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Saturday, November 13, 2010

EDITORIAL 13.11.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month november  13, edition 000677, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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
















  4. 9/11 AND TB










  5. 9/11 and TB - By Ashok Malik


























The military junta's decision to release Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi deserves to be welcomed by everybody who values freedom and cherishes liberty. For more than 15 years of the past two decades, that is, ever since she launched her campaign for the restoration of democracy in Burma, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been kept under 'house arrest', which is an euphemism for solitary confinement as she is not entitled to visitors, and activists of her National League for Democracy have been hounded for either participating in banned political activity or demanding an end to her incarceration. The junta, headed by Senior General Than Shwe, a devout Buddhist who wears his faith on his sleeves, has till now resolutely ignored protests at home and abroad, as well as gentle (and less than gentle) diplomatic nudges by Governments of democratic countries to be more lenient towards the Nobel Peace Laureate. In fact, stepped up pressure on the junta has only resulted in prolonging Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest. As much was evident when a trial, dispute by many as unfair and a sham, resulted in her being held guilty of violating the laws of the land; any hopes that she would be released and allowed to participate in the recent elections were dashed. Yet, much as some may find the junta to be needlessly obstinate and its 'persecution' of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi obnoxious, it must be conceded that Burma's rulers were firm in deciding what was in the best interest of their nation. Just as bringing about regime change cannot be the moral obligation of any one country, interference in the domestic affairs of a nation must not be seen as a presumed right by anybody — irrespective of the merits of the junta's decision to hold Daw Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest and deny her the right to participate in politics, the issue is entirely for the Burmese to deal with, and not the rest of the world. Contrary to US President Barack Obama's pious pronouncements, foreign policy cannot be reduced to a running commentary on morality. Sovereignty of nations denies sanctity to such interference. 

Having said that, it would be in order to suggest that perhaps Senior General Than Shwe and his colleagues would be well-advised not to persist with their policy of denying Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy their rightful place in the political process of Burma. Indeed, had the decision to set her free been taken prior to last Sunday's national elections, the junta would have gained far greater credibility. It is entirely possible that notwithstanding her being set free and participating in the polls, the Union Solidarity and Development Party would have still won 190 of the 219 constituencies whose results have been declared in the 330-seat Lower House and 95 of 107 seats in the 168-seat Upper House. But the results would have not been contested by critics at home and abroad; or, at least, allegations of the elections being rigged by the Army would have been less shrill. It still remains to be seen what are the terms of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom — she and her supporters have said that nothing less than an unconditional release would be acceptable to them. In any event, Burma is headed towards interesting times. This could herald the much-awaited opening up of that country with a rich civilisational history. 







There is no place for settling scores in a functioning democracy by indulging in murderous attacks. It is a measure of the flaws of the political establishment if killings are accepted to be one of the ways in which disputes are dealt with, even when the killings end up in court. As a matter of first principles, it has to be acknowledged that dealing in death is intolerable in a democratic polity. That said, the decision by a lower court that is open to review by the higher judiciary, holding 44 CPI(M) activists responsible for the murder of 11 Trinamool Congress workers 10 years ago at Nanur in West Bengal's Birbhum district and sentencing them to life imprisonment is a limp but nevertheless positive sign that at least the institutions of India's democratic system remain functional and independent of interference, though not necessarily incorruptibly so. The killings were the first big violent clash between supporters of the Trinamool Congress and the CPI(M), setting a pattern for the events of the intervening years. The significance of the lower court judgement lies in the fact that for the first time 44 politically connected people, all from the CPI(M) and four of whom are senior district-level party functionaries, have been held accountable for a politically-motivated crime, thereby confirming the undeniable nexus between politics and crime in West Bengal as also in many other States. 

It can be taken for granted that the CPI(M) will back the 44 men who have been sentenced to life imprisonment in their appeal to the High Court and later the Supreme Court. It may well happen, as has happened so many times before in all parts of the country, that the case will drag on for years and a time will come when the people of West Bengal will forget about the Nanur killings. The struggle for justice in our country is not without tremendous odds and difficulties that have to be overcome; at times, this proves to be impossible and the guilty are never punished. Yet, if the courts fulfil their obligation to the people of West Bengal and ensure that the men behind the Nanur carnage get their just desserts, perhaps this would serve as a deterrence for potential criminals who view violence and vendetta as legitimate political activity. This is not to suggest that kangaroo courts should try political activists accused of indulging in violence against their opponents. But little or no purpose would be served if this particular case were to drag on for years and decades and become one of the tens of thousands of cases pending in our courts. Not only would that be tantamount to denying justice to the families of the victims of the Nanur violence but also strengthen the baser elements in our political system who think nothing of bloodshed in the name of promoting their party's cause. 










In a country of India's complexity, history can be a burden but it can sometimes also be instructive. In the summer of 1996, India saw general elections with the Congress, led by the late PV Narasimha Rao, seeking a second term. The mood in New Delhi seemed to suggest that Rao and the Congress would win. This was not surprising. From 1977 to 2004, political pundits, time-serving fixers and sundry power flatterers in Lutyens's Delhi have invariably predicted that the ruling party will come back, and collected favours in anticipation.

In 1996, the stars did seem to favour Rao. The Opposition was not cohesive. The BJP was in the last leg of its Ayodhya, 'splendid isolation' phase. The economic reforms had changed the country's course and despite the slowdown that began in 1994, the overall mood remained optimistic. Rao would be rewarded for governance and stability, it was said.

In the end, nothing of the sort happened. An election the Congress was expected to win in New Delhi was lost in the rest of India. The trigger for the defeat was one blockbuster word: Corruption. A series of scandals — from bribing Jharkhand MPs before a vote of confidence in 1993 to the bogus import of urea, from telecom to sugar to the securities scandal that crippled the Mumbai stock market — had severely damaged the Government's standing. People were seething and determined to punish smug carpetbaggers.

This is not 1996. India is a different land and — dare one say it — even more inured to corruption. The next election is over three years away. Yet, has the Congress already allowed that old complacency and brazenness about corruption not being an issue to overcome it?

Consider the context. Immediately after the Lok Sabha election of 2009, the Congress was confident it was on a historic comeback. There was optimism about a single-party majority in 2014 on the basis of a Congress surge in two States: Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Eighteen months down the line, the Bihar story is decidedly tepid for the Congress, and victory in Uttar Pradesh in 2012 (when the Assembly election takes place) remains a possibility but by no means a certainty. 

Rather, it is two other States — Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu — that are giving the ruling alliance such a headache they could cause the Congress and the UPA heavy losses. In 2014, the Congress and the NCP will be defending 15 years of incumbency in Maharashtra. In Tamil Nadu, an Assembly election in 2012 will have the Congress-DMK partnership seeking a new mandate on the basis of 10 years of rule.

The concern is not limited to just these States. The Adarsh Cooperative Housing scandal in Mumbai and the telecom swindle orchestrated by a DMK Minister have ramifications beyond just two States. The stealing of public land — assigned for a Kargil widows' housing complex — may have cost Mr Ashok Chavan his job. His successor, Mr Prithviraj Chavan, may well be an exceptional politician, a sober, educated and honest public servant. Even so, the political economy of the Congress and the NCP in Maharashtra and particularly Mumbai is not going to change.

In the State capital and in Pune, Maharashtra's two ruling parties have been completely compromised by land sharks and a corrupt developers' lobby. Bribes are no more paid in cash. Rather, politicians set up companies or have others set up companies on their behalf and become (proxy) shareholders. In Mumbai, the enhancement of FSI (floor space index, indicative of how much living or office space you can construct on a given plot of land) works to a formula. The municipal official dealing with the file and the politician or Minister backing the project are given an agreed percentage of the incremental FSI.

Both the NCP and the Congress have had a series of senior politicians — including Chief Ministers — who have become real estate tycoons and FSI millionaires. Given anecdotal evidence, the appointment of the new Deputy Chief Minister from the NCP is not encouraging. The smash-and-grab conduct of Maharashtra politicians has become so infamous individual departments and Ministries they control in the Union Government have tended to develop a pay-as-you-go reputation. One veteran Maharashtra politico, a Minister in New Delhi, apparently wants to 'retire' his Bareilly-born girlfriend as she is getting on in years. He has allegedly spent the past few months 'fixing' her golden handshake, all at taxpayer expense of course.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee was headed by a Maharashtra politician and saw key jobs being handed out to flunkies from Pune. The political culture of what was once India's best-run State completely corrupted the Games preparations.

Unfortunately, Tamil Nadu has come to match Maharashtra in its roll call of smarmy politicians. In the NDA years, when a PMK MP was given an important Ministry, one of his party leaders used to turn up in New Delhi, plonk himself at the centrally-located Ambassador Hotel and play deal maker and collection agent. In 2004, when the UPA came to office, this collection agent promoted himself to Cabinet Minister. Thankfully, he is no more in the Government, but others of his kind are.

The astonishing aspect of the 2G spectrum scandal is not that it is so massive and in-your-face, but that it has been around for so long. The Congress may argue today that Telecom Minister A Raja is innocent and there is nothing against him, but a year-and-a-half ago, the Prime Minister was decidedly uncomfortable retaining him in the Ministry. So what has changed? Perhaps it is the realisation that in these dystopian coalitional times, the alternative to Ram Rajya is Telecom Raj(y)a, just as the 'Aadarsh Aadmi' is decidedly more valuable than the 'Aam Aadmi'.

The upshot of the Maharashtra-Tamil Nadu corruption jugalbandi is that the Congress faces a united Opposition in Parliament. This positioning exercise has still not translated to street protests and perhaps it won't. The Congress believes none of the charges are being aimed at the upper echelons of the ruling party and that Mr Rahul Gandhi remains untainted. This is true, but does it imply Mr Gandhi will spend 2014 campaigning against his own party's Government, its record and its inability to rein in thugs? The voter may not choose to appreciate that fine distinction. As somebody put it in another context, "Beware the fury of a patient man …"








How often one hears that description about the United States being the world's oldest democracy and India the largest? Yet, over the past 60 years since India, that is Bharat, became a Republic, only six presidents of the United States have felt compelled to visit this country. This has a lot to do with the fact that the two nations were "estranged democracies" for the better part of these six decades. The term was coined by South Asia specialist Dennis Kux, who authored a book under that very evocative title, taking stock of US-India relations over half a century, up to 1991. 

All that changed with Bill Clinton's watershed visit in 2000 and the two countries have not looked back since. When Clinton came calling, it was the first US presidential visit to India in 22 years — after Jimmy Carter's in 1978. In contrast, we have had three American presidents visiting the country over the past 10 years, with each trying to outdo the other in taking the relationship to a new level. As this turnaround coincides with India's emergence as "a rising global power", experts believe that the forward push in US-India relations is now a bipartisan article of faith in both countries. And it hardly matters whether Democrats or Republicans are in power in Washington, and whether the Congress or the BJP is leading the ruling coalition in New Delhi.

Clearly, the last three US presidential visits of Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama stand out in sharp contrast to the first three by Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. Eisenhower came on a five-day visit, way back in 1959. He had warm regards for Jawaharlal Nehru and received a tumultuous welcome wherever he went. After all that, Eisenhower disappointed his hosts with the remark that while the US's relationship with India was of the head, that with Pakistan was of the heart. It fell to Hillary Clinton to modify, as it were, that remark last June, when the US-India Strategic Partnership was launched. "This is an affair of the heart, not just of the head," she remarked on the occasion. 

Nixon came next on what was a fleeting visit of just 23 hours. That was in 1969 at a time of political turbulence in India. Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister and the two never got along. There was little to write home about the visit. The relationship was to deteriorate later on in the wake of India's support for the liberation of Bangladesh. Under Nixon, the US made the infamous "tilt" towards Pakistan. And, as declassified documents revealed later, Nixon even called Indira Gandhi a "bitch" and a "witch". He accused India of using American aid to buy arms from the Soviet Union. 

Carter received a rousing welcome when he visited nine years later in 1978, but the visit got upstaged by his crude instructions over a live microphone, asking aides to send "a cold and blunt message" to the Indians over their nuclear ambitions. Carter was disappointed that despite the defeat of Indira Gandhi, the new Janata Party government under Morarji Desai's stewardship was not ready to give up the 
predecessor's "pro-Soviet" foreign policy and lurch towards the US.

Clinton took India by storm when he visited in March 2000, putting the animosity over India's Pokhran II nuclear tests firmly behind. Accompanied by daughter Chelsea, he spent five-days in the country visiting Agra, Jaipur, Hyderabad and Mumbai, besides Delhi. Despite being weighed down by the Monica Lewinsky scandal back home, Clinton proved a big hit in India. A high point was his speech in Parliament. At the end of it, he was virtually mobbed by MPs, vying with one another to shake hands with him and exchange pleasantries.

Bush visited India in March 2006, having already established that Republicans can be better than Democrats for India. The Bush administration and the Vajpayee Government negotiated the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership, which culminated in the civil nuclear deal with the Manmohan Singh Government. The high point of the Bush visit was the nuclear deal. Bush, however, could not get to address Parliament. Fearing protests by Left MPs over his Iraq invasion, the Government came up with an alternative — a public meeting in Purana Qila.

That brings us to the just-concluded Obama visit. Before his arrival, doubts were writ large in both capitals on how the visit would pan out. A number of issues were out in the open and the negotiations were going down to the wire. The fact that Obama was undertaking the visit just days after the "shellacking" of his party in the Congressional polls had spread gloom. 

As it finally turned out in New Delhi, Obama clearly did not want to steal his own thunder. The Obama administration had been under intense pressure to come out with a big announcement, even if could not match President Bush's landmark nuclear deal. When the moment came, Obama promptly won over Indians with his endorsement of the UNSC bid, regardless of the fact that it may a remain a work in progress for years. He also announced the plan to ease export curbs and remove three top Indian bodies from the US's Entity List. 

On UNSC, however, a debate is raging on whether Obama's was a nuanced support or categorical endorsement. Here, a comparison with how the Bush administration endorsed Japan may be in order. Bush's Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during a visit to Tokyo in March 2005 had said that the US "unambiguously supports a permanent seat for Japan on the United Nations Security Council." In contrast, this is what Obama said in respect of India: "In the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member." 

That apart, US experts are divided on the import of Obama's announcement. Stewart M Patrick, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, calls it a "bold foreign policy stroke", and wants Obama to follow up with a comprehensive plan for Security Council enlargement, based on clear criteria for permanent membership. He thinks an Obama initiative may "help break the logjam that has kept the UNSC's permanent membership mired in the world of 1945".

But Lisa Curtis, the South Asia specialist at the Heritage Foundation, has little doubt that UNSC reform is "years away", so Obama's endorsement of India may be of only symbolic value right now. She for one lays greater store by his announcement to ease high-tech export controls, remove top bodies from the Entity List and support India's membership in non-proliferation groupings like the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime. Curtis believes this clearly signals that Obama will continue the Bush legacy of incorporating India into the global non-proliferation regime.

The writer is The Pioneer's Washington Correspondent 







President Barack Obama evokes among the ordinary men and women of the world — be they Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or of any other religious persuasion — goodwill, sympathy, liking, admiration, pride, and even love. The hard-bitten, the cynical, the partisan, the ideologue, the extremist, and the ignorant, however, see in him an ogre, a "Manchurian candidate", a covert Muslim, an "empty suit", a Jew-hater, a Pakistan-lover, a turncoat, a socialist, a Wall Street backer, a racist, or even, as I heard with horror and anger, a right-wing radio commentator last week call him — a "gangster"!A man who evokes all of these feelings and attracts all of these reactions must wonder at times who he is really. Barack Obama and his elegant, articulate, well-educated wife, Michelle, were official guests in India the past week, and we could, given some of the dynamics leading to and emerging from the visit, therefore pause to reassess the nature of the Indo-US relationship. A lot of water has flowed in the Yamuna and in the Potomac over the past century, and since India gained independence in 1947, and many scholars have written about the on-again, off-again Indo-American relationship in that period.

Without being pernickety, however, we might ask if India, with its 1.1 billion people, the majority of them Hindu, at least a five-millennia-old culture and history, the birth place of four religions, a burgeoning middle class, and truculent if not dangerous neighbours, an equal on the world stage to a "Christian" United States which is still a superpower but whose people are reeling under a ten per cent unemployment rate, and who are burdened by a political system eating into the vitals of a society that is harshly divided, and when there is fear of a national if not a "civilisational" decline? Can India and America, the world's two largest democracies, be partners in a bright new future, realising that such a time may not present itself again for a productive, equal partnership that can help them both grow stronger and enable them to lead a peaceful resurgence in the world?Or, will they misread each other's intentions and fall back on the tried but tired old ways of doing business with one another?

After a quarter century in the US, and having watched American media coverage of Indian affairs and Indian events fairly closely, I would not hesitate to say that there has been a noticeable increase in the coverage of matters India and Indian. There are more 'India experts' now than ever before from top-tier American universities and think-tanks providing more nuanced and more careful appraisals of the Indian economy, politics and Indian. There are some high-profile Indian-Americans reporting for top newspapers and networks bringing in their wake some changes in American media coverage of India. Let us also not forget that there are nearly 2 million Indian-Americans who are invested in a healthy Indo-American partnership, and singly or in groups, begun to make their voices heard. President Obama has more than a dozen young Indian-Americans serving in top positions in his administration, and there are Senators and Congressmen, as well as leaders at the state level, who are much better informed about Indian matters and who see India as a vibrant democracy which can play a positive role regionally as well as globally.

In the Indian context, the fact that President Patil is a Hindu woman and a barely known Congress Party loyalist, that the Vice-President is a well-connected Muslim academic and diplomat, the Prime Minister a soft-spoken Sikh with a PhD in economics, and the Congress Party leader an Italian Roman-Catholic training her son to be the next Prime Minister, has changed the tone and tenor of American media coverage. There is none of the hyperventilating coverage of "attacks against minorities" that led every news cycle when the BJP-led NDA government was in power. Sure, Pankaj Mishra writes his quarterly anti-India diatribe in The New York Times, and the very blinkered editors of that newspaper offer space for the seditious writing of Arundhati Roy. And sure, there are the old anti-India curmudgeons at the Pentagon and at Foggy Bottom who love Pakistan and Pakistanis in the strange and rather bizarre co-dependency relationship, and there are the new, born-again Christian staffers in US Commissions and Congressmen's offices who during President Bush's tenure gained expertise and experience in using Christian activists and missionaries in India — the Devarajs, the John Dayals, the Saldanhas, the Macwans, the Father Prakashes — to make trumped up charges of the curtailing of religious freedom, and of the "oppression of minorities" by "upper caste Hindus". Many Indian-Christian groups are generously funded by American missionary organisations and they have learned the art of bilking Americans of hundreds of millions of dollars each year promising in turn a perpetual public relations campaign against "Hindu extremists," and a ramped-up church planting programme. 

In 2007 for example, about $ 630 million was pumped into India by western missionary groups and agencies, most of it going to Christian-NGOs and church organisations which do not account for how the monies are spent.

The State Department, Congressional human rights committees, and the think tanks also find the services of the Indian and the Indian-American Left academics very useful. Thus, the combination of Christian, Left and Muslim groups is a thorn in the side of those who wish to build a healthy Indo-American relationship. It all depends on how and whether these professional noise-makers are used by whom to undermine India's cultural heritage and national aspirations and to throw the proverbial spanner into Indo-American works.

Then there is of course China. Over the past two decades the Chinese have learned to play on America's weaknesses. A simple example is in order. There are more than 60 'Confucius Institutes' that the Chinese government has funded and established at American universities. 

Starved for funds, American universities, small or big, have succumbed to the lure of some renminbi coming their way. In turn, their voices get surprisingly muted when China plays truant. This is an example of the mighty West now beholden to the new, wealthy, aggressive China. How the US deals with China and how India will stand up to China will therefore affect the Indo-US partnership. The Chinese have grandiose plans, and a Communist and nationalistic China, using Pakistan, can effectively derail Indian plans for partnering with the US.

President Obama is hobbled by an aggressive, rude, rightwing adversary at home. And he is saddled with the wages of the sins committed by his predecessor which leaves him with few chips to make bargains abroad. By nature, he is a "cognitively complex" and "perspective taking" man. That is both his strength and his weakness. His ability to consider all sides of an issue therefore has made him at times an equivocating, overly circumspective president.

If he wants to win the presidency for a second term, in 2012, he better act with firmness and conviction. Embracing India as an equal partner can do wonders for his health and well-being, and it can make India a strong, honest broker in world affairs. To end on a lighter note: Americans may insist that if India wants to be treated as an equal partner, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur have to dance the Texas two-step, the boogie woogie or the jitterbug with schoolchildren when they next visit the US.

Ramesh Rao is professor and chair of the Department of Communication Studies and Theatre Department, Longwood University. He is also the human rights coordinator for the Hindu American Foundation. The views expressed here are his personal views, and do not necessarily represent those of the Hindu American Foundation or Longwood University 







Despite his charm offensive, a host of nuanced and subtle differences would persist on the New Delhi-Washington track. Arms transfers to Pakistan, the nuclear question with Iran and backing the struggle for democracy and human rights in Myanmar are issues that would divide the two fastest emerging "strategic" partners on the world stage. All three countries are important from Indian strategic viewpoint. The US non-proliferation agenda vis-à-vis Iran, Pakistan's frontline ally status despite myriad other liabilities and the US approach towards Myanmar are difficult items for India to be on board with the United States. 

Significantly, the Manmohan Singh-Barack Obama summit spelt out a joint effort by the two countries to combat proliferation of nuclear weapons, prevent nuclear terrorism and other forms of WMD. That India would cease to be a target of non-proliferation regimes and US non-proliferation policy, and would rather become a partner in promoting non-proliferation has become amply clear. 

Nonetheless, the fast maturing relations between the US and India provide enough leeway for both to steer through these bumps on the road, since the playing field for the two countries are no longer confined to India's immediate neighbourhood. 

The most significant area where the American and Indian interests converge is the Asia Pacific. There is already a superpower — China — in this region. The uncertainty surrounding this development and the need to ensure a peaceful and cooperative China to sustain the economic dynamism in the region are crucial for global economic and political stability and strategic balance. Relatively lesser differences, despite their relevance and significance, have to be carefully managed.

In short, the Obama-Singh Summit is a powerful building bloc on a new structure of Indo-US relations that emerged in the early years of the 21st Century and constitutes, in the words of Obama, the "defining relations" of the present century.

By first visiting Mumbai and addressing the survivors of 26/11, Barack Obama struck a chord in the hearts of millions of Indians. By meeting the Indian business tycoons, concluding business deals worth $10 billion and promising to work for more robust trade and investment cooperation with India, he made it loud and clear that his mission was largely an economic mission.

The persistent recession, low growth rate and high unemployment in his country needs the cooperation of fast growing economies of Asia and Latin America for restoring normalcy in the American economy. Obama was well aware that the second fastest growing economy in the world, India, could offer part of the solution to his domestic economic woes. The deals that his delegation struck with the Indian side enabled Obama to proudly announce the creation of more than 50,000 jobs in the US and the joy among Americans was mirrored in the wide media coverage in that country. 

But Obama's speeches in Mumbai raised eyebrows in certain sections. The omission of 
Pakistan in his address on terrorism from the very hotel where Pakistan-backed terrorists killed Americans, Indians and others just two years back caused concerns in India. And his proud announcement of new jobs in the US made many Indians question the benefits it would bring to Indian workers.

But at the central hall of Parliament Obama made amends by recognising India's new status as a global rather than an emerging power, and offered India America's support for inclusion in an expanded UN Security Council in the future. He also backed 

India's membership in export control and non-proliferation regimes like NSG, Australia Group, Wassenar Arrangement and MTCR in a phased manner. There would also be removal of sanctions against DRDO, BDL and ISRO and India would be put on the level of countries that qualify for purchasing US high technology items.

He went on to condemn terrorism in all forms and articulate the need to eliminate "safe havens and infrastructure for terrorism and violent extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan". But that was secondary to his act of silencing critics who had the statement in China asking that country to play a role in addressing the questions of peace and stability in South Asia. This time around, in the Indian Parliament, Obama sought to make common cause with India in addressing issues of peace and prosperity in East and Southeast Asia and West Asia as well. 

The joint statement listed out a series of new bilateral initiatives to make Indo-US relations comprehensive and multi-dimensional. Notable among those are the efforts for launching extensive agricultural programmes that would produce an "ever green" revolution in India and a proposal to hold an educational summit next year for expanding intellectual exchanges and research collaborations.

The writer is a Head of International Relations Dept, JNU 








In party baithaks, Congress-wallahs scream "Garibi Hatao". Inspecting creaking health infrastructure, ministers on doctors' visits croak, "Bimari Hatao". In Bihar that once flickered like Lalu's lalten, Nitish camp bijli-givers chant, "BIMARU Hatao". In prohibition-governed states with a closet love of Scotch, drink-no-evil politicos hiccup, "Sharaabi Hatao". Yet, despite all the poverty bust-ups, medical checks or booze shop bans, politicos go slowest on one key demand: "Bekaari Hatao". 

Once calling a film mirroring social reality Roti, Kapda aur Makaan, celluloid's "Bharat" Manoj Kumar put "kaam" on top of the aam aadmi's wish-list. But today's Bharatiya politicos leave out labour reform from their list of national priorities, being extra casual about casual labour. Why, armed withNational Sample Survey Organisation estimates, netas can insist India's unemployment figure is 'only' 2.8 per cent of the population. Too bad the labour ministry's first-ever employment survey is out. Studying a sample working-class population, it puts chronic joblessness at 9.4 per cent in 2009-10. That's 40 million whose naukri is just a poll-eve promise! 

To the unorganised, out-of-workforce, netadom's organised shirkforce can say many things in self-defence. One, unemployment - like corruption - is a global phenomenon. Hasn't the ILO pegged it at 8 per cent of G20's total workforce? Two, forget about jobless growth. Even the nicest posts usually demand you do nothing much. An Australian state last year sought applicants for "the best job in the world": a tropical island "caretaker" required to basically laze about, get suntans, build sandcastles and go snorkelling! Bah, say desi lawmakers. Getting five-star lifestyles despite skipping Parliament sessions, their job's cushier than beach bumming. 

Three, scan the vacancies, and bekaari looks good. Sometime ago, head-hunters Down Under invited jobless Brits to turn "kangaroo poo harvesters". In India, with corruption's stink rising, there are openings for rajneeti's poo cleaners. Of the two offers, take the first. Friends of marsupials - unlike investigators into political dirt - don't have to handle yucky stuff with hands tied. Nor will their efforts get poo-poohed. 

Finally, becoming jobless is also a VVIP occupational hazard. Ashok Chavan, Suresh Kalmadi...why, this hired-and-fired gang may even include the Raja of telecom. Sure, his fate depends on whether the DMK ditches him or ditches the UPA, making it jobless for numbers shortage. Relax, says Jayalalithaa, promising to protect UPA's Lok Sabha strength. Amma mia, there she goes again...seeking a job on the national stage. 

So, Obama, nobama, please don't come here again looking for jobs. Yes, we know America has a stagnant 9.6 per cent jobless rate. But surely you've realised one big difference between our two democracies. US leaders pay electorally for failing to create jobs, recession or no recession. In India, all pay and no work don't make Jack a bekaar neta. Hail this land of idle worship. Our PM says, "We're not in the business of stealing jobs". Grab this: we're not in the business of generating jobs either. We're in the business of sloganeering: Down with this, down with that, such as imperialism, poverty, corruption ...or unemployment. Kaamchor machaye shor. 








"Go West, young man", an exhortation from the days of the Wild West, repeated in the last few decades by many an Indian middle-class family, has been echoed by the Indian IT industry. Markets - and profits - were to be found in the developed West: the US and UK together accounted for 80 per cent of India's IT exports. The future, though, appears to be different - especially after the worst US economic slowdown in living memory, with its spillover into Europe too. 

The world is looking at new engines of growth - mainly China, but also India and Brazil - to power a quick recovery. India has been slow to look beyond the West. The demise of the Soviet Union, a trusted partner for many things, further reinforced our westward focus in both politics and economics. Trade with China has seen rapid growth in the last decade, but exports are largely commodity-centric. The Look East policy seems to be gaining momentum only slowly. Yet, for all its focus on the West, India's top exporter - the IT sector - has, for some years now, been active in geographies beyond its traditional markets (US, UK and Western Europe). 

For many years, it has sought to tap the big Japanese market with very limited success. Over the last few years, attempts are being made to break into the booming domestic market in China; here, too, success seems elusive. Korea has not seen too many Indian IT companies, nor hasIndonesia or most countries in South East Asia. The Philippines is an exception: it has become an important base for IT companies - especially call centres and BPO operations - and India has tapped into this in a big way, with a visible and substantial presence of many Indian players. 

This lack of substantial success outside our traditional markets is a matter of concern, especially in the context of the IT industry's perspective - articulated by industry body, NASSCOM, in a study with McKinsey - for the year 2020. This report targets massive growth - quadrupling exports from $50 billion to over $225 billion by 2020 - with a possible additional upside of $80 billion if we can be innovative enough. However, as much as 80 per cent of the incremental growth will have to come from new customers and, of this, the biggest chunk will need to be from new markets - particularly, China, Brazil and Russia

The United States, UK and Europe will, undoubtedly, continue to be both profitable and large markets. Yet, the big opportunities of the future will require the IT industry to penetrate markets in China, Japan, Latin America and Africa. The experience of the last few years indicates that the strategy perfected for the US and UK does not quite work in China or Japan - or even in France and Germany. 

Some Indian companies have set up operations in Latin America. The ratio of Indian to local employees is of the order of 10:90. In the US and UK, it is almost the obverse. In these countries, joint ventures and local acquisitions are rare; on the other hand, successful Indian companies with large operations in 'new' countries work through joint ventures or locally acquired companies. Little wonder, then, that after years of slow growth in Japan, a company like Infosys is now looking for a major acquisition there (in a recent interview, the CEO has indicated a willingness to invest as much as half a billion dollars on this); or that the Indian IT giant, TCS, has entered Chile by acquiring a local company with thousands of employees. Presence through a local company seems to be a necessary entry-point into countries like China, Japan, Germany and in Latin America. 

It seems clear that the strategy for success in new markets will have to be very different from that used in more conventional markets. The same is likely to be true with regard to new areas of work, outside the software applications development and maintenance that Indian IT companies have specialised in, or the traditional banking, insurance and financial services that they have mastered. Many of the new markets will be based on doing more work on-site (in the host country), using mainly local employees - which means little or no wage arbitrage. 

What then, can be the competitive advantage for Indian companies? One is the ability to recruit, train, motivate and manage a large number of highly skilled professionals. The value of this is little recognised, till one observes that China - despite its outstanding success in IT manufacturing - has not been able to create any large software companies. Another is the skill to understand, analyse and then meet customer needs with an extraordinary degree of flexibility. The third is the capability to engender trust, facilitating the building of partnerships with customers. 

To build on its phenomenal success, the IT industry will have to reinvent itself. Changed contexts and different markets require a new strategy. An integration of the three advantages mentioned above, a focus on innovation (in products, processes and business models) as a differentiator, and local acquisitions, will have to be the cornerstone of a new strategy that helps to propel the Indian IT industry into the big league in the next decade. 

The writer is an independent policy and strategy analyst. 







At a Youth Congress meeting, Rahul Gandhi called for the Congress to go it alone in UP and not be part of any coalition set-up in a future government. Just to put things in perspective, the party currently has 20 MLAs in a House of 404 legislators. If trends from the last Lok Sabha elections are an indication, the party is reviving in the state. But the prospect of its winning a simple majority in the assembly is improbable in the near future. 

Does this mean that the Congress will wait out on holding office if it doesn't have the numbers in UP or elsewhere? Not by a long shot. It has been known to be pragmatic on this score in the past, and will be so in future as well. The Congress is likely to head or join a coalition government if it stands to gain from such an arrangement. The 
AICC Pachmarhi declaration had authorised the party leadership to shun alliances, but that didn't prevent the party from forming the UPA after the 2004 elections. The party has headed as well as been part of coalition governments in Kerala since the 1960s. 

It is impossible for any political party to abstain from building political coalitions in a fragmented polity. Congress supremacy was drowned in the tides unleashed by the forces of Mandal and mandir in the 1990s. The rise of the Janata Dal and the BJP transformed the political landscape. These parties are far from achieving the kind of pan-Indian influence that the Congress had in its heyday, but they've ended the days of single-party rule. The Congress recognises that coalition politics is here to stay, which is why it's been careful to cultivate and humour allies. So, hard as Rahul may wish for the Congress to go it alone, the political situation will force his party to build alliances. 






Rahul Gandhi's straight talk that the Congress will never form a coalition government in UP is welcome. Critics may dismiss Rahul's approach as unfeasible and a strategic blunder. However, it makes a lot of sense for the Congress to stay the course. In tune with the spirit of the Pachmarhi resolution of 1998, the strategy of going it alone has paid off well, with 23 Congress MPs now coming from UP. Rather than kowtowing to reckless coalition partners, the Grand Old Party must continue to focus on building its organisation at the grassroots, and strive for a majority on its own. 

It is too simplistic to say that coalition politics is going to stay and the Indian polity will remain fragmented. If the results of the 2009 elections are a pointer, there has been a visible change in the mood of the electorate. Voters are frustrated with regional parties motivated by selfish considerations. The inability of the UPA government to take decisive action against the 2G-scam tainted telecom minister A Raja shows how coalition considerations hobble good government. People now want a national party to provide a strong government devoid of coalition compulsions, to usher the country into the next level of reforms and inclusive growth. Mandal and mandir politics no longer sway. 

Given the Congress's pan-Indian presence, it is opportune for it to decipher and capitalise on voters' aspirations. Rahul has sensed this opportunity and is showing the way to the party. With 206 seats in the Lok Sabha, the Congress has moved closer to one-party rule of the pre-Mandal era. The party should shed its top-down image and reconnect with local units. And there cannot be a better place than UP to do so. As it has the largest number of Lok Sabha seats, the state can give a big push to the Congress securing a majority at the Centre. 








World leaders on Friday admitted they were in the midst of a currency war and there was precious little they could do to about it. The group of twenty (G20) nations that produces 85% of the world's output ended their fifth summit since the 2008 financial meltdown with a pious declaration that they needed a set of indicative guidelines to spot large trade imbalances, which threaten to destabilise the global economy. They couldn't even agree whether these guidelines should be qualitative or quantitative. The fissures among economies that have clambered out of the recession and those that are still struggling run deep. "Uneven growth and widening imbalances are fueling the temptation to diverge from global solutions into uncoordinated actions. However, uncoordinated policy actions will only lead to worse outcomes for all," the Seoul communiqué says in a feeble attempt to recapture a rapidly receding consensus.


The principal belligerents and the world's biggest two economies, the US and China, have ratcheted up their rhetoric in recent weeks. Washington sees China's refusal to allow its currency, the yuan, to appreciate as obstructionist. Beijing, on the other hand, is concerned that the Federal Reserve may be deliberately debasing the dollar by printing more money. The Seoul summit took place under this cloud. The rest of the world aligns itself to one camp or the other depending on how fast their economic engines are running. However, the meeting was not a complete washout. Advanced economies promised to guard against disorderly currency movements to reduce the risk of excessive volatility in capital flows to emerging economies, which got an okay to erect firewalls if they felt these were necessary. India's suggestion — building infrastructure in emerging economies to help rebalance global demand — has much going for it. For one, it generates consumption in countries that have piled up huge trade surpluses, a persistent call of the advanced economies. It also tempers the tendency towards competitive devaluation and currency manipulation. And by working through multilateral institutions like the World Bank, it reinforces the glue that is fast evaporating for concerted global reaction to the "most severe world recession our generation has ever confronted".


The Seoul summit had at least one area where unanimity was not elusive: in strengthening the financial market's architecture to avoid future meltdowns. The new set of safeguards, including "bank capital and liquidity standards, as well as measures to better regulate and effectively resolve systemically important financial institutions", is still work in progress. It lies at the heart of why the G20 should keep talking to each other. Inclusion of the concerns of the developing world in this framework is a step forward for countries like India.







No one expected the Myanmar military junta's elections to be fair. But how flawed should things be allowed to get? The military-supported USDP (Union Solidarity and Development Party) has cornered 80% seats (they are still counting as we go to press), but then who had predicted 'advance voting' with government employees instructed to vote in front of officials, villagers in the presence of village heads and soldiers before their commanders?


The National League of Democracy (NLD), headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, which won over 80% seats in the last elections, did not even contest. The papers for Suu Kyi's release from house arrest have been signed as her incarceration ends today. She has been detained for 15 of the past 21 years.


In fact, along with nine other parties, including the Shan Nationalities League of Democracy, the NLD has been de-registered and is now outlawed in Myanmar. The new constitution — nicknamed the Nergis Constitution as it came into effect when the country was ravaged by a devastating cyclone — reserves a fourth of the seats in the two houses for the military along with key ministries that will also be headed by the military. The Commander-in-Chief can assume full sovereign power by declaring an emergency.


Myanmar is also plagued by a lack of unity among 135 nationalities including eight major ones — namely Araken, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon, Shan, and the Burmese. Neither the years of parliamentary democracy, between 1948 and 1962, nor the subsequent years have seen any  resolution of the civil strife in Myanmar. The NLD and some ethnic allies created a new avenue on October 24, as they have agreed to work towards the second Pinglong Conference, which will be a new political platform. This is a progressive move since the Committee Representing Peoples' Parliament (CRPP), which was formed on September 16, 1998, to work on behalf of the 1990 parliament, becomes irrelevant after the 2010 election charade.


In the context of so much power being institutionalised in the world's longest-running, most tyrannical regime, with the backing of China and a studied silence from the country's democratic neighbour, what is the future of Aung San Suu Kyi and the other 2,000 political prisoners? Since the military has consolidated itself in more palatable terms, some would say that Aung San Suu Kyi, for whose freedom the United Nations General Assemby has been passing a resolution every single year, should now be allowed to participate in politics.


Perhaps she has been rendered unnecessary in the new scheme of things. A carefully-plotted roadmap to squash dissenters, unveiling an iniquitous constitution and having a full-scale drama of an election have all gone off, according to General Than Swe's meticulous plans. It would also lend a more democratic image to the electoral farce, which has propelled several thousand refugees to flee to neighbouring Thailand. As I travelled across Myanmar earlier, I saw how even the Burmese people have to register at the nearest police station by 8 pm if they are to have an overnight guest and that the only construction activity I witnessed was the building of a new prison on the road to Maymyo. An entire generation has grown up in a glass palace prison.


In April 1989, Aung San Suu Kyi went with a group of her party activists to the Irrawaddy Delta. They arrived by boat in the town of Danubyu. As they walked towards the local NLD office, they found their way blocked by soldiers who pointed automatic guns towards them. Suu Kyi urged her people to keep moving even as the captain in-charge threatened to shoot. Just then a senior officer rushed and ordered his men to step aside. Suu Kyi had followed in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi and adopted his policy of satyagraha in Myanmar. She had hoped that this would spread across the country and the second struggle for freedom in Myanmar will be played out on similar lines. It did not happen. She was placed under house arrest on July 20, 1989.


As some one who spent several months researching in Myanmar, living down the road from Suu Kyi's house in the hope of meeting her, her release was something I, along with several across the world, prayed for. The frail lady is feared by the military. The lady with flowers in her hair, throttled in a bottleneck vase for the last 15 years, symbolises the results and hopes of the last elections  that were never honoured. Her release will upset the 'unjust peace' that is about to settle over Myanmar.


It is, however, about time that the world that awarded Suu Kyi the Nobel Peace Prize and India, which honoured her with the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding, presses for a greater role in Myanmar's affairs for her. A democratic voice that represents the just aspirations of its people cannot be suppressed anymore.


The military junta, now that it has doffed its blood-soaked uniforms, is camouflaging itself in pleasant, sweet terms and has won the elections hands down, could perhaps be pushed to do a nice, gentlemanly act — engage with Suu Kyi. While the Myanmar court rejected her appeal for the reversal of General Than Swe's order , the executive order rescinded it. It takes credit for releasing her; for even generals like to appear virtuous. Suu Kyi has not been able to see her own children for years. Her son, Kim, has just been granted a visa to visit her. But don't forget that Suu Kyi was not even allowed to visit her dying husband Michael Aris. The British High Commissioner carried her farewell letter to him, in secret.


Meanwhile, the world continues to watch with bated breath for the one preaches and practises ahimsa to take her rightful place in guiding the destiny of Myanmar's long-suffering people.


Sagari Chhabra  is a writer and film director. Her forthcoming book In Search Of Freedom is based on her stay in Myanmar. The views expressed by the author are personal. Barkha Dutt's fortnightly column Third Eye will return on November 27.







A bill to protect women from lecherous bosses is whipping up fear and loathing, at least in some quarters.  In DNA newspaper Nirad Mudur writes about the Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill: "I — and all male employees, for that matter — better fear the workplace." In Bangalore, an organisation called Save India Family Foundation says the bill will, 'endanger genial gender relationship in workplace (sic)'. And in office canteens the buzz includes the possibility of misuse by vengeful women employees while others wonder why men aren't being offered the same protection.


Give me a break.


Fear the workplace? Because unwelcome sexual advances (and we're not talking 'consensual flirtation' to quote a famous publisher) will now be punishable offences? Genial gender relationships? Save India Family Foundation's notion of places of employment as frolicking havens of genteel interactions between men and women is a joke. And women bosses stalking men — yes that is a possibility, but compared to men, how many women bosses do you know? And, for the record, the bill does have provisions for false complaints. Miffed women employees would be better off spitting into their boss' coffee.


Forget the workplace for a minute. Delhi, our 'world-class' capital is unabashedly hostile to women. We teach our daughters to walk fast on streets, avoid eye contact with men and return home before dark. Working women have no special immunity from this generalised hostility — as the killings of Jessica Lal, Soumya Vishwanathan and Jigeesha Ghosh show. A survey of 600 women in the IT and BPO industry by the Centre for Transforming India found a whopping 88% had been subjected to or witnessed sexual harassment in their workplace. Things can get rough even for those in uniform. In September this year, a woman constable was raped and murdered by two policemen in Chechat police station in Kota district.


Two words then to all the misogynists: shut up.


It's hard to believe but until the landmark Vishakha judgement in August 1997 women in the workplace had absolutely no protection against sexual harassment. The Vishakha judgement spelt out what sexual harassment was (sexual behaviour including physical contact and advances, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography and sexual demands whether by words or actions), the responsibilities of employers in providing women with safe working places and the punishments that could be prescribed. Many of these features are now included in the bill.


Yet the bill, tipped to be introduced in Parliament's ongoing winter session, is far from perfect. Its most glaring omission, according to news reports, is domestic helpers, clearly the most vulnerable among working women. According to a 2004-05 study by the National Sample Survey Organisation, there are more than two million household helpers in India. These workers have no job security, paid leave or minimum wages. They are often subject to deprivation and gross abuse, verbal, physical and sexual — a fact brought out ironically by the Supreme Court during a recent ruling on maintenance. "If a man has a keep whom he maintains financially and uses mainly for sexual purpose and/or as a servant, it'd not, in our opinion, be a relationship in the nature of marriage," the court ruled in an inadvertent equation of servants with sex, a problem that is clearly prevalent but one which gets highlighted only when the odd film star gets arrested on rape charges.


The sexual harassment bill is, if nothing else, a nod to the growing visibility of working women. From high profile achievers in banks (Chanda Kochar), business (Kiran Majumdar Shaw), sport (Saina Nehwal), film (Kareena Kapoor), politics (Mamata Banerjee) to anonymous and unsung employees in the unorganised sector, women are shattering glass ceilings, surmounting huge odds, working for a variety of reasons from economic to aspirational, juggling home work with paid work.


Yet, at a function to felicitate Commonwealth Games women's wrestling gold winner Anita at Bhiwani, Haryana, her proud father, Dalip Singh Sheoran had this to say: "She must follow the customs. If she violates those, I can even kill her."


It will take more than mere laws to get men like Sheoran to change their minds. Until then, we'll take the law, thank you.


Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.








A Himachal Pradesh court has convicted, in what must be construed as speedily, four medical students responsible for ragging 19-year-old Aman Kachroo in March 2009. Kachroo had been so severely beaten up that he succumbed to his injuries on March 8. He had lodged a complaint with the college authorities, but got little relief. This when, in 2007, after the Raghavan committee report, the Supreme Court had moved from perceiving ragging as a sociological problem to considering it a criminal offence. The apex court had also ordered an FIR to be filed within 24 hours of the complaint. Aman Kachroo still had to die, as did others even this year, all allegedly due to ragging.


There's much in the popular discourse about the legitimisation of ragging in the English public school culture. This "gentle sport", as P.G. Wodehouse would have it, was an unavoidable rite of passage to responsible adulthood. Be that as it may, Robert Graves' Goodbye to All That (1929) is, among other things, also a public school classic with a much colder view of the institutionalised menace. But savagery as in Kachroo's case would make the Charterhouse of Graves, who joined the school's boxing club to take on the football bullies, look benign. Ragging in India may have had its roots in colonial education, but when availing himself of a "quota" is an alleged reason for Kachroo's fate, we know much more indigenous and contemporary socio-psychological flotsam triggers such crimes. It was never all about hierarchies within the institution; ragging springs also from prejudices and attitudes in society outside. Which brings us to the institutional authorities' imperative to act against offenders and ensure a ragging-free atmosphere. College administrators must be compelled to be more pro-active, with the possibility of losing their jobs and reputations should they fail. Of course, they must be reasonable: every cross-hierarchical chat on campus cannot be an offence. But intimidation is — and must be seen to be — a serious offence.







