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Thursday, January 27, 2011

EDITORIAL 27.01.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Editorial

Month january 27, edition 000740 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.      A TRAGIC CAPITULATION

2.      AFTER TUNISIA, EGYPT?

3.      JHARKHAND IS THE NEXT BIG MOVER - BIBEK DEBROY

4.      UNDERSTANDING FEDERALISM IN NEPAL - MAYURI MUKHERJEE

5.      A DANGEROUS 'DISCLOSURE' BY AL JAZEERA - GWYNNE DYER

6.      INDIA, RUSSIA MOVE CLOSER ON DEFENCE TIES - ILYA KRAMNIK

 

THE TIMES OF INDIA

1.      PLUG THE PILFERAGE

2.      TECH TONIC

3.      DAZED AND CONFUSED - BALRAJ PURI

4.      MISMATCH OF POLITICAL CULTURES

5.      DON'T UNDERESTIMATE CHINESE PARTY MODEL – AJAY VAISHNAV

 

HINDUSTAN TIMES

1.      A WAKE-UP CALL FOR EVERYONE

2.      DAVOS ª INDIA

3.      READ RIDING HOODS

4.      INDIA'S SILENT GENOCIDE

5.      GOING AGAINST THE GRAIN - REETIKA KHERA

 

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

1.      END THE KILLINGS

2.      OCEAN NEIGHBOURS

3.      GULABO AND ROSIE

4.      A DICTIONARY FOR OUR TIMES - PRATAP BHANU MEHTA

5.      DON'T SWALLOW THIS PILL - PRITIRADHAKRISHNAN

6.      HIGHWAY TO THE FUTURE - RANESH NAIR

7.      FLAG DAYS – SHAILAJA BAJPAI

8.      NO MORE SPUTNIK MOMENTS

9.      NO WELFARE FOR HINDUS? - MANOJ

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

1.      JAIPAL REDDY'S CHALLENGE

2.      WHEN PIGS FLY

3.      GOT THE POLICY, WHERE'S THE PLAN? - DEBA R MOHANTY

4.      WIKIBANKING - MATTHEW LYNN

 

THE HINDU

1.      TROUBLE-MAKING IN KASHMIR

2.      FISHERMEN, AGAIN

3.      THE HOLOCAUST AND ITS IMPLICATIONS  - YEHUDA BAUER

4.      THERE IS GROWING DISSIDENCE ACROSS THE MIDDLE EAST  - MARTIN CHULOV

5.      HOLOCAUST HISTORICAL DATA GOES ONLINE  

6.      DOCUMENTARY SHOWS DISSENT IN MYANMAR MILITARY  - SETH MYDANS

7.      CBSE LOOKS TO A CHANGING ROLE

 

THE ASIAN AGE

1.      GOVT MUST HEED WARNING BY RBI

2.      IN DEFENCE OF GRAFT - SRINATH RAGHAVAN

3.      SUFIS CAN FIGHT TERROR, BUT ONLY WITH HAQQ

4.      PARADE & PATRIOTS - SIDHARTH BHATIA

 

DAILY EXCELSIOR

1.      GETTING SKELETONS OUT OF THE CLOSET

2.      PAKISTAN'S ROLE IN AFGHANISTAN - BY M K DHAR

3.      CREATE CAREER OPPORTUNITIES FOR COMP ENGINEERS - BY RAYAZA MALIK

4.      CRIME AGAINST WOMEN - BY RAM RATTAN SHARMA

 

BUSINESS STANDARD

1.      BLACK MONEY BLACK HOLE

2.      CHURNING IN SOFTWARE

3.      ASIA IN WONDERLAND - BARUN ROY

4.      MOTHERHOOD STATEMENTS - INDICUS ANALYTICS

5.      THE NEGLECTED SECTORS OF INDIAN ECONOMY - ARVIND SINGHAL

 

BUSINESS LINE

1.      EVADING THE POINT

2.      CASE FOR GENERIC FARM POLICIES  - SHASHANKA BHIDE

3.      CYBER-SLEUTHING CHALLENGES  - K.P. SHASHIDHARAN

4.      TWO-WAY XENOPHOBIA - S. MURLIDHARAN

5.      COME CLEAN ON FUTURES MARKET TOOLS - SHARAD JOSHI

6.      TRANSITIONING TO IFRS  - MOHAN R. LAVI

7.      CREDIT POLICY: GOVERNMENT MUST WALK THE TALK  - AMARESH SAMANTARAYA

 

DECCAN CHRONICLE

1.      LONG SHADOW OF HU'S VISIT REACHES DELHI - BY SUMIT GANGULY

2.      IN DEFENCE OF GRAFT - BY SRINATH RAGHAVAN

3.      CENTRE MUST HEED WARNING BY RBI

4.      PARADE & PATRIOTS - BY SIDHARTH BHATIA

5.      SALVATION LIES IN BHAKTI - BY SWAMI TEJOMAYANANDA

6.      TRICOLOUR POLITICS

 

DECCAN HERALD

1.      CHOPPY WATERS

2.      SMALL STEPS

3.      DON'T FEAR FII INFLOWS - BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA

4.      BANKING ON THE COMPETITION MYTH  - PAUL KRUGMAN

5.      COMPULSIVE COMPARISON -  NAMITHA ANNAIAH

 

OHERALDO

1.      DOES GOA HAVE NO CLOUT WITH CENTRE?

2.      CONGRESS ON BACK FOOT - ERVELL E MENEZES

3.      SIMPLE PLEASURES - BY MARC DE SOUZA

 

THE JERUSALEM POST

1.      LIE'S DAMNED LIES, AND POLICE STATISTICS

2.      WASHINGTON WATCH: PRICE OF PEACE  - BY DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD 

3.      RATTLING THE CAGE: THE BRAVE, VISIONARY LEADER - AND BIBI - BY LARRY DERFNER 

4.      CANDIDLY SPEAKING: ON ISRAELI RACISM AND BIGOTRY  - BY ISI LEIBLER 

5.      BRING THE LOBBYISTS TO ORDER  - BY SUSAN HATTIS ROLEF 

6.      OUR RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE JEWISH FUTURE  - BY DANNY AYALON 

7.      AN ALLEGIANCE TO MORAL VALUES  - BY GIDEON SAAR 

 

HAARETZ

1.      WAITING FOR THE NEXT MURDERER

2.      IN THE ABSENCE OF PARTNERS - BY ARI SHAVIT

3.      UNTIL THE HORSE GIVES UP THE GHOST  - BY GIDEON LEVY

4.      NETANYAHU, BARAK AND THE NEXT WAR  - BY ORIT GALILI ZUCKER

5.      NOT A GOOD WOMAN  - BY SHELLY YACHIMOVICH

 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

1.      SO WAS IT A GOOD YEAR?

2.      ONE NATION, INDIVISIBLE

3.      MR. MUBARAK IS PUT ON NOTICE

4.      REALISM WITHOUT THE BITTERNESS - BY DAVID FIRESTONE

5.      TUSSLING OVER JESUS - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

6.      UTAH'S GUN APPRECIATION DAY - BY GAIL COLLINS

7.      25 Years of Digital Vandalism - By WILLIAM GIBSON

8.      FROM BULLETS TO MEGABYTES - BY RICHARD A. FALKENRATH

 

USA TODAY

1.      INVESTMENTS BOTH PARTIES CAN AGREE ON

2.      TWO OMISSIONS IN PARTICULAR WERE GLARING.

3.      TAX SIMPLIFICATION CARRIES DUAL APPEAL

 

TIMES FREE PRESS

1.      NEED TO FACE FINANCIAL FACTS

2.      A DIFFERENT 'SEATING ARRANGEMENT'

3.      MOST STATES OPPOSE OBAMACARE

4.      FP4 UNION NUMBERS SLIP AGAIN

 

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

1.      FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - DON'T GAME THE SYSTEM, FIX IT

2.      SECURITY COUNCIL DREAMING - RICHARD REID

3.      NATIONAL AND FOREIGN POLICIES NURTURED BY THE SAME SOURCE - CÜNEYT ÜLSEVER

4.      THE NEXT ARAB-ISRAELI WAR – GWYNNE DYER

5.      JANUARY-FEBRUARY MURDERS - ALTAN ÖYMEN

6.      PEOPLE LOSING TRUST IN POLICE - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

7.      TREND SEARCH FOR 2011 – I - ERSU ABLAK

 

THE NEWS

1.      FINANCIAL DISARRAY

2.      WAR OF WORDS

3.      KILLER TRAFFIC

4.      TIME TO GIVE UP HIDEBOUND THINKING -  SALEEM SAFI

5.      JUSTICE FOR MUKHTARAN MAI  -  AFIYA S ZIA

6.      A ROOF FOR ALL PUBLIC SERVANTS  - IKRAM SEHGAL

7.      THE TUNISIAN CONTAGION - IFTEKHAR A KHAN

8.      OUR OBSESSION WITH THE INANE -  KAMILA HYAT

9.      TOWARDS ANARCHY -  M ZEB KHAN

 

THE AUSTRALIYAN

1.      A BRIDGE TOO FAR FOR HAWKER?

2.      NO CLICHES PLEASE, IT'S AUSTRALIA

3.      OBAMA IS BACK ON TRACK BUT DUCKED THE DEFICIT

 

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

1.      FOOLS RUSH IN WITH FLOOD LEVY

2.      OLD MEDIA FOX, YOUNG TORY LIONS

 

THE GUARDIAN

1.      EGYPT: RAGE AGAINST THE MUBARAKS

2.      REVIEW OF TERROR LAWS: NEW NAME FOR AN OLD PROBLEM

3.      IN PRAISE OF … THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN

 

THE JAKARTA POST

1.      THE MOSCOW CARNAGE

2.      IN THE KPK WE TRUST

3.      ASEAN CHAIRMANSHIP HELPS INDONESIA BRING PEACE IN PAPUA - MANGADAR SITUMORANG

4.      ANTICIPATING VOLATILITY KEY TO FUNDING IN 2011  - DANIEL MAMADOU

5.      TUNISIA MAY NOT FOLLOW INDONESIA'S PATH TO DEMOCRACY - GIORA ELIRAZ

 

CHINA DAILY

1.      US STILL CAUGHT IN STORM

2.      LISTEN TO THE UNDERDOGS

3.      AMITY, PEACE AND PROSPERITY - BY TANG JIAXUAN (CHINA DAILY)

4.      NEW REALITY CALLS FOR SHARED NORMS - BY KLAUS SCHWAB (CHINA DAILY)

 

DAILY MIRROR

1.      MAHABODHI- THE LATEST RUSE OF THE LTTE

2.      MAYHEM AT MOSCOW AIRPORT

3.      PRICE VOLATILITY AND FOOD CRISES  - BY JACQUES DIOUF

4.      REGIONAL POLITICS AND SOUTH ASIA  - BY D .S. RAJAN       

5.      CEDAW DISCUSSES HR OF WOMEN IN BANGLADESH, BELARUS AND SRI LANKA

 

GULF DAILY NEWS

1.      LESSONS TO BE LEARNED...    - BY JAMAL KANJ

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

A TRAGIC CAPITULATION

STAINES VERDICT SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN AMENDED


The Supreme Court's decision to amend its judgement in the Graham Staines case by excising those portions of it that dealt with the activities of Christian missionaries and the conversion of poor tribals through fraud and inducement is extremely regrettable and unfortunate. It is absurd to suggest, as has been done by a group of busybodies who masquerade as India's 'civil society' and whose only claim to fame is their proximity to certain individuals associated with the Congress who wield tremendous clout at the moment by virtue of the political and constitutional posts they occupy, that the Supreme Court, in its original judgement, had sought to minimise the horrific crime committed by Dara Singh and his associate Mahendra Hembram who have been held guilty of setting the vehicle in which Staines and his two young sons were sleeping on fire resulting in their death. The ghastly incident happened more than a decade ago in a remote village of Odisha where tribals had begun to resent missionaries converting fellow tribals to Christianity, thus upsetting social equilibrium and morphing their cultural identity. The Supreme Court's judgement is a stern reiteration of the fact that the guilty men acted in an unconscionable manner and deserved the punishment meted out to them: Life imprisonment. But to the credit of the Bench, it also provided a context to the crime because it was neither committed in isolation nor motivated by factors other than to protest against evangelism aimed at 'harvesting souls'. Such elaboration is perfectly acceptable and, in this newspaper's opinion, added balance to the judicial verdict. Yet, those who seek to be seen as patrons of unrestrained evangelism and missionaries who misuse the freedom to preach and propagate religion guaranteed by the Constitution chose to cavil against the judgement and launched a vitriolic campaign of calumny, attributing political motives to a verdict of the highest court of the land and demanding the Government's intervention. The Supreme Court should have stood up to those questioning its integrity. Tragically, it chose to capitulate, setting a dangerous precedent. In future, every time a judgement goes against the political interests of a devious few, they will cite the amendment of the Graham Staines judgement to demand similar revision.


It is equally important to remember that removing certain sentences from a particular verdict will not change facts on the ground. The people of India are fully aware of missionaries and evangelists converting the indigent and the illiterate to Christianity through means that are fraudulent, coercive or inducement. It's not for nothing that State Governments have adopted anti-conversion laws, although these are held in contempt and violated with impunity by those who claim to represent the Church. Nothing has changed since the time when the Niyogi Commission recorded the questionable activities of missionaries. On the contrary, with more money coming in as 'aid' for evangelical missions, the scale of the fraud being committed in the name of faith has increased. There is nothing charitable about missionaries who foray deep into India's interiors looking for souls to harvest; it is antithetical to everything that our Constitution stands for. This is precisely the point that was made by the Supreme Court in its judgement in the Stanislaus vs State of Madhya Pradesh case. Will that judgement be expunged from the court's records now?

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

AFTER TUNISIA, EGYPT?

PROTESTERS TAKE TO STREETS, ROCK MUBARAK REGIME


With anti-Government demonstrators storming the streets of Cairo and Alexandria only days after large-scale protests in Tunisia forced President Ben Ali into exile and political analysts already predicting a domino effect across the region, one maybe easily carried away by the romantic notion of a people's revolution toppling dictatorships across the big, bad Arab world and paving the way for egalitarian and enlightened democracies. But before we write our happily-ever-after story, it is imperative to exercise restraint, be pragmatic and take a closer look. There is no denying that Tunisia's so-called 'Jasmine Revolution' stimulated the protests in Egypt, and that social media played its part in mobilising public opinion in an otherwise closed society, but these were mere catalysts only. To really appreciate the Egyptian response, one must understand the impact of economic liberalisation on a Government-sponsored welfare state and the accompanying rise of Islamic-based welfare programmes. Egypt especially has a long history of being a welfare state that was essentially funded by American aid, regulated access to the Suez Canal and a vibrant tourism industry, and typically included free education and healthcare, and extensive food subsidies. However, over the years as population grew and an aspirational middle-class clamoured for more benefits and demanded lower prices, money fell short. Egypt's economy was in a mess and the welfare state was rendered unsustainable. President Hosni Mubarak responded by replacing the old system overnight with a liberal market economy. This led to severe cutbacks in welfare programmes and soon, Egyptians found themselves paying more for food and services. However, the poorly implemented liberal economy did not immediately translate into jobs or even a sustained growth rate. Egypt now has a population that is poor, jobless and, ironically, educated.


Things went from bad to worse as Mr Mubarak prioritised national development over the establishment of a democratic state and in the process silenced all dissenting political voices — a move that only led to further disenchantment among the youth who, in the absence of any space for legitimate opposition politics, have been seduced by Islamism as preached by the Muslim Brotherhood with its slogan: Islam is the solution. Mr Mubarak's folly is that he underestimated the strength of the Muslim Brotherhood and over-estimated the ability of his security apparatus to root out Islamism from the soil of Egypt. What has made the situation worse for him is crony capitalism that has benefitted a few and left many in poverty. It remains to be seen which way the tide goes, but it increasingly appears the Mubarak era is nearing its end.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

JHARKHAND IS THE NEXT BIG MOVER

BIBEK DEBROY


Never mind stories about Maoist violence. The people and the Government of Jharkhand are raring to go and the State could well see 10% growth.


Over the last few months, I have spent most of my time in Jharkhand, including celebrating New Year's Day there. Jharkhand didn't mean Ranchi, or even Dhanbad, Bokaro and Jamshedpur. It meant travelling by road and rail to Khunti, Gumla, Lohardaga, Latehar, Palamu, West Singhbhum, Deoghar, Dumka and Pakur. A few of these might be unfamiliar names to those unacquainted with Jharkhand. They are the names of Jharkhand's 24 districts, 18 of which are believed to be hotbeds of Left-wing extremism or Maoism.


Part work and part pleasure, it meant spending New Year's in Netarhat and Betla, taking an elephant-ride in the latter place, hoping to catch a glimpse of the solitary tiger that still remains there. This was originally supposed to be a tigress named 'Rani'. However, dung analysis has revealed it is actually a tiger. Gender apart, no such luck. The knowledgeable mahout was probably right. You can't expect to drive into a national park in a Gypsy and see a tiger. You need patience. You need to use an elephant (ours was named 'Juhi'). You need to be ready to hang around for several hours, waiting for the tiger to return to its lair.


We saw the lair and the rock the tiger sunned itself on, and returned. I went to waterfalls like Hundru and Hirni, visited temples in Rajrappa and Baidyanathdham (Deoghar). It wasn't the best of seasons. Rivers were relatively dry. But I touched the waters of Damodar, Mayurakshi, Koel and Karo. I visited assorted mines and met people who had been displaced.


Most people, generally those who have nothing to do with Jharkhand, thought I was crazy. Many of them said, "Jharkhand? It isn't safe. There must be other places to visit. It is infested with Maoists. Have you taken out insurance?" Left-wing extremism is a vague expression. There is ideology and there is stuff outside ideology. There are splinter groups. There are cadre and there is a broader anti-state sentiment. To paraphrase Chairman Mao Tse-tung, there is the fish and there is the water the fish thrive in.


There is no denying anti-state sentiment, for legitimate reasons. The state hasn't delivered. The Panchayats (Extention to Scheduled Areas) Act and the Forest Rights Act haven't been implemented. Tribals are persecuted by forest officials and excise inspectors (on the pretext that country liquor is commercially sold). There has been displacement without resettlement and rehabilitation.


Contrary to popular impression, this isn't about recent private sector investments in power, steel and coal alone. It is more about historical public sector investments, Coal India being a prime culprit. After mining, open-cast mines were supposed to have been covered up. They haven't. No records exist on relief and rehabilitation.

