to all pitch in and mobilize our own resources. Why should the international community come to our rescue if we are not doing our part of the bargain?
KILLINGS BY US SOLDIERS FOR FUN
a US soldier who killed three Afghan civilians for fun is to face a full court martial, yet it was just one incident which came to light and highlighted by the media otherwise killings of Afghan civilians under the pretext of so-called militants go on unabated.
While one is sceptical about the outcome of the court martial because in the past too perpetrators of similar crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq where the militants were humiliated, tortured and degraded were either set free on grounds of lack of evidence or given minimum punishments just to show to the world that every one is accountable for his acts. Psychologically speaking the soldier who killed three Afghans for fun on different occasions is an imperialistic mindset and thinking of the US war machine. Being members of the army of the sole super power, the soldiers and commanders are not worried that they would be made to stand trial in the International Court of Justice for committing war crimes and violating human rights. On the other hand the Americans as a society are large hearted and they assimilate people from other continents who migrate to the United States and the society is blossoming as a civilized one. Therefore it is incumbent upon the officers on Court Martial to analyze the genesis why these incidents are taking place as they paint an ugly picture of the US society and at the same time award exemplary punishment to the guilty as hapless Afghans are also human beings.
TIME TO WAKE-UP
M ASHRAF MIRZA
Sharif brothers have threatened to resort to long marches if the federal government doesn't mend its ways of governance. Nawas Sharif has demanded of President Zardari to apologize to the nation for illegally siphoning off the national wealth and to bring back the money stashed in Swiss and other foreign banks. Shahbaz Sharif has demanded that the orders of Syed Deedar Shah's appointment as NAB chairman be rescinded otherwise his party will be compelled to opt for another long march. All this sounds good but the question is whether the PML(N) leaders are really concerned about the inevitable in the grave conditions prevailing in the country. Are they also serious about the national obligations as the major Opposition party in the Parliament? In view the past record of the PML(N), the threats, however, do not appear to be different from its conduct of 'friendly opposition'. It's just rhetoric and is more a friendly fire than a serious move to confront the federal government. And it's apparently because of its fear of retaliation in the form of destabilization of the Punjab government.
Irrespective of Nawaz Sharif's justification of his support to PPP following February 2008 general elections in the name of democracy and his silent and persistent swallowing of the broken promises by Asif Zardari for the illogical logic to avoid democratic government's destabilization, he certainly cannot escape responsibility for the political, administrative and economic mess that the nation finds itself in today. By silently watching the unabated political and economic deterioration that the nation is drifting into, the PML(N) has, in fact, proven itself to be equal partner with the PPP in the country's abysmal scenario. Its leadership's inaction in the backdrop of frequent bragging and rhetoric has, in fact, emboldened Mr Zardari to act whimsically and arbitrarily on vital national issues in utter disregard to the national interests. The truth is that Nawaz Sharif had committed the first and major blunder after the elections when he let the PPP have federal and provincial governments in three provinces along with presidency and governors despite being a minority party in Parliament. He even failed to object to Mr Zardari's assumption of office of the President despite being PPP's co-chairman. What the country is enduring today in the form of political chaos, economic turmoil, bad governance, corruption, government-judiciary confrontation, distorted international image etc., are the obvious consequence of this blunder coupled with its disgusting conduct of 'friendly opposition' in the National Assembly. It's ironic that the PML(N) continues to cling to the Charter of Democracy as a 'divine scripture', while Mr Zardari has been trampling it underfoot day in and day out. The truth is that the nation is fed up with PML(N)'s passive role in the national politics. True that Pakistan's political affairs are generally Washington guided and oriented, yet the nation expects a leader of his stature to rise to save the country from breakdown.
The PPP government has raised the charges of utilities including electricity and gas from 50 to 80 per cent over the past two years, cost of living has soared up unprecedentedly, billions of rupees are being siphoned off by Toms, Dicks and Harrys in the government, PPP leadership is treading the path of confrontation with the Supreme Court whose important decisions especially the one pertaining to the NRO and reopening of Swiss money laundering cases against Mr Zardari are not being implemented, a state of total insecurity prevails all around and life has become miserable for the people, but the PML(N) is silently watching the ugly spectacle of national degeneration. It has failed to build desired pressure to make the government mend its ways in the supreme national interests.
