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Monday, January 17, 2011

EDITORIAL 17.01.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Editorial

Month january 17, edition 000731, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

For ENGLISH  EDITORIAL  http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

  1. AN AVOIDABLE TRAGEDY
  2. TO MINE OR NOT TO MINE
  3. THE SHADOW OF TERROR - BALBIR PUNJ
  4. SO, IS A SENSE OF REGRET SINKING IN? - MIHIR BHOLEY
  5. CONVERGENCE OF IDEAS NEEDED TO FIGHT MAOISTS - CP BHAMBRI

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. BUILDING ANEW
  2. ALL POLITICS IS GLOBAL
  3. THERE'S FUEL FOR THOUGHT - VIKRAM SINGH MEHTA
  4. 'SABRINA INSPIRED THE FILM'
  5. A CAUTIONARY TALE - MANJULA PADMANABHAN

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. TAKING ONE BITE AT A TIME
  2. GAG DISORDER
  3. IS SIBAL OVERPLAYING HIS CARDS? - PANKAJ VOHRA
  4. ENTERTAIN THE THOUGHT

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. PLATE PLUS
  2. CITIES OF THE NORTH
  3. PROGRESS FOR PILGRIMS
  4. WONKY POLICY WONKS - BIBEK DEBROY
  5. STANDING COMMITTEES DOWN - C.V. MADHUKAR
  6. A BEAM OF LIGHT - ARUN SHARMA
  7. THE BEIRUT OF DREAM AND NIGHTMARE - ALIA ALLANA
  8. HUCK FINN CAN GO TO COLLEGE - LORRIE MOORE
  9. WINNING FORMULA

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. THE LAST SUPPER
  2. BREWING IT RIGHT
  3. 5% MARKET SHARE, 100% IMPACT! - RISHI RAJ
  4. MORE URBAN THAN YOU THINK - AMITENDU PALIT
  5. EAVESDROPPER
  6. WARMEST, WETTEST

THE HINDU

  1. ISSUES OF PILGRIM SAFETY
  2. THE CHANGING FACE OF LA NINA
  3. AWAMI LEAGUE: RISING TO THE CHALLENGE  - HAROON HABIB
  4. RABINDRANATH TAGORE'S VISION OF INDIA AND CHINA  - NIRUPAMA RAO
  5. ISRAELI DESERT COMPLEX CRUCIAL TO UNDERMINING IRAN'S NUCLEAR ASCENT
  6. SERBIA LOOKS TO IMPROVING IMAGE WITH PEACEKEEPING - SLOBODAN LEKIC
  7. DISTURBING TRENDS ON FOOD FRONT: MEDIA WATCH

DNA

  1. A NEED TO CLOSELY GUARD OUR GUARDIANS
  2. FIX SYSTEMS TO END 'HOLY PLACE' TRAGEDIES
  3. FROM 'THANK YOU' TO DHANYAWAD
  4. THE COMPELLING NATURE OF THAT PHONE CALL - V RAGHUNATHAN
  5. FAILURE WRIT LARGE IN AMERICA'S ONGOING OUTREACH TO PAKISTAN  - HARSH V PANT
THE KASMIR TIMES
  1. ROAD TO NOWHERE
  2. ANTI-ENCROACHMENT DRIVES
  3. POWER OF GREED - POONAM I. KAUSHISH
  4. A GUILTY PM..! - BY ROBERT CLEMENTS

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. THINK A LITTLE, CHANGE A LOT
  2. URBAN PLANNING IN INDIAN CITIES REDEFINING HERITAGE - BY MOHAMMAD SALEEM BEG
  3. THE SHAM OF WAR ON TERROR - BY K.N. PANDITA
  4. WILL INCREASE IN PRICE OF GOLD SUSTAIN? - BY DR BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
  5. SCIENCE EXHIBITIONS KINDLE IMAGINATION

THE TRIBUNE

  1. UNPLANNED URBANIZATION
  2. A HISTORIC "NON-EVENT"
  3. SPOTTED RECORD
  4. ENSURING FOOD SECURITY - BY JAYSHREE SENGUPTA
  5. THE SPIRIT OF FREEDOM - BY B.K. KARKRA
  6. ARMY NEEDS A CHANGED PERSPECTIVE
  7. THE CHALLENGES

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. CLUELESS IN SOUTH BLOCK

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. GST'S SHIFTING DEADLINES
  2. PAKISTAN'S PRIORITY
  3. MAMATA'S MOMENT - SANJAYA BARU
  4. THE EAST ASIAN KABUKI - NITIN PAI
  5. FIRST-WORLD DEBT CRISIS? - A V RAJWADE
  6. GIVE INPUT SOME CREDIT, PLEASE - SUKUMAR MUKHOPADHYAY

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. BE BOLD AT THE TOP
  2. INDIGO FLIES HIGH
  3. GETTING BRAINY IN NORTH KOREA
  4. OUTCOMING: OUTSOURCING REINCARNATED
  5. 'FTA WILL BE A WIN-WIN DEAL'  - ISHANIDUTTAGUPTA
  6. TIME FOR A REALITY CHECK  - MYTHILI BHUSNURMATH
  7. CONCEPTS PUT INTO PRACTICE  - K VIJAYARAGHAVAN

BUSINESS LINE

  1. STRIKING THE RIGHT FISCAL BALANCE
  2. MEASURING HAPPINESS
  3. DEBABRATA DAS
  4. DISMAL STATE OF INDIAN SCIENCE  - ASHOAK UPADHYAY
  5. WAYS AND MEANS OF LANDING A JOB - C. GOPINATH
  6. YES, YOU CAN, RAHUL GANDHI! - B.S. RAGHAVAN
  7. OF BERTHS & BLESSINGS - BL DIARY.

DECCAN CHRONICLE

  1. COLOUR BLIND TERROR DOES NOT JUSTIFY KILLING - BY SIDHARTH BHATIA
  2. LAW OF CONSTRUCTION  - BY JAYANTHI NATARAJAN
  3. ACT SWIFTLY, FIRMLY TO PROTECT THE POOR  
  4. CONFUCIAN IMPRINT - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
  5. SUFI'S LIGHT ON DIVINITY - BY SADIA DEHLVI
  6. ELEPHANTS, MICE AND JUNGLE RAJ

THE STATESMAN

  1. POTATO MELA
  2. 'COLLATERAL DAMAGE'
  3. THE WORM TURNS
  4. PRICE OF JIHADI ~ I - VINOD SAIGHAL

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. CRISIS TAX
  2. DARK REALITIES
  3. SWEET SURRENDER  - CHANDRASHEKHAR DASGUPTA
  4. WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?  - GWYNNE DYER

DECCAN HERALD

  1. CRITICAL DENSITY
  2. STICKY WAGES
  3. TOLERANCE FOR FICTION - M J AKBAR
  4. LIKE POLES REPEL  - BY D V GURUPRASAD
  5. HEZBOLLAH IN A CATCH-22 SITUATION - BY ANTHONY SHADID , NYT

OHERALDO

  1. STOP PASSING THE PARCEL
  2. BHARAT RATNA FOR SACHIN? - SAEESH KAKODKAR

THE SENTINEL

  1. SCHOOL INNOVATION  
  2. A SYSTEM FAILURE    - BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
  3. THE EVIL OF CORRUPTION IN INDIA  
  4. GOVERNANCE IN THE 21ST CENTURY   - HN DAS
  5. WHERE TO DRAW THE LINE?   - GEETIMA DAS KRISHNA
  6. ANOTHER NEW YEAR   - DR JYOTSNA BHATTACHARJEE

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. PEOPLE POWER IN TUNISIA
  2. REALITY CHECK: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH - BY JEFF BARAK 
  3. JEWISH IDEAS LATELY: THE HAMAS-FATAH TWO-STEP - BY ELLIOT JAGER 
  4. THE HIGHS AND LOWS IN THE RAOUL WALLENBERG MYSTERY  - BY STAS HOLONDAK 
  5. THE TRUE NARRATIVE - BY JEREMY RUDEN 
  6. SPAIN, JEWS AND ISRAEL: 25 YEARS AFTER FORMAL RELATIONS  - BY DANIEL S. MARIASCHIN 

HAARETZ

  1. DICTATORS AREN'T FOREVER
  2. MISSING ABU MAZEN  - BY AKIVA ELDAR
  3. WHO'S AFRAID OF TUNISIA?  - BY MERAV MICHAELI
  4. ISRAEL HAS ALREADY STRUCK  - BY YOSSI MELMAN

USA TODAY

  1. OUR VIEW ON HEALTH LAW: CALLING IT A 'JOB KILLER' DOESN'T MAKE IT SO
  2. OPPOSING VIEW ON HEALTH LAW: HIGH LABOR COSTS = FEWER JOBS - BY JOHN C. GOODMAN
  3. MLK WAS A RELIGIOUS VISIONARY, TOO - BY EBOO PATEL
  4. WHERE ARE ADULTS IN DEBT CEILING TALKS? - BY JOSEPH BOTTUM
  5. DON'T BLAME THE PARENTS OF JARED LOUGHNER - BY PETE EARLEY

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. ILLINOIS WAKES UP
  2. ARIZONA, IN THE CLASSROOM
  3. 'A JOY TO BE FREE'
  4. THEY COULD BE SUBTLER
  5. SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE - BY ROSS DOUTHAT
  6. AN ASSASSINATION'S LONG SHADOW - BY ADAM HOCHSCHILD
  7. THE WAR ON LOGIC - BY PAUL KRUGMAN

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. OUR TAXES, DEBT AND INTEREST
  2. RHETORIC AND COURTESY
  3. EDUCATION TAKES BACK SEAT
  4. IS THIS WHAT WE ALL WANT?

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. A TEST OF INTERNAL POLITICS: 'OUR' HIZBULLAH AND THE LEBANESE HEZBOLLAH - CENGİZ ÇANDAR
  2. TUNISIA: A MODEL TO FOLLOW? - C.CEM OĞUZ
  3. THE RATING WARS: EPISODE II - EMRE DELİVELİ
  4. ISLAMISM OR AUTOCRATIC SECULARISM: DILEMMA HITS TUNISIA TOO - ARIANA FERENTINOU
  5. VIETNAM: WHAT WAS IT ALL ABOUT? - GWYNNE DYER
  6. THE SOCIAL TRAP: A DILEMMA FOR TURKISH TOURISM - JANE AKATAY
  7. PREVENTING AUTOCRATS AND THEOCRATS IN TUNISIA - HAYRİ ABAZA AND JONATHAN SCHANZER
  8. CONSPIRACY THEORIES… - YUSUF KANLI
  9. FROM THE BOSPHORUS STRAIGHT - TURKISH WOMEN ARE THEIR OWN 'SECRET WEAPON'

THE NEWS

  1. RENTAL POWER
  2. A GREATER GAME?
  3. DAANISH SCHOOLS
  4. IS MODI INDIA'S FUTURE?  - AIJAZ ZAKA SYED
  5. ANY SMART IDEAS?  -    HUSSAIN H ZAIDI
  6. INVALUABLE ASSETS - DR A Q KHAN
  7. TASEER'S REAL KILLERS - AHMED QURAISHI
  8. THE GREAT DIVIDE - ASIF EZDI
  9. SUPPORT SYSTEMS  - CHRIS CORK

 PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. WHICH IS THE THIRD FORCE IN KARACHI?
  2. TORCHING OF NATO TANKERS
  3. TWO WEEKLY HOLIDAYS FOR ARMED FORCES
  4. BIDEN'S MISSION - AIR CDRE KHALID IQBAL (R)
  5. OBJECTIONS ON FLOGGING – A REJOINDER - ASIF HAROON RAJA
  6. A STUDY OF INDIAN TERRORISM - DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN
  7. HAND-OVER KARACHI TO THE ARMY - SAEED QURESHI
  8. HOW NORMALITY CAN VANISH IN A FLASH? - JENNY MCCARTNEY

 THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. NATIONAL RESPONSE TO THE FLOODS
  2. THE END OF A WRETCHED REGIME
  3. MINISTERS NEED STAFFERS WITH POLICY SUBSTANCE

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. OBAMA'S APPEAL FOR CIVILITY
  2. LET'S HAVE IT ALL, BARRY
  3. BIRTH OF A NATION STARTS NEW CHAPTER OF CHALLENGES FOR AFRICA

THE GUARDIAN

  1. JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES: THE MASTER AND THE DOCTOR
  2. TUNISIA'S JASMINE REVOLUTION: A FLOWER THAT COULD BE CRUSHED
  3. IN PRAISE OF … SÃO TOMÉ

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. STUDENTS FEEL HEAT OF JOBLESSNESS
  2. A NEW CULTURE OF GIVING
  3. EXPERTS WORTH LISTENING TO - BY TAKAMITSU SAWA
  4. BLASPHEMY HARDLY EQUATES TO HATE SPEECH - BY ARYEH NEIER
  5. FILM 'PEEPLI LIVE' OUTSTANDING AS A SPOTLIGHT ON SHORTCOMINGS - BY KEVIN RAFFERTY

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. REFORMS IN TUNISIA
  2. IMPEACHING A PRESIDENT
  3. INDIA'S ROLE IN INDONESIA'S REVOLUTION - AVREKHA SHARMA
  4. AN EXCITING IPO PROSPECT FOR GARUDA - CYRILLUS HARINOWO HADIWERDOYO
  5. STOPPING CORRUPTION: A SOLUTION AWAITS - TAY KEONG TAN

CHINA DAILY

  1. ZSINO-US RELATIONS
  2. INTERNET RUMORS
  3. IPR PROGRESS REMARKABLE - BY LIU CHUNTIAN (CHINA DAILY)
  4. HU'S VISIT TO READJUST US TIES - BY KENNETH LIEBERTHAL (CHINA DAILY)
  5. STICKING TO PEOPLE-FIRST PRINCIPLES

DAILY MIRROR

  1. SEEK PEACEFUL AND DIGNIFIED COEXISTENCE WITHIN AND NOT OUT
  2. THE SIMULATED POLITICS OF DIASPORA  - BY NIRMALA RAJASINGAM
  3. AMERICANS CELEBRATE ACHIEVEMENTS OF MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
  4. MOVING FORWARD WITH CAUTION
  5. DEVOLUTION IS FOR ALL SRI LANKANS

GULF DAILY NEWS

  1. SOUL-SEARCHING AFTER SHOOTING  
  2. A BEAUTIFUL GAME, BUT...   -  BY ARTHUR MACDONALD

 TEHRAN TIMES

  1. POLYGAMY IS NOT RECOMMENDED IN ISLAM: CLERIC - BY SOUDEH KARIMI

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

AN AVOIDABLE TRAGEDY

SABARIMALA STAMPEDE HIGHLIGHTS OFFICIAL APATHY


Last Friday night's ghastly tragedy near the Sabarimala shrine in which more than 100 pilgrims have died is not only saddening but also infuriating because the horrific loss of lives was entirely preventable. Had authorities bothered to learn a lesson from a similar disaster that occurred 12 years ago, so many lives would not have been laid to waste last week. On January 14, 1999, thousands of pilgrims had just witnessed the divine 'makara jyoti' when somewhere a rope snapped, the side of a hillock collapsed and someone slipped on a mound of coconuts, triggering a stampede that killed 53 pilgrims. This time, the rope and the coconuts were replaced by a jeep that ploughed into a crowd of pilgrims and caused a similar stampede. And once again, nagging questions about inadequate facilities and a complete lack of security measures for the pilgrims have cropped up. The difficult jungle path to the Ayyappan temple through Pulmedu has long been used by Sabarimala pilgrims, especially those who come to Kerala from neighbouring States such as Tamil Nadu, as an alternative to the traditional but heavily crowded routes. In recent years the number of pilgrims using the alternative route has increased significantly but the Government of Kerala has failed to provide facilities on the forest track or step up its security arrangements. In fact, the entire area has no electricity, no communications system and no water supply. There are also no camping facilities and barely any police presence. Worse, no ban is imposed on vehicles using the same route, although there is no space for them and they pose a danger to the milling pilgrims. In typical Indian fashion, authorities have been prompt in passing the buck to disown responsibility for Friday night's tragedy — the Government of Kerala, for instance, has strangely blamed the Union Government as the place is part of the Periyar Tiger Reserve. The local administration, lest it be held accountable, has said that the hilly terrain and the forests that surround the temple make it difficult to provide any facilities, which really is just a sorry excuse for bad governance.


The Sabarimala stampede is not a one-off tragedy. In the past nine years, 900 pilgrims have died in similar incidents at other shrines and ashrams. On March 4, 2010, at least 63 people died when a gate collapsed at Kripalu Maharaj's ashram at Pratapgarh in Uttar Pradesh, while on September 30, 2008, a rumour about a blast resulted in a stampede that killed more than 200 devotees at Chamunda Devi temple in Jodhpur. From Naina Devi temple in Himachal Pradesh to the Jagannath temple in Odisha, we have witnessed equally ghastly yet avoidable deaths. Yet, it need not be so. The management of the Vaishno Devi and Tirupati temples provides an excellent example of crowd control and how not to let circumstances overwhelm authorities. The solution does not lie in knee-jerk reactions but in long-term measures that are specific to the terrain and the number of pilgrims. It would be absurd to suggest a one-size-fits-all solution; that would not work in India where each shrine has its unique problems. What State Governments should do is seek the assistance of experts, prepare a blueprint for each shrine, and ensure its implementation. Crocodile tears and compensation and for the dead are meaningless and add up to nothing.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

TO MINE OR NOT TO MINE

JAIRAM HAS PROBLEMS, BUT SO DOES INDIA


The Group of Ministers constituted to tackle the controversy arising out of the Environment and Forests Ministry's policy to prevent coal mining in forested areas will need to do a delicate balancing act between environmental protection and extraction of the fossil fuel that is crucial to meet the rising demand for electricity. The desire to find a middle ground became imperative after the Coal Ministry strongly objected to Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh's no-go policy that prohibits coal mining in regions having 30 per cent gross forest cover or 10 per cent or more in weighted forest cover. Since this effectively bars mining in most areas rich in coal, it has caused outrage. There is no argument with the fact that natural resources are an asset that needs to be tapped to power economic growth; conversely, not doing so is tantamount to criminal waste. The problem, however, has been that mining activities across the country have often flouted environmental guidelines and left the people of the area out of the development loop. All of these have led to rising opposition at the grassroots level that we now witness in mineral rich States. Mr Jairam Ramesh has been sincerely trying to enforce the rule book — and create new rules to block backdoor manipulations. His activism has brought gravity and a sense of purpose to the Ministry he heads. So, it is not surprising that he has ruffled several feathers along the way. It is not just the Coal Minister who is upset with him; others like Surface Transport Minister Kamal Nath, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel and Steel Minister Virbhadra Singh are also put off by what they believe are obstacles raised by Mr Jairam Ramesh in the execution of their schemes. The GoM will have to address this perception as well, because there cannot be progress on the environmental front if the Environment Ministry is seen as an obstructionist agency.


The good thing is that the ministerial panel will help foster better communication and understanding among the key players, leading to some kind of middle ground approach. Hopefully, it will also end the public, and often bitter, battle between Mr Jairam Ramesh and his colleagues. Such tussles tend to divert attention from the core issues and degenerate into political point-scoring games. It is not that Mr Jairam Ramesh has always been dogmatic; he has been flexible whenever it has been possible, such as on the new airport project for Mumbai or the Jaitapur nuclear power plant. Significantly, the first was cleared after the Prime Minister's intervention and the second keeping in mind the thrust that the Union Government seems to be giving to nuclear power generation as a clean energy source. But nuclear power generation of any significance is still some years away in the country, and there are niggling doubts on its economic efficacy. For the moment, we have to generate power with coal.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

THE SHADOW OF TERROR

BALBIR PUNJ


Pakistan is haunted by radical Islamism whose seeds were sown by Gen Zia-ul-Haq. The poison is now slowly spreading to India


There is every indication that the assassination of Salman Taseer, Governor of the Province of Punjab province in Pakistan, by his security guard is emerging as a critical issue in the politically volatile country. Not only has the killer been praised by thousands of fanatics, among them lawyers and journalists, he has also been felicitated at a well-attended rally in Karachi. Crowds gathered to shower him with rose petals when he was produced in court.


Salman Taseer has paid with his life for publicly condemning the draconian blasphemy law of Pakistan and seeking its repeal. Several people, including a poor, illiterate Christian woman, Asia Bibi, have been sentenced to death under this law for alleged offence to Islam and its Prophet. Salman Taseer was in favour of pardoning Asia Bibi, whose life now hangs in balance. However, in the sweep of Taliban-inspired radical Islamism that is enveloping Pakistan, such a pardon would itself be construed by fanatics as blasphemy.


A recent report in Time explains the huge significance of Salman Taseer's killing. "The manner of his murder reveals a truth that many Muslims still deny: This is not a clash of civilisations between Islam and the West but an internal conflict between moderates who advocate inclusiveness and extremists who preach hatred," says the report, adding "For Pakistan, that struggle is titanic: The winner will determine if Islam in the country retains its soul or loses it."


Unfortunately for the world and the Indian sub-continent, the extremists in Pakistan seem to be winning. For them, the killing of Salman Taseer could not have come at a better time. The civilian Government in Pakistan, which now has a doubtful majority in the National Assembly, is tottering on the brink. The MQM, which had pulled out of the PPP Government, has agreed to extend support. But it will not join the Government. President Asif Ali Zardari is facing charges of corruption. The Pakistani Army, known for its alliance with religious fanatics to advance its sinister designs, is watching from the margins: There have been reports of Rawalpindi planning to take charge of Pakistan's affairs.


There was a time when the military in Pakistan was considered a bulwark against extremism. It is no longer so. During his dictatorship, General Zia-ul-Haq launched an Islamisation programme, as part of which he promoted madarsas. Mullahs at the helm of these madarsas have been poisoning young minds with hatred towards other faiths as well as Muslim sects. Significantly, this internalising of hatred has now begun to haunt Pakistan as the lower ranks of the Army are recruits from these madarsas.


General Pervez Musharraf during his regime sought to contain these fanatics. At the behest of the US, he tried to get these madarsas registered and force them to adopt a modern curriculum. But this made him unpopular among the mullahs. He even dared to take on the Taliban-inspired radicals when they resorted to violence. The siege of Lal Masjid in Islamabad is a case in point. However, towards the end of his rule, he found the Army's support to him waning.


After the PPP formed a Government following the early-2008 election, the Army launched an operation to curb the Taliban in northern Waziristan — more to please the Americans rather than neutralise the extremists. Now that this operation has come to a halt, the US and Nato troops in Afghanistan have been left entirely on their own, trying to do their best by resorting to drone attacks on Taliban targets. These drone attacks have made the US even more unpopular.


The Obama Administration has been pleading with the Pakistani Army to drop its 'India is our sole enemy' position but a defiant General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has openly refused to accept the US's advice. What is unfortunate is that the Obama Administration is aware of Pakistan's arm-twisting tactics but has failed to find a way out of the situation. The US must realise that no matter how much money it gives as aid, the Pakistani establishment will not end its dangerous alliance with jihadis. At best, it may occasionally partake in some token gestures of cooperation with the US.

 

A PTI report filed from Karachi soon after Salman Taseer's killing has highlighted the growing strength of religious fanaticism in Pakistan. The report says, "Shouting anti-Government slogans, thousands of people marched here in Pakistan's financial capital to oppose any amendments in the controversial blasphemy law and praised the man charged with killing Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who dubbed it as 'black law'." Further, the Imam of Sultan Masjid, one of Karachi's prominent mosques, has declared former Minister Sherry Rehman "wajib-ul-qatl" (fit to be killed) because she has also demanded amendments in the blasphemy law and tabled a Bill in the National Assembly towards this end. According to the report, the Pakistani Government is looking for a cleric who has issued the death threat.


In the post-Zia years, 32 people charged or convicted under the blasphemy law have been murdered, among them those set free by the courts. The level of intolerance is so high now in the country Mohammed Ali Jinnah forged that Muslim sects other than Sunnis feel the heat of fanatics. The bombing of Shia and Ahmadiya mosques and their rallies have become routine.


For this slide into extremism that is devoid of all rationale, many analysts blame the madarsa culture. Investigative reports by Western journalists, who get easy access to Pakistan, reveal that madarsas have infused thousands of poor illiterate Pakistani youth with blind fanaticism. As an incentive, their families are supported by terrorist organisations like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. The ummah has come to dominate the Pakistani identity and nation.


What should cause concern in India is that we too are witnessing intolerance being preached by many madarsas. This is most evident in the Kashmir Valley, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and some other States. Despite the Students Islamic Movement of India being banned for its activities, other extremist outfits have sprung forth: For instance, the Indian Mujahideen and the Popular Front.


It would be in order to say that the appeasement policy of the UPA and the vote-bank politics of the Congress have fanned this phenomenon. When ruling parties like the Congress play second fiddle to radical Islamism, it gets a huge leg-up and the security threat to the country magnifies enormously.

 

(punjbk@gmail.com)

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THE PIONEER

OPED

SO, IS A SENSE OF REGRET SINKING IN?

MIHIR BHOLEY


Besieged and under attack from Taliban-inspired radical Islamists, the state of Pakistan is on the verge of imploding. Muslims are no longer secure in the homeland for the sub-continent's Muslims that Jinnah extracted in 1947


Reacting to the killing of Salman Taseer, a peeved Pakistani reader Aasma Farhad wrote in Dawn that the founder of Pakistan Mohammed Ali Jinnah must have been turning in his grave learning that it is safer to be a modern and enlightened Muslim citizen in India today, than in Pakistan. The comment could be interpreted in two ways: As the genuine frustration of a helpless Pakistani citizen or as an unintended tribute paid to India's democracy and liberal social ethos. But in either case, it sends out a clear message that to an average Pakistani the land of kafirs (read Hindus) now seems a more secure place for Muslims as compared to their utopian 'land of the pure' — Pakistan.


Surely, the message of peace and love of Islamic brotherhood is lost in Pakistan and better preserved and nurtured in predominantly Hindu, yet secular, India. But how long will Indians be able to confidently repudiate the 'two-nation' theory of Mohammed Ali Jinnah as an ill-conceived notion eventually responsible for the rise of radical Islam in the Indian sub-continent is not certain. The kind of secular credentials that the political class in India is trying to present for obvious competitive political advantage may soon disappoint Pakistani citizens like Aasma and surely leave many Indian Muslims totally disenchanted.


Mr Rajmohan Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and a social thinker of high intellectual calibre, remarked recently, while giving a lecture on 'India as a World Power: Potential and Realities', that Islam had not been the cause of major conflicts in the world. No sensible person can controvert what Mr Gandhi believes. Sure, it will be rather imprudent to blame a particular religion for all global and regional strifes because such conflicts are the outcome of muddled political, economic, social and cultural complexities. Therefore, creating a global stereotype of mistrust and hatred for Islam will be counter-productive. Nevertheless, can the process of negative stereotyping be prevented in the wake of such violent incidents followed by widespread social support to religious fanatics and comparatively feeble voices of condemnation? This is a question the civil society of Pakistan and India have to seriously ponder upon.


But what is strange is that instead of waking up to the grave reality in Pakistan a section of India's political class is busy obfuscating the national mindset with the idea of 'saffron terror', which is nothing more than an illusory devil parallel to the terror outfits of the radical Islamic tanzeems. Are they trying to vindicate the cult of violence adopted by such fanatics, who hope to teach kafir India a lesson for its so-called ill-treatment of fellow Muslims? Thanks to our self-proclaimed secular breed, Pakistan has put India into a diplomatic tight spot by asking for details of the Samjhauta Express blast. The secular breed has branded it as the handiwork of the hitherto unheard of 'saffron terror'. What is not clear is their intention: Are they trying to win some cheap brownie points from across the border or strengthen India's secular image?


There is no doubt that Indian secularism of late has become synonymous with majority bashing. Such a communal portrayal of an act of crime, which is yet to be ascertained conclusively under the due process of law, has come as a shot in the arm of fundamentalists. If such unfounded hasty stereotyping of the majority population becomes part of the national politics, it will be difficult for India to convince the world that the Union Government does not oppress Muslims in Kashmir Valley. Sure, fishing in troubled waters may yield political mileage to some but it will be disastrous for our national interest and international image.

Jinnah's insistence on the partition of India based on the 'two-nation theory' by default implied that the remaining part of India is a 'Hindu' India. However, our policy-makers included the term 'secular' in the Preamble of the Constitution by the 42nd Amendment in 1976 and our democracy gladly accepted it. In sharp contrast, Pakistan, under General Zia-ul-Haq, announced in 1978 that Pakistani law would be based on Nizam-e-Mustafa and thus the process of Islamisation of Pakistan was set into motion. Gen Zia apparently was trying to reinvent the identity of Pakistani Muslims as against Indian Muslims. He believed the Indian version of Islam had evolved under the moderate social ethos of a predominantly Hindu society. His deliberate attempt to implant the Arabian version of Islam in Pakistan has subsequently influenced a cross-section of the society to sympathise with radical Islam, which is a threat to both India and Pakistan.


Secularism is fundamental to modern democracy. But how long can it survive in India if bigotry of the extreme kind flourishes in neighbouring Pakistan and short-sighted opportunism becomes the political culture back home? Secularists crying foul over unfounded allegations of 'saffron terror' in India prefer to remain silent over the brutal killing of a secular person across the border who dared to oppose the heinous blasphemy law. None of them has raised the issue that in a globalised world, secularism has to be a world order and not an exception. The so-called secularists must understand that secularism needs to maintain a delicate balance between the majority and minority sentiments in a religiously diverse society.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

CONVERGENCE OF IDEAS NEEDED TO FIGHT MAOISTS

FIGHT AGAINST MAOISM CAN BE WON IF THE UNION AND STATE GOVERNMENTS WORK IN TANDEM WITH UNDILUTED FOCUS ON DEVELOPMENT OF TRIBALS, SAYS CP BHAMBRI


Since May 2009 Minister for Home Affairs P Chidambaram has been unequivocally stating that Maoism is the greatest internal security threat to the country. In a recent statement, he has observed, "The conflict with Maoist groups escalated and remained the biggest headache for security forces in the year gone by". He has substantiated his observation with facts: A total of 713 civilians were killed by Maoist groups in 2010, as compared to 591 in 2009. While Maoists had only 171 casualties, security forces lost 285 personnel in 2010, a tad less than 317 killed in 2009. It clearly shows that Maoist groups enjoyed an upper hand while security forces struggled to contain violence. Hence, the question is how the Union Government and State Governments witnessing Maoist insurgency should respond to the challenge. Do the political and bureaucratic executives of the Union and State Governments have any consensus on responses to the threat posed by Maoists?


While addressing the Central Reserve Police Forces or Indian Police officials, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Minister for Finance Pranab Mukherjee and Mr Chidambaram have often asked them to deal with Maoist extremism 'firmly and resolutely'. If this is the strategy of the Union Government, then it has to take along the State Governments with it because fighting against Maoist insurgency is a joint responsibility of the Union Government and the States. However, Mr Chidambaram has created a rift between the Union Government and the West Bengal Government by shooting a letter to Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in December last year, criticising the 'alarming law and order situation' in the State. He accused the armed cadres of CPI(M), 'Harmad Vahini', of spreading violence, especially against political opponents. Mr Bhattacharjee repudiated the charge calling Mr Chidambaram's assessment of the situation as "surprising" and "far from impartial". It is common knowledge that the West Bengal Government is fighting against Maoists with great determination.

However, it has accused Congress's alliance partner Trinamool Congress of aligning with Maoist groups to gain political mileage before the forthcoming Assembly election. But the Union Government has looked the other way. How can any State Government fight against Maoists without undiluted support from the Union Government?

The UPA2 Government is not at odds only with the West Bengal Government when it comes to dealing with Maoism. Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader Shibu Soren and Chief Minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar also are not in line with the Union Government's strategy. Mr Nitish Kumar has maintained that Maoism has social roots and it cannot be treated solely as a 'law and order' problem. On the other hand, the JMM has allegedly taken the support of Maoist activists during the Jharkhand State Assembly election as a quid pro quo arrangement because Maoists wanted protection from paramilitary forces. The only upshot is that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Cabinet colleagues seem to have finally realised that Maoism is not just a 'law and order' issue but has its roots in the society. They have acknowledged that gun-wielding Maoists have been successful in establishing bases in nine States of India because gut-wrenching poverty in tribal areas has created serious discontent among locals. The Prime Minister, while addressing the IPS probations on December 25, 2010, said, "You must have the sensitivity to recognise the social and economic roots of disaffection among tribal societies where Maoism has become a major force to reckon with." Mr Mukherjee on December 29 has stated that armed operations against Maoists "must be dovetailed with development" as people have been "denied their legitimate demands" and "deprived of their rights".


Accordingly, the UPA2 Government has sanctioned Rs 13,000 crore for special development of 60 Maoist-affected districts in Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. This is a follow-up of the Planning Commission's Integrated Action Plan for Maoist-hit districts. The emphasis of this special development programme will be on health, education, drinking water and roads. The criteria for the identification of special schemes for these 60 districts are: It should have 25 per cent of tribal population. At least 50 per cent of the local population should be living 'below the poverty line'. And security-related considerations should be kept in mind while identifying the nature of services needed for these districts.

Besides, both the Union Government and State Governments have launched other special schemes and earmarked special funds for backward regions.


Taking into account leakages of welfare funds during the implementation process, the Union Government has decided to form an Implementation Committee consisting of District Collector, Superintendent of Police and Forest Development Officer. That the committee will be held solely responsible for the implementation of such programmes is a welcome move but local tribal people must be involved in the implementation of programmes meant for their welfare.


Having said that, the real bottlenecks in policy planning have been the inconsistency in the Union Government's approach to Maoist insurgency and the clash of perspectives between the Union Government and the States.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

BUILDING ANEW

 

Managing urban development to keep pace with internal migration is a major challenge for India. As more people shift from agriculture to industry and services, cities are faced with a massive influx of migrants. Given limited capacities, urban infrastructure is bursting at the seams. World Bank projections show urban centres accounting for 40% of India's population by 2030 and crossing 50% by 2040-45. Given our traditional lacklustre attitude towards urban development - thanks to a political bias in favour of rural India - our cities are looking at bleak futures unless we tackle the issue now.


It is in this backdrop that the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) project to build new futuristic cities assumes significance. Expansion of existing urban metropolises is insufficient to deal with demand. By 2020, there will be a shortfall of 30 million urban dwelling units, 200 million water connections and 160 GW of power. In many cases, such as Delhi and Kolkata, expansion is simply not possible due to constraints on land. Short of Baron Haussmann's forcible renovation of Paris in the 19th century to decongest the French capital, building new cities from scratch is the best way to quickly create urban infrastructure.


Based on model urban cities such as Suzhou in China and Songdo in South Korea, the DMIC project envisages a total of 24 'smart cities' spanning six states. On completion, they will boast of state-of-the-art infrastructure with centrally integrated civic services such as water, power and sewage disposal. The lesson from the Delhi experience is that a multiplicity of authorities only leads to confusion in urban development. A central body that oversees all services will be far more efficient in coordinating public works and repair. An integrated, accessible public transport system is the foundation of smart cities and a much-needed antidote to the chaos that the burgeoning number of private vehicles is creating in urban India. This entails creating multiple transportation options that smoothly feed into each other. Energy efficiency and clean technology must be the watchwords.

All of these will only be possible if there is sufficient devolution of power in favour of strong city governments. Whether it is New York, London or Tokyo, great cities have empowered local councils to manage affairs of development. Mumbai is a classic example of a city where infrastructure woes are directly linked to the absence of an effective local government besides negligence of state authorities. New cities must be provided with strong mayoral institutions to avoid a similar fate. For inclusive growth, we need new cities not just along the DMIC corridor but in the rest of the country as well.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

ALL POLITICS IS GLOBAL

 

Indian meteorological data chimes with US statistics, but the consensus signals the magnitude of a 21st century problem which the international system, devised in Europe and in the last century, is unable to manage. The problem is global warming. Lest anyone doubt it or argue it ceased in 2005, here are the facts. In 2010, the earth's temperature was higher by 0.62 degrees Celsius on the 20th century average making 2010, along with 2005, the hottest years since US records began in 1880. Last year was also the warmest in India since our records began in 1901. Nor was last year an aberration. 2010 actually confirms global warming because it was the 34th consecutive year with temperatures above the 20th century global average. One effect is the diminishing of the Arctic sea ice cover. It is at its third smallest since records began in 1979. Another effect is freak weather conditions across the globe.


Clearly, global warming is a clear and present danger. The effects are unfairly borne by the developing world because the problem originated in the industrialised north. The principle of common but differentiated responsibility, the cornerstone of the Kyoto Protocol, reflects historical reality. However, implementing the principle is near impossible in a world defined by states, which militate against a sense of global responsibility. India demonstrated a sense of it by changing policy on binding CO2 cuts in Cancun. But given the snail's pace and piecemeal nature of such expressions - China, for example, is unwilling to make similar concessions - what is needed is a reformulation of today's international political system so that countries don't merely serve the national interest at the expense of the collective, global interest.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

THERE'S FUEL FOR THOUGHT

The new year offers a peg for reflection and prognosis. With crude oil prices hovering at over $90 per barrel and mounting concerns that this might cross over into triple digits, the existing and emergent contours of the international petroleum market are an apt subject for contemplation. More so, given the impact in India, as seen in Saturday's petrol price hike. What significant developments have impacted the global market over the past year? How might they influence future trends? What factors have reasserted themselves as the underlying and unchanging determinants of the petroleum landscape?


Four developments in 2010 stand out for their impact on the petroleum market. The least conspicuous but arguably the most important is the shift in the centre of gravity of hydrocarbon consumption from the West to the East. This is a shift that has been underway for several years but it is only over the past year that it has been brought into sharp relief. The demand for oil and gas in China increased by an astonishing 12.5% during 2010. It now accounts for one-third of Asia's total oil demand of 27.3 mbd. India and the Middle East have also shown upward growth. In contrast, demand in the US has stagnated and in Europe it has declined by 7% between 2007 and 2010.


The consequence of this shift is a reorientation in trade relations and also in the dynamics of the strategic dialogue between producer and consumer countries. Historically, the Middle East producers have anchored their economic relations around the West. Now Asia looks like becoming their centrepiece. This is a trend that the second major development - the "shale gale" - may well reinforce. The confirmation of huge and competitive reserves of shale gas in the US will be transformatory not only for America but also for the entire gas industry. The US could well become a gas exporter and the economic fantasy that it might one day sell hydrocarbons to Saudi Arabia could become a geopolitical reality. Some companies have, for instance, already sought permission to convert their gas import facilities into liquefaction and export terminals.


More relevant to India, 'shale gale' will put downward pressure on the price of gas. Opportunities will arise to lock in long-term gas supplies at prices that are competitive to coal - our most abundant energy resource. It will be an economic pity (and an environmental shot in the foot) if we are not able to realise these opportunities because of inadequate gas infrastructure (regasification facilities, pipelines, etc).


The third development was the tragedy of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. It had catastrophic human, environmental and social consequences and the 'full' costs have yet to be established. It will take a long time for industry to recover its reputation, but, over and above that, the companies will now face a much tighter regulatory environment. Permits to explore will take longer to secure and the authorities will be more rigorous in their monitoring. This could slow exploration especially in harsh and logistically difficult offshore basins. Moreover, with the uncapping of the limits on consequential damage, many small and mid cap independents may find it difficult to accept the potential risk exposure. In consequence, there could be a spurt in mergers and acquisitions activity and industry consolidation.


Superimposed on these three structurally significant developments has been the ubiquitous play of the "paper trader". Oil is not just a tradeable physical commodity. It is also a fungible financial asset like stocks, bonds and currency. Billions flow in and out of this commodity at the press of a button. It is difficult to ascertain the precise impact of such speculative flows on prices but there is little doubt that it is a major contributor to price volatility. Wall Street is a "non-fundamental" reality of the international oil market.

Paradoxically, these four developments have brought into sharp relief three enduring fundamentals. First, the dominance of OPEC and, within it, the pivotal position of Saudi Arabia. OPEC accounts for 40% of total oil production but its decisions continue to determine the real and psychological underpinnings of the market. Second, the strength of the national oil companies. They own 80% of the world's hydrocarbon reserves. A rank ordering of the top 20 companies by reserves would show that the top 15 positions are occupied by state-owned companies like ARAMCO (Saudi Arabia), GAZPROM ( Russia), ADNOC (Abu Dhabi), etc. The last 4-5 slots would be held by publicly listed private companies (Exxon-Mobil, Shell, Chevron, etc).


And, finally, the inherent logic of economics 101. Notwithstanding the twists and turns in the landscape, the direction of prices is ultimately set by the interplay of demand and supply. If prices are over $90 today, it is only partly due to the speculative play of the paper trader. The dominant reason is the strength of demand in Asia. If tomorrow prices start to trend downwards it will be related to the supply overhang. OPEC has 5-6 mbd of surplus capacity and companies have overflowing inventories. Hydrocarbon security will depend ultimately on the forging of strong relations with resource-rich countries and their state companies and on demand management, conservation and efficiency of energy usage.


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

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

Q&A

'SABRINA INSPIRED THE FILM'

 

You were inspired by a headline in Times of India?

The title was inspired by the headline 'No one killed Jessica'. The irony of the headline drew me to the film. The film itself is inspired by somebody who battled against all odds and then the media and the civil society joined in that battle. That is the crux of the film.


The film goes into real headline space. Do you fear a backlash since real-life stories almost invariably spell trouble for their makers?

 

Honestly, no. Although the film is topical, the idea wasn't to accuse anybody or pass any judgment on anybody because that is the job of the judiciary. This is a positive film and it seeks to celebrate the coming together of civil society in the quest for justice. In such a positive space where is the question of being afraid of any negativity because i am not out to hurt anybody.



Why do you risk shooting in crowded gullies and localities?


In the film world we often say, 'a room is a room is a room' meaning whatever you do it is very difficult to use indoor locations or studios to create 'life'. Places, roads, cities, they bring the film alive, give it a lifelike quality, make the film breathe and even the audience feels that the film has a certain believable quality.

What made you choose Vidya Balan and Rani Mukherjee for the two parts?


Vidya is always an automatic choice for anybody for sublime and difficult acting parts. I couldn't see anybody else playing Sabrina in the film. Vidya is probably the only one who has that sort of an emotional range and then she accordingly dresses up or down to suit the part. Rani was also a conscious choice because i wanted somebody who was a natural performer but at the same time could bring an attitude to the part - an attitude which goes with the cut-throat world of TV journalism. I didn't have any other options in mind. I dread to think of what would have happened if either of them had said no to the film.


What was the real Sabrina's contribution to your film?


The protagonists in my film are an ordinary service industry girl and a journalist. Sabrina inspired the film. Her admirable courage and her poise, her lack of negativity - she didn't have any resentment against anyone and said people are only human. The film is not her version of things. I wanted to have my own point of view but the film was born out of our admiration for her courage. It is a celebration of a great act by civil society and all the good that also exists in terms of institutions and individuals in our country.


The songs and trailers with their expletives have grabbed attention. Was that done deliberately, perhaps to get the audience interested?


No it wasn't. Rani's character has a peculiar attitude, it is a contemporary, no-holds-barred attitude. Expletives are used by people in an emotionally charged situation. It is no big deal and people know that so i don't think they are merely impressed by that. They must be sensing that there is something interesting and important in the film and that is catching their attention.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        THE TIMES OF INDIA

 

A CAUTIONARY TALE

Science fiction often provides fresh insights into real-world problems. But it doesn't always succeed. For instance, some nights ago i came close to throwing up while watching the movie District 9. A huge spacecraft appears out of nowhere and comes to a halt above Johannesburg, South Africa. Nothing happens for months. When human teams finally cut their way into the ship, they discover that it apparently ran out of fuel with over a million passengers on board. Prompt action must be taken to prevent them from dying of malnutrition.

So they're settled in a vast "temporary" encampment named District 9. Twenty years later, residents of the city are rioting in the streets against the continued presence of the aliens and their vast, filthy, crime-ridden shanty town. The creatures, derisively nicknamed "prawns", look like seven-foot-tall bipedal cockroaches, talk in guttural clicks and eat raw animal carcasses. The movie was hailed as a disturbing morality tale with a deeply humanist message at its heart. But i thought it was completely offensive to even begin drawing parallels between the hideously unattractive prawns and real-world slum-dwellers.


In the film, a private military concern called Multinational United (MNU) is hired to evacuate the aliens by force to a distant concentration camp. Heading the operation is a pleasant-faced young man called Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley). He's a caricature of the unselfconscious racist as he carries out brutal evictions with a cheery smile and a form to sign. But then - yucko! He accidentally gets sprayed with a chemical that will gradually turn him into one of Them.


Before you can say "prawn cocktail", MNU agents have captured Wikus and hauled him off to a medical facility where they can extract his DNA. Why? Because prawns have highly advanced weapons that can only be used by someone with prawn-DNA. Now that he's turning into a hybrid, Wikus can operate the weapons. But oh dear! He refuses to cooperate. Why? Because the lab researchers start sawing him up without painkillers instead of taking a simple mouth-swab. Naturally, Wikus runs to the prawns for help. We notice for the first time that they have the most beautiful golden-amber eyes. This makes all the difference, right? Anything with pretty eyes must, by law, be worthy of our respect. Plus, we're expected to believe that a spaceship the size of Gurgaon will continue hovering a mile up in the air, in power-off mode, for 20 years. When it comes back online, it reaches total functionality instantly.


Excuse me? Even my idiotic cellphone takes two full seconds to light up. Surely a vehicle capable of housing one million individuals would take at the very least one whole day? Besides which, any life form smart enough to create such advanced technology would either remember to bring along enough fuel to last the journey or avoid parking near our planet.


Because we are a species which discriminates against itself on the basis of the most trivial differences. A slight variation of caste or colour or creed is enough to set us off torching villages and slicing throats. According to UNHCR statistics, in 2009, the year in which the movie was made, the world had some 10.4 million refugees. The majority of these people were displaced as a result of ethnic violence and endemic war. Against this background, what chance is there that any country on earth would agree, on compassionate grounds, to take in an entire township of new residents with wriggling mouthparts and messy eating habits? In my opinion: zero.

As one character says to a news camera in the movie, "Why should we pay for them? They're not even human!" I totally agreed with her. In fact, if i'd been part of the reception committee, my instant reaction would've been to scream very loudly while reaching for a giant slipper to throw at the monsters. After which i'd spend the rest of my life throwing up.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

A CAUTIONARY TALE

MANJULA PADMANABHAN

Science fiction often provides fresh insights into real-world problems. But it doesn't always succeed. For instance, some nights ago i came close to throwing up while watching the movie District 9. A huge spacecraft appears out of nowhere and comes to a halt above Johannesburg, South Africa. Nothing happens for months. When human teams finally cut their way into the ship, they discover that it apparently ran out of fuel with over a million passengers on board. Prompt action must be taken to prevent them from dying of malnutrition.

So they're settled in a vast "temporary" encampment named District 9. Twenty years later, residents of the city are rioting in the streets against the continued presence of the aliens and their vast, filthy, crime-ridden shanty town. The creatures, derisively nicknamed "prawns", look like seven-foot-tall bipedal cockroaches, talk in guttural clicks and eat raw animal carcasses. The movie was hailed as a disturbing morality tale with a deeply humanist message at its heart. But i thought it was completely offensive to even begin drawing parallels between the hideously unattractive prawns and real-world slum-dwellers.


In the film, a private military concern called Multinational United (MNU) is hired to evacuate the aliens by force to a distant concentration camp. Heading the operation is a pleasant-faced young man called Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley). He's a caricature of the unselfconscious racist as he carries out brutal evictions with a cheery smile and a form to sign. But then - yucko! He accidentally gets sprayed with a chemical that will gradually turn him into one of Them.


Before you can say "prawn cocktail", MNU agents have captured Wikus and hauled him off to a medical facility where they can extract his DNA. Why? Because prawns have highly advanced weapons that can only be used by someone with prawn-DNA. Now that he's turning into a hybrid, Wikus can operate the weapons. But oh dear! He refuses to cooperate. Why? Because the lab researchers start sawing him up without painkillers instead of taking a simple mouth-swab. Naturally, Wikus runs to the prawns for help. We notice for the first time that they have the most beautiful golden-amber eyes. This makes all the difference, right? Anything with pretty eyes must, by law, be worthy of our respect. Plus, we're expected to believe that a spaceship the size of Gurgaon will continue hovering a mile up in the air, in power-off mode, for 20 years. When it comes back online, it reaches total functionality instantly.


Excuse me? Even my idiotic cellphone takes two full seconds to light up. Surely a vehicle capable of housing one million individuals would take at the very least one whole day? Besides which, any life form smart enough to create such advanced technology would either remember to bring along enough fuel to last the journey or avoid parking near our planet.


Because we are a species which discriminates against itself on the basis of the most trivial differences. A slight variation of caste or colour or creed is enough to set us off torching villages and slicing throats. According to UNHCR statistics, in 2009, the year in which the movie was made, the world had some 10.4 million refugees. The majority of these people were displaced as a result of ethnic violence and endemic war. Against this background, what chance is there that any country on earth would agree, on compassionate grounds, to take in an entire township of new residents with wriggling mouthparts and messy eating habits? In my opinion: zero.

As one character says to a news camera in the movie, "Why should we pay for them? They're not even human!" I totally agreed with her. In fact, if i'd been part of the reception committee, my instant reaction would've been to scream very loudly while reaching for a giant slipper to throw at the monsters. After which i'd spend the rest of my life throwing up.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

TAKING ONE BITE AT A TIME

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's economic advisers are arguing universal food security may come at a price the government might not be able to pay. A panel headed by C Rangarajan says the country does not produce enough grain to be sold cheap to three-quarters of India's billion-plus population. If we do manage to find the grain, we don't have the granaries to stock it.

Building new ones will add to the food subsidy. By itself the food subsidy will balloon to unmanageable levels because the government would be buying most of the grain coming into the market at prices higher than it pays now and selling it to more people cheaper than it does now. In sum, if the UPA wants to push ahead with calorie entitlements, it ought to begin with small bites. That would logically involve building upwards from the existing food subsidy scheme on all parameters: coverage, procurement and price.

UPA chairman Sonia Gandhi's advisers, on the other hand, are pushing for a top-down approach. Food security is meaningless, they argue, unless it is universal. Hence coverage must extend to anyone who is vulnerable. The National Advisory Committee's estimates of how much grain is needed, and the tab the government will have to pick up, are significantly lower. Creating a bigger procurement machine is also an opportunity to fix the bugs in the one we have.

Ms Gandhi's advisers feel that the government is assessing food entitlements purely from an accountant's view, ignoring the economic spin-offs of a scheme this size. If it gets off the ground in the shape proposed originally, the food security law will become the keystone of the ruling alliance's inclusive agenda.

There are persuasive arguments on both sides. Incalculable political gains are pitted against very real economic costs. India's experience shows politics prevails in most situations like this. A limited roll-out of the food security scheme, without limiting its ambitions, is a very likely outcome. But the political mileage would derive when the scheme covers all parts of the country.

And like the UPA's other flagship welfare programme, the job dole for villagers, food entitlement will also be held hostage by the state governments that will have to administer it. The UPA is nearing the halfway point of its second term and needs to step on the gas to get an undertaking of such proportions going. The government and party bosses have to be on the same page soon so far as universal food security is concerned.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

GAG DISORDER

Everyone has been speaking from their own soapboxes ever since the 2G spectrum issue came into the public domain. The public has looked on bemused, convinced in turn, by the arguments put forward by colourful speakers, telecom minister Kapil Sibal being one of them. Perhaps given his portfolio, it's Mr Sibal's arguments that have generated the most emotion. But as must be in a parliamentary democracy, we need to look beyond atmospherics.

The first stone in this imbroglio was the leak of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report on the alleged loss in the spectrum licensing in 2010. By November, it was in the Supreme Court. There is no question that such was the magnitude of the presumptive loss of R1.76 lakh crore mentioned in the leaked report that it was incumbent on the government to respond. The appropriate step would have been to debate it in Parliament and arrive at a probe mechanism.

Instead, the Opposition stalled the proceedings. The report was tabled on November 14, the day former telecom minister A Raja resigned. No amount of oratory could have obscured facts had the House been in session and both sides presented cogent arguments. In this light, there is some merit to the contention that Mr Sibal was forced to put forward the government's point of view in the very public fora used by the Opposition to attack his government and its telecom policy.

The implementation of the telecom policy and any impropriety in it are under investigation. But we can only hope that these are allowed to reach their logical conclusion and the findings debated in Parliament. Hyde Park-style oratory is always captivating, especially when conducted through the media.

But the future of telecom has to be debated in the more sedate confines of Parliament. You can't gag Mr Sibal by gagging Parliament and then throw a tantrum when he speaks on the 2G matter, having little alternative, at a public forum.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

IS SIBAL OVERPLAYING HIS CARDS?

PANKAJ VOHRA

Union telecom minister Kapil Sibal has needlessly damaged his own image by making avoidable comments against the Comptroller and Auditor General's (CAG) report on the 2G spectrum scam that led to the resignation of his colleague A Raja.

By stating that there was no scam and debunking the figure the CAG had put out, Sibal exposed himself to scathing criticism even from his admirers. The 2G controversy has shaken the foundations of the UPA and when Sibal lashed out at the CAG report in an attempt to dilute its impact, he hurt his own credibility. Sibal is credited as being a thinking and pragmatic human resource development minister (his other avatar) and the work he has done in that ministry till now has earned him accolades from various quarters.

But in his over eagerness to help the Congress, the minister may have done incalculable damage to himself. There are some politicians who feel that he did this because he wanted to bail out his good friend, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit. It is being speculated that Dikshit may soon come under a renewed attack after the CAG gives its report on the role of her government during the Commonwealth Games.

Sibal's attack is being seen by some as an attempt to debunk the CAG institution so that when the auditor comes out with an adverse report on scandals related to the Games, the impact would be less severe.

Whether this is the reason or not for his improper observations — first made during a meeting he had with Delhi MLAs about a fortnight ago and at a press conference in Shastri Bhawan more than a week ago — is something only Sibal can explain.

But for a minister to rubbish the audit department when its report has been placed before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) could invite the breach of privilege motion. Sibal is also an eminent lawyer and he should have known that the investigations into the 2G spectrum scam are being monitored by the Supreme Court and there was no express need to come to such conclusions before the completion of the probe.

Another reason that may have prompted him to commit this 'elementary mistake' could be his desire to divert attention of the Opposition from the new Bofors controversy in the wake of the income-tax tribunal report.

Sibal's remarks also came under criticism because the prime minister, during the All India Congress Committee session at Burari last month, had volunteered to appear before the PAC to clear all the misgivings about the 2G scam.

The common man's interpretation is that the minister was trying to overrule his boss. The minister has been slammed both by the CAG and by PAC chairman Murli Manohar Joshi.

Joshi is himself fighting a battle within his own party because he is continuing with his work as the PAC chairman even though the saffron brigade has been demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe. Joshi termed Sibal's remarks as 'improper' and said that he should have read the report before making a comment. The Congress has put up a feeble defence for Sibal and has tried to deflect the criticism by wanting to know how the CAG report was leaked in the first place.

Sibal should, in fact, use the opportunity to review the entire telecom policy since 1993 and make the licensing procedure transparent. If need be, all previous licences should be cancelled to have a fresh, competitive and open bidding process.

Sibal must learn from this episode because a large number of people have great expectations from him. He is seen as one of the few persons of unimpeachable integrity in this government and his party. If he becomes a political casualty, it will be a loss to the nation. Between us.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

ENTERTAIN THE THOUGHT

Recent news from Pakistan has been quite grim. First, Punjab's governor was murdered by his own bodyguard for showing empathy with a Christian woman about to be hanged. The mother of four's crime, which she denies committing, was to say unkind words about Prophet Muha-mmad.

Governor Salman Taseer's other bodyguards knew that murderer Mumtaz Qadri would kill him, but stood aside as he shot over two dozen bullets into Taseer's back. Then Qadri was garlanded and congratulated by Pakistanis, while Taseer's body was buried in the absence of President Asif Ali Zardari who sensed the public mood against his dead friend.

The angry Urdu media continues to blame Taseer, indicating he asked to be killed. Even on English newspaper websites, comments from Qadri's jubilant supporters have overwhelmed the few who are upset. Videos of Qadri singing hymns in custody are on YouTube and being approved by Pakistanis, and Facebook pages in his admiration had to be taken down.

The bar association's lawyers are defending Qadri for free, and Pakistan's home minister Rehman Malik admits he would also shoot blasphemers himself. Prime minister Yusuf Gilani says he is a Syed, descended from Prophet Muhammad, and will not change the blasphemy law that Amnesty says is flawed and being misused. At a meeting to support Taseer's martyrdom, 200 Pakistanis came. To a Karachi march in support of the blasphemy law, 40,000 came.

The last, and most important, signal comes from the Barelvi clerics, who united to condemn the dead Taseer and ordered their members not to conduct his funeral prayer.

Remember, these are the moderate mullahs, who tolerate grave-worship and Sufism. Qadri is himself a follower of the Sufi order of Qadiriyya, as his name indicates. And so we observe that the extremism in Pakistan is no longer limited to the more conservative groups, like the Wahhabis and Deobandis.

In that sense, the battle against extremism is already lost, because the majority is no longer reasonable on matters concerning Islam. They think the war against the Taliban is unwarranted, and given this mood that will soon end in the Taliban's favour.

Pakistan's economy will contract over the coming months. There is no growth and no internal investment. How can there be in such an environment? Their International Monetary Fund bailout already happened two years ago, and America is being pushed away because of its hated wars, and because it is seen as the enemy.

Despite their piety, Pakistanis cheat on taxes and have a tax to GDP ratio of under 10%, half of India's and among the lowest in the world. So, bad as they are, things will get worse as the State surrenders to popular opinion.

Pakistan is at the moment an incomplete ideological state. Some of its laws are Islamic, but most are the same as India's. Al-Qaeda's al-Zawahiri reminds them of this and urges them towards the purity of full-dress Shariah. That phase may appear inevitable because, as the events of Taseer's death illustrate, the movement has the majority behind it.

However, it is unlikely that Pakistan will apply full-dress Shariah. Their State will not fully replicate the misogynist harshness of the Afghan version, or be as dry as the Saudi one. This is because, though they will hate this thought, Pakistanis are culturally similar to Indians, and this madness is not natural to them.

We have one culture and there is as much traffic anarchy on the streets of Karachi as there is on those of Mumbai. But if they are like us, why have they turned out to be so unhinged? The answer is that for decades they have denied themselves access to our shared culture. Extremism is produced by isolation, and it is the isolated ideological state that becomes extreme.

All ideological States attempt to be perfect, and that is what Pakistan is now trying to do by murdering its moderates. However, it will fail because the antidote has already entered the system, though the dosage is weak.

Culture is of two types. The first is classical. This is high culture and in India is represented by things like Hindustani music and formal dance. High culture is for the elite, and its appeal is limited because it engages the intellect. The second is popular culture. This is entertainment, and in India it is Bollywood.

After Partition, Pakistan skewered its high culture because it was thought to be Indian. It is incapable of now producing Hindustani singers or musicians of quality, and can only produce half-trained qawwals like Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. Pakistan was always unable to produce popular culture because the State stressed piety, and so it was dependent on Bollywood for entertainment. After the 1965 war, this was stopped after Bollywood was banned from being screened in Pakistan. The invention of VCRs brought it back in the 80s through piracy, but only to a few.

Under President Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's film exhibitors, who are mostly Gujaratis like Karachi's Mandviwalla family, demanded that Bollywood be brought back because Pakistani films were rubbish and terrible for business. This happened and now, slowly, Bollywood films are returning to cinema halls across Pakistan. This is a great thing for Pakistan, because popular entertainment makes the nation moderate.

Ideology takes us towards perfection. But the world is imperfect, and popular culture reminds us of that. It opens us up to the idea that entertainment is not opposed to faith, and that uniformity isn't necessarily a good thing. Popular entertainment is insidious and its power quite deceptive.

To the Pakistani newspaper where I write a column, a woman wrote recently about Indian television. Her children, she complained, had begun using the word sapna instead of khwab. This was traumatic because it made the kids culturally more Indian and less Pakistani. Others complain of Yash Raj-style sangeet and mehndi which are now infiltrating Pakistani weddings.

So long as this stream of entertainment is kept open, the message of bearded piety will not find easy traction.

Even if the State keels over, as is now possible and perhaps even likely, it will revive itself through popular culture's message of tolerance and moderation. Frightening as it may be to contemplate, Munni, Sheila and Dolly Bindra are the antidote to extremism.

What will pull Pakistan out of its lunacy will ultimately be Bollywood.

Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media

*The views expressed by the author are personal

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PLATE PLUS

 

Behind every real-life fairy tale that unfolds before our eyes, there's hard work, luck and more hard work. Left with the wooden spoon in the Plate League (lower division) in the last Ranji edition, nobody had given Rajasthan a wild chance of winning the Plate semi-final, let alone beating three Super League (SL) teams in a row and end up with the trophy. Least of all, when the team Rajasthan took on in the SL quarter-final was the mighty Mumbai. Yet Rajasthan bagged their first Ranji after an eight-decade-long wait.

Rajasthan's dream became reality with the efforts of the coach and administrators whose brainstorming resulted in a mix of "youth and experience", bringing back Ranji veterans who contributed not only on the pitch but also off it by mentoring a bunch of youngsters. The crisis-hit Rajasthan Cricket Association can pat itself on the back, or veterans Hrishikesh Kantikar, Aakash Chopra and Rashmi Parida bask in the glow with Deepak Chahar and Ashok Menaria. But a technicality should be given credit too: the format since 2008-09 lets the two Plate toppers enter a direct knock-out with the elite teams in the SL quarter-finals, thus giving one of them a genuine chance of going all the way.

Teams move from the bottom upwards in every league; the converse too happens. That's the arrangement the English Premier League kept with its parent The Football League when the first division teams broke away in 1992 — the EPL bottom is relegated and the two FL toppers are promoted. But a resource and talent exclusivity at the top of the EPL has made it near-impossible for anybody except the Big Four (Man U, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool) to win the title. Rajasthan's triumph over Mumbai, more than the final against Baroda, is perhaps the team's real moment of glory. They have reminded us what talent exists in our domestic cricket and what can be done with it.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CITIES OF THE NORTH

 

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati has often used the celebrations of her birthday as a marker of where she believes the Bahujan Samaj Party, and the state government that she leads, should focus. It is interesting, therefore, that she chose, this year, to centre the celebrations around the opening and dedication of Asia's largest sewage-treatment plant, at Bhawara about 20 km outside Lucknow. The installation, which is expected to take some of the pressure of the ever more polluted Gomti river, is part of an ambitious urban-renewal plan for Lucknow. And it is another sign that Mayawati, always nimble politically, has chosen to back urban development as making sense for her party, and for her government.

While the sewage-treatment plant is seen as having a certain resonance, and thus serves as a convenient milestone, there have been signs for some time that the UP government has been paying more attention to the concerns of towns than is usual for state governments. Indeed, 53 towns, including Aligarh, Lucknow, Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi, Agra and Moradabad, and 46 other small and medium towns with a population below five lakh, have been singled out for intervention. The funding will be borne by the state government, local government, and the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. The UP government estimates that Rs 7,000 crore is to be spent in these towns by the end of March 2012. These are not, we are meant to understand, mere window-dressing: Mayawati is willing to spend on backing her cities, and on managing urbanisation. Nor will it all be for behind-the-scenes infrastructure like laying down new sewage lines. The sites of religious pilgrimage, like Mathura, Vrindavan, Varanasi and Allahabad, are to be beautified; and Hazratganj in Lucknow, the archetypal middle-class destination in the decades the north Indian middle class was struggling to evolve, is being given a Connaught Place-style reworking for its 200th anniversary.

Assembly elections are due in UP next year. Most of her competitors are working the standard levers: caste mobilisation, village yatras. Mayawati has shifted emphasis. Does she, as she has in the past, know something her opponents don't?

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PROGRESS FOR PILGRIMS

 

Forty-one days of austerity culminating in a journey where you can tread with ease, as the popular hymn promises, even a jungle path filled with pebbles and thorns: the Sabarimala pilgrimage is rather arduous. The number of pilgrims travelling to the holy hill in Kerala has grown exponentially over the years, but most of them, conditioned for a strenuous trek up the hill, seldom complain about the lack of facilities. However, neglect on the part of the government has made the journey particularly punishing for many years; and last week it proved fatal. As the tragedy on Friday, where over 100 people died in a stampede on a narrow path a few kilometres from the shrine, revealed, infrastructure has not been sufficiently developed to keep pace with this surge of pilgrims, nor have security personnel been adequately deployed at the points where crowds are likely to build up. It is a matter of concern that in Pullumedu where about three lakh people gathered to watch Makara Jyothi, the culmination of the festival season, and where the tragedy occurred, only a handful of policemen were present.

This is a problem that plagues most pilgrimage sites in the country: occasional congregation of people for a festival, even if they run into a few hundred thousand, is often considered a temporary problem that requires only short-term solutions. This has been particularly true of Sabarimala, since its location, in the ecologically sensitive Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve, considerably hobbles infrastructural development around it. But this tragedy should remind the authorities concerned — the state government, the Union ministry for environment and forests and the temple board — that, instead of each passing the buck to the other, they should come together to chart out a holistic plan, taking into consideration both the pilgrim's needs as well as the region's requirements.

Even as a judicial probe has been ordered, authorities would do well to recall the recommendations of a panel that looked into a stampede on the same day in 1999 — it advised against the use of the narrow road from Pullumedu by pilgrims until basic facilities were in place — as well as speed up the implementation of the Rs 1,500 crore Sabarimala Master Plan. The safety of pilgrims should not be held hostage to institutional delays though. The forest should no longer be a free-for-all for pilgrims. Designate specific routes for them during the pilgrim season, which itself could be extended considering the growing rush of pilgrims from all over south India, and put in place effective crowd-control measures.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

WONKY POLICY WONKS

BIBEK DEBROY

 

It was the epoch of belief. It was the spring of hope. We had everything before us. The line, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times", from A Tale of Two Cities is clichéd. Everyone quotes it. "Belief", "hope", "everything before us" are from the succeeding sentences. The World Bank has just released the "Global Economic Prospects 2011". We have been told India and China will contribute half the global growth in 2011. In 2012, India's rate of growth at 8.7 per cent will overtake China's rate of growth at 8.4 per cent. There are various reasons driving China's deceleration of growth to a trend of around 8.5 per cent, ageing population being one.

Similarly, there are various reasons why India's growth can accelerate to a trend of around 10 per cent, young population being one. Therefore, it shouldn't be surprising, in the next few years India's growth rate will exceed China's, though bases are quite different. For example, at market exchange rates (MERs), China's per capita income in 2010 was $4,283, while India's was $1,176. That's a fair amount of catching up to do. In PPP (purchasing power parity) exchange rates, China's per capita income was $7,518, while India's was $3,290.

If this overtaking of China was not enough to get us excited, PwC recently updated its March 2006 study, The World in 2050, and told us India will become the second largest economy in the world in PPP terms by 2050, overtaking the US and behind China.

A report from HSBC has also recently surfaced, with the same title of The World in 2050. Methodologies differ across these two reports, and HSBC projects in constant 2000 US dollars, finding that India will continue to be third in size, after China and the US. In 2000 US dollars, India's per capita income in 2050 will be 5,060. HSBC is a bit more pessimistic about India than PwC, or Goldman Sachs and assorted BRIC reports.

A short while ago, there was an ADB-funded study, India 2039: An Affluent Society in One Generation. That talked about an Indian per capita income of $22,000 in 2039. Let's not get into the nitty-gritty of models and forecasting. The simple point is that if one builds in labour input and currency appreciation, in addition to capital input, India should have high rates of growth and the nature of the exponential function is such that projections blow up beyond 2030, regardless of whether one uses PPP or not. Earlier projections often stuck to 2020 or 2025, and so weren't as spectacular as those that extend beyond 2030.

The global downturn of 2007 and its aftermath have advanced timelines. If India was supposed to overtake a developed country at a certain date, the date has now been brought forward. However, many countries in the world have got into what is called the middle-income trap. Policies have not been conducive enough for a country to graduate beyond a per capita income of around $5,000.

To go back to Dickens, it was also the worst of times. It was the age of foolishness. It was the epoch of incredulity. It was the winter of despair. "In economics, there is no accountability for the consequences of your advice. And that is particularly so in an ascriptive society like India." Jagdish Bhagwati said this and this is relevant because today's policy-making environment is increasingly harking back to the late 1960s to mid-1970s, policies that led India to losing two development decades. It is fashionable to blame policy-makers for what went wrong then. But one tends to forget that those policy-makers were, to quote Keynes, slaves of defunct economists. We had the Hazari Committee report in 1967, Dutt Committee report in 1969 and the Wanchoo Committee report in 1971. We also had the Dagli Committee report in 1978. There were several such committee reports.

It was economists who were important in policy-making who drew the wrong conclusions from Hazari/Dutt/Wanchoo and ignored Dagli. Without naming them, they have never quite been held to task. On the contrary, they have been rewarded with awards. In simple terms, what did those policies do? They restricted supply and made India a shortage economy.