Former RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan appalled his own ideological fraternity when he expressed his bizarre theory about Sonia Gandhi. He accused her of being a CIA agent, and plotting the deaths of her husband and mother-in-law. The preposterousness of these remarks speaks for itself — they are laughable ravings, not dangerous smears that must be engaged with. But the Congress seems to have decided that they must oppose this fringe lunacy with their own heated self-righteousness, saying "no language can be more uncivilised than this" and declaring Sudarshan a "fossil from the archaeological museum". Congress workers also staged a demonstration outside the RSS headquarters, and protesting party MPs did their bit to stall Parliament. The BJP has put a safe and sensible distance between itself and the remarks, as has the Sangh. But the furore illustrates two things: the Congress's pathological and silly defensiveness about the Gandhis (even when they need no defending), and the BJP's uncomfortable relationship with its Sangh base. These remarks about Sonia Gandhi might be too unhinged even for the RSS, but the Sangh is all too familiar with the mindset that sees conspiracies everywhere. And their dark imaginings at least partly dictate the BJP's behaviour. For instance, instead of framing a responsible approach to the question of "Hindu terror", the BJP has been caught on the backfoot, denying it altogether and pretending that it was a political ploy to isolate and shame the party. The RSS, of course, reacted with defiance and ferocity to the question. The BJP's attempt to project a moderate and governance-oriented image keeps stumbling on the RSS hurdle — as long as it seeks to benefit by keeping that association alive, it will end up looking shifty when incidents like this occur. For its own sake and for right-of-centre politics, the BJP needs to demonstrate that it is not one unbroken continuum from the party to the Sangh's most radical outliers. It must, at the very least, clarify the lines that separate it from the RSS and other Sangh siblings.







Why is everyone focusing on Telecom Minister A. Raja, asked the department of telecommunications plaintively in the Supreme Court. After all, he was only implementing the 1999 telecom policy the NDA government had brought in. And, it added, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh knew all about it, he was "kept fully informed of all decisions" — and supported them, since there was "no difference of opinion" between the telecom minister and the prime minister. This wording, in an affidavit in response to a public interest liti-gation in the Supreme Court demanding to know why the CBI is acting slowly in investigating Raja, reveals the degree to which the taint that's now indelibly associated with this minister can spread. The argument that it's merely a question of the compulsions of a coalition is not going to hold water for much longer. People understand the political grouping that is a coalition, the restrictions it creates; but they also understand the executive grouping that is a cabinet, and the responsibility that it makes collective.The telecom ministry has made it clear in its affidavit, in other words, its objection to a narrative in which the government has failed to realise a large amount of money because of a dubious set of decisions, which deserve investigation — but are primarily the fault of one man. Its SC affidavit is not the document of a minister and a ministry confident in their isolation — it is, instead, a fairly blatant attempt to spread culpability and thus escape consequences. The Congress will have to take a call pretty soon: is this a strategy that they wish to allow to take root? Or is it time to push Raja out?It is no longer the case that the only politically risky course is to take action against Raja. The political risks are, indeed, adding up on the other side of the ledger — the longer the Congress allows Raja's ministry to throw mud at the rest of the government, the more of that mud will stick. There are some things, as the prime minister knows, it's worth staking your government on. The greatest asset to the UPA over its term has been the image that its PM is above the fray, however problematic some of the government's other members. The unwillingness to respect in this case the value of that principle is mystifying.









The return of the RSS and, more importantly, its former Sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan to the headlines gives me just the right excuse to recount the untold story of my one-on-one dinner with him at Nagpur, my Sudarshan moment. This was the evening before I recorded a long, tell-all interview with him for NDTV's Walk the Talk (April 2005) which set off tremors in the BJP that never really settled. He cursed Vajpayee and all those who mattered to him, politically and personally, ascribed Uma Bharti's unpred-ictability to her social (caste) status and early upbringing, and generally held forth in the manner of the great, couldn't-care-less headline hunters. But the fact is, I missed the much bigger story, maybe because I had poor news judgment, certainly by the screaming standards of some of today's news TV. Maybe I was just being a fuddy-duddy old print journalist. Or maybe, just maybe, because I was wise not to make myself look like a fool as well in the desperate hunger for headlines. And some headlines it would have been.As we were being wired for the recording he asked me if I wanted to talk in detail about the points he had mentioned "last night". No, Sudarshanji, I said with some alarm. Having learnt my journalism in more conservative times, I did not particularly want to "ruin" an entire interview listening to him hold forth on Sonia's rise in India as a "Roman Catholic" conspiracy "controlled from Italy" (whose province he thought the Vatican was), or his incredible take on Mahatma Gandhi's assassination. But now that he has already gone "public" with his conspiracy theories on Sonia, it is better for me to share with you his even more imaginative take on who killed Gandhi and how, which he shared with me over a very spartan subzi-dal-sukhi-roti meal sitting on the floor at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur. Better for me to write about this now before he decides to say it all in public the next time he appears in front of an audience.


The key to understanding India's plight, he said, right elbow resting thoughtfully on his raised knee, is to understand the Nehru parivar, how they have "conspired" to take control of this country, and to systematically destroy all that should have been dear to all "Hindustanis". He started the story of this "conspiracy" from Gandhi's assassination for which the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha were "unfairly blamed". This was the usual RSS lament I thought, until he asked me, eyes wide with genuine disbelief: "So, do you also believe that Godse killed Gandhi?""Is there any doubt?" I asked. "The courts convicted him.""You people are so gullible," he said. "You do not even look at the facts."Then he started to explain the "facts". See that picture of Godse with folded hands in front of Gandhi. "If he had actually shot him, the bullet would have entered from a higher point in his body and exited from a lower point," he said. He asked me, further, if I knew the difference between someone being shot with a revolver and a pistol."I am not sure I do," I said. "But how is that important?""Because the entry wound of a pistol shot is smaller than the exit wound and, in Gandhi's case, it was the other way round. Yet they claimed Godse shot him with a pistol.""And how is that important?" I asked, now worried that our dinner, where we were supposed to discuss areas that our interview would explore the next morning, was going into some kind of jadoo territory."Because, from all evidence, Godse did not kill Gandhi. And you know what," he continued, "Nehru made sure no post-mortem was conducted on Gandhi's body. Because he did not want the truth to come out.""So then, Sudarshanji, who killed Gandhi?" I asked."Why ask me?" he said, with a smile that was as conspiratorial as QED. "You can see who stood to benefit from Gandhi's assassination. Everybody knows Gandhi was going to make Patel prime minister.""But, Sudarshanji, somebody did shoot Gandhi in front of hundreds of people," I asked."Yes, somebody did. But not saamne se, kintu peechhe se," he explained. "It was a do-dhaari ki talwar (two-edged sword)," a conspi-racy to give the Nehru parivar unfettered power and to blame the Hindus for killing Gandhi."And how do you know this, Sudarshanji?" I asked."There was this book written by a former police officer in Andhra Pradesh. I believe he exposed all these facts," he said. Of course, he said he had not read the book himself, did not remember its title or the name of its author and closed the argument with the finality of death, literally, by saying that the supposed cop-writer, whose name nobody could recall, had also obviously been dead for some time. But why bother re-checking or verifying when you confuse faith for facts?Now that Sudarshan has shot into the prime time from wilderness, I wonder if I had missed an opportunity by not taking his cue to resume "discussions from last night". But, really, if you take yourself seriously as a journalist, or even as a reasonably literate citizen, do you give time to such illiterate rubbish?The truth is, many in the BJP would also say that. But none would have the moral courage or political imagination to raise anything that looks like a question. After that Sudarshan interview rocked the party, many in the BJP and RSS told me, but Sudarshanji is like that only. That is why, they said, we keep him away from the media. But in this case, Sudarshan had himself reached out to me through his staff and set up that interview, so they were not able to hide him. But Sudarshan is just an individual. Has the BJP leadership ever wondered if the problem is with him, as an indivi-dual, or with the RSS and the type of worldview it represents or the Indian nationalism it espouses?It is this blind, unquestioning devotion to an organisation and a philosophy which was born obsolete, if not sick, that has blighted the BJP as a political force. Indian politics has space for an ideology a little to the right of centre, but not for the minority-bashing, xenophobic, neurotic nationalism and desi-ghee-and-cow-urine economics that the RSS represents. Unless the BJP can dump that burden of its history, it will continue to decline.


Postscript: How, then, does the rise of the BJP to power in


1998-2004 square with your theory, you might ask. The difference then was Vajpayee, who protected both his party and government from its ideological "uncles" whose hatred for him, in turn, came out so sensationally in that Sudarshan interview. Vajpayee, actually, was cross with me over that interview. He did not speak to me for some time, and when he did, his first question was, "So, you were so happy when Sudarshanji was abusing me? You never stopped him."


"But how could I? He is the Sarsanghchalak," I said cheekily.


"Theek hai, humko gaali dena to unka banta hai, hum bhi kab unki naahin sunte hain?" he said, and we made up again.


It is only because of his wisdom, stature and moral authority that the BJP was able to build a real coalition and rule India for six years. To get anywhere near power again, the party will have to either invent another Vajpayee, or make a clean break from its ideological mentors. None looks like a real prospect now when the new, young party president draws his "power" from the idea that he is a "Sangh" appointee.








 Rank depression had set in following last year's UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, which many believed had provided the world its best opportunity yet to craft a global plan to limit carbon emissions. No binding agreement was reached; a meeting of environment ministers later this month in Cancun is also not expected to yield much progress, especially after the recent Republican victory in the US mid-term elections. At the same time, many scientists believe that even if countries agreed to a plan to significantly decrease carbon emissions, it may be too late. 2010 is well on its way to being the warmest year on record, and the earth could have already passed a tipping point after which serious disruption to our climate and, in turn, our economic and political systems, becomes inevitable.


In the face of these political failures and mounting concerns in the scientific community, many are looking to a "Plan B" in which humans actively intervene to control the earth's climate — or geoengineering. Although geoengineering is still rarely discussed in India, it should not be ignored. India, like much of the world, may soon find itself alternatively looking to geoengineering for salvation and as a potential threat.


Although it may sound fanciful, congressional and parliamentary committees in both the US and Britain are encouraging further study of geoengineering and have agreed that "consideration for the[ir] regulatory arrangements... needs to start now." Indeed, "serious" scientists, like Nobel prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, think geoengineering might be our best hope to avoid climate calamity. Last year, a prominent panel of economists, including three Nobel Prize winners and Jagdish Bhagwati, ranked geoengineering alternatives on the basis of costs and benefits, and recommended immediate research into several of them.


There are two commonly proposed types of geoengineering options. The first involves removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Its proponents advocate alternatives like spreading special plankton in the ocean to soak up carbon at a far faster rate than plant life on the planet currently can. The second form of geoengineering most frequently suggested involves reflecting some of the sun's rays away from the planet, such as by shooting phosphorous into the atmosphere to mimic the cooling effects of a volcano. Both geoengineering alternatives build on natural processes that already affect the climate, but humans would intervene in new ways to amplify and direct these effects.


India should study the solutions that geoengineering proposals promise seriously. India is, after all, under current projections, likely to be amongst the countries worst hit by climate change. It is also of concern, though, that were geoengineering to go wrong, the consequences could potentially be worse than climate change itself. For example, the monsoon could inadvertently be affected, causing widespread crop failure on the sub-continent. Equally, we should be mindful that some recommending it might be interested merely in maintaining the status quo.


Even if humans successfully controlled the effects of geoengineering, it would produce a thicket of governance challenges. Countries like Russia might be agriculturally more productive with an earth two degrees warmer, while India might be better off with an earth two degrees cooler than today. Who would decide the earth's temperature? The question could cause open conflict between countries, or citizens and their governments.


India needs to ensure that it has both the technical and political expertise to respond to geoengineering proposals. Proposals come in various forms: for example, simply planting more trees to soak up carbon to decrease the world's temperature, technically counts as geoengineering. But that is intervention of a different degree from putting an aerosol into the atmosphere to reflect the sun to cool the planet. India, like other countries, needs to be able to independently study the merits of these proposals, while at the same time encouraging that any decisions about geoengineering take place in as global and democratic a forum as possible.


The status quo on climate change is becoming more and more unviable. Increased discussion of geoengineering alternatives, and even reported small-scale testing, including by a German-Indian expedition near Antarctica last year, signal that the debate is shifting. Seriously limiting carbon emissions should still be the first goal as the world meets in Cancun later this month, but if this fails or proves inadequate, large-scale adaptation or geoengineering may be the only other options left. Adaptation — moving vulnerable populations, changing farming practices, building dikes against the sea, and so on — may ultimately prove preferable to the risks of geoengineering, but geoengineering can no longer be ignored. To this, India and the rest of the world will have to adjust.


The writer is an assistant professor at Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat








 Caught beyond


During a series against South Africa in the UAE, Pakistan's wicketkeeper, Zulqarnain Haider "vanished", according to newspapers. Pakistan lost that game by 57 runs, and the five-match series 3-2. Dawn, on November 8, reported: "Zulqarnain Haider has arrived in England after mysteriously disappearing hours before the fifth and final ODI against South Africa in Dubai. 'I have come here on my own expenses on a one month visa,' Zulqarnain told a private news channel after spending nearly four hours with immigration authorities at Heathrow Airport. 'I will speak... on the reasons for my decision to leave Dubai and come to London later on.' "The Pakistan Cricket Board responded with a statement quoted in the November 11 Daily Times: " 'The PCB has suspended the stipend contract of Haider for violating terms and conditions and a three-man committee will look into the facts surrounding the incident.'" The report added that the "wicketkeeper has claimed he was told by a person to cooperate in fixing the last two ODIs against South Africa in Dubai for which he could earn a lot of money, or otherwise he would be out of the team and could also face a lot of problems. Haider said he fled to London out of fear."


Reacting to Obama


US President Barack Obama's support for a permanent seat for India in the UNSC has Pakistan fuming, suggests a report in The News on November 9: "The spokesman at the Foreign Office... said Pakistan hopes the US... will take a moral view and not base itself on any temporary expediency or exigencies of power politics." Dawn reported on November 9 that the Pakistan's foreign secretary conveyed its concerns to the American ambassador. Dawn added on November 12: "Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that despite the US support, India needed to cover a lot of ground before realising its ambition... Speaking at a joint press conference with his Italian counterpart Franco Frattini, Qureshi used the Persian phrase 'Hanuz Dilli Door Ast' (Delhi is still far away) in response to a question about the expansion..."


No sugar today


Sugar prices in Pakistan have become a problem, reported Daily Times on November 9: "Following a surge in price, sugar was being sold at Rs 120 per kg in cities and Rs 110 per kg rural areas." Dawn reported the prices went up because the government had removed its subsidy on sugar, in compliance with IMF guidelines. However, information minister, Qamar Zaman Kaira was quoted by Daily Times as saying that "profiteers and hoarders have artificially created the sugar shortage." The News added that "Pakistani consumers... are paying almost twice the world price for one kg of sugar." The report quoted anonymous officials as saying that the problem was that Pakistan's sugar industry has been politicised — "most of the producers and sellers of the commodity are sitting in Parliament."


]Finally, taxes


]Daily Times reported on November 11 the levying of an additional flood relief tax on Pakistan's better-off. "The cabinet agreed to impose Flood Relief Surcharge, raising income tax payments by 10 per cent for the next six months for those earning Rs 300,000 or more a year... 'We will collect Rs 40 billion from well-off people,' Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh said."







In the Islamic republic we call Pakistan, there are different set of rules defining halal and haram depending on whom the injunction is being applied to. The only rule that applies across the board is that rules can be bent for those with influence. And there is no influence like petro-dollars, ever since the good old days of the Afghan jihad against the infidel Soviet forces in Afghanistan, when the greenbacks started really rolling in.


The blanket ban on the hunting of the houbara bustard and other endangered species of migratory birds that descend on Pakistan's wetlands every winter, doesn't hold when it comes to hunters from the Saudi, UAE and Qatari royal families. Once again, Islamabad has issued exclusive, no-holds-barred hunting permits and earmarked districts across Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan to facilitate the Sheikhs in their hunting expeditions. And why not, when someone as impeccably righteous and on the wrong side of the government as Imran Khan can enjoy the game unhindered every now and then? You just have to know how to pull the right strings.


Pakistanis, as a people, don't care much for loss of life, much less that of permissible, edible animals and birds. Neither do they care much about the environment whose spiralling degradation is perhaps the worst in South Asia. In the cities, trees are felled by the hundreds every year to broaden roads, build flyovers and facilitate other urban development projects. Environment impact studies, mandatory for all such schemes, are rarely carried out. Where such studies have been conducted under court orders, their results have been manipulated.


So it's not just the endangered species that bear the brunt of government callousness. The abuse of the environment is an unchecked fact of life. It is not only the non-native migratory birds that are endangered — the Balochistan bear, the snow leopard, the Himalayan tiger, the ibex, the markhor and the Indus river dolphin all feature prominently among the native endangered species, yet their hunting goes on unabated. In the rare occasion that someone is caught for illegal hunting, they often get away without a fine, let alone a jail term or being made a cautionary example. In most cases, a "stern" warning is the only punishment.


Under such conditions, it is too much to expect that the government would resist granting hunting permits to the rich sheikhs from the Gulf, whose regular trips have started local economies of sorts around their respective hunting grounds. In the Rahimyar Khan district of southern Punjab, for instance, the UAE royal family has built a modern international airport that also serves the local population. Then there are acres upon acres of private royal estates and palaces, with their own landing strips across the vast hunting grounds that employ and support local communities, with modern healthcare and education facilities provided to the local communities free of charge. This is charity, Islamic style, which helps soften the sins of the mighty and wealthy.


It's not only the houbara that the sheikhs come here for: illegal human trafficking is another major attraction, as the sheikhs' agents in the countryside recruit and transport underage boys to serve as camel race jockeys back in the Gulf (though the sport is officially illegal even in the sheikhdoms). The Pakistan government has responded by setting up a child rehabilitation centre in Lahore, where traumatised young survivors of the camel race are brought home with the help of some NGOs. The government provides boarding, lodging and schooling, including psychiatric help to these victims of juvenile abuse. The Punjab government flaunts the facility as a mark of its accomplishment instead of moving to end the abuse that goes on unchecked. No amount of reporting or censure by the media has been able to put a dent in the illegal practice.


Getting a permit to hunt may not be as easy as getting an arms licence (there's even one called the "licence to use prohibited bore"), getting liquor or drugs or indulging in prostitution. These are all banned, but those with influence manage to get them.


In these sorry circumstances, saving endangered species does not figure prominently on either the government's enforcement agenda or when it comes to public awareness. Far bigger problems, like random violence, acts of terrorism and an all but non-existing law and order, runaway inflation and the government's apathy are far more consuming subjects for the Pakistani public right now.


The writer is an editor with 'Dawn', Karachi








From the Peshwas to the Pawars, Maharashtra's political history is replete with uncle-nephew feuds. The latest buzz is over Ajit Pawar, the state's newly appointed (some might say anointed) deputy chief minister and his more famous uncle, NCP president Sharad Pawar. The Delhi-Mumbai grapevine has it that Ajit Pawar arm-twisted his uncle for deputy chief ministership, and given his "angry young man" image, it would not surprise many. Some think Ajit's elevation could lead to a power struggle in the Pawar household, between his nephew Ajit Pawar and daughter Supriya Sule.


But that is not the real story — Ajit's elevation has more to do with political compulsion. The NCP is going through the crisis that the state Congress experienced in the '80s. Pawar Sr doesn't want to be part of the political history he started scripting then.


In 1978, before he became the Maratha strongman that he is now, Sharad Pawar rocked the Congress establishment with his Progressive Democratic Alliance. Becoming chief minister of Maharashtra at the age of 38, Sharad Pawar mobilised the politically powerful Marathas around him, who controlled the state's gigantic network of cooperatives and sugar mills. They were deeply hurt by the treatment meted out by the Congress leadership to Maratha icon Yashwantrao Chavan, the state's first chief minister.


There was a strong sense that Chavan was humiliated by Indira Gandhi, and did not get his due. She was, anyway, unpopular because of the Emergency. Sharad Pawar seized the opportunity to strike at the Congress by cobbling together the Indian Congress (Socialist) party. Marathas went with him in large numbers, and that was when his image assumed large-than-life proportions.


But that experiment was aborted soon after Indira Gandhi returned to power and dismissed the Pawar government in February 1980. In the subsequent election, Pawar's Socialist Congress was wiped out and the Indira-led Congress came back to power. From here onwards, Sharad Pawar began losing his steam. In 1984, after Mrs Gandhi was assassinated, Pawar came back knocking at the Congress's door. Rajiv Gandhi kept him waiting for a couple of years, then took him back into the Congress at a grand ceremony in Aurangabad.


Pawar's calculations went awry for the second time at this point. He was hoping that his powerful Maratha base would migrate with him to the Congress. That didn't happen. Instead, a section went to the Shiv Sena. Pawar's return to the Congress gave the Sena a foothold in regions like Marathwada where it had no previous presence, which finally won the assembly elections in 1995, in alliance with the BJP.


Meanwhile, after Rajiv Gandhi's death in 1991, Pawar lurched on in the Congress. Unlike his mentor Yashwantrao Chavan, Pawar never hid his ambition of leading the country. After Rajiv's demise, he threw his hat in the ring but lost and ended up working under an astute P.V. Narasimha Rao who lost no opportunity to clip his wings.


Having understood the political ramifications of being too cozy with the Congress leadership, Sharad Pawar changed course mid-way and again broke away from the Congress to form the Nationalist Congress Party.


The first casualty was the saffron camp: Maratha leaders who had deserted the Congress to join the Sena dumped it to return to Sharad Pawar's NCP. The cycle was complete. The NCP-Congress alliance won two successive state elections and continues to rule the state since 1999.


Now the political situation has brought Sharad Pawar to a crossroads. He is no longer a force for the young and restless in the Maratha community that has a big role in defining the state's politics. The emergence of radical elements like the Sambhaji Brigade are drawing lumpen Marathas from rural regions. Their urban brethren are moving towards another young firebrand: Raj Thackeray. Pawar needs something drastic to shake up his party and repackage it for this constituency of young and upwardly mobile Marathas.


Ajit Pawar is the answer. He is charismatic, at least in rural areas, doesn't mind crossing the thin line between brash and reckless, and more importantly, has a sizeable following among young people in the countryside — qualities that Pawar Sr might have liked to see in daughter Supriya. She is more comfortable in drawing rooms and English channels, while Ajit is a street-smart politician with real attitude — Raj Thackeray's rural version. The decision to catapult Ajit to the top was perfectly timed. At a point when the Congress has a mild-mannered Prithviraj Chavan, and when the state is divided between the warring Thackeray brothers, Ajit Pawar's entry will certainly stoke the state's already heated politics.


The writer is executive editor of 'Loksatta'







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 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 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 and as recent as the Mughals 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 CIA-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.


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.


With Indonesia, 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 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 radicalised 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 US 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 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 vigour 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 US 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 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.


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 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 neighbours' 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 Obama's visits to key states of coastal Asia will prove Spykman's theory correct.

Robert D. Kaplan







Though DMK chief M Karunanidhi has come out in strong support of telecom minister A Raja, matters could very quickly come to a head. Karunanidhi's daughter and DMK MP Kanimozhi has already met finance minister and chief troubleshooter Pranab Mukherjee, an indicator that matters are quite serious since the BJP has decided to stall Parliament on the issue. So it just may, repeat may, be that we have a new telecom minister in the next few days, probably from the DMK stable since, according to the original power sharing between allies, the DMK got the telecom portfolio. But will things change in case there's a new telecom minister? The CAG has estimated that Rs 1.76 lakh crore has been lost to the exchequer thanks to Raja's policies. Will this come back with his resignation? Obviously not.


Any solution then has to involve cancelling the 122 licences issued by Raja in January 2008 at prices that were even below bargain-basement ones, and to reauction them. Not now, when firms have little cash left, having just dished out over a lakh crore in the 3G/BWA auction, and in any case have extra spectrum from the auction right now—best to wait till firms use up their spectrum and are back in the market, hungry for more. Doubts will be raised as to whether the firms who are to be asked to give up their spectrum will go to court, effectively stopping the process for several years. This is indeed possible, though the chances of this happening are low. Keep in mind that the CAG has documented all manner of wrong doings. The CAG has given instance after instance of firms not meeting the eligibility criterion, but reserving their place in the queue on the basis of the original paperwork, and then taking months (in one case, a firm got 9 months to submit an equity structure that allowed it to remain in the race) to fix things. Under the rules, this automatically disqualifies the firms and allows licences to be taken back—and had these firms' place in the queue been determined by when they had the necessary paperwork, none of them would even have got licences. There are also the penalties and the cancellation that Trai will recommend on Monday, since the government didn't do this on its own, for failing to roll out networks on time. The combination of the two should ensure that, if the government wants to, revoking the licence without paying too much money back is a serious possibility in many of the cases. Removing Raja without righting the wrong is unacceptable.







Did we really expect the G20 meet to provide solutions to the present problems of currency wars that are dominating our mindspace? The answer is probably no, because issues that have not been sorted out over months cannot be resolved in two days. But, if we have to take a positive view of things, then we can say that this meet got the concerned parties together to at least agree that there is a problem that has to be sorted out. As there are two diametrically opposite stances taken by the US and the emerging markets (also sensationalised to a Barack Obama vs Hu Jintao conflict), the solution, if at all, was going to be a compromise. The communiqué is naturally filled with bromides and motherhood statements that, at best, cogently state the obvious. The joint statement blows hot and cold on the actual action points. There is agreement not to have competitive devaluations, and Obama has reiterated that exchange rates should reflect reality. By harping on sustainable growth, the US has in a way defended the QE2 and other actions that may follow to resuscitate the US economy. But a kind of blinking green light has been provided for (developing) countries to consider capital controls when there are currency issues. Five areas have been brought into focus for policy debate under the indicative guidelines that were issued: monetary issues, exchange rates, trade and development, fiscal and financial reforms. But we still have no idea as to how these objectives are to be met as there has been no numbers attached to any goal. That would have meant commitment and in such gatherings, no country would like to shoulder this responsibility.


Were there any good takeaways from this meet? Obama averred that nothing that is done in such meets would be dramatic, while the UK PM David Cameron maintained that pressures over currencies and trade imbalances can never be solved overnight. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who takes over G20 leadership next year, felt that the summit had allayed the tension that existed before its start, which was an achievement. Also, China nodded at the indicative guidelines and maintained that the polices that it was pursuing were anyway always consistent with these guidelines! More specifically, while there were fractious discussions for these two days, the good thing was that these had not broken up into acrimony. Remember WTO? The focus will now shift to 2011, which will be important for two deadlocked issues—WTO and, now, G20.








Congress leaders may well be talking to DMK chief Karunanidhi to get rid of telecom minister A Raja to reduce the Opposition pressure now that the CAG has said that Raja caused a loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the exchequer, but there's little in government action to suggest it is concerned with anything other than a cover up.


Take, for instance, the latest affidavit filed by the government in the Supreme Court in the public interest litigation on the spectrum scandal. The affidavit repeats the old arguments Raja has been making. So, it argues, among others, the telecom ministry was following existing policy, that comparing 2G and 3G spectrum (as the CAG has done) is stupid, that no new licensee had sold its existing equity ... While it is true both Swan and Unitech issued fresh equity, the only reason why Etisalat and Telenor bought this was that the firms had cheap spectrum—so there is little doubt Swan and Unitech's promoters benefited from the cheap spectrum Raja gave them.


The affidavit then goes on to say the matter "does not call for an interference from this Hon'ble Court. The legal position is well settled that courts will not interfere with or monitor investigations except in rare and extraordinary circumstances, where the material on record would clearly establish that (for example) witnesses are being threatened, evidence is being destroyed ..." It then goes on to add, "It is respectfully submitted … issue of allotment and pricing of spectrum falls squarely in the domain of executive policy making, and in which the scope for judicial review is highly restricted."


Apart from being ridiculous, what's interesting is that this is the exact stand the government took when one of the companies which applied for licences, STel, did not get all the licences it had applied for thanks to the arbitrary cutoff date imposed by Raja, and went to court. The Attorney General had represented the government on the matter and the High Court decided in favour of STel. The government appealed before the division bench but lost again, and so went in appeal to the Supreme Court. The day before the case was to come up, the government asked STel to stop operations in the areas it had licences in, so STel told the court it didn't want the new licences any more!—the court, however, refused to overturn the high court judgement. So the courts have already rejected this argument but the government has once again gone and repeated them!


So here's the trick being played by the government: Congress spokespersons as well as officials like parliamentary affairs minister PK Bansal say the matter is sub judice, but the case in the court can't move ahead because the CBI which reports to the prime minister refuses to move on its case more than a year after it first filed the FIR—it is because of this that the SC judges had lost their cool and asked the government counsel if the CBI would require a decade to complete the investigation. And, just in case all else fails, the government affidavit points out that the court really has no jurisdiction in 'policy matters'.


Normally, since any affidavit is filed by the line ministry, in this case the telecom ministry which reports to Raja, this can be discounted and the argument can be made that the affidavit is essentially a case of Raja supporting Raja. But, as telecom secretary R Chandrashekhar confirmed to The Financial Express, the affidavit was cleared by the "government's law officer", in this case, either the Attorney General or the Solicitor General. Chandrashekhar said that while, in many cases, affidavits are settled by lower-rung officers, in high profile cases such as this one, the affidavits are cleared by the AG or the SG.


Nor is it just the courts that, the telecom ministry believes, have no jurisdiction. In September, the ministry sent a legal opinion made by its law officer Santokh Singh to the law ministry—the opinion was based on the note of AK Srivastava, one of the officers who was interrogated in the CBI HQ, when it was investigating the matter. The ministry's position was that the CVC and the CAG had no locus standi to investigate the matter and it wanted the law ministry's assent. The ministry's note said that while the CAG could look into government accounts, the CAG Act "nowhere provides that he has any duty or power to question the wisdom of the policy/lawmakers as policy decisions may involve trial and error theory." In the case of the CVC, the note said "as per Section 8 of the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003, CVC has not been assigned any functions or powers to issue directives relating to policy matters." The law ministry gave its assent to this opinion on September 7 and, accordingly, Chandrashekhar wrote to the CAG saying the law ministry had "opined that the CAG had no duty or power to challenge policy decisions taken by the Government."


Interestingly, the affidavit also deals with the CAG's other allegations in a cursory manner. The CAG had given detailed explanations as to why various firms that were given licences did not even meet the specified criterion—if the dates by which these firms conformed to the norms were to be taken as their application dates, as these should, few of them would have qualified for the licence. The CAG says 85 of the 122 licences issued fall in this category. The affidavit, cleared by the highest law officer in the government (who does not report to A Raja) says these firms had given an undertaking that if the information given by them was found to be incorrect, the licence shall be cancelled—so "any misrepresentation by an applicant cannot be construed as indicative of mala fide on the part of DoT. If any misrepresentation of facts is brought to notice at a later date necessary action can be taken as per due procedure under the relevant rules." That's it—the CAG points out major flaws in how licences were issued and the DoT ducks saying it cannot be held responsible. And more than three years after this, it still hasn't taken back any licence for misrepresentation of facts.


It's not just Raja who has created a complicated jalebi of fact and fiction to defend himself, various arms of the government have ably assisted him every step of the way.










When the time comes, should Mukesh Ambani, the owner of country's largest company by market cap, be deciding on his successor? More importantly, should he sit in judgement if one of the contenders is his own progeny, as the case will most likely be, given the filial ties that bind succession in family-run businesses in India?


The debate on family vis-à-vis professional management in matters of succession is an old one, and this newspaper has taken a nuanced, pro-family view on it. "With family-owned businesses accounting for over four-fifths of India Inc's wealth, it's unrealistic to expect the families to stay away. While the western model of divorcing ownership from management has positives, this may not work in a developing economy where the rules of the game aren't as well-defined," we said in these pages sometime back in the context of a bevy of announcements anointing the next generation into the top echelons of leading family-owned companies—Bharti, Wipro, HCL, Future Group, TVS, RPG, etc ('Babalog brigade'


But this piece is more about the fundamental issue of whether it is 'right in principle' for majority shareholders to foist one of their own into the company, even though they may have been well within their 'business & legal rights' to do so. Let's examine the issue from a somewhat different perspective, even though mindful of the fact that the capitalist system is based on the bedrock of perpetuating ownership.


It's in human nature to favour its own in all endeavours, including businesses. So you have laws that govern related party transactions that aim to minimise such subjectivity to promote the spirit of free and fair enterprise, and more importantly, protect the interest of all stakeholders—shareholders yes, but even consumers, suppliers, exchequer et al. Laws that govern business are replete with clauses that lay down clear rules for intra-company sales, disclosures, information use, etc. The underlying assumption is that laws have to keep a check on 'animal spirits' that drive all enterprises.


The companies' law recognises that a company may favour its arm/subsidiary in a transaction and therefore you have strict transfer pricing guidelines in the companies' bill. Essentially, transfer pricing refers to the 'transaction price' between two related companies. Such is the fear of company wrongdoing here that the discipline has spawned a whole business ecosystem around it—from law enforcers, consultants, arbiters, cost accountants et al. And not without reason it seems, for a large number of pending tax arbitrations cases revolve around 'transfer pricing', where there is a real or perceived violation of the laid-down laws.


Company insiders can trade on sensitive information, and therefore you have strict 'insider trading' clauses in the share listing laws. Business laws define Persons Acting in Concert (PAC), essentially again a 'related party' nomenclature, for various situations—incorporation, takeovers, consolidations, etc. Another clause in the listing agreement, introduced a few years ago, mandates a minimum proportion of directors on a company board to be 'independent'. Independent of whom? Obviously of majority shareholders and management, and therefore acting as virtual emissaries of small shareholders and other business stakeholders. Implicit in this 'independent' moniker is the assumption that majority shareholders and/or management may compromise, knowingly or unknowingly, the interests of other stakeholders in business, and therefore their decisions need to be vetted and policed at the highest level. Though the independent directors here failed in their duty and rubber-stamped the Saytam-Maytas deal, it was the indignation of the whole investor community at this 'related party' transaction (recollect Maytas was then run by sons of the now-disgraced Satyam promoter Ramalinga Raju) that put paid to this deal, and that in a way paved the way for the subsequent unravelling of Rs 7,000 crore accounting scam at the IT major.


The current debate around allowing industrial groups into banking too points to the regulator and government's uneasiness over the coziness that can build up between the bank and its promoter company or business group upsetting the level playing field in the market. And even strong proponents who argue for letting big companies into banking allow for strict ceiling of 'related-company or group-wise' credit here!


So when all 'related' transactions of a company, whether involving sales, investments, loans or leveraging information are under strict scrutiny, why is it that 'related party' succession has a corporate governance carte blanche? It's no one's case that a Rishad (Premji) or a Shravin (Mittal) should or should not join the family firm, but in the spirit of all other 'related party' principles that govern businesses, wouldn't it be in order for the 'related' shareholders/management to be at arms' length distance to the decision in any such appointments? Or should they be allowed their say but under clearly laid-down rules for 'related-party' succession and appointments?








Pipped to the post

After former RSS chief KS Sudarshan made his comments about Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, party spokesperson Janardhan Dwivedi organised a press conference at the party headquarters to slam Sudarshan. Much to his chagrin, however, Rajiv Shukla, who is now eyeing one of the ministerial berths vacated by Prithviraj Chavan, was on national TV condemning Sudarshan many hours before his press meet.




Delhi Metro chief E Sreedharan's woes never seem to end. If it isn't bad enough that he has to meet all kind of deadlines to ensure the Anil Ambani airport line comes on track soon, he has to contend with his contractors trying to pinch his top people. The other day, Sreedharan said, L&T officials were asking him who the good people in the metro were—L&T, a contractor for the Delhi Metro, has now won the Hyderabad metro and is looking for people to run it. Several Delhi Metro staffers have already switched tracks.




During a conference at the Australian Trade Commission, a group of journalists were doing a videoconference with Australian trade spokespersons, and one asked if the Australians had something to say about the CWG, given how they had criticised the preparations before the Games began, and even their PM's statements on it. As luck would have it, the video link snapped just then.







On the very day that Lehman Brothers collapsed, Damien Hirst held a single-artist auction that broke all records. In subsequent months, the art market dipped bigtime and galleries felt fear in the air. But when a Picasso (Nude, Green Leaves and Bust) sold for $106.5m this May, making it the most expensive art work ever sold at auction, it was proof positive that this market had bounced back faster than experts had anticipated. But this week was packed with action immoderate even by boom-time standards. Andy Warhol, someone Hirst acknowledges as a dominant influence, had a really good run, with Big Campbell's Soup Can with Can Opener, Coca-Cola and Men in Her Life going for $24m, $35m and $63m, respectively. Contemporary Roy Lichtenstein's Ohhh...Alright..., all about a redhead clutching a phone, fetched $42.6 million. Steve Martin used to hold this one.


Warhol has been called the bellwether of the art market, which in turn is supposed to trend the larger economy. To those baffled by the above-named prices and unwilling to be assured that these reflect a global economy rediscovering sound footings, we say, echoing today's mantra, look east where capital is not in short supply. To aesthetic folk, we suggest a relook at Warholabilia to confirm why he is a major landmark in art history (he made paintings from photographs, redefined the studio as the factory, etc). This will only confirm the art market's rationality.








While the power of impeachment is vested in Parliament, the move to force the removal of Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court was initiated, quite extraordinarily, by the office of the Chief Justice of India. In 2008, Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recommending that impeachment proceedings be initiated under Article 124(4) of the Constitution against Justice Sen on the basis of the findings of an in-house inquiry, which held him guilty of financial misconduct. That unprecedented missive has resulted in the completion of two of three stages governing the impeachment process — a notice seeking such action signed by a specified number of MPs, and a finding of guilt by a three-member committee constituted under the Judges Inquiry Act 1968. The stage is now set for Parliament to consider the impeachment motion, which can be passed only if supported by two-thirds of members present and voting as well as by an absolute majority of the total membership in each House. Deplorably, Justice Sen has decided to cling to office, following the example of P.D. Dinakaran, now Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court, who refused to resign in the face of a flurry of corruption and land-grab charges.


Such defiance of judicial propriety draws attention to the absence of a quick and effective statutory mechanism to deal with errant judges. The process of impeachment is clearly much too time-consuming. As the only instance when an impeachment motion came up for vote in Parliament showed, it is also fraught with political uncertainty; in 1993, Justice V. Ramaswami was let off the hook when the Congress decided to abstain from voting on the motion. No further time must be wasted in passing the Judges Standards and Accountability Bill, which seeks to simplify the procedure for acting against erring judges. An unusual aspect about the charges against Justice Sen is that they relate to a time when he was an advocate and a case in which he was a court-appointed Receiver in 1984. The three-member inquiry committee held him guilty of misappropriation of the money he received in this capacity as well as misrepresenting facts about it. Mr. Sen paid the money back with interest after a single judge of the Calcutta High Court, who made scathing observations about his "misappropriation," directed him to do so. However, a Division Bench reversed this and ordered the deletion of these remarks. It is important that Parliament discusses the issue dispassionately, evenhandedly, and in detail before voting on the motion — the dismissal of judges is too serious an issue to be determined by political considerations.







The Indian banking sector which demonstrated a high degree of resilience during the global economic crisis is facing the challenges of meeting the financial needs of a fast growing economy. Inevitably, there have been stresses and strains. According to the Reserve Bank of India's annual report on 'Trends and Progress of Banking in India,' the performance of commercial banks during 2009-10 was subdued. A slowdown in deposit growth caused a deceleration in the disbursement of credit. Consequently, their combined balance sheets expanded at a slower rate. Their net profits have been growing but at a slower rate. All other parameters, such as the return on assets and on equity, corroborate the point that their profitability is under stress. At the aggregate level, non-performing assets (NPAs) have been increasing. Although not alarming, the deterioration in asset quality underlines the need for banks to step up the provisions, especially at a time when the enhanced Basel II capital norms take effect. While Indian banks are comfortably placed for now, they will have to shore up their capital base in the future. On the positive side, banks have been extending their geographical coverage through their branches and ATMs, thereby bringing about financial inclusion across the country.


The RBI has been gradually shifting its policy focus from crisis management to recovery management. In fact, some of its more recent measures aim at preventing the creation of an asset bubble in the residential property markets in big cities. Over the past year, there has been a renewed policy emphasis on customer service, promoting the free flow of credit to small and medium enterprises, and adopting the latest technology. Outside India, and especially in the West, concerns have remained over downside risks, especially those relating to profitability and quality of assets. Major banks that were rescued with public money need to regain their standing and identity by ending their dependence on emergency support measures from the exchequer. As the RBI points out, there are important lessons from the global economic crisis for banking policies. The need for regulation to stay ahead of innovation has been well understood, as evidenced by the central bank's cautious approach to the introduction of new products, such as credit default swaps and certain types of derivatives. Having shielded the financial sector from the worst consequences of the economic crisis, the RBI is preparing the ground for new policy initiatives, including the licensing of new banks.










Advocates of the global war on terror are congratulating one another on the successful interception of two parcel bombs, originating from Yemen and bound for two Jewish organisations in Chicago. A Qatar Airlines passenger flight first ferried one of the deadly packages to Doha, from where it transited to Dubai. Only a timely tip-off, apparently by the Saudi intelligence, enabled the authorities to locate the bomb inside a FedEx warehouse at the Dubai airport. The second parcel bomb booked by the logistics firm, UPS, was identified at the British East Midlands airport. The Yemeni and Saudi branches of the al-Qaeda, which have amalgamated into the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), claimed responsibility for the failed attack.


Last year Nigerian bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who also spent time with the AQAP in Yemen, narrowly missed blowing up a Northwest Airlines flight as it prepared to land at Detroit on Christmas Day.


While the two foiled plots out ofYemen are counted by many in the West as battles won, victory in the war on terror is nowhere on the horizon. On the contrary, the tactics in the counter-terror campaign are alienating and radicalising many Muslims across the globe, especially in West Asia and Europe. As a result, terrorism is expanding, not shrinking as envisaged by the architects of the war on terror unleashed with much fanfare and fury following the horrific 9/11 attacks in the United States.


Terrorism breeds on hatred of the American. Unless the animosity towards the U.S. is diminished, the threat of a grandiose and carefully planned terror strike that will sow fear and rage in the collective western psyche and further polarise a deeply divided globe cannot be ruled out. The failed attacks from Yemen should, therefore, be seen as a cause for deeper introspection. Unless the Americans work out and implement a concerted plan, founded on fairness and justice, it may only be a matter of time before terror strikes with deadly effect in some vulnerable corner of the western world.


After the eight years of the presidency of George W. Bush, whose deeply divisive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq witnessed a concurrent surge in Islamophobia in the West and Muslim radicalisation in large parts of the globe, Barack Obama had a golden opportunity to heal some of the wounds. After a bright start, when he stirringly sought to engage the Muslim world on the principles of mutual respect and equality during his famed Cairo University address, the young American President failed to undertake the promised course correction. With the charismatic aura of his first few months in office fading, President Obama's chances of reworking a harmonious relationship with West Asia have been diminishing precipitously. After the drubbing of his Democratic Party in this month's midterm elections, he is confronted by a Congress that is led by a resurgent Republican Party. The Republicans are bound to discourage him from reaching out to the region on terms which are less lop-sided in favour of Israel, the U.S.' core ally. Yet, if the war on terror is not to be lost, Mr. Obama may have no choice but boldly re-engaging with West Asia, irrespective of the sweeping resistance he encounters from mainstream Israel and its neoconservative and Christian-Right allies in the U.S., who are so inextricably tied to the highly partisan but emboldened Republican Party.


Faced with this formidable phalanx of resistance, what can President Obama do to win the war on terror? In order to win the battle for hearts and minds, his administration should convince the vast multitude of Muslims as well as the rest of the world that the war on terror is not a crusade against Islam. This will not be easy to accomplish, as the psyche of the people in the region is still traumatised by the images of torture in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, and the horror stories emerging out of the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay.


Among the substantial steps President Obama can take to turn the tide of the war is fulfilling his promise of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. It will go a long way in taking some of the sting out of the virulent anti-Americanism that makes sizable sections of Muslim youth susceptible to the al-Qaeda's poisonous appeal.


Second, more evidence now emerges that the Predator drone strikes, expanded on a significant scale by President Obama, are proving counterproductive. The attacks, no doubt, are killing some terrorists but are also motivating far larger numbers to join the terrorist ranks. In a recent article published by the Inter-Press Service (IPS), investigative historian Gareth Porter points out that CIA officers involved in the agency's drone strikes programme in Pakistan and elsewhere "are privately expressing their opposition to the programme within the agency, because it is helping the al-Qaeda and its allies recruit." The article quotes Jeffrey Addicott, former legal adviser to the U.S. Special Forces and director of the Centre for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University, San Antonio, as saying that some of the "CIA operators are concerned that, because of its blowback effect, it [Predator strike] is doing more harm than good."