There is a strong perception in the country that Nawaz Sharif has stubbornly and calculatedly blocked every effort for a patch up with PML(Q), which is the third largest party in the National Assembly to let Mr Zardari comfortably plunder the country. A patch up between the two parties would conveniently turn tables on PPP. Why does he want to keep Shahbaz Sharif confined to Punjab province perpetually? It ought to be mindful that the strategy to let the PPP complete its constitutional term in the hope that it will lose its popularity due to its failings on multifarious counts and the PML(N) will once again win two thirds majority in the National Assembly in the next elections is fraught with many a pitfall for the country. What will be left of Pakistan if it was allowed to be devoured by the parasites for two and half years more? It's time for Mr Nawaz Sharif to ponder and ponder seriously and prudently.
The country is heading towards political, economic and security disaster. Its very existence is at stake due to corruption, bad governance and terrorism as well as owing to the US and NATO activities in and around Pakistan. A historic responsibility, therefore, devolves on PML(N) to rise to the occasion and play its due role in keeping with the constitutional and democratic norms to turn the situation around.
True that Gen Kayani is mindful of the significance of democracy for Pakistan, but the political leadership owes it to the nation to ensure that an inevitable situation is not created. Understandably, the PML(N) leadership is opposed to military dictatorship on more than one count. This makes all the more necessary for it to act with a sense of urgency and discreetness to avoid disruption of democracy before it's too late. It's time to wake up. Let Pakistan not the politics be the epicenter of their activity.
TALKS WITH TALIBAN: THE ONLY OPTION
DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN
In order to end the prolonged Afghan war, secret talks have been going on between Karazai Government and Taliban, while making use of formal and informal channels. Recently, President Karazai himself confirmed these contacts. He said in an interview that, "We have been talking to the Taliban as countryman to countryman, and not as a regular official contact with the Taliban with a fixed address but rather unofficial personal contacts have been going on for quite some time." Following this confirmation by Afghan President, U.S official and ISAF commanders have also started recognizing the fact that the occupation forces in Afghanistan are indeed backing these contacts by becoming an indirect party to the talks.
Indeed, solution of the Afghan crises lies in the political negotiations between Kabul and various ethnic/ factional groups of Afghanistan. Pakistan has long been emphasizing on the need for talks and political settlement of Afghan problem. Following the unfortunate incident of 9/11, Pakistan had emphasized United States to go for a political solution and carry out negotiations with the Taliban. Even after taking over the Kabul, Pakistan stressed the need that peace in that country cannot be obtained until integration of Taliban into the mainstream. Former President, General Pervaiz Musharraf (R) in an interview with the ABC news, has recently revealed this fact. The former President was categorical that, "After defeating the Taliban, after 9-11, I always was of the view we need to go in for deals."
Contrary to Pakistani realistic proposals, then US President and US military command did not agree to that. They perhaps thought that, the initial victory of capturing the capital Kabul would fetch long-term victories for them in other parts of Afghanistan too. This did not happen and with the more alienation of Taliban, other militant groups and warlords, there were more failures for the US and NATO forces.
Unfortunately, Pakistani advice could not change the perception of the US Government as well as the hawks surrounding the Afghan President Mr. Hamid Karazai. Rather they were at odd with Pakistan and more often accused Pakistan for supporting the Afghan Taliban. Now after nine years of aimless fighting with the Taliban, the US and NATO forces have started realizing that they are in fact failing in Afghanistan, therefore, need a face saving for a subsequent withdrawal from Afghanistan to avoid a Vietnam like situation. Pakistan feels that though this realization is late, yet, it is a positive step for bringing stability and normalization in Afghanistan.