There is no enforcement and no culpability. If it is a functioning mine, compensation extends to those who are within the project site. But 10 km outside the project site, you are covered with soot and agricultural productivity must have been adversely affected. Land laws differ from one part of Jharkhand to another. However, unless the State Government does the acquisition, alienation of tribal land is generally prohibited. That's been honoured more in the breach than in the observance.


This part of the country has a history of revolt against the British, mostly over land issues. If Left-wing ideology is interpreted as one specifically directed towards feudalism in land relations, that ideology is inappropriate in Jharkhand. There is no feudalism in land relations there. Resentment against an oppressive state, a continuation of resentment against an alien British Government, is somewhat different. The state hasn't delivered on development. It hasn't delivered on law and order.


A story I was told exemplifies this. In a village, two brothers had a dispute over land and the elder one complained to the local Maoist leader. In the thick of the night, Maoist cadre descended and wished to know who was the most educated among the villagers. The school teacher was identified and dragged out, trembling in fright. "You are the most educated. You are the most qualified to adjudicate the dispute. And once you have decided, let no one deviate from the decision." Maoist dispute resolution is inefficient, it has no appellate process. It is arbitrary. But there is no denying that it fills a vacuum the Government machinery has left.


What is development? It is about ensuring health and education. It is about ensuring public delivery of goods and services. Left-wing extremist groups don't promise that. At best, they enforce rights people should in any case have been guaranteed. Talking to people who have sympathies with the Maoist cause reveals no one is against development. But there is resentment against what development has come to represent.


There are four reasons why one can sense a change. First, panchayat elections, held after a long time, have led to the hope that the Government will be more participatory. By all accounts, some Left-wing extremist groups have participated in the polls. Second, the Bihar lesson has had a spillover. If Bihar can do it, why can't Jharkhand? Third, the police are better armed and Maoists have generally switched from actual attacks to use of land-mines. Fourth, beyond ideology, Maoist outfits are recognised as agents of extortion.


As much as 15 per cent is extracted from contractors and there is no moral outrage at this. Contractors are also reconciled to this and build it into their costs. Problems arise when there is a multiplicity of Left-wing extremist groups in the same area. Who does one pay? And how does a new splinter group establish its credentials, required to legitimise extortion demands? By kidnapping and killing someone and promptly taking credit, so that credentials are established.


Having said this, incidents of violence are declining. Armed escorts still follow you around. And you are not advised to drive around between 6 pm and 5 am. But this seems to be more preemptive rather than a reaction to an actual threat.


Daltonganj (now Medininagar) is in Palamau, not far from the disturbed area of Latehar. I had expected there wouldn't be people in the streets after evening. Nothing of the kind and life was normal. In Latehar, there were no objections when I wished to visit the extremely disturbed block of Manika. The Ghagri waterfalls (near Netarhat) are beautiful. I went to Upper Ghagri. But not to Lower Ghagri, still regarded as unsafe. Since Jharkhand is changing, I suspect it won't be too long before no one objects if I go to Lower Ghagri.


I have stuck my neck out and said Jharkhand will be the next big mover, after Bihar, in eastern India. There will be GSDP (gross State domestic product) growth rates of more than 10 per cent. I have offered bets. But despite skepticism, no one is willing to take me up on the bet and I think this proves my point.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

UNDERSTANDING FEDERALISM IN NEPAL

MAYURI MUKHERJEE


There is a growing demand for a federal structure of governance in Nepal, as opposed to the unitary system backed by the main political parties. The demand for federalism is driven by both ethnic and regional concerns, as well as the resentment against the elite which controls Nepal's politics from Kathmandu. Will this become yet another stumbling block to Constitution-making?


On Wednesday, Nepal's squabbling law-makers failed to meet yet another deadline to elect a Prime Minister, further straining an already tenuous four-year long peace process. Earlier in the month, President Ram Baran Yadav had issued a January 21 deadline for the election of a new Prime Minister — Nepal has been under caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, who resigned from his position as premier in June 2010 — which was then extended to January 26 on the request of Nepal's three major political parties and 25 other fringe parties.


Unfortunately, even after countless deadlines and several party meetings, there has been no agreement on who will lead Nepal's Government. In a last bid effort to resolve the crisis, the Constituent Assembly, on Tuesday, approved changes in the rules for electing a new Prime Minister, now making it mandatory for all members to participate in the election. Earlier, several leaders had abstained from voting which ultimately led to 16 rounds of inconclusive elections.


However, as the political process drags on in Kathmandu, and reports of a possible Maoist Government trickle in, it is imperative to take a step back and look at the larger picture in Nepal, where conflicting ethnic and regional interests, pitted against vested political ones, have scarred the nation's sense of identity.


Nepal encompasses enormous diversity and is home to people from several castes and regional ethnicities. Unfortunately, a vast majority of its diverse population has also suffered a long history of legal discrimination based on caste, ethnicity and regional identity, and modern Nepal is still reeling under its after-effects.

The ongoing demand for federalism has thus emerged as a powerful symbol for a more inclusive political agenda that will guarantee proportional ethnic representation and recognise the country's ethnic and cultural diversity. In Nepal, federalism means more than just the decentralisation of political power. It includes significant measures to prevent further minority exclusion such as the reservation of Government seats, preferential rights to natural resources for the indigenous people as well as several symbolic measures, such as the naming of Provinces after the dominant minority. Federalism and the consequent restructuring of the state was an integral element of the 2006 peace deal and in 2007, it was also incorporated in the interim Constitution after violent protests in the Terai region. Nonetheless, the demand for federalism is a contentious issue that still faces significant opposition from those who support a strong unitary state.


Unsurprisingly, these include the Brahmins and the Chhetris, the socio-politically dominant groups who form an overwhelming majority of the elite in power. They fear losing their place in national politics and oppose the redefinition of the country's identity on ethnic lines. The elite typically has little understanding of how terribly skewed the balance in Nepali politics has been in its favour all these years and the resentment that has built up against it due to the deeply discriminatory nature of Nepali society.


Nonetheless, structured opposition to federalism is minimal, even varied, amongst these groups. Only a few parties belonging to the political Left completely oppose federal restructuring; others such as the Chhetris are concerned about losing their positions of privilege but are not opposed to federalism, in principle. Pro-monarchy groups, on the other hand, do not care much about federalism at all but worry about the idea of a 'secular republic'.


The fragmented nature of these anti-federalism groups renders them incapable of putting up much of an organised resistance to the peace process. Also, the groups are not connected by a strong organisational structure and their leaders do not form strong personal networks, and therefore, it will be difficult for them to quickly mobilise a grassroots opposition. But hopefully, strong provisions for individual rights that have been incorporated in the draft of the new Constitution will go a long way to pacify the elite's fear of discrimination and popular uprising will be avoided. However, if the present political deadlock continues, there is a strong possibility that these groups might coalesce and form a broader conservative alliance.

As far as the three major political parties in Nepal are concerned, the common assessment has been that the Maoists have led the demand for federalism but in reality, their commitment is suspect. For one, their class-based value system is ideologically in contrast to a caste-based system of representation. Second, their version of the Constitution which envisions a federal state is heavily titled towards the centre, thus diminishing the scope for self-governance by dominant minorities and instead, paving the way for a unitary state, governed by a small elite. Nonetheless, they have used the agenda of a federal state to build support during the insurgency and now much of their credibility as a viable political party depends on their unequivocal commitment to federalism. It is of little surprise then that the Maoists have whole-heartedly pushed for the establishment of a federal state in Nepal.


As for the Nepali Congress and the CPN(UML), both support federal restructuring on paper and to some extent even in action, but within the parties there is significant resistance to the idea. The divide is well exemplified in the Nepali Congress's loathing of, an essentially symbolic provision of proportional ethnic representation, that new provinces be named after the dominant minority. In fact, several minority leaders for whom proportional ethnic representation is a non-negotiable principle, now believe that the parties committed to the idea for the sake of bargaining and this has resulted in the loss of popular support.


Members of ethnic and regional groups have already threatened to take to the streets and even resort to violent protests, if their demands for a federal state are not met. For now, they have pinned their hopes on May 28, 2011 — the extended deadline for the Constituent Assembly to produce a new Constitution, all though there is little hope that the deadline will be met.


Ultimately, the idea of a federal state has tremendous popular support in the country, particularly from the Madhesis in the Terai region and from groups in the eastern hills. And while it is true that the various ethnic and regional groups are not part of a larger umbrella organisation, they do maintain very strong inter-organisational ties that are further reinforced by strong personal networks.


If the promise of a federal state fails, it will be fairly easy for these fragmented groups to come together and launch a strong, possibly violent, protest movement. Already minority leaders have become restless with the deadlocked peace process and if the Constituent Assembly misses its deadline again, the situation may quickly escalate.

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THE PIONEER

OPED

A DANGEROUS 'DISCLOSURE' BY AL JAZEERA

GWYNNE DYER


The so-called secret 'Palestine Paper' which has raised a storm across Arab countries could actually lead to further conflict rather than a resolution through negotiation. Was the disclosure by Al Jazeera motivated by the purpose to stall peace talks?


It's time to think about the nature of the next Arab-Israeli war. The release by the Arab satellite network al-Jazeera of 16,000 leaked Palestinian documents covering the past 10 years of peace negotiations has driven a stake through the heart of the already moribund "peace process", and we hear constant warnings that when the hope of a peace settlement is finally extinguished, the next step is a return to war. So, what would that war be like?

Okay, back up a bit. What the leaked documents show is that the Palestinian negotiators were willing to make huge concessions on territory and other issues in return for Israeli recognition of an independent Palestinian state. They were well-meaning people playing a very bad hand as best they could, but the publication of these documents will destroy them politically.


The spirit in which they approached the talks is exemplified in the first document in the trove, a memo on Palestinian negotiating strategy dated September 1999. It urges the negotiators to heed the advice of the Rolling Stones, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find that you get what you need."

According to the documents, in the past three years the Palestinians have offered to accept all of Israel's illegal settlements around Jerusalem except one (Har Homa) as permanent parts of the Jewish state. Israel annexed all of East Jerusalem after it conquered it in the 1967 war, but international law forbids that and no other country sees the annexation as legal.


The negotiators also offered to restrict the "right of return" of the millions of Palestinians descended from those who were driven from their homes in what is now Israel in 1948 to a mere 1,00,000 returnees over 10 years. They even offered to put the most sacred site in Jerusalem, the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, under the control of a joint committee. (It is currently administered by an Islamic foundation.)


Even these concessions were not enough to persuade the Israelis to accept a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders of the West Bank (including those parts of East Jerusalem still inhabited by Palestinians) and the Gaza Strip. They were enough, however, to make the negotiators reviled in almost every Palestinian home if they were ever revealed — and now they have been.


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and his predecessor Ahmed Qureia were just pragmatic men trying to cut the best deal possible in very difficult circumstances. They might even have been able to sell these concessions to the Palestinian people, if they had come as part of a comprehensive settlement leading to the end of the Israeli occupation and an independent Palestinian state.

But, in fact, they got nothing for their concessions. The Israelis simply pocketed them and demanded more. Now that the details are known — leaked, almost certainly, by frustrated members of the Negotiation Support Unit that provided technical and legal backup for the Palestinian negotiators — Mr Abbas and his colleagues are finished.

Even the Palestinian Authority itself, and the whole concept of an independent state for Palestinians in a fraction of pre-partition Palestine, may not survive this blow. Fatah, the faction that effectively rules the parts of the West Bank not yet taken for Israeli settlements, is well past its sell-by date as a national liberation movement, and may lose control of the area to the Islamist Hamas movement before we are very much older.

Hamas, which already controls the Gaza Strip, rejects negotiations with Israel and the whole notion of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as part of a two-state future. We are continually told by various pundits that these developments can only lead to war, and they are probably right — but what kind of war?


It would certainly not be like the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973, in which regular armies fought stand-up battles with lots of heavy weapons. Egypt, Syria and Jordan, the countries that fought those wars on behalf of the Arabs, have long since abandoned the goal of matching Israeli military power. They don't even buy the right kind of weapons, in the right amounts, to stand a chance against Israel on the battlefield.

We will doubtless see more Israeli punishment attacks in which a hundred Palestinians or Lebanese die for every Israeli, like the "wars" against Lebanon in 2006 and in the Gaza Strip in 2008-09. We may well see a "third intifada," another popular uprising against the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, probably accompanied by terrorist attacks in Israel itself. But we have seen all this before. It's nothing to get excited about.

In the long run, we may see some Arab states start working on nuclear weapons, to create some balance of forces between the two sides, but probably not for a while yet. In the meantime, the future for the West Asia is not mass destruction, but an unending series of Israeli military strikes that kill in the hundreds or thousands, not in the millions. Plus despair, of course.


--Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

INDIA, RUSSIA MOVE CLOSER ON DEFENCE TIES

ILYA KRAMNIK


From Admiral Gorshkov to T-50 and now the fifth-generation FGFA, India-Russia military-technical cooperation has reached a new high. In future Russia and India might align to fill orders from third-party nations through joint production and export


Russia and India have now signed an agreement on the preliminary design of the fifth-generation FGFA fighter for the Indian Air Force. The fighter will be based on the Russian T-50, which is currently undergoing flight tests.

The history of the FGFA spans more than a year — the preliminary agreement on its design was signed in 2008, when the Future Airborne Complex — Frontline Aviation (PAK-FA) programme entered the final phase of its development. At the time, the basic requirements for the Indian fighter, which slightly differed from the Russian version, were identified. These main differences were in crew capacity (the Indian Air Force prefers a two-man vehicle), equipment, and weapons (for obvious reasons, the Indian fighter will not exclusively use Russian combat systems).


It took almost 10 years for the Russian fighter to see its first flight. The plane currently being developed for India should get off the ground sooner because the bulk of its design has already been applied under the PAK-FA programme. If all goes well, the first FGFA flight could occur in the next five to six years, and mass production could start in 2018-19.


The development of the FGFA proceeds from a long history of military-technical cooperation between Russia and India that has persisted for nearly 50 years and gone through several phases of change and evolution.

A history of cooperation


The first phase of Russian-Indian military-technical cooperation began in 1962, when the Soviet Union delivered ready-made weapons to India during its conflict with neighbouring China. The second phase began in the late 1960s, when India undertook the licensed production of Soviet systems — aircraft, small arms, and a number of other weapons systems.


By 1980, 75 per cent of India's military needs were being met by arms deliveries from the USSR and the licensed production of Soviet weapons, and by the 1990s, the same percentage of Indian forces were still armed with Soviet weapons. Simultaneously, Indian industry reached a level that enabled it to develop its own weapons models. The Indian defence industry has since begun work on several independent projects, including ballistic and anti-aircraft missiles, warships, tanks and various aircraft.


However, experience has shown that India is not always capable of completing such projects under its own auspices, which can lead to significant delays and inferior equipment as compared to systems in Russia and the West. The Akash anti-aircraft missile system is a prime example. The system was developed over almost 25 years — from 1984 to 2009 — but its military-technological level is approximately the same as the Buk anti-aircraft missile system developed in the USSR in the early 1980s. The Indian tank project, Arjun, has also thus far been lackluster and took almost 30 years to be developed.


As a result, the Indian leadership has decided that joint development is the most promising form of military-technical cooperation because it enables India to develop its scientific and technical expertise while obtaining the results guaranteed by its partner's more significant advancement.

The Air Force and the Navy — the backbone of cooperative partnership


The role of Russian developers in creating new ships for the Indian Navy is considerable; these include destroyers, frigates, new generation Project ATV nuclear submarines, as well as a long-term project for an aircraft carrier. At the same, India continues to buy fully manufactured ships from Russia. The most important of these is the upgraded Vikramaditya aircraft carrier (formerly the Admiral Gorshkov). Meanwhile, the construction of Project 11356 frigates for the Indian Navy continues. India intends to order three more ships in addition to the three already built and the three currently under construction.


In spring 2011, India is also planning to lease a Project 971I Russian nuclear submarine. The Indian Navy will use it to train Indian crews for its own nuclear submarine programme.


In terms of the prospects for military-technical cooperation with India, it should be noted that Russia will likely continue to supply the bulk of aircraft and warships. As for the supply of ground vehicles, India is gradually reorienting towards its own industry along with other international suppliers.


For Russia, however, the aviation and shipbuilding markets are more than worth it — the Indian Air Force and Navy are among the strongest in the world and require large supplies of modern technology to maintain their current force and underwrite their future development. Moreover, it is possible that in the future Russia and India will align to fill orders from third-party nations through joint production and export.


The writer is Moscow-based military affairs columnist.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

PLUG THE PILFERAGE

 

If land and spectrum mafias were not enough, now we have the oil mafia. The gruesome murder of additional collector Yeshwant Sonawane in Manmad, Maharashtra, should jolt the authorities into undertaking a determined campaign against the oil mafia. That Sonawane was doused with kerosene and set ablaze for objecting to fuel theft shows the brazenness with which the mafia operates. Clearly, the law has failed to deter these miscreants.


Illustrating this point is the fact that the main accused happens to be a history-sheeter. With HPCL, BPCL and Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) depots located in the area, Manmad has a notorious reputation for fuel pilferage. All the more reason why the necessary security mechanism should have been in place to prevent Tuesday's incident.

The underlying problem is the high adulteration value of kerosene. Touted as the poor man's fuel, the heavy subsidy accorded to kerosene makes it ideal for spiking more expensive diesel and petrol. An estimated 38% of kerosene produced is diverted for adulteration or sale in the black market. At the heart of the crime is an unholy nexus between politicians, transporters and middlemen, each having a sizeable stake in the status quo. The net result is significant loss to the exchequer and the lowest economic strata that depends on kerosene as a source of energy, besides the proliferation of adulterated petrol and diesel that appreciably adds to pollution. In places like Manmad the
oil mafia has spawned other criminal activities, setting in motion a vicious cycle.


The antidote lies in putting in place a system of strict checks and balances. An earlier kerosene marker system proved to be ineffective. An effective replacement that makes adulteration easily verifiable is a pressing need. The transportation of kerosene tankers is the responsibility of state governments and this is where most of the pilferage takes place. Equipping the tankers with GPS trackers is a good idea, as is fitting them with heavy duty locking systems. Regular raids backed by the police will disincentivise adulteration.


