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Friday, November 12, 2010

EDITORIAL 12.11.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month november  12, edition 000676, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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




























































The surprise offer made by AIADMK leader and former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu J Jayalalithaa to prop up the UPA Government if the DMK were to leave the alliance for sacking Union Telecom Minister A Raja is, actually, not so surprising. Ms Jayalalithaa believes that she can use the emerging crisis in the UPA over possible action against Mr Raja in view of the Comptroller and Auditor-General submitting a stinging report on why he cannot be absolved of any role in the controversial auction of 2G spectrum to her advantage. This is on two counts. First, in Tamil Nadu an alliance with the Congress can give her the additional votes she is desperately looking for to pip the DMK at the post in next summer's Assembly election. As of now, there is no indication that the DMK will suffer electoral reverses in the Assembly poll on account of anti-incumbency after being in power for a decade in the State. Moreover, its alliance with other caste-based parties remains intact, thus allowing it crucial leverage in Tamil Nadu's identity-based electoral calculus. In such a scenario, the best the AIADMK can hope for is an alliance with the Congress to expand its vote base and cross the hump on election day. Second, it's always advantageous for a regional party in a bipolar State to have a national party as its electoral partner: It's an image-booster as well as a protective umbrella of sorts in New Delhi. It's not for nothing that the DMK has aligned with both the BJP and the Congress, depending on which party is in power in New Delhi, and made the maximum use of it. Yet another example of this is the TDP's alliance with the BJP; the BJD may have come to power on its own in last year's Assembly election after breaking its alliance with the BJP, but the Naveen Patnaik Government is beginning to feel the heat in the absence of a national level partner. To that extent, Ms Jayalalithaa cannot be faulted for holding out what she considers a helping hand to the Congress.

Yet, perhaps she has acted too soon and made an offer that is premature. By letting it be known that the Congress can depend on the AIADMK to bail it out in the eventuality of Mr M Karunanidhi exiting the UPA, she has strengthened the Congress's position vis-à-vis the DMK immensely. The Congress now is comfortably placed even without responding positively to Ms Jayalalithaa's offer. On the other hand, the DMK, which till now has been aggressive in defending Mr Raja and insisting that he can be neither dropped from the Union Cabinet nor shifted out of the Telecom Ministry, will suitably amend its stance and become more amenable to a 'face-saving' move that will serve the purpose of the Congress to be seen as acting against the tainted Minister while not suffering any major embarrassment in Tamil Nadu among its core supporters. It is entirely possible that the Congress and the DMK will now agree to a change in portfolios and then together brazen it out if the Opposition remains implacable and insists on Mr Raja being sacked from the Government. If this were to happen, it would be a win-win situation for the Congress as well as the DMK while the AIADMK would be left looking rather silly. Ms Jayalalithaa is too astute a politician not to have foreseen the consequences of her offer, nor is she known for saying anything without weighing its significance. What, then, prompted her to say what she did? 







The verdict of the Dharamsala Additional District and Sessions Judge Purinder Vaidya sentencing the four young men accused of ragging Aman Kachru to death to four years in jail is likely to fetch little or no solace to the parents who lost their 19-year-old son to a boorish tradition, but it is going to set a precedent of sorts to punish criminals who rag students in colleges. It is a shame and a pity that the four men who committed the grossly inhuman act without betraying even the slightest trace of human emotion should have got away with four years in jail; they deserved far worse as society can do without such malcontent. Aman Kachru, a first-year MBBS student at Dr Rajendra Prasad Tanda Medical College, was beaten to death by these four senior students in the campus hostel. That they were drunk is not a mitigating factor, nor is their age of any consequence. Aman Kachru is not the first casualty of the evil called ragging, nor will he be the last unless authority comes down with an iron fist on criminals who indulge in this brutality. Ragging is a perverse way of 'welcoming' students to colleges and universities; it brings to the fore the latent criminality of individuals who, later in their lives, will move on to bigger crimes. There is nothing 'traditional' about it, nor does it deserve any sanction, irrespective of the nature of ragging.

While there has been increasing concern over ragging and various promises have been made to curb, if not eradicate, this perversity, little has been done to deter brutes masquerading as students. For instance, the principal of the college where Aman Kachru had enrolled did nothing to save the student's life even after receiving several complaints. Suspending him or slapping him with compulsory retirement a day before his official retirement on October 31 cannot be termed as enough action taken against him. Similarly, the University Grants Commission's failure to strictly implement anti-ragging rules is extremely unfortunate. Recently, the Supreme Court-appointed Raghavan Committee has pulled up the UGC, the Medical Council of India and other regulatory councils in higher education for their lackadaisical attitude towards eradicating ragging from campuses. It has accused the UGC and other councils of not doing enough to implement the new anti-ragging rules and regulations in letter and spirit. And rightly so as a study released in July shows that despite the Supreme Court's various directives, 88 incidents of ragging were reported, of which 12 proved to be fatal. The time has come for parents to take a firm stand and force both the Union Government and State Governments to makes campuses safe and secure. That would go a long way in preventing further tragedies. 









Not a great leap forward — remembering Chairman Mao Tse-tung's disaster of that name and the great leap backward — but a defining stride in an unfolding India-US partnership: President Barack Obama's words, setting out his vision for a union of Indian and American hearts and minds in the making of the 21st century, are rooted in the infinite possibilities of science, technology, industry, education and the soft power of cultures underpinned by the shared values of civil societies sharing a comfort zone in thought and speech.

The sinews of India-US relations are surely strengthened by the measure of Indian investment in the United States. The Financial Times quoted India as saying, "This investment from India is creating, saving or supporting tens of thousands of jobs in the US. India's defence acquisitions and major purchases in the energy and aviation sectors ... are contributing in a substantive manner to the US economy." There is more to come with agreements in the pipeline on joint space launches, a global diseases centre and an education summit next year. It takes two to tango.

The disappointments of the past had bred in me a stubborn agnosticism: I recalled Mr Obama's first foreign visit, to China as it happens, and the humiliation he endured at the hands of his hosts. He was permitted to address an audience of hand-picked Chinese students, his words on democracy and human rights blacked out by the local media. Worse, he invited China to share diplomatic and strategic space in South Asia in a bid to secure a durable India-Pakistan peace. The 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai and the resultant carnage were forgotten, Indian sensitivities were ignored, and memories of the lavish banquet for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the White House a few months before were reduced to a discarded prop on a cob-webbed stage. Hadn't Lord Palmerston, that hard headed Victorian statesman, reminded his peers that Britain had neither eternal friends nor enemies, only eternal interests, as profound an aphorism as any to have surmounted time? The velvet glove of honeyed words and gestures has rarely concealed the cloven hoof of real politik.

One was put in mind of this during an absorbing discussion on Al Jazeera television, between Congress MP Manish Tewari and Chinese American author and columnist Gordon Chang, on Mr Obama's India visit and its deeper consequences for the Asia Pacific region, most of all for China. Mr Tewari presented the Indian case with silken elision, his words exquisitely calibrated if a trifle self-abnegating (he might recall for future reference VP Menon's admonition that India should cast aside fear of its shadow); Mr Chang, in contrast, was more than willing to land a forthright punch in Beijing's direction. He has, after all, nailed his colours to the mast of his title The Coming Collapse of China, a robust challenge to the timid spirits of received wisdom, messengers all, prophesying the Middle Kingdom's coming as superpower.

Mr Chang told the truth as it is: Beijing's minatory demarches to its neighbours, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam (which he reminded viewers had been invaded by China in 1979); he spoke of threats to carve India into 30 pieces emanating in the official Chinese media, and Beijing's paranoia at the emerging constellation of regional powers and the United States, seeking counsel on defence and security: Mr Chang lobbed a grenade into the exchanges by referring to Beijing's transfer of nuclear weapon technology to Pakistan and the testing of a nuclear bomb on behalf of its Islamabad client.

Mr Obama's visit, against this dark canvas, persuades me to eschew my earlier scepticism, to embrace the new Indo-American relationship with something akin to the enthusiasm of the true believer. That said, the relationship can never be a zero sum game. India's ties with Russia, for instance, are uniquely time-tested, but it helps that the US has pressed the reset button with Moscow, that Washington has withdrawn its missiles from Poland and Czechoslovakia, that Nato and Russia are in co-operative rather than adversarial mode, that American and Russian special forces recently made a hugely successful joint strike at Afghan drug lords and their heroin plants on the Pakistan border, that Russia, at Nato's request, will be training elements of the Afghan military and that Russian territory is being used as a route to reinforce Nato forces in Afghanistan, as passes through Pakistan are now a death trap. 

Russia and Israel have signed a defence accord. Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, on a visit to Moscow, gave thanks to the valour and skill of the Red Army for the defeat of Nazi Germany, without which the Jewish state would never have been born. As both countries are bonded with India, the circle has been squared. India should be in the sunlit uplands in the not too distant future.

As usual Pakistan was writ large in editorial comment. The most discerning observation on the India-Pakistan relationship came from American scholar Stephen Cohen: Peering into his crystal ball, he predicted war and conflict between the two for the next hundred years, a brutal dismissal of the Obama and British media bromides. Time to get real, gentlemen! 








US President Barack Obama came, he spoke and he conquered. At least that's what some of the biggest media houses would have you believe. Nothing could be more misleading for the Indian public. Here are the reasons why the trip was only of feel-good value, that too for dumb people.

Mr Obama had a clear cut mandate. And that mandate was to show Americans that he was taking back jobs for them. He took away business worth $10 billion and 50,000 jobs. These $10 billion could have been used in India to create 200 times more jobs, because for every job we create in America, we can roughly create about 200 jobs in rural India.

It's a classic game of begging that America is now seen playing in India and China. With India, it's about access to its markets and deals with the Government. And with China, it's about the revaluation of the Chinese currency to reduce their foreign debt and make Chinese products uncompetitive in American markets.

I would even say that it was indeed sad to see such a weak American President for the first time in history. An American President is expected to speak like a great statesman — whether he speaks to businessmen or to Parliament. He is expected to talk about America's role in global peacekeeping and poverty eradication, the latter more so since India has 65 per cent of its population below the globally defined poverty line of people earning less than $2 a day. It was a shame that his talks never touched upon any of it.

Second, he did speak of the need for Pakistan to bring the 26/11 criminals to justice. But that is purely lip service. He never spoke of access to David Coleman Headley. Just before coming to India, he doled out $2 billion military aid to Pakistan.

Talking about Pakistan supporting terrorism and yet giving it money to spread terrorism in India cannot go hand in hand. It's typical American doublespeak. He did not utter a word about stopping aid to Pakistan. He only used cleverly worded stuff about Pakistan to gain brownie points in India without giving away anything.

Third, Mr Obama did not utter a word about China and its role in supporting Pakistan or its illegal occupation of Indian land. But last year, he did speak about the need for China to be the guardian of South Asia.

Fourth, it was really nice of Mr Obama to be so appreciative of Mahatma Gandhi. But as Americans prepare for a war on Iran — less for security issues and more to revive their economy — I doubt if Gandhi is what he really believes in. Loving Gandhi and bombing countries for financial gains don't go hand in hand.

As a person, I am very sure that he appreciates Gandhi, but as a world leader, he does not display the same in his actions. Signing a memorandum allowing poor African countries to use children for war certainly doesn't speak greatly for a Gandhian.

Fifth, the big Obama announcement is supposed to have been about his support to India for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. It might be noted that what he said has been said in so many words by Mr George W Bush before him and Mr Bill Clinton before that.

It's a shame that as a nation we get so excited by such lip service. We deserve to be 
in the Security Council, and without us the Security Council is a sham. Mr Obama mentioning this is not a favour. And there is absolutely no reason to get excited about it.

Sixth, it's a sham that he believes — worse, Indians were made to believe this by the media — India is a growing economic superpower and America needs our market. Mr Obama had come here less for access to our market and more for the money that the Indian Government plans to spend on dual-use technology, nuclear and military programmes, etc. And he wanted those deals.

In essence, it is India's money that he is eyeing, and not the consumer market. There is no consumer market in India that he cares about in real terms. For that, he goes to China. That's where the consumer market lies. Compared to America's $18 trillion GDP for a fourth of India's population, India's $3 trillion GDP is of no meaning to America.

Finally, the big business opportunity for India: Outsourcing. Mr Obama did not say a single word about diluting his anti-outsourcing stance. Rather, he lobbied for more access to the Indian market — basically biotech, pharma, retail, etc. And as Indians, we did not say a word about our lack of access to America's agriculture products' market where we could make huge gains.

In a nutshell, one can conclude by saying that Mr Obama's visit was to get without giving; to talk about free markets while keeping American markets protected. That's typical American doublespeak.

The writer is a management guru and Editor, The Sunday Indian. 







The Government should stop despoiling Yamuna's environs

Mr Suresh Kalmadi being axed as Congress Parliamentary Party Secretary is seen as an eyewash by critics as he still continues to head the Indian Olympic Association and the Organising Committee of the Commonwealth Games. The Congress's attempt to distance itself from the most identifiable face of Games-related scams has failed to deflect attention from a misdemeanor of epic proportions: The Sheila Dixit-headed Delhi Government's unceasing encroachment of the Yamuna bed and floodplains in violation of all green laws and court directives. The location of the Games village, and now, a DTC bus depot, residential high rise and metro mall in this ecologically sensitive area has alarmed conservationists. Both DTC and Delhi Metro Rail Corporation come under the Delhi Government. Since Ms Dixit tried to ascribe credit for the successful staging of the Games to her Government, she and her colleagues must also take the blame for failing to protect the river precincts. Delhi Lieutenant-Governor Tejender Khanna cannot shrug off blame either.

The massive flooding in late September, that jeopardised the hosting of this sporting event, was a direct fallout of the suicidal policy of colonising the river's environs. As the Yamuna bed and floodplains are devoured by concrete structures, sanctioned by the city Government, the threat of the river over-flowing into nearby colonies is magnified. Low-lying areas and habitations were indeed submerged on the eve of the Games before the monsoon suddenly withdrew. Bunds around the Games village kept the water out. While the fate of the Khel Gaon seems unclear, the porous, sedimentary land upon which it has been built reduces its life span. This itself is a huge scandal, given the vast sum of money spent on it. Policy-makers could easily well have left a more enduring legacy by locating the Games village at a more sturdy site. 

But for reasons that need urgently to be probed, they chose not to do so, despite river experts pointing out the folly of their decision. It may be recalled that conservationists went to court and campaigned hard against the construction of the Games village in this fragile area. But while the High Court seemed to appreciate their concerns to some degree, the Supreme Court inexplicably disregarded them, allowing construction of the projects. Yet, a Delhi High Court directive of 2005 emphasised that the river precincts required protection from concrete encroachments. The approval for the site of Games housing and projects also ignored concerns of the Union Ministry for Environment and Forests, relating to the health of our rivers, especially Yamuna and Ganga; Yamuna Standing Committee; Delhi Urban Arts Commission; and Delhi Master Plan 2021 and Zonal Plan of Zone O (Yamuna river).

Rather than awakening to the monumental blunder of encroaching into the Yamuna environs further, policy-makers have back-tracked on their earlier assurance of dismantling the temporary DTC bus depot, set up for the Games, a week after the event. A portion of the riverbed was given to the DTC for parking 300 buses, meant for use by athletes and officials staying at the Khel Gaon. Mr Ranjan Mukherjee, OSD to the Lt Governor, replying to a query by Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan Convenor Manoj Mishra, in a missive, dated May 5, 2010, stated:

"It is to confirm that the bus parking facility opposite the IP Park will be a temporary arrangement for the DTC for the duration of the CWG 2010, and there is no plan for any permanent structures. The structures are supposed to be completely removed post Games."

But media reports suggest that the DTC, while referring to the said temporary facility as the largest bus depot in the world, plans to use it commercially for about 1,000 low floor buses. This despite the assurance given by the office of the Lt Governor, and the fact that the riverbed is least suited for such a purpose. Construction of the residential high rise and metro mall on the river bed has also incensed conservationists, who point out that this land originally belonged to the Uttar Pradesh irrigation department. While selling about 36.67 acres to the DMRC, the department stipulated that the land could be put to commercial or other use only after the DDA had changed its land use from green to whatever it was intended for. That apparently was not done. Moreover, it is shown for green use in Delhi Master Plan and Zonal Plan. Even if DMRC claims exemption from environmental clearance as a railway project, argue environmentalists, such exemption is not absolute.

But our myopic and irresponsible policy-makers seem deaf to their arguments in view of the continuing devastation of the Yamuna environs. 








US President Barack Obama came, he saw, but did he conquer? His visit cannot be called path-breaking as that of his predecessor, Mr George W Bush, or captivating as that of Mr Bill Clinton. But on the whole he did leave behind an impact. It was high in atmospherics and rhetoric. Although his visit began on a sombre note by paying homage to the victims of 26/11, the whole country was bewitched by his charm. Mr Obama's nuanced support for India's candidature for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council was the high point of his visit. 

Mr Obama was the fifth US President to visit India. Significantly, the US has made a broad strategic shift towards India over the past decade. It began during the second term of Mr Clinton but accelerated dramatically under Mr Bush. While Mr Clinton's visit deepened the ties Mr Bush's visit was a deal making one when the India-US nuclear deal was finalised. 

Mr Obama's three-day trip this week has taken the India-US ties to a different level even as the two neighbours, China and Pakistan, were watching closely. The very fact that he made it during his first term is in itself a positive diplomatic symbolism. 

Unlike his predecessors, Mr Obama did not come to India to distribute largesse. The relationship is seen as more of two powers, though unequal, wanting something from each other. India is one of the fastest growing economies and US sees it as an engine for its own economic revival.

There are many reasons for this change. The major reason is "it is economy stupid". India is growing at a rate of 8.5 per cent, its economy did not suffer despite the global recession, there is growing number of middle class who is attractive to a foreign investor, there is democracy, there is a stable Government and above all, there more prosperous rich Americans of Indian origin who are getting into prominent positions even in the Obama Administration. Above all, the US sees India as a power to counter the growing might of China. 

Mr Obama had come to India to seek Indian investment and concluded a whopping $10 billion business deal in Mumbai. He was frank when he said he could go back and tell them that India was not taking away the American jobs but had given 50,000 jobs. It was important for the US President battered by the humiliating mid term poll results. 

Second, the ties have grown beyond business and trade as Mr Obama himself acknowdledged that "India is not emerging but it has emerged". The result is that the power equation between the two had become less equal. Other countries have risen but India's rise is somewhat different. 

Third, the US needs a partner like India in Asia because of its strategic location. With the growing clout of China and the strained relationship between the US and China, befriending India to counter China is part of Obama Administration's strategy. Mr Obama's suggestion to "Look East" is significant. 

Fourth, as Mr Obama mentioned in his Parliament speech there is bi-partisan support in the US for India. Similarly, there is continuity in foreign policy as both parties — the Congress and the BJP — agree on a pro-US stand. 
Fifth, Mr Obama has been able to convince the Indian hawks that he is as committed as Mr Bush in strengthening the strategic partnership with India. 

On the whole there is more plus than the minus on the Mr Obama visit to India. The US got something and India got something. The Americans wanted three defence agreements but did not get it. Second, they were apprehensive of the provisions of the civil nuclear Bill but India has made it clear that it cannot be amended now. On business and trade there was forward movements. 

New Delhi had a fairly long wish list including outsourcing, HI B visas, aid to Pakistan, bigger role in Afghanistan but not much had been achieved. In his nuanced speech to Parliament Mr Obama raised hopes by talking of welcoming India "in the years ahead" as a permanent member of a reformed UN Security Council. However his endorsement was conditional on India conducting itself "responsibly". Significantly, he did not promise that the US would push for India to get the seat soon nor there is any hope of the US pushing for UN reforms. 

On Pakistan, New Delhi expected Mr Obama to use tough language. India could not have ignored the massive largesse that the Obama Administration announced for Pakistan. However, Mr Obama talked mostly about encouraging dialogue between the two neighbours but made it clear that he "continues to insist to Pakistan's leaders that the terrorists behind the Mumbai attack should be brought to justice". He also made the right noises about Kashmir and Afghanistan. 

Now that the visit is over, it is for both New Delhi and Washington to take it further. Mr Obama visit makes it clear that the ties between the two could become deeper and broader. More than business deals it is the strategic ties, which are important. The American companies are keen to get business worth 45 billion that India may spend on its defence purchases and India wants high-tech. On the trade side, it can grow much further from the present $50 billion Indian investment in the US. As the economic relationship deepens investment from India contributes to the growth and vibrancy of the American economy. Over the last decade, investment capital from India grew at an annualised rate of 53 per cent reaching an estimated $4.4 billion in 2009. The US on the other hand, would want a bigger role in Asia, bigger business from Indian defence market, access to the Indian market, and a prominent role in the Indian civilian nuclear market. A momentum has been created and it is for India to seize the opportunity for a bigger role. 







It's a startling fact: The workers building Israel's West Bank settlements have generally been Palestinians — even though Palestinians widely consider these communities a toxic threat to their dream of an independent state. Now comes a twist: Earlier this year, the Palestinian Government passed a law forbidding work in the settlements — and its determination to stamp out the phenomenon is being sorely tested in recent weeks, as a settlement building boomlet has emerged in the West Bank.

With the Palestinian economy facing double-digit unemployment, the issue has sparked some soul-searching and debate. "It is immoral for us — totally immoral for us — to work in settlements," said Economics Minister Hassan Abu Libdeh, an enthusiastic supporter of the law which was passed in April and bans Palestinians from such work. Mr Abu Libdeh said the ban — which imposes fines of up to $14,000 and jail time of up to five years for violators — will eventually be enforced. But for now, he said, the Government is holding off while it searches for ways to help workers switch jobs. About 21,000 Palestinians currently work in settlements, either in construction, agriculture or industry. Their ability to return to the settlements in recent years — after a period of violence from 2000-2005 which saw the two peoples separated almost completely — has aided the mini-revival of the Palestinian economy. But it is also helping the settlements prosper and expand. Some 3,00,000 Israelis live in more than 120 settlements across the West Bank — almost a threefold increase over two decades of peace negotiations. Another 1,80,000 live in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians hope to make their capital.

In the settlement of Ariel this week, Palestinian labourers readily admitted they were torn between politics and paycheques. Dozens of them mixed cement, laid bricks and arranged red tiles on the roofs of 48 new apartments at a dusty construction site in what is already a town boasting 19,000 residents. Most work eight-hour shifts five days a week and earn between $35 and $55 per day — which is somewhat less than what Israeli workers would cost, but more than what is generally available to Palestinians in the West Bank. There, similar jobs usually pay $25 per day in the Palestinian cities and $15 in rural areas. Sitting inside a yellow tractor, Abed Abdel-Karim, 41, said he'd been working in settlements for 15 years. He said they threaten the future Palestinian state but said he has no other way to earn a living.

He acknowledged it was a problem, "but it's not my job to fix it ... I'm married and have kids. I don't want to be a millionaire. I just want to pay my bills." Palestinians have opposed the settlements since Israel captured east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from Jordan in the 1967 war. Supported by most of the world community, they consider the West Bank occupied territory and say moving Israeli civilians there violates international law. Israel calls it disputed territory and says it can build there until a peace deal is reached. The settlements emerged as a hugely contentious issue in the US-led peace talks launched in September. It was Israel's decision to end a 10-month moratorium on new construction that caused the talks to grind to a halt just weeks later.

Now there are hundreds of new units in various stages of construction — and Palestinians, just as before, are at the heart of the enterprise, despite the ban. Palestinian Labour Minister Ahmed Majdalani said that one way the Government is trying to combat the phenomenon is the creation of an investment fund aimed at supporting large-scale construction projects and other Palestinian employers.

The fund, announced in May, is hoping to tap international donors, but so far the only moneys have come from the Palestinian Authority itself — $5 million, or a tenth of the $50 million target. Even if the fund takes off, Palestinian companies will likely continue to pay less than Israeli ones. But Mr Majdalani said he's counting on national pride and fear of punishment to entice workers away from settlements. "We don't consider the difference in pay a justification for anyone to go work in the settlements — not nationalistically, politically or morally," he said.

A key part of the possible solution for Palestinian workers is the planned city of Rawabi, which will be built from the ground up for 40,000 residents; but this massive 

project remains on hold because Israel has not given builders permission for a key access. At the construction site in Ariel, 32-year-old Abdel-Jaber Bouzia was doubtful any of these schemes would work. He did not fear the legal ban on working in the settlements and could hardly imagine their removal. "Maybe after a million years," he said, shoveling sand into a rumbling cement mixer. "Or on Judgement Day". What do the settlers say? Settler spokeswoman Aliza Herbst noted that some settlements themselves ban Arab labour, sometimes due to security concerns, but it remains attractively cheap and abundant.

She said she supports the Palestinian Authority's efforts because she would prefer employers were freed of the financial temptation and hired Jews instead. "I hope they succeed," she said. 








If India's expenditure target for infrastructure is big at a trillion dollars over five years, it needs to be. Consider that, by a McKinsey estimate, we must pour $2.2 trillion into urban infrastructure alone by 2030, in view of the growing population crush in cities. Consider also that our massive infrastructure deficit trims GDP growth yearly by two percentage points. India can hardly hope to match China's scorching growth rate unless it emulates its neighbour's demonstrated commitment to building world-class facilities. 

In theory, fast-growing India's mammoth capacity-building requirements should attract parkable funds. In reality, lenders are wary about our slow-moving core sector. So, it's good news that we may get to see greater US investment, be it to boost urban amenities or clean energy transmission. India and the US have agreed in principle to a $10 billion infrastructure debt fund for projects via public-private partnerships. The idea, floated by US and Indian CEOs, enthuses US treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, who feels it can lead to regulatory reform to broaden and deepen India's capital market. We can only hope he's right, since an earlier proposal to build a corpus with help from banks, insurance firms, pension funds, foreign funds, etc, didn't take off. 

Today, while lethargic public sector entities undertake most projects, funding needs are beyond government's sole ability to meet. Some investor-friendly measures have been promoted, like a 'takeout financing' scheme by which banks can sell part of their loans to the state-owned India Infrastructure Finance Co Ltd. There's also been movement on bank guarantees for infrastructure bonds, with adequate safeguards. But, with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee warning of a sizeable gap in infrastructure funding under the 12th five-year Plan, what's needed most is an invigorated corporate bond market. Without a healthy debt capital market, pension and insurance funds can't provide the much needed long-term financing to long-gestation schemes that banks, with shorter-term deposits, are constrained to. Besides, foreign insurance firms and pension funds need entry into the corporate debt market. 

Speaking on behalf of American firms, US commerce secretary Gary Locke has justifiably wanted friendlier FDI rules and more transparency in award of contracts. India needs to promote transactional efficiency and pare scope for corruption, while radically improving its record of project implementation. Else, investors' risk-aversion will remain courtesy the sector's association with red tape, shoddy planning, tardiness and cost overshoots. Surely India needs better PR than, say, the still-gridlocked case of the Navi Mumbai airport project has provided. Finally, land-dependent works - roads, highways, airports - won't attract serious investor interest unless we definitively settle land acquisition issues. So long as politically instigated protest can hobble development, big-ticket investment will stay away.







Let the judgment handed down by a fast-track court against those who did Aman Kachroo to death be a turning point in the battle against ragging, just as the Jessica Lall case was against murders carried out by the politically well-connected. Nineteen-year-old Aman was ragged to death by his medical college seniors in March last year. He was repeatedly targeted and had made several complaints to the college authorities. 

Despite this no action was taken to put an end to the monstrosity. The Supreme Court-ordered Raghavan Committee report clearly instructs college authorities to register an FIR whenever an incident of ragging is reported. No such guideline was followed in Aman's case. It was systemic failure born out of the lackadaisical attitude of the authorities that led to the death of an innocent student. We hope that the quick conviction and sentencing of Aman's killers will send out the right signal to colleges across the country. 

There is no denying that a lot more needs to be done if we are to stamp out ragging completely from our campuses. There needs to be a change in the attitude of university administrators to recognise ragging for what it really is - demonstration of power through humiliation of the helpless. In this regard, the suggestion to link University Grants Commission funds to colleges' compliance with anti-ragging measures is a good idea. 

Aman's father, Raj Kachroo, who has been at the forefront of the anti-ragging campaign, has suggested the creation of a website to monitor and quickly respond to incidents of ragging. This too deserves consideration. Our colleges are meant to be institutes of learning, not breeding grounds for sadism.








Manpreet Badal resigned as finance minister of Punjab last month. He told the public through television and print media that he was not prepared to remain the custodian of economic policies that might have led to the bankruptcy of Punjab and the dilution of its 'izzat'. He said that the state had accumulated a debt burden of Rs 71,000 crore because of, among other things, populist gestures like free power and free water. And that this level of debt was difficult to service and it threatened the state's future growth prospects. 

I am but an interested bystander in the merry-go-round of Indian politics and i certainly do not have the relationship to delve deep into the personal calculations that motivated Badal to resign. But as a generic issue, his decision has caused me to reflect - might this become a test case for evaluating the continuing relevance of the conventional criteria for political success? I ask this question because of the almost unique context surrounding Badal's decision. 

The conventional belief is that family and organised funding are essential prerequisites for electoral success; that populist politics and economic statesmanship make for uneasy bedfellows; and that when economic push comes to political shove, the statesman almost always finds himself on the floor. Badal's resignation and his decision to sever political ties from his family and the Akali Dal - the political party that the Badals have dominated for decades - fly ostensibly in the face of this belief. Furthermore, his reported decision not to align with the other mainstream political parties suggests that he believes the drivers of political success in the future will be different from those in the past and that he can build a political base without the advantage of family and the financial and institutional support provided by party organisations. It suggests that he believes there is a political 'invisible' hand that can guide 'good economics' to share bed space with 'good politics'. 

Politicians, like businessmen, are motivated by self-interest. Businessmen compete to maximise profits; politicians look for votes and power. The dominant view among politicians today is that the electorate does not reward statesmanship; that voters will not accept short-term pain for the promise of long-term gain and that there would be an electoral backlash if existing entitlements were diluted or withdrawn. Hence, the politicians' reluctance to hike the price of petroleum products (LPG, kerosene, petrol, diesel) even though by not doing so, the government suffers a huge drain of resources. (In FY 2008-09, the haemorrhage was over Rs 1,00,000 crore; in FY 2010-11, it will average Rs 50,000 crore.) Hence the reluctance to crack down on power theft, rationalise subsidies, contemplate labour reform or take heed of the forewarning by McKinsey that if the current trends of distortion and inefficiency continue through the 11th and 12th Plan periods, the country will suffer an opportunity cost equivalent to 18 per cent of GDP in 2017. 

Badal has challenged this view. He has pegged his future political career on the belief that the Indian voter has a more nuanced attitude to politics and politicians; that the voter can differentiate between the chaff of ephemeral benefits (free power, free water, subsidised fuel) and the grain of substantive good (rural roads, drinking water, basic health, primary and secondary education). And that whilst he will happily accept handouts, he will not let that inure him to logic or common sense. 

I do not know enough to decide whether Badal has jumped the gun or whether he has hit the sweet spot. But i do know that history is replete with cases where conventional belief has been confounded by the power of a better idea. The Berlin Wall came down, for instance, not because the capitalist West defeated the communist Soviets militarily. It came down and stayed down because the people rejected the idea of communism and accepted in its place the alternative of democratic liberalism and the free market. They accepted the latter because they believed it offered a better idea. 

Public corruption in India has plumbed new depths. The CWG and the Adarsh housing scam are two conspicuous examples of a deep-rooted malaise. The clamour for a root and branch review of governance and accountability is growing in the press but the public mood is still not clear. Have they had enough of political corruption or are they prepared to let matters slide? Badal's resignation and purported next steps might offer an interesting insight into this question. It is not that he has introduced a radical new idea of governance. He claims he is simply offering a different idea - an idea that takes as its starting point the view that voters do not see their self-interest only through the myopic lens of the short term. 

The question is whether the public will regard this as a better idea; whether it will strike a chord with them. If it does and if his 'soft' power of conviction and principle succeeds in overcoming the conventional 'hard' paradigms of money, organisation and name, then Badal's resignation could have a transformational impact on not only the politics of Punjab but also possibly of India. 

The writer is chairman, Shell Group of Companies in India. Views expressed are personal.







Bonn-based German Research Foundation (DFG) and the University Grants Commission recently signed an MoU to fund joint projects between Indian and German doctoral research students via IRTG, the international research training group programme. DFG president Mathias Kleiner tellsNarayani Ganesh in New Delhi that high-end basic research today cannot be isolated, it requires international collaboration: 

What are the highlights of the MoU you signed recently with the UGC? 

We decided to jointly fund international research training groups between Indian and German doctoral students. The focus of our international programmes is on collaborative training and exchange visits of students from the two countries. 

The first IRTG programme in India, set up in 2008 between the University of Muenster and the University of Hyderabad, is in Molecular and Cellular Glyco-sciences. Hyderabad was drawing from basic funding that UGC was giving the University of Hyderabad. The second IRTG project beginning this month is between the Free University of Berlin and the University of Hyderabad in Functional Molecular Infection Epidemiology. With the MoU, the UGC will henceforth set aside specific funding for IRTG projects. The DFG earmarked seven million euros for the funding of these centres from the German side. Overall, the DFG has an annual budget of three billion euros to fund fundamental research in Germany. 

Is the DFG also funding innovative higher-risk projects? 

These are projects where the outcome might not be clear at the beginning; the research might not be in mainstream subjects. An outstanding student might have a bold idea with great potential but with little clarity to begin with. The DFG has earmarked up to 1.5 million euros for each such project over five years in Germany. Reinhart Koselleck Projects - named after the renowned historian who undertook high-risk ventures - seek to encourage original ideas with high risk but high potential. 

What do you expect in return from researchers? 

The funding for five years has no strings attached, with no restrictions except that the money would be used for the research project. There is a 15-20 per cent success rate so far. We have some exciting proposals. For instance, in humanities, one project is in social psychological research, on the tendency for violence in young males. The researcher is travelling to conflict zones in Africa, interviewing boy (child) soldiers, probing ways of verifying his thesis on the possibility of a genetic-based trend in males for violence. 

Firstly, the DFG sees the Koselleck Projects as lighthouses that could influence normal projects to take high risks. Secondly, if a Koselleck Project researcher requires international collaboration we could facilitate that with funding - it could even be part of the IRTG. The idea is to encourage interdisciplinary, inter-institutional, collaborative, international basic research for common benefit. 

Why the renewal of German interest in Indian scientists? 

Indian research is developing in areas where German researchers are also active, so there is future potential to work together more closely. The DFG and young German researchers are confident that India is a promising global hotspot for higher research in all sciences including humanities; therefore, we are setting up a 'German House' in New Delhi next year as a one-stop shop where under one roof we bring together German organisations and universities working on specific missions with common workshops and events, with scope of collaborative work. The German House could hold workshops that interlink research and science - on research methods, good practice, teamwork and reliable research.







Woof! I'm Brindle, the street dog who adopted Bunny and Jug some 12 years ago. I'm writing this column because Jug is in no condition to do it himself, all red-eyed and hollow-voiced and looking as if the end of the world is at hand. Bunny's no better, which surprises me because i always thought she was the more sensible of the two. 

The reason that both of them are carrying on like this is because, as they keep telling themselves, i've gone. Going is the most natural thing in the world, particularly if you're a dog who's lived for 13 years - which is the equivalent of 91 years in human terms. 

And what a great 13 years they were too. I came to look after Bunny and Jug when i was about 6 months old. Someone had hit me on the head and my scalp was bleeding. It's a violent world, the world of the Indian streets. People need to be safeguarded from it. Which is why i adopted the Suraiyas; poor saps that they are - particularly Jug - they were in obvious need of protection. 

Bunny took me into the house immediately when i turned up on the doorstep. And ever since then, for the next 12-1/2 years i looked after the two of them. 

As a puppy, i looked after them by chewing up all the papers and books within reach. I did this in order to teach them not to be careless and untidy and leave things lying about where they could be chewed. They were fast learners, even Jug, and pretty soon they began to be more careful about their belongings. Having got the two of them properly house-trained, i didn't have to chew up stuff any more. 

Next, i began to teach them better housekeeping. I'd jump on their bed, bury my head in the counterpane, and turn round and round and round in circles creating a whirlpool out of the bed linen. Then i'd chuck all the pillows on the floor. What's this? What's this? they'd say when they saw what i'd done. How dumb can you get? Couldn't they see for themselves what it was? A bed that i'd turned into a total mess so that they'd get practice on how to make up a bed properly. Practice, they say, makes perfect. And i was ensuring that the two of them became perfect bed-makers. 

I must say they took pretty well to all my training. They soon learnt what foods i liked - cheese, chicken and vanilla ice-cream, in that order - and when i liked to eat them. They learnt where and when i liked to be taken out for my four-times-a-day walks, during which i'd put my signature on as many lampposts and car tyres as i wanted. When guests came of an evening i'd put on my red velvet polka-dotted party dress and go say hello to each of them. Hostess with the mostest, that was me. 

They were good years. And like all good things, they had to come to an end. In my case they called it kidney failure. But really it was just age. I couldn't eat or drink anything. Always slender, i became starvation thin. The doctor came to the house twice a day and put me on a drip. I grew thinner, like a picture fading away. Finally Bunny and Jug did what they knew they had to do. They had to let me go. The doctor came for the last time, with the last injection. Bunny and Jug looked as though what they were doing was the hardest thing they'd ever had to do in their lives. I tried to tell them that they were giving me the greatest gift they could. But people don't understand the language of us dogs, who speak through our eyes. I tried to tell them through my eyes, but their own eyes were so full of water that they couldn't see. 

And now they look at the blank space where i was and wonder where i've gone. Don't they understand that i've gone nowhere? Or rather that i've gone every where. I've gone where we all - people, dogs, even cats - come from and eventually go back to. When they cry, i am the salt of their tears. I am the laughter of children. I am the noise of traffic, the dust of the streets, the sound of water. I am the greenness of leaves and the blue of the sky. I am every where and every thing. 

People have a big word for it; they call it the Universe. We dogs, we Indian street dogs, have a simpler word for it. We call it Freedom.








A new survey by the labour bureau nearly quadruples India's estimate of its unemployed. The self-confessed 'thin survey' covering 46,000 households across 300 districts puts the number of jobless — those out of work for six months — at 40 million, roughly the population of Argentina. The broader studies of the National Sample Survey (NSS), on which the official orthodoxy rests, come up with a relatively modest 11 million, even then that's more than all the Greeks put together. The NSS data themselves throw up widely divergent estimates of the unemployment rate depending on how the questions are framed. At its widest definition, India accepts the unemployment rate in 2004-05 was 8.28%, pretty close to the 9.4% the labour bureau study fixes for 2009-10. The flagship social welfare programme of the United Progressive Alliance, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, covered 43 million households last year, lending credence to the higher estimates of joblessness in India.  


The other takeaway from the labour bureau survey is Indians may be leaving farms faster than we had thought. Less than half of the workforce earns its livelihood from agriculture. The unemployment dole is showing results if an extra 40 million people have found other work in villages, like laying roads, or in towns. Yet the deeper malaise is also on display: India's jobless growth. Although the rate of job creation is doubling every five years, it has still not caught up with the pace of increase of India's labour pool. So large movements of people from the farm will remain an assisted process for the foreseeable future.


This imposes costs at two levels. One, the money it takes to provide the food-for-work programmes like the 40-odd thousand crore rupees the Centre hands out a year for the unemployment dole. Two, the cost of setting up a social security net from scratch. The labour bureau survey finds four in five Indian workers have no access to pension or healthcare benefits. Universal social security is a distant dream for India although baby steps have been taken by the UPA government. The size of India's workforce is bigger than the population of the US, providing it with a fraction of the benefits enjoyed by workers in advanced economies is a staggering exercise. That must not, however, deter us. A swelling labour pool is the principal reason for our rapid growth in the 21st century. This resource needs to be nurtured.







The great thing about books, the inimitable George W Bush, once said, is the fantastic pictures. But those of us who had hoped for a pictorial memoir of the grandmaster of gaffes are sorely disappointed. It is lamely titled Decision Points and the English is actually grammatically correct, thanks to some killjoy editor who has taken away the real essence of the Dubya we all know and love.


But his insouciance is delightful. 'Dick (Cheney) made me do it' is a constant refrain about the very unpopular decisions Bush made. About the Machiavellian vice president, Dubya is in his element. "Dick was a real rabble-rouser. Had I known that from the git-go, there would have been no Gitmo." Now Barack Obama may be a silver-tongued orator. But Bush kept us entertained during all the years of his presidency with his unique brand of mangled similes and metaphors. Who can match his famous "I promise you I will listen to what has been said here, even though I wasn't there." Bush singlehandedly kept us hacks in business because not a day passed when his foot was not in his mouth. Obama may think that he is very big on social issues, but Dubya trumped him to it when he said, "I enjoy taking on the issue (social security). I guess it's the mother in me." Let's see Obama top that.


At the rate the memoirs are jumping of the shelves, it is clear that people are yearning for the opaque world according to Bush where wars were launched with the ease of video games. We certainly misunderestimated how much we would miss Bush. All we wish is that we could have read his memoirs in the language that he so loved to mangle. Even though he has taken potshots at many leaders, so incoherent has he been that it is difficult to take offence. So let us enjoy a bit of Bush while interest in his book lasts. Because as he so aptly put it, "I think we agree, the past is over."







President Barack Obama came, saw and in a sense, conquered, by drawing India further into the US geopolitical strategic framework, apart from advancing US commercial interests. Before leaving Washington, according to The New York Times, Obama said that "The primary purpose is to take a bunch of US companies and open up markets so that we can sell in Asia, in some of the fastest-growing markets in the world", and "create jobs at home".


This may sound desperate but logical in the backdrop of the severe electoral drubbing that the Democrats received in the recent US Congressional elections. With unemployment breaching the psychological barrier of 10% and an economic turnaround not appearing on the horizon, the US needs to prise open the markets of the emerging economies to sell its products. By the time he left India, it was announced that deals amounting to $ 15 billion have been sealed, creating nearly 75,000 jobs in the USA. In an effort to appease India Inc., Obama said, "They (deals) will create jobs in the US, it is true, but those same technologies will also allow Indian entrepreneurs to  create jobs here". 


The joint statement issued after the visit shows that in the name of promoting food security through an "evergreen revolution", the Indian market is being pushed to open up further for US agri-produce. This would create conditions of 'instant death' for Indian agriculture which is already reeling under an acute crisis. The flooding of Indian markets with highly subsidised US agricultural and dairy products may well escalate distress suicides that are already haunting our country. The US is now anticipating huge orders for nuclear reactors as well as hefty defence purchases. The promise of technology transfer by removing Indian organisations from the US 'entities list', however, does not include the Department of Atomic Energy. This clearly shows that the commitment made in the India-US nuclear deal of full civilian nuclear cooperation including technology transfer will not materialise.


Couched in the flowery rhetoric of India having already "emerged", rubbing shoulders on the 'high table', the framework for economic cooperation in the joint statement maps further opening up our markets. This is happening when the US continues to actively discourage, through policy prescriptions, US firms from outsourcing, adversely affecting employment in India. 


There is a satisfactory purr in 'Shining India' that the US has endorsed India's entry into the United Nations Security Council as a permanent member.  Speaking to us in Parliament, through us to India, Obama invoked many an Indian icon, acknowledged India's spiritual and scientific contributions including the invention of the zero, effortlessly assayed through Chandni Chowk, panchayat and Panchatantra, using this as a cushion to declare that "increased power comes with increased responsibility". This was followed by a virtual admonition of India for not articulating forcefully the issue of democracy in Myanmar.  This was followed by hailing India's commitment  towards complete nuclear disarmament and, therefore, suggesting that we fall in line with the US in supporting sanctions on Iran. President Obama raised these issues within the context of universal values of peace, security, democracy and human rights. 


Universality of values must necessarily be accompanied by universality of their application. Talking of democracy in Myanmar while remaining silent on the gross violation of the human rights of the Palestinians, or the merciless massacre of civilians by the 50,000-strong  US army in Iraq or the illegal economic blockade of Cuba sounds not merely politically selective but hollow. Talking of nuclear proliferation and sanctions against Iran and remaining silent on Israel reveals the agenda of imperialist strategy.


US geopolitical military strategy had led it to underwrite dictatorships across the world in the name of protecting American interests. Hence, one can only conclude that the US would be prepared to see India with 'increased power' but only if it comes with 'increased responsibility' in supporting its strategic interests.  President Obama clearly said in as many words in the Parliament that he expected India in its current two-year term as a non permanent member of the UN Security Council to play such a role. He has, thus, put India on probation. A probationary period of two years when support to US positions will determine the latter's support for India's permanent membership. 


'Shining India' is also glowing in a sense of 'triumphalism' that the US has finally nailed Pakistan on the issue of terrorism. Obama spoke of Pakistan's need to dismantle 'terrorist apparatus' on its soil and bring the perpetrators of 26/11 to book. This comes on the back of billions of dollars of aid that the US has given Pakistan in return for its military and logistical help in anti-Taliban operations in Afghanistan. The fact of the matter is that the US needs Pakistan in these efforts. It would, thus, be naïve for us in India to hope that the US would jettison Pakistan and support us in the fight against terrorism. The US 'Af-Pak' strategy cannot advance without Pakistan.


In the final analysis, India has to battle the terrorist menace — as we continue to do — on the basis of its own strength and resilience. Instead, that we are relying on the illusory props of US support explains why India failed to raise the issue of David Headley's extradition. 


Likewise India failed to remind Obama that double standards on dealing with industrial accidents are not acceptable. Dow Jones must be made to account for the Bhopal gas tragedy like Obama made BP shell out billions for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.


India's position in the world's comity of nations lies in its intrinsic internal strength. It is precisely this strength that will be weakened when India seeks the status of a subordinate ally of the US as the crutch to 'arrive' in the world.


These and many other crucial issues will continue to engage us as we battle to improve the livelihoods of the vast majority of impoverished Indians — the real India. We, the Indian Left have heard Obama. It is now his turn to listen. 


Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP. The views expressed by the author are personal.







When Anand Mahindra, that savvy, aggressive yet modest face of India Inc, walked into the Jacaranda room at the Trident Hotel in Mumbai, there was a momentary silence among the eclectic group gathered there. His entry marked our readiness to brace ourselves to meet US President Barack Obama — the reason we were sequestered in the room by the US Secret Service. 


We were going to be the first group to interact closed-door with the president. The format was that of freewheeling engagement in a closed room with 20 of us, mostly from the social sector. The interface was so designed that Obama would be engaged in a question-and-answer session with Mahindra (seated next to him), facing us seated in the front. It was as though we were observers on a Board. Or, more appropriately, witnesses to history being created.


A burly American with earphones, bluetooth and walkie talkie took over and announced the imminent arrival of the president in five minutes. We were to remain seated and observe protocol like not trying to touch, photograph or come in the way of the president in any manner that provoked his security. I glanced at the group of 'achievers'. Most of them were US returned, some US passport holders, a few Ivy League alumni, almost all successful and prominent faces of an ambitious, resurgent India.


The lights were turned on and scores of international press photographers started jostling for space. As a slim, smiling, charismatic Obama walked in, the wows and sighs were drowned out by the sound of cameras clicking. Obama outlined his mission to learn from us and embrace our ideas for fostering a stronger India-US partnership. He also offered to take up the challenges we faced, especially if they were related to bilateral trade policies.


Each of us were given a few minutes to speak. Mahindra laid down his plan of marrying Indian consumer behaviour, urban lifestyle and mindset with US technology to redefine public transport in India through the use of electric vehicles. An intense listener, Obama was very excited. The few other ideas that were floated included using solar energy to replace diesel/fossil fuel to run mobile towers and innovating delivery and pricing of technology for industrial water treatment now used for rural household drinking water application. 


Towards the end, Obama brushed protocol aside to interact on a one-to-one basis with the group. The majority in the group went berserk. A Harvard alumnus pleaded with Obama to autograph his daughter's photo, mobile and digital cameras were thrust in the air and some of us jostled and elbowed the president to the chagrin of his security personnel. A few were speechless, giggling and blushing as if on a dream date with a celebrity. Gandhiji's autobiography, Obama's Audacity of Hope, scrap books, moleskin dairies — all were thrust into his face for the southpaw to scribble his signature. A certain pink-haired (hare-brained perhaps for those 90 minutes) lady let her phone ring aloud till Obama joked about the caller having to wait given that she was standing up every now and then to take multiple pictures with multiple cameras and proferring two books to be signed .


Thankfully, there were a few words of sagacity and hope in the cacophony of sounds — voices that spoke about new ideas for collaboration, inclusive growth and reduction of the widening gulf between rich and poor. We could teach the American kids maths and English in schools so that they wont be Bangalored or Shanghaied when they grow up, I said. What was heartening was that Obama repeatedly kept harking back to the ideas of EVs, solar energy and filtration technology in all his speeches thereafter during the tour. What an idea, Sirji.
Manoj Kumar is CEO, Kallam Anji Reddy chair, Naandi Foundation. The views expressed by the author are personal.







I first met him in 1979 when he was that stern judge at the inter-school debating competition hosted by the British Council. He was the grace eminence of the academic world in Calcutta and someone who could perhaps teach Chaucer some fine English. Over the years, his son Ananda became a very dear friend and a dreaded theatre critic.


But the good professor blazed a trail like no other man I have known. His gentleness was always clothed in a demeanour that made him come across as severe but that's till the time you spoke to him. He would invite you for afternoon conversations where, over some fine tea, he would take you through a magical journey of the Ramayana or the Mahabharata. He would pick books from their spanking shelves as if he was handling a newborn baby and almost every book he picked, was dog-eared but lovingly protected.