Given this negative fallout, the Obama administration may find it prudent to restrict the drone attack programme. The U.S. could, instead, find the expansion of its diplomatic engagement in Afghanistan far more rewarding. Without abandoning Pakistan, Washington may make much headway in Afghanistan by drawing more prominently into the diplomatic domain regional players such as Iran, India, Russia and Central Asian countries so that a far larger section of the Afghan population is more significantly engaged.


Third, the Americans have no choice but to negotiate with Iran if they wish to experience lower levels of hostility in the region. Iran, soon after its revolution of 1979, has been engaged in an anti-American campaign. And with the substantial expansion of its influence in recent years from the Hindukush mountain ranges to the Mediterranean coast of Levant, its war of words with Washington has acquired new teeth.


The U.S.' coercive diplomacy, centred around the denial of petrol this year to Iran, has not worked well enough. By modifying their petrochemical plants, the Iranians have refined additional crude, which not only meets their domestic consumption requirements but also generates a surplus to meet the energy needs of Afghanistan, Iraq and Armenia. Except for the Israeli-Right that is currently in power, and its diehard defenders in the U.S., who believe that the destruction of the Iranian regime is a sacred messianic undertaking, there may not be many professional military officers in the Pentagon who would see a war against Iran, based on military air strikes, as a realistic option. The Iranian nuclear facilities, likely to be the prime targets, are too widely dispersed to be demolished by aerial strikes, however destructive the weaponry is. Besides, air attacks against Iran, and the retaliation that will follow are likely to push up oil prices to unprecedented levels; something which a recession-hit U.S. and its allied economies will find hard to endure.


Finally, the war on terror has a political front which needs to be tackled with far greater urgency and intensity than has been done by the Obama administration. The theft of occupied Palestinian land for frenzied Israeli construction has sharpened the agony of the Palestinians who have already been uprooted from their land by the pogroms unleashed by the Israeli military in 1948 and 1967. Like the previous U.S. governments, the inability or unwillingness of the Obama administration to confront Israel for its gross misdemeanours against Palestinians, the symbol of Arab hopes, aspirations, collective guilt and humiliations, is bound to remain an enduring source of animosity towards the U.S.


President Obama has shown that he has the intellectual measure of the impediments to the war on terror. It would, nevertheless, be surprising if he musters the courage to work robustly for the removal of these obstacles so that a region scarred by extreme violence and suffering can begin to witness the end of its prolonged nightmare.








Every morning Aung San Suu Kyi wakes at 4 a.m. knowing there is nowhere she can go, that there is no prospect she will be allowed outside. Inside the mildewing two-storey villa the Myanmarese (Burmese) junta has made her prison, she meditates, sometimes for hours, before turning her attention to one of five radios tuned to stations around the world.


These distant voices, broadcasts from the BBC, Voice of America, the rebel news service Democratic Voice of Burma, and others, are her only constant link with the outside world. She has no phone, no TV and no internet. Her mail is heavily censored. Often it is not delivered.


She spends her days reading, in Myanmarese and English, philosophy, biographies and novels. John le Carre and Georges Simenon are favourites. She was once a keen pianist, but the muggy heat has warped her piano.


Staff and visitors


But Aung San Suu Kyi is not alone. The 65-year-old Buddhist lives with two long-serving maids, mother and daughter Khin Khin Win and Win Ma Ma, who have been sentenced with their employer for this final stretch of house detention.

U Nyan Win, her lawyer,

Aung San Suu Kyi is allowed few visitors; those who come are strictly vetted, their visits closely monitored. Fresh food is delivered daily. Her family doctor pays a house call once a month.


One of the few people who see her is her lawyer and confidant U Nyan Win, who visits fortnightly. He brings the magazines Time and Newsweek at each visit "because she must know about the news from around the world". He said: "She has a simple life in her home. But she can never leave. Not even to go outside into the gardens, to the compound. She is always inside. She is healthy, she exercises in her home. And she has strong spirit, she is determined." The once grand lakeside home at 54 University Avenue, Yangon (Rangoon), a house she inherited from her mother looks every one of its 90-odd years; despite some renovations this year it still needs repairs. The electricity fails regularly. For days following Cyclone Nargis in 2008 she read by candlelight. The villa's gardens, once immaculate, are now overrun by vines. Fifteen years of imprisonment has robbed Aung San Suu Kyi of much.




Her husband, the British academic Michael Aris, died in 1999 of cancer. She could not visit him while he was dying without risking being exiled from her country forever, and the junta refused him an entry visa to Myanmar.


She has not seen her two sons in more than 10 years. She has never met her grandchildren. Every year her sons apply for visas, every year they are rejected without explanation. Until this week. In Bangkok on November 10, her youngest son, Kim Aris, got permission to enter Myanmar; it is not known when he will get to the country.


"It has been a hard life, she has sacrificed a lot. But she is used [to it] now. And she keeps working, waiting for the day she will be released," said her lawyer.


For all of Burma that day is expected as soon as tomorrow, which is when, according to U Nyan Win, her current sentence expires "and there is no mechanism under Myanmarese law to extend that detention, to keep her under house arrest, they must let her go". There can be no guarantees from a junta that has detained Aung San Suu Kyi, arbitrarily, three times in two decades, but hints from "unnamed military sources" suggest she will be released.


"I have not been told that she will be released but it is my expectation," said U Nyan Win, at his law office in Yangon.


Her second son Kim Aris


Aung San Suu Kyi's final appeal against her sentence was rejected by the Supreme Court and her legal team has been assessing what it means for her liberty. The court's decision is a moot point though; she has almost completed this last sentence.


Spells of freedom

Since 1989, when she was first detained, Aung San Suu Kyi's previous brief spells of freedom have always come with strict conditions from the military. Previously, she has been banned from leaving Yangon, or forced to register with the army whenever going beyond the city. But she always railed against restrictions. In 2000 she spent six days in her car at a military roadblock after being stopped from leaving Rangoon, the stand-off ending when she was put back under house arrest.


A 1999 file picture of the leader.

Aung San Suu Kyi, once free, will address the Myanmarese people and media, U Nyan Win said. She wants to reinvigorate the National League for Democracy, the party she led to victory at the 1990 election but which has been proscribed by the junta after advocating a boycott of the November 7 poll. All of this is certain to raise the ire of the junta's generals. On past form, theirs and hers, Aung San Suu Kyi's liberty might be short-lived. (Jack Davies is a pseudonym.)


— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010










Aides to Nelson Mandela on November 11 demanded a halt to the thousands of requests for autographs, endorsements and interviews in a plea interpreted by some as a veiled warning to the governing African National Congress (ANC) and others accused of hijacking the name.


The ANC was criticised last year for using the frail 92-year-old anti-apartheid leader at its final election campaign rally. Mandela's most recent public appearance, on a bitterly cold night at July's World Cup final in Johannesburg, was the result of "extreme pressure" from Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Fifa), according to his grandson.


The Nelson Mandela Foundation said he received at least 4,000 messages a month. These include requests for his signature or a message of support for various causes, public appearance or interview. There are still appeals for him to intervene in struggles around the world.


Foundation's statement


But the foundation noted that as far back as 1999, Mandela said: "I don't want to reach 100 years whilst I am still trying to bring about a solution in some complicated international issue." He formally retired from public life in 2004 and since then has he made a diminishing number of appearances. Last year it was announced he would retire almost entirely from public life.


The foundation said it "would like to ask people everywhere to help make Madiba's [Mandela's clan name] retirement a time of peace and tranquillity, and to once more note the following: — "He no longer grants interviews, nor does he respond to formal questions from the media, researchers or members of the public.


— "Given the huge number of projects and causes he is asked to endorse, and the impossibility of selecting a few among the many worthy requests, he no longer provides messages of support, written or audio visual.


— "Because of the sheer volume of requests for his autographs, he no longer signs books, memorabilia, photographs, etc. We therefore appeal to the public not to send items for him to sign as the foundation cannot guarantee the safe return of this material." The foundation urged people to focus on Mandela Day by devoting 67 minutes of their time, in honour of the 67 years he spent fighting for social justice and human rights, on his birthday on July 18.


Sello Hatang, a foundation spokesman, denied the statement had any connection with past controversies. "We cannot cope," he said. "There are more than 4,000 a month and, even if you put many bodies behind that, it's too much."




Mandela's lawyer and close friend George Bizos told the Guardian: "Members of his family and friends are persistently telephoned. For example: 'I have painted a portrait of Nelson Mandela and would like to show it to him and ... can I bring a camera?' "I get innumerable calls of that nature. I have to spend a few minutes telling them he does not do that for anybody. It's impossible for him to comply with the requests he gets. This statement is nothing more than a request to turn the tap off." Bizos visits Mandela regularly and said he read four or five newspapers a day and conversed about old times. "I saw him a week ago and he was unchanged. If there had been a deterioration in his health I'm sure I would have been informed. Don't read anything into this statement other than an attempt to stop the deluge." Mandela's status has led to claims of tensions between his family and the ANC, for whom he remains a vote winner, and others keen for a piece of him.


Fred Khumalo, an author and columnist, said the ANC appeared to have compelled Mandela to attend a political rally before last year's elections. "He wasn't looking very well but they needed his presence, his magic. They dragged him to the stadium against his will, I suppose." Fifa, football's world governing body, faced similar accusations. Khumalo said: "At the World Cup final it was freezing and the old man had to parade, again, I would think against his will. Maybe the local organising committee prevailed upon his wife to persuade him." The foundation's statement "is a sign they want to discourage" such incidents, he added.


With archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu having also recently retired, South Africa could face a difficult search for a new generation of moral leaders. Khumalo said: "There is already a vacuum at the top. People need a manifestation of hope they can cling on to even when Nelson Mandela is gone.


"When you see the likes of Julius Malema [president of the ANC youth league] getting centre stage, you despair and you want to look back to the era of hope and optimism."


— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010







International aid groups say they will conduct mass polio immunisations in three central African countries in an emergency response to an unusual outbreak that targets more adults than children and is suspected in almost 100 deaths. The countries are the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Angola


UNICEF, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Rotary International say the vaccination is a response to a recent outbreak of the highly infectious disease in the Republic of Congo. The agencies counted 97 deaths out of 226 cases of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP), and said, on November 12, that four cases have been confirmed as polio.


The agencies say vaccinations began on November 13 and cover some three million people. The WHO says the vaccinations will be given regardless of past polio immunisations and will continue through the end of the year covering parts of neighbouring Congo and nearby Angola.


Health partners including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have secured some $4.8 million, 1.7 million doses of oral polio vaccines (OPV). Another five million doses of OPV from Denmark arrived in Congo on November 12.

— AP








Recent judicial pronouncements in the Aman Kachroo ragging case and the Ruchika Girhotra molestation case — which encapsulated the tragic deaths of young people, and in respect of which justice might well have gone wholly astray if it weren't for a hue and cry raised by ordinary Indians — serve to remind us that a nation growing in stature should also mean the maturing of its social order and state institutions.


The latter implies the necessity of public institutions, which underpin the state and society, keeping pace with progressive contemporary understanding of societal concerns, and linking these to global best practices. The state of the media, the shaping of laws that will support the well-being of different sections of society, the reading of laws by the courts so that the weak are not disadvantaged, and the evolving of the government into a responsive welfare-oriented entity become important indicators of the maturing of a society. We must alas infer that in these respects India is far from striving toward being a social and state system that can command respect. Here governments only think of the rate of GDP growth, and the courts of law are unmoved by the enormity of human suffering instead of interpreting existing laws creatively to benefit those without the advantage of either money or influence. Of government entities, the less said the better. In particular, the CBI has shown itself to be a club of police officers mostly out to please their political masters.

Extraordinary though it might appear, in the Aman Kachroo case the legal system was first inclined to grant bail to the four senior students who ragged Aman to death, and the college authorities had gone about behaving as though nothing abnormal had occurred, all the while proclaiming their innocence. If a public and media outcry had not erupted, led by the father of the deceased girl, these four — who would later be convicted — may have long absconded. It was under the pressure of public opinion that investigations were conducted and judgment pronounced in 20 months. But it is the quantum of the sentence pronounced by the court in Dharmshala this week that we find shocking. It is this which is now at issue. It has not been explained why the judge chose to sentence the four to four years in prison when the law provides for a maximum term of 10 years. The high court would do well to look into this aspect of the matter. Aman's father Rajendra Kachroo has been magnanimous in holding that justice would be done in his late son's case only when the University Grants Commission has ensured that ragging is eradicated for good in this country. He has sought to argue that this has failed to materialise because the UGC and the HRD ministry have not got their act right. This is a serious indictment.
In the Ruchika matter, the CBI shockingly closed two of the crucial files germane to the case of a 14-year-old Chandigarh schoolgirl taking her own life after being molested by the then Haryana inspector-general of police. It says there was insufficient evidence. But it did not bother to go to the girl's family for information. Perhaps home minister P. Chidambaram needs to look into this sorry affair. To top it all, the Supreme Court — possibly relying on the CBI's action — granted bail to the disgraced former DGP after he had served only six of his 18-month jail term awarded under public pressure. It does seem that in our country lawmakers, custodians of the law, and those who administer and interpret it become wooden and callous if the public gaze is not focused on them unremittingly.







"Reject the miracles Games of the impossible'

Cling to the words... Impossible, impossible..."

From The Last Words by Bachchoo


If I was a cartoonist I'd portray the relatively new British Prime Minister, David Cameron, not as has been suggested as Winston Churchill with a cigar and a lisp, but as another Prime Minister of recent memory. The complaint from his own party that the Cameron magic circle has not defined its Big Idea, has been hoodwinked. The Big Idea is as discernible as a 3-D film is to those who put on the viewing specs. Without the specs the film stays a blur.


Cameron has chosen his model but he and his camp have not proclaimed their allegiances and plans. More than that, they have calculatedly thrown up a political smoke screen of "fairness" and tough compassion to appear to be the opposite of the political inspiration and trajectory they have chosen to follow. The devil travels untrammelled and unquestioned in an angel's mask.

They have even managed, I believe, to keep their design from their partners in coalition (who have been sold the tickets to the 3-D movie, but haven't been given the specs), because framing this Big Idea as a programme would almost certainly crack the coalition and would alienate the British electorate. Mum's the word — in more senses than one, the second sense being the Mother Goddess of the Cameron project: ladles and jellyspoons, none other than the redoubtable Baroness Margaret Thatcher. (Alarums within?)

Mrs Thatcher began as Prime Minister by defeating Edward Heath for the leadership of the Tory Party and winning an election on a platform which at the time seemed not to have a big idea either. Heath was avowedly the political representative of international capital and gambled on Britain's entry into the European Union as its instrument. It was a narrower vision than Mrs Thatcher's even though she, out of sharp political acumen, seemed to be the representative of the British lower middle classes — the mobilisation of the suburbs, small business mentality which didn't see itself as part of the machinery of globally mobile capital, the global movement of labour and markets.

She spoke against immigration and won the hearts and votes of those who felt that British culture had been "swamped" by aliens and freebooters from the ex-colonies. In fact, despite the rhetoric, on her watch immigration into Britain actually increased.

When she came to power it was fashionable amongst my friends and colleagues to characterise Mrs Thatcher as a "fascist", a loose and inexact term of abuse. Mrs Thatcher was, in fact, the figurehead of Britain's lower middle-class "revolution". In using that word, I don't mean that this lower middle class established some "dictatorship of the boxwallas", but several of their prejudices, preoccupations and insights triumphed.
As a class they were economically close to the wage-earners, and the pen-pushers amongst them were, as managers and supervisors, familiar with the practices of trade unionists, those that the Labour Party had nurtured or pampered. They knew and resented the fact that the unions had got away with winning privileges and perpetrating practices which were far from transparent. It was no coincidence that Mrs Thatcher and her Party's capitalist allies — Rupert Murdoch in particular — first took on the printing trades unions.
"The Print" had forced concessions from newspapers over the years and were perceived as holding their employers to ransom. The myth of print work was that five or so people were employed to do the job of one and that while most of the night shift slept and the day shift skived, a selected rota of operatives would keep the presses rolling — and everyone would get paid. There was some truth to the myth and Mrs Thatcher and the press barons who supported her launched an eminently fair-sounding crusade against them. She could rely on the public being against a good day's wage for a very relaxed and dodgy day's or night's work.
The mood against such practices gave the Thatcher government the momentum to declare their war on all organised labour and on the concessions that they had won. Her government passed legislation to restrict and stymie the power of the unions. When she took on the National Union of Miners, appointing Ian McGregor, an American, to rationalise the work and output of the nationally-owned mining industry, the political programme became clear.

Despite the disguise of being the voice of lower middle-class Britain, the mission of her government was to nullify the power of organised labour so that she could shut down British coal mines — why mine coal in Britain if Poland, even Soviet Poland, could sell it to our power plants cheaper? Why make cloth in the mills of Lancashire and Yorkshire if one could import the same from Hong Kong at a lower price? That millions would be thrown out of work and, as the miners were fond of saying, "communities destroyed", was the problem of the those millions and those communities.

The Thatcher project was, much more than that of poor Edward Heath and his honest-brokerage of European Union membership with all its rules and restrictions, the instrument of internationalising the market in raw materials, consumer goods and the movement of capital.

And capital did move — but only bankers' capital because Britain offered the best conditions for speculative usury. Twenty years later those chickens have come home to roost, carrying their sub-prime debts with them.
Mr Thatcher succeeded. British mining, steel, textiles, shipbuilding, even car manufacture and other light and heavy industry collapsed. Other countries would provide and Britain would buy cheaper.

The policy, the most anti-British in history, came wrapped in the Union Jack. The Argentinian military junta assisted the Thatcher project by claiming the last colony, the Falkland Islands, forgotten pieces of dirt in the South Atlantic. The country, nostalgic for its colonising victories in India and Africa and in a pantomime of the Churchillian spirit of "down with the Hun", celebrated their easy victory.

To complement the destruction of an organised wage-earning class and give capital its opportunities, the Thatcher administration decided to sell the family silver. It would denationalise, "privatise", every industry and utility which it feasibly could. The railways of Britain, the suppliers of gas, electricity and water were sold to the highest bidder, in most cases firms which were capitalised by international banks and often owned entirely by non-British interests.


A new Britain certainly emerged — of a population selling American hamburgers to each other.








"To take from the air a live tradition…" That, said Professor P. Lal, was what he had wanted to do with his anthology of Mahabharata-inspired poems and fiction by modern Indian writers. But that desire to present to readers a living tradition as beautifully as possible went beyond one book — it was clearly his mission in life.


Prof. Purushottam Lal, 81, died last week. For over half-a-century he had nurtured Indian writing in English and cradled new voices. Writers Workshop, his alternative publishing house, started with a group of friends in 1958, served as an incubator for Indian literature in English. Barely a decade after Independence, "Indo-Anglian writing" was sniffed at by the majority in the hot-blooded new nation that saw writing in the coloniser's tongue as a betrayal of roots. Prof. Lal swam against that tide of linguistic nationalism, determined to claim English as an Indian language.

And succeeded. With the flourish of the audacious youngster, Writers Workshop (WW) books declared that "English has proved its ability, as a language, to play a creative role in Indian literature, through original writing and through transcreations". His dogged efforts for more than half-a-century helped establish English as one of India's many literary languages. He nurtured free literary expression, cultural diversity and literary excellence.
Because of WW's chosen language, Prof. Lal created a space for new writing that transcended regional boundaries. And he dared to do what ordinary publishers would shrink from — he focused on poetry, usually of unknown youngsters, putting creativity before profitability. In the process he discovered writers who would go on to conquer the world, like Vikram Seth. Over the years, WW had showcased writing by new writers and promising poets like Nissim Ezekiel, Kamala Das, Anita Desai, A.K. Ramanujan, Adil Jussawalla, Keki Daruwalla, Jayanta Mahapatra, Agha Shahid Ali, Dom Moraes, Arun Kolatkar, Gieve Patel, Pritish Nandy, Shasthi Brata, Suniti Namjoshi and Meena Alexander, to name a few. Till today, WW remains a valid launching pad for young writers in English."I still remember how fastidiously he published my first book of poems, in a small flatbed treadle in the garage next door", wrote Pritish Nandy. "How he published so many others, who would have never appeared in print but for Lal's fierce dedication to making available the work of Indian writers in English."

Prof. Lal was as fastidious as they come. He had a meticulous eye for detail as he did everything from accepting manuscripts to proofing to creating the design and the cover with his splendid calligraphy on hand-woven cloth that gave the hand-stitched, hand-printed and hand-bound books a boutique look. Each book was "printed on an Indian-make hand-operated machine" declared the copyright page of WW books. "This book is entirely hand set, letter by letter, as a result minor printer's gremlins are regrettably unavoidable." It also said, with some variations over time: "Layout and lettering by P. Lal with a Sheaffer calligraphy pen. Gold-embossed, hand-stitched, hand-pasted and hand-bound by Tulamiah Mohiuddin with handloom sari cloth woven and designed in India, to provide visual beauty and the intimate texture of book-feel. WW bindings are not concealed behind ephemeral jackets. Each WW publication is a hand-crafted artefact".

This passionate love for books and literature was the fuel that WW ran on. His was a cottage industry, Prof. Lal said, because "small is not only beautiful but viable as well". Today, WW has more than 3,000 titles in print, and has averaged about a 100 books a year since 1995. A visionary with great imagination and pragmatic sense, Prof. Lal had chosen to ignore the commercial logic of publishing houses. "WW is not a professional publishing house", he wrote. "It does not print well-known names; it makes names known and well-known, and then leaves them in the loving clutches of the so-called 'free' market."

So when booming publishing houses steered clear of poetry and unknown writers, WW published new poets — lately with a partial buy-back guarantee from the poets themselves. "It is not sad, it is obnoxious, to plead, as publishers do, 'I will not publish poetry because it does not sell'", he wrote. In 1960, he had co-edited with Raghavendra Rao Modern Anglo-Indian Poetry, the first anthology of contemporary Indian poetry in English.
But Prof. Lal was not just a cornerstone of Indian writing in English, he was an early evangelist of translation that has now become so fashionable. He called it "transcreation" because he believed it was not possible to translate Indian language literatures into English, too often there were no corresponding words. From classics by Kalidas, Kabir, Jaidev, Meerabai or Ghalib, to modern classics like Satyajit Ray's translation of his father Sukumar Roy's Abol Tabol, Prof. Lal attempted to offer a flavour of Indian literature in English.
Of all his transcreations, though, the most impressive is his English rendering of the Mahabharata, verse for verse. Named simply The Mahabharata of Vyasa, this enormous, multi-volume tome that he had worked on for decades will remain one of the biggest and most sincere renditions in the history of literary translation. He toiled meticulously over each word so as not to miss in English any connotation present in the Sanskrit version. His passion for the grand epic was more than academic. "The epic's the thing", he wrote, "cutting to size commoner and king".

In keeping with his belief that English was an Indian language, Prof. Lal's transcreations were targeted at Indians. "My version (of the Mahabharata) is for the educated, English-knowing Indian", he said. "Non-Indians can eavesdrop and overhear." Of the 18 books of the epic, 17 are out. One — Anushasana Parva — remains. Hopefully some day some translator will dare to step into the formidable shoes of Prof. Lal and complete his magnificent work.

Prof. P. Lal will be remembered as a poet, publisher, translator and academic. But he will remain in India's literary pantheon a nurturer of Indian literature. As he wished, he took from the air a live tradition — of linguistic diversity, of new literary thought, of ancient cultural moorings — and nurtured it against all odds.
"We were, of course, almost uniformly ungrateful to him", says Pritish Nandy about writers discovered by Prof. Lal. "For we never respect those who give us a leg up. It embarrasses us." Today, every Indian writer in English, every Indian publisher making profits on Indian writing or translations in English, may wish to doff their cap to the memory of a tall, passionate man in a book-lined study in Kolkata who built, brick by brick, an unshakeable foundation for Indian literary publishing in English.


Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted





9/11 AND TB


In the taut and tumultuous days after 9/11, the spectre of bioterrorism began to haunt the United States. Traces of anthrax were found in letters mailed to offices of senior members of the US Congress as well as to media organisations. This was a new sort of enemy. It didn't come carrying a gun or even flying a plane. It arrivedsurreptitiously in the post. The first line of defence was not a counterterrorism commando but, crazily, the person who collected and sorted out mail. Testing each individual envelope or parcel would set back delivery schedules of the United States Postal Service (USPS) by weeks. It would also drive down public morale.

The USPS and the US department of defence put out a contract — valued at $70 million, it is believed — for the development and manufacture of a device that could be put at the end of a postal chute, as it were, and tell you if a particular item had anthrax. A then small California-based technology company called Cepheid won the contract. The result was the Cepheid GeneXpert Biothreat Assay, a small device that tests and positively identifies bio-threats such as anthrax and plague in about 70 minutes.

Shortly after the device came into USPS sorting rooms, tuberculosis specialists began pondering the Cepheid machine. If it could detect the anthrax bacteria could it similarly identify its cousin, the tuberculosis (TB) bacteria?

The idea was put into motion. A philanthropic foundation gave Cepheid another $9 million to tweak its anthrax machine to work on TB. The result is Xpert, a molecular diagnostic device that is already being called a game-changer in the world's fight against TB. Indeed, when the "Global Plan to Stop TB: 2011-2015" was released at a conference in Berlin in October, a World Health Organisation (WHO) release spoke of "eliminating tuberculosis through improved, quicker diagnosis, more effective drugs and vaccines and stronger health systems".

All of those have to act together but Xpert could well be the accelerator. It identifies a sample/patient as TB positive in 90 minutes. To understand how revolutionary this could be, the history of man's battle with TB is worth recounting. Hitherto, the most common way to identify TB has been to look for the bacteria under the microscope. This smear microscopy test goes back to the closing years of the 19th century.

A better detection method is to take a sputum sample and allow the organism to grow. In a solid culture medium, this could take six weeks. In a liquid culture medium it could take two to three weeks. "Liquid cultures began to be used in the 1980s", says Bobby John, a medical doctor who has worked in global TB advocacy, "and the average time is nine days".

What this has served to do is make TB case detection the "Achilles' heel of TB control", suggests Madhukar Pai, epidemiologist at Canada's McGill University and co-chair of the New Diagnostics Working Group of the Stop TB Partnership.

For India, new TB diagnostics are of particular interest. TB kills about 1,000 Indians a day and is one of the biggest causes of mortality in the country. The national TB control programme has made a Herculean effort in the past decade to detect and bring patients to treatment. It has to reach the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the number of TB-related deaths by 2015 as against the toll in 1990. On its part, WHO aims to eliminate TB as a public health problem worldwide by 2050. India has achieved this with smallpox and to a degree leprosy and polio — but in today's reckoning, TB would be the Big One.

The introduction of Xpert into the public health programme in India is still some way off. It will likely arrive in private clinics and hospitals earlier. The cost will have to be calculated. As a diagnostic tool it will be more expensive than the ones currently used. Even so, some public health professionals argue this is a front-loaded expense and much cheaper in the long run than the social and economic cost of misdiagnosis or treatment.
The government-funded TB medication programme costs $15 per patient but it requires strict adherence over six months. If a patient breaks off midway, he could develop multi-drug resistant, or MDR TB (a more virulent version of the disease), could infect others and, should his bodily systems start to get infected, spend up to $20,000 on medical care. Most Indian TB patients simply can't afford this — only about 5,000 of the estimated 130,000 MDR TB patients in India are undergoing appropriate treatment — and would probably just waste away.

The big picture that emerges — and this is as true for TB control as for public health provision as for overall achievement of the MDGs — is that there will be no appreciable advance in the absence of investments in technology. TB itself is treated using a combination of four drugs, the last of which was discovered in the 1960s. The TB vaccine will not arrive, if it does at all, for about a decade.

Yet, for fighting TB or malaria or HIV/AIDS, eliminating hunger by addressing supply-side issues related to food, improving maternal mortality indices, universalising primary education, ensuring a greener, environmentally sustainable mode of economic growth — and all of these are among the MDGs — it will not be enough to simply pour in more money using existing templates. Technology has to come in as a catalyst.
That aside, the sheer beauty and interoperability of technology and technology development is stunning. A machine put together in the early years of the war against terror could now help human civilisation defeat a much older, more manipulative enemy and become a force multiplier in the war against TB. Who would have thought of that on that mad September day, nine years ago?


Ashok Malik can be contacted at








It was a complete capture of the capital by an all-singing, all-dancing American President, but weren't we thrilled! This was the biggest thing after the McDonald's combo-burger with a free Pepsi on the side! We are simple people, after all, with an unending yearning for American fast food and visual extravaganzas.


What was the take-away? — everyone asked, as though the meeting of two premieres and their entourages were a giant pizza, which had to be dressed with all kinds of goodies to make it appetising for the Indo-US consumers. "Didn't you like the mushroom-anchovy-mustard?" yelled one TV journalist excitedly... yes, shouted the government spokesperson with his mouth full, but try the tomato-lettuce-mince flavour, this is better… Of course, Mumbaikars were also given a succulent bite of the prawn-onion-pesto combo — but outside of these two cities, does this country really care about the great and glorious display, unless it meant at least a couple of McDonald's chips on their table?
So the "takeaway" now is laced with nuclear deal and United Nations Security Council assurances and plenty of references to the Panchtantra… which, if you remember, were wise fables in which often the "friendly" entity ended up swallowing the more trusting innocent. Given the strategic thinkers on both sides, it is difficult to say who will end up inside whose stomach... But I am wondering if we really need to have this hit parade? Or did US President Barack Obama come here to teach our politicians to dance?
It was quite ironic that Mr Obama kept referring to Mahatma Gandhi — (remember the "austerity" word?) — while back home, in forgotten US, the unemployed were wondering why their President had to spend millions to fly to India to "get" deals which would have been probably signed up anyway. But then, this was the all-singing, all-dancing Obama duo, and there was no way we could keep them off lucrative Indian shores.
I seem to remember that last year it was economy class for the Congress and everyone wanted to behave like the aam aadmi or aurat. But in the last six months we have only seen grand public displays, large amounts of takeaways and overlays and scams, scams, scams…
That's perhaps why we even forgot to ask how much the Indian government spent on the Obama pizzeria — coming so close to the Commonwealth Games. Could this money have been better used, i.e., could the President have come for a day, and the money spent on the other two days been utilised to build 50 new schools for our children? Or provide hospitals to cease a few thousand maternal deaths?
At this moment, Mr Obama needed a PR collagen boost and we gave it to him. Essentially he got the bigger takeaway. We provided him balm for his soul. And jobs for his countrymen. Do big policy initiatives really need this much dressing up? And how many of them are made for TV events? (For the opposition in this country it is an interesting lesson in PR management as well. Because here too, coming so soon before what is already turning out to be a stormy Parliament session, it is easier for the government to firefight after they appear to have pulled off an international PR coup.)
We all know how carefully scripted the Obama visit was: so careful that even the First Lady Michelle dropped her slick designer wear and decided to look frumpy in a country in which most women politicians are usually covered from head to toe and make a special effort at looking unattractive.
Taking a cue out of Mamata Banerjee's designer wardrobe perhaps, she felt it was important to have her hair pulled back as though she had just tumbled out of bed, and that her clothes were suitably crushed and crumpled. After all, she did not want to out-shine Pratibha Patil. So even a frock with a few faux sari pleats in the front to provide a temporary paunch was thought of. I can just imagine a strategy session at the White House when that… err, unforgettable pale blue dress was drawn up. Yes, the paunch is mandatory, and they love big hips! Just give it to them, baby!
However, a day after the Obama juggernaut swept through Delhi, I happened to be at the Crafts Museum where the First Lady had supposedly splurged `80,000. It was a total shock. Half of the centre is under repair and the other was underwhelming in its variety and scale — compared even to a Dilli Haat or a Santushti. Also unsurprising was the fact that Mrs Obama encountered a child working there and that the incident was glossed over. After all the bright and hard working children Mrs Obama had met during her visit, this was one child which represented the "forgotten" India — but she was careful not to say anything and continued on her PR mission.


Meanwhile, to know that Anish Kapoor is (finally) coming to India is yet another indication of how seriously people all over the world now think the big bucks are here. Kapoor has never been enticed to come in before — but this obviously is another million-dollar international event. It will be made for TV as well as for the Delhi elite. Far removed from the "real" Bharat, Rahul Gandhi is so fond of speaking about.
And thus, could Antony Gormley be far behind? I just received a note from someone who wants to present this great British sculptor to the discerning Indian audience… The reality is that Kapoor and Gormley will be known to around a few thousand art enthusiasts in the country — but we are helpfully (as always) providing them with a potential market. In the old days, India was considered the land of the Maharajahs — I think that impression is being carefully nurtured, again. It is good for India's image abroad — but it also means that we will find less space for our own struggling artists as we generate income for the impoverished art impresarios abroad — poor things, struggling to maintain their crumbling mansions and cobwebbed chandeliers.
It is the same situation with charities. People are writing to ask if there are any Indian philanthropists who can sustain charities run by foreign NGOs. Without sounding alarmist, I wonder why we cannot have our homegrown philanthropists supporting our own Indian NGOs, and our artists be given space, instead of the "phoreners"?


The writer can be contacted at











CONGRESSMEN are falling over one another to show their loyalty to Capt Amarinder Singh, who took over as the state Congress president at a massive display of political power in Chandigarh on Friday. Many of these party workers had abandoned the former Chief Minister after he was unceremoniously removed from the assembly. The Captain spent a couple of years in political exile before the court set aside his expulsion from the House. His appointment as the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee President has seen party men leave in droves the previous incumbent, Mr Mohinder Singh Kaypee, though former Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal has her band of supporters.


In Punjab politics personalities matter more than policies and those in, or likely to be in government, attract more followers than those out of power. Who should know this more than the Captain or former Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal? The latter has tried to bring Punjab's economic decline to centre stage but has landed in political wilderness. Whether Punjabis back his issue-based politics remains to be seen. One major change seen in Capt Amarinder Singh now is he too talks of getting Punjab out of the fiscal mess, solving the debt issue, boosting industry and creating jobs. Another change is his goodbye to the politics of vendetta. In the last term he had hounded the Badals for corruption.


Capt Amarinder Singh has infused new life in the Congress and lifted the sagging morale of party men, who see brighter chances of returning to power under a charismatic Amarinder Singh than a lacklustre Kaypee. There are two mistakes which, one hopes, the Captain would not repeat. He should choose his advisers carefully. It is better to have intelligent, honest and straightforward people around than sycophants or controversial friends. Secondly, he should be accessible to people and party men. In public life he cannot afford to keep himself aloof like a "Maharaja" as he used to do in his previous term as Chief Minister.









POLITICS in Tamil Nadu is getting murkier by the day with Assembly elections only a few months away. The traditionally-bitter battle between the DMK and the AIADMK which has for many years degenerated into a no-holds-barred personality clash between Chief Minister Karunanidhi and his prime challenger J. Jayalalithaa, promises to turn uglier as the campaign gets going. At a time when there is relentless pressure for Union Telecom Minister A. Raja's sack in the wake of his purported indictment by the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India in the 2G spectrum allocation scam, Jayalalithaa has added a new dimension to the drama by publicly offering to make good the numbers in the Lok Sabha that the UPA would lose if the DMK with its 18 members were to walk out of the alliance in the event of the Prime Minister deciding to drop Raja.


Though the Congress has turned down Jayalalithaa's offer, it is no secret that it is on the horns of a dilemma. For the Congress, it is truly a Hobson's choice. If it persists with Raja in the Cabinet, the Opposition would not only paint the government as being soft towards a corrupt minister who has been indicted by the CAG for causing a loss of Rs 1.7 lakh crore to the Central exchequer but also project the Prime Minister as being weak and ineffective. On the other hand, if Raja is dropped from the Cabinet against the wishes of the DMK and the latter leaves the coalition, the UPA would fall short of numbers in the Lok Sabha. In Tamil Nadu, too, the DMK-led coalition would have no legs to stand on. The Congress knows only too well that despite Jayalalithaa's olive branch, she has a record of being an unreliable ally.


Reports that the Congress is preparing to go it alone in the Tamil Nadu elections can also not be brushed aside but it is doubtful if the party has the resilience to come good on its own steam. All eyes are now on the Prime Minister who will take a call on Raja's continuance. A Congress-DMK deal is still in the realm of possibility despite Karunanidhi's public stand that he would not agree to dropping Raja. 








ONLY a few days ago, the Sangh Parivar was sitting pretty, gloating over the fact that it had put the Congress in a tight corner on the issue of corruption. Even the allegations about some RSS leaders being involved in acts of terror were being dismissed as a "conspiracy to malign Hindu Samaj". Suddenly, without any provocation, former RSS Sarsanghchalak K. S. Sudarshan has scored a perfect self-goal by remarking that Sonia Gandhi is a CIA agent who has "conspired" in the deaths of both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. So outlandish are the comments by the former RSS chief that even his own outfit is deeply embarrassed. It has tried to control the damage by asserting that these views do not reflect the view of the RSS, but that has not convinced many.


Even the BJP has been forced to express its disapproval and caution its Parivar that as a democratically elected leader, Sonia deserves respect. The difference with the Congress are ideological and not personal. All this has not stopped the Congress from hitting back forcefully, with Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal saying that Sudarshan "seemed to have lost his mental balance" and AICC general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi branding him as a "fossil from the archaeological museum".


While the outrage expressed by Congressmen is understandable, it should not go overboard. Mr Dwivedi's warning that "if Congressmen get provoked after hearing all this, they (RSS) will be responsible for it …The reaction from society should be such that none can dare use such uncivilised and obscene language" is ominous. While protesting, Congressmen must bear in mind that paying back the RSS in the same coin would be counterproductive. The reaction of another party general secretary Digvijay Singh, who sought that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat should come out with a statement either applauding Sudarshan or denouncing him was more appropriate and balanced.

















PRIME MINISTER Manmohan Singh's meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao at the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Hanoi was followed by an announcement that the Chinese Premier would be visiting India in December. This visit is to be preceded by detailed discussions of issues which have raised concerns in New Delhi, including the border issue and recent Chinese policies on Jammu and Kashmir. Noting that China's recent statements and actions on Jammu and Kashmir were contrary to Beijing's past policies of "neutrality" on the issue, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna had earlier reiterated India's concern at Beijing's denial of a visa to India's Northern Army Commander Lieutenant-General Jaiswal, who was to lead a delegation for scheduled military-to-military exchanges in Beijing. Mr Krishna also then made it clear that all military exchanges with China stood suspended and that China's growing "assertiveness" would figure in discussions during President Obama's visit to India in November.


Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi had somewhat arrogantly warned those whom he referred to as "small countries" dependent for their prosperity on a "large country" (China), for trade and investment, against attempting to internationalise maritime boundary disputes with China. Foreign Minister Yang asserted that there was little chance of "equality" in relations with such "small countries" and that they should remember their economic dependence on China, before seeking to internationalise their maritime disputes with China in the South China Sea. This was a clear warning to the ASEAN countries and particularly Vietnam and the Philippines not to raise the issue of maritime boundary disputes in the first ever meeting of their Defence Ministers, together with Defence Ministers from the US, Russia, South Korea, Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand and India in Hanoi on October 12.


China has, of late, characterised the South China Sea as an area of "core national interest", where issues of its sovereignty are not negotiable. Similar "assertiveness" has characterised Chinese behaviour towards Japan, on its maritime boundaries with Japan in the East China Sea.


While U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates had spoken of the need for China to honour accepted standards for sharing oceans and air space and avoid harassment of ships in international sealanes, Asia-Pacific countries now entertain doubts about the readiness of the Obama Administration to fulfil security commitments. Chinese jingoism reached new heights in the wake of the arrest of the captain of a Chinese trawler that attempted to ram a Japanese coastguard vessel off the disputed Senkaku Islands. China responded by arresting four Japanese nationals on trumped up charges of spying, and suspended the export to Japan of "Rare Earth Elements" (REE) required for the manufacture of crucial industrial products like wind turbines, hybrid cars, laptop computers and cameras.


With the Americans remaining aloof, the Japanese capitulated and released the Chinese captain. This incident came in the wake of China refusing to condemn the sinking of a South Korean warship in international waters by a North Korean submarine and thereafter raising tantrums, over proposed US-South Korean naval exercises in the Yellow Sea, even as it deployed 10 warships, including attack submarines and destroyers, through the Miyako Strait, South of Okinawa.


The subsequent American response to these Chinese actions has raised eyebrows. Even though China abruptly cancelled defence exchanges after the announcement of US defence supplies to Taiwan, President Obama called on the US Congress on October 8 to lift the ban on the sale of C 130 cargo aircraft to China, asserting that "it would be in the national interest of the United States," to do so. The C 130 is categorised as a military transport aircraft originally designed as a troop, medical evacuation and military cargo aircraft. This action sought to end the ban imposed after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre on the sale of military-related equipment to China. This was followed by a meeting between Defence Secretary Gates and his Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie in Hanoi on October 11, which resulted in the resumption of Chinese-American military exchanges.


Across India's western borders, there are now signs that China intends to use Pakistan as a staging area for establishing a stronger maritime presence in the Indian Ocean. Apart from its unprecedented military presence in Gilgit-Baltistan, China appears determined to access oil and gas resources for its western regions through Pakistan. Moreover, Pakistan has recently cancelled a contract it signed with Singapore for the management of Gwadar Port, built with Chinese assistance. There are reports that the management contract for Gwadar Port is now to be given to China.


Speaking to a gathering in Islamabad just after the visit of then Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji to Pakistan in May 2001, General Musharraf declared: "Pakistan's security interests lie in maintaining a regional balance and in this it would desire an active Chinese role". He added the main objective of giving the contract to construct Gwadar Prot to China was that "as and when needed, the Chinese navy would be in Gwadar to give a befitting reply to anyone". Nine years later the Chinese now have a naval presence in the Gulf of Aden, with access to refuelling facilities in Aden and Oman. Moreover, there have recently been unprecedented air force exercises with Turkey, in which Chinese SU 27 fighter aircraft flew to Turkey after landing in Pakistan and Iran. Pakistan seems to be emerging as the hub for Chinese access to the Persian Gulf.


The visits of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Japan, South Korea and Vietnam have led to sections of the Chinese media proclaiming that India is attempting to "encircle" China. It is significant that Japan and India have indicated the need to find alternate suppliers for strategic "Rare Earth Elements," whose supply is now virtually monopolised by China. In meetings with Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Defence Minister General Phung Quang Than, Defence Minister A.K. Anthony had reportedly agreed to expand maritime cooperation, including assistance for the maintenance of Vietnam's Russian origin Petya class light frigates and Kilo class submarines. India will also be providing military training facilities to Vietnam, which is said to have offered to provide maintenance and repair facilities in Vietnamese ports for Indian warships.


India is said to be considering the supply of Brahmos cruise missiles, which can substantially enhance Vietnam's coastal defence capabilities. We are, hopefully, seeing the emergence of a more proactive approach to our relations with China's Asia-Pacific neighbours. New Delhi has for too long stood by passively, even as China followed a policy of pro- active containment of India.








AS a journalist in 1950s, I had had the rare privilege of having several one-on-one meetings with Jawaharlal Nehru on his frequent visits to Dehra Dun. Meeting Nehru those days was a simple matter; one just had to visit the Circuit House where he stayed. No security, no PAs, no telephone calls or prior appointments. It was as easy as that.


What easily facilitated our visits to the Circuit House was the fact that there were very few journalists at that time, and the district officials and personnel of local intelligence unit knew them well enough.


My first meeting with Nehru happened in the mid-1950s. I was then editor of Vanguard and a stringer of some of the mainstream English newspapers. A year earlier I was also the president of DAV College Students Union which had given me additional confidence and self-assurance. Thus one winter morning I cycled all the way to the Circuit House porch, and parked my bicycle against its outer wall.


Ram Prashad, the all pervasive bearer there, accosted me and smiled, "Have you come to see Panditji," was his obvious question, and my reply was just a nod. A couple of constables with lathis lolled about while some other sauntered inconspicuously deep on the expansive lawns under the shades of giant trees.


Ram Prashad pointed towards the lawn, and I saw Panditji strolling there. So close to the great man, I felt scared. Mustering courage, I diffidently approached him and hesitantly introduced myself. Nehru saw through my confusion and nervousness and smiled. "I have no news to give, young man," he said without slowing his steps. My nervous response was, "I haven't come for any news; I just wanted to see you." Nehru again smiled and that reassured me.


I was tight-lipped; what would a rookie journalist ask a great man like Nehru. I murmured some inane words; realising my nervousness, Nehru asked me what subjects I had in the college. "I did my masters in political science." By then I had overcome my nervousness. I also told Nehru that I was the president of the Students Union a year before. This seemed to impress Nehru, so I assumed. I spent another 15 minutes with the great man and then thanked him for having met me. Nehru smiled, and asked me to feel free to see him whenever he visited Dehra Dun. This carte blanche lifted me to seventh heaven.


Subsequently, I met Nehru whenever he visited Dehra Dun, and even occasionally sent news or two about him. Once I presented him a copy of Vanguard in which I had joined issue with Nehru on one of his controversial statements. He read my story and then smiled as if to say, "you are yet too young to question my statement."