Post-1991 policies removed supply bottlenecks, where reforms were introduced. We now have a situation where policy-makers don't know what is driving either growth or inflation. On inflation, we were earlier told it would slow down, hopes riding on the base effect. The base effect is wearing thin, and food price inflation shows no signs of easing, because agri-products are still supply-constrained. The finance minister, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission and the Chief Economic Adviser have now told us inflation is a good thing, because it is reflective of higher growth and greater demand in rural areas.

However, the signal the government conveys is that growth isn't a good thing, not unless it is inclusive, whatever that expression might mean. Let us, therefore, not ask why NREGA was at all necessary, if we had introduced policies that reformed Indian agriculture, especially in dry-land areas. Let us not ask if right to food and right to education legislations would have been needed if policies to enhance income growth had been introduced. Let us not ask why anti-poverty programmes have failed to reduce poverty. Let us not question why public expenditure is inefficient.

Instead, we have evidence (and there will be more when National Sample Survey's results surface) that growth has led to increase in inequality. One doesn't mean inequality in access to inputs like health, education, land, financial markets and law and order. One means inequality in outcomes, like income or consumption expenditure.

There are processes which explain this increase in inequality that are inevitable in a process of fast growth. They were documented by Simon Kuznets, and Montek Singh Ahluwalia himself explored this in the late 1970s. However, this increase in inequality is bad. This will be true even if poverty declines, because by changing the poverty line, we will demonstrate 50 per cent (or even more) of India is still below the poverty line. Hence, we do not want growth, because it is inherently "exclusive" in character.

This is a deeper point than tightening monetary policy to rein inflation. This emerging consensus among policy economists, reinforced by the National Advisory Council (NAC), is not very different from the consensus of the mid 1960s. Bhagwati and Dagli received short shrift then and that continues to be the case today.

How about including policy-making economists within the ambit of the proposed Public Services Delivery Act, making them liable for the opportunity costs of lost economic growth?

The writer is Delhi-based economist express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

STANDING COMMITTEES DOWN

C.V. MADHUKAR

 

In the ongoing spat of JPC vs PAC, and the resultant political stalemate, there has been widespread discussion on the nuances of the committee system. But there has been little space for analytical thinking about the reasons for the current stalemate, no reflection on the weaknesses of our existing committee system, and the systemic issues that may need a relook. More importantly, the legislature does not seem to recognise the serious imbalance in the powers of the executive and the legislature.

Typically, after standing committees are reconstituted each year, there is a formal meeting of committees to decide the agenda for the year. The bulk of the business they transact is decided by the policy priorities of the government and they have little time to proactively take up important issues of policy and oversight. This naturally reduces the power of the committees, which largely become a clearing house for government business.

In recent years, there have been growing concerns about the lack of adequate time for deliberation within committees. For example, for the mammoth Right to Education Bill, the committee had two meetings, which included one for finalising the report.

Some statistics on the functioning of the Public Accounts Committee in 2009-10 give specific insights into this issue. They presented 21 reports that year. The full committee had 11 sittings, and sub-committees had an additional 11 sittings. The average attendance in the committee was about 55 per cent during the year. When one looks at such statistics across committees, the question whether committees have adequate time for detailed deliberation, becomes even more urgent.

The third issue concerns the lack of transparency in the committee proceedings. Committee meetings are closed-door affairs and all deliberations remain confidential until the report is tabled in Parliament. Keeping the meetings closed to the public allows them to work across party lines and avoid public grandstanding on issues. Even if one were to agree with this view, there is nothing that prevents the release of the full proceedings and transcripts of committee discussions after a report has been tabled. This would enable people to see the nature of issues raised and how these were debated. This could serve as an incentive for legislators to attend meetings regularly, and contribute more meaningfully to committee deliberations.

The recommendations of standing committees on legislation are not binding on the government. To add insult to injury, the government mostly does not even feel the need to explain to the House as to why it did not take into account the recommendations made by committees. So it would not be out of place if some MPs feel that their hard work in committee has gone down the drain.

There are several other issues concerning the capacity of committees to take on more subjects for deliberation. It may be possible to address this problem at least partially, by increasing the human resource and analytical capacity of the committee secretariat. It will also help if MPs have personal research staff who can help them prepare better for committee meetings. There are a number of such other instrumental ways in which committee effectiveness can be significantly enhanced.

All of this and more will be possible only if our MPs raise a chorus demanding necessary changes in procedure and conventions to make committees more effective. While many MPs complain about the committees' inability to reach their full potential, there appears to be an unwillingness or inability on their part to collectively articulate this and other issues about Parliamentary effectiveness. This does not help them reclaim any of the power that the legislature, and the committees specifically, have ceded to the executive over the years.

In the UK, in March 2000, the House of Commons released a report on "Shifting the Balance: Select Committees and the Executive". The report examined how some changes need to be made in order to make committees more effective. But more importantly, there was an explicit recognition that the legislature needs to assert its role vis-à-vis the executive. It will take a lot more than a mere collective recognition and articulation to have our Parliament gain back a lot of the power it has ceded to the government over the years. It is precisely this total lack of collective articulation of the need for strengthening systems in Parliament that is worrisome. It may be politically expedient or even necessary for our political leaders to take the public stands they take on the JPC vs PAC issue. But it does not mean that they should not simultaneously explore longer-term systemic solutions to such problems. It would be useful if our policymakers, expected to make policies that govern a billion people, also expend more of their collective energies making the institution of Parliament function better.

The writer is director, PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

A BEAM OF LIGHT

ARUN SHARMA

 

The formal induction of the light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas into the Indian Air Force on January 10 is not just a historic landmark for our aerospace industry, but also a significant step forward in India's quest for the status of a great power. Not more than a handful of countries can claim the ability and competence to successfully bring a project of such complexity to fruition. It would therefore be churlish not to acknowledge the achievement of our aircraft designers, scientists, production engineers and the flight-test team for having delivered — albeit belatedly — a state-of-the art combat aircraft to the IAF.

With the accord of initial operational clearance (IOC), the Tejas is, today, at the same stage where India's first nuclear submarine, Arihant, was, on its launch, last year. Both these strategic and prestigious platforms are on the threshold of entering service, but with a fairly arduous road to traverse before attaining fully operational status.

The LCA project attracted maximum criticism because of the time it took and the cost overruns it had. Obviously, the DRDO over-estimated its own competence. This led to the ambitious claim that they had the capability to develop, in-house, not just the airframe and engine, but also the radar as well as a complex fly-by-wire (FBW) flight control system required for an "agile" (or aerodynamically unstable) fighter. This blunder was compounded by trotting out hopelessly optimistic cost and time estimates, on the incorrect premise that since India had earlier designed and built the HF-24 Marut, we possessed the design skills and manufacturing expertise.

The Marut, putatively India's first indigenous fighter aircraft, was, in fact, designed by a contracted German team led by Kurt Tank, designer of the famed World War II fighter, Focke-Wulf FW 190. Inducted into the IAF in 1965, the Marut was only a qualified success, since its advanced airframe was a mismatch to the under-powered Orpheus engine. The assumption that the advanced LCA would benefit from the expertise acquired from the 30-year-old Marut project was, therefore, largely fallacious.

The second contributory cause was the decision of the DRDO, typically, to pursue this strategic project without ensuring adequate involvement of the end users: the armed forces. The IAF, understandably, more concerned with extant problems of meeting its operational roles and missions took a detached view of the LCA and remained focused on looking abroad for its needs. This, arguably, deprived the project of impetus, moral support and funding.

The last and most crippling impediment for the project was posed by the denial of crucial technologies by the West. Post-liberalisation advice and consultancy in certain key areas of the LCA design, notably the FBW system, was obtained from aerospace firms in the US and Britain. Unfortunately, the sanctions imposed after Pokhran II brought this crucial cooperation to an abrupt halt. This is where our scientists showed their true mettle and went on to develop and qualify the incredibly complex flight control algorithms, almost entirely on their own.

Apart from this, the electro-hydraulic actuators for the controls, the pumps, motors, instruments and many of the major systems have all been developed by scientists working in dozens of DRDO laboratories, and produced by industrial units across the country. The seeds of an aerospace ancillary industry have been planted, and will, hopefully, be nurtured by a long production run of the Tejas.

For all its good work and achievements, there remain two critical areas in which the DRDO has sadly disappointed the nation, and contributed to delays in the LCA project. One is, of course, its failure to deliver the fighter's primary sensor; a multi-mode radar, which, eventually, had to be imported. The other is the long-awaited Kaveri aero-engine, which has remained, for 40 years, in limbo, nowhere close to attaining its promised performance parameters and yet, inexplicably, being kept alive to justify the existence of its parent R&D establishment. Having missed all deadlines and targets, the DRDO has now sought foreign collaboration to assist in its development. The US-origin F-414 engine now contracted for the Tejas barely meets its thrust requirements, and the heavier LCA Navy will need an even more powerful engine for carrier operations. It can only be hoped that the Kaveri will eventually emerge in time for Tejas Mark II.

Twenty-seven years and Rs 17,000 crore down the line, the LCA experience has generated a number of important lessons for India. Firstly, DRDO should not be permitted to undertake any major project whose staff targets have not originated from the Defence Acquisition Council or Chiefs of Staff Committee. Once the project is approved, the sponsoring service must associate intimately with the DRDO to refine the staff requirements, and contribute uniformed personnel as well as funding during development. It is, perhaps, time for the IAF to create an establishment along the lines of the navy's Directorate of Naval Design to conceptualise future aircraft.

With globalisation, the quest for attaining autarchy in every aspect of technology has become a counter-productive activity. A conscious and early decision must be taken in every project regarding the technologies we need to develop in-country and those that we can acquire from abroad. Developmental projects undertaken by the DRDO should have fairly rigid time-frames, after which they should become candidates for review and abortion. The DRDO practice of in-house "peer reviews"of projects by scientists must be replaced by hard-nosed audits and progress-checks by independent experts, as well as end users.

Six decades after independence, 80-90 per cent of our military hardware remains of foreign origin, and India has the dubious distinction of being among the top arms importers in the world. The comprehensive capability to design and undertake serial production of major weapon systems and ordnance is an imperative that has, so far, eluded us. Our claims to big-power status will ring hollow as long as we remain dependent on imports for major weapon systems.

For all the scorn and criticism that we often (justly) heap on the DRDO and our PSUs, the fact remains that, properly restructured and synergised with India's innovative private sector, both these national institutions have the capability to rescue India from the unending arms-dependency trap. First Arihant and now Tejas have provided tangible proof of this.

The writer, a former Chief of the Naval Staff, is currently chairman of the National Maritime Foundation

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE BEIRUT OF DREAM AND NIGHTMARE

ALIA ALLANA

 

The Beirut of our dreams, of boulevards and boutiques, of culture and couture, modern and morphing, threatens to fall again into an abyss. Tracking the little country's progress was something of a fetish in my high school. Named after a Beirut suburb, Choueifat, the school relocated to Dubai during the civil war. Almost all the Lebanese I studied with wanted to return — once there was calm.

The war ended but the calm didn't settle in. Sectarian tensions clawed back progress until Rafiq Hariri happened. A self-made billionaire, cosy with the Saudis and the Americans, it was he who resurrected Lebanon. Many returned during his premiership. They mourned his Valentine's Day assassination in 2005. Now as the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon readies its verdict, all sit with their heads in their hands, as the government, led by Saad Hariri, collapses, and wonder: is civil war in sight again?

Saad Hariri's coalition was never comfortable. Lebanon's sectarian politics mandated a government with the right mix of Sunni, Shi'a, Druze and Christians, and thus a unity government was formed. In a compromise agreement, born out of five months of politicking, the opposition, Hezbollah, was afforded the right to veto and 10 seats. Hariri's party (the March 14 Alliance) retained 15, and the rest went to independents, comprised of both Hezbollah and March 14 sympathisers. On Thursday, the unity government collapsed as 11 members (a third of the total) resigned, even as Saad was meeting Barack Obama in DC. He walked into the Oval Office a prime minister and walked out deposed.

There is one obvious explanation for the collapse: the possible indictment of senior Hezbollah leaders in the Hariri assassination by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. In 2005, all fingers pointed towards Syrians. That they politically controlled Lebanon and Rafiq wanted their influence reduced was no secret. In a conversation between Lebanon President Bashar al-Assad and Hariri the summer before his death, the older statesman protested, "I have been a friend of Syria for 20 years," to which Assad replied, bluntly, "I've have known you for four years." Assad then issued what Hariri considered a threat, "I will break Lebanon over your head."

Fast forward to 2009, and leaks on the court ruling in Der Spiegel and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation drop a crucial clue in the Hariri murder mystery, linking Hezbollah, the "Party of God", to the murder. But Hezbollah have taken great pains to distance themselves from the "terrorist" brand, and such an allegation would mean political suicide for a party that claims to speak "for all Lebanese". As anger swelled following the allegations, Hezbollah leader Nasrallah warned that "anyone who tries to harm the armed resistance will see his hand cut off".

Negotiations between Hezbollah and Saad have been on for a month. Hezbollah demands Saad abandon financial aid to the Special Tribunal and withdraw the four Lebanese judges. Nasrallah gave Saad a deadline, last Wednesday, to act. He didn't. Saad, the slain leader's son, presented his own proposals instead: individuals named in the indictment would be innocent until proven guilty. If they were convicted they would be viewed as "rogue individuals", not representing the groups they belong to.

Hezbollah might actually favour the current government-less situation. Warrants from the Special Tribunal need a prime minister to enforce them, and government formation in Lebanon is a long and tedious procedure. Now President Michel Suleiman is in the process of convening an emergency coalition government with Saad as caretaker, but a compromise will take time. That long time means that Beirut lies captive to street demonstrations and car bombs, assassinations and clashes. The chaotic Lebanon of yesteryear might well rise again.

What these latest developments have done is potentially alter the balance of power in the Middle East. With Saad's exit, Saudi and American influence is set to decrease, and Iranian power increase through its satraps Hezbollah and Syria. This too when Lebanon was on the mend, its record levels of growth reminiscent of the glory years when Beirut was the Paris of the Middle East.

But Lebanon is almost always on the brink. On my last visit to Beirut in 2008, change was evident. Streets in the suburbs were being remodelled; the notorious downtrodden neighbourhoods in the city's south, long Hezbollah strongholds, were being paved. Power cuts were fewer. But security in Lebanon is never guaranteed. Merely a month after I'd left the gridlocked government headed towards political paralysis, with shocking images of street battles, smog on the cornices, shops with their shutters down — all reminiscent of the civil war.

Hezbollah fighters targeted Sunni neighbourhoods until Qatari mediators intervened. The current impasse, too, threatens to head down this sadly familiar road. But the great tragedy is that it should happen just as Lebanon was slowly retouching its sepia-toned past loveliness, the women parading their beauty on the Croisette, the Camel-smoking men more macho than ever. Who would have thought that the wounds of the 2005 assassination would be so slow to heal?

alia.allana@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

HUCK FINN CAN GO TO COLLEGE

LORRIE MOORE

 

Ever since NewSouth Books announced it would publish a version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with the "n-word" removed, reaction has split between traditionalists outraged at censorship and those who feel this might be a way to get teenagers, especially African-American boys, comfortable reading a literary classic. From a mother's perspective, I think both sides are mistaken.

No parent who is raising a black teenager and trying to get him to read serious fiction for his high-school English class would ever argue that Huckleberry Finn is not a greatly problematic work. But the remedy is not to replace "nigger" with alternative terms like "slave" (the latter word is already in the novel and has a different meaning from "nigger", so that substitution just mucks up the prose — its meaning, its voice, its verisimilitude). The remedy is to refuse to teach this novel in high school and to wait until college — or even graduate school — where it can be put in proper context.

Huckleberry Finn is not an appropriate introduction to serious literature, and anyone who cannot see that has never tried putting an audio version of it on during a long car trip while an African-American teenager sits beside her and slowly, slowly slips on his noise-cancelling earphones in order to listen to hip-hop.

The derogatory word is part of the problem, but not the entirety of it — hip-hop music uses the same word. Of course, the speakers are different in each case, and the worlds they are speaking of and from are very distant from one another. The listener can tell the difference in a second. The listener knows which voice is speaking to him and which is not getting remotely close.

Huckleberry Finn is suited to a college course in which Twain's obsession with the 19th century theatre of American hucksterism — the wastrel West, the rapscallion South, the economic strays and escapees of a harsh new country — can be discussed in the context of Jim's particular story (and Huck's).

An African-American 10th grader, in someone's near-sighted attempt to get him newly appreciative of novels, does not benefit by being taken back right then to a time when a young white boy slowly realises, sort of, the humanity of a black man, realises that that black man is more than chattel even if that black man is also full of illogic and stereotypical superstitions.

Huck Finn refers to himself as an idiot and still finds Jim more foolish than himself. Although Twain has compassion for the affectionate Jim, he has an interest in burlesque; although he is sensitive to Jim's heartbreaking losses, he is always looking for comedy and repeatedly holds Jim up as a figure of howling fun, ridicule that is specific to his condition as a black man. The young black American male of today, whose dignity in our public schools is not always preserved or made a priority, does not need at the start of his literary life to be immersed in an even more racist era by reading a celebrated text that exuberantly expresses everything crazy and wicked about that time — not if one's goal is to get that teenager to like books. Huck's voice is a complicated amalgam of idioms and perspectives and is not for the inexperienced contemporary reader.

There are other books more appropriate for an introduction to serious reading. (To Kill a Mockingbird, with its social-class caricatures and racially naïve narrator, is not one of them.) Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which vibrantly speaks to every teenager's predicament, is a welcoming book for boys. There must certainly be others and their titles should be shared. Teachers I meet everywhere are always asking, How can we get boys to read? And the answer is, simply, book by book.

One reader's sensitivity always sets off someone else's defensiveness. But what would be helpful are school administrators who will break with tradition and bring more flexibility, imagination and social purpose to high-school curriculums. College, where the students have more experience with racial attitudes and literature, can do as it pleases.

Lorrie Moore is the author, most recently, of the novel 'A Gate at the Stair'

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

WINNING FORMULA

 

An international study published last month looked at how students in 65 countries performed in math, science and reading. The winner was: Confucianism! At the very top of the charts, in all three fields and by a wide margin, was Shanghai. Three of the next top four performers were also societies with a Confucian legacy of reverence for education: Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea. The only non-Confucian country in the mix was Finland. The United States? It came in 15th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math.

I've been visiting schools in China and Asia for more than 20 years (and we sent our own kids briefly to schools in Japan, which also bears a Confucian imprint), and I've spent much of that time either envious or dumbfounded. I'll never forget pulling our two-year-old son out of his Tokyo nursery school so we could visit the States and being handed a form in which we had to list: "reason for proposed vacation."

Education thrives in China because it is a top priority — and the US has plenty to learn from that. Granted, Shanghai's rise to the top is not representative of all China, for Shanghai has the country's best schools. Yet it's also true that China has made remarkable improvements in the once-awful schools in peasant areas. In my Chinese-American wife's ancestral village in southern China — the peasant children are a grade ahead in math compared with my children at an excellent public school in the New York area. That seems broadly true of math around the country.

But this is the paradox: Chinese themselves are far less impressed by their school system. Many Chinese complain scathingly that their system kills independent thought and creativity, and they envy the American system for nurturing self-reliance — and for trying to make learning exciting and not just a chore. For my part, I think the self-criticisms are exactly right, but I also deeply admire the passion for education and the commitment to making the system better. And while W.B. Yeats was right that "education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire," it's also true that it's easier to ignite a bonfire if there's fuel in the bucket.

The greatest strength of the Chinese system is the Confucian reverence for education. In Chinese schools, teachers are much respected, and the most admired kid is often the brain rather than the jock.

Americans think of China's strategic challenge in terms of, say, the new stealth fighter aircraft. But the real challenge is the rise of China's education system and the passion for learning. We're not going to become Confucians, but we can elevate education on our list of priorities without relinquishing creativity and independent thought. That's what we did in 1957 after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. These latest test results should be our 21st century Sputnik.-NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE LAST SUPPER

 

If the price of onions seems high now, wait till 2020. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research projects that India will need a 30% boost in rice and cereal production, 140% in pulses and 243% growth in oilseeds to meet the needs of the ever-expanding population. Given that Indian agricultural output has grown a dismal 2.4% per year in the past 10 years and that the total arable land in the country has remained fixed at 140 million hectares for a few decades, boosting productivity by more than double is a gargantuan task. Add to this the projections about the likelihood of cultivable land being lost to submergence, drought and increase in salinity. The Seed Bill waiting to be tabled in Parliament seeks to address some of the major hurdles that Indian agriculture is facing, including the consideration of genetically modified (GM) seeds and their incorporation into food crop cultivation. GM and other technological breakthroughs have transformed the landscape of cotton and maize cultivation in the country. India has emerged as the second-largest producer of cotton as a result of Bt cotton, and maize productivity has increased by 60% as a result of hybrid varieties. Given these monumental gains from the infusion of new technology via hybrid and GM crops, the government's policy barring the introduction of Bt brinjal, despite being given a clean chit in a joint report by seven agricultural institutions, appears ill-advised. As Bt cotton raised yields while reducing costs to the farmer, Bt brinjal is expected to work in much the same way. Although the shortage exists across the board and the introduction of one or two GM food crops will not solve the food insecurity problems, it's a step in the right direction.

 

At the state level, the agricultural departments have an important role to play in educating farmers on different types of seeds, sowing strategies including crop rotation to keep the land arable for longer, effective water utilisation, climate patterns, suitable crops based on types of soil and so on. This information is probably available only to big commercial farmers, if that; small farmers and those practising subsistence agriculture do not have access. That there have been some stunning successes in certain pockets with rice yields points to the fact that high-quality extension services are invaluable. But they're few and far between.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BREWING IT RIGHT

The entry of the iconic coffee retailer Starbucks in India through an agreement with Tata Coffee—initially for sourcing beans and later for exploring opening stores—is both an opportunity and a threat to dozens of home-grown brands like Cafe Coffee Day and Barista. Although India is a big market, and there will always be space for many players and many niches to survive in, it's important to understand the emerging nuances of service and experiential businesses like coffee chains. The usual refrain that many Indian brands, much like Thums Up, have not just survived but managed to lick global biggies in the domestic market is misleading in this context. In a liberalised and open market, there are only globally competitive businesses, not local or global brands. Yes, Thums Up is a local brand, but supported by a global company with its world-beating scale and operational efficiencies.

Ramesh Chauhan realised that the aerated drinks game had turned global after the entry of Pepsi and Coca-Cola in the early 1990s, and didn't have the stomach for a fight and therefore sold out. That a whole generation of Indians continued to prefer Thums Up over a Coke or a Pepsi, a fact initially lost on its acquirer, only shows that Chauhan was bang on the product strategy, nothing more. Even a management trainee knows sustainable brand strategy is all about profitability and scale, and that's where Chauhan read it right and exited at a huge profit. It is not our case to pick winners here, but the writing on the wall is clear. Starbucks, with over four decades of coffee retailing and 17,000 stores worldwide, will bring its superlative experience of product, brand and retail experience to an Indian market that has often lacked on many fronts. Moreover, Starbucks has not been shy of roping in a globally competent partner wherever it felt inadequate—whether its Pepsi for bottled Frappuccino and now Tata Coffee for developing the product for India. The game in all hot & cold non-alcoholic beverages is now two-pronged, global and partnership-led. Globally, Coke has a joint-venture with Nestle for tea drinks and Pepsi has one with Unilever to hawk ice-tea. In the last decade, Tata Coffee's parent, Tata Tea, has gone global with a vengeance, sewn a partnership with Pepsi in India to jointly sell health & wellness drinks, and operates out of London and calls itself Tata Global Beverages now.

Barista, the pioneer of coffee café culture in India, was started by an Indian, nurtured by Tata Coffee, before being sold by its last local owner, S Sivasankaran, to Italy's Luigi Lavazza. Local coffee retailers will always survive if they exist in a specialised product/price/geographical niche. For others, Starbucks's entry is a clarion call for taking their game global, or else!

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

5% MARKET SHARE, 100% IMPACT!

RISHI RAJ

Eloquence is what distinguishes a good lawyer from a bad one. The current telecom minister Kapil Sibal is a lawyer and so is his predecessor A Raja. However, while Sibal has the ability to make his point eloquently—he sounds more convincing, making the same point that Raja made throughout his days in office. What Sibal calls the huge socio-economic benefits of not auctioning spectrum, leading to lower tariffs for consumers and leading to higher tele-density, was referred to by Raja as breaking the cartel of incumbent operators and bringing in more competition, leading to lower tariffs. So, a similar point was made by both with differing degrees of eloquence. Let's move from eloquence to actual substance in order to examine whether Sibal is right or if Raja was correct in saying that the grant of the controversial licences in 2008 brought in any competition in the mobile market, leading to lower tariffs.

 

Giving a historical account, Sibal, at his press conference on January 7, said that the "average tariff came down from almost Rs 17 per minute in 1999 to about Rs 3 per minute in 2004 and by March 2010, this became as low as 57 paise per minute, while today it has reached a level of 30 paise per minute. This is a direct and tangible benefit. For all these reasons, the CAG's criticism that the policy of awarding licences and spectrum at reasonable rates involved a large loss to the exchequer has no merit." True, but none of this is due to any contribution of the licensees, which Sibal, in a convoluted manner, wants to defend. Whatever drop in tariffs have happened is due to competition amongst incumbent operators and not the Raja licensees. The new operators that were given licences in 2008 have less than 5% market share in the overall mobile market and their subscriber market share is in low single digits. At end-September 2010, Uninor had a subscriber market share of 2%, Sistema Shyam 1%, Loop 0%, Videocon 1%, STel 0%, HFCL 0% and Etisalat DB 0%. The best performer amongst the new operators is Uninor, with around 11 million subscribers in a market having 687 million overall users. The worst is Etisalat DB, with 56,583 subscribers.

 

Dig deeper and the small number of the new operators would throw up an even starker fact—bulk of their users are inactive ones. According to a Trai analysis done for the month of September 2010, of the 687 million wireless users, the active ones were only around 482 million. While an incumbent operator like Bharti had 89% of their users in the active category, none of the new operators had even 50% of their users in the same category. For instance, Etisalat DB has 43.55% active users, Videocon 38.87%, Uninor 30.91%, STel 24.33%, Sistema Shyam 46.25% and Loop 48.21%. This means that most of the subscribers of these new operators already have connections of either of the incumbents (Bharti, Vodafone, Reliance, etc) and so the new operators become the second, third or even the fourth choice.

 

Thus, it is quite clear that neither their entry into the market nor their tariff packages have led to any competitive forces, which may lead incumbents to lower their tariffs, leading to consumer benefit. The tariff war happened in the mobile market with incumbents like Tata Teleservices and later Reliance Communications coming out with a per-second billing in September 2009, which led other operators to follow suit. Similarly in 2006, when BSNL had come with its OneIndia plan, which had the same rates for local and STD calls, it led to a tariff war, with each operator coming up with its own variant of OneIndia, thus leading to death of distance in terms of telecom tariffs. Over time, not only call tariffs, but even roaming, entry charges and SMS rates have come down. The point one is trying to make is that irrespective of the entry of Raja, licensees tariff wars were happening in the country and would have continued. In fact, of the new operators, barring Uninor none of the others are visible through any advertisement campaigns publicising their tariffs. In fact, it would be a good idea to do a quiz programme asking under what brand name does Etisalat market its services.

The contradiction in Sibal's assertion that the new operators brought in competition leading to lower tariffs and therefore consumer benefit becomes even more clear since he's already dashed off show cause notices to 119 licensees for failing to meet their stipulated rollout obligations. Of them, 81 licensees are the ones that were given licences by Raja. It's another matter that Sibal's ministry only thought of sending these show cause notices when Trai sent it a list of 69 licensees whose rollout was so poor that it recommended that these licences be cancelled.

Sibal's eloquence does not end at merely highlighting the fruits of increased competition. He went on to segregate the revenue loss to the exchequer due to Raja's move from the procedural irregularities bit and pronounced his verdict where it suited him, and where it did not, he stated that he does not believe in "street justice". So, through his calculations he proved that there was no loss to the exchequer even though the matter is under a CBI probe under the aegis of the Supreme Court. However, when asked about Raja guilt on the procedural irregularities front, he said he does not believe in street justice and the matter is under investigation!

One expected the lawyer in Sibal to know better that any procedural irregularity on the part of Raja would obviously lead to some revenue loss! Or is Sibal trying to eventually prove that Raja was so incompetent that he did a series of things because he was unable to grasp the intricacies of public policy and therefore blundered. However, though the moves were stupid, it did not lead to any revenue loss but in fact led to benefits for consumers? If that's the case, then once again Raja was being less eloquent than Sibal while telling CAG that "polices are made through trial and error".

rishi.raj@expressindia.com

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

MORE URBAN THAN YOU THINK
AMITENDU PALIT

Is China an urban country or rural? Like quite a few other aspects of its economy, urbanisation in China also shows trends, which, if interpreted superficially, can lead to erroneous conclusions. Mainstream economic explanations are often guilty of such conclusions.

 

Forty-seven per cent of China is urban according to the United Nations estimates on population. This is lower than the global urban count of 50%. More so, it is far less than the urban count of 75% in 'more developed regions'. The latter include North America, Japan, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. China's urban population as a percentage of its total population is slightly more than the average for 'less developed regions' that include developing countries from Africa, Latin America, Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific island countries. The urban count for this group is 45%. It is, however, higher than the urban count of least developed countries (LDCs), which is 29%.

Urbanisation is usually assumed to be an inevitable consequence of high growth and industrialisation. Viewed through this prism, China's urbanisation profile appears puzzling. It will be surprising for many to note that China's urban count is not only less than most countries of Latin and Central America (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru), but also less than that of some LDCs such as Angola, Djibouti, Gambia and Haiti. The Argentinean economy, despite being a little more than just 6% of the Chinese economy, has almost double urban count of what China has. Similarly, Angola, with an economic size of less than 2% of China's, has a higher urban count of 59% than China's 47%.

 

If urban count or proportion of urban population as a percentage of total population is employed as the yardstick, then China appears a strong exception to the conventional logic that high growth transforms societies into more urban entities. India is an equally stark exception with only 30% of its population deemed as urban population. These aberrations will encourage many to conclude that Chinese and Indian growth stories are not 'real' stories. Their conviction will be strengthened by the fact that most other major emerging market economies show different trends. Brazil (87%), Russia (73%), Mexico (78%), South Africa (62%), Turkey (70%) and Saudi Arabia (82%) have urban populations that are much greater percentages of their total populations than China and India. For most of these economies, urban counts are not only higher than the global average of 50%, but also higher than the developed region average of 75%. Indonesia, with an urban count of 44%, is the only other emerging market that has a count close to China's.

 

Does this mean that economic growth in China (or India and Indonesia) has not resulted in urbanisation, as it has in almost all other parts of the world? The above set of statistics would urge the question to be answered in the positive. The reality, however, is rather different.

 

An urban count of 47% implies an urban population of around 635 million for China. For other large emerging markets, the respective urban counts indicate urban populations of 170 million in Brazil, 102 million in Russia, 86 million in Mexico, 21 million in Saudi Arabia, 31 million in South Africa and 53 million in Turkey. India has an urban population of 364 million, while Indonesia has 102 million.

 

These numbers provide a very different angle to progress of urbanisation in China. They show China's urban population to be four-fold, seven-fold and six-fold than those of Brazil, Mexico and Russia, respectively. They also reveal that China's urban population is far larger than those of Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Mexico. In other words, a lot more people live in China's cities and towns than they do in other emerging markets. India is the closest in comparison with an urban population that is roughly 58% of China's.

If China has such a large urban population, then the obvious corollary is that it has urbanised at a much faster rate than its counterparts. Fortunately, statistics vindicates the postulate. China's rate of growth of urbanisation of 2.5% during the last five years (2005-10) has been higher than those of Brazil (1.5%), Mexico (1.4%), Russia (-0.3%), Saudi Arabia (2.4%), India (2.3%), Indonesia (1.7%), South Africa (1.8%) and Turkey (1.9%) during the same period. Thus, economic growth in China has indeed resulted in faster urbanisation. China's growth is not an aberration from conventional wisdom. But its interpretation is an occasional victim of circumspect analysis.

 

The author is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore. These are his personal views

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

EAVESDROPPER

9 feet 1 inch

Even for those who've heard all the bizarre stories there are to hear about the rules India's bureaucrats have made over the years, this is a new one. Ashutosh Garg, the founder of pharmacy chain Guardian Pharmacy, recounted this at the launch of his book The Buck Stops Here. Apparently, there's a rule that says, God knows why, the height of a chemist shop has to be 9 feet 3 inches. So, when one of his outlets was opened, the inspector refused to clear it since, when he measured it, the height was 9 feet 1 inch. Since there was no way Garg could raise the height of the ceiling, he had two inches uniformly scooped from the floor. Other gems? No chemist shop, it appears, can have more than one entrance/exit. When he asked why, he was told this went back to the days when chemist shops used to be raided for spurious drugs and such irregularities. Often enough, the chemist ran out of the back door—hence the one-door rule!

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WARMEST, WETTEST

 

When the snow is falling down around you in quantities unprecedented in memory, it can be hard to believe in global warming. Across Europe and the US last year, people did see prodigious snowstorms. On the other hand, people in Russia experienced a record-shattering heatwave. Sandwiched in the middle, people in Pakistan were inundated with floods evocative of the apocryphal Apocalypse. Macbeth may have cried "Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble," such was the disorder observed in the world's weather phenomena. But data released by two US agencies, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, explains it all. There is no mystery, global warming is on the march, which suggests that weather anomalies like severe winters and scorching summers will continue to haunt the world with increasingly regularity.

 

Not only did 2010 tie with 2005 as the warmest year on record, it also marked the 34th consecutive year in which global temperatures have been above the 20 th century average. Anyone who was tempted to (implausibly) call this a coincidence would have to explain away the link with the fact that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere last year was also at its highest in at least 800,000 years, and around 40% higher as compared to pre-industrial times. Further, 2010 stands out as the wettest year on record. Again, a warmer atmosphere tends to hold more precipitation.

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

ISSUES OF PILGRIM SAFETY

 

Among India's major pilgrimage spots, the hill-shrine of Sabarimala has a unique ethos that welcomes people from all religions. This year the number is one of the highest for the Makaravilakku season: upwards of one crore people. In recent years, especially in the wake of a stampede that claimed 53 lives in 1999, the Kerala government has taken several measures to improve crowd management around the shrine and along the access routes. However, these have been largely nullified by the phenomenal increase in numbers. Pilgrims continue to face extreme hardship all along the way. This season witnessed traffic hold-ups stretching up to 45 km (at one point) along the main route, inducing many pilgrims to take largely unsupervised paths that run through the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Uppupara or Pulmedu in Idukki district, where more than a hundred people tragically lost their lives on January 14, is along one of these alternative paths. An estimated 250,000 people were on the grassy slopes to watch the Makarajyothi — but there was no lighting and no regulation of movement. As a mass of people started their return journey in the dark, it became a free-for-all — and a wayward vehicle set off a deadly stampede. Many questions about the causes and circumstances of the tragedy remain.

 

The practical suggestions made by a succession of committees for a safe and satisfying Sabarimala pilgrimage need to be implemented, factoring in the rapid growth in numbers. The real challenge in Sabarimala is to retain the ecologically fragile environment — the forest setting at its verdant and serene best — while expanding infrastructure and creating sustainable basic facilities for optimal pilgrim turnaround, and to regulate and streamline the flow. Given that the temple area is confined and extremely difficult to access, there needs to be a comprehensive assessment of carrying capacities at a given point. On the basis of such data, access should be restricted through viable means: one suggestion, for example, was a system of e-registration of pilgrims. The Vaishno Devi temple in Jammu has an effective system of issuing 'yatra slips' to limit the number of pilgrims on any given day. More transit camps are needed to regulate the flow of pilgrims. One suggestion to mitigate the hardship came from the Kerala High Court: spread the pilgrim season through the year. The proposals in the Master Plan for Sabarimala that seek to lay equal emphasis on infrastructure development and the conservation of the region must also be acted upon quickly.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

THE CHANGING FACE OF LA NINA

'The Little Girl' — La Nina — has had an outsized impact across globe since manifesting itself in mid-2010. La Nina and its equally rumbustious sibling, El Nino, come about when the waters of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean along the equator become unusually cold or warm. These changes in the Pacific produce swings in atmospheric pressure, winds, temperature, and rainfall that have a global impact. These coupled with changes in the ocean and atmosphere are collectively called the El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO). For India, an El Nino is often a cause for concern because of its adverse impact on the south-west monsoon; this happened in 2009. A La Nina, on the other hand, is often beneficial for the monsoon, especially in the latter half. The La Nina that appeared in the Pacific in 2010 probably helped last year's south-west monsoon end on a favourable note. But then, it also contributed to the deluge in Australia, which resulted in one of that country's worst natural disasters with large parts of the north-east under water. It wreaked similar havoc in south-eastern Brazil and played a part in the heavy rains and consequent flooding that have affected Sri Lanka.

 

It is becoming increasingly clear that global warming is contributing to the impact that ENSO has. The Indian Ocean is warming rapidly. There are already indications that this warming along with the growing temperature of the western Pacific is influencing the effect of a La Nina. A paper, ominously titled 'The Perfect Ocean for Drought,' which was published in the journal Science in 2003, linked the prolonged droughts from 1998 to 2002 that afflicted the United States, southern Europe, and south-west Asia to the warmth of these ocean waters during a protracted La Nina. Such heightened ocean temperatures may well have played a crucial part in weather-related events in recent months. While the La Nina that developed in mid-2010 lent a helping hand to the south-west monsoon, the warmth of the tropical Indian Ocean may have prevented a more equitable distribution of rainfall — eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and much of West Bengal received far too little of it. The warming of the Indian Ocean and western Pacific probably provided the extra moisture and energy for the exceptionally heavy rains that Australia and Sri Lanka experienced. It could be one reason why in India the north-east monsoon, which is usually retarded by a La Nina, has this time seen a surfeit of rain. The writing on the wall is clear enough: global warming will worsen the swings of climate variability brought about by factors like ENSO, making extreme weather events such as droughts and floods more frequent. The world needs to pay heed.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

AWAMI LEAGUE: RISING TO THE CHALLENGE

WHILE IT IS A BIT EARLY TO JUDGE SHEIKH HASINA GOVERNMENT'S PERFORMANCE, IT SURELY DESERVES A SPECIAL MENTION FOR BRINGING ABOUT FUNDAMENTAL CHANGES IN SOME VITAL SECTORS IN TWO YEARS.

HAROON HABIB

In the 40 years since the independence of Bangladesh, the Awami League, which led the freedom struggle against Pakistan, has been able to run the government for only three terms, including the present tenure. And for Sheikh Hasina, daughter of the slain founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, it is the second term.

Surely, people's expectations were very high because the 'grand alliance' led by Sheikh Hasina promised a change, and a brighter and forward-looking future. It won the 2008 general elections, bagging 230 out of the 300 parliamentary seats.

The landslide for the "pro-liberation" alliance was, understandably, due to its pre-election pledges which reflected the aspirations of the people who were eager to see the exit of the controversial military-backed interim rule, and wanted a replacement for the coercive political culture that was set forth by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-Jamaat coalition.

A period of two years is not enough to judge a government that has a five-year mandate. But the Hasina government deserves a special mention for bringing about some fundamental changes in some vital sectors. Undoubtedly, one such area was the tough handling of religious extremists and militants who were trying to undermine the liberal democratic system. The new guards in Dhaka have acted firmly against the growing menace of extremism and demonstrated their commitment, which was absent when Khaleda Zia was in power in a coalition with the fundamentalists.

The trial of criminals of the 1971 war of liberation was another major step the government boldly initiated. Badly needed to establish the rule of law and put straight the record of the history of independence, the trial of those who committed crimes against humanity as collaborators of the Pakistan army further alarmed the religious extremists as well as the main opposition BNP, which forged a unified stand with the extremist sections against the Hasina government.

The last two years have also seen the completion of a major judicial process in which the convicted killers of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman were sent to the gallows.

Another important sector the government has paid adequate attention to is the restoration of regional connectivity for mutual cooperation. Dhaka should be credited with pursuing a forward-looking policy that has opened up a new vista in the relations with regional powers like India. The relations with China, another Asian giant, also received due consideration.

According to diplomatic analysts, the delicate issues of connectivity with New Delhi that the new government has pursued with courage and conviction would not only benefit the landlocked northeastern Indian States but also bring economic benefits to Bangladesh. They, however, say the past two years have been spent only in laying the foundations and results are likely as the government steps into its third year.

The beginning of the new trend in India-Bangladesh relations was evident when the Prime Minister paid a visit to New Delhi in January last year. The outcome of the visit, which came under sharp criticism from the BNP and its fundamentalist allies, nevertheless helped to clear the clouds that long overshadowed the relations between the next-door neighbours.

Criticism apart, the political leadership of India and Bangladesh took some major decisions during Ms Hasina's visit. Bangladesh, for the first time, allowed India, Nepal and Bhutan to use the Chittagong and Mongla seaports for the landlocked Indian northeast. In return, India allowed Bangladesh transit through its territory for trade with the landlocked Nepal and Bhutan. The transit to India through Bangladesh was considered a politically sensitive issue. But the new government moved forward decisively considering the economic aspects as well as the significance of opening up a new vista in regional cooperation. Bangladesh has also allowed India to use its Ashuganj riverport for transport of heavy equipment to construct a power plant in remote Tripura. The country also secured a loan of $1 billion from India to upgrade road and railway infrastructure. Unfazed by sharp criticism over forging closer ties with India, the Hasina government went ahead.

Another important step was Bangladesh undertaking to fulfil its commitment not to allow the use of its territory by Indian separatists or militants — an issue New Delhi kept insisting for long. In the last two years, Bangladesh has also been successful in clearing its name from the list of countries that harbour extremism.

However, while taking a few major steps forward, the two countries are yet to resolve the much discussed issue of sharing the waters of common rivers, including the Teesta. There has been an imperative need to settle the longstanding dispute over 6.5 km of the un-demarcated land boundary and remove the trade imbalance that heavily favours India. The killing of Bangladeshi civilians on the frontier, allegedly by Indian border guards, also needs to be looked into seriously.

Notwithstanding its successes, even the sympathisers of the government believe it has fallen behind in certain areas in which people expected it to be different. The continuing absence of the main Opposition in Parliament is not something that goes against the government alone. The BNP, still struggling to regain its rhythm following its electoral debacle, has failed to attend parliamentary sessions as part of its strategy to gain political mileage.

While admitting that the prices of commodities in the international market have gone up, it cannot be denied that during the past two years, the spiral has played havoc with citizens' lives. The power sector is another vital area in which the government is yet to come to grips, despite efforts to import and generate electricity. Many fear that the unabated increase in the prices of essential commodities and frequent power cuts have pinned the people down. As a result, the voters, who had great expectations from the Sheikh Hasina-led alliance, may be disappointed.

The overall law and order situation seemed to improve but the recklessness and high-handedness of a section of the ruling party's students and youth wing members have generated ill-feelings among the people.

As for another top priority pledge — effective anti-corruption drive — the government has come under criticism that it has not lived up to its promise. As during the BNP-Jamaat tenure, many graft cases against the ruling party men were dropped on the ground of political victimisation. The national anti-graft body has not been strengthened any further.

Many sympathisers of the government are worried about its performance in some areas on the economic front although the economy is on the right footing, thanks to a positive growth in the revenue income and better management of the agriculture sector. Education is another vital sector where the government performed well.

Politicisation of civil administration has been a concern the Hasina government inherited but its political opponents allege that the problem has reached new heights. Extra-judicial killings of suspected miscreants continue to be criticised by human rights bodies. Well-wishers have advised the government to make a course correction and focus on certain areas in which it has failed to make substantial progress.

Only a week before the end of her first two years in power, did Sheikh Hasina declare that the honeymoon period of her government was over. As she steps into the third year, the honeymoon seems truly over. The government, as indications suggest, may face a tougher challenge from the political opposition vis-à-vis the major initiatives it has undertaken in the last two years.

(The writer is a senior Bangladesh

journalist and author. He can be reached at: hh1971@gmail.com)

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THE HINDU

RABINDRANATH TAGORE'S VISION OF INDIA AND CHINA

THE POET REFLECTED THE SPIRIT OF AN ASIA WHICH HAD TRADITIONALLY LIVED IN PEACE, PURSUING THE TRAFFIC OF IDEAS AND COMMERCE IN AN OPEN, INCLUSIVE WAY. THIS IS HIS RELEVANCE TO THE 21ST CENTURY.

NIRUPAMA RAO


There is a heightened focus on Rabindranath Tagore today, as we engage in preparations to celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth. This year it will also be 87 years since Tagore made his memorable visit to China. He went to China with a message of love and brotherhood that he felt symbolised the essence of the ties between the two countries. From all we know, his visit captured the imagination of Chinese intellectual elite, some of whom were overcome with admiration for his eloquence and passionate espousal of the civilisational strength of the East, while others especially young students in some of the Chinese leading universities, drawing directly from the ideology of the May 4, 1919 movement, were vehement in their rejection of Tagore's critique of modern civilisation.

Popular in China

Even before his arrival in China in April 1924, Tagore was already a celebrated figure in that country. Chen Du Xiu, one of the founding fathers of the Communist Party of China translated Tagore's prize-winning anthology, "Gitanjali" as early as 1915. Guo Moruo, who was a writer of Tagore's status in China in the early decades of the People's Republic of China, was deeply influenced by Tagore when he was studying in Japan from 1914 to 1920.

Tagore truly believed in the mutually beneficial interactive relationship between the two great civilisations of China and India. He passionately advocated the reopening of the path between the two countries that had become obscured through the centuries. His international university, "Visvabharati," played a pioneering role in the development of Chinese studies in India. The establishment of the first Sino-Indian Cultural Society, and then, "Cheena Bhavana" at Santineketan were corner stones for this cause. Scholars, teachers like Tan Yun-shan, who led Cheena Bhavan for many years, contributed greatly to modern India's understanding of Chinese civilisation and its modern development.

Tagore was a visionary, always forward-looking. In one of his lectures in China in 1924, he said, "I hope that some dreamer will spring from among you and preach a message of love and therewith overcoming all differences bridge the chasm of passions which has been widening for ages." These were powerful words addressed to both the peoples of China and India, calling upon them to build a deeper mutual understanding. In speaking of the need for "eternally revealing a joyous relationship unforeseen," he sought to promote the cause of China-India understanding, envisioning the ascent of India and China to a higher platform of civilisational leadership and fraternal partnership since they together comprise 40 per cent of humanity. In his view there was no fundamental contradiction between the two countries whose civilisations stressed the concept of harmonious development in the spirit of " vasudhaiva kutumbakam (the world is one family") and " shijie datong (world in grand harmony").

Essay

What is perhaps not well known is that apart from admiration for China, Tagore deeply felt the plight of the Chinese people. When he was all but 20 in 1881, he authored an essay vehemently denouncing the opium trade which had been imposed on China since that opium was mostly being grown in British India. He called this essay "Chine Maraner Byabasay" or the Commerce of Killing people in China. He expressed similar feelings of sympathy after the Japanese invasion of China writing to his friend, a Japanese poet, Yone Noguchi, that "the reports of Chinese suffering batter against my heart."

I believe that Tagore's focus on Asia's unique identity is of particular relevance today as we seek to promote peace, stability and prosperity in Asia. Instinctively, he reflected the spirit of an Asia which had traditionally lived in peace, pursuing the traffic of ideas, the peaceful absorption of different religions without proselytisation, and trade and commerce across oceans that were not polarised but were neutral — literally zones of peace and a common economic space. This was an approach defined by secularism and a complementariness of interests. This balanced commercial equilibrium was enhanced by the concept of spiritual unity.

One has only to visit the caves of Ajanta or see the murals of Dunhuang in China to see the capturing through the eye of the artist of this vision of unity — with their depiction of various nationalities thronging royal processions or expressing their grief before a dying Buddha. In the Eighth century, an Indian astronomer named Gautama Siddhartha, was named the president of the Board of Astronomy of China. This tolerance and openness, lack of prejudice toward foreigners and outsiders, the spirit of enterprise and the absence of trade barriers, was unprecedented in the history of the world. I believe this is what Tagore meant when he said that we should have our past as a rough guide for the future.

Vision of unity

Even if Tagore's outreach to China did not evoke the intended response during or immediately following his visit, his approach looks prophetic with the passage of time. At that point in time, Tagore said in his final lecture in China, "I have done what was possible — I have made friends." However, this was not just friendship between the poet and his fans in China, it was in many ways symbolic of the renewal of friendship between India and China and awakening of their potential. For instance, India and China were to launch the Panchsheel initiative exactly three decades later, drawing upon their civilisational values.

The tenacity of these principles in the modern world of complex diplomacy and realpolitik shows that what is ancient need not be antiquated. Both India and China are today arguably more modern and confident in outlook than in Tagore's days, although India, with its tradition of gradualism, is often accused of lagging in its drive towards modernity. Be that as it may, both India and China today have the maturity to admire our past, including the past of our contacts, without getting overwhelmed or swamped under its weight. Our effort, as a pan-Asia initiative under the East Asian Summit-process, to resurrect the glory of Nalanda, is a pointer in that direction. The vision of Asian unity conceived by Tagore nearly a century ago, is close to getting realised in the process of community-building in our region.

Tagore's encounter with China did not culminate with his trip there in 1924. The idea of India and the idea of China — civilisations that could never perish – were guiding principles for leaders like Nehru. Until the unfortunate border conflict of 1962, the concept of fraternal partnership between India and China had never been questioned. The estrangement of the 1960s and early 1970s expressed an aberration that went against the grain of the inspirational words of Tagore and his belief in the geo-civilisational paradigm of India-China relations. The scholar Patricia Uberoi speaks of the post-Westphalian compact where the institution of the nation-state is defined by territorial boundedness. She writes how "with this come notions of centre and periphery, mainland and margins, and the justified use of force in their defence." Perhaps, as she says, Tagore would have thought of frontier zones as "revolving doors — as creative spaces where civilisations meet, and not as the trouble spots of contemporary geo-politics."

It is that ideal of global sustainability that Tagore would have spoken to — where regional cooperation across territorial boundaries strengthens connectivities and diminishes the salience of protracted contest and conflict. Similarly the notion of intercultural give and take between India and China contradicts the theory of any clash of civilisations. This is a useful model for Asia as we see it resurgent once again, and we seek open, transparent, balanced and equitable dialogue structures and patterns of cooperation among all the regions of our continent.

( The author is Foreign Secretary of India. This is a shortened version of her recent lecture at the Singapore Consortium for China-India Dialogue. The full text is available at www.thehindu.com.)

 

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THE HINDU

ISRAELI DESERT COMPLEX CRUCIAL TO UNDERMINING IRAN'S NUCLEAR ASCENT

EXPERTS SAY DIMONA TESTED THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE STUXNET COMPUTER WORM.

 

William J. Broad, David E. Sanger and John Markoff

The Dimona complex in the Negev desert is famous as the heavily guarded heart of Israel's never-acknowledged nuclear arms programme, where neat rows of factories make atomic fuel for the arsenal.

Over the past two years, according to intelligence and military experts familiar with its operations, Dimona has taken on a new, equally secret role as a critical testing ground in a joint American and Israeli effort to undermine Iran's efforts to make a bomb of its own.

Behind Dimona's barbed wire, the experts say, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran's at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium. They say Dimona tested the effectiveness of the Stuxnet computer worm, a destructive programme that now appears to have wiped out roughly a fifth of Iran's nuclear centrifuges and helped delay, though not destroy, Tehran's ability to make its first nuclear arms.

"To check out the worm, you have to know the machines," said an American expert on nuclear intelligence. "The reason the worm has been effective is that the Israelis tried it out."

Though American and Israeli officials refuse to talk publicly about what goes on at Dimona, the operations there, as well as related efforts in the United States, are among the newest and strongest clues suggesting that the virus was designed as an American-Israeli project to sabotage the Iranian programme.

In recent days, the retiring chief of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, Meir Dagan, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton separately announced that they believed Iran's efforts had been set back by several years. Ms Clinton cited American-led sanctions, which have hurt Iran's ability to buy components and do business around the world.

The gruff Dagan, whose organisation has been accused by Iran of being behind the deaths of several Iranian scientists, told the Israeli Knesset in recent days that Iran had run into technological difficulties that could delay a bomb until 2015. That represented a sharp reversal from Israel's long-held argument that Iran was on the cusp of success.

The biggest single factor in putting time on the nuclear clock appears to be Stuxnet, the most sophisticated cyber weapon ever deployed.

Deciphering the worm

In interviews over the past three months in the United States and Europe, experts who have picked apart the computer worm describe it as far more complex and ingenious than anything they had imagined when it began circulating around the world, unexplained, in mid-2009.

Many mysteries remain, chief among them, exactly who constructed a computer worm that appears to have several authors on several continents. But the digital trail is littered with intriguing bits of evidence.

In early 2008 the German company Siemens cooperated with one of the United States' premier national laboratories, in Idaho, to identify the vulnerabilities of computer controllers that the company sells to operate industrial machinery around the world and that American intelligence agencies have identified as key equipment in Iran's enrichment facilities.

Siemens says that programme was part of routine efforts to secure its products against cyber attacks. Nonetheless, it gave the Idaho National Laboratory which is part of the Energy Department, responsible for America's nuclear arms the chance to identify well-hidden holes in the Siemens systems that were exploited the next year by Stuxnet.

The worm itself now appears to have included two major components. One was designed to send Iran's nuclear centrifuges spinning wildly out of control. Another seems right out of the movies: The computer programme also secretly recorded what normal operations at the nuclear plant looked like, then played those readings back to plant operators, like a pre-recorded security tape in a bank heist, so that it would appear that everything was operating normally while the centrifuges were actually tearing themselves apart.

The attacks were not fully successful: Some parts of Iran's operations ground to a halt, while others survived, according to the reports of international nuclear inspectors. Nor is it clear the attacks are over: Some experts who have examined the code believe it contains the seeds for yet more versions and assaults.

Industrial warfare

Officially, neither American nor Israeli officials will even utter the name of the malicious computer programme, much less describe any role in designing it.

President Barack Obama's chief strategist for combating weapons of mass destruction, Gary Samore, sidestepped a Stuxnet question at a recent conference about Iran, but added with a smile: "I'm glad to hear they are having troubles with their centrifuge machines, and the U.S. and its allies are doing everything we can to make it more complicated."

In recent days, American officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity have said in interviews that they believe Iran's setbacks have been under-reported. That may explain why Ms Clinton provided her public assessment while travelling in the Middle East last week.."

By the accounts of a number of computer scientists, nuclear enrichment experts and former officials, the covert race to create Stuxnet was a joint project between the Americans and the Israelis , with some help, knowing or unknowing, from the Germans and the British.

The project's political origins can be found in the last months of the Bush administration.

In January 2009, The New York Times reported that Mr. Bush authorised a covert programme to undermine the electrical and computer systems around Natanz, Iran's major enrichment centre.— © New York Times News Service

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THE HINDU

SERBIA LOOKS TO IMPROVING IMAGE WITH PEACEKEEPING

SLOBODAN LEKIC

Not long ago, Serbian troops were notorious for nationalism, aggression and even war crimes. Now they want to be known as international guardians of peace.

In the 1990s, under the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, they shelled towns in Croatia and Bosnia and supported Serb rebels when they attacked civilians in those newly independent nations. U.N. peacekeepers were sent to the Balkans to protect people from the Serb-led attacks.

Now Serbia's pro-Western government is bent on improving the army's tarnished image. Its primary tactic, participating in overseas peacekeeping missions, turning yesterday's attackers into the protectors of today. At the same army centre on the outskirts of Belgrade where troops once trained for the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, dozens of local and foreign instructors are teaching soldiers to be guardians of peace in places like Chad, Cyprus, Lebanon and Somalia.

The trainers include advisers from the United States and other members of NATO, the military alliance that bombed Serbia in 1999 to halt its military crackdown on the secessionist province of Kosovo, which has since become an independent nation.

Several dozen soldiers from Serbia already are serving in U.N. units in Congo, Chad, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Cyprus and Lebanon. The effort will be eventually expanded to 40-member platoons, to be followed by companies of 180 soldiers and even larger units.

"We are the first soldiers from our country. We hope that after this mission, the image of Serbia will be better," said Staff Sgt. Alexander Beocanin, part of a seven-man Serb unit serving with the U.N. force on the divided island of Cyprus.

He and his colleagues patrol the U.N.-controlled buffer zone separating the Greek Cypriot south from the Turkish Cypriot north. The soldiers' duties involve monitoring and observing the zone and preventing anyone from straying into it.

"We have so much experience in war; now we want peace," Beocanin said. Beyond expanding its existing deployments, Serbia also hopes to deploy a battalion to join the 12,500-strong U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, which has monitored the border with Israel for the past 32 years.

Peacekeeping represents a marked turnaround for the Serbian military. After the Balkan wars of the 1990s, more than 40 Serbian politicians, generals and other officials were indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague for war crimes. Dozens more have faced trial either in Serbia or in other countries that once formed the Yugoslav federation.

Milosevic's military also sheltered war crimes suspects, including fugitive Gen. Ratko Mladic, who remains at large despite his 1995 indictment for the massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica. Milosevic himself was accused of genocide, and died in a prison cell in The Hague, Netherlands, while still on trial.

Part of President's efforts

The focus on peacekeeping is part of President Boris Tadic's effort to improve Serbia's international standing. The country's bid to join the European Union recently received a major boost when the bloc agreed to review Serbia's candidacy.

Plans for international peacekeeping missions originated in 2003, as part of broad reform of the armed forces. Troop levels were slashed from nearly 100,000 to just 35,000, and a group of young officers was promoted to the senior ranks to replace the generals discredited in Milosevic's wars.

Since then the military has established close contacts with the armed forces of Britain, Norway and the United States, which initiated a partnership between the Serbian army and the National Guard of Ohio, home to a large Serbian immigrant community.

As a result, the military has become the country's most avid proponent of closer ties with NATO despite the alliance's bombing of Serbia a decade ago, said Daniel Sunter, editor of Belgrade-based Balkan Intelligence monthly.— AP

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THE HINDU

DISTURBING TRENDS ON FOOD FRONT: MEDIA WATCH

 

Recently, The Hindu's Rural Affairs Editor, P. Sainath, analysed with solid facts the rise in the number of suicides by farmers in States such as Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. The data provided a few weeks ago by the National Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2009 have broken a declining trend in the number of farmers reported to be resorting to the extreme step. The State governments that provide the data are invariably in denial mode about the causes of these suicides.

Yet another concern for the people is the steep rise in the prices of onions, eggs, vegetables, and milk. The spurt in food inflation to 18.32 per cent in the week ending on December 25, 2010 has, understandably, drawn the utmost attention of the authorities, right from the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh and his Advisory Council, besides the Reserve Bank of India. They were at it for four days (January 11 to 14). At the end of it all, came the report that the food inflation had gone down to 16.91 in the week ending January 1 against the previous week's 18.32.

Recent media reports have brought to the fore some worrying trends on the food and agriculture front. Citing a report of the Rangarajan Committee, they have highlighted the Central Government's efforts to dilute the content of the promised Food Security Bill in the face of feeble resistance from an apparently divided National Advisory Council, headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

When the original draft of the Bill was found inadequate by a cross section of people, a revived NAC, which was enlarged with a few more champions of food security, discussed different options and came up with a new draft, itself a diluted version of a stronger draft. After six rounds of discussion, the NAC sent its recommendations on the National Food Security Bill to the Working Group.

The first recommendation sought to break the reluctance of the Union Government to extend the benefits of statutory food security above the officially delineated poverty line. The NAC recommended that legal entitlements to subsidised food grains should be extended to at least 75 per cent of the country's population — 90 per cent in rural areas and 50 per cent in urban areas.

The eligible 75 per cent of the people were to be divided into two groups, priority and general households. The priority households (46 per cent in rural areas and 28 per cent in urban areas) were to have a monthly entitlement of 35 kg at a subsidised price of Re.1 per kg for millets, Rs. 2 for wheat, and Rs. 3 for rice. The general households (44 per cent in rural areas and 22 per cent in urban areas) were to be entitled to a monthly quota of 20 kg at a price not exceeding 50 per cent of the current Minimum Support Price (MSP) for millets, wheat, and rice.

Highly dissatisfied with the latest development, Jean Dreze, an economist and a member of the NAC, has stated that the advisory body "came under a lot of pressure to accommodate constraints imposed by the government" and the final result was "a minimalist proposal that misses many important elements of food security."

The worrying aspect is that even in a diluted form, the NAC recommendations are not palatable to an expert committee chaired by the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council Chairman, C. Rangarajan. This conservative group favours a mandatory entitlement of subsidised food grains for the "priority" (Below the Poverty Line) category as recommended by the NAC. But it does not think it is feasible to extend to the 'general' (Above the Poverty Line) category a legal entitlement of subsidised food grains under the Public Distribution System. Further, it suggests that the subsidised grains for the poor should be linked to inflation and to the Consumer Price Index in the coming years.

In a note it presented on January 10, the NAC's Working Group on Food Security dwelt at length on the proposed entitlements as well as the setting up of a grievance redress mechanism for the food security scheme. This was to ensure that if the beneficiaries were deprived of their entitlements, they could approach a designated authority and secure their rights.

It is a great pity that after a serious effort, which was reported in detail and editorially backed by sections of the press, to put in place an effective food security system, nothing much has come out of it. Hunger and nutritional deprivation on a mass scale are key challenges before rising India. The policy response from the government and its various arms is slow, grossly inadequate, and confused. This is one area affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people where the news media, especially Indian language newspapers and television channels, which have a big reach today could play a leading, socially responsible, and progressive role in building a public agenda.

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

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DNA

EDITORIAL

A NEED TO CLOSELY GUARD OUR GUARDIANS

 

Encounter killings, often the first recourse for police forces short on investigative skills or even the patience for due diligence and once the favourite of a middle class sold on the idea of vigilante justice, have of late been getting the flak they deserve. The Supreme Court's observation that "Our Republic cannot behave like this and kill its own children" while hearing a case on the deaths of Maoist leader Azad and journalist Hemendra Pandey in Andhra Pradesh last year truly sums up the travesty of justice which are encounter killings.

 

Even when encounter deaths are condemned, there appears to be a general consensus that the law need not be followed when it comes to terrorists and insurgents. The police forces – which are vilified for inefficiency most times – become apparent paragons of virtue when it comes to dealing with terrorists.

 

Yet, recent cases from Khwaja Yunus in Mumbai to Sohrabuddin in Gujarat to Azad in Andhra Pradesh have shown the police up both for being trigger-happy as well as for having shoddy investigative skills. The arrest of Swami Aseemanand has shown how badly off the mark the police have been when investigating a number of bomb blasts in the past couple of years.

 

Forensic evidence suggests that Azad and Pandey were killed at close range, which contradicts the account of the police. This is the same story that is repeated in all such cases and increasing judicial and civil scrutiny has led to the police being forced to be more circumspect and perhaps less ready to kill under these circumstances.

 

But the police often act on instruction from the government of the day and this is where the courts have to be more vigilant. Rising crime rates or public fears about insurgencies lead politicians to lean heavily on the police. The result is that the tenets of jurisprudence and the due process of law are ignored in order to "show" a result. The next step after this is the clamour to change our laws so that the rights of the accused are curtailed.

 

It is to the credit of civil rights organisations that they have taken up these cases. The Supreme Court has expressed its anguish in damning terms and the government has to now reply. To be accused of falsely killing your own citizens is shameful and demeaning. Unfortunately, when it comes to some cases and some crimes, encounters have been seen as the easy way out. The only way forward is to closely guard our guardians.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

 

FIX SYSTEMS TO END 'HOLY PLACE' TRAGEDIES

 

The stampede at the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala on the night of January 14, in which more than 100 pilgrims have died, is tragic at one level and callous at another in that we do not value human life. It is also a sad comment on the sheer shoddiness of our social systems, where proper arrangements for the movement of people at a popular pilgrimage site are not taken care of.

 

As a consequence, thousands of people gather in the smallest of places, and the reason that there are no mishaps most of the time is a miraculous outcome rather than sound arrangements. It is the same infuriating story that repeats itself in all the religious places in this country.

 

The holy places are small; they are not meant to hold masses of people. And they are located in remote places. It is modern communications, more than anything else, that has encouraged thousands of people to make their way to these holy spots. It is both a blessing and a curse. Blessing is that many pious individuals who would not otherwise have made the journey succeed in fulfilling their pious wish.

 

On the other, the place of the shrine turns into a danger zone for the sheer pressure of the crowd that gathers there. Local authorities as well as shrine managers do all they can to make things easy for them but not enough thought is really spared to make them safe. That is at the heart of the problem.

 

The mishap that triggered the stampede that ended in the death of so many was so small that there should have been no deaths at all. A jeep collided with another vehicle on a steep path leading to the temple. But what made things worse was the fact the narrow path was being used by thousands upon thousands of people and there were no lights. Perhaps in the first place, overcrowded vehicles should not have been travelling on that path at all, the people should not have been rushing down the path because there was no proper lighting on the way.

 

The offer of free medical help and a comprehensive inquiry into the episode by the state government is necessary but it does not in any way exculpate the authorities. It is too late as always.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

FROM 'THANK YOU' TO DHANYAWAD

 

It should not come as a surprise that globalisation should help push Hindi into the international linguistic circuit even as Indians from all language groups have been learning English to reach out to the world. In the wake of the economic recession out there, more people are turning to India for business and other opportunities.

 

And they seem to feel that though they can manage with English in India, they will bond better with the people if the learn a smattering of Hindi expressions like namaskar (a much more polite version of 'hello'),and dhanyawad (more courteous than 'thank you'), because these words carry cultural overtones that would melt the proverbial ice between strangers.

 

This is even more so when it comes to doing business. Foreigners in India believe the best way of breaking barriers is by speaking the language of the people. But it will take some time before Indians allow foreigners to speak Hindi or any other Indian language because we are more interested in striking a conversation in English with foreigners! The change will come about when the foreigners go beyond the big cities in quest of markets in towns and villages.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

THE COMPELLING NATURE OF THAT PHONE CALL

V RAGHUNATHAN

 

We may be engaged in a serious meeting;we may be driving; we may be on a romantic date; or simply half asleep — but then that cell phone rings up, we interrupt whatever it is that we are doing and take that phone call, even when the number calling is an unrecognised number.

 

What is so compulsive about the phone call that we are willing to interrupt any of our other engagements?

 

Rationally, it hardly makes sense to give priority to a phone call of unknown consequence, possibly from some obscure caller over someone or something of known and considerable significance that we may be engaged with or engaged in. So why do we do it?

 

Two aspects of human behaviour could explain this phenomenon. First, human nature intrinsically dislikes mysteries. When faced with a mystery, the mind has a natural tendency to try and unravel it.A phone call, until it has been answered, holds a mystery.

 

When the caller is unknown, the mystery is who could it be? Even when the caller is known, what could the potential message be? How important is that message? True, it could be of far less significance than what we may be engaged in; but then, what if it is of greater significance? The mind cannot rest unless the mystery is solved. It seeks an immediate answer.

 

And in this case the solving of the mystery entails nothing more than reaching out for that call. If this brings a few frowns on the faces of those in front of us whom we are in a way slighting in the process or increasing the risk to our safety, well, it is a small price to pay for satiating that curiosity.

 

The second aspect of human nature that contributes to this phenomenon is what we have referred to in our earlier discussions as losses loom larger than profits. A loss of Rs1,000 rankles more than the pleasure a gain of Rs1,000 brings us. The usefulness of our current engagement with someone we care for, the pleasant state of sleepiness, our safety, or the pleasure of a romantic date are the benefits we may be currently engaged in. These no doubt have a significant positive value for us.

 

Now the phone call that comes in may be more or less valuable to us than the current activity that we may be disrupting.Thus, the expected value of information inherent in such an incoming call may be considered the same as the value of what we are currently engaged in. But if we do not take that phone call, we suffer from an information loss pertaining to the mystery, which looms larger than the expected value of an equivalent benefit. Thus, we are compelled to take that call.

 

That's why a great many of us seldom stay away from that phone. We often do not switch off the contraption even when we sleep or are driving.If the signal on our cell phone is down for a few minutes, we develop withdrawal symptoms.

 

The only time we realise how unfair it is to ignore those in front of us in favour of those who are faceless at the other end of an invisible phone line is when we are at the receiving end. We may be in a slow queue before an information desk and reach the counter only to find the counter clerk's phone ringing where upon promptly, the clerk takes that call, leaving you standing indefinitely till that call is concluded.Just as a kettle never boils as you watch it, a phone call never ends when you are waiting! That has our blood boiling.Why should the phone always have a priority over those present in person? Well, now we know.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

 

FAILURE WRIT LARGE IN AMERICA'S ONGOING OUTREACH TO PAKISTAN

HARSH V PANT

 

The US vice-president, Joe Biden, was visiting Pakistan earlier this week in another attempt to assess the situation in the country and press upon the Pakistani establishment the urgent need to work more effectively in countering extremism.

 

Recent months have once again raised the spectre of a Pakistan that is failing at all levels. And as Pakistan is central to the US strategy in Afghanistan, concerns are rising in the corridors of power in Washington about the fate of the Obama administration's Af-Pak strategy.