My first gift from him was a book that he had published. He created and nurtured Writer's Workshop, which was a publisher of new authors many of whom are household names today. There would be budding poets, pretentious Conan Doyles and somewhat archaic Jane Austens who would flock to his house to get the man to endorse their literary bent of mind. And I never once saw him either impatient or flustered.


I remember I invited him to see the opening performance of Bhutto, the play in 1986 and did not see him backstage after the play: something that was the norm if you knew members of the cast or liked the play. The next morning I received this hand-written note from the man addressed to Master Thespian Seth. The writing was from the heart in a script that would put the best calligraphist to shame.


He was the quintessential professor. Academia was his world and publishing his hobby. In a way, he published only to advance the language he loved. He was more than just a professor of the English language. He was its evangelist. He was the one person you could go to and discuss Tagore or Marlowe and he would discuss both with élan and insightfulness that would stay with one forever. A giant among men and a humanist among professors.


Professor P Lal died earlier this week. But he has left behind admiring students, such a formidable body of work and so many ardent fans and authors that he will continue to vibrantly and robustly as the language he loved and the anecdotes that made up his life.


Suhel Seth is managing partner of Counselage India. The views expressed by the author are personal.








You have to worry for George W. Bush when one of the minor controversies afloat after the publication of his memoir, Decision Points, is whether he may have actually wanted to vote for Barack Obama, and not fellow Republican John McCain, in 2008. US presidents and their successors have complicated relationships — for instance, during his presidency, Bush is reported to have sometimes turned to Bill Clinton for a comforting word. And then, Bush and McCain were never on the best of terms. Yet, in an odd way, it says something about the difficult task Bush has of defending, in an early draft of history, his big decisions when he does admit, in the book, to being more impressed by Obama than McCain during an emergency summit about the financial crisis.Obama's campaign ran mostly on his promise of a new kind of leadership, but the context was key: an increasingly isolated president, with Bush's record having provoked a dangerous level of anti-Americanism and now the economic situation appearing suddenly fragile, and his Republican Party keen to keep a safe distance. In that sense, Bush's exertions this month to promote his memoir are more than the mandatory marketing exercise: he must know that he has to himself go about reclaiming his reputation; a party hijacked by the Tea Party-types certainly won't be interested. Of course, in the age of Bob Woodward, no US president gets to retain for a memoir the big revelations about how business was transacted in his White House. So, the main scoops of Decision Points are some what-could-have-beens. Could Bush have actually been considering replacing Donald Rumsfeld earlier than he actually did? May he have parted ways with Dick Cheney at some point? Alas, we'll only have Bush's word for it, and that may not be enough for his critics.







In most countries, unemployment is a clean-cut, easily understandable — and identifiable — problem. In India, it's not that simple. The complexity of our economy, the barbed-wire fence of restrictions that surround our "organised" sector, the tendency towards seasonal work, and the networks of caste, clan and kinship that still govern employment in many parts make answering the simple question "How many of India's workers are unemployed?" very difficult indeed. The labour ministry has just conducted a survey in 300 Indian districts of people aged between 15 and 59, and estimated that 9.4 per cent of them are unemployed. This diverges widely from the estimate of the National Sample Survey Organisation — which estimated the unemployment rate at 2.8 per cent a few years ago. That in any case is a number that should give us pause, one of the lowest rates in the world. Is India's economy that successful at providing employment to its people?Obviously not, or the NREGS would not exist. Indeed, both the oddness of these numbers and their variance in size demonstrate that the problem lies in the identification of the unemployed. This is not a new problem: for as long as the Indian economy has been studied, it's been understood that more modern notions of unemployment might not be applicable outside the urban or semi-urban "formal" sectors. Early on in his career, Amartya Sen had pointed out that India can post unemployment figures "low enough to put many advanced countries to shame", and contributed to the theory of "disguised unemployment", where uneconomically many workers work for whatever they can get, because the actual act of unemployment — being out of work, and actively looking for work that suits you — is a luxury for those with no savings and no access to any social safety net.


The plain fact that our economy still suffers from these age-old diagnostic problems 20 years after 1991 is a reminder that the formal sector needs to expand. Yet labour laws, the main constraint on expansion, continue to be off the agenda for UPA-II. To fix underemployment, the NREGS is simply not enough.







Calcutta high court judge Soumitra Sen might end up making history as the first judge to be impeached in India. Wheels are in motion, and proceedings have been instituted against him for allegedly misappropriating public funds and then making a false statement about it. Impeachment is the most severe punishment possible, and reserved for the most extreme circumstances. The cumbersome, complicated process has to be initiated by at least 100 MPs in Lok Sabha or 50 in Rajya Sabha. No judge has been impeached so far. The case of Justice V. Ramaswami of the Punjab and Haryana high court in the early '90s was the last time impeachment was considered. Last year, in the case of Justice P.D. Dinakaran, a collegium of Supreme Court judges considered the case against him, even as public speculation raged on. Time and again, the Supreme Court has stated that transfer cannot be considered punishment. Effectively, we have no real mechanism to deal with allegations of impropriety against a judge, impeachment being the only way out. The judiciary would almost unanimously prefer judicial councils, a system where judges can be judged by peers. Others have argued that this would lead the profession to withdraw protectively into itself and end up shielding its own, also citing the shoddy job of self-regulation that the Bar Council of India and others have demonstrated, and the fact that sitting judges will have to take on these duties which cut into their regular work. They argue it would make more sense to have an independent body look into these complaints and take action against errant judges. Justice J.S. Verma has emphasised the need for such a machinery to take on corruption allegations: "It appears that the social sanction of the community has been waning and inadequate of late. If so, the time for legal sanction being provided may have been reached." The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill is to finally come up in this Parliament session. It proposes a five-member national judicial oversight committee chaired by the Chief Justice of India,


including the attorney general, CJI-nominated judges from the SC and high court, and an eminent person recommended by the president. This committee would set up a scrutiny committee to conduct time-bound investigations (within three months). They have a larger array of punitive options, including withdrawal of judicial work and public censure. Certainly, these actions would reinforce accountability, by making it possible to come down hard on errant judges without resorting to the drastic and laborious step of impeachment. It would also burnish the credibility of the higher judiciary, by revealing it as subject to checks and corrections.









Foreigners who interact with Indians inevitably ask questions about corruption. There must have been such questions during the Obama visit too. In the absence of data, quantifying and measuring corruption is difficult. Most perceptions are based on surveys, including Transparency International (TI). Since 1995, TI has a corruption perceptions index (CPI). In 2010, India was ranked 87 out of 178 countries, between Morocco and Albania. Rank doesn't matter. That depends on how other countries are faring. Scores, on which ranks are based, are better.


Shouldn't corruption decline with reforms? Not necessarily — it depends on what form of corruption we have in mind. If corruption is linked to shortages (telephones, gas connections), once licensing restrictions are scrapped and shortages eliminated, it vanishes. If it is linked to unrealistic prices, reasonable prices should make it disappear. Hence, hawala market becomes non-existent when exchange rates are effectively market-determined. However, if PDS ration shops aren't allowed respectable margins, we build leakage into the system. If corruption is linked to discretion, transparency, harmonisation and unification reduce discretion and curb rent-seeking. This has happened for direct and indirect taxes, including import duties. But a proposition that reforms have reduced shortage and discretion across the board is a myth. That's true of manufacturing, not anywhere else.


Education, health, housing and water are still plagued by shortages. There is plenty of discretion floating around in land, real estate and building. The raja of all discretion is when licences or land is given to the private sector, or in defence and other forms of government procurement. Therefore, during the transitory period of reforms, it is possible for corruption to increase, especially if we increase public expenditure and provide more opportunities. From 2002 to 2007, TI scores exhibit improvement in India's corruption record. But from 2007 to 2010, there has been marginal decline. Since this is about perceptions, no doubt 2011 will be worse, once CWG effects are factored in. Big-ticket corruption is linked to politics and elections. Politics is a profession and, like any other profession, if a certain sum of money has been expended, one expects returns. After all, tickets were bought. Stipulated percentages have to be passed on to the party. Corruption is built into the DNA of every political party, especially since the late-'60s. It is just that some parties have been around longer and are better organised. Contrary to what Gandhiji said and desired, corruption and hypocrisy have become inevitable products of democracy. Consequently, it is also a myth that political parties wish corruption to disappear.


At best, they want small-ticket corruption to decrease, while big-ticket corruption remains. (No government is going to sign the WTO's plurilateral government procurement code in a hurry.) This is a bit like the Rudy Giuliani effect in New York. Notwithstanding RTIs, lok ayuktas, e-governance, whistleblowers, civil society, media and "Jaago Re" campaigns, we don't except corruption to substantially decline. We don't believe Ashok Chavan, or Suresh Kalmadi, or anyone important enough and part of the political classes, to be ever prosecuted and convicted. A few bureaucrats here and there are different. Elimination of corruption is Utopian and let's not forget Thomas More, author of Utopia, was beheaded. At best, countervailing pressure can hope to make corruption more efficient. Cross-country studies float around, correlating measures of corruption with measures of growth and development. Lower corruption is correlated with higher growth and development. This is correlation. It isn't causation. While lower levels of corruption may lead to higher growth and development, it is also possible higher income levels increase literacy and awareness of rights, and increase countervailing pressure for better governance. The loop can be both ways.


By most economic indicators, Maharashtra is one of India's leading states, though it is a large state and Mumbai-Pune isn't the same as Vidarbha. From a corruption perspective, it has never been regarded as an extremely corrupt state. For instance, the Centre for Media Studies (CMS) undertook a corruption survey in 2008, particularly directed at BPL households. States were divided into four categories — alarming, very high, high and moderate. Moderate was the best of the league and Maharashtra was there, unlike Bihar, which was in the alarming category. It is unlikely (because these are perceptions) Maharashtra will remain there today.


Beyond corruption, most perceptions are governance is deteriorating. So is growth. States like Maharashtra and Punjab ride on their past successes and post-1991 (more since 2003), backward states have begun to catch up. That's easier for laggard states to do, since they have more slack in the system and even limited reforms can jack up growth enormously. However, this catching-up and plateauing doesn't completely explain Maharashtra's relatively muted growth performance. For instance, despite high bases, Gujarat and Haryana have grown fast. Whenever a state performs well, the cake grows and redistribution of a relatively static cake is less relevant. There is less protectionism floating around. Had the US economy performed well and unemployment not been high, President Obama wouldn't have been worried about outsourcing leading to losses in American jobs. Had Maharashtra performed as well as it should have, there would have been less support for the MNS and less resentment about migrants. Around 5 per cent GSDP (gross state domestic product) growth is hardly respectable.


More specifically, decline set in around 1995-96 — with symptoms of fiscal imbalance, populism, high debt, slashing of capital and development expenditure, collapse of administrative delivery and mis-governance. Planning Commission reports and Maharashtra's own Economic Survey have documented this. There is more than symbolism if Delhi overtakes Mumbai to become India's busiest airport. Financial activity is also increasingly moving towards Delhi and there are several alternative destinations for manufacturing. Maharashtra is no longer an "adarsh" state and this is about more than a mere housing scam, though names of three other former CMs have also been dragged in. This is why discussion about the new CM must centre not on whether he is a party loyalist or his use in identity politics — it must be whether he will be able to reduce corruption and improve governance.


Ashok Chavan gave President Obama a book on Maharashtra and said, "When you return home and go through the book it will give you an idea about Maharashtra which is the leading state of India." The past tense of "was" would have been more appropriate. But then, it was a coffee-table book and not meant to be taken seriously.


The writer is a Delhi-based economist








Sultan Mohammed Khan, who died at age 91 in Karachi on Monday, was one of Pakistan's most distinguished and highly respected diplomats who won accolades for vigorously defending Pakistan's interests without ever being offensive, something that cannot be said of many of his colleagues before or after him. I discovered this attribute of his at the height of the Bangladesh crisis in 1971 which, everyone knew, was hurtling towards war when I attended his press conferences in Paris and London. It was in the '90s, however, that I really got to know him and found that he was both an erudite expert in international affairs and a thorough gentleman. He was then living a retired life in Washington DC, after having been his country's ambassador to the United States, not once but twice. At the turn of the century, however, he went back to Karachi because of the illness of his wife, a daughter of the Nawab of Jawda in central India. Married to him for 68 years, she passed away only a few months earlier.Born in 1919, S.M. Khan studied at Allahabad University and joined the army to fight in World War II, in the rank of major. At the end of the war there was a special recruitment to the Indian Administrative and Indian Foreign Services from among the wartime candidates. He made it to the IFS, together with Jagat Mehta, Ram Sathe, Ishi Rahman. At the time of Independence and Partition, he opted for Pakistan but remained in New Delhi because his government posted him to the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi. His next postings were in Egypt, Italy and Turkey.It was in China that his talent as a practitioner of diplomacy won appreciation. He was deputy chief of mission when General Raza was ambassador to Beijing. Yet, Zhou Enlai became so fond of Mr and Mrs Khan that he once invited himself to dinner at their house. Soon enough, Khan went back to Beijing as ambassador and China-Pakistan relations blossomed. Needless to say, India's relations with China were then the exact opposite. Ram Sathe was then in Beijing. Yet Sultan Khan's children were friends of Sathe's offspring.In 197l, on the verge of the Bangladesh war, Khan went to the Chinese capital for talks with Chinese leaders. Pakistan's ambassador to China then was K.M. Kaiser, a Bengali, who naturally accompanied the foreign secretary to his meeting with the Chinese prime minister. Zhou made some polite talk and then said to Khan that he must be very tired after the long journey, so their talks could take place the next day. Late in the night, a Chinese official came and told the Pakistani foreign secretary that the prime minister wanted to see him immediately. Zhou explained that he did not want to "embarrass" both him and the ambassador by talking to them together.In 1960, Khan was director-general in charge of the Soviet Union when the famous U-2 affair — an American spy plane that took off from an American base near Peshawar was shot down while flying over the Soviet Union — took place. Pakistan vehemently denied any role in the episode. Soviet Ambassador Mikhail Kapitza came to see Khan, and asked whether he still denied any responsibility. "I am denying it categorically," was the reply he got. Kapitza looked rather pleased, took out a piece of paper and handed it over to his interlocutor. It was the confession of the U-2's pilot, Gary Powers. When Khan met Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (then a minister) and the operational headed of the ISI (then a colonel), they claimed that they, too, had never been taken into confidence. At the time of then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's bus journey to Lahore, which aroused very high hopes, I was in Washington. Sultan Sahib advised me not to take the prevailing euphoria seriously. "Nothing will come of it for the simple reason that the army is not on board."


When Khan was a reasonably senior member of the Pakistan embassy in Ankara, the father of Pervez Musharraf (then a schoolboy) was a junior member of the embassy staff. For all the seven years that General Musharraf was president of Pakistan, on every visit to Karachi, he made it a point to call on Sultan Mohammed Khan. Given his qualities of head and heart, Khan's death will be widely mourned. He is survived by his four children, two daughters and two sons. Three of them are settled in the US; the fourth in Europe.


The writer is Delhi-based political commentator







Globalisation is flattening the world, shrinking distances and making national borders fuzzy. Within a gated community called Ozone in Bangalore's posh Whitefield suburbs, globalisation is making the meaning of cultural celebration hazy and nebulous as well.


It was a busy week in the household of Shobna Dhamija, a resident in the verdant California-style community with palm-fringed, wide open spaces. The Dhamija couple and their two children were transplanted from the Bay Area in the United States a couple of years ago. Dhamija woke at 5 am, bathed, and ate a customary light meal consisting of seven different dishes including vermicelli kheer, dry fruits and tea. It was the day of Karwa Chauth, a festival observed in northern India, where wives fast to ensure their spouses' well-being. Her husband, a computer industry professional, also woke up to share the meal with her before sunrise.


Later that afternoon, two dozen ladies of Ozone bedecked in near-bridal finery, many returnees like Dhamija amongst them, gathered at the community centre for the puja. Since a priest who knows the traditions is hard to find in Bangalore, the ladies played a recording for the two-hour puja. Then it was time to return home to cook the sweets, wait for a sighting of the moon and break the fast in a communal, potluck feast.


It was a mixed group at the puja, said Dhamija. In the gathering were a couple of foreigners who were bemused observers, and some south Indians participating with gusto. Bollywood influences and friendships have led to many south Indian friends embracing the tradition too. The festival has morphed from a private ritual to friends, fun and dressing up in Bangalore, she said. "The Karwa Chauth ritual has become as much a friend thing as a husband thing," Dhamija said.


Later that week on a Friday evening, it was tradition and festivities of another sort. That evening, the US-born Dhamija kids, Arnav, 13, and Nikita, 8, joined a big crowd of other children at the community amphitheatre to observe the decidedly American ritual of Halloween. Dressed as ghouls, goblins and ghosts, many of the costumes self-created, the kids marched around the 300-home community, knocking on doors and shouting "trick or treat!"


In true American tradition, the fronts of many of the homes in the community were decorated with jack-o-lanterns, spider webs, bats and other spooky props.


Within a half hour of the procession setting off at the amphitheatre, over 200 kids — some with torchlights flashing, others with water bottles slung around their neck — had trooped to the front door of the Dhamija residence. The crowd had unexpectedly swelled bigger than last year so when she ran out of candy, Dhamija started handing out biscuits. Soon, the loot bags of the kids started filling up with an assortment of goodies like doughnuts, chocolate bars and juice




"This is so much better than the Halloween we celebrated back in the Bay Area," said Dhamija. For one, the weather in Bangalore is unbeatable, she declared. Also, the gated community they live in is a safe, kid-friendly environment making the festivities much more relaxed, she said.


Many of the household staff, gardeners and drivers employed by the community — close to 300 families belonging to a variety of nationalities from across the world — come from villages nearby. Many of them have learned to speak fluent English, rustle up authentic enchiladas and bake a mean soufflé. But the traditions of Halloween and Karwa Chauth within a few days of each other could flummox the most global of staff, said Dhamija.


Both the late-October festivities are alien to Bangalore but are growing "bigger and better" each year in the community, residents said. In many such new communities thriving in Bangalore and other Indian cities, traditional India is bumping into customs of faraway places. Like in Ozone, the festivals are celebrated with so much zest and feverish excitement that Dhamija added, "It is now possible to be in Bangalore and enjoy the best of all worlds."








The G-20 is meeting to ostensibly decide on the fate of currencies, but like the Federal Reserve's QE2 $600 billion injection, their influence on currency values is negligible, and possibly late. Many see the QE2 programme as excessive and unwarranted. There are accusations of a hidden motive, a hidden agenda. And what might that be? To cheapen the value of the dollar, that is, to further fuel currency wars.


It is worth recalling why we have a problem in the first place. Why is it that even the World Bank president is calling for a new gold order? It is because the currency system is out of whack. And why is the system broken? There are 82 countries in the world with a population of more than 10 million and there is only one country, one currency, that is accused of "currency manipulation" — China. And China is once again, after a gap of several hundred years, at the centre of attention. It is big, brash, and some might even say arrogant. It wants its currency to move, but move ever so slowly.


The spin mantra of China is that they are a responsible country, and that they will adjust the currency upwards, but do it gradually. Now who can object to gradualism, especially in India, where there has been nothing but gradualism. We are like that only, though some might add that our democratic framework allows us to move only gradually. Coming back to China's gradualism — can anyone point to even one major policy on their part that was gradual in the last 60-odd years? The Great Leap Forward wasn't exactly gradual, nor was the Cultural Revolution when after a Mao moment's notice, engineers were turned into peasants. Nor was the one-child policy of 1974 gradual. The economic reforms instituted in 1978 were not gradual as well. Indeed, China is the envy of the democratic world because it does not have to confront the perils of democratic gradualism.


But more to the point — China's record on depreciating its currency has been the least gradual of all — among all countries, and all time. Between 1978 and 1994, the yuan moved from 1.68 to the dollar to 8.62, and stayed close to the latter level till 2005. That is a depreciation of more than 400 per cent in the short space of 16 years. Normally such depreciation occurs in a hyper-inflation regime. In the case of China, inflation was higher than the US, but not by a margin large enough to cause a significant dent in the real depreciation of the yuan with respect to the dollar. The real value of the yuan in 1994 became less than one-third (actually 29 per cent) of its real value in 1978. Gradualism, anyone?


There is only one real outcome that really matters in this ostensibly confusing world. It is that in order for there to be a semblance of any order in currency values, the yuan has to appreciate, and appreciate by something like 5 to 10 per cent for the next several years. Such an appreciation would still be gradual, and so would meet the demands of China. But China is refusing to do even that. So how does the world solve this problem? By meeting in Seoul? I doubt it.


There is another way out. It is for the US dollar to appreciate against the major currencies of the world, and depreciate with respect to China and its east-Asian neighbours (excluding Japan, whose currency at 80 yen/dollar is already way overvalued). It also excludes India, a country with a large and widening current account deficit (estimated to be about 4 per cent of GDP in 2010-11).


This way out began to happen almost not so coincidentally with the introduction of the QE2 programme. Though we will have to wait and see, but the titanic size of the QE2 might be one of the very few mistakes of Bernanke's regime. The QE2 was envisioned within the context of a near certainty of a double-dip in the US economy (okay, not a near certainty but clearly well above 50 per cent — hence the insurance policy by the Fed). If they had any doubts about their certitude, the Fed would have announced a much lower number for their stimulus — say around $300 billion, rather than $600 billion. But they were quite certain about their numbers and that overconfidence might make them look somewhat irresponsible a few months hence.


Almost simultaneously with the QE2 decision, news began to emerge, from around the world, that the world recovery was intact. Yes, it had gone through a soft patch for the last six months, but no, it wasn't going to be even close to a double dip. Within US itself, two days after the QE2 announcement, news came that the economy had added more than 200,000 jobs in October (after revisions for the previous two months). As a surprise to the Germans, and perhaps the Fed itself, the dollar began to appreciate and in just a week had appreciated by nearly 2 per cent (and more against the Euro and the yen).


Movement in exchange rates, as most market participants believe, is much more a function of real activity (GDP growth) than of nominal activity (movement in relative interest rates). If the forecast of a steadily improving US economy is correct, the US dollar should continue to appreciate gradually. International pressures should, and most likely will, persist in getting the Chinese to move a bit faster than the glacial pace they have self-interestedly anchored themselves to. So where governments fail, the good old market might come to the rescue. Or stated differently, if the Pope won't come to the mountain, the mountain will move towards the Pope.


The writer is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm







Given today's economic difficulties, I thought I'd come to Pakistan to find Osama bin Laden, lug him back home in my duffel bag and declare him at American customs to pick up the $27 million reward.


More on that in a moment. First, another conundrum here in Pakistan: The United States has provided $18 billion in aid since 9/11, yet Pakistan's government shelters the Taliban as it kills American soldiers and drains the American treasury. Meanwhile, only 8 per cent of Pakistanis have confidence in President Obama, according to the Pew Research Centre. That's not even half as many as express confidence in bin Laden.


Meanwhile, Pakistan seeks post-flood aid from Western taxpayers, yet barely taxes its own affluent citizens at home. And its feudal landholders have historically opposed good schools, for fear that poor Pakistanis — if educated — would object to oppression.


One reason Pakistan is sometimes called the most dangerous country in the world is this: a kindergarten child has only a 1 per cent chance of reaching the 12th grade. The average Pakistani child is significantly less likely to be schooled than the average child in sub-Saharan Africa.


American myopia historically has played a role. We've propped up generals but not the lawyers' movement for democracy. We've allocated billions of dollars for Pakistan's army but not for schools. And the US has never been willing to take the single most important step: open our markets wide to Pakistani garment exports, so as to provide jobs and strengthen the business sector.


Now let's break for a ray of hope.


This is my first trip to Pakistan in years in which the country's downhill slide seems to have been arrested — and that's notwithstanding the floods that ravaged the country recently.


It helps that the United States has approved the Kerry-Lugar-Berman package to provide civilian aid, earning the US a dose of goodwill in Pakistan. But most important, members of Pakistan's emerging middle class are stepping up to the plate. They are enraged at the terrorists who have been tearing apart their country, they're appalled by corruption and illiteracy, and they want peace so that their children can become educated and live a better life. Their obsession is college, not Kashmir.


Partly because of middle-class influence, ordinary Pakistanis are increasingly focused on education. About one-fourth of Pakistani children, even from poor families, now attend private schools, simply because the public schools are so wretched.


These days the middle class is not only eclipsing the feudals but also rejects the old feudal contempt for the masses. One reflection of the middle-class engagement is the rise of The Citizens Foundation, a terrific aid group started by a group of businessmen frustrated by their country's appalling schools.


Today, TCF runs 660 excellent schools for the poorest citizens. I visited several of these schools on this trip — and, wow! TCF spends 40 per cent less per pupil than state schools do, but manages to provide incomparably better education. Here in the province of Punjab, for example, nearly 100 per cent of Citizens Foundation pupils pass government exams, while over the last four years state schools have averaged a 44 per cent pass rate.


The most inspiring Pakistani I met on this trip wasn't a prominent official but a 17-year-old girl.


Zahida Sardar, an ebullient teenager with braids and a radiant smile, used to languish in an execrable state school in Minhala outside Lahore. "A teacher might come only twice a month," Zahida recalled. In such a school, Zahida despaired that she would have no chance to become a doctor or teacher. She began to pester her parents to send her to a TCF school so she could actually get an education, but her parents are illiterate and worried about school fees.


"My father said, 'I'm not going to pay. Why should we spend money on education?' " Zahida recalled. So Zahida tormented her mother, begging her just to find out if a transfer might be possible. "For three months, I pestered and insisted," Zahida recalled. She tried everything she could think of, including a daily torrent of tears.


I met Zahida's mother, Sardara, who told me that the girl was impossible and just wouldn't take a "no." "She just wore me down," Sardara said. Timidly, Sardara visited the TCF school, and the principal agreed to test Zahida and, when she performed brilliantly, accept her at much reduced fees of 50 cents a month. So Zahida is now is a star in the 11th grade — speaking to me comfortably in English. Oh, and bin Laden? Well, maybe I'll get lucky on my next trip. But in Zahida and other educated young Pakistanis, I've found those who will vanquish him. Nicholas D. Kristof








President Obama obviously chose the central hall of the Indian Parliament to deliver his message to Pakistan, and the message was crystal clear: the US does not intend to withdraw from Afghanistan next July as is expected by the Pakistani army and establishment. Obama asserted: "We are making progress in our mission to break the Taliban's momentum and to train Afghan forces so they can take the lead for their security. And while I have made it clear that American forces will begin the transition to Afghan responsibility next summer, I have also made it clear that America's commitment to the Afghan people will endure. The United States will not abandon the people of Afghanistan — or the region — to the violent extremists who threaten us all. Our strategy to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaeda and its affiliates has to succeed on both sides of the border. That is why we have worked with the Pakistani government to address the threat of terrorist networks in the border region. The Pakistani government increasingly recognises that these networks are not just a threat outside of Pakistan — they are a threat to the Pakistani people, who have suffered greatly at the hands of violent extremists."


He has also indicated to the Pakistanis and those who empathise with them and support them in the US military establishment, that he did not buy the propaganda that they needed jihadi outfits as strategic assets against future Indian influence in Afghanistan. The joint statement issued by the Indian prime minister and the US president makes it clear that the two sides have resolved to pursue joint development projects with the Afghan government in capacity-building, agriculture and women's empowerment. Pakistan and its supporters in the US military establishment are being told that the Indian presence in Afghanistan will continue and increase.


His message to Pakistan on terrorism was equally blunt. He reiterated: "We will continue to insist to Pakistan's leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders are unacceptable, and that the terrorists behind the Mumbai attacks be brought to justice. We must also recognise that all of us have an interest in both an Afghanistan and a Pakistan that is stable, prosperous and democratic — and none more so than India."


This was further elaborated in the joint statement which stated: "Condemning terrorism in all its forms, the two sides agreed that all terrorist networks, including Lashkar-e-Toiba, must be defeated and called for Pakistan to bring to justice the perpetrators of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Building upon the Counter-Terrorism Initiative signed in July 2010, the two leaders announced a new Homeland Security Dialogue between the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Department of Homeland Security and agreed to further deepen operational cooperation, counter-terrorism technology transfers and capacity building. The two leaders also emphasised the importance of close cooperation in combating terrorist financing and in protecting the international financial system." Presumably, the Pakistani army is already aware that terrorist activity directed from Pakistan against India after 26/11 will be under the watch of both Indian and US intelligence capabilities cooperating with each other. Apart from the increased capabilities of Indian intelligence, this cooperation may be yet another reason why there has been no successful terrorist attempt on India after the Pune bakery outrage.


On Kashmir, Obama endorsed Manmohan Singh's approach of a dialogue and peace process between the two countries, which should progress from more easily solvable issues building up confidence to addressing the most difficult problem — the 63-year-old Kashmir issue. There was also a subtle message to Pakistan in his assertion that India is not a rising power but one that has already arrived. One of the long-cherished myths in Pakistan, going back to Zulfikar Bhutto's time, is their fervent belief that Pakistan can hold India's rise hostage to New Delhi settling Kashmir on their terms. Obama was telling them to give up such ideas. When Obama refers to Pakistan being a state that was strategically important to the world, that was a veiled reference to its being a nuclear-weapon power that has to be handled appropriately.


Now that the US president has taken a clear stand on terrorism, Kashmir, Afghanistan, the Af-Pak issue and not leaving Afghanistan to the mercies of Taliban, it is obvious that he must have a strategy other than pumping money into Pakistan and giving them additional military aid. While it is widely highlighted that if the war in Afghanistan continues into 2012 and the US continues to incur casualties, Obama will end up as a one-term president, most of our analysts do not go into the question of whether his chances of re-election will improve if he loses the war and withdraws from Afghanistan. He has promised to visit Pakistan next year.Will he be visiting a country whose army frustrates him through its double-crossing? His visit to India proved that he plays his cards close to his chest. The US has stepped up its drone attacks on the tribal territory manifold in the recent months. The jihadi terrorist attacks in Pakistan have also increased, the latest being on the mosque in Dara Adamkhel inflicting 90 fatalities.The aid promised to Pakistan is not likely to be sanctioned by the US Congress unless the Pakistani army falls in line with US demands to act in North Waziristan. In the recent strategic dialogue in Washington, President Obama himself is reported to have given a piece of his mind to General Kayani.The winter conditions may restrict movements in snow-clad mountainous areas, but will not adversely affect the capabilities of drone aircraft.


President Obama is due to carry out the next review of the Af-Pak strategy in December. One wonders whether his pronouncements in Delhi are a prelude to his shaping that strategy and also a way of making clear to people like General Petraeus where he stands on various issues like the Indian presence in Afghanistan and settlement with the Taliban. Our analysts should concentrate more on what will happen as the US drones further step up attacks on North Waziristan and the jihadis increase their attacks on Pakistani civilian targets. The developments in the next six months in the Af-Pak area are far more crucial than the five-year economic and military aid to Pakistan. A lot depends on General Kayani. While Pakistani generals, faced with reality, have been known to come to terms with it, Pakistani civilians like Jinnah and Bhutto behaved irrationally. Gandhi offered Jinnah prime ministership of India and he rejected it and chose to be the Quaid-e-Azam of a moth-eaten Pakistan. Bhutto chose to break up Pakistan to become the leader of one part. It is now for Kayani to make the choice.


The writer is a senior defence analyst









Given the nature of what he did, a Rs 1.76 lakh crore fraud if you are to go by the figures in the CAG report, it's not surprising the nation's attention is rivetted on telecom minister A Raja and the actions the Congress takes on removing him. Congress President Sonia Gandhi tried to blunt the Opposition attack by making one real sacrifice (Ashok Chavan) and one token one (Suresh Kalmadi stepped down from a post few even knew he held), but the BJP is insisting she make the really big sacrifice, of possibly severing her ties with the DMK by asking Raja to go. At some point, attention will also focus on CVC PJ Thomas who was telecom secretary prior to this—the award of the licences took place before Thomas joined, but as secretary he did not move on penalising the licensees when they failed to meet the conditions of the licence (rolling out a certain part of their network within a stipulated time), nor did he remove the officials who were actually involved in the licensing and whose offices were raided by the CBI. Thomas's successor, R Chandrashekhar, did one better in that he wrote to the CAG, citing a legal opinion he had got, saying the CAG Act did not authorise it to investigate the matter. Any action against Raja has to be accompanied by action against bureaucrats who colluded with him—in even the Adarsh case that saw Ashok Chavan lose his job, the bureaucrats have escaped so far.


Even more mysterious is the action of well-known firms that benefited from Raja's largesse—did these firms, which include Unitech, Tata Teleservices, Reliance Communications, global giants like Telenor of Norway and Etisalat of Dubai (Telenor bought into Unitech's licence and Etisalat into Swan's), and many more, even stop to ponder whether such brazen favouritism would be allowed to pass unnoticed? It is curious that the lawyers of these firms, and there must have been some pretty heavy-duty law firms involved, didn't advise them against risking huge amounts of money. The licences, it is true, were given at a fraction of their true value (that's where the CAG's Rs 1.76 lakh crore comes from), but putting in Rs 1,651 crore for an all-India licence is not small change—in the case of Etisalat and Telenor, the amount paid was even higher, Rs 4,200 crore and Rs 6,120 crore, respectively, for a 45% stake in Swan (now known as Etisalat DB) and a 67.25% stake in Unitech Wireless (now known as Uninor). What were they smoking?







The more than three-fold increase in unemployment rates to 9.4% in the Report on Employment and Unemployment Survey 2009-10, brought out by the Labour Bureau, as compared to the 2.8% estimated for 2007-08 by the NSSO survey, may appear alarming at first glance. A sharp surge in the unemployment rates just in the immediate aftermath of the global recession would only lend credence to the arguments of the pessimists who would like to roll back the reforms and insulate the domestic economy. But the findings need to be sharply discounted as the quality of the indicators estimated is yet to be assessed. In fact, the Committee on Annual Estimates of Employment and Unemployment to meet the requirements of the Planning Commission, which made recommendations on the survey, had even noted that two or three annual surveys were needed to assess the quality of indicators before taking a decision on producing quarterly indicators on employment and unemployment. The Labour Bureau has been cautious about making any tall claims about the reliability of the indicators. In fact, the report points out that the higher unemployment rate estimated may be partly attributed to the sharp 10% fall in the contribution of the agriculture sector to the total employment in its survey as compared to the previous ones. It goes on to acknowledge that though a reduction in the share of the workforce in agriculture is a positive trend for a fast-growing economy, the steep fall noted in the current survey could be attributed to the lack of adequate probing skills of the contract investigators that it engaged for the survey.


The confession of such inaccuracy should get the authorities to rethink their decision to rely less on the annual employment and unemployment survey from professional agencies like the NSSO (which have the adequate resources to conduct such surveys), and source such surveys to the Labour Bureau (which has a limited reach). Though a multiplicity of agencies would induce more competition and improve accuracy, tapping the full potential of the economies of scale demands that some of the labour-intensive tasks like collection of data be centralised in the hands of skilled professional investigators. The National Statistical Commission should ensure that such experimental surveys are labelled as such and not given the sanctity of official reports till the nodal agencies are able to vouch for the accuracy of the estimates.








The G20 meets today to ostensibly decide on the fate of currencies, but like the Federal Reserve's QE2 $600 billion dollar injection, their influence on currency values is negligible, and possibly late. Many see the QE2 programme as excessive and unwarranted. There are accusations of a hidden motive, a hidden agenda. And what might that be? To lower the value of the dollar, i.e., to further fuel currency wars.


It is worth recalling why we have a problem in the first place. Why is it that even the World Bank president is calling for a new gold order? It is because the currency system is out of whack. And why is the system broken? There are 82 countries in the world with a population of more than 10 million and there is only one country, one currency, that is accused of "currency manipulation"—China. And China is once again, after a gap of several hundred years, at the centre of attention. It is big, brash, and some might even say arrogant. It wants its currency to move, but move ever so slowly.


The spin mantra of China is that they are a responsible country, and that they will adjust the currency upwards, but do it gradually. Now who can object to gradualism, especially in India, where there has been nothing but gradualism. We are like that only, though some might add that our democratic framework allows us to move only gradually. Coming back to China's gradualism—can anyone point to even one major policy on their part that was gradual in the last 60-odd years? The Great Leap Forward wasn't exactly gradual, nor was the Cultural Revolution when after a Mao moment's notice, engineers were turned into peasants. Nor was the one-child policy of 1974 gradual. The economic reforms instituted in 1978 were not gradual either. Indeed, China is the envy of the democratic world because it does not have to confront the perils of democratic gradualism.


But more to the point, China's record on depreciating its currency has been the least gradual of all—among all countries and all times. Between 1978 and 1994, the yuan moved from 1.68 to the dollar to 8.62 to the dollar, and stayed close to the latter level till 2005. That is a depreciation of more than 400% in the short space of 16 years. Normally such depreciation occurs in a hyper-inflation regime. In the case of China, inflation was higher than the US, but not by a margin large enough to cause a significant dent in the real depreciation of the yuan with respect to the dollar. The real value of the yuan in 1994 became less than one-third (actually 29%) of its real value in 1978. Gradualism, anyone?


There is only one real outcome that really matters in this ostensibly confusing world. It is that in order for there to be a semblance of any order in currency values, the yuan has to appreciate, and appreciate by something like 5-10% a year for the next several years. Such an appreciation would still be gradual, and so would meet the demands of China. But China is refusing to do even that. So how does the world solve this problem? By meeting in Seoul? I doubt it.


There is another way out. It is for the dollar to appreciate against the major currencies of the world, and depreciate with respect to China and its east-Asian neighbours (excluding Japan, whose currency at 80 yen/dollar is already way overvalued). It also excludes India, a country with a large and widening current account deficit (estimated to be about 4% of GDP in 2010/11).


This way out began to happen almost not so coincidentally with the introduction of the QE2 programme. Though we will have to wait and see, but the Titanic size of the QE2 might be one of the very few mistakes of Bernanke's regime. The QE2 was envisioned within the context of a near certainty of a double-dip in the US economy (okay, not a near certainty but clearly well above 50%—hence the insurance policy by the Fed). If they had any doubts about their certitude, the Fed would have announced a much lower number for their stimulus—say around $300 billion, rather than $600 billion. But they were quite certain about their numbers and that overconfidence might make them look somewhat irresponsible a few months hence.


Almost simultaneously with the QE2 decision, news began to emerge, from around the world, that the world recovery was intact. Yes, it had gone through a soft patch for the last six months, but no, it wasn't going to be even close to a double dip. Within the US itself, two days after the QE2 announcement, news came that the economy had added more than 200,000 jobs in October (after revisions for the previous two months). As a surprise to the Germans, and perhaps the Fed itself, the dollar began to appreciate and in just a week it had appreciated by nearly 2% (and more against the euro and the yen).


Movement in exchange rates, as most market participants believe, is much more a function of real activity (GDP growth) than of nominal activity (movement in relative interest rates). If the forecast of a steadily improving US economy is correct, the dollar should continue to appreciate gradually. International pressures should, and most likely will, persist in getting the Chinese to move a bit faster than the glacial pace they have self-interestedly anchored themselves to. So where governments fail, the good old market might come to the rescue. Or stated differently, if the Pope won't come to the mountain, the mountain will move towards the Pope.


The author is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm








Keep the faith. If there's a lesson in the tremendous turnaround at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), it is that conviction can get you where you want to be. When Tata Motors bought the marquee British brands in March 2008 for $2.3 billion (Ford had earlier bought them for $5.3 billion), there were few applauders. India's biggest automobile firm, the sceptics said, lacked the bandwidth to sell luxury cars and that too in unfamiliar markets. Moreover, Tata Motors had borrowed some $3 billion to pay for the business, a millstone if there ever was one. Two and half years down the line, the XF and the Discovery are speeding out of showrooms; JLR's sales soared nearly 58% in the three months to September 2010 to £2.25 billion, while operating margins were a firm 16.6%, bettering the 15.5% posted for the June 2010 quarter, and resulting in a PAT of £238 million. Five quarters ago, margins were below 3%.


For those who believed the loans would never come off the books, the consolidated net debt-equity for the automotive business has been driven down to just 1.16 times; even in December last year, the firm's debt-equity ratio was some 4.5 times. But an option given in March this year, to yen and dollar bond holders allowing them to convert early, turned out to be a hugely successful move, helping the firm rid itself of $345 million. The recent $750 million placement of equity shares has further deleveraged the balance sheet and, with some luck, the debt ratio should come down to 1 very soon. Indeed, with the cash flowing in, Tata Motors should have no trouble funding the £800 million to £1 billion needed every year for routine capital expenditure at JLR. If the company found lenders two years ago, in a decidedly more difficult environment, there should be enough takers both for its debt and equity today. In short, the financial management has been nothing short of brilliant.


As has the product and marketing strategy. JLR is now clocking unbelievable numbers both in the wholesale and retail spaces; Jaguar retail volumes rose 17% y-o-y to just over 14,110 units, driven by the XF and the launch, in May 2010, of the XJ. Land Rover's Discovery, Freelander and Range Rover all chipped in to help post a 22% rise in volumes to 42,300-plus units. And cars aren't being given away; realisations have actually improved while the discounts have grown smaller. For instance, incentives dropped 22-25% sequentially, in the September quarter, in markets like the US where the waiting period, for some models, is anywhere between two and six weeks.


If this is the performance at a time when global recovery has been delayed, then things can only get better. Indeed, JLR stands well poised to gain from a revival in the luxury car market, prompting some analysts to rework the operating profit for JLR to £1.6 billion in the year to March 2012. By that time, revenues are expected to cross £10 billion. If JLR has turned around in double quick time, it's because Tata Motors believed in the brands and continued to invest in the product line. The strategy to launch new models in a difficult market has paid off handsomely, with both XF and the XJ doing roaring business—the XJ has sold 8,700 units in the six months to September. Had the company scaled back on development and held back the new launches, the volumes may not have come through, delaying the turnaround. The new models have helped improve the product mix and resulted in better realisations and, therefore, more top line growth. The average selling price for the year to March 2011 should be just over £39,100 per unit compared with around £36,000 per unit at the end of March 2010. Costs were cut where they needed to be; manufacturing expenses as a proportion of sales are down some 700 basis points over the past five quarters, while expenses on employees have remained flat at less than £200 million in the September 2010 quarter. The flab that Ford had added, in terms of fixed overheads, was shed.


Of course, the Tata brand equity would have helped enormously; once again, like it did when it acquired Daewoo in Korea, Tata Motors has proved that it can deal with labour, gaining its confidence and convincing it to become part of the team. The Tatas may not have got the kind of support from the British government that they expected but this is probably a blessing in disguise because now they needn't brook any interference. And the company has managed to carry with it the stakeholders, whether workers or lenders. For sure, shareholders have been hurt—the stock had come off to Rs 130 levels in late 2008. And the turnaround notwithstanding, the timing of the acquisition wasn't great, something that Ratan Tata himself conceded. There are miles to go before Tata Motors recovers the investment. But they're halfway there.






Food diplomacy

In a bid to mollify Nitish Kumar, BJP leader Arun Jaitley stepped off at Gopala, a sweetmeat shop near his house in south Delhi, to pick up some rasgullas before he went to Bihar for the election campaign. It seems Nitish Kumar, who generally likes boiled food, has a craving for this particular brand of rasgulla. Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee also has a craving for a particular kind of food. And it isn't hilsa. Banerjee hosted a dinner on Wednesday and, instead of traditional Bengali fare, the choicest of Thai cuisine was served. Mamata confessed that she fell in love with Thai food when, while travelling overseas, she transited through Bangkok.


Lack-of-food diplomacy


Since UPA leaders like Pranab Mukherjee were working overtime to figure out who Ashok Chavan's successor in Maharashtra would be, the finance minister had to skip both dinner and breakfast. It was only after the name was finalised and all formalities completed that he went home to a hearty meal.








The political vacuum that has left Iraq without a government since the March 2010 elections is close to being filled as a result of two key developments. First, Kurdistania Alliance, which holds 43 seats in Iraq's parliament, has opted to join Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law coalition. Secondly, Iran has constructively persuaded the Iraqi Shia leader, the 'anti-American' cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who lives in exile in Qom, to back Mr. al-Maliki. The 70 seats of the Sadrist Iraqi National Alliance will give the State of Law a comfortable majority. The al-Maliki group as well as Iyad Allawi's 'secular-nationalist' Iraqiya List, which won 89 and 91 seats respectively in the polls, were way short of the 163 needed for a majority; longstanding factional and other disputes also impeded government formation. Iran's political diplomacy followed the departure of the last U.S. combat troops in September. Tehran received Mr. al-Maliki for talks and then brokered the Qom meeting. In a far-reaching move, Iran involved Syria as well as the Lebanon-based Hezbollah for enhanced leverage.


The manifest disappointment of Mr. Allawi, who was installed as interim prime minister following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, is being compensated through the Iraqiya getting the speakership of parliament as well as leadership of a committee overseeing national security. But what stands out here is Iran's rising importance in the region. Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and Mr. al-Maliki withdrew ambassadors in the middle of 2009 following the latter's public accusation that Syria was involved in bombing government buildings in Baghdad — but Iran has now brought Mr. Assad on board. Secondly, only Iran could have persuaded Mr. al-Sadr to back Mr. al-Maliki after talks between the two had failed. Thirdly, the Iraqi people are, on this evidence, realistic about the role their neighbour can and will play in their country. That in turn throws the spotlight on the kind of withdrawal the U.S. intends to make. The invaders have built and staffed several huge and effectively permanent military bases in Iraq. The imponderable is how all this will play militarily and politically, with Maliki-Sadrist pre-eminence in governance? It was Washington that provided Tehran with this significant opening by switching support from Mr. Maliki to Mr. Allawi after the election. Without a stable and lasting political dispensation, Iraq will be unable to recover from the terrible destruction wrought by the illegal U.S.-led invasion and occupation. Iran's constructive engagement with Iraq must therefore be welcomed by political India, despite the contrary message President Barack Obama delivered during his recent visit.







A statement in President Barack Obama's address to the Lok Sabha that "in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member" has generated much euphoria in India and an equal amount of anger in Pakistan. India has seen it as an endorsement by the United States of its longstanding efforts to get into the elite club of the world's big powers. In Islamabad, the Cabinet met to "express serious concern and strong disappointment" over what it saw as an act of betrayal by Washington. Both reactions are way off the mark. True, this was the first time a President of the United States expressed such a sentiment. Successive administrations have preferred to talk around the subject. In this sense, Mr. Obama's words represent a symbolic shift in policy. Yet they were nowhere close to an explicit statement of support for India's bid for a permanent seat on the Security Council. Compared to the 2005 statement by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice that the "United States unambiguously supports a permanent seat for Japan on the United Nations Security Council," President Obama's formulation sounds like a vague promise. Further, his reference to New Delhi's "increased responsibility" was a clear indication that India would first need to pass American tests of responsible conduct in international affairs.


With or without U.S. support, India has a long way to go in its quest for permanent membership of the Security Council. The U.N. has spent years discussing reforms and the comity of nations is far from reaching an agreement on them. President Obama's omission of a timeline in his assurance to India was telling. There is no consensus on any big-ticket item on the reforms agenda, including the expansion of the Security Council and veto powers for the new permanent members. Islamabad could not be unaware of this. Its denunciation of what it has described as India's "chequered" track record in adhering to U.N principles and resolutions suggests that the anger is directed at the larger symbolism of the Obama statement for India-U.S ties. New Delhi and Islamabad have always viewed with suspicion each other's relations with Washington, and the warmth that was apparent during the Obama visit, combined with the frenzied anti-Pakistan sentiments in the Indian broadcast media during the visit, have not gone down well in Pakistan. Since India's permanent membership of the UNSC looks today like a pie in the sky, it is best to treat the Pakistan Cabinet's statement as an over-the-top rant that does not deserve a serious response.










Speaking to an audience of businessmen in New Delhi in May 2009, Robert D. Blackwill struck a dark and pessimistic tone about what the arrival of Barack Obama in the White House portended for India. As George W. Bush's ambassador, Mr. Blackwill had helped effect a major transformation of the bilateral relationship. But four months into the tenure of his successor, he was concerned that "there may be a substantial change under way in the quality and the intensity of U.S.-India relations."


The main reason for this was the change in Washington's attitude towards Beijing. According to Mr. Blackwill, President Bush "based his transformation of U.S.-India relations on the core strategic principle of democratic India as a key factor in balancing the rise of Chinese power." Going by early indications, however, "it is not clear that the Obama administration has the same preoccupation with the rise of Chinese power and India's balancing role in it."


Ambassador Blackwill was not alone in reading the tea leaves that way. The world financial crisis had increased the clout of China and there was much breathless talk of 'G-2', a new Sino-American compact to stabilise the global economy. "So China today appears, at least to me, to be on a substantially higher plane in U.S. diplomacy than India, which seems to have been downgraded in administration strategic calculations," Mr. Blackwill noted. One consequence of this downgrading was the role the Obama administration appeared to encourage China to play in South Asia. The joint statement issued at the end of President Obama's visit to Beijing in November 2009 spoke about the two countries increasing their cooperation towards the goal of "bringing about more stable, peaceful relations in all of South Asia." Not surprisingly, India saw red.


Twelve months later, however, the world seems to have spun around to the Bush axis again. The U.S. no longer harbours illusions about a G-2 in which China would play the role of a junior partner. Tension with Beijing has returned across a wide range of bilateral issues from currency and trade to naval deployment and maritime security. The past year has also seen a deterioration in China's relations with several Asian powers like India, Japan and Vietnam, with disputes flaring up over stapled visas for Kashmiri-domiciled Indians and disputed islands in the South China and East China seas. It is in this context that President Obama and his advisors seem to have rediscovered the importance of India.