 On his 121st birthday tomorrow, I recall with a sense of loss and great deal of nostalgia those few times I had spent in the company of Nehru. Now I wish that I could have maintained and further developed my relations with Nehru but that was not to be, and I just remained his good acquaintance till his last days which too he had spent in Dehra Dun.








POWER is shifting East and if you want to take a moment when this has become glaringly evident, this week in Seoul is as good as any. It is not just encompassing the largest emerging economies, is taking over from the old "rich club" of the Group of Seven. No, it is simply that this week it has become clear that the emerging countries have coped with the global downturn far better than the old developed world. Europe and North America go to the G20 hobbled by the debts of the most serious recession since the Second World War. Asia and much of Africa go there without having had a recession at all.


You can catch a feeling for this in the news of the past few days. There was the forecast that China will pass the US to become the world's largest economy, if exchange rates were adjusted to reflect purchasing power, within two years. There were the pictures of Chinese leaders in Portugal promising to lend the country money to ease its debts. There has been the sight of Barack Obama trekking round India and David Cameron round China seeking export deals.


There is also a big difference in the self-confidence of the countries that have avoided recession vis-à-vis those struggling to rekindle much growth.


In previous post-war downturns the onus was on Western governments to fix things. Even 18 months ago, at the G20 in London, there was an implicit assumption that the package of initiatives announced by Gordon Brown would set the way forward. Now in Asia at least, the indebted West is seen as the problem, not the solution. It has been a North Atlantic recession, not a worldwide one. It would be harsh to say that we go as supplicants, while they - leaders of the emerging world - strut their power, but there is something of that.


In truth both worlds need each other and will continue to do so. We all need the open trading system, and the reasonable freedom of capital flows. The world has just had the greatest burst of prosperity it has ever known, prosperity quite widely shared if not widely enough. It would be mad to junk something that has worked pretty well. But all sides have to abide by the rules of that system, which require responsible policies by all.


To put this in context, see the world as still in the early stages of a power-shift as great as that which took place after the Industrial Revolution. Over the next two decades China and India will again become the dominant world economies, as they were 200 years ago. The G20 meeting is about their ideas, and those of the other large emerging economies will be incorporated into, and help shape, the existing global system. It is a system developed and ordered by the West. But it needs to adapt and this meeting is the start of a 20-year debate as to how that should be done. — The Independent








THE WORLD could slide into a 1930s-style depression, David Cameron has claimed, as the G20 summit struggled to find common ground on the best way British officials played down the prospect of a resolution of the escalating dispute between China and the US over the value of their currencies.


The leaders, meeting in the South Korean capital, Seoul, found it difficult to recapture the spirit of unity which was achieved at the London summit 19 months ago, at which they agreed a $1trillion stimulus package for the world economy.


Speaking ahead of the detailed negotiations overnight, Mr Cameron warned of disaster if disputes over currency levels — vital for making nations' exports competitive — meant that the world's major economies looked inwards.


The main flashpoint has been the recriminations between the United States and China. Washington is accusing Beijing of keeping the value of its currency, the yuan, artificially low to give its exports a huge competitive advantage.


The Chinese, who have lent the US nearly $800bn, are resisting the pressure and believe the US has been hyprocritical in pumping $600bn into its coffers — a move also apparently designed to keep the dollar low.


Yu Jianhua, an official with China's Ministry of Commerce, said that Beijing didn't want a confrontation with the US over currencies or trade issues, but that Washington "should not politicise the yuan issue; should not blame others for its domestic problems and should not force others to take medicine for its own disease".


The US Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, denied the charge: "We will never seek to weaken our currency as a tool to gain competitive advantage or to grow the economy." He renewed his criticism of China for stoking inflation by its strict controls on money supply. Asked what his biggest anxiety was for the G20, Mr Cameron replied: "A return to what happened in the 1930s: protectionism, trade barriers, currency wars, countries pursuing beggar-my-neighbour policies; trying to do well for themselves but not caring about the rest of the world. That is the danger.


"So it's in our interest to keep world trade moving; to keep those trade barriers down. That's our interest at the G20 and we will pursue it very, very vigorously." Mr Cameron insisted the G20 meeting — where the "big battle" would be combating isolationism — was vital. But he warned against expectations of solving such problems as reconciling the huge debts accumulated by western countries with the large surpluses of money built up by developing nations — notably China. He said the G20 was not going through an "heroic phase".


UK officials said there was no prospect the issues would be solved at this summit — or others in the near future — but that at least negotiations prevented the world's biggest economic powers from retreating into isolation.


Russian officials said they were "especially worried by attempts by a number of countries to take unilateral decisions to weaken their currencies" to stimulate growth.


President Obama said he was confident leaders would agree a programme for promoting balanced growth.

The problems ahead in agreeing anything but the most anodyne form of words were spelt out by Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Indian chief G20 negotiator: "I don't think you should be too demanding... such policy coordination has never been attempted."


Mr Cameron held a series of bilateral meetings with fellow leaders, including South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. —The Independent








WORLD leaders said they would work to tackle global economic "tensions and vulnerabilities" that have raised fears of currency wars and trade protectionism as they wrapped up a Group of 20 summit in Seoul. Following is a summary of what was decided:


Global imbalances


Ironing out rifts between export-rich countries and debt-laden consumer nations has become the G20's cornerstone. Leaders had already agreed on a "framework" for balanced growth, and submitted medium-term economic plans for IMF review to ensure they do not clash, and the final summit communique did not go much further. In Seoul, Washington had to give up on getting others to agree to numerical targets for current account deficits and surpluses. Instead, G20 leaders instructed their finance ministers to draw up a set of "indicative guidelines" to measure large current account imbalances, in consultation with the IMF, but left the details to be discussed in the first half of next year.




Foreign exchange rates are central to the imbalances debate. The United States and others have cajoled China to allow its yuan currency to rise faster and accuse Beijing of keeping it undervalued to gain a trade advantage. But Washington faced a tougher time making that case when many of its allies view the Fed's easy money as a means to weaken the dollar.


The leaders vowed to move towards market-determined exchange rates and shun competitive devaluations, a repeat of a commitment made at a G20 finance ministers meeting last month. But, in a nod to the growing clout of developing economies such as Brazil, G20 said those emerging economies with increasingly overvalued exchange rates that face an undue burden of adjustment would be justified in taking "carefully designed macro-prudential measures"-code for capital controls-to counter capital inflows. At previous G20 summits, leaders have haggled over whether to include a line in the closing statement singling out China for keeping its currency undervalued, but once again this did not happen.


Financial regulation


World leaders signed off on a "Basel III" agreement to raise the quality and quantity of bank capital, the centrepiece of their reforms following the financial crisis. They also endorsed of the Financial Stability Board's proposals to tighten supervision of the over-the-counter derivatives market and reduce reliance on credit rating agencies. However, they did not significantly advance the rest of their regulation agenda.




Slow-growing advanced economies all want to export their way to economic health, which is the root of the tensions over currencies and imbalances. Leaders made broad pledges not to pursue protectionist policies and to work towards concluding the long-stalled Doha round of trade liberalisation talks. In a blow for the hosts, South Korea and the United States failed to seal a long-stalled free trade agreement, mainly due to disagreement over access for U.S. carmakers to the South Korean market.




The leaders endorsed a package of reforms thrashed out by their finance ministers last month to reform the International Monetary Fund to reflect a shift in the balance of global economic power. Under the deal, more than 6 percent of voting shares at the Fund will shift to dynamic developing countries such as China, which will become the third-biggest member of the 187-strong Washington-based lender. — Reuters










The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, also called the BMC has published draft rules for fixing the capital value of lands and buildings. These new rules will soon come into effect for the calculation of your property tax. These draft rules are posted on the main page of the BMC website ( Comments from all citizens are invited and the last date is December 15. The purpose of changing the rules of computing property tax rates is to basically increase your property tax. 


Currently the property taxes on old buildings, especially in the island city are very low. That's because they are not based on market value of your flat or the building. The city's land is like gold, but only for builders, not the BMC. Hence property values soar, but property taxes don't. Without adequate funds of its own the BMC cannot fix potholes, municipal schools, hospitals or malaria. Despite being the richest municipality in the country, the BMC often has to go with a begging bowl to the state government. The only tax it can call its own is called "octroi". 


Octroi is an entry tax on goods that move into the city via trucks, trains on boats. There's no octroi on services or on human beings who come into the city. More than half of the city's tax collection (about Rs 8000 crores) comes from octroi. It slows down trade, causes inefficiency, holds up trucks at check points, and of course is a source of huge corruption. The city has been trying to rid itself of octroi for many years. When the new Chief Minister of the state took office this week, one of the first items on the wish list of traders and businessmen is when will he abolish octroi? 


This question is particularly pertinent, because CM Prithviraj Chavan has been one of the architects of urban reform. Prior to becoming CM he has been with the Prime Minister's Office for almost six years. One of the PMO's key initiatives was the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. Under this urban mission, Delhi promised to directly pour money into city infrastructure because state governments (and the cities themselves) were too poor. But the Nehru Mission money would come with strings attached. Certain laws had to be reformed. And octroi had to go. 


Maharashtra is now the only state with octroi still not revoked. It is also India's most urbanized state, with 22 municipal corporation.


Partly under JNNURM pressure, the state was able to remove octroi from 15 of the 22 corporations. But Nagpur, Pune, Pimpri, Nashik, Thane and Mumbai remained untouched. These big vibrant cities depend critically on octroi, and would become extremely impoverished without octroi. 


Unless of course the city governments were able to monetize some of the golden real estate through property taxes. So this is a test for the new CM. 


An additional wrinkle in the octroi debate, is that unlike property taxes which impinge only on property owners, octroi affects everybody. Including slum dwellers. So it is more democratic! 


The taxation is more broad based. With octroi abolished, and only property tax in place, cities like Mumbai with a large slum population, and large swathes of undocumented property (squatters), the burden would disproportionately fall on those with valid proof of owning flats or galas, or pieces of land. They would soon be up in arms. Perhaps they would join the check naka operators who founded the "Octroi Bachao Samiti"! 


The CM has to craft a clever strategy to slowly chip away at octroi. A first step is the BMC change in rules of computing property values. This might be the first step to eventually say bye bye to Octroi. 



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





Philip Roth, one of America's greatest living writers, whose books have been published by the Library of America (only two other writers, Eudora Welty and Saul Bellow have achieved this honour while still alive), has now come with a final offering Nemesis (Cape, Special Indian Price Rs 699) that wraps up his long narration of Jewish American experience. But, unlike his earlier novels that dealt with complex and neurotic Jewish lives, Nemesis is in line with three other novels of the recent past, Everyman (2006), Indignation (2008) and The Humbling (2009). All four form a quartet that focuses on the lives of ordinary men who have achieved this ordinariness by living humdrum lives characterised by a stoical refusal to be sucked into the good life that inevitably led to disappointment and disaster. Each is a modern tragedy in which the protagonist can see the future and foretell the rest, tragedy that was emblematic of modern living.


Nemesis sums up the series as a whole. It centres on the life of Bunty Cantor, an ordinary man who is a school gym teacher and a sports master in New Jersey. He had been refused entry into the army because of poor sight in the Second World War. Left behind in the only field he could have qualified, Cantor goes for the second option — the guardian role model of a Jewish school in the city. The novel opens in wartime Newark against Cantor's life in the playground.


An epidemic of poliomyelitis has broken out in the summer of 1944, which captures the headlines of the Newark Evening News despite the news from the War's frontlines. As the epidemic spreads, it becomes the dominant story in the everyday lives of ordinary people. Cantor now takes responsibility for the protection of the lives of the children.


Cantor has become a hero to the boys partly because of his physique and the manner in which he organises team games, an organisational ability he has learnt from his own rough background. The son of a man who was a gambler and a convicted thief and a woman who had died at childbirth, he was raised by his immigrant grandparents under a strict moral code that had taught him to take the rough with the smooth. Now as the disease spreads and claims the first of the few boys, Cantor throws in all he has to save the lives of the children who look to him as their saviour. But he is powerless to do anything and begins to lose his faith in God.


During the funeral of the first of his boys who died of polio, he begins to believe that it is better not to believe in divinity at all, "when to swallow the official lie that God is good and truckle a cold-blooded murderer of children. Better for one's dignity, for one's humanity, for one's worth altogether, not to mention for one's everyday idea of whatever the hell is going on here".


As the disease spreads and the bereaved parents begin to blame him for the death of their sons, Cantor loses faith in God altogether — and in himself. He is offered another job in a summer camp to the west of Newark where his to-be fiancée, Marcia, is also working.


Cantor is now torn between his duty to the children and his love for Marcia, and is forced to take a hard decision. On the one hand, he knows his decision to hang on to his job would not make the slightest difference, either positive or negative, to the lives of the children. On the other, to abandon the children in favour of the cool mountain air was tantamount to a breach of duty and betrayal, especially in the light of the fact that he had been spared the rigours of war that his companions of Newark were going through.


Soon there is talk of quarantining the children; Cantor's lingering doubts about the benevolence of God disappears. As he says to Marcia: "But how can a Jew pray to a god who has put a curse like this on a neighbourhood of thousands and thousands of Jews?" The way Cantor looks upon his role and the events he encounters, which he takes as divine abandonment, echoes the Holocaust where nearly six million Jews died and whose true extent had not been gauged in 1944. But Roth anticipates the mass murder and spins the novel around it.


The idea of disease or illness as metaphor is a tactic that many writers use to describe the human condition under extraordinary times when reason makes no sense. The idea is sinister and electrifying, particularly when used against an ethnic group, because it holds a mirror to our hidden cultural fault lines. The book is rich with philosophical enquiry, deep intellectual explorations of the human psyche, like all his other novels and writings, and for this alone is worth reading. In many ways, Cantor, who is a disguised Roth himself, has appeared time and again earlier. As in Everyman: "He held no grudge against either the limitations or the comforts of conformity. He wanted merely to empty his mind of all the ugly thoughts spawned by the disgrace of prolonged marital warfare. He was not claiming to be exceptional. Only vulnerable and assailable and confused."








Why isn't S M Krishna taking more of a hand in running the foreign office?


Take a look at the pictures of Barack Obama's visit to India. You can see Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, Indian Ambassador to the US Meera Shankar and National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon. Can you spot Foreign Minister S M Krishna anywhere?


 Although Krishna was to have accompanied Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the airport to receive President Obama, it was minister-in-waiting Salman Khurshid who went instead. Krishna was not at the head table at the Rashtrapati Bhavan banquet in the Mughal Gardens. The chief justice of India and the vice president were seated there but not the foreign minister. In fact, in most ceremonial functions during the Obama trip, the vice president got bigger play than the foreign minister. This would never have happened if, say, Pranab Mukherjee had been the external affairs minister.


The epitome of correctness and politeness, if S M Krishna had been missing only in the protocol action, no one would have noticed. The problem is he's hardly to be seen – or heard – anywhere.


The self-deprecating foreign minister had to endure some rough handling in Pakistan in July this year, the first meeting of the two foreign ministers after the Mumbai attacks. But it was Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi who appeared to have gained the upper hand. He told reporters that Krishna and his delegation had not been ready for dialogue and had repeatedly interrupted the talks to take phone calls from Delhi. During the press conference, he also insulted an Indian bureaucrat for suggesting David Headley, the man at the centre of the planning of the Mumbai attacks, had something to do with the Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan. Krishna erred on the side of politeness and said nothing in defence of India's home secretary, but returned to Delhi and there, safe on home ground, let it rip, somewhat pointlessly.


It is a good thing that Krishna trusts the bureaucracy. India has a very able set of negotiators. They pretty much run the foreign office, even if their efforts provoked the US president to remark that India should behave its size. But surely a foreign minister has to insinuate something of his own personality, his philosophy in foreign policy? Especially when India has had such forceful personalities as foreign ministers as Jaswant Singh and Pranab Mukherjee (who famously told then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who was trying to persuade him to take a hard line on Burma: "Madam, India is not in the business of exporting democracy"). Jaswant Singh, in his languid style, thanked the British from the bottom of his heart for the "one helicopter sortie" they undertook to rescue Indian soldiers in Sierra Leone during a blue helmet UN Peacekeeping expedition, after the UK was excessively voluble about its help to India.


To be fair to him, Krishna's junior minister Shashi Tharoor dug himself into a hole entirely of his own making, and the foreign minister neither contributed to it nor used it to cut his flamboyant junior to size. But it would have been so nice to have a foreign minister who would occasionally come up with a set-down or a witty repartee or a flash of temper, the way K Natwar Singh could do (about a visiting US secretary of state who shall remain nameless Natwar Singh remarked: "Not only does he look like an undertaker, he also appears to need one").


With all the foreign policy challenges around India – Nepal rapidly descending from a tragedy to a farce, Sri Lanka dangerously close to a democratic dictatorship and Pakistan just being itself – you would have imagined that Krishna would have used his politician's instincts to get under the skin of some of these problems. Being chief minister of Karnataka isn't easy. There are castes to handle, factions to appease and rivals to eliminate. Krishna managed all that without turning a hair (though he did lose rather a lot of it). He outsourced the dirty works department to able lieutenants. Lingayats in Karnataka got short shrift during his regime and have never returned to the Congress since. And Karnataka's political class has made extensive investments in sponge iron plants in China. A few weeks ago, BJP leader K S Eswarappa made the astonishing and no doubt baseless charge – using papers and receipts – that a close relative of Krishna's had bankrolled the operation to split the BJP and had hosted the dissidents in Chennai. Krishna's son-in-law runs a coffee company headquartered in Chennai. S M Krishna would be as – if not more – comfortable in Bengaluru as in South Block. So would his son-in-law.


Fortified with all this, it is rather hard to understand why Krishna isn't taking more of a hand in running the foreign office. In Karnataka he was not known for working hard or bothering about details but no one could say he was colourless. The BJP, however weak, was in the Opposition and Krishna did manage to stave it off. In South Block he is a shadow of his former self.








The "great game" typically inspires the shenanigans of power politics in South Central Asia. But another game is being played in the core of the international system — in western Eurasia. This one is over the direction of Europe and its consequences for a trans-Atlantic consensus that has shaped international politics since the Cold War. Last month's trilateral meeting between Moscow, Berlin and Paris in Deauville where French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for a "technical, human and security partnership" between Europe and Russia is perhaps the origin of an alternative conception of Eurasian security that could include Russia in a future European security equation.


Observers of Russian politics, including in India, have noticed the ascent of the "westernisers" in Russian foreign policies inferring that this has permanently altered the Russian worldview at the expense of the east. This, however, is not an ideological phenomenon. Neither is it unprecedented. Since the late seventeenth century, Russia has at crucial phases drawn upon the modernisation and innovation processes of Western Europe, while preserving its multivector worldview.


 Today's "modernisation alliances" between Russia and Germany, France and Italy are akin to the interdependence of the past. It is historically appropriate that in lieu, Russia has twice made a decisive contribution to save Europe from itself. By annihilating the hegemonic agendas of Napoleon and Nazi Germany, Russia ensured that Europe remained a plural enterprise, and reinforced its own position as a vital balancer in the continent. Russia's persistent focus on Europe is based on a historical pattern whereby its principal opportunities – leveraging German industry to modernise Russia, which, in turn, ensures Europe's energy security – and threats – US military infrastructure in Eastern Europe – have emanated from there.


Ironically, the most potent challenge to Russian security came from the post-second World War American involvement in an emasculated Europe. The end of bipolarity severely weakened the Russian balance in Europe paving the way for an almost unrestrained influence of Washington in European affairs. Despite assurances that erstwhile Warsaw Pact members would not be integrated into the western alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's (Nato) eastward expansion proceeded unchecked, paralleled by the European Union's own expansion into Eastern Europe.


The age of American unipolarity in Europe ended in August 2008. Just two months before the Georgian war, Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev made an important speech in Berlin calling for a pan-European security architecture. Medvedev asserted that Russia does not seek to be "embraced" or socialised by the west but wants to play a role as the third pillar in the "whole Euro-Atlantic area from Vancouver to Vladivostok".


The ensuing events of August 2008 provided an opportunity to assault the entire edifice of post-Cold War American security policies in Europe. The Russian bluff had finally been applied. In the Georgian war, Russia by smashing a US proxy state in effect froze the expansion of Nato that began in the 1990s and exposed the fragility of US security guarantees in Russia's near abroad. The Obama administration's "reset" with Russia was a reflection of this new reality: that without an accommodation of core Russian interests, US defence of the status quo in the Euro-Atlantic space and, indeed, elsewhere would become unsustainable.


What we are seeing is a game of influence between Washington and Moscow over Europe, which gets reflected to some extent in Nato forums. Eastern Europe or "new Europe" has been marginalised since the Georgian war and even further after the global economic crisis, which has made upholding provocative security commitments on the eastern flank of the Eurozone both expensive and dangerous. "Old Europe" or Western Europe, especially Germany and France, is gradually regaining a veto over European political-security issues.


The recent summit between Russia-France-Germany, the second such "brainstorming" meeting time since 2003 when all three opposed the Iraq invasion, is important since this format has bypassed Brussels (the seat of the EU and where US influence is highest) to engage directly on European and global issues. Russia by participating is, in effect, legitimising and shoring up the Berlin-Paris axis in Europe and hoping that this manifests in both countries having a larger say in Nato's and the EU's future direction.


By engaging Nato from a relative position of strength, Russia is seeking to shape the postures of the Western European members of the alliance and moderate US preferences. Russia's high economic interdependence with Europe alone has made this Cold War tactic stale.


Russia is also interested in gaining leverage over conflict resolution in Afghanistan since turmoil there ultimately impacts Russian security via export of terrorists and opium, and threatens to destabilise allied regimes in Central Asia. Since 2008, Moscow has been offering access to Russian airspace to enable Nato to maintain its supply-line in Afghanistan. Aside from expanding logistical routes, Moscow is evaluating providing hardware and training to the Afghan military and has already signed an agreement with Washington to conduct joint anti-narcotics operations in Afghanistan.


Besides acquiring some influence over what happens in Afghanistan, Russia's engagement with Nato will seek to limit western military investments in the alliance's newer member states. Finally, given the broader changes in the international system with the likely emergence of the Asia-Pacific region as a core zone of the global political economy, a policy of Ostpolitik also serves Old Europe and Russia as it preserves their leverage on issues of high politics.


While it would be interesting to follow the next Nato summit in Lisbon this November, which Medvedev will attend, one suspects that for Moscow's vision of "indivisible" or equal security to gain further traction, Russian resurgence would need to continue demonstrating successes in its economic and military modernisation that would enhance Moscow's bargaining leverage with the west. The aftermath of the global economic crisis and the growing probability of a prolonged stagnation in the Atlantic zone suggests that an opportunity to build a new Eurasian security architecture will find greater resonance in this decade.


The author is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Alternatives, New Delhi








Did you know that Indian operators import virtually all the telecom equipment needed for setting up a network? These imports were Rs 46,158 crore in 2008-09 and account for about 13 per cent of India's current trade deficit.


As of September 2010, India had 684 million mobile subscribers. By 2015, this number is expected to cross 1.2 billion, including 115 million 3G users, growth that is expected to fuel demand for telecom equipment worth $70 billion to $100 billion till 2015. A big inflection point would be 3G investments, which would be approximately $15 billion across operators. Therefore, India has the world's second-largest wireless market after China. Only a few years ago, China was in a similar situation. Today, Huawei and ZTE are reputed vendors.


 Instead of knowing what India did not do, it would be useful to know what it can learn from China.


First, the government started the "China 863" programme or State High-Tech Development Plan to develop new technologies. It forced vendors like NSN and Ericsson to manufacture with 95 per cent local staff and 100 per cent local content. Huawei and ZTE came up through domestic partnerships that NSN and Ericsson set up. Operators supported them through forced purchases for five to seven years.


China also took the lead by defining its own 3G standards (TD-SCDMA) and developed an ecosystem for manufacturing network infrastructure and devices.


Since telecom operators are controlled by the government, they created a window for indigenous R&D products. Chinese vendors ensured that a certain technology that was not in the portfolio would be developed in-house. For example, China delayed the 3G rollout until domestic manufacturing competence was in place. Tax breaks, research grants and cheap loans from state-owned banks helped reduce cost.


What must we do to build a telecom industrial complex?


First, develop a political will and acceptance of a long-term policy by ruling and key opposition parties. Every vendor wants uniform policies, irrespective of which party is in power. To avoid a Commonwealth Games-like fiasco, the mission to produce locally should be headed by a CEO, a respectable name from the telecom industry, who holds rank of minister of state. To remove inter-departmental hurdles, a group of ministers consisting of the finance, home and communication ministers and the CEO should meet monthly.


Second, lack of R&D and testing facilities is a weak link in India. Developing R&D could be a joint effort between, say, ISRO, BEL, the IITs and IT companies. To this end, a dedicated R&D fund could be created from the auction of spectrum and the balance in the underutilised USO fund, which was Rs 14,157 crore on March 31, 2010.


One of the critical resources for a telecom start-up is access to testing facilities. The government should develop processes for facilitating access to a national telecom test-bed (such as C-DOT, ALTTC) and state-of-the-art private test-beds (like that of Bharti, Vodafone or Reliance) and support the creation of standards and the affiliation with standard creation bodies.


Third, the regulatory framework for manufacturing equipment needs to change. The company must be a joint venture between a foreign vendor and an Indian partner where the latter holds a favourable stake. Transfer of technology and software codes must be mandatory. Also, the joint venture must start with 60 per cent indigenisation in year one, going up to 95 per cent in year three.


Between years one and three an offset policy should be in place that requires 20 per cent in the form of core Indian parts. Also, 95 per cent of the employees in the joint venture must be local. Equipment sold by the joint venture to Indian operators should be given a price preference of, say, 20 per cent, like Bhel used to get in power equipment.


Like the Indian software industry, telecom equipment joint ventures must be supported by incentives. Industry sources say just as the diamond industry is allowed to import raw stones for cutting and polishing, import of all base components (PCBs, chips) should be allowed duty-free subject to reasonable value-addition norms. Allowing external commercial borrowing for working capital, equalising central sales tax and VAT on equipment sales at 2 per cent, allowing a 10-year tax holiday but exempting these joint ventures from Minimum Alternate Tax would also help.


The benefits of producing locally are manifold. One, the multiplier effect of approximately $100 billion worth of equipment bought would be 2.5-3 times. It would create at least 75,000 skilled jobs and 250,000 unskilled ones. It would help reduce India's current account deficit.


The indigenous manufacture of equipment would also make India less susceptible to threats by any country. During the recent stand-off between China and Japan, the Chinese retaliated by delayed export of rare earths to Japan. Also, as operators like Bharti acquire a global footprint a localised equipment industry means they can source equipment from India.


The writer is managing consultant, Surya Consulting.  
*Some recommendations in this article are borrowed from industry's response to Trai's consultation paper on the issue









It is not unknown for politicians to enter office with one set of assumptions, or worldview, and adopt an altogether different one shortly after assuming office. The most recent example is Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Britain, who came into office earlier this year after signing a pledge that he would not raise university tuition fees; Mr Clegg now has to defend a trebling of those fees and wishes he had never signed that pledge. The Obama presidency may not provide comparably dramatic about-turns, but can run it close.


 During his campaign, and later, Mr Obama talked repeatedly of outsourcing, of the need to "say no to Bangalore and yes to Buffalo". Indeed, he has signed into law Bills that raise taxes for US companies that indulge in outsourcing, and jacked up sharply H-1B visa fees; this second move affects Indian firms more than firms in any other country. Now he says that an outsourcing-centric view of the Indian economy is a "caricature", and outsourcing itself a "bogey" that he has not raised. In his address to Parliament, he also said he would not take any steps that targeted Indian firms.


Consider also Mr Obama's campaign promise to focus on sorting out the Kashmir issue so that Pakistan would cooperate better in the Afghan war—a linkage promoted assiduously by Islamabad and which New Delhi rejects. When Mr Obama appointed Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy for "AfPak", the initial attempt was to include Kashmir in Mr Holbrooke's brief. Now the US president is happy to leave the issue to be sorted out by India and Pakistan. Indeed, during his summit-level talks in New Delhi, he is said to have never once mentioned the "K" word.


A year ago, observers in India feared that Mr Obama was pushing for a "G-2" world that would be dominated by the US and China; certainly, he raised Indian hackles by issuing a joint statement in Beijing that gave China a role in South Asia. Now he has signed a joint statement in New Delhi that encourages India to play not just an economic but also a strategic role in East Asia!


In his first year in office, the universal view was that the Obama presidency gave little importance to the Indian relationship. Yet, Mr Obama has now endorsed India's claim to a permanent Security Council seat, and given space and defence research organisations access to dual-use technologies. He has also supported India's entry into all the technology-related supplier groupings. So he has given substance to his coinage that the Indo-US partnership is one of the "defining" partnerships of the 21st century.


Consider, also, what Mr Obama said before he boarded his plane for Mumbai. He said that he intended to "prise" open Indian markets. Well, even though deals totalling $10 billion were announced on the first day of the visit, many of those deals were signed well before the president set out and had nothing to do with him; indeed, the biggest deal on the list (for military transport aircraft) is still being negotiated. So, no markets have been "prised" open.


One can debate why the US president has done about-turns on virtually all India-related issues. Is it because his initial positions were not properly thought through? Or because Indian diplomacy has been under-estimated? Or, is it a sign of the relative decline of American power, so that Washington can no longer force its view on others? Whatever the case, an Obama visit that few had pinned high hopes on has turned out to be surprisingly good for India. The task now is to build on the openings that the visit has provided.









In the context of G20, let us scrutinise selected aspects at its epicentre, revealed by changing international trade patterns. First, using merchandise exports statistics, we define globalisation and its evolution and course. Second, we note a striking change in the composition and direction of trade among selected countries. Third, we point to a commensurate shift in regional trade balances. Accordingly, fourth, we can assess the role of G20 despite dampened expectations.

Over 50 years, we witnessed an exponential rise in merchandise exports (Diagram 1, right axis). Yet, the global crisis resulted in a 20-25 per cent fall in world exports in 2008-09 alone, a manifestation of a finally unsustainable heterodox consumption-driven economic stance in many advanced economies, reflected in stubbornly negative household savings.


 Looking to the antecedents of the crisis, Diagram 1 (left axis) breaks down growth in the global trade index. The bottom portion shows how much trade would have grown with GDP at constant prices or, if fixed at the 1960 share of GDP. The middle portion adds in the effect of prices. The top portion then shows the additional growth in trade over this period, reflecting trade's increasing share in world GDP. Without this, trade would have been 45 per cent lower than that actually experienced in 2008. It is this portion that reflects globalisation. Many have blamed it not only for its inability to control depletion of global non-renewable resources but also for failing to provide appropriate signals for the self-regulation of the international marketplace.


So, how did trade grow over real economic growth and inflation? First is an economic rationale — cost advantages of large-scale specialisation in particular countries resulting in greater supply than domestic demand. Second were complementary technological improvements in communication and transport (air shipment, containerisation), increasing use of billing and tracing through the Internet, to name a few. Third were reductions in trade barriers through the WTO that reduced tariffs and quotas, and customs unions such as Asean, the EU and Nafta. Fourth, globalisation accelerated with escalating consumer demand and a growing taste for high turnover and product differentiation. This consumption-linked aspect became simply unsustainable. Just as an individual household cannot dissave in the long run, so must economies at the macro level eventually be constrained by dissaving.


Diagram 2 breaks down net trade (exports minus imports as a percentage of total trade) for selected countries. The space above zero shows net export sectors, while below zero are net import sectors. Indicators for 1980 reveal China and India exporting low value-added raw materials and agriculture, with the UK and the US having the advantage in services and manufacturing. The change in comparative advantage by 2008 is equally clear: China developed a strong advantage in manufacturing and is now a net importer of raw materials, while India gained advantage in commercial services. Indeed, between goods and services, services grew steadily in relative terms, from 15 per cent to 21 per cent between 1980 and 2009. Though still small in global share, India nevertheless contributed to this changing pattern, with information technology comprising a major component.


Changes in regional trade balances in Diagram 3 reveal how North America — primarily the US — moved into deficit over recent decades, while Asia moved towards trade surpluses. The changed trade balances are symptomatic of the much-maligned "global imbalances", cited as one of the key indicators of the need for global economic rebalancing.


The IMF has historically argued against over-consumption. In the early annals of the IMF, its executive board did not desist from reining in post-War Europe from excessive consumption. In the 1970-80s, Latin American countries faced opprobrium that, in the 1990s, East Asian economies did not escape either. In the 2000s, the US and Europe, the historical rule-setters, themselves fell into unsustainable consumption, suffering its deleterious impact on economic growth. Reflecting the changed world economic order, G8 expanded into G20 for future global economic and financial dialogue, and revisions of IMF quotas could not be stalled any longer.


A huge socio-economic change is needed to get back to the basic habit of household savings in advanced economies where untargeted subsidies in various sectors and in multiple forms have curbed incentives to work or save, and have resulted in heavy expenditure burdens on government. This is where the need for rebalancing is most apt. Households, government and private businesses comprise an economy. They cannot all be in deficit, filling it perennially from abroad. That is unsustainable in the long run. It also leaves an unjust debt burden on posterity. Recognising this, more advanced countries are of late embracing tough, unpopular belt-tightening measures.


Thus, it is pertinent to ask what G20 can achieve to usher in less, yet better, global consumption that could form the anchor for a new exports road map from developing countries, rather than exclusively emphasising relative exchange rates or pushing artificial trade barriers. Perspicacity and reform in demand from advanced economies would naturally result in a realistic exports trajectory from developing nations, that could: (i) slow the rush; (ii) allow space for more intelligent use of depletable resources; (iii) minimise environmental degradation; (iv) enhance internationally comparable labour standards; and (v) minimise the use of child or indentured labour. G20 has included development issues in its Seoul Summit. To end on a cautionary note, it is necessary on the part of the Sherpas to ensure that crucial objectives are not lost in a creeping incrementalism of agenda items, as was evidenced in revisions in the IMF's agenda after earlier global crises.


All views expressed are exclusively those of the author









I, for one, take a balanced and realistic view of the state visit of President Barack Obama. The visit began on a low note. It ended on a high note. Looked at from any angle, the success of this high-level get-together of the world's two great democracies cannot be denied. Now that the excitement has subsided, the over-heated media enthusiasm has cooled down, one should analyse the substantial, not the trivial culinary and sartorial, aspects. Indo-American relations have been deepened, widened and strengthened. The self-effacing and low-key Indian prime minister and the media-savvy and eloquent US president broke new ground, established unexpected rapport and mutual respect and understanding. This is a spectacular turnaround in Indo-US bilateralism. One must recognise that Manmohan Singh is now a respected world figure, sought-after leader. Economics, not politics, is the name of the game. Here the wise doctor is in his unpadded element. His is a staggering achievement. I am not a cheerleader for Manmohan Singh, but one should praise where praise is due.


I did not expect that Mr Obama would go as far as he did on our desire for permanent membership of the UN Security Council and his candid remarks on Pakistan. The road leading to the Security Council is a bumpy one. Will India be the sole new member to make it? No. There will be a package. Will we be satisfied with a non-veto-carrying permanent seat? Out of question. Who are the likely candidates for a reformed and expanded Security Council? Brazil. Most certainly, even if Argentina and Mexico oppose it. One Muslim country. Indonesia is the obvious front-runner. The Arabs will resist.


South Africa and Nigeria will slug it out for the African seat. Germany. A distinct possibility. That would increase the number of European membership to four, the other three being Russia, the UK and France. All western countries will support Germany regardless of Italy's objections. There is a school of thought that demands a seat for the European Union. Japan will have full US support. China will oppose.


China's position following Mr Obama's support for India has been enunciated — a cheque that will not be easy to encash. The bargaining and negations will be prolonged and torturous. We have our work cut out.


When British Prime Minister David Cameron, in his speech in Bangalore, lumped Pakistan and terrorism, the reaction in Pakistan was instant and loud. There was no such clamour from Islamabad following the Obama statement. The US has not abandoned its trusted ally, but for America, India is a much higher priority. At the same time, we should not be seen as arm-to-arm strategic partners in reordering the international power balance. This is a risky enterprise. We live in Asia. Sino-Indian relations cannot be linked to Indo-US ties. We are not yet equal partners. The ratio between the two economies is one to thirteen. The US has a worldwide network of military pacts. Who the enemy is, I do not know.


The Obamas touched Indian hearts. He is an intellectual of the first order. He had done his India homework — Gandhi, Tagore, Vivekanand, Ambedkar,Panchtantra. Jai Hind — will Manmohan Singh say Jai America?


The welcome department is quite remarkable. The donor-recipient relationship is a thing of the past. The give-and-take is mutual. We need America and America needs us is a cliché done to death, but it is a new and welcome development.

There always is the "but". Mr Obama has two years more as president. On the home front, he will encounter formidable challenges. Whether he will be a one-term president or not is mere speculation. But the very fact that such a possibility is being talked about, should be worrying him.


In the next few weeks, India will be host to the presidents of France and Russia, and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. The UK prime minister was here earlier in the year. Thus, all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have made their Indian pilgrimage in less than eight months. Surely this calls for noiseless celebration. How pleased must the mandarins of the ministry of external affairs be. That brings me to Hamid Ansari and Meira Kumar. Who will make it to the Rashtrapati Bhawan first, he or she? In either case, the IFS will be singing in the rain.


I will quote the last six lines from page 403 of Ramachandra Guha's latest book The Makers of Modern India. Dr Ram Manohar Lohia says this about the future of English in India: "The river has changed course, rendering the bridge of English useless. Russian language is making huge strides. The downstream of public opinion is flowing towards it. After sometime, Russian language will flaunt the same claim. The clash between English and Russian may lead to a dual race. That English will rise to the level of an international medium is a myth." In this particular case, Dr Lohia proved to be a false prophet.









THE reported strike call yet again by the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), which represents over six million truck and lorry owners nationally, is doubly unfortunate. Its demand that three-axle vehicles be charged the same road toll as two-axle ones has no merit. Tolls, after all, are really borne by consignees and, ultimately, consumers. In any case, it would add up to a tiny fraction of overall transport costs. So, truckers have no basis for such a complaint; tolls anyway are meant to expand and maintain the road network, and so, it is very much in the interest of truckowners. Rather, it is the transporters who engage truckers, who seem adverse to transparency in toll charges and attendant levies. The demand that differently-axled vehicles be charged the same toll rate is plain absurd. If heavier commercial vehicles need not be charged a relatively higher toll, we might as well have a flat rate for all vehicles, or better still, no toll at all! But we clearly need to levy reasonable user charges to boost road infrastructure, for which there's a huge investment backlog. The AIMTC is also against charging road toll on a longterm basis, taking the position that once the government recovers the cost of a highway project, it should stop charging toll. But we clearly need road maintenance, repair and new construction on a regular basis. The point is that limited-period tolling and inadequate funds for maintenance would jack up truckers' costs.


However, the system of toll collection expressly needs modernising on our roads. We need an IT-enabled radio frequency identification (RFID) technology road-tolling system so that motorists pay electronically without having to repeatedly stop at toll booths. With a tolling point now at almost every 60 km of the highway network pan-India, we do need innovation in toll collection. The AIMTC's demand that empty vehicles on their return journey be charged lower toll would delay and needlessly complicate matters at tolling booths by necessitating physical verification of documents and goods.







THE Supreme Court's (SC) remark on Tuesday that policemen involved in fake encounters must face stern action, including dismissal and even murder charges, is a step forward towards ending the practice of 'encounters' in the country. Pertinently, there is a case going on in the SC in an appeal filed by the Andhra Pradesh Police Association against the February 2009 ruling of the AP High Court that FIRs must be registered in all cases of fake encounters and the plea of self-defence be proven in a court of law. There was also the recent example of a CBI Special Court awarding a life sentence to a former Kerala top cop who allegedly killed a Naxal leader in custody, a full 40 years after the incident. That shows how old and widespread the issue is. There have been umpteen instances of the police and law-enforcement agencies in various states resorting to such encounters in the name of fighting terrorism or crime, often killing innocents. NHRC figures reveal that between 1993 and March 2010, it received 1,560 complaints alleging fake encounters. Of these, the NHRC found 856 to be genuine. Whether those numbers are reflective of reality is a moot point. But the core issue is whether anything can be more atrocious, or signify the collapse of basic democratic ideals, than when protectors of citizens and enforcers of the law violate both. 


True, some cases exist where criminals commit truly inhuman crimes. And violence of many hues also plagues India. But if a system institutionalises using veritable death squads, it resembles more a ruthless dictatorship than a nation flaunting its democratic ideals. The latter can only be preserved by an insistence on the comprehensive enforcement of law and justice even for the most hardened killer or terrorist. That this 'method' of countering crime or terrorism seems almost acceptable in public consciousness also reflects a deep malaise in our polity. An encounter killing, in effect, is the state committing the same crime it accuses the target of. The practice must end.







EVELYN De Morgan's 1909 painting The Worship of Mammon portrays a woman at the knees of a faceless beast holding a dark coin pouch. Dressed in wrinkled old clothing, she seems hopeless and distracted, and you could make that pretty shrewd guess: she is headed for worse. The English artist successfully conveys through her painting the truism that mindless pursuit of wealth is one of the cardinal sins. Rich and still uncharitable to those in want is, like lust and gluttony, a sin of excess. The 19th century artist George Frederick Watts gives filthy lucre a gory, carnivorous face in his work Mammon. Through centuries, writers as influential as Shakespeare to artists as gifted as Rembrandt, passed on the Biblical wisdom through their works that "a stingy man hastens after wealth and does not know that poverty will come upon him". While in art and culture, people were subjected to racial jokes, in life, sometimes, they were condemned to persecution over their perceived greed. Clear negative stereotypes emerged, and it took a long time for someone to finally stand up and say greed is good. When Russia-born American Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum, a.k.a. Ayn Rand, audaciously celebrated materialism, ambition and competitiveness in her books, what she did was turn upside down a life philosophy passed on for generations through religion, literature, art, diktats and word of mouth. Here comes a new study from Germany, which says biology decides our level of philanthropy. Like our susceptibility to heart disease, gambling and alcoholism, altruism too is a trait that is in our genes. 


The researchers at the University of Bonn found that people with a certain gene variant gave twice as much money for a charitable cause than those who don't have that variant. Being charitable is apparently in-built. So, even if we worship at Rand's throne and appreciate the virtues of competitive capitalism, we will still not be able to help ourselves donating the excess from last quarter's net profit to our neighbour who is collecting money for sending sweaters to a rural school in Bihar. Or, we could be pious and still be stingy because we lack the right gene. Age-old wisdom suddenly gets a new meaning!








IN INDIA, responsibility for development has oscillated between two extreme models — as a central/state government function (development from above) during the 1950s and 1960s and as a local agenda (development from below) from the 1980s. However, the decentralised form was also a variant of the top-down approach. First, functions which the higher levels were unable to perform or had little interest in were offloaded to the city level. Second, local authorities were given inadequate support and resources and often left to fend for themselves. Finally, little attention was paid to local area governance in which decision-making starts from the ward level upward. Even though the 74th Amendment to the Constitution has mandated establishment of ward committees (WCs) as the microgovernance unit, little real progress has been made to establish WCs with adequate delegation of funds, functionaries and functions (3Fs). 


The recent setting up of WCs in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) and entrustment of 3Fs based on Walter Stohr's notion of 'subsidiarity' is one noteworthy attempt to fulfil a gap in decentralised governance. Subsidiarity is a multilevel process that mandates that processes and decisions that can be best performed at local levels should be executed there. Only those that cannot be satisfactorily done at local levels are 'delegated' to higher levels of government, the private sector, or the third sector; accordingly, subsidiarity is a process of bottom-up decentralisation. 


Included in the Hyderabad WCs are two types of members — 10 ward committee members representing citizens and interest groups such as the resident welfare associations, slum-level federations, NGOs and chambers of commerce; and five to nine area sabha representatives, representing a geography containing nearly 5,000 people. Both types of WC members are elected though voice votes by the municipal council. Therefore, the WCs are predominantly composed of interest groups and mirror the emerging political economy in which public interest is constructed from the diverse and often competing goals of people and groups of people. Below are given some of the distinct ways in which subsidiarity principle was made operational in Hyderabad through the WCs. 


Understanding that actual needs at the ward level are related to the daily operation & maintenance (O&M) of facilities and services and the WCs are best positioned to deal with them, 20% of the annual maintenance budget was given to the WCs to be spent on O&M of roads, water supply, street lighting, sanitation, drainage and other public works. Importantly, all proposals are to be generated and prioritised in the area sabhas and later confirmed by the WCs, the purpose being to promote local-level discourse and conversation which, according to the communicative ideal, is a form of action. Ward committees, in fact, are expected to promote dialogue and communication by creating a public realm that encourages individuals, groups and interest groups to engage in free and open communication in which all are equally empowered, the power of best argument prevails, and all assumptions and claims are tested. However, as noted by Susan Fainstein, discourse alone may be insufficient to address local inequalities in power, opportunity and resources. A novel provision in the business rules of the WCs that resolutions will fail if opposed by more than 20% of the members, ensures that the 'voice' of the less endowed is also valued during decisionmaking and implementation. 