 

Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province and one of the few public liberal voices in the nation, was gunned down by his own security guard because of his very vocal opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy law. Last year in November, Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, was sentenced to death for blasphemy after a court convicted her of defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed during a 2009 argument with fellow Muslim field workers.

 

An investigation by the Pakistani government found the charges against Bibi stemmed from "religious and personal enmity" and recommended her release. This resulted in the government suggesting that it would review the law.

 

Taseer publicly argued against the nation's blasphemy laws. He was a famous crusading liberal, especially against the forces of extremism and militant Islam. His assassination was a major blow to Pakistan's liberal cause. The mainstream politicians found that he was politically too controversial to even attend his funeral.

 

It is clear to US policymakers that the American strategy in Afghanistan cannot succeed unless the sanctuaries for the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan are dismantled. The entire leadership of al-Qaeda and the most vicious of Taliban fighters are in Pakistan and the army is critical in dealing with them.

 

They can be handled only if the Pakistani army is willing and able to go into the strongholds of these extremists, especially in North Waziristan. And despite strong pressure from the US, the Pakistani army has refused to fight them with the seriousness they deserve. Their refusal is based on two arguments. One is related to the fear of fighting fellow Muslims.

 

But the other, stronger, argument remains one of the utility of these groups for the Pakistani security establishment in furthering its own cause. As a consequence, there is no likelihood of the Pakistani military mounting large-scale military operations in North Waziristan anytime soon. Meanwhile, the CIA has escalated drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal belt in recent months, with most of the strikes targeting North Waziristan.

 

Despite this, the US has been trying its best to convince Pakistan to take on the extremists even as it is trying its best to allay Afghan government's concerns about Pakistan's real intentions.

 

Therefore, on his way to Pakistan, the US vice-president pledged long-term American support for Afghanistan, offering a commitment to help the war-torn nation beyond the 2014 target both countries have set to have Afghans fully in charge of their own security.

 

In Pakistan, Biden's focus was on Washington's growing concerns over the volatile political situation and rising economic troubles. The Pakistani government came very close to collapse recently and it could be saved only after the government agreed to lower fuel prices, a populist concession that has alarmed international lenders and US officials.

 

Biden, while re-emphasising the US commitment to Pakistan, pressured the government to more aggressively pursue militants based in its territory. The Obama administration has already given greater priority to bolstering Pakistan's civilian government. The US Congress passed a five-year $7.5 billion civilian aid package in 2009 and the two nations have initiated a "strategic dialogue" to bridge the differences on a whole range of issues.

 

Despite the tide of religious fanaticism sweeping across Pakistan, which resulted in the assassination of Salman Taseer, the Pakistani security establishment continues to view religious extremist groups as assets that could be exploited during and after the "endgame" in Afghanistan. The US has offered several rounds of economic and military assistance to the Pakistani military in an attempt to get it to step up its military action against the Taliban and al-Qaeda along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

 

But nothing of substance has yet come out. The latest visit by Biden will also yield nothing substantive. Pakistan's dalliance with militant Islam will continue and it will keep resisting American pressure to take on the militants with any degree of effectiveness.

 

Trends in Pakistan are headed in the wrong direction and the US is unlikely to get its way in its dealings with Pakistan. Regional security in South Asia is witnessing a rapid deterioration and the inability of Washington to play its cards right in Islamabad is putting new pressure on Indian security.

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

ROAD TO NOWHERE

MUCH OF THE CONFUSION ABOUT THE PROPOSED J&K MEASURES APPEARS TO BE PLANNED


Omar Abdullah's claim that a roadmap on Jammu and Kashmir is in the offing is more a case of wishful thinking than reality. For the past quite some time different, rather contradictory, voices are being heard about the steps proposed, not for a solution of the Kashmir problem but only as confidence building measures to overcome the prevailing trust-deficit. There is reason to believe that such contradictory statements, with one section of the Union government proposing and other disposing, and the confusion caused on that account are planned and deliberate to mislead the public opinion. The latest in the series are the statements of the Union home secretary G.K.Pillay and the Army chief Gen V.K. Singh on the question of reduction of troops and revocation of draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, contradicting each other thus compounding the confusion. Speaking at a seminar in Jamia Milia Islamia University the Union home secretary claimed that as a confidence building measure in Jammu and Kashmir, the strength of the security forces would come down by 25 per cent. " We would like to reduce the troops as soon as possible depending on the ground situation ". In this connection he mentioned the case of Nagaland where, he pointed out, there were two divisions of the Army " but now hardly there was any presence of the security forcers in that state". Within hours of the statement of Pillay the Army chief Gen V.K.Singh said that he did not feel the need to cut down the strength of the forces deployed in Jammu and Kashmir. Similar contradictory statements were issue by different sections of the ruling establishments in New Delhi and Srinagar on the question of the revocation of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act and probes into the fake encounters and other killings in the troubled state. Chief minister Omar Abdullah who at one time had talked of the revocation of the AFSPA had to retrace his stand by saying that such a step would depend on the improvement in the ground situation. Whether it is the question of the reduction of troops or the revocation of draconian laws or any other measure for confidence building, different sections of the Union government have been speaking with different voices.
Such confusion prevails on several other questions relating to the confidence building measures as also on the initiation of a dialogue process with the estranged sections of the people in the State. While the basic issue has been kept under the carpet, even on the question of overcoming the trust deficit New Delhi has remained a prisoner of indecision. It all started with the Prime Minister convening the round table conference for which different sections of the people were invited and which were boycotted by the separatist leadership keeping the exercise confined to the mainstream political parties. Though four of these working groups constituted following the round table conferences presented their reports nearly three years ago neither the Union government nor the State government have bothered to implement any of their recommendations. This was followed by the visit of the all party parliamentary delegation to different parts of the State which presented its report to the Prime Minister. But the recommendations of this group too have been kept in the cold storage. The PMO described the situation as a case of trust-deficit and governance-deficit raising the hope that a political initiative for resolving the crisis is in the offing. But instead of involving the political leaders for preparing grounds for initiating a meaningful and unconditional dialogue process, New Delhi thought it prudent to appoint three non-political persons as interlocutors for this purpose, a move that only strengthened the impressions that New Delhi is not sincere in pursuing the dialogue process for resolving the basic Kashmir problem. While New Delhi is still dithering on the issue of resuming the composite dialogue with Pakistan, it is also groping in the dark on the question of confidence building measures in Kashmir for creating a conducive climate for dialogue.

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

ANTI-ENCROACHMENT DRIVES

GOVT NEEDS TO INITIATE ACTION AGAINST LAND MAFIA AND BREAK POLITICIAN-CRIMINAL NEXUS


The anti-encroachment drive launched by the Jammu Municipal Corporation in some select pockets of the winter capital of the state has crated bitterness among the people living in the hutments constructed on the government land. Apart from this, the timing of the anti-encroachment drive has been such that these people have been rendered homeless at the height of the winter season when they do not have anywhere to go and had to live under the open sky in this harsh season. At the first instance, the question arises why the need for this drive has arisen when the government agencies were having full knowledge of everything and why such hutments were allowed to come up on municipal or government land. There is also a feeling among the people in these select areas that there are political undertones in the whole process. At one stage, these very people living in the hutments have been patronized by those politicians, who now want them to be removed from these encroached plots of land particularly in the close vicinity of Channi Himmat Housing Colony. Nobody in the government has an answer why these people enjoyed the political patronage when these hutments were built many years back. There appears to be a vested interest behind such a process that too when they were allowed to live in the prime locations in the city. In many cases, land mafia active in both the capital cities of the state has been behind such encroachments and the government agencies also towed their line when it came to regularization of such possessions in the past few decades. On many occasions these anti-encroachment drives have been left half way only to allow the encroachers to rebuild everything that was demolished by the civic bodies. Either there is a nexus of officials and land mafia members that is operating in connivance with the revenue officers or there is a political patronage to the people engaged in encroaching vast tracts of government land. It is a public knowledge that such groups of unscrupulous people are operating for making a quick buck process in the absence of any accountability of the bureaucrats or the revenue officials. Instead of initiating action against the encroachers, the government has to devise a mechanism which should nip the evil in the bud at the very beginning for regulating the development of different areas in and around the city. In certain case these very officials have been found in selling the allotted plots of land of the people to third parties for hefty sums and no action is taken against them. Unless proper regulation is ensured innocent people will continue to be harassed by the mafia and their patrons in the administration.

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

OPINION

POWER OF GREED

NO THING AS ENOUGH MONEY!

POONAM I. KAUSHISH


From criminalization of politics to politicization of criminals. Gone are the days of Greed for Power. Today it's all about the Power of Greed. Three words that are the tragic epitaph of political India. Whereby the lust for riches overpowers all else. Dictated by the dictum: There is no such thing as enough money!


Showcased in one monstrous and gargantuan scam after another. See how Messers Kalmadi of the Rs 70,000 crore CWG fame, Raja of Rs 1.76 lakh crore 2G spectrum scam along-with lobbyist Nira Radia roam free and brazenly assert they have done no wrong. Why expect anything different?


They have no fear of law, cocooned in the belief that it shall never touch them. Instead they rule by law. Testimony once again, that political greed and corruption has become the raison d atre of our feudal democracy.

A celebration of mediocrity at best and debility at worst.


Wring your hands all you want, cynically yell that law is an ass, but that does not take away from the fact that morality, honesty and integrity are words non-existent in the political vocabulary. Sadly, legal loopholes are trotted as an excuse for political immorality. While a Union Cabinet Minister trashes the CAG's findings in the 2G scam. Another draws a fine distinction between a "criminal" and "corporate" charge-sheet."
Whereby we have allowed ourselves to be overly obsessed with the written word because of our genius for driving a coach and six through any Statute. Said an MP accused of embezzling State funds, "Where does the Constitution enjoin its citizens to speak the truth and nothing but the truth?" does that mean we speak lies?
Less said the better about the Government investigative hand maiden, CBI. Which continues to insist that it cannot rely on "media-leaked documents" about Kalmadi and his cohorts, Radia and Raja. Never mind if they are Government papers? Equally, shocking is that it continues to insist that there is no case of bribery in the Bofors case! So what if the Income Tax Tribunal nails Italian middleman Quotrochchi's lie!
Alas, in a chor-chor-mauser-bhai political milieu of you-scratch-my-back- I-yours, our leaders have left it to the "call of conscience" of individual leaders. Happily, all follow the principle of "politics of direct sale". Appalling, none have time for the gasping and groaning aam aadmi who reels under the onslaught of spiralling prices of vegetables, pulses and food-grain and sky-rocketing inflation.


From Chandigarh in the north, to Ranchi in the east, from Bhopal in the Hindu heartland to Kerala in the south, a cacophony of voices have been raised against the relentless price rise, with the common man caught between the political plunder wondering whether things will ever return to normal.


Rising prices are like a fire feeding on itself. Onions are selling at Rs 70 a kilo, tomatoes at Rs 50, cauliflower at Rs 42, garlic at Rs 300 a kilo and chillies at Rs 70, playing havoc with household budgets and forcing people to drastically scale down purchases of non-essential commodities. Gone are the days when pyaaz and roti was considered the garib aadmi's khaana.


The touchstone of the much-hyped and illusionary deal of roti, kapada aur makan. Look at the irony. Cell phones go a-begging, yet people continue to beg for food. Shockingly, from the Prime Minister downwards all have thrown up their hands and merrily assert that they are helpless in taming prices. Then whose job is it?
Notwithstanding the statistics reeled out about India's incredible growth story, galloping at over 9 per cent. Arguably, do we measure the Government success by this or the fact that the common man is being made to pay for the Administration's follies which waited much too long to read the signs of the agrarian crisis facing the country leading to spiraling prices?


Bin bijli, bin jal, bin pyaaz, whatever happened to the Congress ka haath aam aadmi ke saath?


Look at the dichotomy. Not having enough to eat is a reality for half of India's 1.1 billion people with over 700 million living below the poverty line. And nearly one million die every year due to inadequate healthcare facilities and one in every five children is malnourished. On the other, Bentleys' and BMWs are parked in Brand India's glitzy and gaudy mansions outside Asli Bharat's slums and a dying blind man found on the steps on a billion dollar building.


India has not only a third of the global poor but also there are more hungry people than any other country, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute. Worse, hunger stalks every State and the condition of its mal-nourished, over 50 per cent, is worse than some sub-Saharan countries, states the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation. Adding, if food prices continue to rise, more could be pushed back to poverty.


Add to this the fact that violence is now the rhetoric of our times. From Union Capital Delhi in the grip of road rage and intolerant frenzy, to UP wherein the probability of a political murderer or rapist being brought to book is an unbelievable 0.1 per cent.


See how in UP a BSP legislature roams free while the minor girl raped by him languishes in Banda jail. In far-flung Kerala too there is incredible political subversion of the rule of law as skeletons tumble out. The number of allegations of tainted ministers in the States and at the Centre is increasing day by day, election after election. Reeking of an overpowering stench of our decaying political culture. The bitter truth of 21st century of Mera Desh Mahan!


What next? The Government needs to pull itself by the bootstraps. Empty rhetoric and pious promises will not do. Globalisation is welcome but not at the cost of agriculture. There has to be a proper, balanced long-term investment plan in agriculture. Unless the supply is increased, prices of food materials will never come down.
Warns a study by Oxfam India, "If India does not invest more in agriculture, it could be potentially exposed such a reversal of development". While the broader economy has averaged close to 9 per cent growth annually over the past four years, agriculture has been growing just over 2 per cent a year.


In the ultimate, the impotence of the Government to provide good governance based on honesty and credibility should make it incumbent for our netas to do some soul searching. It is perhaps time to rekindle the debate on the need for near self-sufficiency in essential foods and investment in food storage infrastructure without which any nation can hope to sit on the world's high table of super powers.


In the rising disparities between the rich and poor Bharatvasis', India desperately needs a course correction and chart a new path. We can no longer act blind to the swirling profligacy which could devour the nation. Time to put an end to this political atyachaar called the power of greed. Enough is enough!


-INFA

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

OPINION

A GUILTY PM..!

BY ROBERT CLEMENTS


And as I see Prime Minister Manmohan Singh trying to absolve himself of all the scams surrounding him, I am reminded of this story:


There once lived an old and pious man, renowned for his honesty. One day his neighbor, a rich merchant comes to him with a request. The merchant was leaving on a voyage and wants the old man to safeguard his wealth, until his return. The old man agrees and with God as witness promises to protect and safeguard the merchant's wealth.


The old man then entrusts the safe keep of the merchant's wealth to his son, from whom he takes an oath of propriety and honesty. Slowly the son starts dipping into the merchants wealth, people notice this and warn the old man of the son's misdeeds. The old man calls his son asks him to explain, he also reminds him of his oath on following the right path. The son rubbishes the accusations as rumors and the idle gossip of jealous people, who could bear to see his prosperity. The old man accepts the son's explanation and things go on as before.
The merchant returns and demands his wealth. The old man calls his son, who hands over a quarter of the merchant's wealth saying that is all there was. The merchant realizing that he has been cheated approaches the King. The King listens to the merchant's complaint and summons the old man. The old man comes to the court with his son and handing him over to the King says "your majesty, the merchant is right. My son has confessed to the crime. Please punish him."


The king has the son flogged and imprisoned. He then praises the old mans honesty and dismisses the case. But the merchant demands punishment for the old man saying, "I have still not received justice. I had entrusted my wealth to the old man which he swore by God to safeguard. The old man's integrity is intact, but what of me, I have been robbed of my life's savings, and made a pauper. It was the old man's decision to entrust my wealth the son for safe keeping. As far as I am concerned the old man is the culprit, and should be punished.
The king is astounded by this demand. The old man, was neither a party to the theft nor did he benefit from it. In fact, he had sent his son to jail. Yet, the merchant was asking for the old man's punishment.
The King asks a wise man, "What should my decision be?"


The wise man replies, "Though the old man is innocent of the actual theft, he is guilty of dereliction of duty. The son's crime was a straight forward one, the old man's was a graver crime. He did nothing to protect the merchant's wealth. Far from being vigilant he failed to take action even when he was warned of his son's misdeeds. Because of his laxity the merchant is condemned to a life of penury. He should be punished!"
Because of the PM's laxity we the people of India are losing crores, should we allow him to get away scot-free?
bobsbanter@gmail.com

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

THINK A LITTLE, CHANGE A LOT

 

Last week has ended with a plenty of food for thought for us. We as citizens are required to get our act together on several fronts for our own sake. We must exercise our right to a safe and good life. At the same time we ought to contribute towards it with a full sense of responsibility. Close on the heels of a series of incidents of women's harassment in the State, including their abductions, we come across yet another shocker. Right at the outskirts of this city, a woman is alleged to have been kidnapped and subjected to a gang rape. This stunning happening has taken place at Burn Khud under the jurisdiction of the Gharota police station on the upper Akhnoor road. She was travelling back home in a matador after seeing a friend on the eve of Lohri. Such friendly visits are a perfectly normal activity to be undertaken by a person. Why should we not be able to move around freely in our habitat? The bitter anti-climax came when most of the passengers got down and she was left to confront about half a dozen lecherous persons who took the vehicle to an isolated spot to outrage her modesty. The police has acted swiftly to nab most of the accused taking lead from the registration number of the vehicle. Only recently we had come across an audacious attempt to literally drag two girls into a vehicle while they were walking unsuspectingly in the main bazaar of Udhampur town. Lest we forgot we should remind ourselves that a similar occurrence had taken place near Bagh-e-Bahu in September last year. A bid was made to kidnap a girl, an employee of a private telecom company, who was on her way home after finishing her duty at a call centre. She and her colleagues had foiled the evil minds and hands. We keep getting reports about threats to the physical integrity of women from different corners of the State as well. It will be a pity if they were to sit at home because they are insecure outside.

 

With this background in view there is definitely a case for the police, as the only visible arm of the state, to make its presence felt as a friend of people and foe of those causing us sleepless nights. This issue has been a subject-matter of several official bodies. The men at the helm have also felt constrained to remind the uniformed men of the necessity of carrying out an image correction. There are police officers who have turned out activists for ushering in reforms. Therefore, we would not go into that aspect at this moment. We would also not deal with terrorism for which there can't be any sympathy. Our main concern at this juncture is how we as the inhabitants of this beautiful land can work for our collective good. The lesson so far as the women's protection in open streets is concerned is that we ought to be as vigilant as some of us have been in Udhampur now and near Bagh-e-Bahu earlier. For their part the girls should also be totally vigilant. They must avoid paths that are isolated and unfamiliar. It is a shameful reflection on our social order that they have to impose certain curbs on their movement. The Burn Khud episode has almost coincided with an observation made by the State Commission for Women about demolishing "gender-specific barriers" which prevent women and girls from gaining access "to their rightful share." It has been rightly stated: "Unless these barriers are done away with thorough planning, the fruits of economic growth won't reach them." What is important is that women realise their full potential for betterment of the environment in which all of us live. Another area to which we must devote attention is our role as users of roads not as commuters but drivers of personal means of transportation. It does not speak well of us that we are not learning despite precious loss of blood in accidents. The curtain has come down on the previous week with four persons, including two law students, being killed on either side of this city. As it appears from the available information, the students were not at fault.

 

The two of them were riding a motorcycle when they were crushed by a speedy truck near the Bari Brahmana rail bridge. Two other deceased persons were the occupants of a car hit by a truck in a head-on collision near Tikri on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway. There have been other mishaps as well. We take note of these two only to make a point that these were entirely avoidable. Prima facie it seems that the truck driver in the first instance and both the persons holding the steering in the other should not have been rash and negligent. The problem with us is that we do develop a false sense of our skills and push the accelerators too fast. Indeed, it is in our hands to control the speed. We should also keep our machines in top condition. We tend to be on a short fuse without realising that it is a counter-productive approach. This is underlined by yet another incident. One young man has shot at another at Subhash Nagar under the jurisdiction of the Bakshi Nagar police station. The former has used an illegal revolver and has landed himself in jail. His victim is in hospital. Who has gained and who has lost? It pays to keep patience whatever the provocation. The manner in which some people drive two-wheelers through the narrow lanes of this city is reckless, to say the least. They should spare a thought for the residents coming out of their homes least expecting any trouble ahead. We have been constantly making a plea in this regard in these columns. Another sphere engaging our consistent attention has been cleanliness of our surroundings. Nearly all of our streets are dirty with overflowing open drains and elusive garbage dumps. The minimum we can do is not to throw household left-overs just like that but to discharge them without further fouling our milieu. Thus we have to a do a lot. We should think and act in the right direction. We should remember that it is with a small step that we can begin a journey of thousand miles.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

URBAN PLANNING IN INDIAN CITIES REDEFINING HERITAGE

BY MOHAMMAD SALEEM BEG

 

Urban planners in the country are belatedly waking up to a new reality. They are realizing that State planning interventions are robbing Indian cities of their essence and cultural depth. These cities have a history, a past that gives them an identity. Unfortunately in their march into the modernity they are now becoming flat urban habitations with attendant systemic and infrastructural civic failures. Central planners have now been voicing concern about absence of heritage components in the proposals sent for funding to Central Government. Recently many cities including Srinagar and in some aspects Jammu were reminded by the National Urban Renewal Mission authorities that their JNURM proposals need to incorporate heritage based urban planning in their funding proposals under JNURM. National Institute of Urban Affairs which has been assigned the task of reviewing the JNURM proposals received from various City planning agencies has privately been expressing its frustration with the cities about their lack of understanding of the heritage related urban issues. It is a different matter that under the pressure of the states and the Ministry they have been granting conditional approvals of the plans hoping that their observations will receive consideration in due course.


Heritage has often been understood to represent monuments and antiquities. In the recent years, awareness and long term concerns about heritage has grown giving rise to a fresh understanding. In the context of cities, especially old and ancient, it also includes the natural and physical cultural features. The whole debate about heritage and its conservation is now about the people and the quality of life in heritage cities. While preserving the organic nature of the cities, the needs and aspirations of the people have to be factored in the development process. The current debate is slowly but surely looking beyond monuments. The rapid urbanization witnessed in recent times has accelerated the pace of change in all aspects of life, particularly in urban environments. A majority of subcontinent cities and towns are exposed to strong extraneous and fast-growing agents of change that disturb the delicate balance that exists between the physical, social, cultural and ecological elements of these urban settlements.


In order to enable the Indian cities and towns to cope with these changes that threaten to destroy their diverse heritage, UNESCO led a campaign resulting in formation of a National Network. The UNESCO led Indian Heritage Cities Network was formally established as a trust in 2009 with five founding trustees. This writer is also one of the five trustees. The trust has been expanding and setting up bench marks for heritage resource based development in different Indian cities and in a matter of a year 22 cities have enrolled as members. Srinagar has also signed in as a member of the Network. The main strength of the trust has been its ability to rope in international partners where heritage conservation has been an essential part of urban planning. The trust is progressively becoming a platform and a solution exchange for mainstreaming heritage conservation in the cities. Best case scenarios in the west, successful experiments in cities placed in similar circumstances as Indian cities, good practices that can be replicated are some of the deliverables coming out of the deliberations and the information exchange through the mechanisms set up by the Trust.


The Trust has enrolled seven French cities as its international partners. In Oct 2010 the Network organized a study tour for Mayors of the member Indian cities to these French cities. France is way ahead of other countries in the continent in evolving a successful planning model for city development that ensures preservation of heritage and heritage based development. This writer accompanied the delegation on the invitation of UNESCO. The visit exposed the mayors to the strategies and planning tools adopted by the French cities for mainstreaming heritage based resources in the development process. Transport and urban mobility is one of the prime concerns in French cities. It has been flagged as the key to restore and uplift the urban experience and improve the quality of city life. Urban mobility is also linked to the air quality and pollution in the cities and therefore reduction of vehicular traffic is an essential part of this program. The Urban planners explained to the delegation how they gave up sole reliance on widening of roads and construction of flyovers as an answer to problems of urban mobility. They have instead been propagating pedestranisation and pushing for mass public transport as a viable and more lasting solution. Their experience with this mode of urban transport has given handsome results and the city councils in France spent session after session to explain how they have been able to achieve phenomenal relief for the cities.


. Another very interesting and successful example that is now being mentioned in almost all forums is about Bogota, Columbia. This Latin American city has had a similar past like our cities. Its urban managers, planning establishment, city leadership were not very different from cities like Jaipur, Jammu, Srinagar or Udaipur. Same lax enforcement of laws, pressure of migration, corruption, and unprofessional city management was some of the commonalities with our cities. This city has had to grapple with social, economic and political and problems of the kind we have been going through. The traffic jams and the degraded air quality engaged the minds of the urban planners and they came up with a well thought out mobility plan in 1990s. The program aimed at restraining vehicle ownerships, improving conditions for walking and biking and enhanced bus transit. The government opened two lines of a planned 22-coridor BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system, built 200 KMS of a network of bike lanes; expanded numerous sidewalks, added a 17 KM pedestrian zone; and implemented a number of other measures. Bogota is a much larger city than Srinagar or other Indian heritage city and therefore its problems are proportionately much bigger in volume and size.


Looking at Indian cities, it is perhaps the most critical planning exercise that the Urban Development authorities should initiate with a sense of urgency. These cities are craving for decongestion of roads. The residents and visitors are gasping for a breath in the historic urban space. In the case of Srinagar, the whole city is progressively becoming a expanded parking lot for ever increasing cars and other vehicles. We need to put in place an efficient public transport system, something like BRT. Our problems are still manageable and we need to give a serious look at the available viable models before it is too late. The impact of pedestranisation of some of the road accesses, biking tracks in civil lines and down town mohallas will be phenomenal. It is high time we initiate a debate on the subject among the civil society and develop consensus that will persuade the State agencies to source expertise for this purpose. Mass transport and imaginatively devised mobility plan is the only answer to ever increasing traffic jams, pollution and the degraded city life.


(The writer is Convener INTACH and former Director General Tourism)

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

THE SHAM OF WAR ON TERROR

BY K.N. PANDITA

 

Long time camaraderie with state supported terrorism has landed Pakistan in yet another wobbly situation in the open gaze of international community. The prime accused of 26/11, Hafiz Saeed has sought Pakistani government's legal support to fight the court case against him in New York.


A Jewish couple of US citizenship was killed by the Pakistani terrorists in the course of their attack on Mumbai in 2008. The relatives of the deceased couple filed a suit in a court of law in New York demanding that the real culprits who masterminded the attack, and in consequence killed their relatives, be brought to book. As the hearing of the lawsuit proceeded, the court found it necessary to summon the prime accused namely Hafiz Saeed, the chief of Jamat al Dawa of which LeT is the muscle, for questioning. The court has asked for his physical appearance. It is in this connection that the accused has asked his government to provide him legal assistance.


This case has many dimensions, more political than legal. Let us discuss these one by one. In the first place, the accused is a Pakistani national, and in that capacity, he has a right under Pakistani constitution to approach his home government for legal assistance. The Pakistani government is bound to provide this kind of support to its national when approached.


The second question is whether there is or not an extradition treaty between Pakistan and the United States. If there is one, what is the nature of charges on the basis of which a person can be extradited? Is extradition implemental before or after the crime against an accused is established? In other words, the question is whether a person can be extradited just to make his formal statement in the court of law? These are legal aspects of the case. But since the New York court has asked for his physical presence, it appears all these legal nuances have been taken care of.


On the political side of the case, firstly why should the accused approach the government of his country for legal assistance when he is in a fairly strong position to engage his private defence lawyer? Maybe he wants to shift the onus of defence to Pakistan government and thereby make it known that he is innocent, and his government comes to his defence. In addition, since the accused Saeed knows that Pakistan has been involved in military action against the TTP in Waziristan on the behest and prompting of the US, he would feel comfortable by involving Pakistan in terrorist perfidy and thus win pretty good favour with his militant outfits.
If this is the case, then the Government of Pakistan should accept his plea or state that it will be providing the assistance asked for. If it thinks he is involved in the case, then it has to state clearly that it would not provide any legal support. Officially, so far Pakistan government has adopted evasive stance on the matter making no commitment whatsoever. This makes the matter intriguing.


Pakistan government has taken ambiguous position on this case of terrorism because it is on the horns of dilemma. It knows that the New York court will come to the bottom of 26/11 Mumbai carnage case because the Indians will have no hesitation in providing all the documentary and other evidence it collected on its own for examination by the New York court if the later expresses its desire to do so. Secondly, the New York court has the jurisdiction to ask the US intelligence sources, especially the CIA, to provide whatever information it has in regard to Mumbai attack of 2008 and the killing of the Jewish couple in their Mumbai residence and Saeed's involvement. This evidence is bound to publicly expose Pakistan's involvement, and strengthen the case against the main conspirator namely Hafiz Saeed.

Apparently, Hafiz Saeed does not need Pakistan government's legal support on the premise that he is financially able to do it on his own. He heads a powerful organization with reach to international Muslim radical chapters, and neither legal logistics nor financial implications are impossible for him.


It has to be remembered that Hafiz Saeed is very close to Pakistan Army and is often received at or invited to GHQ in Rawalpindi. He is the most important domestic mole of the ISI. It is not without purpose that he has put the civilian government of Islamabad in a quandary. One cannot rule out the possibility of Hafiz doing the antics on the behest of his friends in the Army or the intelligence establishment of Pakistan.
Differences between President Zardari and the Army Chief of Pakistan are well-known. In 2009, General Kiani was thinking of removing President Zardari but for the strong intervention by Washington. Recently, Kiani outright refused to conduct military operation in North Waziristan and, besides that, halted parts of on-going operations in South Waziristan. The Army is not resistant to seeing the civilian government put in embarrassing position and Hafiz Saeed's antics is part of that game.


But while this is shaping behind the curtain, another development has taken place which contributes to Islamabad's dilemma. The government in Tel Aviv has come out with a warning to Islamabad that providing legal support to a suspect terrorist would mean Pakistan breaking its commitment of fighting terrorism in all its manifestations. Islamabad has repeatedly assured the US, the UN and the world community that it is engaged in fighting terrorism. How then can it agree to offer support to a person suspected of abetting terror unless he is cleared of the charge.


Following pressure from New Delhi to take proper action against the culprits of 26/11 as was established by the dossiers India handed over to Pakistan on the subject; Islamabad had detained Hafiz Saeed but released him from detention within a few days. It announced that no case of Hafiz's involvement had been proved. It is likely that the New York court where the trial is underway would ask Pakistan for the record of proceedings of the case of Hafiz Saeed. Islamabad cannot, under international law, refuse to provide the requisite information. In particular, as there are agreements on exchange of terrorism-related intelligence and information between Pakistan and the United States, Islamabad is bound to pass on the judicial record in the context of Hafiz to the New York court.


Islamabad cannot sweep the Tel Aviv warning under carpet for various reasons. Relations between Pakistan and Israel are friendly and occasionally strategic as was observed when Israeli arms were supplied to Iran via Pakistan during Iran-Iraq war. Moreover, Tel Aviv would not come out with the option unless it had sounded Washington knowing how closely Washington is involved in Pak-Afghan muddle. At the end of the day, though nothing extraordinary is going to happen but for the world community will certainly find one more count to smile at the double speak about so-called war on terror.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

WILL INCREASE IN PRICE OF GOLD SUSTAIN?

BY DR BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA

 

Price of gold and shares use to move in opposite directions till the reforms of 1991. Price of shares used to rise when economy was buoyant. Property prices used to rise in tandem because demand for land and building rose for new business activities. People used to sell the gold and invest in shares. Increase in share prices thus came along with a decline in the price of gold. Conversely, investors used to sell shares and buy gold when the economy was slow. Presently, however, prices of gold as well as shares are rising simultaneously. Reason is our integration with the world economy coupled with weakness of the United States economy.


Previously import of gold into the country was prohibited. Price of gold was determined mainly on domestic considerations. Rise or fall of price in the world markets did not much influence the domestic prices just as a person sitting in a closed room is only little effected by the storm outside. Same was the situation with respect to share markets. Foreign investment was prohibited. As a result the limited wealth of Indian investors shifted from gold to share or vice versa leading to the inverse relationship between their prices. Nowadays, however, imports of gold and inflows of foreign investment in shares are both allowed. Therefore, prices of these are determined more by global factors than domestic ones.


Some global investors are looking for safe havens. The British Pound was considered 'safe' before the Second World War. The American dollar took that position after the War. The U.S. dollar served as the global reserve currency. Some South American countries have even adopted the U.S. dollar as their domestic currency. Value of other currencies was reckoned vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar. Investors felt that the U.S. dollar will remain strong. They invested in U.S. property and companies because they did not apprehend a decline in that currency. Investors believed that money invested in U.S. Government Treasury Bonds was safe. The U.S. economy was very large and would be able to withstand any shocks, they felt. Returns from Treasury Bonds were less but that was more than compensated by the security offered. These factors led to sidelining of gold as a 'safe haven.' Investment in gold only brought returns from appreciation while investment in equally secure U.S. Treasury Bonds also begot some returns by the way of interest payments. Thus, some European Banks and even the International Monetary Fund sold their holding of gold a few years ago and invested the amount in other paying securities.


This strength of the U.S. dollar was based on three factors. One, new technologies-such as motor car, nuclear reactors, jet airplanes, computer and the internet-were being created in the U.S. at regular intervals. These inventions brought huge returns to that country. Two, the U.S. was pioneer in identifying and extracting natural resources for commercial use. For example, Texas was the main supplier of oil till reserves of West Asia were discovered after the First World War. Three, the competition in the open markets made the companies nimble and strong.


The situation has changed dramatically in the last five years or so. Invention of new technologies appears to have reached a plateau. No major invention has been made after the internet in the nineties. Other countries have moved to exploit their natural resources. Many countries, including the 'developing' ones, for example, have started offshore drilling for oil. The free-market economy has been adopted by almost all countries of the world barring a few like North Korea and Cuba. The special strengths of the United States have now spread across the world. The U.S. is no longer the lone pioneer. Accordingly the U.S. dollar is no longer invincible.
Things have become worse for the dollar because of the huge borrowing that country has undertaken to sustain its high levels of consumption. The previous Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board Alan Greenspan encouraged American people to borrow at low rates of interest and buy houses. This led to a housing boom in that country. The money for this lending was borrowed by selling U.S. Treasury Bonds to foreign investors. As a result America has become hugely indebted. The borrowed money has mostly gone into consumption. Few productive assets have been made. It is now becoming difficult for the U.S. to borrow in the global markets. There is a downward pressure on the dollar. The dollar as safe haven is gone. Investors are buying gold and silver to protect against a collapse of the dollar. This is the reason behind recent increase in the price of the precious metals.


The sustainability of these high prices of gold and silver will depend upon whether another safe haven currency emerges or not. Chances of such emergence are slim. China suffers from lack of openness and transparency. Europe has many crises' brewing in the backyard as seen in those of Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Russia has broken up. India is beset with political instability and internal insecurity due to rising inequality. Thus, it seems to me, the precious metals will continue to attract investments for the near future, at least. The price of these metals is likely to remain high.


Basic point is that weakness of the U.S. economy is leading to heavy purchases of the precious metals and a global surge in their prices. This weakness is, in part, due to the intense competition offered by Indian companies in the global markets. Therefore, it is simultaneously leading to greater inflows of equity in our share markets. Thus, prices of both gold and shares are likely to remain high for quite some time-say, five years.
The main danger to this happy scenario arises from internal insecurity. The combination of low wages and high profits is good for the companies but is not perceived so by the masses. They are deeply perturbed that economic growth has bye-passed them. The India growth story will sustain if we are able to bring true relief to the poor.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

SCIENCE EXHIBITIONS KINDLE IMAGINATION

 

"Science Express'', the State of art science exhibition mounted on a specially designed train presently stationed at Udhampur Railway Station has arrived to familarise students in this part of the country about the achievement made by India in scientific field.


Dheeraj Jandial explains the importance of holding science exhibitions.


"It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening of custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, or a rich country inhabited by starving poor... Who indeed could afford to ignore science today? At every turn we have to seek its aid... The future belongs to science and those who make friends with science."- Jawaharlal Nehru
The learning of science education is instrumental in developing well-defined abilities and skills such as spirit of enquiry, creativity, objectivity and aesthetic sensibilities among children. It also helps in realizing the constitutional values fight against superstition, unfounded beliefs, favouritism and nepotism. All children are naturally motivated to learn and are capable to learning. Children are natural learners and knowledge is the outcome of their own activity. This shows that children, as they learn by doing, construct the knowledge rooted in their contexts. They learn through interactions with the environment around, nature, thing and people. The structuring and restructuring of ideas is one of the essential features as children progress in learning. They actively engage with the world around them in exploring, responding, inventing, working things out and interpreting. They construct knowledge by connecting new ideas to their existing ideas based on materials/activities presented to them.


Science Exhibitions offer an opportunity to the students to express and exchange their creative ideas with joy of scienctific investigation. It helps them to learn the methods of science, (i.e. Scienctific methods) provide them with opportunities to develop their problem-solving skills and creative abilities.


Exhibitions purposefully expose one to various scientific and technological improvisations, innovations as perceived by children belonging to different parts of our country besides encouraging them for new inventions and discoveries.


Science is a powerful way of investigating and understanding the world for a harmonious living. Therefore, teaching of science must enable children to examine and analyse their everyday experiences. Every possible resource must be explored to enable children to express themselves and to handle objects. Concerns and issues pertaining to the nuances of every day scientific applications should be given importance on all possible occasions through a wide range of activities involving outdoor project works. Some of the information and understanding flowing from such activities and projects could contribute to the elaboration of a publicity accessible database, which would in turn become a valuable educational resource. Well-planned student projects may lead to knowledge generation. Such projects may then get a place for display in various science exhibitions.


In an exhibition each exhibit tells a story. The child, who is creator of exhibit, has tried to address and solve one or many problems faced by our society, nation and world. Many of the exhibits may not appear to be very sophisticated at first sight, but after probing deeper into them one realizes that each exhibit reflects the ingenuity, creativity and manual skills of the creator. Visit to exhibitions becomes more fruitful if one carefully listens to the creator of the exhibit and seeks clarification, if necessary
In 21st century, when we talk of building a knowledge society, there are many crucial issues confronting us in our progression, which are directly or indirectly related to science and technology. Among these issues, there are a number of daily and real life situations. Posterity needs to be aware of such situations, issues and problems that the society is facing. The construct of our teaching pattern therefore should be aimed to empower and enable them to employ their scientific and technological knowledge and their mathematical understanding to solve them in order to sustain well being of people. Children need to be encouraged to appreciate and participate in the responsible use of science and technology. They should also have a scientific vision about different issues and the ability to acquire and process information about scientific and technological developments and their long term implications on society. So a Science exhibition for school children should achieve the aims of, as the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) envisages in its All India Science Exhibition are:


"To provide a forum for children to pursue their natural curiosity and inventiveness to quench their thirst for creativity;


" To make children feel that science is all around us and we can gain knowledge as well as solve many problems also by relating the learning process to the physical and social environment;


" To lay emphasis on the development of science and technology as a major instrument for achieving goals of self-reliance and socio-economic and socio-ecological development;


" To highlight the role of science and technology for producing good quality and environment friendly materials for the use of society;


" To encourage children to visualize future of the nation and help them become sensitive and responsible citizens;


" To analyse how science and technology have developed and is affected by many diverse individuals, cultures and societies;


" To develop critical thinking about global issues to maintain healthy and sustainable societies;


" To appreciate the role of science and technology in meeting the challenges of climate change, opening new avenues I areas of agriculture, fertilizer, food processing, biotechnology, green energy, information and communication technology, astronomy, games and sports, etc;


"To apply mathematics to visualise and solve problems pertaining to everyday life
In realizing these objectives, it must be borne in mind that children at all levels must be encouraged to explore every resource to enable them to express and handle objects. They must be given freedom to express their own creativity, imagination and to manipulate their ideas with their hands. The role of parents, teachers and peer groups may be in the form of financial support and discussions. The tendency of procuring the ready-made exhibits/models must be ruled-out. An exhibit must be able to bring out the scientific ability of the children, whether the model is traditional or an improvement over the traditional model or innovative. How true is Ralph Waldo Emerson in remarking, 'Science does not know its debt to imagination'! The way famous scienctists Einstein, Jayant Narilkar and Stepehn Hawkins perceive that imagination is the base for any scientific invention or innovation, our science exhibitions should kindle the imagination of our children, not burden them .

 

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******************************************************************************************THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

UNPLANNED URBANIZATION

INDIA UNPREPARED FOR GROWTH

 

More Indians will live in cities than in villages in five states, including Punjab, by 2030. That is a worrying but not-so-surprising finding of a study by the McKinsey Global Institute released early last year. The haphazard way India's cities and towns are exploding because of a non-stop exodus from villages has not prompted any serious thinking and planned action to regulate development. Since villages lack basic amenities and avenues of study, employment and growth, the ruralites cannot be blamed if they head for urban and semi-urban areas. They are pushed out of villages by poverty and pulled by cities due to opportunities for a better lifestyle.

 

The result is an unbearable pressure on an already cramped and creaky urban infrastructure. Encroachments mushroom, the water and power availability shrinks, sewage spills out, traffic gets chaotic and crime flourishes. Illegal housing colonies come up as the civic authorities watch helplessly. It is a familiar story everywhere. Delhi has witnessed massive dislocation and loss as courts ordered the dismantling of unauthorised constructions and shifting of industries from residential areas. In Punjab makeshift houses have come up even on the beds of rivers and canals as their water levels recede. This results in flash floods when there is excessive rain, causing a heavy loss to life and property. All this has been going on because regulatory action is foiled by politicians chasing votes.

 

An interesting feature highlighted by the McKinsey report is that the speed and scale of India's reckless urbanisation has no parallel anywhere in the world except China. If life in cities has to become civilized and less troublesome, three areas need attention: funding, governance and planning. Every town and city must generate resources for funding civic amenities, must elect responsive and far-sighted leaders and experts must plan urban growth at every level. Huge funds are available under the urban renewal mission programme but short-sighted politicians do not levy user-charges to avail these. The horror of directionless growth would continue until voters insist on responsible governance and punish non-performers at the village, town, city, state and national levels.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

A HISTORIC "NON-EVENT"

PANIPAT BARELY BOTHERED ABOUT EPIC BATTLE

 

Friday was the 250th anniversary of the Third Battle of Panipat. But the event hardly caused any ripples in the historic town. Things were no better in the rest of the country. Had it not been for media coverage, some may not have even been aware of the defeat of the Marathas at the hands of Ahmad Shah Abdali, which changed the course of the country's history, and led to the gradual ascendancy of the East India Company. In fact, all that the city has by way of a faded memory of the event – which otherwise is part of almost every Indian history book – is a war memorial at Ugrakheri, 7 km from Panipat, which was inaugurated in 1992, but is largely unknown. Neither the town nor any other place in the region has any signboard to direct visitors to the memorial and the museum there. No wonder it drew few visitors even on Friday. Even if some history buffs had gone there, they would have come back disappointed, what with the entire 6.5-acre complex in a state of neglect.

 

Such apathy towards places of tremendous importance is commonplace all over the region. Whereas many of the western countries preserve the items and buildings associated with even minor celebrities and turn them into money spinners, we are notorious for neglecting and even damaging places of great importance. Not very far from Panipat are some Kos Minars of the Grand Trunk road, but not many even know about them. Similar is the fate of many forts and palaces which are crumbling, because the Archeological Survey of India has no resources to take care of them.

 

Part of the blame lies with the public also. Even where some memorials are set up, there are hardly any visitors. People may be willing to spend more than a thousand rupees on a family visit to the neighbourhood multiplex but resent the Rs 5 entry fee to a museum or a memorial. We love to talk about our glorious past but do nothing to either familiarize ourselves with it or to preserve it.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

SPOTTED RECORD

HUMANS AND LEOPARDS MUST LIVE TOGETHER

 

Leopards are an endangered species and there are specific provisions to protect them from human beings, but in two recent incidents, leopards which strayed out of their sanctuaries were killed by men, since they were perceived as a threat to human lives. While the lions and the tigers are mainly confined to sanctuaries, the leopards, or Panthera pardus, are widely distributed in India. They are smaller than the other big cats and very agile. However, inevitably, in any human-animal conflict, more so in one involving a number of human beings, the animal, even a natural predator, comes out the worse for it. Thus the fact that these leopards were killed therefore comes as no surprise.

 

The Maharashtra government has ordered a probe into the killing of the leopard at Karad near Pune on January 9 by a police officer who thought that the lives of people near the animal were in danger. Near Faridabad, recently residents of Khedi Gujran village, killed a leopard after it injured two persons. Here, wildlife personnel were on hand, but were unable to tranquilise the leopard.

 

Unlike other big cats, leopards have been spotted in urban areas, far from their protected habitats. They scavenge and prey on small domestic animals like dogs, pigs, goats, sheep and cattle. Experts maintain that predators avoid human beings, but inevitably, sometimes there are clashes in which human beings are hurt or even killed. The fear of being attacked naturally brings forth aggressive retaliation from men, and as a result of this the leopards which are sighted in urban areas meet a brutal end. There is urgent need to both protect human beings as well as this endangered species for which concentrated efforts need to be made from various governments departments that are entrusted with the responsibility of taking care of this threatened species. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

ENSURING FOOD SECURITY

WILL IT BE FOR ALL OR ONLY A FEW?

BY JAYSHREE SENGUPTA

 

How to ensure food security and control inflation has emerged as a major challenge for the government in the New Year. The hangover of food inflation from 2010 cannot be ignored as it is still in double digits. Timely food supply management and imports can help ease inflation in the short term but focus will have to be on increasing domestic food production. This year somehow the burden on the common man has to be lessened because for many months there has been an unabated rise in food prices.

 

It is not the average middle-income persons who are suffering the most, but the poor and very poor who cannot afford to buy food in the open market anymore and are dependent on subsidised food. Their nutritional needs have to be addressed even though it may mean more public expenditure. The government in its efforts to reduce the fiscal deficit this year is looking for various ways to cut expenditure, including the food subsidy bill which takes up 1 per cent of the GDP (Rs 72,234.98 crore in 2009-10). But can a country like India, which is one of the emerging economies of the world, afford to have so many people going hungry?

 

According to a survey of the Indian states by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), 12 states fall into the 'alarming' category with Madhya Pradesh having an extremely alarming level of hunger. Even Punjab falls below 33 other developing countries ranked by the Global Hunger Index (GHI). India has dropped two ranks to the 67th position among 84 developing countries in the IFPRI's annual GHI for 2010. Sudan, North Korea and Pakistan rank higher than India. The GHI

 

is based on the proportion of the undernourished in the population, the prevalence of underweight in children and the mortality rate of children. All would agree that with 1.2 billion mouths to feed, India needs to have a good food security system. The poor and the undernourished have been legally promised the 'right to food' by 2014, but they are voiceless against corruption in the public distribution system. Revamping it, making it stronger and plugging all the leakages have been the endeavour of every government in the last 20 years. Yet none have succeeded.

 

The proposed Food Security Bill (drafted in October 2010) by the National Advisory Council (NAC) headed by Mrs Sonia Gandhi is to be placed before Parliament this year. It intends to legally guarantee food security in two stages. In the first phase, it would be extended to 85 per cent of the rural population and 40 per cent of the urban population. According to the NAC's definition, 46 per cent of the rural households and 28 per cent of the urban households will qualify as 'priority' households, and 44 per cent rural households and 22 per cent urban households will be designated as 'general' households. Who are the 'priority' and 'general' poor? Shouldn't all the poor qualify for subsidised food, especially when huge quantities of foodgrains can be seen rotting in the open after the harvest?

 

Basically the BPL (below poverty line) category has been called 'priority' and APL or above poverty line 'general' households. The rural 'priority' group or 46 per cent of the rural population would get 35 kg of foodgrains at Rs 3 a kg for rice and Rs 2 a kg for wheat and Rs1 a kg for millets per month. The urban 'priority' group comprising 28 per cent of urban population would get 35 kg of foodgrains at Rs 3 a kg for rice and Rs 2 a kg for wheat and Re 1 for millets per month. The 'general' group comprising 44 per cent of the rural population will get 20 kg foodgrains per month at a price not exceeding 50 per cent of the MSP (minimum support price) and the urban general group comprising 22 per cent of the urban population will be given 20 kg of subsidized foodgrains at a price not exceeding 50 per cent of the MSP. Thus, the proposed Food Security Bill by the NAC excludes 10 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of the urban population.

 

In a surprise move, the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council has recently rejected the recommendations of the NAC on grounds that the government cannot afford to feed so many poor as food production is not likely to be sufficient to provide for both 'priority' and 'general' groups. It favours legal entitlement only for the 'priority' group, covering the rest with varying quanta depending on the availability of foodgrains and through an executive order. It clearly does not favour legal entitlements for 75 per cent of the population, leave alone food security for all.

 

In the watered down version of the Prime Minister's Advisory Council, the 'general' category would get only 10 kg of foodgrains per family per month — half of what the NAC recommended. The Council points out that the government may not be able to keep its promise in accordance with the NAC recommendations of delivering foodgrains in the case of two successive years of drought as it would have to rely on imports. Massive imports are not a feasible option. It also points out that even the 'priority' sector households will have to buy from the open market at least 25 to 30 per cent of their requirements because 35 kg per household would not be enough.

 

If the government enters the market with large procurement orders because of its obligation of giving large amounts of subsidized grains to the poor, it would distort open market prices which would adversely impact the 'priority' category households. It points out that not only will the subsidy cost escalate to Rs 85,584 crore in the first phase and to Rs 92,060 crore in the second phase, the other costs due to scaled-up operations of food procurement, including warehousing and supply chain operations, will also go up. It would also mean higher support prices. Clearly, the Prime Minister's Advisory Council is not in favour of the scheme for the not-so-poor ( APL) 'general' category and seems to be more concerned about reducing the fiscal burden of the government.

 

Why cut corners when the problem of food security and undernourishment is so severe in the country and runs across the entire poor population that includes both the 'priority' and the 'general' categories? Let us not forget that India is home to 42 per cent of underweight children under the age of five in the world. Why have food security for a few? What the final version of the Food Security Bill will take is not clear at all.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

THE SPIRIT OF FREEDOM

BY B.K. KARKRA

 

Patriotism and the urge to overthrow the alien rule were definitely there in the air then. Who or what brought it about — Gandhiji or some incipient impulse rising to the fore — I am not clear about. Sehgal, Dhillon and Shahnawaz, the three Indian National Army officers, had just been released from detention in the Red Fort after being cashiered from the British army. They were the mutineers in the British eyes and would have been routinely put before the firing squads, had their rule not been on its last legs. A massive gathering had been organised at Gol Bagh in Lahore to felicitate them.

 

The British were still the rulers and they could not bear their cashiered soldiers being raised to the stature of heroes. So, plenty of trouble was anticipated at the venue. This notwithstanding, my father decided to participate. He took even our mother and all of us to the felicitation ceremony. The gathering rent the air with slogans: 'Lal Qile se hue azad, Sehgal, Dhillon, Shahnawaz'. There were repeated baton charges, but we stood our ground till the very end. Even I, just about nine year old then, did not fail to catch the spirit of the times.

 

Years later, when I was a B.A. final year student of D.A.V. College, Ambala city (the institution has association with legendary Bhagat Singh and many other martyrs of the Independence struggle), some of us had the privilege of coming in touch with a number of freedom fighters who had suffered terrible tortures at the hands of the British. Another freedom struggle was then going on in the Portugese-held territory of Goa where our peaceful satyagrahis were being cruelly suppressed. A number of them got martyred in police firings; some had the soles of their feet scraped; some had their skin cut to inscribe an indelible 'P' on their tonsured heads (to impress the Portuguese authority) and many others were tormented in different other ways.

 

Five of us in the college felt impelled to join the 'Satyagrah' in Goa in August, 1955. I had to sell my textbooks to raise money for the journey to Pune where a base for the Goa freedom struggle was located. From there, we were despatched to Belgaum along with many others. The batch intruded into Goa on the night of 30th August. The satyagrahis were apprehended and given their share of third degree treatment--- some still bear the scars of lashings on their bodies. However, the Portugese had by now read the writing on the wall and knew that their days in the subcontinent were numbered. So, they released the satyagrahis the very next day.

 

However, what happened back home is more important to me. My mother had been sobbing for me uncontrollably all the time. An elderly Sikh lady from our neighbourhood stopped her sobs instantly by saying, "Nee sher seehnian de hi paida hunde ne" (Tigers are born to the tigresses only). She instantly decided to live up to the image given to her. As for me, I knew myself to be a most cowardly street-fighter. On return, it was heart-warming for me to learn that I could be a tiger also, when it really mattered.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

ARMY NEEDS A CHANGED PERSPECTIVE

 

While no major modernisation has been effected since the 1980s, the army continues to be structured to fight wars of earlier eras. As the world's third largest army observes Army Day, which marks the 62nd anniversary of General (later Field Marshal) K.M. Cariappa taking over as the first Indian army chief, the force faces multiple challenges. The army is in dire need of a major transformation into a lean, technology intensive and networked potent force to fight 21st century wars, says former army vice chief, Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi

 

Another Army Day was flagged on Saturday. The Army Day has always been a day of reflection on the achievements and shortcomings of the past year and the plans for the ensuing year. However, this year it is not just the start of one more year for the army but the commencement of a new decade. The army therefore must look at two decades, the previous and the one ahead.

 

The army always has achievements to cite every year. These are well known and are always a source of inspiration and satisfaction. But it is also important to mull over the areas of weaknesses so that these are removed and the army remains both a potent and relevant force.

 

The major areas of concern are both internal and external. The first category includes a comprehensive transformation plan; a makeover in manpower policies; greater interaction and empathy with veterans who need to be valued as adding to the strength of the army; and finally the need to get away from the status quo and defensive mentality, which hinders progress.

 

The external areas are modernisation, joint endeavours, reductions in internal security commitments, an assertive stand in core areas where no dilution should be acceptable, and halting and then reversing the trend of diluting the status of the army.

 

Transformation needs to be speeded up, as without it the army would continue to wallow in old and inefficient structures that are out of sync with the present and future battlefield environment and the rapidly changing methodologies of waging war. The army has not seen any major structural changes since the mid-80s and essentially it is still structured to fight wars of earlier eras. We need to change or upgrade our doctrines and concepts, restructure the field force, efficiently manage internal conflicts, upgrade human resources, streamline logistics, and modernise the training methodology. Our aim must be to transform the army into a lean, technology intensive, networked and joint entity.

 

Manpower policies are not merely promotion policies, but include recruitment and in-service management, especially grooming for higher ranks. For officers, recruitment and training policies are fairly comprehensive. However, we continue to be a generalist army, with no specialisation. There is no sectoral or geographical specialisation, no continuity in specific appointments like those in information technology that require long tenures, and little language proficiency.

 

Command appointments for officers are a must, resulting in shorter and shorter command tenures to accommodate everyone. The compulsion on commanders to "show" themselves in these truncated tenures, results in their riding roughshod on their commands! As regards promotion of officers, the seniority of passing out of training academies remains throughout one's service. This has resulted in many bright officers losing out. The need is for a reassessment of each officer's caliber at least at 10 years intervals and re-fixing seniority in accordance with the officers' changed abilities and performance.

 

In the case of jawans, there is a mismatch between imbibing technology and educational qualifications. In non-technical arms, which also handle the latest weapons and equipment, intake qualification continues to be class-X. In a transformation study carried out over 10 years ago, I had suggested upgrading the criteria to class-XII by 2002 and to graduation by 2005, but we continue to remain in a time warp! Secondly, though JCO'S are an essential link in the organisational structure, they all are promoted from the ranks. They are of higher ages, are comparatively less fit and have the same educational qualifications as the troops. Despite discussing the issue a number of times for recruiting at least a percentage directly as graduates, we have always baulked at doing so.

 

Today's active soldier is tomorrow's veteran. However, there seems to be a firewall between the two categories, with different norms of treatment, emoluments, medical arrangements and other related issues. This has resulted in the veterans getting disillusioned and the bureaucrats widening the gulf even more. It is the veterans who are role models for our youth as they interact with them more than the serving personnel; they ensure that the best and motivated manpower joins the army. This has not only eroded but a very large number of veterans now speak ill of the army. The army needs to re-focus on this important issue and do away with the artificial division that is increasingly disillusioning the veterans. The veterans must again start feeling that the army chief is their chief too! Although a Department of Ex-servicemen Welfare is in existence for the last six years, it has done virtually nothing for the veterans. How can it, when it is exclusively manned by the bureaucracy?

 

Coming to the last two areas of internal concern, status quo is no doubt a safe option, but no organisation can prosper if it loses its ability to change as the environment demands. As regards the defensive syndrome, no country has won by being on the defensive, which even in military teachings is a temporary phase.

 

The external areas of concern are much better known and need not be amplified. Modernisation has been a crying need for the last at least two decades. It is a great pity that neither does the army receive a sufficiently large budget, nor does the procurement wing of the Ministry of Defence and other ministries concerned, especially that of finance, see any urgency in modernising the army. Lack of modernisation has substantially reduced the fighting capability of the army and if this continues, the army is unlikely to be the deterrent force it ought to be.

 

War is a joint endeavour. The complexity of modern war is likely to increase in the future on account of increased and sophisticated technology; the nature of modern war; new threats and challenges; and the reality of nuclear weapons in our neighbourhood. Consequently, a joint force, which acts in an integrated manner, is not just desirable but imperative. Most professional militaries have adopted jointmanship but the Indian military is unfortunately an exception. While everyone endorses the need for jointmanship, it eventually turns out to be merely lip service. This must change. Appointing a CDS and an integrated ministry of defence would be the first steps. We would then be able to generate the necessary synergy, so essential for winning conflicts, battles and wars.

 

The involvement of the Army against insurgents has been extensive. Despite the ever-increasing central police forces that should be conducting such operations, there is no reduction in the commitments of the army. We have unfortunately reached a stage where the army, instead of being the last option, is often the first recourse! The heavy commitments of the army have undoubtedly been at the expense of its war-readiness, as well as the desired quality of life. Even In situations where the employment of troops becomes essential, they should be withdrawn at the earliest opportunity.

 

The apolitical stance of the army is correct, but should not translate into meekly accepting whatever orders the bureaucracy relays. Unfortunately, our political leaders are shy of dealing with the army directly, preferring to do so through the bureaucracy. This has resulted in a skewed arrangement whereby gradually the services chiefs appear to have lost their power of dissent even when they find any dispensation that reduces the status, power, emoluments or morale of their command. This needs to stop. It is nobody's case that the chiefs should be confrontationists, but when it comes to their authority being usurped by the bureaucracy, they must hold their ground and get the best for their men.

 

The military has been and will continue to be the most potent instrument that is used for the most difficult tasks, when every other instrument has failed or given up. This cannot be done by a meek military. We need to educate our political leaders the correct meaning of civil control and supremacy in a democracy.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

THE CHALLENGES

 

Doctrinal changes: Over the past few years, the army has been evolving and validating new concepts to cater to the changing geo-strategic scenario and keep pace with emerging battlefield technologies. New doctrines are aimed at cutting down mobilisation and response times while increasing the effectiveness of surgical strikes, besides fighting limited wars, waging sub-convectional warfare as well as fighting high intensity battles in the backdrop of a nuclear threat. A key emerging feature is joint operations with sister services.

 

Manpower: There is a deficiency to the tune of 24 per cent in the officer cadre. There is serious shortage at the junior and middle level that forms the force's cutting edge. Policies for personnel below officer rank also need a serious re-look.

 

Erosion of values: A number of senior officers have, in recent years, been embroiled in cases pertaining to corruption as well as professional and moral impropriety, denting the army's image.

 

Internal Security: Frequent and prolonged deployment on internal security and counter-terrorist operations has affected operational preparedness, training cycles, troop morale and ethos of the army.

 

Network Centric Warfare: The army is developing a "network of networks" that would integrate echelons and formations vertically and horizontally for exploiting the information spectrum to enable real-time flow of data and intelligence, facilitating battlefield assessment and decision making. Many interlinking systems and protocols are in the development phase, but the biggest drawback is that the military does not have a dedicated satellite to bank upon.

 

 Armour: A large chunk of the army's tank fleet is not equipped for night fighting. Older T-72s require upgradation while the indigenous Arjun does not fully comply with operational requirements.

 

 Artillery: Upgradation of the artillery has been hanging fire for decades, with no new gun being inducted in 25 years. The army lacks medium and heavy caliber self-propelled artillery. Tendering process to procure new systems has been cancelled thrice. Only a limited number of artillery fire-finder radars are available. Army yet to get cruise and long-range ballistic missiles.

 

Infantry: The army has conceived Future Infantry Soldier as a System (F-INSAS), aiming to significantly improve the capability of the foot-soldier by equipping him with state-of-the-art light-weight weapons, sensors and protective measures. The present day personal equipment of the soldier continues to be rudimentary vis-à-vis modern armies. The infantry also requires more battlefield surveillance radars, detection systems, thermal imagers and night vision equipment. Two new infantry divisions are being raised.

 

 Air Defence: This is an arena that requires urgent attention. Existing systems like ZSU 23-4, SA-6 and SA-8 are vintage. Indigenous systems such as Akash and Trishul are nowhere in sight.

 

 Airborne component: The Army Aviation Corps has drawn up plans to expand and induct light as well as medium-lift utility and battlefield support helicopters. Its present fleet of largely Cheetahs and Chetaks is old and insufficient. More unmanned aerial vehicles needed for tactical recce.

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

CLUELESS IN SOUTH BLOCK

BESIDES SMALL SUCCESSES IN SUBMARINE DEFENCE, DRDO'S DUAL ROLE AS A RESEARCH AGENCY, SUPPLIER AND EVALUATOR HAS BEEN DISASTROUS


Beijing passed a message last week when it tested the J-20, its new generation locally produced stealth fighter, from an airbase in Sichuan on the day US Defence Secretary Robert Gates landed in China to discuss resumption of defence ties. Intended as a direct threat to US carrier fleets in the region, the J-20 is expected enter service within the decade and is part of the wider modernisation of the Chinese military which is moving ahead at a fast pace. Tellingly, the same day as the J-20 flight, Defence Minister AK Antony was in Bangalore announcing progress in our own locally produced Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Tejas, in Bangalore. A low to medium range fighter, it is still a long way from induction. For an aircraft that is being built for nearly three decades, the project is grossly over-budget and overdue and the old joke about the LCA being our 'Last Chance Aircraft' is understandable. Except that the joke is on us.

 

The Defence Minister followed his Bangalore trip with the release of a new Defence Production Policy, the central aim of which is to achieve self-reliance in defence production. According to this policy, indigenous manufacture of defence equipment will be preferred and foreign sources will be tapped only if Indian industry is not in a position to deliver on time. With the usual epithets about over-dependence on imports in defence being unacceptable and predictable hosannas about our own capacities at the launch function, the Defence Minister was essentially repeating what has been the standard line in South Block for over 50 years.

 

The problem is that this line has basically led us up a garden path so far. Self-reliance is, of course, a vital strategic need but let us be honest. India's defence budget was up to $30 billion in 2009, but roughly 70% of our requirements, especially hi-tech ones, still come from imports.

 

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is the "best funded research institution in India" but so far "it has not produced a single weapons system that could alter the country's strategic situation," according to a recent study of India's military modernisation by Stephen Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta.
    Despite small successes in submarines sonar and systems integration, what DRDO has to show for itself is basically a long list of white elephants: the LCA; the Arjun tank, which the Army finds no future in; and the missile programme which has only seen the Prithvi missile inducted so far (the much touted Akash and Trishul missiles are way off as well). All of these are years behind their targets and seriously over-budget.

 

The problem is a peculiarly Indian mixing of technology with nationalism. The pattern is the same every time there is a weapons need. DRDO has right of first refusal and on every demand by the armed forces and gets it foot in the door by promising cheaper local options. This immediately blocks the option of buying the best available weapons and the sunk costs are then used to justify spending more money on indigenous systems. As Cohen and Dasgupta show in their comprehensive survey, DRDO's dual role as a research agency, supplier and evaluator has been disastrous.

 

To be fair, DRDO claims that the Army keeps changing its requirements in between projects. Between an overconfident DRDO that almost always over-estimates its capacities; a politicianbureaucrat ruling class that has little knowledge of defence issues; and defence services that have systematically been kept out of strategic decisionmaking, we have a state of stasis.

The result: the Indian armed forces are essentially operating today with the same equipment as they were two decades ago. This has finally forced India to now embark on one of the costliest arms purchases in the developing world, accounting for some 8% of known global arms imports.

 

To the government's credit, there has been an attempt to reform DRDO and open up defence production for the private sector. But the opening still remains mired in too many grey areas. Getting a level playing field for private companies interested in the sector remains a challenge and numerous changes to previous procurement policies do not inspire much confidence.

 

What we needed was a clear roadmap for a new phase in Indian defence modernisation, with clear rules and a transparent playing field. A new departure was needed. What we have got instead is a short document that essentially retains tired lines from the past.

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and again and expecting a different result. The solutions for reform in defence spending and acquisition are there in various committee reports, such as those headed by Vijay Kelkar and most recently by P Rama Rao. The problem is not so much in finding the right solutions but in having the political will to reform an inefficient system.

 

Defence Minister A K Antony

 

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

EDITORIAL

GST'S SHIFTING DEADLINES

CENTRE MUST SHOW BETTER LEADERSHIP ON TAX REFORM

That the government's tax reforms programme has hit a roadblock is evident from the fact that it now has no fresh deadline for the launch of a national goods and services tax (GST). It was in 2008 that Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram first set April 2009 as the date for GST rollout. The government failed to meet that deadline. His successor, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee pushed the target date by a year. The government missed that target too. A fresh deadline was set for April 2011. With ten weeks to go, everyone in the Union finance ministry and outside is now certain that a GST will not be in place by that date. And no one is willing to set a new date. A new taxation system aimed at imparting greater efficiency and ease of collections and compliance is, therefore, clearly on hold.

Ironically, Mr Mukherjee had made substantial progress on the GST front until about July 2010. The empowered committee of state finance ministers on GST had put out a consultation paper on the new architecture of the proposed indirect taxes regime, which had received general endorsement even though experts and purists had many objections to some of the suggested provisions. More importantly, the government was all set to table the legislative Bill on introducing the GST in the monsoon session of Parliament. What derailed that process was not the imperfections in the proposed GST regime, like its coverage and the number of tax rates, but the more substantive and political question of whether the new system would rob the states of their freedom to have their say in the fixation of GST rates. The bone of contention was the constitution of the GST Council, where the Union finance minister's veto power meant that in matters of dispute, the states would have had to submit to the Centre's wishes. The Union finance ministry did make some conciliatory gestures to dispel the states' apprehensions, but there was no resolution of the dispute and the result was that the government failed to present the GST Bill in the monsoon session.

 Clearly, Mr Mukherjee's leadership has not helped boost prospects for tax reform. Evaporating political support for the new taxation regime was evident when just eight state finance ministers attended the last meeting of the empowered committee held in December. The way forward is critically dependent on the Union government's ability to dispel the apprehensions expressed by dissenting states like Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and those ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Undoubtedly, apprehensions over GST are politically motivated and there are no strong economic arguments against it. GST has now become a political challenge and the government should meet it with a political response, without further diluting the economic principles behind the new tax system. The dissenting states are also aware of the long-term benefits of being part of a GST regime and are likely to soften their stance once the Union finance ministry makes conciliatory gestures to address their grievances. The Centre, therefore, should recognise this and make the right moves to end the stalemate and push for reform.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

PAKISTAN'S PRIORITY

MOVING FROM CYCLE OF DESPAIR TO CYCLE OF GROWTH

 

Pakistan's economy and politics are seemingly intertwined in a vicious cycle that has pushed the country into a dangerous downward spiral and left it staring at the abyss. Pakistan today is in a low equilibrium trap, characterised by low growth rates, high inflation, low rates of investment and high levels of foreign debt (relative to the size of foreign exchange reserves). Highly divisive and volatile national politics is making a bad situation worse. Pakistan's recovery from the global economic downturn has been anaemic. Real GDP growth rates since 2007 have averaged slightly over 3 per cent, following four years of relatively solid growth. An investment rate of 17 per cent of GDP is well below what is needed to jumpstart the economy and is not helped by the reluctance of both domestic and foreign players to invest in Pakistan. An inflation rate of 15 per cent coupled with an official unemployment rate of 17 per cent is just the tinder needed to set off a conflagration that could soon turn unmanageable. A combination of high fiscal deficit (estimated at 50 per cent of GDP) and an external debt of $53 billion (four times the country's foreign exchange holdings) leaves little headroom for manoeuvre. If the current account deficit is a manageable 2.2 per cent of GDP, Pakistan has lower oil prices and remittances from overseas Pakistanis to thank. A sharp depreciation in the Pakistani rupee since 2006 has adversely affected the trade deficit: Exports, mainly cotton textiles, have not increased significantly due to increasing global competition, while imports have become costlier.