The murder in Manmad is not the first high-profile case where the brutality of the oil mafia has been on display. In 2005, IOC employee S Manjunath was murdered in Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh, while trying to check petrol adulteration. Given that there are strong indications to suggest the complicity of politicians and administrative officials in pilferage, the Public Interest Disclosure Bill for the Protection of Whistleblowers, hanging fire in Parliament, must be pushed through quickly. Internal and external checks need to work in tandem to curb the menace.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

TECH TONIC

 

After a gap of 13 years national defence and space organisations, having been taken off the US 'Entity List', are free to access the world's most cutting-edge technologies. This lifting of curbs is among the first steps to implement the reform of export control policy vis-a-vis India, promised by President Obama during his visit last November. A comprehensive lifting of US technology sanctions will help foster a knowledge economy in India. Such an economy focusses on developing effective and efficient uses of knowledge to multiply productivity, and on occasion, creates brand new economic sectors. Think of how computers revolutionised everything. A knowledge economy in India requires first creating a solid research and development (R&D) base. Many multinationals have already set up R&D labs in India, and a large majority of more than 500 global business leaders surveyed by Ernst & Young believes India will become a global leader in R&D by 2020.

Access to US high-tech and dual-use technologies could even provide a competitive advantage to India against
China in the knowledge economy stakes, as tech transfers to the latter will be inhibited by geostrategic rivalry between China and the US. Realising a knowledge economy in India, however, will require more than demolishing international barriers to the flow of knowledge. The government must also enact effective educational reform to ensure that there exists the manpower essential to a thriving R&D economy. It should facilitate the setting up of research parks where R&D labs can be located. These are areas where China remains far ahead of India.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

DAZED AND CONFUSED

BJP's plan to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on Republic Day was - as the party had declared in its biggest ever rally in Jammu a month earlier - meant to pay tribute to Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, who had died in a Kashmir jail in 1953 for the cause of abrogation of Article 370. It also remembered Prem Nath Dogra, who had led the movement in Jammu for the same, and recalled its past 'patriotic' role as against Nehru's Kashmir policy that created the problems the country still faces. As a direct witness to what happened in that period, let me correct this impression.


For instance, Dogra, the leader of Praja Parishad, the Jammu affiliate of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh - BJP's predecessor - was also the Hindu Sabha's leader in 1947. The Sabha supported Maharaja Hari Singh's aspiration for independence and opposed its accession to India. At that time it was Jawaharlal Nehru's initiative to cultivate Sheikh Abdullah, who was the undisputed leader of the Kashmiris, that made accession to India possible.

Mukherjee came to the state to lend his support to the Praja Parishad's agitation for 'full accession' to India. But it is not correct to say, as is being said, that the state government had imposed a permit system for entry and to give credit to Mukherjee for its abolition. The system was imposed by the defence ministry for reasons of defence. We, as state citizens, also had to go to the ministry to get a permit to enter the state. It was relaxed by the ministry for Mukherjee as an exception.


At the same time, Mukherjee also entered into a prolonged correspondence with Nehru and Abdullah. He said: "We would readily agree to treat the Valley with Sheikh Abdullah as its head in any special manner and for such time as he would like but Jammu and Ladakh must be fully integrated with India." In reply, the Sheikh, in his letter dated February 4, 1953, said: "You are not perhaps unaware of the attempts that are being made by Pakistan to force a decision by disrupting the unity of the State. Once the ranks of the State people are divided, any solution can be foisted on them." The Sheikh further reminded the Jana Sangh leader that he happened to be a part of the government of India when arrangements for J&K were made, including Article 370.


Eventually, Mukherjee agreed to withdraw the agitation through his letter to Nehru on February 17, 1953, "provided the implementation of the July (1952) agreement will be made at the next session of Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly and the principle of autonomy will apply to Jammu and of course Ladakh and Kashmir Valley." Nehru reminded him that autonomy to the three regions was a part of the July agreement. Evidently, they could not agree on a face-saving formula till, unfortunately, Mukherjee died.


But the agitation was withdrawn on the conditions suggested by Mukherjee. The Parishad leaders were released on July 2, 1953, and invited to Delhi to meet Nehru on July 3, where the Parishad finally announced withdrawal of the agitation as regional autonomy had been conceded.


However, according to Balraj Madhok, who in later years became president of the Jana Sangh, his party had to withdraw support to the commitments of Mukherjee and the Praja Parishad under a directive from Nagpur (RSS headquarters). The party and its successor, the BJP, started a relentless tirade against autonomy of the state and regional autonomy. When the state government appointed a Regional Autonomy Committee, the Jana Sangh was the only party that refused to meet the committee and opposed its formation in the state assembly and outside.

The
BJP reiterated its demand for abrogation of Article 370 at the Jammu Sammelan and during the yatra to end discrimination against Jammu. As pointed out above, the Article was included in the Constitution when Mukherjee was a member of the Union cabinet and had supported it in his correspondence with Nehru. Again, when the party headed the government at the Centre, its leader told Parliament that it had no power to abrogate the article. But how is the problem of Jammu related to its abrogation, which cannot be solved unless the region gets to share in the political power that only regional autonomy - that the BJP has been opposing - can ensure?

Lastly, the BJP's contribution to alienation of the Muslims of Jammu, who constitute a majority in five out of 10 districts of the region and a sizeable minority in others, is no service to Jammu's cause. Though the party no longer supports division of the state, its Ladakh unit demands Union Territory status for it and separation from the state. The demand has divided the region into Buddhist-majority Leh and Muslim-majority Kargil districts, as it has absolutely no support in the latter areas.


The party has learnt and unlearnt its Kashmir policy in its various avatars - Hindu Sabha, Praja Parishad, Jana Sangh and BJP. But it has still to go a long way to play a positive role in this vital state.


The writer is director of the Institute of Jammu & Kashmir Affairs.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TIMES VIEW

MISMATCH OF POLITICAL CULTURES

 

If BJP president Nitin Gadkari is to be believed, China's sole political party has a lot to teach his party about party organisation and effectiveness. This is not a throwaway comment; it's something he first said before his recent visit to China and then repeated after seeing the way the Communist Party of China (CPC) had set up its cadre-training modules. Even leaving aside the dissonance of hearing the leader of a party known for its long-standing distrust of China saying this, it's a puzzling sentiment at best. Certainly, the CPC has been effective in its context. And that context happens to be an authoritarian regime where the entire political arena happens to consist of precisely one party. What lessons, exactly, can a political party - one of dozens - draw in a country where political competition is in play to the dizzying extent that it is in India?


To have a sense of the unequal context in which Gadkari is proposing to learn from the CPC, just consider the reverse situation. Would the CPC ever consider sending its top leaders to learn about party organisation from the BJP? Or any other Indian political party for that matter? One wouldn't be surprised if, say, the CPM were to propose a subordinate relationship to the CPC. It's odd that a party which claims to uphold a proudly nationalist approach, such as the BJP, is also proposing such a relationship.


The sort of top-down organisation and management that works for the CPC can be truly effective and sustainable only in a non-democratic set-up. Is this truly the philosophy that Gadkari wishes to import? He only seems to be lending credence to the point of view that the political spectrum is circular rather than linear, with the left and right extremes overlapping in their penchant for authoritarianism.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTERVIEW

DON'T UNDERESTIMATE CHINESE PARTY MODEL

AJAY VAISHNAV

 

Nitin Gadkari, who led the first-ever delegation of the saffron party to China, has rightly emphasised the need to learn and emulate the Communist Party of China's (CPC) cadre training modules. The immediate objective of the party is to build a modern headquarters in New Delhi with a dedicated training and research wing. As usual, the BJP president is being needlessly criticised for his suggestion to learn the tricks of cadre- and organisation-building from a party that shuns multiparty democracy.


To start with, implicit in Gadkari's statement is his long-term vision for the party's revival, which has suffered two successive electoral defeats at the hands of the Congress-led UPA in the general elections. Also, critics fail to appreciate the fundamental role of a political party in any regime whether parliamentary or communist. Political parties in all regimes depend upon a dedicated and skilled cadre to articulate and build public opinion about their manifesto and programmes. As such, parties spend a lot of time and resources in building and training their cadre. For a cadre-based party like the BJP with an eye on winning elections, it is imperative to look at successful examples like the CPC to rebuild and strengthen its grassroots organisation. In China's case, a state apparatus deriving its organisational strength from the CPC, any underestimation of the party's role would be a huge mistake.


It's untenable to delink Chinese successes in the economic arena and in the removal of poverty from the CPC. We cannot dispute the fact that the country has emerged as an economic powerhouse with dramatic success in poverty reduction. And in the Chinese model, party and government are close. A close look at what makes China tick also requires a closer examination of the Chinese party model.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

A WAKE-UP CALL FOR EVERYONE

There could not have been a more horrific reality check than to wake up in the patriotic glow of Republic Day and find that an honest officer had been burnt alive in Maharashtra after intercepting a petrol adulteration racket. Yashwant Sonawane, an additional district collector, was set ablaze by criminals in Nashik when he tried to prevent them from adulterating petrol during an unscheduled inspection. It took this ghastly murder for chief minister Prithviraj Chavan to order a statewide crackdown on the oil mafia. Sonawane's death is yet another in a line of officers murdered while trying to prevent corruption. Earlier, Indian Oil Corporation employee Manjunath Shanmugam paid with his life after he collected samples of adulterated petrol in Uttar Pradesh. Satyendra Dubey, an engineer and whistleblower in the case of irregularities in sub-contracting in the prestigious Golden Quadrilateral was murdered in Bihar.

The driving force behind such murders is the belief on the part of the perpetrators that they will be able to get off scot-free or with the minimal punishment. And they are not wrong since most of them have some form of political patronage. These officers, and many others like them, have paid such a huge price simply for doing their duty. That justice is rarely, if ever, done in such cases could actually be a deterrent to others like them who wish to implement the law in letter and spirit. The even more alarming aspect to this is that people will lose their faith in the justice system. A sign of this is the manner in which an allegedly mentally disturbed man attacked both SPS Rathore, the police officer accused in the Ruchika Girhotra case earlier and now

Dr Rajesh Talwar, father of murdered teenager Aarushi Talwar.

The fact that the deaths of upright officials has done nothing to curb the growth of mafias in almost all sectors suggests that those in power are not serious about tackling the issue of corruption even at the local level, leave alone the mega scams at the national level. The government has to afford protection to those who are at least trying to prevent corruption of essential commodities. Now and again, we hear grand words about zero-tolerance towards those engaging in corrupt practices. How hollow these are comes home when a decent man like Sonawane meets such a brutal end. It is heartening that we showcased our military might and economic prowess yesterday. But if we cannot protect the people who keep the wheels of governance moving, then our celebrations are a little misplaced.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

DAVOS ª INDIA

One of the downsides of inching towards the centrestage is that you get less and less space to hide your unflattering side. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, India may be concerned about awkward questions that may pop up about its economy — its relative lack of social inclusion, its tickertape tale of corruption, socialist-era ghosts still rattling in the closet — but the truth is that it still has a way to go to be caught under the heavy spotlights over the next five days. Making a pitch by distributing a flyer titled 'India Inclusive: Consolidation Phase' among the 115-odd CEOs from India, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) hopes to prepare them for some 'uncomfortable' queries. The 'India Inclusive' campaign is also a means to get the eyeballs. But offence is the best form of defence and what matters to global players and shoppers isn't only being comforted by good intentions, but also to be wowed by the wares on the table.

Social inclusiveness is something that India has to get done in India and sell at home. Over near the Alps it's the Chinese who are getting the heavy interest. 'The future of Chinese enterprise', 'China's impact on global trade and growth', 'Reshaping the US economy' (yes, this is a session led by a senior fellow of the Chinese Social Academy) are drawing the 2,500-odd crowd. The session on 'New realities of modern China' has received interest from double the number of official attendees. No equivalent dim sum and noodles table at the Chinese stall, the way India has a chit-chat room, 'India Adda', set up in Davos.

But in terms of what it has to offer, India is not China yet. But there is a need to put real nuts and bolts on the table in a global talking heads forum like Davos. Having a Dilli Haat branch in Switzerland is sweet, but it will be just eye candy unless we start getting more focused. Everybody loves India. But it's time to bring out the shoulder-padded jackets, not the tray of samosas and masala chais.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

COLUMN

READ RIDING HOODS

Sigh. Remember the time when we all used to read? Nobody reads now.

Come on! Just because books and newspapers aren't the only mediums for reading anymore doesn't mean people aren't reading.

You mean reading on the internet and on devices like Kindle? That's not reading. Real reading is from books. Like the way we used to read Enid Blyton and Shakespeare.

Did you now? Well, Harry Potters aren't exactly doorstoppers used by parents.

Anyway, youngsters these days don't read book to be informed about the world. They are distracted by television and the internet.

But if you read Rabelais' Pantagruel and Rabelais on a computer screen, what's the harm? You are still reading Rabelais. In any case, you don't read only to gather information. You also read for pleasure.

Who's Rabelais?

The 16th century French writer, considered the father of the novel. His works translated in English are available on the internet on the Project Gutenberg website. Oh, I forgot. You only love Enid Blyton, Sherlock Holmes, and books by dead white Englishmen.

But how can you get pleasure without holding a book, smelling the page, gazing at the cover...?

By reading the text, perhaps? The actual writing? People today are actually less enamoured by the frills. In a way, it's a return to the actual writings. It's like enjoying songs without the music videos.

But that's not loving books?

No, it's loving reading.

Don't say: Is there a Wikipedia book available?

Do say: I heard Orhan Pamuk at the Jaipur Literature Festival. Wish I had stuck to reading his books.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

INDIA'S SILENT GENOCIDE

I remember being disturbed enough to stop watching the 2003 Hindi movie Matrubhumi(motherland).

Set in the future, it depicted an Indian village populated only by men. It gets that way after a man, yearning for a boy, publicly drowns his newborn girl in a vat of milk, sparking a custom that wipes out women. So the men watch porn, fornicate with farm animals. A father marries his five sons to a woman from the outside and the six men take turns raping her. Eventually more men in the village get involved. She is tied to the cow shed and gangraped every night.

Matrubhumi was excessively brutal, I thought, but it addressed a silent, growing genocide that emerging India prefers to ignore.

At least 1,370 girls are aborted every day in India. For perspective, some 250 Indians die every day in road accidents. Terrorists killed about six people, on an average, every day in 2009. In the last two decades of economic progress, 10 million girls have died before being born. More are strangled, slowly starved or simply tossed in the trash.

This is mass murder on a scale unseen in any other country this century. Only China runs us close. The overall Indian sex ratio should be at least 950 women to 1,000 men (Nature produces more males than females as boys are more vulnerable to infant diseases than girls). But the child sex ratio, the number of girls to every 1,000 boys in the age group zero to six, has dropped from 1,010 girls in 1941 to 945 in 1991 to 927 in 2001, according to census figures. The 2011 census will reveal a further decline based on mostly disturbing trends.

First, explosive economic growth has driven survival rates of girls under six in northern India to an all-time low. Families are shrinking, but in doing so they are aborting more girls than ever, says a study, funded by the charity ActionAid, across five northern states.

"It was a girl, we paid Rs1,200 and got it over with," was one response researchers got from a middle-class family in Himachal Pradesh, the only northern state with an acceptable sex ratio (968).

Second, the spread of ultrasound machines that can determine the sex of a foetus has hastened the killing of girls since the 1980s. A nationwide ban on sex-selective abortion has failed. Ravinder Kaur, a sociology professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, told me how in the formerly dacoit-infested district of Morena in Madhya Pradesh she found portable ultrasound machines in villages bereft of basic healthcare.

Third, relatively prosperous urban areas are killing more girls than rural areas. The sex ratio in rural India is 946; in urban India it is 900. Predominantly rural and poor Chhattisgarh (989) and Orissa (972) are doing fine. In the richest state, Punjab, the sex ratio at birth, as revealed by the 2006 National Family Health Survey, had declined to 776 from 793 in 2001 (urban Punjab: 761). Neighbouring, and equally prosperous, Haryana boasts India's worst sex ratio: 861 women for every 1,000 men.

The north is producing millions of excess young men. Crime rates are high and rising. So is violence against women. "Our community is known for female foeticide," observed Commonwealth discus-throw champion Krishna Poonia, referring to her upper-class, prosperous Jat community.

Fourth, there is hope in the southern states and isolated pockets elsewhere. Tamil Nadu has India's best sex ratio with 1,058 women for every 1,000 men. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala are doing well. For those who believe killing girls is an exclusively northern problem, Maharashtra (922) and Gujarat (920) are cause for great worry. South Mumbai, one of India's richest areas, has one of its worst sex ratios. In the east, West Bengal is rapidly improving. Highly educated Mizoram (935) is not doing well, while poorer Manipur (978) is well above the norm.

Killings in the south have receded, but regressive attitudes remain. A leading Bangalore lawyer, who wanted to send her daughter to an expensive, top-grade school, told me this reaction from her upper-class friend: "We sent our son there, not our daughter. Why do you want to spend so much money on a girl?" Dowries in the south are among the highest in India.

The cycle of discrimination is reinforced by the subtle degradation of women in the popular media, from the discriminatory (women performing subservient, domestic roles in advertisements) to the shameful. I refer you to Rishton Se Badhi Pratha (customs are greater than relationships), one of many regressive but popular television serials. "The explicit scenes of torture being inflicted on a female character is (sic) barbaric," said the ministry of information and broadcasting in a notice to the channel Colors last month.

Often, it' women who abuse and kill their own. Educated or not, many inherit odious traditions from their mothers. Nearly 80% of girls in Patiala's higher secondary schools did not want a girl, noted a 2010 study by paediatric doctor Harshinder Kaur.

The horrors of India's silent genocide were reflected last year by Justices Pradeep Nandrajog and Suresh Kait of the Delhi High Court. "The moral regression of the people of India, ie Bharat, has not been crippled by the penal laws," the judges said after the trial of a labourer's wife (a child bride) who strangled her daughter in a Delhi hospital. "She was a baby girl and her arrival was a calamity, she was a poor little thing and the blocking of a puff of wind was enough to put her out. Society had scripted her obituary much before she was born. Her mother only published it."

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

GOING AGAINST THE GRAIN

REETIKA KHERA

The National Advisory Council (NAC) had been widely credited with framing three pro-people legislations — the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), the Right to Information (RTI) and the Forest Rights Act — under the UPA 1 government. So when NAC 2 began discussions on the Food Security Act in mid-2010, expectations were high. The initial vision of an act with a universal public distribution system (PDS), extensive children's entitlements and maternity benefits raised hopes further. However, from the much diluted final recommendations it appeared, last October, that the government had succeeded in taming the NAC.

But worse was in store. In November, the prime minister requested the Rangarajan committee (RC) to examine the NAC's framework. The NAC recommendations included both PDS and non-PDS entitlements. The RC focuses on the PDS alone and ignores the latter entirely. On the PDS, its basic claim is that procurement on the required scale is not possible. Creating legal entitlements in a situation where they may not be honoured, the RC argues, is not advisable.