INNOVATIVE accountability tools and processes were developed to make ward-level functionaries more responsive and responsible for their actions. For example, an action-oriented monitoring tool with a focus on results and utility, called the pinpoint program (3P), was designed and implemented. The 3P tool is a daily morning visit programme of all ward-level officers to a particular neighbourhood at a specific time to address both financial and non-financial local needs. The cyclical nature of the 3P compels ward-level functionaries to act on the felt needs of citizens within a timeline. Additionally, the 3Ps of all ward-level functionaries are known to the WCs and citizens beforehand; so, the WCs are enabled to participate in the process and engage in active review of municipal functions and functionaries to understand how ward-level civic operations are proceeding and what aspects need correcting. Reporting is an integral part of the pinpoint programmes and standardised SMS messages are sent to WCs and citizens by the frontline overseers daily. 


Furthermore, the Hyderabad WCs are mandated to prepare development plans. Local strategy design is best done by actors or agencies at the ward level that are "better placed to develop strategies tailored to the specific problems of the individual regions (ward)". However, the mainstream ward functionaries lacked the flexibility or the innovativeness to deal with modern urban development challenges of micro urban units; therefore, 'local development agents', such as Administrative Staff College of India were positioned to help the WCs. The ASCI was tasked to identify the areas to mobilise the endogenous development potential of the wards and to provide the external innovative impulse in a language which was understood by the WC members. Simultaneously, the capacity of the WC members was enhanced through training programmes designed and implemented by the Centre of Good Governance (CGG), Hyderabad. The synergy provided by the two institutes helped expose the WCs to global trends and address larger issues of poverty, illiteracy and health, requiring access to greater information than available at the local level. 


All in all, the Hyderabad experiment has shown that decentralisation rooted in subsidiarity has the potential to lead to effective microgovernance, develop partnerships among people and groups of people, and enhance their capacity to build consensus on local issues. Additionally, the Hyderabad WCs have generated several power centres in addition to the traditional, thereby facilitating participation of new actors and promoting inclusive growth because conflict lines and excessive use of power are recognised and accounted for explicitly during goal-setting and implementation. Finally, unworkable uniform solutions and standard recipes are not imposed on local areas and decentralisation is based on local history, culture, issues, and resources. 


(The author is an IAS officer. 

Views are personal.)






EUROPEAN capital goods makers, hit by the economic downturn, have started shifting focus to the East to improve their order pipeline in the project business and shore up profitability. KSB AG, a German pump and valve manufacturer with revenues of nearly €2 billion last year, is one of them. The company is planning a major expansion drive in India over the next five years to ride on its growth story, says Wolfgang Schmitt, chairman, KSB AG. 


"We have capped investments in capacity expansion in Europe. Capex will, instead, be significantly raised in Asia in the coming years. India and China are the key destinations for our investments. Over the next decade, we will expand in Brazil, where we are in the process of planning a new site and location."


The demand for capital goods in India, the fastest-growing economy after China, is expected to rise in the near term. "India's nuclear power projects will drive the demand for capital equipment. Nuclear power pumps and valves are items with high margins and we already supply the equipment to India,"says Schmitt, who was here for the company's golden jubilee celebrations. The company has five sites, four in Maharashtra and one in Tamil Nadu. 


"Our plan is to double capacity in India over the next five years as revenues of this subsidiary are slated to grow from . 800 crore now to . 1,000 crore in the next twothree years. We are targeting . 50-60 billion business in India by 2018." KSB Pumps intends to invest around . 50 crore in doubling steel and cast iron castings alone. The pump and valve maker began its Asia-Pacific foray setting up a plant in Pakistan in 1959, a year before it forayed into India. 


KSB's joint venture in China will make pumps and later valves for China's nuclear power programme, Schmitt says. He, however, rules out exports from the Chinese joint venture to any other country including Pakistan. The Chinese plant for the nuclear power sector will start assembling pumps and later produce valves in the next couple of years. 


The company hopes to achieve production of the full range in five years. Schmitt, however, admits that the company can face issues over intellectual property in China when it enters the standard pumps' market in the non-nuclear sector. 


As part of its globalisation strategy, KSB AG is developing standard global products instead of the eight variants that the company has currently. India is one of the three main locations for this project. The other two locations include its parent site Frankenthal in Germany and a plant in Brazil. 


"All the pumps will then be identical across the world. Under the two-year old global strategy project, we want to link resources and allocate different technologies to different countries within a central organisation," he says. 


Since the company's global focus is on service, Schmitt hints at acquisitions in India that will help deliver services to industrial pump users. "The practice in Europe and the United States is to outsource services. We will, however, adopt a different approach in Asia and Latin America and leverage on acquisitions. Our service presence is much lower in these countries than it is in the developed economies," Schmitt says. 


Though the company has a focus on the Bric countries, indications are that it will not set up a plant in Russia. The Russian market is expected to be served by its global plants. 


China and India are the two big markets in the Asia-Pacific region. Then comes Indonesia, where we have recently set up a manufacturing plant. This caters to the needs of the palm oil sector whereas the requirements for capital equipment in energy and other sectors are met from India," he says. 


According to him, the pump business, the world over, is in the process of consolidation. "There are 10 major pump manufacturers and we believe that in future, all of them will grow through acquisitions. Companies are integrating their products to become vertically integrated because power plants, water supply and effluent treatment projects, for instance, require valves which represent a significant part of the total value of the project. Each one of the 10 majors will grow bigger," he says.







IF CITIESare the engines of growth, it is the transport network which keeps these engines working efficiently. This is particularly relevant for poorer sections of the society, as studies show that around 20-30% of their family incomes require to be spent on transport for most of such families. As cities grow and become richer, vehicle ownership and use also grow more rapidly than the road space available, resulting in increased congestion, air pollution and considerable loss of time spent commuting. 


A city like Delhi adds something like 1,200 new vehicles everyday whereas Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai add close to 1,000 vehicles each day. As per a forecast, energy demand in the transport sector will grow at 5-8% per annum and the two-wheeler population, which was at 46.1 million in the country in 2008, is to go up to 87.7 million in 2015. The number of cars and SUVs will go up from 8.8 million to 18 million during the same period. As with prosperity and development, capacity to afford vehicles goes up, we have to ensure that the role of public transport also has to keep improving. 


The public transport system is an efficient user of space and energy. It is generally accepted that a city with a population of one to two million should have a 50-60% share of public transport and for cities with higher population, this will need to go up to 70-80%. Not only are we at these levels in most of our cities, but the modal split in favour of public transport is declining. 


A study of 30 cities by M/s Wilbur Smith revealed that the share of public transport dropped from 78% in 1994 to 54% in 2007 in 4-8million population cities. Similarly, the average journey speed reduced to 17 kmph in 2007, which could go down to six kmph by 2031. The fact that the importance of organised, affordable city transport is not accepted and recognised across the country becomes clear from the fact that only 20 out of a total of 87 cities studied, with a 50,000 or more population, have a formal public transport system in the form of a city bus service. 


The National Urban Transport Policy announced in 2006 suggests a clear roadmap for improving urban transport. But neither the states nor the cities, basically due to lack of clarity as to who has the assigned mandate for city transport, have taken the required steps to convert this policy into action. While, on the one hand, public transport in general will have to be prioritised for support and action, rail-based mass transit systems also will have to be prioritised for the same, the latter will also have to be thought of and planned as such systems are less congesting and can be very important for those who are peripherally located and have long journeys to access employment. 


Other than Kolkata Metro and now Delhi Metro, Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai are in the process of adding metros, withHyderabad and Jaipur also planning it. Ten cities are to have Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS). Thus, other than seven of the total 35 cities that have a million-plus population, no city has a definite plan to have a spread-out modern mass transit system. 


If we need a good example of how a city has effectively and successfully addressed its city transport problems, despite constraints, Singapore would be a good case study. Its transport system is recognised as one of the best in the world. Singapore of the 1960s had road length totalling only 1,000 km, but since its population has more than doubled and the vehicle population almost quadrupled, its transport system today has a network of more than 3,000 km, 12% of its land is taken up by roads and the number of daily motorised trips has gone up from a mere 2.7 million in 1981 to 11 million today. Motorists in Singapore enjoy one of the highest urban traffic speeds of 25 kmph. Accessibility to public transport is universal and fares are one of the lowest in the developed world. By consciously addressing the basic issues upfront, a sound city transport system has been worked out. Measures taken include road pricing implemented in 1975 through the Area Licensing Scheme, unique vehicle quota system of 1990 and the Automated Electronic Road Pricing system of 1998. Public transport became the largest beneficiary of road pricing. 


Besides restraining vehicle ownership and usage, Singapore has invested heavily in infrastructure development for both public and private transport. About 4.9 million trips are now made through the public transport system. The noteworthy feature of Singapore's system is that in a period of four decades, it could move from little or no systematic transport planning to problem-driven transport planning to vision-driven transport planning, achieving an effective land transport system that is integrated, efficient and cost effective. 


(The author is former secretary, urban     development, government of India)


The importance of organised, affordable city transport is not accepted and recognised in India 
Most cities, except seven, with a millionplus population have no definite plan for a modern mass transit system 
Singapore offers a good case study of how a city can effectively and successfully solve its transport problems







HUMAYUN the 'fortunate' was unlucky in the early phase of his life. The second son of the founder of the Mughal Empire lost his kingdom just as his father had lost his fiefdom in Fergana. He spent 15 years in exile in Afghanistan. But eventually with the help of powerful Persian friends, Humayun regained an even bigger empire. 


So, by the end of his life Humayun was lording over a millionsq-km domain. This change of fortunes is reflected in his magnificent mausoleum in Delhi. Now is there a 'lesson' lurking there for the 'emperor' of the world's sole superpower on a state visit to the tomb with his First Lady? 


Comparisons across ages would be untenable, if not odious. For unlike Humayun, Obama was not the sultan of all that he surveyed! So when accompanying scribes asked the President for reactions he chose more mundane things to dwell on: "I was told this was built in seven years," Obama said. "And for us to build something in seven years in the United States this big would be kind of tough. I give them alot of credit. Good contractors." 


On second thoughts, what the President said doesn't seem mundane at all: over the years, contractors have lost a lot ofcredit, whether in Delhi or in 'liberated' Iraq. So was he just being politically correct or ironic? Again, contractors working in 16th century India definitely got a different deal. 


According to legend the architect who envisioned the Taj Mahal had his eyes put out, to 'protect' the brand. Is that why four centuries later the successors of the ill-fated contractor tried to fob off such a shoddy job on Delhi during the Commonwealth Games? 


Jokes aside, whether it is good governance or good contracting, it's all about holding on to and nurturing timeless values: It involves Gandhiji's "simple and profound lesson," as the President told the Indian Parliament later, "to be the change we seek in the world". 


Of course, there are temptations. The siren call of silver is great indeed as the grandsire Bhisma attests in the Mahabharata: Arthasya purushah dasah (Man is Money's slave). 


But it would be tragic to bow down to that axiom as supreme: There is a higher truth, which embraces all of humanity: The President ended his speech with it, citing the Panchatantra: "That one is mine and the other a stranger is the concept of little minds. But to the large-hearted, the world itself is their family.






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Recent judicial pronouncements in the Aman Kachroo ragging case and the Ruchika Girhotra molestation case — which encapsulated the tragic deaths of young people, and in respect of which justice might well have gone wholly astray if it weren't for a hue and cry raised by ordinary Indians — serve to remind us that a nation growing in stature should also mean the maturing of its social order and state institutions. The latter implies the necessity of public institutions, which underpin the state and society, keeping pace with progressive contemporary understanding of societal concerns, and linking these to global best practices. The state of the media, the shaping of laws that will support the well-being of different sections of society, the reading of laws by the courts so that the weak are not disadvantaged, and the evolving of the government into a responsive welfare-oriented entity become important indicators of the maturing of a society. We must alas infer that in these respects India is far from striving toward being a social and state system that can command respect. Here governments only think of the rate of GDP growth, and the courts of law are unmoved by the enormity of human suffering instead of interpreting existing laws creatively to benefit those without the advantage of either money or influence. Of government entities, the less said the better. In particular, the CBI has shown itself to be a club of police officers mostly out to please their political masters. Extraordinary though it might appear, in the Aman Kachroo case the legal system was first inclined to grant bail to the four senior students who ragged Aman to death, and the college authorities had gone about behaving as though nothing abnormal had occurred, all the while proclaiming their innocence. If a public and media outcry had not erupted, these four — who would later be convicted — may have long absconded. It was under the pressure of public opinion that investigations were conducted and judgment pronounced in 20 months. But it is the quantum of the sentence pronounced by the court in Dharmshala this week that we find shocking. It is this which is now an issue. It has not been explained why the judge chose to sentence the four to four years in prison when the law provides for a maximum term of 10 years. The high court would do well to look into this aspect of the matter. Aman's father Rajendra Kachroo has been magnanimous in holding that justice would be done in his late son's case only when the University Grants Commission has ensured that ragging is eradicated for good in this country. He has sought to argue that this has failed to materialise because the UGC and the HRD ministry have not got their act right. This is a serious indictment. In the Ruchika matter, the CBI shockingly closed two of the crucial files germane to the case of a 14-year-old Chandigarh schoolgirl taking her life after being molested by the then Haryana inspector-general of police. Perhaps home minister P. Chidambaram needs to look into this sorry affair.








 "Reject the miracles

Games of the impossible'

Cling to the words...

Impossible, impossible..."

From The Last Words

by Bachchoo


If I was a cartoonist I'd portray the relatively new British Prime Minister, David Cameron, not as has been suggested as Winston Churchill with a cigar and a lisp, but as another Prime Minister of recent memory. The complaint from his own party that the Cameron magic circle has not defined its Big Idea, has been hoodwinked. The Big Idea is as discernible as a 3-D film is to those who put on the viewing specs. Without the specs the film stays a blur.


Mr Cameron has chosen his model but he and his camp have not proclaimed their allegiances and plans. More than that, they have calculatedly thrown up a political smoke screen of "fairness" and tough compassion to appear to be the opposite of the political inspiration and trajectory they have chosen to follow. The devil travels untrammelled and unquestioned in an angel's mask.


They have even managed, I believe, to keep their design from their partners in coalition (who have been sold the tickets to the 3-D movie, but haven't been given the specs), because framing this Big Idea as a programme would almost certainly crack the coalition and would alienate the British electorate. Mum's the word — in more senses than one, the second sense being the Mother Goddess of the Cameron project: ladles and jellyspoons, none other than the redoubtable Baroness Margaret Thatcher. (Alarums within?)


Mrs Thatcher began as Prime Minister by defeating Edward Heath for the leadership of the Tory Party and winning an election on a platform which at the time seemed not to have a big idea either. Heath was avowedly the political representative of international capital and gambled on Britain's entry into the European Union as its instrument. It was a narrower vision than Mrs Thatcher's even though she, out of sharp political acumen, seemed to be the representative of the British lower middle classes — the mobilisation of the suburbs, small business mentality which didn't see itself as part of the machinery of globally mobile capital, the global movement of labour and markets.


She spoke against immigration and won the hearts and votes of those who felt that British culture had been "swamped" by aliens and freebooters from the ex-colonies. In fact, despite the rhetoric, on her watch immigration into Britain actually increased.


When she came to power it was fashionable amongst my friends and colleagues to characterise Mrs Thatcher as a "fascist", a loose and inexact term of abuse. Mrs Thatcher was, in fact, the figurehead of Britain's lower middle-class "revolution". In using that word, I don't mean that this lower middle class established some "dictatorship of the boxwallas", but several of their prejudices, preoccupations and insights triumphed.


As a class they were economically close to the wage-earners, and the pen-pushers amongst them were, as managers and supervisors, familiar with the practices of trade unionists, those that the Labour Party had nurtured or pampered. They knew and resented the fact that the unions had got away with winning privileges and perpetrating practices which were far from transparent. It was no coincidence that Mrs Thatcher and her Party's capitalist allies — Rupert Murdoch in particular — first took on the printing trades unions.


"The Print" had forced concessions from newspapers over the years and were perceived as holding their employers to ransom. The myth of print work was that five or so people were employed to do the job of one and that while most of the night shift slept and the day shift skived, a selected rota of operatives would keep the presses rolling — and everyone would get paid. There was some truth to the myth and Mrs Thatcher and the press barons who supported her launched an eminently fair-sounding crusade against them. She could rely on the public being against a good day's wage for a very relaxed and dodgy day's or night's work.


The mood against such practices gave the Thatcher government the momentum to declare their war on all organised labour and on the concessions that they had won. Her government passed legislation to restrict and stymie the power of the unions. When she took on the National Union of Miners, appointing Ian McGregor, an American, to rationalise the work and output of the nationally-owned mining industry, the political programme became clear.


Despite the disguise of being the voice of lower middle-class Britain, the mission of her government was to nullify the power of organised labour so that she could shut down British coal mines — why mine coal in Britain if Poland, even Soviet Poland, could sell it to our power plants cheaper? Why make cloth in the mills of Lancashire and Yorkshire if one could import the same from Hong Kong at a lower price? That millions would be thrown out of work and, as the miners were fond of saying, "communities destroyed", was the problem of the those millions and those communities.


The Thatcher project was, much more than that of poor Edward Heath and his honest-brokerage of European Union membership with all its rules and restrictions, the instrument of internationalising the market in raw materials, consumer goods and the movement of capital.


And capital did move — but only bankers' capital because Britain offered the best conditions for speculative usury. Twenty years later those chickens have come home to roost, carrying their sub-prime debts with them.


Mr Thatcher succeeded. British mining, steel, textiles, shipbuilding, even car manufacture and other light and heavy industry collapsed. Other countries would provide and Britain would buy cheaper.


The policy, the most anti-British in history, came wrapped in the Union Jack. The Argentinian military junta assisted the Thatcher project by claiming the last colony, the Falkland Islands, forgotten pieces of dirt in the South Atlantic. The country, nostalgic for its colonising victories in India and Africa and in a pantomime of the Churchillian spirit of "down with the Hun", celebrated their easy victory.


To complement the destruction of an organised wage-earning class and give capital its opportunities, the Thatcher administration decided to sell the family silver. It would denationalise, "privatise", every industry and utility which it feasibly could. The railways of Britain, the suppliers of gas, electricity and water were sold to the highest bidder, in most cases firms which were capitalised by international banks and often owned entirely by non-British interests.


A new Britain certainly emerged — of a population selling American hamburgers to each other.







Everyone may have forgotten the fury the Krishna floods unleashed upon the state last year, but not senior bureaucrat Mr S.P. Tucker. The Krishna river overflowed, causing the sort of flooding that experts say occurs once in 10,000 years. Mr K. Rosaiah had just begun his stint as Chief Minister and was worried at the colossal damage the waters would wreck had the Srisailam dam been breached, as seemed likely at one point. With all concerned officers out in the field, Mr Tucker, then principal secretary in the irrigation department took control of the central monitoring and spent sleepless nights, along with the Chief Minister, in the Secretariat itself. The Chief Minister was so impressed with Mr Tucker's effective handling of the situation, that he told the media that the state would confer the Bharat Ratna on Mr Tucker if it had the power to do so. An elated Mr Tucker waited patiently for the elevation that would surely come after such praise. And, exactly a year later, it did. He was moved out of irrigation and into the planning department. But the coveted berth in the Chief Minister's Office, which he must have expected, eluded him, and he must now be wondering just how much worth to attach to a politician's words of praise.


The arrows of Cupid find some pretty unlikely targets sometimes, and the result is not always welcome in our caste-class-religion obsessed country. But when the chief secretary, Mr S.V. Prasad's son chose a Brahmin bride, the senior bureaucrat gracefully accepted the match. The marriage is to take place next week and a large number of VVIPs are expected to attend, Mr Prasad being much respected in several quarters. He has had a long innings in government, having served in the office of three chief ministers, including Mr Chandrababu Naidu. Love marriages, it seems, are becoming quite common in bureaucratic circles, with three senior officers in the CMO giving their blessings last year to inter-caste or inter-religious marriages of their offspring. Principal secretary Jannat Hussain's son married a Brahmin girl, special secretary K. Prabhakar Reddy's daughter married a boy from the Kamma community and political secretary R.M. Gonela's daughter married a Muslim boy. It's a welcome change from the gory stories of 'honour killings' that continue to shame the country.


Senior bureaucrat Ms D. Lakshmi Parthasarathy Bhaskar's stint in Roads and Buildings has been short — less than a year — but it has its benefits. She was allotted a spacious bungalow in Kundanbagh where judges, ministers and top cops are given accommodation. Of course, her dogs helped her to bag the prime accommodation as the government was sympathetic to her plea that she required a large space for the more than half-a-dozen canines she owns. In fact, she made it a point to mention this in the allotment order. When it came to refurbishing the spacious bungalow, her position as head of the Buildings department naturally helped. She could get whatever she wanted to make life comfortable till her retirement five years on.








 "To take from the air a live tradition…" That, said Professor P. Lal, was what he had wanted to do with his anthology of Mahabharata-inspired poems and fiction by modern Indian writers. But that desire to present to readers a living tradition as beautifully as possible went beyond one book — it was clearly his mission in life.


Prof. Purushottam Lal, 81, died last week. For over half-a-century he had nurtured Indian writing in English and cradled new voices. Writers Workshop, his alternative publishing house, started with a group of friends in 1958, served as an incubator for Indian literature in English. Barely a decade after Indepen-dence, "Indo-Anglian writing" was sniffed at by the majority in the hot-blooded new nation that saw writing in the coloniser's tongue as a betrayal of roots. Prof. Lal swam against that tide of linguistic nationalism, determined to claim English as an Indian language.


And succeeded. With the flourish of the audacious youngster, Writers Workshop (WW) books declared that "English has proved its ability, as a language, to play a creative role in Indian literature, through original writing and through transcreations". His dogged efforts for more than half-a-century helped establish English as one of India's many literary languages.


Because of WW's chosen language, Prof. Lal created a space for new writing that transcended regional boun-daries. And he dared to do what ordinary publishers would shrink from — he focused on poetry, usually of unknown youngsters, putting creativity before profitability. In the process he discovered writers who would go on to conquer the world, like Vikram Seth. Over the years, WW had showcased writing by new writers and promising poets like Nissim Ezekiel, Kamala Das, Anita Desai, A.K. Ramanujan, Adil Jussawalla, Keki Daru-walla, Jayanta Mahapatra, Agha Shahid Ali, Dom Moraes, Arun Kolatkar, Gieve Patel, Pritish Nandy, Shasthi Brata, Suniti Namjoshi and Meena Alexander, to name a few. Till today, WW remains a valid launching pad for young writers in English.


"I still remember how fastidiously he published my first book of poems, in a small flatbed treadle in the garage next door", wrote Pritish Nandy. "How he published so many others, who would have never appeared in print but for Lal's fierce dedication to making available the work of Indian writers in English."


Prof. Lal was as fastidious as they come. He had a meticulous eye for detail as he did everything from accepting manuscripts to proofing to creating the design and the cover with his splendid calligraphy on hand-woven cloth that gave the hand-stitched, hand-printed and hand-bound books a boutique look. Each book was "printed on an Indian-make hand-operated machine" declared the copyright page of WW books. "This book is entirely hand set, letter by letter, as a result minor printer's gremlins are regrettably unavoidable." It also said, with some variations over time: "Layout and lettering by P. Lal with a Sheaffer calligraphy pen. Gold-embossed, hand-stitched, hand-pasted and hand-bound by Tulamiah Mohiuddin with handloom sari cloth woven and designed in India, to provide visual beauty and the intimate texture of book-feel. WW bindings are not concealed behind ephemeral jackets. Each WW publication is a hand-crafted artefact".


This passionate love for books and literature was the fuel that WW ran on. His was a cottage industry, Prof. Lal said, because "small is not only beautiful but viable as well". Today, WW has more than 3,000 titles in print, and has averaged about a 100 books a year since 1995.


So when booming publishing houses steered clear of poetry and unknown writers, WW published new poets — lately with a partial buy-back guarantee from the poets themselves. "It is not sad, it is obnoxious, to plead, as publishers do, 'I will not publish poetry because it does not sell'", he wrote. In 1960, he had co-edited with Raghavendra Rao Modern Anglo-Indian Poetry, the first anthology of contemporary Indian poetry in English.


But Prof. Lal was not just a cornerstone of Indian writing in English, he was an early evangelist of translation that has now become so fashionable. He called it "transcreation" because he believed it was not possible to translate Indian language literatures into English, too often there were no corresponding words. From classics by Kalidas, Kabir, Jaidev, Meerabai or Ghalib, to modern classics like Satyajit Ray's translation of his father Sukumar Roy's Abol Tabol, Prof. Lal attempted to offer a flavour of Indian literature in English.


Of all his transcreations, though, the most impressive is his English rendering of the Mahabharata, verse for verse. Named simply The Mahabharata of Vyasa, this enormous, multi-volume tome that he had worked on for decades will remain one of the biggest and most sincere renditions in the history of literary translation. He toiled meticulously over each word so as not to miss in English any connotation present in the Sanskrit version.


In keeping with his belief that English was an Indian language, Prof. Lal's transcreations were targeted at Indians. "My version (of the Mahabharata) is for the educated, English-knowing Indian", he said. "Non-Indians can eavesdrop and overhear."


Prof. P. Lal will be remembered as a poet, publisher, translator and academic. But he will remain in India's literary pantheon a nurturer of Indian literature. As he wished, he took from the air a live tradition — of linguistic diversity, of new literary thought, of ancient cultural moorings — and nurtured it against all odds.


"We were, of course, almost uniformly ungrateful to him", says Pritish Nandy about writers discovered by Prof. Lal. "For we never respect those who give us a leg up. It embarrasses us." Today, every Indian writer in English, every Indian publisher making profits on Indian writing or translations in English, may wish to doff their cap to the memory of a tall, passionate man in a book-lined study in Kolkata who built, brick by brick, an unshakeable foundation for Indian literary publishing in English.


Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contactedat [1]





9/11 and TB

By Ashok Malik


In the taut and tumultuous days after 9/11, the spectre of bioterrorism began to haunt the United States. Traces of anthrax were found in letters mailed to offices of senior members of the US Congress as well as to media organisations. This was a new sort of enemy. It didn't come carrying a gun or even flying a plane. It arrived surreptitiously in the post. The first line of defence was not a counter-terrorism commando but, crazily, the person who collected and sorted out mail. Testing each individual envelope or parcel would set back delivery schedules of the United States Postal Service (USPS) by weeks. It would also drive down public morale.



The USPS and the US department of defence put out a contract — valued at $70 million, it is believed — for the development and manufacture of a device that could be put at the end of a postal chute, as it were, and tell you if a particular item had anthrax. A then small California-based technology company called Cepheid won the contract. The result was the Cepheid GeneXpert Biothreat Assay, a small device that tests and positively identifies bio-threats such as anthrax and plague in about 70 minutes.


Shortly after the device came into USPS sorting rooms, tuberculosis specialists began pondering the Cepheid machine. If it could detect the anthrax bacteria could it similarly identify its cousin, the tuberculosis (TB) bacteria?


The idea was put into motion. A philanthropic foundation gave Cepheid another $9 million to tweak its anthrax machine to work on TB. The result is Xpert, a molecular diagnostic device that is already being called a game-changer in the world's fight against TB. Indeed, when the "Global Plan to Stop TB: 2011-2015" was released at a conference in Berlin in October, a World Health Organisation (WHO) release spoke of "eliminating tuberculosis through improved, quicker diagnosis, more effective drugs and vaccines and stronger health systems".


All of those have to act together but Xpert could well be the accelerator. It identifies a sample/patient as TB positive in 90 minutes. To understand how revolutionary this could be, the history of man's battle with TB is worth recounting. Hitherto, the most common way to identify TB has been to look for the bacteria under the microscope. This smear microscopy test goes back to the closing years of the 19th century.


A better detection method is to take a sputum sample and allow the organism to grow. In a solid culture medium, this could take six weeks. In a liquid culture medium it could take two to three weeks. "Liquid cultures began to be used in the 1980s", says Bobby John, a medical doctor who has worked in global TB advocacy, "and the average time is nine days".


What this has served to do is make TB case detection the "Achilles' heel of TB control", suggests Madhukar Pai, epidemiologist at Canada's McGill University and co-chair of the New Diagnostics Working Group of the Stop TB Partnership.


For India, new TB diagnostics are of particular interest. TB kills about 1,000 Indians a day and is one of the biggest causes of mortality in the country.


The introduction of Xpert into the public health programme in India is still some way off. It will likely arrive in private clinics and hospitals earlier. The cost will have to be calculated. As a diagnostic tool it will be more expensive than the ones currently used. Even so, some public health professionals argue this is a front-loaded expense and much cheaper.


The government-funded TB medication programme costs $15 per patient but it requires strict adherence over six months. If a patient breaks off midway, he could develop multi-drug resistant, or MDR TB (a more virulent version of the disease), could infect others and, should his bodily systems start to get infected, spend up to $20,000 on medical care.


Most Indian TB patients simply can't afford this and would probably just waste away.


The big picture that emerges — and this is as true for TB control as for public health provision as for overall achievement of the MDGs — is that there will be no appreciable advance in the absence of investments in technology. TB itself is treated using a combination of four drugs, the last of which was discovered in the 1960s. The TB vaccine will not arrive, if it does at all, for about a decade.


Yet, for fighting TB or malaria or HIV/AIDS, eliminating hunger by addressing supply-side issues related to food, improving maternal mortality indices, universalising primary education, ensuring a greener, environmentally sustainable mode of economic growth — and all of these are among the MDGs — it will not be enough to simply pour in more money using existing templates. Technology has to come in as a catalyst.


That aside, the sheer beauty and interoperability of technology and technology development is stunning. A machine put together in the early years of the war against terror could now help human civilisation defeat a much older, more manipulative enemy and become a force multiplier in the war against TB. Who would have thought of that on that mad September day, nine years ago?


- Ashok Malik can be contacted at [1]








Wednesday's meeting of West Bengal's chief secretary with district magistrates and SPs is significant for two reasons. A fairly regular feature during the Jyoti Basu dispensation and even earlier under Congress regimes, the practice has been revived after at least 15 years. And hopefully, it shall be followed up. The conference could not have been convened without a nod from on high; the present chief minister has displayed a preference for video-conferences that as often as not are marred by glitches of a half-baked technology. The second, and still more crucial, aspect of the face-to-face interaction concerns the functioning of a largely subservient bureaucracy. 


The chief secretary, Mr Samar Ghosh, has been bold enough to tell the heads of district administrations to abide by the rulebook, indeed to uphold the principles of bureaucratic neutrality. This is decidedly more professional than a former chief secretary's farewell letter on the day of retirement. So it is that the DMs and SPs have been directed to provide equal opportunities to all parties in the matter of holding rallies before the Assembly elections. However, the degree to which this will be effective must remain open to question given the clout of the political masters.


Theoretically at least, Mr Ghosh's directive is concordant with the letter and spirit of the bureaucracy's political neutrality ~ a concept that has been trashed over the past three decades. The other underpinning must be the anxiety to avert violent clashes in the run-up to the polls. It devolves on the district administrations to ensure that the balance of political power is maintained in the conduct of campaigns and the holding of rallies. And most importantly in the volatile districts that are the hotbed of Maoist activity and the ones that have suffered death and destruction in the pursuit of industrialisation. In a refreshing deviation, the district officials were told not only to be neutral, but even to ensure that this perception "percolates to the level of the people". Ergo, the sense of neutrality must translate to a tangible change in administration. This ought not to be difficult for DMs and SPs, under a government that contends with an existential dilemma. The irony may yet be beneficial; hopefully, the meeting should convey a message to Writers' Buildings in the larger context.




EVEN if it is an inherited trait, only the chamchas which the Congress party breeds like rabbits will find cause to applaud Rahul Gandhi, yet again, trying to make a hero of himself by not disclosing his travel plans to those mandated to make security arrangements for him. Incidents like his unannounced participation in a Youth Congress meeting in Lucknow on 11 November are too many to list, but they amount to a series of negatives. The novelty has worn off, any thrills are pathetically puerile. That the majority of them are in UP indicate a desperate attempt to embarrass the Mayawati government, yet they also suggest an admission of the difficulties faced by his party in engineering her ouster via the ballot box. If Rahul is projected as a reviver of party fortunes ~ the report card on his forays in Bihar will soon be published ~ he must accept that gimmicks have run their course. Inexpensive popularity dissipates fast, travelling in a general railway compartment or spending the night in a rural hut have ceased to impress. If all that is projected as "self education" it condemns the pampered, privileged upbringing that leads to him being "patronising" when dealing with what aam aadmi endures. And since there is little evidence of his taking follow-up action, suspicions are aroused of a cunningly crafted façade.
Though no longer a greenhorn, Rahul has yet to understand that his antics put an over-stretched police force ~ anywhere, not just UP ~ to avoidable strain. Should there be a security-related problem the local administration will have to take the rap. Hence unannounced movements reek of juvenile recklessness. If he does find "security" style-cramping or irksome he must make bold enough to formally decline SPG cover and make a public declaration that he alone will be answerable for any lapses. Nobody, not even the rising son of the country's oldest political party can have it both ways. Since the home ministry is a key player in the security drill it is duty-bound to issue the requisite advisory. Trouble is that those capable of belling the cat would prefer to stroke its whiskers!




Even after allowing for the partisanship that is only to be expected from political interference, there is reason to believe that the National Library has lapsed into chronic illness. The Prime Minister, who heads the ministry of culture, may be shocked that the concern over the functioning of the library he had expressed almost a year ago during a visit to Kolkata has had no impact on those running this institution of national importance. He had emphasised the ministry had abundant funds at its disposal for units that needed to expedite modernisation projects. The fact that a Rs 1 crore allocation for digitisation of the library's collection ~ a programme that ought to have been completed long ago ~ has not yielded results confirms that nothing has been done to nurse a sick organisation back to health. Now the director of the library, whose appointment was expected to inject a new sense of purpose, points to his own illness as an excuse for not replying to communications from the Centre for over a month on the progress that has been made. The conclusions to be drawn are quite unflattering. It may now be up to the ministry to apply remedies. In doing so, it must go beyond routine bureaucratic measures to reveal whether there are irregularities as alleged by political quarters, and whether the administration has indeed become a prisoner of the past, incapable of bringing about reforms.

The National Library has long been at the centre of controversies. These range from complaints about the steady deterioration of maintenance standards, lack of a work culture, a history of sloth that stalls development and unionised activities on the sprawling campus. While there is new hope after the Prime Minister has taken a personal interest, it will require drastic action to produce the kind of results that he had expected. Political intervention cannot be the answer to irregularities such as violation of norms in choosing contractors and appointing contractual staff, considering the toll it has taken elsewhere on the academic scene in Bengal. But it is certainly time for the Ministry of Culture to seek new remedies, set deadlines for specific projects and, with equal authority, signal that an institution with an illustrious past cannot remain indefinitely sick.








IN the current landscape of "development", the Non Government Organisation is a dominant feature. One almost cannot envisage processes of development without seeing a role for NGOs.  Every policy, programme and review almost always includes the NGO. Within this context, it is important to analyse the role of the NGO, its influence on the direction of "development", its dynamics with power structures and with the communities it influences, and its interests.

It is important to answer why NGOs were (are) needed in the first place. In the last 100 years, our world has seen rapid changes in technology, economic structures, laws, policies and protocols. However, cultural norms, behaviour patterns and social structures have not kept up with these changes. Traditional community structures have broken down and people are at a loss as to what structures would take their place. And how would these new structures fulfill the needs of people?

Technology and modern economics have changed how communities are structured. But people have not understood how new structures ~modern cities, bureaucracies, and modern economies ~ will fulfill their needs (and if they ever will). Similarly, old techniques have become defunct. High yield, water-and chemical-intensive agriculture have made traditional methods of farming unfeasible. Water tables have fallen to levels where bore-wells run dry. Chemical-intensive agriculture forces increasingly greater use of chemicals.
And yet, the impact of new technologies is still not well understood. Numerous traditional plants used as medicines have become extinct or knowledge about them has been eroded.  Large communities have become dependent on drugs they cannot afford. The same is true in the shift from home-made cereals and grains to packaged foods. And yet, despite a rapidly changing world, large sections of our communities often find themselves trapped within traditional hierarchies that are oppressive and exploitative. Alternatively, communities have also found themselves oppressed and exploited by modern institutions such as the bureaucracy of the state, market-based labour institutions, or even development projects such as dams or mines.
It is in these circumstances that NGOs have provided leadership, and taken the initiative to provide solutions. In the last two decades there has been a mushrooming of NGOs. One factor is the role of expatriate Indians influenced by the West. They are eager to influence change in India and offer money, time and other resources to NGOs. Economic growth within India along with increased media exposure to the West has meant that resident Indians are also eager to aid such change.

Another reason is that NGOs have themselves become large employers at a variety of wage levels. This has been aided by increased funding from the World Bank as well as from foundations and charitable organisations from mainly the USA and Europe. NGOs are typically value-based organisations that depend considerably on charitable donations and voluntary service. Although the NGO sector has become increasingly professionalised over the last two decades, altruism and voluntarism remain key defining characteristics. They still lack the sophistication of corporate entities in levels of security and anti-fraud practices.

NGOs deal with large amounts of cash while reaching rural and inaccessible parts of the country and work in areas that are subject to conflict and instability. Due to small-scale operations and lack of expertise, most local vendors in these areas do not issue a commercial document for purchase of materials or services. It becomes challenging for NGOs to produce legitimate documentation. Circumstances like these where large amounts of cash are involved with minimal documentation augment and amplify fraud vulnerabilities.
NGOs get funds from international and Indian institutional donors. They earn income from field activities, which includes income from land and assets such as buildings and facilities, from consultancy or training and workshop fees, interest on funds, etc. Finally, NGOs appeal to the public and persuade individuals and groups to support their cause. Although the market for ideas is well established and expanding, even the most prominent NGOs require constant inflows of money in order to operate. In both Western countries and the developing world, many organisations operate with small budgets and staff. Thus, the issue of funding trends and sources is crucial to a discussion on development of NGOs because it is the globalisation of funding that has helped create and sustain many of these institutions.

While international funding has dramatically increased the resources available to NGOs, it clearly poses problems of its own. Foreign funding can raise questions about the credibility of an organisation's activities: if foreign donors are providing money for an NGO, might they be dictating its goals as well? This can be distorted and exploited, and may even serve as an excuse for an authoritarian leader to shut down organisations.
Foreign funds come for rural programmes, poverty-alleviation, under-privileged children and social issues such as AIDS, health and women-related issues, and education. With ease of access and reach to developed nations, funding from international organisations for sustainable community development is common. In regions of India, where there are minimal interventions by the government, non-profit making organisations reach the poor and the sufferer.

Several NGOs have carried out great work and deserve applause. However, the quantum and ease of foreign donations has resulted in the emergence of several fake organisations with a motive to siphon off easy money in the name of development. The NGO sector is most vulnerable to fraud and criminal practices, including, in extreme cases, the potential for misuse for the purposes of money laundering and terrorist financing.
Donors, especially foreign organisations, face considerable risk to reputation if they fall prey to unethical players. NGOs rarely have established governance mechanisms whereby members and supporters can hold them accountable for their activities. Often budgets provided in proposals given to foreign donors are overstated. In several cases, only nominal amounts are spent on approved field activities. Overstating expenses by creating fake bills, inflating employee expenses, misrepresenting field activities and misreporting the financial status to donors are some prevalent malpractices.

In a scenario where foreign donors and government authorities are facing continuous threat to goodwill, contributors should take the following measures: i) carry out background checks on the NGOs;  ii) create a whistle-blower mechanism and a fraud response plan for any unethical behaviour noticed by individuals affiliated or working with NGOs; iii) carry out periodical training to ensure best ethical practices; iv) carry out preliminary risk audits, and v) handhold the NGOs by bringing transparency into their day-to-day affairs and get their accounts and operations periodically audited by independent experts.

A single fraudulent act by staff or a volunteer can destroy a community's trust in the NGO's mission and cripple it. On the other hand, NGO managers and administrators seeking ways to prevent fraudulent activities should discuss the topic with a suitably qualified auditor who can advise on "best practice" guidelines and policies. They should also put emphasis on streamlining business processes and implementing basic financial controls. NGOs must devise continuous monitoring and compliance programmes. Similarly, international donors should take professional help in carrying out checks.

The issue of funding and accountability becomes even more complex when an NGO operates across national borders, at which point the need for transparency and accountability becomes most vital. It is often almost impossible to accurately track the funding of NGOs based outside the United States, Europe, Japan, and Australia. Most NGOs in the developed world have achieved financial transparency as a result of a mix of public and private oversight, regulation, and accreditation.

Given the current concerns about security, it is essential to understand where international NGOs get their funding in order to understand exactly whose interests they may be, even inadvertently, promoting. This lack of transparency in the NGO sector is perhaps its greatest vulnerability, and must be addressed internationally in order to ensure the integrity and continuity of the work of NGOs.

The writer is with Eastern Institute for Integrated Learning in Management, Kolkata.







The former President of Bangladesh and current leader of the Jatiya Party in the country's Parliament, Lieutenant-General Hussain Muhammad Ershad (retd) has had a life "which no normal human being would have faced". The 81-year-old leader keeps himself fit playing golf twice a week and working out at the gym five days. He won the parliamentary  elections from five different constituencies twice ~ in the elections of 1991 and 1996. In 2009 he formed a "Grand Alliance" against the Bangladesh Nationalist Party's four-party alliance and became the first Bangladeshi politician to apologise publicly for wrongdoing of the past. The Grand Alliance (Mohajote) won the elections in December 2008. Despite the corruption surrounding him, he did manage to leave behind a legacy of  infrastructure, and socio-economic growth and brought stability to Bangladesh's armed forces. 

General Ershad, who was in the capital to attend the golden jubilee celebrations of the National Defence College as an alumni of the institution, spoke to SRI KRISHNA. 

What is your view on prevailing Indo-Bangladesh relations ? 

It is best today. Still some areas remain unresolved and the government is looking into it. There is always some apprehension in the minds of Bangladeshis about India. We always thought Indians behaved like big brother but that attitude has changed. They now consider us as equal partners. It is a happy sign. 

Which are the issues that need to be resolved between the two countries? 

The most important issue is water sharing. The Teesta is where we have a barrage and India has also built a barrage. The Teesta barrage actually irrigates two to three districts in the region, so I feel the Indian government should try to resolve this issue as soon as  possible. Sharing of waters can be done by sitting across the table. We being the lower riparian state, we expect Indians will not do anything which will harm our interests. So far they have not. 

Another issue is the Tipiamukhi dam and we are very concerned about it. I was asked in Parliament about this and my answer was India is a friendly country, a big country, which helped us in our liberation war. Without their support Bangladesh would have taken many more years to get independence. So they should see that we survive. The Tipiamukhi dam is an important issue since we feel its construction would harm our interests, our rivers would dry up, it would harm our cultivation and even our fisheries. So I request the Indian government  to see that nothing is done which harms our interests. We want to remain friends without any bone of contention between us.

With the increasing problem of terrorism in the region, what do you feel should be done to tackle this menace? 
The situation in Pakistan, as we all know, is unstable now because of Taliban and Al-Qaida.The government there is trying to control it but because of the terrorist attack on India, relations between the two countries have soured. But we must understand that terrorists don't follow any rules. So, without blaming Pakistan, we should all help so that they can solve this problem and we in the subcontinent remain friendly neighbours.
As you were one of the founding members of Saarc, are you pleased with the way the organisation has been progressing ? 
Somehow it (Saarc) is not moving ahead as it should but still it is there. We have got our own internal problems. We had problems in Bangladesh like elections and than the two-year caretaker government. 
Pakistan is facing trouble in the tribal areas. There is the problem of Taliban and Al-Qaida. I think gradually things will improve and Saarc will certainly move ahead. Saarc was started during my time. It was my brainchild and I was the first Saarc chairman when it was held in Dhaka. I was President at that time. It was a big effort to bring Pakistan and India on the same table. It showed that all countries in South Asia are keen to sit together, discuss their problems, try to help each other and improve their standards of living. 

What is the status of the cases pending against you in Bangladesh? 

I have no knowledge. I had about 40 cases filed against me by the BNP government. They put me in jail for six years. They wanted to destroy me, they wanted to destroy my party. But, God is very kind. I have not only come out of jail but my party (Jatiya Party) is now in Parliament as a coalition partner. We have more than 31 seats in Parliament and I am myself a member of Parliament. This rarely happens to a military leader.  I faced everything, my party has taken root and I have become a big factor in Bangladesh politics. 

With China emerging as a major power and with friction in Sino-Indian relations, what do you foresee in the region? 
China is an Asian giant and economically they have come up and declared themselves as the second largest economy in the world after the United States. I know that there are some irritants between China and India. But nothing can be said to be impossible if you sit across the table and discuss all issues. The West has been exploiting us and we don't want to be exploited any more. We want to build our own future together. China being part of the Asian continent and also our neighbour, we should see that all the unresolved issues are resolved. We cannot afford to go to war for this is not the era of war. We should remove all irritants and I am sure both the Chinese and Indian governments are thinking in the same way. 