 

A greater cause for anxiety is that sustainable recovery is nowhere in sight. The services sector, which accounts for 54 per cent of GDP, is growing steadily, but industrial growth is torpid, having actually declined by 2 per cent in 2009! The manufacturing sector is a one-horse show, with virtually no forward or backward linkages to the rest of the economy. Pakistan's intelligentsia is fleeing the country in droves in search of safety and better opportunity, straining the already scarce pool of human capital. The importance of social and political stability in restoring confidence in Pakistan cannot be overstated. It would be unrealistic to expect investment and global interest in the country to proceed unhindered, given the prevailing turmoil. The return of stability would be a huge first step, given that the regulatory and investment regime in Pakistan is easily the most liberal and investor-friendly in South Asia. Pakistan can leverage its geographical position in a manner that promotes the economic integration of South and Central Asia, which, above all else, is restricted by the political tension that prevails between India and Pakistan. These benefits would extend beyond collecting "transit fees" for allowing the passage of oil and gas and would involve the setting up of an industrial corridor linking India and Central Asia, driven primarily by Indian investment. Pakistan can only stand to gain from such an arrangement, as well as by increasing the share of intra-regional trade which the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (Safta) was intended to boost. Economic growth is largely self-fulfilling once the enabling conditions are in place. Breaking the vicious cycle of despair and moving to a virtuous cycle of growth is an imperative for Pakistan.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

 

MAMATA'S MOMENT

MS BANERJEE IS ON TRACK TO VICTORY IN BENGAL, SHE SHOULDN'T DERAIL THE RAILWAYS

SANJAYA BARU

Ms Banerjee is on track to victory in Bengal, she shouldn't derail the railways

Only one-way bets are being taken in Kolkata. Mamata Banerjee will be the next chief minister of West Bengal! All sceptics are welcome to bury their heads in sand.

 For a state that has not experienced serious "anti-incumbency" for a generation, the results of the 2011 state legislative assembly elections will feel like a revolution. And, as in all revolutions, dealing with the aftermath is going to be more challenging for the victor than the vanquished. Ms Banerjee must start preparing now.

No one, but no one, any longer questions the inevitability of the exit of the Left Front government in West Bengal. Recent violence in the state is a sign of things to come. Neither the victor, Ms Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, nor the vanquished, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is going to react calmly to the change of regime. Expect more bloodshed in Bengal.

While Ms Banerjee should not take her victory for granted, and there is still doubt among political analysts in the state whether her party will secure outright majority or will have to depend for support on the Congress party, she must devote time to planning what she wants to do with her victory.

Bengal is in a shambles. The state's economy has not recovered from the Nandigram and Singur controversies. An old business elite continues to lord over the few business opportunities available in the state. Few of India's more dynamic new business groups have as yet pitched tent in the state. Those who have, maintain only a token presence. Bengal desperately needs an industrial renaissance. Can Ms Banerjee deliver?

Her track record as a Union minister for railways does not as yet offer a convincing answer either way. She has worked hard to modernise the Indian Railways, and has lent her ear to the wise counsel of several competent advisors both within the railways administration and outside, like the secretary-general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industries (Ficci), Amit Mitra, but her commitment to the future of the railways has been weaker than to her own.

To some extent, this is understandable. Her ministry was the most important weapon in her political armoury in the battle she has waged in her home state. She has used the Indian Railways, and will try to do so again in the forthcoming railway budget, to improve her political prospects. Hopefully, Ms Banerjee will resist this temptation, given that her victory in Kolkata is at hand, and will leave behind a stronger national railway system.

India has been busy celebrating marginal improvements in railway finances and services in the past six years at a time when China has emerged as a railways power of the world. As railways analyst Raghu Dayal wrote in these columns (BS, June 21, 2010), till 1990 the railway systems of China and India were more or less on par. In the past two decades, China has entered an altogether different league, both in terms of scale and the quality of projects it has been able to deliver.

Despite her best intentions, and much early promise, Ms Banerjee has not been able to reverse the tide of populism and short-termism that has long gripped the Indian Railways. On the eve of her departure from Delhi and the beginning of a new innings in Bengal, there is much Ms Banerjee can do for the future of the Indian Railways that can inspire greater confidence in her ability to alter the future of Bengal.

Indeed, Ms Banerjee must quickly articulate a "Vision 2020" for West Bengal because well into her term as chief minister, she can only ride on the promise of a better future rather than the possibility of an improved present. The energy and imagination she has spent in seeking to unseat the deeply entrenched Left Front in Bengal will be nothing compared to what she would need to restore growth and momentum to Bengal, and that too in the face of likely civil unrest stirred both by her own restive supporters and sullen CPM cadres.

Make no mistake, the change of government in West Bengal is not going to be smooth. This is not going to be just about one set of ministers replacing another. This will be nothing short of a regime change. An entire generation of CPM leaders and cadres has grown up not knowing defeat and loss of power and patronage, unlike in Kerala where the Left Front is habituated to being in and out of office. Even the Indian Administrative Service has been suborned in the state. Ms Banerjee is known to be a suspicious lady and so will not come to easily trust the officials she will have to work with.

What a Trinamool government would mean for Bengal would depend on whether Ms Banerjee follows the N T Rama Rao model (for he too had engineered a regime change in Andhra Pradesh after nearly three decades of uninterrupted Congress party rule) or the Lalu Prasad-Mulayam Singh models of regime change in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. For all his faults, NTR's focus was on the future, the Yadav duo never thought about it!

West Bengal's human capital, its natural resources and locational advantages offer it the opportunity to re-emerge as a centre of manufacturing and knowledge-based industry. Bangladesh has, in fact, shown more recently what improved governance can do for a hapless people. Both the late Jyoti Basu and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya had good intentions. While the former was lazy and showed little commitment to his own views, the latter tried hard. Mr Bhattacharya cannot be accused of not trying. He was ill-served by his own party and its national leadership.

As a regional leader, with a supportive prime minister in New Delhi, Ms Banerjee can alter Bengal's future. Would she?

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

THE EAST ASIAN KABUKI

CURTAIN-RAISER TO A GEOPOLITICAL DRAMA IN FIVE ACTS

NITIN PAI

Curtain-raiser to a geopolitical drama in five acts

This year's kabuki performance got off to a start even before Hu Jintao, China's president, set off on his state visit to the United States.

 The first act began a few days ago when some online military buffs posted images of a new stealth aircraft, tested on the very day Robert Gates, US defence secretary, was in Beijing to discuss, well, military cooperation. The test surprised a lot of people — including, apparently, Mr Hu himself. The underlying message, however, should not. Powerful political constituencies within the People's Republic not only see the US-China relationship as adversarial, but have developed the capacity to challenge US military power in East Asia and beyond. In recent years we have seen the People's Liberation Army (PLA) deploy a submarine fleet that can counter the US Navy's surface combatants, develop missiles that can destroy aircraft carriers and satellites, and now test next-generation fighter aircraft.

No, it is extremely unlikely that the United States and China will get into a war — hot or cold — in the near future, but China is attempting to shape a military balance that will give it greater leverage over Japan, South Korea and their primary protector, the United States. At the same time, Vietnam, Australia, Indonesia and India will either feel awed, more insecure or both. North Korea, Pakistan, Myanmar and Iran will be emboldened. Like the slow, initial act of traditional Japanese theatre, this sets the stage for the remaining acts of the unfolding drama. There are four more acts in this East Asian kabuki.

The Chinese economy forms the backdrop of the second one. While much of the world's attention is focused on the valuation of the yuan, a narrative centred around China's wage levels is far more interesting. Three decades of economic growth has increased Chinese labour productivity and hence should cause wages to rise. Labour shortages in Guangdong's Pearl River delta are serious. Then there is inflation — the consumer price index rose 5.1 per cent in November 2010, the highest in over two years — which should also cause workers to demand a bigger pay packet. Allowing wages to rise is likely to affect China's economic competitiveness, but keeping them down risks exacerbating labour unrest. Both undermine the Communist Party of China's (CPC's) political legitimacy.

Because of external pressure, China cannot easily weaken its currency either. How Beijing walks the wage tightrope is one thing, but it already presents an opportunity for other Asian economies to grab a greater share of manufacturing investments. South East Asian countries stand to benefit the most as they will be relatively more competitive. India can too — to the extent that it can implement labour reforms before the window closes.

On to the third act — China's domestic politics. By most accounts, Mr Hu was as surprised by news of the stealth fighter's flight as Mr Gates. The factional struggle within the top echelons of the CPC has been on for some time. It could be one reason why China's recent actions appear far less astute compared to the period before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. You hear of the PLA jockeying for more power in a setting where top Communist party leaders, unlike their predecessors, no longer have military credentials. You hear of Jiang Zemin's pro-business Shanghai faction in perpetual intrigue against Mr Hu's Communist Youth League. Then there are the princelings, offspring of China's old guard, who combine their connections and wealth to emerge as kingmakers. Opacity masks the exact contours of these factional divides, but it is clear that the common "hardliners vs moderates" characterisation is an oversimplification.

Vice President Xi Jinping's appointment to a vice-chairmanship of the CPC's Central Military Commission in October 2010 suggests that he will succeed Mr Hu as paramount leader in 2012. But the contest may not be over yet. It is certainly not over for the scores of positions that will become vacant as older cadre are eased out of their positions. This process will have an impact on China's policy coherence, both domestic and external.

It is already palpable over Korean peninsula — the scene of the fourth act — where China's inability (or refusal) to prevent North Korean aggression has been conveniently explained away as arising from its fear of the collapse of its totalitarian neighbour. There are only around 24 million people in North Korea. It is hard to accept that a state that can maintain order in restive regions like Tibet and Xinjiang somehow lacks the capacity to manage the influx of a few million impoverished North Korean refugees.

Meanwhile, South Korea's situation should be familiar to us in India. Like Pakistan, North Korea is carrying out provocative acts of aggression, under the umbrella of nuclear weapons, in a bid to coerce the victim into making political concessions. Although Seoul responded by conducting a military mobilisation along with the United States, the measure is of limited utility as we know from Operation Parakram in 2002. So the question for South Korea is whether it can muster up the will to confront China, Pyongyang's main sponsor. For Beijing, it is whether the PLA's desire to degrade US military power by keeping it embroiled in North Korea is trumped by the strategic costs of uniting South Korea and Japan.

South Korea and Japan — between who there is no love lost — have recently agreed to help each other out in military intelligence and equipment. In the final act of this year's drama, we will come to know how far this relationship will go. Or maybe Seoul will decide it can't rely on alliances at all, and needs a nuclear arsenal of its own. If it comes to that, it will no longer remain just kabuki.

The author is founder and fellow for geopolitics at the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati — The Indian National Interest Review

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

FIRST-WORLD DEBT CRISIS?

THE WORLD HAS HUGE SOVEREIGN DEBT CHALLENGES TO MEET ONCE AGAIN, ONLY THIS TIME THE LEADING ECONOMIES ARE IN TROUBLE

A V RAJWADE

The world has huge sovereign debt challenges to meet once again, only this time the leading economies are in trouble

If the 1980s was the decade of the third-world debt crisis, could the current decade be described by future economic historians as the decade of the first-world sovereign debt crisis? Quite possible, of course, given the problems being witnessed by some eurozone countries (Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain?). And, across the Atlantic, the situation does not look any better if the late 2010 "deal" between the Democratic President and the Republican leadership is any indication. The Republicans won the mid-term election with a hawkish stance on the budget deficit. The first thing they did on winning was to get a two-year continuation of a tax-cut for the rich which would cost something like $850 billion. In return, the Democrats got what they were after: a continuation of unemployment benefits beyond the existing time limit, necessitated by the continued near-double digit unemployment. It is not left for us, the poor third-world commentators, to understand the ways of the Americans to cut budget deficits, or, indeed, the ways of the financial market that charges a higher credit spread on the German sovereign debt compared to the US sovereign debt ("too big to fail"?). Or, is this phenomenon merely another manifestation of the the financial market's US-centric biases? To be sure, there would be analysts who would give an extremely plausible rationale for the lower US spreads. The fact is that the US public debt and fiscal adjustment are major challenges for policy makers. The dilemmas are reflected in the way the high-profile debt reduction panel appointed by US President Barack Obama failed to agree on Historically, there have been two ways of solving a sovereign debt problem. One, fast growth and, two, currency debasement (that is, high inflation). Neither seems to be on the cards so far as most of the first-world countries are concerned. And, in the US the debt problem extends not only to states like California, but a very large number of municipalities — the aggregate outstanding municipal debt is estimated at $2 trillion, and yield spreads have been widening since investors perceive a greater credit risk. Another debt bomb that could explode in a not-so-robust economic recovery is the commercial real estate sector.

Turning to the prospects of global inflation, there are signs that it could pick up. Bond yields in the US have gone up to some extent, although the headline inflation number is still pretty benign. This is not surprising — the index looks at the past while, at least in theory, markets are supposed to factor in expectations about the future in current prices. The fact is that commodity prices have increased sharply since mid-2010 — for example, prices of precious metals, base metals, agricultural commodities (FAO's food price index is up 50 per cent over the last two years) and, more recently, crude oil. There are, perhaps, two different drivers that flare up commodity prices. One, rising demand in emerging markets, which continue to grow much faster than the first world. Two, the emergence of commodities as a new "asset class". This would surely exacerbate cyclicality.

Product inflation may also pick up. One of the reasons for the relatively benign inflation over the last couple of decades in much of the first world has been China's prices. And, this could be in for a change. Two factors that will put an upward pressure on Chinese product prices are: sharp increases in wages and a gradual appreciation of the yuan in nominal terms. In theory, this should help reduce global imbalances. In my view, this is unlikely since the major deficit Anglo-Saxon economies have progressively de-industrialised themselves. (To be sure, these developments may help other emerging markets' competitiveness.) Overall, however, inflation in the first world is unlikely to go to levels that would make any significant impact on debt as a percentage of nominal GDP. Macroeconomic policy makers have learnt much more about bringing inflation down than pushing it up — look at the experience of Japan.

What about the growth outlook? The US stock market is back to the pre-Lehman collapse levels. There are other indications that economic growth could pick up in 2011, but unemployment seems to be an increasingly intractable problem. Analysts have been suggesting that a GDP growth of 2.5 per cent a year is needed merely to keep the unemployment level stable. The big question is, what will happen to economic recovery once the monetary and fiscal stimuli are withdrawn? The picture is not any rosier in Europe, with the exception of Germany. But the problems of some of the eurozone countries would continue to hobble the European recovery. The Chinese central bank is increasingly becoming the lender of last resort for many European governments. And, it remains the largest holder of US sovereign debt.

The big worry for the global picture is the possibility of tensions over exchange rates (particularly of the Chinese yuan) and political pressures for trade protectionist measures. In times of difficulties, it is always tempting to blame the nasty, crafty foreigner for one's own woes.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

GIVE INPUT SOME CREDIT, PLEASE

A CLEARER DEFINITION OF THE TERM 'INPUT' AS PART OF CAPITAL GOODS WILL BE GST-FRIENDLY

SUKUMAR MUKHOPADHYAY

A clearer definition of the term 'input' as part of capital goods will be GST-friendly

Millions of "input" tax credits are taken every day by manufactures and traders under the Cenvat Credit Rules for the purpose of paying and adjusting duty. Now, the very concept of input is in serious jeopardy after the issue of its definition was referred by a Supreme Court Bench of two judges (in the R S Chini Mills vs CCE Meerut case*) to a larger Bench for reconsideration of the previous judgment in the case of Maruti Suzuki versus CCE**.

Since the final decision is likely to take a long time, the next Budget should immediately amend the definition of input to make it doubt-free. This will also be the best opportunity to make it GST-friendly. Input is a current subject and such uncertainty will lead to a provisional assessment and upset the smooth working of the government, the manufacturing industry and trade.

The issue that went to the Supreme Court in the case of R S Chini Mills was whether machine parts or accessories (welding electrodes in this case) meant for repair and maintenance of machines that are directly used for manufacture are admissible for input credit or not. This is already a highly litigated issue because of the Central Board of Excise and Customs' insistence on a strict definition, against all logic. The Rajasthan High Court gave a beneficial judgment holding that input credit for welding electrodes is definitely admissible. The Customs, Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT) in a recent decision in the case of Aditya Cement versus CCE, Jaipur correctly held that the Rajasthan High Court's judgment is to be relied upon because it is the only high court judgment available. Many CESTAT judgments have also endorsed this view. Even so, the issue went to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court went into the definition of input and finally referred the matter to the larger Bench. And now it has become all the more uncertain whether products necessary for maintenance and repair of machine should be admissible for input credit or not. The definition itself is in deep waters.

The second problem is the multiplicity of expressions used for similar things in the definition of input and capital goods. For "all goods" the condition is that they should be "used in or in relation to manufacture of final product whether directly or indirectly and whether contained in the final product or not". However for two of the six "included" items, namely electricity and steam, the condition is "used in or in relation to manufacture of final products or for any other purpose". Moreover, in the definition of capital goods, the required condition is "used", while for the definition of inputs the requirement is "manufacture" There is no reasonable justification for such a distinction. This sort of fine differentiation in the drafting of the definitions of input and capital goods has led the courts and even the Supreme Court to give judgments that are now up for reconsideration before a larger Bench. There have been 583 cases in four years on various issues of input credit by the Tribunal, high courts and the Supreme Court.

The third issue is that the definition of capital goods covers a concept of "used for providing output service". This definition also applies to inputs, but in this case it has been put under a different sub-heading. There is no justification for making two entries.

The fourth issue is that there is no reason why capital goods and inputs should be separately defined. Capital goods are also inputs. Both are admissible for input credit. If the distinction between the two is abolished, the vast majority of the problems leading to litigation will vanish. The excuse given by the revenue department is that for staggering the input credit of capital goods it is necessary to define capital goods separately. This is nothing but an excuse. Definition is a permanent concept. For staggering the credit (which is no longer necessary), a separate temporary definition can be given.

I suggest in Budget 2011 the following definition of input (including capital goods) be incorporated:

Input means all goods

(1) except light diesel oil, high-speed diesel oil, motor spirit, and any goods used in the office;

(2) including lubricating oils, greases, cutting oils, coolants, accessories of the final products cleared along with the final product, goods used as paint, or as packing material, or as fuel, or for generation of electricity or steam, motor vehicles as now appearing in Rule 2(B) of the 2004 Rules. (This inclusive part will not be necessary when the Goods and Services Tax is introduced but it is necessary now because revenue officers are likely to misunderstand the meaning of its abolition.)

(3) on the conditions that:

(a) they are used in or in relation to manufacture of final products whether directly or indirectly; or

(b) whether they are contained in the final product or not; and

(c) used within the factory of production; and

(d) used for providing any output service; or

(e) used for repair or maintenance (this is very important).

This definition will be GST-friendly because the GST will have to be an amalgamation of a comprehensive goods tax and comprehensive services tax. The GST cannot work with all sorts of complicated definitions, as there are now. So it is better to have a definition that will tally with the comprehensive service tax.

Second, the definition of key concepts like input and output must be clear-cut, indicating the exceptions and the conditions.

Finally, the present concept of input and capital goods must be combined to make a comprehensive concept of input that will be friendly to the concept of GST.

*2010 (260) ELT321(SC)

** (Delhi-III -2009 (240) ELT641(SC)

The writer is former member, Central Board of Excise and Customs

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BE BOLD AT THE TOP

DRIFT FEEDS INFLATION


 EXPECTATIONS play a role in how inflation actually shapes up, whichever school of economic thought you belong to or reject. Whether the government and the central bank are on top of the situation is an important determinant of those expectations. A sense of helplessness, drift or of being behind the curve feeds inflationary expectations, pushing up actual levels of inflation in the future. And this is something that the government leadership has control over, or should. The RBI's monetary actions have attracted the criticism that they have not been aggressive enough on inflation, but they have certainly been consistent, steadily withdrawing the extra accommodation extended to counter the post-Lehman slowdown. But the spat between the capital market and insurance regulators and the finance ministry's formal stamp of primacy in regulatory matters through the institution of the Financial Stability and Development Council, in the wake of that spat, have dented the authority of the central bank. This has detrimental effects on inflationary expectations. A similar logic applies to the government as well. It is not just its actions directly on the price front that determine its credibility on that front. The paralysis of Parliament is not entirely in the government's hands, but the seeming sense of drift at the top even in matters that call for no legislative decisions certainly does not help. If a Cabinet reshuffle is indeed planned, please go ahead, get it over with and get going. "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly." Indeed, and not just in the case of murder! We have raised the role that the fiscal deficit plays in creating macroeconomic stress, a manifestation of which is a current account deficit that is larger than normal, in building inflationary pressures. Curbing the deficit is far easier than getting vegetables to grow faster than in the course of their natural cycle — all it takes is political courage, lots of it, though.

 

Economists are the ones called to comment on inflation. It's time politics went beyond comment, to take action that re-establishes credibility and authority. This is entirely within the realm of the doable.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

INDIGO FLIES HIGH

BUSINESS CYCLE RISK REMAINS


IT IS billed as the largest single transaction aircraft order in commercial aviation history, although low-cost domestic carrier IndiGo would only begin taking delivery of its 180 Airbus planes in 2016, and continue to do so until 2025. Nonetheless, the $15.6 billion purchase involving A-320 aircraft is hugely significant for Indian aviation, underscores as it does sustained bullishness in passenger traffic growth over the long-term. The projection is that India would be the third-largest aviation market by 2020. For IndiGo, which is profit-making in an industry marred by debt overhang and continuing losses, the deal seems to vindicate its no-frills business model. It's also a thumbs-up for its on-time, passenger-friendly service and growing connectivity. IndiGo has a current fleet of 34 A-320s, and the gameplan to acquire more of the same would cut down on maintenance, overhauling and spare-part costs. The carrier is already in the process of taking delivery of 100 new A-320s, as per a previous 2005 purchase. Also, as many as 150 of the latest aircraft order would be the newer A-320neo version, a souped-up version which offers a 15% reduction in operating costs.

 

The one possible hitch in IndiGo's business plans is decelerating traffic growth. Other, full-service domestic carriers have hit bumpy air-pockets while expanding fleetsize at breakneck speed. It had been taken for granted that air traffic volumes would grow 30% and more when the slowdown plunged growth into negative territory in 2008. Traffic growth has since climbed up to 15% per annum, and is expected to touch 20% soon, or higher than that in China or Brazil. In tandem, we require proactive policy to boost civil aviation. There's the need to rationalise taxes on aviation fuel, rethink high tarmac charges and boost airport investment for low-cost carriers. It remains to be seen whether IndiGo can stretch its business model overseas and fly the gamut of international routes, after it is eligible to do so later this year. With its domestic connectivity, it ought to be on a strong wicket in what is a risky market globally. While no one can wish away business cycles, India's sustained growth prospects are not in doubt.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

GETTING BRAINY IN NORTH KOREA

ALL YOU NEED IS LIQUID BRAIN JUICE


TOTALITARIAN states also tend to be a tad dotty. It isn't just the paranoia that surrounds them. It's also the grandiloquent things such entities come up with to display imagined prowess. Take the North Koreans. News is one of the last remaining genuinely secretive states in the world has produced the much sought-after elixir of life. It's called the 'mind expanding liquid brain juice' or a 'Super Drink' that does everything from multiplying brain cells to halting the ageing process. This fizzy, anti-oxidation drink, reports aver, was described by the appropriately secretive Korean Central News Agency as one that "protects skin from wrinkles and black spots, and prevents such geriatric diseases as cerebral haemorrhage [sic], myocardium and brain infarction by removing acid effete matters in time." Sounds pretty scientific. And perhaps that's the intention. To show that the great and most glorious communist state — where no one starves, and whose chief accomplishments to date seem to be producing weapons and gymnasts on a mass scale — also has a fantastic scientific temper, easily capable of producing, virtually, the Holy Grail.

 

The relevant report in The Telegraphsays the mysterious mixture contains 60 types of 'microelements' extracted from over 30 species of plants. But it obviously isn't clear how the stuff 'multiplies' brain cells. It's also reasonable to surmise we'll never really know. Perhaps it's just a demonstration of liquid power at a time when tensions between the two Koreas are at an all-time high. Quite like what Saddam's regime did just before the first Gulf war, announcing the 'development' of one weapons system after another. On the other hand, if the stuff actually works then one can also suggest this is a most timely intervention in a place where it is needed most. No one, one can wager, needs more brain cells than the chaps running dictatorial regimes.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

OUTCOMING: OUTSOURCING REINCARNATED

INDIA'S OUTSOURCING INDUSTRY IS ON THE CUSP OF A SIGNIFICANT CHANGE, SHIFTING TO KNOWLEDGE-INTENSIVE AND VALUE-ADDED SERVICES THAT CALL FOR A NEW WAY OF FUNCTIONING, SAYS DARREN OBERST

 INDIA still leads the global IT outsourcing market and its advantages over other regions are still distinct. The Indian domestic market has undergone a transformation over the past decade — rising from the periphery to emerge as a viable, high-potential opportunity for the country's IT-BPO sector.

 

Labour or cost arbitrage does not drive the domestic BPO market like in the global outsourcing market. It's the need to scale rapidly, greater focus on core competencies, enhanced productivity, heightened competition and reduced time to market that is driving domestic demand.

 

While, the large enterprises with substantial resources have always outsourced a part of their operations, the mid-size and small organisations have been unable to explore this opportunity. With the increasing global competition, the small and mid-sized businesses are being forced to restructure their operations. To remain at the helm of innovation and be competitive, SMBs are looking at focusing on their competencies and quality rather than spending time and money on backhand operations verticals in which they lack expertise.
    The growing competition and market needs are driving companies to search for experts to offload functions beyond their know-how. However, there now seems to be shift in the services that are outsourced. The outsourced services are now the areas that require experts. This is not only helping organisations save time and gain value for money but also helping them scale up by capitalising on their proficiency.

 

The BPO industry today stands at an interesting inflection point. Service providers are now adding the knowledge component into the mix in an attempt to deliver greater value. Top players have improved by listening, learning and following client's 'real' requirements. They make it a point to 'hear' the real problems and follow them to develop new solutions. The knowledge component is enabling a more value-added role, directly impacting the client's business objectives.

 

With greater buyer awareness about offshoring knowledge services and increasing service provider capabilities, the share of knowledge services in the overall market will continue to grow. At the same time, the nature of 'knowledge' services is quite distinct from traditional IT and BPO, and viewing these merely as additional services may not work. Unique practices, processes and formulas are developed after thoroughly following client requirements. Outcoming is the continuous process of following client requirement intelligently and delivering exactly what the client wants.

 

Outcoming has added a new dimension to outsourcing. Trends towards open standards, interoperability and consolidation have opened up a new set of possibilities and challenges. In the hardware industry, these trends are instantiated in virtualisation, cloud computing and 'blades'. In the software industry, these trends show up in software as a service (SaaS), service-oriented architecture (SOA), open source and 'composite applications'. In IT services, these trends manifest in the push towards shared services, 'deskilling' and global sourcing. For the incumbent vendors in these categories, it points towards M&A and consolidation, the blurring of traditional product categories, a confusing world of 'co-opetition', and too often, threats of commoditisation.

 

 OUTCOMING is at the intersection of the convergence of these historical trends and enterprising, demanding customers that see the potential of a new set of solutions. There are diverse aspects of the new outcoming market applicable to the IT/BPO industries.

 

Solve hard end-to-end operational problems: Don't slice up the problem into convenient chunks and take responsibility for part of it. Outcoming requires the seamless blending of software, hardware, research, consulting, analytics, process knowledge, financing and operations. It is not a question of automation vs people. The answer is to solve the problem efficiently — sometimes combining a leading-edge research asset with low-cost manual data entry or an artificial intelligence algorithm packaged in the same project with a third-party courier service. Sometimes, for an MNC, it involves 'stretching' core competencies and working with local partners in non-traditional categories to complete the value chain.

 

Think small: Cross-functional solutions should not be 'mega-projects' or over-engineered. Bring together IT, consulting, industry expertise, research and operations in small, focused packages aligned to solve precisely the specific end-to-end operational challenge. High value is created by thinking small.

 

Output vs input focus: Value is migrating from detailed BoM-oriented contracts filled with input requirements designed by technical specialists into macro-driven, CEO-oriented outcome-aligned SLAs.

 

Shared risk for applied innovation: Overengineering or 'bleeding-edge' technology risk. The world is focused on innovation, but vendors need to rethink what it means. It is not shipping over the latest chunk of code from the research lab; rather it is delivering the benefit of that innovation and carrying the risk of applying it.

 We learn together:The world isn't flat. It is local. There is no such thing as 'global expertise' — rather there is the extraordinarily challenging balance of combining true world-class skill and experience with local market insight and requirements.

 

eBusiness on demand: The delivery of IT/ ops/consulting in an integrated package aligned to the client business model. An enterprise whose business processes — integrated end-to-end across the company and with key partners, suppliers and customers — can respond with speed to any customer demand or market opportunity.
    Over the last decade, India Inc has developed and exported several new management paradigms — offshoring, bottom-of-pyramid, world-is-flat, and jugaad-style creativity. The newest one to be added to the list is outcoming. The dynamics of outsourcing are changing rapidly. Consolidation among outsourcing companies, creation of larger providers offering a broader range of services and emergence of niche providers is making outcoming a 'strategic imperative' of outsourcing. Outcoming is creating a big opportunity for India, which is well placed to capture a proportion of future growth.

 

(The author is vice president, MBPS, IBM     India/South Asia and vice presidentfinancial services, Asia-Pacific)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

ET I N T E R A CT I V E ANAND SATYANAND

'FTA WILL BE A WIN-WIN DEAL'

ISHANIDUTTAGUPTA

 

AS GOVERNOR-General of New Zealand, Anand Satyanand is the personal representative of head of state, Queen Elizabeth II. While the head of state is a symbolic office with no involvement in the business of government, the governor-general carries a great deal of dignity and conveys a sense of New Zealand's national unity and leadership. Satyanand, the first person of Indian origin to hold such a high position in New Zealand, qualified for the governor-general's office after a long and illustrious career as lawyer, judge and ombudsman. He was appointed parliamentary ombudsman in 1995 and served two five-year terms in that office.

 

Satyanand was in Delhi recently as the chief guest at Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, the annual event organised by the ministry of overseas Indian affairs for NRIs & PIOs, and received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman award. Earlier, he was on an official visit for the Commonwealth Games. Though his own connection with India is now remote and he has no family here, he has made friends during his visits and is regarded in Indian government circles as a friend of India.

 

The fascinating journey of his family from India began 130 years ago, when his maternal grandparents left Uttar Pradesh as some of the first indentured workers to settle in Fiji. His paternal grandparents, from Andhra Pradesh, followed in 1911. It was in Fiji that his parents were born. "If escape from poverty was the reason for my grandparents leaving India for Fiji, it was pursuit of education that brought my parents from Fiji to New Zealand," is how Satyanand himself describes the immigrant journey of his family. In New Zealand, his father qualified as a doctor while his mother became a nurse.

 

"Fifty years ago, Indian immigrants in New Zealand were seen mostly in ordinary occupations such as agricultural workers and market gardening. But now they have come to participate in a whole range of professions, in government, academia and in businesses," says Anand Satyanand, talking about the 100,000-strong Indian community in New Zealand.

 

Even in 1976, there were about 6,300 New Zealanders of Indian origin, but now they are the second largest Asian ethnic group in the country. He would also like to see more Indian students choosing New Zealand as their destination. "We have world-class colleges and polytechnics in New Zealand that provide a safe and comfortable environment for overseas students. The present number of Indian students in our country is 9,000 and we hope that will go up in the coming years," he says.

 

Satyanand says his country has a proud record of tolerance towards immigrants, despite some issues arising from time to time. He had himself faced a racist comment by a TV presenter who had suggested on air that the governor-general was not a proper New Zealander because of his Indo-Fijian ancestry. The presenter, Paul Henry, later apologised, but was suspended. It was a mistake which was later corrected, is how Satyanand likes to explain the incident away.

 

And now, even though Satyanand's tenure as governor-general is drawing to an end, he is upbeat about Indo-Kiwi trade and business relations. "I have spoken about India-New Zealand trade and issues at different forums and have been following our government's India policy closely. It will be of great benefit to both the countries if the free trade agreement, talks on which started last year, comes about," he says.

 

While his family has lost most personal connections with their land of origin, Satyanand and his wife Susan have travelled to India many times as tourists and on official engagements. "We have made many friends both personally and professionally in many places in this country," he says. However, efforts to trace his maternal family's roots in Uttar Pradesh have not yielded much owing to the lack of records. On his paternal side in Andhra Pradesh, his grandfather and father were both only sons and hence, linkages have been lost.

"This is a common story of many people whose families went to Fiji as indentured labour from India in the 19th and 20th centuries. Unfortunately, because of a lack of record keeping, most linkages have been lost," says Satyanand, who will definitely visit the monument at the Kolkata docks, which has recently been unveiled in the memory all the people who were sent as indentured labour to various countries during the British colonial period in India.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

FI NANSTREET

TIME FOR A REALITY CHECK

MYTHILI BHUSNURMATH


I BELIEVE the worst is over as far as food inflation is concerned.' The PM addressing the media after the top-level meeting convened to discuss inflation last week? Not quite! It is the PM, alright; but he was addressing a conference of CMs convened in the Capital to discuss rising prices almost a year ago; in early February 2010 to be precise.

 

'Food prices,' he continued, 'have softened in recent weeks and I expect this to continue… It is well known that for many crops, including pulses, which are in short supply, large increases in yield per hectare is possible.' From a longer-term perspective, the PM called for more attention to factors that result in low productivity and also urged state governments to invoke their respective Essential Commodities Maintenance Act to prevent hoarding and take strict action against those creating artificial scarcity and fanning inflationary expectations.

 

Fast forward to the July 2010. 'The present high rate of inflation is mainly due to food price inflation. The government has taken a number of steps to curb inflation. We expect to see the rate of inflation in wholesale prices come down to around 6% by December.' The PM once again, this time at the meeting of the National Development Council in the Capital!

 

Fast forward again to January 2011. Food inflation though marginally down from the more than 12-month high of 18.23% for the week ended 25 December, is still unacceptably high; though a number of top functionaries has repeatedly assured us the worst is behind us.

 

The sole exception is home minister P Chidambaram, who set the cat among the pigeons with his recent 'We are not sure whether we have all the tools in hands to control food inflation' remark. Astute political observers may want to read more into his comment but what is undeniable is that for all its stated resolve (?) the government has had little success on the price front. Inflation and inflationary expectations are now well and truly entrenched.

 

One could argue that we are paying the price for the prolonged period of loose fiscal policy combined with easy monetary policy that kept real interest rates negative. That the Reserve Bank of India's actions — it has raised policy rates six times in the current fiscal — came too late to undo the damage. That monetary policy acts with a long and indeterminate lag. It is also not the best instrument to counter to spiralling prices, especially spiralling food prices.

 

But till such time as supply adjusts to the higher demand that is inevitable following a period of sustained higher growth, it is the only way to keep prices in check; more so when fiscal policy is loose. Yes, there is the possibility that pre-emptive tightening might affect growth impulses adversely, but that is a choice policymakers have to make. Should they settle for a slightly slower (but sustainable) rate of growth? Or allow themselves to get so carried away by the hubris of double-digit growth that they become blind to the real danger of inflation derailing the growth process altogether?

 

Well, our policymakers did make a choice and they chose the latter! The fact that the next general elections are a only a faint blip on the horizon and human memory is woefully short — does anyone remember that this time last year potato prices were up 108% year-on-year — played a part in their choice, no doubt. But the harsh reality is higher incomes translate almost immediately into higher demand while supply responds with a lag. And if, as in Indian context, there are structural bottlenecks as well, the lags get aggravated adding to the pressure on prices.

 

In the interim there is only one remedy, asharp increase in interest rates. Our today has interesting parallels with that in the US in the 1980s when inflation reached double digits and inflationary expectations became deeply entrenched. Inflation in the US in the 1970s was triggered by an illusion that there is a fixed tradeoff between unemployment and inflation. Inflation in India is driven by a similar illusion.

 

In such a scenario, the best we can do is emulate Paul Volcker. When Volcker became US Federal Reserve chairman, inflation was at an unprecedented high (13.5%). But in the words of Paul Samuelson, he 'took a sledgehammer to inflationary expectations. He raised interest rates, tightened credit, and triggered the most punishing economic slump since the 1930s… President Reagan's popularity ratings collapsed but he understood inflation is always a monetary phenomenon, that it is too much money chasing too few goods; he knew that controlling inflation by regulation [controls] was absurd.'

 

The trouble, both in the US in the 1970s and in India today, is that there is no tradeoff between growth and inflation, except, perhaps, for very brief periods. But as in the US then and in India now, 'for inflation to be reversed the underlying politics and psychology has to change.' By that yardstick, we are nowhere near seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

 

Inflationary expectations are now wellentrenched, thanks to policymakers' pursuit of growth despite signs of over-heating


Till supply adjusts to the new higher demand there is only one remedy, a sharp increase in interest rates a la Paul Volcker in the US in the 1980s


But for that to happen and inflation to be reversed the underlying politics and psychology has to change

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CO S M I C U P LI N K

CONCEPTS PUT INTO PRACTICE

K VIJAYARAGHAVAN


TRUE spiritual progress, including pursuit of the ultimate 'victory over oneself', is basically, finally and in its true sense, nothing but comprehending and also putting into practice the concepts and truths, which are only too obvious to a seeking mind. This knowledge (jnanam), combined with this actual practice (kriya), is the time-tested recipe for final fulfilment.

 

It is an established fact that 'small' things and 'minutae' go to bring about this fulfilment, that would eventually give the feeling of real completion to the objectives envisaged — whether these be materialistic, intellectual or spiritual. It is also true that great persons, literature as also certain exhortations in scriptures serve as signposts to guide one on his way to improvement.

 

However, the issue arises as to how these are to be implemented actually for obtaining tangible and sustained rewards.

 

It is in the above regard that the seeking aspirant would do well to divine that the path to progress, is not merely arduous, but is also one, which would vary, along with the attendant techniques too, depending upon the background, make up and personality of each individual. In short, there would be as many paths, as there would be seekers, though the ultimate destination and also the overall objective would be the same.

 

On the issue of effective time management, for instance, besides the observations of Julia Fletcher Carney, and the Hitopadesha on how even small things 'add up', the Bible emphasises (Ephesians: 5,16) on the need to make the most of every opportunity, by "redeeming the time". Samuel Johnson (The Rambler) also observes on the 'present value of single minutes' and how one should 'endeavour to let no particle of time fall useless to the ground'. He also likens time to an 'estate', which "will produce nothing without cultivation".

 

Besides such guidelines on time management, great concepts applicable to the particular individual should be reflected upon by him, introspected and thus be allowed to 'sink in', orienting and designing these to his particular personality. This is the process for obtaining the needed sustained changes, within and, finally, without too. Done with adoration and sincerity, this process, thus, would chart a path, which would be unique and ideal to the individual, thus serving, surely and happily, to lead him on!

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

STRIKING THE RIGHT FISCAL BALANCE

GIVEN THE PERCEPTIBLE DOWNTURN IN ECONOMIC ACTIVITY, A FLEXIBLE APPROACH TO PUBLIC SPENDING MAY, AGAIN, BECOME NECESSARY.

 

If the events after September 2008 told us anything about such multilateral agencies as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, it was just how far behind the curve of complex economic realities they had fallen. The IMF's policing of exchange rate stability has become increasingly futile in a world where currency wars simmer and erupt occasionally as more than one emerging economy attempts to keep its currency from appreciating in the face of flooding capital flows. Now the World Bank cautions India and other South Asian countries against "fiscal slippages" and stresses the need to pursue tighter monetary policies.

In its latest "Global Economic Prospects" report, the World Bank asks India to cast an eye on the challenges that high-income European countries "with large deficits and debt-to-GDP ratios" are confronting, as an object lesson for staying the course of fiscal prudence. But the example is not strictly apposite nor is it illuminating; the European fiscal crisis has been brought about by the undue profligacy of the weaker southern rim European Union member-governments and housing bubbles (in Spain, for instance) when times were good and their inability to service rising debts when the bubbles burst and capital fled from the collapsing economies. The solution that stronger members, such as Germany and France, have imposed — fiscal discipline and austerity, that are music to World Bank ears — call for slashing budgets just when governments need to find and spend more to generate employment and investments. Fiscal austerity may heighten economic hardships without the promise of new investments generating employment in the near future. On both counts India is different: for all their shoddy governance, New Delhi and the States have kept some rein on spending and, while the current account deficit and external debt may be troublesome, the Reserve Bank of India has been moving in step with developments, attempting to balance growth with calibrated monetary tightening, even at the best of times. The next fiscal may witness increased spending and so some "fiscal slippage", but given the lackadaisical investment picture right now, that may be warranted in the larger interests of sustained economic expansion. The World Bank should remember that enhanced government spending and fiscal cuts after September 2008 did pay dividends in higher revenue collections; right now private capital again runs shy. A report in this paper points to delays in capital spends of companies on account of land acquisition problems; the 2G scam has got banks wary of core sector lending.

Fiscal balance is not cast in stone; given the perceptible downturn in economic activity, a flexible approach to public spending may become necessary, once again.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

MEASURING HAPPINESS

HAD AN ECONOMIST WRITTEN THE HIT SONG "DON'T WORRY, BE HAPPY", IT MAY WELL HAVE BEEN CALLED, "DON'T WORRY, WE ARE MEASURING IT".

DEBABRATA DAS

Over the years, the pursuit to quantify happiness has gathered fanatical single-mindedness comparable to an average human being's pursuit for happiness. The reasoning: if happiness trends are measured accurately, it could be as important as the calculation of GDP growth for a country while a government frames its policy.

But despite years of research and hundreds of research papers, the anomalies in understanding what makes one happy have not been understood and the cliches continue to remain.

More importantly, by trying to find a correlation between different happiness studies, surveys and indexes, the old adage that money can't buy happiness is proven wrong.

Money, alas, does make people happy.

Birthright

Happiness is a birthright?

A recent NBER paper titled 'International Happiness' by Mr David Blanchflower and Mr Andrew Oswald chronicles and analyses how attempts have been made to measure happiness over the years.

They start by assuming that inside a human being there is some 'happiness' and then go on to write it down as a mathematical equation:

Happiness = f(age, gender, income, education, marital status, diet, other personal characteristics, region characteristics, country characteristics)

By identifying the variables as either a positive or a negative co-efficient, the happiness in a person can be measured. But writing down an equation about happiness is one thing and measuring it quite another.

One problem is that moods matter. A normally perfectly happy man or woman can be feeling unhappy when answering the questionnaire. The reverse is also possible.

Also, are contentment and happiness the same thing? Could the former be a state of stable equilibrium and the latter an unstable one?

Then there is the old, old issue of inter-personal comparison of utility. How does your wife know that a fourth glass of whiskey will make her less happy than it makes you happy? Less importantly, how does anyone know that education is a preferred option to fishing?

Find it, measure it

Nevertheless, in the 21 st century interest in measuring happiness has grown. Everyone wants to measure Gross Domestic Happiness along with the Gross Domestic Product, which is the standard measure of judging how well a country is doing.

The latest to join the search for the holy grail of a happiness index is the UK. Its Office of National Statistics has been asked to produce measures for gauging "general wellbeing". France and Canada are also doing this.

But constructing an index is easier said than done. The method requires bringing together in one conceptually sound technique studies of mental well-being, physical well-being and psychology.

The flaws are shown up by assessing the various happiness surveys and data collected on happiness across various countries as the authors have done.

International surveys confirm what everyone has always known: Money, education, income and (oddly) marriage are considered as positive contributors to happiness.

But this means that happiness would is directly proportional to GDP growth of the country in which case Americans would be the happiest chaps on earth.

But the authors point out that this wasn't the case with the US. Surveys were carried out during the 1970s. Happiness did not seem to rising as fast as the GDP.

Left-out factor

The problem, they say, was not in the collection of data but because a basic human trait – jealousy -- was left out. People were satisfied but not happier than they were before because everyone's wealth was being distributed at the same pace.

But this would imply that inequality breeds happiness, which is not the case.

The other variable in the happiness equation is age. The U-shaped curve, based on the US happiness data where age is factored in, makes it tough to draw a correlation with age.

While the young and the old are happier people, middle-aged people are not happy despite having more money and more stability in the marital life.

The authors observe after going through various tables, surveys and data on happiness that happy people, according to the available data, are disproportionately the young and the old, rich, educated, married, in work, healthy, exercise-taker, with high fruit-and-vegetable diets and slim.

Reflecting this, happy countries are disproportionately rich, educated, democratic, trusting and low-unemployment.

The authors conclude by saying that a lot more work needs to be put into measuring happiness before any index or data are used or influences policy making.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

DISMAL STATE OF INDIAN SCIENCE

PURE SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS, ONCE POPULAR DEPARTMENTS IN UNIVERSITIES, HAVE FALLEN BY THE WAYSIDE, WHILE THE IITS FOSTER A NARROW SKILL EXPANSION. THE UNIVERSITY SYSTEM, WHICH PRODUCED OUR BEST SCIENTISTS, IS IN TERMINAL DECLINE.

ASHOAK UPADHYAY

 

In his keynote address to the 20 th Science Congress in Chennai early this month, Dr Manmohan Singh exhorted his audience to "think big, think out of the box and think ahead of the times". Once again, the Prime Minister showed his adeptness at handy clichés he has used several times last year to mediate in an increasingly messy political environment; at times righteous ("we will punish the guilty"), at others reassuring ("inflation will fall by December") and at the Science Congress, inspiring.

But in many things that Dr Singh has been saying of late, there is a strange quality to the words, not so much in-authenticity as unreality: Soporific in their effect, and like confetti in durability. All they do is leave a sense of relief at having a Prime Minister who means well.

CHANGED CONTEXT

The idea that scientists should think out of the box and with the future in mind needs a context to acquire meaning: When Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru asked Mr Homi J. Bhabha to plan for India's nuclear energy and Mr P. C. Mahalanobis, a framework for India's economy soon after Independence, he did not have to remind them to think out of the box: He simply gave them the context and more important, the wherewithal to think "ahead of the times".

The context in which Indian science can flourish is missing and the audience listening to the Prime Minister's homily on 'scientific thinking' would have left the gathering in a confused stupor because they were being asked to practice a credo alien to the environment they grew up in (as scientists) and now work within.

What is that environment? In 2006, a working group of the Planning Commission wrote what has long been known: Indian scientists are treated no better than government employees "in service and salary matters". There is no premium on meritorious work: The "present system," it moaned, "tends to put everybody — the outstanding and the mediocre — in the same pay bracket".

DECLINE OF SCIENTIFIC TEMPER

Ironical as it may sound, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru may have contributed to the decline of science and pure mathematics in post-Independent India, through his concern to build India's technical capabilities and reduce its dependence on Western technology. To this end, in the 10 years to 1964, the five IITs were established; that decade established a template for Indian science increasingly identified by India's new post-Independent generation with engineering and technological skills. Pure science and mathematics, once popular departments in universities, were confined to the ivory towers of specialist centres such as Bangalore's Indian Institute of Science and Mumbai's Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

The five IITs became the torchbearers of a narrow skill expansion with an increasing emphasis on the production of engineering and from the late eighties, computer specialists.

The universities, such as Allahabad, Calcutta, Benares and Madras that had once been the centres of research in humanities and especially the pure sciences and mathematics declined; they acquired a new identity as degree shops with the premium on the acquisition of a degree rather than the inculcation of knowledge-as-inquiry. State and regional politics mixed with growing aspirations for higher education produced an assembly-line product, more often than not unemployable, as best "techno-clerks."

DECAY OF UNIVERSITIES

The separation of scientific research from the classrooms and laboratories of the university to speciality institutions was a slow but inexorable process. It created its own paradigm that has sunk deep into the policymakers' mind-set as a model for higher education.

The answer to the cry for more science is the creation of new specialist centres; in 2006, three new Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research were proposed in cities that have had a rich tradition of scientific learning and institutions to match. New Delhi's consent (and funds) for more central universities and more IITs is often prompted by regional aspirations for such centres of "excellence". The university has slipped in the public imagination as nothing more than a doorway to a job.

In effect, what the last seven decades have produced is a class-structure of 'intellectual' capital with the university producing the 'proletariat' and the specialist centres, the 'capitalist. In India, public policy since Independence has created the structural basis for the 'class' division by letting the university become what it has. The inequality is not just evident in the outcome of 'knowledge-learning', but in the knowledge environment itself.

THANKLESS DISCIPLINES

Small wonder then that the Planning Commission's Working Group cited above found a distinct reluctance among students and parents for science since it was too demanding, did not carry job prospects and if found, they were "not monetarily rewarding".

The idea that pure science and mathematics are 'thankless' disciplines is India's contribution to the 'dismal' sciences, a category under which only economics seemed to fall. And dismal they will remain till as long as there is no impetus for a return to the early and mid-twentieth century ambience, that created the likes of Meghnad Saha, S. Ramanujam and M. G. Ranade.

At the 2005 Science Congress, Dr Manmohan Singh expressed his concern "that the best minds are not turning to science and those who do, do not remain in science". Both as India's top policymaker and economist-intellectual, he should not wonder why.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

WAYS AND MEANS OF LANDING A JOB

C. GOPINATH

It is a common belief among job seekers that you need to know someone to get a job. This is especially so when supply greatly exceeds demand, as it usually is for many low to mid-level positions. You either need to know someone working in the organisation, or at least someone who knows someone in the organisation. This is not an insinuation that the organisation is unfair or that one can bypass the announced requirements. A recommendation is often seen as a way of standing out from the whole pile of applications sitting in the hiring manager's inbox.

Making a recommendation or hiring on the basis of a recommendation may be unfair. This issue hit the headlines of a local paper in Boston because it was found that Mr John O'Brien, head of the Probation Department in the State of Massachusetts, was routinely recommending people and they were being hired.

An independent inquiry found pervasive fraud and corruption and recommended that he be fired. It turned out that most of those people hired were not only his relatives and friends, but also others recommended by influential legislators who controlled his budget.

O'Brien, of course, was overcome with consternation. "I recommend several people," he said, "because of the position I occupy. I don't expect them all to be hired." (He did not make any comment on the other charge that he was forcing subordinates to make campaign contributions, a sort of 'pay-to-stay' plan, I guess.) The President of the Senate (upper chamber in the state legislature) joined in supporting him.

"Every member of the Legislature recommends people for positions," she said. "That's part of what we do." In a democracy, when a politician seeks help to get elected, he or she is also open to a line of supplicants who seek assistance in their personal matters.

GREY AREAS

What may be seen as nepotism by some can be seen as helping others in the community. In some cultures, a person who does not help his own people is even looked down upon! In India where most political parties are family businesses, will their administration be any different?

Similar problems arise in the corporate world. Organisations get so many applications for each position that they resort to using search keywords to select a short list. If your resume does not include those keywords, you have lost out right at the beginning.

That is when it is useful to have somebody inside who will send your resume to the hiring manager to 'take a look'. Unlike including names as referees, a recommendation is an upfront deal. It is a post-it note that is stuck on top of your resume screaming 'hire this person'!

When I used to work in the private sector, my Chairman would ask me if I knew somebody to fill a slot that was advertised and one for which the HR department was actively interviewing. His logic was that since I knew what the job entails, I would recommend the most suitable person. I, in turn, was careful in recommending only those I knew for sure would do a good job, for I did not want it known that I recommended a weak candidate, challenging my credibility. Some organisations even give a bonus to an employee if a person recommended is hired. If you are a member of the professional networking site, Linkedin.com, you may have been contacted by people in your network for recommendations that they can place on their page.

A new company, topprospect.com, tries to leverage the idea of recommendations as a way of identifying the right person for a job. Of course, there is a big difference between asking a credible person who knows your capabilities to recommend you versus one who doesn't know you.

NEPOTISM AT WORK

It is a different world in the public sector. We expect higher standards in government, although believe that they are lower, and are shocked when we find out that it is true. If a government official makes a recommendation, the underlying presumption is that you better hire this person, otherwise the recommending official can make your life difficult. Then, we are crossing over from facilitation of hiring to corruption or nepotism.

Yet, I am reminded of the experience, many years ago, of a friend who was in government service and as head of a department, was hiring many people for a new project. He said he would regularly receive letters, (or 'chits') from secretaries of other officials, ministers, members of legislatures, and so on, recommending particular candidates. He said he put them all in a draw and did not let it interfere with the hiring process, which was being handled by others working under him.

After the interviews, and selection, he compared the lists, and in those cases where the applicant hired had been recommended by someone, he would call that person up and convey the good news. Where the applicant was not hired, he would still call the one who recommended and explain that the candidate was not suitable. He explained to me that he knew the pressures that politicians and public servants come under, and they cannot refuse writing a recommendation, even in situations where they may not want to write one. Thus, my friend's system satisfied everyone except the unsuitable candidates!

OPEN TO MANIPULATION

I can easily see how this system is on a slippery slope and can be manipulated. Thus, if a my friend wanted to get into the good books of a particular minister, he would ensure that the person recommended was hired and, in turn, look for a quid pro quo, as John O'Brien did, by hiring people recommended by influential legislators who controlled his budget.

The solution cannot rest in more rules. Where does recommendation end, and nepotism or patronage begin rests, as always, with how the system is worked. There will be violators. The professionalism of the hiring manager needs to be the bulwark. Prohibiting the writing of recommendation letters would only result in an increase in phone calls! One can hope that even if a few of the weak ones slip by into the organisation, there are enough evaluation systems that will catch them out. When that does not happen, the organisation is in trouble.

(The author is Professor of International Business and Strategic Management at Suffolk University, Boston, US. blfeedback@thehindu.co.in)

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

YES, YOU CAN, RAHUL GANDHI!

B.S. RAGHAVAN

I can't understand why the spokespersons of the Congress Party had to be so very apologetic about Mr Rahul Gandhi's view, expressed during an interaction with college students at Lucknow on January 11, that the Government's inability to control inflation and corruption was attributable to 'coalition compulsions'.

The only Congress leader who has come to his defence in a forthright manner is the Maharashtra Chief Minister, Mr Prithviraj Chavan. He has dwelt upon Mr Rahul Gandhi's observation by pointing out that "coalition can be a hindrance and one has to find a way out to make things happen.", and that the dynamics of coalition politics meant that there were certain decisions that couldn't be taken.

Indeed, Mr Chavan went one step further and said, "…had (Dr Manmohan Singh) got the kind of majority which Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi had, the country's growth rate would surely have been more by at least 1.5 to 2 per cent"!

Coalition politics

That a government that is formed by a single party which has a majority in the legislature, composed as it will be of like-minded persons, will always be at an advantage in decision-making is a self-evident proposition. Whereas a coalition comprises different political parties with their overt and covert agendas and voter bases, and it is unrealistic to expect any of them to give up the long-ingrained habit of scoring points over one another and playing the game of one-upmanship to enlarge their bargaining capacity, if not emerge as the dominant contenders for power.

It must be understood that there is nothing dishonourable about this, because politics itself everywhere is nothing but pursuit of power ostensibly to do good to society and the nation. India should be congratulated for having hit upon an innovative mechanism – the Common Minimum Programme – to neutralise the contradictions inherent in a coalition and help the partners to focus on agreed policy goals. Even so, the egotistic and self-serving propensities of politicians make it impossible to guarantee absolute conformity to laid-down courses of action.

Right track

That said, does coalition politics have any correlation with inflation or corruption? A paper (No 11/12) brought out recently under the auspices of the IMF has come to the finding that looming political instability faced by 'governments in politically fragmented countries' leads to higher inflation, shortening the horizons of governments, and 'disrupting long term economic policies conducive to a better economic performance'.

More interestingly, the same paper makes the assertion that political instability, which it defines as "Cabinet changes, that is, the number of times in a year in which a new premier is named and/or 50 per cent or more of the cabinet posts are occupied by new ministers", reduces the annual real GDP per capita growth rate by 2.39 percentage points. As regards corruption, the impetus provided by of coalition politics to the spread of its tentacles to every nook and corner in India is there for all to see, from the Prime Minister being forced to include in his Cabinet persons notorious for their exploits in making their piles to the misuse and manipulation of investigative and enforcement agencies either to pander to the plunderers of public coffers or blackmail political opponents to toe the line.

Yes, Rahul, you are on the right track. But you should not stop with saying what you have said. I am sure there are many young, bright, educated and idealist persons, like you, in politics, cutting across parties. Bypassing the irredeemable elders, with their antique ways set in concrete, you should bring the youth together on a common platform and boldly lead a movement for cleansing politics and give it a brand new direction. In short, just as the UK's Labour Party reinvented itself into New Labour, if only you put your heart and mind to the task, the Congress too can morph into a New Congress.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

OF BERTHS & BLESSINGS

BL DIARY.

The talk of the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, getting set to reshuffle his team has set off a flurry of activities of a different kind. There is a sudden spurt in VVIP visits to religious spots across the country. Several aspirants — among them those wanting to move up to a better berth as well as those dreaming of getting inducted into the Union Ministry -are said to be logging air miles and criss-crossing the country to seek divine blessings, and perhaps a divine intervention on their behalf for coveted posts.

A new road view

The other day in Chennai, Armando Almeida took political correctness to new heights. Exposed to the city's chaotic traffic on his first visit to the country, the Head of Global Services of Nokia Siemens Networks struck his audience at a news conference by surprise with his observation. That he was basing it on his premise that Chennai's motorists are a good representation of India on the roads may not have been too much off the mark. According to Almeida, born in Portugal and brought up in Mozambique, Indians are 'young and aggressive' and wanting to 'get ahead of one another' and this was the energy that Nokia Siemens would like to tap. Now it's up to motorists of the nation to make those kind and ultra-positive words really come true.

Out of bounds

Jamshetji Nusserwanji Tata built the Taj Mahal Palace after he was denied entry into one of the luxury hotels during the British rule in India, both as a symbol of Indian pride and independence and as a luxury hotel. But today, it seems the hotel is alienating itself in the name of security. Post-December, the road facing the Taj Mahal Palace has been closed to public vehicles. Only cars and vehicles going to the hotel are allowed to enter from the side of the Gateway of India. Visitors to the Gateway, who could otherwise have enjoyed a ride in the Victoria along the sea face, can no longer do so. Perhaps, both the government and the hotel management feel it is more important to protect the prestigious hotel's guests (a majority of whom are foreigners). Those wanting a Victoria ride along the sea can wait.

Footprint vs footfalls

Reliance Footprint, the shoe retailing chain of Reliance Retail, recently opened its first outlet in the Eastern region. The outlet is located in a less visited mall in the upcoming New Town satellite township in the eastern fringes of Kolkata. Although real estate has grown rapidly in the area, this part of the city continues to be sparsely populated by Kolkata standards. Not surprisingly, on the day of its inauguration, journalists were the only visitors to the reasonably large and swank mall. Which forced a wag to remark, "How do you trace footprints if there are no footfalls?"

Thrifty times

At a seminar on private equity in Chennai recently, aspiring entrepreneurs got a lesson in thrift even offstage. When a senior bank executive was handing out his business card, an official from a private equity fund remarked that the card did not mention the bank executive's latest designation. "Why have you not printed new cards?" he asked. The banker's reply: "The contact numbers have not changed, so why waste them. I want to use up these cards before getting the new ones printed."

Window of graft

At least one sector in Karnataka seems to be following the 'single window' system — another beaten name for co-ordinated handling of files and matters by government offices. At a recent interaction with the media in Mangalore, Karnataka's ombudsman or Lokayukta, Justice N. Santosh Hegde, explained how it works. Trucks carrying iron ore on a particular route have to cross several check posts. But they are not stopped at any of the points for inspection. Referring to the role of corruption in this sorry state of affairs, he said probably illegal mining was one of the few areas where the single window worked smoothly.

Flying high

In this season of kite-flying, the gesture by a corporate house was thoughtful and refreshing. Some journalists were pleasantly surprised to receive a colourful kite-shaped box just before Sankranthi/Pongal. Nestling snugly in the elegant pack were kites in resplendent pink and blue. In these days of skyrocketing prices, the gift is perhaps a reminder to take our thoughts high and soar like the kites that people fly during this festival.

OUR BUREAUS

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

COLOUR BLIND TERROR DOES NOT JUSTIFY KILLING

BY SIDHARTH BHATIA

From Canada comes the news of the recent arrest of three men said to be part of a terror plot. Nothing unusual in that, except that immediately after the arrest the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, called the Mounties (yes, who always get their man) met senior Muslim leaders in Ottawa and apologised to them for making the arrests during Ramzan.

Even given the politeness and political correctness characteristic of Canadians, this sounds a bit extreme. The police is supposed to do its job, and cannot possibly let the holiday calendar decide its schedule. One Right-wing newspaper called it "ludicrous". But Canadians are ultra-careful of hurting any minority, and it must also be pointed out that this was little more than a community-relations building exercise; there is no question of treating the three accused any differently.

And of course there is the older story of the Australian government apologising to Mohammed Haneef, the Indian doctor who was wrongly arrested for his so-called terror connections with those who tried to bomb Glasgow airport. Here in India, of course, there is no question of saying sorry or giving any explanation at all. India's cops, babus and netas do not do apologies. Immediately after the blasts in Malegaon in 2006, Noor-ul-Huda, said to be a member of the banned outfit Students Islamic Movement of India (Simi) was arrested. Ah, everyone said, the dreaded Simi is out to create terror in India.

Two years later the unthinkable (till then) happened — the Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad picked up a group of people, including an Army officer and a "sadhvi", on charges of plotting and executing the blasts. They were all Hindus. Till then, no Hindu had been arrested for any such crime.

In informed police circles, however, there had been talk of a group of Hindu radicals who were forming terror cells. Hints of this had reached the media, though no one was ready to confirm anything officially. The idea seemed outlandish, even preposterous. After every bombing in Mumbai and elsewhere, the police and intelligence agencies had been quick in pointing towards banned Muslim outfits and the media bought these reports faithfully. After the train bombings in Mumbai, scores of young Muslim boys had been picked up for questioning and then quietly sent back home when no substantive evidence came to light. Muslim community leaders appealed to the police bosses not to detain suspects indiscriminately, but there was no major public hue and cry.

Two years after the alleged perpetrators of the Malegaon bombings were arrested it has become clear that "Hindu terror" is now a reality.

If one were to go by the published "confession" of Aseemanand, now in police custody, a terror cell was responsible for blasts in Hyderabad, Ajmer and on the Samjhauta Express, in which 42 Pakistanis died. The bombings were carried out to "warn-off Hindus" from going to Ajmer Sharif and to generally take revenge against Muslims.

The term "Hindu terror" is a misnomer, just like "Muslim terror" would be. Perpetrators of such acts are evil terrorists with sick minds; religion is only an excuse. They may claim to be carrying out their nefarious activities in the name of religion or ideology, but whether green, red or saffron, terror is terror, and giving it a religious shade doesn't justify killing of innocent people.

This is where sections of the Hindutva parivar have got it wrong. While Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat has said that the RSS does not condone such violence, there has been no strong repudiation of killing in the name of Hinduism. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) boss Nitin Gadkari, prone to making gaffes, has attacked the Congress for using the bogey of "Hindu terror" to distract attention from the various scams that have surfaced in recent months. This is as ridiculous as it gets and if Mr Gadkari thinks it will get him the support of Hindus he is mistaken.

No one, except the lunatic fringe, will support mindless killing in the name of religion; the sensible thing for the BJP to do would be to unequivocally condemn all those who indulge in it and let the law take its own course. But is the BJP up to it? I don't think so.

As for the investigating authorities, they have a lot of thinking to do. Arresting Muslims cannot be the default option after a terror attack. The investigation should be colour-blind and take into account the facts, not prejudice. A retired police officer the other day said on television that there were "no prevailing mindsets" among cops about anyone; this is not how it looks to a lot of people, especially to those whose near and dear ones are in jail for a crime they did not commit.

To begin with, those who were arrested in connection with the Malegaon blasts in 2006 should be released if no hard evidence connecting them has been found. Keeping them detained even for a single day would be a travesty of justice. Next, systems should be put in place to see that such things do not happen again. And finally, the police should apologise to them for the anguish caused. Or is that being too optimistic?

- The writer is a senior journalist and commentator on current affairs based in Mumbai

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

LAW OF CONSTRUCTION

BY JAYANTHI NATARAJAN

On January 8, 2011, the All-India Federation of Women Lawyers held the All-India Women Lawyers Conference in Hyderabad. Here, I was one of two women lawyers to be conferred with the prestigious Sthree Vakil Puraskar, an award meant for women lawyers who not only excel in their professions, but also moved on to other fields and made a mark. Although I was unable to attend in person due to illness, I felt an extraordinary sense of gratification at this recognition from my own community of lawyers, as also a deep sense of gratitude. More importantly, it made me think how lawyers in general have contributed to nation-building and enrich both the society and our democracy in innumerable ways.

For me, and I know most lawyers will share this with me, the law was never a profession but a passion, not a vocation but an avocation. It is often argued that the educated classes should enter public life and participate in politics. While this is true for all professionals, somehow it is most true of lawyers.

After all, public life, public service, public policy and the entire edifice of public institutions are built on the bedrock of law and constitutionalism. This is our training and, as such, part of what we bring to political life. It is almost an obligation for every educated Indian, and especially every Indian lawyer, to contribute to the larger framework of public discourse in India.

What do I mean by this? Am I suggesting that every lawyer should join a political party and contest elections? What I am calling for is active participation by enlightened legal minds in enriching the process by which we make public choices, we decide on the common good, we shape public policy, we anchor our democratic institutions and we make our politics more robust.

There is a context, a history and a heritage to my urgings. If we look back at the early years of our nationhood, at Independence in 1947 and at the complex and yet marvellous process by which we built our nation, by which we framed our Constitution and gave ourselves this republic, we will find in it the imprint of some of the finest legal sensibilities.

Mahatma Gandhi was trained as a lawyer. Jawaharlal Nehru gave up what would almost certainly have been a glittering legal career to dive into the freedom movement. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was one of the most successful barristers of his age but didn't think twice before throwing off his legal robes and marching in step with the peasants of Bardoli. The father of the Constitution, Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, was among the astute legal brains of the early 20th century in Mumbai.

This magical constellation, along with many others, came together in the late 1940s and early 1950s and forged the India that we now have. We could so easily have gone the way of many of our neighbours, or of other developing countries that also became free of the colonial yoke in that period. If we did not, if we learnt to respect the rule of law and if we became servants and followers of the Constitution, it is because those legal scholars brought their respect for and understanding of the law and regard for a society and a system based on rules to their blueprint for the new India. Today's India is a legacy of extraordinary jurists.

My grandfather was in politics, as were members of my extended family. Yet there was no pressure on me to join politics. It was a very personal decision. I was young and inspired by the idealism and freshness of the late Rajiv Gandhi, a person whose essential goodness and honesty of purpose was apparent from even a five-minute meeting with him. Today, I see that essential purpose in Congress president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, and in our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Yet, there was another reason for my joining politics and particularly the Congress. This was a party rooted in constitutionalism. It had been born and created and nurtured by legal postulates and principles, by demands for a rule-based political system and public space, by the gradual expansion of the ambit of freedom, in accordance with the law and with legal reference points. Politics is the natural home of the public-spirited lawyer. At the end of the day, the legal profession and a lawyer's mandate is about the pursuit of justice. At its best, politics is not very far removed.

On many occasions, legislatures and politicians set the path but the real journey of justice is undertaken by determined and upright lawyers who fight for their clients, or sometimes for deprived sections who cannot even afford legal fees, and actualise the intent of the law or of the provision to ensure access to justice for the ordinary women and men of our country.

That is why I say there is a symbiotic relationship between lawyers and politicians. The issue of access to justice — or the many forms of justice — is central to my personal political beliefs but much more than that, to that of my party and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. The Right to Education Act, the Right to Information Act, the upcoming Food Security law — all of these are manifestations of that quest for perfect justice, that endless quest perhaps, that our founding fathers enjoined us to undertake. To realise this quest is as much the moral duty of the politician as it is the civic obligation of the lawyer.

At the same time, lawyers should consider their role in evolving society. Just as business corporations are now concerned with the concept of the triple bottom-line — of caring for people, planet and profit — and just as they invest resources in corporate social responsibility, is it time to institutionalise a lawyer's social responsibility?

I am not recommending any external imposition; this is a call that has to come from within. I would urge that all of us, as lawyers, set aside a certain part of our professional time every year in pro bono work. This could relate to cases about gender and social injustice, about deprivation of rights for the poorest or most disadvantaged, about environmental activism and the greening of our planet — any cause that moves or shakes the conscience.

In doing this, lawyers will be serving our country and people and contribute to the greater public good.

- Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson. The views expressed in this column are her own.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

ACT SWIFTLY, FIRMLY TO PROTECT THE POOR

The government, which appeared to have almost given up its fight against inflation, has done the inevitable by raising petrol prices by around `2.50 a litre for the second time in less than a month, and thrice in the past six months. Petrol has a weightage of 1.09 per cent in the wholesale price index and is, therefore, likely to push up the already high inflation rate by over six per cent given that it is an input in freight cost. In ordinary circumstances, the petrol hike would have been a balanced measure on its part, given that global crude prices have been escalating and are close to $100 per barrel. India embarrassingly imports over 70 per cent of its fuel requirement. But these are extraordinary times: the government has very little credibility left and its moral authority has taken a severe beating given the scams and skeletons falling out of its cupboards. No one is willing to buy the argument that the petrol hike was needed to cut the losses of oil marketing companies and to reduce the fiscal deficit, which in any case shows no signs of falling. The government's three stimulus packages since 2008-09 boosted the fiscal deficit by 6.7 per cent in 2009-10. This is also one reason why it is not cutting the huge Central and state taxes which contribute to the high cost of petrol and diesel in India. The situation underscores the imperative need for the government to take steps to cushion the poor against inflation. That the government itself admits that some people need cushioning against inflation is evident from the reports of the fifth and sixth wage commissions. But these only apply to organised sector employees. What about the crores of people in the unorganised sector? Why should these vulnerable sections of the population pay for the government's deficit? Around 150 years ago one of this country's greatest reformers Mahatma Phule had eloquently explained the basic reason for rural indebtedness in his book Shetkaryancha Aasood (Farmers' Whip): he said it was due to the government increasing the salaries of its employees and taxing farmers in a variety of ways. He was, of course, referring to the British, who then ruled India, but it is a tragic irony that much the same thing can be said about the government of independent and democratic India 63 years after this country attained freedom. We have some of the nation's brightest minds working for the government — can't they sit together with other bright minds from the India that is Bharat and devise polices that would mean justice for the poor and marginalised and all others not fortunate enough to be part of the "rising" middle class. As the US President, Mr Barack Obama, recently noted, liberalisation does lead to the creation of a burgeoning middle class. But what happens to those "left behind"? Why can't the government create a parallel system that can work for the less privileged? Why, for instance, is it fighting shy of taking stern action against hoarders?