In a triumph of strategic path-dependence over political fantasy, President Obama has returned to the baseline policy the United States has been following for the past decade. This is the policy of renewing alliances and creating "partnerships" in Asia so as to sustain American domination and leadership in a region that is otherwise increasingly being influenced by China's rise. And at the heart of this policy is encouraging India to get more involved in the East Asian economic and strategic space. "Today, the U.S. is once again playing a leadership role in Asia," President Obama said in his speech to the joint session of Parliament earlier this week. [We] want India to not only "look East", we want India to "engage East"…"


The crucial words here are the "leadership role" of the U.S. They provide the context for the increased engagement Mr. Obama wants to see as he exhorts India to go east. The Manmohan-Obama joint statement talks of the two leaders having a shared vision for peace, stability and prosperity in "Asia, the Indian Ocean region and the Pacific region." They also speak of the need for an open, balanced and inclusive architecture in the region.


Without going into the merits or demerits of India looking and engaging the East under American "leadership," the essentially derivative nature of the Indo-U.S. relationship needs underlining. What is common to the warming to India under Bush, the cooling in the initial months of the Obama administration, and the current warmth is, in a word, China. American attitudes towards Beijing appear to have become a better predictor of temperature on the Indo-U.S. front than anything intrinsic to the bilateral relationship. And that can't be a good thing.


The reality of this equation for Indo-U.S. cooperation in the strategic and military sphere is reinforced by some of the views collated by Bethany N. Danyluk and Juli A. MacDonald in The U.S.-India Defense Relationship: Reassessing Perceptions and Expectations, a report prepared for the Pentagon in November 2008. "If there were no China," a U.S. Navy officer is quoted as saying in the unclassified report, "we would still engage [India], but maybe not to the same extent. There are plenty of opportunities for cooperation, but China drives a lot of what we are doing".


The 2008 report, which updates a similar survey of American and Indian policymakers' attitudes that the Pentagon commissioned in 2002, provides a valuable insight into the other imperatives that also seem to be driving the American desire to have India look east. These include the expectation that India could relieve some of the regional security burdens currently borne by the U.S., with its overextended military commitments, and the idea that Washington ought to somehow leverage the relationships India has in the region to achieve mutual objectives "in places where the United States would like to maintain a lower profile." According to one American official quoted: "The United States is trying to get out of the one-on-one hub-and-spoke mentality. We need to figure out where the United States injects itself effectively. Where it does not, it would be helpful to have India engage these actors horizontally."


The picture that emerges, then, is a complex one in which American off-shore balancing is combined with the outsourcing of hegemonic responsibilities in East Asia.


The fact that the U.S. hopes to benefit from increased Indian engagement in East Asia can hardly be an argument against India looking east. But the hyphenation with China that the American policy towards India is predicated on should make us pause for thought. Though India — and even the U.S. — are not in the business of containing China, this explicit hyphenation of two major Asian powers in American public discourse creates unnecessary complications for New Delhi. For example, the Chinese attitude towards a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council for India may be outrightly hostile if Beijing concludes that Washington is being motivated by some crude notion of a balance of power in Asia. Of course, China may still be hostile in the absence of such a motive but it might reconcile itself to the rise of Indian power if it believes this power will not be used to hurt its legitimate core interests. Sending out such a signal is essential for India.


As India and China grow, they will inevitably rub up against each other in their respective backyards. India does not like the growing Chinese influence in South Asia any more than China will welcome India's increasing presence in East Asia. But when this presence comes bundled together with an American one, the mix can seem suffocating and lethal for both. Just as India reacted so negatively to America speaking of a Chinese role in South Asia, China is likely to be shell-shocked by the copious references to East Asia in the various speeches and statements that were made during Mr. Obama's recent visit to India. It may react by reaching out and playing catch up with a country it has unnerved with its statements on the border issue this past year. Or it may ratchet up the pressure. Or it may just wait and see whether Mr. Obama's domestic difficulties and changes in global dynamics push Washington into once again warming towards Beijing and cooling towards Delhi.


India's relationships with the U.S. and China will never be completely independent of each other but the challenge for Indian policymakers is to ensure each is free standing and independent of the pushes and pulls which occur between Washington and Beijing. The U.S. does not do partnerships. That is why Mr. Obama reminded Indian parliamentarians of the leadership role America is playing in Asia. But Asia doesn't need leaders and followers. So long as Washington insists on leading the show, the Asian architecture India and the U.S. speak about cannot be genuinely open, balanced and inclusive. As New Delhi slowly recovers from the Obama whirlwind, this is one message that needs to be internalised.









The laboratories of Uganda's Ministry of Agriculture, Animals, Industry and Fisheries sit on the top of a quiet hill on a turn-off near the airport, behind an eroded fence. At the end of a hallway is a room with an unlocked refrigerator.


That is where the anthrax is kept.


Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana, and a delegation of Pentagon officials visited the laboratories on November 10 for the first stop on a three-country tour of East Africa to assess the next generation of U.S. security concerns.


The team also visited the Uganda Virus Research Institute, where the Ebola and Marburg viruses are taken to study and kept in a spare room in a regular refrigerator near the bottom of the compound. Warning signs say "restricted access," but the doctors there say that hardly means the area is secure.


Focus on East Africa


The laboratories here in Entebbe, a warm and sleepy city on the shores of Lake Victoria, are part of what the delegation called the front lines of the struggle to counter terrorist threats.


"We need to tighten the security of vulnerable public health laboratories in East Africa," said Andrew C. Weber, assistant to the secretary of defence for nuclear and chemical and biological defence programmes. "Preventing terrorist acquisition of dangerous pathogens, the seed material for biological weapons, is a security imperative."


The rise of the Shabab, the Islamist insurgent group that claimed responsibility for deadly suicide bombings in Uganda as crowds gathered to watch the final match of the World Cup, has refocussed attention on East Africa as a frontier in U.S. security interests.


In 2004, Congress expanded the mandate of the Nunn-Lugar programme, which originally focused on dismantling warheads in former Soviet states, to include geographic regions like this one. Now, Lugar's trip will take the delegation to Uganda, Burundi and then Kenya.


Uganda, a long-time U.S. military ally, may be the most vivid illustration of the concerns. Warm, wet and on the equator, Uganda is a biological petri dish. Anthrax has killed hundreds of hippopotamuses in recent years. In 2008, a Dutch tourist died from Marburg disease after visiting a cave in a national park. In 2007, an Ebola outbreak killed more than 20 people.


Lax security, poor conditions


This is the stuff of "Hot Zone" and "Outbreak" novels that have dramatised the dangers of viral outbreaks. But the underlying threat, U.S. officials contend, is that lax security at the poorly financed labs that collect and study these diseases pose a bioterrorism risk.


Ugandan officials also say the country's push to create new federal districts, part of what the government calls an effort to decentralise the country, has spread the bureaucracy so thin that disease samples can take weeks to make it to a laboratory, or never arrive at all.


"It makes it difficult to report new cases," said Dr. Nicholas Kauta, a commissioner at the Ministry of Agriculture. "We don't know what is around us."


The laboratories at the Ministry of Agriculture, built in the 1920s, have broken windows, and a chain-link fence surrounding the compound is ripped. According to the commissioner, there used to be more than 200 technical staff members, but now there are only six. In the anthrax laboratory, one doctor showed how to use a cell phone camera placed on top of a microscope to study the bacteria, a demonstration of the lack of proper equipment.


"These are cries for assistance that the U.S. is eager to provide," Lugar said.


At the Uganda Virus Research Institute, there are state-of-the-art facilities run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a U.S. agency, but not at all of it. The deadliest agents, including Ebola, are still kept downstairs in a room intended to handle lesser infectious diseases like influenza.


"This is the end-state," said Lt. Col. Jay Hall, from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), pointing out the disease control agency laboratories upstairs. "This is where we want to get all other labs."


— © New York Times News Service










Three decades and two oceans stand between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India. But on a dais in New Delhi after a joint news conference on November 8, the two men, neither known for his social ebullience, were inseparable: the youthful, lanky American President's arm firmly fixed on the older man's shoulder, with Mr. Singh grinning widely and his arm wrapped tightly around Mr. Obama's waist.


More than once during his three-day visit Mr. Obama called the relationship between India and the United States "the defining partnership of the 21st century." But the relationship between the two men has evolved into something of a friendship as well. Mr. Obama has called Mr. Singh his guru, and on November 8 Mr. Singh called Mr. Obama "a personal friend and a charismatic leader who has made a deep imprint on world affairs."


Cold War to reconciliation


The long and complicated relationship between the United States and India has veered from warm embrace long before independence to the uneasy frostbite of the Cold War to the reconciliation of recent years, built on shared democratic and multicultural values and a desire to balance the influence of a rising China.


But even as broad historical forces have shaped the relationship, a personal bond appears to be forming between the leaders of the world's two largest democracies, who developed an easy rapport in their numerous international meetings and have now thrown state dinners for each other on reciprocal visits.


"The personal equation is very important," said Ronen Sen, who until last year was India's ambassador to the United States.


Down the ages


President Dwight D. Eisenhower had a warm regard for India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. When the President went to India in 1959, the two visited villages together in a convertible, and Eisenhower was greeted by adoring crowds everywhere he went.


Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi, who became Prime Minister in 1966, easily charmed President Lyndon B. Johnson that year on her first visit to the United States. He found the elegant, youthful woman irresistible, overstaying so long at a meeting at the home of Gandhi's cousin that he had to be invited to dinner.


Mrs Gandhi had notoriously noxious relations with President Richard M. Nixon. But when she and a newly elected President Ronald Reagan met in Cancun, Mexico, at a summit meeting on international development, they hit it off, to everyone's surprise. Mr. Reagan invited Mrs. Gandhi for a state visit, and she took him up on it.


The personal link


"In the height of the Cold War, because of personal chemistry, India and the United States managed to create a thaw in their frozen relations," said Lalit Mansingh, a former foreign secretary and ambassador to the United States.


The Hindu nationalist party of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India's Prime Minister from 1998 to 2004, had a centre-right ideology that fit well with that of President George W. Bush. The two men eventually began negotiating an agreement that would end India's nuclear exile.


Bush and Singh cemented that deal in 2005.


"They got on extremely well," said Mr. Sen, the ambassador to the United States at the time.


At first glance it seemed to be an unlikely bond between the informal, back-slapping Mr. Bush and Mr. Singh, a reserved academic 14 years his senior. But Mr. Bush's deep interest in India impressed Mr. Singh, said officials who observed the relationship closely.


Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, an Indian journalist who has written a book about relations between the United States and India, said he, too, was surprised by the rapport between the two men and had asked Mr. Singh about it. Mr. Singh replied that he appreciated Mr. Bush's straightforward nature.


"He said he was a very warm and human person," Mr. Datta-Ray said.


The Obama visit


Mr. Singh set tongues wagging when he told Mr. Bush, after a White House meeting, "The people of India love you deeply." That Mr. Obama and Mr. Singh have found common ground is perhaps less of a surprise. Both are better at the intricacies of policy than at the glad-handing of politics. Both enjoy adulation on the global stage that seems to have eluded them at home.


Mr. Obama arrived in New Delhi fresh from his party's "shellacking" in a midterm-election cycle in which Democrats lost their majority in the House and saw their control of the Senate sharply narrowed.


Mr. Singh, a celebrated figure globally who was reappointed as Prime Minister when the Congress Party won parliamentary elections just a few months after Mr. Obama moved into the Oval Office, has faced harsh criticism at home for his handling of a crisis in Kashmir, rising food prices and perceived missteps in handling India's archrival, Pakistan. — © New York Times News Service









Let us assume, in a simple model, that the U.S. President Barack Obama wants Pakistan and India to talk and make peace because, in a broader sense, this would lead to stability in South and West Asia which, in turn, would serve both the core and peripheral interests of the United States and, by extension, of the world.


Please note the sub-clauses even simplicity can generate in this part of the world. But leaving that aside, and for now even the details where the clichéd devil resides, did he actually serve this cause through his India visit? No.


The de-hyphenation


Behind all the nice talk about setting the world right through a Lockean cooperative framework lurks Mr. Hobbes. First, Mr. Obama tried to de-hyphenate Pakistan and India by not including Pakistan on this visit even as Pakistan is supposed to be a vital strategic partner and a state that is, presumably, going to determine, by his own admission, not only the future of this region but of the entire world. This would be amusing if it did not indicate a deep policy flaw. Then there is the irony of it, palpable, when we saw India re-hyphenating itself with Pakistan by almost pestering Mr. Obama to please call Pakistan a terrorist state!


In the end he did talk about "insist[ing] to Pakistan's leaders that terrorist safe-havens within their borders are unacceptable." Today's speeches may not be Periclean but neither should they entirely lose nuance, especially if the thrust is to change rather than perpetuate the past and the present. Positing it as he did, it might have placated India a little but drew sneers from Pakistan.


Then, speaking at the Lok Sabha, Mr. Obama saluted "India's long history as a leading contributor to United Nations peacekeeping missions" and welcomed "India as it prepares to take its seat on the United Nations Security Council."


Pakistan and peacekeeping


Right! Statistically, Pakistan is the largest contributor to U.N. peacekeeping missions followed by Bangladesh and then India, thank you. India's long history also includes blocking U.N. resolutions and having disputes with almost every neighbour on its periphery. But let's move away from facts to the good story. It makes eminent sense, from Mr. Hobbes' perspective, to try and get India in. It's realpolitik.


And realpolitik is protean. Pakistan created the coffee club at the U.N. and it will, as it has, use every alliance at the U.N. and work the procedures to frustrate every attempt to get India in. It also knows that the working groups on U.N. reform, including that of the Security Council, require a process infested with procedural rigmaroles. So, the UNSC seat for India is not about to happen.


But what this enunciation has done, and it doesn't appear too useful in the overall game, is to get Islamabad to issue a stern demarche to Washington. From Pakistan's perspective, the U.S. is catering to India's interests without regard to Pakistan's concerns about India. For an actor that wants Pakistan to appreciate its interests in West Asia and help it achieve them, this approach violates even the basics of an incentives structure model.


Add to this de-listing the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) from what Mr. Obama described as the "so-called 'entity list'" and indicating facilitating India's entry into Club de Londres and other bodies that form the decision-making super-structure of nuclear- and non-proliferation-related activities and there's another red rag for Pakistan. All of this will go through many hurdles, a discussion of which is not possible here; much of it may not even be free lunch for India given that it is enhancing its nuclear capabilities. But the symbolism of it is more important than the substance. And the minus side is that it keeps Pakistan outside instead of pulling it in, even as Mr. Obama wants to influence Pakistan's choices.


C, P and K-factors


The important point here is not that the United States should not help India emerge. Nor is it that India should not enjoy the dividends of its impressive efforts. In a minus-Pakistan scenario, Mr. Obama's policy could even be hailed on multiple counts including, as some commentators in India pointed out, for the C-factor. The problem is that there are the P and K factors and they cannot be wished away.


Given that India and Pakistan are conflictual states, both are bound to rely on their comparative advantage at any given point to frustrate the other. India wants to capitalise on its increasing ability to interest the world; Pakistan would on its ability to worry the world. On the sidelines of the many positives India can offer to the world, Pakistanis fear that India is simultaneously marshalling the world against Pakistan; Islamabad claims too that it is covertly leveraging groups against it, the evidence of which has been shared with both New Delhi and Washington. In theory, the policy of covert ops offers plausible deniability and India can, to its great advantage, use the same groups that have now turned on Pakistan. A smart strategy this, but there is nothing cooperative and Lockean about it!


India's Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, during the joint press conference, said: "We are committed to engage Pakistan ... But it is our request that you cannot simultaneously be talking and at the same time the terror machine is as active as ever before. Once Pakistan moves away from this terror-induced coercion, we will be very happy to engage productively with Pakistan to resolve all outstanding issues."


Well said. Once again, without contextualising things, we get into this chicken and egg problem in terms of cause and effect. But the words of Salvador de Madariaga, once chairman of the League of Nations Disarmament Commission, may form good advice in terms of direction of causality in most affairs, not just disarmament:


"The trouble with disarmament was (and still is) that the problem of war is tackled upside down and at the wrong end ... Nations don't distrust each other because they are armed; they are armed because they distrust each other. And therefore to want disarmament before a minimum of common agreement on fundamentals is as absurd as to want people to go undressed in winter. Let the weather be warm, and they will undress readily enough without committees to tell them so."


Let the weather be warm and we can all enjoy the sunny beach.


( The writer is Contributing Editor, The Friday Times.)









The government's decision to set up a committee under Dr Rakesh Mohan, a former deputy governor of the Reserve Bank and currently India's executive director on the IMF board, to take a comprehensive relook at how domestic private and foreign investment can be attracted for infrastructure funding is extremely welcome. There is nodoubt that infrastructure funding is a serious problem: the shortage of funds in the 12th Five-Year Plan is expected to be around 30 per cent. Some put the figure at `13 lakh crore. The funding is now being taken care of by gross budgetary support, which is 53 per cent of the requirement, against a target of 32 per cent. Public sector banks provide 80 per cent of the funding for infrastructure projects, with the rest coming from the private sector and institutions like the Infrastructure Development Finance Company and the India Infrastructure Finance Company Ltd. In the case of IDFC, for instance, 40 per cent of its funds come from public sector banks, so the pressure on banks is tremendous. That is why it is imperative to find alternative funding sources. Dr Mohan had some years back developed a whole set of government policies to attract private and foreign investment for infrastructure development. But the core issues have remained unresolved despite a slew of seminars and conferences deliberating and offering solutions. The infrastructure deficit is said to cost India one to two per cent in GDP growth every year.

The government and all connected with infrastructure are aware of the risks that private and foreign investors face — such as in construction, land acquisition (one of the biggest hurdles today) and environmental clearance (which has held up scores of projects). These problems are not new, and experts have come up with several suggestions over the years. One of these is a strong corporate bond market for long-term financing. Many years back the R.H. Patil Committee had drawn up an exhaustive set of guidelines to develop a strong bond market, but till today there has been no movement in its implementation. The lack of urgency is very visible.
One of the key solutions agreed on was to get household savings, estimated at 22 per cent of GDP, and insurance and pension funds, estimated at over `5 lakh crore, routed to infrastructure funding through the equity and bond markets. This is a challenge that stares the government in its face, but since there is no institutional mechanism to enable this, the bulk of these funds continue to lie in bank deposits. Investing the several lakh crores of rupees in insurance and pension funds in the equity markets is of course a very sensitive political issue, and even though the government is trying to provide encouragement, the trustees of these funds are not biting the bait. The reason is simple: the Indian stock markets are not considered safe enough as they still suffer from manipulation and price-rigging despite the monitoring carried out by the Securities and Exchange Board of India. People have lost several thousands of crores of rupees over the years to unscrupulous scamsters and have no hope of getting it back.

The new Rakesh Mohan Committee will have to take a holistic view when looking for solutions. Instead of treading on ground already covered, maybe it can call all significant players in the funding business to thrash out major problem issues one by one, starting perhaps with land acquisition. While foreign funds are always welcome, there is more than enough money available within the country: what needs to be done urgently is to devise risk-free ways so that domestic savings, insurance and pension funds can be directed towards infrastructure funding.







US President Barack Obama's successful visit to India and his historic speech to a joint session of Parliament capped a milestone week in Indo-US relations. This was his sixth encounter with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in various forums in the last 18 months, but his first in New Delhi, and it set the seal on the consolidation of a relationship that has changed dramatically over the last decade.


Throughout the Cold War, the world's oldest democracy and its largest were essentially estranged. The American preference for making anti-communist allies, however unsavoury, had tied Washington to a series of increasingly Islamist dictatorships in Pakistan, while the non-aligned democracy had drifted towards the secular Soviet embrace. With the end of the Cold War and India's increasing integration into the global economy, a thaw set in, but India's explosion of a nuclear device in 1998 triggered a fresh round of US sanctions. President Bill Clinton began to turn things around with a hugely successful India visit during his last year in office. The Bush administration took matters much further, with a landmark accord on civil nuclear cooperation that remains the centrepiece of the transformed relationship.

The nuclear accord simultaneously accomplished two things. It admitted India into the global nuclear club despite our principled refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. More important, it acknowledged that US exceptionalism had found a sibling. Thanks to the US, which strong-armed the 45 countries of the Nuclear Suppliers' Group into swallowing their concerns that special treatment for India could constitute a precedent for rogue nuclear aspirants such as Pakistan, North Korea and Iran, there is now an "Indian exception". Few things could have been more gratifying to a deeply proud nation that was tired of being constantly hyphenated by Washington with its smaller, dysfunctional neighbour, Pakistan.
Under Mr Obama, nothing quite so dramatic was possible. But the President hit all the right notes in his speech to Parliament. The references to Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda, and even B.R. Ambedkar; the quotes from Tagore, the Panchatantra and the Upanishads (though he wisely didn't attempt to pronounce "vasudhaiva kutumbakam", contenting himself with saying it in English) and the game utterances of "bahut dhanyavad" and "Jai Hind" won over many a sceptical Indian heart. And his speech conveyed two substantive assurances: support for India's aspirations to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and an unambiguous declaration that safe havens for terrorists in Pakistan were "unacceptable".

The latter was particularly welcome. The Obama administration's understandable concerns in Afghanistan have made Pakistan loom much larger in its consciousness than India. Mr Obama understands that there is no successful outcome in Afghanistan possible without Pakistan, and his administration has therefore been attentive to Islamabad's priorities in ways that New Delhi finds occasionally irritating. This statement will go a long way towards reassuring us that Washington is conscious of the fundamental danger to Indian security emanating from that side of the border, and is committed to addressing it with its friends in Pakistan.
Over the last year, there has also been progress on other fronts — the small but significant steps that add up to strengthening the sinews of a relationship. Agreements on seemingly mundane subjects like agriculture, education, health, and even space exploration and energy security testify to enhanced cooperation, and the two governments have also proclaimed "initiatives" on clean energy and climate change as well as educational linkages between American and Indian universities. The Obama visit consolidated all these gains, and the announcements in Mumbai of significant trade and investment deals confirmed that each nation is developing a more significant stake in the other than ever before. The US is India's largest trading partner, if you take goods and services together. American exports to India have, in the last five years, grown faster than to any other country. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) estimates that services trade between the two countries is likely to grow, despite the recent global financial crisis and the US recession that sparked it, from the present $60 billion to over $150 billion in the next six years.

There are strong reasons for congruence and powerful arguments for continued closeness. India is clearly going to join the US amongst the top five world powers of the 21st century. Both nations are anchored in democratic systems, and are committed to the rule of law, diversity and pluralism, and the encouragement of innovation and enterprise. The engagement of the two countries with each other is reinforced by the growing Indian presence in America — the 100,000 Indian students (who form the largest foreign student community there) supplementing the flourishing and influential Indo-American community, who enjoy the highest median income of any American ethnic group and who are playing an increasingly prominent role in politics and government.
Mr Obama spoke of a "global partnership". What could this mean in practice? Both countries share a responsibility for preserving a rule-based, open and democratic world order and for the management of the global economy. Both are active in the G-20 as the world's premier institution for dealing with international economic questions. India and the US could also act together to preserve the global commons — the environment, the high seas, human trafficking, outer space and cyberspace — all areas in which the two democracies, one the world's richest, the other still emerging from poverty, have different but not irreconcilable approaches. Cooperation on the innovative development of green energy technologies, for instance, and on space exploration or combating cyber-crime, are obvious examples of issues that did not exist before the 21st century dawned.

The possibilities are vast. As they say in America, Mr Obama stepped up to the plate this week, and in his speech to Parliament, he hit a home run. Let us make sure that after his departure, we keep the ball in play.

Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency








A major project threatens a site vital for natural heritage. Development needs dictate that nothing come in the way of progress. Caution about the web of life imposes on sensibilities another, contrarian reason. Tempers rise. The divide deepens. Each side accuses the other of being short-sighted. Irresistible force meets immovable obstacles.


A mineral or fossil fuel mine in a mountain range clothed with forest. A dam over a valley that is home to imperilled species. One person's meat is another's poison. The imperative of wealth creation with its promise of a better future points one way. Or the precautionary principle that enjoins thought prior to irreversible action indicates another, different route. If the force is irresistible, the barriers will give way. If the latter holds, it means, at the very least, a breathing space, a small battle won even as the wars continue.

Now, it is easy to predict outcomes where the political leadership sees ecology as expendable. California. One of the United States' now most eco-friendly states had a famous governor who was unfazed by the Save the Redwoods League. The ancient trees, already stripling adults when the New Testament was being composed, aroused strong sympathies. Being on private land, they were more vulnerable to the lure of rising prices for land owners eager to have a hefty cheque in the bank.

The governor, who had starred in a movie with a chimpanzee as soul mate (Bedtime for Bonzo), had no time for green sentiments. The former actor and labour union member said famously of the giant trees, "If you've seen one redwood, you've seen them all". Ronald Reagan was to be game changer at the global level but had no qualms about putting growth first. In a different corner of the globe at roughly the same time, in the 1960s while the Gipper was in the governor's mansion in Sacramento, Chairman Mao was energising the Red Guards in Beijing. The heavens trembled as he unleashed the Cultural Revolution.

In the remote mountain reaches of the deep southwest, the fight against "bourgeois emblems" and capitalist roaders spilled over from the human world to the animal one. Tigers were labelled as "counter-revolutionary striped bandits of the Guomindang variety". Mao brigades not only shot them but posed for photos earning plaudits for removing obstacles to the human domination over nature.

Yet, in today's world, save for closed societies and one-party politics, and sometimes even over there, there is little doubt things are a lot more complicated. The actor completing a second term as governor in California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a middle of the road Republican who has pushed hard for green house gas emission cuts. China itself has moved on from Mao's time, protecting tigers and pandas, trying to balance growth and green concerns.

But there are times when the divide is too sharp and the polarisation all too stark. What now? Or rather, what then? For the issue is not only mint fresh new from the day's pages. But it is eerily reminiscent of what Holmes advised that doddering Inspector Lestrade. Lock yourself up, the ace detective, advised, and read up the history. As the wheel turns, the same pattern reappears.

In the American case, the first major set piece battle over a project was in a valley called Hetch Hetchy. A dam would destroy part of a valuable forest site, but at stake was water for the city of Los Angeles. John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club and author of the famous My First Summer in the Sierra, saw this as the mother of all environmental battles. His rivals argued the dam was the wisest way to use water flowing away and going waste.
The city won; the park lost out. The defeat in 1916 sowed the seeds of greater, later victories. As the middle classes grew, the urge to see and savour nature won more not less adherents. Yellowstone and Yosemite, once distant places, first became open due to the railroad and then the motor car. By bringing these sites more in range of a greater number, the pressures increased but so did the constituency for conservation. Developers would find such a project a harder sell today.

A very different set piece battle happened less than a decade later. The Tatas embarked on a dam to bring water to Mumbai. It would also generate much-needed power but there was an issue, not of nature but of residents who would have to make way.

Led by a Gandhian ex-soldier, Senapati Bapat, the villagers launched the world's first peaceful anti-dam movement modelled on the techniques of Satyagraha. In his account, The World's First Anti-Dam Movement, the veteran poltical scientist, the late Rajinder Vora of Pune University, recounts the ups and downs of the struggle. As with Hetch Hetchy, much was at stake and the immediate outcome was in favour of the dam. But then, as Holmes reminds us, the same patterns recur. It's perhaps to the good, for a crowded planet. Though much is taken, much abides.







Every week I make a mental note of reading "Modern Love", the popular column about relationships published every Sunday in the New York Times (you will find it in the Style section). Off and on, I've been reading it for a few years.


These are personal essays of love between parents and children, about failed love, loss and separation, marriage and divorce, arguments, fights and infidelity, of brief encounters and sad as well as happy endings. Some I just skim through; and some that I really like, I share with friends. The one thing that these tales have in common is that they are short (about 1,300 words each), poignant and beautifully written.

Like the one this week in which the author, "chain-smoking my way through a series of boyfriends because I had no idea how to be alone", joins a meditation class, and meets a "lanky man in a button-down shirt, his blond hair dangling over a delicate ear".

I am not going to tell you what happens next in the Vipassana class, but here's another story of a 40-year-old single woman who decides to learn to ride a bike from a younger man: "'I prefer older women', he had said to me more than once. And that, I realised, was part of the problem. Because the more he talked about liking older women, the more I became one".

I remember Vizag-born Farahad Zama's story of an arranged marriage ("…our differences are the yin and yang that make our relationship whole"); it reminded me of The Unfortunate Fate of Kitty da Silva, a gentle, romantic short story by Alexander McCall Smith, the creator of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. You can read the complete story on the Net. It's about a doctor from Kerala living alone in England: "He had not planned that anything like this should happen, that he should walk, by himself, along a beach in Scotland with a woman who was his neighbour, and that his hand should brush against hers".

My wife recommends Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson, a multicultural romance between a middle-aged English gentleman and a Pakistani widow who ignore the opposition of their respective families and the prejudices of race to find love in the autumn of their lives.

Many years ago, a friend sent me the story of a young man that began with "He looked for the girl whose heart he knew, but whose face he didn't, the girl with the rose". I didn't like it because it was one of those Valentine's Day stories with a clichéd ending. I dislike stories that are overly sentimental.

I love stories that are set in bars, like the one I read in the New York Times about a young man who, while waiting in a bar for his girlfriend, shares a few moments of intimacy with a total stranger. And then the girlfriend walks in.

The last good love story I read was Complicity by Julian Barnes in New Yorker, and what a lovely story it is. "But she didn't get up, or push her chair back, just went on smiling, and left her hand on top of her napkin, knuckles raised, fingertips pointing toward me…"

I have a few friends, male and female, who have found love in their 50s. They are all professionals who have reached the top in their careers. They have seen the world, and have the self-assurance that comes with maturity. They look happy together.

Finding a partner when you are in your 50s is not easy because, let's face it, you are set in your ways and are reluctant to change. But then you are also lonely. You realise that you don't want to spend the remaining years of your life alone. So you seek a companion, someone with similar interests, whose company you enjoy. And once you find that person you are willing to invest in the relationship to make it work.

As taboos about love and marriage break down, we see more and more people — confirmed bachelors, divorcees and some who lost their spouses — who have sought and found happiness late in life. Most of them met each other through friends of friends.

A friend, a bachelor in his 50s, increasingly feels the need to settle down. By settling down he means finding a partner. He says he is tired of sitting alone on a barstool. He is seeking romance and, from what I gather, is on the verge of finding it.

I really hope he does because he is a good friend, and I like a story with a happy ending.


Shekhar Bhatia can be contacted at










IT augurs well for the Indian judiciary that Parliament has at last got the green signal to impeach Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court. This follows the Rajya Sabha-appointed committee having found him guilty of misappropriation of funds and misbehaviour. If impeached, it will be a record of sorts because Parliament has not impeached any judge so far. While the first impeachment motion against Justice V. Ramaswami failed to pass muster in the Lok Sabha in 1993 following abstentions by Congress MPs, the beleaguered judge retired in 1994. The three-member committee, appointed under the Judges' Inquiry Act, 1968, by Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari in December 2009 comprised Supreme Court Judge Justice B. Sudarshan Reddy, Punjab and Haryana High Court Chief Justice Mukul Mudgal and noted jurist Fali S. Nariman. Under the Constitution, inquiry by this committee, considered a peer group, is a must before impeachment proceedings by Parliament.


In its report, the committee strongly disapproved of Justice Sen's conduct which, it said, has brought dishonour and disrepute to the higher judiciary. This will also shake the faith and confidence which the people repose in the judiciary, it said. Justice Sen is found guilty of collecting, as the court receiver, Rs 33,22,000 from a purchaser of goods and keeping it in his personal savings bank account and misrepresenting facts to the High Court. In 2008, the then Chief Justice of India Justice K.G. Balakrishnan had brought this to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's attention and requested him to impeach him. As persons like Justice Sen are a blot on the judiciary, Parliament should impeach them — which is the only method by which a judge can be removed under the Constitution.


Politics, regional or other extraneous considerations should not come in the way of throwing out malcontents from the higher judiciary. The UPA government would do well to evolve an all-party consensus on the issue and impeach Justice Sen by the mandatory two-thirds majority in the current session itself. It would only be fair if the Prime Minister and Chief Justice of India Justice S.H. Kapadia use their good offices in expediting the other cases of corruption and moral turpitude involving Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran of the Sikkim High Court (transferred from the Karnataka High Court) and Justice Nirmal Yadav of the Uttarakhand High Court (transferred from the Punjab and Haryana High Court). The charges against the two judges are as serious as that of Justice Sen and they, too, must be impeached.









AMAN KACHROO was an ambitious first-year MBBS student in Dr Rajendra Prasad Medical College, Tanda (Kangra), when he was beaten to death by his four seniors during ragging on the campus on March 8 last year. The perpetrators of the crime were allegedly drunk at that time. The Dharamsala Additional District and Sessions Judge Purinder Vaidya on Thursday converted the murder charges framed under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against the four medical students to culpable homicide not amounting to murder and handed out four-year imprisonment to them. Ironically, the four accused would need to undergo only two years and three months of imprisonment because they have already been in judicial custody for 21 months. No wonder, not only the family of Aman Kachroo but also the public at large has expressed concern over the lightness of the punishment. Will it really be deterrent enough to those hell-bent on making life hell for hapless newcomers?


It is a matter of shame that the menace, which has spoilt the career of countless young entrants, continues to this date. Not all juniors are killed, but they are tortured so badly that the trauma leaves a permanent mark on their psyche. What kind of doctors can such sadists make? Not only the quantum of punishment but also the certainty that such criminality would not go unpunished can deter the trouble-makers.


Ragging has been present in many educational institutions – especially professional colleges – for long but the authorities have always turned a blind eye to it. That is why it has taken on such diabolical dimensions. A committee appointed by the Supreme Court had found rampant alcoholism on the campus and lack of anti-ragging norms as the reason behind Aman's death. It confirmed that he repeatedly told the college authorities of his humiliation but did not receive any response. His death was the last straw which led to the introduction of new guidelines at colleges across the country to protect from ragging. But his soul cannot rest in peace till ragging is actually eradicated from the country. Enough is enough. 









AFTER dropping Ashok Chavan (Adarsh scam) and Suresh Kalmadi (CWG corruption) the UPA government is under pressure to axe Communications Minister A. Raja. The Opposition has stalled work in Parliament, the Supreme Court has expressed its dismay ("Is that the way the government functions?") and the Congress bides time, saying action against Raja is the Prime Minister's prerogative. The political damage the UPA has suffered is immense. The party has to decide how far its alliance with a stubborn DMK can be stretched. Dr Manmohan Singh's image as a Mr Clean stands bruised.


The CAG report on the spectrum scam, submitted to Parliament on Wednesday after an 18-month probe, has indicted Raja for causing a loss of up to Rs 1.77 lakh crore to the exchequer. A loss of Rs 1,40,000 crore is for not following the bidding process and Rs 37,000 crore for doling out excess airways to some telecom firms. In May this year the government earned Rs 67,710 crore by auctioning 3G spectrum. But in 2007 licences and airwaves (2G spectrum) were sold to nine companies, selected on the "first-come-first-served" basis, for Rs 1,651 crore each — a price fixed in 2001. The minister arbitrarily shifted the cut-off date for applications, leaving out some top firms. The companies that got the licences, including some in real estate, were allowed to sell their stakes without rollout obligations. Swan Telecom sold its 45 per cent stake to a UAE firm for Rs 4,195 crore and Unitech Wireless disposed of its 74 per cent stake for Rs 6,120 crore.


Though Raja has all along maintained that the licences and spectrum were allocated in conformity with the government's telecom policy, the minister, according to CAG, "ignored the advice of the Ministry of Law, the Ministry of Finance and avoided the deliberations of the Telecom Commission". The regulator, TRAI, remained a mute spectator to "the country's biggest financial scam". Raja has survived because of the coalition government's dependence on the DMK, which is immune to national outrage and sticks to the discredited leader for political reasons. 

















WELL before President Barack Obama's arrival in India, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reassured the world that upheaval in domestic politics would in no way affect America's settled foreign policy. That is broadly though not entirely true. In any case, the US President's tormenting difficulties are wholly at home. The blow and rebuke that the electorate has delivered him and his Democratic Party in the mid-term elections is severe. Its impact and repercussions would be intense and extensive. That the Republicans would seize control of the House of Representatives was expected by one and all. Yet, the swing away from the Democratic Party to the other side has been huge.


Moreover, the Republican Party has expanded its voice also in the Senate that remains, however, under Democratic control. This is not all. The Republicans have wrested from their rivals the office of Governor in at least 10 states as well as mayoral and municipal posts in many parts of the country. Nineteen state legislatures have also switched sides. To fill the Democrats' cup of misery to the brim, the Tea Party, an inchoate amalgam of ultra-Conservative grassroots organisations that is totally opposed to Mr Obama's political agenda and is screaming for a "small" government, big cuts in government spending and budget deficits, reduction is taxes and so on, has made a good showing. Its claim that 60 out of 83 new Republicans in the House are its sympathisers may be exaggerated, but it certainly accounts for some of the more impressive Senate victories. No wonder, Mr Obama describes the voters' verdict as "shellacking".


Of the various reasons for the disaster, the most important is the parlous state of the economy, especially the dangerously high rate of unemployment. To be sure, the economic crisis and humongous job losses were not Mr Obama's creation. Yet he alone is being blamed. Few are giving him credit for preventing the recession from turning into Great Depression. Instead, he is being pilloried for the stimulus he gave to banks and industry. All that angry Americans are saying is that they are suffering more deeply than ever before during Mr Obama's watch. Since no economic statistic is more salient politically than that about joblessness, consider this: The economic crisis had begun during the last year of President George W. Bush. Even so, when Mr Obama declared his candidacy in 2007, the rate of unemployment was under 5 per cent. When he accepted the Democratic nomination in August 2008, it was still "only" 6.1 per cent. When Lehman Brothers went down, it was no more than 6.2 per cent. On Inauguration Day, however, it had risen to 7.7 per cent. A month later when President Obama signed the Stimulus Bill, it was 8.2 per cent. It is now 9.6 per cent. How right Mr Bill Clinton was when he uttered those four famous words: "It's the economy, stupid".


Remarkably, throughout the election campaign he, rather than President Obama, was in brisk demand from Democratic candidates for canvassing in their constituencies, and he did the job superbly. Mr Obama, too, hit the campaign trail tirelessly but didn't make the same impact. The irony is that, according to Peter Baker of The New York Times, until two years ago, Mr Obama used to "scorn the 42nd President, often comparing him to Ronald Reagan". But today he "doesn't mind being a second Clinton because it is far better than being a second Jimmy Carter".


The mid-term US election has been the "most expensive" in American history. From $1.8 billion in 1998 the spending rose to $2. 9 billion in 2006, and has now shot up to $3.7 billion. One candidate, Meg Whitman, spent $130 million of her own money. But she was an exception to the rule. Most candidates were beneficiaries of the colossal generosity (much more to Republications than to Democrats) of non-governmental organisations such as the US Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labour-Central Industrial Organisation). They can donate as much money as they like to political parties' campaign but not to candidates directly. Moreover, under a Supreme Court judgment delivered in March, there is no compulsion on them to disclose the source of their donations. On the campaign trail, Mr Obama pointed out pertinently that some of the anonymous donations could be from foreign sources, and this was highly objectionable. But all the targets of his criticism replied self-righteously that no foreign funds were being used for electoral purposes. It is a different matter that their ads on TV were often in bad taste.


On the morning after the night before, Mr Obama accepted "full responsibility" for the electoral debacle but refused to accept that the policies he adopted were wrong. He also declared that he looked forward to "working with the Republicans" in the best interest of the American people. The Republican leader in the new House, John Boehner, who will replace Nancy Pelosi as Speaker, also uttered a few ambiguous words to the same effect. But the proposed action of his party will accentuate the conflict. For, the item number one on the Republicans' agenda is to "repeal" the healthcare programme pushed through by Mr Obama and, therefore, called by all critics "Obamacare". To an Indian visitor such virulent hostility to a programme that would bestow insurance cover on tens of millions of the poor who could never afford it makes no sense. But the opposition to healthcare reform among even the middle class is surprisingly strong and widespread.


It is doubtless true that both Ronald Reagan and Mr Clinton had lost control of the Congress after two years in office, and yet got re-elected. But no one can shut one's eyes to the huge change that has since come over the American political landscape. Seldom, if ever, has the level of hatred between the two mainstream parties been as high as now. Moreover, the Tea Party, which is likely to create as many problems for the Republicans as for the Democrats, would vehemently obstruct any compromise between the party leadership and the White House.


A final word: Nikki Haley, an Indian-American, has undoubtedly become the first woman of Indian origin to be the Governor of South Carolina, and the second Indian to be Governor of any Indian state. Two Indian doctors have got elected to state legislatures. But all other candidates of Indian origin have bitten the dust.








'G' is not a mere letter. Its application can be varied.  It generally denotes the good and great. Even a generation. It can be G2 or G20. One for technology and the other in diplomacy. But there is the other side too.


It was the year 1991. 'Radiolinja' had commercially launched the second generation 2G cellular telecom networks in Finland. A decade later, the 3G technology was commercially launched by 'DoCoMo' in Japan. The world is moving forward at a fast pace with the 4th generation technology. In diplomacy, the movement is from G5 to G20. And nearer home?


The 'Raja' auctioned 2G spectrum. Left a sickening spectacle. Allegations of all kinds followed. The government promised to ferret out the truth and punish the guilty. Now that the CAG has given its findings, probably some action shall be seen. Regardless, if past experience is any guide, the corruption continues to flourish.


It appears that everyone has his own perception of 'G'. To some, it only means the gift of gab, grab and greed. They talk of principles. But act only on interest. Platitudes and promises are their forte. But they continue to grab. With every project, 'Games' or '2G', their appetite increases. The greed grows. This class is multiplying.


Then, there are the others. They may not have the gift of gab. But they are not immune from the weakness for 'grab'. They look for what may seem less insidious and more innocent pleasures of life. Like the goodies and grub. They can gobble up anything that appeals to the eye. Be it bland or spicy. Cold or hot. Creamy or crunchy. All the time. Day and night. An insatiable appetite.


And the worst part is that unlike others, one cannot even hide the results of such greed. There is no bank or locker that can cover up the sin. Inevitably, the girth grows. The bulge shows. No matter how much one tries. Whatever one wears. A coat or a kurta. Nothing works. Truly, the battle with the bulge is a disappointing pursuit.


As a last resort, I have learnt to live with my greed for good food. My conscience is no longer the guide. It has become an accomplice. But I still cannot persuade myself to accept the greed of the khadi-clad clan for the green pieces of paper that bear the portrait of Gandhi.


Will the greedy never come to grief?









WHAT has come to surface as series of misdeeds and misconduct at the highest level of military establishment, now with the chiefs as dramatis personae resorting to indulgence in satiating petty greed, is far from mere illegal transactions for appropriating assets not lawfully entitled to. It is an unimaginable misdemeanor, not in terms of material value or commission and omission in a state of forgetfulness as may be contrived, but in the impulse to commit the very act. This indicts these officers of willful disdain for military virtues and self-discipline in their own character when they are the custodians for ensuring the same in others.


Character is the keystone of the profession of arms and embedded in military virtues. These are not individual cases as one may believe, but group tendencies in a cycle of exposures over a period and a dangerous fall out from protracted corrosion in officer discipline and leadership accountability, with the military code shifting loyalty to fulfill personal agendas. When heads should have rolled at the top, it was never done.


The conduct of these Generals thus exposes a threatening challenge to the survival of the value system within the institution already under extreme pressure from the commercial culture that has made serious inroads in our military routine, actions, customs and habits. Hard professionalism is not in fashion any longer having given way to sycophancy and nepotism.


Committed at the apex of the military structure entrusted to enforce order and safeguard national integrity, this is a humiliating and shaking exposure that must sound the alarm as a national crisis and viewed as merely an incident adding shame to military's already tumbling image and a slur on the nation's slumping self-esteem.


Committing such offences collectively with deliberate intent and full knowledge of its moral ramifications is an act no less than sedition against the State on whose behalf these officers held their stations. Its extent and impact is unfathomable, especially in a sensitive institution responsible for lives of men and their conduct in peace and war. It subverts national security by giving a grave message that this institution can be penetrated, is vulnerable at the highest level, its officer class fickle in character and its leadership purchasable.


Sending the message down the chain of command to the soldier on the line destroys his trust in superiors and affects morale without which no military force can sustain. In betraying the officer honour code and breach of professional ethics, their conduct adds an affront to the memory of the fallen. It is intriguing how such officers bereft of moral sensitivity could be paying homage in ceremonious exhibition of reverence to the dead.


The damage that such leadership can do or has done to the very appraisal system it is entrusted to safeguard and apply to field the best material for battle, is unreckonable and long lasting. Any system is as good as its handlers wish it to be. The military appraisal system is as best as anywhere, yet can be compromised arbitrarily. Appraisals can be manipulated for vested gains, unjustified differentials created and profiles doctored to mask the truth. The system can thus be axed across the board, thereby losing credibility, breeding disaffection and alienation, introducing spurious practices such as fake citations and tampering reports, thus destroying the dignity of military professionalism.


The impact of this bears directly on the state of defence preparedness, military sheen and élan, discipline and image. All this has been visibly degrading. Character attributes cannot be acquired over night. Traits get embedded in formative stages of officer grooming and condition ones behaviour.


That these generals have been hoodwinking a practically foolproof selection procedure and drawing benefits from apparently flawed appraisals could not have happened without collusive or tacit abetment at the political -bureaucratic level that exercises primacy over all decision-making. For instance in the 90s an officer who should have been dismissed for cowardice in field rose to the level of army commander by dubious doctoring of his record because he was connected to a defence secretary. This happened in tandem with granting indiscreet favour to another who was connected to a political party. In another example, a defence minister colluded with brass on import of coffins. The previous army chief was under a cloud for transactions while as army commander, actually sabotaging an inquiry that could have pinned him down, but was shielded by the ministry.


That this has so far not cracked discipline in rank and file is only because of the young officer and the jawan, still drawn from the peasant stock, carries traditional values steeped in regimental pride and legacy of the past. He is one who is held in awe by friend and foe. But for how long, as this tradition is under attack by the political class in collusion with pliable military leadership, is worrying.


The onus for arresting the fall from grace lies directly on the government that seems to be making a mockery of running a nation with an unabated tide of misdemeanors in its corridors. Time has come to roll heads. The generals involved must pay dearly for the shame they have brought to the profession of arms and its standing. In the meanwhile the Chief, having resolved and pledged to cleanse the institution, must be given unfretted support by the Government and the institution to purge the system, restore credibility and accountability with assured non-interference by politicians.


The writer is former chairman of the COAS' Complaints Advisory Board








LOYALTY, honesty and integrity are the basic traits of soldiering. Till independence young men from royal and landed families joined the army as officers as services were considered the best vocation for men of honour and people used to cherish the desire to don the olive green. Up to the sixties, corruption was taboo and not heard of. Officers served not for money but for a cause and the desire to continue martial family traditions. They possessed incredible moral values and unquestionable integrity.


With the passage of time, evils from the social environment that soldiers come from started creeping in, but corruption amongst senior officers remained unheard of, except for some isolated cases in the Service and Ordnance corps. With socio-economic development and commercialisation as well as lowering the status of commissioned officers by the government, the cancer of corruption started eating into the otherwise impregnable security shield. Now one comes across scandals involving senior officers which has not only adversely affected moral in the ranks, but also shaken the confidence of the common man in the operational capability of the forces. Will the forces led by such officers be able to pull off repeat of 1971, is a question being commonly asked.


Officers of the rank of major general and lieutenant general are now involved in offences concerning moral turpitude, financial irregularities and other corrupt practices. Corruption is not only receiving illegal material gratification or misappropriation, but also getting undue service benefits. Promotions are not immune from corruption. At times these are managed through money, influence or other means. Throwing lavish parties and presenting costly gifts is common. There is also talk of some formations being virtually "run" by wives of senior officers who issue orders directly to juniors. For choice postings and promotions even security has been compromised. The infamous Tehelka episode in which senior officers were caught on tape demanding and accepting bribes from fictitious arms dealers was still fresh in the minds of people when the Sukhna land scam and the Adarsh Housing Cooperative Society case hit the headlines.


Not that all allegations are true. There are cases where false and baseless charges have been leveled against officers by interested parties over professional rivalry, promotions and awards. Even Military Intelligence (MI) funds and public money has been misused for this purpose.


Black sheep have certainly tarnished the image of military officers as a class apart. The only saving grace is the stringent military law, which takes to task officers found to be involved in corrupt practices. Several senior officers including lieutenant generals have been sent home without trial for immoral activities whereas others have been subjected to court martial for professional impropriety, corruption, molestation, selling liquor, etc., and awarded exemplary punishment. Had they been tried in civilian courts, many would have been acquitted.


Such cases take place because there are certain in-built flaws in the military system. Officials of the Military Intelligence are aware of corrupt practices by senior officers, but these often go unreported because the command system is such that their career is in the hands of the commanders whom they have to expose. Who will like to sacrifice his career, promotion, postings and awards for nothing?


The system need to be strengthened so that intelligence reports are sent directly to the Army Chief through the Director General MI, without bringing it to the notice of seniors in the chain of command, and then initiate action after due investigations. Further, officers detailed to conduct investigations or courts of inquiry are clueless about crime investigation methodologies and techniques.


The military system of dispensing justice needs to be overhauled. No efforts are made to go into the roots of the case or to expose the big fish. When big fish are found to be involved, the tendency is to hush up the matter. Officers of the Judge Advocate General's Department lack professional acumen and, at times, join hands with seniors in their corrupt deeds or even in subverting due processes so that the truth does not come out.


Corruption in the public life is well documented but it is just not acceptable in the armed forces for the very simple reason that the nation can ill afford to hand over security of the country's borders in the hands of corrupt officers. Such elements need to be weeded out, dealt with a firm hand, while honest officers and whistle blowers respected and rewarded to restore the trust and confidence of the public in the armed forces.