What is the status of women in Bangladesh and have any steps been taken to  empower them? 
We have made a lot of progress. Many judges in the Supreme Court and High Court are women. The Election Commission has laid down the rule that every party must nominate 30 per cent of women candidates for elections. 
In the primary education sector, about 60 per cent are women teachers and the government is taking all measures to see that women are on an equal footing with men. It is a very healthy sign and our women are doing well. 

Do you have any plans to write your memoirs?

I have started writing a book. I graduated in Rangpur and I wanted to be a lawyer. I never thought I would join the army but somehow it happened. I was commissioned in the Pakistan army in 1952 and given command of a battalion in Rangpur. Suddenly in 1971 I was given orders to move to Karachi to take over another battalion and, two to three days later, the war of liberation started in Bangladesh. I went to General Usmani and asked him what I should do now that I have orders to go to Karachi. He said that, since I was in the army, I had to go. So I took over the 7th East Bengal Regiment and was taken prisoner of war (PoW) and was in Baluchistan for about two and a half years. 

On my return to Bangladesh, I was the first officer to be promoted and since the Father of the Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman liked me very much, I was promoted to the rank of full Colonel and later made Adjutant General in the Army and selected to attend the course in the National Defence College in New Delhi. 
After this, the course of my life changed completely. After the assassination of Sheikh Mujib, the army hierarchy changed and I was made Major General and in 1982 took over as the Chief Martial Law Administrator. In 1986 I resigned from the army,  lifted martial law and became a civilian President and was there till 1990. I was than jailed for six years. Many things happened to me which a normal human being doesn't face and I am trying to recollect all these memories. I had some documents when I was arrested in 1990 but many of my things, including my certificates, were lost when I shifted to another house.






We have to be particularly wary of protectionist sentiments. 

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. 

Whether you live in a village in Punjab or the bylanes of Chandni Chowk ... an old section of Kolkata or a new high-rise in Bangalore ~ every person deserves the same chance to live in security and dignity, to get an education, to find work, and to give their children a better future. 


US President Barack Obama in his address to the joint session of Parliament. 

My priority is that probity should be restored and the perpetrator of such a massive scam should not go scot-free simply because of coalition political compulsions.

AIADMK chief Miss Jayalalitha, urging action against telecom minister A Raja

I have very good personal relations with her (Sonia Gandhi) for a very long time.

Trinamul Congress chief and Union railway minister Mamata Banerjee after a meeting with the Congress president.

We have taken special care in the selection of films. The films have been selected without giving weightage to any particular ideology or belief. 

West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at the opening of the Kolkata Film Festival. 

After the Lok Sabha elections, 326 Left workers, sympathisers and party members have been killed by the band of butchers of the Maoist-Trinmul combine. They are the enemies of the state, enemies of the people and enemies of the common man. All these victims were either poor people; farmers, shopkeepers or agricultural workers. 
Left Front chairman and CPI-M state secretary Biman Bose. 

If Bimal Gurung is content with calling that a meeting, then let him be. We don't consider it a meeting at all. It was just a purposeless fiasco having no official standing. 

West Bengal municipal and urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya on the last meeting held between Mr Chidambaram and Mr Gurung. 

I was unhappy with the way the campaign against me was played out. 
Outgoing Maharashtra deputy chief minister and NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal. 

I can tell you only one thing...whenever we find anything wrong, we will not cover it up. We will take strict action.
Union defence minister AK Antony, on the Adarsh Housing Society scam.

Chauhan is our new CM. He's the namesake of a fearless Rajput King. We hope he can be an inspiring leader and do justice to his name.

Preity Zinta on Twitter, later informed by Amitabh Bachchan that she had spelt the name wrong.





The many references recently made to the Queen's Proclamation as the Magna Carta of India suggest the possibility that Mr Justice Fletcher's judgment in the *Karmayogin* appeal may be treated as the Magna Charta of the Indian agitator. Regarded in this light, the pronouncement of the Judges of the High Court would possess an importance far transcending that of the case by which it was elicited. A judicial utterance which may be taken to show to what lengths the Extremist is permitted to go, merits, indeed, the careful attention of the Government and of al who are anxious for the peaceful progress of the country. We are bound, of course, to assume that the learned Judges could not decide otherwise upon the case as it was put before them. But it would appear from their own observations that they were hampered by legal restrictions which narrowed the scope of their discretion. Owing to the manner in which the prosecution was arranged they were, it will have been seen, precluded from interpreting the article entitled "To my Countrymen" with the help of other writings by the same author which might have served to make his meaning clear. "Several of his conditional hypotheses," said Mr Justice Holmwood, "if they were interpreted with the double meaning that is sought to be read into them from other sources, on the footing that the aims of the Nationalist party are really different from what they purport to be in this article, might bear a very sinister interpretation indeed." But the Judges declined to take the "other sources" into consideration on the ground that the requirements of legal proof had not been complied with, and proceeded to assign to the article before them such meanings as they deemed to be consistent with the writer's words. We do not doubt that this procedure was good law, but it certainly cannot be regarded as good statesmanship. Many of the terms in the article "To my Countrymen" have a technical or historical sense which is perfectly familiar to all students of the writings of Mr Arabindo Ghose, and this is the purport which they would unquestionably convey to Mr Ghose's youthful but initiated admirers. Mr Justice Fletcher, being deprived of the ordinary aids of a commentator, has unfortunately missed the real intention of the writer, with the result that his judgment may lead to unwelcome consequences. As a matter of fact, he has only condoned the appeal "To my Countrymen" as he understands it. But the impression which may go abroad is that he has sanctioned the article as understood by the readers to whom it was addressed and has given the approval of the august  tribunal which he represents to all Mr Arabindo Ghose's teachings. This is the conclusion already drawn by one Indian journal, which proclaims that Mr Arabindo Ghose may now leave his seclusion in Pondicherry "unmolested by any fear of the minions of the law."










From its origins in medieval Latin to the present day, 'discipline' is a word that straddles knowledge and power. So, it is a noun as well as a verb. History, say, is a 'discipline' in the sense that it is a system of knowledge, which demands from the historian a set of intellectual and scholarly activities and standards. But when an individual or group is 'disciplined', the verb refers to a way of maintaining order or control, the extreme forms of which can shade off into degrees of physical punishment and even torture. Historically, these uses of the word, and the forms of action linked to each, have often run into one another. This happens most notably in the activity of teaching (at home or in the classroom), in religious institutions like the church, and in the worlds of the military. So, when a school in Calcutta introduces discipline as a compulsory subject — like English or geography — on which students are going to be marked, then this dual usage becomes part of the decision in a way that leaves room for innovations in the classroom.


The immediate context of this decision is the abolition of corporal punishment in schools. So, the practical challenge lies in devising a system of rewards and punishments that would promote and maintain good conduct among students, from the youngest to the oldest, without resorting to physical violence. At this level, the methods of discipline as a subject are perhaps not new. Some schools in the city, especially those of Jesuitical pedigree, have been marking their students weekly for 'conduct' and 'attention', with corresponding rewards and penalties. They also hold moral science and catechism classes, together with regular examinations, that address similar issues of behaviour and ethics from a religious or secular point of view. Socially useful and productive work — SUPW in short — has long been part of board assessments. So, the easiest thing to do would be to bring all this under a single rubric and call it Discipline.


But isn't that a rather mindless, and boringly utilitarian, way of defining a subject, turning a teacher into a bookkeeper or class monitor? For it to work as a subject, discipline has to be fun for both teacher and student. Surely, the point of banning corporal punishment is not only to protect children from getting beaten, but also to root out unthinking habits of punitive teaching, so that positive and creative substitutes for cruelty and the abuse of power may be improvised. A new subject should create new things to learn and new ways of teaching, opening up new forms of thought and expression. In this way, the most engrossing class in mathematics, or a thrilling music lesson, could become a highly effective class in discipline too, teaching a child not only to sit quietly and listen but also to reflect on what it means to be quiet and to listen. For it to be effective, enjoyable and fruitful, discipline as a subject must remain aware of the word's dark underbelly and swing it around towards a new kind of light.










Despite the physical contrast of race and religion, they might have been father and son. What earlier looked like a patronizing pat on the back turned out to be an affectionate hug. This visual proof of the fondness between Manmohan Singh and Barack Obama and its outcome prompts the question: would India have been refused American support for United Nations security council membership if the prime minister and president had hated each other's guts like Indira Gandhi and Richard Nixon?


The personal factor in political relations has always eluded measurement. Queen Victoria's prolific correspondence with a host of European royals was long supposed to strengthen diplomacy with what is nowadays called back-channel support. Later evidence suggests her ministers found her interference a nuisance that was sometimes obstructive. Similarly, a flurry of telegrams among the closely-related sovereigns of Britain, Russia and Germany did not avert World War I. But that failure can also be cited as evidence of the role of personal equations since at least two of the trio, George V and the Kaiser, heartily disliked each other.


By keeping up appearances until the end, they pre-empted by some 70 years Henry Kissinger's dictum that rulers "rarely make disagreements explicit; they do not want to solidify a deadlock that they have no means of breaking". The master of realpolitik thought that would indicate a lack of negotiating skill. What Kissinger meant was that public disagreement forecloses options. By that token, rulers must also be chary of demonstrating friendship lest this inhibits saying no when the occasion demands. That clearly doesn't trouble Singh. But while his nuclear liability legislation navigated the danger skilfully, a less dexterous Saladin rejected Richard the Lionheart's invitation to atête-à-tête in a television series on the Crusades precisely because of those twin fears. Great kings, intoned the Saracen chief, should meet only after agreement had been reached. Ironically, the screening of that instalment in India coincided with the fiasco of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Agra summit with Pervez Musharraf.


Dwight Eisenhower thought Jawaharlal Nehru was swayed as much "by personality as by logical argument" but in at least one instance Nehru's cold-bloodedness would have earned Kissinger's approval: he ended a relationship with the clever and beautiful Madame Chiang Kai-shek when it became clear the Kuomintang was losing. Whether or not they were "in love with one another" as Winston Churchill believed, they kept up an affectionate correspondence, with Nehru signing himself "Vagabond" and Madame Chiang, more than her husband, trying to persuade Franklin Roosevelt to support Indian independence. During her wartime American tour she also publicly criticized Britain's imprisonment of a man with Nehru's "world vision".


Nehru's decision to place politics above person (perhaps he had tired of her!) seemed to belie Eisenhower's assessment. He may not have been equally calculating with another inamorata though history alone can judge if Lady Mountbatten in any way influenced Indian decisions on the Commonwealth, Jammu and Kashmir, the Cross of St George (White Ensign) on the Indian navy's flag and on other matters.


On the whole, however, Eisenhower was not far out. One of Nehru's subjective actions was to recognize Israel almost on the rebound after meeting Egypt's King Farouk who was "one of the most repellent individuals" he had met. "All that I could do was not to be rude to him," Nehru wrote. Farouk then headed the Arab League, and Nehru, who had no great sympathy with militant Zionism, was committed to the Palestinian cause.


His encounters with American presidents were also high in personal content which was reflected in bilateral relations. The first was with Harry Truman, whom he obviously found shallow. Truman, on his part, recalled later how Nehru sat coldly opposite him, rebuffing overtures. "I tried to make friends with him. I tried very hard.… He suffers from racialism in reverse." But there was no coldness when Nehru visited Eisenhower or when Ike returned the visit in 1959. But, then, Ike's Atoms for Peace programme led eventually to the Tarapur reactor.


Ironically, the most enigmatic of Nehru's relationships was with John F. Kennedy. An American president young enough to be his son, who knew enough history to argue that Oliver Cromwell had ruled Ireland more harshly than Robert Clive in India, and who eulogized Nehru's "soaring idealism" in his Inauguration speech evoked no reciprocal cordiality. Apparently, Kennedy was "excited like a schoolboy" about Nehru's visit, and he and Jacqueline personally attended to small details like menus, the people to be invited and the people not to be invited lest their guest take offence. Nehru had asked Washington to eschew the "medieval splendour" that Ayub Khan, who gave Jacqueline a spirited stallion, had lapped up a few months earlier.


But the visit was "a disaster" Kennedy lamented, the "worst head-of-state visit" he had hosted. John K. Galbraith, the US ambassador, thought Nehru appeared tired and uninterested. Kennedy did most of the talking. "Nehru simply did not respond." When American reporters asked him how he had got on with the starry-eyed young prince of their new Camelot, Nehru snapped with asperity, "I can get on with anybody in the world."


Sudhir Ghosh tackled him about it afterwards, asking why Nehru did not "show some kindness and warmth" to his young admirer. "Surely you did not expect me to embrace him, did you?" Nehru retorted "glumly". What would he have said of the spectacle of Singh and Obama in a tight embrace? True, men were less demonstrative then but the coolness may not have been only a question of style. The Kennedy fire did not ignite a matching spark.


In reverse, Nixon, who waxed lyrical about Indians and had read a life of Mahatma Gandhi — a present from his Quaker grandmother when he was 17 — over and over again, just couldn't stand Nehru. The prime minister's "softly modulated British English" grated on him and he found Nehru "the least friendly" of the leaders he met during a 20-country tour in December, 1953. Nixon accused Nehru of a "personal thirst for influence, if not control, over South Asia, the Middle East and Africa" and condemned Indira for being "in every way… her father's daughter". So, the hostility was there long before she behaved towards him like "a professor praising a slightly backward student" while preparing to dismember Pakistan in which he had invested heavily.


Kissinger's view that Mrs Gandhi outsmarted him may also have rankled. Unlike her father, who called Nixon "an unprincipled cad", she could trim like and dislike to necessity. Many observers missed her personal liking for Lee Kuan Yew because of her disapproval of his politics, unlike later prime ministers who suppressed their personal unease with the Singaporean patriarch because his politics could help India. Mrs Gandhi also showed at Cancun that instinct could be managed to serve her purpose. Since Ronald Reagan had refused to attend the meeting if Fidel Castro did, she persuaded Cuba's leader to stay away in the interests of the non-aligned movement he chaired. Then she set out to charm Reagan, chatting about family and films. He observed afterwards he had been warned to expect a formidable person. Instead, he found her very nice indeed. That's when liberalization began. If Cleopatra's nose had been shorter, the whole history of the world would have been different, citing Pascal.


India is also fortunate in the rare and happy synchronization of public need and personal preference in the lanky young African-American and his "Mr Guru". But the combination demands that Indians who "loved" George W. Bush so "deeply" (as Singh assured the former president) must now transfer their affection to the "charismatic leader" who is his "personal friend" and "has made a deep imprint on world affairs". It's a relief that another switch may not be necessary until 2012.


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





The conviction and punishment of four students of a Himachal Pradesh medical college, who subjected a first-year student, Aman Kachroo, to severe ragging which resulted in his death, will be widely welcomed. The guilty students have been awarded four years' imprisonment, including the 21 months they have been in judicial custody. The incident occurred in March last year and had shocked the entire country. Many would feel that the perpetrators of the crime got away lightly because the maximum punishment for the charges against them is 10 years' imprisonment. The Dharamsala court judge, who passed the order, had converted the murder charge against the four accused to culpable homicide not amounting to murder and may have taken a lenient view, considering their young age and the possibility that murder may not have been their intention.

While that is debatable, the first-ever conviction in a case of ragging would hopefully serve as a deterrent against the terrible and inhuman practice which was rampant in most professional colleges, and sometimes in other colleges also. It is still prevalent in some forms in many colleges, going by reports and the accounts given by many students. In an earlier case, an accused  in a case of ragging in Tamil Nadu, which also led to the death of the victim, had been acquitted by the court for lack of evidence.  States have passed laws against ragging and guidelines have been issued to colleges on steps to prevent ragging in campuses and how to deal with complaints. A committee appointed by the supreme court found that these guidelines were not followed by colleges. Aman Kachroo's death could have been avoided if the authorities of the medical college in Kangra district had been sincere in implementing them.

The cruelty and barbarity involved in ragging is sometimes worse than police torture. The trauma leaves permanent scars in the minds and in some cases the bodies of the victims. Some of them have committed suicide. The argument that it is a rite of passage for freshers is completely unacceptable. It is an expression of sadism and criminal domination of a group over a hapless individual. It also induces victims to take it out on their juniors in the coming years. College managements have the highest responsibility in ensuring that the campuses are free of  this abhorrent practice. Along with guilty students, the authorities should also be punished if there is a case of ragging on the campus.








Every year the UNDP's Human Development Report presents a dismal picture of the quality of living of India's people and the report released last week is no different. The country ranks 119 among 169 nations, though it is among the top 10 in terms of income growth. The conclusion is that the growth in wealth is not being translated into welfare, measured by the basic requirements of life like access to heath, education and the condition of weakest sections of society like women, children and those belonging to the lowest strata of society. Measured by the human development index India has moved up by just one rank in the last five years, though the economy has grown by more than half in the same period. China has improved its ranking to 89 the position in that period, in spite of the iniquitous growth that country has also witnessed.

Even much poorer countries have beaten India on many parameters. Nepal performed well, and Bangladesh and Pakistan beat India in terms of life expectancy at birth, mean years of schooling and female participation in labour force. Eight states have poverty levels on par with 26 poorest African countries. A third of upper caste households, two-thirds of scheduled castes and four-fifths of scheduled tribes are poor by most standards. What should rankle is that measured by gender inequality index, introduced for the first time in this year's report, India ranks 122 out f 138 countries while Pakistan is better placed at 112. It is a dismal indicator of the state of maternal mortality, reproductive health and women's empowerment in the country.

All the statistics are pointers to the failure of the government and society to improve the lives of the majority of the people in the country. Programmes like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and child nutrition plans have not made any noticeable changes in the lives of the people whom they are supposed to benefit. Huge money is ostensibly being spent on these schemes but much of it is probably lost or misspent. Unless the growth of wealth is well distributed and the poorest and weakest sections of society are enabled to participate in progress, social and political tensions will only accentuate. Claims of status of an emerging economic power does not mean anything when there is so much poverty and basic rights are denied to the people.







There is no effort by the govt to provide exemplary punishment to the erring seed companies and also compensate the farmers.


For past several weeks, thousands of farmers in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Rajasthan, Bihar and Jharkhand have been left in the lurch. They had planted urd and til crops in a large acreage, and to their dismay no grain formation took place in the standing crop.

Unable to bear the economic loss, at least four farmers have reportedly committed suicide. Thousands of farmers have been pushed deeper into economic distress.

This is not the first time that the so called 'improved seed' has failed the farmers. And yet, there is no effort by the government to provide exemplary punishment to the seed companies and at the same time adequately compensate the farmers.

The controversial Seed Bill 2010 that has been placed in parliament in the ongoing session fails to address the long standing demand of farmers. Originally drafted in 2004, the new seed bill appears to have been written by the seed industry, for the seed industry. The proposed amendments once again favour private seed companies and corporations at the expense of farmers.

As the seed industry grows, sale of spurious and sub-standard seeds has also grown. Particularly the sale of hybrid seeds has become a lucrative business with a large number of fly-by-night operators. In the absence of tighter controls, it is the farmers who bear the brunt and continue to suffer silently.

The Seed Bill 2010 proposes a maximum fine of Rs 1 lakh for not keeping proper record of purity and germination of seeds as per the laid-out standards. And in case of spurious seeds, the bill proposes a jail term extending to one year and a maximum fine of Rs 5 lakh. Crop losses suffered by farmers will be evaluated by a local expert committee which will work out the compensation to be paid to farmers.

This is simply unfair. When seed fails to germinate or develop grains, it is the farmers' livelihood that is destroyed. It is therefore a question of life and death for a farmer. The resulting loss cannot be measured simply in terms of the seed price that the farmer had incurred. Compensation must include the livelihood loss, and should include a minimum liability amount.

What is therefore required is a Seed Liability Bill. Drawn on the lines of the Nuclear Liability Bill, the proposed Seed Liability Bill must provide for a minimum economic liability that the seed companies must undertake in event of a crop failure. The proposed Seed Liability Bill should have the following components:

a) The seed liability bill must provide for mandatory price controls. At present, companies are charging prices at will and that too without any rationale. Tomato seed price for instance varies between Rs 475 to Rs 76,000 per kg, and Capsicum seed price between Rs 3,670 to Rs 65,200 a kg. More recently, seed companies have taken the Andhra Pradesh government to the high court challenging its decision to regulate prices and royalty. Therefore, the seed bill must include power to decide on price and price controls (including royalties).

b) Since the penalties/punishments have been mild, the government has failed to check the menace of fake, spurious and sub-standard seeds. Companies selling spurious and sub-standard seed should be black-listed. The penalty should include an imprisonment for a maximum period of 10 years and a minimum fine of Rs 10 lakh. The penalty should also be commensurate with the turnover of the seed company. In addition, in cases of complete crop loss, the seed company should be directed to pay an amount equal to expected crop output, plus a 50 per cent assured return as livelihood security.

c) Provision for re-registration increases the monopoly of the seed company for at least 20 years. This is unacceptable for the simple reason that it brings in monopoly control over seed through the back door.

d) While seeds may be registered with the National Register of Seeds, it is imperative that state governments must be given the authority to decide on which of these registered seeds can be licensed to be used in their state.

e) The Seed (Control) Order, 1983, had allowed the unbridled import under open-general license of planting material and seeds of flowers, vegetables and horticultural crops. This order was exploited by unscrupulous seed trade and business to import plant materials without undergoing any rigorous quality checks. The seed imports have come with a heavy load of pests and diseases posing serious damages to crop cultivation and to the country's food security. Many hitherto unknown pests have also entered the country.

f) All imports of seeds therefore must undergo mandatory seed testing procedures, including multi-location trials, to ensure its adaptability to the Indian conditions. No self-testing or certificates from foreign seed certification agencies should hold true for Indian conditions. 

g) Seed imports should only be allowed after pest risk analysis and local adaptability have been assessed. There is a need for a liability clause to be introduced that makes seed exporter responsible for any pest outbreak and also for the clean-up operations. This assumes importance in the wake of the Bhopal gas tragedy where the chemical companies have simply evaded any liability for the toxic clean-up.








Kashmir has become a boring subject because it is the same story day after day: hartals, stone-pelting, police firings, a few killed.



 It is no longer front-page news in any paper. Recently, a few new items attracted media attention.

The first was Arundhati Roy's unprovoked statement that Kashmir was never a part of India. It was promptly followed by a well-planned protest outside her home by the ladies-wing of the BJP with TV cameramen on the ready for the show. The other was about the government-appointed interlocutors' visit to Srinagar and neighbouring towns to enlighten us of what is going on and make suggestions about how to improve matters.

Everyone will agree that Arundhati Roy had every right to say what she wanted without anyone questioning her right to freedom of speech. However, she should have specified that she was only referring to the Valley of the Jhelum and not the whole of Kashmir.

I have yet to hear a Kashmiri Muslim describe himself as an Indian. It is always 'I am a Kashmiri.' People often forget that Kashmir is not one, but three zones divided by race, religion, language and perception of the future.

While the Valley is over 90 per cent Muslim and Kashmiri-speaking, Jammu is majority Hindu, speaking Hindustani, and Ladakh is majority Buddhists with a language of their own. Jammu and Ladakh consider themselves as an integral part of India and want no change. The problem is confined to the Valley, where the people demand a Special Status as was promised in 1947 when the state — under Sheikh Abdullah — acceded to secular India led by Pandit Nehru rather than to Islamic Pakistan, led by Jinnah. That undertaking remains unfulfilled by India. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is right in holding that Kashmir acceded to India in 1947 and not merge in it.

Let him now spell out in detail what he wants, to fulfil the promise Nehru made to his grandfather. I for one have complete faith in Omar's ability and integrity.

I believe that Kashmiris have no option but to stay with India. The Jhelum Valley is too small and land-locked to be independent. It is dependant on India for its livelihood. Most of the tourists who holiday there are Indians. It sells its fruits, saffron to India. So also is handicrafts like shawls, papier mache products. Thousands of Kashmiris live in India and have emporiums to market their produce. Kashmiris have to ensure that no Hindus or Sikhs are compelled to leave the Valley as the Pandits have been. We cannot afford to have another exchange of populations as we had in 1947. That would be disastrous.
Interlocutors! Who are they and what are they meant to do? The dictionary says they are persons who take part in a dialogue. The trio is certainly an able lot and will give us a readable report. But to what purpose? To me, they appear as a ploy created by our home minister to create an impression that he is trying to resolve the Kashmir problem. It is an eye-wash.


Freedom comes with restraint

So we angrily paint

Free-speech without our 

As heinous sedition

In Srinagar, the separatists say

Whatever they may

But in Delhi, if they utter a word

Which has been so often heard

And never been found absurd,

It is a fit case for sedition

Because it can break the nation

It is indeed a tribute to our democracy

That it finds it so risky

To tolerate dissent,

Motivated or well-meant,

Because like a cream cake

Which can so easily break

The unity of the country is at stake.

(Contributed by Kuldip Salil, New Delhi)


Santa was very proud of his voice and loved singing. On Diwali night he invited his friends for drinking and hear him sing. When everyone was lit up, he stood up to sing the latest hit from Bollywood. As he struck a high note, his upper denture fell out. He put it back in his mouth. When he struck a low note, his lower denture fell out. He put it back. While he was thinking how to strike the right note, one of his friends shouted: "O Santia, will you sing something or just keep changing cassettes?"

(Contributed by Harjeet Charanjit Singh, New Delhi)







If the police go into a panic, what can the poor victim do?


These days chain-snatching, cheating and home robberies are as common as head lice in a girls' school. The accounts of these incidents are written by local journalists who sometimes tend to use colourful phrases. I often read of the culprits 'vanishing into thin air' or the local police going into a 'tizzy.' I would like to discuss these two terms at greater length.

First, the culprits 'vanishing into thin air.' It is practically impossible for real, solid people to vanish into air, thin or otherwise. When a man on a bike snatches a woman's chain, or robs a man and flees the scene, bystanders or the police may chase them. If the perpetrators of the crime are not found, it is not because they have disappeared, but because they are hiding in plain sight.

Robbers and cheats don't roam the streets wearing masks or sporting giant black moles like in old Indian movies. They are ordinary-looking people who have an extraordinarily low sense of common ethics and values. Why, look at all the respectable-looking people in government offices who accept bribes. These people see nothing wrong in enriching themselves at the labour of others, and take pride in getting money the 'easy' way. All a thief has to do is to pass himself off as a concerned bystander while passing on the stolen goods to an accomplice, and he 'disappears.' In the case of the folks that accept bribes, they don't even hide their rapacity, and can be easily caught.

This is not unknown to our police force. They are very aware that if they are vigilant, look hard enough, and in the right places, they will find the culprits. But there is no enthusiasm among the police to prevent crimes or solve them. 

Witness policemen at traffic lights, standing by the roadside on their motorbikes and speaking on cellphones while motorists run red lights right in front of their eyes, breaking the law and creating dangerous situations. The police force's unwillingness to act is because of fear of reprisals, as goons are often close friends or relatives of political figures, or simply because they don't care.

Now, about police going into a 'tizzy.' I looked up the word in a thesaurus and found it to mean 'panic' or 'dither'. If the victim of a crime goes into a panic, it is wholly understandable. However, if the police who are recruited, maintained and paid to aid that victim go into a panic, what can the poor victim do? Unfortunately, the journalists who write these pieces are not too far off the mark. The word 'tizzy' describes exactly the way that the law enforcement in this country acts when confronted with a problem. 

Instead of dealing with right and wrong, legal and illegal, and crime and punishment, its thought processes are addled with who is related to whom, who is allowed to commit crimes and who is not, and how much of bribe money is to be charged for which crime.

Police morale is understandably low in India, with every movie showing its cadres as being either brutal and corrupt, or silly and corrupt. But the only way to raise it is by behaving in a conscientious, courteous, responsive and responsible manner to the people who pay their salaries. It is definitely not by living up to or down to its portrayal on the silver screen.



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




Early in his most recent tenure, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, spent a lot of time trying to persuade President Obama and others that he was serious about making peace with the Palestinians. Only a hard-liner, like him, could pull it off. If only.


With the peace process crumbling, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Mr. Netanyahu for seven hours on Thursday. She went in insisting that she still believes that Mr. Netanyahu and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, are "very committed to a two-state solution." There was no sign of a breakthrough.


If Mr. Netanyahu is willing to make the hard choices necessary for peace, it's not evident these days. What is evident is that he has decided that mugging for his hard-line coalition is more important than working with President Obama to craft a peace deal — and counting on his newly empowered Republican allies on Capitol Hill to back him up, no matter what he does.


Since last week's American elections, Mr. Netanyahu's government has published plans for 1,000 new housing units in a contested part of Jerusalem. That same day, on a trip to the United States, Mr. Netanyahu implicitly faulted Mr. Obama for not threatening to attack Iran. "If the international community, led by the United States, hopes to stop Iran's nuclear program without resorting to military action, it will have to convince Iran that it is prepared to take such action," he told the Jewish Federations of North America.


President Obama hasn't taken anything off the table, while working hard to persuade countries around the world to impose increasingly tough sanctions on Iran. We don't know if sanctions will ever be enough to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions, but we know Tehran is feeling the heat. We also know knee-jerk threats about force would rally international sympathy to Iran and strengthen the mullahs' hands at home.


What Mr. Netanyahu does not seem to realize is that a peace deal with the Palestinians is not a favor to President Obama. It is vital to Israel's long-term security. If he squanders this moment, the only ones who can celebrate are the extremists.


Both Palestinians and Israelis need to do more to salvage the negotiations. Mr. Netanyahu has refused President Obama's request to extend a moratorium on construction in the Jewish settlements for a modest 60 days. Mr. Abbas has refused to meet until the building stops. Still, we think the burden is on Mr. Netanyahu to get things moving again. Resuming the moratorium will in no way harm Israel's security or national interest.


The Obama administration deserves credit for not throwing up its hands. In her marathon session with Mr. Netanyahu, Mrs. Clinton plugged away on a package of generous (overly so, to our minds) incentives and security guarantees that might induce him to revive the moratorium and get back to the bargaining table. She also met with Egypt's foreign minister to rally more Arab support for the peace process and announced $150 million in additional aid to help the Palestinian Authority build its capability to govern.

Mr. Netanyahu is to meet with certain members of his cabinet on Saturday and then the full cabinet on Sunday, reportedly to discuss his trip. It's time for him to stop playing games, reinstate the moratorium, get back to negotiations and engage seriously in a peace deal.






While running for governor of New York State, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo put out eight books full of hundreds of campaign promises. There were small ideas, like a one-stop site for business permits, and big ones, like balancing the budget without raising taxes.


It is time for the governor-elect to put some flesh on those bones.


If, as he often says, he wants to restore New York to its days of glory (like around the time color TV was taking off?), he must start by cleaning up Albany. That means shrinking a bloated bureaucracy, ethics reform with real oversight of a secretive Legislature, campaign finance reform that finally curbs a fat pay-to-play culture, and redistricting that promotes competition in elections.


Mr. Cuomo's reform bills should be on legislators' desks as he takes office on Jan. 1.


Already some old Albany hands are predicting that these reforms will never happen. Mr. Cuomo's task is to surprise them, perhaps by quickly endorsing a bill for a nonpartisan redistricting commission.


Mr. Cuomo could remind lawmakers that 54 of 62 senators and 85 of 151 members of the Assembly signed a pledge to former Mayor Ed Koch that they would do this. It is up to the leaders, especially Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker who rejected the Koch pledge, to give lawmakers a chance to vote on this crucial improvement.


Lately, Mr. Cuomo has talked about reducing and streamlining Albany's rambling bureaucracy. There are 1,000 state agencies, many of them created by the Legislature. Many end up doing nothing, but they never die.


He cites the Department of Health as part of the "bureaucratic tangle" with 46 councils, 17 boards, 6 institutes, 6 committees, 5 facilities, 2 task forces, 2 offices, 2 advisory panels and 1 work group — 87 entities in all. New York's governor can't merge or shed any of these appendages. Mr. Cuomo has to convince legislators to give him the authority that so many other governors have to "eliminate, transfer and consolidate" state agencies. The Legislature won't like this, but if he moves early he will still have voters on his side.


Once he has the authority, Mr. Cuomo wants to establish a commission to shrink the bureaucracy. It's hard to rally behind another commission, but if the governor gets the authority to make changes first, it might work.


This week, Mr. Cuomo created a transition team that includes so many diverse voices that it's hard to imagine all 55 of them in one room coming up with a coherent way forward. Republicans; Democrats; political, business and labor leaders; the New York City comptroller, John Liu; Mayor Byron Brown of Buffalo; and Ken Langone (former Gov. Eliot Spitzer's nemesis) are all on the team. Lt. Gov.-elect Robert Duffy will be in charge. We wish him luck.


One concern about any reform agenda is that it could become part of budget negotiations. When that happens, reform disappears. Mr. Cuomo must present a budget by Feb. 1 for legislative approval by April 1. That will be the time to show exactly how he intends to balance the budget without raising taxes. January is the perfect month for housecleaning.







The Supreme Court's decision on Friday to allow the "don't ask, don't tell" policy to remain in effect is a victory for theory over reality and a defeat for America's system of checks and balances.


It also underscores the bravery and competence of Virginia Phillips, the federal judge who mustered logic and persuasive evidence in September when she struck down the statute enacting the policy. She did the same in October when she issued a ban on its enforcement.


The Supreme Court's order included no explanation, so it's sensible to look for that in the Justice Department filing that urged the court to rule as it did. Repeatedly, it mentioned repeal of the law by Congress and the process under way in the executive branch laying the groundwork for that. It said the wrong way to overturn the law is by "judicial invalidation" and the right way is by "repeal of an act of Congress by Congress itself."


Sometimes the courts have to act when Congress lacks the sense or the courage to do so. The Senate could have joined the House in repealing the antigay law in September. It did not. Given the sharp rightward turn of Congress in the elections, how can the Justice Department now make that argument with a straight face?


The filing itself reminds us how the executive branch has affirmed Judge Phillips's wisdom. In October, it says, the secretary of defense ordered that, "effective immediately and until further notice," no one should be discharged under the no-gays policy "without the personal approval" of the leaders of the military services.


The secretary came close to doing what the judge ordered, ending an unconstitutional policy. Meanwhile, a draft report on the department's review about the likely effect of repeal concludes that there would be little harm to the military.


Mindful of the intense politics, the department stopped short of ending a sorry chapter by ending an unconstitutional policy. Mindful of her role in the system of checks and balances and with no concern about politics, the judge struck down the law and banned its enforcement. Given the choice of these two courses, the Supreme Court picked the wrong one.







In another example of how budgetary pressures can lead to very bad public policy, the City Council of the District of Columbia is considering turning away homeless people from winter shelters if they cannot show ties to the district through proof of a recent legal address or receipt of public assistance. That would put the lives of many vulnerable people at risk, and it won't save a dime.


In the mid-1980s, Washington was the first American city to adopt a right to shelter. The local government repealed that soon after, but for almost 20 years the district has developed a plan for protecting the homeless in "hypothermia season." By statute, it has a duty during the coldest nights to house the homeless wherever they are from.


According to the district's chief financial officer, the plan would not relieve any budget pressures. The waiting line for space in shelters is always so long that if a family from elsewhere wouldn't qualify, a family in the district would take its place. But the sponsor of the idea, Councilman Tommy Wells, who leads the human services committee, is wrestling with a $175 million shortfall in the human services budget and is eager to show that he can make tough choices. Tough and inhumane.


Mr. Wells should instead be looking for any help he can find to expand the shelter system — dunning Congress, charitable foundations, local philanthropists. Waiting until someone freezes to death will be too late.


Poverty, hunger and homelessness know no borders. The Supreme Court underscored this truth 41 years ago when it said states can't adopt policies to restrict the freedom of the poor to travel from one to another, whether pursuing their destiny or survival. If the nation's capital won't honor the spirit of the law — and its own statute and long history — all Americans will be shamed.











I have faith in Barack Obama. Of course, I also have faith in the New York Mets.


I believe Obama is going to get his groove back and be the leader we elected, even though he is testing us sorely. This week he went to South Korea to negotiate a trade agreement, and the agreement fell through. The administration says this is because he was being a tough bargainer, but you don't send the president overseas to fail to get an agreement. Wasn't anybody taking notes when he went to Denmark to fail to get the Olympics for Chicago?


Also, the president has been looking very wishy-washy on the Bush tax cuts. We all know that he wants to extend the tax cuts for the middle class and end them for the wealthy. But that will require a huge battle with the Republicans in Congress, and the statements coming out of the White House have not exactly sounded as if everybody's going to the mattresses. "We need to deal with the world as we find it," David Axelrod, an adviser to Obama, told The Huffington Post.


The theory is that the president should sound reasonable so that if the Republicans dig in their heels, they will look like the bad guys. But refusing to give an expensive break to millionaires at a time of high deficits should be a crusade. Take it to the people — let's enjoy politics for a change! Then, if Congress sends the president a bill extending the tax breaks for everybody, the nation will be on his side when he vetoes it.


Axelrod wouldn't comment on anything having the word "veto" in it, but he did tell me that the president "will not make the tax cuts for the wealthy permanent."


So I have faith he will do the right thing, even though Axelrod's line in the sand does not rule out temporarily extending everything for a couple more years. Obama must know that that would be wasting a great opportunity to define his party as the champion of fiscal responsibility. It would be even worse than going to South Korea to not sign a trade agreement.


Finally, I believe that the president will pick the right course on the deficit.


Unfortunately, before we go any further, we are going to have to discuss the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which is led by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson.


Until this week, I had expected to be able to go through my entire life without ever having a single thought about Erskine Bowles.


He's a businessman best known for having been deputy chief of staff for President Bill Clinton. And now that I think of it, I do remember that at some point in the 1990s, I entertained a fleeting question about what kind of name Erskine was.


Simpson, the better known co-chairman, is a former senator who is famous for his witty remarks, such as referring to the AARP as "the greedy geezers of America" and calling Social Security "a milk cow with 310 million tits." In other words, he is exactly the sort of person who gives being colorful a bad name.


The two of them just released a long list of extremely unpleasant things that they think Congress should do to eliminate deficit spending by 2015. It's just their ideas. The 18-person commission hasn't voted on anything yet. Nevertheless, everybody in Washington is talking about "Bowles-Simpson."


That in itself should tell you how far we've fallen as a nation. A couple of years ago we were all walking around saying: "Wow, Barack Obama is president!" Now we're all saying: "What do you think of Bowles-Simpson?"


Doesn't Bowles-Simpson sound a lot like a medical procedure? Or a really high-end vacuum cleaner?


The report was impressive in the rigor of its demands for hard decisions, but not all that much else. It went on in great detail about how to fix Social Security, which is actually the one thing for which anybody could come up with a plan. Social Security is like the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Everybody knows pretty much what to do, but nobody knows how to talk the Israelis and Palestinians into doing it.


The real gorilla in the deficit room is health costs. In fact, it's a rabid big gorilla with a machine gun. All Bowles and Simpson said on that subject is that the government should establish "a process to regularly evaluate cost growth." If that doesn't work, they advised taking "additional steps as needed."


So not the greatest blueprint in history. But the worst thing you could do would be to dismiss it out of hand, like Nancy Pelosi, who called it "simply unacceptable." The people of America made it clear in the election that they want something done about the deficit. The president's responsibility is to show them he's going to heed their orders, and then follow through without making the economy worse or cutting critical services.


I have faith that Obama is going to do just that, and that this time he'll respond to the challenge in a way that isn't remote or opaque or confusing. Also, next year: the Mets. World Series.









Democrats still searching for a silver lining to the waxing they took last Tuesday can cheer up a bit. According to a new poll, the public may already be experiencing a bit of buyer's remorse about the choices they've made, and Republicans seem to have unrealistic expectations about what their leaders will be able to accomplish.


poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center found that people are considerably less happy about the Republicans' victory than they were about the Democrats' victory in 2006 or about the Republicans' victory in 1994. They also approve much less of the "Republicans' policies and plans for the future" than they did of the Democrats' plans in 2006 or the Republicans' plans in 1994. (I must say that that question threw me a bit because I didn't know that Republicans had "policies and plans" for the future. Silly me.)


About 60 percent of the respondents thought that the Republicans in 1994 and the Democrats in 2006 would be successful in getting their programs passed into law. This year, just more than 40 percent believed this about the Republicans. In fact, unlike in 2008 and 2006, more people than not believed that relations between Republicans and Democrats in Washington would now get worse.


That doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement to me. It sounds like a Congress of Low Expectations.


Furthermore, about half of the respondents said that President Obama still should take the lead in solving the nation's problems. Only 39 percent said the same about Bill Clinton in 1994 and only 29 percent said so about George W. Bush in 2006. This seems to be at odds with what Republican respondents want. By more than 2 to 1, Republicans think that their leaders should "stand up to Obama" as opposed to working with him, and most think that those leaders should stick to their positions as opposed to making compromises. (This is stunning. Compromise is how democracies function. Are they saying that they don't want a functioning democracy?)


And Republicans seem to think that their positions should become even more extreme. While most Democrats, and those who lean Democratic, appear to think that Democratic leaders should move in a more moderate direction, most Republicans and their leaners think that the Republicans should move in a more conservative direction.


Now that sounds like a Congress of Few Achievements.


At some point, the rubber must meet the road. Republicans will have to give some ground to gain some. This is not likely to sit well with their far-right constituents who prefer constant paralysis to compromise-built progress.


This situation has impending disappointment written all over it.









In the spring of 2007, American soldiers in the Second Platoon of Battle Company, part of a regiment in the 173rd Airborne Brigade, began a 15-month deployment in the Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan. It was one of the most dangerous places in the country.


A feature-length film called "Restrepo" documents the soldiers' experiences and captures the almost primeval elements — the living, breathing, killing and dying — of a combat tour with a close-up intensity that is, frankly, chilling.


When the guys, many of them unbearably young, show up in the grim, mountainous, sparsely populated landscape, they react with what seems like a combination of awe and dread. One said his mind told him he would die there. Another wondered, "What are we doing here?"


The film, which won the grand jury prize for an American documentary at the Sundance Film Festival this year, was made by Sebastian Junger, an author who wrote the "The Perfect Storm" in the 1990s, and Tim Hetherington, a British photographer. Junger also wrote a book about the Second Platoon's tour called "War."


I interviewed Mr. Junger before an audience at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library here on Veterans Day, and he mentioned "how very nonpolitical" the soldiers were about the war. As they saw it, their job was simply to fight it.


What stands out in both the film and the book, besides the mind-boggling dangers of combat, are the horrendous conditions these troops were forced to endure and the maddening ambiguities of their mission. They lived in filth, isolation and constant fear, which they almost always had to mask. And there was no coherent answer for the soldier who asked what they were doing there. He might as well have been asking the wind.


Here, for example, is Capt. Dan Kearney of Battle Company, speaking in the film to a group of bearded elders from a nearby village:


"You know, 5 or 10 years from now, the Korengal Valley will have a road going through it that's paved and we can make more money, make you guys richer, make you guys more powerful. What I need, though, is I need you to join with the government, you know, provide us with that security — or help us provide you guys with that security — and I'll flood this whole place with money and with projects and with health care and with everything."


Was that ever really going to happen? Was that kind of nation-building the ultimate goal of the incursion into the valley? And, if so, did it have any real connection to the attacks by Al Qaeda on Sept. 11, 2001?


You both feel for and admire the troops cast into this pit of ambiguity. We watch them function in unison and with remarkable courage and poise when under enemy fire, and we watch them weep for comrades wounded and lost. We also see them fight without anger among themselves to help fill long, nerve-racking hours of boredom, and we watch them dance wildly to a favorite song.


Restrepo is the name of a shabby outpost that the men built and then named for their friend, Pfc. Juan Restrepo, a 20-year-old medic and aspiring doctor who was shot and killed soon after they arrived in the valley.


An environment in which the primary goals are to kill and to avoid being killed takes a psychological toll that is greater than most civilians realize. A soldier named Anderson told Junger, "I've only been here four months, and I can't believe how messed up I already am. I went to the counselor and he asked if I smoked cigarettes and I told him no and he said, 'Well, you may want to think about starting.' "


Misha Pemble-Belkin, who was called Peanut Butter by his fellow soldiers, and then simply Butters, talked softly about trying to save a badly wounded colleague. "You could see it in his face that he's slowly dying," he said. "He was turning really ghost-looking. His eyes started sinking in his head, and he started to get real brown around his eyes. And he kept saying, 'I'm getting really dizzy. I want to go to sleep.' "


Pemble-Belkin used an expletive as he tried to explain how rough it was to watch one of his best friends die, essentially in his arms. At one point in the film, he described his reluctance to tell his family about his experiences: "When Restrepo got killed, it was a few days before my mom's birthday, so I had to suck it up when I called my mom on her birthday and act like everything was O.K. and say, 'Hey, Mom, happy birthday. Yeah, I'm doing real good out here. Everything's fine.' "


The film closes with the printed words, onscreen: "In late 2009, the U.S. military began withdrawing from the Korengal Valley."









DESPITE his failure to conclude a trade deal with South Korea this week, President Obama has put free trade at the top of his agenda. That's in part because the White House and the newly empowered Republican leadership see it as one of the few places where they can work together.


But those expectations could be upset by an unexpected force: the Tea Party. Strangely, for a movement named after an 18th-century protest against import levies, Tea Partyers are largely skeptical about free trade's benefits — according to a recent poll by NBC and The Wall Street Journal, 61 percent of Tea Party sympathizers believe it has hurt the United States.