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

CONFUCIAN IMPRINT

BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

BEIJING

An international study published last month looked at how students in 65 countries performed in maths, science and reading. The winner was: Confucianism!

At the very top of the charts, in all three fields and by a wide margin, was Shanghai. Three of the next top four performers were also societies with a Confucian legacy of reverence for education: Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea. The only non-Confucian country in the mix was Finland.

The United States? We came in 15th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in maths. I've been visiting schools in China and Asia for more than 20 years (and we sent our own kids briefly to schools in Japan, which also bears a Confucian imprint), and I've spent much of that time either envious or dumbfounded. I'll never forget pulling our two-year-old son out of his Tokyo nursery school so we could visit the United States and being handed a form in which we had to list: "reason for proposed vacation".

Education thrives in China and the rest of Asia because it is a top priority — and we've plenty to learn from that.

Granted, Shanghai's rise to the top of the global charts is not representative of all China, for Shanghai has the country's best schools. Yet it's also true that China has made remarkable improvements in the once-awful schools in peasant areas. Just 20 years ago, children often dropped out of elementary school in rural areas. Teachers sometimes could barely speak standard Mandarin, which, in theory, is the language of instruction.

These days, even in backward rural areas, most girls and boys alike attend high school. College isn't unusual. And the teachers are vastly improved. In my Chinese-American wife's ancestral village — a poor community in southern China — the peasant children are a grade ahead in maths compared with my children at an excellent public school in the New York area. That seems broadly true of maths around the country.

For a socialist system that hesitates to fire people, China has also been surprisingly adept — more so than America — at dealing with ineffective teachers. Chinese principals can't easily dismiss teachers, but they can get extra training for less effective teachers, or if that doesn't work, push them into other jobs.

"Bad teachers can always be made gym teachers", a principal in the city of Xian explained to me as she showed me around her kindergarten. In China, school sports and gym just don't matter.

(That kindergarten exemplified another of China's strengths: excellent early childhood education, typically beginning at age two. Indeed, the only element of China's education system that really falters badly is the university system. Colleges are third-rate and should be a national disgrace.)

But this is the paradox: Chinese themselves are far less impressed by their school system. Almost every time I try to interview a Chinese about the system here, I hear grousing rather than praise. Many Chinese complain scathingly that their system kills independent thought and creativity, and they envy the American system for nurturing self-reliance — and for trying to make learning exciting and not just a chore.

In Xian, I visited Gaoxin Yizhong, perhaps the city's best high school, and the students and teachers spoke wistfully of the American emphasis on clubs, arts and independent thought. "We need to encourage more creativity", explained Hua Guohong, a chemistry teacher. "We should learn from American schools."

One friend in Guangdong Province says he will send his children to the United States to study because the local schools are a "creativity-killer". Another sent his son to an international school to escape what he likens to "programmes for trained seals". Private schools are sprouting everywhere, and many boast of a focus on creativity.

For my part, I think the self-criticisms are exactly right, but I also deeply admire the passion for education and the commitment to making the system better. And while William Butler Yeats was right that "education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire", it's also true that it's easier to ignite a bonfire if there's fuel in the bucket.

The larger issue is that the greatest strength of the Chinese system is the Confucian reverence for education that is steeped into the culture. In Chinese schools, teachers are much respected, and the most admired kid is often the brain rather than the jock or class clown.

Americans think of China's strategic challenge in terms of, say, the new Chinese stealth fighter aircraft. But the real challenge is the rise of China's education system and the passion for learning that underlies it. We're not going to become Confucians, but we can elevate education on our list of priorities without relinquishing creativity and independent thought.

That's what we did in 1957 after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. These latest test results should be our 21st-century Sputnik.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

SUFI'S LIGHT ON DIVINITY

BY SADIA DEHLVI

The mystic and philosopher Shaykh Muhyiddin Ibn al Arabi is amongst my favourite early Sufis. Born in Murcia, Moorish Spain in 1165, he came to be called Shaykh ul Akbar, the great master. One of the most prolific writers in Islamic history, Ibn al Arabi's writings immensely impacted Muslim communities throughout the world. He remains a refreshing voice that throws light on the human condition in any time and any place. Rooted in Islamic sciences, his work is universal, accepting that each person has a unique path to the Truth.

The 19-year-old Ibn al Arabi met the renowned philosopher Ibn Rushd (d. 1198) whom the West knows as Averroes. The philosopher asked the young mystic, "Do the fruits of mystic illumination agree with philosophical speculation?" Ibn al Arabi replied, "Yes and no. Between the yes and no, the spirits take their flight beyond the matter".

Impressed with the answer Ibn Rushd exclaimed, "Glory to Allah. I have lived at a time when there exists a master of this experience, one of those who opens the locks of His doors". Fourteen years later when Ibn Rushd died, Ibn al Arabi attended the funeral and referred to him as a great leader.

Born in the town of Muricia in Spain, Ibn al Arabi moved to Seville where he studied religious sciences. Since his father was a devotee of the renowned Sufi scholar Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani of Baghdad, Ibn al Arabi grew up in Sufi circles. The Master attributed his education to two women, one of them being the mystic Fatima of Cordova.

The Shaykh spent many years in Andalusia and North Africa. Ibn al Arabi finally settled in Damascus where he taught and wrote till his death. A prolific writer, he authored numerous books on Sufi philosophy asserting that perfect knowledge of God needed both the eye of reason and the eye of imagination.

Ibn al Arabi's philosophy and articulation of wahdat ul wujood, Oneness of Being, remains the most celebrated and controversial idea throughout the Muslim world influencing Sufi philosophy forever. Ibn al Arabi explained, "It is He who is revealed in every face, sought in every sign, gazed upon by every eye, worshipped in every object of worship, and pursued in the unseen and the visible. Ibn al Arabi died in 1240, remembered for his contribution in understanding Divine Love in prose and verse:

Wonder, A garden among flames!

My heart has become capable of every form:
A pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,

And a temple for idols, and the pilgrim's Kaaba,

The tables of the Torah and the book of the Koran.

I believe in the religion of Love

Whatever direction its caravans may take,

For love is my religion and my faith.

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

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

ELEPHANTS, MICE AND JUNGLE RAJ

Questioning Modi's silence

The silence of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi during the national executive committee meeting in Guwahati baffled the party workers who were aiming to exploit Mr Modi's charismatic image in the forthcoming Assembly elections in Assam. His silence also came as surprise to the local media, which reminded him of old bonding with the state's journalists when he was the party's general secretary and in-charge of Assam BJP. However, Mr Modi remained unprovoked.

After failing to have even a single sentence from Mr Modi, a lady journalist asked: "Are you unhappy with the media? If the media in New Delhi was doing some negative campaign, you can talk to us, at least the local media separately". But for reasons best known to him, Mr Modi refused to oblige journalists who were chasing him at every appearance at the venue of national executive.

Count your trunks

You have heard the proverb "Count your chickens…" But in Uttar Pradesh chickens are too small to be counted. Now it is the elephants that are subjected to counting.

Recently, a few top officials of the Chief Minister's secretariat received an anonymous call late in the night informing that one of the stone elephants — installed at the sprawling Ambedkar memorial — had been stolen.

The officers immediately rushed to Chief Minister Mayawati's residence and informed her of the call.

The Chief Minister pressed the panic button and summoned top intelligence, police and civil officials to her residence. She ordered that the officers immediately rush to Ambedkar memorial and organise a count of the elephants installed there to check if any one was missing.

In the dead of the night, amidst freezing temperatures, the tiny army of officers went to the memorial and started counting the elephants and checking the records. The exercise lasted almost four hours and by the time it was over, it was almost daybreak.

The weary officers trooped back to the Chief Minister's residence and informed Ms Mayawati that all her elephants were in order and that the caller had obviously played a prank. Now, everyday, without fail, the officers first go for an elephant count before they return home.

Cat vs rat

It is not only Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee or the "Royal Bengal tigress", as people fondly call her, who has been tormenting West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Last week, one learnt that rats are making life miserable for the Chief Minister. Recently, the Chief Minister's office wrote to the Public Works Department (PWD) that rats are creating a nuisance in Mr Bhattacharjee's chamber at the Writers' Buildings — the state secretariat.

A few years ago, when the rat menace grew alarming, the PWD had brought some cats to the corridors of power to prey on them. Sadly, the cats seem to be eating everything except the rats that continue to wreak havoc in the file cupboards. "Now, the cats have multiplied and are creating disturbance of another kind", a visibly distraught official of the PWD told a sympathetic reporter.

Friday turns 'fried day'

stock market jargon has a charm of its own. Like the bulls are those who keep buying stocks and are upbeat about the market, the bears are the opposite and are sellers.

In Hindi, they are called tejis and mandis respectively. When the market crashes on a Monday or Friday they call it Black Monday or Black Friday. So when the markets plunged on two consecutive Fridays — the Sensex lost 494 points (January 7) and 322 points on the 14th, the brokers said it's no longer Friday but "Fried day"!

Man who kept PM waiting

Every conceivable minor illness was being thought of by the Tamil Nadu's PR department when the media wished to know why Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi did not go to meet the Prime Minister on the day he arrived in Chennai ahead of the Science Congress early this month.

One official was spreading word that a sore throat was the reason but his excuse did not cut much ice since the Chief Minister was just then speaking at a poet and film lyricist's book release.

Another drummed up a stomach-related gastro complaint, which too was not acceptable save for television channels that had to say something in the "breaking news" category.

The truth was that the Chief Minister wished to play a political game by ignoring protocol and keeping the Prime Minister guessing. However, he too needed a formal excuse that materialised with a visit to an eye doctor on the grounds that the bright arclights at the function in a hotel had affected his eyes.

Partymen in the know had, meanwhile, spilled the beans about their leader who they like to compare to Chanakya.

Drama or not, the ruling DMK seems to have cemented ties with the Congress to the extent they are singing in unison on the 2G scam now in what is being projected by the Opposition as the greatest cover-up since Bofors.

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

POTATO MELA

IN THE MIDST OF GLUT & BOOMING INFLATION


LESS than a month after the still mysterious disappearance of potatoes from cold storages, the essential commodity is now at the centre of another controversy, if not a scandal. No less than 360 tons of potato have been discarded by the storage owners in Bengal's Burdwan district to serve as readymade feed for cattle, as it were. Central to this almost criminal wastage is the failure of two state-run cooperatives to lift their stocks in time, at any rate by the (twice-extended) deadline of 31 December. The stark irony could not have happened at a worse time, specifically when the Chief Minister has resolved to go to Delhi, not really in response to the Home minister's summons post-Netai, but to discuss the ballooning food inflation with the Prime Minister. Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will have his back to the wall if he is asked to account for this huge wastage in the aftermath of a glut in production, even suicides by at least two potato farmers in the state. He will need to get to the bottom of the contrived mess, precisely why Benfed and Confed didn't draw their stocks. And also why the potatoes were not distributed to the ICDS centres and the Sishu Siksha Kendras for the midday meal scheme, as planned.  Both the government and the cooperatives are accountable and not least the storage owners for the willful destruction of stocks. The three entities are ever so anxious to protect their vested interests, yet never to protect the interests of the consumer. There is no indication that the potatoes were rotting; if they were, the discarded stocks would not have been carted away by hundreds of villagers. Considerable has been the economic loss; if 360 tons of the commodity are abandoned, a manipulated shortage after a glut is almost certain. In the net, the price chart will register an upward curve.


The storage racket has been exposed yet again, one that for the past decade has been a joint venture of the storage owners, the cooperatives, and the agricultural marketing department irrespective of whether the minister belongs to the Forward Bloc or the CPI-M. The fiddle has led to the sidelining of at least one doughty bureaucrat ~ the late Arkaprabha Deb ~ and police firing deaths as in Cooch Behar's Dinhata (March 2008).  Traditionally, the government and consumers have been the victims of the machinations of storage owners. The increase in the price of an essential commodity ~ potatoes, onions or sugar ~ is a certain indicator of a rise in the food inflation graph,  that has now touched an alarming level. Meetings at rarefied levels can yield but little; the wheeling and dealing can defy the anti-inflation measures.


'COLLATERAL DAMAGE'

COSTS US DEARLY IN KANDAHAR

THE devastation caused to orchards in Kandahar by the use of heavy weaponry by US forces might not be as "dramatic" as the indiscriminate spraying of the defoliant Agent Orange in Vietnam, yet it could cost the Americans much more than the estimated $100 million lost by the local farming community. For it has deprived them of their livelihood ~ in addition to several of their homes having being flattened ~ and that actually translates into near-hatred of the alien soldiers. Perhaps only memories of the oppression of the Taliban regime come in the way of the populace siding with homegrown guerrillas, as they did with the Vietcong. The American preference for using stand-off weaponry, not as "smart" as projected, has caused so much collateral damage in Afghanistan that even what passes as a government there has found it necessary to raise serious protest.  Not that it has much impact, because Washington has traditionally accorded American lives greater value than those of locals ~ would it have been so vocal on the Mumbai massacre of 26/11 had US citizens not been among the victims? ~ so it will continue to try and blast the insurgents from afar. Particularly since its own death roll keeps mounting without visible success on the ground, and the public opposition to its Afghan operations keeps mounting.


The experience of Iraq and Afghanistan has confirmed that while the ultra-modern warfare systems employed by American forces may force regime changes, they are only marginally effective when dealing with an insurgency ~ even in Iraq the British troops did better, though it must be conceded they were deployed in the relatively less-hostile southern part of the country. Apart from the huge part played by local factors ~ language, knowledge of the terrain, ability to operate in small self-sustaining units ~ the fighting often boils down to hand-to-hand combat in crowded areas. Few regular armies can meet up to such requirements. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Pentagon seeks to learn from the experience, and perhaps expertise, that the Indian forces have gained over the years in the North-east and J&K. Sure there has been collateral damage and violation of human rights in both those troubled regions, yet critics of the Indian forces must recognise that few others have come to accept "fighting with one hand tied behind the back".

 

THE WORM TURNS

ULFA'S TURNAROUND ON MIGRANT MATTERS

WITH the Centre having fulfilled one of the Ulfa's major preconditions ~ that all its jailed leaders be freed before talks ~ the ball is now squarely in the organisation's court. As long as its leaders lived in Bangladesh, even engaging in lucrative businesses, they conveniently overlooked the fact that their state was teeming with illegal migrants. Now at least one of them, foreign secretary Sashadhar Choudhury, has summoned enough courage to admit that there may be more Bangladeshis in Assam than indigenous Assamese. He told a crowd after reaching home that India would face serious trouble from the "East" (Bangladesh?) and "West" (Pakistan?) without, however, elaborating on this. He said that if he was included in the talks team he would raise his voice against Bangladeshi migrants. For him to say this after having enjoyed Bangladesh's hospitality for so many years sounds like an outburst against that country for arresting and packing him and his ilk off to India. Even financial secretary Chitrabon Hazarika, the last to be freed on bail, has reportedly expressed concern over the influx. Had he not been nabbed, Choudhury would perhaps have lived happily in Bangladesh. Caught by the Indian Army from Mizoram during its 1995 Operation Bluebird, he was granted bail the next year but absconded and rejoined his comrades in Bangladesh. He should thank his lucky stars that he is now back home, even if as a failed revolutionary leader. He assumed the name Rafiqul Islam and is said to have travelled to foreign countries on a Bangladeshi passport.


At the time of Ulfa's formation in April 1979, the outfit's main objective was to attain "Swadhin Asom" through an armed struggle and it was unanimous in its stand that all outsiders, whether Bangladeshis, Nepalis or Hindi-speaking people from the mainland, had to leave the state. In this context, how Ulfa leaders conduct themselves in the next few months will be keenly watched.

 

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

PRICE OF JIHADI ~ I

STREAMLINED FACILITY ISN'T A COSTLY EXERCISE

VINOD SAIGHAL

 

IN taped interviews to an Afghan interrogator, two Afghans and three Pakistanis who were among the 21 people arrested in 2006 described their roles in the attacks. At least 70 people were killed, most of them Afghan civilians but also international peacekeepers, a Canadian diplomat and a dozen Afghan police officers and soldiers. In the tape, the men described a fairly low-budget network that begins with the recruitment of young bombers in Karachi. The bombers are moved to safe houses in the border towns of Quetta and Chaman, and then transferred to Afghanistan, where they are provided with cars and explosives and sent out to find a target.

 

(Pak Blind Eye to Afghan bombings, The New York Times, 16 February 2006)


Disproportionality works against the forces tackling terrorism, especially terrorism of the type taken up by radical Islamists in several countries. By now most people are fairly well acquainted with the terror breeding facilities that were set up in Pakistan and Afghanistan right up to the allied invasion of Afghanistan, following the 9/11 attacks on the USA. While the jihad factories might have collapsed in Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul in October 2001, there was hardly any let-up in selected areas of Pakistan, which continue to churn out fanatical, zombie-like students in large numbers in their madrasas. The numbers of potential jihadis can now be reckoned in the hundreds of thousands, if not in the millions, because these institutions have since spread to many other parts of the subcontinent and beyond.


The streamlined production facilities for churning out young, radicalized, possibly misanthropic students in large numbers is not a costly exercise seeing the ready availability of young recruits from families, which although impoverished, produce children in large numbers. The average size of such families being six or seven, they are ever ready to send one, two or more children to the madrasas where they are clothed, fed and taught elementary counting besides writing in Urdu and Arabic in order to learn the Quran by rote. Not all of the products coming out of these madrasas would make high calibre terrorists. After very strict weeding out even if two or three were to be found fit for undertaking the type of terrorist strikes, including suicide missions that the world has come to dread, the final count would still be impressive. With variations for time, place, or the country where jihad factories are located, the cost of training one potential terrorist is not likely to exceed Rs 20,000, especially in the poorer districts of Pakistan. This works out to less than $500 per recruit at the production site. Thereafter, translocation to other countries and proper kitting out for the task could add to the cost by several hundred or even a few thousand dollars. Except for very exceptional cases the total cost would not exceed $5000.


As regards the countries that are involved in the battle against global terrorism, it will be seen that as compared to the training of an average jihadi for carrying out terrorism acts the cost of training the average soldier involved in combating this menace would be far higher. In the case of the armies of most of the countries in Asia, for example India, the Philippines or Indonesia it could be a factor of 10 or 20. That is to say that if the cost of training an average jihadi for undertaking terror missions works out to $5000, the cost of training an average combatant in the countries mentioned could work out to between $50,000 and $100,000. In the case of the USA and some of the western democracies, however, the cost increase could be a factor between 50 and 100, especially when training of special forces is taken into account. These cost differentials continue even for persons rendered hors de combat.


To elaborate, an injured jihadi would be taken clandestinely to some sympathetic medical practitioner and operated upon in the most rudimentary fashion. In case of death, the burial costs would be minimal. Terminal benefits to the family of the deceased would be a few hundred thousand rupees, equivalent to $4000 approximately. For impoverished families in Pakistan, which offer up their children for such activities, even half that amount would be considered a windfall.


Match this amount of approximately $4,000 in case of injury or death for the jihadi with the cost that would be incurred for a US soldier who becomes a casualty. For serious injuries the cost of evacuation (normally by helicopter) to an advanced field hospital and subsequently to a facility in Europe or the USA, plus the cost of treatment would work out to a differential factor between $1,000 and $10,000. For serious injuries or death, the pensionary and terminal benefits would be an order of magnitude higher than those in the case of an injured or dying jihadi.


The next item to be considered in this category is the cost of maintaining a jihadi in the field as compared to a US or western soldier. Taking the Afghanistan or Iraq theatres, the cost of maintaining a jihadi in the field for one year would seldom go beyond $1000, whereas the cost of maintaining a western soldier for the same period would go up by a factor of about 100 or so depending upon the location of the soldier or his unit. Here again, Special Forces come into a separate category.


So far the comparisons worked out related only to the training and deployment of the adversaries. We now have to consider the cost differential relating to combat scenarios. We move next to the cost evaluation disparities in 'live' engagements between terrorist teams and the US or NATO forces combating them. The disparity resulting from suicide missions will be taken up separately at the end. Sporadic engagements between jihadi type elements and the US forces and allies are taking place practically every day in Afghanistan and Iraq. While there may be similarities in the type of attacks carried out by the jihadi elements in Afghanistan and Iraq, the terrain conditions obtaining being very dissimilar the response patterns also vary considerably. In Afghanistan a typical incident could take any of the following forms: an IED being set off along a route where the US or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) teams have to pass; a mortar attack at an installation or small-sized post; ambush; or hit and run operations launched from terrain that would be difficult to negotiate by foreign forces.


(To be concluded)

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

CRISIS TAX

 

In 2008, when the subprime crisis spread from the United States of America to Germany, the German government had bailed out a number of mortgage lending institutions. The bailout of IFB, the first to fail, was relatively modest at a billion euros. Hypo Real Estate, which was next, was rescued with a 35 billion euro package coordinated by the German central bank. Determined not to put its banking system at risk of contagion, the German government worked actively to make banks help one another, help troubled banks to raise funds and inject its own funds where there was no other recourse. Now, it thinks that it is time for German banks to return the favours extended two years ago. They will not just be asked to repay; the government proposes to set up a fund at their cost which will bail banks out when they are in danger of failing in the future. The contribution that banks must pay will be proportional to their assets minus their savings deposits and equity capital. It will not exceed 15 per cent of their profits; if the profits are insufficient, the unpaid amount will be carried forward till when profits can bear it. The message is clear: that the banks' core business is to take savings deposits from people and lend them out. If they speculate instead and play around in financial markets, they must pay for insurance against the risks they assume.

Nor will the banks be able to count in the future on being bailed out. The European Commission has worked out an elaborate plan to liquidate banks that get into trouble. It is complex for a number of reasons. The European Union has an array of financial regulators; it would be necessary to prevent them from stepping on one another's toes. The timing of intervention would be important. Central banks will not want to step in and take over banks that have a hope of saving themselves; at the same time, the costs of rescue would increase rapidly once a bank gets into trouble, which is an argument for taking them over quickly. And finally, a central bank will want to minimize the cost of liquidation, and to make others bear as much of the cost as possible.

The rules suggested by the commission will be seen as discriminatory by different sets of banks. The commission would argue that rules must vary according to the risks posed by various banks. But the unequal burdens proposed will no doubt cause heartburn, and will lead to considerable politicking and negotiation. The outcome may take long, and may not satisfy everyone. But bank crises are an unavoidable feature of the emerging financial landscape; the earlier governments get ready for them, the better. Only the Indian government does not have to prepare; according to its rules, the taxpayer pays the cost irrespective of who is at fault.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

DARK REALITIES

In a country of more than a billion people, it is not unusual to find too many fighting for too few resources. So it is hardly surprising that in a holy land like India, the demand for divine benediction would surpass all others. Yet, successive governments, both at the state and the Central levels, never seem adequately prepared to deal with the consequences of such overbearing spiritual hunger. In the last 60 years, pilgrims visiting the Sabarimala temple in Kerala have met with two grievous tragedies — in 1952, when two cracker sheds caught fire, burning 66 to death; and in 1999, when 52 people were killed in a stampede. A decade on, more than a 100 people, among thousands of others who were returning from the annual pilgrimage, have met with a fatal end, once again in a stampede, which was triggered off by a jeep losing control and tumbling into the crowd.

In the aftermath of the incident, the familiar blame game has begun. The buck is being vigorously passed around and is yet to come to a stop. Apart from promising compensation to the victims and their families, the Kerala government has done the least it could do by ordering a judicial probe. Clearly, a good deal of mismanagement must have been involved — how else are the authorities going to justify the pitch darkness prevailing in the forest path through the Idukki district which is usually taken by the returning pilgrims? Given the sheer number of visitors to Sabarimala every year, the Kerala government should have not only electrified this area but also provided enough forces to maintain law and order among the masses. In its defence, the state police department has asserted that the security deployed over the area was sufficient. In that case, it is even more shameful that a mishap of such shocking proportions could take place in spite of all the precautions. Rather than exonerating its lapses, the police department's admission merely highlights its incompetence.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

SWEET SURRENDER

 JAIRAM RAMESH HAS TURNED INDIA'S CLIMATE CHANGE POLICY ON ITS HEAD CHANDRASHEKHAR DASGUPTA

At the Cancun climate change conference in December 2010, Jairam Ramesh, Union minister for environment and forests, raised the white flag of surrender when, departing from the prepared text, he declared, "all countries, we believe, must take on binding commitments under appropriate legal forms". The minister thus signalled that India will give in to pressures from developed countries to convert its voluntary, nationally-determined mitigation actions into internationally-binding commitments in an "appropriate" legal form.

Facing a barrage of criticism at home, Ramesh sought refuge in verbal gymnastics, claiming that his call for "binding commitments in an appropriate legal form" did not amount to agreeing to a "legally-binding commitment". However, his real intentions were revealed in a document that has not received the attention it deserves in India. At the pre-Cancun discussions, Ramesh circulated a ten-point paper on "international consultation and analysis" to facilitate "transparency and accountability" for the actions of all countries, including developing countries. A "transparency" requirement is unobjectionable and was generally agreed at Copenhagen last year. However, "accountability" was a new requirement, added by Ramesh. International "accountability" implies nothing less than an internationally- binding commitment. The environment minister's call for a "binding commitment" at Cancun was not a slip of the tongue; it was part of a premeditated strategy.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol draw a clear distinction between the respective obligations of developed and developing countries. Since developed countries are primarily responsible for causing climate change, the protocol lays down binding emission reduction commitments for each developed country party. Quite appropriately, developing countries are not required to accept such commitments. Their mitigation actions are of a purely voluntary nature and they are not accountable to any international authority, except in regard to projects that receive financial support from such an authority.

India's national action plan on climate change comprises comprehensive and ambitious measures that it has adopted voluntarily. The government is accountable to the Parliament with respect to these measures — not to any international authority. As the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has stated, India is not a part of the problem of climate change, but it is prepared to be a part of the solution. India is prepared to do whatever it can to mitigate climate change without compromising its overriding priorities of economic and social development and poverty eradication. These voluntary actions must not be converted into legally-binding international commitments. The prime minister himself emphasized this point at Copenhagen last year. Ramesh, however, seems determined to execute a policy U-turn.

Nor is this the only issue on which he has turned India's policy on its head. Since the beginning of the climate change negotiations, India has been a powerful advocate of the principle that every human being has an equal right of access to the global atmospheric resource. In other words, if global carbon dioxide emissions are to be capped, it must be on the basis of equal per capita accumulated emissions for each country. Developed countries cannot insist that poorer countries must restrict their per capita emissions — and per capita consumption of hydrocarbon fuels — to a fraction of that of affluent countries. Climate stabilization must not be achieved on the basis of perpetuating the wide disparity in living standards between developed and developing countries.

Ramesh has repeatedly tried to dilute or discard this principle. Thus, in his pre-Cancun paper, he proposed that the frequency of the international consultation and review procedure should differentiate between countries not on the basis of whether they are developed or developing countries but on the basis of their gross (as opposed to per capita) emissions. This would have created a new category of "major emitters" in the climate regime — encompassing developed countries with high per capita emissions, together with India and other populous developing countries with low levels of per capita emissions. This would have effectively undermined the per capita principle. Fortunately, Ramesh's proposal was rejected by other developing countries. Undeterred by this setback, the minister dropped India's demand for equal per capita access to the global atmospheric resource and replaced it with a meaningless formulation calling for "equitable access to sustainable development". This was incorporated in the Cancun accord, dealing a heavy blow to any meaningful interpretation of the principle of equity.

It is mystifying why Ramesh chose to circulate, on his own initiative, a set of proposals for "international consultation and analysis" — a demand of developed countries, spearheaded by the United States of America. Indeed, Washington had threatened to block progress on all other questions unless developing countries fell in with its ideas on "international consultation and analysis". It would have been normal, in these circumstances, for the US to circulate a paper on the subject and for developing countries to propose suitable amendments in order to protect their national interests. Instead, to applause from the affluent countries, it was an Indian minister who presented details of an American proposal — details which actually exceeded requirements formally voiced by the Americans. While the US called only for "transparency" in its public statements, Ramesh offered them "accountability" as well. Similarly, though the Americans would have dearly liked to create a new category of "major emitters" on the basis of gross emissions, they had refrained from raising this demand officially. Ramesh chose to come to their assistance — at India's cost.

It is conceivable that the minister acted in the context of India's overall relations with the US. Cultivating closer ties with Washington is, after all, one of the central features of India's foreign policy. This would have made sense if — and only if — Ramesh had shaped his detailed proposals in a manner consistent with India's vital national interests. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

In the first place, he should have insisted that the sole aim of "international consultation and analysis" should be to promote transparency of reporting, that is, collecting and estimating emissions data. Ramesh gratuitously added the element of "accountability", which would have converted India's voluntary mitigation actions to a binding international commitment.

In the context of "accountability", "international consultation and analysis" might cover questions of adequacy of implementation (that is, the extent to which India's national action plans are actually implemented) and even questions regarding the adequacy of its targets (that is, whether India should revise its national plans in light of the observations of international "experts"). This is a crucially important question because developed countries, in particular, the European community, are calling on developing countries to cut down their emissions after a "peaking" year around 2020. This demand would impose serious constraints on consumption of hydrocarbon fuels — coal, oil and gas — in the following decade. The implications for India's development and poverty eradication programmes do not need to be spelled out.

Second, Ramesh failed to insist that data made available in the process of "international consultation and analysis" and the resulting "experts" report, must not be used for the purpose of imposing trade restrictive measures on developing countries on the pretext of advancing climate change mitigation. Pending US legislation calls for such trade restrictive measures and there is a rising demand for similar unilateral protectionist measures in Europe. India should ensure that "international consultation and analysis" on climate change are not abused to furnish a pretext for trade restrictive measures against emerging economies.

India must ensure that the outcome of the negotiations does not unjustly constrain its energy options or facilitate disguised protectionism directed against emerging economies. Its development prospects will be imperilled if it fails to bring its climate change policy back on track.

The author is a retired ambassador with long experience of climate change negotiations

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

FIFTH COLUMN - GWYNNE DYER

Communist Party congresses are generally tedious events, and the 11th congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party (January 12-17) is no exception. The changes in personnel at the top are decided by the elite inner circle of the party, long before the congress opens, and the rhetoric is in the same wooden language that communists always use. The talk is all about fighting inflation and corruption (there's quite a lot of both in Vietnam), while maintaining a high growth rate (6.8 per cent last year). Ordinary people are struggling to maintain their standard of living (although they are far better off than they were 20 or 40 years ago), and resent being bossed around by the communist elite. But they are helpless, unable to do anything about it. It's not all that different from the situation in, say, Thailand, a little to the west, apart from the fact that the economic elite in Vietnam are the communists and their businessman cronies.

Thailand is technically a democracy, but if you are a rural "red shirt" in Thailand your views on those in power will be little different from those that many Vietnamese peasants privately hold about the communist party. It's a more traditional elite in Thailand, but it clings to power just as tightly, and rewards itself even more lavishly.

So why was there a 15-year war in Vietnam (1960-75) that killed 58,000 American soldiers and between 1-3 million Vietnamese? The United States of America insisted at the time that it was about stopping communist expansionism in Vietnam before it swept through Southeast Asia. The communists, who controlled North Vietnam, said it was only about reuniting the country. In retrospect, it's clear that the communists were telling the truth. They won the war in Vietnam despite all the efforts of the US, but the 'domino effect' in the rest of Southeast Asia never happened. The Vietnamese communists never even tried to knock the dominoes over.

Apart from invading Cambodia in 1978 to drive away the Khmer Rouge, a much nastier group of communists, communist-ruled Vietnam has never sent troops abroad or interfered in the internal affairs of other countries in the region. After a decade, Vietnamese troops were withdrawn from Cambodia, and Hanoi has virtually no influence there today.

Lured by fantasy

So, once again, how did three US presidents allow themselves to be misled into fighting such a pointless, unwinnable war? Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson all fell for a strategic vision of the world that was mere fantasy, driven by ideology. Or rather, in Eisenhower's case, and to some extent in Kennedy's, they found it politically impossible to resist the demands of those who did live fully within that fantasy. So US foreign policy had little connection with reality for several decades, and a lot of people died.

This sort of thing happens all the time. The 'war on terror' is functionally almost indistinguishable from the anti-communist crusade of the 1950s and 1960s, though the actual wars involve much less casualties. It doesn't only happen to Americans, of course. The various British invasions of Afghanistan in the 19th century were driven by the conviction that rapacious Russians wanted to seize Britain's Indian empire, though the thought hadn't occurred to the Russians. Germans spent the decade before World War I worried that they were being 'encircled' by the other great powers. But these delusions mainly afflict the great powers because weaker countries cannot afford such expensive follies — which is why Vietnamese communists never dreamed of spreading their faith across the rest of the region. They were, and are, pragmatic people with local ambitions. So the resolutions of the party congress are of little interest to anybody else.

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

EDITORIAL

CRITICAL DENSITY

'CRISIS MANAGEMENT TEAMS ARE AN ESSENTIAL PART. '


The stampede at Sabarimala that left around 102 people dead is the outcome of our refusal to learn from past mistakes. Stampedes occur with shocking regularity at places of pilgrimage in this country. Sabarimala itself is no stranger to stampedes having experienced a deadly one in 1999 when 53 pilgrims watching the 'makara jyoti' were crushed to death. Yet, neither the government nor temple authorities did anything to make the pilgrimage safe. They did not put in place minimum measures for efficient crowd control. That just a handful of policemen, doctors and officials formed the administration team at Pulumedu to take care of 300,000 pilgrims indicates how unimportant the wellbeing of pilgrims is for the government and temple authorities. What is the Kerala government's excuse for ignoring the high court's orders for better management of the pilgrimage? Why was a jeep allowed onto a narrow road on which tens of thousands of people were making their descent after sighting the 'makara jyoti'? People have been visiting Sabarimala for centuries. Yet, it lacks proper roads or communication facilities, even toilets or drinking water. Crisis management teams are an essential part of controlling crowds. There was no such team at Sabarimala.


A feature common to all stampede situations is that the number of people at the site far exceeds what it can reasonably accommodate. Common sense dictates that measures to restrict the number of people that visit temples and other sites that seem prone to stampedes are essential. But police officials claim it is difficult to impose restrictions at places of worship, while temple authorities say it is unfair to exclude devotees from visiting on certain 'auspicious' days. Unfair it might be but restricting the numbers is essential to prevent stampedes. Crowd control at Tirumala, while not perfect or even fair given that it favours the rich and the influential, has enabled devotees to worship in a reasonably safe environment. Sabarimala and other temples have lessons to learn from the TTD's measures.


Myths surrounding the 'celestial' nature of the 'makara jyoti' draw millions of credulous pilgrims to Sabarimala. The faith of these pilgrims, the difficult journey they undertake is truly amazing. The Sabarimala temple is the second richest in the country, thanks to the generosity of pilgrims. The least that temple authorities can do is to spend a fraction of this amount to put in place measures to make their pilgrimage safe.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

STICKY WAGES

'THE REAL VALUE OF THE WAGE HAS ERODED OVER THE YEARS.'


The government's decision to link the wages paid under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) to inflation is the second best option, after it rejected the demand to pay statutory minimum wages to workers under the scheme. The demand to pay minimum wages to the workers had been made by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It was based on a considered view that emerged in the National Advisory Council. But the prime minister has rejected it, mainly because it would involve much greater expenditure than the government feels it can bear. However, the illegality of the government itself violating the Minimum Wages Act is too obvious to be missed. The argument that minimum wages vary from state to state and the Centre has no control over them is not a good enough  reason to deny the right of the worker.


However, the decision to link the wages to the consumer price index will go some length in insulating workers' wages from the impact of inflation. Ever since the launch of the scheme in 2005 the remuneration has remained fixed at Rs 100. The real value of the wage has eroded over the years and this has affected the appeal and usefulness of the scheme as such. The indexation has come into effect from January 1 and has resulted in increasing workers' wages by 17 to 30 per cent. The government, at present, spends over Rs 40,000 crore on the scheme and the expenditure will now go up by another Rs 3,500 crore. Fiscal prudence demands that the additional  expenditure be made up through savings or other means.


The flagship programme of the UPA government has helped millions of workers in rural areas to find work for 100 days in a year. It has served as an economic safety net but needs to be implemented better in many parts of the country. Though there are safeguards like mandatory payments through banks or post offices, limits on administrative costs and the need to publish the details of expenditure and works undertaken, there are problems like fudging of records, delayed  payments and wastage of funds. It is also not always ensured that the works undertaken are useful and productive. With improvement in implementation, the new remuneration scheme, which involves revision of wages every year, can ensure that the workers derive full and real benefit from the programme. 

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

TOLERANCE FOR FICTION

M J AKBAR


'A bureaucracy prefers a single source of authority, and unfettered freedom to create and implement policy.'
The British Raj was the high noon of bureaucracy. The British sepoy armies might have won the day from Plassey to Seringapatnam and Alwaye, but it was the pre-1857 "writer" and post-1857 Indian Civil Service sahib who converted a day into two centuries. No army can preserve victory; that is the responsibility of the civilian servant of the state.


Every empire becomes a fiefdom of the bureaucracy. The 'qatibs', or scribes (equivalent to the writers who are remembered in Calcutta's seat of government, Writers' Building), were so powerful that they successfully resisted the new technology called printing for fear that it would replace their work. The price was eventually paid by Ottoman society, for it could not benefit from the information revolution wrought by the printing press. Nearby Europe used printing to disseminate knowledge down the class stratifications, generating the industrial revolution that made Europe master of the world by the 19th century.


A bureaucracy prefers a single source of authority, and unfettered freedom to create and implement policy in the name of that authority. Bureaucrats constituted the viceroy's council when the British Raj had unchallenged power. There are rules of course, and a good officer is scrupulous in adherence because confusion is anathema to his profession. This is where democracy becomes a bit of a problem.


Democracy devised a check: policy was the prerogative of the elected. The bureaucrat had responsibility without the devise the solution. He could take his revenge through deviation, delay or prevarication but he could not supersede the minister. Nor could the minister behave like an autocrat. There is always accountability, internal and external. Policy in theory travels from minister to cabinet; and cabinet is a discordant chorus rather than an inspiring solo.


What do we make of, then, a bureaucrat being nominated to announce a major policy shift in one of the most sensitive problems facing the Indian state, Kashmir? On Friday it was home secretary G K Pillai who told a seminar, to which media had been invited, that government plans to cut paramilitary forces in the valley by 25 per cent in one year, and offer unilaterally multiple-entry, six month travel permits (not Indian passports, but specially designed permits that might leave the nationality question vague) to Kashmiris to cross the Line of Control into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. This in effect allows anyone in Kashmir to go to Pakistan since there will be no restrictions by Pakistan on further movement. The Army chief, General V K Singh, who is the principal effective guarantor of security in Kashmir, was not informed that such a proposition was on the verge of implementation.


Important swivel

Normally, such an important swivel should have been announced by Home Minister P C Chidambaram, or even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. There is only one reason why they did not. They were using Pillai to test the waters of public and  political opinion before the ship of state could be turned towards a different direction.

There is only one question to ask, and it surely must be wandering through General Singh's thoughts: have the twin threats of terrorism, much of it Pakistan-funded and inspired, and intrusions by elements of the Pakistan army reduced by 25 per cent? Other questions emerge from this. What evidence do we have of any change in Pakistan's covert policies towards India? Relations, bolstered by back-channel talks, between India and Pakistan were improving until the terrorist attack on Mumbai. Delhi demanded that the sponsors of this terrible carnage, sitting pretty in Lahore, be held to account.


Pakistan snubbed the thought. It has done nothing. Should we conclude, therefore, that the UPA government has decided to forget Mumbai and resume the pre-Mumbai equation with Pakistan? The UPA may be entirely rational in conceding defeat in the stand-off against Islamabad, but confession and clarity before the Indian people would help. 


Or is this the start of an effort to change the primary subject of national discourse from corruption and food-price inflation? Rising prices, particularly when coupled with unemployment, are the most serious danger that any government can face. Even Arab dictators and monarchs are discovering that the people might learn to live with autocracy but they will not tolerate a government that cannot guarantee price security of essential food. In our country, anger against corruption has been supplemented by rage against the tyranny of onion prices.


The bureaucratic British Raj began by provoking a terrible famine in Bengal, between 1765 and 1770, that is estimated to have taken the lives of one-third of the population. The British left in 1947 after another catastrophic Bengal famine which destroyed the fictions of good governance that colonisation had created. Democracy does not have much tolerance for fiction. If the new policy towards Pakistan is being floated on the fiction of possible peace, or even as a diversionary tactic, it will extract a terrible price on UPA if another Mumbai or Kargil happens.


Bureaucrats do not lose their jobs. Politicians do.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

IN  PERSPECTIVE

LIKE POLES REPEL

BY D V GURUPRASAD


Racial profiling has become a part and parcel of airport security checks.


As a policeman I have learnt to be suspicious about people. But I had never felt I could evoke suspicion, until I started travelling abroad. While trying to walk out of the green channel at Heathrow airport a couple of years ago, a customs official stopped me and started questioning. He made me open my suitcase and his eye caught a bottle containing red powder. Though I explained it is chutney powder, he opened the container lid and took a deep breath. As expected he was seized by a bout of uncontrolled sneezing which made his colleagues rush to him and subject me to further intense interrogation. Finally, when I was allowed to go, my ego was fully deflated.

I had to pass through the same airport three months later. Thinking that the UK customs had forgotten me, I passed through the green channel along with a friend. I was once again detained, though I was not carrying chutney powder. I was questioned for 20 minutes and my bags thoroughly checked. When I was allowed to go my friend remarked that there must be something in me that arouses suspicion among the Brits. I agreed and laughed it off.


A few years later I visited New York with my wife. The moment we crossed immigration, an authoritative looking uniformed woman came to us and asked us to step aside. Since it was our first US visit, we were carrying a number of eatables, including chutney powder, for our hosts. When the lady officer confiscated all the food items, tears came rushing to my wife's eyes. It took all my skills to convince the woman that we are not smugglers and we are not carrying any contraband.


On our return journey, we had a break in Paris. When we went to the airport to board our flight, we were stopped at the entrance by two security persons and were questioned for ten minutes. They knew very little English and we knew no French. After they allowed us inside, we were subjected to further checks at least twice. Fed up with this treatment, I revealed that I am a police officer from India. The moment they heard the word, 'police,' they segregated me, took me to a separate room and started questioning. In the meantime, boarding for the flight had started and my wife was getting tense. At last I managed to board. My wife was upset. I explained that because of 'racial profiling' such things happen and not to worry over it.


I took her to Thailand last week. On our way home, at Bangkok airport, I was singled out by security and searched for ten minutes! As I joined her, my wife remarked 'Is this also a case of racial profiling?' I said, 'No, this is a case of people in the same profession easily spotting their colleagues.' She agreed and said 'like poles always repel.'

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DECCAN HERALD

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

HEZBOLLAH IN A CATCH-22 SITUATION

BY ANTHONY SHADID , NYT

 

It has evolved from a shadowy organisation into an expansive movement with an armed militia


With Hezbollah's toppling of the Lebanese government, the militant Shiite Muslim movement entered what may prove to be one of the most dangerous chapters in a 30-year history that has made it reviled in the West and popular in the Arab world: At the moment seemingly of its greatest power, the path facing it could unveil its most glaring weaknesses.


Hezbollah and its allies acted on longstanding threats last to bring down Lebanon's national unity government in a dispute over a UN-backed tribunal, which is expected to indict Hezbollah members in the assassination of a former prime minister, Rafik Hariri.


The result followed a familiar script in Lebanon, where institutions have been paralysed more often than not since the killing of Hariri and 22 others in a devastating bombing along Beirut's seafront in February 2005. Lawmakers predicted weeks, perhaps months, of stalemate as the country tries to navigate questions unanswered since the end of its civil war in 1990: the power of Lebanon's largest religious communities, its posture toward Israel, the fate of Hezbollah's arms and the power of foreign patrons.


Few dispute Hezbollah's prowess in that standoff; it vanquished its foes in just a few days of fighting in May 2008, when it seized part of the capital. But to do so again could further tarnish its reputation here, making it look more and more like a sectarian militia than the resistance movement to Israel it considers itself.


It would undoubtedly heighten tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, a prospect the movement fears could undermine its stature in the wider, predominantly Sunni Middle East. The paradox is that only that confrontation may deliver it what it wants: a Lebanese government that denounces the indictments and ends cooperation with the tribunal.


"In some ways, they're in a Catch-22," said Robert Malley, the Middle East and North Africa programme director for the International Crisis Group. The Hezbollah that entered the crisis may look far different from the group, born in the crucible of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, that emerges.


A day after the collapse of a national unity government led by Rafik Hariri's son, Saad Hariri, Beirut was more troubled by traffic jams than the prospect of fighting. Both sides seemed eager not to escalate, and Hezbollah officials refused to make any public pronouncements that might stoke more tensions.


But no one questioned the depth of the crisis. It could be seen as the worst since the fighting in 2008, though it is probably more accurate to view it as simply another iteration of the crisis that began with the Hariri assassination. His killing soon drew the line between camps in an almost equally divided country and helped end Syria's 29-year military presence and, with Saudi Arabia, its political control here.


What followed was a string of political assassinations, a devastating war with Israel, sectarian fighting, mass protests downtown and almost two years of government paralysis. After the 2008 fighting, a truce was reached in Qatar, in which Hezbollah achieved far greater power in the government, effectively enabling it to veto legislation and, in a worst-case situation, bring it down.

It did that last Wednesday after a Saudi-Syrian attempt at mediation failed.


Neither side seemed to want to reach this point. Weaker and more divided than a few years ago, Hariri's allies were thought to be buying time until the handing down of the indictments, which would have strengthened their hand in negotiations.


Hezbollah, analysts say, had hoped for an agreement mediated by Syria — with Iran, Hezbollah's ally — and Saudi Arabia, Hariri's patron. Having failed, Hezbollah found itself dragged deeper into a political arena that it still, with perhaps a degree of arrogance, views as beneath its calling as a resistance movement, even as it exercises unprecedented power within it.


Hezbollah has evolved from a shadowy organisation into an expansive movement with an armed militia more powerful than the Lebanese army and a sprawling infrastructure that delivers welfare to its Shiite constituency, Lebanon's largest community. Over those decades, its political role has grown, as well, particularly when it has felt vulnerable, as was the case with the Syrian withdrawal.


Even its supporters acknowledge its vulnerability now. Not that it fears that the tribunal would try its members — the prospect of their arrest is almost impossible to fathom, given Hezbollah's discipline.

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

STOP PASSING THE PARCEL


Question: If rice and wheat allotted at highly subsidised prices under the central government's mid-day meal scheme is unauthorisedly sold in the open market at much higher prices, is it legal? Even an uneducated person would instantly say that it not only constitutes fraud, but probably blackmarketing as well. But the Goa Police are still trying to find out, by writing letters to the Education Department, which in turn is playing as dumb as the cops.


In her reply to a letter from the police asking whether rice and wheat allotted on a monthly basis to self-help groups under the midday meal scheme can be sold in the market, Education Director Celsa Pinto has only said that as per central guidelines, the Education Department supplies wheat and rice under the mid-day meal scheme to self help groups. She has enclosed a list of 83 such groups in Goa. Saying they are 'not satisfied' with this 'vague' reply, the police have shot off another letter to the Director.


How long are these two going to play this game of 'passing the parcel'?


The police first wrote to the Education Department after they seized a diary from main accused Devendra Shinde, revealing that he used to 'purchase' wheat and rice each month from self-help groups in the mid-day mean scheme Bardez taluka, and subsequently re-sell it in the open market.


Police investigations have shown that the entire quota of rice and wheat for the self-help groups issued by the Mamlatdar under the mid-day meal scheme each month was being taken directly from the Civil Supplies godown by the accused and sold in the open market. Approximately 20 to 30 quintals of rice and wheat are allotted every month for each self-help group under the midday meal scheme. The group concerned must collect the quota from the government godown. Instead, they were directly selling it to accused Shinde at Rs11 per kg of rice and Rs10 per kg of wheat. This was revealed in the accused's diary.


Under the mid-day meal scheme, students mostly get sheera, pulao or pao bhaji. Even though the children get no wheat products, every month the Civil Supplies Department releases quintals of wheat to each self-help group, as per central government quotas. This is a well-designed and highly organised fraud, where foodgrain subsidised by taxpayers' money is being systematically diverted to the open market and illegally sold at huge profits.
It's an open-and-shut case. Then why do the police need a letter from the Education Department, and why is the latter so reluctant to provide it? That's because most of the so-called self-help groups in Goa are closely linked to the ruling party (whichever one it may be), and are run by close associates of ministers and MLAs, or their relatives.
It's a political minefield that no one wants to cross. It's the proverbial cat that no one wants to bell. But does that mean we should allow the police to let these thieves get away with their systematic loot of public money?


Beggar's day

Shelton Messier, the beggar who was literally dumped by police at the Campal garbage dump in Panjim by police in June 2009, must be paid a compensation of Rs50,000 by the state government, the National Human Right's Commission (NHRC) has ordered. The NHRC has said the money should be recovered from the guilty policemen's salaries, and that the government should take 'active steps' to rehabilitate him. But what about the higher-ups who gave a 'clean chit' to their juniors in this matter?

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

BHARAT RATNA FOR SACHIN?

THE QUESTION IS NOT WHETHER BUT WHEN, SAYS SAEESH KAKODKAR

 

Sachin Tendulkar, India's greatest cricketing legend, perhaps of all times, is the heartthrob of young and old alike. The star was first sighted at the age of 14, when he scored an unbeaten triple hundred and shared a record-breaking unbroken stand of 664 runs with pal Vinod Kambli in a Mumbai inter-school match. He shot into the limelight after scoring a century for Mumbai against Gujarat. Soon he was made to face Kapil Dev at the nets by the then India captain Dilip Vengsarkar, and picked for the Pakistan tour of 1989 at the tender age of 16.
Since then, this magician has mesmerised the world with the willow; he's the little master as well as the master blaster. For Indian cricket fans, he is... nothing short of God!


Why the talk?


Talk of conferring the Bharat Ratna on Sachin has been on since last March, when he stunned the cricketing world with the first-ever double-century in ODIs with a strike rate of 136, playing 147 balls and remaining undefeated for 50 overs. The best previous attempts were 194 by Saeed Anwar in 1997 (out caught Ganguli bowled Sachin), 194 by Coventry of Zimbabwe in 2009 (against weak Bangladeshi bowlers), 189 by legend Viv Richards in 1984 (55-over match) and 189 by Jayasuriya in 2000.
The batting maestro capped this by the unprecedented landmark of scoring 50 test centuries last month. I'm a cricket buff. My heart promptly voted 'yes' and I too joined the chorus. One event lies ahead: a maha-century of centuries, of which he is three short. Then there are two more on my wish list: India wins this year's World Cup and a triple ton for Sachin in tests.


What is the Bharat Ratna?


The Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour of India, is given for exceptional service towards the advancement of Art, Literature and Science, and in recognition of Public Service of the highest order. Introduced in 1954, its first recipient was Nobel Laureate scientist C V Raman. Since then, 38 Indians, one naturalised Indian (Mother Teresa) and two non-Indians (Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Nelson Mandela) have been honoured.


Of these, 11 were awarded posthumously. Of the 30 awarded during their lifetime, 13 were above the age of 80; 10 were septuagenarians and six in their 60s. The only living non-senior-citizen to receive the Bharat Ratna was Indira Gandhi at the age of 54, for her 1971 feat of liberating Bangladesh. But this was when she was the Prime Minister herself. Her son Rajiv was honoured posthumously in 1991, after he was killed at the age of 47 in a suicide bomb attack. Interestingly, Rajiv Gandhi – born in 1944 – is also the only person born after 1933 to be awarded.
Why Sachin?


Sachin has scored 32,300 runs (Tests: 14,692; ODIs: 17,598; T20: 10). Though no cricketer has ever ventured even close to Bradman's test average of 99, Sachin leads others by miles. He is also a stand-by bowler, claiming 200 wickets (Tests: 45; ODIs: 154; T20: 1).


Tendulkar leverages his technique, application, intelligence and composure. This was evident in the 1993 ODI against South Africa, when skipper Azaruddin reposed faith in a part-time bowler to bowl the last over, when South Africa needed just 6 runs to win. Sachin used his anticipation capabilities and his pulse of slog-over psychology, kept cool, conceded only 3 runs and snatched the win in a colossal cliff-hanger.
He has also adapted remarkably to changes in the game, as well as to prolong his career. His coach, who he respectfully calls 'Achrekar-sir' had said, "Kambli is more talented but Sachin will persevere."
Some critics ask: Did Sachin ever make India proud? They point to Kapil leading from the front (when India was reeling at 17 for 5 against Zimbabwe in a 1983 World Cup league match, his match winning 175 enabled India to reach the semi-finals) to lift the World Cup in 1983. In 21 long years, he has not single-handedly won any major tournament.


But the intrinsic attributes that make him invincible are: perfect balance, economy of movement, precision, reflexes and perfect anticipation. The philosophy that Cricket is the king and he can only be its student keeps Sachin composed and grounded; so much so that after an innings you would not be able to say whether he scored 100 or zero.


Though he is a source of inspiration for so many, he is modest: "Cricket is my priority now. I am not in a hurry," he replied when asked about the Bharat Ratna. When compared with Sir Don Bradman, Sachin said, "I never believe in comparisons and respect all, not just Sir Don. I feel happy when my team is victorious."
Tendulkar's greatness in various formats of the game is acknowledged by his peers. Ex-captains Kapil Dev, Ajit Wadekar and Saurav Ganguly have all urged that the Bharat Ratna be conferred on Sachin. So has another recipient and the Indian koel, Lata Mangueshkar. The Maharashtra government has also recommended it.
Is the time ripe?


By Bharat Ratna standards, certainly, Sachin is very young. No person born after 1944 has yet won. If Sachin, born in 1974 bags it, people may question how in 30 long years, India could not give birth to a Bharat Ratna? It could undermine an entire generation. And, to salvage the situation, the government may hurriedly honour a few of this generation, by diluting the criteria.


Most other fields allow a person to keep performing till late in the life. But sportspeople can be world class only in their 20s and 30s. Sachin is ripe for the Bharat Ratna now, as he nears the end of his performing era.
Opportunities in cricket have changed vastly, especially after the financial muscle of 1.2 billion Indian consumers have spun TV telecasts into a mega-business. Off-field avenues like coaching, expert-commenting and anchoring have also emerged as lucrative avenues for cricketers after retirement. Top cricketers are now affluent and influential. Their performance in celebrity social responsibility also needs to be accounted when we talk of the nation's top civilian honour.


Sachin deserves the Bharat Ratna now, as the eve of Republic Day (when the President announces the awards) approaches. Is Sachin better than Bradman? Is he in the same league as Mohammad Ali, Pele or Schumacher? These are endless debates. But for a cricket-mad college-going boy like me, whether to confer the Bharat Ratna on this Kohinoor of India is a forgone conclusion. The only question is: when?

(The writer is a student of Goa Engineering College, Farmagudi)

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THE SENTINEL

EDITORIAL

SCHOOL INNOVATION  

In Chamanpura village in Bihar, which is one of the most backward villages of the State and where there is no electricity as yet, a school — Chaitanya Gurukul Public School — has come up where blackboards are replaced by laptops, and teachers, miles away from the school, teach via Skype, a software application that allows users to make voice calls over the Internet. In other words, it is a school sans blackboards and teachers, and not in a metro but in a part of the world that is yet to be part of the smallest development story! Conceived and founded by 36-year-old Chandrakant Singh, who hails from the same village, completed primary school by the light of a kerosene lamp, won a scholarship to DAV College in Siwan, and took a BTech degree from BIT, Sindri and MTech degree from IIT-Bombay, the school is emblematic of what a vision-innovation-social dedication combine can produce in even places such as Chamanpura.

The story started three years ago. Greatly perturbed by repeated attacks on Bihari migrants in Mumbai and with a mission to stop the migration through a quality education route in Bihar itself, Singh wrote a 100-page plan — a road map for a Rs 30-crore campus to be completed in 10 years, including a school, an engineering college and a research and development (R&D) centre — and e-mailed it to 3,000 friends, of whom eight agreed to fund the project. After getting approval from the State government, they took the first step — that of building the school. Today, the school has come up: 45 rooms on two Wi-Fi-enabled floors, of which 10 are classrooms, each with an LCD monitor or a projector, and the rest are offices, a library, a 17-machine computer lab with 24-hour broadband Internet, and residential quarters. Since there is no electricity, the computers are powered by two large generators! And, mind it, the games and sports aspect has not been forgotten or dismissed. The school boasts of four volleyball courts, four badminton courts and a cricket pitch, while a swimming pool is under construction! And how are the fees? It is a mere Rs 300 basic tuition fee for Class I, increasing by Rs 100 for every class upward. Hostel residents are charged Rs 4,000 per month, with concessions made depending on the economic conditions of students.

If that miracle of sorts can happen in Bihar as a result of a dedicated private initiative, it can happen anywhere in the country, including in the Northeast that has no dearth of people capable of making such investment. Only, their priorities should be right; they should have concern for education in their land of birth. And yes, we are talking of education in the 21st century, aided by technology. Any takers?

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THE SENTINEL

EDITORIAL

A SYSTEM FAILURE  

BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA

T he spectrum controversy has made it clear that an unholy nexus between businessmen, ministers and officers is twisting rules in self-interest. This is an old story though. A 1967 report by submitted to the Planning Commission by Mumbai University Economist R K Hazare pointed out that 20 per cent of all licenses issued between 1957 and 1966 went to Birla group companies. The Ambanis have repeated this feat in the recent years. Grip of the group on the highest levels of the government can be seen in Prime Minister Deve Gowda travelling in the executive jet of Dhirubhai to Bangalore to tender his resignation as Chief Minister on being elected as Prime Minister. This interference of businessmen in the government cannot be wholly decried, however. Corruption works as lubricant when the government is moribund and inefficient.

The boiler of a factory was to be inspected for renewal of license. The Inspector demanded a totally uncalled-for bribe of Rs 20k to give the certificate. The businessman baulked. As a result, the Inspector failed the boiler. The hapless businessman had to travel to lodge complaint with the senior officers, get another inspector to visit, and he did get the certificate without giving a bribe. But he spent more than 20k in making rounds. The factory lay closed for a week and he incurred a heavy loss running into lakhs of rupees. Corruption is indeed a lifesaver in such situations. But there is difference in the same corruption being used to earn unrighteous money and crush one's smaller competitors.

Hamish McDonald gives many instances of this in his book Ambani and Sons. Synthetic cloth is made from Polyester Filament Yarn (PFY). There was huge shortage of PFY in the country in the seventies. Domestic prices were nearly seven times those prevailing in the international markets. In this situation Dhirubhai persuaded Finance Minister T A Pai to allow imports of PFY against exports of nylon clothing. Then Dhirubhai made huge exports of nylon-on paper. He claimed to sell this product at Rs 4 in the international markets when the prevailing price was less than Rs 2. Actually he was not selling the nylon at all. He was dumping the exported material in to the sea, leaving it to rot at the ports or selling it at giveaway prices. His objective was to secure the permits to import PFY that these exports entitled him to receive. He sold the imported PFY at a hefty margin and made a killing even after deducting the loss on the exported nylon material.

An international scandal in Oil-for-Food programme of Iraq under the aegis of the United Nations broke out in 2005. Reliance was the biggest purchaser of oil from Saddam Hussein. But "speaker after speaker from both the Congress-led government and the BJP opposition, including former adversaries of Reliance, avoided even mentioning Reliance as the largest Indian recipient of oil allocations from the Saddam Hussein regime, let alone trying to probe the political circumstances in which the oil concessions were won."

 A system that does not permit an honest appraisal is inherently faulty. This applies equally to Birlas of the fifties, Ambanis of the eighties and spectrum companies of the year.

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THE SENTINEL

EDITORIAL

THE EVIL OF CORRUPTION IN INDIA  

On a television show last week, in which I was a guest speaker, I heard one of the best suggestions for cleaning up public life in India. It may never be implemented because no public servant, at least of my acquaintance, is serious about ending corruption but I am going to share it with you anyway. The subject we were discussing on Vikram Chandra's ''Big Fight'' was the return of the Bofors ghost, and most of the programme sadly became a contest between the BJP's record on catching the thieves and that of the Congress so there was more dust than light. Then, at the very end, when Vikram asked us for final comments came this suggestion. It was Joginder Singh, former director of the CBI (Central Bureau of Intelligence), who came up with it. In his final comments he said (and he should know) that the best way to keep our politicians and officials from feeding at the bottomless trough of public money would be to keep them under the permanent scrutiny of the Income Tax department.

Now let me tell you why I think this is such a good idea. Some years ago I happened to witness an income tax raid at the home of a businessman friend in Mumbai. My friend comes from an old business family and is a fine, upstanding citizen but when the tax raiders came they treated him like a common criminal. He was abroad when the Income Tax Department swooped so when he returned to Mumbai he found that his home, his car, his bank lockers and accounts had all been sealed. After spending a night in a hotel he was allowed to enter his home by income tax inspectors who behaved as if it was their home and not his. They made themselves comfortable in his drawing room, slipping off their shoes and lounging about as if they were at some family event in their own homes. After recording his statement in the tones of an inquisition they went through every drawer and cupboard in the apartment asking him to explain every detail. Where did he buy his pictures? How much did he pay? Where did he buy his carpets? Where were the bills? How much was the jewellery worth? Did he have bills? The same thing happened in his offices and in the homes of all his relations. Nobody was allowed to make a telephone call or leave the premises until the raiders were satisfied that they had asked all their questions.

It was an ugly business but the reason why I recommend it to keep our public officials in check is because I am prepared to guarantee that such surprise raids would reveal unaccounted-for assets in the homes of nearly every politician and senior official. As someone who has the dubious distinction of having covered Indian politics for more than thirty years, I believe I am in an excellent position to tell you the changes I have seen in the lifestyle of our elected representatives and it could only have changed with the complicity of our civil servants.

In the seventies and eighties when I covered Parliament, the MPs I met dressed so humbly that more than ninety per cent of them would not have spent more on their attire than your average aam aadmi. The women wore cheap cotton saris, slippers bought for a few rupees on Janpath and almost no jewellery. Their watches were Indian as were their handbags. The men dressed in even humbler fashion usually buying their entire outfit from Khadi Gramodyog in Connaught Place. Now things have changed so dramatically that if you keep your eyes open when the next session of Parliament begins you will yourself be able to see the changes.

Look first at the handbags that our lady MPs carry and you will notice that nearly every one of them is made by some international designer. The more modest MPs carry Louis Vuitton handbags and those who are not ashamed to flaunt their wealth carry handbags by more exclusive brands like Chanel, Bottega Veneta and Hermes. Check the prices of these handbags and you will see that they start at Rs 1,00,000 and can go up to Rs 10 lakh per bag. The shoes these ladies wear start at around Rs 40,000.  I cannot remember the last time I saw a lady MP who was not wearing an extremely expensive foreign watch. This is true of our male MPs as well and usually out of their humble khadi pockets peep very expensive Mont Blanc pens. Now start doing the math. Anyone who can spend so much money on trifles must have a great deal more to spend on more important things like homes and cars and they do. When I wander about the homes of political leaders these days I find myself dazzled by the crystal and china, the fine carpets and the silverware. So if an income tax raid were to be sprung upon almost any of our elected representatives, they would have a lot of explaining to do.

It goes without saying that a measure like this will never be implemented because when it comes to looting public money there is an all-party consensus. Not even our communist friends would suggest random income tax raids on public servants as a means of controlling corruption. Then there is the problem that the income tax inspectors are not exactly paragons of virtue. But I have brought up the matter this week in the hope that you understand what can be done and why it is that every political party now believes in constituencies being passed down in hereditary fashion.

Hereditary democracy is so widespread that according to last week's Outlook magazine, every MP under the age of 30 has inherited his seat from some indulgent parent or relative. This information comes from Patrick French's new book which after researching the subject discovered that two-thirds of Lok Sabha MPs under 40 are hereditary. This is because there is no easier way to make money in India today than through a career in politics. This is why everyone from criminals and mafia dons to movie stars and big industrialists willingly give up their private lives to become public servants. Unfortunately, this is very bad for India. So next time you vote, try and find a political party that does not practise hereditary democracy.

Tavleen Singh

(Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter@tavleen_singh)

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THE SENTINEL

EDITORIAL

GOVERNANCE IN THE 21ST CENTURY  

HN DAS

I n the every first line of his book entitled Business @ Speed of Thought, Bill Gates has predicted that ''Business is going to change more in the next ten years than it has in the last fifty''. Gates introduced the concept of the digital nervous system which he defined as "the corporate, digital equivalent of the human nervous system, providing a well-integrated flow of information to the right part of the organization at the right time". Gates believed that "how you gather, manage and use information will determine whether you win or lose". He, therefore, commended the digital nervous system, and the inherent "web work style" and "web lifestyle" for a "change in mindset and culture". He believed that this would be "the key to success in the twenty-first century".

In India, we have a very substantial technical work force. In some respect they are among the best in the world. Bill Gates is convinced that "India is the only country other than the United States where we have done significant software exports business — and that's pretty phenomenal".

The slow and tedious process of change in India, particularly in Assam, and our normally lackadaisical approach to new ideas are probably the outcome of our inability to make a dent on poverty and the dichotomy between the intellectually alert elite and the undernourished masses who naturally sense danger to their very existence by any new ideas.

Poverty has to be tackled urgently and immediately. Poverty is one of the causes of the mindset against change. It is through the elimination of poverty that Southeast Asian countries such as Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Malayasia, Singapore and Hong Kong have made tremendous leaps in the past half-a-century. Their progress in the economic field has been synchronized with a sea change in their strategy of governance. When people have proper creature comforts and can lead relatively hassle-free lifestyle, they become more attuned to accept change. That has happened in the developed countries and some of the developing countries.

The fact that it has not happened at such high speed in India, particularly in Assam, is the result of the prevailing poverty. And Assam has an unemployment ratio of 19.25 per cent which happens to be the highest in the country next only to Kerala's 25.62 per cent. Jobs are available in plenty within the State. These are in construction and in trades such as carpentry, masonry, maintenance of electrical gadgets and pumps, municipal sanitation, heavy transportation vehicles, where hundreds of thousands of people from outside the State and outside the country work. But the indigenous people, both tribal and non-tribal, normally refuse to take up these jobs. They hanker after only the jobs of office assistants, peons and teachers. For these later jobs they are prepared even to sell their ancestral property and bribe politicians, bureaucrats and their cohorts. What is surprising is the fact that they would not compete for high-paying jobs of the Central government.

The strategy of governance has to be adapted to conform with what Bill Gates has prescribed for business in the 21st century. At present the three main drawbacks of government in Assam are corruption, inefficiency and no-work culture. It will need tremendous efforts and dogged political will to tackle these drawbacks. Tripura has practically eliminated corruption due to Chief Minister Manik Sarker's dogged determination.

Corruption, for example, is at the root of all evils. Kickbacks and siphoning off of major portions of fund allocations on different projects, schemes and programmes distort the plan priorities. Corruption can be controlled to some extent by transparency, empowerment of PRIs and ULBs and computerization. Transparency will enable people to know where the money has gone and thus inspire civil society activism. Empowerment will reduce the chances of corruption in the State headquarters and collection of enormous wealth by a few. There might be some corruption at the district, block and village levels, but such occurrences will be limited and the amounts lower. The Constitution has been amended, a new Panchayat Act has been passed, and the necessary rules have been framed long ago. Elections have also been held to PRIs. It is not understood why empowerment and proper distribution of funds have not been made. Due to delay in holding elections and empowerment of PRIs, Assam has lost incentive fund from the Central government in the past.

Computerization can achieve a great deal in reduction of corruption. Once the check gates, tax offices, information about individual and corporate tax payers are computerized, it will be difficult for unscrupulous officials and others to siphon off money and to evade the tax-net. The loopholes in the statutes and rules should be plugged.

Inefficiency also arises when personnel manning the government departments are not qualified. Thousands of primary teachers have been recruited in the past, the majority of whom are not qualified. They should be made to compulsorily go through a regime of rigorous training. Similar steps should be taken in respect of those who have been recruited to the State's highest civil services.