The writer retired from the Judge Advocate General's Department







All that grumbling about the security surrounding Barack Obama's visit seems silly now. Was it worth it? Yes; if only for each of these four unique events: Obama's message at the memorial at the Taj, the visit to Mani Bhavan, the Town Hall style meeting at my alma mater, St Xavier's College, and the address to Parliament. 


At each, we saw an articulate, intelligent, direct and decent man acutely aware of his own beginnings and progression; a man with cause, commitment and vision. At St Xavier's, he fielded questions headon, never falling back on meaningless cant. Some of the questions were very hard: on Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Gandhi. There's a full transcript online, and it shows even in cold print the warmth and respect with which he addressed his young audience, never once being condescending. Our politicians should learn from this man. 


His address to Parliament was the kind of thing that you just have to applaud, even if you take out all the encomia to India (and forget the useless sniping from the moribund BJP and its allies). Perhaps the most dramatic passage is this: 


"In your lives, you have overcome odds that might have overwhelmed a lesser country. In just decades, you have achieved progress and development that took other nations centuries. You are now assuming your rightful place as a leader among nations. Your parents and grandparents imagined this. Your children and grandchildren will look back on this. But only this generation of Indians can seize the possibilities of the moment." 


Bundled into this is a recognition of what India's progression to independence involved, its trajectory since and an acknowledgement India today has an opportunity that no other country does. Therefore: carpe diem. Seize the moment. 


But can we? Hours after he left, Maharashtra – fast careening to becoming the most corrupt state in the Republic – had its CM sacked over the Adarsh imbroglio, and another Maharashtra born-and-bred, Suresh Kalmadi, fired from his Congress party post. 


One Chavan is replaced with another Chavan; and they both share at this: both are political inheritors. This is the tragedy of our nation; in a country of over a billion people there is not a single politician of Obama's age (he turns 50 next August) who reflects and mirrors our views, our thoughts, our aspirations, our ideals, one who shares our dreams. 


The old Bombay Rent Act of 1947, a wartime provision intended to temporarily protect tenants and which was continued because it was politically expedient, had a completely bizarre section that effectively allowed a tenant's family to 'inherit' the tenancy, lumping the hapless landlord for eternity with these descendants. That section is now so much an established right that it has infected our thinking. All our prominent GenNext politicians are 5(11)(c) politicians; all have inherited political power. Not one is original or independently qualified. We now no longer even seek originality or independence. Political office is an inheritable tenancy. 


Contrast this with the political figures of India at Independence. In his new book, Makers of Modern India, Ramachandra Guha notes that the "leading politicians who made India were also its leading political thinkers"; especially Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar, all of whom were prolific writers. Guha describes Nehru as a thinking politician without parallel, with a "deep interest in history ... political ideas and ideologies". This is certainly true of Obama. It is untrue of any politician in India. Guha provides a stunning illustration. In 1958, EM Forster concluded that if Voltaire was to be reborn and write a letter on the fate of mankind, the only head of state to whom such a letter could be written was Nehru. 


In some ways Obama is to my generation what JFK was to an earlier generation in that he represents a sense of hope and real possibility, an ideological balance, and demonstrates a profound concern for and engagement with people. He is clearly a man shaped by a shared history – Gandhi was in his mind and on his wall long before this visit – and he is both interested in it and respectful of it. 


So when he says that this generation of politicians must seize the possibilities of the moment it is as much a warning as a call to arms. But if we are to live up to this potential, we need original men and women, public people with qualifications, a record of service, with an ideology, concerned about the evident imbalances in our state; people to whom "seize the possibility of the moment" means something more than cash. 



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





The government of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is in desperate need of a good bath in the Holy Ganga. Even this may not cleanse the government of its many sins (see editorial) of omission and commission, but nothing short of ritualistic purification combined with a wholesale reshuffle of the Union council of ministers can revive the fortunes and reputation of the second Manmohan Singh government. It is not surprising that the entire Opposition has gone for the jugular and Parliament has had to be adjourned till next Monday. The Bharatiya Janata Party's demand for a joint parliamentary committee is, however, ridiculous. As Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee very correctly said the Adarsh Housing Society issue is a matter for the state government to investigate. Parliament cannot begin enquiries into housing scams and corruption scandals across the country. There are state governments and there is the judiciary. Let relevant institutions do their job.


On the question of Union Telecommunications Minister A Raja's continuation in office, in the aftermath of serious questions of misgovernance raised by no less an authority than the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), the Opposition has a good case. Mr Raja ought to have stepped down long back. The argument that his decisions were within the framework laid out by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) served as an adequate fig leaf till the CAG's indictment. Even a banana leaf cannot now hide his ignominy. Mr Raja must step down. The spurious argument proffered by some Congress party spokespersons, and gullibly swallowed by many in the media, that the UPA coalition will unravel if one minister belonging to Tamil Nadu's DMK party is removed, is hogwash. The minority government of Mr M Karunanidhi survives in office in Chennai because of the support extended to it by the Congress party. A tumble in New Delhi can be accompanied by a tumble in Chennai. That is how the balance of blackmail has kept the UPA together. Even the argument that Mr Raja's exit will alter the power equilibrium within the DMK sounds spurious, since it is likely that Mr Raja will be replaced by Ms Kanimozhi, and they belong to the same side in the DMK's complex succession struggle.


The events of the past few weeks make a reshuffle of the Union council of ministers now a necessity. Clearly, the limits to procrastination have been reached. Perhaps the prime minister and the UPA chairperson took too seriously the American management dictum, "if it aint broke, don't fix it". A pity. They should have recalled that other famous English adage, "a stitch in time saves nine". Now the prime minister may well need more than nine stitches to put the UPA humpty-dumpty together if it were to tumble. Nothing short of a "Kamaraj Plan" of sorts will revive the fortunes of UPA-II and enthuse the government to get on with its job. It has another four years ahead of it!








Few will take very seriously the undertaking given by the government in the Supreme Court that River Ganga will be pure and free of pollution by 2020. Similar commitments were made to the public 25 years ago when, in 1985, the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) to clean this most treasured of the sub-continent's rivers was launched. Even after spending several thousand crores of rupees on the project, the Ganga is today more polluted than ever before — a truth recently conceded by the knowledgeable Union minister for environment and forests in Parliament. Ironically, this is the state of affairs even though the Central Ganga Authority, rechristened as National Ganga River Basin Authority, came into existence years ago under the chairmanship of the prime minister to oversee the implementation of the Action Plan. The declaration of Ganga as a National River in 2008 seems to have made little difference. The river's water, in many stretches, is unfit even for bathing and agricultural use, leave alone drinking, though millions of people still drink it, regarding it Holy. Not only has the content of pathogenic bacteria, notably Coliform (rod-shaped bacteria normally found in the colons of humans and animals) risen to menacing levels in the river, but the amount of biochemical oxygen has also dropped drastically, rendering it incapable of supporting any aquatic life. As a result, several stretches of the river are now bereft of fisheries resources. Rather than giving life, the Ganga seems to be taking it!


A true miracle is needed to make Ganga water drinkable in the next ten years. Little wonder that the amicus curiae of the public interest litigation in the apex court was quick to express his misgivings about the government's ability to fulfil its time-bound pledge to restore Ganga's pristine glory. Indeed, it cannot be denied that the task of tidying up the 2,525-km long river spanning nine states is far from easy. But it is not insurmountable either. The root cause of the river's woes is that, even while being sacred for the believers, it serves virtually as a drain for carrying away sewage and other municipal wastes from nearly 30 Class-I cities, 25 Class-II cities and scores of small towns, besides thousands of villages, situated on its banks. Worse still, industrial wastes, agricultural and chemical residues, carcasses of thousands of animals and half-cremated human bodies are routinely disposed of in the river. Moreover, the discards of religious rituals and thousands of idols of gods also find their way into the river regularly. Unless the Ganga's many devotees themselves address these issues, and adequate public mobilisation to clean the river is not forthcoming, there is little governments can do. "Clean Ganga" cannot be a bureaucratic top-down government administered programme alone. It also has to be a bottom-up people's programme. A purely technological and technocratic approach, using a billion dollars of World Bank money and expertise from the Indian Institutes of Technology is not going to work on its own. There has to be a coming together of administrative, technological, scientific, socio-religious, cultural and popular interventions — all working in tandem with the singular aim of reclaiming a lost river — for the Ganga to be cleansed of our sins!








On November 3, shortly before US President Barack Obama's arrival in India, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) of the US Federal Reserve announced that it intended to undertake a fresh round of purchases of longer-term treasury securities in an aggregate amount of $600 billion until the second quarter of 2011, at a pace of approximately $75 billion per month.


Even though Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke had done his best to "trail" (that is, anticipate) this decision, starting with a speech at Jackson Hole, Wyoming in late August, the formal announcement of this move (so called QE2, denoting the second round of quantitative easing) has unleashed a firestorm of criticism both within the US and internationally.


 In the run-up to the G20 Leaders' meeting now underway in Seoul (where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Obama will both be present) China, Brazil and Germany have been among the most vocal critics of this monetary expansion. These countries have portrayed it, in my view incorrectly, as an ill-disguised attempt by the US to depreciate the US dollar as part of a feared circle of competitive devaluations across the major economies.


As widely noted in the international press (The New York Times, for example1), India has been more supportive. At his joint press conference with President Obama, Prime Minister Singh observed, "A strong, robust, fast-growing United States is in the interests of the world … and therefore, anything that would stimulate the underlying growth and policies of entrepreneurship in the United States would help the cause of global prosperity." While some of this may just have been the courtesy of a polite host in the presence of an honoured guest, it also seems to imply a more mature and relaxed attitude towards exchange rate flexibility on the part of the government. This interpretation is also consistent with both the relatively limited intervention in the exchange markets by the Reserve Bank of India in recent times, despite strong capital flows, as well as statements by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee that India was not contemplating limiting foreign flows into its equity markets.


Nevertheless, this episode has served to crystallise the issues and tensions in the present international monetary system. If anything, these issues are likely to gain even greater prominence following the meeting in Seoul, when France takes over the chair of the G20. President Sarkozy has already signalled that he intends to make review and reform of the international monetary system (IMS) a core agenda item of that Presidency, and is bound to raise these issues when he visits here early in December.


India has in general been relatively passive on these aspects of the global financial architecture, showing more interest in the governance reforms of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Yet, as happened over the previous decade in the area of multilateral trade negotiations, India could easily be asked to play a central role in the redesign of certain aspects of that regime. Accordingly, it is important that there be a more robust domestic debate on the key issues, so as to help our officials better articulate our core concerns and interests.


What, then, are the important issues that might arise in an agenda for international monetary reform? Unfortunately, the public debate on these issues is rather confusing, combining as it does elements connected with what one might call the "real" economy (savings and investment; current account deficits; global imbalances) with the monetary system. As Ted Truman of the Peterson Institute in Washington has observed, the enormous expansion of global finance over the last decade now means that the latter increasingly sets the rules for the former, at least until and unless there is a fundamental roll-back of private cross-border finance, of the type that took place during the great Depression2.


Within the more narrowly defined monetary area, the key issues have to do with the exchange rate regime, the accumulation of reserves, the supply of reserve assets, volatility in exchange rates and volatility in private capital flows. While under the post-war Bretton Woods system, fixed exchange rates against the dollar were the norm, the vogue today is for "market-determined" flexible exchange rates, at least for systemically important countries, even though "clean" floats are more the exception than the norm in most emerging markets, India included.


At the same time, exchange market intervention has crept back into the financial armoury of even the advanced countries, such as Switzerland and Japan, with the clear objective of influencing (the polite word is "stabilising") the nominal exchange rate. The challenge here will be to devise rules that are appropriate for both the advanced countries and for large emerging markets such as China, Brazil and India. India will need to be vigilant to ensure that these rules strike the right balance between policy flexibility and harmful mercantilism.


Equally difficult judgements arise on the appropriate stock of reserves. The bulk of reserves accumulation over the past decade has been by major emerging markets, primarily as a form of insurance against volatile capital flows and possible speculative attacks. Despite their high cost, such reserves did demonstrate their worth as a protective device in the crisis. At the same time, it is these reserves that are cited as one cause of the financial crisis.


Finally, there is the role of the dollar as the central reserve asset. It is being argued again now as in the 1960s, that the reserve role of the dollar has encouraged unsustainable policies, and that a range of alternatives is needed. However, a move to a multi-currency reserve system (or to a synthetic unit such as the IMF's SDR) needs careful management to avoid destabilising flows.


Emerging markets have now become systemically important, China most of all, but India and Brazil in due course. Yet they remain "emerging" and will do so for a considerable time to come. At the same time, the negotiating skills and power of the advanced countries way exceed those of the emerging markets. As monetary reform approaches centre stage, we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.


The author is director-general NCAER. Views are personal.

1 "Fed action gets an unexpected endorsement from India". New York Times, November 8, 2010.
2 A comprehensive critique of the current monetary arrangements has been provided in the "Report of the Commission of Experts of the President of the United Nations General Assembly on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System" in September 2009. The Commission was chaired by Professor Joseph Stiglitz, and included former RBI Governor Y V Reddy among
its members









One positive fallout from the financial crisis is our realisation that financial products can be as complex and dangerous as drugs. This realisation has led to innovative ideas and experimentation with new laws, regulations and institutions around the world.


In India, the government has announced the establishment of the Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC) to address inter-regulatory coordination issues and provide macro-prudential supervision. In the United States, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and new initiatives to monitor the safety of financial products, could alter the architecture of finance.


 Several proponents of these new ideas have openly used the analogy with drugs. It has been argued that if, in 2007, the US had a Financial Products Safety Commission akin to its Food and Drugs Administration, the market would not have been flooded with "teaser" mortgages that entangled millions of households in chains of predatory credit.


What is especially sophisticated about the new ideas cropping up in the US, Europe, India, China and elsewhere is the recognition that, as with drugs and toys, it is impossible to say in advance which financial products we should allow and which we should not, because we cannot conceive of all the products that can and will come to market. Hence, the need for a judgmental body that can look at a new product and form an opinion about its desirability.


Indeed, there is a worrying aspect to the new plans: they must tread a narrow path between reckless freedom for financial institutions, which contributed to the recent global financial crisis, and over-caution, which can suffocate innovation and create inefficiencies.


Consider a teaser loan, which initially charges low or even no interest, with much higher rates kicking in at a later date. To be sure, this is a dangerous product, and it did cause many families to fall into an unsustainable debt trap. But such loans can be of great value to sophisticated firms and households that may have good reasons to believe that their future earnings will be higher than their current earnings. Such entities would be able to make investments that would not be possible otherwise.


This is just one example. It is impossible to anticipate the numerous financial products that human ingenuity can create, and that can be dangerous to use but of great value to some. The risk created by many of the regulatory measures under consideration in today's crisis-scarred world is that they may end up over-regulating our markets to the point of blocking the emergence of valuable new products.


But there is a way out of this conundrum. In creating new financial regulations, we need to take the medical analogy one step further — by creating the equivalent of the prescription. Instead of banning or freely allowing all dangerous products, we need to identify products that are valuable to some customers but not all — call them "prescription financial products" — and create a body of registered finance professionals (RFPs) who are empowered to certify the purchase of these products by individuals.


For example, you are planning to buy a house. Your local bank offers you what is certified to be a teaser loan — a prescription product. You can take such a loan provided that an RFP approves such a contract.


In brief, just as we do not ban steroids because they are dangerous, but require that buyers have valid prescriptions, we should institutionalise caution in how financial products can be used — and by whom. This option could vastly shorten the list of products that will need to be banned outright.


We should, however, avoid the medical convention whereby each product is either over-the-counter or prescription, regardless of who is buying the product. In order to keep the system lean, there should be a provision for exempting some individuals and firms — those sophisticated enough to handle their own affairs, or well off enough to deal with financial failure — from the requirement of an RFP's approval before buying a prescription financial product.


The reason I argue for this provision is my positive experience in India, having recently moved here from the US. A few months ago, I went to meet the owner of our local drugstore. Without encumbering him with any prescription, I told him somewhat sheepishly that I was going on an extended foreign trip and wanted to keep a precautionary strip of antibiotic tablets with me. He looked me up and down, sized me up, and then said, "Since you are going for so long, I would suggest you keep two strips."


The author is chief economic adviser, Ministry of Finance, Government of India










Coal India Chairman Partha Bhattacharyya was bang on when he termed the trade unions' successful bid to stop employees from participating in the company's initial public offer (IPO) a tragedy. "The unions took the wrong call and that has been well proved," the chairman said shortly after Coal India's spectacular listing.


 The wrong call is obvious and here's why. Like retail investors, the over 400,000 employees, too, were eligible for a 5 per cent discount on the offer price of Rs 245. After the discount, the allotment price worked out to Rs 232.75 each. Consider this: of the total IPO size of 632 million shares, the portion reserved for employees was 63.2 million, or 10 per cent of the total offer.


However, the company received just 27,848 applications totalling 6.84 million shares from employees. The unsubscribed portion (or 56.3 million shares) was transferred to the public quota. Considering Coal India's closing share price of Rs 343.35 the day it was listed, which translates into a gain of Rs 110.6 per share, employees of the coal giant have collectively lost about Rs 623 crore, though notionally.


Though unions are celebrating the success of their efforts to dissuade employees from subscribing to the IPO, it is a tragedy that while most Coal India employees missed out on a legitimate opportunity to own a small part their own company's shares, others gained at their expense. It is ironic that foreign institutional investors, termed "foreign imperialist forces" by the unions, are the ones who will own a major chunk of the company's shares.


The unions, which had earlier decided to go on a seven-day strike but later settled for a protest week for lack of consensus, say they are happy that employees have not been as greedy as the "ordinary middle class in the country" and decided to oppose the "illegal" disinvestment and privatisation in view of several Supreme Court observations that the natural resources of a country belong to its people.


The Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh, one of the major trade unions in Coal India, discouraged employees from buying shares owing to fears that partial privatisation of the state-owned company could lead to job losses. Union's General Secretary K Lakshma Reddy told Bloomberg that he sees the 10 per cent stake dilution as the first step towards privatisation and his experience is that with privatisation there is no job security. "Any fine morning, Coal India may close down," Reddy said.


It is doubtful whether one has heard a more ridiculous argument.


There are five recognised trade unions in the company — the Indian National Trade Union Congress, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, the All India Trade Union Congress, the Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh and the Hind Mazdoor Sangh.


Coal India says it did a lot to help employees own a piece of their company. It decided to pay workers around Rs 5,000 crore in salary arrears to help them subscribe to the IPO. The payment was timed to make sure that the shares reserved for Coal India's employees were sold out. The management also offered to open demat accounts free of cost for employees.


But the coal giant could have been more proactive since subsequent developments showed that applications of over 3,000 employees were rejected owing to certain anomalies in their applications. The Coal India management could have offered these employees a helping hand instead of just fretting over union opposition. For, most of the applications were rejected due to issues like multiple forms with common PAN, applications below discovered price, inactive demat accounts and applications with name mismatch.


But it is not only Coal India employees who gave their company's IPO a cold shoulder. Even National Mineral Development Corporation employees bought only one in 20 shares reserved for them in the company's issue. It was the same case with Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam, which came out with an IPO earlier this year: three-fourths of the shares meant for employees went unsubscribed.


Such actions show why trade unions in general find themselves in steady decline. They can continue to believe in the impersonal forces of history as their ideological touchstone but the fact is that they will become even more irrelevant as a result of activities that nurtures vested interests at the cost of employee welfare.


So is it any surprise that in September this year, nearly 60 million workers in India went on strike, shutting down the banking, insurance, telecommunications and power companies to protest against disinvestment? Banking employees joined in to protest against the Reserve Bank of India's plan to offer new banking licences and norms that allow foreign investment in banks.


Protesting against these issues may still be understandable, but barring employees from participating in an IPO takes the cake.









Politicians and central bankers have to work to convince people to trust them, and to believe in what they say and what they will do. One can be given the benefit of the doubt once or even twice if lucky, but the track record is ultimately the only litmus test of credibility. In the last few days, US President Barack Obama and Governor D Subbarao of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), respectively, showed how to repair what was broken, and how to dilute what was already effective.


The current we-love-India approach by the president should be weighed against his lack of positive actions towards India during his first year in office. So Obama-fied is everyone in India that almost no one has asked a basic question: What did the president do for India in that first year? Not much, really. It is perhaps for that reason that the pro-India wooing now is so strong, almost as if amends are being made for the earlier oversight.


 There are several win-win options for both sides, especially in commerce and technology, and, of course, the huge scope for American investment in infrastructure financing that India needs but cannot move rapidly enough to tap. Obama has made a compelling and convincing beginning on this trip, for example by finally backing India for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Still, it remains to be seen whether the president will fully walk the talk. Any loss in momentum will be a setback for what India had managed to achieve with former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush. Hopefully, the course correction by Obama will play out.


While President Obama was hard at work to gain more trust, the midyear policy review of RBI was an anti-climax, to say the least. It showed how a single act can substantially dilute the good that had been done so far in conducting monetary policy and in managing the growth-inflation dynamics.


The central bank hiked policy rates by 25 bps as was widely expected and correctly announced prudential measures to check lending to the property sector. It also offered more concrete signals that were later complemented by effective actions about liquidity management in order to ease the deficit that in recent weeks appeared overdone.


But the highly unexpected — and dare I say controversial — twist in the monetary policy was the exceptionally clear indication that the likelihood of further rate action in the immediate future is relatively low. In his post-policy media interview, Governor Subbarao indicated that "immediate future" meant around three months.


The guidance of a three-month pause turned out to be too dovish as the markets were initially only interpreting that RBI will stay away from hiking rates at the December meeting. The policy statement reflects a bizarre contradiction of a central bank indicating upside risks to its inflation forecast but offering a dovish outcome of a three-month pause. In today's teeter-totter world of global finance that is also linked with rising commodity prices, a three-month pause is a luxury that RBI may not be able to afford. Indeed, given what is already happening with international commodity prices, it appears highly quite likely that RBI might have to hike rates in January.


The interesting twist in the RBI's trinity of words, actions and guidance is worth focussing on. For a central bank that has only added fuel to the already elevated concerns over inflation, the guidance of the long three-month pause has pretty much wiped out much of the good work it was beginning to achieve in managing inflation expectations in recent months, in my humble opinion. What most people remember about the policy is the guidance on the three-month pause, not the elevated concerns expressed about inflation and inflation expectations, or the hike in interest rates. Several market economists who had pencilled in rate hikes in November, December and January took off at least the December rate action following the RBI's guidance. There is nothing like a central bank offering to do the work for you.


There were two main options going into the November 2 policy review, given that RBI had already indicated in the September meeting that it was close to a neutral policy rate. One, keep policy rates unchanged given how aggressive RBI had been in the prior three-four months, but remain hawkish on inflation, emphasise that the tightening cycle is not over. Under this scenario, RBI would probably have to hike again in December.


Two, hike 25 bps, remain hawkish on inflation, and emphasise that the tightening cycle is not over. Most likely, RBI under this scenario would have remained on hold in December. What we finally got was a hodgepodge of action and guidance that is much more dovish than being hawkish, and appears to go counter to the RBI's efforts to manage inflation expectations. Indeed, if inflation is a problem and there are upside risks to the inflation forecast, then why offer such an explicit pause on rates, even if that outcome could occur? On the other hand, since monetary conditions have been tightened significantly over the last three-four months and we have not seen the full favourable effect of that tightening play out and there are already some favourable indications on inflation, then why hike now?


In the final tally, the policy delivered a compromise outcome that is not what a central bank singularly focused on inflation should offer. More importantly, having set a precedent of an explicit time-bound pause, is RBI as an institution now going to stick to this practice of time-bound guidance?


The WPI inflation data for October was already baked (although it is not public) before the policy announcement, and the one for November is unlikely to be affected so soon by the latest rate action. Headline WPI inflation will ease further through December, although the recent hikes in railway freight charges and petrol prices, and the upward march in global commodity prices are important headwinds that could limit the improvement.


In the final tally, RBI should perhaps better appreciate that it is a risk manager, and is not in the business of eliminating risks for financial investors, especially when it itself doesn't know how the economic landscape will evolve. There are good reasons why time-bound guidance by central banks is not a mantra that is normally followed, and RBI should refrain from such explicit guidance, especially when global dynamics are so uncertain.


The author is senior economist at CLSA, Singapore. The views expressed are personal








IT DOESN'T matter what colour the cat is as long as it catches mice, said Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader who set his country on the path of reform and prosperity in the late 1970s by junking the old Communist model of development in favour of market-led growth. So too, we would argue, it doesn't matter whether the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) is the right body (perhaps it is not) to look into possible policy flaws that cost the exchequer dear in 2G spectrum allocation. What does matter is that the final report of the CAG nails the communications and information technology minister A Raja squarely and in a manner that makes his continuance in the Union Cabinet untenable. And, as a corollary, makes government's reluctance to show him the door equally untenable. The CAG report is a damning indictment of the minister's role in the controversy. It details how eligibility criteria, the department of telecom's (DoT) own guidelines and the concerns of both the finance ministry and officials in the DoT were repeatedly overlooked. The loss from 'arbitrary' (euphemism for motivated?) process of spectrum allocation is estimated at . 1.76 lakh crore. That's close to 3% of our 2009-10 GDP, or almost 50% the estimated fiscal deficit for the current year and many times the projected cost of delivering on the Food Security Bill. 


Whatever the political considerations — the DMK is a powerful ally with 18 seats in the Lok Sabha — there can be no excuse for pussyfooting around a minister who has clearly become a liability; not without some of the dirt sticking to the Congress as well. Remember, UPA-I finally found the courage to call the Left's bluff on the Indo-US civilnuclear deal and fared none the worse for it. So, today, if it hesitates to call the DMK's bluff on Raja, it can only be because the Congress does not set much store by probity in politics. And that is a damning indictment of the party at a time when it is already under attack on charges of corruption in the Commonwealth Games and the Adarsh Housing scam. Now is the time the Prime Minister showed who is the Raja!







THANKS to Michelle Obama, two Indian names are sure to gain traction among fashionistas who usually prefer to show off their preference for Versace, Herve Leger and the like. By wearing a signature necklace by Ranjana Khan to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's dinner and then an ensemble by Rachel Roy for the banquet at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the US First Lady followed up on her initial thumbs-up to Indian design talent when she had worn a Naeem Khan gown for her first state dinner last November at the White House — for the Singhs, not so coincidentally. Indian names finding currency in India via creative acclaim abroad is fairly common now, from Padma Lakshmi to Anish Kapoor. So, Roy and the Khan couple finding new fans in India would not be surprising. As they are favourites of the fashion cognoscenti in the US, it could be unfair to ascribe their future success to this endorsement by Mrs Obama, but it is likely that their stock will rise further, quite literally. According to this month's issue of the Harvard Business Review, a year-long analysis has showed Mrs Obama moves markets significantly. Bollywood-crazy Indian marketers should note the labels she wore for 18 major appearances saw a 2.3% jump in sales in 2008 and 2009, compared to a 0.5% average gain recorded after the debut of a celebrity showbiz endorser. 


In fact, between November 2008 and December 2009, the 29 US companies whose clothes she wore apparently earned $2.7 billion because of her patronage, and even the share prices of European companies whose labels she wore rose by 16.3%. Ominously, 27 brands that did not get a share of the Obama limelight lost 0.4% in value. In India, there are very few style icons who can affect buying patterns, but those shelling out crores of rupees to rake in more crores should note that the study ascribed this market confidence in Mrs Obama to the fact that buyers know she is not paid for her ratification.






THE states have done well to finally endorse an overhaul of the archaic stamp duty law, ahead of the proposed rollout of the goods and services tax (GST). Differential stamp duties will undermine a nationwide GST by dividing the nation across boundaries. Reforms to make stamp duties uniform across the states will lower transaction cost and improve compliance. Ideally, stamp duty should be like a registration fee and not a levy aimed at boosting states' revenues. A low ad-valorem rate of, say, 1%, like most countries, makes sense. States have reportedly agreed to a uniform duty in a host of financial instruments. The move, in step with the recommendations of expert committees, will give a leg-up to the corporate bond market, and is welcome. However, reforms in stamp duty will be pointless if they do not cover the property sector. Stamp duty must be lowered in real estate transactions to curb the incentive to fudge the sale price. Uniform stamp duty on property deals will end rate wars among states, prevent under-declaration and curb black money generation. Sure, some states, including Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, have significantly reduced duty. Other states are under pressure to follow suit, with the Centre setting a reduction in stamp duty as a condition for access to funds under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. This makes sense. 


The Indian Stamp Act overrides stamp laws across states. A consensus among states will enable the Centre to amend the Indian Stamp Act, without the states having to amend their own legislation. However, more reforms should follow the introduction of GST. The real estate sector should be free from multiple taxes at the central and state level: it will end the cascading of taxes and help better price discovery. Today, a person who buys property does not have an incentive to get an invoice since credit is not available for the levies paid on real estate transactions. However, input tax credit will be available across the chain once GST comes into force. Property transactions will then have an audit trail, making it easier for the government to track evasion. Eventually, stamp duty should be subsumed in GST.







BARACK Obama, the charmer, won over India. The US President enthralled Indians by declaring that "in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed UN Security Council that includes India as a permanent member". He comforted them by saying he will "continue to insist to Pakistan's leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders are unacceptable, and that the terrorists behind the Mumbai attacks be brought to justice." He flattered them by recalling India's 'treasured past', its invention of the digit 'zero' and its civilisation that "has been shaping the world for thousands of years". And he delighted them by labelling the US-India relationship 'the defining partnership of the 21st century'. Mahatma Gandhi found mention in almost all his speeches, to the extent that he linked his rise as president to "Gandhi and the message he shared with America and the world". 


Obama came as a salesman for his country, bagging multibillion-dollar deals and laying the ground for more big contracts, yet the visit will be remembered for his public diplomacy in seeking to elevate his host nation to 'its rightful place in the world'. A year earlier, Obama had stroked India's collective ego by inviting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his presidency's first state dinner, leading to the joke that while China gets a deferential America and Pakistan secures billions of dollars in US aid periodically, India is easily won over with a sumptuous dinner and nice compliments. 


India actually has exposed its main weakness for long — a craving for international recognition and status. While some states have been able to surmount their colonial legacies, India remains hobbled by a subaltern mindset. It attaches greater value to receiving external recognition and approbation than to the pursuit of resolute, goal-oriented statecraft. It is thus particularly vulnerable to seduction by praise. Other powers play to that weakness through pleasing but empty gestures or statements amounting to little more than ego massage. 


In fact, Obama's predecessor, George W Bush, openly played to India's ego and to Pakistan's longing for security while unveiling his momentous decision to sell F-16s in March 2005 to Islamabad. The same day his administration patronisingly offered to help make India a 'major world power in the 21st century'. The Indian elation that greeted the offer helped obscure the larger implications of the F-16 decision. 


That decision marked the beginning of a major US rearming of Pakistan with largely India-centric weapon systems. Such lethal supply to Islamabad has continued to date even as the US has emerged as the single largest arms seller to India since 2008. Indian diplomacy has not only failed to persuade Washington to stop arming a terror-exporting Pakistan, but also has put up with the US building parallel intelligence-sharing, defence cooperation and strategic relationships with Islamabad and New Delhi. 


US policy effectively has moved from hyphenation to parallelism. The new approach involves following separate parallel tracks with India and Pakistan, thereby allowing the US to push its interests better. That approach also permits the US to prop up the Pakistani state without causing a crisis with India, with Obama pledging more than $10 billion in aid to Islamabad since last year. 


IN NEW Delhi, Obama, 'the great communicator', not only pandered to India's love of flattery, but also exploited its itch to join every club, including those that were formed to target it. He dangled the prospect of India's admission — 'in a phased manner' after the 'evolution' of new membership criteria — to four US-led, technology-control cartels. The capstone of his outreach, however, came when he dangled another carrot — helping India 'in the years ahead' to secure a permanent place on the UN Security Council. 


That dangling proved the shortest and surest way to India's heart. The loud applause in Parliament and the national euphoria that greeted that statement helped block out the caveats that Obama had slipped in. Like a schoolmaster lecturing a pupil, Obama told India that if it wanted to make the grade as a candidate for a UNSC permanent seat in the years ahead, it needed to do more, including sharing 'increased responsibility' and helping strengthen international norms. 


Merely acknowledging India's claim to a permanent seat costs the US nothing, other than displeasing Pakistan. The US long ago acknowledged Japan's right to UNSC permanent membership, but that hasn't brought Tokyo closer to that goal. In truth, Washington has yet to endorse any proposal for UNSC enlargement that can be put to vote. In fact, no existing permanent member favours enlargement in reality (as opposed to rhetoric). And it is doubtful that new veto-holding permanent members will ever be added to an institution that emerged from the ruins of a world war. But that has not stopped India from chasing dreams. 


Another area where Obama used beguiling words to thrill his hosts was on US technology controls, to the extent that Manmohan Singh prematurely thanked him for his 'decision' to 'lift' those controls. Far from agreeing to free India from the rigours of such trade curbs, the US has merely committed itself to a continued step-by-step liberalisation of its export controls in sync with Indian actions and concessions. If any decision was announced, it was the US plan to remove some more Indian entities from its blacklist, the 'Entity List'. While a welcome move, the removal does not automatically entitle those entities to import high technology because of the broader controls that remain in place against India. 


Obama's visit will undoubtedly strengthen an already-warming bilateral relationship whose geostrategic direction is clearly set — towards closer collaboration. While it is too much to expect a congruence of US and Indian national security objectives in all spheres, the two countries are likely to deepen their cooperation in areas where their interests converge. Having been non-aligned, India is set to become multi-aligned, while tilting more towards Washington, even as it preserves the core element of non-alignment — strategic autonomy. Obama, for his part, will be remembered for using his power of oratory to recast himself as India's friend in the same class as Bush. He came with very little to deliver and more to take, yet cast a spell on India.








UN SECRETARY-GENERAL Ban Ki-Moon has just released the final report of his High Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing (AGF). As the two private sector members of the AGF, we are proud of our work. The report lays out the available options for mobilising $100 billion annually for climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, and establishes the conditions that would make it possible to achieve this goal by 2020. 


 One essential condition is setting a robust carbon price of $25 per tonne of CO2 in order to unleash the large private sector investments that are necessary to finance the transition to a low-carbon economy. We are concerned, however, that the political will for carbon pricing is lacking. 


The world cannot wait until 2020 to find the necessary resolve: while international negotiations drag on and the momentum that has been generated in the private sector is in danger of dissipating, global warming is progressing. There is an urgent need to start producing concrete results now, based on several promising initiatives that deserve to be scaled up. 


One such initiative is the REDD+ framework (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), an effort to create financial value for the carbon stored in rainforests. Dealing with deforestation and forest degradation cannot wait until 2020. The very resources that we need to protect will have been substantially depleted by then. Done properly, protecting rainforests is a cost-effective method both to abate climate change and to provide sustainable livelihoods for many millions of people now living in rural poverty. 


A second initiative is climate-related financing offered by multilateral development banks (MDBs). The MDBs have been able to leverage large flows of private investment by mitigating risks and developing the capacity of domestic financial institutions. For example, the International Finance Corporation's China utility energy efficiency programme has been highly successful in using small amounts of risk capital and money from donors to generate large amounts of loans, with a stunning leverage factor of more 100:1. 


Equally, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has placed energy efficiency centre-stage in much of its work on market-led sectoral transformation programs across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. MDBs should work expeditiously with the private sector to expand greatly the scale of such new mechanisms, and their capital should be increased if they demonstrate success. 


Athird initiative concerns renewable-energy development. Well-designed feed-in tariff programmes offer investors the transparency, longevity, and certainty that they seek — and these incentives have backed approximately 75% of solar photovoltaic capacity and 45% of wind capacity built worldwide through 2008. 


The GET FiT programme is a plan to promote access to renewables in the developing world through new public-private partnerships. Money from bilateral and multilateral donors, along with coordinated technical assistance and capacity-building programmes, would provide incentives for power producers to generate renewable energy. Using a GET FiT-type structure to underpin the early financing of initiatives such as DESERTEC, a programme to generate solar and wind power in the Sahara desert for use in North Africa and export to Europe, holds particular promise. Suitably adapted, such mechanisms could also dramatically expand off-grid renewableenergy solutions across rural economies. 

Taking concrete action now will reinvigorate the momentum of fighting climate change and help restore faith in international cooperation. Moreover, at a time of insufficient global demand and fiscal constraints in the developed countries, there is an urgent need for new drivers of growth. The initiatives described here, as well as others discussed in the AGF's report, offer a major opportunity to reorient the global economy towards resource-saving, low-carbon growth by using limited public resources to stimulate large-scale private investment. 

(The authors are vice chairman of Deutsche Bank Group and chairman of Soros Fund Management, respectively) © Project Syndicate, 2010







THE IMF has voiced fears of currency wars. In one sense, they are just echoing what was implied in March this year when a group of US senators introduced legislation called the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act to enable action against countries (read China) which are manipulating their currencies. Actually, the treasury secretary could also authorise action under the Trade and Competitveness Act, 1988 by certifying which trading countries are manipulating trade policies to get unfair trade advantage. However, Obama's own statements on unfair Chinese practices (subsequently echoed by the treasury secretary) have probably emboldened the senators to bring in specific legislation. The issue of currency reforms is also likely to be on top of the G20 agenda at Seoul this week. 


The problem is that an oversight of the financial part of world trade transactions are not part of the WTO mandate, though the IMF and the World Bank are 'consultants' to the WTO. Hence, the frustration of the Obama administration, which is in a protectionist mode but unable to take action under WTO rules. In the recent Senate and House elections, the Democrats have suffered enormous losses. Hence, just like the legislation on reform of Sec 911 of the US Tax Code to change the system of taxation of American companies' foreign operations, one doubts if the legislation on currency manipulation will pass Congress. That China is 'manipulating' its currency is probably true, given the opaqueness of its internal monetary policy. 


 As I have argued earlier in these columns, the fact that China's trade surplus increases every year is testimony to the fact that the currency is misaligned. In a true competitive world, long run equilibrium implies that a country's currency must appreciate (increase in the dollar/ yuan rate) and its trade surplus disappear. Alternatively, the trade surplus implies that the domestic money supply increases. Prices must thus then rise so that exports lose competitiveness and the trade surplus disappears. 


That none of these things are happening is evidence that something is amiss. That China is a communist country with enormous discretionary powers (especially over its currency reserves) probably lends credence to the manipulation theory. It is also clear that the Chinese authorities are still not loosening the reins on their currency: just last month, while the euro and the yen have appreciated by 10-12% against the dollar, the corresponding figure for the Chinese remnimbi is around 2%. In fact, closer to home, the Indian rupee has also appreciated by about 6% or so in the last month. Hence two questions arise. One, what will be China's short-run strategy and, two, what stance should India adopt at the G20? 


It is clear that the Chinese will not let the yuan appreciate to the extent necessary in the short run. There are two reasons for this. One, inflation (consumer prices) in China has gone from close to zero in July 2009 to around 4% today. It is thus clear that the Chinese will not allow the trade surplus to impact the domestic money supply and thus feed inflation. This could endanger the political system itself. The Chinese government would rather risk a trade war with the US. Second, why not liquidate the surplus via imports as this would also be anti-inflationary? Here it must be understood that the Chinese have invested trade surpluses in US treasury bonds. A quick elimination of the reserves is likely to cause a drastic depreciation of the dollar. This would create a negative wealth effect for China since almost 80% of the $3 trillion Chinese reserves are invested in dollar-denominated bonds. 


Hence on the issue of appreciation of the yuan, the Chinese have a dilemma: damned if they do and damned if they don't. It seems logical that, given the political compulsions, China would agree to a solution spread over the next year or so when the issue of the primacy of the dollar as the 'world reserve' currency should get resolved. 


So what stand should India take at the G20? As I have already argued, forcing an immediate appreciation of the yuan will not work. India's main concern is that the Chinese reserves are funding an expansionary monetary policy in the US where interest rates are again heading southward. This is fuelling short-term capital flows to India and other emerging markets. Hence, an 'orderly movement' of exchange rates is probably warranted and the Chinese have a strong responsibility to ensure this. India also suffers from a huge trade deficit with China not helped by the undervalued yuan. The bottom line? China must move from being the world's biggest producer and exporter to being the biggest importer. In the longer term, there is no virtue in trade surpluses.


The reality that China's trade surplus increases every year is testimony to the fact that the currency is misaligned 

It is clear that the Chinese will not let the yuan appreciate to the extent necessary in the short run 
But in the long term, there is no virtue in trade surpluses, and so, China should ensure orderly appreciation of the yuan






EVERYONE knows what truth is because, really, it's so straightforward. It's fidelity to a fact. A lie on the other hand is slightly trickier because there are various subtypes such as white lies, half truths and the lying truth (where for example when you don't want to lend a book, you lie and say your wife has already lent it to someone else without knowing that, in reality, she's done just that.) But the intent always remains the same: to deceive. Yet, there's one important thing that a person telling the truth and a lying person have in common: they both have to know and care about what they believe is the truth. Which is why it's impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. 


There is, however, one exception as pointed out by the philosopher Harry Frankfurt, and that's bullshitting. In an essay called — What else? — On Bullshit which became a nonfiction blockbuster, spending 27 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list in 1986, Frankfurt explains how. Both lies and bullshit, he writes, can either be true or false but since bullshitters aim primarily to impress their audiences, they are, in general, unconcerned with the truth or falsehood of their statements. And it's this lack of connection to a concern with truth that he regards as the essence of bullshit. Or as he puts it: "… bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are." Not because it's false but that it's phoney. 


By extension now, take believers in God. At a stretch they could be deluded in their conviction by not having what is usually considered watertight empirical evidence to back theirfaith and it's possible they could at some future date even be proved wrong. But whatever the case may be, they do not pretend to believe in what they believe. They actually do; they aren't bullshitters. Similarly, atheists. The worst that can be saidabout them by believers is that they know the truth and are deliberately misrepresenting it like liars do. Yet, atheists can never be accused of pretending to be unbelievers. Because, again, they aren't bullshitters. 


That leaves agnostics. It's said their aim is to (mis)represent themselves as knowing what they don't know or more than they actually do. Either way, there isn't much concern or caring about the truth — whatever the truth may be — but, instead about making a certain impression. If so, that would make them the ultimate phoneys.






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The government's decision to set up a committee under Dr Rakesh Mohan, a former deputy governor of the Reserve Bank and currently India's executive director on the IMF board, to take a comprehensive relook at how domestic private and foreign investment can be attracted for infrastructure funding is extremely welcome. There is no doubt that infrastructure funding is a serious problem: the shortage of funds in the 12th Five-Year Plan is expected to be around 30 per cent. Some put the figure at Rs 13 lakh crore. The funding is now being taken care of by gross budgetary support, which is 53 per cent of the requirement, against a target of 32 per cent. Public sector banks provide 80 per cent of the funding for infrastructure projects, with the rest coming from the private sector and institutions like the Infrastructure Development Finance Company and the India Infrastructure Finance Company Ltd. In the case of IDFC, for instance, 40 per cent of its funds come from public sector banks, so the pressure on banks is tremendous. That is why it is imperative to find alternative funding sources. Dr Mohan had some years back developed a whole set of government policies to attract private and foreign investment for infrastructure development. But the core issues have remained unresolved despite a slew of seminars and conferences deliberating and offering solutions. The infrastructure deficit is said to cost India one to two per cent in GDP growth every year. The government and all connected with infrastructure are aware of the risks that private and foreign investors face — such as in construction, land acquisition (one of the biggest hurdles today) and environmental clearance (which has held up scores of projects). These problems are not new, and experts have come up with several suggestions over the years. One of these is a strong corporate bond market for long-term financing. Many years back the R.H. Patil Committee had drawn up an exhaustive set of guidelines to develop a strong bond market, but till today there has been no movement in its implementation. The lack of urgency is very visible. One of the key solutions agreed on was to get household savings, estimated at 22 per cent of GDP, and insurance and pension funds, estimated at over Rs 5 lakh crore, routed to infrastructure funding through the equity and bond markets. This is a challenge that stares the government in its face, but since there is no institutional mechanism to enable this, the bulk of these funds continue to lie in bank deposits. Investing the several lakh crores of rupees in insurance and pension funds in the equity markets is of course a very sensitive political issue, and even though the government is trying to provide encouragement, the trustees of these funds are not biting the bait. The reason is simple: the Indian stock markets are not considered safe enough as they still suffer from manipulation and price-rigging despite the monitoring carried out by the Securities and Exchange Board of India. People have lost several thousands of crores of rupees over the years to unscrupulous scamsters and have no hope of getting it back. The new Rakesh Mohan Committee will have to take a holistic view when looking for solutions.








US President Barack Obama's successful visit to India and his historic speech to a joint session of Parliament capped a milestone week in Indo-US relations. This was his sixth encounter with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in various forums in the last 18 months, but his first in New Delhi, and it set the seal on the consolidation of a relationship that has changed dramatically over the last decade.


Throughout the Cold War, the world's oldest democracy and its largest were essentially estranged. The American preference for making anti-communist allies, however unsavoury, had tied Washington to a series of increasingly Islamist dictatorships in Pakistan, while the non-aligned democracy had drifted towards the secular Soviet embrace. With the end of the Cold War and India's increasing integration into the global economy, a thaw set in, but India's explosion of a nuclear device in 1998 triggered a fresh round of US sanctions. President Bill Clinton began to turn things around with a hugely successful India visit during his last year in office. The Bush administration took matters much further, with a landmark accord on civil nuclear cooperation that remains the centrepiece of the transformed relationship.


The nuclear accord simultaneously accomplished two things. It admitted India into the global nuclear club despite our principled refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. More important, it acknowledged that US exceptionalism had found a sibling. Thanks to the US, which strong-armed the 45 countries of the Nuclear Suppliers' Group into swallowing their concerns that special treatment for India could constitute a precedent for rogue nuclear aspirants such as Pakistan, North Korea and Iran, there is now an "Indian exception". Few things could have been more gratifying to a deeply proud nation that was tired of being constantly hyphenated by Washington with its smaller, dysfunctional neighbour, Pakistan.


Under Mr Obama, nothing quite so dramatic was possible. But the President hit all the right notes in his speech to Parliament. The references to Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda, and even B.R. Ambedkar; the quotes from Tagore, the Panchatantra and the Upanishads (though he wisely didn't attempt to pronounce "vasudhaiva kutumbakam", contenting himself with saying it in English) and the game utterances of "bahut dhanyavad" and "Jai Hind" won over many a sceptical Indian heart. And his speech conveyed two substantive assurances: support for India's aspirations to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and an unambiguous declaration that safe havens for terrorists in Pakistan were "unacceptable".


The latter was particularly welcome. The Obama administration's understandable concerns in Afghanistan have made Pakistan loom much larger in its consciousness than India. Mr Obama understands that there is no successful outcome in Afghanistan possible without Pakistan, and his administration has therefore been attentive to Islamabad's priorities in ways that New Delhi finds occasionally irritating. This statement will go a long way towards reassuring us that Washington is conscious of the fundamental danger to Indian security emanating from that side of the border, and is committed to addressing it with its friends in Pakistan.


Over the last year, there has also been progress on other fronts — the small but significant steps that add up to strengthening the sinews of a relationship. Agreements on seemingly mundane subjects like agriculture, education, health, and even space exploration and energy security testify to enhanced cooperation, and the two governments have also proclaimed "initiatives" on clean energy and climate change as well as educational linkages between American and Indian universities. The Obama visit consolidated all these gains, and the announcements in Mumbai of significant trade and investment deals confirmed that each nation is developing a more significant stake in the other than ever before. The US is India's largest trading partner, if you take goods and services together. American exports to India have, in the last five years, grown faster than to any other country. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) estimates that services trade between the two countries is likely to grow, despite the recent global financial crisis and the US recession that sparked it, from the present $60 billion to over $150 billion in the next six years.


]There are strong reasons for congruence and powerful arguments for continued closeness. India is clearly going to join the US amongst the top five world powers of the 21st century. Both nations are anchored in democratic systems, and are committed to the rule of law, diversity and pluralism, and the encouragement of innovation and enterprise. The engagement of the two countries with each other is reinforced by the growing Indian presence in America — the 100,000 Indian students (who form the largest foreign student community there) supplementing the flourishing and influential Indo-American community, who enjoy the highest median income of any American ethnic group and who are playing an increasingly prominent role in politics and government.


Mr Obama spoke of a "global partnership". What could this mean in practice? Both countries share a responsibility for preserving a rule-based, open and democratic world order and for the management of the global economy. Both are active in the G-20 as the world's premier institution for dealing with international economic questions. India and the US could also act together to preserve the global commons — the environment, the high seas, human trafficking, outer space and cyberspace — all areas in which the two democracies, one the world's richest, the other still emerging from poverty, have different but not irreconcilable approaches. Cooperation on the innovative development of green energy technologies, for instance, and on space exploration or combating cyber-crime, are obvious examples of issues that did not exist before the 21st century dawned.


The possibilities are vast. As they say in America, Mr Obama stepped up to the plate this week, and in his speech to Parliament, he hit a home run. Let us make sure that after his departure, we keep the ball in play.


* Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency








A major project threatens a site vital for natural heritage. Development needs dictate that nothing come in the way of progress. Caution about the web of life imposes on sensibilities another, contrarian reason. Tempers rise. The divide deepens. Each side accuses the other of being short-sighted. Irresistible force meets immovable obstacles.


A mineral or fossil fuel mine in a mountain range clothed with forest. A dam over a valley that is home to imperilled species. One person's meat is another's poison. The imperative of wealth creation with its promise of a better future points one way. Or the precautionary principle that enjoins thought prior to irreversible action indicates another, different route. If the force is irresistible, the barriers will give way. If the latter holds, it means, at the very least, a breathing space, a small battle won even as the wars continue.