The movement has already forced the Republicans to alter their agenda in several policy areas. Should the same thing happen with free trade, America's stance toward open markets and globalization could shift drastically.


At first glance, the Tea Party's position may seem contradictory: its small-government, pro-business views

usually go hand in hand with free trade. But if you consider the dominant themes underlying its agenda, it makes sense that the movement would be wary about free-trade policies. For starters, Tea Partyers are frustrated with Washington, and that includes its failure to make free trade work for America. Our trade deficit in manufactured goods was about $4.3 trillion during the last decade, and the country lost some 5.6 million manufacturing jobs.


And while the Tea Party supports market outcomes, its members appear to believe that the rest of the world is stacking the free-trade deck against us. They have a point: most policymakers agree that the Chinese currency is grossly and deliberately undervalued, that China fails to respect intellectual property rights and that it uses government subsidies to protect its own manufacturing base. Meanwhile, the movement says, the United States does virtually nothing in response.


The Republican establishment will argue that its trade agenda is consistent with Tea Party ideals, that its goal is to get government out of the way and allow American companies to thrive in competitive markets.


But Tea Partyers will ask, what good does it do to reduce the role of our government if foreign governments are free to rig the rules, attack American industries and take American jobs? As a result, the otherwise pro-market Tea Party may find its economic program far more at home with a nationalist trade policy that confronts foreign abuses and fights for American companies.


Tea Partyers also have an instinctive aversion to deficits, and they are undoubtedly concerned that our enormous trade imbalances — which require us to sell hundreds of billions of dollars in assets each year — will leave our children dependent on foreign decision makers. Indeed, the value of foreign investments in the United States now exceeds the value of American investments abroad by $2.74 trillion, and China alone has roughly $2.5 trillion in foreign currency reserves, primarily dollars.


Deficits, moreover, aren't just a statistic; they raise serious concerns about America's global leadership role. The Tea Party will demand to know why, if our trade policy is so successful, so many experts believe that the 21st century will belong to China, not the United States.


And the Republican establishment will have to deal with the fact that Tea Party heroes like Alexander Hamilton, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan had no problem restricting imports to promote our national interest. Given the Tea Party's desire to restore America's greatness, it will push Washington to stand up to China and re-establish American pre-eminence, even at the cost of the country's free-trade record.


Finally, trade is an issue where Tea Party concerns about "elites" thwarting the will of the voters will resonate.


In this case, the elites include both Democrats and Republicans. You would need a high-powered microscope to tell the difference between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush on the subject of trade. Even during this slow economic recovery, Mr. Obama is pushing for a new market-opening round of talks at the World Trade Organization.


Among Republicans, not one major elected figure expresses the skepticism toward free trade held by over three-fifths of Tea Partyers. In the face of soaring trade deficits and talk of American decline, the Tea Party may ask whether this is yet another area where the establishment has simply gotten it wrong.


In short, the apparent contradiction between the Tea Party's fiscal conservatism and its skepticism about free trade may not be a contradiction at all. If the Tea Party continues to influence the Republican agenda, it may not only spell bad news for the South Korea free trade agreement — it could also mean a fundamental reorientation of our country's attitude toward trade and globalization.


Robert E. Lighthizer, a lawyer, was a deputy trade representative in the Reagan administration.








 The destroyed façade of buildings, the broken barricades and the 12-foot-wide crater that mars one of Karachi's busiest roads are a reminder that we live in the most troubled of times. The blast which killed at least 17 people and injured over 100 others at the CID offices took place at a time when activity in the city was at its peak. The many people who heard the explosion and others who have seen its bloody aftermath are quite naturally filled with a terrible sense of fear and foreboding. They know that if an attack on this scale could be carried out in the Civil Lines area, one of the most highly secured zones in Karachi, then the terrorists can strike anywhere and anytime. The gun attack by five or six militants, followed by the bombing in which a vehicle packed with explosives was driven through the gates and rammed into the building, indicates that the Tehrik-e-Taliban, which almost immediately claimed responsibility for the blast, is still far from being vanquished. The interlinkages it has developed with other groups gives it still greater ability to kill and maim, apparently at will. It has been noted that the attack came soon after the CID had arrested several Lashkar-e-Jhangvi activists in Karachi. It is quite possible that the attack was intended as revenge for this and not just for the war in the tribal areas.

It is apparent too that the security steps put in place in our cities are of little use. The interior minister and his team need to explain to us why forces deployed in key areas are unable to detect vehicles laden with explosives or the militants who ride in them. Perhaps the personnel on duty – so many of whom have lost lives in such attacks – are not themselves to blame. They lack the training needed to take on a well-equipped, meticulously prepared and a highly committed army of militants who have developed the means to make their way even into the best-guarded zones. The latest attack took place not even a kilometre away from the chief minister's House and very close to other key locations. A few months ago we had gained some confidence that we could win against the militants. That now seems to be fading away. Over the past few months we have seen audacious strikes in several places. The militants appear to have widened their range of targets, with shrines added to their list. We need to re-think strategy and decide what to do to prevent these bombings.






 Reports have emerged of a Christian woman, mother of five, having been sentenced to death for blasphemy by an additional sessions court in Nankana Sahib last Monday. The background to the case is convoluted but some elements of it are agreed upon by most. The matter grew from an argument between women labourers working in a field dating back to June 2009. Asiya Bibi was asked to fetch water and other labourers objected that as a non-Muslim she could not touch the water bowl. That appeared to be the end of the matter until a group of women went to a local cleric and claimed that Asiya had made derogatory remarks against the Holy Prophet (PBUH) – and it has been downhill all the way ever since for Aasiya Bibi. Originally the police took her into protective custody to shield her from a mob, but this then turned into the nightmare that saw her sentenced to death. An FIR under Sections 295-B and C of the Pakistan Penal Code was registered by the very police who were supposed to protect her. Both sections are punishable by life imprisonment or death. She is appealing the sentence and we note that there has yet to be an execution in Pakistan for the crime of blasphemy.
Once again controversial legislation is being used in pursuance of personal grievances or disagreements. What started as a mundane argument between labourers in a field has come to the point at which a 45-year-old woman stands sentenced to hang as a result of whatever might or might not have been said – and we have no way of knowing for certain what exactly was said. Whatever the outcome of the case, even if the finding of guilt is overturned, the life of Asiya Bibi will never be the same again and she will not be able to live without looking over her shoulder to see who might be coming to mete out 'justice' to her. The legislation that underpins blasphemy prosecutions has been the midwife to a dark and corrosive mindset that infects large parts of our population and the law now has become the legislative hook on which men and women may be sentenced to hang. Behind this, and more difficult to repeal perhaps, is a set of societal attitudes that have been allowed to fester far too long. Changing this mindset will take as many decades as it took for it to form in the first place. But the effort has to begin sometime, somewhere.






 Some nine weeks after he was kidnapped on September 7, while on his way to office, Professor Ajmal Khan, Vice Chancellor of the Islamia University, remains missing. It is thought that he may have been whisked away from Peshawar to the tribal areas. In a video released a few days ago, Professor Ajmal said – reading out a message written by the Taliban – that he would be killed by November 20 if the demands of his abductors were not met. It is not clear how the government in Khyber-Pakhunkhwa is approaching the matter, with the information minister stating recently that no communication had been received from the abductors. But through its action against a man of learning who is in no way linked to the formulation of policy, the TTP has once more demonstrated that it is a force that knows no humanity and no morality. 

In protest against the kidnapping, institutions of higher learning across KP remain closed. Convocations have also been postponed. Vice-chancellors and teachers say they have become soft targets and have sought a greater guarantee of safety from the government. It would be a tragedy if Professor Ajmal failed to return home safely. The government must take steps to build confidence among academicians and others, that it is willing to protect them and do everything possible to keep them safe.







 If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquillity of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen. 
-- Samuel Adams

We have been reminded time and time again by the Americans and the Europeans that the War on Terror is our own war and that the very existence of our country is at stake because of it. Our politicians thought, incorrectly, that the Pakistani nation had bought the idea, because the masses are well aware that this War on Terror was never ours to begin with. There was no terror on our western front before the invasion of Afghanistan by the US and NATO forces.
Since it is supposedly our war now, and the US and Europe agree on this, it depends on us how we decide to conduct it, when to advance, what strategies to employ and, most importantly, when and how to make peace. The Pakistani army has hitherto conducted its operations very well and continues to do so. Unfortunately, there seems to be no end in sight. This is the failure of the politicians who are satisfied with the status quo and either do not know of a way out or are aware of it but lack the courage to take necessary steps. They continue to watch helplessly as innocent citizens are killed during Friday prayers; young soldiers continue to be martyred for the achievement of some unknown end; billions of dollars worth of infrastructure, agricultural and business activities continue to be destroyed and an immeasurable price that citizens, both young and old pay daily, with the psychological effects on their sanity. 

I am guessing that our politicians think, or at least hope, that our War on Terror in our tribal areas will end when the US and Europe end theirs in Afghanistan. Until then we are content, although we are continuously losing our soldiers in numbers greater than those of our allies and barricading entire parts of our cities, blocking roads and setting up checkpoints across the most economically vibrant parts of our country. If one is to visit all the nations taking part in the War on Terror, it is only in Pakistan and in Pakistan alone that the fog of war strikes you like a solid wall of fear for your own life and of your loved ones. For the vast majority of the citizens of our allied states the War is only as close as the remote-control which switches the television on and tunes it to a news channel. 

How long must we common Pakistani citizens continue to live with the war clouds hanging over our heads? When will we be told that the War on Terror is finally over? When will we be able to venture out into our schools and mosques without metal detector checks; on our roads without zigzagging through concrete barriers; towards our offices and workplaces with the only stress related to a looming deadline or unfinished presentation? When will our politicians give us a country where we can raise our children without fear, concerned mostly about how they'll have to go through life's many struggles but knowing that they will definitely return home safely on a given day and be able to regularly go out on their pursuits without the fear of an attack?

The recent chapter of the War on Terror beginning with the army operation in Swat is not the point of origin of the animosity between us and the Pakistani Taliban. Neither is it the start of our war against them. The commencement of hostilities began during the time of a dictator. There is no need to analyse Musharraf's intentions or the pros and cons of his decisions. It is sufficient to state that, by definition, and with the belief backed by ample historical evidence and experience, a dictator does not involve all or any of the stakeholders of a country in his decisions. In a democratic setup there is more room – sometimes not necessarily so – for the majority of stakeholders being affected by a decision, through their representatives, to be involved in the decision-making process. 

The tribes living in the areas of the Western border of Pakistan are genuine stakeholders of any action that our government plans for Afghanistan. They have socioeconomic ties with the people living on the other side of the Durand Line and share loyalties of hearth and home with them. As citizens of Pakistan they have every right to be taken into account when any decision is made which affects their families, loved ones and interests on the other side of the border. And our government must be loyal to them as these people have always been to Pakistan. The current tribal reaction is not an abnormality. Anyone pushed towards acting against kith and kin will rebel. The fact that these areas have been ignored by the federal government in terms of development has only added to their zeal.

There cannot be a bigger strategic error than for us to wait for our allies to begin to draw the curtain on their war. Politics in America and Europe has reached a level of unprecedented desperation due to the multifaceted nature of problems stemming primarily from the global financial crisis. In these times of desperation, just as the US began its war, it will bail out of Afghanistan unilaterally without the least bit of remorse or guilt or out of any sense of consciousness of having left the region, especially Afghanistan and Pakistan to fend for themselves (we might see a sequel to Charlie Wilson's War). None whatsoever, as long as the voters back home in their countries are satisfied with the decision. The Obama administration's Af-Pak policy seems to be heading out of the White House in two-and-a-half-years' time. The only form of assistance that would most likely continue in that scenario would be financial and humanitarian, leaving the Pakistani army engaged on its western front until our army is either left crippled or the Pakistani Taliban, with the help of the Afghan Taliban, who would by then have overtaken the newly-trained Afghan forces, take political control over parts or Pakistan's entire tribal belt. 
There are many reasons for a change of strategy when dealing with our Pakistani brothers living in the tribal belt. And although it is true that only a minority of individuals amongst the various tribes are actively militant, the prevailing security situation in the country with the many checkpoints and the like exists due to the ability of the militant groups to send down one or two individuals, who manage to zigzag through the barriers and blow themselves and their fellow Pakistanis to smithereens. However heinous their crimes, these militants are in most cases, if not all, Pakistani citizens whom the government over the course of 63 years failed miserably. 
Taking into account the perplexity of many factors on the micro scale, on the macro side of things it remains in the best interest of Pakistan to make peace with its own people be it at the cost of withdrawing military support to an ally waging a failed war for almost a decade in a land 11,000 kilometres away from its own. The stakes are the highest and the consequences of failure most damaging for Pakistan. And until we do not come up with a Pakistan specific strategy for our War on Terror, I see no end to this perpetual war.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email:








 Bergen-Belsen was a Nazi concentration camp in north-western Germany. The camp was liberated on April 15, 1945, by British troops. Colonel Mervin Gonin was among the first British soldiers to arrive at Bergen-Belsen. He wrote in his diary:

"Piles of corpses, naked and obscene, with a woman too weak to stand propping herself against them as she cooked the food we had given her, over an open fire; men and women crouching down just anywhere in the open, relieving themselves of the dysentery which was scouring their bowels; a woman standing stark naked washing herself with some issue soap in water from a tank in which the remains of a child floated. It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived. 

This was not at all what we men wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don't know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it. It was the action of genius, sheer, unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie, but with scarlet red lips; you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table, and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. 

At last someone had done something to make them individuals again; they were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity."

The images of flood victims flashed on front pages and TV screens were not as dismal as those of the victims described by Col Ginn. Still, the memory of unclad children expectantly looking at TV cameras will perhaps remain etched in our collective memory forever. Equally hard will be for us to cast off the demeaning images of pregnant women running after flour-distributing trucks sent by philanthropists. Similarly, the scenes of dishevelled men queuing for dole-outs would be hard to erase from the memory. 

Almost equally moving footage was aired by Pakistan and global media channels in the wake of the earthquake that devastated Kashmir in October 2005. The unfortunate IDPs displaced by the "war on terror" hardly looked any different. Thus, every time a well meaning but thoughtless media connives with charities and corrupt, inefficient rulers to deprive victims of natural calamities of their dignity.

In the first place, the relief is not provided as an entitlement but as dole-out. The very concept is insulting, and against self-respect, human dignity. Charity comes as a unilateral "gift" on which the taker has no claim and the giver has no obligation. It is altruism. 

Also, many philanthropists have an kind of axe to grind. Often, it is rich people in the habit of tax evasion that one finds at the forefront of charitable actions. For instance, a Lahore-based trade unionist, Mahmood Butt, was beaten to near-death for his bid to unionise labour at Ittefaq. Unionised labour, receiving social security and enjoying legal rights, is less likely to have members queuing up for alms. Ironically, the noble (i.e., Sharif) Ittefaq management is often praised by columnists in the press for the charity work.

An equally questionable role is played by global charity corporations. A tsunami in South-east Asia, a quake in Haiti or flash floods in Pakistan translate into hefty salary packages for the CEOs managing these charities. In the wake of the Haitian quake, the Swedish Red Cross had a hard time explaining away a salary package of 70,000-a-month Swedish krona for its director working part-time, while an average Swedish worker's salary is hardly 16,000 krona. 

An even more disturbing fact is the role these charities play in the service of imperialism. A gigantic natural calamity like the recent floods in Pakistan or the quake in Haiti creates what experts call "state of necessity." By that we mean a situation that jeopardises the existence of a state or its economic/political survival. The "state of necessity" justifies the repudiating of external (IMF, World Bank) debt. 

Here is a subtle element to understand from the legal perspective. The charities' main focus is always huge and quick relief operations, to create, as early as possible, a situation, where the "state of necessity" cannot be evoked by the country concerned. 

In case of Pakistan, the victims, denied their entitlement and denuded of their dignity, are subjected to further torture by indifferent people in beards. By declaring natural calamities God's wrath for sinners, self-righteous clerics not merely blame the victims but also pass a moral judgment on the victims. Thus, the victims are deprived of their integrity too. Nobody can dare silence these clerics for fear of retribution.

Maybe now is the time to tell the self-righteous that we need to refuse charity and demand genuine relief for flood victims, along with some "lipstick." Let us give the victims their humanity and dignity back and set another example for all times to come.

The writer is a freelance contributor. 









 The flood waters may have receded but the disaster is far from over. More than seven million people still lie shelterless. Sitting in the comfort of one's home it is not even possible to imagine how it would feel to face such vulnerable conditions; exposed to the natural elements at their harshest. It's always the women and children who are brought under the worst in such disasters. According to the UN statistics 85 per cent of those displaced by the floods were women and children, including half a million expecting women. They are still living dangerously and their sufferings are growing with time as food supplies dwindle, public interest wanes and a much bleaker weather sets in. 

The women also need protection from sexual and physical abuse as their displacement has increased their vulnerability many folds. Most women in relief camps need support in getting their share of aid and relief items. There have been many reported incidents of stampedes and rampages during the distribution of items in camps where women and children have been injured in the attempt to get those items. 

Another very vulnerable group amongst the IDPs comprises the physically and mentally disabled people who need extra care. The physically disabled need special arrangements for toilets, washing, bathing and health care. Even in normal circumstances they are the most neglected in our society but it is heartbreaking to imagine what they must be going through in camps which are barely fit as human dwellings. The only humane strategy in this case is the urgent relocation of such persons to safer and more appropriate places in nearest cities. The welfare of all citizens is the responsibility of the state and it cannot remain oblivious to the woes of special people.
Children too are extremely susceptible having to stay in shanty tents, being exposed to dust, polluted water, questionable sanitary conditions and stagnant puddles breeding mosquitoes and other insects. There is already a growing number of patients suffering dengue fever. Cholera cases have also been reported along with widespread diarrhoea. But most alarming are the new cases of polio. Unfortunately Pakistan is amongst the four countries of the world that have yet to eradicate polio. All the African countries except Nigeria have managed to end it completely.

In most of the areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, already more than ninety per cent of the people have returned to their homes although reconstruction is still a long way. But in Sindh and Balochistan the situation is a stark contrast. In Sindh only about twenty-six per cent of the IDPs have returned and more than seven million people are still without a roof over their heads. One obvious reason for this is that the floodwaters have not receded in the low-lying areas. There is a persistent presence of more than a metre of flood waters still standing in most areas including southern Balochistan, the Dadu and Jamshoro districts in Sindh. It might take more than six months for the water to dry up. More than a million people living in camps there will have to spend the winter beneath open skies.

The United Nations humanitarian agencies have called for urgent additional resources for the flood relief efforts in Pakistan, warning that millions are at risk as winter approaches. The $2 billion appeal is currently only 39 per cent funded and key sectors such as food security, health and camp coordination and management are seriously under-funded. Relief assistance is needed in severely hit districts of Sindh where, amongst the 7.27 million affected, nearly half are from the four districts of Dadu, Thatta, Jacocobad and Qambar Shadadkot. 
Balochistan, Pakistan's poorest province saw an influx of 600,000 people from Jacobabad in Sindh. They arrived in a remote area and found little aid. Catering to them is certainly out of bounds for the resources of the indigent province. The presence of international aid organisations and other NGOs is restricted because of security concerns. Little help is making its way through due to the inaccessibly difficult terrain, and the definitive lack of capacity of the local and provincial governments in tackling the situation. Out of desperation, some people are now taking boats back to Jacobabad, which is struggling to get back on its feet. But Jacobabad was one of the worst-hit districts with more than 156,000 houses damaged or destroyed. The breaches in three main canals crossing the region left more than 3,700 villages submerged. The district is not ready to accept the people returning any time soon.

Failure to deliver aid compensation to the flood victims could lead to deep social unrest. As yet there has been no policy announcement by the government regarding the affected populace. The government is giving out individual cash compensations worth $230 through ATM cards called 'Watan cards'. But according to reports in the media there are serious discrepancies in the distribution of this cash. Politically influential people are reported having the cards distributed in areas where there never was any flooding. 
Similarly many politicians in Sindh, with the connivance of the provincial government, are getting their unaffected Union Councils being declared calamity-hit. The cash compensation is also being doled out to buy loyalties for the next elections. 

The brazenness of some people to accept the Watan cards and gloat about making a fool of everyone is despicably amazing. Other than this cash compensation there is still no strategy for rehabilitation of the affected millions. The government has announced distribution of free seeds to farmers but it must be kept in mind that not all people belonging to the rural areas are associated with agriculture. It is not the people's only source of living. Much more comprehensive and holistic policies and practical strategies are critically needed which include all sectors of development and the needs of all the people struck by the floods. Piecemeal solutions will not work.

The writer is a journalist and has extensive experience of research and monitoring in disasters. Email: noreenh111@







 The value a nation attaches to education reflects the relative importance of brain and brawn – the power of logic versus the logic of power. An educated society is supposedly more civilised, tolerant, and progressive. 
The inability to understand social and natural phenomena from diverse perspectives leads to a myopic approach to life and the resultant bigotry. History is witness to the fact that civilisations have decayed and ultimately perished whenever use of force has been directed against intellectual development. 

What we experience all around us – political instability, moral degeneration, social disintegration, and economic downturn – is the outcome of power-property nexus devoid of morality. The poor victims in this vicious struggle for power and property are people like Prof Ajmal Khan.

Prof Ajmal Khan, the vice chancellor of Peshawar's Islamia College University, has been in captivity since Sept 7, for no crime other than his being a blood relation of a person believed to be partly in charge of running the show of an "imposed" war. 

In his latest video he was seen beseeching for life with faltering tone and glum appearance. For me it is a slap on the face of human civilisation when teachers have to pay for the lust and follies of others. God knows where the buck ultimately stops, but the trend of abductions for ransom and exchange continues to shatter our society from the root. 

The universities in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have been closed as a mark of solidarity and protest. One cannot exactly measure the impact of how such actions would translate into his release but the message is loud and clear that the current state of affairs may lead to volcanic eruption. 

Bloody revolutions are potentially around the corner when people lose confidence in structures that support the prevailing socioeconomic order. Hopelessness invites radical change. What we see in Pakistan is the phenomena of pervasive corruption, increasing inflation and rampant insecurity that push us all to the wall. 

Prof Ajmal Khan was emulating his uncle Ali Khan (who is also the uncle of Asfandyar Wali Khan) in university administration. As VC of the ICU, he was working with missionary zeal to transform society through education. I happened to hear him in TV interviews about his vision for higher education in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, ICU in particular. He believes that socio-economic development in Pakistan is linked to taking tertiary education to rural areas where people generally cannot afford to send their children to big cities. 
In this regard he always advocated distance-learning programmes and opening satellite campuses in remote areas to help educate the underprivileged ones. But unfortunately the war against terrorism has taken its toll in terms of deaths of innocent people, destruction of infrastructure, and psychological disorders in addition to regressing human development. In my view, the devastation is simply beyond measure. 

As part of the teaching community, I earnestly request the captors as well as the government authorities to ensure the safe release of Prof Ajmal Khan. The agony of his family, his association with a noble profession, his age and, above all, his innocence make a strong case for clemency. Sparing his life would do a lot more for social recovery and rapprochement than the opposite, which would further tear apart the bond of fraternity as Muslims and Pakhtuns. 

There are so many instances one can provide from the history of Islam that clemency has achieved objectives that otherwise would never be possible through violent means. Let us all forget and forgive for the sake of a bigger cause of Islam and humanity and make the world a peaceful place to live in. Forgiveness is a sign of strength, not weakness.

The writer is an assistant professor at FAST-NU, Peshawar. Email: zeb.khan@








 The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.

There are certain truths about democracy that are obvious to most thinking minds. But the recent ramblings of our prime minister highlight the need to restate the obvious. There are at least four sorts of misunderstandings that seem to be misguiding the leader of our lower house and head of the federal government. 

Let us start with the term of an elected government. Where does it say in the constitution of Pakistan that there can be no appeal to the electorate prior to the expiry of the five-year term of parliament? There are a few sub-issues that need to be clarified in this regard. One, within a parliamentary system whoever garners a majority in parliament gets the right to govern. This is what makes coalition governments relatively unstable as a change of heart of smaller coalition partners that provide requisite numerical support to a government can result in an in-house change. 

Two, as opposed to prohibiting an appeal to the electorate prior to the expiry of the stipulated five-year National Assembly term, the constitution explicitly provides a mechanism to do so. Article 58 confers upon the prime minister the authority to dissolve the National Assembly and call for fresh elections. Clearly the constitution envisages situations when it might be imperative for parliament and the government to seek a fresh mandate from citizens. It is true that midterm polls are undesirable, especially in view of our history of the 1990's when they were a consequence of palace intrigues backed by the establishment. 

But this doesn't mean that an elected government has a divine right to rule for five years and the masses must suffer an incompetent or malfunctioning government for such a minimum period as penance for the sin of having elected it. Is staying in power for five years an end in itself, or a means to deliver the electoral promises made by the party while seeking public mandate to govern? 

The second major misconception afflicting the prime minister, the president and the ruling party is that an elected government is only meant to serve the interests of the people who have voted the party to power. There is a constitutional and a political problem with the belief that the ruling party only needs to pander to the base instincts of its hardcore support-base. Any party that has a simple majority in parliament gets the right to rule. 
Now if the voter turnout in an election were around fifty per cent and some forty per cent of those voting supported one party that consequently got the mandate to form government, while endowing such a party (that has a twenty per cent support from the voting population of the country) with formal legitimacy, the constitution also imposes a fiduciary duty to uphold the rights and provide for the needs of the entire population of the country. And this includes all those who are bitterly opposed to such a party.

The political logic of reaching out to those who do not support the ruling party, instead of withdrawing back to a core constituency, is equally obvious. In a country where there are two mainstream parties, the core constituency is a captive group that for various reasons (ideological, economic, ethnic etc) generally has no ability to switch sides. It is the majority of undecided citizens with no permanently entrenched partisan loyalties that determine the outcome of elections. 

This category of ordinary people cares about good governance, inflation, cost of living, citizen services provided by the state, lifestyles of ruling elites and allegations of corruption etc. It is the rage of such citizens that translates into anti-incumbency sentiment against a non-performing government. Chances are that even after a disastrous stint in power, the PPP would still get re-elected from Naudero and Garhi Khuda Baksh. What then is the logic behind the ruling party only speaking to its core constituency at the expense of alienating the majority of Pakistanis? 

The third major misunderstanding is that within a democracy there is only one form of accountability, which is political. And thus it is only the electorate that can hold public representatives accountable, and that too only every five years. The ruling regime doesn't seem to appreciate that under any developed conception of rule of law, legal accountability is distinguishable from political accountability. 

Legal mechanisms for accountability are meant to hold public office holders responsible for their individual actions, especially when such actions amount to abuse of public authority or crimes against the state and society. Such accountability is not undertaken during the electoral process, wherein the electorate either endorses or rejects an individual, as opposed to making him/her liable for crimes and misdemeanors. Jamshed Dasti might be an excellent representative accessible to his constituency. But that doesn't give him a free pass to engage in fraud and crime.

Can someone not explain to the premier that vertical and horizontal modes of accountability are both essential and complementary components to an upright and functional system of governance? Political accountability through the electorate is the vertical mode that provides a mechanism for political change. And then there is the need for (i) introduction of effective anti-graft laws and provision of parliamentary oversight by the legislature, (ii) administration of such laws by the executive, and (iii) their enforcement by the judiciary. These three components are in accord with the concept of separation of powers and institutional checks and balances, and together, comprise the horizontal mode of accountability. 

Now just because we have in place a semi-functional system of vertical accountability (in the form of the electoral process), it doesn't mean that the horizontal modes of accountability, mandated under our constitution, are either unnecessary or illegitimate.

The only improvised system of horizontal accountability in place in Pakistan at the moment is standing on two legs: the media and the judiciary. The media discloses the details of venal acts of public office holders and the judiciary takes cognisance of brazen abuse of authority and corruption. Given that the role of the PPP-led legislature and executive in introducing and administering an effective anti-corruption law is missing altogether, the media and the judiciary are left to bear the burden of these non-performing components of our horizontal accountability mechanism. 

Now instead of realising that it is the the ruling regime which, in its nonfeasance, is exaggerating the role being played by the media and the judiciary, we find the premier and other jesters representing the PPP nowadays, accusing the media and the judiciary for trying to do their jobs. 

And finally, despite all its experience of being out of power, the ruling PPP mistakenly believes that the longevity of an elected government lies in sucking up to the army and America, frustrating the judiciary into inaction and intimidating the media. For a dictatorship to think on these lines is understandable. 

But how does an elected government ever come to the conclusion that it is not its popularity and approval amongst the masses, but the dirty deals that it can contrive due to being in power that will become the elixir for everlasting life? If this were true, would any government ever get changed? Will the army chief unquestioningly back the ruling regime because it handed him another term in office? Will the judiciary start looking the other way if PPP spokespersons hurl more abuses upon judges? And will the media change its tune because crucial journalists run the risk of being called Zionist agents?

Let's get serious Mr prime minister. Crying wolf doesn't work once there is a growing perception that non-representative institutions of the state are more popular that the representative government. We have serious problems and we need serious people to address them with a sense of urgency.









EXECUTIVE Director of Kashmir American Council Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai, who visited the premises of Daily Pakistan Observer in Islamabad on Thursday, has expressed optimism about growing realization among the international community to address the issue for the sake of regional and global peace and security. In an interview to a panel of correspondents of the paper, he revealed that seven countries including the United States and the UK are actively impressing upon both India and Pakistan to settle the long-standing dispute. 

Dr Fai and his organization are doing a great service to the cause of Kashmiri people by highlighting different aspects of the issue not only in the United States and at the UN but also in important capitals of the world. It is because of the positive role being played by activists of his likes that the world today has better appreciation of the plight of the Kashmiri people, genesis of the problem and the need to address it as per the aspirations of Kashmiris. At a time when India is trying to hoodwink the international community by giving wrong meanings to the struggle of the Kashmiri people for their right of self-determination, equating it with terrorism, it is satisfying that the world now acknowledges the element of non-violence in the fresh uprising in Occupied Kashmir. Lately, it is accepted even by Indians that the latest Intifada in Occupied Kashmir is totally indigenous, forcing the rulers in New Delhi to make renewed efforts to reach out to Kashmiris. But Kashmiris have made it clear repeatedly that they are not ready to enter into any dialogue within the ambit of the Indian constitution, as they are offering sacrifices to get freedom from the Indian yoke. It is also encouraging that the world is also taking note of the grave human rights violations in Occupied Kashmir and even President Obama referred to it during his recent visit to India, although in a subtle manner. We hope that Pakistani missions abroad and Kashmiri Diasporas in different parts of the globe would make sustained efforts to sensitize the host communities about the need to resolve this long-standing dispute. There is also logic in the proposal by Dr Fai that Pakistan being a party to the issue should convene a special meeting of the OIC to take stock of the latest developments in Occupied Kashmir where India is mercilessly killing peaceful demonstrators.









MUSHARRAF-led All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) on Thursday issued a 35-point charge-sheet against PML (N) leader Mian Nawaz Sharif accusing him of corruption and misappropriation of power. It also presented before media the copies of the agreement containing apology by MNS and promising to quit the politics for ten years.

Allegations and counter allegations by the two Parties are quite understandable and it is also obvious as to who is the main beneficiary of their unnecessary wrangling. APML has just taken birth and instead of presenting any concrete programme and manifesto before the masses, its leadership is, regrettably, engaged in personal attacks and character assassination of others, which does not convey any positive impression about its future. Charge sheet and charges of corruption against Mian Nawaz Sharif are worthless considering that the APML leadership remained in power for ten years after overthrowing the democratic government of MNS and could not initiate or prove anything against him during this long period. There is also no thrill in the so-called disclosure of the contents of the agreement between MNS and the then Government, brokered reportedly by a foreign friendly country, as the same was made public last year by some other interested political entities. It is, however, quite likely that MNS and his Party would waste much of the time in the coming weeks and months in clarifying their position. The people of Pakistan have great expectations from Mian Nawaz Sharif, who is rightly perceived to be a leader who feels for the masses and has a vision for Pakistan. We would, therefore, urge him not to waste his time and energies on frivolous things and instead lead the people towards realization of a strong and prosperous Pakistan.








The Pak-leaderships have tried sixty years bringing the US and Pakistan closer as allies, but the lost time has proven that the two states are still locked in a state of undeclared conflict over a whole range of supreme national interests that divide them on the world stage. The issues dividing the two are, both ideological, and strategic, which explains why their ultimate national interests remain dismissive of the direction of their relationship. The past speaks volumes. What was a US-Pak cold war alliance in the fifties became an anti-Pakistan embargo in the sixties, one that saw its removal later in the seventies but was again imposed in the nineties after the Pak-nuclear explosions. Then came 9/11thrusting the US- terror-war on Islamabad. Pakistan's policies, and interests clash with that of the US over the following:

Ideological divide. A fundamentally divisive issue, and, also the most obvious one, separating Washington, and Islamabad, is none other than the mutually exclusionary ideological character of the two states. By it's creation, and constitution, the state of Pakistan is an Islamic republic, and Islam is the state religion, while the US, a secular state , embraces a constitution that rejects, altogether the entanglement of religion(church) and state. Under the US constitution, the state does not follow, promote or advocate any particular religion. However, an ideological conflict has been growing within the US since 9/11, as it's state institutions, and the die hard religious elements can be seen feverishly engaged in assailing, and ridiculing Islam and, the Muslim fraternity in general. 

of any significant regional role, let alone any larger space, for Pakistan, either in the Arabian sea littoral, or beyond, despite Islamabad's hard earned strategic empowerment as a nuclear state. There is, thus, a policy- based US denial of Pakistan's state- respect as well as state-interest, despite Islamabad's decade long ongoing role as Washington's frontline anti-terror combatant, both, within its territory, and along the Pak-afghan border. Though still half way hesitant, yet a modest indication by the US, to consider Pakistan's stance concerning post US-ISAF withdrawal , and the -future scenario of, Afghanistan, could only be attributed to the pressures of the dictation of religion, geography, history, and ethnicity to the choice less USA, whose sole strategic partner in the region, India— the local exclusionary element against Pakistan — is here, virtually unhelpful on the complex Afghan situation. But the prime factor, that, inter alia, seems to be governing the strategic exclusion of Pakistan, is the fact that Washington can not afford an ideologically driven republic, the largest Muslim population center between South Asia and the Atlantic, one that stands for uniting the 1.3 billion strong Islamic community. Rising from the history of Euro-Muslim confrontation, a new power block, or an emerging power in the Muslim world, would be the last development the US would ever want to permit in what it so clearly claims as the specific US sphere of influence. 

Nuclear issues: While nuclear non-proliferation died as an issue with India's multiple nuclear tests in May 1998, the resulting Pak-response in kind, not only ensured some strategic balance in the Arabian sea-Indian ocean rim, but also gave birth to a Muslim nuclear state, signaling thereby a discernable beginning of power-shift at the gateway of the Middle-East for the very first time since the early eighteenth century. However, the unacceptability of Pakistan as a Muslim nuclear state was immediately evident when the US- led West reacted with a policy of treating Islamabad as a threat to Western security, some times, in the name of proliferation of nuclear technology, and some times under the excuse of the likelihood of terrorists somehow, at some point, gaining access to Pak-nuclear weapons, or, fissile materials.

The US-Interest in signing special nuclear deal with India is, clearly, in direct conflict with the supreme national security interest of Pakistan as it(1) changes the nuclear equilibrium between Islamabad, and New-Delhi, (2) discriminates against Pakistan in favor of it's regional rival, India,(3) establishes India as a credible nuclear power vis-à-vis Pakistan at the world stage.

US-India strategic partnership: The fact that the US has entered into a formal strategic relationship with India, is, by far, the most lethal blow to the national security of an almost strategically isolated Pakistan. The Indo-US axis opens flood gates, as it is no longer a secret, of state of the art military and non- military technologies, free trade, or preferred trade agreements, joint scientific research projects, and a whole range of multifaceted institutional co-operation at the highest level between the two states. Judged by any conceivable angle, the political, and defense dimension of this strategic partnership is verily aimed at marginalizing Pakistan's as a nuclear power. Branded, by the US as terrorism, the Pak- support for the Kashmiris was halted under US pressure right after 9/11. Musharraf caved in. The one recent example of the emboldened India's new-found strategic arrogance was it's refusal, just a couple of months ago, to include, even nominally, the issue of Kashmir, into the Qureishi- Krisna meeting agenda. Under the much grown Indo- US strategic partnership, the US delivers India's threat of attack to Pakistan if a Bombay like terror-incident ever happens again. Robert Gates, the US Defense secretary, himself brought this message to Islamabad. 

The massive political and diplomatic pressure exerted by the US to make Pakistan capitulate to the Indian demand that Pakistan acknowledge that Ajmal Kassab was a Pakistani citizen, was a major strategic warning that the US would essentially opt to side with India in any future confrontation or military conflict with Islamabad. The US role to force Pakistan's withdrawal from Kargil was a huge alarming precursor to what is, now, primarily an Indo-US strategic threat to Islamabad. Today's Pakistan, apparently a US anti-terror "ally", is not much dissimilar to the once pro Washington Argentina of the early eighties when the Falkland crises arose and the US chose, on the verge of Falkland-war, to openly support it's natural strategic partner, UK. Few days later- the strategic partners, US and UK, together won against the so called US ally, the abandoned Argentina. The nation, especially, the military leadership, can not afford to miscalculate, or misconstrue on the exact nature of the Indo-US nexus that would, in any future crises, be it Kashmir, or some other disputes, seek to test Pakistan's strategic resolve. India must be keenly looking at, and drawing some conclusions from the scale of US drone-attacks, and the flexibility that Pakistan is exhibiting, in allowing them on it's soil, security, and sovereignty. Image-dismantlement: While Pakistan fights a US- war on it's land, and against it's citizens, the Bush, and Obama presidencies, that together represent a decade of aggression in and around the Muslim states, have succeeded in demonizing Pakistan, both, as the safe haven of terror, and the origin of security threat to the West. A sustained campaign of thousands, and thousands of stigmatizing statements by the US and EU Governments coupled with their malicious media- war against the "SATANIC" Islamabad, have, in all these year, virtually destroyed Pakistan's image as a peaceful state, which it was until the expansion of US operations into the Pak territories. The US propaganda has, therefore, quarantined Pakistan with a global circle of infamy and hate, one that is bound to stay long after the US ends it's so called war against terror. The policy followed by Washington effectively separates the US from Pakistan. 

The Obama presidency that graces India this weekend, sets the stage for a much too expanded Indo-US strategic equation that dumps Pakistan's national interest in Kashmir, Siachin, and Sir creek, that precludes any role for Pakistan in the region, that establishes India as a dominant military power at the door steps of Pakistan, Persian Gulf, the Red sea, the strait of Malacca, and beyond. With it's particular beginning from Bombay(Mumbai)-the site of terrorist attacks- the Obama Indian trip underscores that both India, and the US face Pakistan based terrorism that, in turn, justifies a joint Indo-US strategy against the Islamic republic to keep it consumed with the anti-terror war- one that would, in effect, disallow any chance of it's emergence as a significant economic and nuclear power. Bombed, coerced, exploited, and discriminated, the crises- plagued Pakistan can ill- afford it's further state-demolition in a war imposed by the India-centric Washington.








According to the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation polls conducted recently, about 83 % Afghans want a negotiated peace in their country. Such a survey and its findings should be a great boost to the efforts launched by Karzai to reach an understanding with the Taliban. The US Administration which shamed its protégé about the nature of re-election later allowed him to contact various ex-Mujahideen leaders to woo the Taliban. He also enlisted the support of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for launching such a serious venture. The US, however, has been blowing hot and cold in this regard which could be due to the considerations of the home-politics. 

As per The New York Times, about 1% Americans appeared to treat the war in Afghanistan as a serious concern as indicated by the issues debated in the run up to the last mid-term elections. Bugged by their economic ills, the Americans could not care less if some of their own paid-soldiers were dying along with hundreds of locals in this faraway country. The Democrats suffered the loss of the majority in the House of Representatives and some Governorships/Senate seats which appears to have been caused by economic downturn ushered in by the disastrous policies followed by the last Administration. President Obama has been fumbling along on this score like he did on most Foreign Policy issues. No wonder the occupation of Iraq/Afghanistan is now treated as 'Obama' wars' by the media and his opponents. The vicious attacks on his performance also appear to have come from the Rightwing Republicans as well as vested interests like the US Jewish-lobby. The net outcome of the mid-term elections indicates further divisions of the political landscape which could compound the difficulties of the current Administration in handling the awful situations developing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Taliban have, generally, maintained silence about any efforts being made by the Karzai-Govt about any peace moves. On occasions, their spokesmen have rejected the statements made by the US Administration officials about such conciliatory efforts. They appear to stick to the ground realities which portray an on-again-off-again war being fought by the foreign troops duly abetted by the Kabul regime. Such a profile fits in to the aggressive posture adopted by the foreign forces which have launched vicious bombing of 'enemy-targets' of late. This has even been verified by Gen Petraeus who is now the Commander in Kabul. Apparently these tactics are being adopted by the US etc on the basis of their experiences in Iraq.

If history is any guide, such atrocities are likely to prove counter-productive. The US/NATO have been Indulging in atrocious bombings for more than 9 years and they have not been able to humble the Afghans who have no air-force or air-cover. The killing of civilians, designated as 'co-lateral damage' by the US, is the greatest source of strength for the Taliban. While the foreign forces have, generally, been dismissive of such tragic killings, to the locals it means a lot. It sharpens their enmity against the foreign forces whereby they become bound to take revenge for the murder of their kith and kin. This has reportedly been the major supply-line for man-power for the Taliban. The latter, as per their customs, go to offer their sympathies/prayers for the departed soul/souls and thereby new volunteers appear on the scene for them. Even otherwise, the Afghans are fed up with the status quo which has foisted insecurity, unemployment, corruption etc on their country for more than 9 years despite the propaganda emerging from the Bonn Conference and subsequently. Seeing that the enemy has lost the war but 'refuses to accept defeat', most Afghans, including those in North, are turning hostile to the US. A recent column in the New York Times also thought that most Americans treat Afghanistan as a 'lost war'. Hence they have no interest in it; more so as they face financial crunch at home which affects their day-to-day life.

The latest figures quoted by the subject survey emphasize that the Afghans are fed up with US-led dispensation which holds no promise for the future. As the Taliban have fought on with traditional tenacity, the scales apparently are heavily tipped in their favour. A US win could be a dream-come-true so it looks a mirage. She must find some way-out with the help of Pakistan/Saudi Arabia without raising the stakes through atrocious bombing which multiplies her opponents exponentially. This could win her a long-term positive relationship with Af-Pak area which holds the key to the exploitation of huge/coveted energy resources awaiting intervention in the Central Asian Republics as well as the Caspian Sea.


The writer is a former Interior Secretary.








President Barack Obama has announced $10 billion trade deals with India and claimed that the deal will create 53,670 U.S. jobs. He brought some of the changes in export rules to make it easier for U.S. companies to do business with the nation of 1.2 billion people. US is also relaxing control on India's purchase of "dual use" technologies that could be used for civilian or military purposes, have been top priorities for the business community. The commercial deals include the purchase of thirty three (33) 737s Boeing by India's Spice Jet Airlines; the Indian military's plans to buy aircraft engines from General Electric; and preliminary agreement between Boeing and the Indian Air Force on the purchase of 10 C17s. 

Though, Obama's mentioning of trade deal and creation of jobs in US may attribute in up coming democrats' midterm election partly and also depicting an attempt of put his domestic economy back on track. It is mentionable here that Obama also promised to support Indian nomination as permanent member of United Nation Security Council. Though, overtly the US leader's visit seem to be a business tour but his covert agenda could be to promote and present India as second super power while pitching her against China. In this way she will be able to get her ultimate objective of hitting two birds in one stone. Interestingly, at the same time, President Obama declared Pakistan as American's strategic partner and deliberately avoided of making any lose statement on Pakistan's related issues. In this connection while addressing the Common Session of Indian Parliament, he advocated the continuation of peace process between Pakistan and India. He also stressed that confrontation on Kashmir issue should be resolved bilaterally, however US can come forward as a mediator if desired by two countries. In short, India failed to achieve optimum results of threshing out Pakistan on the issue of extremisms since Obama has shown maturity by not involving Pakistan in terrorism. He asked both the countries to resolve the disputes for establishing permanent peace. In fact, Obama exposed US desire openly while saying that the relationship between the two great powers (India and U.S) "will be one of the defining and indispensable partnerships of the 21st century." Declaring India as great power has to be translated and viewed in its true perspective. Unfortunate part of Obama's visit is that he backed a country where millions of people have been victimized by the extremists' Hindus and armed forces. During this visit Obama did not mention clearly about human violation of India. However, to gain more sympathies Indian government ensured that American president to stay in Taj Mehal but at the same time never been allowed or to visit Kashmir, Golden Temple and Babri Mosque. Obama said that he intended to send a signal by making Mumbai the first stop of the trip and by staying at the Taj, which was a target during the terror siege." The United States and India stand united," he said. "We'll never forget." This action of organizers of the visit is enough to show true motive of secular state (India) and so called civilized democratic country (USA). Would some out of Obama's staff would like to clarify that why he only preferred to show solidarity with Hindus only and failed to say something on the brutality against Kashmiries, Maoists, Sikhs and Christians. 