According to NAC estimates, the proposed framework requires procuring 64 million tonnes (mt) of foodgrain (including 8mt for non-PDS entitlements) three years from now. The RC raises this estimate to 69-74mt. However, some of the assumptions behind this upward revision, especially the "100% offtake" scenario, are questionable. For instance, in Tamil Nadu's universal PDS, which provides rice at R1 per kg, National Service Scheme (NSS) data show that 32% of households in the richest quintile self-select out of the PDS. Be that as it may, even these inflated foodgrain requirements are possible. The agriculture ministry is on record saying that "arranging for 60-70mt for the vulnerable sections doesn't appear to be a constraint".

On the procurement question, the RC hasn't done its homework. It gives only two options for raising procurement — higher minimum support price (MSP) or imports. Both can fuel inflation and raise the subsidy bill. Two cost-reducing options are also available: the "Decentralised Procurement" (DCP) scheme (mentioned only in passing) or procurement of maize and millets (not mentioned at all). Several states procure only a tiny fraction of the total production — indeed, even of the "marketed surplus". For instance, West Bengal contributes 15% of all paddy production but only 8% of it is procured. By fixing loopholes in the DCP, Chhattisgarh increased paddy procurement by a factor of three; in Madhya Pradesh, wheat procurement shot up from 0.06mt to 2.4mt within a year. DCP also encourages production and reduces costs (eg transport costs). As far as maize and millets are concerned, currently only 4% of output is procured. These so-called "coarse grains" are cheaper and nutritionally superior. The RC unjustifiably freezes procurement at 30% of production, contrary to a rising trend in the share of grain procured.

In its 2009 election manifesto, the Congress promised to enact a Food Security Act. Apart from our shameful nutrition record, two years of spiralling food inflation have made this law all the more important. As the Centre turns a deaf ear to people's hardship, the only solace for the rural poor is that several state governments have started putting resources into food security. For instance, Tamil Nadu runs a universal PDS in rural and urban areas, providing rice, dals and edible oil to everyone. In Himachal too all cardholders are entitled to all three commodities. Chhattisgarh has expanded the PDS to cover 80% of rural households, instead of 45% subsidised by the Centre. The main rationale behind these measures is the huge exclusion errors in the current PDS — according to NSS, half of rural households in the poorest monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) quintile didn't have a BPL card. The RC is blind to this elephant in the room.

These states have also shown that with adequate political will, plugging "leakages" is possible. Sadly, if the RC report is any indication, political will at the Centre is for weakening the PDS further by restricting access, reducing quantities and eventually moving towards targeted cash transfers.

Reetika Khera is an economist and a visitor at the Centre for Development Economics, Delhi School of Economics. The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

END THE KILLINGS

 

The horrific murder of Yeshwant Sonawane, the additional district collector of Malegaon district in Maharashtra must galvanise government, both at the Centre and in the states, into action. Sonawane was doused in kerosene and set alight by small-time mobsters from a criminal syndicate, of the kind that have formed around the kerosene-adulteration trade. This is not the first time the oil mafia has struck so blatantly; in 2005, S. Manjunath, a sales executive of the Indian Oil Corporation, was murdered when he tried to clamp down on illegal petrol pumps in UP. Following that murder, surveillance of the state-controlled distribution network for kerosene was tightened. But that tightening proved ineffective, and appears to have been quietly abandoned.

It's necessary to note that this daylight attack happened not in a lawless place, in Naxal-infested districts where the writ of the state runs little or not at all; but near Nandgaon, barely 100 km from Nashik. The area has major railway junctions, a well-settled population, a big government presence — and several depots for Bharat Petroleum and Indian Oil. For the oil mafia to believe it can act with such impunity here shows the state has cynically turned away from implementing its own regulations. While it's necessary to clamp down harshly on this lawbreaking and on the larger network that gave it impetus, the sad truth is that — as previous, failed, efforts to better monitor and police the kerosene distribution network have shown — we need to abandon, as soon as possible, the subsidisation of kerosene. Nearly 40 per cent of subsidised kerosene doesn't reach the intended beneficiaries. And, worse, we are effectively setting up a system that incentivises and rewards blatant lawbreaking. With the profits available to adulteration gangs —petrol is near

Rs 60 a litre, and the kerosene with which it's adulterated Rs 12 a litre — the incontrovertible fact is that there's absolutely no policy intervention that will make this problem go away permanently. Short of, of course, dismantling this counterproductive subsidy entirely.

Unless that happens, petrol will continue to be adulterated; our budget will continue to bleed; kerosene will continue to be scarce; and,

tragically, those responsible for the hideous attacks like this one will continue to thrive. The economic necessity of ending this system is now joined to the moral imperative. Let it not last much longer.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

OCEAN NEIGHBOURS

 

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has now been a state guest in New Delhi twice in five years, as evidence of India's commitment to this relationship. The two nations, once close post-colonial brothers, had drifted apart as non-alignment became irrelevant, losing a sense of how much they could achieve together. In a vastly changed world order, they have realised once again the promise of close ties. This will no longer be about charting a middle ground, but joining forces when power is shifting in Asia's favour.

This is not an abstract relationship. The pacts signed during Yudhoyono's visit show the concrete economic foundation of bilateral ties. Delhi and Jakarta announced negotiations to increase bilateral trading volume to $25 billion by 2015. India has already implemented an FTA with ASEAN, of which Indonesia is the largest member. Now, it's moving towards a comprehensive bilateral trade agreement. The new MoUs include infrastructure, mining and manufacturing. Indian investment in Indonesia has steadily increased in the last two decades; now, India will become the second-highest investor in Indonesia. India will invest, build and manufacture in Indonesia, while it taps valuable energy and mineral resources. This South-South investment is also an important growth strategy for the developing world, amidst the weakening of developed economies. As part of the G-20 and the world's fastest growing economies, India and Indonesia have a key role in rebalancing the global economy.

An extradition treaty and one on mutual legal assistance have also been inked. Delhi and Jakarta will intensify counter-terror cooperation, improve intelligence sharing and the liaison between their law enforcement agencies. Looking beyond economics and commerce, as part of their larger international responsibility, these two democratic states have a crucial role in shaping Asian political and security structures and institutions against the backdrop of a rising China. Part of that strategic collaboration is leveraging their shared maritime spaces through increased naval cooperation in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The joint statement issued in Delhi also underlines wider cooperation in foras like the UN, WTO, G-20 and so on. Jakarta is in many ways Delhi's perfect partner for recasting Asia and the world.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

GULABO AND ROSIE

 

The Republic Day honour for Waheeda Rehman shines a light on an often under-appreciated talent. Poll old Hindi film favourites, and Madhubala is guaranteed a mention, an actor whose on-screen profile could span the intensity of Mughal-e-Azam and the impish peppiness of "Achha ji main haari". Rehman's persona, in contrast, was more understated. From Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam to Pyaasa to Guide, she brought a remarkable and resolute individuality to her characters — and with the lightest of touches. And the characters she played, too, blazed a trail. Cinema was fired, still, by post-independence idealism, given to privileging collective aspiration. Her characters posed, instead, the counter-questions, defying the prescriptions handed down of what "proper" life choices were, finding less beaten tracks to fulfilment. Two of her most memorable films, in fact, retain a striving for modernity that still startles. Pyaasa, where Guru Dutt plays a struggling poet, was for some observers the start of a more questioning cinema, an interrogation of the high-sounding slogans of the time. Rehman played Gulabo, a prostitute with a moral compass; besotted by the poet's verses and sincerity, she helps him realise his dream, and becomes instrumental in getting his works published, without considerations of personal reward. In Guide, another milestone in her career, she plays Rosie, a gifted dancer whose passion has been thwarted by her dictatorial and disinterested husband. With a little encouragement from Raju, a tourist guide played memorably by Dev Anand, her career is transformed, and she gains the composure to hold her own. In a way, these roles were emblematic of a career defined by personal choices — most notably, her decision to keep her name — and unusual on-screen portrayals.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

A DICTIONARY FOR OUR TIMES

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA

 

In ancient polities political disorder used to be best measured by linguistic disorder. In the Mahabharata, a sense of moral vertigo is induced by no one knowing quite what key moral terms mean any more. Thucydides conveys a sense of political disorder and chaos by telling us that words themselves have lost all meaning. Confucius thought that a well-ordered society required "fixing names."

On that measure most of the key terms of our political Constitution are now profoundly disordered. The traditional associations of those words don't make any sense; but the new ones are not fixed. Perhaps the path to moral clarity lies through first recognising and fixing meanings. Only then can we understand that we are in the midst of a new constitutional regime, where old words need new definitions.

Let us begin with our constitutional order.

Office of the prime minister: The weakest office in the cabinet.

Cabinet government: Each minister for himself or herself.

An opposition party: A party guilty of exactly the same things it accuses government of.

Federalism: A system of government where the Centre takes credit for growth and blames the states for poverty.

Member of Parliament: Marginal players in the system, whose sense of worth depends upon major pandemonium.

Supreme Court: The only office whose majesty cannot be redefined. (Any redefinition risks incurring a contempt petition.)

Office of the governor: Like an imperial regent in princely states. Can meddle if necessary.

Civil liberties: Something you might just get — if you can have Ram Jethmalani as a lawyer.

Coalition politics: When there is always some other party to blame.

Separation of powers: When each branch of government thinks it can do the other's job better.

Then there are two curious words associated with government. These are curious because they mean themselves and their opposite. Is it a coincidence that they are used in connection with our government? The first is scheme: both a benevolent government project to help the people and something conspiratorial. In government the two meanings unite to make benevolence a conspiracy. The second is sanction: it can mean "giving permission" or "reprimanding." When sanctions are given or refused, which speech act is being undertaken?

Then there are some new words that signal political change; words that promise a new revolution and imagine new utopias.

Governance: During revolutions, new slogans are coined. "Power to the People!", "Liberty!" and so on. Now our war cry is "Governance!" Fourteen prominent citizens have even petitioned the prime minister to take this seriously. A powerful revolutionary slogan, inevitably, has several meanings. It poses a real semantic challenge. Is it a noun or a verb? Is it a problem or is it a solution? Is there a path to governance or is governance the path?

But here are some competing definitions. 1) The word polite company uses when it doesn't want to directly blame the government for not taking decisions. 2) The word the PM uses to explain why he

cannot take decisions. 3) The word used by people fed up with politics. 4) The word used by politicians fed up with bureaucrats. 5) The word used by civil society fed up with everybody. 6) The word used by people who wish they were living in China.

Independent institutions: Another revolutionary re-imagining of our institutions. What form of government does it mean? 1) Where people have the illusion that they can bypass politics. 2) Where people want to duck the question "Who guards the guards?". 3) Where the solution to a breakdown in every institution is to create another one. 4) One which bureaucrats and judges love, since they get more power.

But perhaps we should not complain. After all, all utopias are fuzzy and vague. And seriously, can there be a more energising war cry than "Governance"?

But we don't just have an emerging utopian political imagination. Even some of our old institutions have taken on new roles. Consider:

Income tax department: The department that raids individuals when the media does not do a good enough job producing gossip about film stars.

Central Bureau of Investigation: The agency the Supreme Court trusts, just because the court is monitoring it.

Civil society: That part of the establishment that does not like the establishment but is too afraid to come out on the streets.

Ministry of defence: The ministry that defends India against its greatest enemy: not Pakistan, not China, but corruption. No decision, no corruption.

We even have a new economics to go with a new political system.

Inflation: The only economic phenomenon that government can blame on the weather.

Public-private partnerships: More efficient rent-seeking arrangements between the public and private sectors.

Interest rate: The thing the RBI has to fiddle with when the government closes off all fiscal options.

Inclusive growth: The kind of growth that gives the government an excuse to launch more schemes that it claims it has no capacity to implement.

Free market: When government discretion and tariffs are sold on the market.

Then there are serious redefinitions of major political challenges:

Kashmir: The place the BJP needs to plant a flag when it is bored with other problems.

Northeast: The place where ethnicity and elections are synonymous.

Maoism: The political phenomenon that the Trinamool thinks will be easier to fix than the Railways.

The list could go on. After all India has arrived at the world stage. It must have a new global vocabulary.

Strategic thinking: The decision we take when we have given ourselves no options.

This list is admittedly incomplete and random. More skilful linguists could come up with deeper and profound changes. Our language is breaking under the weight of our political and economic innovation. We are talking at cross-purposes because we don't know whether we are using words in their old or their new meanings.

Since language is an inherently social enterprise we will all have to contribute to the reconstruction of our language. But how can one possibly make sense of our times, when words and institutions lose all their meaning? In uttering them, we conjure up merely unmeaning shadows of their former referents.

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi

express@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

DON'T SWALLOW THIS PILL

PRITIRADHAKRISHNAN

 

Troubling news reports indicate that a newly-minted Free Trade Agreement between the European Union and India would permit companies to circumvent visionary safeguards built into India's 2005 Patents Act, widely seen as one of the most progressive patent laws in the world. Over the past decade, India fought hard to bring its laws into full compliance with international standards, while simultaneously protecting public health and safeguarding India's pharmaceutical industry. Now, the EU's trade negotiators are trying to take away those gains.

The EU campaign may be summarised in four parts.

First, paying lip service to public health: the EU frequently does so, but in a leaked draft agreement it has been gunning for restrictions on drug-safety data — known as "data exclusivity" — that would harm India's flourishing drug industry, and impede production of low-cost drugs for India's own citizens and other developing countries. Data exclusivity opens a backdoor channel for companies to "evergreen" their drugs, by adding anywhere from five-to-10 years of market

exclusivity before a generic producer can access clinical data necessary to secure government authorisation for generic manufacturing.

Medecins Sans Frontieres notes that data exclusivity will jeopardise production, as 80 per cent of the HIV drugs it is using to treat AIDS in developing countries are produced in India.

The World Trade Organisation's trade agreement — which India must comply with — does not require data exclusivity. The EU wants India to add this optional restriction on drug-safety data for the benefit of European-based drug companies, not for the benefit of India. That's why, until now, India's commerce and health ministries have strongly opposed it. So has Brazil, India's closest economic cousin.

Second, gutting India's own laws. Astonishingly, even if India's own patent office determines that a product does not warrant patent protection, data exclusivity could be used to subvert India's Patent Act. The act's framers strived very hard to limit patents to truly inventive products. That's why India's law does not permit patents on a new drug that offers only modest revisions to an existing drug compound (for example, by altering dosage), which does nothing to enhance therapeutic benefits.

Earlier this month, for example, India rejected Abbott Laboratories' request for a patent on its HIV drug Kaletra, because it did not consider it inventive. Kaletra is a combination of two earlier HIV medications, lopinavir and ritonavir. Now, as a result, Indian firms can proceed with production of cheaper, generic versions of this critical drug, which attacks HIV-virus mutations that have become resistant to older drugs.

Tragically, if the EU-India agreement is signed, legal decisions like this one will be meaningless. Data exclusivity will impede production of generic drugs for TB, cancer, and other chronic diseases. Unlike patents, however, data exclusivity cannot be challenged under Indian law.

Third, by pushing the myth of "compulsory licensing". The EU wants India to think that a compulsory licence, which allows waiver of patent protection in exceptional circumstances, is sufficient to protect India's interests. In a January 6, 2011, letter, EU Commissioner Karel De Gucht wrote that "nothing in the [EU-India free trade] agreement will prevent India from using compulsory licensing for manufacture and export of medicines to other developing countries in need." This statement is misleading. First, compulsory licensing is a long and nearly impossible process. Second, Thailand and other countries have been subjected to harsh retaliatory trade sanctions after such licensing. Third, de Gucht hides the fact that a compulsory licence can only override a patent, not data exclusivity.

Finally, by limiting transparency. The EU has kept Indian citizens in the dark by failing to make a complete draft agreement available for public review. Indian authorities, too, have failed to solicit input from civil society groups and experts, even though prior national debates over intellectual property have produced special commissions with substantial citizen input.

This FTA should be seen for what it is: a Trojan Horse that the EU has rolled into New Delhi, under the cover of darkness, to subvert India's visionary Patents Act. A final decision on this agreement is scheduled for March, so there is no time to waste.

First, India must recognise it is not required to implement data exclusivity under international law; it should reject EU pressure to do so. Second, it is imperative that all future debate around this EU-India agreement involve genuine transparency and public consultation. Every Indian citizen has a stake in this debate: if this agreement passes, it will harm Indian industries, gut India's public health system through higher drug prices, and jeopardise global public health.

The writer is a lawyer who works on treatment access and intellectual property. This piece was co-written by Tahir Amin, also an intellectual property lawyer

express@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

HIGHWAY TO THE FUTURE

RANESH NAIR

 

The urban landscape of India includes congested metropolitan cities such as Mumbai and Kolkata, on the one hand, and urban sprawls like Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad, on the other. Hyderabad's outer ring road is an attempt to decongest the city and plan for future development. It is the country's largest single road project outside the National Highway Development Programme (NHDP).

The Nehru Outer Ring Road known as Hyderabad's Growth Corridor is a 158-km-long expressway covering an area of 3,000 sq km (including 83 villages) that frees up large parcels of land for development. By building a network of radial roads, it connects far flung areas with the city centre. The area covered within the outer ring road is about six times the area of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation. The road is designed to reduce travel distance between suburbs of Greater Hyderabad and create conditions for development of new growth hubs along and beyond.

In a short span of 10 years the city of Hyderabad has become an international hub for investments in IT and IT-enabled services, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and health services, besides becoming a centre for higher education and professional institutions such as the Indian School of Business, the National Law School and many colleges of engineering. This has generated a rapidly increasing demand for commercial, industrial, institutional and recreational spaces, and a growing demand for residential housing.

Planning for urban development to accommodate these demands required an urgent focus on transport and road network. The inner ring road had become a part of the city network system over the years. There was an urgent need for an outer bypass system that would divert traffic not destined for the city and ease congestion which would otherwise become a serious deterrent for investment and growth. The outer ring road project does just that.

Within the area encircled by the outer ring road, 33 radial roads have been identified connecting the inner ring road with the outer ring road, of which 6 have been completed and five have been taken up for construction. The radial roads will provide easy access to the airport road, IT parks, SEZs and other developments surrounding the Greater Hyderabad area. Roads have been planned in alignment with National Highways and State Highways, thereby ensuring connectivity with the wider region. The result is that Mumbai is connected to Bangalore via Hyderabad, and Vijayawada is also connected with Mumbai via Hyderabad.