Indeed, the bottom line of the Pakistani policy makers is that, "we cannot wish for Afghanistan, which we do not wish for Pakistan." It is beyond doubt that Pakistan wants peace, stability, and economic prosperity for its country, therefore, we have similar desires for Afghanistan too. Indeed, a peaceful Afghanistan would guarantee the peace and tranquillity in Pakistan. Pakistan is unequivocally supporting the current peace talks between Taliban and Karazai led Kabul regime. Rather these talks started on the sincere recommendations of Pakistan. Pakistani Army Chief in his couple of meetings with Afghan President has emphasized him to negotiate with the Taliban. Perhaps, these meetings led a change of heart in Kabul and now the process has gained a momentum.
More recently, Afghan President, Hamid Karazai has nominated Mr. Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan President to head the Peace Council, established following the nation-wide conference in June 2010. The council is mandated to broker a peace between various Afghan factions. Mr. Rabbani, as the head of 68-members council has expressed the hope that, "I hope we are able to take major steps in bringing peace and fulfil our duties with tireless effort and help form God." Pakistan feels that this is a major move for concentrating the various factions of Afghan under a single banner. Under the former Pakistani interior minister, Mr Aftab Sherpao has participated in the meeting of the Peace Council in Kabul.
In the recent months, US military Commander David Plateaus and Afghan administration openly accepted that, they are not winning the war and that, today, Taliban are stronger than ever before during these ten years of war between the occupation forces and the Taliban. Afghan President feels that by 2014, the Afghan National Army would be in position to take over the responsibility of Afghanistan's security.
On the other hand, President Obama has already given a schedule of withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, starting from July 2011. The schedule, otherwise uncertain is also contentious between White House and the Pentagon is being deliberated further.
Irrespective of the scheduled withdrawal of ISAF from Afghan soil or otherwise, the most important factor, immediately needed in that country is assurance of the peace, safety, and security of its people in all respects. Mullah Muhammad Omer, the former head of the Taliban Government, though backed the peace efforts but insists on the withdrawal of ISAF before a deal could be brokered. Engineer Gulbadin Hikmatyar is also in the loop, but allergic to the foreign forces presence in Afghanistan. It has been learnt that, a high-level contact have been established between the powerful Taliban faction under Haqqani Network and the Karazai Government.
In the so far talks between Taliban with the Karazai Government, the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghan soil is presented as the pre-requisite by the former. Karazai Government feels that sudden withdrawal of ISAF may push the Afghanistan towards another chaos, the country experienced, following the hasty withdrawal of former Soviet forces and forces sponsoring the Afghan Jihad, especially US. Therefore, Karazai would like a gradual withdrawal of the ISAF and rapid integration of Taliban into the main stream. In this way, there would be restoration of peace and stability in that country with writ of Government establishing all over the Afghan territory.
Taliban, on the other hand fear that with foreign forces still present in that country, the process of integration would compel them to surround their power centres, which otherwise could be captured either by foreign forces or forces loyal to Northern Alliance. It is worth mentioning that in-spite of having absolute power, ISAF and Northern Alliance forces failed to captured the areas held by Taliban during last ten years. Taliban feel that once lost, regaining of these power centres would be an uphill task. Indeed, with this state of uncertainty prevailing among the rank and file of Taliban, they feel that the strategy of reconciliation may not prove as an ensnare for them.
Under such an environment of improbability, Karazai needs to be more assuring and forthcoming for the promotion of this cause of national integration. On one hand, he should assure Taliban for the fairness of the process and on the other hand, get sureties from the occupying forces to follow the schedule of withdrawing from Afghanistan as given by President Obama in December 2009. The geographically contiguous countries of the region must also be taken on board for playing the constructive role during the transitional process. The geographically non-contiguous countries like India must be stopped from promoting its own interests as well as interests of a particular faction in that country.
The Government and the people of Pakistan feel that there should be peace and stability in Afghanistan. The peace in the neighbourhood; part of the same socio-political, socio-economic and common religion would ensure peace and stability of Pakistan.
The writer is an IR analyst.