Now, it is easy to predict outcomes where the political leadership sees ecology as expendable. California. One of the United States' now most eco-friendly states had a famous governor who was unfazed by the Save the Redwoods League. The ancient trees, already stripling adults when the New Testament was being composed, aroused strong sympathies. Being on private land, they were more vulnerable to the lure of rising prices for land owners eager to have a hefty cheque in the bank.


The governor, who had starred in a movie with a chimpanzee as soul mate (Bedtime for Bonzo), had no time for green sentiments. The former actor and labour union member said famously of the giant trees, "If you've seen one redwood, you've seen them all". Ronald Reagan was to be game changer at the global level but had no qualms about putting growth first. In a different corner of the globe at roughly the same time, in the 1960s while the Gipper was in the governor's mansion in Sacramento, Chairman Mao was energising the Red Guards in Beijing. The heavens trembled as he unleashed the Cultural Revolution.


In the remote mountain reaches of the deep southwest, the fight against "bourgeois emblems" and capitalist roaders spilled over from the human world to the animal one. Tigers were labelled as "counter-revolutionary striped bandits of the Guomindang variety". Mao brigades not only shot them but posed for photos earning plaudits for removing obstacles to the human domination over nature.


Yet, in today's world, save for closed societies and one-party politics, and sometimes even over there, there is little doubt things are a lot more complicated. The actor completing a second term as governor in California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a middle of the road Republican who has pushed hard for green house gas emission cuts. China itself has moved on from Mao's time, protecting tigers and pandas, trying to balance growth and green concerns.


But there are times when the divide is too sharp and the polarisation all too stark. What now? Or rather, what then? For the issue is not only mint fresh new from the day's pages. But it is eerily reminiscent of what Holmes advised that doddering Inspector Lestrade. Lock yourself up, the ace detective, advised, and read up the history. As the wheel turns, the same pattern reappears.


In the American case, the first major set piece battle over a project was in a valley called Hetch Hetchy. A dam would destroy part of a valuable forest site, but at stake was water for the city of Los Angeles. John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club and author of the famous My First Summer in the Sierra, saw this as the mother of all environmental battles. His rivals argued the dam was the wisest way to use water flowing away and going waste.


The city won; the park lost out. The defeat in 1916 sowed the seeds of greater, later victories. As the middle classes grew, the urge to see and savour nature won more not less adherents. Yellowstone and Yosemite, once distant places, first became open due to the railroad and then the motor car. By bringing these sites more in range of a greater number, the pressures increased but so did the constituency for conservation. Developers would find such a project a harder sell today.


A very different set piece battle happened less than a decade later. The Tatas embarked on a dam to bring water to Mumbai. It would also generate much-needed power but there was an issue, not of nature but of residents who would have to make way.


Led by a Gandhian ex-soldier, Senapati Bapat, the villagers launched the world's first peaceful anti-dam movement modelled on the techniques of Satyagraha. In his account, The World's First Anti-Dam Movement, the veteran political scientist, the late Rajinder Vora of Pune University, recounts the ups and downs of the struggle. As with Hetch Hetchy, much was at stake and the immediate outcome was in favour of the dam. But then, as Holmes reminds us, the same patterns recur. It's perhaps to the good, for a crowded planet. Though much is taken, much abides.


* Mahesh Rangarajan is an environmental historian and co-editor of The Environmental History of India.








Future chroniclers of the low, dishonest, vacuous election campaign of 2010 — at the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's "Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear" on the National Mall there was not only not a single funny placard but not a single serious one, either, plus the clapped-out crooner Yusuf Islam (the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens who publicly supported the fatwa against Salman Rushdie) gave a performance about as exciting as a potted plant — will certainly puzzle over US President Barack Mr Obama's almost weird refusal to stick up for himself in the middle of his first term. Faced with an extraordinary campaign of defamation on everything from his citizenship to his religion to his paternity, Mr Obama at times looked almost masochistic in his unreadiness to seize the initiative and give the lie to his detractors.


Having many reservations of my own about the President, I would nonetheless have relished the chance to support him in such an effort, as would many of my friends. But one can't indefinitely do for somebody what he is reluctant to do for himself. And, of course, Mr Obama's reticence managed somehow to confirm the image of him as a glacial elitist — a man who would hardly deign to pass comment on the rubes and proles.


Making it even worse, however, were the closing weeks of October when the President actually did decide to get in the ring and mix it up a little. First came his rather clumsy attempt to suggest that political money — or, at any rate, Republican political money — was somehow "foreign" in origin. Doesn't Mr Obama realise that rhetoric like this opens a wider auction — of chauvinist innuendo and fear-mongering over countries like China — which is always going to be won by the isolationists?


Much worse, though, was the President's remark last week, made on a radio show for Spanish-language Univision, in which he expressed disappointment with Spanish-speaking voters who proposed to "sit out the election instead of saying, 'We're going to punish our enemies and we're gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us'".


Almost everything is wrong with this statement. The first is its awful tone: a crude appeal to ethnicity and to a spoils system of reward and punishment with which to accompany it. The second is the unspoken but highly dubious assumption that Americans (or future Americans) of Mexican and Cuban and Guatemalan and Salvadoran origin can all be collectivised under the lump headings of Hispanic or Latino. The third is the patronising supposition that this putative bloc is somehow owned by the Democratic Party. And the fourth — to restate my objection above — is that it legitimises any politician who couches his or her appeal in ethnic or tribal or confessional terms. Again, and whoever opens it, such an auction will always be won by the sectarians. Why, it could almost be called divisive. I was pleased to see that pollster and former Democrat Pat Caddell was among the liberal voices denouncing Mr Obama's demagogy.


Just a few days after Mr Obama's bigmouth moment on Univision, the New York Times, in a "straight" news story, subliminally echoed almost every one of his politicised assumptions. Under the headline, "Hispanics Cite Bias in Survey," Julia Preston wrote that "(m)ore than 6 in 10 Latinos in the United States say discrimination is a 'major problem' for them, a significant increase in the last three years". This survey of Latinos was conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center and found the principal cause of discrimination to be immigration status. Three years ago, the largest number of respondents identified the primary cause of discrimination as "language". On this basis, the reporter felt able to conclude that: "The nation's largest minority (at 47 million) feels beleaguered by backlash from the polarised debate over immigration in the last year, the survey shows". What a sentence! Perhaps if there had never been any debate to polarise things, people would have felt less backlash-beleaguerment?


]But this is not the sole objection to such subjective reporting of such sketchy findings. What about a headline that would read: "Minority, Polled by Itself on Own Feelings, Reports Self-Pity on Fresh Topic"? In other words, a version in the satirical newspaper the Onion would have been at least as accurate, if not more so. And even that would require that we share the idea of all Latinos being self-consciously in the same "minority".


Junk polling spreads like a weed. To be able to cite a poll is now the shortest cut to economising both on thought and on research. The most recent issue of the New Republic contains a quite useful essay by the always-serious Thomas B. Edsall on the current shifts in electoral alignment. Sometimes he remembers to quote the actual polling organisation and sometimes he doesn't. Thus at one point we are told (courtesy of an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll) that in October 2006, "the public" manifested "greater trust in Democrats on Social Security by 28 points. Remarkably, that gap now stands at four points, a statistical tie". Just a few paragraphs later, he informs us that "only 59 per cent of whites believe 'Americans will always continue to be prosperous and make economic progress' — while 81 per cent of blacks and 75 per cent of Hispanics continue to profess faith in the future". No polling authority is cited for the second claim, not that it really matters


On the basis of the first "finding," one would have to conclude that one-quarter of the population reversed a long and deeply-held political position over just four years, to the point where Democrats have no more natural advantage on the issue. Does Edsall himself actually believe that Social Security is no longer a reliable Democratic Party drumbeat? Does he know any Democrats or Republicans who act as if this were true in their own districts? Of course he doesn't. But how could "the polls" be wrong? As to the second, unsourced "finding," one would simply like to know the people who are able to command such access to the human heart and aspiration, and to the survival of the American Dream, and moreover be able to break down this combination of yearning and faith under handily-packaged ethnic subheadings. Genius like that ought not to be wasted on mere market research.


Elitism and populism, as we have painfully learned this fall, are too often found in the same person. The simultaneous aggregating and dividing of people by race and ethnicity turns out to be the cheapest and easiest outcome of supposedly democratic measurement. At least we can still laugh at those who pay themselves to take their own temperatures or examine their own emotions and prejudices and then rush to publish them as news that's already fit to print.


* Christopher Hitchens, an internationally acclaimed author and political commentator, recently wrote Hitch-22

By arrangement with the New York Times








This week over 20 million Muslims from all across the globe gather in and around Mecca to perform the Haj, a pillar of Islam. Haj is a set of prescribed religious rites that take place on specific dates during Zil Haj, the 12th and last month of the Islamic calendar. Muslims are required to make this pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime, if they are physically and financially able to do so.


Mecca had been a centre of worship long before the advent of Prophet Mohammad. Muslims believe that Adam built the first Kaaba, a symbolic house of Allah on earth, placed under His celestial throne. Eventually, it was rebuilt by Prophet Abraham who laid down the rites of Haj as ordained by Allah. Over centuries, the monotheism of the Abraham and his followers had been corrupted. Idols had been placed in the Kaaba, which was surrounded with pagan rites. Prophet Mohammad, after his conquest of Mecca cleansed the Kaaba of idols, re-established the worship of the one true God.


God commanded Abraham to travel from Palestine to Mecca and leave his second wife Hajrah (or Hagar), along with Ishmael, his first born, in this barren, rocky and uninhabited valley. Abraham returned to his first wife Sarah, leaving Hajrah in God's trust. When Hajrah's provisions of dates and water ran out, she became anxious for the thirsty child. In desperation, Hajrah ran seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah, often gazing at the nearby Kaaba whilst trusting God and invoking His mercy. Suddenly, water sprang from where Ishmael tapped his little feet. This source of water is known as the well of Zam Zam, which miraculously continues to suffice millions of pilgrims. Running between these two hills, a tradition following the footsteps of Hajrah forms part of the Haj rites.


A simple cube-like structure, the Kaaba evokes the most intense of emotions including hope, fear and love of Allah. The Hajr al Aswad, "Black Stone", that people struggle to kiss is set in one of the corners of the Kaaba. The stone, bought by Archangel Gabriel from paradise, is believed to have turned black by absorbing the sins of those who embrace it. Adam, Ismail and 70 other prophets are buried in the sanctified area. Islamic traditions say that angels constantly circle the Kaaba, bathing all those around it in showers of celestial radiance. Prophet Mohammad said that sins are forgiven by even merely looking at the Kaaba with sincerity.


Haj is about detaching from the luxuries of this world and gaining proximity with God.


Each aspect of the journey teaches something —reminding us that a more difficult journey awaits us after we die. Pilgrims have to remove clothes that can divulge status — the men drape themselves with an ihram, two unstitched pieces of white cloth as a reminder of death. The ihram closely resembles the unstitched shroud that Muslims are wrapped up in before being lowered into their graves. This teaches humility, for no one is rich in front of Allah except in acts of piety. Pilgrims have to be mindful of their behaviour — be kind, generous, courteous, patient and thankful, while cleansing the soul of rancour, lust, greed, animosity and other such diseases of the spiritual heart.


Islam believes that after being sent to earth from the garden of Paradise, Adam and Eve were separated. After years of seeking forgiveness, Allah accepted Adam's prayers and reunited him with Eve, on the top of a hill near Arafat, called Jabal e Rahmah, Mount of Mercy. Here, the two stood in worship and thanksgiving of their Lord. "Arafat" comes from the root word, "recognition", for in these plains Adam and Eve recognised each other.


The highlight of Haj is the Yaum ul Wuquf, the Day of Waiting, when pilgrims gather to spend from noon to sunset on the wide desolate plains of Arafat, a defined area in contemplative vigil, praying and reciting the Quran. This gathering symbolises the Judgment Day in the Hereafter, when all souls will wait to be judged by God.


Prophetic traditions affirm this as the most important day of Haj, a time and place when Allah is most generous, forgiving all the sins of those who seek repentance. Haj is a celebration where pilgrims are spiritually purified, given a second chance to truly submit to Allah and stay on righteous path.


— Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at [1]








THE conviction of as many as 44 people among the 81 named for the massacre of 11 farmers in Nanoor in 2000 should not just be seen as indictment of the CPI-M or indeed even of the turf wars that have gripped rural Bengal. It confirms that rural violence has a long history and is a standing disgrace as far as the police and district administrations are concerned. More alarming is the political dimension that has made life insecure for citizens in search of a livelihood. Casualty figures trotted out by Opposition parties may be exaggerated and there is no reason to believe that they are innocent. Stockpiling of arms is a menace to which rival parties contribute in equal measure. The shocking truth is that the local administration has never been compelled by Writers' Buildings to do its duty and the Chief Minister goes on defending the police. This can only be because his party is the greatest offender. The Chief Secretary may now echo the sentiments of his predecessor in asking district magistrates not to look at political colours, but a succession of bureaucrats surrendered their conscience to political masters. In the circumstances, the judgment comes as reassuring confirmation of the fact that the rule of law prevails, even when the ruling dispensation pulls out all the stops to shield the culprits.
The Left has much to answer for. It had initially engaged in the deception of passing off the killings as the outcome of  a local dispute involving a gang of dacoits. Later, it tried to organise a cover-up to subvert the course of justice, but the High Court ordered the proceedings to be speeded up. The larger tragedy is that Nanoor has become the epicentre of gang wars, with echoes elsewhere, and the police claims to be helpless. It is now up to Alimuddin Street to cope with the fallout. An appeal to a higher court will buy time for those convicted. What it will not do is to remove the blot that has come with cadres being identified and the party getting so glaringly exposed before the election. With the victims and their families belonging to the class of backward Muslims that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has been trying desperately to win over with the promise of ten per cent job reservations, the blow is deadlier. It takes away the credibility of not only those who have abused authority but of the CPI-M that must devise more urgent methods of damage control. Bengal's Marxists have now been branded killers by a court of law; this is the shame they must live with, not just in the state but in those precincts where they claim the moral high ground.




There is much to condemn and little to commend in Myanmar's dubious tryst with democracy. It was a virtually settled fact that the ruling junta would entrench itself further still; and so it has. Further, it has made sure that even if the world's icon of democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, is released this week, her freedom will have little or no impact on the political scenario. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has claimed overwhelming victory; but the Myanmarese experiment will rank in contemporary electoral history as one that has yielded no convincing data on the voting pattern. In the absence of figures ~ the National Election Commission exists only theoretically ~ the USDP merely serves as the junta's proxy with its claim that it has won 80 per cent of the seats in parliament. Indeed, the House is partially of the junta's creation with 25 per cent of the seats reserved for the military on the day the elections were announced, which implies that the next government will scarcely mirror the people's will. The country is set to witness another bout of the junta dispensation behind a spurious parliamentary facade. As spurious, one must add, as the sartorial switchover from the uniform to the longyi. In terms of sheer fraudulence, the 7 November election in Myanmar has surpassed the exercises in Iran and Afghanistan. The Yangon resident's quote in Facebook ~ "Whatever we did, the decision was already made" ~ just about sums up everything.

Tragically, the first national election in 20 years has sparked a human exodus; an estimated 20,000 refugees have crossed the border to Thailand since last Sunday in the wake of clashes between the ethnic Karens and troops. The election has exposed the inherently fractious nature of the country. And what must occasion a deep sense of regret is that the comity of nations has watched the exodus and the electoral fraud with almost calculated indifference. Barack Obama is right when he tells India that it should speak up against rights violations in Myanmar. Equally, the US President hasn't helped matters by favouring negotiations with the junta... with Suu Kyi in detention. The USA, India and the democratic world at large have collectively ignored the travesty of the concept. That, in a  nutshell,  is  the  tragedy  of  Myanmar.  The  military  band  plays on. 




CONFUSION could be the immediate fallout of the defence minister's latest pontification on indigenous production of military equipment. Suggesting a revised policy in which the public sector enterprises under his ministry would no longer get preferential treatment and have to compete with private industry might be AK Antony's way of trying to shake his units out of their lethargic comfort zone. Yet the implications could be deeper; just before the Obama visit the Indian ambassador to the United States told a gathering of industrialists from both countries that a revision was likely of the system that requires foreign suppliers to source some 30 per cent of their product domestically: the "offsets" so resented by the global players. Is there any linkage? Even if there is nothing sinister about it the thinking would appear skewed ~ private sector involvement in defence production remains minimal so the minister's "threat" is essentially notional. Despite efforts initiated when George Fernandes was the minister, private participation has been limited for well known factors: huge investments are required for "military grade" production, the market is small. Antony's highlighting shipbuilding is also unconvincing. Are the private yards large enough to cater to the navy's "blue water" aspirations": if that was the thinking, why was "general" yard at Vizag recently transferred to the defence ministry? It is significant that the minister spoke of a new policy at a "function" ~ he appears anxious to make a splash every time he addresses members of the defence establishment that still places little stock in him. Equally significant is the caption of the official press release: it reads "Antony hints at…" ~ nothing more specific.
There can be no questioning the rationale of seeking to reverse the situation in which 65-70 per cent of hardware is imported, and several big ticket deals are in the pipeline. Yet the manner in which the ministry addresses the issue forces recollection of the story about the blind men and the elephant. Rather than spew defence-industry philosophy the minister must seek to end compartmentalisation, bring R&D, defence PSUs and ordnance factories under a single umbrella and, where possible, integrate private players and their foreign partners into a comprehensive exercise. Tinkering with this or that policy every now and then just won't do. Time that Antony realises he must deliver on some of his promises. Being "goody-goody" is just not good enough.









THE world is currently undergoing one of the toughest economic times since the Great Depression. The economics and policy professions are still debating the time that would be needed to get out of this ditch. Many consider the current rate of progress as painfully slow but there are others who are more hopeful than their skeptical fellow citizens.

Although the current economic crisis is being called a global one, the fact is that the reach of the current crisis is not quite global in nature. Many countries including India and China are still continuing with their robust growth rates although minimal pangs of pain are visible at times. But this might change and there is substantial reason to believe that similar economic distress might occur in less affected countries too. If this happens it would be a nightmare and every sensible policy option must be directed to avoid such an occurrence. 
There is no doubt that this crisis will play itself out in one way or the other. Past major economic crises often resulted in warfare on international scales. For example, the demise of the Great Depression to some extent may be credited to the Second World War. We can only hope that the current crisis will be resolved more peacefully than the past ones. Once it is all over, historians will pore over the data and they will write articles about the root causes of this crisis and the policies or events that helped to resolve them. Hidden in those analyses will be narratives. Narratives that will not only frame the issues but will also objectify the reasons that resolved those issues. History is after all mostly about narratives. There will be the dominant narratives and some fringe ones. More than likely, the dominant narratives will be dictated by the politico-economic-cultural setup of those future days. We do not know what they will be but we can make educated guesses. Embedded in those narratives will probably be the stories of poorly regulated banks and financial institutions. Stories will be told about how the mighty financial institutions cheated people by not fully divulging the underlying risks of complex financial instruments. We will tell stories about how these institutions failed to provide adequately transparent balance sheets and how they carefully massaged their accounts and played with debt obligation numbers and timed income recognition to work in their favour.

We will look with wonder at how complex financial instruments were created, packaged, and sold without carrying sufficient underlying assets to back them up. We will criticise governments for violating our sacred trusts by failing to regulate excessive risk-taking behaviour proactively.

There will be another side to the stories too. Social activists and popular sympathisers will tell the stories of mass suffering. They will be talking about people evicted from their homes, their houses foreclosed, jobs lost, and unemployed people spending times on the fringes of economic prosperity, unable to provide for families, and unable to meet their financial obligations. 

These disenfranchised people will look to take revenge. If they do not take up arms then they might head to the polling booths seeking to punish everyone who is responsible for their plight. They will probably replace politicians of one hue by those of another caring less if such choices are objectively different. Some such actions are already visible if we consider the electoral debacle of the Democratic Party in the latest American Congressional elections. 

The fact is that each component of the narrative is right to some extent. Yes, the financial institutions took excessive risks without safeguarding consumer interest adequately. Yes, accounting violations have been committed in many instances. Yes, the governments could have done better by being more proactive and people-centric. Yes, the human pain, suffering, and despair will be huge. But that is unfortunately not the end of the narrative. There is more to it.

For the sake of political correctness in future narratives, we will talk far less about the role of people in the current financial dislocations. It is not scholarly or professionally kosher to say that "we the people" may be wrong, greedy, and downright insensitive to our fellow citizens much more than the institutions for we are always entitled to our dreams and less obligated to our responsibilities. 

Think about a community with an open garbage vat. Everybody throws their garbage into that. Stray animals fight over the leftovers spewing the garbage on the streets, rains wash the garbage away, sun warms and decomposes it and the resultant foul smell irritates all in the neighbourhood,. Yet the community can only blame the municipality, not because it is always the right thing to do but almost always the convenient one. No one wants to spend a little more to cover the vat or put their garbage in closed bags that are not easily destroyed.
Individual satisfaction maximisation may lead to collectively poor outcomes and it is very difficult to find markets that are able to mitigate these socially undesirable outcomes. Same could be said about the mortgage market. Owning a home is a core human dream and the size of the property, its location, and market value have historically been tied to our social standing. In this market, the need often comes secondary to the want.
When somebody buys a house whose periodic payment schedule strains the family budget it may be asked why the person did so. Did the bank provide a deceptively cheap payment plan? Did the person not understand the financial consequences of the risk he or she was undertaking? Or, did the person not care and immediate gratification ruled more powerfully than long-term consequence of one's actions? It is scary that the right answer may be all of the above. 

It is unfortunate that society will probably conveniently forget the responsible saver who provided the money in the first place by choosing to live a more modest life. There is a practical side to that also. In most of the countries around the world, it is possible to earn all the way to university degrees without ever getting any substantial training in financial literacy. 

Yet somehow in real life, we are expected to compute the cost of a loan, understand the underlying risks related to an investment, and choose between complex financial products to diversify our portfolios. Many of these expectations are like asking somebody to perform a surgery although the person was never taught anything about anatomy or physiology. 

It is easier to undertake disproportionate risk when somebody is oblivious to the nature of risk and not in possession of the tools to measure it. Failure to train future citizens in basics of finance and then expose them to the crude and brutal world of modern finance is a cardinal societal failure. It is debatable if we can expect mature financial citizenship from the unprepared or underprepared masses. 

This narrative is yet to be written but we can do better. We can take timely actions so that we never need to write this narrative. Otherwise, financial crises and the looming possibilities of such outcomes are here to stay for far longer than suits our comfort levels.

The writer is Associate Professor of Economics at the Tennessee State University, USA. 






Boosted by President Barack Obama's just-concluded visit to India, NASA and the ISRO have begun talks on jointly sending humans into space. It makes a lot of sense for the space agencies of the world's most powerful democracy and the world's populous democracy to work together.  NASA most the experience; ISRO has the ambition. Together, they could work as a powerful team, and capture the hearts and minds of all mankind. The first goal for NASA-ISRO should be a permanent lunar base. 

ISRO's Chandrayaan-1, launched two years ago, found water on the Moon, which was confirmed by a NASA spacecraft last year. Last month, astronomers announced that there's even more than we originally thought. 
Four decades ago, NASA sent humans to the moon, as hundreds of millions watched on television. We as a species can surely do it again, should we so desire and are prepared to bear the cost of the endeavour. With easily harvestable water, we could also live there. 

Some will ask, why go back to the Moon? Why live there? Since the 1960s, space has become very much a part of human destiny. Even though the exact timeline for a voyage to Mars has to be worked out, it is probably just a question of when humans will go to Mars.  Living on the Moon is the next logical step after the space shuttle flights and astronauts living aboard the International Space Station. It's farther than low Earth orbit, but less daunting than Mars.  

Some have likened human exploration and conquest of the Moon to the exploration and conquest of Antarctica.  A hundred years ago, Roald Amundsen, Ernest Shackleton and Captain Robert Scott made brief and dangerous forays into Antarctica that on occasion resulted in loss of lives. Afterwards, the frozen continent lay forgotten for decades. But now it is full of research stations (and even a tourist destination of sorts).  Maybe the same will happen to the Moon. 

Others have invoked mountaineer George Mallory's famous utterance when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest: "Because it's there". The Moon is the closest extraterrestrial body. If humans are to be a species that will some day colonise the solar system, we have to start with a colony on the Moon. Like any colony, a lunar colony will require water. Humans have suspected for centuries that there is water on the moon. 
The history of water on the Moon dates back to at least the first century AD, when Greek historian Plutarch imagined the dark spots on the lunar face to be oceans in his De Facie de Orb Lunae (The Face in the Moon). Galileo thought the same when he looked through his telescope four centuries ago. But in modern times, the idea fell out of favour.  Improved telescopes showed the Moon to be a barren and lifeless place. And when the Apollo astronauts went to the Moon, they found it covered with dust, with not a drop of water to be found. 
Some astronomers believed, however, that there was water on the Moon, and we just weren't looking in the right places. Chandrayaan-1 found it, and last year, NASA confirmed this definitively by "bombing" Cabeus, a crater close to the Moon's south pole, which never gets any sunlight. NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite dug up significant amounts of ice from the crash site. A second NASA spacecraft, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was watching, and observed the water. NASA scientists said last year that about 25 gallons had been detected, immediately and dramatically changing the viability of a self-sustaining lunar base. On October 21, they revised that number upwards, to about 40 gallons. It appears the water is easily accessible: there are grains of ice mixed with the soil. 

Humans require lots of water to live. Water is heavy, making transporting the huge amounts of water that would be required to maintain a lunar base prohibitively expensive. (A pound of payload bound moonward would cost up to $100,000 to hoist.) Now it seems we can get water in situ. In addition to drinking and bathing, the lunar water could be used for hydroponics to grow plants. And it could easily be broken down to give oxygen to breathe and hydrogen that could work as a fuel for rockets for coming back to Earth. 

NASA's plans to return to the Moon are unclear. The Obama administration has pushed to cancel the previous administration's programme to send astronauts to the Moon again. As of today, NASA's budget is in limbo. It is not certain what will happen when the Republican-led House takes power in January. The Soviet space programme is heavily constrained for funds. On the other hand, China and India have big space aspirations, and are funding lunar efforts. Both countries have talked about landing on the Moon in the period 2020-25. 
If NASA and ISRO work together on a joint programme, most people would bet that they would be the first to pull off the first lunar base.  NASA has the experience of many successful missions. ISRO has talented people who have shown that India can deliver space missions at a fraction of the cost of the West. And cost is important! Once permanently on the Moon, we can use that base as a test case for humans living on a celestial body that is not the Earth. 

In 1969, when NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon, it seemed reasonable to dream that the Apollo missions would be soon followed by a permanent outpost on the Moon. That dream vanished with the end of the Cold War. But the discovery of usable water on the Moon raises hopes again that humans may indeed live on the Moon some day. 

If NASA and ISRO really work together and succeed in establishing a lunar colony, they will deliver on the Indo-American cooperation promised during President Obama's just-concluded India visit. President Obama called the collaboration between the two countries the "indispensable and defining relationship of the 21st century".  NASA and ISRO have a chance to show what this relationship can achieve. 

The writer is a freelance contributor







At four months old, Zmnaku "Ali" Ahmad was believed to be one of the youngest victims of the attack, which claimed 5,000 lives and remains the single worst atrocity of Saddam Hussein's rule. But he was whisked away to safety by Iranian soldiers, and grew up in Iran, believing that his real mother was dead.
But last year he was reunited with his birth mother, Fatima Saleh, after a request for Iraqi identity papers led him to find his real parents.

"When I first saw Halabja (last year), I started crying," says Mr Ahmad, 23, who is now studying English in Sulaymaniya before embarking on a degree course in IT. "It was a very strange feeling for me."
The tragedy of Halabja was the culmination of the Iraqi regime's brutal campaign against the Kurds in the 1980s, aimed at crushing Kurdish resistance in the north of Iraq. Some 200,000 Iraqi Kurds died during the campaign, often brutally, and hundreds of villages were destroyed. But it was the particularly horrific nature of the attack on Halabja that would come to symbolise the regime's ruthless repression of the Kurds.
On 16 March 1988, Iraqi jets swooped down on the town of Halabja and unleashed a devastating cocktail of mustard gas and nerve agents, sarin, tabun and VX. As the smell of garlic and sweet apples wafted over the town, animals started to drop in the pastures, leaves fell off the trees, and residents who had not fled after an earlier aerial bombardment started to collapse, vomiting and their eyes streaming.

Mrs Saleh tried to flee the town with her children, but as they ran, one of her older children cried out that he was burning. She watched helplessly as her children died in front of her before passing out. She woke days later in a Tehran hospital. 

The attack occurred in the closing days of the Iran-Iraq war, and the Iranian military moved into the town two days later, where they found Mr Ahmad barely alive. His father and five siblings had perished in the attack. The soldiers took the boy to an orphanage in Iran, and when nobody claimed him, a volunteer called Kubra Pour brought him to her home near the Afghan border to raise alongside her two sons. She named him Ali.
Years later, US-led allied forces would topple Saddam Hussein, and the wheels were set in motion to hold senior figures in the regime to account for the crimes they committed.

Given prominent display at Halabja's memorial centre is a tatty pen that was used by an Iraqi judge to sign the death warrant of "Chemical" Ali, the man who masterminded the atrocity. 

"Chemical" Ali, or Ali Hassan al-Majid, was one of Saddam's most brutal henchmen, and he was executed in January for his role in the gassing of the Kurds, although he had received the death sentence three times previously for war crimes.

Mr Ahmad, 22, meanwhile, grew up near the Afghan border, knowing that he had come from Halabja but believing his family dead. It was only when his adoptive mother died after a car crash (his father had died several years earlier) that he started to wonder about going back.Denied Iranian identity papers, he faced a future with few prospects. He could not go to university, and he had little money of his own to start a small shop. His last hope was to obtain Iraqi papers.

As he probed the possibility of obtaining Iraqi identity, he met an Iraqi Kurdish official who raised the possibility that his parents might be alive, telling him that 44 families from Halabja were still seeking their missing children.

The process to find his parents was quickly set in motion, and when Mrs Saleh saw on a television bulletin that there was a survivor from Halabja of roughly the age of her missing son, she immediately came forward and was asked along with four other families to take a DNA test.

An agonising few weeks followed, during which Mr Ahmad returned to Iran and to his adoptive relations. He returned to Iraq a few days before the results were to be announced. "I was so desperate to find my family, but I had to wait four nights in the hotel waiting for (the Muslim festival of) Ramadan to end," he recalls with a smile. Eventually, the waiting was over. In an emotional conclusion, the hopeful families and officials gathered with Ahmad in Halabja last December to hear the results of the DNA test. Ahmad recalls: "I was thinking of my Iranian mother and I was crying, and all the families were looking at me and crying." 

When the result was announced, a cry went up from his mother, who promptly fainted, and surviving relatives. "Before I hugged my real mother, I went to hug the other four mothers, and told them 'you are also like my real mother.' But they were broken-hearted," he says.

"Before I found my mother, I faced a lot of problems in my life," says Mr Ahmad. The "first night (with my real mother) was the safest, quietest night of my life."

For his mother, it was nothing short of miraculous. "Thank you, God! You brought back my son Zmnaku," she was quoted as saying at the time. "It's like my whole family has come back to life. My son has returned."

Mr Ahmad now lives with his mother and her second husband just outside Sulaymaniyah, but it hasn't been an easy journey. At first, Mr Ahmad could barely converse with his mother, for he spoke no Kurdish. They communicated initially through friends and relatives, who could translate.

Meanwhile, he keeps in close contact with his Iranian family, and he sometimes listens to recordings of his late mother's voice, desperate not to forget her. Now enrolled in the American University in Sulaymaniyah, Mr Ahmad is leading the life that was beyond his reach in Iran. But he is aware that his unique experience is likely to dictate the pattern of his life. "In the future, I must offer some service to my people," he says. "I tell my story to all the students, and to my lecturers. It's important that people know what happened to me and my nation."

the independent





Picturesque Scene At The Town Hall 

The Calcutta Town Hall presented a brilliant appearance on Tuesday afternoon, when a farewell party was given by the Indian Community to Lord Minto. The decorations both in the hall and the approaches were on a very lavish scale, buntings, palms and other plants, and flowers having been used with artistic effect. 
On entering, the visitors walked through a double row of representative Indian gentlemen who were waiting to receive His Excellency and then proceeded up the staircase, which was lined with retainers in Indian costume. At the top of the Eastern staircase the Union Jack was hung, and the hall itself was literally ablaze with red, white, blue and gold flags and buntings, with hanging curtains of muslin in art shades between each pillar. Palms and other foliage plants and flowers were dotted about here and there in pleasing fashion, and the gorgeous dresses and jewellery of some of the Indian gentlemen present, scintillating in the brilliantly lighted hall, added to the magnificence of the spectacle. 

Immediately facing the entrance was a dais in the centre of the hall, formed of a handsome canopy of rich velvet, with filigree work all around, and supported by four massive silver and gold mounted pillars. Beneath the canopy were silver state chairs, and the gold and silver state table from the Maharaja of Burdwan's palace.


On the table were placed beautifully-jewelled pan-dan and attardan, lent by the Tagore family, the whole canopy putting the furnishing touch to a fine scheme of decoration. 

Behind the state chairs four chopedars stood at attention, with chamars of peacock's feathers held aloft, while at the entrances the Maharaja of Tagore's mace-bearers were stationed.










The antidote to corruption exposed is the production of a Mr Clean. No political party, not even those spouting righteous rhetoric, can claim an abundance of these. And if the position is a key one — public, powerful, hemmed in by enemies, squeezed by pressures and swampy with temptation — the job of selecting the right person becomes even tougher. The Congress has managed to do this by catapulting the backroom golden boy, Prithviraj Chavan, into the chief ministerial chair of Maharashtra hard on the exit of Ashok Chavan pursued by the taint of corruption. With all his known skills in managing multiple tasks as minister of state in the prime minister's office, Mr Prithviraj Chavan may need to draw on new resources in his public position. He will also have to work with the new deputy chief minister, Ajit Pawar, Sharad Pawar's nephew, quickly put in by the Nationalist Congress Party chief to match Mr Prithviraj Chavan's yet untested clout in western Maharashtra, from where both new incumbents come. Mr Sharad Pawar is obviously anointing his political heir in the state, but the hurried change of deputy chief also conjures up memories of the new chief minister's history with the NCP chief: Mr Prithviraj Chavan's loyalty to the Gandhi family was established at the cost of a fall from Mr Sharad Pawar's favour.


It is never easy when coalition partners are covert rivals. For the new chief minister, this is only one of the numerous challenges he faces. Maharashtra has been receiving a number of checks in its growth path, and its treasury is not looking brilliant at the moment. Except in western Maharashtra, agriculture is still poorly, and promised infrastructure projects have stalled or are holding fire. Housing for example, now a particularly sensitive issue, needs a lot of cleaning up, and power, at a surplus till 1994-95, is running short. The state government has promised to straighten this out by 2012. Besides, Naxalites are haunting the border districts. Here, perhaps, the new chief minister may get sufficient help from the Centre. Reportedly, his brief is to provide a transparent and progressive government. That may take some doing, but the Congress has taken an assertive gamble. In the larger picture of its efforts to punish visible corruption — Suresh Kalmadi has gone, and A. Raja seems to be in the party's sights — the exchange of one Chavan for another looks perfectly logical.








Only two major countries, China and Russia, hailed the elections in Myanmar as a big step forward. But then, one does not expect communist China or Vladimir Putin's Russia to worry too much about democracy or free elections. The rest of the world saw them for what they were — the generals' elections, which were, as Barack Obama put it during his visit to India, "anything but free and fair". Everything that preceded the polls in Myanmar — the first in 20 years — had, however, indicated that they would be farcical. The way the military junta got a constitutional referendum passed in 2008 and all that it did in order to de-register Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy robbed the polls of any meaning. The only thing the polls were intended to do was legitimize the generals' long reign and tighten their iron grip over every aspect of Myanmarese life. With the NLD boycotting the polls and the new constitutional provisions giving the army the power to sack a civilian government, there was little that the elections could do to change things in the country. Yet, what the world sees as a farce must have come as another tragedy for the people of Myanmar. Their desperate hope of a free life has been dashed yet again.


Two questions now loom large before both Myanmar and the free world. The long spell of Ms Suu Kyi's house arrest is scheduled to be finally over this weekend. What course will she take if the junta releases her? Now that her party is de-recognized, she has to try other forms of popular mobilization. But the generals know of the power of her appeal to the country's freedom-loving people and civil-society groups. What she does after her release and what the junta does to her could set off a new course for Myanmar's struggle for freedom from an oppressive regime. The other question relates to what the world can do about Myanmar and is linked to the first one. Early last year, the Obama administration dramatically revised its policy by deciding to engage Myanmar, even while retaining the economic sanctions. The electoral farce may make it difficult for Mr Obama not to take a tougher policy on Myanmar. What the United States of America does can have an impact on how countries in the region react. For India, the events in Myanmar have troubling connotations, especially because it has become, for all practical purposes, a Chinese satellite.









Having lost control of the House of Representatives and with his Senate majority dramatically truncated, President Barack Obama has every reason to view his India visit as a small consolation prize. The visit, the outcome of a bipartisan recognition of India's growing importance, may not initially have been viewed by the White House as an overriding priority. However, once the trip was finalized, it did its bit to ensure it was a spectacular success.


The India visit was never a foreign policy 'challenge' in the same way as an engagement with either China or a West Asian country would be. Indians may flatter themselves into believing that their country occupies a major mind space among American policymakers but the reality is that India is an also-ran. It is important but not that important.


Putting India in the B-group of foreign policy priorities didn't amount to undermining its exalted self-image. In a world where leaders of the big and regional powers love being crisis junkies, India presented no significant opportunities — and hasn't done so since the decision was taken in 1999 to digest a nuclear South Asia. Pakistan occupied disproportionate attention in the United States of America because of its proximity to Afghanistan and its role in nurturing jihadi terror. It was, in short, a constant headache. India, by contrast, rarely grabbed the headlines or drained US coffers. It was recognized for its potential.


The former president, Bill Clinton, had charmed his way into the hearts of Indians by initiating a meaningful process of post-Pokhran engagement that included the none-too-subtle pressures on the National Democratic Alliance government to sign the comprehensive test ban treaty. George W. Bush was never a natural in the complex business of winning hearts and minds, but he surprised everyone by batting vigorously for a country that combined its love for the idea of America with distaste for its overbearing political style. In the words of a recent report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "Bush did more for India than he did for any NATO ally, including the United Kingdom… (His administration) offered more and asked less of India than it did of any country, save perhaps Israel."


It is a tribute to the Bush administration that it raised bilateral relations with India to the levels of the United Kingdom and Israel without that shift being caught on radar. More important, this surreptitious 'special relationship' wasn't sufficiently appreciated within India. It is worth recalling how close the Indo-US nuclear deal came to being scuttled between 2007 and 2008 by the democratic process in India. Equally, it is unlikely that the Indo-US understanding would have passed muster at the nuclear suppliers group had it not been for the personal telephone calls to world leaders by Bush.


For President Obama, who didn't have any prior relationship with India, Bush was always a difficult act to follow. Never mind outpacing his predecessor in India, Obama had to first allay a long list of misgivings. These included his campaign remarks on Kashmir, his apparent disinterest in the war on terror in Afghanistan, his infamous G-2 declaration with China over the future of South Asia, his antipathy to outsourcing and his perceived emotional detachment from India's soft power appeal. Obama's visit to India was preceded by just too many question marks against his name.


There was another problem that went beyond Obama. Like China, India is also accustomed to seeing itself as another Middle Kingdom. But there is one crucial difference: whereas China peppers its nationalism with a high degree of arrogance, India's nationalism is accompanied by incredibly low self-esteem. Indians expect foreigners to genuflect at the altar of their ancient and living civilization and to respect national sovereignty by shunning gratuitous advice. At the same time, the Indian version of an 'equal relationship' with a big power has invariably been accompanied by the question: what can you do for us? For historical reasons, not least the legacy of inefficient socialism, Indians have been ill at ease with the notion of reciprocity. The visit of a foreign leader is accompanied by speculation of what goodies for the host nation he is carrying; the same theme does not pursue the visit of an Indian leader overseas.


]Set against this backdrop, the Obama visit yielded mixed, but on the whole positive, results. Like any consummate politician, he played to the galleries by telling Indian members of parliament what a great country India is — a time-tested formula calculated to win the hearts of a country anxious for gushing testimonials. Unable to match his predecessor in big ticket initiatives, he honed in on the one issue that has become a national consensus: support for India's claim to permanent membership of a refashioned United Nations security council. He coupled this with three significant steps on the neighbourhood. There was, first, a forthright assertion of the US's unwillingness to allow Pakistan to function as a safe haven for jihadi terrorists, notably the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Secondly, there was the guarded statement of the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, regarding an agreement on unspecified joint Indo-US ventures in Afghanistan and President Obama's assurance that the US would not abandon Afghanistan to extremist forces. Reading between the lines, this may amount to US acceptance of India as a stakeholder in the future of Afghanistan, something that is calculated to make Pakistan see red. Finally, the promise in the joint statement to "deepen existing regular strategic consultations on developments in East Asia" was diplomatspeak for a mutual willingness to evolve a common understanding of the challenge posed by China.


]More than any US expectation of India toeing Uncle Sam's line on Iran and Myanmar, it is the unstated wariness of a resurgent China that constitutes the link between the India policy of Bush and Obama. It is the uncertainty over how much China's rise will change the rules of global engagement that has resulted in a convergence between Washington and Delhi, a convergence that has also been brought about by high expectations in the West of what India can bring to the economics table.


There was an understandable prickliness in some of the domestic reactions to Obama's suggestion that he was in India to either create or save some 50,000 or so jobs in the US. In an India where some of the old taboos against imports persist in the political class, this candid pronouncement seemed to confirm sloganeering prejudices of US 'neo-imperialism'. That Obama was putting down reciprocal terms for India's easy access to US markets and the lifting of restrictions on high technology may have seemed strange to those who can't get over the fact that India has outgrown the Third World and the bitter memories of the ship-to-mouth PL-480 syndrome.


Ironically, it was the US president's lack of familiarity with the specificities of India (he was distinctly unfamiliar pronouncing Panchatantra and Swami Vivekananda) that allowed him to approach the subject so clinically. As far as he was concerned, India was a rising power and didn't warrant the condescension that comes with a special show of generosity. India, to him, was no longer emerging; it had emerged.


For the Indian middle classes, the Obama visit was a potentially liberating experience. It suggested that the time for playing exclusively by national rules was over. To be seated at the high table, India has to now play by the rules of the high and mighty. There is, after all, no such thing as a free lunch.








President Barack Obama and the First Lady have made quite an impact on the straightforward, 'ordinary', unpretentious Indian by the manner in which they engaged with the people. The less privileged amongst us, the working class of middle India, noticed how subtle and civilized the security arrangements around the president were. There were no uniformed men besieging and distracting him. There were no gun-toting characters surrounding him who were visible, bang on the face, of ordinary Indians. It was true security when compared to the screeching, unpleasant sirens and red lights atop cars, which speed about breaking rules, telling citizens that our leaders are up and about, setting wrong standards. The unfriendly arrogance that accompanies our president, prime minister and all grades of other ministers need to be shed. Our security arrangements look like a charade, a ridiculous VVIP baraat of sorts, rather than serious, invisible management of safety. If there is to be a shared learning process between India and the United States of America, we can start with security arrangements that work.


It was wonderful to see President Obama visit Humayun's tomb. Thankfully, this particular monument is still a treat, only because it has been meticulously restored under the supervision of the Aga Khan Foundation and Trust. Unfortunately, the scant respect that successive governments have had towards our heritage, combined with shoddy, archaic management techniques and stifling bureaucratic regulations, has succeeded in degrading the edifices that embody our great culture. The Obamas could not visit the National Museum because it is an embarrassment. It is shameful that the national repository of an extraordinary and many-layered civilization has been reduced to a virtual dump. Here again, we have a great deal to learn from the cultural institutions of the US about the inclusive management of museums, archives and libraries where professionals from civil society work with the government to protect and secure their traditions.


Positive points


President Obama's ability to be a normal human being and engage with the people is another important element that our snobbish and condescending political leaders need to learn. Despite having very little to show for itself, our political class is pompous and disconnected, unable to have a public dialogue on diverse issues. How many Indian politicians are able to field questions from varied disciplines?


Now that the visit is over, India would like to know what the leadership here intends to do with the US in Afghanistan. What is happening to the Kashmir dialogue? What is our position vis-à-vis China, a world power that has enveloped us in all manner of ways, some of which are politically ominous? What are the views of the government of India on these matters? Equally critical are the many socio-economic realities that plague this country which do not seem to get the urgent attention of those who lead us. These range from internal strife, militancy, overwhelming corruption to mismanagement of civic bodies, educational and cultural institutions, as well as of the service sector operated by the government. Our administration needs an overhaul if corruption is to be weeded out of India. All the positive points that the Obama visit represented would mean nothing if corruption and mismanagement continue unchecked.


Will we go on breaking environmental rules in the name of development? Will we have time and energy only for the privileged? Or, will we change course with determination, now, and become a modern society rooted firmly to an ancient civilization?



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





The Congress high command may have tried to make a point by the removal of Ashok Chavan from the chief ministership of Maharashtra and Suresh Kalmadi from his position as the secretary of the Congress parliamentary party. Both were tainted by corruption scandals — Chavan for irregular clearances for construction of flats by Adarsh co-operative society in Mumbai and availing some flats for his kin, and Kalmadi for his role in the award of contracts for the Commonwealth Games. But the party's action does not go far enough, and seems to be only a firefighting operation to counter the opposition onslaught on these issues in parliament. Kalmadi continues as the president of the Indian Olympic Association and it was in that capacity that he committed the alleged irregularities. How can his removal from a position, which hardly anyone knew he held, be taken as punitive action against him?

The action against Chavan is also not convincing, if the party's record in such cases is to go by. He himself does not accept any wrongdoing and says he is still in the good books of the high command. That might be his personal defence and might only be a sign of the refusal of politicians to accept their mistakes. But the fact that the high command considered his predecessor, Vilasrao Deshmukh, who had to leave under a cloud in 2008, to succeed him belies the party's claim of taking corrective action against erring leaders. 

Deshmukh was rehabilitated at the Centre after he resigned. If the leaders just cool their heels after a nominal action is taken against them or are rehabilitated in other positions, and make a return later, there is no credibility for the action taken against them. It actually becomes a farce. Public offices should not be revolving chairs of corruption. There are other leaders too who are involved in the Adarsh society scam. What about them?
Investigations have been ordered into both the CWG and the housing society scandals. Will they lead to punishment of those involved, both politicians and the officials who did their bidding? Politicians are rarely punished for their misconduct and corruption. 

Resignations, both voluntary and forced, are not sufficient retribution. In fact they might only encourage politicians to indulge in ever greater corruption in the belief that they would only have to quit if they were caught. The law, which prescribes harsher penalties, applies to them too.








After a period of relative calm, Assam has erupted in violence again. Around 22 people, mainly migrants, have been killed in a string of attacks by militants of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). The killings were cold-blooded. In one incident, eight Arunachal Pradesh government employees were dragged out of a bus and shot at point-blank range. Many of the victims are Hindi-speaking Bihari migrants. However, the attack does not seem to be aimed so much at scaring away 'outsiders' as it is about provoking more violence and disrupting the peace. Less than a fortnight ago, the military wing of the NDFB had sent an email warning to the media that it would kill 20 Indians for every NDFB cadre killed by security forces in what it described as 'fake encounters.' A rebel leader was shot dead some weeks ago and it does seem that the serial attacks which stretched across the six districts of Assam, were a brutal implementation of that threat.

The NDFB attacks have come at a particularly sensitive time. The government is seriously exploring the possibility of beginning peace talks with the banned United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). With the exception of Paresh Barua, the ULFA's military commander, the entire ULFA top brass is in custody and the government has been quietly talking to them on the negotiations option. With a view to easing their way to the talks table, it is reportedly considering not blocking their bail plea when it comes up in court soon. It appears that the government is trying to draw the NDFB too into the peace process. The deputy chief of the Bodoland Territorial Council met its jailed chairman recently. It is possible that an anti-talks faction of the NDFB carried out the attacks to shatter the possibility of the outfit being drawn into negotiations.

Those with a vested interest in the armed conflict continuing will do their utmost to disrupt the peace process. The business of armed conflict is lucrative and many have made millions through it. The arms-drug nexus and others who gain from keeping Assam restive can be expected to unleash violence. Those who are keen to explore the negotiation option should not allow such other provocations to distract their pursuit of a negotiated settlement to the conflict. This is a delicate period.







Pakistan was a bit hasty in criticising Obama for supporting India's candidature for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.


"India's prosperity and integrity depends on the prosperity and the integrity of Pakistan." These are not the words of President Obama, but of former BJP Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who wrote this line in the visiting book at the Minar-e-Pakistan, the venue of the Pakistan resolution in Lahore. However, Obama used more or less the same words — Pakistan's stability was in the interests of India. He was replying in Mumbai to a girl student's question why America had not declared Pakistan a terrorist state.

Although Obama said that the perpetrators of the 26/11 attack on Mumbai must be brought to book, he did not satisfy Indian opinion which wanted him to name Pakistan. Apparently, there must have been some pressure on him when he came to Delhi and met Manmohan Singh because, while addressing the joint session of parliament, Obama said that terrorism emanating from "safe havens in Pakistan is not acceptable."