Future satellite townships are being planned along the 1-km stretch growth corridor on either side of the ring with a view to attracting business parks, technology clusters, etc, and appropriate taxation of these should help finance the remaining infrastructure for the region. While development regulations have been prepared for this belt in line with the plans of the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA), it is important to ensure that the regulations are objective, transparent and clearly enforced.

The eight-lane expressway is designed to host moving vehicles of up to 120 km per hour speed. Trees are being planted to deflect the glare on the roads. To manage the high speed movement of vehicles, a traffic management system is planned, as is a toll management system. Toll-free service roads are provided on either side of the expressway. There is provision for utility ducts to ensure that the roads are not dug up in the future.

The first phase of the expressway was opened in July 2010 with 24 km running from Gachibowli to Shamshabad. The first part of the second phase of 63 km is to be completed by April and the second part of the second phase covering 71 km is expected to be completed by December 2012. In all, the ring road crisscrosses five national highways, five state highways and five major district roads, and connects new urban nodes outside Hyderabad — Hi-Tech City, the Games Village, Hardware Park, IT Park, Nano Park and the Indian School of Business.

Plans are in place to link the existing railway lines of the eastern and western corridors of the Hyderabad metropolitan area, and connect the existing network of the Northern and Southern Railways. Terminals and parking lots for trucks will be located at intersections of the ring road connecting national with state highways. A 25-km stretch has been earmarked for an integrated network of metro rail and buses.

The outer ring road is a fine example of regional planning by the government of Andhra Pradesh. The (HMDA was created in 2008 by merging the Hyderabad Urban Development Authority, Cyberabad Development Authority and the Hyderabad Airport Development Authority, with a total jurisdiction of 7,100 sq km.

Hyderabad Growth Corridor Limited (HGCL) was set up as a special purpose vehicle to serve as the executing agency of the project to build the outer ring road. HGCL is a fully publicly held company with 74 per cent shares with HMDA and 26 per cent with Infrastructure Corporation of Andhra Pradesh (INCAP). The Metropolitan Commissioner of the HMDA is the chairman of the HGCL Board. The company is headed by a managing director who also acts as a Special Collector to aid in the land acquisition process, along with a team of land acquisition officers.

Of the total project cost of Rs 6,696 crore, the first phase of Rs 699 crore was financed through loans from a consortium of commercial banks led by the Bank of Baroda. The first part of the second phase costing Rs 2,439 crore is being implemented on a PPP basis.

Following global tenders, the contracts were awarded to five concessionaires. A build-operate-transfer (BOT) annuity model was used covering a twelve-and-a-half year concession period, with 20 per cent of the project cost provided as grant by the HMDA. The second part of the second phase is being financed by a long-term (30 year) loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) at an interest rate of 1.2 per cent per annum, 10-year moratorium on payment, and sovereign guarantee. The loan from JICA of Rs 3,123 crore financed most of the project cost of Rs 3,558 crore for this phase.

The toll rates proposed by HGCL are currently under review by the state government. Impact fee on building permissions and new developments is expected to contribute significantly to revenue generation, which will help in repayment of the loan and finance the project.

As regards land acquisition, cash compensation amounting to two to three times the value of the land was given to families who sold their land. In cases where land was preferred by the seller in exchange, compensatory plots of 75 per cent of the area were provided. A few cases of disputes on land acquisition are pending in the high court and the Supreme Court.

As the process of urbanisation gathers momentum across the country, there is greater need for regional planning with due regard for connectivity within the region and across the regions. The HGCL shows the way. Since land values would increase substantially on account of development of the ring road and change in land use, ways should be found for ensuring an equitable sharing of the additional value between land owners and the government so as to enable the latter to finance the large investments required for developing an expanded city of this nature.

hluwalia is chair of Icrier and of the high powered expert committee on urban infrastructure. Nair is a consultant to the committee. This is the 13th in a monthly series on urban infrastructure postcardsofchange@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

FLAG DAYS

SHAILAJA BAJPAI

 

The Indian flag made waves this week, creating more than a flutter. On Tuesday, the tricolour, set to be unfurled at Lal Chowk in Srinagar by the BJP, led the charge of the saffron brigade across the bridge from Punjab into Jammu; on Wednesday, the tricolour swayed to the music at India Gate as the Republic Day parade unfurled on Rajpath; and finally, the tricolour fluttered on the fingers of school children as they enacted a silent national anthem: patriotism has no language, explained the motto. Ah, if only.

The children's salute to the nation was the most moving and original. Performed in sign language by children suffering from speech and hearing impairments with rare delicacy and the minimum of movement, it nevertheless had energy and infectious enthusiasm, as the children gave it everything they had. If you didn't catch this BIG Cinemas-Mudra tribute on the tube, find it on YouTube.

The Republic Day parade was utterly-butterly beautiful. In the words of DD's commentator, "the sun God (was) shining in all its glory", bathing New Delhi in a warm glow, all the better to show off India's military might and the colours of the uniforms, the costumes and the tableaux as the parade swept down the avenue. It's been a while since the event enjoyed such a good outing — thanks to the indulgent "sun god."

Doordarshan deserves to bask in some of the glory too. It tried to make a pleasing television spectacle out of a routine annual ritual. It did so by a more creative use of the camera; we're accustomed to a bird's eye view of Rajpath and frontal shots of the marchpast. This time, there were close-ups of the parade command leaders, the performers and even the camels as they moved regally before the President. At least once, the camera did a 360-degree somersault for shots of the military marchers — and you know what? It worked! There were some splendid takes of India Gate from below that gave it awesome stature — and you a crick in the neck, looking up at it in wonder!

The camerawork was also synchronised with each march past. Thus, as the tableaux representing the ministry of agriculture floated by with its "farmers", the camera immediately recognised Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar; when science and technology came along, we saw Kapil Sibal's broad smile. And so on and so forth. The camera frequently alighted on ministers, politicians — and Rahul Gandhi at least thrice, although it did not find Sonia Gandhi. If you didn't espy BJP leaders either, it was because they weren't there, but missing in action elsewhere. Back to that in a moment.

The TV transmission of the parade had great acoustics too. So when the tableaux to "save the tiger" glided past, we heard the chirping of birds and the growl of the beast — grrrr. Grrr to you too, tiger.

As for the commentary, well, some voices sounded new, but I have missed a few parades so could be wrong. There were swift, slick shifts from Hindi to English, minute accounts of all the action ("Brigadier so-and-so salutes the President, President returns the salute") and meticulous detailing — even to the height of the riders in the camel regiment, over 6 foot. So for once, let's stand and salute Doordarshan's efforts. And thank you, sun God.  

The BJP's flag stand-off with the J&K government gave it free publicity for two days. The constant presence of the flag and repeated mentions of it by the leaders lent it a sense of ownership: the flag, and thus patriotism, became synonymous with BJP. That's probably what they wanted. Shots of the BJP cavalcade with the flag, Tuesday, reminded you of its rath yatras.

The BJP's ability to hold frequent rallies, demonstrations, and yatras while simultaneously launching verbal attacks on the UPA government through daily press conferences or briefings has allowed it to dominate the airwaves. It's like this: the BJP acts, the government reacts. Surely, it should be the other way around? 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

NO MORE SPUTNIK MOMENTS

 

At a moment when the momentum in Washington is driving toward slashing budgets and shrinking government, President Obama argued on Tuesday evening that the politics of austerity, mindlessly applied, would amount to a pre-emptive surrender to China, India and a raft of competitors who are investing while Americans are cutting. He has warned before that America must "step up our game," and on Tuesday night he told Congress and the nation that this is "our generation's Sputnik moment."

To the new Republican majority in the House, the path to restoring American "competitiveness" — the word itself is something of a Rorschach test — includes slashing taxes and getting the government out of the way. To Obama, even a leaner federal government must play a central role in guiding the country's economic future, helping the United States to confront the rising economic powers that ate away at America's lead while the country was distracted in the post-September 11 decade.

"South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do," Obama said, ticking off the list of how America had fallen behind. "Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports."

Obama is hardly the first president to try to rekindle the spirit of cold-war competition in an effort to force Americans to set aside political differences and join together to face a common threat to their prosperity and security. "Americans are prone to cycles of belief in their own decline," Joseph Nye wrote in his newest exploration of America's status in the world, "The Future of Power."

Obama was clearly seeking to pull America out of its latest funk, arguing that no country has a deeper bench, better universities or a more entrepreneurial spirit. But he also portrayed those as fragile assets, and his bet is that Americans expect their government to preserve the country's lead, a view that puts him in direct competition with Tea Party-fueled calls for a diminished Washington.

In some ways he was reminiscent of the Obama style circa 2008. As a candidate, he prided himself on ignoring the passions of the moment, not letting hyperventilation on cable television or predictions of impending political doom drive his tactics, much less his strategy. His coolness, his detachment, seemed a political virtue after eight years of an intensely ideological presidency.

But this is a different moment, and it is far from clear that the formula that worked so well two years ago retains much potency today. His challenge is to win the argument against those who say that when government intervenes in the economy, it is usually for the worse. While directly hailing the wonders of free enterprise — an effort to beat back his opponents' charge that he is a socialist in capitalist clothing — he made the case that at moments, government intervention has been inspired.

"Because it's not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout history our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need," he said. "That's what planted the seeds for the Internet. That's what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS."

But that is an argument that President Bill Clinton could have made, and often did, 15 years ago. What Obama stepped around is the reality of American competition today — that innovation, education and infrastructure are necessary ingredients for global competitive success, but no guarantee. Many of the technologies on which Obama is depending are the product of joint ventures that combine American ideas, European design and Asian manufacturing. That is something few in this Congress may want to hear, much less finance, given that many of the jobs those innovations create do not go to Americans.

"We do big things," Obama repeated, twice, as he concluded his speech. That has been a hallmark of America, especially in the past century. Yet Obama has all but said that his biggest challenge is to take a country that often seems to want to retreat into its shell and force it to do big things again.

One of his subtexts on Tuesday night was that doing big things these days may require a bit more humility, a lot more work, and some international partners that Americans rarely thought about 20 years ago but whose competition they have now grown to fear.David E. Sanger

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

NO WELFARE FOR HINDUS?

MANOJ

No welfare for Hindus?

The RSS has revived its criticism of the UPA government for rolling out welfare schemes for the minorities. An article in Organiser says the Congress, aided and abetted by Communists and socialists, has been steadily enacting rules and regulations to harm and hurt the educational, employment and economic interests of Hindu youth. The article forms part of several write-ups in a special edition dedicated to the youth to mark Swami Vivekananda's 150th birth anniversary. The article says the recommendations of the Justice Sachar Committee and the Ranganath Mishra Commission are based on falsehoods and are aimed at fulfilling the core anti-Hindu agenda of the Congress: to reduce the percentage of Hindus in government jobs, educational institutions and in trade and commerce.

Referring to the argument that Muslim representation in the IAS is just about 4 per cent although they form 13 per cent of the total population, it says the Misra Commission itself reports that the graduation percentage of Muslims is only 3.6 per cent. "As only graduates can aspire for public services, the percentage of Muslims in the services at 4 per cent is fair, and already more than commensurate to their graduation percentage." It slams suggestions like the earmarking of 15 per cent of the seats in non-minority educational institutions for minorities, claiming that Hindu students with better marks are being denied admissions into minority-run institutions; argues that Hindu students get student loans at higher interest rates than minority students; and also says that Hindu students are being forced to pay more fees at IITs and IIMs.

The end of PM and FM

Another article in the Organiser predicts a gloomy political future for the Congress. "The fact is that the ruling party is bereft of leaders in states, and increasingly so at the Centre. Neither Manmohan Singh nor Pranab Mukherjee are leaders in a proper sense. Singh leads nobody, not even his ministers... The man has not been able to win a single election, even his own, and is reduced to being an MP from Assam, a state he may not be able to locate on the map," it says. Further, it says "Mukherjee, who talks big from time to time, cannot himself be elected from his own state without the help of a mercurial lady called Mamata Banerjee... He and Singh will not be seen after the next election," it adds.

Sangh vs judges

The RSS' newspaper also talks about the state of the judiciary, which it notes is the only organ that still enjoys a lot of credibility and public trust, but is passing through tough times: alleged cases of corruption, nepotism and indiscretion against judges of the Supreme Court, including former Chief Justices of India, are surfacing on a "daily basis". It

focuses on the public spat that Justice H.L. Gokhale, a former chief justice of the Madras high court who is now an SC judge, and Justice S. Raghupati, also formerly of the Madras high court, are having with former CJI K.G. Balakrishanan over "protecting" A. Raja.

It goes on: "This is not the only embarrassment for Justice Balakrishanan. There are serious allegations that his son-in-law and brother had amassed property worth crores of rupees during his tenure as CJI. Former Supreme Court judge, V.R. Krishna Iyer, a crusader for judicial accountability, has urged Parliament and the PM to appoint a high powered commission to enquire into the alleged nepotism of the former CJI," it notes.

The controversy over the conduct of the former CJI — now the chief of the National Human Rights Commission — has also suggested the desirability of a law prohibiting the appointment of retiring judicial officers to any office of profit, it says.

Besides corruption and nepotism, another infirmity from which the judiciary suffers is the lack of restraint exercised by judges in some of their judgments, it argues. "This is not to deny the fact that the Supreme Court has in the last six decade made profound pronouncements on issues of great significance for the nation and society. Yet, on several occasions, judicial activism drove judges to issue orders that were beyond their scope and some of these couldn't be implemented," it says.

"The judiciary is also under attack for encroaching upon the domains of other instruments. A case in point is the Supreme Court's observation on the creation of Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) as an autonomous agency. The intention of the apex court was laudable, but questions were raised about the desirability and the authority of the apex court to direct Parliament on the contents of proposed legislation... The judiciary must resist the temptation to encroach upon areas beyond its domain if it were not to invite a conflict with the legislative and executive wings of the state."

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

JAIPAL REDDY'S CHALLENGE

Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan has ordered an inquiry into the burning of additional district collector Yeshwant Sonawane while he accosted people stealing kerosene, so presumably his killers will be brought to justice. The real issue, however, is there is a mafia operating outside each oil depot in the country, a mafia that has its roots so deep in the political establishment that, many years ago, the oil ministry even abolished its anti-adulteration cell, leaving it to each oil company to have its own cell—that is why, under normal circumstances, no officer goes to a depot without police protection (Sonawane had gone near the depot to talk to farmers holding a protest against onion prices). The responsibility for this, like it or not, rests with the Cabinet, which prices kerosene at around Rs 9 per litre vs diesel at around Rs 38—that's Rs 15,000 crore waiting to be grabbed if you assume, optimistically, that just half of the 10 mn tonnes of kerosene sold is used to adulterate diesel with. So, whether it is a Manjunath or a Sonawane, whoever comes in the way just has to be eliminated. And no GPS, no markers to identify PDS kerosene, no tamper-proof Abloy locks can help, the prize is simply too high. Raising prices of kerosene (and giving the poor cash transfers instead) is the only way to fix the issue—this still leaves the oil PSUs in trouble as they lose around Rs 8 per litre on even diesel sales (Rs 19 on kerosene), but that's a separate issue. Since Murli Deora had limited success, the task falls on his successor Jaipal Reddy.

Reddy's other task is to fix the Cairn-ONGC mess Deora left him with. Anil Agarwal's Vedanta bought a majority stake in Cairn India, but Deora's ministry didn't clear the deal for nearly six months. The argument is that, as a partner with Cairn, ONGC will have to pay Rs 12,000 crore by way of royalties (and that's assuming oil remains at $60 a barrel!) on the oil discovered by Cairn till 2020—so now that Cairn is changing hands, and at a huge profit, why not get Cairn to pay? The argument is specious since, when Cairn entered India, no oil major wanted to come in, so the government sweetened the deal and said, in return for an equity share, ONGC would pay the royalties. It is true the agreement has worked against ONGC, but an agreement is an agreement. Which is why, way back in 1998, a Group of Ministers had said the government would make good this loss, but no agreement has been reached so far—why should Cairn have to pay for this? The ministry has already discouraged investors by arguing in the Mukesh-Anil Ambani fight, and the Supreme Court ratified this, that it owns the oil/gas fields operated by private firms, so only it can decide on who will buy and at what price. Jaipal Reddy's task is hardly enviable.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

WHEN PIGS FLY

With the IMF raising 2011's global GDP growth projections to 4.4%, down compared to 2010's 5% but higher than the projections for 2011 made just a few months ago, things are clearly looking up. Nor is it that you need the IMF to spell this out for you, the signs are obvious—global stock markets are up, default spreads have gone down dramatically in most areas, especially in the US, volatility levels are lower, consumer confidence is up … all of which suggest the worst is over, though the stubbornly-high unemployment levels underscore the delicate nature of the recovery. Indeed, the reason why 2011 growth is projected to be lower than 2010's is that a large part of the past growth has been driven by government stimulus packages and, though private investment is looking up, the headroom for more stimulus is low. The fact that there are still no credible plans to reduce OECD debt levels suggests interest rates could rise and dampen the growth impulse. While there is no clarity on this, the fear that the Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain (PIGS) banking crisis could spread is quite real. To the extent core Europe has substantial financial linkages, IMF economists flag this as an area to watch. If it spreads, and Europe's banks tighten credit in the manner that happened in the US post-Lehman, the projection is that one percentage point could be shaved off global growth.

A lot then depends on what happens in emerging markets, such as India, which account for 40% of global consumption and more than two-thirds of global growth. The issues here are of money flowing in from OECD and creating asset bubbles; oil is projected to be $90 per barrel for 2011 as compared to $79 for 2010 and non-commodity prices are projected to grow 11% in 2011. You can see the impact of this in a country like India. With inflation stubbornly refusing to come down, RBI has raised interest rates, some say by not enough, and this is certain to choke off growth. Indeed, inflation has become the big concern for investors in emerging economies—any slowing of flows will impact growth in these economies and, by implication, global growth. Not the best of times for those with weak stomachs.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

GOT THE POLICY, WHERE'S THE PLAN?
DEBA R MOHANTY


Sometime during the last DefExpo held in the capital in February 2010, RK Singh, secretary of the Department of Defence Production, had announced that the government would soon come out with a defence production policy, a commitment successively pronounced by the defence minister and defence ministry mandarins in various public forums. Most members of Indian defence and security affairs (including from industry chambers CII, Ficci, Assocham, etc) have been suggesting that the government come out with a 'roadmap for

Indian defence industry', and the defence minister's unveiling of the first Defence Production Policy (DPrP) on January 13, 2011—the first ever written policy document on critical national security issues—has come as a welcome development.