One particular aspect needs special mention. This is about the way revenue records are maintained at present. The age old Chitha, Zamabandi, Touzi etc are still prevalent. These have served their purpose in the past. But revenue records need reform and revision. Already some steps have been taken for computerization of revenue records in some districts. Such computerization should be extended to all districts.

In the report of the Committee on Fiscal Reforms (COFR), it has been emphasized that "the entire content and image of government can be changed and modernized once e-governance is introduced in right earnest. This should be assigned a high priority and measures should be initiated as early as possible. The benefits of e-governance are claimed to be less corruption and increased transparency, greater convenience, revenue growth and cost reduction".

In regard to the government's policy-making function now executed by the State Secretariat, "COFR's vision of the future Assam Secretariat  is that of a cluster of functionally organized, neat, clean, slim, smart and modern offices with completely computerized facilities where routine work will be got done on-line and most of the information will be available on web sites. It will not be necessary of the general public to visit the secretariat in their hundreds for even small matters as at present. The people manning the secretariat will be smart, intelligent and ready with the relevant information". Gradually all other offices should also be computerised.

It was more than two decades ago that the office of the National Informatic Centre was accommodated in the Dispur Secretariat complex. I had faced vehement criticism and opposition from both ministers and senior officers who were against this. Although I have not seen the centre in the recent past, I understand that it remains in the secretariat for the assistance of all officials concerned and as a model office of the 21st century.

Computerization will help in reversing the no-work culture. There will be correct record of employees' hours of work. Employees will be required to put the inputs at the appropriate times so that they will find it difficult to skip work and play truant. Along with proper hours of work and holidays, computerization will help government offices to run smoothly and efficiently.

A massive programme of training will be necessary to transform the government work force. They are now steeped in easy-going ways and are bereft of intellectual content. To quote from Rajiv Gandhi's broadcast to the nation of January 8, 1985, after becoming Prime Minister following the general election, "training of civil servants of all categories" needs to be "restructured to develop competence and commitment to the values of our society". COFR has also laid emphasis on training so that the employees ''can act as the kingpins in a delivery system which is adequate and competent for the needs of the development process. COFR, therefore, suggested that "in order to accelerate the economic development process in Assam, it will be necessary to refurbish the entire development administration in the State by changing our administration culture and by building the human resources in the delivery system".

To quote Donald Tapscott from his Digital Economy, ''Government are central players in the new economy. They set climate for wealth creation. They can act as a deadening hand to change or be the catalyst for creativity. They can cause economic stagnation or they can set a climate for growth." It is for the Assam Government to decide which role they would prefer.


(The writer was Chief Secretary, Assam, during 1990-1995)

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THE SENTINEL

EDITORIAL

WHERE TO DRAW THE LINE?  

"THE FACT IS THAT THE PUBLIC HAVE AN INSATIABLE CURIOSITY TO KNOW EVERYTHING, EXCEPT WHAT IS WORTH KNOWING. JOURNALISM, CONSCIOUS OF THIS, AND HAVING TRADESMAN-LIKE HABITS, SUPPLIES THEIR DEMAND."  

— OSCAR WILDE

GEETIMA DAS KRISHNA

M    ass media is the new religion. That is how people connect. Mass media has grown to such a proportion that in a modern society, people have become addicted and need their daily doses or they feel dead, lose touch with the world and move around without purpose. The primary function of the media is to provide mind-shaping, opinion-forming stories. It can be political, philosophical, ethical and most often commercial.

The recent WikiLeaks dump raised more questions than answers. WikiLeaks is not something new. It had been digging skeletons out of other countries' closets for the last four years. It did not get into any trouble until it stumbled upon a huge stash of American secrets, a staggering 2,50,000 diplomatic cables, and managed to rub the most powerful state the wrong way. But even Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, has said that WikiLeaks is evolving and adopting journalistic principles. In short, it is trying to be become accountable and cutting out the harmful information. But we all were too happy to read the diplomats' undiplomatic comments like "Russian PM Putin the Alpha Dog", "Eccentric Gaddafi and his voluptuous Ukrainian nurse", "Tireless nightlife of Italy's ageing prime minister". All these left  the US red-faced.

Assange's arrest on some mysterious sexual assault charges and subsequent granting of bail by UK courts has been keenly watched by the world. The sanctions imposed on WikiLeaks by PayPal, Mastercard, Amazon and others are interpreted as a product of American governmental bullying rather than a public outcry. The attempt to cut off funding to WikiLeaks has led to sprouting of other similar sites as well as attack on Mastercard and others by hackers.

Did WikiLeaks overreach its limits? May be it did and so did the American authorities. Assange believed that by revealing these, he is doing good as governments have the ugly habit of abusing its power of secrecy. But some secrecy is necessary to all organizations, especially in international relations. The lives of those people who had passed on information to US diplomats out of goodwill or personal interest are now in danger.

The US can put Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old serviceman who is the source of the leak, and Assange on trial but the information is already out there somewhere in cyberspace. The US will not be able to hush WikiLeaks. It is ironical to see the US trying to muzzle WikiLeaks when it always promoted Internet, spoke against censorship in other countries and recently also hosted World Press Freedom Day. The Chinese and Russians must be watching with glee. The best lesson: attack the problem and not the symptoms. The only remedy is to manage secrets better. At least, the cables underscored the point that US diplomats are cool-headed, well-informed and very articulate with a good sense of humour.

What about our own sensational Radia Tape leaks? It showed how corporate lobbying has been juxtaposed with corruption. Nothing new about corruption in India! We all face it every day in every walk of life. But the sheer size of corruption and close link of politicians, businessmen, judges all are simply mind-boggling. All kinds of scams from 2G to land to ministerial berths kept tumbling out. The loss of several lakhs of rupees of revenue to the exchequer will upset us all tax-paying citizens. This even saw veteran journalists like Barkha Dutta and Vir Sangvi trying to defend their actions. Senior ministers, politicians seem to be apologizing for their tactless remarks. The most impressive in all these leaked conversations is Niira Radia herself. She comes across as a very efficient person who knows her job. She has never bad-mouthed anyone (in the tapes leaked till now) but others seem to be pouring their heart out to her. Even senior journalists keep messaging her for information. It raised serious questions about ways of news gathering, phone taping, lobbying and peddling. She surely has supplied the mass media with something to talk about every day. Not that anyone can come out with some broader lessons from those TV panel discussions. With so many panelists, each with their own opinion, an equally biased moderator, a TV audience with many could-have-been panelists and equally opinionated audience at home like me, it is difficult to come to any conclusion.

These tapes even tried to sully iconic Ratan Tata himself. The belief in Tata brand, and particularly in Ratan Tata, borders on superstition. We know that without engaging in lobbying, success in business is difficult. For the other business houses, such behaviour is expected, people can live with it. But for the public, Tata is the most trusted brand. It is like a child's wishful belief in fairy tales or Santa Clause getting crushed.

So, we continue to remain glued to TV screens or newspaper articles as the debate rages over what should be published or not published.

 

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THE SENTINEL

EDITORIAL

ANOTHER NEW YEAR  

DR JYOTSNA BHATTACHARJEE

T he New Year 2011 arrived in the city in the right royal style to the great joy of the residents. The arrival of the New Year is an occasion to celebrate, since it is big with hopes and promises. Whether they will be ever fulfilled, time alone will say. But still all we can do is to hope for something good, since hope springs eternal. New Year's Day is the right day for partying, feasting, dancing, picnicking — in short, for enjoying. New Year greetings cards were selling like cakes since the first week of December. It is such a joy to send and receive New Year cards. They brighten your days and bring abundant hope to the mind. As usual, preparations for celebrating New Year's Eve were made weeks ahead. The city shops, restaurants, bars and hotels have been glittering with bright lights, mini-Christmas trees, decorations and all of that lot.

If we look, we do not see any reason to feel grief at the departure of the old year — as discontent loomed large almost everywhere, as had been witnessed in all the years in the last few decades. The whole world has been rocked by violence as never before and we have been hearing about nothing but tragedy. Discontent, violence and frustrations seem to have enveloped the entire world like a cloak — and the voice of the people have been stifled. Innocent people are getting killed for no fault of theirs. It is not only in our country, but it has been happening all over the world. How can we forget all these heinous activities perpetrated by man against man? These crimes are endless, and it seems very strange that a rational human being can kill another human being without the slightest pang of remorse. It is said that God created man in his own image. If it is so, then how can man behave in this inhuman way?

What do the terrorists want to prove? As Mahatma Gandhi said, non-violence can be practised only by strong people and never by the weak. Violence indicates weakness and not strength. What is the point in placing a bomb at a place thronged by only common people?

We have been facing a surfeit of violence through the years. To list all these crimes we will need reams and reams of paper, but what is the use any way? Assam possibly has been facing the largest number of various crimes through all these years. Once Assam was a very peaceful State, and terrorism, violence or corruption were unheard of. But now the situation is entirely different. There was a time when a single case of killing or rape was enough to rock the populace. But now they do not affect us in the least. We swallow all these horrible news without a qualm and turn over to the next page of the newspaper. We do not feel the slightest grief over the plight of innocent people.

In the last year, various issues cropped up in the country. Communalism has raised its ugly head over and over again. Ethnic violence, rallies and processions have become the order of the day. The united Assamese society has been divided into various groups with their various demands. So many people have lost their precious lives, yet nobody bothers! Human life itself has become a dime a dozen.

We are facing innumerable problems and there seems to be no solution. Exorbitant price of essential commodities has broken the backbone of the society. The authority concerned seems to be least concerned about the plight of common people. And fuel prices are soaring upwards by leaps and bounds. They are all essential for our very existence. But who cares?

Then all these scams in high places rocked the entire nation, and till now controversies, allegations, protests are going on. The problem is that corruption has spread in such a dangerous way that you may not find an honest person even if you scour the entire length and breadth of the country. The Northeast too is not lagging behind in this regard. We simply cannot trust anybody. Man seems to have lost his humanity, and the Mahatma's Ramrajya has turned into a Utopian dream. We cannot see even a ray of hope.

In the backdrop of such holocaust, we have been celebrating the arrival of the New Year with hope and optimism. It is amazing really — how swift the year has passed. Last year's celebrations are still vivid in our minds, as if they happened only yesterday. Yet a whole year has passed — a year of shattered hopes for many. Let us hope that this year would be different and send a silent prayer to Providence.

For a while we may forget all these tragedies, which haunted us through the year. A New Year, big with promises, has arrived. But as a sceptical friend remarked caustically, "What is there to rave about the New Year? It is just like any other day — any other year. The only thing special about the New Year is that it has made you older and taken a few steps nearer to the grave." True, but it seems like blasphemy to talk about the New Year so irreverently. Repenting over the past or the inevitable does not help us in the least. We have to take life as it comes.

Let us then count life's blessings, dear reader, and think about tomorrow when the sun will shine brighter and dispel the clouds of darkness, sorrow and ignorance. Life is full of ups and downs, and if for some it is more downs than ups, so what? It is also time to make some New Year resolutions and follow them rigidly. These resolutions, if followed sincerely, would surely make us better human beings. Though we seem to have lost humanity, a little bit of it may still be lingering with us, which we have to bring out by making constant efforts. At least there is no harm in hoping for the best, is there? Let the New Year bring peace to this region of ours.

(The writer is a former Head of the Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

PEOPLE POWER IN TUNISIA

WIKILEAKS DOCUMENTS, WHICH DETAILED THE CORRUPTION AND KLEPTOCRACY OF THE TUNISIAN PRESIDENT'S REGIME, MIGHT HAVE BEEN A TRIGGER FOR THE UPHEAVAL.

The sheer speed with which Tunisians have toppled their authoritarian regime took many by surprise. As Tariq Alhomayed, editor-in-chief of the Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat, noted, "We were waiting for a war to break out in Lebanon, or a crisis to take place in Iraq, or a huge inferno to erupt in Iran, or chaos to occur anywhere else... Nobody talked about or paid much attention to what was happening there [in Tunisia]."


Just a few days ago US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that she would discuss the political turmoil sweeping Tunisia with the country's dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, "after the crisis subsided."

In a July, 2007 piece on Tunisia for Vanity Fair, journalist Christopher Hitchens, noting the country's relatively moderate character compared to neighboring regimes such as Libya, Algeria or Sudan, mused somewhat admiringly: "Who wouldn't want the alternative of an African Titoism, or perhaps an African Gaullism, where presidential rule keeps a guiding but not tyrannical hand?"


Now, with Ben Ali in exile and no alternative leadership having replaced him, the uncertainty of the new political reality is beginning to sink in.


WHAT CAUSED Ben Ali's speedy fall after 23 years of rule? WikiLeaks documents, which publicized on the blogosphere in embarrassing detail the corruption and kleptocracy of the Tunisian president's regime, might have been a trigger for the upheaval.


More likely, however, it was Mohamed Bouaziz – the unemployed vegetable-seller who set himself on fire outside a Tunisian government office last month, in protest against the devastating dearth of economic opportunities – who has become the martyr symbol around which the grassroots revolt has rallied. An embittered people, though relatively well-educated and less impoverished than many in this region, confronted a regime that was failing to create genuine political and economic opportunity.


And as was the case in Iran's failed Green Revolution of June 2009, the Internet has played a central role, with Nawaat – a group blog using Posterous, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to spread news and graphic footage of the protests – fanning the flames of discontent.


Numerous commentators, including leading Arab newspaper editors, have noted that the economic woes that brought about Ben-Ali's downfall have parallels elsewhere, particularly in Algeria, another country with a large young unemployed population with bleak prospects, and Jordan, where King Abdullah has in recent weeks responded to anti-government protests by announcing that he will temporarily reinstate subsidies on some basic commodities. We might be witness to a spillover effect in coming months as disgruntled masses across the Middle East clamor for an end to corrupt authoritarian regimes.


However, it might also be the uniquely secular character of Tunisia's uprising that has contributed so critically to its success and that sets it apart from opposition movements in Algeria or Egypt.

As Michael Koplow pointed out in Foreign Policy, "There is an appreciation within the corridors of power in Tunis that the Islamists are not at the top of the pile of the latest unrest. The protesters, though they represent a threat to the political elite's vested interests, have not directly challenged the reigning creed of state secularism."

This might explain why military officers – who had been marginalized by the regime as it lavished money on family members and corrupt business elites – demonstrated a willingness to stand down and protect protesters from the police and internal security services.


THE PRESSING issue at hand is to try to ensure that Tunisia undergoes a smooth transition to a stable democracy founded on the country's relatively large middle class, high level of education and secular culture. The EU, and in particular France, are in a strategically advantageous position to facilitate such a transition.


If Tunisians' will for change is channeled into the formation of the Arab world's first truly democratic state, it could serve as a catalyst for additional constructive upheavals elsewhere. If, however, the political situation in Tunisia deteriorates into chaos, this could open the way for extremist elements to capitalize on the disorder and ruin hopes for positive change.


The surprising speed with which Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's regime was brought down serves as a sobering warning of the unpredictability of Middle East politics. But this unstoppable display of the people's will also constitutes a potential beacon of hope for Arabs aspiring to live free lives throughout the region.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPINION

REALITY CHECK: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

BY JEFF BARAK 

 

Our senior diplomat, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, should have been sent packing long ago.

More than 18 months ago, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman paid a 10-day visit to South America, the first by a senior Israeli minister in many years. At the time, his critics scoffed, saying he was only making the journey because the doors of the foreign ministries of the Western world were closed to him due to the distasteful anti-Israeli- Arab election campaign he had run as leader of Israel Beiteinu.


The Foreign Ministry was quick to run to its minister's defense, and issued a statement saying "the visit is meant to emphasize the high importance the Foreign Ministry ascribes to Latin America."


Lieberman visited Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Colombia. The results of this swing are now clear.


In recent weeks, seven South American states, including Brazil and Argentina, have recognized an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, despite the fierce opposition of Jerusalem and Washington. It seems that Lieberman's trailblazing tour will not go down in the history books as one of the highlights of Israeli diplomacy.

In a weekend newspaper interview, Lieberman brushed off these declarations of recognition, saying they had no real, practical meaning. But as more and more countries recognize an independent Palestine, there will come a tipping point, after which Israel will find itself diplomatically isolated and a new reality will be imposed on Jerusalem from the outside. Last month, for example, a group of 26 senior former European leaders who held power during the past decade called for strong measures against Israel in response to its settlement policy and refusal to abide by international law.


OF COURSE, our poor international standing is not just the work of Lieberman. The responsibility lies with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who appointed the most unsuitable person possible for the role of foreign minister. And yet Netanyahu seems oblivious to the damage Lieberman has caused to the country's image, even when he has repeatedly and publicly humiliated the premier.


Choosing the world's most prominent diplomatic stage, the UN General Assembly, Lieberman last year tore into ribbons Netanyahu's protestations that Israel was seeking a way to return to direct negotiations with the Palestinians over a final-status peace accord.


In what former UN ambassador Gabriela Shalev diplomatically described as an "undiplomatic" speech, Lieberman proposed a "two-stage" solution to the conflict that "could take a few decades," and said a final-status agreement would entail "not land-for-peace, but rather exchange of populated territory."


In other words, Lieberman used the world's stage to promote Israel Beiteinu's election manifesto of stripping Israeli-Arabs of their citizenship rather than present the international community with the government's official position.

Just to make it clear to Netanyahu that this was not a one-time slip of the tongue, when the prime minister recently declared that it was possible to reach a final-status agreement within 12 months, the foreign minister helpfully remarked that his evaluation "was not realistic." It's hard to think of any other country in which the prime minister would allow a subordinate to act in such an undermining manner.


AND WHEN not seeking to embarrass the prime minister directly, or concentrating on ways to improve the country's standing in the world, Lieberman is busy with other matters, most notably Israel Beiteinu's instigation of a bill to establish a Knesset committee to investigate human rights groups.


As Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor noted, the idea of Knesset members investigating groups that have different views "is a very dangerous thing. It reminds us of phenomena in other places which we do not wish to imitate. When the freedom of expression and the freedom to express a view are threatened, Israeli democracy is also threatened."


Such criticism is water off a duck's back for Lieberman, who rather than address it, prefers crude attacks on his critics, calling them feinschmeckers ("dandies"). In his weekend interview with Yediot Aharonot, he even went further, and compared Bennie Begin and Meridor, who voted against the bill, to self-hating Jews who come to the aid of anti-Semites.


Lieberman's failures as foreign minister should have been enough to warrant his being sent packing, but due to the electoral threat he poses to Netanyahu from the Right, our spineless prime minister has shown a total disregard for our standing in the world and preferred, instead, to keep Lieberman as our senior diplomat.



However, this situation cannot be tolerated any longer. As well as besmirching this country's name internationally, Lieberman is debasing its political culture with his personal attacks on leading members of the government and damaging the very foundations of our democracy through his determination to begin political investigations of human rights groups with whom he disagrees.


Such a person does not deserve to be in the Knesset, never mind hold cabinet rank.


The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPINION

JEWISH IDEAS LATELY: THE HAMAS-FATAH TWO-STEP

BY ELLIOT JAGER 

 

This may be a good time to remind ourselves what divides the two rival movements and what difference that division makes.

Disturbed by the diplomatic deadlock over negotiations, many Westerners, and some Israelis, have focused on the need to accommodate the demands of Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority. For, they suggest, the alternative would be much worse: namely, being forced to deal with the chronic and openly violent rejectionism of Hamas, the terrorist movement that controls the Gaza Strip. Whatever the merits of this analysis – one might argue that it actually removes any onus on Fatah to meet Israel halfway – this may be a good time to remind ourselves what divides the two rival movements and what difference that division makes.

Fatah was founded in the 1950s with the straightforward, nonsectarian goal of destroying Israel via "armed struggle" – this, at a time when Arabs fully controlled the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. Under the mercurial Yasser Arafat, Fatah came to dominate Palestinian politics. In 1993, abandoning immediate armed liberation for a nebulous alternative strategy, Arafat signed the Oslo Accords, which collapsed in bloodshed seven years later. The strategy of today's Fatah, led by Abbas, is if anything more opaque than Arafat's.

No such opacity afflicts Hamas, however. An offshoot of the virulently rejectionist and anti-Semitic Muslim Brotherhood, it came into its own in 1987. Considering Palestine a Muslim trust, it saw and still sees Islam as engaged in a zero-sum religious war with the Jews. Hamas viewed with contempt Arafat's duplicities, his rumored personal decadence and the PA's endemic corruption. It is crystal clear on its intention to eliminate the State of Israel.


In January 2006, a year after Arafat's death, Hamas overwhelmingly defeated Fatah in the PA elections. As a stopgap measure, the Saudis engineered a unity government, an experiment that crashed and burned when Hamas expelled Fatah from Gaza in June 2007 and set up its own regime there. Since then, it has persecuted Fatah followers in Gaza, while Fatah has continued to arrest Hamas men in the West Bank.


If the divisions between the two groups are unmistakable, down to their opposing patrons – Fatah relies on the ostensible moderate Arab states, while Hamas gets its main backing from Shi'ite Iran – there are also areas of seeming similarity, and some of the differences are matters of degree rather than of essence.

Thus, both camps suffer from fairly severe internal schisms. Fearing a putsch, Abbas expelled his former Gaza strongman Muhammad Dahlan from the West Bank. For its part, Hamas inside Gaza is at odds with the movement's Damascus-based leadership; and even within Gaza itself, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh holds little sway over the gunmen of Izzadin al-Kassam, a group even more unalterably intransigent than he.

AS IN Gaza under Hamas, moreover, Fatah-dominated media in the West Bank and the Fatah-directed curriculum of PA schools ceaselessly teach the illegitimacy of Israel and celebrate "resistance" through "martyrdom."

As for Abbas's own mulish refusal to negotiate or to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, it sometimes resembles only a paler and dodgier version of Hamas's sweeping rejectionism.


In the end, though, and nuances aside, there is no denying the reality or the crippling effect of the divisions, just as there is no denying the spoiler role played by Hamas or Abbas's genuine fear of overthrow by that organization should talks lead to a genuine peace. Rank-and-file Palestinians, who hold both factions jointly responsible for the split, know there can be no "Palestine" without reconciliation. And there have indeed been episodic if superficial and unconvincing signs of rapprochement, with intermediaries continuing to work toward a meeting between senior figures in the opposing camps.


What would such a rapprochement produce, however? As things stand now, the price of burying the hatchet would likely be an even more obdurate policy if now a unified one. But the greater likelihood is that the hatchet will remain unburied, and that the Hamas-Fatah divide will last for a very long time. And for good reason: The real question, both for Palestinian society and for the future of the conflict, remains who is going to lead the Palestinian people and to where. Until that question is resolved within and between the feuding parties, little else can be accomplished.



This is a singularly inconvenient but intractable truth. By ignoring it, by industriously campaigning instead for will-o'-the-wisp ideas like unilateral Palestinian statehood or an imposed solution, by skewering practically any internal Israeli measure, from the mundane to the imprudent, as heralding the death knell of the two-state solution, "peaceloving" Westerners and Israelis alike serve only to encourage the most extreme among the real enemies of peace.


The writer is contributing editor on www.jewishideasdaily.com, where this article was first published, and former Jerusalem Post editorial page editor.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPINION

THE HIGHS AND LOWS IN THE RAOUL WALLENBERG MYSTERY

BY STAS HOLONDAK 

 

Sixty-six years after his disappearance, Israel has a moral obligation to find out why the Swedish diplomat was detained and what really happened to him.

January 17, 2011 marks 66 years since a historic injustice was done to Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, a man designated by Israel as a Righteous among the Nations.


The Russian government maintains that Soviet troops, who liberated Hungary from Nazi Germany, detained and then transferred Wallenberg to the Soviet secret police (NKVD) in 1945. The Russians claim further that Wallenberg was executed in the Lubyanka, the headquarters of the NKVD in Moscow, in 1947. The Kremlin, however, does not offer any proof of this. The account of his execution is based entirely on hearsay. What's more, several former prisoners in the gulag claimed to have met Wallenberg years after 1947. If alive, Wallenberg would now be 98.

Wallenberg is famous for saving thousands of Hungarian Jews from extermination. He was a diplomat but his methods were the opposite of diplomacy. Inside Nazi-occupied Hungary, Wallenberg ran an enterprise that distributed Swedish schutz-pass – a document that protected its bearers from Nazi detention – and harbored Jews in buildings marked as a Swedish territory.

He accomplished the unimaginable by befriending, bribing and threatening Gestapo and Arrow Cross (Hungarian Nazi Party) bosses with inevitable prosecution, promising to put a good word for them. "The Wallenberg Effect," an article in The Journal of Leadership Studies, cites Sandor Ardai, one of Wallenberg's drivers, who recalled how he intercepted a trainload of Jews about to leave for Auschwitz: "He climbed up on the roof of the train and began handing in protective passes through the doors which were not yet sealed. He ignored orders from the Germans for him to get down, then the Arrow Cross men began shooting and shouting at him to go away. He ignored them and calmly continued handing out passports to the hands that were reaching out for them. I believe the Arrow Cross men deliberately aimed over his head, as not one shot hit him, which would have been impossible otherwise. I think this is what they did because they were so impressed by his courage. After Wallenberg had handed over the last of the passports he ordered all those who had one to leave the train and walk to the caravan of cars parked nearby, all marked in Swedish colors. I don't remember exactly how many, but he saved dozens off that train, and the Germans and Arrow Cross were so dumbfounded they let him get away with it."

WHAT WALLENBERG did for the Jewish people went beyond humanitarian, nonviolent resistance. This was an open war on fascism fought from within by him and his team. Then, shortly after the Red Army liberated Budapest, Wallenberg vanished forever.

The world has not forgotten Wallenberg. For decades Swedish governments quizzed the Kremlin about him.

Simon Wiesenthal, a Nazi hunter, collected testimonies about him. Prof. Guy von Dardel – Raoul Wallenberg's brother – searched for him until his final days. The efforts of Von Dardel and other researchers are documented on www.raoul-wallenberg.eu. The US and Hungry, having named public spaces in his honor, are not indifferent to the fate of their honorary citizen.

Yet there is only one nation in the whole world that has a motivation to search for Raoul Wallenberg. The only nation that tracked down Adolf Eichmann years after his crimes. The only nation that keeps sending school children on a trip to the death camps of Poland every year. The only nation that should ask itself what is more important, flying warplanes over Auschwitz half a century later, or finding a man who faced Eichmann at the height of the Holocaust? Wallenberg is just one person out of millions of other innocents, the vast majority of them Soviet citizens, whose life was destroyed by the NKVD and whose fate remains unknown. There is, however, only one more well-known case where, after 72 years, people are still looking for answers and, judging by the recent developments, they are about to receive them. This is the case of what is known as the Katyn massacre – the wipeout of Polish officer corps by the NKVD in forest of Katyn in 1939.

Progress in Wallenberg and Katyn cases comes in tidal waves caused by the gravitational pool of the Kremlin. At times, when it moved toward the West, the high tides carried in bits and pieces of shipwrecked lives onto Western shores.

• 1989 – The Soviets returned Wallenberg's personal belongings to his family, including his passport and cigarette case.

• 1990 – The first and last president of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, admitted that the NKVD had executed the Polish officers at Katyn.

• 1991 – A Swedish-Russian working group was created to search for Wallenberg.

• 1991 – After an internal investigation, the Russian government announced that Wallenberg was executed inside NKVD headquarters in 1947.

• 1991 and 1992 – Russian president Boris Yeltsin ordered top secret documents about Katyn transferred to Poland.

• 2007 – A number of files pertinent to Wallenberg were turned over to the chief rabbi of Russia by the Russian government.

• 2008 – In an interview with a Polish newspaper, Vladimir Putin called Katyn a political crime.


On May 8, 2010, Russia handed over to Poland documents from the criminal case launched in the 1990s to investigate Katyn massacre.


THE PROGRESS in the Wallenberg case is impossible without Putin's direct intervention and today, more than ever before, Israel has a very good chance to get it. Twenty years ago, when 15 Soviet republics turned into 15 independent countries, no analyst would have predicted that today Russians wouldn't need visas to visit Israel, that a Russian army would procure Israeli arms and that Russia would show more understanding for Israel's selfdefense than some countries in Western Europe. Annual trade between Russia and Israel stands in billions of dollars from just a few millions in 1991. This vodka glass is only half full but, undisputedly, the Kremlin no longer treats Israel as a hostile proxy of the US.

 

Russian-Israeli ties are supported by Putin whose views are somewhat surprisingly more pro-Israel than those seen at a Russian grassroots level. Unlike his predecessor, Putin also enjoys full control of Russian Security Service (FSB), the ultimate successor to the NKVD. If Putin decides to help Israel, the search for Raoul Wallenberg, just like in Katyn case, can finally go beyond lip service.

Israel has a moral obligation to find out why Wallenberg was detained and what really happened thereafter.

This is an opportunity for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who purportedly has good relations with the Kremlin, to use his native Russian to bring a closure to the Wallenberg family and to the millions of people who care about Raoul Wallenberg. Unfortunately, Russian anti-Semitism, though officially suppressed, is still in the mainstream. Factors like the economic downturn in Russia may also affect the Kremlin's attitude toward Israel.

As the abrupt deterioration of Israeli-Turkish ties indicates, relations like these can't be taken for granted.


Today, at the peak of the high tide, the Jewish state can issue an Israeli schutz-pass for Raoul Wallenberg.

The writer, originally from the former Soviet Union, now lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPINION

THE TRUE NARRATIVE

BY JEREMY RUDEN 

 

 In my last column, I wrote about the different methods used by our enemies to perpetuate anti-Semitism, using examples from stories published in the international news media throughout December. Some of the people who wrote and spoke to me about the column disagreed with my claim that these are really attacks against Jews, saying that these lies are really targeting Israel and its politics.


So is there a real difference between anti- Semitism and "anti-Israelism"? Of course and, in almost all cases, there should be no doubt on how to tell the two apart. Anti- Semitism is ingrained in the subconscious of our enemies and it has nothing to do with what Israel does or does not do.


Let's take some examples from Muslim countries in Africa which have been in the news recently.

 

In Tunisia, former president Zine el- Abidine Ben Ali is now an exile following the civilian uprising which began a few weeks ago. Citizens took to the streets and rioted following the government's decision to double prices on basic foodstuffs as if the corruption and sky-high unemployment weren't enough. The result of the riots were predictable – hundreds dead and injured. Bloodshed is what the world must expect when dictatorships take action against their own people.


Watching the coverage of these events, Muslim media outlets went and did "man on the street" interviews to get reactions from protesters. "It's so bad," one woman said, "even the Jews wouldn't treat us like this."


Not only was this woman ignorant enough to make this statement, the TV station also felt it served its purpose by showing just how desperate the situation has become.


Keep in mind that Tunisia is considered a "moderate" Arab state. It's just a corrupt dictatorship instead of a corrupt, religious dictatorship. You don't have to be a political science major to figure out what they think of the Jews in a radical Arab state.


Another reason people took to the streets in Tunisia was one of the recently released WikiLeaks cables which describes the country as a despotic police state. No surprises there – but wait – remember anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists are claiming the WikiLeaks fiasco is a Mossad plot.


Therefore the riots in Tunisia are Israel's fault. Surely you see the logic. I wonder, now that Ben Ali is gone, if those same anti-Semites will credit or blame the Jews for the results of the revolt? NOT TO be outdone was the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, a man whose government hosted Osama bin Laden in the 1990s and is still wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide in Darfur.


The people of south Sudan went to vote on independence from the north. The referendum was the key element of the peace accord that ended of the Sudanese civil war in 2005.


Now that it looks like the southern Sudanese want separation, Bashir realizes that the referendum might have been a mistake, especially since the south controls about 80 percent of the country's oil production.


Arab media ran pictures of "radical" Muslims burning pro-independence voters to death. Once again bloodshed is the way to keep the people in line in dictatorships.

As for Bashir, he was interviewed saying that the move for southern independence was very dangerous for the entire country and – you guessed it – an international Zionist plot. Nothing like blaming the Jews to get your people all riled up.


To folks in their right mind, these kinds of accusations sound preposterous, but they have to be taken very seriously.

In countries where the literacy rate is between 20%-60% (depending on who you want to believe), and there is no way for people to access or process alternate versions of the "truth," lies become fact. Today, there are no bigger lies in the Arab world than those being told about the Jews.


Not only do they make no effort in trying to hide it, they flaunt it.


These examples – and there are hundreds more – have absolutely nothing to do with Israel's actions or politics.

How can any Westerner excuse accusations against a nation which has not actually committed the actions for which it has been blamed? Israel makes mistakes and legitimate criticism is something we should all expect and even encourage. As with every country, we are constantly changing our policies, strategic assessments and so on. When that same criticism becomes automatic, that's anti-Israel. If a party condemns Israel's actions spontaneously, how could it be otherwise? Everything else, be it conspiracy theories, blood libels, demonizing or outlandish statements are all anti-Semitism, pure and simple. They are all following methods which date back thousands of years, designed to blame Jews for all of the problems.


No one should accept these practices.


They represent an ancient injustice which has merely morphed in the 21st century.


It is up to every Jew to be outraged when s/he hears even a shade of anti- Semitism and to challenge it at every corner. It's just as important that the State of Israel make it a national priority to do everything in its power to combat anti-Semitism just as strongly as it fights our enemies on the battlefield.


The writer is an independent media consultant, an adjunct lecturer at IDC Herzliya's School of Communications and a former producer at the Fox News Channel in New York. Jeremy@jeremyruden.com

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPINION

SPAIN, JEWS AND ISRAEL: 25 YEARS AFTER FORMAL RELATIONS

BY DANIEL S. MARIASCHIN 



The 25th anniversary of formalization of Spanish-Israel relations marks great opportunity to renew, review, remember sometimes glorious and sometimes tragic history.

The history of the Jews and Spain was rocky for centuries, with Spain giving Jews a "choice" of expulsion, forced conversion or death in 1492. But a new chapter opened 25 years ago when Spain and Israel established diplomatic relations on January 17, 1986. It was the first time that Spain recognized the State of Israel, and it was a watershed moment for both nations.

What has happened since? The relationship between Spain and Israel, and Spain and Jews has hit a rocky, but hopefully not irreversible, patch.

In what could be a more than problematic development, Spain upgraded its diplomatic relationship with the Palestinian Authority this last fall, perhaps foreshadowing its recognition of a Palestinian state. That possibility, outside of bilateral negotiations, would undermine and jeopardize an already precarious peace process by removing Israel from the equation.

Another disturbing sign of trouble: the Pew Research Center's 2008 Global Attitudes Project found 46 percent of Spanish residents held an unfavorable view of Jews. Just three years earlier, 21% held an unfavorable view of Jews in a similar survey. These shocking numbers propelled Spain to the top of the list of European nations with a poor view of Jews.

To be sure, this is a distressing development.

But the poll cannot be used only to define the relationship between Spain and Jews and Spain and Israel.

These broadly held attitudes must also be viewed as a teachable moment.


TO SOME extent, the Spanish government has acknowledged the problem of anti-Jewish sentiment. In February 2007, Spain launched Casa Sefarad-Israel in Madrid to teach the public about Judaism and Jewish culture. The center also studies the Sephardi culture as "integral" to Spanish culture, and aims to "promote the development of the ties of friendship and cooperation between Spanish and Israeli societies."

Upon its launch, Casa Sefarad-Israel was described by Spain's foreign minister as "an instrument of public diplomacy."

Such a program is vital in a nation with only 40,000 Jews out of a population of nearly 46 million.

It is important to review history in considering the Spanish-Jewish-Israel connection. At the time of the Inquisition, Spain was home to one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe, and Jews had a deep impact on all aspects of society. Even now, more than 500 years later, the imprint left behind by Spain's Jews is vital to understanding the country.


With so few Jews in the country, it is highly likely that most Spanish citizens never encounter them, and that could account for some of the negative views. Personal contact could help change hearts and minds. That's where nongovernmental organizations, civil society and Jewish groups come in. These groups must work to bridge the knowledge gap through community outreach and educational endeavors.


It is incumbent on the whole of Spanish society to partner with these groups to teach tolerance and understanding. The media can also be helpful in that process.


While many leaders may appreciate Jewish contributions to Spain, an understanding of the larger Middle East picture is less apparent. Given the choice, Spanish governments have too often chosen to view the Israel-Palestinian issue through a narrow lens, which more often than not does not appear to be objective. The continuing impression is that too often the relationship is with the Arab world to the exclusion of Israel.

This narrative presents a misguided path that government leaders must be careful to avoid.


Former prime minister Jose Maria Aznar's defense of Israel, and his understanding of its predicament as part of the broader Middle East, embodies the best of what future relations could be. Last June, he wrote a powerful defense of Israel's predicament for The Times of London.


At the same time, he launched the "Friends of Israel" group to offer a strong counterpoint to what often seems like an international campaign to demonize and delegitimize Israel.


A friend like this emerging from Spain is perhaps the best chance for an attitude adjustment within Spain. Even out of office, such leading by example can help reset the tone for his country.


The 25th anniversary of the formalization of Spanish-Israel relations marks a great opportunity to renew and review and remember a sometimes glorious and sometimes tragic history in Spanish-Jewish relations, while looking ahead to future collaboration.


The writer is executive vice president of B'nai B'rith International.

 

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HAARTEZ

OPINION

DICTATORS AREN'T FOREVER

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE CIVIL UNREST IN TUNISIA IS IMPOSSIBLE TO EXAGGERATE.

It's impossible to exaggerate the importance of the civil unrest in Tunisia. It wasn't just about ousting a dictator, but about a display of power by people that Middle Eastern countries regard as insignificant and powerless - as bound by the whims of the regime, their obedience taken for granted.

This isn't a revolution fomented externally or a violent coup, similar to what the United States did in Iraq. Because of this, it is more than a Tunisian revolution; it is, first of all, a revolution in outlook, and it would behoove every repressive regime in the world to take it seriously. It's no wonder, then, that other Arab countries are regarding the Tunisian uprising with fear and worry.

This isn't the first civil revolution in the greater Middle East. It was preceded by the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and the 2005 civil uprising in Lebanon, which brought about Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon. Both these examples show the Tunisian revolution needs to be handled carefully. Ousting a repressive regime does not guarantee stability, civil liberties or a better government, but it does create a window of opportunity. International support is needed to make sure the revolution brings a democratic government that will carry out the desires of the Tunisian people.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly described the revolution as an indication of the region's instability. His response is unfortunate, and shows he is stubbornly clinging to the status quo. Of all people, it is Netanyahu, who for years demanded that the Arabs institute democratic rule as a condition for a stable peace, who is now siding with autocracies in the name of stability.

The citizens of Tunisia, who were briefly brought closer to Israel by the Oslo Accords, deserve the best wishes of Israel's democracy-loving citizens. Instead of condemning the so-called Jasmine Revolution as a threat to regional stability, Israel's government must use the opportunity to convince the citizens of Tunisia and other Arab countries that it deserves their trust and that it intends to renounce the occupation and the settlements, just as France no longer occupies Algeria or Tunisia.

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HAARTEZ

OPINION

MISSING ABU MAZEN

IF PROGRESS IS NOT MADE IN THE PEACE PROCESS IN THE COMING MONTHS, THIS WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY BE MAHMOUD ABBAS' LAST YEAR IN OFFICE.

BY AKIVA ELDAR

On Saturday, Mahmoud Abbas celebrated the sixth anniversary of his inauguration as president, or as the official title goes, chairman of the Palestinian Authority. If in the coming months the negotiations on a permanent status agreement continue to wither on the vine as the settlements continue to send out green shoots, this will almost certainly be his last year in office.

The American administration has marked September 2011 as the crucial date. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has made every effort to besmirch Abbas, says the president has of late made much use of the phrase "I'm fed up." True seekers of a democratic and Jewish Israel living in peace alongside an independent Palestine will miss him.

"If we get rid of [Yasser] Arafat," former Mossad head Shabtai Shavit promised in an interview to Yedioth Ahronoth at the end of 2001, "there is no one who will step into his shoes as someone who opens doors to world leaders, and the Palestinian issue will drop from the international agenda."

Shavit also described Abbas as being from the Bahai "ethnic group" (rather than religion ) and his chances of succeeding Arafat were therefore just as high as a Samaritan's chances of getting elected president of Israel.

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called Abbas "a plucked chicken." To ensure the new president would not gain any altitude, Sharon insisted the disengagement plan would disregard his existence and chose to serve up the Gaza Strip to Hamas.

Abbas found himself landed with a quarrelsome Palestinian leadership and a PA filled with Arafat's yes-men. The security organizations were addicted to the "revolving door" culture and to receiving baksheesh in envelopes. Hamas was sending tentacles into the West Bank and threatening to make it a clone of Gaza. U.S. President George W. Bush allowed Israel to dissociate itself from his road map. The European Union was fawning to the Americans, while the Arab countries did their duty by issuing empty threats to withdraw the Arab League's peace initiative.

Six years later, the government of Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is going down in the textbooks as a model of an establishment fulfilling its civil and security goals under foreign occupation. Neither man hesitates to condemn the use of terror or disassociate himself publicly from the Al-Aqsa intifada. Objective security services, headed by Israeli representatives, are full of praise for their colleagues in Nablus, Jenin and Hebron.

The xenophobia on the part of the establishment and the rabbis has denied Israel the credibility to complain of incitement in the Palestinian media. At a time when unilateral moves by Israel, first and foremost the expansion of the Jewish settlements and the undermining of the status quo in Jerusalem are perceived as violating international law and the international consensus, a unilateral Palestinian move - receiving international recognition of Palestine - is perceived abroad as legitimate.

One after another, more countries are declaring their recognition of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders and upping the level of the PLO legations in their capitals. (About 100 countries that were members of the Non-Aligned Movement declared their recognition 22 years ago, in the wake of the Palestinian Declaration of Independence and the Palestine Liberation Organization's recognition of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.) Fayyad has not hesitated to declare the establishment of an international airport in the West Bank - a definite indicator of sovereignty.

Abbas' musings on retirement stem from his increasing frustration with the Obama administration's limp policy (if expressing disappointment with Defense Minister Ehud Barak can even be called a "policy"). The U.S. president is sticking to his refusal to declare that the negotiations be based on the 1967 borders. Moreover, the Americans are refraining from issuing any report on the positions held by each side, or from revealing who has shown a map of a permanent status agreement and offered an outline of security arrangements, and who is plucking excuses out of thin air to maintain diplomatic ambiguity.

The head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Saeb Erekat, who was invited to Washington along with Yitzhak Molcho, Netanyahu's representative, reported over the weekend that the Americans are looking for "new ways" to get out of the dead end. These efforts cannot continue indefinitely.

This March, when the heads of the Arab League will convene in Iraq to discuss their 2002 peace initiative, Abbas will be celebrating his 76th birthday. If the most pragmatic Palestinian leader we've seen in recent years admits he has failed, who will we get in his stead?

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HAARTEZ

OPINION

WHO'S AFRAID OF TUNISIA?

THE CABINET AND THE KNESSET HAVE CHOSEN TO IGNORE THE REASONS THAT ISRAEL'S NGOS, CHARITIES AND VOLUNTEER ORGANIZATIONS HAVE BECOME POWERFUL.

BY MERAV MICHAELI

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday characterized the popular revolution in Tunisia as an example of "instability in our region." While Western leaders (and the Arab League!) praise the great achievement of the freedom struggle and the ousting of a tyrannical despot, Netanyahu does not see achievement in civil protest. He only wants "stability to return," with or without freedom.

Perhaps he actually does see, and that is why he didn't say anything. Dr. Daniel Zisenwine is a research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, of Tel Aviv University, specializing in North Africa. He explained in an interview that it was not the political opposition that brought down President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali: "They are only fragments of parties, in a very weak position ... and mainly busy fighting among themselves." Sound familiar? The strong elements in Tunisia, Zisenwine said, are the trade unions and nongovernmental organizations, which "suddenly woke up and could awaken public life in the country a little more." Maybe that's why Netanyahu is backing up Lieberman's remarks and actions with regard to human rights organizations. He is "afraiiid," as Netanyahu once famously said about the left.

Israeli civil society organizations have amassed considerable power over the years; not only the so-called leftist organizations, but ones dealing with issues like poverty, workers' rights and violence against women and children. All of them were created in order to fill the gaps left by the state, which for its part was all too happy to continue walking away from problems that someone else was there to take on. The neglect is so great that Israel's third sector - NGOs, charities and volunteer organizations - is among the biggest in the world. As such, it has quite a bit of power.

Now comes the backlash. The Knesset and the cabinet have suddenly discovered the power these groups have, and they want it back. For now the war is against "political" groups, but we can anticipate efforts to take control of charities, because they too are political. They too are involved in human rights, even if their human beings are women, teens, Ethiopians or the poor.

But in this war the cabinet and the Knesset have chosen to ignore the reasons these groups became powerful. They can make false claims about foreign funding, but that is not the source of their power. The source of their power is the vacuum, the criminal policies of Israel's governments over the last 40 years. The source of their power is a government that is evading its duties to care for all of its citizens and to end the occupation, and a Knesset that supports the government instead of putting it in its place. That is the reason this war will not help the government and the Knesset. The work of these groups stems from deep commitment and the tangible, existential needs they meet. And because the Israeli government is increasingly abandoning its citizens, these organizations are not about to disappear.

Unfortunately, these organizations also serve as a pressure valve. As Prof. Yagil Levy explained ("Making the occupation more convenient," Haaretz, January 11, 2011) the byproduct of the activities of "leftist groups" is the preservation of the occupation. In the same way, organizations such as Latet, Elem and Bizchut allow the state to continue shirking its responsibility to its citizens. According to Zisenwine, behind the revolution in Tunisia is "a well-educated, pro-Western population, combined with a blend of economic distress, openly recognized corruption, that in any case was known, the president's iron fist and more. Had Ben Ali consulted me in advance I would have told him to ease up a little, to give a little more freedom to the media and the Internet," Zisenwine said.

If only Netanyahu's and Lieberman's bad intentions of restricting personal freedom and civil rights in Israel would lead to the opposite result. Perhaps, if they don't permit the pressure to escape, the much-needed revolution will finally happen here.

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HAARTEZ

OPINION

 

ISRAEL HAS ALREADY STRUCK

IT IS GRADUALLY BECOMING CLEAR THAT ISRAELI INTELLIGENCE, IN COOPERATION WITH ITS AMERICAN COUNTERPARTS, HAS MADE A MILITARY STRIKE ON IRAN'S NUCLEAR FACILITIES REDUNDANT.

BY YOSSI MELMAN

Israel will not attack Iran. At least not in the next few years. It will not attack, first and foremost, because the United States opposes such a move. Israel has never taken any independent step on a strategic issue of global importance without first coordinating or consulting with its allies, or at least without reaching the conclusion that the move would be received favorably in Washington. Israel will not attack Iran because its leadership is divided over the issue, and most decision makers at the operational and political levels, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, are concerned that adventurism could be disastrous.

Israel will not strike because this would mean that Iran, Hezbollah and not unlikely, also Hamas (the chances of Syria joining in are minor), will respond with massive missile barrages targeting population centers and strategic sites - including the Dimona reactor, power plants, military basis and airports.

There is also another reason, which is gradually becoming clearer and bolsters the assessment that an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear installations and support systems (aerial defense, communications, command and control) is not expected in the coming years. Such a strike would be redundant. According to foreign reports, Israeli intelligence, in cooperation with its American counterparts, has made such a strike redundant.

For a few months now, experts around the world have been trying to understand why Iran's nuclear program has been delayed, delays which have primarily manifested themselves in the partial shutdown of centrifuges at the Natanz facility. Until about 18 months ago, Iran had some 10,000 active centrifuges there. Now, according to the reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, only 4,000 of them are operational.

The P-1 model of centrifuges are old and tend to become damaged; their operation requires staff with excellent technical skills. Even American experts who tried to master the P-1, according to The New York Times, ran into difficulties, in part because of its relatively primitive design.

However, according to the Times report yesterday, the ones who did succeed in getting the centrifuges to work were teams of experts from the Israel Atomic Energy Commission and Israeli intelligence. They had set up a model of the Natanz installation at the Dimona plant and learned how the centrifuges worked. This enabled hi-tech experts from Israeli intelligence to put together a sophisticated program known as the Stuxnet Worm, which was then inserted into the control and operation systems of the Natanz facility. The program entered the computer networks, took over the systems operating the machinery (manufactured by the German firm Siemens), and caused serious damage to the centrifuges. According to the report, as many as a fifth of the centrifuges have become inoperable as a result.

There are disagreements over the extent of the damage inflicted on Tehran's nuclear program by the worm and other sabotage efforts which have been attributed to Western, including Israeli, intelligence services - such as the establishment of shell companies that sold flawed equipment to Iran. Meir Dagan, who recently stepped down from heading the Mossad, and who is considered to be primarily responsible for this sabotage work, can proudly announce that Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons has now been pushed back and will not manifest itself before 2015.

However long the delay may be, it is clear that it has given Israel and the West some breathing room. Experts in the United States and Europe have assessed, on the basis of knowledge of the air force's capabilities, that even the most successful strike would have delayed the Iranian nuclear program no more than three years - and this does not even take into account the number of pilots who would not have come home from the mission. The intelligence operation that has been attributed to Israel achieved this delay without any casualties or complications.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OUR VIEW ON HEALTH LAW: CALLING IT A 'JOB KILLER' DOESN'T MAKE IT SO

 

In 2009, the Democrats who controlled Washington could see that voters' top priority was jobs, jobs, jobs. So they focused on ... health care reform.

 

In 2010, the Republicans took America's pulse and concluded that voters still want jobs, jobs, jobs. So the new GOP majority in the House has also made health care — namely repealing the law enacted last year — its first priority.

 

Go figure.

 

Each party has dealt with this disconnect in its own way. The Democrats reasoned that the economy was recovering and that the public would come to embrace their health care measure as an important addition to financial security. They're still waiting.

 

Republicans have opted for hollow rhetoric. They simply insert the words "job killing" before any mention of the health care law. It's in the title of the repeal bill, expected to be voted on Wednesday. And House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, used the term seven times in a 14-minute news conference on the first day of the new Congress.

 

Simplistic labels, such as the effort to rebrand the estate tax as the "death tax," can be smart politics if they subtly alter people's perceptions. But a heavy-handed approach like this, which tells people what to think without any explanation for why, is unlikely to be effective. Not only that, it flies in the face of reality.

 

The evidence that the medical care reform law will be a job-killer is slim to none. While there is no shortage of rosy or pessimistic assessments produced by groups on either side of this debate, the few independent studies of the law's impact on jobs have offered up resounding shrugs. In 2009, researchers at the RAND Corp. and the Lewin Group said its overall job impact would be minimal.

 

The reason for this is simple. Whatever positive or negative can be said about the health care reform measure — and we believe that the pros outweigh the cons — the sad truth is it does little to alter the velocity of medical spending, which at the current rate of increase would push family insurance premiums to $25,000 a year within a decade.

 

Market forces, normally good for holding down spending, are virtually non-existent in health care because patients and providers are mostly spending other people's money — an employer's through work or the government's through Medicare, veterans' benefits or various other programs. In fact, government already pays for about half of all health care while providing hefty tax breaks for the half it doesn't pay for, and every time government tries to be frugal, it's accused of rationing and price fixing, not least by interests that benefit from the spending.

 

So costs rise everywhere. To the extent that the health law affects employment, it just continues the shift of jobs into medical areas at the expense of jobs in other sectors as the Baby Boom generation ages. Among the 20 professions projected to grow the fastest by the Labor Department, 10 are in health care; several others, in areas such as biochemistry and physical therapy, are related.

 

These trends should prompt lawmakers to focus on what they can do to improve the health care law and rein in surging costs. Slapping the "job killing" label on the repeal bill is an effort to avoid making tough decisions and coming up with better ideas.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OPPOSING VIEW ON HEALTH LAW: HIGH LABOR COSTS = FEWER JOBS

BY JOHN C. GOODMAN

 

Most people intuitively know that the worst thing government can do in the middle of the deepest recession in 70 years is enact policies that increase the expected cost of labor. Yet that is exactly what happened last spring, with the passage of the health care reform bill.

 

How bad is it? Right now, we're estimating the cost of the health plan everyone will be required to have at $4,750 a year for individuals and $12,250 for families. That translates into a minimum health benefit of $2.28 an hour (individual coverage) and $5.89 an hour (family coverage) for full-time employees. In four years' time, the minimum cost of labor will be a $7.25 cash wage and a $5.89 health wage (family), for a total of $13.14 an hour.

 

Imagine you are an employer. You certainly aren't going to pay an employee more than his value to the organization, and competition from other employers will tend to prevent you from paying less. If the government forces you to spend more on health insurance, you will have to spend less in wages in order to pay for the mandated benefits. For above-average-wage employees, expect wage stagnation for the next four years, as employers use potential wage increases to pay for expanded health benefits instead.

 

At the low end of the wage scale, however, the effects of this new law are going to be devastating. Ten-dollar-an-hour workers and their employers cannot afford $6-an-hour health insurance.

 

Although there are some small business subsidies tacked on in a Rube Goldberg fashion, nothing in the new law helps low-wage employees of large companies buy health insurance.

 

This is undoubtedly why fast-food giant McDonald's told the federal government that it was considering dropping its health insurance for 30,000 employees. The next step will be to drop their jobs. No doubt millions of other workers will be in the same boat.

 

John C. Goodman is president and CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis, a free-market think tank based in Dallas.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

MLK WAS A RELIGIOUS VISIONARY, TOO

BY EBOO PATEL

 

One hundred years ago, the great African-American scholar W.E.B. DuBois famously wrote, "The problem of the 20th century will be the problem of the color line."

 

History proved DuBois correct. His century saw the struggles against, and ultimately the victory over, systems that separated and subjugated people based on race — from colonialism in India, to Jim Crow in the U.S., to apartheid in South Africa.

 

No American did more than Martin Luther King Jr. — whom America pauses to honor today — to address the problem of the color line. He spearheaded the marches that revealed the brutality of segregation, made speeches that reminded Americans that the promise of their nation applied to all citizens and expertly pressured the nation's leaders in Washington to pass landmark civil rights legislation.

 

But to confine King's role in history only to the color line — as giant as that challenge is, and as dramatic as King's contribution was — is to reduce his greatness. In one of his final books, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, King showed that race was one part of his broader concern with human relations at large: "This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited ... a great 'world house' in which we have to live together — black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu ... Because we can never again live apart, we must learn somehow to live with each other in peace."

 

This ethos, as King's examples make clear, applies not only to the question of race, but to faith as well. In the same way as the headlines of the 20th century read of conflict between races, headlines in our times are full of violence between people of different religions. Indeed, what the color line was to the 20th century, the faith line might be to the 21st.

 

Faith as a bridge

 

King's life has as much to say to us on the question of interfaith cooperation as it did on the matter of interracial harmony. A prince of the black church, deeply rooted in his own Baptist tradition, King viewed his faith as a bridge of cooperation rather than a barrier of division.

 

When, as a seminary student, King was introduced to the satyagraha ("love-force") philosophy of the Indian Hindu leader Mahatma Gandhi, King did not reject it because it came from a different religion. Instead, he sought to find resonances between Gandhi's Hinduism and his own interpretation of Christianity. Indeed, it was Gandhi's movement in India that provided King with a 20th century version of what Jesus would do. King patterned nearly all the strategy and tactics of the civil rights movement — from boycotts to marches to readily accepting jail time — after Gandhi's leadership in India. King called Gandhi "the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force."

 

Following Gandhi was King's first step on a long journey of learning about the shared social justice values across the world's religions, and partnering with faith leaders of all backgrounds in the struggle for civil rights. In 1959, more than a decade after the Mahatma's death, King traveled to India to meet with people continuing the work Gandhi had started.He was surprised and inspired to meet Indians of all faith backgrounds working for equality and harmony, discovering in their own traditions the same inspiration for love and peace that King found in Christianity.

 

King's experience with religious diversity in India shaped the rest of his life. He readily formed a friendship with the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, finding a common bond in their love of the Hebrew prophets. The two walked arm-in-arm in the famous civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery.

 

Later, Heschel wrote, "Our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying."

 

King's friendship with the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh inspired one of his most controversial moves, the decision to publicly oppose the Vietnam War. In his letter nominating Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize, King wrote, "He is a holy man. ... His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to a world brotherhood, to humanity."

 

Better together

 

In his famous sermon "A Time to Break Silence," King was unequivocal about his Christian commitment and at the same time summarized his view of the powerful commonality across all faiths: "This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality" is that the force of love is "the supreme unifying principle of life."

 

We live at a time of religious conflict abroad and religious tension at home. This would no doubt have dismayed King, who viewed faith as an inspiration to serve and connect, not to destroy and divide. During King's time, groups ranging from white supremacists to black militants believed that the races were better apart. Today, the same is said of division along the lines of faith.

 

King insisted that we are always better together. Indeed, that pluralism is part of divine plan. To paraphrase one of his most enduring statements: The world is not divided between black and white or Christian and Muslim, but between those who would live together as brothers and those who would perish together as fools.

 

Eboo Patel is founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core, a non-profit organization building interfaith cooperation on college and university campuses nationwide. He is author of Acts of Faith.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

 

WHERE ARE ADULTS IN DEBT CEILING TALKS?

BY JOSEPH BOTTUM

 

Jim DeMint says it's not his fault. The GOP senator from South Carolina points out that he didn't help spend all the nation's money. Neither did the new congressional Republicans. So why, he asked in a recent interview, should they extend the national debt ceiling to pay for that spending? "We need to have a showdown," DeMint declared. Sure enough, he's going to get one when, around the end of March, the U.S. Treasury runs dry. Federal invoices, Social Security, interest on bonds: It looks as though something will have to go into default, unless the government exceeds its currently authorized debt of $14.29 trillion.

 

Maybe that's not the worst thing that could happen. Congress has refused at least eight times over the past 40 years to increase debt limits, without immediate fiscal disaster (although that might be because the debt ceiling always was raised eventually). Back when Barack Obama was a senator in 2006, he voted against an increase. "The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure," he proclaimed — for the government is "shifting the burden of the bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren." Just five years later, such talk would win him cheers at a Tea Party rally.

 

Bag of tricks

 

For that matter, the Treasury has a number of tricks it can use to stave off default: draw down the $200 billion Supplementary Financing Program, issue some cash-management bills, sneak a little out of the $118 billion employee pension G-Fund, sell off more of those ridiculous TARP investments — to name just a few.

 

Even so, DeMint's comments are more than a little disturbing. It's not our fault, he insists. The Democrats did it. Most of us weren't even here when it happened. You've heard that whine before: on the playground, or in a squabble after school. It is the cry of a child who thinks it's just not fair he has to clean up someone else's mess. And maybe it really isn't fair. But we have a name for those who don't whine this way — a name for those who shoulder responsibility in a world they never made. We call them grown-ups, and with their new congressional power, the time has come for the Republicans to start acting, and speaking, like adults.

 

A shared responsibility

 

Our national debts "are legal obligations," Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wrote to Congress recently. "Responsibility for meeting the nation's obligations must be shared by both parties." Let's not pretend he isn't playing politics, too. Geithner urged Congress in his letter to raise the debt ceiling immediately, and what he's probably hoping is that the debate doesn't last long enough for Republicans to pry budget concessions out of the Democrats.

 

Nonetheless, it's curious that Geithner sounds like a conservative in all this, while DeMint sounds like a radical. Such arguments are nothing new in America. Back in 1789, for instance, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison had a fascinating exchange of letters on the subject.

 

It was Jefferson, at his most wild-eyed and radical, who argued that we cannot bind future generations, or future political leaders, to pay back debts. And it was Madison, at his most serious and conservative, who replied that old commitments "form a debt against the living, who take the benefit of them. This debt can not be otherwise discharged than by a proportionate obedience to the will of the authors of the improvements."

 

Is it too much to ask conservatives today to side with Madison in these debates? Is it too much to ask them, now that they again hold power in the House, to be a little more grown-up?

 

Joseph Bottum is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

DON'T BLAME THE PARENTS OF JARED LOUGHNER

BY PETE EARLEY

 

What's wrong with Jared Loughner's parents? Why didn't they do something? They must have known. Just look at the photograph of the Tucson shooting suspect. That grin. He's clearly nuts. They should have raised him better.

 

These are some of the comments I've heard and read on the Internet about Randy and Amy Loughner, whose son has been charged with shooting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and 12 others, and killing six bystanders.

 

It's unlikely the Loughners' statement — that they "don't understand why this happened"— will soothe the criticism and anger aimed at them. But as the parent of an adult son with a severe mental illness who has been arrested, I can sympathize with the Loughners and testify that there are reasons why a parent can be caught off guard.

 

LIVE CHAT: Pete Earley will be online 1:30 p.m. ET Monday. Submit questions, comments at theforum.usatoday.com.

 

Many mental disorders, especially schizophrenia, emerge in late adolescence, when children often are rebelling and separating from their parents by pushing the limits to find their identities. Before my son's first breakdown, he told me that President Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks. He had also become obsessed with a female friend and talked endlessly about how they'd soon be married.

 

Signs aren't always obvious

 

Should either of those comments have caused me to think he had a mental disorder? Parents often suspect their adult children are abusing drugs or alcohol if they act strangely, not realizing that substance abuse can be an attempt at self-medicating and a warning sign of a possible mental disorder.

 

While it's obvious after a madness-fueled rampage that someone is dangerous, most people with mental illnesses are not violent and are more likely to be victims of crimes than to commit them. Few parents suspect their children are capable of mass murder.

 

Persons who are sick can also mask their illnesses. Judge Steven Leifman in Miami tells a story about parents who told him their adult son was severely ill, but when he appeared in court, he was polite, articulate and charming. Only when the defendant spotted his parents and became upset, claiming they were strangers spying on him, did Leifman get a glimpse into his confused thoughts.

 

But news reports said college officials warned the Loughners their son couldn't return to school until he had had a mental health evaluation. He was scaring other students. Obviously, that's a huge red flag — if it happened. Federal privacy laws limit how much information colleges can share with parents. Adult children are exactly that: adults. The first time my son and I visited a psychologist, my son turned his chair so that his back was facing the therapist and refused to speak. He didn't think he was sick.

 

Why don't parents call the police when their child refuses to cooperate? I did just that. They arrived and shot my son twice with a Taser when he tried to run away. He had not broken a law and to this day remains bitter toward me for calling them. I'm lucky. A friend's son was fatally shot by police.

 

Remember, having a mental illness is not illegal. Nor can anyone, even a parent, force another person into treatment arbitrarily. All states require a person be dangerous to himself or others. What makes Arizona's law more liberal is it also allows a person to be forced into treatment if he is "persistently or acutely disabled" or "gravely disabled." Would Loughner have met those criteria? I doubt it, based on my experience and given that a police officer stopped him the morning of the shooting and let him go without noticing anything alarming about his behavior. Saying you are concerned about shrines with skulls in the backyard or strange writings is simply not enough in most courts.

 

Problems with committing someone

 

Even if parents get their children involuntarily committed, they often don't get help. Adults can refuse treatment, even when forced into hospitals. You also have to have somewhere to send them. A 2009 study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that Arizona's mental health services were grossly inadequate. The report was riddled with complaints such as, "When I first tried to get help after attempting suicide, I was told that I wasn't sick enough to qualify," and, "There is a six to eight week wait to see (a psychiatrist) as a new patient." Most states are plagued by long waiting lines because legislators have closed state hospitals and stripped treatment funds to balance budgets.

 

Perhaps the most hurtful comment leveled at parents is that they should have done a better job raising their child. Would you attack a parent's child-rearing skills if his son or daughter had cancer? Mental illnesses are just that: illnesses.

 

Blaming parents is easy, but before you throw that first stone, try walking in our shoes.

 

Pete Earley is the author of Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness and lives in Fairfax County, Va. (Earley will be online for a live chat at 1:30 p.m. ET today. Please submit questions and comments at theforum.usatoday.com.)

 

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

EDITORIAL

ILLINOIS WAKES UP

For years, Illinois, like so many states, pretended that it had not fallen off a budgetary cliff. It was spending too much and taking in too little revenue, but every year it would kick its problems into the next. Unable to pay its bills, it finally accepted reality last week and raised taxes on incomes and businesses — a first step toward getting its house in order.

The action was immediately ridiculed by several governors around the nation who are still pretending that they can cut their way out of the enormous shortfalls they face, without raising taxes. Wisconsin and Indiana predicted a windfall of angry corporations and residents would head their way from Illinois. Even Gov. Chris Christie, the New Jersey Republican, vowed to fly to Illinois to invite businesses there to defect to his state.

That makes great political theater. But businesses and voters in Illinois, and around the country, should take a closer look at the facts and figures, including their own.

After 22 years of not raising income taxes, Illinois saw its budget shortfall grow to $15 billion. It had the lowest state credit rating in the nation, and it wasn't paying its bills to hospitals and schools.

The Illinois tax rate was low before and remains low for big states. The income tax will rise from a flat 3 percent to a flat 5 percent. That will cause pain at the lower and middle levels of the economic scale, but the state's millionaires will probably stay put. (The top rate is 10.55 percent in California, 8.97 percent in New Jersey and New York, and 7.75 percent in Wisconsin.)

Illinois's corporate tax is going up to 9.5 percent from 7.3 percent, but that by itself is unlikely to send businesses packing. What businesses crave most is a stable environment in which to make profits, and Illinois was anything but stable. Businesses tend not to like it when health and education systems break down.

By taking this step, which will raise about $6.5 billion, the Illinois Legislature has begun to show residents and corporate leaders that it is serious about fixing the budget. It still has a lot more to do. It must brave union opposition and bring down the cost of excessive health and retirement benefits for state employees, and examine all state salaries to make sure they are in line with the private sector. It must adhere to a new system to rebuild the budget each year, based on available revenues.

Almost every state is in deep fiscal trouble this year, but only a few others have admitted that cutting spending will not be enough.

Gov. Jerry Brown of California has proposed $12.5 billion in painful cuts that will hit the poor and higher education particularly hard. He is also rightly warning voters that the pain will be much worse if they do not extend sales and income tax increases for five more years. Oregon raised income taxes at the high end last year, and Kansas and Arizona raised sales taxes.

In too many states, though — including New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Washington — voters or governors have rejected higher taxes on high incomes, even though those at the top have experienced a windfall at the federal level.

Governor Christie, who calls his state "broke" and faces an upcoming deficit that may be more than $10 billion, has even rejected raising New Jersey's gasoline tax, one of the lowest in the nation.

With federal stimulus aid ending, states are in for their worst year in generations, and they cannot get out of it by either cutting or taxing alone. Illinois is figuring that out, finally. Too many other states are still in denial.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

ARIZONA, IN THE CLASSROOM

Last week's memorial service in Tucson, which began with a blessing by a professor of Yaqui Indian and Mexican heritage, showcased Arizona's rich diversity as well as the love and tolerance of many of its citizens.

Unfortunately there is another Arizona, one where its state government all too often promotes discord and intolerance. This was painfully clear in the state's immigration law, which empowers the police to demand the papers of suspected illegal immigrants. And it is painfully clear in a new education law that injects nativist fears directly into the public school classroom.

The law, which took effect Dec. 31, bans any courses or classes that "promote resentment toward a race or class of people" or "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals." Arizona's new attorney general, Tom Horne, immediately used it to declare illegal a Mexican-American ethnic-studies program in the Tucson Unified School District.

Mr. Horne, who wrote the law when he was superintendent of public instruction, accused the program of "brainwashing" Latino students, of teaching "ethnic chauvinism" because it uses works by authors critical of the United States' historical relationship with Latin America and its past treatment of Latinos. He has not gone after similar programs for black, Asian or American Indian students.

It's hard to object to the portions of the law that discourage the overthrow of the government. But Mr. Horne goes way overboard in trying keep high school students from studying works like Paulo Freire's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed," a classic educational text, or any effort to deepen students' understanding of history, and their place in the world. Tucson school officials say that far from stoking teenage resentment, the program has helped students keep their grades up and stay in school.

The school district has been put in a bind: shut the program down or lose state financing. Eleven teachers have sued to block the law. The school board, regrettably, did not join the lawsuit.

Educators and parents across the state should resist this effort to clamp down on education. Justice demands it. And even this ill-considered law suggests that Mr. Horne has badly overreached. One passage reads: "Nothing in this section shall be construed to restrict or prohibit the instruction of the Holocaust, any other instance of genocide, or the historical oppression of a particular group of people based on ethnicity, race or class."

Arizona was rightly criticized in the 1980s and early 90's when it refused to join the nation in declaring Martin Luther King's Birthday a holiday. It finally agreed in 1992, and the whole country has since traveled closer toward racial harmony. Arizona's political leaders shame themselves and their citizens when they preach and promote the opposite.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

'A JOY TO BE FREE'

During his 30 years in prison, Cornelius Dupree Jr. twice rejected his chance for freedom because an admission of guilt for rape and robbery was the price of parole. "Whatever your truth is, you have to stick with it," Mr. Dupree explained this month after a Texas judge exonerated him of the 1979 crime on the basis of DNA evidence kept in long-term county storage.

Mr. Dupree's freedom highlighted the fact that Dallas County, unlike so many other jurisdictions, bothered to retain DNA samples across decades. No less a factor is an exemplary change in the attitude of the district attorney's office. For the last four years, under the leadership of District Attorney Craig Watkins, it has cooperated in the DNA exoneration of 21 wrongly convicted citizens who lost decades of their freedom.