Still he refused to take sides and said that both India and Pakistan had to settle problems between themselves. I think that Obama should have stuck to his original guarded stand because he must stay credible in Pakistan to have leeway in that country, specially when American forces are combating terrorism in Afghanistan with the active help of Pakistan. Even then he maintained a balance between India and Pakistan.
When asked about Kashmir at the joint press conference he said that it was a 'dispute' pending for a long time. America did not want to impose a solution, but was willing to play a role if both India and Pakistan so desired.

The reaction from Pakistan reflects its uneasiness over some of   Obama's remarks. Although foreign minister Qureshi has said that Islamabad and Delhi should jointly destroy shelters of terrorists in Pakistan, there has been no response from India. President Zardari has also said that he would not allow his soil to be used by terrorists against any country. But this is an exercise which Islamabad has previously gone over. Delhi has remained cool.

Very few will find fault with Manmohan Singh's statement that he was not afraid of discussing even the 'K' word, but found it difficult to do so when the "terror machine is active as before." Yet what India should appreciate is that probably Pakistan is not in a position to deliver 100 per cent on terrorism.

One may argue, even justifiably, that it was the Pakistan establishment — something confirmed by former President Pervez Musharraf — which initiated terrorism that has become a Frankenstein. How does it help now because the genie of terrorism is not going to return to the bottle?

Earn credibility

Earlier, Bangladesh provided shelter to terrorists against India. But, since the return of Sheikh Hasina, the sanctuaries have gone. Islamabad has to do something similar and more credible to fight against terrorism to make Delhi believe that the Pakistan government was doing its best.

Both Singh and Gilani had agreed to resume dialogue at a meeting at Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt last year. Strong public opinion in India did not allow the prime minister to follow through. Yet the impasse has to be broken. Perhaps the talks can start on small matters as Obama has suggested and India can make it clear to Pakistan that problems like Kashmir would be taken up only when Delhi feels confident that Islamabad was seriously tackling terrorism.
Pakistan has some influence over China. I remember that a foreign secretary in Pakistan once told me that the road from Delhi to Beijing goes through Islamabad. Therefore it is incumbent on Pakistan to try to bridge the gap between Delhi and Beijing. It is an open secret that China has not only put its claim on Arunachal Pradesh but also on parts of Ladakh.

Some incidents of forcible occupation by China in these areas have been noticed but deliberately ignored by Delhi in the larger interests of keeping the peace. But it is an uneasy peace if the two sides do not come to accept some firm rules and guidelines on the border's inviolability.

Pakistan was a bit hasty in criticising Obama for supporting India's candidature for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. After all it supported India's two-year membership only last month. Pakistan is itself a candidate next year when another non permanent seat becomes vacant. Islamabad should be happy that another permanent seat is coming to Asia.

I concede that this kind of attitude can come about only when the two countries have buried the hatchet. How long will the peoples in the region have to wait for that development to take place? Already 63 years have gone by and the basic problems of hunger, health and education still remain unresolved.

Fundamentalism takes root in countries which do not think beyond the limitations of enmity and hatred. That is the reason that both countries are increasingly prey to it. If they want to depart from the status quo, they have to begin talking to each other. It is only then that the people in the region may begin to dream again.








Developing countries have learnt that sudden and large capital inflows can lead to serious problems.


The past few weeks have seen the emergence of global currency chaos, which is a new threat to prospects for economic recovery. The situation is being depicted by the media and even by some political leaders as a 'currency war' between countries.

Some major countries are taking measures to lower the value of their currency in order to gain a trade advantage. If the value of a country's currency is lower, then the prices of its exports are cheaper when purchased by other countries, and the demand for the exports therefore goes up. On the other hand, the prices of imports will become higher in the country, boosting local production and improving the balance of trade.

The problem is that other countries which suffer from this action may 'retaliate' by also lowering the value of their currencies, or by blocking the cheaper imports through higher tariffs or outright bans. Thus, a situation of 'competitive devaluation' may arise, which can contribute to a contraction of world trade and a recession.

The present situation is quite complex and involves at least three inter-related issues.

Double edged sword

First, the US is accusing China of keeping the yuan at an artificially low level, which it claims is causing its huge trade deficit with China. A US Congress bill is asking for extra tariffs to be placed on Chinese products. China claims such a measure would be against the World Trade Organisation rules, and that a sudden sharp appreciation of the yuan would be disastrous for its export industries, nor would it solve the problem of the US deficit.

Japan, whose yen has appreciated sharply against the dollar, intervened on the currency market on Sept 15 by selling 2 trillion yen in order to drive its value down. Japan has criticised South Korea for taking the same intervention measure to curb the appreciation of the won.

Second, the US is trying to lower the value of its dollar, through a new round of 'quantitative easing,' in which the Federal Reserve will spend $600 billion to buy up government bonds and other debts.

This will increase liquidity in the market, which would reduce long-term interest rates and thus, it is hoped, contribute to a recovery. But it would weaken the US dollar further.

And the new liquidity would also add to a surge in capital flowing out from the US to developing countries. In fact critics of the Fed's initiative predict that a large part of the $600 billion would not remain in the US but would leak abroad.

In the past, such surges of 'hot money' would have been welcomed by the recipient countries. But many developing countries have now learnt,  the hard way, that sudden and large capital inflows can lead to serious problems, such as:

*The capital inflow leads to excess money in the country receiving it, thus increasing pressure on consumer prices, while fuelling 'asset bubbles' or sharp rises in prices of houses, other property and the stock market. These bubbles will soon burst, causing a lot of damage.

*The large inflow of foreign funds will build up pressures for the recipient country's currency to rise significantly. Either the financial authorities would have to intervene in the market by buying up the excess foreign funds (known as 'sterilisation') and thus build up foreign reserves, or allow the currency to appreciate and this would have an adverse effect on the country's exports.

*The sudden capital inflows can also turn into equally sudden capital outflows when global conditions change, as the Asian crisis in the late 1990s showed. This can cause economic disorder, including sharp currency depreciation, loan servicing problems, balance of payments difficulties and economic recession.

Some developing countries have introduced capital controls to slow down the huge inflows of foreign capital. The Institute of International Finance estimates that a massive $825 billion will flow to developing countries this year, an increase of 42 per cent over last year.

Brazil has tripled the tax on foreigners buying local bonds, while Thailand recently imposed a 15 per cent withholding tax on interest and capital gains earned by foreign investors on Thai bonds and South Korea has warned of new limits on forwards, while banks are asked not to lend in foreign currency.

Finally, there are fears that if the currency chaos or currency war is not solved soon, the world faces a threat of trade protectionism, whether it takes the old form of an extra tariff, or a new form of competitive currency depreciation.

Moreover the US quantitative easing may exacerbate the speculative flows of funds in search of profits, and this can be destabilising to the recipient countries and the global economy overall.







It is enough if the invitation cards convey what they are to convey.


As soon as we receive any invitation card, all of us in our family have the habit of reading it in detail and trying to find the errors in it. Of course, it is just out of curiosity and to get some simple entertainment and nothing serious. We have no intention of hurting or offending anybody. Invitations are of different varieties. They speak a lot about the people who make them.

There are some who want to display their wealth and artistic capabilities in the invitations and hence make them as big as an atlas, with a lot of embellishments on the envelope, along the border and everywhere! Images of Gods are boldly displayed on the front.

Then there are a few, who do want to make very grand invitations but really do not have the right kind of taste or knowledge about paper, language, grammar, mode of writing an invitation, etc and leave everything to the printer. Such invitations are made by the printer, using gaudy paper, colours and designs, with a lot of unwanted icons and designs everywhere. The language and grammar are given a go-by and printer's devil has a free-run! It is fun to read such invitations, with innocent errors.

There are still a few, who really feel invitations are just meant to inform people about an event and hence they need not waste their money or time on them. It is enough if they convey what they are to convey and such invitations are thus very simple and contain only the key information in the most formal manner.

One more aspect that strikes a person's attention is the information covered in an invitation.  There are people who make references of aspects, which are really not directly connected with the couple or their parents but displayed to show off their 'connections' like the bride or groom is related to 'so and so', who is a well-known personality or an influential person or a political figure.

Then there are those who want to display the qualification of the bride, groom, the parents and everybody else covered in the long list of 'With the Best Compliments of...' Some people want to make invitations very unique and print small booklets containing information about the marriage ceremonies, the meaning of the slokas and what not! Of course such invitations look unique.  But my problem is what to do with such invitations after the event?

Thus I feel invitations should just be made to serve the purpose of inviting people for an occasion and nothing beyond, so that they can be easily discarded without guilt or heavy feelings. In this age of e-mails, it would be so much better to invite people electronically rather than cutting down trees to make such thoughtful invitations, which may not even get the due respect by the recipients. I, for one, believe the best method to invite people would be to go over personally, as far as possible, if they live in the same city. But BBMP is discouraging me from doing this with their scores of projects all over the city!




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




Since the election, we've been waiting for President Obama to regain his voice. When the chairmen of his bipartisan deficit commission issued their draft report, it looked as though the moment had come. We're still waiting.


There is a lot in their recommendations that needs to be questioned, analyzed and debated, but the principles behind it are exactly what the president should embrace and make his own.


The report said what almost nobody in Washington is daring to say: there is no way to wrestle the deficit under control without both cutting spending and raising taxes; the fragile recovery and the most vulnerable Americans need to be protected; the country cannot stop investing in infrastructure, education and technology; everything — including Medicare, Social Security and defense spending — must be on the table.


This is the sort of no-nonsense talk the country needs. And it is the sort of big idea that Mr. Obama needs to rebut the Republicans' posturing and obstructionism.


So what have the White House and its allies said since the report came out? Speaking from South Korea, the president vowed he was "prepared to make some tough decisions" but said he wouldn't comment "until I see the final report." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi felt no constraint, calling the plan "simply unacceptable."


The Republicans' claims that they can fix the fiscal mess without raising taxes took a shellacking in the report. They were smart enough to keep quiet or voice cautious support.


Late on Wednesday, Mr. Obama's closest political adviser, David Axelrod, all but ran up the flag on the Bush-era tax cuts. He told The Huffington Post that "we have to deal with the world as we find it" and while "there are concerns" about temporarily extending the tax cuts for the wealthy, "I don't want to trade away security for the middle class in order to make that point."


Alarmed by the response, Mr. Axelrod said Thursday that Mr. Obama was still opposed to the permanent extension that Republicans want for those who need it the least. But even a one-year extension for the 2 percent of Americans who earn more than $250,000 a year would cost $40 billion in forgone revenue in 2011. And kicking the tough decisions even a year closer to the 2012 election all but guarantees they won't be made.


The deficit report now goes to the full commission, where 14 of the 18 commissioners (12 members of Congress and six private citizens) must agree in order to send a final package of reforms to Congress for a December debate and vote. If Mr. Obama waits and watches from the sidelines, as he has done before, the odds are it will never go anywhere.


There is another bipartisan report on the deficit — this one led by Alice Rivlin, President Bill Clinton's budget chief, and Pete Domenici, a former Republican senator — due soon. If it offers sound ideas, Mr. Obama may get another chance to find his voice.


Without strong White House leadership, the commission's plain truths — "The problem is real. The solution is painful. There's no easy way out. Everything must be on the table. And Washington must lead." — will get lost in the political cacophony. And the country will keep digging itself into an ever deeper hole.







After eight months of wrangling, Iraq's leaders have agreed on the outlines of a new unity government. We hope it proves to be a real accomplishment. Sectarian anger is rising. And Iraq needs legitimate, representative rulers to address years of neglected business.


In a worrying sign, just hours after the deal was struck, one crucial bloc walked out of Parliament. It seemed premature, to say the least.


Iraqiya, and its chief, Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister, have a right to feel disappointed. They gave up a lot in this deal. The bloc — made up of Sunnis and secular Shiites — received the most votes in the March election. But after failing to rally enough additional support, it has accepted that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, and his Shiite-led State of Law party, will form the new government.


In return, Mr. Maliki has acceded to an American proposal that the government create a new committee overseeing national security issues. Mr. Allawi is supposed to be the chairman, although he has not publicly agreed.


If it is truly empowered, the committee will give the Sunnis an important voice and more reason to stick with the democratic process. It should also provide an important check on Mr. Maliki's power and his coziness with Iran. For this to work, Mr. Allawi will have to spend more time in Baghdad, instead of his home in London, and commit to shaping the new job.


The Obama administration, especially Vice President Joseph Biden Jr., has been deeply engaged, arguing that the government must include all major factions and suggesting ways to accommodate all groups. Washington will need to stay involved.


Mr. Maliki has already shown that he will grab as much power as possible. It will be up to Iraq's other political leaders — Jalal Talibani, a Kurd, was re-elected president — to make sure that Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds all play significant roles and that Iraq's fragile democracy is strengthened.


They need to settle the remaining appointments and get to work. Iraq still doesn't have a law equitably sharing its oil wealth. The future of Kirkuk is still unsettled. Sunni fighters who came in from the cold still haven't gotten the jobs they were promised. The list goes on.







If the Supreme Court renders justice in a case it heard this month, Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants


Association, it will strike down a California law barring the sale or rental of violent video games to anyone under 18. That would end a violation of free expression — but not prevent the states from finding other ways to support parents who do not want their children to play violent games.


Some of these games are grotesquely violent. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Postal 2, and Duke Nukem 3D graphically depict mutilation, torture, rape and murder. Players don't read about violence or just see it. They act it out. Parents worry that young people may engage in violent behavior or suffer psychological harm.


Restricting the content of games, however, would mean adding to the short list of expression excluded from the First Amendment's protection. Just last April, the court said the Constitution does not permit the government to impose a restriction "simply on the basis that some speech is not worth it."


California argues that the Supreme Court allows them to prohibit the sale of explicit sexual material to minors. The state cited a 1968 holding in Ginsberg v. New York as the basis for arguing by extension that "extremely violent material can be obscene as to minors even without a sexual element."


But in an opinion from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturning the California law, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said that the 1968 ruling dealt with "a sub-category of obscenity — obscenity as to minors." It "did not create an entirely new category of expression excepted from First Amendment protection."


During an often electric oral argument, the justices left two impressions: California did not provide a convincing basis for a major change in First Amendment law; and the video game industry was haughtily dismissive about the scale of the problem.


The industry's lawyer ducked justices' repeated requests to help identify ways of regulating violent games that would pass muster. He contended that America has long presented violence to children in books, movies, comic books, and other forms, so violent video games fit a tradition. The rejoinder of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. stunned the chamber.


"We do not have a tradition in this country of telling children they should watch people actively hitting schoolgirls over the head with a shovel so they'll beg for mercy," he said. He concluded sternly, "We protect children from that."


He is right, society can protect children from that. Narrowing the First Amendment is not the way.







Who says Congress can't get its work done? On Sept. 30, the House of Representatives passed the All-American Flag Act on an enthusiastic, bipartisan (we assume) voice vote. If the Senate steps up, the federal government will be required by law to buy only flags entirely made in the U.S.A., down to the last fiber.


The legislation closes a loophole in the Buy American Act of 1933, which, with some exceptions, requires the federal government to buy American-made things but allows flags with up to 50 percent foreign content to be classified as domestic-made. According to the Department of Commerce, China exported $2.5 million worth of American flags to the United States last year.


This could be a win for the truly red, white and blue. But it might not. Representative Bruce Braley, the Iowa Democrat who sponsored the bill, doesn't know whether any federal government agency buys imported flags. "There is currently no inventory of how much money the federal government is spending on flags from China," said Caitlin Legacki, a spokeswoman for Mr. Braley.


Now that the House has taken this step to protect the livelihood of American workers, lawmakers shouldn't stop there. The economy needs another stiff dose of fiscal stimulus to shake off the current stagnation. The Republicans are refusing to go along. Congress needs to extend unemployment benefits by the end of this month or two million workers will be cut off starting Dec. 1. Republicans and conservative Democrats say they're opposed. Republicans haven't even embraced President Obama's proposal to grant tax breaks for business investment.


If lawmakers — from both parties — are looking for something to rally around, these should be their next legislative priorities. There is nothing more all-American than putting millions of Americans back to work.











Stockbridge, Mass.

PRESIDENT OBAMA has insisted that his 10-day Asian journey is all about jobs: "The primary purpose is to ... open up markets so that we can sell in Asia, in some of the fastest-growing markets in the world, and we can create jobs here in the United States of America." But this recasting of the agenda, a late reaction to the midterm election, obscured the vital geopolitical importance of the trip.


In fact, the president has been confronting a new strategic map that lies beyond our messy and diversionary land wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In geographical terms, two of the countries on the itinerary, India and Indonesia, are in the same increasingly pivotal region: the southern coastal areas, or "rimland" of Eurasia, which is emerging as the world's hydrocarbon interstate, uniting energy-rich Arabia and Iran with the growing economies of the Pacific.


Gone today are the artificial divisions of cold-war-era studies: now the "Middle East," "South Asia," "Southeast Asia" and "East Asia" are part of a single organic continuum. In geopolitical terms, the president's visits in all four countries are about one challenge: the rise of China on land and sea.


India is increasingly feeling hemmed in by China's military might. It lies within the arc of operations of Chinese fighter jets based in Tibet. China is building or developing large ports in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Burma, and providing all these Indian Ocean countries with significant military and economic aid.


Although India and China fought a border war in the early 1960s, they have never really been rivals, separated as they are by the Himalayas. But the shrinkage of distance thanks to globalism and advances of military technology has spawned a rivalry that is defining the new Eurasia.


Indeed, it is India's emergence as a great Eurasian power that constitutes the best piece of news for American strategists since the end of the cold war. Merely by rising without any formal alliance with Washington, democratic India balances statist China. Even closer links between the United States and India would be better — and no doubt factored into Mr. Obama's talk of backing India for a seat on the United Nations Security Council — but are made complex by our chaotic land wars.


While President Obama would like to withdraw from Afghanistan, Indian leaders remain afraid he will do precisely that. To Indians, Afghanistan is not a distant Central Asian country: it is historically part of the subcontinent. Empires as distant as the Harappans in the fourth millennium B.C. and as recent as the Mughals in the early modern era made Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India part of the same polity. Indian elites carry this history in their bones.


India wants a relatively benign and non-fundamentalist Afghanistan as a way of limiting Pakistan's influence in the region. (That's why India supported the Soviet-puppet Afghan leaders in the 1980s against the C.I.A.-backed mujahedeen.)


Were the United States to withdraw precipitously, India would understandably look to Iran, Russia and perhaps China as allies in a tacit effort to contain Pakistan. Thus we could lose the prospect of a de facto pro-American India to balance the military and economic rise of China.


President Obama must weigh this fact against the knowledge that every year the war in Afghanistan costs our military the equivalent of building several aircraft-carrier strike groups that could be used to increase our presence and to contain the expansion of the Chinese Navy in the Western Pacific, something that would assuage the concerns of our allies there. Of course, the president would rather use the savings to pay down the deficit; nonetheless, the Navy and the influence in Eurasia that it can provide have clearly been the loser in these land wars.


With Indonesia, Mr. Obama faces a similarly tricky challenge. Well over 200 million of Indonesia's 240 million inhabitants are Muslims. Because the bearers of Islam there were sea-borne merchants, and thus heralds of a cosmopolitan interpretation of the faith that fit well with indigenous Javanese culture, Islam in Indonesia (and throughout the South Seas) has lacked the austere ideological edge found in the Middle East.


Today, however, the advent of global communications, along with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the dispatch of Wahhabi clerics from the Persian Gulf to the Far East, has radicalized many Indonesians. This puts the nation's leaders in a bind: on the one hand, they want a robust American naval presence to counterbalance China, which is Indonesia's largest trading partner; on the other, they fear angering the wider Islamic world if they make closer ties to Washington too public.


Indonesia, whose archipelago is as vast as the continental United States is wide, has only two submarines; China has dozens. While China's materialistic culture may soften the influence of political Islam in Southeast Asia, China also plays on the tension between the West and global Islam in order to limit American influence there. That is why President Obama's mission to rebrand America in the eyes of Muslims carries benefits that go far beyond Indonesia and the Middle East.


Indonesia's Muslim democracy, a dozen years after the fall of Suharto, boasts vigor and moderation. And combined with Indonesia's immense population, it augurs the emergence of a sort of "second India" in the Eurasian rimland, strategically located on the Strait of Malacca, the shipping superhighway between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Since the art of preparing for a multipolar world in military as well as economic terms is to gain the support of like-minded others, the Obama administration needs to use the energy generated by the president's visit in order to adopt Indonesia as its new favorite country, just as India was adopted by the George W. Bush administration to substantial effect.


As for Japan and South Korea, while China remains their biggest trading partner, both fear Beijing's growing navy and the "soft power" it projects in the Pacific. This is largely why these countries have let Washington maintain a military presence on their soil and the United States has pushed them to expand their own forces.


Yet the Japanese and South Korean publics are increasingly restive about the American military bases. Thus our strategic future in the region is not these huge cold-war-type bases with their fast-food restaurants and shopping malls; they inevitably become political millstones. Rather, we need discreet operating locations, under local sovereignty, that the Pentagon helps to maintain. It's a strategy that will work only if such operations don't raise the ire of the local populations and press, meaning that our public diplomacy will have to be effective and unceasing.


Indeed, Washington has been making great strides on the public-diplomacy front: a principal benefit of having special envoys to Israel and the Palestinian territories and to Afghanistan and Pakistan is that it has freed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to make more high-profile trips to East and South Asia, where she has been, in effect, competing all the while with China on the public stage. The president's trip is one culmination of this effort.


THE 20th century saw great, land-centric Army deployments to Europe. George W. Bush unwittingly continued this tendency with great, land-centric deployments to the Middle East, where we became ensnared in intra-Islamic conflict. As President Obama develops his grand strategy for Eurasia, the great step forward would be creating a smaller footprint on land and a bigger one at sea. Navies are very conducive to projecting soft power: they make port visits and guard the global commons, whereas armies invade.


Easing India's fears about Chinese-built ports in the Indian Ocean as well as Indonesia and its neighbors' worries about Chinese designs in the South China Sea and Japan and South Korea's about China's goal of dominating the islands of the Western Pacific is in each case a matter of warships, not ground troops.


As the Yale geostrategist Nicholas J. Spykman wrote in 1942, because America had no rivals in the Western Hemisphere, it had the "power to spare for activities outside the New World," like determining the balance of power in the Eastern Hemisphere. And in Eurasia, Spykman went on, the maritime rimland is pivotal, because it is essential to the supercontinent's contact with the outside world. Let's hope that President Obama's visits to key states of coastal Asia will prove Spykman's theory correct.


Robert D. Kaplan, the author of "Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power," is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a correspondent for The Atlantic.









Elections come and go, but the United States is still careening toward bankruptcy. By 2020, the U.S. will be spending $1 trillion a year just to pay the interest on the national debt. Sometime between now and then the catastrophe will come.


It will come with amazing swiftness. The bond markets are with you until the second they are against you. When the psychology shifts and the fiscal crisis happens, the shock will be grievous: national humiliation, diminished power in the world, drastic cuts and spreading pain.


Nothing in this past election has averted this disaster. The Republicans talk about cutting deficits, but a party that campaigns to restore the $400 million in Medicare cuts included in the health care law is not serious about averting a fiscal meltdown. Some Democrats, meanwhile, don't even bother to pretend. Look at the way many Democrats completely rejected the draft proposal unveiled by the chairmen of the fiscal commission. Nancy Pelosi, the public sector unions and many liberal commentators are not only unwilling to compromise to prevent a catastrophe, they're unwilling to even consider a compromise. They seem to regard anybody who would negotiate as fundamentally immoral and unserious.


The report from the chairmen lists some of the best ways to raise revenue and cut spending. But it comes with no enactment strategy. In this climate, asking politicians to end the mortgage deduction and tax employer health care plans and raise capital gains taxes and cut benefits for affluent seniors is like asking them to jump on a buzzing sack full of live grenades. They won't do it.


So we continue on the headlong path toward a national disaster. And along the way our dysfunctional political system will leave all sorts of other problems unaddressed: immigration, energy policy and on and on.


Yet, I'm optimistic right now. I'm optimistic because while our political system is a mess, the economic and social values of the country remain sound. My optimism is also based on the conviction that serious, vibrant societies don't sit by and do nothing as their governments drive off a cliff.


Over the past few years, we have seen millions of people mobilize — some behind President Obama and others around the Tea Parties. The country is restive and looking for alternatives. And before the next round of voting begins, I suspect we will see another mass movement: a movement of people who don't feel represented by either of the partisan orthodoxies; a movement of people who want to fundamentally change the norms, institutions and rigidities that cause our gridlock and threaten our country.


You can't organize a movement like this around pain — around tax increases and spending cuts. But you can organize one around a broad revitalization agenda, and, above all, love of country.


It will take a revived patriotism to motivate Americans to do what needs to be done. It will take a revived patriotism to lift people out of their partisan cliques. How can you love your country if you hate the other half of it?


It will take a revived patriotism to get people to look beyond their short-term financial interest to see the long-term national threat. Do you really love your tax deduction more than America's future greatness? Are you really unwilling to sacrifice your Social Security cost-of-living adjustment at a time when soldiers and Marines are sacrificing their lives for their country in Afghanistan?


Like the civil rights movement, this movement will ask Americans to live up to their best selves. But it will do other things besides.


It will have to restore the social norms that prevailed through much of American history: when narcissism and hyperpartisanship was mitigated by loyalties larger than tribe and self; when competition between the parties was limited and constructive, not total and fratricidal.


This movement will have to build institutions to support the leaders who make the hard bargains. As in the civil rights era, politicians won't make big changes unless they are impelled and protected by a social upsurge.


Most important, this movement will have to develop a governing philosophy and a policy agenda. Right now, orthodox liberals and conservatives have their idea networks, and everybody else is intellectual roadkill. This coming movement will have to revive the American System: a governing philosophy that believes in targeted federal efforts to arouse growth, social mobility and responsibility.


Like the chairmen's report, this movement could demand that Congress wipe out tax loopholes and begin anew. It could protect federal aid to the poor while reducing federal subsidies to the upper-middle class.


The coming movement may be a third party or it may support serious people in the existing two. Its goal will be unapologetic: preserving American pre-eminence. It will preserve America's standing in the world on the grounds that this supremacy is a gift to our children and a blessing for the earth.








Count me among those who always believed that President Obama made a big mistake when he created the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform — a supposedly bipartisan panel charged with coming up with solutions to the nation's long-run fiscal problems. It seemed obvious, as soon as the commission's membership was announced, that "bipartisanship" would mean what it so often does in Washington: a compromise between the center-right and the hard-right.


My misgivings increased as we got a better feel for the views of the commission's co-chairmen. It soon became clear that Erskine Bowles, the Democratic co-chairman, had a very Republican-sounding small-government agenda. Meanwhile, Alan Simpson, the Republican co-chairman, revealed the kind of honest broker he is by sending an abusive e-mail to the executive director of the National Older Women's League in which he described Social Security as being "like a milk cow with 310 million tits."


We've known for a long time, then, that nothing good would come from the commission. But on Wednesday, when the co-chairmen released a PowerPoint outlining their proposal, it was even worse than the cynics expected.


Start with the declaration of "Our Guiding Principles and Values." Among them is, "Cap revenue at or below 21% of G.D.P." This is a guiding principle? And why is a commission charged with finding every possible route to a balanced budget setting an upper (but not lower) limit on revenue?


Matters become clearer once you reach the section on tax reform. The goals of reform, as Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson see them, are presented in the form of seven bullet points. "Lower Rates" is the first point; "Reduce the Deficit" is the seventh.


So how, exactly, did a deficit-cutting commission become a commission whose first priority is cutting tax rates, with deficit reduction literally at the bottom of the list?


Actually, though, what the co-chairmen are proposing is a mixture of tax cuts and tax increases — tax cuts for the wealthy, tax increases for the middle class. They suggest eliminating tax breaks that, whatever you think of them, matter a lot to middle-class Americans — the deductibility of health benefits and mortgage interest — and using much of the revenue gained thereby, not to reduce the deficit, but to allow sharp reductions in both the top marginal tax rate and in the corporate tax rate.


It will take time to crunch the numbers here, but this proposal clearly represents a major transfer of income upward, from the middle class to a small minority of wealthy Americans. And what does any of this have to do with deficit reduction?


Let's turn next to Social Security. There were rumors beforehand that the commission would recommend a rise in the retirement age, and sure enough, that's what Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson do. They want the age at which Social Security becomes available to rise along with average life expectancy. Is that reasonable?


The answer is no, for a number of reasons — including the point that working until you're 69, which may sound doable for people with desk jobs, is a lot harder for the many Americans who still do physical labor.


But beyond that, the proposal seemingly ignores a crucial point: while average life expectancy is indeed rising, it's doing so mainly for high earners, precisely the people who need Social Security least. Life expectancy in the bottom half of the income distribution has barely inched up over the past three decades. So the Bowles-Simpson proposal is basically saying that janitors should be forced to work longer because these days corporate lawyers live to a ripe old age.


Still, can't we say that for all its flaws, the Bowles-Simpson proposal is a serious effort to tackle the nation's long-run fiscal problem? No, we can't.


It's true that the PowerPoint contains nice-looking charts showing deficits falling and debt levels stabilizing. But it becomes clear, once you spend a little time trying to figure out what's going on, that the main driver of those pretty charts is the assumption that the rate of growth in health-care costs will slow dramatically. And how is this to be achieved? By "establishing a process to regularly evaluate cost growth" and taking "additional steps as needed." What does that mean? I have no idea.


It's no mystery what has happened on the deficit commission: as so often happens in modern Washington, a process meant to deal with real problems has been hijacked on behalf of an ideological agenda. Under the guise of facing our fiscal problems, Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson are trying to smuggle in the same old, same old — tax cuts for the rich and erosion of the social safety net.


Can anything be salvaged from this wreck? I doubt it. The deficit commission should be told to fold its tents and go away.








All the candidates who ran for office this year claiming they'd go to Washington and cut the deficit — and all the voters who backed them — should take a hard look at the proposal by the leaders of President Obama's deficit commission. This, or something like it, is what it takes to walk the walk.

On the campaign trail, candidates mostly talked the talk. Virtually none of them ran on a thorough, credible plan to cut the flood of red ink that threatens to plunge the nation into a debt crisis. Sure, they promised to "cut spending," "root out waste" or "end fraud and abuse." Even senator-elect Rand Paul, R-Ky., who said he'd demand to balance the budget in as little as a year once he got to Washington, refused to spell out how he'd do that. It's so much safer to be vague.


With a few exceptions, the plan released Wednesday by commission co-chairs Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles is anything but vague. Rather, it's a sobering tutorial in how far Congress will have to go — not to balance the budget, because the proposal doesn't do that for 27 years — merely to get the deficit and the debt back under control over the next decade.


The plan, which the co-chairs said they expected would have to change to win the support of their 18-member panel, touches every budgetary "third rail": It curbs or ends the home mortgage interest deduction, cuts defense spending and farm subsidies, bumps the Social Security retirement age up to 69, raises taxes by $1 trillion over 10 years and whacks Medicare even more than the Democrats' health reform law.


"We have harpooned every whale in the ocean — and some minnows," said former GOP senator Simpson, adding that he and Bowles, formerly President Clinton's chief of staff, will "be on the witness-protection list when this is over."


Maybe sooner than that. The early blowback was as quick and savage as it was predictable, particularly from Democrats and liberal groups upset about the plan's 3-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases and its hits to automatic-benefit programs. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., dismissed the proposal as "simply unacceptable," and AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka said the commission co-chairs "just told working Americans to 'drop dead.' "


Republicans were generally more restrained, perhaps because the proposal would dramatically cut income-tax rates even as it ends big tax breaks and raises taxes for capital gains, dividends, inheritances and gasoline. Anti-tax hard-liners such as Grover Norquist, leader of Americans for Tax Reform, quickly condemned the plan, though incoming House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., joined two other conservative Republicans in saying only that "we have concerns with some of their specifics."


In other words, the death of a thousand cuts, the usual fate of any serious deficit reduction proposal, is already underway. Many of the complaints you'll hear on the weekend talk shows are off base. To list a few:


•The plan would harm a weak economy. Really? It wouldn't even begin until 2012, when — we certainly hope — the economy will be stronger than it is in 2010. And nothing will do more to preserve America's long-term economic vitality than to get a grip on the spiraling national debt.


•It balances the budget on the backs of the elderly. Oh, come on. Spending on seniors — chiefly Social Security and Medicare — is fully one-third of the budget, bigger than any other single piece, and rising fast. It's impossible to make a serious effort to get the budget under control without going after entitlements, and Simpson and Bowles tried to ease the pain for lower-income seniors. On Social Security, the retirement age wouldn't reach 69 until 2075, and those who can't work past 62 would get a hardship exemption.


• It raises taxes. Well, yes. Any serious look shows that both spending cuts and tax hikes are needed to bring the budget even close to balance. Yet virtually all Republicans and some Democrats have signed a pledge never to raise taxes. That was as foolish now as it was when President George H.W. Bush made his "read my lips" pledge in 1988 — and then had to retract it in 1990 to get a major deficit reduction deal done. One reason the deficit has gotten so far out of control is the supply-side myth that tax cuts always pay for themselves, and the conviction that there's never a good time to increase taxes — not during a recession, not during a recovery and not when good times are rolling.


•It kills housing. Just as there's never a good time to raise taxes, there's never a good time to touch the mortgage interest tax deduction, and "this is absolutely the worst." So says Bob Jones, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders. Actually, over-subsidization of housing helped create the bubble in the first place. One of the Simpson-Bowles options — ending the mortgage break for second homes, home-equity loans and the amount of a home loan above $500,000 — is a step toward a fairer, more stable housing market and lower tax rates.


To be sure, the Simpson-Bowles proposal is far from perfect, but no serious deficit reduction plan is. Among the legitimate questions, as the commission considers its leaders' plan between now and its Dec. 1 deadline, are whether it takes too long to achieve balance, whether the tax cuts tilt too far toward upper-income Americans, and whether the ratio of spending cuts to revenue increases should be adjusted.


The sad history of plans from commissions such as this one is that they usually wind up gathering dust. Voters who sent a message last week that they want government to live within its means will be watching to see whether President Obama and congressional leaders will throw up their hands, or negotiate a plan at least this big that can be enacted.


Anyone who doesn't like this proposal — and it's a safe bet that includes most of the deficit commission and a majority of the incoming Congress — has two choices: Use some provision as an excuse to oppose it or come up with a better plan that can win a majority in the House and Senate. There is no excuse to walk away. Anyone who does and still claims to be serious about reducing the deficit isn't serious at all.








Sunday starts "American Education Week," observed annually in the USA since 1921. It was started then by the National Education Association and other groups concerned that 25% of World War I draftees were illiterate.


The stated goal is to provide every child "a quality public education from kindergarten through college." That goal generally is being met from kindergarten through high school, because tuition is free. But not in college, where the cost of attending has skyrocketed, and in most states faces further increases. Is it time to make tuition free in public colleges and universities? Of course. Here's why and how:


•Families are spending an average of $64 billion in tuition a year to send 13.9 million students to public colleges and universities.


•For the last 10 years, we have spent $1.1 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an average of more than a $110 billion annually.


Get it: $64 billion annually for higher education; $110 billion annually for wars.


In addition to that staggering money cost, those two wars have cost us 5,663 military lives. Many of those killed in the wars were college-age men and women.


The war costs are paid for through some present taxes and mostly debts piled up for future generations.


The college costs are paid for by parents and/or longtime debts for graduating students.


Can you think of any reason why NEA and the education-related institutions should not work for free college tuition?


So should college and university officials!


Can you think of any reason why anybody should not want to substitute higher education for our young men and women to ensure their future rather than military service in futile nation-building efforts abroad?


So should President Obama and congressional leaders!


\Feedback: Other views on free college


Free tuition is laudable. Keeping college within reach is the more attainable goal in today?s fiscal climate. Assistance with tuition, books and needs-based grants are ways to make college more affordable.?


—Dennis Van Roekel, president, National Education Association


Competing for paying students makes our colleges world-leading, while our ?free? schools are mediocre. Having to earn customers? business is the key to success.?


—Neal McCluskey, associate director, Cato?s Center for Educational Freedom








How much more misery can Haitians take? During a visit last month, I walked through a tent camp crowded with more than 4,500 Haitians and was stunned by the rubble and poverty that defined life in Port-au-Prince. Since that time, Haiti has endured aglancing blow from Hurricane Tomas. More tragically, a cholera epidemic has killed hundreds while spreading from outlying areas to the capital.


In the immediate aftermath of the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake that killed more than 225,000 people and left millions more homeless, the international community responded generously with more than $1 billion in emergency aid and pledges of more than $5 billion for rebuilding.


Yet 10 months later, the lack of urgency is disheartening — and morally offensive. I visited Haiti with Ron Daniels, founder of the Haiti Support Project, a cause of the New York-based Institute of the Black World. The group's mission is to ensure that the world doesn't forget about Haiti's dire circumstances. What we discovered is that despite pledges, including more than $1 billion from the U.S. alone, money has only been trickling to Haiti. The first contracted work to remove rubble didn't begin until mid-October, just days before the cholera epidemic hit. And in the U.S., political bickering in Congress has put a hold on funds already approved for Haitian reconstruction.


U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Merten told us of "planning" for rebuilding. And outside the capital, roads are being built and efforts to improve the island are ongoing. Yet no one seems to consider that crowding a million people into tents constitutes a state of emergency. Some politicians worry that Haiti's fragile political system and the possibility of corruption could prevent money from getting to their intended recipients. But with folks such as former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bushworking on this, I am reminded that "where there is a will there is a way."


It is time for us to get past the initial feel-good high of donations and roll up our sleeves to help. The situation in Haiti is nothing short of urgent. Our indifference, political wrangling and sense of business as usual are nothing short of immoral. We can lobby for the money already allocated to be released. We also can support organizations with proven track records in Haiti. Surely, there are people of conscience who will stand in the gap for the suffering people of Haiti.


Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C. She was in Haiti Oct. 7-11.









WASHINGTON — That braying you hear is from the sacred cows reacting to the first move of an impending fight over spending, public priorities and the role of government — a moment that was purposely pushed beyond the elections, but now is upon us.


Democrat Erskine Bowles and RepublicanAlan Simpson, co-chairs of PresidentObama's bipartisan deficit-reduction commission, engaged in a classic pre-emptive political maneuver by putting virtually everything, including Social Security and Medicare, on the cutting table. They did it in a news conference three weeks before the official release deadline of their much-anticipated report.


Among their proposals, which drew criticism even from other members of the panel, were cuts in Medicare payments to doctors, lawyers and drug companies, necessitating higher co-payments. Social Security would be means-tested, meaning richer recipients could get less; and cost-of-living increases would be held down.


Other slashes are proposed, including cuts in the federal workforce and in federal contracts, and elimination of pork-barrel earmarks, although the latter would be more symbolic than substantive, given the relatively small amount of dollars involved.


It is called framing the debate, a classic move by political actors who know the audience is not predisposed to like much of anything they will do.


The recoil was predictable. The liberal Democracy for America called it "war on Social Security."


Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., called the proposals "extremely disappointing and something that should be vigorously opposed by the American people."


"Frankly," he said in a press release issued hours after Bowles and Simpson spoke, "there will not be too much demand within the construction industry for 69-year-old bricklayers."


Reality check: Simpson and Bowles proposed raising the retirement age to 69 by the year 2075. That is 65 years away. By then, who knows if houses will still even be made of brick?


Republicans reacted more favorably to the rough draft, in part because while it proposed to slaughter sacred cows, like deductions for children and mortgage interest, and while it raised the income level subject to Social Security taxes, it also proposed lower income tax rates overall. A 15 cents-a-gallon gas tax increase might make tax-averse Republicans blanch, but it's difficult to pencil out serious deficit reduction without tax increases of some sort.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "only thing we have to fear is fear itself" 1932 inaugural line has been quoted a lot lately. But a more relevant FDR speech came in 1937, and it may provide a leadership cue for Obama.


FDR had cut government spending, stalling recovery from the Depression. He conducted one of his iconic fireside chats on Oct. 12, 1937, to call for a special session of Congress to address lingering economic problems. But he did it only after he had traveled the country for much of the year, in a non-election environment, to assess how people were coming out of the Depression. In essence, he led a national discussion on what Americans wanted their government to do.


A president, Roosevelt said, "must think not only of this year but of future years when someone else will be president." He had long railed against the "money changers" he said had taken down the economy, but in this fireside chat he said Americans had balanced expectations about what government could, and should, do.


Americans "want the financial budget balanced," FDR said, but they "want the human budget balanced as well. They want to set up a national economy which balances itself with as little government subsidy as possible, for they realize that persistent subsidies ultimately bankrupt their government."



This fall, as he fought to stave off ballot-box repudiation of his policies and the country's direction, Obama became as polarizing as his predecessor, George W. Bush. In the heat of the campaign, Obama used language like "evil empire" and "enemies" to describe political foes, which he later regretted.


Right now, an FDR-style listening tour, which puts everything on the table and pushes debate beyond the institutionalized interests in Washington, could help both Obama and the country move toward the "we're in this together" moment that Roosevelt was so good at beckoning.


If the United States is going to solve this budget problem, two things are certain: One, pain will be unavoidable for almost everyone. And two, it will be done in spite of sacred cows that have set up permanent residence here.


(Chuck Raasch writes from Washington for Gannett. Contact him at, follow him at or join in the conversation at







Karan Bhatia, chairman of the National Center for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, on The Huffington Post: "While much of the attention surrounding President Obama's post-midterm election trip to Asia(has) focus(ed) on his state visit to India, his return to Indonesia, and the G-20 meeting inKorea, the most significant part of his trip may well be his last stop — the APECleaders' meeting in YokohamaJapan (this weekend). ... This presents Obama ... with an extraordinary opportunity to strengthen America's ties with the region. ... This will not be easy. ... But the historic opportunity to erase lines that are once again in danger of being drawn down the Pacific, and to harness the extraordinary economic power of this region to help revitalize the U.S. economy, make this an opportunity not to be missed."


The Christian Science Monitor, in an editorial: "Obama's brief trip to Indonesia has served to highlight America's own problematic view of 'the Muslim world' — that relying on stereotypes of Islam doesn't work for peace in this post-9/11 era. ... The U.S. must beware of pigeonholing Indonesia as the very model of a modern, major Muslim country. Its natural tendency toward moderating other Muslim lands could be jeopardized every time an American president exploits that role. ... Saving Islam from extremists can begin if Muslims and non-Muslims first avoid using shallow and ill-formed labels."


Michael Auslin, columnist, in The Wall Street Journal: "What is missing from Obama's trip is the big picture of both Asia's future and America's role in it. Unlike George W. Bush, who strongly pushed a freedom agenda early on in his administration, Obama has never offered a compelling vision for dealing with the world's most vibrant region. ... Obama's 10-day trip is an uneven amalgam of bilateral outreach and multilateral participation. In neither case is Obama driving events or providing the type of leadership that many Asians privately say they expect. ... What is most on the minds of many in Asia — security and the concern over Chinese assertiveness — is all but absent from the discussions."


The Washington Times, in an editorial: "In India on Sunday, Obama announced the decline of the United States as an economic power. ... Obama ignores the fact that it was American invention, innovation and competitive spirit that gave (the U.S.) its economic pre-eminence in the first place. Rather than lecturing Americans to get in the game, he would do better to reverse the anti-business political climate he has helped foster. ... America will only resurge when it recaptures the moral image of the country as a land of individualism, opportunity and patriotism."


Rich Lowry, editor, on National Review: "After spending the early part of his administration kowtowing to China and neglecting India (the two weren't unrelated), Obama delivered on the first leg of his Asia trip. He forged closer ties to the robustly democratic nation of 1 billion people, partly as a hedge against the rise of a China resistant to his blandishments. ... We shouldn't romanticize India. It is prideful and suffers from a hangover of non-aligned attitudes. ... Yet the opening of the Indian economy during the past 30 years is a global success story. The loosening of the 'license raj' that smothered the energies of the Indian people proved that democracies, too, could experience the wondrous growth of the authoritarian Asian tigers. We should hope that India continues to emerge, its status as a friend now blessed by both President Bush and President Obama."










Federal drug regulators and health officials hope that new requirements for larger and more graphic warning labels on cigarette packages will help reduce tobacco use in the United States. Anything that promotes that cause is welcome.


About 450,000 Americans die prematurely each year as a result of smoking-related diseases. Another 8 million live with chronic disease related to tobacco use, which currently costs the U.S. economy about $200 billion a year. Most of the deaths, disease and costs are preventable. The warning labels are one way, officials say, to remind consumers about the dangers directly associated with cigarettes.


Labeling is required by new legislation that gives the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco. Tobacco companies aren't happy with the law, which significantly tightens oversight of their industry, and they certainly are unhappy with the new label requirements, the first real show of the FDA's new clout.


Cigarette makers publicly opposed the new labels and already have gone to court to contest them. The companies say the law infringes on their free-speech and property rights. They can claim what they want, but they'll be hard-pressed to make their case.


Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled in a related lawsuit that the FDA could require graphic warnings, but that restrictions on coloring on cigarette packaging did infringe on free speech rights. Nevertheless, the cigarette makers are appealing what seems to be an equitable decision.


That's understandable. The companies have a lot -- in profits -- to lose. The public, however, has far more to gain if the new law is implemented as planned, especially since the larger and more graphic labeling should prove useful in warning individuals to avoid the use of tobacco.


The labels may or may not deter someone who wants to start smoking or help reduce use by someone already hooked on tobacco, but they are worth a try. To that end, the FDA introduced 36 proposed warning labels earlier this week. Nine will be chosen for use by June of next year. Barring a court ruling to the contrary, cigarette manufacturers must start using the new warnings on packages by the fall of 2012.


Some proposed labels are quite graphic. One shows a toe tag on a corpse. Another pictures a man exhaling smoke through a hole in his neck. The messages are direct: If you smoke, it can kill you or cause a cancer that requires breathing through a tracheotomy rather than the nose or mouth. Those images might be tough to handle, but that's the point. The more gruesome the picture and message, the more likely that they will be understood.


Labeling tobacco products in the United States is not new. There's been a health warning from the surgeon general on cigarette packages for years. That message, though, is small and relatively innocuous. It has become so familiar, in fact, that it has lost its impact. The content and size of the new labels, however, should be hard to ignore.


There certainly is a need to remind the public that tobacco remains a major U.S. health problem. Smoking rates, to be fair, were roughly halved in the country from 1965 to 2004, but the lower rate -- 21 percent -- has remained constant since then. That rightfully worries health officials, who note that about 4,000 people, mostly youngsters, try cigarettes for the first time every day and that 1,000 of them will become habitual smokers. The long-range cost of that habit is unacceptably high. Deterrence is needed.


It's hard to predict how useful enhanced labeling will be in reducing the number of smokers and in lowering smoking-related deaths and illness. Whatever proves to be the case, the new rules are a useful adjunct in the necessary effort to discourage smoking and to promote public health.







As expected, Hurricane Tomas last week brought additional woe to Haiti, already struggling to deal with a series of disasters that would test the coping ability of a rich and highly developed nation. Haiti is neither, and it shows.


Tomas' heavy rains wreaked havoc on an island that is so devoid of trees that landslides in hilly and mountainous areas and widespread flooding follow heavy rainstorms. The hurricane left tons of mud and torrents of filthy water in its wake, exacerbating already desperate conditions.


About a million Haitians are living in temporary tent communities. They've been there since last January's major earthquake. The majority are in urban areas where little headway has been made in cleaning up the debris from the quake and where restoration of vital services -- water, power, sewage, transportation, medical -- remains more a dream than reality. Even before Tomas, the nasty conditions had spawned a major health problem.



Cholera, a debilitating and often fatal disease spread by contaminated food and water, was a growing presence in rural areas. In the wake of Tomas, more and more cases are appearing in Port-au-Prince, the heavily urban Haitian capital. Health officials say the unsanitary conditions in the city are speeding the spread of the disease.


That's bad news for a country where medical care remains primitive for the most part. "Cholera is a complex public health emergency under any circumstances," said an official of the Pan American Health Organization. "In Haiti, the hemisphere's poorest country, the problem is even more complex." What he left unsaid is that the country will be unable to cope with what is likely to be a widespread outbreak of the disease.


There are a large number of aid groups and volunteer medical groups -- including some from the Chattanooga area -- presently working in Haiti. Their effort, though, is more a holding action than a sturdy defense against the incursions of cholera and other diseases. Money is not always an answer to problems of this sort, but in this instance it certainly could help.


The United States, other nations, groups and individuals pledged billions in assistance to Haiti following the quake. Some has been delivered, but much has not. If the bureaucratic and political bottlenecks that currently bar efficient distribution of aid to Haiti are not removed soon, an already dire situation could quickly mushroom into a humanitarian disaster of immense scale.







One of many famous things President Franklin D. Roosevelt said about the growing national debt during his administration (1933-1945) was that "We only owe it to ourselves."


That was when the national debt was "only" in the billions of dollars.


Today, the U.S. national debt that "we owe ourselves" (and Communist China and other lenders) is $13.7 trillion -- and is growing more than $4 billion a day!


So a lot of our tax money is going just to pay interest on the debt, which is increasing.


Do you want to pay higher taxes to cover the growing interest?


Do you want to pay higher taxes to reduce the growing deficits?


Most people don't. So what should we do?


President Barack Obama asked a "bipartisan deficit commission" to suggest some things that could or should be done.


Not many people will like the commission's suggestions.


Do you want the Social Security retirement age to be raised gradually from 66 to 69?


Do you want to reduce or end tax deductions for interest paid on mortgages?


Do you want to curb the growth of Medicare costs?


Or what?


]The debt problem is growing tremendously. We can no longer ignore it -- if we ever really could.