INDIAN ASPIRATION FOR PERMANENT UNSC SEAT
MAMOONA ALI KAZMI
Recently, India has been selected as non-veto holding member of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for a two-year term. India got 187 votes in the 192 member UN general Assembly. She is considering her success as non-permanent member of UNSC a precursor to gain a permanent seat at the UN. India believes that Security Council cannot be properly representative unless India is not included in it. India argues that in size and military might it is at par with the permanent members of the Security Council. However, India's arguments for getting a permanent seat in Security Council are not strong. There are various aspects, which are to be analyzed in order to judge whether India deserves a permanent seat in Security Council or not.
Firstly, a stable and strong economy is necessary for a country to become a permanent member of Security Council. As far as India is concerned, its economy is weak and fragile as compared to the permanent members of the Security Council. Nearly 50 percent of the world's hungry live in India. Around 35 percent of India's population, which is 350 million, is considered food-insecure, consuming less than 80 percent of minimum energy requirements. Nutritional and health indicators are extremely low. Nearly nine out of ten pregnant women aged between 15 and 49 years suffer malnutrition and anemia. More than half of the children under five are moderately or severely malnourished, or suffer from stunting. Close to two million children below the age of five die in India every year. Despite significant economic progress, one quarter of India's population earn less than the government-specified poverty threshold of 12 rupees per day.
The number of people living in slums in India has doubled in the past two decades. According to Indian Government, the population of people living in slums has exceeded the entire population of Britain. Child labour is on peak in India. Because of unjust terms of work, more than 55 million children in India work as slaves. Most of the Indians are deprived of basic necessities of life such as drinking water, health care etc. The WHO, UNAIDS and Indian Council of Medical Research assert that there are 5.1 million AID victims in India. Due to this deadly disease more than a million Indian children under the age of 15 have lost one or both parents to Aids. Un-employment rate is much high in India. The educated youth when unable to get jobs engage in subversive activities. Due to unemployment and poverty many minor girls under the age of 13 are engaged in forced prostitution. In its annual report, Transparency International has ranked India 84th in a list of 180 surveyed for level of corruption. So, a country with such a shaky economic position, poor social indicators and high level of corruption does not deserve to be a permanent member of Security Council.
Just like poverty and hunger figures for India, the situation of democracy, secularism, peace and stability is also very bleak. According to the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) in Washington the death toll from terrorist attacks in India between January 2004 and March 2007 was 3,674 second only to that in Iraq. In terms of the challenges to the writ of the State, India is host to some of the fierce conflicts in the world. Since 1989 more than 80,000 people have died in insurgencies in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states. About 40 percent of Indian territory is outside the control of Indian authority. Naxal insurgency has become the biggest security threat to India, yet there is no denial to the fact that India itself is the creator of this monster. There is a direct correlation between extremism and poverty, in practice, but the Indian government is treating the Naxal problem as a law and order problem. India, which is propagating itself to be a true democracy with rich civil rights, is ignoring that its 200 million Dalits or untouchables still suffer from deplorable caste discrimination and are deprived of even basic rights such as right to life and security. According to Human Rights Education Movement of India, every hour, two Dalits are assaulted, three Dalit Women raped, two Dalits murdered and two Dalit houses burned, yet only one percent of those who commit crimes against Dalits are ever convicted.
The failure of secularism in India is apparent from its treatment to the minorities. India is intolerable of religious minorities. Indian government has tried several times to purge Sikh identity and merge them into Hinduism. For this purpose it used all techniques including killing their young generation, destroying their history and distorting their culture. Apart from Sikhs, Muslims always remained the victim of Hindu hatred. This hatred led the extremist Hindus to inflict harm to Muslim's belongings. On 6 December 1992, Hindu extremists demolished 16th century old Babri mosque. More than 2000 people were killed in the ensuing riots following the demolition. Similarly, in 2002 something as horrendous as the Gujarat riots, killing more than 2,500 Muslims, having no parallel in India's modern history occurred. Christian minorities are also not safe in India. Hindu groups are running an anti Christian campaign for several years. Since August 2008, supporters of the Hindu militant groups Vishwa Hinud Parishad and Bajrang Dal in Orissa have attacked Christians, many of them tribal minorities or Dalits. According to the Roman Catholic Church in India, 300 Christian villages have been destroyed in Orissa, 4,400 houses burnt, 50,000 people made homeless and 59 Christians killed and 18,000 injured.