All but one were convicted on the basis of incorrect eyewitness testimony. Faulty IDs account for three of four of the 265 convictions overturned nationally by DNA evidence, according to Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project, the advocacy group helping Mr. Dupree.

"It's been proven that the system needs to be fixed," Mr. Watkins declared. The former defense attorney is urging the Texas Legislature to combat a "convict at all costs" mentality by enacting a precise protocol to curb the kind of zealous identification shortcuts taken against Mr. Dupree. State lawmakers are reported to be open to the idea. The Legislature faced up to the increase in DNA exonerations two years ago when it enacted the nation's most generous compensation law, providing $80,000 for each year of freedom unjustly lost.

Texas, with its crowded death row, has hardly been the model of criminal justice. But the lessons of the Dupree case cry out for mandating long-term storage of DNA evidence nationwide, and reform of patently unjust identification methods. "It's a joy to be free again," Mr. Dupree said as a dozen other exonorees observed a new Texas tradition of gathering to greet the latest person proved innocent.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THEY COULD BE SUBTLER

Bankers would love nothing more than for the rest of the world to move on and forget about the financial meltdown that tipped us into the deepest economic trough since the 1930s.

This, of course, will not happen anytime soon, but we would still like to offer a couple of suggestions to anxious financiers: (a) public relations management cannot do the trick, but (b) you should improve your public relations skills anyway.

Robert Diamond Jr., the new American chief executive of the British bank Barclays, is a good case in point. You might recall Barclays as one of the largest beneficiaries of the $3.3 trillion emergency programs put in place by the Federal Reserve to stop banks from collapsing — taking $47.9 billion in loans in one week to make sure securities firms with operations in the United States had cash to provide financing to their clients.

Mr. Diamond recently told a parliamentary panel in London, "There was a period of remorse and apology for banks — I think that period needs to be over." He also said that "the question for us is: how do we put some of the blame game behind us?"

Not all bankers are quite this blasé. Yet even the more contrite seem to have gotten it wrong: Credit Suisse recently required its senior American employees to give 2.5 percent of their 2010 bonuses to charity. It estimates that this will raise $30 million for good causes. But a little charity from overpaid bankers is hardly going to repair the hole the crisis blasted in the world economy. And the donations, of course, will be tax deductible.

A burst of altruism will not restore the reputation of banking. The real issue is how to instill accountability in banking and do away with the lopsided bet in which the financial system pockets the rewards from the risks it takes and taxpayers cover the bets when they go bad.

This subsidy underpins banks' huge profitability. Today, finance captures 29 percent of the profits of the entire American private sector, up from 19 percent 30 years ago. Only by bearing the cost of their losses will banks be moved to curb their appetite for risky plays.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE

BY ROSS DOUTHAT

In every twisted, wretched, ruinous relationship, there are moments so grim, flare-ups so appalling, that they offer both parties a chance to step back, take inventory, and realize that it's time — far past time, in fact — to go their separate ways.

For the American media and Sarah Palin, that kind of a moment arrived last week.

It began just hours after the tragedy in Tucson, with a tweet from Markos "Daily Kos" Moulitsas, the éminence grise of the liberal blogosphere. "Mission Accomplished, Sarah Palin," he wrote, linking to a map that Palin's PAC had put up last fall, placing targets on various Democratic districts, Gabrielle Giffords's included. It didn't take long for the media to seize on his attack and run with it. Forget a nation's grief and Giffords's struggle to survive: What America really needed, the nation's pundits and TV producers decided, was a noisy debate about the possible link between Jared Lee Loughner's crime and Palin's martial campaign rhetoric.

Given how little connection Loughner seems to have to any kind of right-wing politics, this conversation looked increasingly ridiculous by midweek, and even a little bit obscene. But instead of letting the frenzy die away, Palin decided that what the country really needed was for her to use the day set aside for mourning Loughner's victims to make a speech complaining about her own victimization. (Or as she put it, rather more pungently, the "blood libel" being leveled by her critics.) Which, needless to say, gave the press exactly the excuse it needed to continue its wall-to-wall Palin coverage for another 48 hours — and beyond, perhaps, given that she's slated to appear on Sean Hannity's show Monday night.

The whole business felt less like an episode in American political history than a scene from a particularly toxic marriage — more "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" than "The Making of the President." The press and Palin have been at war with each other almost from the first, but their mutual antipathy looks increasingly like co-dependency: they can't get along, but they can't live without each other either.

For their part, the media manage to be consistently unfair to the former Alaska governor — gossipy and hostile in their reportage, hysterical and condescending in their commentary — even as they follow her every move with a fascination bordering on obsession. (MSNBC, in particular, should just change its name to "Palin 24/7" and get it over with.) When commentators aren't denouncing her, they're busy building up her legend — exaggerating her political acumen, overpraising her communications strategy, covering her every tweet as if she were the Viceroy of Red America, and spinning out outlandish scenarios in which she captures the White House in 2012.

Palin, meanwhile, officially despises the "lamestream" media. But press coverage — good, bad, whatever — is clearly the oxygen she craves. She supposedly hates having her privacy invaded, yet her family keeps showing up on reality TV. She thinks the political class is clueless and out-of-touch, but she can't resist responding to its every provocation. Her public rhetoric, from "death panels" to "blood libel," is obviously crafted to maximize coverage and controversy, and generate more heat than light. And her Twitter account reads like a constant plea for the most superficial sort of media attention.

It's a grim spectacle on both sides, and last week's pointless controversy was a particularly low point. So let me play the relationship counselor. To the media: Cover Sarah Palin if you want, but stop acting as if she's the most important conservative politician in America. Stop pretending that she has a plausible path to the presidency in 2012. (She doesn't.) Stop suggesting that she's the front-runner for the Republican nomination. (She isn't.) And every time you're tempted to parse her tweets for some secret code or crucial dog whistle, stop and think, this woman has fewer Twitter followers than Ben Stiller, and then go write about something else instead.

To Palin: You were an actual politician once (remember that?), but you're becoming the kind of caricature that your enemies have always tried to make of you. So maybe it's time to turn off your iPad for a while, and take a break from Facebook and Fox News. The world won't end if you don't respond to every criticism, and you might even win a few more admirers if you cultivated a lighter touch and a more above-the-fray persona. Oh, and when that reality-TV producer sends you a pitch for "Sarah Plus Five Plus Kate Plus Eight," just say no.

Breaking up is hard to do, of course. But for the majority of Americans who are neither Palinoiacs nor Palinistas, here's the good news: If the press (including this columnist!) and Sarah Palin can't quit each other, you can still quit us.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

AN ASSASSINATION'S LONG SHADOW

BY ADAM HOCHSCHILD

San Francisco

TODAY, millions of people on another continent are observing the 50th anniversary of an event few Americans remember, the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. A slight, goateed man with black, half-framed glasses, the 35-year-old Lumumba was the first democratically chosen leader of the vast country, nearly as large as the United States east of the Mississippi, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This treasure house of natural resources had been a colony of Belgium, which for decades had made no plans for independence. But after clashes with Congolese nationalists, the Belgians hastily arranged the first national election in 1960, and in June of that year King Baudouin arrived to formally give the territory its freedom.

"It is now up to you, gentlemen," he arrogantly told Congolese dignitaries, "to show that you are worthy of our confidence."

The Belgians, and their European and American fellow investors, expected to continue collecting profits from Congo's factories, plantations and lucrative mines, which produced diamonds, gold, uranium, copper and more. But they had not planned on Lumumba.

A dramatic, angry speech he gave in reply to Baudouin brought Congolese legislators to their feet cheering, left the king startled and frowning and caught the world's attention. Lumumba spoke forcefully of the violence and humiliations of colonialism, from the ruthless theft of African land to the way that French-speaking colonists talked to Africans as adults do to children, using the familiar "tu" instead of the formal "vous." Political independence was not enough, he said; Africans had to also benefit from the great wealth in their soil.

With no experience of self-rule and an empty treasury, his huge country was soon in turmoil. After failing to get aid from the United States, Lumumba declared he would turn to the Soviet Union. Thousands of Belgian officials who lingered on did their best to sabotage things: their code word for Lumumba in military radio transmissions was "Satan." Shortly after he took office as prime minister, the C.I.A., with White House approval, ordered his assassination and dispatched an undercover agent with poison.

The would-be poisoners could not get close enough to Lumumba to do the job, so instead the United States and Belgium covertly funneled cash and aid to rival politicians who seized power and arrested the prime minister. Fearful of revolt by Lumumba's supporters if he died in their hands, the new Congolese leaders ordered him flown to the copper-rich Katanga region in the country's south, whose secession Belgium had just helped orchestrate. There, on Jan. 17, 1961, after being beaten and tortured, he was shot. It was a chilling moment that set off street demonstrations in many countries.

As a college student traveling through Africa on summer break, I was in Léopoldville (today's Kinshasa), Congo's capital, for a few days some six months after Lumumba's murder. There was an air of tension and gloom in the city, jeeps full of soldiers were on patrol, and the streets quickly emptied at night. Above all, I remember the triumphant, macho satisfaction with which two young American Embassy officials — much later identified as C.I.A. men — talked with me over drinks about the death of someone they regarded not as an elected leader but as an upstart enemy of the United States.

Some weeks before his death, Lumumba had briefly escaped from house arrest and, with a small group of supporters, tried to flee to the eastern Congo, where a counter-government of his sympathizers had formed. The travelers had to traverse the Sankuru River, after which friendly territory began. Lumumba and several companions crossed the river in a dugout canoe to commandeer a ferry to go back and fetch the rest of the group, including his wife and son.

But by the time they returned to the other bank, government troops pursuing them had arrived. According to one survivor, Lumumba's famous eloquence almost persuaded the soldiers to let them go. Events like this are often burnished in retrospect, but however the encounter happened, Lumumba seems to have risked his life to try to rescue the others, and the episode has found its way into film and fiction.

His legend has only become deeper because there is painful newsreel footage of him in captivity, soon after this moment, bound tightly with rope and trying to retain his dignity while being roughed up by his guards.

Patrice Lumumba had only a few short months in office and we have no way of knowing what would have happened had he lived. Would he have stuck to his ideals or, like too many African independence leaders, abandoned them for the temptations of wealth and power? In any event, leading his nation to the full economic autonomy he dreamed of would have been an almost impossible task. The Western governments and corporations arrayed against him were too powerful, and the resources in his control too weak: at independence his new country had fewer than three dozen university graduates among a black population of more than 15 million, and only three of some 5,000 senior positions in the civil service were filled by Congolese.

A half-century later, we should surely look back on the death of Lumumba with shame, for we helped install the men who deposed and killed him. In the scholarly journal Intelligence and National Security, Stephen R. Weissman, a former staff director of the House Subcommittee on Africa, recently pointed out that Lumumba's violent end foreshadowed today's American practice of "extraordinary rendition." The Congolese politicians who planned Lumumba's murder checked all their major moves with their Belgian and American backers, and the local C.I.A. station chief made no objection when they told him they were going to turn Lumumba over — render him, in today's parlance — to the breakaway government of Katanga, which, everyone knew, could be counted on to kill him.

Still more fateful was what was to come. Four years later, one of Lumumba's captors, an army officer named Joseph Mobutu, again with enthusiastic American support, staged a coup and began a disastrous, 32-year dictatorship. Just as geopolitics and a thirst for oil have today brought us unsavory allies like Saudi Arabia, so the cold war and a similar lust for natural resources did then. Mobutu was showered with more than $1 billion in American aid and enthusiastically welcomed to the White House by a succession of presidents; George H. W. Bush called him "one of our most valued friends."

This valued friend bled his country dry, amassed a fortune estimated at $4 billion, jetted the world by rented Concorde and bought himself an array of grand villas in Europe and multiple palaces and a yacht at home. He let public services shrivel to nothing and roads and railways be swallowed by the rain forest. By 1997, when he was overthrown and died, his country was in a state of wreckage from which it has not yet recovered.

Since that time the fatal combination of enormous natural riches and the dysfunctional government Mobutu left has ignited a long, multisided war that has killed huge numbers of Congolese or forced them from their homes. Many factors cause a war, of course, especially one as bewilderingly complex as this one. But when visiting eastern Congo some months ago, I could not help but think that one thread leading to the human suffering I saw begins with the assassination of Lumumba.

We will never know the full death toll of the current conflict, but many believe it to be in the millions. Some of that blood is on our hands. Both ordering the murders of apparent enemies and then embracing their enemies as "valued friends" come with profound, long-term consequences — a lesson worth pondering on this anniversary.

Adam Hochschild is the author of "King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa" and the forthcoming "To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918."

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THE WAR ON LOGIC

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

My wife and I were thinking of going out for an inexpensive dinner tonight. But John Boehner, the speaker of the House, says that no matter how cheap the meal may seem, it will cost thousands of dollars once you take our monthly mortgage payments into account.

Wait a minute, you may say. How can our mortgage payments be a cost of going out to eat, when we'll have to make the same payments even if we stay home? But Mr. Boehner is adamant: our mortgage is part of the cost of our meal, and to say otherwise is just a budget gimmick.

O.K., the speaker hasn't actually weighed in on our plans for the evening. But he and his G.O.P. colleagues have lately been making exactly the nonsensical argument I've just described — not about tonight's dinner, but about health care reform. And the nonsense wasn't a slip of the tongue; it's the official party position, laid out in charts and figures.

We are, I believe, witnessing something new in American politics. Last year, looking at claims that we can cut taxes, avoid cuts to any popular program and still balance the budget, I observed that Republicans seemed to have lost interest in the war on terror and shifted focus to the war on arithmetic. But now the G.O.P. has moved on to an even bigger project: the war on logic.

So, about that nonsense: this week the House is expected to pass H.R. 2, the Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act — its actual name. But Republicans have a small problem: they claim to care about budget deficits, yet the Congressional Budget Office says that repealing last year's health reform would increase the deficit. So what, other than dismissing the nonpartisan budget office's verdict as "their opinion" — as Mr. Boehner has — can the G.O.P. do?

The answer is contained in an analysis — or maybe that should be "analysis" — released by the speaker's office, which purports to show that health care reform actually increases the deficit. Why? That's where the war on logic comes in.

First of all, says the analysis, the true cost of reform includes the cost of the "doc fix." What's that?

Well, in 1997 Congress enacted a formula to determine Medicare payments to physicians. The formula was, however, flawed; it would lead to payments so low that doctors would stop accepting Medicare patients. Instead of changing the formula, however, Congress has consistently enacted one-year fixes. And Republicans claim that the estimated cost of future fixes, $208 billion over the next 10 years, should be considered a cost of health care reform.

But the same spending would still be necessary if we were to undo reform. So the G.O.P. argument here is exactly like claiming that my mortgage payments, which I'll have to make no matter what we do tonight, are a cost of going out for dinner.

There's more like that: the G.O.P. also claims that $115 billion of other health care spending should be charged to health reform, even though the budget office has tried to explain that most of this spending would have taken place even without reform.

To be sure, the Republican analysis doesn't rely entirely on spurious attributions of cost — it also relies on using three-card monte tricks to make money disappear. Health reform, says the budget office, will increase Social Security revenues and reduce Medicare costs. But the G.O.P. analysis says that these sums don't count, because some people have said that these savings would also extend the life of these programs' trust funds, so counting these savings as deficit reduction would be "double-counting," because — well, actually it doesn't make any sense, but it sounds impressive.

So, is the Republican leadership unable to see through childish logical fallacies? No.

The key to understanding the G.O.P. analysis of health reform is that the party's leaders are not, in fact, opposed to reform because they believe it will increase the deficit. Nor are they opposed because they seriously believe that it will be "job-killing" (which it won't be). They're against reform because it would cover the uninsured — and that's something they just don't want to do.

And it's not about the money. As I tried to explain in my last column, the modern G.O.P. has been taken over by an ideology in which the suffering of the unfortunate isn't a proper concern of government, and alleviating that suffering at taxpayer expense is immoral, never mind how little it costs.

Given that their minds were made up from the beginning, top Republicans weren't interested in and didn't need any real policy analysis — in fact, they're basically contemptuous of such analysis, something that shines through in their health care report. All they ever needed or wanted were some numbers and charts to wave at the press, fooling some people into believing that we're having some kind of rational discussion. We aren't.

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

OUR TAXES, DEBT AND INTEREST

 

We like to start out the new year optimistically -- but also realistically. That's hard to do.

 

That's because our federal taxes, spending and debt are not being handled responsibly by our elected national officials.

 

Our taxes are too high. The "soak-the-rich" attitude prevails, unjustly, to the extent that lots of people who are not rich are getting "soaked," too.

 

But that doesn't produce enough tax collections to cover the excessive spending! Congress has voted much more spending than even high taxes provide.

 

So our national debt is about $14 trillion!

 

We can't really understand that big figure. But it amounts to $44,883 for each one of us!

 

And we have to pay interest on it!

 

(We need to warn that these numbers are not exactly correct -- because they are increasing by the second. The figures we present now will be higher before we can print them and before you can read them!)

 

Members of Congress -- who are the only ones at the federal level who have the power to vote to tax and spend -- realize there's a problem. So Congress has voted to "limit" the national debt to $14.3 trillion. But when debt nears that "ceiling," Congress will just vote a higher "ceiling."

 

The federal debt currently is roughly $14 trillion -- that's $14,000,000,000,000 -- and is growing by $4 billion a day. It won't be long before Congress likely will vote to raise the debt ceiling -- not to significantly reduce spending.

 

There is, of course, lots of federal spending that is necessary. We have to provide for our national defense. We have to run many government agencies. But most of the red ink results from spending that is voted by Congress in excess of programs, agencies and functions that are truly necessary.

 

Some spending is outright unconstitutional!

 

Read the Constitution: It tells us what our government must do and is legally empowered to do. But much spending is far outside those rules.

 

Why does Congress vote so much spending?

 

Many members of Congress believe that's the way they can buy our votes -- by doing things "for us." But sometimes they really are doing things "to us."

 

We are spending about $3.5 trillion this year. We are running a deficit of $1.34 trillion beyond the too-high

taxes we pay.

 

Do you think the majority of our 100 senators, 435 representatives and one president has been responsible up to

now?

 

Are they abiding by the Constitution, using financial common sense and doing their job conscientiously?

 

Just imagine how our economy could thrive if our government taxed and spent only what the Constitution requires and authorizes!

 

Couldn't we cut spending, cut taxes, balance the budget -- and live with financial responsibility, common sense and greater prosperity?

 

Wouldn't it be sensible at least to try?

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

RHETORIC AND COURTESY

 

The United States Constitution's First Amendment is a vigorous guarantee of, among other things, the American

people's right to speak up about politics or pretty much anything else.

 

We should treasure that liberty -- and exercise it!

 

But since the recent slayings of six people in Tucson, Ariz., and the serious wounding of Democrat U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the same attack, there have been suggestions in the news media and by some liberal politicians that conservative political speech is directly or indirectly responsible for the vicious attack.

 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Suspect Jared Loughner appears, from news accounts, to suffer from grave mental illness of some type, and there is little if any evidence that he was motivated by conservative talk radio or political leaders. In fact, there has been some indication that he held liberal views -- assuming his mental state allowed him to hold any political views at all.

 

Neither liberalism nor conservatism deserves blame for the shootings that Loughner is accused of committing. Most liberal Americans promote their views by peaceful, lawful means. The same is true of conservatives.

 

We do not believe strong rhetoric from either side "causes" someone to kill -- much less that such rhetoric should be suppressed by government.

 

What would be appropriate, however, is for courtesy and respect to reign over political discourse. We should "agree to disagree without being disagreeable," as the saying goes.

 

That won't prevent a deranged person from causing mayhem, but it will make for a more harmonious republic.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

EDUCATION TAKES BACK SEAT

 

You might have heard last year about a school district in Rhode Island that took the drastic step of firing the whole faculty at a school.

 

The school, Central Falls High, was a disaster. For instance, only 7 percent of its 11th-graders reached the level of proficiency in math.

 

Yet the union representing the teachers showed little willingness to do what it would take to turn things around.

 

That prompted the mass firing, which even President Barack Obama thought was a reasonable approach, given the school's horrible performance.

 

But the dismissals didn't stick. There was a "labor agreement" under which the teachers were allowed to return to their jobs.

 

Unfortunately, things appear to be getting no better at the school. They might even be getting worse.

 

"The progress that the city's school board ... had hoped for seems increasingly, and alarmingly, elusive," The Associated Press reported.

 

The AP added, "More than a dozen teachers -- and sometimes over 20 -- of the roughly 90-person staff were absent on an average day this fall, including six on long-term leave ... ."

 

The absentee rate among teachers is so bad that hundreds of grades from last fall are being withheld. Administrators felt that "teacher attendance was too spotty to accurately measure student performance," the AP reported. (Isn't it normally poor student attendance, rather than poor teacher attendance, that is the problem?)

 

This is one more example of the negative effects on students of an entrenched education bureaucracy.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

IS THIS WHAT WE ALL WANT?

It is almost impossible to fathom, but lawmakers in the state of Illinois have voted to raise the personal income tax rate by a staggering 67 percent!

You read that correctly: 67 percent.

And Illinois has voted to raise its business income tax rate by an almost equally shocking 46 percent.

Not one Republican in the Illinois House nor the Senate voted for the increases. And tellingly, the voting was conducted at the very end of a lame-duck session -- just before new lawmakers, who might have blocked the huge increases, were to be sworn in.

Democrats said they had to have more revenue to pull Illinois out of an economic crisis. Yet ironically, lawmakers also approved a plan to borrow billions more dollars.

That sounds all too much like our federal government, which keeps borrowing but won't cut spending.

Is the entire nation now headed toward "Illinois-style" tax increases?

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

A TEST OF INTERNAL POLITICS: 'OUR' HIZBULLAH AND THE LEBANESE HEZBOLLAH

CENGİZ ÇANDAR

As we became pre-occupied by "our" Hizbullah the "real" Hezbollah suddenly turned the "Middle East table" upside down. The government partner in Lebanon, functioning like a "mirror of the Middle East," Hezbollah withdrew 11 ministers from the government last week and the Saad al-Hariri government collapsed.

If the government crisis in Lebanon were like others in the past it wouldn't have been worth paying too much attention to. However, the departure of Hezbollah from the government and the collapse of the al-Hariri administration are important because they point to the beginning of a regional and international crisis.

While the recent developments in Lebanon are of direct importance to Turkey, they are also significant for the United States and some countries in the European Union, with Lebanon maintaining special ties with France and Germany. Let's not forget about Israel, too.

Regarding the collapse of government in Lebanon, the Huffington Post recently wrote: "In the annals of current Middle East crises, the collapse of the ever-polarized Lebanese government normally would not attract much attention. Lebanese governments come and go with disturbing regularity. Moreover, with riots in Tunisia and Algeria, and interreligious strife between Copts and Muslims capturing headlines, let alone the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the diplomatic dueling over Iran's nuclear ambitions, there's a lot of bad news already to depress any already depressed Middle East soul."

The crisis in Lebanon happened because expectations of a decision from the International Court regarding the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005.

Disaster scenarios

It was known that in the decision of the International Court, the Hezbollah administration was to be convicted for murder and the court was almost ready to announce the verdict. Hezbollah and its bosses behind the curtain, Iran and Syria, were pressuring current Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri (the son of Rafiq al-Hariri) by using withdrawal of Hezbollah from the government as blackmail.

As Saad al-Hariri was given support by Washington that the U.S. will back the court's decision, the government disappeared suddenly. Moreover, Lebanon has been left with the possibility of a Sunni-Shiite conflict.

Since coming events cast their shadows before, Syria and Saudi Arabia were trying for "Lebanon conciliation". Turkey, or rather Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, played a key role in establishing contacts between Syria and Saudi Arabia. However, they came to a halt unsuccessfully. And Hezbollah withdrawal from the government followed, carrying "disaster scenarios" together with itself.

In the mean time, it has seemed that Iran pulled the strings of Hezbollah in Lebanon stronger than Syria.

Turkish foreign policy between a rock and a hard place

Syria is stuck between the U.S.-Saudi line and Iran. Syrians considers and wants to keep this line on a balance, yet trying to loosen the rope with Iran, so to speak. Closer relations between Turkey and Syria in recent years had allowed Syria to maneuver more comfortably against Iran. For instance, during the long government crisis in Iraq, Damascus against Tehran had acted with Turkey in harmony. However, developments in Lebanon do not allow Syria to keep further away from Iran.

Developments in Lebanon give Turkey a "foreign policy test" and put the country before the "examination board." Turkey, in a way, is one of the right-hand side men of the Saad al-Hariri government in addition to Qatar.

In fact, Erdoğan, aware of the developments in Lebanon, got involved in the situation from Doha and contacted with Syrian President Bassar Asad. Davutoğlu two days ago hosted Saudi Foreign Minister Suud al-Faisal in Ankara.

It smells out that Turkey is trying to approach to Hezbollah and play a fire-fighter to put out flames in armed clashes in Lebanon. In the second stage, by using its influence Turkey seems to find a way to being Syria-Saudi Arabia into conciliation and try to project this into Lebanon.

Shiite-Sunni conflict

In order to claim and protect the "regional power" status, Turkey has to reach a solution. Moreover, it's been only two weeks that Davutoğlu has claimed that Turkey becomes a "play maker," a "global power" from now on.

If Turkey's claims remain up in the air because of the latest developments in Lebanon, the entire country, starting with the government, will be in a difficult position.

Because, a Shiite-Sunni conflict in Lebanon jumps up to Iraq soon. Besides, a clash of religions in continues in Iraq, similar to one in Egypt.

Iran and the U.S. as the "only super power" and the West in general are behind all these dynamics. In this mess, Turkey should take a role and be effective.

From Lebanese Hezbollah to 'our' Hizbullah

Especially at a time when the "sarıkamış" heroism brings tears in Yemen and the "our ancestors" reaction against the "Magnificent Century" (Muhteşem Yüzyıl) TV soap, in addition to Erdoğan saying in Doha that the Islamic World is self-sufficient, create the image that Turkey stands against the West.

But more importantly, it happens as "our" Hizbullah is taking the stage again. If the Middle East gets into a new turmoil, will we presume that "our" Hizbullah is just an "internal dynamic" only? Will we expect to see that they would not be put into action by regional dynamics via the "Kurdish question"?

As you see, the government is not only taking a "foreign policy" test. It has to deal with projection of the developments in the Middle East over national policy.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

TUNISIA: A MODEL TO FOLLOW?

C.CEM OĞUZ

In the post-Cold War era, officials from the United States gradually came to grasp that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs, and terrorism were the two main threats posing a growing danger to their national security as well as international stability. Newly emerging parameters subsequent to al-Qaeda's attacks, however, revealed another kind of threat that has come to be regarded as equally important: the presence of "weak and failing states," as it is referred to in official US documents.

For U.S. strategists, weak and failing states were those in which domestic stability is endangered by institutionalized corruption or bribery, frequent economic as well as social crises and last, but not least, mismanagement or abuse of political power by dictatorial or semi-democratic means of governance. The problem has been particularly acute in ex-Soviet countries that constitute the oil and gas belt in Eurasia.

Having realized the power of social dynamics leading to the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe between 1989 and 1991, or in Belgrade in 2000, the George W. Bush administration eventually decided to encourage change. This was officially announced by President Bush in the U.S. National Security Strategy. Condoleezza Rice would later highlight in Egypt that the U.S. had "pursued stability at the expense of democracy, but achieved neither." Now, it was taking a different course and was "supporting the democratic aspirations of all people." This was a strategy carefully planned by the much-criticized neo-cons.

With Washington's obvious support and encouragement, the first popular revolt against the system of pseudo-democracy prevalent in the ex-Soviet countries swept Georgia. By demonstrating that the real initiative were in the hands of the people, Georgia's Rose Revolution signified a success story for other ex-Soviet peoples. It represented a model. It was first the Ukrainians who followed suit and the Orange Revolution helped Viktor Yushchenko come to power as Ukraine's new president.

It was the recent developments in Tunisia that prompted this story to come to mind. The Middle East's dynamics are of course different than those prevalent in Eurasia. There is, nonetheless, one point that unites both cases: people are looking today for real change rather than cosmetic make-ups, in the Middle East in particular. In that regard, the neo-cons have indeed managed to shake up the regional dynamics. Now, the hope for change is irreversible and it has come to dominate the domestic politics of many countries, ranging from Iran to Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In turn, it seems that the prevailing system in none of these regional countries is actually able to afford an alternative by peaceful means.

Tunisia's so-called "revolution" now represents a model, too. The fact that Egyptian activists were celebrating outside the Tunisian embassy in Cairo, chanting "Ben Ali, tell Mubarak a plane is waiting for him, too!" speaks for itself.

The situation, however, poses a danger similar to that eventually seen in the Eurasia. In ex-Soviet countries such as Ukraine, those who replaced the old regimes were actually worse off. Except for Georgia, they could address none of such institutional problems as the corruption that brought them to power. Instead, they themselves were involved in corruption or abuses of power. It was precisely for this reason that the masses, the real driving force behind civil revolts and aspirations for change, were soon disappointed. Thus, in a very short period of time, counter-revolutions were inevitable.

Hopefully, the process will provide a better outcome in the Middle East! Because, in the case of a fiasco, radical Islamists will be the only alternative to remain untested.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

THE RATING WARS: EPISODE II

EMRE DELİVELİ

EMRE DELİVELİ

emre.deliveli@gmail.com

As the venerable Yoda would say, begun again the rating wars have.

Recent research by Ozan Acar, prepared during his stint as a guest researcher at the Brookings Institution, discusses why Turkey is still rated below investment grade by the credit rating agencies, or CRAs, and whether an upgrade is on the cards.

The standard argument is that markets, as gauged by Turkey's credit default swap, or CDS, spreads, have already been priced in an upgrade and that the CRAs, whose ineptitude was proven during the European sovereign-debt crises, are simply trailing behind.

Irrespective of problems with the CDS' which I outlined during the first rating wars, a simple graph of CDS spreads against ratings shows the fragility of this argument: while there is a negative relationship between the two, there are many countries bundled at the 100-150 basis-points range, with some sitting below and others sitting above investment grade.

But those in favor of Turkey receiving an upgrade argue that the country's fiscal position is sound. After all, its primary balance and debt as shares of gross domestic product, or GDP, look quite strong. However, Ozan shows there is no relationship – after controlling GDP per capita – between these factors and sovereign ratings.

 

When you think about it, this conclusion actually makes sense. A country's GDP is different from a company's revenues or an individual's income, in the sense that the government has no mandate over all of the country's GDP to honor its financial obligations.

On the other hand, countries with a lower ratio of interest expenditures to tax revenues enjoy better ratings. Such countries have more resources not only for their financial obligations but also for public services such as education and health, boosting their potential growth.

 

Unfortunately, despite significant improvement during the last decade, Turkey's interest payments are still relatively high. Informality and tax evasion ensure that not only the tax base is low, but also that tax revenues are extremely procyclical. Add in a fiscal rule suspiciously swept under the carpet less than a year before the elections and suddenly Turkey's fiscal position does not look so strong.

Moreover, notwithstanding progress made after the 2001 crisis, one quarter of public debt is still external or linked to foreign currency, making it vulnerable to sharp currency moves. Ozan also finds a negative relationship between real exchange-rate volatility and ratings before concluding that he is not very optimistic about a ratings upgrade.

In other recent research, Citi economists used a statistical model to determine Turkey's chance of an upgrade. Their framework, which uses the current account deficit, inflation, GDP per capita, public debt to GDP and political stability as determinants of ratings, sees the probability of Turkey becoming investment grade at around 50 percent now and as high as 66 percent in the next two years.

Both papers concentrate on just a few of the many factors taken into consideration by the CRAs. Standard & Poor's, or S&P, divides its ratings framework into nine categories, each with several different sections, so a definitive empirical study is no easy task.

Although I believe there is a good chance Turkey will become investment grade sometime this year on, if nothing else, the perception of its relatively successful economic performance, monetary policy – one of S&P's main categories – might be the deal-breaker. If the Central Bank's unconventional policy mix, which has left many confuzzled, actually works, then Turkey may see investment grade even before summer.

If not, investment grade – which we are sure to get before Fenerbahçe wins the F.A. Cup – will be the least of our worries…

Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes, as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at http://emredeliveli.blogspot.com.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

ISLAMISM OR AUTOCRATIC SECULARISM: DILEMMA HITS TUNISIA TOO

ARIANA FERENTINOU

"Chaos, chaos, fires, arms, what can I tell you. Today they changed the president. There is army everywhere. They are scared of the Islamists. I am leaving for Paris.

Thank you for thinking of me,

Marianna"

(From a message to my Facebook account)

I had met her only last November in Paris through a common friend. She is a teacher of French Literature and prepares Tunisian children for the Sorbonne. At the end of last year she received an honorary award from the French minister of culture for her contribution to cultural relations between France and Tunis.

Nothing unusual so far apart from the fact that Marianna is one of a handful of Greeks born in Tunisia by Greek parents; her parents had emigrated from the Aegean islands of Simi and Kalymnos to find a better life in Tunis. The ancient sea routes for the sponge divers from the Dodecanese which led them to Tunisia but also to Morocco and Libya never closed. And when the sponge trade diminished drastically due to the invasion of plastic, some of these sea people settled in the Maghreb countries. Like Marianna's father who offered his two daughters a full French education in Tunis and a western view of life.

Back in November, as we were strolling aimlessly along Blvd. St. Germain there was nothing in our conversation to give me the impression that Marianna's adopted homeland was on the brink of a social revolution.

She had other worries. Deeply involved in promoting artistic and cultural activities among the French-speaking world and Tunisia, she confided to me that it was becoming increasingly difficult to stage "avant garde" activities in Tunisia like in the past.

"We are all scared. There is an increasingly powerful Islamist movement in Tunisia. A few years ago, you would never see a covered woman on the street, now they are all around," she told me. She also told me something I did not know, either; that there is a umbilical cord between-upper class Tunisians and Turkey and that it was of great importance for such a Tunisian to claim Ottoman ancestry.

The thought of a Tunisia that would change its secularist character under the pressure of an Islamist movement like that of neighboring Egypt, was anathema to Marianna. She was sure that her views of a contemporary, Western type of cultural life would be severely restricted. Of course, as the majority of Tunisians, she detested the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali regime and its unbelievable corruption. However, accepting a corrupt secularist semi-democracy supported by the army with a stifled opposition against the option of an Islamist-based government must have been a terrible dilemma for her.

As it happened, Marianna's dilemma was resolved, at least temporarily. On Dec. 17, Mohamed Bouazizi, a young unemployed university graduate decided to pour petrol over himself and set himself alight in a moment of desperation. Thanks to modern technology, the pictures of his blazing body were immediately circulated throughout the country. Tunisia, one of the most liberal Arabic countries, with an exploding young population and a liberal-style life, had long ago become a devotee of Internet and social media technology. It took three weeks for Bouazizi to die, an agonizing death but it took equal time for the people of Tunisia to defy the authorities and go on a rampage on the streets. Dozens were killed by the army and the police forces. 

In a liberal Arab country like Tunisia, the "Jasmine Revolution," as it has been eventually called, made the autocratic Ben Ali flee the country with his hated wife and family, but left the army on the streets and a political uncertainty of who will rule the country.

Until a few weeks ago, Marianna's Facebook account would look like any information hub for a lively Franco-Tunisian cultural diary. Now it is a platform for all her friends as well as the friends of Tunisia to pour out their solidarity and concern. From tags of Bob Marley's "One Love" song to Patty Smith reading Alan Ginsberg's poetry, this electronic meeting point has become an amazing depiction of the current social and political fluidity of Tunisia.

"We think of you, wishing Tunisia LOVE, PEACE and FREEDOM," posts one friend from Greece while a Tunisian friend's video proclaims "France never supported Tunisia, History will never forgive."

Both the real and the virtual world are following the developments in Tunisia with intense interest. Whether this dramatic people's uprising will bring a more fair and democratic society is not certain.

As Hilary Clinton said last week, "These events are resonating so widely because the core problems of Tunisia are common to just about every country in the region: a growing population of young people who are at once educated and ambitious, unemployed and frustrated, muzzled and resentful."

But it seems that it is more than that, at least to the Western-oriented secularist part of the Tunisian society. This part fears that the abuse of this Western-oriented regime by an autocratic corrupt leadership – tolerated by the West – may become the best excuse for leading the country into to an Islamist political discourse. 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

VIETNAM: WHAT WAS IT ALL ABOUT?

GWYNNE DYER

Communist Party congresses are generally tedious events, and the eleventh congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party (Jan. 12-17) was no exception. The changes in personnel at the top are decided by the elite inner circle of the Party long before the congress opens, and the rhetoric is in the same wooden language that Communists always use.

 The nation must "renew the growth model and restructure the economy to speed up industrialization and modernization with fast and sustainable development," outgoing Party leader Nong Duc Manh told the congress on its opening day. "The strategy is to strive towards 2020 so that our country will basically become an industrialized nation." Well, that's a novel approach, isn't it?

 The talk is all about fighting inflation and corruption (there's quite a lot of both those things in Vietnam), while maintaining a high economic growth rate (6.8 percent last year). Ordinary people are struggling to maintain their standard of living (although they are far better off than they were twenty or thirty years ago), and resent being bossed around by the Communist elite – but they feel helpless to do anything about it.

 In other words, it's not all that different from the situation in, say, Thailand, just a little to the west, apart from the fact that the economic elite in Vietnam and their businessman cronies are Communist Party members.

Thailand is technically a democracy, but if you are a rural "red shirt" in Thailand your views on those in power will be little different from those that many Vietnamese peasants privately hold about the Communist Party. It's a more traditional elite in Thailand, but it clings to power just as tightly and rewards itself even more lavishly.

So what was it all about, then? Why was there a 15-year war in Vietnam (1960-75) that killed 58,000 American soldiers, and between one and three million Vietnamese? The United States government insisted at the time that it was about stopping Communist expansionism in Vietnam before it swept through all of South-East Asia. The Communists, who controlled North Vietnam, said it was only about reuniting the country. Who was right?

In retrospect, it's clear that the Communists were telling the truth. They won the war in Vietnam despite all the efforts of the United States, but the "domino effect" in the rest of South-East Asia never happened. In fact, the Vietnamese Communists never even tried to knock the dominoes over.

Apart from invading Cambodia in 1978 to drive the Khmer Rouge, a much nastier group of Communists, from power, Communist-ruled Vietnam has never sent troops abroad nor interfered in the internal affairs of other countries in the region. After a decade, all Vietnamese troops were withdrawn from Cambodia and even there Hanoi has virtually no influence today.

As for some vast Communist plot to overrun South-East Asia, it was never more than a fantasy. Indeed, within four years of uniting Vietnam, the Communist regime in Hanoi was at war with Communist China over a border dispute. In a perfect world, most people would probably prefer to spare their country the burden of a generation of Communist rule, but Vietnam is not a disaster, and it is no threat to anyone else.

So, once again, what was the war about? How did three American presidents allow themselves to be misled into fighting such a pointless, unwinnable war? Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were all intelligent men, and Eisenhower also had much experience at the highest level of military and diplomatic decision-making.

To varying degrees, they all fell for a strategic vision of the world that was mere fantasy, driven by ideology. Or rather, in Eisenhower's case and to some extent also in Kennedy's, they found it politically impossible to resist the demands of those who did live fully within that fantasy. So American foreign policy had little connection with reality for several decades, and a lot of people died.

The point is that this sort of thing happens all the time. The "war on terror" now is functionally almost indistinguishable from the anti-Communist crusade of the 1950s and 1960s, although the actual wars involve much lower levels of casualties. For Vietnam in 1960, read Iraq in 2003 – or, perhaps, Iran the day after tomorrow.

It doesn't only happen to Americans, of course. The various British invasions of Afghanistan in the 19th century were driven by the conviction that the rapacious Russians wanted to seize Britain's Indian empire, although the thought hadn't even occurred to the Russians. Germans spent the decade before World War I worried that they were being "encircled" by the other great powers.

But these delusions mainly afflict the great powers, because weaker countries cannot afford such expensive follies. They have to deal with reality as it is – which is why the Vietnamese Communists, for example, never dreamed of trying to spread their faith across the rest of the region. They were and are pragmatic people with purely local ambitions, so the resolutions of the 11th Party Congress are of little interest to anybody else.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

THE SOCIAL TRAP: A DILEMMA FOR TURKISH TOURISM

JANE AKATAY

 

Fethiye correspondent

Recently in this supplement John Laughland sparked a lively debate about dress (or lack of it) among tourists. Maybe eventually someone in authority will eventually take notice of his plea because it is one of a series of symptoms of what's wrong with tourism in Southwest Turkey. The tourism authorities need to examine the way we market Turkey as a holiday destination and re-brand the southwest. Let's stop selling this amazing part of the world short.

The southwest coast of Turkey is scenically spectacular, has a well-deserved reputation for hospitality and a uniquely rich historic culture, yet rather than using these assets to attract more quality independent tourism, it is often marketed as down-market "cheap" or high-end "inclusive" with little recognition of what makes Turkey special. This is as much about branding as price.

All too often foreign tourists are given unrealistic expectations for impossibly "cheap" holidays and budget accordingly, starving resort economies. But it is not just about cheap mass tourism. What about the expensive all-inclusives where only a fraction of their money enters the local economy?

Quality independent or family run hotels are an important part of the tourism sector and should be officially encouraged. Across price brackets, authentic and traditional accommodation making the most of Turkish hospitality appeals to many tourists and travelers. They also bring much needed money into local economies. The excellent Small Hotels of Turkey guide is a case in point.

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism and provincial authorities must remember that not everyone wants to stay in exclusive holiday villages or all-inclusive hotels, whether or not they can afford to. The loyal majority comes here because they want an authentic experience: to learn about the country; meet the locals; eat local food. Continue to cover our coast with glitzy all-inclusive hotels (often with negative economic repercussions on local communities) and we not only risk destroying local businesses but also alienating independent tourists.

Last summer a friend prepared a simple audit, comparing the income earned from tourists renting accommodation and spending money in Kaya valley, near Fethiye, with those coming from nearby mass tourism resorts to race through the village on quad bike excursions and quaff a drink at a local bar. The results were self-evident, telling a tale from which the Turkish tourism authorities can learn a valuable lesson.

As long as planes are filled with tourists who offer little to our provincial economies and southwest Turkey is marketed as a brand famous only for its cheap tourism or segregated "holiday villages," the long term prospects for tourism are bleak. But if we genuinely want to make the most of this amazing country, its diversity of culture and geography, encouraging tourists to engage with Turkish authenticity, then we have to stop and think again – and fast.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

PREVENTING AUTOCRATS AND THEOCRATS IN TUNISIA

HAYRİ ABAZA AND JONATHAN SCHANZER

The dramatic exodus of Tunisian dictator Ben Ali on Jan. 14 has been hailed by some as the fall of a ruthless Arab autocrat and a potential win for democracy in the Arab world. This is the first time an Arab leader has been forced from office by street protests. However, this is not the first time in modern history that a Tunisian dictator was removed in the wake of popular discontent. The fight for Tunisia may be far from over.

When Tunisia gained its independence from France in 1956, the country's founder Bourguiba implemented drastic secular policies. The famous Zitouna Mosque became a western-style university, sharia courts were abolished and women were discouraged from wearing the hijab. While devout Muslims were uncomfortable with these changes, it was not until Bourguiba drank a glass of orange juice on television during Ramadan in 1960 that they began to voice their discontent. 

The Islamist movement grew during the 1960s and 1970s, urged on by Muslim Brotherhood acolyte Rashid Ghannushi. However, only after the Iranian revolution in 1979 did the Islamist movement hit its stride.

In 1981, when Bourguiba called for the first multi-party elections in Tunisia's history, Ghannushi formed the Islamic Tendency Movement, or MTI. Ghannushi and many others were soon arrested for forming an unauthorized association. Bourguiba's National Front took all 136 seats in parliament, and started a crack down on the MTI. Companies were ordered not to hire Islamists. Women wearing the hijab were barred from public places and taxi drivers caught with Islamist materials had their beards cut and their licenses revoked.

Tensions peaked in March, 1987, when Bourguiba arrested over 3,000 Islamists, including Ghannushi, for speaking at a mosque without a license. When Ghannushi was given a life sentence street riots erupted, followed by bombings at four Tunisian hotels. 

At this point, it had become clear that Bourguiba had lost control. His lieutenants realized that he had to be deposed if they were to continue ruling.

In November, 1987, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, formerly director general of national security, took control of the government amid reports that Bourguiba was in poor health. Ben Ali quickly moved to placate the Islamists. He released Ghannushi, went on a publicized pilgrimage to Mecca and ordered the observance of Ramadan. He pardoned other MTI members, and scheduled elections for April, 1989.

European capitals heralded this smooth transition in the hope that Tunisia would remain a secular and stable neighbor.

Optimism surrounding the 1989 general elections dropped, however, when Ben Ali barred Ghannushi's Renaissance Party on the eve of the vote. Islamists ran individually and officially captured 14.6 percent of the vote, although the true results were estimated at between 30 percent and 40 percent.

Ben Ali, however, had the victories annulled. State media announced that Ben Ali's Constitutional Democratic Party won every seat in the election with 99 percent of the vote. When Islamists took to the streets in protest, the regime dismantled the Renaissance Party and arrested thousands, beginning a long campaign of government repression.

Until Jan. 14, Ben Ali had successfully held the Islamists and all other challengers at bay. However, Tunisians quietly chafed under his regime. The recent economic discontent was only a symptom of the widespread frustration in this North African nation.

In Tunisia's cyclical modern history, it is clear that autocracies ultimately give way to frustration and instability. The regime could offer some small cosmetic changes to placate the angry Tunisian street. However, it could also simply regain control by oppression. Neither approach will solve Tunisia's endemic and systemic problems.

Today, however, the masses still rule the streets, and the regime has not yet consolidated power. Amidst all of groups that participated in this street revolution, the Islamists are clearly the most organized, as they were during the Iranian revolution in 1979, and as they are across the Arab world today. To ensure that neither the Islamist theocrats nor the regime autocrats gain power, the West must support a genuine liberal democratic process in Tunisia.

The West now has an opportunity to ensure a political transition in the Arab world resulting in neither theocracy nor autocracy. The former has been a force for instability to both Arab states and Europe while the latter creates the façade of stability but ultimately gives way to great tumult.

Hayri Abaza is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Jonathan Schanzer is the vice president of research at FDD.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

CONSPIRACY THEORIES…

YUSUF KANLI

If the most prominent plot theoretician in the Turkish media did not fall victim to a plot – portraying him somehow as a collaborator of the American ambassador in "cleansing" the Turkish media from some writers allegedly hated by U.S. diplomats and lost his writing place, perhaps we would be reading nowadays some exemplary explanation of why the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is apparently struggling to commit suicide nowadays. Most probably he would claim that some anti-Islamist agents, particularly those elements who have been trying to offer some precious services to their bosses across the Atlantic, were staging some dirty plots to bring an end to the AKP government in Turkey…

Would he, indeed? Naturally, as a friend of the troubled writer for the past almost 20 years and perfectly sure of his Islamic, conservative background as well as commitment to democracy but at the same time a witness to his region-centered and Islam-dominated worldview which indeed categorically nullifies the slightest possibility of him willingly getting involved in any sort of American-designed plot theories against either Turkey or any journalist colleague, I would think that he would make such an assessment. But, even the imagination and the immense conspiracy theoretician experience of my friend and colleague Fehmi Koru could not suffice to explain the developments…

The prime minister might prefer to yell at relevant and irrelevant people, irritating everyone… He might try to overcome the problems he and his people have somehow willingly or unwillingly ignited by scaring and silencing everyone. It is a fact, however, that not only his "traditional opponents" or the "worried moderns" – a strange terminology developed to describe the liberal democrats of the society who unlike neo-liberals have been categorically supporting the AKP but were worried of the developments restricting individual freedoms while appreciating the advances in other fields, particularly the economy – but the neo-liberals who have always been supportive of the AKP government have started seriously questioning where the AKP is indeed steering the country to…

Was it possible to believe the explanation of the prime minister that all of a sudden the Tobacco and Alcohol Market Regulatory Authority, or TAPDK, decided to "update" its circular on the consumption of tobacco products and alcohol in Turkey just to "harmonize" the practice in Turkey in that area with that of the European Union and the United States? The prime minister must have been joking but unfortunately he was in no such mode during the weekend…

Obviously, both the government, Justice Ministry and the judiciary were faulty at some degree in the release of some "inmates" from Turkish prisons after an article on the maximum arrest periods for suspects who were not yet convicted went into force. Was there any meaning in trying to play blame game and waste precious time? Now, new arrest warrants were issued against them but the radical Islamist Hizbullah gang suspects who were charged with murdering over 180 people could not be found and are believed to have escaped abroad… Since the arrest periods are too long in Turkey despite the maximum periods introduced under European duress, Turkey obviously should reform its justice system to speed up judicial processes in this country. No one with some brains can accept within the limits of law and norms of justice the continuation of a case for more than 10 years and its suspects getting out because the maximum arrest periods article was finally put into force five years after it was legislated… So, there is no functioning justice system unfortunately, but can anyone say there is good governance in this country?

Worse, the prime minister is a human being and it is normal for all human beings to occasionally make mistakes. Realizing the mistake and stepping back is often described as wisdom. Wise men or wise countries must have wisdom and the capability to step back from mistakes. Is it understandable at all why the prime minister is insisting in that "freak" discussion and continuing to demand the removal of the half-finished 35m-high "Statue of Humanity" sculpture of a divided human figure overlooking the city of Kars be taken down? This weekend he insisted once again that he will never ever allow that sculpture, which is built to symbolize the yearning of fraternal Turkish-Armenian relations, because it was standing taller than an Islamic shrine in the same neighborhood…

Or, is it at all understandable why under the directives of the government the Radio and Television High Board, or RTÜK, has issued a warning saying "Sensitivity was not shown to the protection of individual rights of a historical personality" in a soap opera on the grounds that it exposed the "sexual activities" of the sultan?

Even Koru – though he would never ever agree with me that the AKP was just feeling strong enough to unveil its true agenda – would not be able to explain the developments with conspiracy theories…

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

FROM THE BOSPHORUS STRAIGHT - TURKISH WOMEN ARE THEIR OWN 'SECRET WEAPON'

FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT

It is understandable that we would be particularly sympathetic to the views of businesswomen Güler Sabancı and Ümit Boyner. As we reported in our weekend newspaper, both of these well-known business leaders argue that Turkey will languish without greater economic participation by women. We agree.

A glance at the masthead of Hürriyet Daily News' management, or a leaf through our pages to examine bylines and the photographs above them, should explain the source of our perspective. Measured by percentages, we are Turkey's most feminine newspaper and arguably one of the most feminine anywhere.

We concur with Boyner and Sabancı that Turkey will fall far short of its goal to be the world's 10th largest economy by 2023 without boosting overall female participation in the economy, now at about 25 percent. It is more than 60 percent in the European Union. But we will call their bet and raise it. For we also believe that an important tool to reach that goal is what we might call Turkey's female "secret weapon."

It is well known and well established that Turkish women share the fate of those in many developing societies, particularly those in our region, where men dominate politics, social discourse, family decision-making and financial power and control. Domestic abuse of women is a widespread curse: in rural areas the participation levels in the formal economy typically fall to around 5 percent. Clearly, Turkey cannot progress while ignoring, abusing and shunting aside this intellectual, emotional and human capital.

But less known are the beachheads that Turkish women have already establish at some – if not all – of the commanding heights of the Turkish economy. In this, Turkey is unique among developing countries, a secret that needs to be more deeply analyzed and used. Both Boyner and Sabancı are emblematic of this. The percentage of Turkish women on corporate boards of directors, for example, is the highest in Europe.

More than 40 years ago, research revealed that Turkish women had the world's highest levels of participation in academia, engineering, law and architecture and were second only to the Soviet Union in their representation in medicine. While Europe and North America have now narrowed the once-large gap, Turkey still leads or is number two worldwide in all of these categories. Glass ceilings abound, of course. There is work to be done to improve women's fortunes in these sectors as well.

But while many countries share Turkey's overall poor rate of female participation, virtually none have women already leading in such important spheres. The call by Sabancı and Boyner is just one piece of evidence of this latent feminine power. We think it is just the start, that the full emancipation of women in Turkey will be led by Turkey's many already powerful and accomplished women. Let's get to work.

* The views expressed in the Straight represent the consensus opinion of the Hürriyet Daily News and its editorial board members.

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

RENTAL POWER

 

  Whatever might have been the intentions of the PPP government in bringing rental power plants in to help alleviate our power crisis, we seem little better off for their efforts. Project after project across the country is hampered by late implementation, complete failure to deliver in some cases and a procurement process that has all the transparency of a brick wall. On Friday last week the supreme Court extended the 24-hour deadline for repayment of monies by a defaulting RPP to three days – giving them until January 17 to return an advance of Rs970 million. On top of this a 20 per cent markup was added, much to the indignation of counsel representing the RPP. If they fail to pay up, the owner of the RPP would have his passport impounded and he would be arrested. He is reportedly in Dubai. In the above instance a substantial advance was paid but the RPP failed completely to bring in the machinery which would have been installed at the 50MW Naudero-II RPP – and this is at the small-fry end of the RPP cock-up.


At the other end of the spectrum we have the still powerless Turkish 'Kaya Bey' power ship that arrived to considerable fanfare in November last year. The ship – here on a five year contract but with a service life of up to 25 years – has yet to generate a single watt. There are rumblings that the power it will eventually produce will be prohibitively expensive; and that when the maintenance costs are added to the power-generation costs the project begins to look like a floating disaster before it lights a single energy-saving bulb. The residents of Karachi had hoped that the Kara Bey would ease their own power woes – but it is not to be. Even if the ship starts generating the electricity it produces will go into the national grid and will not be exclusively – or even partly – for Karachi. The RPP's were never intended as a long-term solution to the chronic problem of our power deficits. That can only be provided by the construction of dams and power plants utilising our massive coal reserves in Thar. We are at least five years away from seeing a coal-fired power station come online – and it is anybody's guess as to when additional hydro-watts will start flowing through the system. Meanwhile, industry sinks to its knees and those protesting at power cuts are shot by the police. As we have observed before – it's no way to run a country, is it?

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

A GREATER GAME?

  

Any reference made today to The Great Game conjures up images of the struggle for control of Afghanistan – among other places and countries – by the British empire and the Russian empire in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is as much the stuff of myth and legend as it is of hard facts, but the undeniable reality of the Durand Line gives it a modern and, for us and the Afghans, distinctly uncomfortable itching between the shoulder blades. For many it is echo of colonialism, of the time when the nations of the west owned or managed large swathes of the globe for their own benefit and profit. Thus when we read of reports that our own Foreign Office officials speaking to the press after the US Vice President had visited say that "there will be no new great game" and that the prime minister says "No formula from abroad can resolve the Afghan issue" – then we have pause for thought.


Whilst the PM's understanding of the complexities of The Great Game may be a little sketchy, he is right to say that external solutions are going to be of little use to a local problem. Every power from outside the region that has made an intervention in Afghanistan in order to 'solve' its problems has eventually failed; and often miserably so. That the lessons of history are no more learned today than they have been in the past is evidenced by the perception that the Americans (new players in The Great Game) are playing it today and with no more chance of winning it than any other previous combatant. Despite the original Great Game having mostly fizzled out after Great Britain and Russia became allies in World War II, it was possible to see its embers burning down the years. The concept of The Great Game is close to the surface of the geopolitical sea in our part of the world, and American policy makers would do well to hang on their walls a copy of a painting called 'Remnants of an army' by Elizabeth Butler. It depicts (wrongly) assistant surgeon William Brydon riding his dying horse into the fort at Jalalabad after the massacre of Lord Elphinstone's army on their retreat from Kabul. A salutary lesson that perhaps needs relearning in the context of an America whose empire, like that of the British, is transitory.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

DAANISH SCHOOLS

  

There is little to cheer about on the education front of late, but the opening of the first of the 'Daanish Schools' in Rahim Yarkhan last Thursday gives rise for cautious optimism. The project, which is currently limited to southern Punjab, has been criticised on grounds of cost, but it is hard to fault its underpinning principles. The Daanish schools are designed to deliver a high-quality education to the poorest of the population. They seek to provide not only access for the poor but to provide them with teachers that have been recruited on merit and well-trained, and with schools that are equipped to a high standard. So far, so good. Good education never comes cheap wherever you are in the world, and investing in projects such as this may, over a generation, begin to build a bedrock of students who have had a rounded education. An education which is hopefully free of some of the misinformation and errors of fact that so bedevil our state curriculum today.


The project has prominent political supporters within the PML-N who have promoted it over the last two years and there is international interest in monitoring the progress of the project. And here is the caveat. Good as they may turn out to be, can the Daanish schools survive a withdrawal of political patronage? Were there to be a change in the political wind would they be funded by an administration of a different political colour? For a project such as this to be a success – and there is no doubt that it deserves to be – it needs to be future-proofed. Otherwise we are going to be left with disappointed, bitter and half-educated young people who will be as ripe for ideological exploitation as any other half-educated, bitter and disappointed young person anywhere. The project deserves our support, but we hope that its creators look to its continued existence beyond their own political shelf-life.

 

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

IS MODI INDIA'S FUTURE?

AIJAZ ZAKA SYED


He is an agent of change. He is the best thing to have happened to India in decades. He is the only one who could banish poverty from India. He is the leader India has been waiting for all these years. He is the hope and future of the emerging world leader that is India. Who's he though? Rahul Gandhi? Nah! It's vibrant Gujarat's vibrant leader Shri Narendra Modiji.


The biennial event that Gujarat has been hosting to promote the state as the world's favoured investment destination over the past ten years has become a Modi love fest with captains of the Indian industry and virtual who's who of big business, singing paeans to the great leader that Gujarat chief minister clearly is for them.

Ratan Tata of Tata Group regales the audience with his first person account of how Modi gets things done in a jiffy and always delivers on his promises. Anil Ambani of the Reliance sees in him "a catalyst for change." Gujarat is to India, he argues, what India is to the world, the beacon of hope for the future. His elder brother, the richest Indian and the chairman of the powerful Reliance Group, Mukesh Ambani, addresses him with utmost reverence, almost as if the chief minister was Lord Ram himself, saying only he could banish poverty from Gujarat and deliver India itself. And of course all the Ambanis, Tatas, Mahindras and Mittals promised to invest thousands of crores of rupees more in Gujarat.


Am I really that clueless? Or is Modi indeed the mahatma India has been waiting for decades? How can the Tatas and Ambanis of this world forget so fast that this visionary presided over the dance of death in February 2002 that killed at least two thousand people? This is the very same man whose gangs went on a rampage, raping and killing women before their loved ones. They didn't even spare unborn babies in their mothers' wombs.

This is not my fevered imagination talking. This is something that has been documented and proven by independent media, rights groups, witnesses and cops and officials who were on duty during those few weeks when Gujarat turned into something straight from Dante's Inferno. At least, three inquiry commissions have probed the carnage that went on for nearly two months with Neroes in Delhi fiddling while Gujarat burnt. It didn't take them long to discover the truth.


Indeed, there was little to probe. Everyone who read newspapers and watched the television knew what happened in Gujarat and who executed it with a cool, dispassionate ruthlessness that would have made the Nazis proud. Newsmagazine Tehelka even caught the killers on tape for the benefit of everyone. Yet Modi not just remains in power and roams free, India's richest and mightiest are shamelessly grovelling before him, praising him to the skies. The media that long ago brushed everything that has happened in Gujarat under the carpet remains hopelessly in love with him. Even those whose sleepy conscience goads them once in a while bring out their kid gloves when dealing with Mahatma Modi!


This is but just one example of the mindset that is at work not just in the media but in the entire establishment that has been hijacked by the ideology that rules Gujarat today. Even after the recent revelations and first person account of senior RSS leader Swami Aseemanand, exposing the direct role of the Hindutva organisations in numerous terror attacks across the country, the media continues to treat it as though it was some minor traffic offence we are dealing with.


Remember at least 68 people were killed in the 2007 blast targeting Samjhauta Express that links India and Pakistan. Thirty-eight people died in the terror attack that hit a Malegaon mosque in 2006. The explosion at the Friday prayers in Hyderabad's historical Mecca Masjid claimed 14 worshippers in 2007. Even the Sufi shrine in Ajmer Shareef that attracts followers of all religions wasn't spared.


All these attacks had been of course blamed on the "Muslim terrorists" and Pakistani agents that apparently lurk in the ranks of India's 200-million strong Muslim population. Thousands of young Muslims – and old – were randomly picked up from across the country, especially from Muslim majority cities like Hyderabad, and thrown behind the bars without any recourse to justice.


For years they were put through some of the worst methods of torture known to man. I personally know many such unfortunate men whose lives have been totally wrecked because of someone else's sins. Those faceless men, forgotten by a callous, Kafkaesque system, are still languishing in prisons, paying for crimes they haven't committed. CNN-IBN TV has done a series of courageous and eye-popping stories on many such men and some of them are available on YouTube.


However, for much of the Indian media and establishment, including the bureaucracy and police, Muslims remain the usual suspects, no matter what Swami Aseemanand's sworn testimony says. Or the facts and ground realities suggest. Innocent Muslims are still rounded up as the guilty whenever and wherever a bomb goes off.


The RSS, BJP and their many affiliates with the help of their powerful friends in high places have started protesting and fighting back with a vehemence and conviction that only they could muster. BJP chief Gadkari condemns the stunning disclosures and detailed reports in publications like Tehelka as a Congress conspiracy against the RSS and the Hindus.


Sangh apologists like Swapandas Gupta bend over backwards to defend the indefensible, trying to explain what is nothing but pure, old-fashioned terrorism as "retributive violence." The governing Congress, ever preoccupied with its fine electoral calculations, goes to great lengths to warn against tagging "any religion with terrorism." A classic case of living in denial!


As Pratap Bhanu Mehta wrote in Indian Express this week, "our response to this challenge has been, at best, an embarrassed denial. In the process we have put on display our double standards. We could not even get ourselves to admit that anyone claiming the appellation Hindu could be terrorists. This is more a symptom of our prejudice than a fact. This also seemed to blindside investigative agencies enough that they kept on pursuing the wrong leads and targeting the wrong groups."


Will this ever change? When will India wake up to the clear and present danger it faces in Hindu extremism? All these years the Sangh fanatics have been dismissed as a lunatic, but totally harmless, fringe by the establishment. The fringe, however, is not a fringe any more. It has taken control of the silent majority. More important, as Aseemanand's testimony reveals, it is armed and dangerous. Which has been borne out by the numerous attacks in the past few years. Extremism is extremism, whether it's that of Muslims or Hindus. It eats into the vitals of a vibrant society, as cancer gnaws its way into a healthy body. However, as Nehru warned half a century ago, majority extremism is more dangerous because it always masquerades as nationalism. India has to stop this rot before it's too late. Living in denial wouldn't get us anywhere.


As I've repeatedly said, the Hindu majority is essentially reasonable, peace-loving and amazingly tolerant. India is what it is today because of them. But Hindutva extremism is also a stark reality and a challenge that India has to confront sooner or later. Men like Modi may bring investors but their kind of politics won't work for long. You can't build a beautiful utopia on the foundations of injustice and murder. Your sins catch up with you sooner or later. Our friends next door in Pakistan are realising to their horror what extremism and politics of hate could do to a large, populous and diverse nation. We mustn't go down that road.


The writer is a Dubai-based writer who has written extensively on the Middle East and South Asia.Email: aijaz.syed@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

ANY SMART IDEAS?

   HUSSAIN H ZAIDI


Chairperson: My dear colleagues, the last time we met we decided on the measures to erase the perception that our government was impotent. Today we have assembled to apply our collective wisdom to another pressing problem. You know we had committed to the international donors to contain the fiscal deficit in exchange for capital inflows that we were in dire need of. But we have not been able to honour many of the commitments. The government was supposed to reform the general sales tax. The reform bill is gathering dust in the official files. We were supposed to rationalise petroleum prices. We did that, but had to backpedal, otherwise our coalition would have fallen apart. You'll understand that we can't dillydally over reforms too long. Being practitioners of populist politics, we can't afford to take unpopular steps either. So we are between the devil and the deep blue sea. We have to find a way out before those who brought us to power dump us. Where's our economic wizard?


Economic Wizard (trying to suppress his anger): Sir, I had told you in so many words that some harsh measures were in order. But my advice fell on deaf ears. I insist that we go ahead with what the donors suggest.

Chairperson (bluntly): You are steeped in economics but a novice in politics. Were it so easy to swallow the donors' pills, we would already have done so.


Economic Wizard: I do understand that we aren't strong enough to take unpopular decisions. But what I don't understand is why we shrink from adopting measures which are popular as well as cost-saving?


Chairperson: Is it possible? I'm all ears.


Economic Wizard: Sir, we can cut the current expenditure. To begin with, we can slash the size of the cabinet. There's no reason to have, in such hard times, an entire army of ministers, ministers of state and advisors, with their perks and privileges running into millions.


A Young Member: I endorse the views of our economic wizard. In addition to being a burden on the national exchequer, large cabinets have certain other demerits. They make the exercise of collective responsibility of the cabinet difficult, which requires that before a decision is made the issue at hand is thoroughly discussed and members speak their minds. However, such detailed deliberations are hardly possible in the presence of a large number of ministers. Besides, large cabinets lack strategic vision, for in-depth discussion of issues is generally not possible and the emphasis is on wrapping up the debate. Another demerit of a large cabinet is that ministers scramble for resources, especially where these are already meagre, as in our case.


Chairperson (looking at his young colleague): I have pinned high hopes on you, but I'm sorry you have disappointed me in this case. The principles you are referring to are nice indeed, but only in textbooks. They are applicable, if at all, to Western democracy. We have a different political culture which thrives on patronage, which makes it imperative to have as big a cabinet as possible.


A Senior Member: With the kind permission of the Chairperson, I would like to add to the merits of having a large cabinet. We are a coalition and have to concede to the demands of the smaller partners who want their share of the pie. On top of that, the policy of reconciliation to which our party is committed calls for adequate representation to all regions and accommodate various interests in parliament. Then, ours is a bicameral legislature and both chambers need to have adequate representation in the cabinet. I don't buy the argument that a large cabinet is inefficient. On the contrary, I contend that a large cabinet, as in our case, imparts greater efficiency and responsibility to the working of the government.


Chairperson (with a big nod): It's settled that the size of the cabinet isn't going to be trimmed. So we're back to square one. Any smart ideas?


A Woman Member: Why don't we bring development expenditure down drastically? It's years before the fruits of development spending are reaped. Why should we waste our energies and resources in planting a tree today whose fruit we mayn't eat tomorrow?


Chairperson: Your proposal is well taken. At the moment our concern is to save our government, for which we need to keep both the donors and the allies behind us. But how would both react to slash in development spending? First the donors.


Economic Wizard: Personally I wouldn't go for reducing development spending, because it'll slow down the pace of the economy.


Chairperson: May I remind you that I didn't ask for your personal views?


Economic Wizard: But I was coming to that. If we can't push up our revenue, then we'll have to cut back on our expenditure. If cuts in current spending aren't coming through, then there's no alternative to slashing development expenditure. I think the donors will settle for that.


Senior Member: When it comes to seeing beyond the immediate, our allies aren't much different from us. We all play to the gallery. So rest assured, they will not make much of that.


Chairperson: So it's settled. No cuts in current spending; only development spending will be brought down.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad. Email: hussainhzaidi @gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

INVALUABLE ASSETS

DR A Q KHAN


On Dec 23, the members of the Senior Citizens Foundation of Pakistan, Islamabad chapter, held their meeting at the Pakistan Academy of Science auditorium. I chaired the meeting as its president and I am proud to have been elected to this august position. Last year's award was conferred on the famous educationist and religious scholar Dr S M Zaman.


This Foundation has as its members a large number of highly qualified, experienced technocrats and bureaucrats. I am proud of the fact that, after becoming a senior citizen in 1996, I was awarded their Distinguished Senior Citizen Award. If one looks at the biographies of the eminent members, one will see that many of them have doctoral degrees from some of the world's most famous universities and have had decades of invaluable practical experience. All this expertise is there but remains unutilised, and that when the country is going through one of the worst economic situations in its history. The Foundation, a non-political, non-profit organisation dedicated to the welfare of senior citizens, was set up in 1987.


Unfortunately, the government has not provided any financial assistance to this Foundation and has totally failed to utilise their invaluable potential for the benefit of the country. Every year the Foundation confers an award on an eminent senior citizen. In developed the countries, the governments utilise the services of highly qualified senior and experienced citizens. At universities one can work until the age of 70 as professor emeritus and in private enterprises there is usually no set age limit. In those countries "think tanks" are established and financed by government agencies, and even some private multinationals or large corporations. They analyse, prepare reports and make suggestions on various problems and topics of national and international interest.

It is sad that even though we have a large number of foreign educated and highly experienced, competent technocrats in every field, the country is still plagued by innumerable problems. The cause of this is our ill-educated and inexperienced rulers, who are more interested in corruption, nepotism and favouritism than in betterment of conditions in the country.


In all developed countries, great emphasis is placed on education and there is great respect for learned people. Our religion teaches the same principle. The Quran tells us it was an aalim (learned person) who put the throne of Queen Saba (Sheeba) at the feet of the prophet Sulaiman (AS), something which a giant jinni could not do.