Now that DPrP is in effect, it is time to make a preliminary assessment on its objectives and possible consequences. First, DPrP's main objective is "to achieve substantive self-reliance in the design, development and production of systems required for defence forces". Second, it "aims to create conditions conducive for the private industry to play an active role in defence production". Third, it gives importance to "harnessing the untapped potential of the small and medium enterprises in the indigenisation process". Fourth, the policy will actively encourage "involvement of academia, R&D institutions, technical and scientific organisations". Fifth, the policy will encourage "formation of consortia, joint ventures and public-private partnerships to synergise and enhance national competence in defence production". Last but not the least, the policy suggests the government "set up a separate fund to provide necessary resources to production stakeholders like the public and private industry, SMEs and academic/scientific institutions for research and development efforts". In sum, DPrP strives to achieve a reasonable degree of self-reliance in defence by enlarging the scope of industrial and R&D institutional participation beyond DRDO and defence public sector units to include private industry, SMEs, scientific research institutions and relevant academia.

Now that the DPrP is in place, let the objectives of this important policy be pitted against ground reality to find out whether the latter has influenced the formulation of the former, and if so, to what extent, and if not, how autistic is the problem in the current context. Such an exercise will hopefully enable the government to consider further revision, if any. First, conceptually, self-reliance in defence, a contested term with different subjective meanings yet generally understood as 'attainment of a certain degree of strategic autonomy by a country in design, development and production of military goods and services', has moved from an autarkic model (state-controlled) to embrace openness through diversification and collaboration for the past few decades. DPrP has tried to follow the same pattern but fails to chart a definitive plan of action, which requires, ab initio, a technology roadmap and identification of products, services and R&D that can be pursued by the defence industry. Unfortunately, while such a roadmap was indeed prepared by the Integrated Defence Staff and put it in the official Website some time ago, the same has been withdrawn now! A carefully prepared holistic roadmap for the industry is a necessary pre-condition for a meaningful DPrP.

Second, the DPrP, instead of charting out clear roles for categories of stakeholders, has actually concocted the structural aspects of defence production. For example, while the role of SMEs has been emphasised without explaining how, it has surprisingly left out Raksha Udyog Ratnas (RURs), considered to be the future locomotive of the Indian defence industrial base! The role of academia and R&D institutions have been mentioned but how will they be involved in the structure have not been spelled out. Similarly, neither the philosophy nor the methods of creating collaborative models like public-private partnerships, joint ventures or consortia have been explained. More deliberations are required to look into structural aspects of the policy.

Third, DPrP rightly recognises that the development of complex systems is generally a stage process and thus allows some flexibility of 'buy' option. This is a delicate issue. Often times, as DRDO has demonstrated in many of its flagship programmes in the past, critical development projects are based on unrealistic time frames, frequent quality requirement (QR) changes, bureaucratic and political apathy, resource crunch and problems in technology acquisition. DPrP must spell out a practical strategy to ensure long-term complex projects reach their eventual conclusions.

Fourth, DPrP envisages a separate fund for R&D efforts by industry and academic and scientific institutions. It actually means that DRDO will have its own fund while another fund will be created for the industry. Such funding efforts, unless carefully synchronised and synergised, are likely to lead to duplication of efforts rather than any healthy competition. DPrP should find a viable option on funding. Fifth, DPrP, like the Defence Procurement Procedure, has failed to give a workable solution to the problem of transfer of technology (ToT). Most ToT agreements in defence have thus far ended with licence production arrangements, thus giving little benefit to the production agencies. Last but not the least, the defence minister's annual review of progress in self-reliance in defence efforts will end as a ritual unless a common minimum quantification of self-reliance efforts is arrived at. Else, we will be perpetually confused as to how self-reliant we are in defence production.

The author is a senior fellow in Security Studies at the Observer Research Foundation. These are his personal views

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WIKIBANKING
MATTHEW LYNN

You might think this is a great time for the offshore-banking industry. There is a lot of spare cash sloshing around the world. The mega-rich are still piling up money. Taxes are likely to go up as every developed country tries to cope with huge deficits, creating even more incentive to shift money to some island hideaway. But it's not so easy anymore.

A former Julius Baer Group Ltd banker has handed over the names of hundreds of high-profile clients with offshore bank accounts to the whistle-blowing Website WikiLeaks. The old model of secrecy and confidentiality is dead. In an age of hyper-transparency, when everything is revealed about everyone, it is useless to think they can keep their client affairs quiet.

Instead, the offshore banks must adapt or die. Instead of being secrecy hubs, they should be low-tax ones. That is the only way they can survive. These are nervous times for the smartly suited private bankers of Geneva, Liechtenstein and Grand Cayman.

Rudolf Elmer, the former Julius Baer staffer, has the potential to blow the business sky-high. He has handed over a pile of data on about 2,000 accounts to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. The material hasn't been published online yet, but it's only a matter of time before it turns up somewhere. It will make fascinating reading for financial journalists, real-estate agents, and, more importantly, tax inspectors in the home countries of the people on Elmer's list.

The Swiss are fighting back. A court found Elmer guilty of breaking that country's bank-secrecy laws, though he is appealing that verdict. He faces additional charges regarding the handing-over of data to WikiLeaks.

It wasn't the first time offshore banking has been attacked. In 2008, a former employee of the Liechtenstein bank LGT sold the details of hundreds of clients to the German tax authorities. If nations will pay good money to staff willing to reveal who has cash stashed away in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands, it is likely that somebody will decide to take it. Likewise, if Websites such as WikiLeaks are willing and able to publish vast quantities of sensitive data, we can only assume that more and more sources will come forward.

There is always a disaffected banker somewhere in the system. In the past, he or she might have grumbled in a bar. That was harmless. Now, they can use the Internet to get revenge on a spectacular scale. The authorities in offshore-banking centres can hit back if they want to. They can prosecute the whistleblowers, and they may well have a point: There's nothing commendable about selling stolen data, or breaking laws that protect financial secrecy. In reality, they are fighting a losing battle.

Technology has made secrecy about anything almost impossible. It is too easy to e-mail account details to a Website or blog where they can be published at the press of a button. Just about everything you might want to know about anyone can be found out on Facebook or Google. We live in an age of hyper-transparency. Our whole lives are recorded online somewhere. We have little respect for old-fashioned ideas of privacy. It is crazy to think finance is somehow exempt from that. It can no more step aside from it than it can from any other aspect of the modern world. So what should the offshore banking industry do?

First, quit trying to fight it. It won't work, and you'll only end up looking stupid, at best, and nasty, at worst. If the US government can't stop WikiLeaks from publishing sensitive military information, small nations won't be able to prevent the release of this kind of data. There will always be another whistleblower—and you can't prosecute them all. So just tell your clients their financial details may well be published somewhere. If they can't live with that, they can go elsewhere.

Two, create tax havens. Technology isn't just a threat, it's also an opportunity. Publishing data is now easier, but businesses and people are more mobile than ever. Work doesn't have to be done in any particular place anymore, and the higher up the ladder you get, the truer that is.

Monaco doesn't charge people income tax; so if you go to live there, you don't have to worry about tax evasion. No crime has been committed. Emerging markets, such as Bulgaria, only charge a flat tax of 10%. You hardly need to hide money offshore if you live there, either. The point is that financial centres need to be low-tax hubs, rather than secrecy hubs.

The old model of banking confidentiality is dead. That might be a good or bad thing. But it's a fact, and there is no point in trying to resist it. The offshore-banking industry has to adapt to that—or else it will die.

The author has published 'Bust', a book on the Greek debt crisis. These are his personal views

Bloomberg

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

TROUBLE-MAKING IN KASHMIR

Making trouble, not peace and unity, was the real purpose of the Bharatiya Janata Party's Ekta Yatra to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on Republic Day. The people and the government of the troubled State of Jammu and Kashmir certainly did not need this disintegrative march by leaders of the country's principal opposition party, who seemed intent on heightening tensions and provoking violence rather than on healing wounds and restoring normality. In the face of a potentially explosive situation, the law-enforcing authorities in Jammu and Kashmir had no choice but to stop the yatra at Lakhanpur and arrest the leaders. Clearly, the BJP wanted to use the Kashmir Valley as another stage for furthering its communal agenda; the political dividends were to come from elsewhere in the country. For all its talk of making corruption and governance the key issues in its poll campaign, the Hindutva party does not seem to tire of working for a Hindu-Muslim polarisation of the vote in its favour. Kashmir, like the Babri Masjid, is seen to be a tool for political mobilisation of Hindus across the country. Kashmir is a complex issue that admits of no straight or quick solutions. The very least a responsible political party can do is to avoid disrupting the uneasy calm that prevails in the Valley after months of street protests last year.

As it neared Jammu and Kashmir, the yatra, which set off on January 12 from Kolkata, looked more like an expedition to conquer enemy territory than a march for national unity. The political target was not separatism in Kashmir but the secular foundations of India. Sushma Swaraj, one of the expeditionary leaders, outlined how the BJP intended politically to use the stopping of the yatra: while those who burnt the national flag were being given security, she said, those who held up the tricolour were being arrested. Such oft-repeated confrontational tactics offer limited purchase. An opposition party would be expected to concentrate on issues that resonate with the people. Interestingly, the BJP's own allies have seen through the latest misadventure. Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar, who runs a coalition government with the BJP, saw no meaning in the yatra in view of the situation in the Valley. Surely, if the BJP turns a deaf ear to friends and foes alike, it will find itself isolated on key issues. Its interests would be served by learning to look ahead instead of repeating old discredited tricks. Any further attempt to make political capital of the travails of the people of Jammu and Kashmir would be worse than a crime — it would be a historic blunder.

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

FISHERMEN, AGAIN

Relations between India and Sri Lanka have never been better. Yet the recent killings of two Tamil Nadu fishermen, allegedly by the Sri Lankan Navy, have cast a negative light on bilateral ties. While the Sri Lankan Navy has denied responsibility for the deaths, there is anger in Tamil Nadu, and New Delhi has lodged a strong protest with Colombo. Unacceptably, miscreants have attempted to take diplomacy into their own hands by attacking a Sri Lankan Buddhist priest in Chennai. It is the responsibility of the Tamil Nadu government to ensure such incidents do not occur. The latest turn is surprising considering that in October 2008 the two sides reached an elaborate understanding to put in place "practical arrangements to deal with bona fide Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line." For the first time, both sides acknowledged and accepted that fishermen crossed the international boundary, and had to be dealt with in non-lethal ways. The steps included designation by Sri Lanka of sensitive areas along its coastline that Indian fishing vessels could not venture into even if they crossed the IMBL. The governments also agreed there would be no firing on trespassing vessels, which would have a valid registration or permit; the fishermen were to carry government-issued identity cards. These measures led to a remarkable drop in the number of arrests of Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan authorities, from nearly 1,500 in 2008 to just 34 in 2010. There were no incidents of killings in 2009 or 2010. The January 12 incident in which a fisherman was allegedly shot by the Sri Lankan Navy was the first of its kind since the 2008 arrangements.

Significantly, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has hinted at a rethink on the two-year-old understanding, remarking to the press that the end of the war against the LTTE and the peaceful situation in northern Sri Lanka necessitated a revision in the existing arrangements. Clearly, there is an apprehension in Sri Lanka that Indian fishermen are now taking advantage of these arrangements to cross the IMBL regularly and in greater numbers, threatening the livelihood of fishermen on the other side. While these concerns are real, it is extraordinarily difficult physically to prevent fishermen from crossing the international maritime boundary. Fishing communities in Tamil Nadu need to be sensitised to the imperative of respecting the sanctity of the IMBL but the penalty for trespass cannot be death. India and Sri Lanka, which have excellent political and economic relations, are surely capable of resolving the livelihood-centred problems that have surfaced among their fishermen in the post-LTTE era.

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

THE HOLOCAUST AND ITS IMPLICATIONS

THE HOLOCAUST WAS UNPRECEDENTED, AND WE HAD HOPED THAT IT WOULD BECOME A WARNING, NOT A PRECEDENT. BUT WE HAVE BEEN PROVEN WRONG. IT HAS BECOME A PRECEDENT, AND OTHER GENOCIDES HAVE FOLLOWED IT.

YEHUDA BAUER

It was World War II, the most terrible conflict in human history so far, that provided the context in which Auschwitz, the symbol of genocide, could happen, and that war had been initiated by Nazi Germany, largely for ideological reasons: one, the desire to rule Europe, and through it, the world, and thus achieve a global racial hierarchy with the Nordic peoples of the Aryan race on top, and everybody else under them. The second major element in Nazi ideology was anti-Semitism. They saw the Jews as the Satan that controlled all of Germany's enemies. At one end, in their eyes, stood Hitler, the new Jesus Christ, who would lead humanity, under Germanic rule, to a glorious future. At the other end was the satanic Jew, who tried to prevent this utopia from achieving its aim of global rule.

It was in the name of that utopia of a wonderful new racist world that the vast majority of the German people were persuaded to commit mass murders, including three genocides at least: against the Poles, the Roma ("Gypsies"), and the Jews. We should never forget that utopias kill; radical universalist utopias, such as National Socialism and, today, the radicals who support global terrorism, kill radically and universally.

It is no exaggeration to say that World War II, and the death of tens of millions, the destruction of countries and cultures, the torture and death of children and adults, were caused in part by hatred against Jews.

There are two aspects to the Holocaust. One is the specificity of the Jewish fate, the other are the universal implications; they are two sides of the same coin. The Jews were the specific victims of the genocide. But the implications are universal, because who knows who the Jews may be next time.

The main parallel between the Holocaust and other genocides is that the suffering of the victims is the same. Murder is murder, torture is torture, rape is rape; starvation, disease, and humiliation are the same in all mass murders. There are no gradations, and no genocide is better or worse than another one, no one is more victim than anyone else.

The other parallel is that every genocide is perpetrated with the best technical and bureaucratic means at the disposal of the perpetrators. Thus, the recent genocide in Darfur was perpetrated with the help of air bombardments, use of cell-phones, and the government bureaucracy that supported the murderers and prevented effective outside intervention. The Holocaust was perpetrated with the best technical and bureaucratic means at the disposal of Germany. But the difference was that it happened at the very centre of European and world civilisation, and that was unprecedented.

During the twentieth century, vast numbers of civilians and unarmed prisoners of war were murdered by governments and political organisations, and many more civilians than soldiers were killed. Of these, close to six million Jews died in the most extreme case of genocide so far.

Why is the Holocaust the most extreme case? Why do more and more people show an interest in this particular tragedy, why is there a flood of fiction, theatre, films, TV series, art, music and, of course, historical, sociological, philosophical, psychological, and other academic research, a flood that has rarely, if ever, been equalled in dealing with any other historical event?

I think the reason is that while all the elements of each genocide are repeated in some other genocides, there are elements in the Holocaust that cannot be found in genocides that preceded it. The perpetrators tried to find, register, mark, humiliate, dispossess, concentrate and murder every person with three or four Jewish grandparents for the crime of having been born a Jew. This was to be done, ultimately, everywhere in the world, so that for the first time in history there was an attempt to universalise a genocide. Also, the ideology was totally unpragmatic, not like in all other genocides. In Rwanda, for instance, a Hutu supremacist ideology developed from the pragmatic background of a real power struggle within the Hutu establishment and a real military struggle against an invading force of the persecuted Tutsi minority. But with the Nazis, the pragmatic elements were minor.

They did not kill the Jews because they wanted their property. They robbed their property in the process of getting rid of them, first by emigration, then by expulsion and, in the end, by murder. They killed Jewish armament workers when they needed every pair of hands after the defeat at Stalingrad in early 1943; they murdered Jewish slave labourers while they were building roads for the German military. If they had followed modern, capitalistic practice, they would have robbed Jewish property and then utilised Jewish slave labour for their own purposes, as they did with the Poles, for instance. But they murdered the Jews because that was where their ideology led them, an ideology that had the character of nightmares.

They believed in a Jewish world conspiracy and in the notorious forgery called the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," produced in the early part of the 20th century by the police in Tsarist Russia, which was used and adapted by the Nazis. They believed in the accusation of ritual murder of non-Jewish children by the Jews. The genocide of the Jews, then, was based on nightmares that turned into ideology. Then, there was the utopia of a global racist hierarchy which had one real satanic enemy, the Jews, who had to be eliminated, although there are no races, because we all are originally from Africa. The Nazis very consciously opposed all the values of European civilisation such as liberalism, democracy, socialism and humanitarianism, and wanted to destroy them. They saw in the Jews embodiments of the values which they wanted to eliminate, and the destruction of the Jews followed. All this was without a precedent.

The Holocaust was unprecedented, and we had hoped that it would become a warning, not a precedent. But we have been proven wrong. It has become a precedent, and other genocides have followed it. I come from a people that gave the Ten Commandments to the world. Let us agree that we need three more commandments, and they are these: thou shalt not be a perpetrator; thou shalt not be a victim; and thou shalt never, but never, be a bystander.

(Professor Yehuda Bauer is Academic Advisor to Yad Vashem and the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research.)

Alliance Française in Delhi will host a Commemoration event for International Holocaust Remembrance Day on February 1, 2011 at 18:30.

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THE HINDU

OPED

THERE IS GROWING DISSIDENCE ACROSS THE MIDDLE EAST

THE BALL IS IN THE GOVERNMENTS' COURT AS PEOPLE DEMAND THE DEMOCRATIC VOICE THEY HAVE BEEN DENIED FOR TOO LONG.

MARTIN CHULOV

Angry demonstrations in Egypt, Tunisia and Lebanon (January 25) cast a spotlight on grievances throughout the Arab world that are often aired but rarely dealt with. For the first time in generations, dissidence is gathering momentum and many leaders seem rattled.

Egypt's Interior Minister urged the country's intellectuals to impart their wisdom on the "young people" that he said were clearly behind the protest movement. The elders have shown no intention of stepping in. They know the Tunisian revolt was driven largely by a disaffected middle class, not by the rage of a dispossessed youth. They know also that in Egypt, the ball is very much in the government's court.

In Syria, Jordan and Lebanon

Across the region, regimes are in the unusual position of having to prove their worth to people they have ruled over almost unchecked for decades. Two days after the Tunisian revolt, the Syrian government announced a social aid fund that would pay around $300m to the country's low earners and unemployed.

The scheme, talked about for many years, was launched by presidential decree and accompanied by a tripling of a heating fuel subsidy for Syrian families, from $12-$35 per month. The sudden burst of generosity has not been lost even on government-controlled media in Damascus, which described the timing as "a coincidence."