Thirdly, India has a terrible record of complying with the UN resolutions. India, which itself took the Kashmir issue to the United Nations is not complying with any of the UN resolutions regarding Kashmir issue. On 21st April 1948 Security Council passed a resolution, which called for a fair and free plebiscite in Kashmir. Indian Prime Minister Nehru promised to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir, according to the wishes of Kashmiri people, at more than one place. The promise however, was never fulfilled. India thwarted all attempts by the UN to hold a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir. It forcibly occupied Kashmir by her security forces that remained engaged in committing human rights violation for more than 63 years. It is amazing that a country which has been breaching the UN resolutions seeks a permanent seat in the Security Council.
Fourthly, the main reason for India's endeavor to become a permanent member of the Security Council is to promote its hegemonic desires and her sphere of influence. India is continuously interfering into the internal affirms of neighbouring countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. She is supporting the Chakma refugees of Bangladesh in order to create unrest in that country. Her expansionist design intends to merge the whole Bangladesh into Indian Territory. For this purpose India is supporting many separatist groups and fifth columnists for covert and overt operations. India also provided moral and material support to LTTE, a dissident group of Sri Lanka, in order to destabilize it and to realize the dream of Nehru who in a conference in 1945 declared, "Ceylon is culturally, socially and linguistically as much a part of India as any province presumably as an autonomous unit of Indian Federation". India also harbored the Nepali Maoists by providing them shelter, training and arms. Similarly, India is encouraging militancy and separatism in Baluchistan, and Khyber Puktoonkhwa. Such interference is strictly prohibited under UN charter. So, in this respect India is violating the UN charter and International Law. A country with expansionist designs does not have a right to become a permanent member of Security Council since it is a security hazard to the neighbouring countries. The above mentioned facts about India speak volumes of feeble and unjust economic, social and human rights record. She is a gross violator of UN charter and International law. A country with most of the population living below the poverty line and spending lavishly on arms and ammunition does not qualify even to be a non-permanent member of the Security Council not to speak of permanent membership.
KASHMIR'S AUTUMN OF DISCONTENT
The Chaopraya Dialoguenamed after the turbid, arterial river that runs through the heart of Bangkoktook an uncharted bend when Indian participants acknowledged that the current trouble in India-administered Kashmir is not because of Pakistan. The unofficial "Track Two" dialogue among opinion leaders and policymakers in India and Pakistan took place in late August and was organized by Pakistan's Jinnah Institute, which I lead, and India's Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. After official talks came to a halt, we initiated the unofficial dialogue to explore opportunities that the two states fear to publically approach. At best, informal dialogues help construct confidence building measures and shape public discourse. At worst, such interactions between foreign policy mandarins, academics, and media mavens from both countries narrow space for conflict through their embrace of "rational nationalism." But this latest dialogue was unique because opinion leaders from India took the unprecedented step of conceding that the strife in Srinagarwith its moving scenes of young men armed only with stones facing off Indian soldiers, and housewives wailing and protesting against Indian ruleis purely indigenous. As talks progressed, a consensus emerged: India has fueled this crisis by ghettoizing Kashmir as a non-political problem. Instead of attempting to defuse the uprising through political means, New Delhi deployed yet more troops into an already heavily militarized area. Repeated failures to read the pulse of India-administered Kashmir have led to widespread unrest, including previously peaceful areas of Jammu. Long seen merely as the heart of the dispute between Islamabad and New Delhi, some in India are beginning to see that Kashmir now has its own politics, its own identity, and its own genuine aspirations.
Just as there can be no military solution to the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, a solution to New Delhi's troubles in India-administered Kashmir based on force is equally unviable. But does the Congress-led government understand this? Does it want to revisit its failing bargain with Indian Kashmir's political leadership? The new, post-jihadist generation has not been radicalized by religion, but by incessant violations of rights and dignity, by the absence of justice, and by the deprivation of amenities and opportunities that are available to Indians. These lost tribes living on the margins of Jawaharlal Nehru's narrative of plurality have become the unarmed soldiers of the intifada against Indian rule.