You'll be hearing more about varied proposals -- as taxes remain high, spending continues to grow, and we pay more interest on the massive debt.







Many local residents take great pride in Chattanooga as "The Scenic City" -- despite the unfortunate fact that a number of our major streets leading into the downtown area have a rather "tacky" appearance, to say the least.


We do have some beautiful views of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, for example.


How can we best protect those scenic vistas for enjoyment by future generations?


It won't be easy. Lots of factors have to be considered. But city officials have made a start.


The Chattanooga City Council plans to consider an ordinance that would require builders to get special permission to construct anything over 35 feet high that might "stick up" within 1,000 feet of a few scenic or historic areas.


We certainly don't want to have too much bureaucracy, or zoning rules that would hinder reasonable economic development.


But with good judgment, cooperation and sensible efforts, we should encourage both scenic improvements and more economic progress for the benefit of us all.







You thought the 2010 elections were over on Nov. 2, didn't you? Well, most of them were -- but not in Alaska. The vote count is still going on in the U.S. Senate race there.


The problem arose after Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski lost in the GOP primary election to "tea party" candidate Joe Miller.


But she decided to run again in the Nov. 2 general election -- as a write-in candidate.


Lots of voters who favored Murkowski had trouble writing in and spelling her name correctly.


Some wrote "Murkowsi." Some wrote "Murkowsky." Some wrote "Muckowski." And there were other variations.


How do you count those ballots? Miller has challenged the misspelled ballots, pointing to an Alaska law requiring write-in votes to be written as the name appears on the write-in candidate's filing papers. So Alaskans -- and the rest of us -- may have to wait awhile to find out who was elected to be the senator from Alaska.







One of the foundations of our republic is the rule of law.


A president may not like certain laws, but if the laws are duly enacted by Congress, he has a constitutional duty to enforce them.


On the subject of illegal immigration, however, President Barack Obama refuses to fully uphold the law.


His administration recently ordered that thousands of illegal-immigration cases be reviewed, and that cases be dropped against illegal invaders if they have not been convicted of a felony since coming to the United States.


And The Associated Press reported earlier this year: "The Obama administration, unable to push an immigration overhaul through Congress, is considering ways it could go around lawmakers to let undocumented immigrants stay in the United States, according to an agency memo.


"The internal draft written by officials at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services outlines ways the government could provide 'relief' to illegal immigrants -- including delaying deportation for some, perhaps indefinitely, or granting green cards to others ... ."


The memo spelled out ways to "reduce the threat of removal for certain individuals present in the United States without authorization."


In addition, it said the citizenship agency "can extend benefits and/or protections to many individuals or groups."


Just as troubling, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., says the president told him in a private meeting that he will not secure the border with Mexico unless Congress first approves so-called "comprehensive immigration reform" -- meaning a "path to citizenship" for millions of illegal aliens.


The president denies saying that, but his lax actions to oppose illegal immigration would seem to give credibility to Kyl's claim.


The president's unwillingness to uphold the law has prompted Republican senators to ask the Department of Homeland Security just what it would cost to deport -- rather than free -- the illegal aliens with whom the government knowingly comes in contact.


That's a sensible request. After all, shouldn't deportation be the goal? Some illegal aliens obviously will go undetected despite our best efforts. But shouldn't every illegal immigrant who is apprehended be on a "path" not to citizenship but to his own country?


Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., put it well: "The administration's failure to uphold the law is causing it to lose the confidence of the public," he told Tribune Newspapers.


That serious failing should alarm us all.







One of the most terrible news stories this week originated in Douglasville, Ga., near Atlanta.


It began with a house party where a woman reportedly hit a man, who properly refused to strike back.


But authorities say he foolishly decided to hit the next male who came by.


As a result, an 18-year-old youth happened by, and, according to authorities, a group of four partiers attacked the young man -- and stomped and punched him to death!


What kind of inexplicable barbarism was that?


A local law enforcement official said of the victim, "He had nothing to do with anything."


But the youth is dead.


Certainly the killers should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.









As Turkey edges slowly toward the elusive goal of a coherent energy policy, we could imagine it being strictly market-based. In other words, X is the amount the government will pay per kilowatt of power; you, the investor decide how you want to generate that power.


Conversely, we can imagine that energy policy might reasonably be crafted to create incentives for other worthy social goals beyond just energy: X is the amount the government will pay for energy creation with a minimal carbon footprint, Y is the price of energy whose production will reduce foreign dependency, Z is the price for energy that creates meaningful employment.


Advocates of various philosophical stripes would weigh in with debates about "industrial policy" or the wisdom of the "invisible hand." But the debate would at least be rational, the way public policy should be argued.


What concerns us is the apparent drift toward a pricing policy for commercial energy that has at least as much to do with unrelated political calculations or even cronyism.


As we reported yesterday, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Taner Yıldız has shot down an appeal by the renewal energy lobby that would boost envisioned guarantees of 7 U.S. cents for a kilowatt-hour of wind or hydroelectric power and 10 U.S. cents for one of solar power. The lobby would like roughly a third more in the price guarantees imbedded in construction contracts. Yıldız says the rates in draft legislation will remain unchanged.


That may be reasonable. Far be it from us mere journalists to say what the optimal price guarantee should be.


But we do have to wonder at the wisdom of these price guarantees given that approved legislation for a Russian-built (and majority-owned) nuclear power plant to be constructed near the Mediterranean port of Mersin includes a price of 15.33 U.S. cents per kilowatt hour. There are other concerns with the Russia deal, including questions over sovereignty and safety. But for the narrow sake of energy policy, our concern is that the Russian contract has a loophole that allows for its overall commitments – in the case of a production shortfall – to be met with energy purchased elsewhere and then wheeled through its network for resale.


Given the burgeoning energy demand, there may be a good case for nuclear power production. But if there are to be incentives, less dangerous, less capital-intensive and less controversial alternatives strike us as the best candidates for the head of the queue. A web of public-private contracts that allow a nuclear plant, for example, to buy wind power and resell it at twice the price does not sound like thoughtful energy policy.


The Turkish Union of Engineers' and Architect's Chamber warned last summer of precisely such a boondoggle and now it appears that a futile energy policy is on the horizon.








It is not certain what will come out of the talks between Turkish Cypriot leader Derviş Eroğlu and Dimitris Christofias on Nov. 18 in New York, where they will be following the invitation of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.


Although it is much desired, in is not clear if a breakthrough will be achieved as a result of this meeting. What is certain, however, is that few people on the Turkish side are holding their breath in anticipation.


This is clearly due to the fact that the chances are much higher for nothing to come out of these talks than vice versa. After countless unsuccessful such meetings over the past three decades the general inclination is to be skeptical.


Despite this, it is clear that the Cyprus issue is beginning to loom large in Turkish-EU ties with dire warnings being issued to Ankara to comply with its commitments in this respect.


Stefan Fule, the EU commissioner for enlargement, for example, warned on Tuesday, as he presented the annual progress reports on Turkey, that the "key" to changing the situation lay "primarily with Turkey, which is expected to fully implement its current contractual relations with the EU."


He was referring to the fact that Ankara has to open its ports to Greek Cypriot vessels as it said it would before membership talks were opened. Ankara refuses to do so because it says the EU did not keep its promises to the Turkish Cypriots, especially concerning direct trade with Europe.


But the response to from Turkey to calls such as Fule's remains frosty. "The Cyprus issue will be solved on its own parameters, and we will not settle for anything just in order to open a chapter or two," according to Egemen Bağış, Turkey's chief EU negotiator, who was talking on the same day that Fule made his remarks.


"Seventeen [negotiation] chapters are blocked. I don't even have a clear date to end the negotiations. I have so many [EU] leaders saying Turkey shouldn't join at all. So why should I give up on Cyprus?" Bağış added, echoing a universal sentiment in Turkey.


Centre-right German MEPs Werner Langen and Markus Ferber argue, however, that the talks with Ankara "must stop completely until Turkey ends its blockade of Cyprus." This view can be taken as representative of those in Europe who are against Turkey's joining the EU in the first place.


Britain's former foreign minister, Jack Straw, pointed to this in a remarkably blunt letter to The Times this week, in which he openly accused those opposing Turkey's EU bid of using the Cyprus issue to this end.


He also had harsh words for the Greek Cypriot government which he said "is using what is a relatively tiny dispute, so far as numbers are concerned – though crucial in the terms of human beings – to try and stop Turkey coming into the European Union."


His remarks, in which he even suggested that the island should be divided if there is no settlement, as expected, caused outrage among Greek Cypriots. No doubt Straw's remarks also caused deep dissatisfaction among right-wing Europeans who are opposed to Turkey.


]It is nevertheless a fact that there is a growing concern in EU circles about the future of Turkish-EU ties, which it is suggested could come to a standstill very soon since there will be no more chapters for membership that can be negotiated.


But the problem from a Turkish perspective always comes back to the same point. If Turkey were to concede for the sake of its EU bid and give in on Cyprus, there is no guarantee that this will somehow magically open Turkey's path to the EU.


Eight chapters in the negotiations are blocked because of the Cyprus issue currently. But even if there were a Cyprus settlement tomorrow this will not alter the fact that France – which is trying to prevent Turkey's EU membership – has unilaterally blocked five chapters, and has given no indication that it is prepared to lift its blockade anytime soon.


The simple fact is that Turkey does not trust the EU on Cyprus enough to engage in political gestures and allowing Greek Cypriot ships to use Turkish ports, as EU officials are calling for now.


Few in Ankara forget the outcome of the "Annan Plan process" which collapsed in 2004 when the Greek Cypriots rejected the U.N.'s blueprint for a settlement that was also endorsed by the majority of EU members.


The result was that the Greek Cypriots were rewarded with the membership that they use against Turkey today, while the Turkish Cypriots were left out in the cold again, where they remain isolated from the international community today, even though they accepted the Annan Plan.


Some European diplomats are of the opinion that Turks should not remain fixed on the events of 2004 and look to the future instead. Turks would however argue that the EU fulfilled their worst expectations back in 2004, following the collapse of the Annan Plan, and that there is a serious "once bitten twice shy" syndrome involved that can not be overlooked.


Put briefly the prospects for a settlement on Cyprus do not look well at the moment, and this casts a shadow over Turkish-EU ties, which is no doubt pleasing to right-wing Europeans. 


The problem from Turkey's perspective is that serious turbulence in Turkish ties, while worrying for planners and strategists, does not appear to be of much concern to the Turkish public which hardly has any faith in Europe left anyway.


Given that Turkey is entering what promises to be a hard-fought and vitriolic period of campaigning for the general elections next June, it is unlikely that any politician in Turkey can appear to be conceding on Cyprus for the sake of the EU.


But the fallout from this will not be one sided,  and the concerns being expressed by a host of reputable Europeans, Jack Straw being only the latest, shows that there are influential Europeans who are worried about the consequences of alienating Turkey.


As for the Greek Cypriots, it appears that they will be the real losers as a result of Turkish-EU ties coming to a standstill. The reason is simple. The EU is the only leverage point against Turkey that is left for them, the assumption being that Turks want membership so much that they will accept Greek Cypriot terms.

Ankara has shown that this is not the case and this situation is not likely to change any time soon. Put another way, disrupting Turkish-EU relations to the extent that the Greek Cypriot government and its allies in Europe are doing, in fact reduces the chances of a permanent settlement in Cyprus and increases the chances of a permanent division of the Island.


It is not clear, however, that the Greek Cypriot side understands this, and therefore that the severance of Turkish-EU ties will in fact be the worst thing that can happen to it in its fight against Turkey.









Although it is thousands of kilometers from Turkey, Brazil has always been a center of attention for Turkish people.


We know Brazil through football, the Rio Carnival and TV series. However, the "economic miracle" Brazil created happens to be a matter of curiosity in Turkey.


And the curiosity peaked when Turkey and Brazil entered joint diplomatic efforts regarding the Iranian issue, to a degree that even the presidential elections in this far-away land were closely followed by Turkey.


The reason, without doubt, is similarities between Brazil and Turkey. Despite the distance, economic and political situations in these two countries have some similarities.


In this perspective, elections in Brazil allow us to observe the country closer.


Guarantee of stability


Governed by a presidential system, Brazil is a federal state with a population of 200 million. (Its administrative structure is different from Turkey yet similar to the United States).


The president in Brazil can serve two consecutive terms (eight years in total). President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, reached the end of his tenure. The Labor Party under Silva's leadership nominated Dilma Roussef, who is considered Lula's successor. This female politician won 56 percent of the votes in elections and became the new president of Brazil.


Undoubtedly, Lula's popularity and influence played a role in Dilma's being elected. In fact, Lula supported the 62-year-old Dilma with the slogan "Mother of the nation" during the election campaign trail. And Dilma is a talented politician with a strong character. Earlier, she was condemned by the military regime due to her Marxist views and imprisoned. As Brazil adopted democracy, Dilma joined the Labor Party and quickly ascended through its ranks. She became Lula's close teammate and became a minister.


They share similar political views. Therefore, there will be no change of policy in the economy or in any other area. That means Brazil guarantees sustainability and stability. As a matter of fact, the majority of voters said that they voted for Dilma because they want her to "follow the footsteps of Lula."


Brazil owes so many things to Lula. Previous leaders had of course contributed to the development of the country, but Lula created a brand-new Brazil in eight years. Brazil moved from a "developing country" up to a "developed country."


Both near and away


Today, Brazil is the eighth strongest economy in the world. National income stands at $2 trillion, with 230 billion euros in reserve. With a 7 percent growth rate, Brazil managed to overcome the global economic crisis.


But most importantly, Brazil has become successful in strengthening the middle class and fighting poverty. Although a gap still exists between the rich and the poor, Dilma aims to close the gap and increase the economic potential of Brazil through state support.


Brazil owes this to rapid economic growth and political stability.


Turkey and Brazil have some similarities in this regard.


Both countries have begun to be recognized in international arena because of their new state profile.


With similarities, partnership and cooperation, the distance between the two continents is not felt anymore.


]*Sami Kohen is a columnist of daily Milliyet, in which this piece first appeared. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.








The good news is that after the 12 annual progress reports Brussels has released on potential Turkish membership, Turkey's chief EU negotiator, Egemen Bağış, heralded that "membership has eventually begun to smell." And the other good news is that there is no bad news.

As always the report gives everyone something to chew on – something to celebrate, ponder, criticize, give pats on the shoulder over, toast and praise... In modern social science this is called "being analytical." So be it… 


Ironically, Minister Bağış did not hide his "general contentment" over the commission's report which clearly talked about Turkey's "failure to revive key reforms in areas including media freedom and human rights." That "failure" was established after 12 reports from Brussels and eight powerful years of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP. But at least we can now smell membership!


Meanwhile, let's hope that the Europeans do not copy Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's frequent reasoning and decide to take advice from the Vatican before deciding on Turkish membership. Most recently, Mr. Erdoğan proposed taking advice from the Religious Affairs Directorate, or Diyanet, before Parliament moved to set the Islamic headscarf free on campuses.


Shortly after the prime minister's suggestion, Professor Ali Bardakoğlu, Diyanet's president, said in an interview: "It would be against secularism to seek Diyanet's advice before making laws. Our duty is to tell what is true about religion. For instance, alcohol consumption amounts to sinning. But it falls into the legislative jurisdiction to say under which circumstances alcohol consumption is illegal."


Words of wisdom? No doubt. For some reason, I suspected too many typos when I read those lines. There were none. Then I joked to a colleague: "Professor Bardakoğlu must be unhappy with his job."


A week later, news reports told us that Professor Bardakoğlu had been fired (and I am writing this several hours before Professor Bardakoğlu spoke to the press about his departure).


Apparently, we need bureaucrats with better foresight in order to "smell" EU membership better. One such man is our ambassador to Vienna, Ecvet Tezcan, whose words in Austrian daily Die Presse did not only cause outrage among important Franks like Chancellor Werner Faymann and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, but also caused a mini crisis between Ankara and Vienna.


Pity… My dislike of the Franks who blocked the Ottoman march into the heart of Europe had started to subside after I read in fellow columnist Mustafa Akyol's piece on Nov. 9 about how generously the Austrians welcomed with open arms and tolerated pious Turkish students. A day later, Ambassador Tezcan's heart-breaking comments entered the public domain.


Mr. Tezcan was angry with Austria(ns) "because the freedom to swim naked existed but not to wear the Islamic headscarf." Also, according to the interview published in Die Presse, because "he had been invited only by one Austrian family since he arrived in Vienna a year ago."


When Die Presses reminded the Turkish ambassador that women's employment rate in Turkey stood at a poor 39 percent, Mr Tezcan replied: "Oh, but housewifery too is a profession."


Apparently, Mr. Tezcan is not happy in Vienna. He said that "he would not stay there a moment if he were the secretary general of the U.N. or the OSCE or OPEC."


Naturally, tensions flared up in Vienna. But according to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, "those words were the ambassador's personal opinion."


I personally do not know whom to view with more credibility: a respected ambassador who claims there is no freedom to wear the headscarf in Austria, or a respected journalist who only two days ago praised Austrian freedoms for pious Muslims. I incline towards Mr. Akyol, not because he is an acquaintance and Mr. Tezcan is not, but because the ambassador's other remarks look a little bit… errr less convincing.


For instance, I had not heard of a profession called housewifery. But if it exists, women's unemployment rate in Turkey automatically falls to zero. Imagine a country where all of the nearly 40 million women have jobs! I expect the EU's next progress report to note and praise this.


But I felt offended by the Austrians no matter how warmly they embraced the children of Fethullah Gülen in their beautiful, free country. They should send more invitations to Ambassador Tezcan. Some occasions could be inviting the ambassador to deliver a keynote speech at conferences on employment, women's rights and diplomatic courtesy.


And a final word of caution to two of the Turkish Foreign Ministry's heavyweights, Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu and Ambassador to Washington Namık Tan: Watch out for your seats as you now have a powerful rival in Vienna!








Getting closer to the NATO and the EU-U.S. summits in Lisbon it is important to see and understand how and how much the U.S. plays a role in EU-Turkey relations.


In 1989, the word "eligibility" became a well-known term in Turkey-EU relations. Ironically being eligible never helped Turkey. Although Turkey's eligibility to become a candidate country was admitted in the year 1989, the candidacy status was not approved by the EU. History recurred in 1997, and the eligibility of Turkey was once again approved but did not gain currency in reality and in December, Turkey was not judged to be a candidate. In the Turkey-EU Council on April of that year in Luxembourg, it was announced that Turkey would be treated the same as any other country applied for full membership.


However, once again, in the Association Council Greece reminded other members of the problems in the Aegean Sea, Cyprus… etc. and that it would use the veto card or block the way to Turkey's candidacy when the time comes. Right after the Turkey-EU Council held in April 1997, the U.S. Secretary of State Attorney Strobe Talbott arranged a press conference and stated that a Turkey which was strong, successful, democratic, and integrated into the West was beneficial for Western civilization.


"The challenges that Turkey faces in the process to become an EU member are not that kind of difficulties to make Turkey less European. Turkey was the most important allied country in the Cold War era which had borders with Russia. In this era its borders with Iraq, Syria and Iran makes Turkey even more important," he said.


The substantive and potentially lasting improvement in relations between Greece and Turkey could only start after 1999. Until that year, Cyprus receded as a U.S. security issue, and watched warily as Greek-Turkish tensions remained difficult throughout the 1990s, especially during the Kardak Crisis of 1996 and the 1997-98 periods when Turkey threatened to prevent southern Cyprus' deployment of Russian missiles.


In 1997, southern Cyprus granted candidate status  while any political dialogue between Turkey and the EU was suspended by Turkey when it was not granted candidate status by the European Council held in Luxembourg the same year. This situation further froze EU-Turkey relations. Things looked as if they were not going to get better easily however, when the European Commission's report "European Strategy for Turkey," relieved the strained relations between Turkey and the EU. It simply stated that Turkey should be prepared for full membership. It was also made clear that Turkey was in the enlargement process of the EU.


The deepening of the Customs Union, cooperation on telecommunications, the dialogue on the macro-economy, the removal of technical difficulties in front of the single market and aiding NGOs in Turkey were suggested by the report. The EU was in serious conflict with itself by not announcing Turkey as a candidate but showing the world how important and necessary it was for the union at the same time. The double act confused the Turkish side and made it difficult to have progress in relations.


On March 30, one day before the start of accession talks with southern Cyprus, İsmail Cem, foreign minister of Turkey, went to northern Cyprus and announced that Turkey was ready to establish a federal state system with northern Cyprus and that the steps taken by the EU on southern Cyprus might even cause a war.


"If there will be a war the EU will be the responsible," Cem said. At that moment the issue was once again expected to be solved by U.S. interference, many argued in Washington. 


After these developments, in April 1998, right before the European Inter-Governmental Conference, or IGC, to be held in London, the EU offered a proposal called "Two Equal Societies" to northern Cyprus. However, calling it an "EU offer" would not reflect the whole truth. The proposal was prepared by the U.S. and delivered to the island by Richard Hoolbrooke, secretary of state, who paid a critical visit to Cyprus two days before the IGC. However the solution plan he brought was kept secret and was not publicized until it was "offered by the EU." The proposal was revealed one day before the IGC and pushed by the Rotating Presidency Britain to the agenda. Once again, a huge amount of pressure was put on Greek Cypriots to accept the deal and also pressure on Greece to release financial aid to Turkey by Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister. The U.S. and Britain's efforts on the subject played a vital role for melting the ices between Turkey and EU.


In 2004, Turkey got the date to start the negotiations. However, the protocol that was initially included the precondition of signing the additional protocol of the Ankara agreement at the end of July. The protocol was also seen as an official declaration that Turkey's approval of the status of Cyprus as a state among all other ten states that joined the EU in 2004. 


In 2005 Blair was once more active during the whole process. He made many contacts, had a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, visited Turkey, announced his support and softened the relations. First of all he affirmed that the signing of the protocol would not mean the recognition of Cyprus officially and second, he named any kind of additional declaration as "normal" and "acceptable." A day after these statements on the July 29, the southern Cyprus' leader, Tasos Papadapoulos, announced that in case Turkey did not recognize Cyprus as a state they would use the veto card. However, they did not use any veto and the only response Turkey got was a counter declaration from the EU which was already foreseen and did have an impact neither on Turkish politics nor Turkish public.


On the negotiation framework dispute between Turkey and EU, it turned out with this statement that the U.S. played some delicate role once again. In one of his interviews Erdoğan stated: "We have debated the articles first with Condoleezza Rice. It was a difficult process to change them but the U.S. government has never withdrawn their support from us." 


At this point, it becomes clearer from the official statement of the Turkish prime minister that how the U.S. includes itself in the process and in the Cyprus issue and how the close cooperation between the U.S. and Britain also has an important role. 









My heart hurt as I saw Rauf Denktaş on TV in Cyprus. He was the founder of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, its first president, and he had no fault other than admiring Turkey for the past 50 years doing anything to please Ankara.


I was ashamed.


Then I was very upset with leaders of the northern Cyprus and with Ankara.


It's a shame. Should such treatment be deemed proper for Denktaş?


Does it befit us to treat this a person who carried the Cyprus issue, which we provoked and called "Turkey's National case" on his shoulders in the name of Turkishness?


He says he is "not able to make a living."


He says he "has debts to pay."


If this is what he says it means he is really facing difficulty.


Denktaş is a "hero," a "symbol" for this country.


Whether it be northern Cyprus President Derviş Eroğlu, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or President Abdullah Gül; whoever needs to take action should do so immediately.


This is beyond a shame.


A coy report card issued by the EU


For 13 years we've been receiving a report from the European Union.  


Each country that is a full member candidate receives such a report card. The purpose is to reveal how successful the country's performance was in mandatory lessons in order to join the EU.


In former years we would be in distress. For days we would reflect it in papers and the government would either be applauded or criticized for its performance. Grades on the report card would usually have an average of 2, 3 or 4.


This year we received a different report card. I was astonished. Our grade point average was 4.5 out of 10. It is the border line between failing and passing the class.


I took a look at the content and saw how hard a decision the European Commission faced. It is a report card that looks like "a strategic consultancy document that lines up balance and imbalance," as Bahadır Kaleağsı in his column says in the daily Radikal.


It reflects a picture of our relations with the EU. No excitement. No movement.


Amid the grades we find politics that slow down the negotiation process without driving Turkey away.


We may call it a coy report. Coy, for, negotiations are slowed down by the EU; and since it would be shameful to slow down negotiations and drag Turkey through the mud Ankara received flowers.


We only received a failing grade in freedom of press and thought. I might easily draw your attention to the following:


The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, administration gets itself in trouble in relations with Europe. Press freedom will progressively put pressure on the administration. Alarm bells already started ringing. Let's see if the government receives the signal.


Our lives in fights


In my column yesterday I talked about an important part of our daily lives.


Fights have become a disease that penetrated us deeply. Everybody is angry with each other. Everybody fights. University students, tribes, bureaucrats… TV programs that show fights or arguments are more popular. As you see, we as a society like fights.


In such a society naturally the way leaders conduct politics turns into fights.


Yesterday I started with Erdoğan. Today we will take a look at polemics of other leaders.


Not as much as Baykal


For me Deniz Baykal, former leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, was the one using polemics the most among political leaders within the last term. Baykal has the ability to use his voice well enough to know what should be stressed and what sentence needs to be repeated to attach a meaning to it.


It's new leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has a calm and polite character. His tone of voice and his sentences remind one of former Istanbul gentlemen. It seems his attitude is extremely persistent but not in an aggressive or polemic way but in a consenting and modest way. His posture and way of shaking hands even reflects his elegancy.


After taking his place in the leader seat he seemed involuntarily to be pushed into a fight or polemic. But raising his voice and brisk behavior does not befit him. But he started changing. He improves his new identity by the day.


His most promising side is the usage of the Turkish language.


He speaks a language everyone can understand. And more importantly he understands well. He is more convincing when he starts speaking spontaneously. No matter how brisk he becomes or how much he raises his voice he still manages to preserve his gentlemen identity.


Here I place Kılıçdaroğlu in second place. But on the other side I can't help but noticing that the CHP leader

progresses well on this path fast.


The most brisk leader


Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, leader Devlet Bahçeli usually gives the impression of a calm and polite person. He never speaks up to anyone. But on a platform he changes his character. He becomes a leader that stuns everyone.


The majority of Bahçeli's speeches are very brisk.


He drags his opponents through the mud and does not care about anyone.


He usually speaks in a high voice, even if it means a sore throat. He likes to affect crowds with his tone of voice instead of stressing his words. We don't know whether nationalists like it this way but this approach stirs from the script in front of him.


What distinguishes Bahçeli from other leaders is that he usually reads the script in front of him and does not like spontaneous speeches. Even if there is a lack of emphasis or mistakes in pronunciation, he still focuses on the dramatic structure. It is known that MHP electors like these brisk speeches.


Pro-Kurdish Peace and democracy Party, or BDP, leader Selahattin Demirtaş falls behind in the list of the above leaders.


Despite using polemics from time to time he usually falls behind the three leaders. His words are very important and brisk. But he does not raise his voice or use polemics too often. He is spontaneous. And one needs to accept that he makes effective use of the Turkish language. Demirtaş slowly gets ready to take his place in the list of the above leaders.








Many political pundits expressed disappointment that the government has deferred a resolution of the so-called headscarf problem to the writing of the new constitution after the parliamentary elections scheduled to be held next summer.


Similarly, now that the contacts with the enforced life-term convict chieftain of the separatist gang has evolved from "dialogue" to "negotiations" phase and the gang has declared a "unilateral" – but apparently government demanded – "cease to operational activity", the so-called Kurdish opening, or the peace and brotherhood project – or whatever one would name it – is apparently suspended until after the elections this summer.


Naturally, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government does not want to take the country to elections with continued separatist bloodshed as irrespective what measures it employs to fight terrorism or whatever compromise moves it might undertake to convince a lull in violence in the campaign period would hurt its popularity this way or the other both in the western and eastern parts of the country because of the disparity in, or contradicting, expectations.


It is in the best interest of the AKP – and even if it is for a temporary period – to see separatist violence subsiding down and for that purpose engage in "talks" aimed to achieve such a result. After all that is what political pragmatism and opportunism requires and AKP has proved repeatedly over the years its excellence in that. Yet as any "concrete move" that might cater to the "least marginal" or "most innocent "demand of the separatist group or its allies in politics and media would ignite a serious nationalist backlash among the patriotic or nationalist opponents, it would be suicidal for the AKP to engage in any such concrete action.


Thus, the political flank of the PKK, that is the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, has been engaging in all kinds of "oddities" by trying to make best use of the "negotiations process" to promote its political demands, headed by those related to education in the Kurdish language or use of Kurdish language in courts or even in parliament. BDP is just spoiling the plans of the AKP…


The wisest for AKP was to place the Kurdish opening on hold until after the polls and that's what the government has exactly done… Placing it on hold is just a conjectural requirement and should not be considered as a demonstration of decreased "enthusiasm" in the AKP over the issue – even though no one in the AKP, including the prime minister, exactly knows what the opening planned by some across the Atlantic people would eventually entail.


On the other hand, the headscarf, headscarf, Islamist head gear or however it might be described, was not, is not, and will not be an issue that AKP will ever resolve anyhow. Headscarf is more than being just a one square big piece of fabric for the ruling AKP. Headscarf, with intentional and pre-planned moves, has been converted into a flag of political Islam through a process that started back in mid 1960s. Yet, until the 1980 coup banned it from universities, there was no such serious headscarf or headscarf problem in this country.


A resolution to this problem, obviously, requires restoration of normalcy in the national perception of that one meter square piece of cloth, that is to downgrade it from the flag of political Islam into a piece of cloth some women use to cover their heads in line with their religious beliefs. How could we achieve that? Of course any resolution effort should start from depoliticizing the issue or stopping political exploitation of the issue.


The AKP executives, who have been grossly exploiting the headscarf issue not only during its eight or more years in existence of AKP but also all through their political involvement in various political parties of the political Islam, would not want to see a resolution of the problem as it would become impossible for them to exploit the issue and ask from the people at each and every election to bring them stronger to parliament so that they can resolve the problem "god willing" this time.


While AKP executives will try to remain deathly silent on separatist terrorism, talks with the chief or Kurdish demands until the elections are over, the headscarf issue should be expected to be further agitated as the polling date draws closer.


In the mean time, what excuse the AKP will find to distribution of free coal in the middle of summer will be rather interesting as polls are to be held in June and AKP has made it a habit to exchange votes with packs of free coal…







 The bill approved by the federal cabinet for an increase in tax collection through the Reformed General Sales Tax Bill and a one-time "flood tax" of ten per cent for six months on those with an annual income of more than Rs300, 000 will place a further burden on millions of people – most of whom are already bent over under the oppressive weight of inflation. The uniform rate of 15 per cent is to be charged on all items and GST extended to some sectors that were previously exempt. In real terms, this will mean a further increase after Jan 1, 2011, on some items, with sugar for example currently subject to eight per cent GST. The government has also approved a GST on services – bringing it up against two provinces, Punjab and Sindh, which themselves have sought to collect sales tax on a number of services. The conflict that may result will only add to political instability. Why did a broader process of consultation and consensus-building not precede the announcement of the new taxes?


It appears the government wishes to bulldoze the bill through parliament as swiftly as possible – perhaps hoping to stifle debate and discussion. It should be aware that this may not happen. Anger is being widely expressed in many places. While Finance Minister Hafeez Shaikh has said the cost of items of everyday use will not go up, the fact is that the tax burden on people through the GST imposition will increase markedly. Meanwhile, a clash with at least some coalition partners over the matter seems likely. As for the flood tax, the government says this is necessary to undertake rebuilding work in the flood-affected areas. Certainly, the victims of the catastrophe deserve help. But rather than putting so enormous a strain on people who have little and are already heavily taxed, funds could have been raised through tough austerity measures and cuts in lavish government spending. Visitors from outside the country who came to assist with flood relief have commented on the lavish banquets and elaborate spending seen in Islamabad, at a time when there is so much misery in the country. The new tax measures will only make matters harder for millions of people who continue to be mercilessly squeezed by a government that apparently cares little for their welfare and has no compunctions about adding to their pain.






Much food for thought is provided by the recent attacks on the Jang Group by PPP parliamentarians. The Jang Group has now filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking relief against those who made the accusations. These accusations are of particular gravity as they suggest that journalists of the Jang Group are acting as agents for India, the CIA and Mossad. It has been further alleged that an Indian business group has shares in Geo TV. Many of these accusations were made from the floor of the assemblies and lead to the question as to what privileges may be available to members of the assemblies in terms of what they may or may not say and their liability for their utterances. Long have our politicians flung unsubstantiated allegations around the floors of our legislatures. So long that perhaps we have come to think that they are immune from redress. That may not be the case as Article 66 of the Constitution makes clear for parliament and the Senate. It is less clear on the provincial assemblies though one would expect it to 'read across' to them. Whilst on the one hand Article 66 says 'no member shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament' – on the other hand it says that in cases of slander and libel an MP is accountable to the law as other citizens.

The question at issue then is around the substantiation of the accusations made by parliamentarians and MPAs. If they are found to be baseless then it would appear that those statements are slanderous (where spoken) and libellous (where published) and that those uttering them liable for civil prosecution as they are not protected by parliamentary immunity. We live in a society where irresponsible allegations cost lives every day – be they of infidelity, blasphemy or any other matter that might fire the imagination of an easily-roused mob. To make unsubstantiated allegations of acts which are treasonable is irresponsibility of the highest order, but indicative of both the calibre and the moral poverty of those making them. We would caution our elected representatives to engage their brains before they open their mouths – though we suspect that the axiom 'you can take the boy out of the village but you can't take the village out of the boy' is more likely to hold true.







We have heard a rather shocking revelation from former prime minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali. He has said that during his tenure as president, General Pervez Musharraf had expressed a desire to have his own portrait printed on currency notes, in place of the Founder of the Nation. If this piece of information is accurate, it exposes the extent of the egotism of leaders and their desire to project themselves above all else. In a way such desires are comic but they also disclose a disturbing reality which, to an extent, has acted to determine the kind of state Pakistan has evolved into. Too often it has fallen into the hands of megalomaniac rulers whose only interest lay in expanding their own power, even if that came at the cost of national welfare. We saw this on more than one occasion during the Musharraf regime whose deeds are now being further exposed as more and more people speak out.

But accumulation of power, refusal to listen to sensible advice and elevation of self above the law continue. Many of our leaders and rulers today are guilty of exactly these vices. Their obsession with themselves deprives people of good governance and of a leadership that can put their concerns ahead of everything else. This does not augur well. We need a leadership that is less steeped in arrogance and more willing to consider national needs the true priority rather than live in a world of fantasy that does not exist outside of dreams. 







We're getting our fill of morbidity: taxes and inflation, the mess of governance, the national caravan (as usual) lost in the desert. All these factors are contributing to this state of mind. And a sugar mafia holding to ransom the vaunted fortress of Islam. This last is really funny, the essence of the new comedy in which we are stuck: the Republic with all its high pretensions helpless before such a mob.

Al Capone at least was bootlegging whisky during America's brief flirtation with piety and Prohibition. Americans being hooked on whisky, whether smuggled or not, Prohibition couldn't last and the sinners won a signal victory when it was finally repealed by Congress (and not a moment too soon). But look at our national priorities. Our masses are hooked on sugar and tea. Can there be any hope for a nation with such addictions?
Respected Malik Sahib, my spiritual counsellor who for a price is the purveyor of spiritual solace, accuses the Islamabad police of creating an artificial shortage of the stuff about which the poets sing, by conducting unconscionable raids on warehouses and the like. We'll never sort out our preferences. When times are bad, as they undoubtedly are at present, does it make any sense to constrict the frontiers of spiritual consolation?
Still, the question to be asked is, why are we held to ransom so easily? If it is not the Taliban doing this to us, it is the sugar mafia. If not Afghanistan, then India. If not our hopes, then our fears. So it goes on. Comes mostly from a poverty of imagination, or a poverty of circumstances.

We've dealt with our hopes, effectively burying them. Our fears we have yet to master. Will we never learn to view India as a normal country? We will have our differences with it but there should be a line between that and paranoia. In the transit-trade agreement we have just signed (under US prodding), relating to trade with India and Afghanistan, we were so concerned about not giving any advantage to India that we closed our eyes to the fact that it was Afghanistan which ended up screwing us.

We've given Afghanistan the right to use their own trucks to transport goods from Karachi to the Afghan border, without weighing the cost of this generosity to our own trucking industry. And this without so much as a by-your-leave from our vigilant parliament. Most Pakistanis remain clueless about what this transit-trade agreement means.

India with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council – still a remote prospect, even if President Obama dangled it before his Indian hosts – will not be a comforting thing for us. Sharing the same space with an elephant is never an easy experience. But why must we always be shrill and loud when it comes to India? Why can't we be a bit more laidback and subtle and, yes, a bit more confident in our dealings with it?
The people of Pakistan have grown up. They are not obsessed by any real or imaginary threat from India. The "Crush India" slogan popular in the run-up to the 1971 war is a thing of the past. But the army high command, the fountainhead of all our strategic notions, such as they are, continues to live in the past. For it the enemy is still India. All its operational planning relates to this threat. Which is fine, because armies must prepare for all possibilities and eventualities. But in evaluating a situation dispassionately and allowing the same situation to ride one's nerves and psychology there is a world of difference.

Pakistan is not the only image to loom on India's radar screen. India has other concerns. Why must India, and things related to it, occupy most of Pakistan's radar space? Doesn't the army command realise that we are living too much in India's shadow? There should be more to our national existence than a single obsession.
Of course things have changed for the better. Once upon a time, and this was not too long ago either, the army command and its intelligence agencies, ISI and MI, claimed a monopoly of wisdom. Gen Musharraf's one great service to the nation lay in the blunders he committed. Gone forever, as a consequence, was the holy cow status of the generals in command. Gone also was any notion of infallibility.

Still, the army remains the country's most powerful institution. Not the fount of omniscience that it earlier claimed to be but, all the same, the ultimate source of power, a phenomenon more than magnified by political incompetence, corruption and general inadequacy. With a president like Zardari, a prime minister like Gilani, and an assortment of clowns and jokers occupying other high offices, the army hasn't had to struggle to expand its sphere of influence. Almost by a process of osmosis, power has shifted more and more in its direction since the last elections, making its voice and opinion the most decisive when it comes to foreign policy and security matters. If ambassadors and foreign visitors make it a point to call on the army chief, we should not be surprised. They will always follow the scent and trail of real power.

So, given its preponderant influence, and given also the weakness of the political parties, the army has to grow up if Pakistan is to shed the many signs of immaturity which it keeps displaying almost as a regular feature of national existence. Hence the paradox we face as a nation: for the frontiers of national maturity to grow and expand, the frontiers of national security must shrink. With the army in command, and political effectiveness in retreat, Pakistan will find it difficult to break free from the straitjacket of limited ideas of which it finds itself a prisoner.

Having an eye on the future of Afghanistan...a laudable ambition but one more credibly pursued if we could first learn how to fix Pakistan. We are forgetting our Afghan history. A hostile Afghanistan under Zahir Shah and then Daud never did us any harm, not even on the two occasions, in 1965 and 1971 when we found ourselves at war with India. Afghan propaganda was directed at us and Kabul would try to bribe the frontier tribes to sow hostility towards Pakistan. But this was small change compared to what has come our way, the devastation we have invited upon ourselves by stoking the fires of Afghanistan and in wanting pro-Pakistani dispensations established in Kabul.

From 1979 on, our Afghan policy has been an unmitigated disaster. Because of this policy we have managed to turn our country into a battlefield. Our religious wars, our sectarian strife, the space gained by the Taliban in Waziristan and other parts of FATA, the rise of extremism in Pakistan, the loss of tolerance, the growing hegemony of hate – are all related, in some measure or the other, to the brilliance of our Afghan policy.
And we are still not finished with it. To listen to Gen Kayani and his concerns about India exercising undue influence in Afghanistan is to receive an education in misplaced priorities. The thing to worry about is Pakistan. The demons to be exorcised, the ghosts to be vanquished, the battles to be fought are those relating to our internal condition.

We are in a mess, not just economically but strategically. Our American alliance is a loss-making endeavour, Pakistan sacrificing too much and getting too little in return. The Kerry-Lugar enterprise will enrich some NGOs and make some contractors fat. The rest, for the most part, is illusion. The strategic dialogue is about American strategy and Pakistani compliance. But we are enamoured of the word strategy and will swallow any pill coated with its colours.

The next two years are going to be tough, involving economic hard times and political uncertainty. And a clueless government trying to make its way through these stormy seas. But we must persist and hope for the best. Although it would help if, instead of tilting at windmills, we cut our losses and started concentrating on essentials. This has been an over-extended state. We need to draw our claws in.








 Living in Pakistan is not all despair; there is a funny side to it too. To break the tedium of people's daily struggle to survive, in the mayhem that prevails in the absence of anything resembling governance, there are entertaining, almost comical, distractions provided by the architects of national despair – the politicians 
The two most recent distractions of this kind are Law Minister Babar Awan's vehicle being halted by soldiers, and made to wait, until their chief's motorcade went through; and Marvi Memon thrown out, bag and baggage, of her parliament lodge, by two parliamentary colleagues from Balochistan, Babar Awan – he of the dubious "doctorate" who can blatantly disregard the Supreme Court's invalidation of the NRO, who flies to the country's bar councils to rain money on them literally, who is said to have billed the Bank of Punjab under a two-way arrangement; one for legal services and the other for getting a favourable judgment, who had the decency to stop when his car hit the Sialkot Nazim – Babar Awan, of all these accomplishments, froze in his tracks when a soldier raised his finger. When the law minister's driver gathered the courage to keep moving, the soldier raised his gun instead of his finger, and that did the trick. 

Babar Awan's run-in with the soldiers was hugely enjoyed by people. Serves him right, was the common sentiment. People are sick and tired of being treated by the police when a VVIP/VIP cavalcade goes by, the same way as Babar Awan was treated by the soldiers. Now that the law minister has had a taste of the medicine dished out by his party's regime to people on our roads, he can begin to ponder how an element of sanity can be brought into VVIP and VIP movements.

MNA Marvi Memon has not stopped screaming since being evicted from a parliamentary lodge by Senators Jan Jamali, the deputy chairman of the Senate, and Humayun Khan. The parliamentarians' fighting over accommodation has been a cause of considerable mirth. Also of some disgust, that so much time should be spent, and vitriol spewed, over a matter they should be well over, and have little time for if they were doing their job as lawmakers. 

The politicians' grappling with the Supreme Court's invalidation of the NRO and the matter of their fake degrees – if it were not for their damaging consequence to the country's polity, these would be the two most comical situations. The invalidated NRO hangs like the sword of Damocles over the heads of many politicians, particularly the president. The minister of law, the redoubtable Dr Awan, has little time for anything except finding ways around the Supreme Court order for the government to write to Swiss courts, asking them to reopen the corruption cases against President Zardari.

The country's high commissioner in London is dubbed as Zardari's personal "baggage master" – that is, when he is not issuing visas to makeup girls from Mac cosmetics to travel to Pakistan to do bridal makeup at some VVIP wedding. He has that nickname because he is moving trunks full of papers from Geneva to London, and wherever else, so that they do not land in the "wrong place" at the "wrong time". The "Wrong place" perhaps means the courts of law, where the corruption cases against the president are most likely to be opened. 
How much of the president's time, and that of his key factotums, is spent in dodging court orders on the NRO is not known. But since nothing else of any worth gets done anyway, conjuring excuses and taking evasive actions on the court's order must consume most of the time. 

The politicians' attitude towards the fake degrees, which they formally submitted to the Election Commission of Pakistan together with their nomination papers, was exemplified by the chief minister of Balochistan when he calmly stated: "A degree is a degree, real or fake." The ministry of education, whose minister was suspended for a while by the ECP for not declaring his assets, is acting for the president to kill the issue, since most of the fraudsters with fake degrees are from the PPP. The apex court has ruled against the fraudsters being allowed to complete their terms but, like the NRO, this issue under the manipulations of the president's legal eagles, is headed for a long journey nowhere. 
If the court orders on the NRO and the fake degrees are implemented, the National and Provincial Assemblies will become heavily depopulated. At the same time, the prison population will register a sharp increase. Politically, it could be curtains for the PPP, not because the PML-N and other parties are made up of angels, but because the NRO is strictly PPP-specific. Almost all the NRO's beneficiaries are from the PPP, so it is they who will be the targets of its invalidation.

Corruption in Pakistan is well-recognised the world over. The country has been rated higher in world rankings in this than in any other field. The corrupt are everywhere, including in the ministry supposedly safeguarding religion against evil. This year the Hajis (haj pilgrims), and a Saudi prince with them, got taken like never before. The ministry, and its Haj directorate at the embassy in Riyadh, may be laughing all the way to the bank, but the people are not amused. 

And, as if the politicians alone cannot be burdened with the task of providing entertaining distractions, the co-chairman of the ruling party – who is also the president of the country – has selectively placed his nominees in government and quasi-governmental institutions so that they can supplement the politicians' efforts. One such presidential nominee is the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board. The chairman's tomfoolery with the media, when the Pakistani team got caught in the "spot fixing" scandal, in what's funny in itself – this "home series" against Australia, in England – was great entertainment for cricket fans worldwide and kept the scandal, and Pakistan, as the lead story in the cricket world's media for a long time. 

If the Pakistani team could not provide entertaining cricket in the field, the PCB and its chairman more than made up for it off the field. The PCB chairman had to apologise to the England Cricket Board for his reckless remarks, and he had to eat crow in the on-going "home series" against South Africa (in Abu Dhabi and Dubai) by having to include Mohammed Yusuf and Mohammed Yunus, two players whose careers he was determined, and did his utmost, to end. Then the team's wicketkeeper legged it to London despite the PCB's "strict policy" of "zero tolerance" for player-indiscipline. 

This and not a small collection of such mirthful happenings in the PCB would surely earn its chairman an Oscar, if there were one for comical off-field performance in cricket.

The writer is former corporate executive. Email:








 When the prime minister recently declared the nationalisation of educational institutions in the 1970s by the first PPP government a mistake, besides left-oriented civil and political groups, some of the party's old guard, supporters and workers also rejected his statement. In Lahore, they took out a rally to criticise him and announced that this was his personal view. 

Here you have a political party whose workers believe in social democracy and most economic managers it employs are neo-liberal. The biggest challenge today for the ruling party is to be able to create a coherent vision and draw out defined policies in all spheres of national life. 

Due to state failure and a total subscription to policies of deregulation and privatisation over the last two decades, notwithstanding which military or civilian regime was in power, private educational institutions today have a much bigger role and stake at all levels. 

At the higher level, with some considerable exceptions like the Aga Khan University and Lahore University of Management Sciences, the barons of the higher education industry are no less than sugar barons. Except that their unbridled pursuit for profit and the subsequent damage caused to a common citizen is not reflected in the daily fluctuating retail prices. The quality of infrastructure, teaching and training in many of the higher and tertiary level private institutions is producing graduates and professionals of exceptionally low worth. 
It seems the state has not only given up on its primary responsibility of provision of basic services but is also not interested in regulation and quality assurance in favour of people in general and marginalised in particular. But how would they regulate if regulatory bodies are either taken over by the rich and powerful themselves or they are bribed or coerced into favouring elite commercial interests. 

One such glaring example is private medical education in the country. You could see the deterioration of both skill and values among the practitioners of this noble profession already but envisioning the state of healthcare system and those running it a few years from now is even more dreadful. It is about people's lives but those at the helm of affairs in the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) are least bothered. 
The PMDC is a statutory, regulatory and registering authority for medical education and its practitioners. It is increasingly criticised by senior medical professionals including the independent, representative body of doctors, the Pakistan Medical Association, for alleged corrupt practices and irregularities in mass recognition of private medical colleges in violation of the stated criteria, the registration of fresh medical graduates and issuance of eligibility certificates to those graduating from below par foreign institutions. 

A landmark Supreme Court judgement in this regard announced by an open court on December 15, 2006, can be referred to. In the last paragraph of the detailed judgement, it is said, "The Federal Ministry of Health, Government of Pakistan, is directed to ensure that the mandate of the Pakistan Medical & Dental Council Ordinance, 1962 and Medical & Dental Degrees Ordinance, 1982 is given effect to in letter and spirit and any violation of these laws are met with penal consequences as envisaged under the law." 

Ironically, rather than putting the house in order by restructuring the PMDC, charges of one kind or the other are continuously pressed against Dr Sohail Karim Hashmi, the Secretary PMDC, someone known for not bowing to pressure and protecting the nobility of this profession. It is about time that the prime minister himself looks into the affairs of the Council.

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, political analyst and advisor on public policy. Email:







 I wanted to devote this "Quantum note" to the thousands of men, women, and children now on their way to the House of Allah, all chanting the four-thousand-year-old Abrahamic response to the urgent invitation of their Lord: Labayk, Allahumma Labyak, here I am, here I am, at Thy service (or) our Lord, here I am, You have no partner, indeed, all thanks and praise belongs to You, You have no partner. 

Instead, I find myself in Tirana, Albania, in the midst of men and women celebrating the signing of a trivial ceremony which frees Albanians from the necessity of obtaining visas to travel to countries of the European Union – a political deal that many see as the first step to their full-fledged entry into the EU.

Yet, it was neither the colourful signs nor the creative billboards and posters that hang all around the city in celebration of this self-inflicted pride and victory of sorts, but a terrible symbol of their submission to tyranny that took away the joy of writing about the aspirations and goals of those pilgrims who are now arriving in the land where they hope to revive their spiritual lives.

And it happened unexpectedly: I was walking towards the only mosque in Tirana that stands from the Ottoman era, when I noticed that the road on which I was walking is named after the man who had reiterated just a day before that if he had a chance again, he would once again bomb thousands of lives out of existence in Iraq: George W Bush Street in the heart of Tirana is yet another facet of Muslims in this fourteen hundred and thirty-first year of the hijra of the Prophet from his beloved city.