Jordan's rulers have held a series of urgent meetings to discuss the implications of the Tunisian revolt, but have yet to announce any economic measures to placate the population. "They are on a nervous watching brief," said a Jordanian official. "They know that if Tunisia spreads, there are a few steps before it gets to here." In Lebanon, a "day of rage" has been called today by supporters of the ousted Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who faces an impossible task of forming a new government after his fragile coalition was abandoned earlier this month by the opposition bloc. Hariri won an ostensibly democratic election 18 months ago but has been plagued ever since by power plays and regional wrangling that has left the country and its institutions in turmoil.

His largely Sunni Muslim supporters claim their democratic will has been subverted by a creeping revolution launched three years ago by the Syrian and Iranian-backed Hezbollah opposition. Their anger has so far been contained to the country's Sunni strongholds, but it contains a counter-revolutionary zeal prompting observers to fear that today's civil disobedience could be the start of something far worse.

All of today's protests — both on the streets and in cyberspace — share a broad common theme: that people in this part of the world have been denied a democratic voice for too long. They also share a realisation that nepotism in government, scelrosis of institutions and lack of accountability need not be a given.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

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THE HINDU

HOLOCAUST HISTORICAL DATA GOES ONLINE

The world's largest collection of Holocaust documents is going online.

Israel's Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, is teaming up with Google to make its photographs and documents available and searchable on the Internet. The first 1,30,000 photos hit the web on January 26. Viewers can also contribute to the project by adding their own stories and documents about family members who appear in the online archives. Google says it is using experimental optical character recognition technology to make documents searchable and easier to navigate. The new feature upgrades Yad Vashem's already formidable website — available at http://collections.yadvashem.org/photosarchive/

The launch came a day before the U.N. marks its annual Holocaust remembrance day on January 27.— AP

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THE HINDU

DOCUMENTARY SHOWS DISSENT IN MYANMAR MILITARY

'THERE ARE SO MANY SERVING SOLDIERS WHO SECRETLY SUPPORT THE OPPOSITION.'

SETH MYDANS

It is the most vilified army in Southeast Asia, known for crushing pro-democracy demonstrations in Myanmar and for its brutal suppression of ethnic groups seeking self-rule in the region's longest-running civil war.

The 4,00,000-strong army in the former Burma is remarkable for its cohesion, cemented by a system of rewards and punishments, and military analysts have found little sign of dissent in its ranks.

But in its lower levels, at least, it is made up of men who come from a society that widely fears and distrusts the military and who join for the steady employment and status it offers, according to Myo Myint, 48, a former soldier who joined the democratic opposition led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Central character

Mr. Myo Myint is the central figure in a new documentary called "Burma Soldier," a film that traces his life from the battlefield, where he lost a leg and an arm, to his 15 years in prison after joining the opposition and then his departure through a Thai refugee camp to the United States in 2008.

"While the top ranks control and repress people, most soldiers are like me. They join the military because they need to earn money for their daily survival," he said in a telephone interview from Fort Wayne, Indiana, U.S., where he lives now.

In addition, he said, "There are so many soldiers serving in the military who secretly support the opposition but cannot expose their feelings. They will be sent to prison and a very heavy imprisonment."

He added: "I hope that after watching the film, some soldiers will think about their actions and their treatment of civilians, whether it is good or bad, right or wrong, just or unjust."

Images taken by dissidents

In quiet and measured tones in the film, broken at one point by tears, Mr. Myo Myint describes his journey, with interviews in the refugee camp interspersed with rare and sometimes horrifying footage of military manoeuvres and attacks on ethnic minority villages. The film's director, Nic Dunlop, an Irish writer and photographer, said the extraordinary images were taken at great risk by dissident groups.

Mr. Dunlop said he was attempting to deliver this message through what he called "reverse pirating."

The film will be released next year on HBO, he said, but he and his producers have already made a Burmese-language version of the film and have begun smuggling it into Myanmar on DVDs and on the Internet.

"We are encouraging Burmese to make as many copies as they can and give people inside a chance to hear an alternative history, and hear it from a man who was part of the military," Mr. Dunlop said.

"There's an irony in this," he said, referring to an earlier documentary, "Burma VJ." "They were struggling to get information and images out, with a great deal of difficulty and an enormous amount of risk."

That documentary, by Anders Ostergaard, told the story of the Buddhist monk-led uprising in September 2007 and the military's harsh response, in part through the work of video journalists on the scene.

"What we are doing is the absolute reverse," Mr. Dunlop said. "We are trying to get the film into the country illegally by pirating our own film in Burmese."

On Cambodia

Mr. Dunlop is sending a message, to audiences both inside and outside Myanmar, that was also at the heart of his book "The Lost Executioner" (Bloomsbury 2005), about the Khmer Rouge prison chief in Cambodia, Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch.

Mr. Dunlop was working as a photographer in 1999, when he discovered Duch in a remote area of Cambodia, a discovery that led to the first of the Khmer Rouge trials and the conviction of Duch last year. Duch was sentenced to 19 years in prison. Four other defendants are facing trial this year.

"I wanted to know what it was that had turned a seemingly ordinary man from one of the poorer parts of Cambodia into one of the worst mass murderers of the twentieth century," Mr. Dunlop wrote in the prologue to his book.

Myanmar presents a similar challenge, he said. "One of the problems of Burma is that it reads better as a story when you have forces of evil pitted against the forces of good, symbolised by Aung San Suu Kyi," Mr. Dunlop said.

"I think it's not enough to condemn people or regimes but we have to look past that," he said. "The world is not divided into good and evil, with us or against us, black and white, but is much more nuanced. If we stop looking at the world in this polarised way, we stand a greater chance of trying to prevent these crimes."

In the cases of both the Khmer Rouge, who ruled Cambodia in the late 1970s, and the army of Myanmar, he said, "It's crucial to look at the world of the perpetrators, to contextualise the evidence and the people rather than seeing them as monsters, but see them as human beings, and that we are all capable of doing these kinds of things in given circumstances." For example, as Mr. Myo Myint said in the interview, the soldiers who shot down civilians in pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988 and 2007 in Myanmar were drawn from distant battlefields where they had been fighting separatist ethnic armies.

"The soldiers are uneducated and don't understand politics," he said. "They are told that everyone who supports the demonstrations and opposes the government are enemies of the people and we have the right to kill these people."

For them, the killings are not only justified but necessary, he said. "It is our duty."— © New York Times News Service

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THE HINDU

CBSE LOOKS TO A CHANGING ROLE

INTERVIEW WITH VINEET JOSHI, CHAIRMAN, CENTRAL BOARD OF SECONDARY EDUCATION.

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) is bringing about major reforms in the process of assessment of students, including the introduction of the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) scheme. This school-based system of evaluation seeks to cover all aspects of a student's development. In the context of the ongoing process,

Vineet Joshi, Chairman and Chief Vigilance Officer of the CBSE, seeks to explain and clarify the extent, nature and significance of the changes, and the challenges the Board has faced along the way in conceiving and introducing the new matrix, in this interview he gave

Aarti Dhar in New Delhi. Excerpts.

Could you provide broad details of the reforms the CBSE has initiated?

We've started implementing the reforms. The initial responses have been encouraging, but there's still a long way to go. It's just a first step of bold reforms in Class I to Class VIII, making the Board examinations optional in Class X and shifting from the marking system to the grading system.

This needs to be followed up with more options being given to students of Class XI and XII, to ensure that every student is able to do whatever he or she is good at and enjoys doing.

The CCE guidelines describe 'continuous' in terms of regular assessments, frequency of unit-testing, analysis of learning gaps, applying corrective measures, retesting and giving feedback to teachers and students for their self-evaluation. 'Comprehensive,' on the other hand, attempts to cover both the scholastic and co-scholastic aspects of a student's growth and development. Both these aspects of the evaluation process are assessed through formative and summative assessments from Class VI to Class X.

What are the options you plan to give Class XI and XII students?

Options in terms of more electives. Earlier, it was enough if you gave them a choice in science, arts and commerce. But in the changed scenario, not only are these three subjects opening up but there is vast scope in newer fields such as Media Studies, Design, Retailing and Logistics.

On the recent reforms, there has been some amount of controversy, confusion and anxiety. How do you intend to address these?

Our approach has been to be as communicative as possible, to ensure that the students understand the spirit behind the changes. In the process of this interaction we, too, have stumbled upon solutions to some of our problems. In the future also we will continue to focus on better communication so that things are clear to people. All that we're trying to tell people is that this [the CCE] is a better system of assessment than the earlier one, which was unilateral. This is multilateral.

Do the changes mean a shrinkage of the role of the CBSE and the State Boards?

I wouldn't say shrinking; it's a change of role. Until now we were setting the question papers.

Now we'll focus more on teacher-training, to empower them [teachers] to send formative assessments of students and do summative assessments in the best possible way to de-stress the child. Our role will see a change. In any case, as a regulator of quality we'll always have an important role. We've to ensure that the quality of assessment and education is maintained.

Will that also mean the introduction of career counselling in the near future?

One of the ideas of the CCE is to inform parents about the strengths and weaknesses of students. Naturally, it needs to be followed in the schools with teachers and students so that when they make a career choice they do not ignore the indicators that come through the CCE assessments.

It's a natural corollary, then, that schools will now be encouraged to tell a student that when deciding on his or her career it should be on the basis of aptitude and interest and not only on the basis of marks.

How is the response to the proposal for the aptitude test?

There is a provision for an optional aptitude test in Class X. Of the 10 lakh students in Class X, some 2.5 lakh opted for the examination that was held on January 22. The idea here is not to give a test but to start a debate inside homes and schools that one should choose a career based on concrete evidence that is available.

What has been the response to the optional Class X Board?

The response has been very good and encouraging for us.

Of the students who had the option to write the examination, about 67 per cent have opted for school assessment and the remaining for Board-based assessment. Of the 33 per cent, there were students who had to opt for the test compulsorily.

Do you think that students and teachers have sometimes felt they did not understand the new assessment system, particularly in rural areas?

We've started going to the cities which are far-off, where we expect that a teacher may not be motivated enough or well-informed. As time passes, there is more information- sharing, there is more dialogue. And more and more people do understand that this is a better system.

Is it a flexible system?

The beauty of the CCE is that it's highly flexible. In the earlier system, the Board examinations had to start on a particular day and end on a particular day; there is flexibility now. Schools can prepare their own question papers and choose dates for examinations eventually.

Right now we're giving a window initially by asking them to send their question papers to us — not for approval, but to ensure that a minimum standard of education is maintained and that there is some minimum respectable teaching happening inside the classroom and that a student's performance in class is also given adequate weightage. They can pick up our question papers, mix and match, and even prepare their own papers.

When will the final changes come?

When we win the trust of the parents in the system, and a majority of the schools are ready to take up the new responsibility. At present there's still an element of doubt among the parents, but once the first batch passes out, confidence will build up. The new system takes into account everyone's aspirations. The system has brought assessment closer to the context, and it's trying to integrate assessment with teaching.

The teacher now has a very crucial role. In the existing system, when a child passed out from school, whether he had learnt anything or not could not be known. There are students who can pass examinations very easily but learn nothing. In the opposite situation, a child may be able to put his learning in the right context but is unable to pass a short examination. Now everyone is involved — students, teachers and parents.

This change in the assessment system must have been a challenging exercise. Convincing parents, teachers and students must have been difficult.

It was. We did not have a readymade scheme to offer. We discussed it with the stakeholders, went around the country, held meetings with teachers, students, principals and academicians. This was followed by a quick SMS survey… The scheme was announced in August 2009. This was followed by teacher-training. This year we are mentoring and monitoring the process.

How useful has been your helpline in the changed situation?

There is a constant Web-based interaction going on. In the past six months we've received about 6,000 queries and this helps us to get to know of any impending problem that needs to be addressed. It's a two-way thing — on the one hand it informs us of the queries of the parents and on the other we get to know of problems.

Do you have any message for students?

Every student writing the Class X examination in a few weeks from now should be happy that he or she is part of the change that the CBSE is doing. I'm sure they will feel proud to become the first batch to have come out of the new system. As of now some of them might be feeling slightly perturbed, but when they look back eventually, they will do so with a sense of pride.

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

GOVT MUST HEED WARNING BY RBI

The balmy scenes in the floats of government outfits and several states in Wednesday's Republic Day parade, as well as the colour, pageantry and firepower projected by marching contingents and mechanised units of the armed forces, presented a picture of a confident nation at peace with itself — in stark contrast to our everyday reality: where citizens are forced to live with viruses like inflation, corruption and social unrest. Was it because of this that despite the impressive display rolling before him, culminating in an awesome Air Force flypast, the Prime Minister chose to maintain a stern demeanour all through the morning on New Delhi's Rajpath? And unless the government gets its act together, and is a whole lot more proactive, most of these viruses won't go away in a hurry.

On Tuesday, the eve of Republic Day, the governor of the Reserve Bank, Dr D. Subbarao, sent out a clear warning: inflation was here to stay due to a variety of factors, both domestic and global. His prescription for controlling inflation — raising interest rates by a mere quarter per cent — has come in for much criticism from economists who feel that the unabated inflation, which worsened in December, warranted a much bigger rate hike to signal that easy credit will not be tolerated any longer. Credit or loans by banks has grown faster than what the RBI projected, while growth in deposits has slowed. Dr Subbarao felt anything over a quarter per cent hike would limit his leeway in case inflation remains stubbornly high in the coming months. The RBI's objective is limited to curbing inflation, which is spilling over from food to manufacturing. It is well known that monetary tools for controlling inflation are limited when it is caused mainly due to high food prices — particularly of items of daily consumption such as fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, fish, etc. Inflation is also fuelled by commodity prices — mostly determined globally. The RBI chief stressed the need for "rapid action" to increase the output of several products whose demand is rising due to changing consumption patterns, reflecting increasing incomes. The government would do well to heed Dr Subbarao's warning: unless meaningful output-enhancing measures are taken, the risk of food inflation getting entrenched looms large. This threatens both the current growth momentum and the realisation of its benefits for a large number of households.

The government should realise that food imports are not an easy option, given that global food prices have risen by 25 per cent in December, according to FAO estimates. The price of edible oils — which India imports in a big way — has risen 55 per cent, cereals 39 per cent and sugar 19 per cent. A top FAO official noted in Davos earlier this week that the current world food crisis could be ascribed to falling investments in agriculture — from 19 per cent in 1980 to a mere three per cent in 2006. Much of the rise in food and commodity prices can also be blamed on speculation — it would be in India's interest to strongly support French President Nicolas Sarkozy's proposal to curb speculation in all commodities. The FAO official said he felt prices could get out of hand unless all futures markets were regulated — in fact he warned of the possibility of food riots like those seen in 2007-08. The FAO has put regulation of futures markets on Davos' agenda — but it is accorded a very low priority by the rich who tend to dominate the World Economic Forum there. For the Manmohan Singh government in India, meanwhile, time may be running out — the importance of finding an urgent solution to the food crisis simply cannot be overestimated.

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

IN DEFENCE OF GRAFT

SRINATH RAGHAVAN

The court martial of Lt. Gen. P.K. Rath in connection with the Sukna land scam is a welcome move by the Army to set its house in order. This case along with the Adarsh Society scam has turned the spotlight on corruption in the military. It is widely assumed that these cases underscore the extent to which corruption from our public life has seeped into the armed forces. Isn't the military a mirror of the society it serves? This assumption is mistaken. In fact, the corruption highlighted by these cases stems from an increasing divergence between the armed forces and Indian society. And this growing civil-military gap could have other, more serious consequences.

It is commonplace to assert that armed forces reflect the societies from which they arise. But it is wrong. The fact is that civil society is based on an expectation of peace. Military society, by contrast, is predicated on the expectation of war. If this weren't true at a fundamental level, there need be no hyphen between civil and military. It is this distinction that basically enables civil society to retain the option of using force in pursuit of its policies. Problems, however, could arise if the difference in attitudes and values between the civilian and military worlds (particularly that of elites) becomes too wide.

In the Indian case, a civil-military gap has existed from the outset. India's civilian elites have had no direct experience of military service. Interestingly, the drafters of the constitution explicitly provided for the possibility of conscription — a step that could have reduced the civil-military gap in the medium term. But the executive decided not to enforce compulsory military service in peacetime and to continue the tradition of a volunteer force.

The subsequent expansion of the gap can be traced to developments in both the civilian and the military end of the divide. Among the former, perhaps the most important changes have been in the realm of the economy. The opening up and rapid growth of the Indian economy over the last two decades have considerably increased the disparity in economic profiles of the civilian and military elites. Prior to this, the military elites could take comfort in a putatively better social profile: "glamour" was an important motivator for officers joining the services. But India's vaulting economic growth has transformed the social profile of civilian elites and pushed it well above that of the military.

Prominent factors exacerbating the divide from the military side are the recruitment, training and personnel policies adopted by the military. The Indian military recruits its officers at a much younger age than most other democracies that have a volunteer force. The National Defence Academy (NDA) provides a combination of undergraduate education and pre-commission training. The cadets join at the age of 17-18 (it was 16 until the late 1980s) and are commissioned — after further training at the service academies — at the age of 21-22. To be sure, the services have a direct entry scheme which takes in officer cadets after their graduation from the university. But since the late 1980s the senior ranks of the armed forces are overwhelmingly staffed by officers who have gone through the NDA route.

By contrast, the Short Service Commission (SSC) schemes have largely been unable to serve their purpose. The idea of the SSC was to recruit officers who would serve for a fixed period of 5-10 years and then move on. The aim of the SSC, however, remains substantially unfulfilled. The important point from our perspective is that the number of military officials transitioning to the civilian world through this route remains small. Part of the reason for this is that the military provides little by way of serious preparation for an alternate civilian career. The army has a Directorate of Resettlement, but even its most sought after programmes (a course lasting a few months in a top business school, not a full-fledged MBA though) scarcely prepare officers for an increasingly competitive employment market.

The longer an officer remains in service, the more he is hurt by the absence of appropriate resettlement preparation. In consequence, many officers who attain pensionable service but face no prospects of career growth remain reluctant to retire. Moreover, many of them seek re-employment after retirement. The fact that even the most successful officers cannot hope to match the economic and social profile of their civilian contemporaries is surely a key driver for increasing corruption. It is the widening civil-military gap that is eroding the military's organisational values and discipline.