More than a hundred years ago, the great British-American mathematician and philosopher, Dr Alfred North Whitehead, gave this golden advice: "In the conditions of modern life, the rule is absolute: the race which does not value trained intelligence is doomed. Not all your heroism, not all your social charm, not all your wit, not all your victories on land or at sea can move back the finger of fate. Today we maintain ourselves, tomorrow science will have moved over yet one more step and there will be no appeal from the judgement which will be pronounced on the uneducated" We notice that he states that a nation which fails to value and utilise the expertise of its trained intelligentsia is doomed forever, to say nothing of an uneducated nation.

Sir Karl Popper, the eminent British philosopher and sociologist, said: "Next to music and art, science is the greatest, most beautiful and most enlightening achievement of the human spirit." As a scientist and technologist, I would rather put science (and technology) above music and art. In developed countries, each specialised field (ministry) has its own cadre of well-qualified and experienced technocrats. In our country ordinary graduates are "turned" into PhDs (with their degrees valid or otherwise) and placed in charge of departments for which they have no specialisation.

On a lighter note, let me relate the story of Naushervan Aadil, was a famous and just ruler in Iran, and the donkey. One night, he heard the loud ringing of the bell outside his palace. A person needing help could pull the chain to which the bell was fastened. Naushervan immediately sent servants to check who could be in need so late at night. The servants found a weak, thin donkey standing near the chain. They returned to the king and told him that it was only an old donkey which had probably rubbed its body against the chain by accident. The king replied that they were wrong; the donkey was definitely conveying a complaint. He then ordered the servants to take good care of it, feed it well and then take it to the marketplace the next day to enquire about it. The servants found out that it belonged to a washerman who had used it to carry heavy loads for many years. When it had become old and weak, he put it out on the street. Sometimes someone took pity on it and gave it something to eat. The poor beast had been wandering around like that for one-and-a-half years. When the servants reported back to the king, he told them to bring the washerman to him the next day together with four respected citizens. Upon his appearance the king said: "You are ordered to take good care of the donkey and feed it properly. These notables will monitor your behaviour, and if you fail to comply with my orders, you will be given exemplary punishment." (Toosi)


Likewise, the rulers should not discard senior citizens. In most developed countries, senior citizens receive many facilities, free transport within the city, reduction in train and air fares, cheaper theatre and cinema tickets, with pensions exempted from income tax and automatically increased with inflation.


There is urgent need for the enactment of the Senior Citizens Act, which has been collecting dust in the National Assembly for many years. Furthermore, there is a lot of discrimination against senior citizens will regard to increase in pensions. This needs immediate rectification.


Our country is plagued by the worst economic situation in our history and there is bad governance in almost every field. There is dire need for senior citizens to be provided with a small building with an auditorium to seat about 100 people, a few rooms for staff, a library and internet facilities, so that they can get together to discuss the various problems faced by the country and prepare reports and suggestions to the various agencies. Such facilities should be set up in the federal capital and in all the provincial capitals.


This is normal practice in developed countries where the expertise of senior citizens is utilised. We could also make use of this asset for advice on all the problems the country is facing today. Unfortunately, in our country, these assets become no more than old stories in history books. The important advice given by Prof. Alfred North Whitehead should be remembered. "The race which does not value trained intelligence is doomed." Posterity will ask our rulers why they failed to do that.

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

TASEER'S REAL KILLERS

AHMED QURAISHI


Salmaan Taseer was a good Pakistani, a self-made businessman who did not use his politics to create illegal wealth or stash it abroad like most other politicians. He revolutionised telecommunications, introducing wireless telephony, Internet and cable television to Pakistan. In college in Britain, as Ambassador Zafar Hilaly recalled on this page, Mr Taseer read the Quran.


A week before his murder, he accused India of involvement in terrorism in Balochistan and defended Pakistan's moral support to Kashmiris. The day he died, he was wearing a chain around his neck with Ayat-ul Kursi, one of the most inspirational verses from the Holy Quran. Despite being a liberal, he was not a 'westernised extremist' and never indulged in attacks against religious Pakistanis throughout his political career. He criticised a law written by legislators and lawyers, but did not question Islam's death penalty for proven blasphemy. Showing support to a poor Pakistani Christian woman with young children who was not an intentional blasphemer was a humanitarian act, and very Islamic. He certainly was not a blasphemer.


Pakistan must prevent three different parties from hijacking the debate over the anti-blasphemy law and over Mr Taseer's murder. One is our own religious extremists. Two is our own westernised liberal extremists. And the third party is foreign governments and media whose statements complicate the internal debate instead of resolving it.


Unfortunately, there is no credible face in the Pakistani government that could step forward and put the issue in perspective. The anti-blasphemy law is not directed at Pakistani Christians. The anti-blasphemy law traps more Muslims in its net than Christians, as the recent case of a conviction of a mosque imam and his son indicates. This does not mean the law should not be amended or repealed. It must be either amended or repealed because it is being abused. For example, the 45-year-old mosque imam and his 20-year-old son were convicted for life this month because they dared remove a poster on their shop window advertising a religious event that contained Quranic verses. It is ridiculous. What mosque imam would commit blasphemy?


The real problem over the law is between an extremist westernised minority of Pakistanis, who ridicule religion, and between another extremist religious minority, that takes religion to extreme. The extremist westernised minority wants no religion at all and keeps talking about European secularism, which is misplaced in Pakistan. This provokes the religious extremist minority into paranoia and pushes them to extremes, as in the case of the 26-year-old bodyguard who murdered Governor Taseer. Caught between the two extremes are the majority of moderate, peaceful Pakistanis.


The US and other western governments make matters worse by openly siding with the extremist westernised minority in Pakistan, provoking reaction. Also, some of the foreign support is self-interested. Some of the foreign governments are using Mr Taseer's murder and the impassioned debate over the law to revive the falling legitimacy of the war in Afghanistan. Linking our internal debate with a disastrous foreign war is dangerous. Our debate over the law is similar to the US debate over abortion at one time that sharply divided the American public opinion and led to some violence. Outsiders must not be allowed to interfere in this debate.

The impression that foreign support is behind Sherry Rehman's motion against the anti-blasphemy law provoked the other extreme. And her move to remove capital punishment for blasphemy is inconsistent with Islamic injunctions. It is an extremist position that does not appreciate and understand the religious sympathies of most Pakistanis which are legitimate and require no apologies.

On the other hand, Islam has blossomed for fifteen centuries without our made-in-Pakistan anti-blasphemy law, which contains procedures for trial, witnesses and conviction that are man-made and have nothing to do with religion. No one in Pakistan dares to commit blasphemy and this law creates the false impression of prevalence of blasphemy cases in our country. Most Arab and Muslim countries specify death penalty for proven blasphemy but do not have a law like ours. Leaders of religious political parties know these facts but chose to play politics and mislead gullible Pakistanis because they used this debate for popularity and recruitment.

Our overriding concern in this debate is to unite Pakistanis and stop a situation where Pakistanis go to war with each other because of two extremist minorities. We must stop anyone fanning this divide and try to bridge it with reason. Incitement to kill or to ridicule religion from either side must be sternly dealt with. We need to remind our people that a bigger travesty of our religion is to find a minister of Hajj, himself a clergyman, stealing pilgrims' money. This debate can be redirected.


The writer works for Geo television.Email: aq@paknationalists.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THE GREAT DIVIDE

ASIF EZDI


The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.


The sharply divided public reaction to the tragic assassination of Salmaan Taseer has brought into focus the class differences that separate Pakistan's small affluent minority from the impoverished masses, as well as the growing polarisation between the two. The divisions are age-old but the threat of confrontation between the classes is new. It is no wonder that the rich are scared. But it is typical of their insensitivity to the sufferings and privations of the huge disadvantaged majority in their midst that while they sense the danger, they are not prepared to contemplate even minimal corrective steps that could affect their pockets.


As is evident from the government's policies, the state acts as the servant of the privileged few in protecting their interests. Only a fortnight before Taseer's murder, the government abandoned plans for a reform of the general sales tax that would have brought some of the tax-evading rich in the tax net; and two days after his assassination, the contemplated increase in fuel prices was rolled back, a step which would further swell state subsidies that mainly benefit the wealthy, in effect transferring money from the hands of the poor to the pockets of the rich. Both these steps were taken ostensibly to give relief to the poorer classes. But behind-the-scenes pressure from the privileged rich seems to have been the decisive factor.


The gulf between those who came out to mourn Taseer's murder and those who rallied to defend, even eulogise, Mumtaz for his act could hardly be wider. On the one side, there were small groups of well-fed and well-dressed men and women from the rich and privileged upper classes, the archetypes of the "enlightened moderation" brigade. The placards they were carrying were mostly in English, the language that they have adopted as an instrument to perpetuate their position. In the opposite corner of the ring are the angry masses, people from the poorer sections of the society, who bear the brunt of the economic squeeze and have to struggle constantly against sliding deeper and deeper into poverty. It is these people who demonstrated in their thousands and tens of thousands in defence of the law on blasphemy and hailed Mumtaz as a hero.


The two live in the same country but they could well have come from different planets. They hardly communicate with each other and that is not just because of the language gap. From the cradle to the grave, they live in two different worlds. Class differences exist in most countries of the world but in few of them do the upper classes monopolise power, wealth and privilege as completely as they do in Pakistan. Not only do they possess the vast bulk of the national wealth, they also control all institutions of state – government, parliament, administration – and use that control freely to protect, consolidate and perpetuate their position. They are virtually above the law. They evade taxes, steal public money and shamelessly exploit the honest, hard-working citizens of the country. They systematically deny opportunities of education to the poor that could one day enable them to break the shackles of poverty. As a result, the chasm between the rich and the poor continues to widen.

It is this gulf between the classes, the climate of festering social injustice and the seemingly unshakeable hold of a corrupt and predatory ruling class on the levers of power that lies at the root of radicalisation in the country. Our "liberal elite" has now gone into high gear bemoaning the rise of religious extremism but instead of holding this class responsible, they have been searching for scapegoats. Many of our commentators, especially those who write in our English language newspapers, have been projecting this phenomenon as a clash between moderates and extremists, between the secular-minded and Islamic fundamentalists, between progressives and reactionaries, between enlightenment and obscurantism and between narrow-minded clerics and those who believe in respect for fundamental human rights.


This theme has also been echoed in the world press. The Washington Post wrote in an editorial on January 6 that the assassination of Taseer, "an outspoken defender of secular values", was a "reminder that Pakistan is engaged in a fateful civil war between democratic moderates and Muslim extremists – and that the current government is the most reliably liberal force." The Financial Times commented similarly that Taseer's killing "reveal(s) the sharpening divide between the forces of secularism and Islamic fundamentalism which are tearing at Pakistani society." Most Pakistanis would beg to differ. In their eyes, what characterises the present government is not a liberal or democratic spirit or some other high purpose but rampant corruption, cronyism, absence of governance, policy drift and a preoccupation with its own survival. A reputation for being corrupt, far from being a disqualification, has become a necessary condition for high offices of state, whether that of president, prime minister, minister or governor and for lucrative posts in government-controlled enterprises.

The description of the PPP by the New York Times as a "secular-leaning party" is similarly wide off the mark. The PPP is simply the largest of the country's dynastic feudal parties that seek to perpetuate the existing iniquitous social order. The party is currently championing a secular approach because it sells well in the West, upon whose support it depends to stay in power. Most of the other political parties are also coalitions of leading feudal families, business houses and mafias set up to grab power and share in the spoils.


One of the leading lights of our "liberal elite" has faulted the army for maintaining an "ominous" silence on Taseer's killing. This is simply weird. We rightly expect the armed forces to stay clear of politics and refrain from poking their nose in matters that are not their business. The murder of Taseer is one such matter and it is only appropriate that the military should have adopted a reticent attitude to it.


What we should be castigating instead is the tacit alliance that past military dictatorships, including those of Musharraf and Zia, maintained – like much of our "liberal elite" – with the ruling classes to give a lease of life to the unjust social order that has been the bane of Pakistan. Zia made one miscalculation however – from his point of view. He did not anticipate that the jihadis he created to support the Afghan resistance to Soviet occupation (an entirely worthy cause) and to prop up his personal rule (a thoroughly reprehensible aim) would one day turn against their creators and become a danger to the inherited feudal order.


Far-fetched as it is, our American "allies" have weighed in with their concerns about the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, much to the delight of their Indian friends. A story in the New York Times quoted an American official as saying that Taseer's murder by one of his body-guards was "one more reason to give pause" when thinking about what could happen if a like-minded guard or scientist were to seize some of Pakistan's nuclear materials. He seems conveniently to have forgotten about the rigorous personnel reliability program Pakistan has put in place for the safety of its nuclear assets. The vetting system in the police for security guards, such as it is, is not remotely as elaborate.


Pakistan's biggest asset is the resilience, resourcefulness and entrepreneurial spirit of its ordinary hard-working people. All they need to come up is, firstly, an opportunity to educate themselves and acquire the skills needed for building a twenty-first century economy; and, secondly, conditions in which they are assured at least a half-way decent recompense for their enterprise and labour. These have been denied to them by a rapacious and corrupt ruling class that lives off the sweat and toil of the masses. Much of our "liberal" elite has been a willing or unwilling collaborator in this huge rip-off. Their guilt is only slightly less than that of the ruling class.

Email: asifezdi@yahoo.com

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

SUPPORT SYSTEMS

CHRIS CORK


There used to be a time when I could look after myself. If something needed doing in my house I picked up the phone and called whoever it was that would do whatever it was that I wanted. I was in charge of my life. Knew how to manage things. All that changed when I moved to Pakistan and I discovered the wonderful world of 'people who fix things'. It was quite a shock at first but I quickly adapted and plugged into the networks that kept us going when we lived north of Gilgit...or rather I plugged into the networks of people who knew how to do things I did not, and it was a secret they were going to keep all to themselves.


This being the Land of Conspiracies I have over the years developed my very own conspiracy theory – namely that servants and household staff conspire together over a national grapevine to keep us (their employers) firmly in the dark about how they do things – like get firewood or mend heaters or hang doors. The reason they do this is twofold. Firstly to create a dependency on them and secondly and linked to the first – to secure their own positions. After all if we knew where to go to get the firewood so that we can cook in the garden because there is no gas – we would take a job away from the kitchen lady and thus reduce her usefulness. Likewise fixing the electrics.

Living in a house where the electrical system dates back to the time of Thomas Edison it is perennially on the blink. Fixing it is a regular job. The bijli wallah appears almost at the flick of a switch, summoned by the kitchen lady from who knows where.


They have the whole thing sewn up, and have not the slightest intention of telling me how they do it. My Urdu is good enough these days to find my way through most mazes, but not the maze that leads me to the carpenter, or even the man who supplies the budgerigars to replace the ones that mysteriously dropped dead recently (probably the result of a conspiracy in the budgie replacement business) and they take a very dim view of me going out to buy my own rabbits as I did recently.


Much pursing of lips in the domestic staff department when the sahib returned with a perfectly serviceable female rabbit to replace the one catnapped by a kid. Or kidnapped by a cat. They looked very disparagingly at my new rabbit. Not so good rabbit says they. We know a place where better rabbits, gold plated and able to do differential calculus, may be purchased. Not much good rabbit at all, Mr Chris. I introduced New Rabbit to her husband and they quickly got on with the business of baby bunny manufacture. 'Good rabbit' says I. 'Hmmmm...' says they.


The recent cold spell has produced even higher levels of dependency on my part. The wood problem could only be solved at dead of night apparently, involved men on bicycles appearing in the darkness and quite a lot of folding money. My suggesting that I go and buy an electric fan heater put a look of panic on their faces. Nonono...my uncle's cousin's half sister has shop. OK...I'll go there. Further panic-stricken looks. Very good cheap heaters Mr Chris latest ceramic ones. (How do they know about ceramic heating elements in fan heaters?

Beats me.) Will bring tomorrow only little money. I took the easy route and caved in. The new rabbit is fine. Hmmmmm...maybe.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: manticore73@gmail. com

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

WHICH IS THE THIRD FORCE IN KARACHI?

 

WHILE the unfortunate city of Karachi bleeds, Interior Minister Rehman Malik has blamed a third force for the target killings not only to destabilize the city but the country as well. The Minister for obvious reasons did not name the third force yet it is no secret that it is India which is systematically destabilizing Pakistan through acts of terrorism not only in Karachi but in FATA and Balochistan as well.


The Interior Minister who dashed to Karachi on the directive of the Prime Minister as the situation deteriorated said the third force is exploiting the on-going verbal spat between political parties. We strongly believe that time has come that Mr Malik call a spade a spade and publicly present the proof of those behind the senseless killings in the industrial and commercial hub of the country. The Karachi city police Chief Fayyaz Leghari has also stated that he can't say the recent targeted killings were carried out for political or ethnic reasons. There should be no doubt in any body's mind that innocent citizens including political workers of all the parties are being killed to aggravate the situation to the advantage of those behind the conspiracy. It is satisfying that the top leadership of MQM and ANP have directed their leaders not to issue statements blaming each other for killings as that would further heat up the temperature while need of the time is to deal with it with cool mindedness and cooperation. The situation we think can be brought under control only when all the religious and political parties join hands so that those behind the killings could be brought to justice irrespective of their political affiliations. Karachi is a unique city where people belonging to every ethnicity live and earn their livings and maintaining peace and harmony there is of utmost most importance. There is a possibility that some people might be using the umbrella of political parties to carry out the brutal acts. Therefore it was a good move by the Interior Minister to meet the leaders of religious parties, MQM and others taking them into confidence that action against the lawbreakers would not mean political victimisation but to restore peace in the mega city. There are certain motives behind repeated occurrence of targeted killings, which need to be thoroughly examined and remedial measures taken to ensure lasting peace. This would only be possible if all the stakeholders extend a helping hand to the Government and the law enforcing agencies. To address concerns of political parties, we would propose that a committee comprising their representatives be formed which should extend support to the law enforcement agencies in carrying out their search operations and actions against those behind target killings and foil the designs of the third force.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

TORCHING OF NATO TANKERS

 

GUNMEN in Balochistan set ablaze 20 tankers carrying fuel supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan on Saturday. Such incidents have become a routine in Khyber Pakhtoonkhawa, Balochistan and in Punjab as it is almost impossible for security agencies to secure such a long route from Karachi to Chaman and Torkham.

The militants through these attacks are expressing their resentment against US presence in Afghanistan and over drone attacks in FATA which have been claiming lives of hundreds of civilians. One fears that the number of such incidents may rise because the vehicles carrying fuel and other supplies for NATO are easy target for the militants. Most of the times the attacks on NATO vehicles are carried out when the drivers stop on road side to take their meals. Militants in the disguise of civilians easily enter the area and launch their attacks and by firing in the air they escape from the scene before the arrival of police. When these convoys enter Afghanistan guards of private security agencies who are paid heavily by ISAF for the protection of their supply line escort them. Attacks on US troops and installations are not new as they are targeted in Afghanistan and Iraq which is reflection of opposition to the presence of foreign forces in these countries. On Saturday, two Iraqi soldiers opened fire on US troops in northern city of Mosul who were training an Iraqi military unit and injured three of them. So the United States is hard pressed to control events in both the countries as it prepares to withdraw from Iraq and start reducing presence in Afghanistan this year. Washington must assess its losses and gains since occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. The erstwhile Soviet Union which was a neighbouring country to Afghanistan could not suppress the resistance by Afghan people and the US which is thousands of miles away cannot do so for a long time as its economy would not be able to sustain that and the American people would not be willing to receive body bags for an indefinite period. According to the Center for Defense Information, the estimated US cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would reach $1.29 trillion by the end of fiscal year 2011. As a result of this unending war the US economy is also suffering. It is time for Washington to enter into negotiations with Taliban in Afghanistan to find ways for an honourable exit.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

TWO WEEKLY HOLIDAYS FOR ARMED FORCES

 

PRIME Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani has approved two weekly holidays for the armed forces of the country. It is understood the decision must be having some rationale but what led to that decision is missing.

There could be several reasons behind the decision including the dwindling economy to preserve resources. The army during winter season carries out annual exercises to test its weapons and readiness to meet any eventuality but this year there are rumours that this exercise was not carried out on a large scale. It is also rumoured that strategic reserves are depleting and perhaps on that account the exercises were kept to the minimum or not carried out. If it is so it is very worrisome and the authorities should let know the people the reasons behind it. There is no doubt that the economy is in a very poor shape and heavy expenses are being incurred on operations against militants in FATA and deployment of extra troops in Swat and Malakand to ensure that the militants do not regroup in the secured areas. It is said that two weekly off days would only be observed by the central and regional headquarters of the three services while it would business as usual in operational areas and in the operations against militants.The decision we believe would generate lot of rumours and people need to be taken into confidence.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

BIDEN'S MISSION

AIR CDRE KHALID IQBAL (R)

 

Since President Obama's WestPoint speech, there have been two distinct schools of thought. General Petraeus hopes to intensify the military operations to degrade the Taliban to a point that they will crawl on their knees and plead for peace on American terms. However, Vice President Biden has been arguing that Taliban do not pose any real threat to the US national security interests, and a deal with them makes it possible to bring the war to an end. Petraeus' methodology is in it for the long haul, whereas Biden is in a great hurry to exit. Biden sees 2011 as a year when major bulk of the foreign troops could be out of Afghanistan.


There is widespread scepticism within the US security establishment over Petraeus' claim that his strategy is beginning to work. By nominating Biden to lead the mission to Islamabad, Obama has indicated that he keeps an open mind. Biden's current mission may be decisive in sowing the germane seeds of sustainable peace in Afghanistan.

Apparently, Obama Administration has realised that Pakistan's concerns are not being addressed, and Biden was assigned to ask the Pakistani side to articulate their long-term strategy for the region. Before reaching Islamabad, the US Vice President visited Kabul for briefing on efforts made by the Afghan security forces to take the overall security responsibility of the country from the foreign forces by the end of 2014.

Biden met with US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and General Petraeus for an "update from them on the situation on the ground". Some of the briefings also focused on counterterrorism efforts and counterinsurgency training. However, Biden's main attention was to "assess the progress toward transition." Afghan government, the United States and Pakistan agree that 2011 marks the beginning of the transition to Afghan lead. By 2014, the Afghans are envisaged to be in the lead throughout the country. "It is fair to say we have largely arrested the Taliban momentum here in some very important areas," Biden told a joint press conference with Karzai. But he cautioned that the success was 'fragile and reversible.' "It is going to require more pressure on Taliban from Pakistani side of the border than we have been able to observe so far… training and aid will continue even after responsibility for security is handed over… both sides share a common goal of a stable, sovereign Afghanistan."

Biden later came to Islamabad to discuss cooperation by the Pakistani government in fighting militants in the border region with special emphasis on the regional security. Apart from emphasizing the need for increasing intelligence sharing between the two countries, Biden also exchanged views on the bilateral relations including US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue. However, Biden primarily focused on Afghanistan driven peace and reconciliation process. Pakistan has been critical of David Petraeus' surge strategy in Afghanistan and has refused to undertake operations in the North Waziristan tribal area despite repeated US urgings. Joe Biden's visit to Islamabad indicated Washington's embarrassment and anxiety that it stands excluded from a regional initiative on Afghan peace process that could be about to take off. The rapid sequence of events over the past fortnight or so had taken Washington by surprise.


Turkish President Abdullah Gul recently hosted a summit meeting of the trilateral forum comprising his Pakistani and Afghan counterparts. Turkey takes its mediatory role rather seriously. The initiative has met with some degree of success in bringing Kabul and Islamabad closer. Turkey is also willing to allow the opening of a "representative office" of the Taliban on its soil. Ankara maintains good equation with various Afghan groups and is a generous donor for Afghan reconstruction. These factors make Turkey an acceptable mediator to almost all stakeholders of Afghan conflict.

Before this summit, Karzai had tasked head of the Afghan High Council for Peace, Burhanuddin Rabbani, to visit Tehran. Within days, Tehran also had another important Afghan visitor, first vice president Mohammed Fahim. The visit by Fahim suggests that Iran is poised to keep its options open. After Karzai's return from Istanbul, things became faster. Rabbani also led a delegation to Islamabad. He held meetings with Pakistani civil and military leadership. This has signalled Pakistani endorsement of Rabbani's leadership role in any intra-Afghan dialogue.


Rabbani is an Islamic scholar who has an appeal among the Islamic circles in Pakistan and Iran. He belonged to the original "Peshawar Seven" during the jihad. He can be instrumental in putting up a bridge through which important figures like Jalaluddin could cross over to mainstream Afghan politics. The speed with which Kabul and Islamabad are pushing the proposal for intra-Afghan dialogue has taken the US by surprise. As and when intra-Afghan peace talks begin to pickup momentum, the entire US position will cave in, and Obama administration will find itself in an untenable position of stubbornly insisting on pursuing a war which neither the Afghan people nor the regional powers want.


Vice President is a long time well-wisher of Pakistan. His stay in Pakistan was a brief one, yet with profound implications for the region. Biden for the first time publicly accepted the Pakistani concerns about India's destructive role in Afghanistan and he acknowledged the fact that Afghanistan was being used by Delhi as a conduit for terror into Pakistan. This is a very significant development. He denied that the US favours India by saying "That is dead wrong." Biden said "There are those also who accuse the United States of violating your sovereignty". He disagreed with that view saying that he "would respectfully suggest" that it is extremists who do that. "Our goal is to work with your leaders and restore and strengthen sovereignty in those areas of your country where extremists have violated it". However, no Pakistani would buy that justification for the drone attacks that have killed thousands of innocent civilians.


Biden tried to smooth relations, bruised because of drone attacks, the rhetoric from US officials, and Obama's statements in Delhi. "A close partnership with Pakistan and its people is in the vital self interest of the United States of America, and…is in the vital interest of the Pakistani people as well…My hope is, God willing, if I'm able to stand here next year with you, that we're able to point to greater progress and greater resolve and greater prosperity for your people and mine," Biden said. Vice President quashed rumours about US boots on the ground in Pakistan. Pakistani leadership has informed Biden that Pakistan wanted to ensure that the territorial integrity of Afghanistan is not compromised. This was a clear reference to the Blackwell plan sponsored by India which had proposed the division of Afghanistan.


Pakistan has rejected the notion of Indian influence in Afghanistan and has clearly stated that it hopes "there will be no new great game" pertaining to Afghanistan. Pakistan vociferously rejected the US assertion about the so called "safe havens" along the Pak-Afghan border. Pakistan has also clearly informed Mr Biden that weapons and financial support were coming into the country from Afghanistan impacting the security situation in Pakistan. The bottom line is that the Obama Administration is eager to get out of Afghanistan and is seeding the US press about how "well" the war is going. Vice President Biden is part of the White House faction that wants the US to extricate itself from the quagmire as soon as possible. It is unfortunate that while Mr Biden is pursuing a noble objective to end the conflict, Admiral Mullen has torpedoed his effort by once again reading from the beaten script that Pakistan is the epicentre of terrorism.


—The writer is international security, current affairs analyst and a former PAF Assistant Chief of Air Staff.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

OBJECTIONS ON FLOGGING – A REJOINDER

ASIF HAROON RAJA

 

In a recent article titled 'Swat video from Sudan ', which appeared in a national English daily on 23 December, the writer has forcefully condemned flogging incident in Sudan . He felt shocked on seeing a burqa clad woman receiving lashes in Sudan for wearing trousers and subjected to public humiliation and torture. He wrote a full article on this trivial incident which is of no concern to any Pakistani sunk in sea of problems. But for writer the incident was earth shaking that shocked many around the world. He portrayed the graphic details in a manner as if the woman was being bit by bit slaughtered.


The writer also replayed the Swat video of lashing incident in early 2009, asserting that the incident had shaken Pakistan . He is probably ignorant about the ongoing dismal state of affairs of the country where the secular system of governance and imported system of justice has enriched the rich but made the lives of the poor wretched. Lack of justice in Swat had allowed space to Mullah Fazlullah. Injustices meted out to the people and declining morals were broadcasted by him on his FM radio. He promised to dispense cheap and quick justice and introduce piety which attracted the people towards him.


I recollect how the western countries as well as the liberals in Pakistan were shocked on seeing the video of a girl getting flogged in Swat. I remember that the lashes were not delivered by the bearded man with a whip but with a two-foot leather sole while sitting down and the hand not going above his head. I recollect how quickly the girl got up after receiving 34 lashes and sprightly walking away from the scene. During Gen Zia's tenure, it was rare that a guilty person awarded ten lashes could withstand more than 2-3 lashes. Public lashing had a salutary affect on the chronic evildoers.


I recall how the brigade of liberal women led by foreign paid NGOs and backed by secular media sprung to life and raised hue and cry over flogging incident. A mountain was made out of a mole. The writer is wrong in saying there was universal outrage. The outrage was within western world and India only and their indignation was shared by west lovers in Pakistan . The purpose was not to sympathize with the Swati girl but to demonize Taliban, defame Islam, get the Nizam-e-Adl agreement annulled and to provoke the government to unleash a ruthless military operation in Swat. They succeeded in their mission partly but the main purpose of USA and India to entrap the Army in the fortress of Swat remained unfulfilled. One wonders why no protest marches were held when so many men belonging to Army and police were kidnapped by the Taliban and slaughtered? Were they lesser human beings than the fair sex?


While feeling so pained about flogging, the writer remains silent on mass slaughter, torture and displacement of millions of Afghans and Iraqis at the hands of armies of so-called civilized world? Does he not know that war on terror was ignited to kill Muslims and to undermine Islam? Has he any knowledge of the chilling details of torture inflicted upon suspects, mostly innocent in infamous Guantanamo Bay , Abu Gharib and Bagram Base jails and other CIA operated detention centres? Videos showing graphic details of harrowing torture, rapes and abuses inflicted upon detainees are available on U tube.


The writer should compare flogging with water boarding, electric shocks and sexual abuse and decide which are more dreadful. These torturous methods were used by CIA and are still being employed by Indian security forces against Kashmiris in occupied Kashmir . He should also compare the prolonged ordeal of Dr Aafia Siddiqui and unjust 86-year prison term with flogging. It is these soul searing revelations which has left the world aghast, shaken and shocked and not the two video clips of Swat and Sudan .

To earn pats from his friends in the West, the writer audaciously questions as to why puritan regimes are keen on morals. Can any nation expect to have fair system of justice, even distribution of food, clothing, healthcare, education and security if it is devoid of morals, ethics and human values; where the rich class lavishly spends ill gotten wealth on fun and frolic while remaining completely insensitive to the pains of the deprived segment of the society?


The writer has tried to touch the sensitive chord of the west by playing upon the brutalization of women's bodies. He says in patriarchal societies, women bodies are jealously guarded as personifications of honor. I am certain he must be well aware that women in the western world have been turned into playful dolls for the pleasure of men. Under the garb of liberation of women and equal rights, women are being exploited. Under the slogan of free society, abortions and homosexuality have been legalized; concept of marriage overtaken by single mothers; unmarried couples and gays are looked at with respect. These and ongoing trends of high life will give an insight to the level of moral degeneration of the west. Drastic aftereffects of breaking family system are now being felt and homes for old people are bursting at the seams.


The writer should have written about a recent episode in Karachi in which two young girls returning from a late night party were kidnapped by a group of gangsters and gang raped. The girls refused to initiate an FIR because of their shady conduct. Working in a beauty parlor, partying is their hobby. What was shocking was that one of the girls lives in a flat with her boy friend. Late night parties with dance, music and hard drinks are quite common in Karachi . Even a gay club is functioning in cosmopolitan city. Frequency of gang rapes, consensual sex, and molestation of females in workplaces and in markets has surprisingly increased alarmingly ever since Hadood Ordinance has been modified. Concept of boy friends and girl friends and dating in co-education schools and watching x-rated movies has become fashionable. It gives a broad idea as to where the so-called enlightened moderation espoused by Gen Musharraf is leading our youth to. The youth is getting astray and crimes are thriving.


I do not know whether the writer knows how women are dealt with in Thanas? Has he ever visited women languishing in jails for years and seen how they are treated by sex starved cops? Instead of commenting upon Karachi incident and fast declining moral turpitude, the writer has chosen a subject which interests the west only. He as a Muslim defends man-made western systems and censures Islamic system of justice prescribed by Holy Prophet (PBUH) and terms it as callous. He calls the Islamists advocating Sharia as apologists. If the Taliban during their rule in Afghanistan were flogging the women and Sudanese regime under President Bashir is also doing the same, the writer must understand that both were/are following Sharia based system of justice.


The motivation of USA to declare Sudanese ruler as a war criminal is that he has refused to follow its dictates and is running the country on Islamic system which emphasizes on decency and morality. Who could be a bigger war criminal than George W Bush, but the writer thinks otherwise. What Sulehria has to say about recently introduced system of screening of passengers at US airports through scanning cameras and body pats? Is it decent and free of humiliation?


Under prevailing contaminated environments, settled issue of blasphemy law was raised by the seculars to weaken Islam. Hopefully after the sad incident of murder of Governor Punjab Salman Taseer, this sensitive issue will not be toyed with.

 

The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

A STUDY OF INDIAN TERRORISM

DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN

 

On December 18, 2010, Swami Aseemanand, the leader of Rashtriya Swayammsewak Sang (RSS), had finally confessed before a court in New Delhi that, he along with a number of other RS activists had a direct role in planning, financing, and executing the samjhota Express blast of Feburary-2007and other acts of terrorism against Muslims and other minorities in India. After this formal confession by this important leader of the RSS, Indian Government has apparently announced a legal action against those responsible for these acts and further interrogating Swami Aseemanand, after his confession. The jailed RSS activists said in his statement that, "It's not Muslims, but Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) activists who planned and executed the bomb blasts at Malegaon in 2006, on the Samjhauta Express in 2007, in Ajmer Sharif in 2007 and Mecca Masjid in 2007."

Following this, Indian government has announced reward for anyone who will provide a lead for the arrest of those pinpointed by Aseemanand. Pakistan, however, asked Indian Government for sharing the details of these revelations by this fanatic Hindu of RSS, having a chain behind. As per Foreign Office, "Pakistan is awaiting the progress made by the Government of India in the investigations into the Samjhauta Express blasts." Unfortunately, as in the past, the Indian Government is hesitant to share anything and pretended that, the investigations are still in the preliminary stages, therefore cannot be shared. This is a traditional Indian approach of dilly-dallying and to conceal the fact. Indeed, as investigated in 2007 and 2008 by late, chief of the Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad, Mr Hemant Karkare, Lt Col Purohit of Indian Army along with retired Major Upadhay, and many lower ranks of Indian Army have been found involved two significant human massacres against Muslims; one; in the Malegaon blast and second in the terror attack of Samjhauta Express. Both incidents of terror and their attackers have deep association with 'Hindutva'. The very prominent act indicates that, how deep Hindu terror has penetrated even in the Indian Army. In Kashmir Brigadier, (retired) Suchet Singh is one of the leading members of an extremist Hindu Party. More worrying is that BJP, the progeny of RSS has many ex-servicemen and more are joining.


The Indian army's infestation with 'Hindutva' concept is not new, rather decades old. Their atrocity in Kashmir against Muslim men and women is well documented even by Indian Human rights organizations. Their brutal attitude towards Sikhs in the Golden Temple attack is yet another example and their absence during the rampage in Babri Mosque cannot be denied. All the battle cries of Indian Army are not of Indian secular army but a Hindu Army. All ten commandants of B.C. Joshi; ex Indian Army Chief, in 1993 had quotations from "Vedas." More dangerous and diabolical is that retired Hindu service members give training to RSS Maranders. It looks as if the Indian Army means a Hindu Army with love for the 'Hindutva' dream, rather secularism. Hindu extremism has internationalized and remains cloaked from the world's eyes. It is another unfortunate, success story of the 'Two Faced Hindu Terrorism'.


Tracing the history, one would find that, "Hindu terrorism" has been a reality ever since it existed. However, it has been cleverly concealed from the world; therefore, very less has been listened, said, or written about it. Now the time has come that the true face of the Hindu terrorism must be highlighted and exposed to the global community, before it engulf the region or globe as a whole. Today, because of Hindu terrorism, not only innocent people but also weak and smaller countries of the region are being victimized. Hindu terrorism is a stark reality which remains magically eclipsed. Hindu terrorism is as old as Hindu civilization. In the Hindu beliefs, both preserver Vishnu and destroyer Shiva are deities. Furthermore, the caste system entitles the higher caste to punish and torture the lower caste even to an extent of killing an innocent and no one has the right to live in his or her land who does not believe in 'Hindutva' (the Hindu way of life).

Though remained largely unnoticed, Hindu Terrorism is not a new phenomenon, rather, it is as old as the origin of this religion is. It is imbedded deep inside its mythology, culture, customs, and way of life, which justifies killing and violence against those who do not fall within its beliefs. In Hindu beliefs, to kill or terrorize those who are inferior human beings is a sacred act. To sacrifice innocent human lives at the altar of Hindu doctrines is an act of piety in order to achieve the blessings of deities.


Apart from the above, the "Mahabharata" of Vedic golden age has to be reincarnated, which extends from Indonesia to Iran and Afghanistan. The beliefs and the dream of Mahabharata are a compulsive obsession of Hindu mind and their sacred duty. These concepts are the driving force behind Hindu terrorism. The killing fields of Hindu terrorism are filled with human flesh and blood and are increasing continuously with the rise of Hindu power. For the sacred religious duty and to fulfill the promise to their gods of Mahabharata, all the Hindus are united, whether they are overt extremists of 'Sangh Parivar', covert secularists of Indian Congress Party, law enforcing agencies or the Indian army.


The two faces of Hindu terrorism help in cloaking its darker side, but events like, massacres of Gujarat or Indian Colonel PS Shurat's involvement in Samjhauta Express are the living proofs of recent times. From the Hindu beliefs and Hindu actions of today, nothing is hidden, only the world needs to be aware of it to save itself from Hindu fascism. In our region, Hindus for ages have committed acts of violence against other communities and religions to achieve political objectives, but their centuries old philosophy of 'cloak and dagger' succeeded in making them magically invisible.


In recent time, the rise of India after Ashoka has accentuated the use of violent means to subjugate innocent and peaceful communities and nations. Hindu extremism has internationalized and remains cloaked from the world's eyes. It is another unfortunate, success story of the 'Two Faced Hindu Terrorism'. In USA an organization by the name of Indian Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) generates funds to distribute among 'Sangh Parivar' in India. It lists Sewa International as its counterpart in India. In Africa it lives by the name of Bhartiya Swayamsevak Sangh (BSS) and in Britain it has been established as Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (H.S.S). In Britain true to its tradition it has started with the face of 'Lakshmi' keeping in hiding the face of 'Kali'which it has in India. Today, in India there are many organizations with extremist Hindu beliefs trying to establish Hindutva. Together these are called 'Sangh Parivar' and include Rashtriya Swayarnsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Prashad (VHP), Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal. They all work in collusion with mainstream political party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian establishment.


—The writer is an International Relations analyst.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

HAND-OVER KARACHI TO THE ARMY

COLUMN FROM DALLAS

SAEED QURESHI

 

The law and order situation and social peace, which was already precarious in Karachi, now with the target killing of GEO reporter Wali Khan Babar, has reached a saturation point. In addition to this deliberate brutal murder, several other citizens were also murdered today. The lives of these slain citizens are as precious as those of the prime minister and president of Pakistan The GEO's Ace and promising youthful reporter was known for his valor, deep dedication and passion for journalistic profession and hard work. He was merely 28 and was yet to see many springs in his life. His life was cut short by death squads rampaging and targeting the opponents and all and sundry at their own bidding without check.


A volatile province whose interior minister has the audacity to publically claim that "we are creating all this mayhem" and still remains in the high office because he is a close friend of the head of the state of Pakistan. It is a brazen slap on the face of the civil society. How can he be serious about maintaining peace and curb proliferating lawlessness when he claims to be one of those shooting at random? The government in power, like other burning issues, has kept this most pressing and endemic issue of restoring order and peace in Karachi on the back burner. It has been stalling to seize this overly critical problem because its own stalwarts are part of the gang wars now spreading like a prairie fire. It is easy to issue condolence messages on the spur of the moment and forget the follow up actions when the heat and inflamed passions settle down.


The restoration of societal peace in Karachi is of paramount importance for its being the largest city and also the lifeline and jugular vein for the economy of the entire country. If its economy is choked and business activities, industries and port are either closed or run by fits and starts, then Pakistan is heading towards a total economic collapse. The government is reluctant to hand over the task of restoring peace in Karachi to the army under the fear that it would pave way for the army's take over. It would also be perceived as the government's failure to provide safety and security to the life and property and other activities to the people of Pakistan. This is pure treachery and reprehensible self interest and a sordid bid for survival in power at an unforgivable cost of the unremitting orgy of blood of the citizens of Pakistan.


Even a child knows that Karachi has become a battlefield of the ethnic war being fought between three distinct communities, Muhajirs, the Pathans and the other fringe segments such as Punjabis, Baluchis and radical religious militants. The immigrants whose majority is illegal play their part by stoking the violence as paid agents. However, the main confrontation is between the Muhajirs and Pathans. Muhajirs who came to Pakistan after partition of India in 1947and mostly settled in Karachi. The Pathans mostly economic workers came to Karachi for jobs and to earn a living. Initially they were peaceful. But later as a result of the Afghan civil war, the suburban localities where these Pushto speaking normally lived turned into flourishing markets for drug and weapons trade both for domestic consumption and illicit export.


The influential drug dealers started settling down in down town Karachi by buying businesses and property. They were joined by a huge influx of the Afghan refugees who also engaged in lucrative legal and illegal pursuits for making money. For drug dealers and weapon sellers, human life has no significance. The tragedy is that these monstrous elemens are backed and protected by politicians, bureaucrats and highly influential persons from other walks of life as they also get hefty shares from these unlawful and contraband businesses. The Muhajirs initially swallowed this bizarre situation but when it started threatening and undermining their survival and ethnic solidarity they came out to stand up and face them in a tit for tat violent style. In due course they also organised and mobilized their own cadres to fight back and settle the scores for blood with blood. Both the communities have been engaged in attacks and counterattacks since 1984 when Altaf Hussain established the Muhajir Qaumi Movement later renamed as Muttahida Qaumi Movement.


The MQM has been accused of kidnapping and killing for ransom, target shooting and ambushing and torturing the dissidents from their own party. But usually the MQM's such activities can be treated as retaliation or reprisals to the atrocities its cadres are subjected to. There are common yet unsubstantiated accusations against the MQM for taking Bhatta (extortion money) from the shopkeepers. Before an open civil war breaks out, the government should move fast to hand over the task of restoring peace in Karachi to the army. The rangers and the police have failed in rooting out the crime and violence from Karachi. Invariably the action by the law enforcement agencies is to cordon the areas after the incidence of crime and then leave after some time. If the criminals, terrorists and sharp shooters are being aided by the politicians then it would be ridiculous and futile to expect of them to sincerely put out the flames of ethnic wars and stamp out deadly feuding.


While the known criminals with incontrovertible evidence can be dealt with by summary trials and face firing squads, those caught as suspects can be kept in custody, interrogated and if proven guilty should be given heavy jail terms or shot depending upon the nature and severity of the crimes. In this military action, no politicians and powerful individuals who incite and abet these criminals should be spared. They should also be given death sentences or incarcerated for their complicity In the meantime, the government should convene all parties conference to hammer out a permanent solution to establish durable peace and order in Karachi particularly and elsewhere generally where, violence and terrorism is rampant and mushrooming by leaps and bounds without any let up.


—The writer is a Dallas-based journalist and a former diplomat.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

HOW NORMALITY CAN VANISH IN A FLASH?

JENNY MCCARTNEY

 

In the years since World War II, the bulk of us have gradually become accustomed to the steady decline of personal risk. The absence of war on our soil, the advances of medicine, and the extensive establishment of a "health and safety" culture have all contributed to the somewhat complacent sense that – barring some aberrant event – we can expect, along with our counterparts in the rest of the developed world, to live comfortably into old age.


Last week a number of widely publicised stories managed, in their separate ways, to rock that assumption. The floods in Australia – regarded by many Britons as a destination that almost guarantees a sunnier, more relaxed way of life – were ferocious in their intensity. The unforgettable picture of a vulnerable family of three unsteadily poised on top of their car, as brown floodwaters surged around them, was sent across the world: it seemed to encapsulate how swiftly a force of nature can snap its fingers and shred human certainties. The mother and son from that snapshot survived; the father was swept away.


In quite a different context, a joyful Irish bride, Michaela McAreavey, went on honeymoon with her new husband to a luxurious five-star hotel in Mauritius. She decided that she would like some biscuits with her tea, and went back to the room to fetch them, whereupon she was murdered, apparently after disturbing a robbery. Her bridal flowers were still in bloom at the altar of the church where she was married.


In Britain, the parents of Lana Ameen, a formerly healthy three-year-old girl who died suddenly from swine flu, released a picture of their small daughter in the final hours of her life. Her father and mother, a doctor and a nurse, did so in an effort to urge the Government to vaccinate all under-fives against the disease. For most of us, the individuals caught up in these incidents will probably feel all too familiar; at the same time, their stories are unusual enough to be deeply shocking. Yet not so many years ago, the sudden death of both children and adults was almost commonplace: the randomness of fate was everywhere, assisted by war, disaster and disease. My grandfather lost two sisters to diphtheria, and my father a brother to scarlet fever. The Blitz, in London and other major cities, destroyed entire streets in a matter of moments. The awareness of the fragility of life was written into the very fabric of one's existence, as it still is in many developing countries.


Today, we are accustomed to believing that longevity is assured, and that science will inevitably usher in fresh cures for diseases. But progress does not necessarily advance in a straight line. Already, medical research is struggling to outpace the threat of antibiotic-resistant infections that could pitch us back into an infinitely more uncertain age. The global balance of power is shifting east, the world's population is rising, and scientists are predicting an increase in extreme weather events, all of which are likely to put a heavier strain on the Earth's resources. These are grim predictions: yet at the same time, it is often only in adversity that one glimpses the true stuff that mankind is made of. I am not suggesting that there is any silver lining to last week's tragedies: the weight of grief is too heavy for that. Yet still they brought out the best in people.


In Queensland, many people put their lives on the line to help those in trouble; on the opposite page, we tell the story of Jordan Rice, the 13-year-old boy who convinced rescuers to save his younger brother first, before he himself was swept to his death. Michaela McAreavey's father, Mickey Harte, spoke with such eloquence and dignity about his love for his daughter that it would have wrung any listener's heart. And Lana's parents, in their bleakest hour, were still attempting to prevent other children suffering the same fate.


In the decades of peace and prosperity, our society has gradually intensified its fatuous idolatry of celebrities and money, and wallowed in an infinity of self-obsession. We were briefly reminded last week, in case we had forgotten, of the qualities it takes to make a hero. — The Telegraph

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

NATIONAL RESPONSE TO THE FLOODS

FROM FILLING SAND BAGS TO CLEANING UP, PEOPLE STUCK TOGETHER

WHILE the waters are falling fast in Brisbane, the damage the floods have done will endure. The death toll rose to 17 yesterday, with 14 people still missing. This is an enormous improvement on earlier casualty estimates, but the news will do little to ease the burden borne by everybody who has lost loved ones. People whose homes and businesses were swept away have every right to wonder how their world changed so completely and catastrophically in a week.

As southeast Queensland begins the clean-up, it is important to remember the region is not alone. In Rockhampton to the north, waters from last month's rains remain. Across the Great Divide, the towns of Condamine, St George and Surat face flooding as water spreads over the plains. South of the border in NSW, the people of the Clarence River basin are enduring the impact of flooding rains. Enormous areas of western Victoria are enduring their own flood ordeal, for some the third in five months. And northern Tasmania has been hit by the same extreme weather that has hammered the mainland. Even across the continent, while Perth remains in drought, the north of the Gascoyne region endured a 50-year flood last month. Carnarvon received more than its annual average rainfall in a few days.

There is nothing people can do to stop rains, generated by the La Nina weather pattern on the east coast, which are part of a natural cycle we are only beginning to understand. But nature need not dictate the way we respond. In Queensland, an army of volunteers turned out on the weekend to help flood victims. Across the country communities stood together against the threat, with volunteers reporting for duty as they do for every fire and flood. In contrast, Greens leader Bob Brown was scoring points yesterday, claiming burning coal is a major cause of global warming, which leads to high ocean temperatures and the floods that follow. He said this meant coal producers should have to pay for future floods through the tax system. But La Nina is not man-made, and linking global warming to flooding is a bridge too far. It was also irrelevant to the mood of the country at the start of Queensland's recovery. Most affected Australians were out helping each other yesterday, rather than looking for somebody to blame for a natural disaster.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

THE END OF A WRETCHED REGIME

TUNISIA COULD TRIGGER CHANGE ACROSS THE ARAB WORLD

TUNISIA'S political crisis is yet to be fully played out. The only certainty is that an unprecedented popular uprising has driven Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from office after 23 years of despotic rule, during which he and a coterie of family and friends have shamefully enriched themselves while most Tunisians are left impoverished by rising food prices, massive unemployment and ruthless repression.

There have been three presidents in as many days. The latest incumbent, leader of the lower house of parliament Fouad Mebazaa, says elections will be held within 60 days. But who will administer them and run the country in the meantime is yet to emerge. What is clear is that in successfully rebelling against oppression and corruption and ousting Mr Ben Ali -- viewed in the West as a reliable ally in the fight against Islamic extremism -- the protests in Tunisia will cause cold shivers among Middle East rulers and everywhere else where autocratic and ossified regimes similarly enrich themselves while ignoring the sufferings of their people. To her credit, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Doha last week, issued a scathing critique of leadership in the Arab world, emphasising the urgent need to reform economies and stamp out corruption. The spark for the Tunisian uprising was the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old university graduate who, unable to find a job, was working as a street vendor to support his family. When authorities confiscated his weighing scales, he despaired, drenched himself in petrol and set himself ablaze. His plight was carried far and wide on Facebook and Twitter. Mass street demonstrations followed.

Apart from Lebanon's Cedar Revolution, no similar uprising has occurred in other Arab countries. But the same highly combustible combination of grievance that exists in Tunisia is found elsewhere. President Hosni Mubarak's Egypt is highly vulnerable. There have been protests over rising prices in Jordan, Algeria, Morocco and even Libya and Syria. The monarchy in Saudi Arabia is also exposed. It is a fair bet that events in Tunisia have kick-started the imaginations of people in all these countries, a reality all despots will ignore at their peril. For them to do so will not only provoke the same forces that ousted Mr Ben Ali, but also, amid chaos and uncertainty, open the door to Islamic extremists such as al-Qa'ida.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

MINISTERS NEED STAFFERS WITH POLICY SUBSTANCE

EXPERIENCE AND ABILITY MATTER MORE THAN PARTY CONNECTIONS

IN the long run, good policy is always good politics, but the reverse is not true and governments who always play for popularity ultimately unravel. We are watching this happen now in NSW, where state Labor under former premier Bob Carr maintained a media relations machine designed to keep ministers talking a lot, but where they now have nothing substantial to say. A similar focus on slogans helped bring Kevin Rudd undone as prime minister. Calling climate change the great moral challenge of our time was out of the media minder's playbook, but when implementing climate change policy got too hard Mr Rudd took the issue off the agenda, losing voters who had believed he meant it. It was a textbook example of what happens when leaders rely on staff skilled in the dark arts of electioneering, but who have little policy expertise and whose contact with ordinary people is confined to observing focus groups and studying opinion polls. As former NSW treasurer Michael Costa put it in this newspaper last June, "The new machine men think politics is as simple as borrowing techniques and strategies from the product marketing textbook. Politicians are now brands that can be subjected to brand management techniques."

It seems the Gillard government is making the same mistake, relying on political professionals more interested in preparing for the next election than what occurs before it -- governing the country. As Paul Cleary reported in The Weekend Australian, ministers have public relations people and not especially experienced former journalists in all sorts of policy roles. Amanda Lampe, a veteran of Mr Carr's media machine, is the Prime Minister's chief of staff. Many Gillard government ministers rely on political appointees who do not have anywhere near the policy expertise of the public servants whose work they analyse. To an extent this is inevitable given the way all political parties reward their loyalists, who move from state to federal politics and back again, depending on where their skills are needed. We are seeing it now as Liberal Party professionals in Canberra go to Melbourne to work for the new Baillieu government. In the national capital, Labor is stacked with staffers from the states, especially NSW.

But people who see public administration as a permanent campaign do not necessarily have the perspective or policy knowledge to provide ministers with advice that balances a public service perspective against a government's policy objectives. This is a problem for Ms Gillard. Productivity Commission chief Gary Banks argues a key ingredient in the reforms of the 1980s was "the high calibre and extensive experience of political staffers" who had the intellect to provide substantial advice of their own. But such individuals are harder to find when the gene pool consists primarily of people with impeccable party connections. Government would benefit if more individuals with established careers in political journalism, universities and business, and who have specialist policy knowledge, served -- if only for a few years -- in ministers' offices, as occurs in the US. Without them, public administration will continue to suffer from advisers who know how to sell political sizzle, not policy substance.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

OBAMA'S APPEAL FOR CIVILITY

BARACK OBAMA's speech on the Tucson massacre was one of the strongest of his presidency. His call to Americans "to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully" and to "remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together" is a potent message not just for Americans, but for all who enjoy life in democratic societies.

It is a timely reminder that the hard-hitting, high-rating histrionics of celebrity commentators come at a price. Shrill voices hurling insults like grenades corrode the sense of community that even the most individualistic society must possess if it is to cohere and survive. Take for example, the Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, who in 2005 said of the film-maker Michael Moore: "I could kill him myself, or … hire somebody to do it … I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out.''

Along with the power of the public platform comes responsibility. Yet when firebrand former Alaska governor Sarah Palin was criticised for her campaign's inflammatory use of a cross-hairs symbol targeting the political district held by Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman who was shot in the head last week by a crazed, anti-government shooter, she declared herself the victim of a "blood libel".

According to the polls, most Americans do not believe the killings were primarily political in motive, and many have pointed to the easy availability of weapons in the United States as the main contributor to such violence by a deranged individual. But President Obama makes a larger point about what can go wrong when political passions and psychosis collide. In this case, six dead and many wounded by a young man whose anger became power through the barrel of a gun.

Obama's eloquent appeal for a more civil public debate has thus struck a chord across America. It has already won a surprise convert in the Fox News chief, Roger Ailes, who revealed: ''I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually. You don't have to do it with bombast."

The truth is, no side of politics has clean hands when it comes to invective. Nor can the task of improving standards be legislated by government. In democracies, the public space must remain a free market of ideas and voters will decide what's acceptable. But the last words belong to America's leader: "If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost."

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

LET'S HAVE IT ALL, BARRY

CAN WE walk and chew gum at the same time in NSW? The question arises with the bickering between the state Coalition leader, Barry O'Farrell, and the federal Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, over railway funding. O'Farrell has signalled his disagreement with the allocation of $2.1 billion of Canberra money to build the Epping to Parramatta rail link, a deal likely to be approved soon by the Premier, Kristina Keneally. If elected on March 26, he will seek to have it diverted to new lines to Sydney's north-west and south-west.

If it were a choice of only one project, it would probably be the north-west and south-west lines in terms of public transport need and road traffic relief. In the big Sydney transport study produced for the Herald and its readers by the renowned expert Ron Christie, these two lines were given equal or higher priority, along with a new cross-harbour rail link from the western side of the central business district to the lower north shore.

But the Epping-Parramatta link is a fully developed project ready for immediate work, and will be an extremely useful short-cut in the metropolitan rail system, enabling workers from the west to get to jobs in the knowledge-industry belt north of the harbour and Parramatta River.

It does have its electoral benefits for Labor in the marginal seats at each end, but by the time federal funds start flowing in 2014-15, the Coalition could well be in power in Canberra as well as Sydney.

O'Farrell would do better by pledging to build the north-west (Epping to Rouse Hill) line and the south-west (Leppington to Glenfield) line as soon as possible, and demand that Canberra properly helps fund this essential infrastructure for Australia's main city.

Neglect, political engineering and state Labor's Metro fiasco have robbed the state of time and resources, but the $5 billion to $8 billion cost of these lines is not beyond this wealthy nation and state. The new cross-harbour link will emerge in priority and public acceptance of the cost as the western CBD develops as a job centre and more rail traffic is funnelled towards the city from north-west Sydney and the central coast.

The Christie report was accompanied by detailed accounting of the funding required, showing that projects can be fully funded and borrowings repaid from the income streams generated by commuters ready to pay for better public transport. There is a blueprint here for O'Farrell and his team to think big for Sydney, and rise above what Labor has given us.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

BIRTH OF A NATION STARTS NEW CHAPTER OF CHALLENGES FOR AFRICA

MELBOURNE'S Ted Whitten Oval is an unlikely setting for a vote that could trigger a tectonic political shift in Africa. Yet the fact that Australia had more voters registered for a referendum on the break-up of Sudan than any other country outside Africa illustrates how far-reaching such upheavals can be. Voting ended on the weekend, having achieved the 60 per cent turnout required for a binding result. A vote for secession of South Sudan as the world's 193rd nation looks certain. At the oval, the singing, dancing and flag-waving spoke of relief, joy and hope after decades of war.

From 1983, Sudan's second civil war, between the ruling regime in the Muslim north and the Christian and animist south, caused more than 2 million deaths and displaced 4 million people. From the mid-1990s, Sudanese were one of the fastest-growing groups in Australia. In 2002-03, Sudan became the top source country for humanitarian resettlements, accounting for a third of arrivals from then on. Today, about 27,000 residents - a third of them in Melbourne - are of Sudanese origin, 83 per cent of them Christian. Almost all were forced here by conflict on a scale that is unimaginable for most Australians. Africa's biggest nation is about the size of Western Australia, with a population of 42 million, 8.5 million of them in the south.

The holding of the referendum was a condition of that agreement but had been no certainty. In many respects, however, the vote is the easiest of the challenges facing Sudan and the south in particular after decades of economic and political marginalisation. About 90 per cent of south Sudanese live on less than $1 a day. Only 50 kilometres of roads are paved. Life expectancy is down to 42, literacy rates are about 15 per cent and only about one in 50 have completed primary school. The infant mortality rate is 102 per 1000 births and one in seven women die in pregnancy. Oxfam observes that a 15-year-old girl has more chance of dying in childbirth than of finishing primary school.

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Such are the hopes raised by secession, however, that 120,000 refugees have already returned, and 1.8 million Christians in the north are likely to migrate south. The difficulties of building a nation from such beginnings are enormous. In November, a visiting delegation expressed gratitude that Australia had ''led the world in providing assistance to South Sudanese refugees'', but pleaded for technical and financial assistance in education, agriculture and industry. Given all their concerns about refugee numbers, Australians ought to offer all the help they can. This is, however, but one aspect of events in Sudan. There are broad ramifications to this resolution of the conflict between Sudanese Arabic Muslims and African Christians and animists. Sudan is at the heart of a strategically sensitive and conflict-ridden region, where China's influence is expanding even as Islamist extremists exploit the instability. Since 1993, after Sudan served as a base for Egyptian Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda and even hosted Osama bin Laden, the US has listed the country as a state sponsor of terrorism. One of the incentives the US is offering the northern capital Khartoum if it respects the referendum result is to drop Sudan from the list.

The possible suspension of International Criminal Court charges against President Omar al-Bashir, alleging war crimes and genocide in the western province of Darfur, is also in the mix of diplomatic incentives to accept the loss of the south, and with it most of the oil reserves that make Sudan the third-biggest producer in sub-Saharan Africa. An agreement on the sharing of oil revenue - Khartoum controls the export pipelines, refineries and sea access - must be worked out, but neither north nor south can afford to disrupt the flow of oil revenue. Also to be finalised are water rights, borders and the status of oil-rich district Abyei, where the vote has been indefinitely postponed.

Even if all those obstacles can be negotiated, and maximum diplomatic pressure will have to be exerted, the first redrawing of colonial borders could shake up Africa. For more than half a century, the continent has respected the arbitrary lines drawn on the map by colonial powers (Eritrea split from Ethiopia, but had been a separate colonial entity). South Sudan's secession sets a precedent for every nation with similar divisions, including Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Congo, Angola, Somalia and Morocco. In Sudan itself, Darfur might also seek secession after a conflict in which an estimated 300,000 have died and 2.5 million people have been displaced. As the continent is developed and the race for resources feeds into ethnic and religious rivalries, the risks of an African Balkanisation cannot be discounted.

The view from the Whitten Oval in Footscray has been altogether more hopeful. The end of war and the prospect of freedom are reasons to celebrate. Anyone who survived the deadly chaos of Sudan must believe that life can only get better. They and the rest of the world's second-most-populous continent dream of an African renaissance. That can only happen if more fortunate countries such as Australia help them achieve that dream.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES: THE MASTER AND THE DOCTOR

VINCE CABLE ARGUES THAT THE 20TH CENTURY'S GREATEST ECONOMIST WOULD SUPPORT THE COALITION'S ECONOMIC POLICY

What would Keynes do? That is a question asked by Vince Cable in the current issue of the New Statesman – and he comes up with an unusual answer. The Lib Dems' former treasury spokesman, who made his reputation during the banking tumult, argues that John Maynard Keynes would support the coalition's economic policy. This is perhaps not an unexpected conclusion from a cabinet minister, but it is nonetheless novel. Disciples of the 20th century's greatest economist would argue that, in his drive to cut public spending so sharply and so soon after a once-in-a-lifetime financial crisis, David Cameron is doing a decent impersonation of being the anti-Keynes.

Dr Cable argues that the Keynesians make three big mistakes. First, the economy is not in as bad a shape as during the Depression – so the prescriptions the Master wrote back then do not apply. Second, much of Keynes' masterwork The General Theory is about interest rates, not public spending. And to keep loans cheap for companies and households, the business secretary says, it was vital to launch spending cuts and so maintain the UK's creditworthiness. The alternative, in his book, was an Athens-style meltdown – with disastrous consequences for business and consumer confidence.

Such a thoughtful contribution to the public debate from a cabinet minister is indisputably welcome. There is a reminder of Dr Cable's former incarnation as an economics lecturer in the remarks about how his discipline often downplays the importance of banks. Yet it is on the low politics of defending the cuts that he comes unstuck. The Great Recession has not been as severe as the Depression (partly because of unprecedented state intervention opposed by the Conservatives), but it has been nasty enough – and it is not over yet. Keynes argued that during a slump governments should increase borrowing, not cut it. While he did focus on monetary policy (at a time when the state was much smaller), he also noted that once interest rates got near zero, they were about as effective as pushing on a string. Keynes would also have worried about how high unemployment could affect demand. And, as co-architect of the Bretton Woods system, he would have emphasised the importance of managing flows of money between Chinese savers and American borrowers.

For all that, Dr Cable provides better intellectual cover for coalition economics than Mr Cameron – who insists on likening sovereign states to households and claims government is somehow crowding out a private sector. Those are the arguments usually employed by ministers to justify the cuts – and Keynes would surely have given them very short shrift.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

TUNISIA'S JASMINE REVOLUTION: A FLOWER THAT COULD BE CRUSHED

THE POPULAR UPRISING IS HANGING IN THE BALANCE AND IT IS UNCLEAR WHETHER THE COUNTRY WILL BE ABLE TO DRAW A LINE UNDER THE PAST

The popular revolution in Tunisia that sent a brutal dictator and his venal family scurrying into exile was still hanging in the balance last night. Ben Ali had gone, but the people who ran his police state were still very much around on the streets of Tunis. Much of the shooting and pillaging yesterday was attributed to elements of the former dictator's militia, although Le Monde reported that his head of security, General Ali Seriati, had been arrested. Other familiar faces were still around, too. One of them stood to the left of the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, as he announced he was taking over as temporary ruler (only to be overruled later by the constitutional court). He was Abdallah Kallel, a former interior minister wanted by a Swiss court on charges of torture and human rights violations. He is currently president of the chamber of councillors.

Mr Ghannouchi himself is seeking talks with representatives of all political parties, whether in parliament or not. This is a welcome break with a past which divided the opposition up into two: those forces which could be tamed or those which should be crushed. But in the same breath Mr Ghannouchi excluded dialogue with the communist party and the Islamists whose leader, Rached Ghannouchi (no relation), is in exile in London. That's a good portion of a freely held vote. The signs of whether Tunisia will be able to draw a line under the past are mixed.

How much help Tunisia will get from the very governments who, until the dying moments of the old regime, gave Ben Ali the cover and support he needed, also remains an open question. The prize for brazen hypocrisy goes to President Nicolas Sarkozy who declared, through clenched teeth, that France stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tunisian people. Do, please, forget the speech his foreign minister Michèle Alliot-Marie made in the National Assembly, shortly after the authorities in Tunis announced the deaths of 21 civilians killed by police bullets. The one in which she offered Tunisia the help of the French riot police.

America and the EU, for whom Tunisia is a major trading partner, follow close behind. The nature of the Faustian pact that the US has with the Arab dictatorships was revealed all too clearly by WikiLeaks. US ambassador Robert Godec's unflattering description of the corruption of the Ben Ali family contained the following judgment: "Notwithstanding the frustrations of doing business here, we cannot write off Tunisia. We have too much at stake. We have an interest in preventing al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and other extremist groups from establishing a foothold here. The United States needs help in this region to promote our values and policies. Tunisia is one place where, in time, we might find it." If the US and the EU want to get on the right side of democracy in the Middle East, now is an opportunity to do it, and Tunisia is a good place to start.

The shockwaves of a democratic revolution in Tunisia are being felt closer to home. Just think how this popular revolt started. An unemployed graduate set himself on fire after police tried to prevent him selling vegetables without a permit. It happened weeks ago in the sticks. The protest had nothing to do with opposition parties, some of whom maintained until the very end that Ben Ali's police state could be reformed. The revolt spread through Facebook and was unstoppable. If this could happen in Tunisia, one of the richest, most educated and stable of Arab regimes, where else could it happen? There were demonstrations in Jordan yesterday calling for the resignation of the government, and reports of unrest in Libya. Egypt decided to delay a planned rise in prices. Morocco is looking on nervously. The revolution in Tunisia has been named jasmine prematurely. It has not been bloodless and it could well herald a wave of repression across the Arab world, as other dictators learn its lessons.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF … SÃO TOMÉ

NO NEWS WAS GOOD NEWS LAST YEAR FOR THIS FORGOTTEN AND MAGICAL ISLAND IN THE ATLANTIC

Last year, it turns out, the Guardian managed to mention, in print or online, almost every country in the world. Three independent states were overlooked, however: Palau, Comoros and São Tomé. Already, by printing this, the omission has been corrected for 2011. More than that, however, the last of these forgotten states deserves praise. If travel writers ever descended on São Tomé they would be able to deploy every cliche. The island, and its even more isolated neighbour Príncipe, is a magical place of ridgeback mountains and rainforest, palms and rocky pinnacles, beaches and old Portuguese towns. Not very much has happened there since its rather vicious colonial rulers walked away in 1975; few people know that it is an independent country or can find it on the map, in the Atlantic just south of Nigeria and west of Gabon. Its government is democratic, the sun shines, the rain falls, the soil is good and the sea is full of fish.

No one seems to go hungry and it is possible to walk across the capital in little more than 30 minutes. Chickens peck at the dust in the streets outside the pink presidential palace. For the last decade the country's citizens have been waiting for all this to change, amid expectations of an oil bonanza. But São Tomé's absence from the news is a sign the oil rush has failed so far. The money would be welcome. But neighbours such as Equatorial Guinea are a warning of how riches can be destructive. Perhaps forgotten states should be thankful.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

STUDENTS FEEL HEAT OF JOBLESSNESS

Many soon-to-graduate university students have not yet found jobs. According to a survey by the education and labor ministries, as of Oct. 1, 2010, only 57.6 percent of university students scheduled to graduate this spring have secured jobs. The figure is a record low and below the figure of slightly above 60 percent prevailing around 2003, a period dubbed the job-hunting ice age.

The government should pay attention to the fact that the unemployment rate among youths aged 15 to 24 is high. In November, their unemployment rate was 8.7 percent — up 0.3 percentage point from a year before. There were some 140,000 youths in the age group who could not find jobs at the time of graduation. They accounted for about 30 percent of the unemployed in the age group.

In an attempt to increase employment among young people, the government will provide subsidies to companies that employ university graduates whose graduation date was up to three years earlier.

These days, students must spend a lot of time on job-seeking activities. Therefore, they don't have enough time to consider what they actually want to do in the future, let alone study during their last year of university. Students usually begin looking for jobs in their third year.

If this condition becomes a fixture of Japanese student life, Japan's higher education will collapse. In the long run, Japanese enterprises won't be able to acquire recruits with enough knowledge and skills. The Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), the nation's most powerful business lobby, has decided to urge member firms to start holding explanatory sessions after Dec. 1 for third-year students, instead of in October. The decision may help change the situation for the better.

Students may not have sufficiently explored job opportunities at small-to-medium-size enterprises, many of which are looking for good recruits. Students should widen their scope. Those companies, for their part, should improve their public-relations efforts to attract students.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

A NEW CULTURE OF GIVING

The year of the rabbit has just begun, but in the first few weeks of 2011, it has been the tiger gaining all the attention. In a spontaneous Tiger Mask movement, anonymous citizens throughout Japan have been donating school backpacks and other items to orphanages and child welfare centers in the name of Naoto Date, the hero of the "Tiger Mask" manga and anime popular som