Albania, where over 70 per cent people profess Islam to be their religion, is technically no more behind an iron curtain, but wherever one goes, devastation of another kind is visible: the stigma of being Muslim. 

Islam and Muslims are nothing but faces of humiliation that one must not wear in public and if one has to admit one's religion, better do it quietly, inside the secure walls of one's home. The "in thing" is to be as chic as possible and of course, look towards Europe, even if it means selling one's soul!

It would be hard to know how many people have any realistic idea of the deeds of that man called George W Bush. The name kept appearing at every intersection as I walked, and given their lack of access to English, I know not if many would even have known what he has written in his just-published autobiography, Decision Point. 

Yet, there is no escaping the fact that the man whose name is visible on this main road in Tirana is not going to leave the Albanian mind, even though he himself has now admitted "mistakes over Iraq", while shamelessly insisting that "it was the right thing to do". Bush also defends the Guantánamo Bay detention centre and the use of torture! So much for living in the twenty-first century.

Yet, it is not just Iraq and Afghanistan, it is the disclosures about the simmering new world conflict that is bound to produce a bundle of money for the ex-president: Iran. 

And it so happened that my walking companion on this damp winter evening was a man from Iran known for his learning and insight. 

We had just been talking about the ever-worsening Iran situation. By all accounts, Iran stands at a threshold of internal and external calamities and thus Bush's disclosures about Iran appeared ominous. He considered bombing Iran and Syria and he repeats the US stand: "One thing is certain. The United States should never allow Iran to threaten the world with a nuclear bomb."

Yet, it is not Bush's book that is worrisome in Iran's case. It is the simmering internal volcano of Iran that is the most troublesome aspect for all who understand the geo-political implications of the internal collapse of a country that regained a certain degree of respect and strength through an Islamic revolution of a unique kind. And where, that same revolution now seems to have run its course and given birth to a widespread disillusionment, leading to secularisation of the Iranian youth. 

It was not just what my companion was saying about the Iranian situation that evoked this gloomy state; I had experienced the discontent in Iran first-hand on two of my recent trips. 

As is mostly the case with such situations, it is the increasing self-centredness of Ahmadinejad and a certain combination of power politics that is now threatening all gains of the Iranian Revolution. And of course those who wish harm for Iran are exploiting this internal bickering to full measure.

To be sure, Muslims all over the world in this troublesome fifteenth century of their existence are beset with internal and external problems of such mega-proportions that to see the beautiful faces of young Albanians in that historic mosque was a real joy and comfort for a heart rent asunder on this gloomy wet winter night. 

The looming scenarios of wars, conflicts, and bloodbaths receded from the consciousness as the young Imam led us into the serenity of the night prayer with his extraordinary recitation of a surah that shakes initiated hearts: Suratul Balad.

The mosque was almost full with extremely old and young Albanians. These young Albanians, who have rediscovered the beauty of their religion, are unlike young men and women one finds in the traditional lands of Islam. 

These are assertive, serious, pious men and women who know what they believe and why they believe. Many have chosen to grow beards and wear hijab. They understand the harsh realities of these aweful times and yet remain full of certitude. In their certitude and strength of faith one finds glimmers of hope and joy. 

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:








 Some rituals are particularly meaningless. The US ambassador is "summoned" to the Foreign Office to be told of Pakistan's unhappiness at American support for India's Security Council bid. Both sides know of the futility of this routine, but it has to be gone through, and it is.

We can make much of what happened during President Obama's visit to India, and we are doing that. The politicians and the "commentariat" have taken umbrage particularly on the Security Council question. While it is unlikely to happen soon, it is something that is exercising us the most.

At one level, it is indeed a failure of Pakistani diplomacy that we have not been able to leverage our position in the Afghan theatre to stop the US from publicly supporting India's bid for global-power status. But, on another plane, the so-called American tilt is a simple recognition of India's growing international importance, and there is not much Pakistan can do about it. 

While fully within our rights to ritually protest some of the outcomes, we have no choice but to understand the games being played for global supremacy, and where India and Pakistan fit into these. If we go beyond emotions and correctly analyse the dynamics, we can still leverage our strategic position to our advantage.

A bit of history. For a long time, Pakistan was successful in twinning India by constantly getting into shouting matches with it internationally. India fell into this trap again and again, and the two countries became a single-issue, Kashmir-related, global partnership. 

This prompted global powers to seek a degree of balance in their relationship between the two. This was a major success for Pakistan because its tactics nullified the huge disparity in size and population that always made India a weightier international presence. 

Other factors helped too. Indian economy was a virtually closed shop, and foreign investment was actually discouraged. This did not make India a particularly interesting place for foreign businesses. And in the climate of the Cold War, India pushed non-alignment. This translated into a close relationship with the-then Soviet Union, a prospect not liked by the West.

All of that has now changed. India's growing economy, and a large middle class with a huge purchasing power, has become a mouth-watering prospect for Western multinationals. India has also created a reasonably good investment climate, prompting foreign companies to stake out a presence in the Indian market. Close economic ties is a potent bond and India is cognisant of it. 

On the security front too, India has been able to leverage its growing military power as a possible bulwark against Chinese dominance of the region. Although there is no comparison between the two, with China's economic and military power vastly superior to India's. But, for a West increasingly fearful of China, there is little choice but to build India up as a possible counterweight.

It should therefore come as no surprise that successive American presidents have sought to build a very close relationship with India. If the rhetoric used by Clinton, Bush and Obama in visits spread out over a ten-year period is compared, there is very little difference in style or substance. It is a recognition, that the US sees India as a major Asian nation whose values and security perspectives are closely proximate to its own.
While the US and India are tangoing together, where does Pakistan fit in? It has an important strategic value for the US, but within a narrow beam. The economic relationship between the two, while very important to Pakistan, does not have a major bearing for American businesses. Not only are we a smaller market, doing business here has serious security hurdles.

On the global strategic front too, we have our own priorities not in sync with the Americans. For example, Pakistan has a close relationship with China and sees it as a major security partner. This rules out any possible role that the US security interests may have for Pakistan vis-a-vis China. Even on Iran, which the US is close to taking on militarily, Pakistan is unlikely to stand by it, despite Shah Mahmood Qureshi's intemperate remarks about Iran's nuclear programme. 

If this is the situation, why does the US continue to engage with Pakistan and support it with aid and assistance? Keeping aside whatever prejudices we have, we must recognise that without American help we would have serious problems in getting IMF and World Bank assistance. And direct US aid has been very helpful too, especially on the military side.

The obvious reason for this support is Afghanistan, but there is more to it. On the Afghan front, we keep a vital supply open and have played some role in keeping the militants in check on our side. The Americans want us to do more, but recognise that without Pakistan's help their troubles in Afghanistan would be much greater.


Pakistan also has an emerging role in Afghanistan where it can play an important part in facilitating dialogue with the Taliban. 

While all of these issues are important, on a broader level the US worries about Pakistan's nuclear programme and the danger of it falling into radical hands in case of serious state failure. One can argue that this theory has Israeli sponsorship and that there is no such danger but, whatever the impetus, it is something that concerns the Americans.
According to conspiracy theories, the Americans are looking for an opportunity to militarily take control of Pakistan's nuclear programme. This is what the US has publicly stated, but only in case of serious state failure. In the meantime, it is visibly trying to bolster the Pakistani military and the state to ensure that radicals get nowhere near the Bomb. 

Besides the Bomb, the US and the West have other concerns too, which keep them focused on Pakistan. They deeply worry about the growth of radicalism in Pakistan. This is more than just an intellectual question for them, because they seriously fear attacks on their soil from Pakistan-based radicals. The Faisal Shehzad episode just added another piece of evidence to this concern. And add to this the fact that the US believes Al Qaeda and its leadership are ensconced in the Pak-Afghan tribal regions. 

A quick narration of factors that keep the US interested in Pakistan show a remarkable degree of negative trigger points. While India is an economic partner, Pakistan's economy needs to be given constant transfusions. While India is a strategic ally against China, Pakistan is not, but can be cajoled into cooperating in Afghanistan. There is no terror threat from India, but there is from elements in Pakistan. 

Not a pretty picture. But instead wringing our hands at what Obama has done in India, we need to deeply analyse our assets and liabilities and then work hard at improving the positives. There is still space to further our economic and security interests, provided we get our domestic act together. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a whole new can of worms.








THE cat is finally out of the bag. The draft of the Reformed General Sales Tax (RGST), approved by the Federal Cabinet in its meeting on Wednesday, has turned out to be the originally Value Added Tax (VAT) that was opposed tooth and nail by all stakeholders. The RGST is proposed to be applicable across the board @15% while the Federal Excise Duty is to be increased by hundred per cent. In addition, salaried class, which is already heavily taxed and living in virtual hand-to-mouth conditions because of steep rise in prices of almost all commodities will have to pay 10% more income tax for six months that would virtually be equivalent to about one month's basic pay.

The sharp reaction, across the country, to the proposed new taxation is quite understandable, as the Government has resorted to the same old hackneyed approach of adding burden to the already crushed segments of the society. True, the Government needs additional resources to cope with the consequences of the devastating floods that played havoc with the economy but one had not expected this much taxation from Dr Hafeez Sheikh, who otherwise enjoys good reputation as a thorough professional. There was universal demand for taxing sacred cows in the agriculture sector, property mafia and those minting millions in stock business but regrettably they have been spared. The Government can add several hundred billions in tax receipts if a genuine campaign is launched to make the rich pay their due taxes and plugging loopholes in the system but the easiest way of increasing taxes and rates of petroleum products is being adopted. Food inflation is touching new heights and purchasing power of the people especially those of the fixed income groups have eroded to a great extent but the Government is treading the beaten path. Instead of going for the traditional myopic approach, the authorities should find, what is being described, out of box innovative solutions. The RGST is now to be presented in the National Assembly where the main Opposition Party PML(N) had already declared that it will not support addition of new taxes. Similarly, MQM leader Altaf Hussain too has asked the Government not to implement the RGST. We, therefore, hope that a meaningful debate would be held in the National Assembly and instead of taxing the common man further, a way would be found to get more from those who have the capacity to pay.








IN one of the rare moves, the Federal Cabinet on Wednesday, passed a resolution expressing its serious concern and strong disappointment over the decision of the United States to support a permanent seat for India in the UN Security Council. It pointed out that the move has grave ramifications for the direction and prospects of the system of multilateral cooperation as envisaged by the founding fathers of UN Charter.

The Cabinet has, indeed, reflected sentiments of people of Pakistan, who are unanimous in condemning the decision of the United States to back Indian designs in furtherance of establishing its hegemony in the region and beyond. Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Ch Nisar Ali Khan has rightly pointed out that it is a diplomatic assault on Pakistan, which is staunchest of the allies of the United States offering immense sacrifices in the war on terror. It is regrettable that the United States did not think it appropriate to take Pakistan into confidence before announcing a decision that would have far-reaching implications for the country. President Obama took principled positions on a number of issues during his Indian visit but this single move has washed away positive impact of all those gestures. We feel sorry to point out that the US President has lost moral grounds in announcing a move that would open a flood gate of controversies vis-à-vis UN reforms. Instead of moving towards consensus building, the American President has preferred to sow seeds of discords by supporting designs of those who are posing threats to regional and global peace. Inclusion of countries like India in the Security Council as its permanent member would be negation of the very principles for which the UNSC was created, as it would politicise this vital organ of the world body entrusted with the responsibility of promoting peace and security.







PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari has underlined the need for expediting Thar Coal Gasification by removing the bottlenecks and holding regular review of the progress. Whiel talking to Chairman Board of Governors of Thar Coal Gasification Dr Samar Mubarakmand, the President assured that difficulties in the way of utilization of Thar Coal would be removed to accomplish the task within stipulated time. 

The project, 'Creation of New Processing Facilities for handling and purification of Coal Gas (HPCG) produced by underground coal gasification' was approved in the CDWP meeting held on April 30, 2009. The aim of the project was to create new processing facility for handling and purification of coal gas produced by underground coal gasification located in Tharparkar. For energy starved Pakistan, Thar Coal could play a pivotal role in overcoming the energy crisis, both in long and short-term. Thar Lignite Coal reserves, spread over 9,600 square-kilometres, are 175 billion tonnes with power generation potential of 100,000MW consuming 536 million tonnes a year. So the development of the Thar Coal is the only viable long-term solution for meeting energy demands of the country. The way out of the present dismal scenario is to convert the existing power generation units from furnace oil to coal gas, which is produced through surface coal gasification plants. Proven technology is available for coal gasification and several thousand megawatts energy is being derived in Russia, Central Asian States, Europe, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, China and South Africa from underground coal gasification (UCG). At a recently held meeting of Thar Coal Energy Board Dr Samar Mubarakmand shared the progress on UCG project in Thar Block V and stated that by March, 2011 production of gas from the field would start. Gasification, in fact, may be one of the best ways to produce clean-burning hydrogen for tomorrow's automobiles and power-generating fuel cells. Once successfully experimented, the scope of the project could be broadened to cover coal deposits in the Punjab, KP, Balochistan, FATA, NAs and AJK. We would, therefore impress upon the President to take personal interest in the project and ensure availability of all the resources to expedite the work for energy security and that would be his great service to the country.









During the first two years of Barack Obama's presidential term, "Billary" ( Bill and Hillary Clinton) has been his motto. More than 90% of his policies, and his staff - those not Republican -come from the ranks of those who supported Hillary Clinton and husband Bill in their personal attacks on the charismatic African-American who overshadowed them. Within his administration, he formidable trio of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke saw India as a troublesome country that ought to be told to behave (in other words, accept US diktat) before being given any concessions. Their condescension towards India was in contrast to the stand taken by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who backed Indian independence even while Winston Churchill said that the "Hindoos were a beastly people" who do not deserve freedom.Of course, Churchill believed that Muslims too ought to remain British subjects for eternity. President Roosevelt (and his idealistic spouse Eleanor) disagreed, pointing out that the Atlantic Charter to which both the UK and the US was committed stood for freedom. Of course, Churchill's reply was that only those of European origin deserved to be free. The rest should remain in the same way as several European peoples were under the occupation of Hitler-led Germany. 

Although they pass themselves off as "liberals", there is a subliminal prejudice beneath the "tolerant"l veneer of several of the East Coast intellectuals who form the bulk of the Clinton cohort. They are people who would like to freeze "primitive" societies into their present lifestyles, the way anthropologist Verrier Elwin got Jawaharlal Nehru to do to the North-east. Because of Nehru's policies, the Northeast of India was denied development, so that "the people may continue in their pristine way". Even today, the standard of roads and other infrastructure in that region is way below that of other parts of India. While George W Bush embraced multiculturalism - especially as it related to the vibrant Hispanic community - Bill Clinton sought to impose solutions on the rest of the world in partnership with Europe. To the Talbotts and the Holbrookes, the only way a country can be a "responsible stakeholder" is if it accepted the US-EU position on all major issues. Small wonder that many were sceptical of the faith of Manmohan Singh that President Obama would not come to India empty-handed, but would announce several major agreements in a Rooseveltian spirit.

On November 9, Barack Obama proved the PM right by moving decisively away from the Clinton straitjacket into a Rooseveltian view of India. He accepted India's case for being made a permanent member of the UN Security Council, thus leaving only China as the sole Great Power that opposes Indian entry into this club. He removed India from a list that included North Korea and Iran, nd placed the country alongside Germany and Japan for purposes of technology transfer. Of course, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke can be expected to do all they can to stall the implementation of these promises. Secretary Gates is a strong backer of Pakistan's army, and has filled the South Asia bureaucracy within the Pentagon with people hostile to India and looking to Pakistan, while Secretary Locke looks to China rather than to India for partnership. However, it looks like their boss has finally freed himself of the Clinton succubus that had hobbled him since taking office in 2009.

Manmohan Singh took an immense gamble on the Obama visit. Had the US President's three days in India not been as transformational was they were, the many knives inside the Congress Party for Manmohan Singh would have got sharper. There were murmurs of his "pro-Americanism" and his "softness", including towards Pakistan. The fashionable homes of Delhi and Mumbai have seen gusts of rumours that Sonia Gandhi will ask the PM to step down before the middle of 2011,replacing him with a person closer to the Cold War mindset favoured by the Nehruvians. Now that he has established his legacy by crafting a healthy partnership between India and the US, will Manmohan Singh be able to deliver on the second legacy that he and his small bit dedicated team are seeking to achieve, that of tackling the governmental corruption which is corroding the vitals of the country? It is no secret that the Congress Party has become a vast collection machine, with bagfuls of cash being sent by chief ministers and other party functionaries to satisfy the greed of VVIPs.

Now that he has established a close relationship with Barack Obama, hopefully Prime Minister Singh will ask him for help in tracking the money flows out of India into international banking havens. Just as the US (and India) seek a stable Pakistan, so too is a stable India very much in the interest of the democratic world. However, unless corruption is tackled, the country will become ungovernable. Lacking the means to track illegal money flows on their own, Indian authorities need to formally team up with the US to track down the huge hoards accumulated by Indian politicians in Dubai, Singapore, Macau and London. Once Manmohan Singh has evidence against the powerful, he needs to act fast, because the Delhi circuits are buzzing with the activity of the many who stand to lose fortunes if Manmohan Singh succeeds in his war on corruption. Already, several meetings have taken place with the intention of creating a public firestorm that could engulf the PM and cause him to quit. Having gone this far, there i no turning back for Manmohan Singh. Either he cleanses the stables, or he himself is forced to go, in ugly circumstances.

In order to succeed, the PM will need to continue to the end of his term in 2014,which is why several within his own coalition are anxious to get him to resign. They would welcome as a replacement a leader - preferably with a clean image - would who lack the bureaucratic savvy and the team to take action against VVIP corruption. Already, the Commonwealth Games committee seems to be in danger of coming up with a damp squib once its three-month term gets over in January 2011. And as for the central "anti-corruption" agencies, these are the most corrupt within the government, with their key officers taking oral orders from the many fixers and dealers who populate the higher reaches of the Congress Party. Even though her own husband lost the elections (in 1991) because of allegations of corruption, Congress President Sonia Gandhi has done little to change the systems and procedures that breed graft, preferring instead to undertake such cosmetic gestures as removing a chief minister but keeping the rest of his moneymaking team intact. Will Rahul Gandhi go the way of his mother and father and accept a "Business as Usual" approach to politics? This columnist was invited by some young members of the junior Gandhi's informal thinktank to give his views on how to get Kerala state moving again. He was struck by the dedication of the young followers of Rahul Gandhi, and by their willingness to listen to those who - to say the least - are not their political supporters. During Sonia Gandhi's six years in power, she has kept out from any association with government and its functioning all except those who are her loyal acolytes. This is in contrast to the Vajpayee government, which made it a point to involve admirers of Sonia Gandhi (and those hostile to the BJP) in its activities. Should Rahul Gandhi abandon such biases and seek help from wherever he finds it, and should he distance himself from fixers and dealers (the way he seems to be doing),then he would be a very credible Prime Ministerial candidate for 2014,especially if Manmohan Singh can clean up at least some of the present mess.

A sample of the scale of corruption in India can be seen from the Telecom scam, which involves the gifting of 2G spectrum to a few influential players at a cost of $35 billion to the Indian taxpayer. Unless the PM takes back all the spectrum licenses issued by the Department of Telecom during the 2G auction process, and sends to jail the officials and politicians involved, he will prove his critics right when they call him a paper tiger. In today's India, it is the middle class that is the single biggest electoral bloc, and this is a group that refuses to be divided by religion, caste or region. All - whether Hindu or Muslim - seek a better life for their families, and know that this is possible only of the system gets cleansed of the massive corruption that is choking it to death. Unless Manmohan Singh and his presumed successor Rahul Gandhi serves this class by ensuring a clean government that ensures double-digit growth, the Congress Party is likely to get defeated in 2014,especially if - as expected – the BJP fields Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate that year. After the hideous tragedy of the massacres of the innocent that followed the Godhra train burning in 2002, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has seen to it that not a single Muslim life has been lost since then in his fast-growing state. The result has been an increase in Muslim support for Modi, something essential if he is to be PM. The Muslims of India form a formidable bloc, and no politician can reach high office without ensuring the safety and honour of this great community.

An India-US partnership will be good for economic growth. If there is cooperation in tackling money flows, it can also be good for clean governance. Barack Obama and Manmohan Singh need to join in a new war, a War on Corruption.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India. 








India has benefitted tremendously from the visit of US President Obama's visit. Nearly all the items on the Indian wish list have been fulfilled except having Pakistan declared as a "Terrorist State". Unfortunately, most of India's projections have been based on lies and deception. The first leg of Obama's tour, which cost the US taxpayer 200 million per day on security and other arrangements, was meant to win the sympathy vote for India and have the US chastise Pakistan, which is blamed by India to be responsible for the Mumbai attacks. India also wanted to divert President Obama and the world's attention from its own atrocities in Indian-Held Kashmir. India made the US president to stay at the Taj Hotel, one of the two hotels targeted during the Mumbai attacks, visit the 26/11 memorial, and meet the survivors and relatives of the victims of the November 2008 dastardly attack. 

Let us briefly examine the Mumbai attacks and judge the magnitude of the damage and its aftereffects. The 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks often referred to as 26/11 were more than 10 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks across Mumbai, India's largest city, in which at least 173 people were killed and 308 wounded. Eight of the attacks occurred in South Mumbai: at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the Oberoi Trident, the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Leopold Cafe, Cama Hospital (a women and children's hospital), Nariman House, the Metro Cinema, and a lane behind the Times of India building and St. Xavier's College. There was also an explosion at Mazagaon, in Mumbai's port area, and in a taxi at Vile Parle. India used the attacks as a plea to suspend the Composite Dialogue process for peace with Pakistan, blaming Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and ISI. Taking a leaf from the US' action against Afghanistan, post 9/11, India contemplated surgical strikes against selected targets in Pakistan. The very first probe mission in Pakistan territory by Indian Air Force fighter aircraft, was intercepted by PAF air defence fighters, sending a clear message to India to desist from any adventurism. Seething with anger, India has been blowing the 26/11 incident out of proportion to gain world sympathy. Even a casual observer will challenge the veracity of India's claims regarding the attacks. 

To start with, it is difficult to comprehend how ten youth, who have had no naval or maritime experience, can commandeer a fishing boat, hoodwink the Indian Navy, Coast Guard and other security agencies and reach the sensitive port of Mumbai, which is also in the vicinity of Trombay, a nuclear installation, totally unchecked. The10 men came ashore in inflatable speedboats at two locations in Colaba, armed to the teeth with automatic weapons and tons of explosives. They reportedly told local Marathi-speaking fishermen who asked them who they were to "mind their own business" before they split up and headed two different ways. The fishermen's subsequent report to police received little response. 

It is also unbelievable that the alleged group, who had never set foot in Mumbai before, could reach the ten locations, unaided only with the help of Google Earth. Moreover, of the various targets, the two hotels are five star premises, where owing to the presence of VIPs, security is normally so tight that even an unauthorized pin cannot enter the location what to talk of two or more suspicious persons with a huge cache of arms. Moreover, the first casualties of the attack were Haimant Karkare and his team from Mumbai's anti-terrorist squad, who were investigating a serving Indian Army officer Lieutenant Colonel Shrikant Prasad Purohit, who was found to be involved in the Malegaon bomb blast two months earlier and was also alleged to have been responsible for the Samjhota Express inferno, in which 59 Pakistanis had been killed. 

Hardliner Hindu leaders had resented the investigation and subsequent arrest of Colonel Purohit and had issued death threats to Haimant Karkare. His widow refused to receive the gallantry award announced posthumously and a Union Minister for Minorities Affairs Abdul Rehman Antulay set off a flurry of outrage by demanding a probe into the killing of Mumbai Anti Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare, alleging a conspiracy by Hindu radicals connected to the Malegaon blast case. It is apparent that the Mumbai attack was a drama, staged, choreographed and executed by RAW with multiple aims. Firstly to eliminate Haimant Karkare, secondly to provide a pretext to terminate the peace talks between Pakistan and India and finally to blame Pakistan for the attack and launch retaliatory missions and have Pakistan declared a terrorist state and castigated by the international community.

On the other hand, only continues to occupy the Valley of Kashmir, but has launched a reign of terror, in which it has massacred more than a hundred thousand innocent Kashmiris, molested their women and destroyed their property, incarcerating its youth under trumped up charges. For President Obama to be misled by India that Kashmir is an integral part of India is pathetic for a world leader. Obama has pointed out that India does not condemn the undemocratic practice of Myanmar government, however despite receiving a petition signed by 4,500 Kashmiris, US and British parliamentarians, President Obama refused to become a mediator or even nudge India towards ceasing the atrocities in Kashmir and implement the UN Resolutions on the subject.

President Obama avoided a direct response on Kashmir, but underscored the American view that India and Pakistan must find a way to reduce tensions. His expression of solidarity with the victims of the Mumbai attacks carries the impression that 26/11 was a greater catastrophe than the ongoing tyranny and oppression of the Kashmiris. US and the world should see through the chaff of Indian propaganda and express solidarity with the Kashmiris and throw their weight behind resolving the Kashmir issue.









Praise be to Allaah Who has created Time and has made some times better than others, some months and days and nights better than others, when rewards are multiplied many times, as a mercy towards His slaves. This encourages them to do more righteous deeds and makes them more eager to worship Him, so that the Muslim renews his efforts to gain a greater share of reward, prepare himself for death and supply himself in readiness for the Day of Judgement.

This season of worship brings many benefits, such as the opportunity to correct ones faults and make up for any shortcomings or anything that one might have missed. Every one of these special occasions involves some kind of worship through which the slaves may draw closer to Allaah, and some kind of blessing though which Allaah bestows His favour and mercy upon whomsoever He will. The happy person is the one who makes the most of these special months, days and hours and draws nearer to his Lord during these times through acts of worship; he will most likely be touched by the blessing of Allaah and will feel the joy of knowing that he is safe from the flames of Hell. [Ibn Rajab, al-Lataaif, p.8

Ibn 'Abbas reports that the Messenger of Allaah (PBUH)said, "No good deeds done on other days are superior to those done on these days [meaning the ten days of Dhul-Hijjah] ." The companions asked, "O Messenger of Allaah, not even jihad in the way of Allaah?" He said, "Not even jihad, except for the man who puts his life and wealth in danger [for Allaah's sake] and returns with neither of them." [This is related by the group except Muslim and an-Nasa'i] Ahmad and at-Tabarani record from Ibn 'Umar that the Messenger of Allaah (PBUH)said, "There is no day more honorable in Allaah's sight and no acts more beloved therein to Allaah than those in these ten days. So say tahlil (There is no deity worthy of worship but Allaah : Laa ilaaha illallaah), takbir (Allaah is the greatest : Allaahu Akbar) and tahmid (All praise is due to Allaah : alhumdulillaah) a lot [on those days]." [Reported by Ahmad, 7/224; Ahmad Shaakir stated it is saheeh]

Abu Hurairah relates that the Messenger of Allaah (PBUH)said, "There are no days more loved to Allaah for you to worship Him therein than the ten days of Dhul Hijja. Fasting any day during it is equivalent to fasting one year and to offer salatul tahajjud (late-night prayer) during one of its nights is like performing the late night prayer on the night of power. [i.e., Lailatul Qadr]." [This is related by at-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, and al-Baihaqi] Ibn 'Umar narrated that at Mina, the Messenger of Allaah (PBUH)said, "Do you know what is the day today?" The people replied, "Allaah and His Messenger know it better." He said, "It is the forbidden (sacred) day. And do you know what town is this?" They replied, "Allaah and His Messenger know it better." He said, "This is the forbidden (sacred) town (Mecca). And do you know which month is this?" The people replied, "Allaah and His Apostle know it better." He said, "This is the forbidden (sacred) month." The Messenger added, "No doubt, Allaah made your blood, your properties, and your honour sacred to one another like the sanctity of this day of yours in this month of yours in this town of yours." Narrated Ibn 'Umar: On the Day of Nahr (10th of Dhul-Hijja), the Messenger (PBUH)stood in between the Jamrat during his Hajj which he performed (as in the previous Hadith) and said, "This is the greatest Day (i.e. 10th of Dhul-Hijjah) ." The Messenger (PBUH)started saying repeatedly, "O Allaah! Be Witness (I have conveyed Your Message)." He then bade the people farewell. The people said, "(This is Hajjat-al-Wada) ." [Bukhari 2.798]

Fasting Day of Arafat Abu Qatadah reported that the Messenger of Allaah (PBUH)said, "Fasting on the day of 'Arafah is an expiation for two years, the year preceding it and the year following it. Fasting the day of 'Ashurah is an expiation for the year preceding it." [This is related by "the group," except for al-Bukhari and at-Tirmidhi]

Hafsah reported, "There are five things that the Messenger (PBUH)never abandoned: fasting the day of 'Ashurah, fasting the [first] 10 [days of Dhul-Hijjah] , fasting 3 days of every month and praying two rak'ah before the dawn prayer." [This is related by Ahmad and an-Nasa'i]

'Uqbah ibn 'Amr reported that the Messenger of Allaah (PBUH)said, "The day of 'Arafah, the day of sacrifice, and the days of tashreeq are 'ids for us—the people of Islam—and they are days of eating and drinking." [This is related by "the five," except for Ibn Majah. At-Tirmidhi grades it sahih] Abu Hurairah stated, "The Messenger of Allaah (PBUH)forbade fasting on the day of 'Arafah for one who is actually at 'Arafah." [This is related by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, an-Nasa'i, and Ibn Majah] At-Tirmidhi comments: "The scholars prefer that the day of 'Arafah be fasted unless one is actually at 'Arafah."

Takbeer : It is Sunnah to say Takbeer ("Allaahu akbar"), Tahmeed ("Al-hamdu Lillaah"), Tahleel ("La ilaha ill-Allaah") and Tasbeeh ("Subhaan Allaah") during the first ten days of Dhul-Hijjah, and to say it loudly in the mosque, the home, the street and every place where it is permitted to remember Allaah and mention His name out loud, as an act of worship and as a proclamation of the greatness of Allaah, may He be exalted. Men should recite these phrases out loud, and women should recite them quietly. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): "That they might witness things that are of benefit to them (i.e., reward of Hajj in the Hereafter, and also some worldly gain from trade, etc.), and mention the name of Allaah on appointed days, over the beast of cattle that He has provided for them (for sacrifice).. ." [al-Hajj 22:28] The majority of scholars agree that the "appointed days" are the first ten days of Dhul-Hijjah, because of the words of Ibn Abbas (may Allaah be pleased with him and his father), "The appointed days are the first ten days (of Dhul-Hijjah) ."

The Takbeer may include the words "Allaahu akbar, Allaahu akbar, la ilaaha ill-Allaah; wa Allaahu akbar wa Lillaahil- hamd (Allaah is Most Great, Allaah is Most Great, there is no deity worthy of worship but Allaah; Allaah is Most Great and to Allaah be praise)," as well as other phrases. Takbeer at this time is an aspect of the Sunnah that has been forgotten, especially during the early part of this period, so much so that one hardly ever hears Takbeer, except from a few people. This Takbeer should be pronounced loudly, in order to revive the Sunnah and as a reminder to the negligent. There is sound evidence that Ibn Umar and Abu Hurairah (may Allaah be pleased with them) used to go out in the marketplace during the first ten days of Dhul-Hijjah, reciting Takbeer, and the people would recite Takbeer when they heard them. The idea behind reminding the people to recite Takbeer is that each one should recite it individually, not in unison, as there is no basis in Sharee'ah for doing this.








The results of the mid-term polls in the US have been unexpectedly surprising for even the observers of the American political scene. A party and its candidate that were voted into power with such a great demonstration of public support amid huge expectations have lost out to the very same party, which had crushing defeat in November 2007. The Republican Party has been able to gain its majority in the House of Representatives besides improving its strength in the US Senate. The Democrats also lost coveted positions of governorship in ten states. The outcome of the pollsconstitutes the discontentment of the American people with the way President Obama has ruled the US ever since he got into power in 2008 amid much fanfare. The mid-term polls are significant from many angles having bearing on the future of the Obama administration as well as the world. Consider the following: 

The first and foremost aspect of the recently concluded polls is the demonstration of maturity of the American people and the American political system. Through their vote, they have expressed their dissatisfaction over the policies of the Obama administration. When the American people voted for Obama in 2008, they, having been disappointed with the disastrous policies of George W. Bush, wanted a change in the US policies both at home as well as abroad so that fast dwindling American image could be saved from further damage. Candidate Obama made all the right vibes and struck relevant chords. His characteristic speaking style and charisma mesmerized millions promising them a fresh beginning. However, two and half years down the life, the much-trumpeted promise has to yet to be realized with the overall image of the US getting more tarnished with the passage of time. 

The major factors that explain Obama's fall from grace are domestic in nature. The global recession, which hit the capitalistic world two years ago, has had huge repercussions whose effects would continue to be felt for many years to come. The US like the rest of the developed world also got badly hit by the world economic crunch. Millions of jobs were washed away in a span of days with the result that the unemployment rate in the US has touched all time high in its history. 

President Obama's bailout package of worth around eight hundred billion dollars for the Wall Street was resented by the common man who did not like the idea of taxpayers' money being squandered away on the big fish. More than 300 Nobel Laureates wrote a letter to the President dissuading him from taking any such action. Such drastic have been the changes brought about by the global meltdown that the US has never been the same again. The financial crisis also exposed the weak foundations of the capitalistic order which favoured the rich and moneyed classes with little space for underprivileged sections of society. Coupled with the issue of high unemployment rate has been the failure of the Obama's administration to thoroughly implement Health Reforms Bill. 

Yet another major factor that caused decline in Obama's electoral fortunes is the policy muddle that now characterizes his Afghan policy. The failure of the Obama administration to formulate a consensus-based creative policy on Afghanistan has led to more confusion about how the US plans to approach endgame in the war-torn country.The 'surge and exit' strategy unveiled last December in 2009 with much fanfare has failed miserably in producing the desired outcome conducive for the promised withdrawal of the US forces in July 2011. The presence of clear difference between the military commanders and civilian leadership has served to making things difficult for the US. 

In the absence of a clear-cut representative Afghan strategy that takes every stakeholder on board including Pakistan, the American losses both in man and material have been on the rise. There is no denying the fact that the US and ISAF forces have been unable to achieve their objectives of surge so far. With the onset of winter, the situation is likely to worsen making it impossible for the allied forces to undertake any fresh invasion. The cost of Afghan war, which runs into four billions per week, has further crippled the American economy. Nine long years down the line, the US economy has suffered a staggering loss of hundreds of billions of dollars. The cost of Iraq misadventure is in addition to that. The failure of the Obama administration to right the historic wrongs has annoyed the American people further alienating them from the Democrats.

Therefore, in choosing to vote for the Republicans, the electorate has sent a very strong message for the US President who has now come to be known as someone 'high on words and low on action'. The American people voted on the domestic agenda by shedding their so-called idealism. The powers of the Obama administration may now be dented in view of strong presence of the Republicans in the American Congress. Whether Obama would take up the gauntlet and change tack to secure his second term in office remains to be seen. It requires him to do something revolutionary. Will he rise to the occasion or allow himself to be thrown in the dustbin of history as one-time accidental president? 

—The writer is Australia-based analyst.







A new arsenal of drones and satellite-guided weapons is changing the nature of warfare. America and its NATO allies possess these high-tech weapons, but smaller countries want them, too. Here's an inside glimpse of how the process of technology transfer works: A year ago, Saudi Arabia was fighting a nasty border war against the Houthi rebels across its frontier with Yemen. The Saudis began bombing Houthi targets inside Yemen on Nov. 5, 2009, but the air strikes were inaccurate, and there were reports of civilian casualties.

The Saudis appealed to America for imagery from U.S. surveillance satellites in space, so they could target more precisely. Gen. David Petraeus, who was Centcom commander at the time, is said to have backed the Saudi request, but it was opposed by the State Department and others. They warned that intervening in this border conflict, even if only by providing targeting information, could violate the laws of war. So the Saudis turned elsewhere for help - to France, which has its own reconnaissance satellites. The French, who were worried that imprecise Saudi bombing was creating too many civilian casualties in Yemen, agreed to help. The necessary details were arranged within days. When French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Riyadh on Nov. 17, he was ready to open the new intelligence liaison channel. A Saudi official recalls that by the first night of Sarkozy's visit, detailed pictures of the Yemeni battle space began to move electronically to the Saudis. Using this precise satellite intelligence, the Saudis were able to monitor the Houthis' hideouts, equipment dumps and training sites. Saudi warplanes then attacked with devastating effectiveness. Within a few weeks, the Houthis were requesting a truce, and by February this chapter of the border war was over. For the Saudis, this was an important military success. "The French were extremely helpful" and their assistance "was a key reason we were able to force the Houthis to capitulate," says a Saudi official.

But the Saudi incident raises larger questions about the transfer of technologies that have demonstrated their deadly effectiveness during the past decade in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal areas. These weapons are seductively attractive; they offer the promise of destroying an enemy from a safe distance of 10,000 or 20,000 feet in the air. The lid on Pandora's box is coming open: The Saudis, understandably, now want their own satellite capability, and they will soon request bids from Western companies for such a system. Riyadh also wants drones that can see and attack enemy targets in remote places. Washington has been weighing whether to include versions of its Predator drones in an arms sale to the kingdom. Such weapons would boost Saudi ability to deter Iran, but they could also threaten Israel.

Consider the case of Turkey: For years, Ankara has sought US technology to fight what it sees as an insurgency by Kurdish rebel groups, especially the "PKK" that hides in northern Iraq. Now, that high-tech help has arrived. The United States has quietly created a joint "centralized command center" with Turkey for surveillance drones flying over northern Iraq. Turkish officers look over the shoulders of their U.S. counterparts at the imagery and are free to target suspicious activity when they see it. The United States doesn't pull the triggers; it just shows the pictures. The fight against al-Qaeda in Yemen illustrates the complicated legal issues that intersect the use of technology. A year ago, US Special Forces held back from using advanced technology to locate Anwar al-Aulaqi in Yemen; that's because he wasn't yet on a formal "capture or kill" list of terrorists who threatened the United States. He is now, so the Obama administration has decided to bring its Predator drones into the hunt over Yemen, with quiet endorsement from the Yemeni government. These weapons are so good they can become addictive. They make possible precise acts of war that, in another time, would be called "assassination." Other countries want to protect themselves from terrorist rebels just as much as the United States does. This means the demand for such weapons will grow.

The "laws of war" may sound like an antiquated concept in this age of robo-weapons. But, in truth, a clear international legal regime has never been more needed: It is a fact of modern life that people in conflict zones live in the perpetual cross hairs of deadly weapons. Rules are needed for targets and targeters alike. — The Washington Post 







Little of the music he wrote is played nowadays: Grove's Musical Dictionary dismisses most of it as 'essentially conformist'


After the two-minute silence yesterday morning, BBC Radio 3 moved without any introduction into unfamiliar musical territory. Recognisably English, melancholy yet serene, the work it chose was wholly right for Armistice Day. But who had composed it? The unexpected answer wasFrederick Septimus Kelly. This was his Elegy for String Orchestra, in memory of Rupert Brooke, his close friend and fellow naval officer, who died in Kelly's presence on the island of Skyros in 1915. Kelly seems to have been one of those remarkably gifted all-rounders, of whom CB Fryis the archetype, who flourished in those times. Born in Australia, he came to England for his education at Eton and Balliol, Oxford, where his extramural musical activities no doubt accounted for his fourth-class history degree. Little of the music he wrote is played nowadays: Grove's Musical Dictionary dismisses most of it as "essentially conformist". But he was also a concert pianist and an outstanding oarsman, three times winner of the Henley Diamond Sculls and one of a winning England crew at the London Olympics of 1908. He kept a lively diary ("Heaven preserve me from hearing the Bruckner (Seventh) Symphony again"). Unlike Brooke, who died of an infection on his way to action with the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, Kelly died, like the thousands of others commemorated yesterday, in battle. Having won the DSC at Gallipoli in January 1916, he was killed on the Somme on 13 November. He was 35.







The dilemma has always been that a shortage of jobs makes welfare indispensible, but equally unsustainable


Twenty-first century politics is often said to lack ambition. That is not a criticism that could be levelled at Iain Duncan Smith's vision of a reconstructed benefits system, a unified credit that is both simple to operate and responsive to changing circumstance. So it is sad that a good idea has been couched in the language of blame, and sadder still that it risks being undermined by economic reality – at a time of an uncertain and, according to yesterday's inflation report, possibly jobless recovery. There is never an easy time to reform (which is why Labour flunked the challenge even in the good years). But nor could there be a more difficult time than now, when half a million public sector jobs and probably as many more in the private sector are threatened. The dilemma has always been that a shortage of jobs makes welfareindispensible, but equally unsustainable. Yesterday's white paper,Welfare that Works, is the answer to only half the problem.


Mr Duncan Smith is rightly angry about the number of long-term jobless and he is right that the benefits system has become part of the problem. Its complexity, the length of time it can take to process claims, the sharpness with which they are withdrawn when a claimant takes a job – and then the risk of starting all over again if the job disappears – can make the prospect of work much more daunting than it is rewarding. If the Duncan Smith proposals fulfil their ambition of tackling those problems, it will be an unalloyed good thing. But there are some hard questions to answer, not least because alongside Mr Duncan Smith's seriousness of purpose are headlines that speak of malingerers, or scroungers, and even (from Mr Duncan Smith himself) sin. A belief in personal responsibility is no justification for branding the weak and vulnerable as moral outcasts. It introduces a damaging element of prejudice to a project that Mr Duncan Smith would claim is based on principle alone.


There are many and complex reasons why people don't work and tackling them when they have become deeply embedded is a long, costly job. Mr Duncan Smith is promising to tackle them with innovative results-based initiatives. He'll need them: the DWP faces cuts of a quarter of its core budget by 2014-15, and has a standstill overall budget. Making ends meet could mean shedding as many as 15,000 jobs. Already, jobcentre review interviews average just over seven minutes – barely enough time to sit down and say hello, and nowhere near long enough for the kind of support that similar projects have found essential for sustainable employability.


What is most contentious is that Mr Duncan Smith insists the jobs are there. He is right that there is a lot of churn, that nine out of 10 people who lose their job even now find another within weeks. Where he is wrong is in his claim that the number of migrant workers in Britain proves there is plenty of work for those prepared to take it. Migrant workers are certainly good at finding jobs: that is why they are here. But migrant workers tend to be young, single, well-educated and, self-evidently, mobile. Where they get jobs in areas of high unemployment, it is because they have skills local people lack. They are employable in a way the people branded in yesterday's headlines as malingerers are not. The malingerers narrative appears to be a justification for new, tough sanctions (though sanctions do already exist) which could include the withdrawal of all benefits for up to three years, a "nuclear option" whose value is said to be its deterrent effect. Curiously, the DWP's own research has found it doesn't work.


Mr Duncan Smith's defenders (including Nick Clegg in this paper on Wednesday) like to compare the scale and intention of his plans with the Beveridge report of 1942.They forget there was a second Beveridge report, in 1944: Full Employment in a Free Society. He knew that without jobs, the welfare state wouldn't work.







George W Bush talked this week about the decisions he made in Iraq as if they were history, the insurgency had been defeated and the conflict, bar a few loose ends, over. Wrong on all counts. If American troops are not being attacked on a daily basis, Iraqis certainly are. Iraq Body Count says that an average of seven people die a day from suicide and bomb attacks, and that there are three deaths from gunfire or executions. Two months after Barack Obama hailed the end of US combat operations in Iraq, the conflict itself is far from over.


What the international community apparently treats as an acceptable level of Iraqi violence is neither random nor sporadic. On Wednesday at least four were killed and dozens injured in a co-ordinated wave of bomb and mortar attacks. Last week insurgents unleashed one of the fiercest assaults on Baghdad since the invasion in 2003, in a barrage of car bombs and roadside explosions that killed at least 63 and wounded nearly 300. Two days before that, 53 worshippers were massacred in one of the capital's main cathedrals.


The group in the eye of the current storm are Iraq's Christians, a community so old as to claim to be the country's original inhabitants. So many have now fled abroad or been killed that there are just 400,000 left out of a pre-war population of one million. Al-Qaida in Iraq, written off as "strategically defeated", is back, smaller in number than before but more committed and lethal. Rockets and mortars began landing again in Baghdad's Green Zone. So concerned was the US that the current security situation could degenerate after eight months of political deadlock, that Mr Obama personally intervened yesterday to persuade Ayad Allawi to enter a power-sharing government with his rival as prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Mr Allawi's mainly Sunni Iraqiya group yesterday got the speaker's post in the national assembly, as the Kurds retained the presidency. But such has been Mr Allawi's reticence to accept the cooked-up position of head of a new council of strategic policy, that the deal is capable of unravelling .


Behind Mr Maliki and Mr Allawi stand Iran and Saudi Arabia, regional rivals engaged in a byzantine power struggle. Mr Allawi is unconvinced that Mr Maliki, the man who won two seats fewer than he did in the last election, is prepared to share real power. The restive Sunni streets of Anbar and Diyala will be watching if Mr Allawi walks away from the deal. Their faith as voters has been strained beyond breaking point. The US described the announcement of the coalition as a big step forward, but this must be more of an earnest hope than an expression of reality. Iraq is the unfinished business of two American presidents.







The 2010 APEC forum meetings started in Yokohama on Monday and an APEC leaders summit will take place on Saturday and Sunday. As host and chair, Japan faces the task of leading the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation members to agree on steps to push for further liberalization of trade and investment.


The 21 economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, established in 1989, account for some 54 percent of world gross domestic product and some 43 percent of global trade. Under the Bogor Goals adopted by APEC in 1994, this year is the deadline for its industrialized members to achieve free and open trade and investment. The deadline for the developing members is 2020.


Japan must lead the APEC members in evaluating the progress under the Bogor Goals in such areas as tariffs, investment and intellectual property rights. Not only the progress in five industrialized countries — Japan, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — but also in eight developing economies, including South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Mexico, will be evaluated.


Japan also must lead the APEC members in working out the road map for the U.S.-proposed Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), which would encompass all the APEC members. An action plan for a growth strategy and efforts for regional economic integration will be important issues. Japan may have a difficult time in mediating the conflict between the U.S. and China — two rival economic powers in the Asia-Pacific region — which are very likely to check each other's economic influence from growing in the region.


An important issue for Japan is how to cope with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which was initiated in 2005 by Singapore, Chile, New Zealand and Brunei, and aims to create a new framework for trade liberalization by eliminating tariffs on imports from member countries in principle by 2015. This year, the U.S., Australia, Malaysia, Peru and Vietnam are negotiating to enter the TPP.


Prime Minister Naoto Kan will announce Japan's policy toward the TPP in the APEC summit. If Japan is to revitalize its economy in the long-run, it must seek further liberalization through such means as participation in the TPP. Failure to seek greater liberalization, which entails further opening of its own markets, could leave Japan out of the region's economic prosperity.


South Korea, a rival of Japan, has been well aware of the advantage of seeking liberalization through the conclusion of bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs), under which tariffs will be scrapped in principle. It has already signed FTAs with the U.S. and the European Union with the aim of expanding its exports of such items as automobiles and electronic appliances. FTAs have become vogue as multilateral trade liberalization talks under the auspice of the World Trade Organization have stalled


U.S. President Barack Obama expressed the U.S.'s plan to join the TPP during his visit to Tokyo in November 2009. The U.S. apparently wants to use the TPP as a springboard for not only eliminating tariff and non-tariff barriers but also for liberalizing the movement of people and capital in the Asia-Pacific region. Behind the U.S.'s move is a strategy to increase its exports and gain the economic upper hand in the region.


The Kan Cabinet on Tuesday decided that Japan will start consultations with the nine countries that are pushing TPP negotiations, while collecting necessary information. It stopped short of saying that Japan will join the TPP, but is expected to make a decision around June 2011.


The reality is that Japanese public opinion is divided over whether the nation should join the TPP. The industrial and agricultural sectors are at loggerheads. The Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), the nation's largest business lobby, is calling on Tokyo to enter TPP negotiations as soon as possible. In contrast, the Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives (JA-Zenchu) says that because the TPP's principle is the complete abolition of tariffs, cheap agricultural products will flood Japan and devastate the country's agriculture.


The TPP also covers intellectual property rights, service industry and government procurement. If Japan enters into TPP negotiations, the U.S. may file a strong objection to the Japanese government's plan to increase government control over the privatized postal service. Japan also may be forced to accept more nurses and nursing care workers from abroad.


While the TPP will expose Japan to many difficulties, it may serve as a catalyst to make the country adapt to the rapidly changing economic environment. The government needs to build consensus among people by carefully listening to views of various groups, including consumers. Particularly important will be the need to devise effective measures to revitalize and boost the competitiveness of Japan's agriculture, which is suffering from a shortage of young farmers and the ruining of rice paddies due to the government's myopic paddy reduction policy.








SINGAPORE — In the remote deserts of the United States, a clean energy boom is under way with potentially far-reaching implications for the way future electricity is generated in the sunbelts of Asia and other regions.


The U.S. government last month approved a permit for the world's biggest solar power project. It will use mirrors to concentrate the sun's rays to heat a fluid that creates steam to drive electricity-generating turbines.


While the technology has been widely used before, the scale of the complex near Blythe in Southern California, proposed by Solar Millennium AG of Germany, is attracting attention. It will have a capacity of 1,000 megawatts (MW), enough to provide electricity for up to 750,000 homes.


At full power after 2013, the Blythe complex will be the equivalent of a large nuclear or coal-burning power plant, although electricity supply will be intermittent depending on the strength of the sun and the time of day.