Yet, as demands for change and freedomazaadiring louder than they ever have in India-administered Kashmir, New Delhi is bringing more intellectual poverty than creativity to the table. In fact, part of the problem is the size of the table and who gets a seat on it. Between holding conferences of political parties that leave out key players from the affected Valley and increasing the military heat against protesters, New Delhi is losing the capital and capacity to address the legitimate concerns of the Kashmiri people. Instead of addressing these by reaching out to grassroots Kashmiri leaders, India chooses to shy away from real reform by refusing to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and moving toward demilitarization. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's inaction, in spite of his shock at the virulence and depth of Kashmiri emotion against New Delhi, has embittered the Kashmiris who once sought accommodation with India. This policy drift has, in fact, revived the flagging political stock of separatists like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who now holds more cards than he did when he was being patronized by Islamabad.
This time Indian officials bunkered in New Delhi cannot blame the nonviolent mass protests in Kashmir, which have claimed at least 100 lives since June, on jihadist thought or on Pakistan. Kashmiris are weary of the curfews, the disappearances, the political disengagement, and the state oppression. They are asking for that most fundamental of liberties: the right to govern themselves. For its part, at this sensitive moment, Pakistan should do nothing more than press for diplomatic and political support for the aspirations of the Kashmiri people at forums that have failed them in the past. Kashmiris are coming in loud and clear. They want respect. They want peace. They want azaadi.
The writer is president Jinnah Institute, an Islamabad based Think Tank and a PPP MNA.
OBAMA'S FOREIGN POLICY
Before the 2008 election, two former national security advisers recommended that the next president craft a foreign policy strategy to align the United States with a "global political awakening" that was transforming the world. Two years later, as Tom Donilon prepares to take the national security adviser post, these illustrious predecessors, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, are making essentially the same recommendation. They argue that US foreign policy needs a clearer strategic framework that can take advantage of President Obama's ability to speak to the world a dialogue that has unfortunately been handicapped in Obama's first 21 months.
Brzezinski, who served under Democratic President Jimmy Carter, urged Donilon to stretch beyond his past experience as a manager of the foreign policy process: "I don't believe the central role of the national security adviser is to make the trains run on time. It's much more a matter of deciding what the schedule ought to be, and where the trains should be heading." The adviser's job is to "flesh out" ideas into a strategy, argued Brzezinski, and then "supervise, coordinate and enforce" its implementation.
Both Scowcroft and Brzezinski credited Gen. Jim Jones, who recently announced his departure, for trying to create an effective policy structure. Brzezinski said that Jones's authority had been limited by the "intrusion of top domestic political advisers," which had reduced his effectiveness. "Obama has suffered in foreign policy by having to focus so much on the economic crisis," said Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser for Republican presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford.
I asked Scowcroft and Brzezinski to sit down for a brief reprise of the discussions we had in 2008 that resulted in a book called "America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy." What struck me this time was that the bipartisan agenda they framed two years ago was still mostly valid. Although Obama nominally supported most elements of this strategy, he hasn't been able to advance it very far. The former advisers agreed that Obama's biggest strategic success had been his engagement of Russia. "The 'Russia reset' worked well," said Scowcroft. "It caught the essence of what the problem was." The two men cited the Israel-Palestinian peace process as Obama's most important unfinished business. Both have argued often that the president should have started by outlining the basic parameters for a Palestinian state, as they have emerged in negotiations over the past 40 years.
Brzezinski contended that it was "pathetic" to see the United States making big concessions to Israel this month ones that should be reserved for a final "grand bargain" simply to add another 60 days to a temporary freeze on Israeli settlements. If the peace process should collapse, Scowcroft argued that it still would make sense for Obama to specify the terms of a US peace plan.
What perplexed both men was the disconnect between Obama's strategic vision and what he has been able to achieve. "He makes dramatic presidential speeches," said