The other angle of the visit depicts that Obama's visit would be adding tension between China-India and Pakistan. Obama has also broadcasted his underline message more openly as compare to the past i.e. making India militarily and economically strong. The American's president visit and arms pacts with India are being viewed with concern by the China, Pakistan, Russia and Sri Lanka. An arms race, conventional and nuclear, between India and china is now gaining prominence as India is building her weapon piles increasing day by day. Some analysts have also started to view India competing with China in an arms race rather than acquiring weapons merely for defensive purposes. It is mentionable here that India is also developing her nuclear and missile system with the help of Israel and US. The UN Watchdog "IAEA' should inspect Indian nuclear programme since it has pathetic security arrangement and could prove danger to the human lives again. Though, Indian concerned authorities are trying to tighten the security at nuke plant sites but no worthwhile improvement has been yet noticed. Recently, security was tightened in Maharashtra's Ratnagiri district after villagers clashed with officials of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India. The corporation was constructing a cluster of nuclear power plants in Ratnagiri under the Indo-US nuclear agreement. The villagers, opposing the nuclear establishment, attacked and chased away the officials who were visiting the villages to take soil samples. India is also planning to buy Israeli Missile System. New Delhi has also launched major effort to develop laser weapons for military applications. Reportedly, Indian military is working on laser weapons for deploying on its submarines, destroyers, air force fighters and transport planes.

Actually, Indo-US-Israel collaboration is emerging the world most dangerous collaboration. Few days back, US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon while briefing reporters said that Obama intends the trip to be "a full embrace of India's rise." At this occasion Indian officials Shivshankar Menon endorsed that he doesn't think that there's an area of human endeavor in which we do not actually cooperate.

In this connection, very authenticated reports illustrated that: (one) Israeli systems are being tested in India, (two) India is a stake-holder in Iron Dome and David's Sling systems as these are being tested in India, (two) systems have been tested in controlled environment and thus have not gained the un-questioned confidence of Indian side, (fourth) Japanese were also called for demonstration of Israeli missile systems. They remained skeptical and un-committed; (fifth)India is also persisting with its Prithvi Air Defence System PAD in order to keep its intentions are to contain China and stopped Pakistan for further developments. 

As a matter of fact after disintegration of Soviet Union, uni-polar system emerged. The new great game and number of new cold wars like: Indo-Pak, Indo-China, North- South Korea, US-Iran and Sri Lanka-India have been started. The regional and global security environment has been changed drastically because of 9/11, American invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan. India took U-turn and became U.S regional and global ally against China and Russia. India in its pursuit of acquiring high technology has been making headway both politically and scientifically. Recently, Indian Defense Minister, AK Antony, to the US marked the highlight of Indo-US relation. Mr Antony had meetings with Secretary Gates, Secretary Clinton and NSA James Jones. Obama administration has been pushing India in awarding defense contracts to the American companies. Indian who is already purchasing arms to restructure her armed forces has welcomed US lucrative defense contracts for transferring high technology.

Concluding I must say that though Obama tried to adopt balanced approach while talking about India Pakistan issues but never forgotten his ultimate objective of putting India against China. The arms race between China and India would definitely going to be speed up. She already tested Agni-II, a revamped Agni-II in the Wheeler Island, off the Orissa coast. Agni-II has two stages and both are powered by solid propellants. It has several features of advanced technology. The missile, which can carry nuclear warheads, can be transported both by rail and road. Its projected range is 2750 to 3000 km. Indian second missile system Agni-III is ready for Operational Induction. According to Defence Minister Mr A K Antony, the 3000 km range Agni-III missile is ready for induction into the armed forces. The nuclear capable ballistic missile would give a boost to India's credible minimum deterrence as no other missile in the Indian arsenal has the range to strike targets deep inside China. She also carried out Strategic Weapons Storages in Bikaner, Jodhpur, Jallandar, Jaisalmer, Bhuj, Bhatinda and Barmer.

World community and US administration should know that Indian design of storage, deployment, development of nuke weapons and recently concluded defence pacts with Israel and USA are serious threats to the regional and global peace. There is a need to stop and condemn Indian aggressive nature of expansionism rather than declaring her a great power and future member of Security Council.








Roger Cohen

A world without nuclear weapons sounds nice, but of course that was the world that brought us World War I and World War II. If you like the sound of that, the touchy-feely "Global Zero" bandwagon is probably for you. I'm an optimist in general but a pessimist when it comes to nations' shifting pursuit of their interests. Humans, not states, have consciences. President Barack Obama's commitment in his 2009 Prague speech "to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons" was a fine sentiment but a political mistake. The idea went down well with the Norwegians, who awarded Obama a Nobel Peace Prize he should not have accepted, but overall this prospective peace blossom has wilted faster than a flower in the Scandinavian night.

(A neophyte president should question whether a peace Nobel is in any way compromising — apart from examining the merits, which were dubious.) There were two sides to Obama's embrace of a nuclear-free world. The first was the "vision," as Michèle Flournoy, his under secretary for defense policy, described it recently to the Halifax International Security Forum. It was a form of utopian idealism, as Obama half-acknowledged by saying he would "perhaps" not see the end of nukes in his lifetime. Visions are nice — Marx had one of classless societies. They can also be dangerous. Helmut Schmidt, the former German chancellor, famously remarked that people who have them should see a doctor.

The danger was that Obama, very early in his presidency, would be perceived as weak or unrealistic by rivals such as China or enemies like Iran, despite his commitment, for "as long as these weapons exist," to "maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary." That perception of weakness has taken hold, reinforced by his academic-seminar approach to an Afghan surge now just seven months away from being reversed. The second aspect of the nuclear "vision" was strategic. 

The idea was that it would give the United States moral leverage in persuading nations to reduce their nuclear arsenals or abandon nuclear ambitions. It would also advance U.S. nonproliferation efforts designed, among other things, to ensure no terrorists ever acquire nukes. The most dangerous aspect of the 21st-century world is the potential ability of smaller and smaller groups to do greater and greater harm.

Here the results have been mixed at best. Flournoy acknowledged that "the example that the U.S. sets probably won't impact Iran or North Korea directly." China continues to pursue the expansion and refinement of its nuclear arsenal. France, with its beloved "force de frappe," was always publicly skeptical and privately contemptuous. Its recent defense accord with Britain was interesting for its inclusion of nuclear cooperation and for Prime Minister David Cameron's statement that "we will always retain an independent nuclear deterrent." Note the "always." Only with Russia was clear headway made. A new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed earlier this year awaits Senate ratification. It would slash U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals to their lowest level in a half-century. It's compatible with America's defense needs and should be ratified.

But the "Global Zero" idea is an unhelpful distraction because it inclines Republicans to believe Obama is not serious about maintaining and modernizing America's nuclear arsenal. Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, said of the goal of a nuclear-free world: "I think it's a dangerous concept to get into our minds — I talked with some Russians recently, and they scoffed at the idea." That's a fair guide to Republican thinking; and there will be 47, not 41, Republicans in the new Senate, as well as a Tea-Party-revved Republican majority in the House. New Start's best hope is in the lame-duck Senate. But Obama is going to have to turn the page, dump aloofness for horse-trading, airy-fairy ideals for the politics of the possible, and realize "interconnectedness" is not just the state of the world but also the way things get done in Washington.

As for nonproliferation efforts, they remain stymied by contradictions that a review conference this year did little to resolve. Three states with weapons have refused to sign the nonproliferation treaty: Israel, India and Pakistan. With all three, the United States winks at noncompliance, in the Israeli case through a secret "understanding" struck in 1969. Of course this is not lost on the likes of Iran. The case of North Korea, which renounced the nonproliferation treaty in 2003, has reinforced impressions of American inconsistency. Perhaps Japan makes clearest why "Global Zero" is a stillborn idea. As the nation of Hiroshima, it has always pushed hard for disarmament. But as the nation facing North Korean nuclear testing and missiles, as well as an ever-stronger Chinese nuclear arsenal, it clings to the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Idealism will not keep it safe. Obama can't renounce "Global Zero;" that would be silly. But he should pretend he never said it. His remake for 2012 demands more of Chicago and less of Oslo. Perhaps even Benjamin Netanyahu, who has treated the president with sublime contempt since his September White House visit, would take note. —The New York Times







TERRORISTS struck heart of Karachi on Thursday in a daredevil manner, using 1000 kilograms of explosives to flatten the building of the Crime Investigation Department (CID), killing over 17 people and injuring more than one hundred. The targeting of one of the most sensitive and highly guarded buildings understandably sent shock waves not only in Karachi but also across the country.

The terrorists have been hitting since long the premises used for detention and interrogation by the investigating agencies as well as police pickets and police stations but regrettably despite that the required level of security is not ensured to guard these targets. Explosion or suicide attack anywhere causes panic but the impact and impression is severe when symbols of State and even those responsible for protection of life and properties of the citizens themselves fall victim to the planning of the terrorists. Such developments send dismaying signals to the people and there is, therefore, need to focus more attention to foil designs of the terrorists through better coordination among security agencies. This should be particularly so when some high value terrorists or militants are arrested, kept and interrogated at a particular place. Anyhow, the attacks in Karachi and several explosions in Peshawar and adjoining areas recently contradict claims of the governmental authorities that the backbone of terrorists has been broken and that they are on the run. The ease with which the terrorists plan and execute their plan of attacking even well-guarded premises in red zones of different cities speaks volumes about their capability and capacity. This, in other words, also means that the problem cannot be resolved through use of force alone and the policy-makers should reconsider their options and strategies. We would, therefore, propose that it is time to pause and think as to what is happening, why is it happening and how can we address the challenge effectively. Blind pursuit of the policy of use of force has not yielded any meaningful result so far and is unlikely to produce sustained results in future. We must analyse the situation dispassionately strictly within the framework of national interests without caring for the foreign pressure that is clearly meant at keeping the pot boiling.








Debate has been raging since 1950s whether Pakistan should have joined defence pacts with the West – Seato, Cento and bilateral agreement with the US. After Soviet forces landed in Afghanistan, what they said on the invitation of Afghan government, Pakistan jumped into the fray and joined the Afghan jihad, which many believe resulted in bringing Pakistan to the present pass. The question also arises as to why Pakistan leadership buckled under pressure when America threatened to consign Pakistan into stone-age. In hindsight, one could say that all those decisions were big blunders, as Pakistan could not achieve any of its objectives vis-à-vis integrity of the country, resolution of Kashmir dispute and a sound industrial base. It is true that at the time of independence, Pakistan had meager resources, not enough to build a strong defence force. But had the then leadership and bureaucracy used their cerebral faculties, they would have succeeded in making Pakistan self-reliant. In fact, Pakistani leadership looked outside for help and depended on the West; and it was dependency syndrome that Pakistan was coerced into joining the war on terror, which resulted in enormous and death and destruction.

Pakistan is indeed a resourceful country, but corruption, ineptness and lack of visionary leadership were the causes for bringing Pakistan on the verge of collapse. Quite a few Pakistani pseudo-intellectuals, anchorpersons, journalists and media men started saying that Pakistan is a failed state. In print media, articles are published leveling the same accusations which Indian and American leadership do. For example, they continue blaming Pakistan military and its intelligence agencies for their clandestine connection with militants and banned organizations like Lashkar-i-Taiba. In TV talk shows, one often listens to 'brilliant' analysts, panelists and anchorpersons who remind Pakistan government that it should conduct in a manner that America, European countries and India start trusting Pakistan. Instead of identifying the causes for the degeneration and supineness that have crept in society, and suggesting measures to make Pakistan economically and militarily strong, they are on a self-destruct course. They make a mockery of the term 'strategic depth' used by our political and military leadership by giving a spin or misinterpreting it as if Pakistan wants to install a government of its choice in Afghanistan. 

In 1960s also this term was used for Iran conveying an impression that in the event of enemy's attack Pakistan could withdraw to the Iranian territory to prepare for counter-attack. Anyhow, Pakistan's desire to see a friendly government in Afghanistan is logical because from King Zahir Shah to Najibullah, Pakistan's relations with Afghanistan had remained strained. Now, when Pakistan has suffered in men and treasure during Afghan jihad, and when America and India see their strategic interests in Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics sitting more than 11000 and 2000 kilometres away respectively, Pakistan has genuine concern over being surrounded by India from the East and West through its clout with Afghan government. Russia was unhappy over Pakistan's help to Afghan resistance, and secondly for having recognized the Taliban. But Pakistan never condoned the acts of the Taliban or their 'passion' for exporting Islam. Russia does not like to see the Taliban coming to power or share power in Afghanistan; which is why it has offered transit route for supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan, and also training the Afghan forces. Having that said, Russia would not like to see America firmly entrenched in Afghanistan. 

America should bear in mind India-Russia nexus, as during Cold War era India had never opposed Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. In a meeting in Dushanbe the other day, Russia's Director of Federal Security Service, Alexander Bortnikov has said: "Pakistan and Afghanistan have become 'incubators' of terrorism, and pose a threat to Russia and all constituents of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) of former Soviet republics". In 2001, India joined the New Great Game being played out in the Central Asian Region (CAR), where fierce competition for the area's vast energy resources was intensifying. Rahul Bedi, quoting military and diplomatic sources, had written in the Frontline in September 2002 that a military base was operational since May in Tajikistan in Farkhor close to the Afghan border. The Farkhor base was also being used to funnel relief assistance that India pledged to Kabul after the Taliban's ouster. Farkhor base was set up following a bilateral agreement signed during then defence minister George Fernandes' visit to the Tajik capital Dushanbe in April 2001. It was agreed that India will train Tajik defence personnel, service and retrofit their Soviet and Russian military equipment and teach its army and air force personnel English. 

Indian army had been running a 25-bed hospital at Farkhor since 2001, even before 9/11 during the civil war in Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance military commander, Ahmad Shah Masood, who was assassinated two days before 9/11 ie on 9th September 2001 by two Arab suicide bombers posing as journalists, died in the above India-run hospital in Tajikistan. Through Tajikistan, India had also reportedly supplied the Northern Alliance (NA) high altitude warfare equipment; helicopter technicians from the clandestine Aviation Research Centre (ARC) operated by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), repaired the NA's Soviet-made Mi-17 and Mi-35 attack helicopters. The ARC operated a fleet of spy aircraft that provide the RAW aerial reconnaissance, communications and electronics intelligence and imagery analysis. India however says that it does not have any base as per today. Since Pakistan has given tremendous sacrifice during Afghan jihad, and played host to more than three million Afghan refugees, and in the process suffered from drug and Kalashnikov culture, Pakistan is justified in desiring that it should not have a hostile government on the western border. 

Viewed in the context that objective of a foreign policy for any country is to have cordial relations with all countries of the world especially the neighbouring countries, and to safeguard its national security, independence and sovereignty, Pakistan's foreign policy has been a dismal failure since its inception. In 1950s, the Arab countries like Egypt, Syria, Libya etc., were unhappy with Pakistan because of joining the Cento and Seato pacts, and for entering into bilateral agreement with the US. The newly independent and non-aligned nations were suspicious of our role; the socialist block considered Pakistan as their enemy and the US-led western powers thought of Pakistan no more than a pawn on their international political chessboard. America has in the past ditched Pakistan after achieving its objective. And this time it would not be different. 

Pakistan should, therefore, review its foreign policy, and enhance strategic relationship with China. Pakistani leadership should not have fears that building up trust with China would annoy America. And in the event of a war between the US and China, Pakistan could suffer because of India being strategic partner of America. When we say that there could be no war between India and Pakistan, as war between two nuclear states is not an option, then there is not a remote possibility of war between India and China or America and China.

—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.








We should not be afraid of the dark, as fewer but better lights would benefit everybody


The Argentinian poet Jorge Luis Borges once wrote In Praise of Darkness, but by then he could not see. For most of us, the dark has become something to distrust. In Britain, we have flooded the night with sodium orange: even away from towns lights shine out across the landscape and the sky, though it may be starless, is almost never the Bible-black of Dylan Thomas's imagination. How much we have lost – and how welcome the news that some councils are dimming their street lightsto save money and energy, and in doing so reducing insidious pollution. Some people will worry about the consequences – more crime and more dangerous roads – but, done properly, darkening the streets need not cause harm. Campaigners against light pollution such as the British Astronomical Association point out how badly our streets are lit at present, with inefficient systems spilling light into the sky. Fewer lights, but better ones, would benefit everybody. No one is proposing turning off lights at busy junctions, but in many places street lights should not shine all night and in some they do not need to shine at all. Villages with a token lamp or two are not safer because of them but they are uglier. The most atmospheric places in London are the darkest, such as the streets around St James's Park lit only with a few golden gas mantles. Artificial light obliterates nature: scientists have shown the harm it does to migrating birds, and to insects, and to sleeping humans. We should not be afraid of the dark.







The summit communiqué is full of good intentions but the bottom line is that China has not backed down


It is tempting to treat the G20 meeting in South Korea as the "so-what" summit. Lots of leaders had lots of talks in Seoul. But they reached precious few enforceable agreements at the end of them. So what? Yet this was less the so-what than the Sherlock Holmes summit. In the detective story, the significant thing was the fact that the dog did not bark in the night.


By the same token, the big story from Seoul is that there was no big story. If there had been, as in many ways there should have been, that story would have been that the United States had successfully forced the Chinese and Germans to stimulate their domestic economies and compelled the Chinese to revalue the yuan upwards to help US exporters.


Yet this did not happen. The summit communiqué is full of good intentions, expressions of co-operation and agreements to make future agreements. But the bottom line is that China has not backed down. If you seek a symbolic moment when the United States ceased to command the 21st-century world and ceded its place to the Asian century, this week in Seoul was arguably that moment.


Reflexive anti-Americans will doubtless celebrate this. But they should be very careful what they wish for. The awkward truth is that in Seoul the United States was making the right arguments about the need to prevent trade imbalances getting out of control and was correct to criticise China and Germany for their big current account surpluses based on exports to the rest. A situation in which the surplus nations rely for growth on the rest of the world rather than on domestic demand, and then lend the creditor countries money to buy their exports, is a dysfunctional one. The political problem is that the US, as the principal shaper and owner of the postwar economic order, is not now in a position to win the argument from a new position of relative weakness.


The Seoul communiqué is certainly not a western surrender to Chinese or Asian interests. It contains enough for both the US and the UK to present it, from their not always convergent positions, as what George Osborne dubbed an important step in the right direction. David Cameron claimed yesterday that China is "slowly, slowly" rebalancing its economy. Yet though the leaders agreed something called the Seoul Action Plan this week, the truth is that it looks more like an inaction plan, or at best a delayed action one, than the kind of energised collective agreement that the world economy, not just the western economy, needed.


For there to have been no mention of undervalued currencies or trade imbalances would have been a real slap in the face for the US. But the words in the communiqué, which concede a commitment by China to "move toward" more market-determined exchange rates and a pledge to pursue polices "conducive to reducing excessive imbalances", fall well short of the kind of bankable assurances that America sought. Though Barack Obama can tout the G20's opposition to competitive devaluations and its commitment to drawing up "indicative guidelines" on the necessary correctives against large imbalances as US gains, these are effectively negated by the capacious Chinese get-out which allows G20 members to "take into account national or regional circumstances". So the message from Beijing to Washington is very clear: don't call us – we'll call you.


The agreement on a so-called "Seoul consensus" on restructuring the International Monetary Fund is also more apparent than real. But the sensitivity of the negotiations on this point shows just how much symbolic significance was attached to it on all sides. As a step in the process of replacing the Washington consensus of strict monetary controls and private-sector led recovery, Seoul was a big summit. But the end of a period of US dominance may mark the start of a period of national and regional indecision that makes solutions to the world's economic woes more elusive than ever.






The world's most famous political prisoner is unlikely to buckle to the Burmese junta's demands after 15 years' house arrest


There is every indication that even after keeping her confined in her mildewing, two-storey villa for 15 years, the Burmese junta still regardAung San Suu Kyi, the world's most famous political prisoner, as a potent threat. Her house arrest is due to expire today, and there were rumours yesterday that the order for her release had been signed.


Each of her previous spells of freedom have been brief since she was first detained in 1989, as she challenged restrictions which prevented her from leaving Rangoon. And there was no sign yesterday, her lawyer U Nyan Win said, that she would accept any conditions on her release. Aung San Suu Kyi is first and foremost a politician, and one who has sacrificed the best years of her life for the cause of bringing democracy back to her country. She is hardly likely to buckle to the generals' demands now.


For its part, the junta has held elections in which voters were frogmarched to the polling booths, and many others stayed away. The army's proxy party now controls 80% of the parliamentary seats, although some independents are also in. But parliament has yet to sit, a president chosen and a government formed. The transition to a nominal civilian government is incomplete. So it is an open question whether the generals would allow the daughter of Burma's independence hero to derail their best-laid plans by holding rallies. Even less would it do so for a party which is now seen to be illegal because it boycotted the election. If a cyclone which killed 138,000 people was not enough to prevent the holding of a constitutional referendum (the first stage in the process), why would one individual be allowed to disrupt things now?


The calculation, however, is not straightforward. There are geopolitics to events unfolding at the barriers to the road leading to the crumbling villa. If Aung San Suu Kyi was to be released unconditionally, one of the demands of the sanction-imposing nations would be met. With the US switching its policy towards pragmatic engagement, her release could eventually lead to the return of western investment.


This could be used by Burma to balance its overwhelming reliance on China, which uses it not only as a pot of natural gas, teak, rubies, gold, copper, and iron, but as a strategic corridor to the Indian Ocean. Some Chinese investments have been far from popular. Most of the power generated by the Myitsone dam in Kachin state will be consumed in China, and this is in a country with widespread blackouts. The generals should see Aung San Suu Kyi's release more as an opportunity than a threat, but the truth is that they are unlikely to. On past form, her freedom will be fleeting.







There are two ways to look at the parliamentary elections held Nov. 7 in Myanmar, the first such vote in that country in 20 years. The first is that the vote is a cynical exercise designed to provide a veneer of legitimacy to a corrupt and brutal regime. The other sees the ballot as the first step in a transition away from military politics to some form of popular representation.


Although the first interpretation is more accurate, the second is not complete fiction. Myanmar is changing and the challenge now is to influence that evolution to encourage a turn toward more representative government.


The last election in Myanmar was held in 1990. It was an eye-opener for the military junta that ruled the country. The National League of Democracy (NLD) won a stunning upset, but the military refused to hand over power, annulled the results and imprisoned NLD officials, including party leader Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. Ms. Suu Kyi has become a symbol of democratic aspirations in Myanmar, winning the Nobel Peace Prize, despite spending 15 of the last 21 years in prison or under house arrest.


Foreign governments have pressed for Ms. Suu Kyi's release and the holding of genuinely democratic elections in Myanmar. The government responded with increasing repression, shutting down all protest and opposition.


In recent years, however, the military recognized that it could repair its image without necessarily loosening its grip. It drafted a constitution that codified military domination of politics and then held an election with the bulk of the opposition effectively disenfranchised.


To no one's surprise, military-backed parties won last Sunday's ballot. The Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP), backed by the army, well stocked with retired generals and closely affiliated with supreme leader Gen. Than Shwe, claimed about 80 percent of the available seats. With 25 percent of seats already reserved for military appointees, the election signals virtually no change in politics in Myanmar.


That outcome was never in doubt, certainly not with the NLD boycotting the election, more than 2,000 political activists behind bars and state workers reportedly forced to back certain candidates. And the remaining members of the opposition — the National Democratic Force, the Democratic Front (Myanmar) and four other smaller parties — conceded defeat shortly after the ballot, crying foul.


Outside observers have for the most part agreed with that claim, although a truly accurate assessment is difficult because the government of Myanmar banned foreign observers. Japan, the United States, Australia, Britain and the European Union have all dismissed the ballot as neither free nor fair.


There is another perspective on the election. China, for example, applauded the vote as "peaceful and successful." Russia concurred, noting that "We see the elections as a step in the democratization of Myanmar society in accordance with the political reforms taken by the country's leadership."


Of course, both Russia and China have selfish reasons for avoiding criticism of the junta in Myanmar. Each sees support for the government as a way of maximizing influence in a very important state in an increasingly critical part of the world as well as a way of getting hands on its resources.


There is something — besides cynicism and hypocrisy — to those comments. The resort to elections, even though flawed, is a step in the direction of democratization. It is recognition of the need to at least acknowledge certain norms and embrace certain principles. Civilian rule is being codified. It is a tiny start on the seven-step road map to democratic rule.


The challenge now is to keep the process moving. That requires continuing pressure from outside. The rest of the world must not be content with a democratic charade or the facade of civilian rule. As a first step, Ms. Suu Kyi should be released from house arrest and allowed to resume political activities. Continuing restraints on her behavior must end — freedom with limits is not freedom at all. It may be time, however, for Ms. Suu Kyi to assess her role in the democracy movement and contemplate permitting other voices to rise and rival her own.


While all countries that respect democracy and human rights should demand change, the burden falls heaviest on Myanmar's neighbors and partners in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). They brought Myanmar into their group, and as a member, it must meet certain obligations and respect the group's norms.


Singly and as a group, ASEAN has been reluctant to criticize Myanmar, in principle honoring the idea of noninterference in member affairs while, in reality, avoiding the appearance of powerlessness if its demands were to be ignored.


But ASEAN should be acting for reasons of its own. First because Myanmar's continued misbehavior makes ASEAN look weak and ineffectual, unable to enforce its own principles. And second because Myanmar's behavior undermines the security of its neighbors.


After Sunday's vote, government soldiers again clashed with rebels in violence that claimed at least 10 lives and sent 18,000 civilians across the border into Thailand. Closing its eyes does not help ASEAN or its members' security. Democratic change in Myanmar will do both.








BERKELEY, Calif. — In the United States, the scent of decline is in the air. Imperial overreach, political polarization and a costly financial crisis are weighing on the economy. Some pundits now worry that America is about to succumb to the "British disease."


Doomed to slow growth, the U.S. of today, like the exhausted Britain that emerged from World War II, will be forced to curtail its international commitments. This will create space for rising powers like China, but it will also expose the world to a period of heightened geopolitical uncertainty.


In thinking about these prospects, it is important to understand the nature of the British disease. It was not simply that America and Germany grew faster than Britain after 1870. After all, it is entirely natural for late-developing countries to grow rapidly, as is true of China today. The problem was Britain's failure in the late 19th century to take its economy to the next level.


Britain was slow to move from the old industries of the first Industrial Revolution into modern sectors like electrical engineering, which impeded the adoption of mass-production methods. It also failed to adopt precision machinery that depended on electricity, which prevented it from producing machined components for use in assembling typewriters, cash registers and motor vehicles. The same story can be told about other new industries like synthetic chemicals, dyestuffs and telephony, in all of which Britain failed to establish a foothold.


The rise of new economic powers with lower costs made employment loss in old industries like textiles, iron and steel and shipbuilding inevitable. But Britain's signal failure was in not replacing these old 19th-century industries with new 20th-century successors.


Is America doomed to the same fate? Answering this question requires understanding the reasons behind Britain's lack of technological progressiveness. One popular explanation is a culture that denigrated industry and entrepreneurship. Over the long course of British modernization, the industrial classes were absorbed into the establishment. From the mid-19th century, the best minds went into politics, not business. Enterprise managers promoted from the shop floor were, it is said, second rate.


Now we supposedly see a similar problem in the U.S. In the words of David Brooks of The New York Times: "After decades of affluence, the U.S. has drifted away from the hardheaded practical mentality that built the nation's wealth in the first place. . . . America's brightest minds have been abandoning industry and technical enterprise in favor of more prestigious but less productive fields like law, finance, consulting and nonprofit activism."


In fact, this supposed explanation for British decline has not stood the test of time. There is no systematic evidence that British managers were inferior. Indeed, expanding the pool of potential managers beyond the children of a firm's founders had precisely the opposite effect. It allowed the cream to rise to the top.


In today's America, too, it is hard to find evidence of this purported problem. Silicon Valley companies do not complain of a dearth of talented managers. There is no shortage of new MBAs establishing startups or even going to work for auto companies.


A second popular explanation for British decline focuses on the educational system. Oxford and Cambridge, established long before the industrial era, produced eminent philosophers and historians, but too few scientists and engineers. It is difficult, however, to see how this argument applies to the U.S., whose universities remain world leaders, attracting graduate students in science and engineering from around the world — many of whom remain in the country.


Still others explain British decline as a function of the financial system. British banks, having grown up in the early 19th century, when industry's capital needs were modest, specialized in financing foreign trade rather than domestic investment, thereby starving industry of the capital needed to grow.


In fact, actual evidence of any such British bias in favor of foreign over domestic investment is weak. And, in any case, that history, too, is irrelevant to the U.S. today, which is on the receiving, not the sending, end of foreign investment.


A final explanation for Britain's failure to keep up makes economic policy the culprit. Britain failed to put in place an effective competition policy. In response to the collapse of demand in 1929, it erected high tariff walls. Sheltered from foreign competition, industry grew fat and lazy. After World War II, repeated shifts between Labour and Conservative governments led to stop-go policies that heightened uncertainty and created chronic financial problems.


Herein lies the most convincing explanation for British decline. The country failed to develop a coherent policy response to the financial crisis of the 1930s. Its political parties, rather than working together to address pressing economic problems, remained at each other's throats. The country turned inward. Its politics grew fractious, its policies erratic and its finances increasingly unstable.


In short, Britain's was a political, not an economic, failure. And that history, unfortunately, is all too pertinent to America's fate.


Barry Eichengreen is a professor of economics and political science at the University of California, Berkeley. © 2010 Project Syndicate








The smooth organization of state visits by two heads of state this week shows that Jakarta is capable of acting as a good host for distinguished guests, erasing doubts about the capacity of security personnel in managing the safety of Indonesia's special guests.


The two-day visit of United States President Barack Obama and the simultaneous three-day visit by Austrian President Heinz Fischer proceeded practically uninterrupted, with no security problems reported. Surely, Jakarta has experienced much in receiving heads of state from across the globe. But organizing the visits of state guests, particularly a US president, needs extra effort to guarantee safety.


But Jakartans, particularly commuters, were the ones who suffered from the extra-cautious arrangements for the state visits. Hundreds of thousands of motorists were trapped on blocked roads for hours to give way for the distinguished guests. Many Jakartans might have understood, but others grumbled that they had "sacrificed" for the state guests.


President Obama was apparently aware of the situation. "The [city] landscape has changed completely.


When I first came here in 1967, I saw people riding on becak … a bicycle rickshaw thing. Now as president, I can't even see any traffic because they block off all the streets, although my understanding is that Jakarta traffic is very tough," he said during the joint press conference with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.


Jakarta may be proud of being capable of hosting a guest of Obama's caliber. But, the authorities should not ignore complaints from those who were stuck for hours in gridlock, and must realize that the city will be busier in the coming years as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is heading towards a European Union (EU)-style community.


If ASEAN really becomes an organization like the EU, Jakarta will become its capital, just as Brussels is to the EU. This means Jakarta will have to host more representatives from ASEAN 10 member countries, with more state events expected in the city.


The question is whether Jakarta is capable if assuming this responsibility without sacrificing the interests of its residents?


The answer depends on whether the authorities – both city and central governments – can develop reliable, convenient and affordable public transportation so that urban workers do not rely so much on their cars for daily travel. Otherwise, a busier Jakarta will only cause more misery for its residents.






The 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, officially opened last night with 9,704 athletes from 45 countries eager to grab medals in 42 contested sports during the Nov. 12-27 event. Beijing's success in hosting the Olympic Games two years ago prompted the organizers to present a watery-themed opening ceremony on the Pearl River showcasing the country's traditional culture.


Guangzhou reportedly spent a whopping 122.6 billion yuan (US$17 billion) for infrastructure, venues and the Games' operations.


China's impressive overall performance at the 2008 Olympics has boosted the host country's morale in eying further success. The squad is using this year's Games as a stepping stone by deploying its young talent before defending its overall champion title in London.


China successfully topped the medal tally at the 2006 Doha Asian Games after bagging 165 gold medals, leaving its rivals far behind. The last Asian Games runner-up was South Korea, which snatched 58 golds four years ago, followed by Japan with 50. However, this year Japan is expected to be a serious contender for second place.


Big names from the top three countries include Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang, the 2004 Olympic champion; Chinese tennis ace Li Na; swimmer Park Tae-hwan of South Korea, who won seven golds in Doha, and rival Kosuke Kitajima of Japan – all of whom are likely to make headlines.


While most Asian countries are using the quadrennial event as a stepping stone for the upcoming London Olympics, Indonesia is still struggling to set its own targets in Guangzhou. Indonesian Sports Council (KONI) chairwoman Rita Subowo said the country was aiming for "a better achievement" than that of four years ago.


Finishing 22nd in Doha – after bringing home only two golds, four silver and 14 bronze medals – this year Indonesia hopes to win gold medals in weightlifting, badminton, bowling, dragon boat racing, karate, wushu and beach volleyball.


It is hard for Indonesia to climb higher in the medal tally as the country still continues to bank its hopes on a few specific sports. While experts and observers have repeatedly called on KONI and sports organizations to focus on sports offering opportunities for the most gold medals – such as swimming, track and field, shooting and gymnastics – no extra efforts have been taken.


Sporting stakeholders, including the government and society, have the responsibility to ensure an adequate supply of young talent to join the elite athletes who represent Indonesia on the international stage.


Without any unforeseen breakthroughs, increased public enthusiasm, or political will from the government, it is difficult for Indonesia to repeat its success on the regional and international levels, like it did in the 1980s and 1990s. Until then, we can only consider ourselves as participants in international sporting events, rather than contenders to be reckoned with.








Every day, the Indonesian electronic media show very sorry picture of tens of thousands of people who have moved down from the slopes of Mount Merapi to cramp into refugee camps in the cities around the volcano.


Many sneak back to their villages to feed their cattle and tend to their gardens, and then return to their refugee camps if they are lucky enough to not be hit by one of the super-heated gas clouds ejected down from the crater of the volcano.


Not infrequently, refugees returning to their home villages were not able to escape from these pyroclastic flows, known locally as wedhus gembel (Javanese for "shaggy goats"). Others, died instantly in their villages, when these pyroclastic flows (or lava or mud flows) swept down from the volcano's summit into the valleys where their villages were located.


Back in the refugee barracks, what is shown on Indonesian television are poor people depending on the generosity of fellow Indonesians and foreigners.


This reductionist picture deserves a critical debunking. First of all, most electronic media coverage is too much focused only on refugees who originate from the villages of Sleman district in the Special Territory of Yogyakarta, while actually, the volcano is located at the meeting point of four districts: one district in Yogyakarta (Sleman), and three districts in the province of Central Java: Magelang, Boyolali and Klaten.


Hence, the upland villagers of Magelang, Boyolali and Klaten also deserve similar attention as the Merapi victims living on the Sleman slopes, which are more often covered by the national media than the victims on Central Java slopes of Merapi.


Hopefully, with the strong Yogyakarta-bias, there is still enough attention to anticipate disastrous effects which may happen in the Central Java districts.


For instance, according to a resource person in Magelang, around 100 millions tons of lava have built up in Merapi's crater, in contrast to the around 30 million tons in the 1970s.


Unfortunately, heavy rain on the volcano's summit may cause a disastrous lava flow down Kali Putih, a river 5 kilometers north of Kali Krasak, the river bordering the provinces of Yogyakarta and Central Java, which is currently overflowing with lava and volcanic material. Luckily, all villagers along the Kali Putih watershed have already been evacuated by authorities and volunteers in Magelang.


Now, the second bias of the media coverage of the Merapi eruption: media workers seem to copy the authorities' tendency to blame the refugees for returning to their home villages to feed their cattle. 
This is ironic, because for decades the citizens of Yogyakarta and the towns around the volcano have drunk fresh and processed milk from cattle raised by the Merapi highlanders.


Sleman villagers alone, who raised 4,000 cattle, supplied 10,000 liters of milk daily from the Merapi mountain slopes, before the latest eruption. Most of the milk produced was sold to PT Sari Husada, a former state-owned company that produces milk from soybeans, which is now 80.8 percent owned by a Dutch company, Nutricia International BV. With processing factories in Yogyakarta and Klaten, this company has an annual production capacity of 20,000 tons, according to the 2001 Indonesian Capital Market Directory of the Jakarta-based Institute for Economic and Financial Research.


The other districts around Merapi are also milk producers. Milk from cattle raised on the slopes of Merapi in the subdistricts of Boyolali was drunk by students and staff at Satya Wacana Christian University in Salatiga, Central Java, where the writer was teaching in the 1980s.


Meanwhile, cattle raised on the slopes of Merapi in the district of Klaten, is also sold to PT Sari Husada, which has built a second processing plant in the town of Klaten, and sold on the local market. Likewise, cattle raised on the slopes of Merapi in Magelang provided fresh milk drunk by citizens of Magelang and nearby villages.


Hence, if the government indeed plans to buy up the Merapi highlanders' cattle, ranging from Rp 10 million for lactating cows to Rp 22,000 for each kilogram of meat, Nutricia International BV should assist the Merapi highlanders to revive their milk industry, and allow them controlling shares in this company.


In other words, the authorities — and the media — should refrain from only blaming refugees who care so much for their cattle, and are ready to risk their lives by playing hide-and-seek with the dangerous gas flows from the mountain, but start instead planning to revive the Merapi milk industry. Therefore, rescuing the surviving cattle and healing those with burn wounds is also strongly recommended, as pioneered by Gadjah Mada University veterinarians and an NGO called CARE (Center for Animal Rescue and Education) (Trobos, November, 2010, pp. 20-21).


Finally, after the danger is over, and the refugees are able to return to their home villages, all the lava, sand, stones, and other debris will provide building material to be mined, as has happened in the Krasak River, bordering Yogyakarta and Central Java. Kali Putih may become the new great quarry.


However, who will be the real beneficiaries of these gifts from Nature? The original Merapi villagers, or migrants from the cities, organized by the building industry? And what will be its environmental effect? These are other points to reflect on.


The writer teaches at the Religious and Cultural Studies Program of Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta.








Many policies have been proposed by the central government and the Jakarta city administration to disentangle Jakarta's chronic traffic snarls.


Vice President Boediono, after a meeting with several ministers and Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo early in September, proposed 17 policies to alleviate Jakarta's maddening traffic gridlock, including electronic road pricing (ERP), two new Transjakarta bus routes and a program to clear the Transjakarta lanes of private vehicles, development of commuter train routes in Jabodetabek, prioritization of the MRT and monorail projects and the development of the Jakarta inner-ring railroad and six new inner-city toll roads.        


The Jakarta city administration added some more policies to alleviate the traffic congestion in Jakarta, including changing traffic regulations in some congested areas (The Jakarta Post, Sept. 24, 2010), staggering office hours by zone in the five municipalities (The Jakarta Post, Nov. 3, 2010), and forming a task force to manage traffic in regular congestion hot spots (The Jakarta Post, Nov. 6, 2010).


The development and expansion of public transportation, including the MRT, monorail, Transjakarta, and commuter trains in the inner-city and suburbs of Jakarta, as recommended by Boediono, is key to reducing traffic congestion in Jakarta. Such developments should be prioritized and expedited.


Traffic management steps, including the application of ERP, the traffic law enforcement and the deployment of task forces to congestion hot spots, will support the effectiveness of mass transportation in alleviating the chronic transportation problems facing Jakarta.


The Jakarta Transportation Agency plans to apply the ERP in major thoroughfares where the three-in-one system is in place (The Jakarta Post, Sept. 23, 2010). The ERP would be an alternative when congestion levels in the restricted zone exceed a threshold. As a result efficient use of the roads and redistribution of trips spatially, temporarily and modally will follow (Albalate and Bel 2009; Goh 2002).


Jakarta needs to learn from the success of Singapore, which has implemented the ERP since April 1998. The ERP in Singapore is an upgrade of a previous congestion charge system, the Area Licensing Scheme (ALS), which was introduced in 1975.


The implementation of the ALS reduced traffic by 45 percent during peak morning rush hour and another 15 percent with the introduction of the ERP. One of the contributing factors to the success of the ERP was the strong commitment of the Singaporean authorities to develop and expand public mass transportation alternatives (Albalate and Bel 2009).


Other cities that have successfully implemented traffic congestion charging measures, including London and

Stockholm, also have reliable, accessible and affordable public transportation.


Among the policies proposed by Boediono and the Jakarta city administration, I found two policies that could be counterproductive to the development and expansion of the mass transportation system: the development of six new inner-city toll roads and staggering office hours.


Both policies could ease traffic jams in the short run, but could create more traffic congestion in the long run.

The policies will not encourage drivers to switch from their vehicles to mass transportation as their primary transportation mode. They will only undermine efforts to develop the mass transportation system in Jakarta.


Alternatively, many possible policies could be implemented in Jakarta in order to alleviate traffic congestion including introducing shuttle services, carpool matching services, telecommuting and downzoning. Instead of staggering office hours, the Jakarta city administration should encourage private and public companies to expand their shuttle services and develop carpool matching services for their employees.


Telecommuting is a way to reduce commuting by using telecommunication technologies. Employees can work outside the traditional office at remote work locations including their homes. A study in the US showed that telecommuting can reduce commuting by 10.4 percent of the labor force (Cullingworth and Caves 2009).


Downzoning is a measure to reduce development on land zoned for service, retail or commercial development. This measure is typically directed at areas along busy streets to reduce traffic congestion.


In order to support the development and expansion of mass transportation systems, Jakarta also needs to develop more multimodal transportation districts. Such districts provide a mix of land uses, an interconnected network of streets designed to encourage walking and bicycling, and appropriate densities and intensities of land uses within walking distance of transit stops (Cullingworth and Caves 2009).


Jakarta is estimated to lose US$3 billion a year because of traffic congestion. Concerted steps are needed to reduce Jakarta's traffic woes. These steps must be implemented with a strong commitment to develop and expand an integrated, reliable, accessible and affordable mass transportation system in Jakarta.


The writer is an assistant professor and coordinator of urban studies and planning at Savannah State University, US.







Although it was cut short by unfortunate circumstances relating to volcanic eruptions in Yogyakarta, President Barack Obama's visit to Indonesia left an important message about the future of Indonesia's sustainable development.


During his less than 24-hour stay in Indonesia, President Obama managed to get two of his main talking points across. The first one was about the relationship between the US and the Muslim world and the second about the economic partnership between Indonesia and the US.


The first point is purely aesthetic but ineffectual in nature. Although Indonesia is the most populous Muslim-majority country in the world, it is located far from the epicenter of the issue in Palestine and has absolutely no political influence on any Middle East peace talks.


Even the most radical Muslims living in Kandahar, Gaza, or Islamabad could care less if the West suddenly decided to send a missile to Indonesia while the radical part of Indonesian Muslims sadly would jump into a war if something were to happen to the Dome of Rock.


Obama's second point of calling for increased trade between Indonesia and the US is more relevant considering the struggle between China and the US to gain more influence over Indonesia's developing economy as reported by Noritmitsu Onishi in The New York Times on Nov. 10.


Since the failed communist coup of 1965, coupled with the local antagonistic tendencies against the Chinese minority, Indonesia has managed to keep trade with China to a minimum. However as China continues to grow economically, increased Chinese influence over Indonesia is inevitable. Apparently less than a day before Obama's visit, Beijing had agreed to pour US$6.6 billion in investment into Indonesia's infrastructure development.


Having the second-largest rain forest resources in the world, the development of land use in Indonesia will be important in the global effort against climate change. This is why scientists all over the world "facepalmed" when they saw Indonesia's asinine and ironic efforts to make more bio-fuel out of palm oil plantations by cutting down more rain forest.


The policy releases more net greenhouse gasses from deforestation and carbon release from organic rich peat lands than it saves through emissions reductions, and in the process has disastrously catapulted Indonesia to third largest CO2 emitter behind China and the US.


The US energy cap-and-trade bill might never be able to pass the US House let alone the Senate, but the Obama administration could still retain some integrity in the next IPCC climate convention if they make up for their lack of domestic progress by helping Indonesia and other developing countries carry out more sustainable economic developments.


Then all international pressure during the convention can be diverted to China, forcing them to do something about their carbon emissions. This policy would also considerably help the US fight China's growing dominance on global economy because it would limit China's influence over the strategically resource-rich region of Southeast Asia.


Sadly, neither Obama nor Yudhoyono emphasized these climate change and energy policy issues during their press conferences. This is understandable though as natural selection has never favored hindsight and people usually prefer a short-term rather than long-term solution.


Moreover, considering the heavily polarized state of American politics coupled with the growing anger and frustration channeled by the Republican Party for its own gain, domestic progress in the right direction is unlikely to happen.


Therefore the jury is out on Indonesia. The Southeast Asian country must take the initiative and come up with its own proposals for the United States. Because of the emerging global economy, no country can afford to wall off their trade and become a truly "independent" country.


There is no such thing as "resisting colonization from the West," and as for Indonesia the choice is either to work with the Western world toward a more sustainable environment and higher quality albeit more expensive infrastructure or work with emerging China for cheaper but less sustainable and lower quality development.


The writer is an Indonesian student at Boston University majoring in environmental science.






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