Corruption, however, is not the only consequence arising from this gap. Equally troubling are some of the ways in which the military is seeking to maintain and project its institutional identity and distinction. This can be seen most clearly in the military's approach to women officers, which both indicates and potentially accentuates the civil-military gap. Although women have been inducted into the military since 1992, they can serve for no more than 14 years. The military leadership is averse to granting them Permanent Commission owing to what are described as "operational practical and cultural problems". The military is unwilling to offer women anything more than permanent commissions in the legal and educational branches. This attitude forced some women officers to seek redress from the courts. In March 2010, the Delhi high court directed the government to grant permanent commissions to women officers commissioned before 2006. At the military brass' request, the government has appealed against this ruling. The contrast with the opportunities for women in the civilian sector (both private and government) is stark indeed.

The recent scams embroiling the military are indicative of a larger trend that could have deleterious consequences. Tackling the growing civil-military gap will require a creative set of policies that will foster a new balance between institutional and societal considerations. Such reforms are imperative for democratic control of the military as well as national security.

Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

SUFIS CAN FIGHT TERROR, BUT ONLY WITH HAQQ

There is a certain poetry in the final moments of worshippers who were killed by Islamic militants as they prayed at the holy site of Data Darbar and shrines to Abdullah Shah Ghazi and other Sufi saints in Pakistan over the past year.

I imagine them focused on their task — appealing to the saints for intercession with God — as they whispered their prayers, or left talismans tied to the doors and trees, or danced in ecstasy on a heated night, connecting to the Divine in ways that have been passed down through generations, linking the mysticism of Islam with the mysteries of their own lives.

They were certain, the 40 men and women at Lahore's Data Darbar, the nine people at Abdullah Shah Ghazi's tomb, and the five others at Pakpattan, that the saint — or buzurg, as they are known in South Asia — would have the power to convince God to accept their prayers. Perhaps a woman was going there to pray for a child, after years of being barren. Perhaps a student wanted help to pass his exams. Perhaps a man needed a job, with hungry mouths at home that he was desperate to feed.

As they climbed the stairs up to the pistachio-coloured building that is Abdullah Shah Ghazi's watchtower over the seas of Karachi, or passed through the iron gates at Baba Farid's tomb, as they took off their shoes to walk across the cool tiled floors at Data Darbar, they must have been hoping that their actions would bring relief for their pain — spiritual, physical, emotional.

If they were lucky, they would experience what is known in Sufism as fanaa, the annihilation of the lower self in the Divine. And then the bombs went off, and their souls were let out of the cage that is the human body and reunited with God.

There is no poetry in the aftermath of a bombing. After the initial fireball, there's choking black smoke, people running everywhere, screaming in fear and panic. There is blood, and body parts strewn on the ground. Rescue workers must claw their way inside, facing searing heat and burning wreckage, to find what little remains of both the victims and the perpetrators.

If there are any human remains left, they are taken by ambulance to the hospital, where their relatives wail in horror at what has happened. And yet the dead are at peace, "free of every barrier that could stand in the way of viewing the Remembered One".

Those of us left behind know that these bombings are perpetrated by those who wish to divide our country and break our spirits. We seem helpless to prevent these attacks, and those who commit them grow bolder with each one. They feed off our fear like ticks growing more bloated on every drop of blood that is spilled in our country.
Violent attacks on Sufis for their beliefs is not a new thing. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk banned all Sufi orders in 1925, and their spiritual centres were taken over by the Turkish state. In North Africa in the 12th century, the Maliki Almoravid dynasty actively denounced Sufis and Sufism.

The practice of Sufism is characterised by its disciples' sole aim: to become closer to God. They achieve this through dhikr, the remembrance of God, and asceticism, through being "in the world but not of it". Sufis are opposed to violence, extremism and jihad. They are seen as the world's symbols of Islamic tolerance and humanism: nondogmatic, flexible and nonviolent.

Many Muslims in Pakistan consider themselves to be Sufis, and while the South Asian brand of Sufism is tied to our own particular culture, it has links to Sufi orders all over the world, which have thrived despite violence and discrimination.

However, a closer reading of history reveals that while South Asian Sufism carries that particular flavour of peacefulness, Sufis in other parts of the world have not been passive when it comes to standing up for Haqq, the Truth. In West Asia and North Africa, Sufis have been at the heart of many reform movements, forming the core of anti-colonialist uprisings, such as the Sanusis in Libya, and the Qadris in Algeria.

Could it be that the Pakistani movement of peaceful Sufism may have to evolve into something more resolute in order to stand up against terrorism? Perhaps, but only if it would mean no compromising in matters of Shariah, and if it would serve the goal of Haqiqah, or "arriving at the knowledge of God", both central to Sufi thought everywhere in the world.

There are Western analysts who believe that Sufism is the perfect foil to be used in the battle against Islamic extremism. The terrorist attacks on the shrines may be an expression of extremist contempt for the Sufi tradition, and they might well serve to rouse Pakistani anger enough to turn against the militants, but look what happened the last time the West tried to use Islam against its enemies: The mujahideen were born, morphed into the Taliban, and then into the extremists that are against Pakistan today.

Sufism can only encounter extremism on its own terms, as a movement that rises from within, not as an experiment imposed from without. Attempting to "use" Sufism will only result in more bombings like these ones. And Pakistan cannot afford to lose more lives in the name of any ideology, on either side of the divide.

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

PARADE & PATRIOTS

SIDHARTH BHATIA

Another Republic Day come and gone. What is it about January 26 (and August 15) that makes the country go all patriotic? The media, of course, gives the lead — newspapers are full of stories about the valour of our armed forces or with surveys showing what the young and the old think about their country. The old talk about their days when we were ruled by more noble and idealistic rulers (as compared to the current crop which is venal and corrupt), while the young say they believe in their country but are unhappy with the way things are going.

As if to bolster this feeling of robust patriotism, on January 26, we are treated to the parade down Rajpath, a hoary institution that has survived almost unchanged for over five decades. The same display of arms, state cultural tableaux and march pasts by schoolchildren who have been standing for hours, waiting for their turn. Nothing has changed, not even the Doordarshan commentators with their clichéd script that is designed to put the viewer to sleep. Some schools desultorily have a flag hoisting ceremony, but that number is surely dwindling.

On January 27, the whole thing is forgotten and we are back to being our normal selves. Patriotism, it seems, is a product to be kept on the front shelves for one at best two days a year and stored away in the attic for the rest of the time.

Perhaps we are creatures of habit. The march past is one stable feature in an otherwise tumultuous existence. It helps us forget the rottenness we see all around us for a while. The missiles and the flypast remind us that we are a military power, the cultural floats are a glimpse of our wonderful diversity and the children represent hope for the future. Maybe, the fact that the whole thing has essentially remained the same is itself a plus point; this is something that is still run by our bureaucracy, and not by some slick event management company that cannot think beyond fireworks and Bollywood. Remember the disaster that was the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games? The Republic Day parade is the one place where we can guarantee that there will be no A.R. Rahman.

Yet, it is difficult to escape the feeling that this momentary lapse into patriotism is a bit too pat and convenient. For one thing, it is fleeting and transient, with the afterglow disappearing within hours. Being loyal to the country does not extend to following traffic rules or paying taxes or respecting one's fellow citizens. Nor does our hyper-nationalistic mood allow for genuine difference of opinion; forget the Binayak Sen case, in which the state is doing everything in its power to show that it will not tolerate dissent. Try not standing up at a cinema when the national anthem is being played and you will find the collective wrath of the rest descending upon you. No, we must not only respect symbols, we must also show that we do. On days like January 26, we must announce it to the world on social media sites. Patriotism is nothing unless it is blared to one and all. But also, the question arises, why has patriotism become so closely entwined with militarism? We love our defence forces for the fine job they do, but can they be our only symbols of patriotic and nationalistic fervour?
This is, of course, not limited to Indians. The Americans will only use the word "hero" to describe their soldiers. In other countries the gung-ho nationalism may be somewhat tempered, but is no less real. In neighbouring Pakistan, the Army has become a monstrous commercial conglomerate but is still seen as a stabilising (and non-corrupt) force which ensures that greedy politicians are kept in check. In our own country, while cases of malfeasance by highly-decorated officers have come to light, the institution still retains much of its credibility.

This is not to cast any kind of aspersion on our defence forces. These are composed of fine men and women who do a great job in the most trying of circumstances. The life of a soldier (or a sailor or an pilot) is a tough one and most if not all acquit themselves with honour. But they are professionals first and last. Their job is to protect borders and that is what they must do.

Our job as citizens should be no less exacting. Democracy is not only about casting votes and Republicanism is not merely the day when the Constitution was adopted. Both of them demand obligations from each and every citizen. B.R. Ambedkar's Constitution, one of the finest documents of its kind ever written, gives us rights but also imposes duties. The supremacy of the rule of law is something that cuts both ways; the state must respect it, but so must every Indian. Republicanism also reminds us that individual rights are more important than those of the tribe; all over we see the ugly spectacle of communities emerging more powerful than the individual.
Internalising these tenets and practising them round the year is far more patriotic than getting up in the morning and watching, teary eyed, as those Agni missiles and folk dancers come up on your TV screen. That symbolism is important too, but if the message behind that is lost, then January 26 was nothing but one more excuse to take a break from work.

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

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

GETTING SKELETONS OUT OF THE CLOSET

 

The focus in the country as a whole is once again on black money stashed abroad. A bank in Germany has given India a list of persons from India holding accounts with it. The Liechtenstein Bank has done this in conformity with its policy to follow OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) rules on tax cooperation and swap data with governments to combat tax fraud. This has given fillip to the debate that has for long been going on in connection with the alleged links between unscrupulous affluent Indians and banks in Switzerland. If reports are to be believed our compatriots have contributed the maximum to Swiss banks taking advantage of their scrupulous adherence to protect their as well as their funds' secrecy. It has often been said that Indians love many things about Switzerland --- chocolates, watches, Bollywood movie locales and secret bank accounts! It seems to be true of some other countries as well. The Union Government is bound by treaties not to part with the information it has received from the German bank. The Supreme Court, however, is not convinced by this argument. It has described black money hidden in other countries by Indians as "pure and simple theft of national money." It has gone on to question the Union Government's approach to tackling the menace and retrieving the huge money. It has been furnished information in a sealed cover containing the names of Indian customers of the Liechtenstein Bank involving an amount of about Rs 43 crore. The highest court in the land has asked the Government: "This is all the information you have or you have something more! We are talking about the huge money. It is a plunder of the nation. It is a pure and simple theft of the national money. We are talking about mind-boggling crime. We are not on niceties of various treaties." Reacting to a submission that the money in tax havens may have terror links, the apex court has observed: "This is the problem which is worrying us. It is not only about tax evasion. It has something more."


Some time back a research-based investigation by an organisation had claimed that $23-$27 billion illicit money left this country every year between 2002 and 2006. Some of it, it was said, went to offshore financial centres, and the rest to tax havens and traditional banks including big Swiss banks. There is another estimate that some 25000 trillion rupees, or roughly half of India's GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is in secret Swiss accounts. Yet another evaluation is about nearly $ 140 billion worth black money from India being in overseas havens. American comedian Jackie Mason sounds relevant in our context: "Money is not the most important thing in the world. Love is. Fortunately, I love money." It needs to be noted that wary of acquiring a dubious image as a home of black money generated elsewhere Switzerland has been constantly reviewing its laws. Article 13 of the Swiss Federal Constitution confers on every person "the right to receive respect for his/her private and family life" and this includes privacy in relation to financial income and assets. Care has been taken simultaneously to exclude abuses particularly of a criminal nature. The principle of bank-client confidentiality has been waived for criminal investigators. Insider trading and money laundering too are listed as crimes. Swiss banks also accommodate other countries to the extent of their mutually agreed regulations. There is, for instance, a double-taxation agreement between Switzerland and the United State for extension of administrative assistance to "tax fraud and the like." India and Switzerland have also signed a protocol amending the existing double taxation avoidance agreement. It would take some time before it is implemented to enable New Delhi to gain access to information on suspect bank accounts. This does not mean, however, that we will get information as a matter of right. The Government will have to put forward a strong case against people whose skeletons it wants to rattle in security vaults of the scenic Alps. For their part the unnamed Swiss officials have been quoted as saying that India cannot simply "throw a telephone book" at them and expect ready cooperation. They are ready to lend a willing hand nevertheless.

This is a significant departure from their earlier tradition but it is doubtful whether it will be enough to meet India's concerns. No less a person than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sees "no instant solution." Apparently in the context of the German bank's inputs, he has said: "We have some information from a particular location, but we have given a commitment and therefore we cannot make it public. Who will trust us if we do not keep our word?" The following steps have been taken or are being taken to unearth the slush funds: (a) 20 countries have been prioritised for entering into agreements regarding exchange of information and systems in connection with taxes. Negotiations have been completed with the governments; (b) re-negotiation has been ordered of all the 77 double-tax avoidance pacts entered into so far to get real-time information or track tax evasions or stashing away of black money in other countries; (c) income-tax units have been set up in Mauritius, Singapore, Cyprus, Germany and half-a-dozen other countries to obtain information; and (d) action has been initiated against those Indians having accounts in the Liechtenstein Bank. It will not pay to make the issue of recovery of black money and its repatriation to India from foreign banks a political bone of contention. Almost all political parties have been in power at the Centre by now having a chance to deliver on this count. They must have made efforts but have not succeeded. It hardly bears any reiteration that black money is eating into our economy. In this State itself as and when income-tax authorities tighten the noose crores of rupees come tumbling out of business establishments including nursing homes. It appears that at the global level all countries are required to open up further the horizons of their collaboration. All of them lose at the hands of tax-evaders. Their enemy thus is the same for all of them are deprived of the cash they can utilise for their progress. Black certainly is not the colour of our money.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

PAKISTAN'S ROLE IN AFGHANISTAN

BY M K DHAR

 

Pakistan's role as spoiler in Afghanistan shows no sign of changing despite US pleadings and allurements, advice from neighbouring countries deeply concerned over the continuing war and President Hamid Karzai's repeated appeals to end sponsorship of marauding Taliban. Taking advantage of the fluid situation Washington finds itself after years of fighting, Islamabad has scaled up its demands for cooperation in helping bring about peace and normalcy in Afghanistan. It wants a role in integration of only those Taliban who are firmly controlled by it, including the Haqqani group, under the proposed reconciliation on which Karzai has set his heart; it wants India to be excluded from playing any future role in Afghanistan -- political or economic -- for reconstruction and development; it wants more lethal weaponry for the Army form the US including tanks, artillery and fighter jets and it has asked Washington to pressure India into making concessions of Kashmir, as price for restraining the Taliban in Pakistan from crossing over and fighting US and NATO soldiers inside Afghanistan.


Having already provided over $ 12 billion as economic and military aid to Pakistan since its invasion of Afghanistan, the US is not averse to giving more provided Pakistan acts against the Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters enjoying sanctuary in Waziristan and Baluchistan, with some paid and armed by Islamabad and gently nudging India to resume the dialogue with Pakistan over a gamut of bilateral issues, including Kashmir. US Vice-President Jo Biden, who was in Kabul and Pakistan recently carried no firm commitment of cooperation from the Pakistani leaders and its Army. The Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani made a trip to Washington and, later, sent President Asif Ali Zardari to reinforce the demands he had made on the US Administration. Since President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Pakistan later this year. Zardari and Kayani want to extract the maximum reward from the US for cooperation, which it has been promising for years, but has never delivered. The US, no doubt, feels desperate at the situation and badly needs a face saving in order to start pulling out its troops from July this year and, hopefully, complete the process in 2014.
When External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna was in Kabul recently, he sought a clarification form President Karzai about fears that Islamabad's growing interference could see the return of hardcore Taliban fighters under cover of reconciliation and reintegration. Pakistan's interference in the contemplated process would be detrimental to both the success of the process and future of Afghanistan. He also maintained that external interference could be unhelpful for its success and for the future of democratic, stable, pluralistic and prosperous Afghanistan. Pakistan's increasing involvement and its efforts to uproot India's aid giver and executor of many infrastructure projects, is a matter of concern to New Delhi. More than 4,000 Indians are building roads, power lines, sanitation projects, schools and hospitals in Afghanistan and are also engaged in building a new Parliament House, a gift from the Indian people.


There is little doubt that President Karzai is bewildered, having to fight the Taliban, keep at bay their sponsor and, at the same time, protect himself from destabilizing moves by the US, which wanted him out but could not find a suitable successor who could deliver better. He is thinking of reconciliation and reintegration of those Taliban who give up the gun and accept the country's democratic Constitution because the American military campaign against the Taliban is not succeeding and the President Obama wants to extricate himself from the situation as soon as possible. He, however, holds forth the assurance that his government would not make any move that would be detrimental to India's interests, which "is uppermost in his government's priorities".
Though at first it rejected the idea of a peace deal with Taliban via reconciliation and reintegration, New Delhi is now supportive of integration of those who sever links with terror groups. But Islamabad's interference could see the return of hardcore fighters whom the US had ousted from power. Kabul feels that the peace process cannot succeed unless led by Afghan people and there is genuine change of heart among a section of the Taliban who feel tired of the endless war and the casualties it has brought.


The subject is likely to be taken up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he visits Kabul in the near future for exchange of views with Karzai and to greet the new Afghan parliamentarians elected in last year's epoc-making elections, though marred by controversy about electoral malpractices which led to considerable delay in announcing the results as the Election Commission went into many complaints and also invalidated a large number of ballot papers. Dr. Singh may also address a joint sitting of the Afghan parliament and assure the lawmakers of India's continued support for their reconstruction and economic development. The considerable amount of goodwill that exists for India among the Afghan people is what makes Pakistan jittery because it regards Afghanistan as a country that falls within its area of influence. During short lived Taliban rule, Islamabad was virtualy ruling Kabul through Taliban proxies and remains unreconciled to the present situation in which the Afghans view it with suspicion and regards it as the root cause of their troubles.


Washington itself as realized, and has been advised by its allies also, that Pakistan has been part of the problem in Afghanistan where it has been a long-time meddler. It must not be allowed to mediate talks with the Taliban because that would amount to rewarding the role it has played in Taliban resurgence. The west has largely kept out of the talks Karzai and his interlocutors are having with some Taliban leaders though none of consequence for fear of discrediting them. But Mr. Karzai who has openly invited the peace-loving among Taliban to reconcile and join the peace process, has not met with any success so far.


Though the war objectives may be clear, the US is clueless as how to achieve them because Pakistan stands in the way. The war in Afghanistan has proved a bonanza for Pakistan, which has received and continues to receive, billions of dollars in economic aid and the army has managed to secure large quantities of the latest American weaponry on the pretext of cooperating in fighting the anti-Taliban war. What is worse, various insurgent groups on both sides of the international border have joined hands to take on the US and NATO soldiers. With them are associated Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, which provide the biggest support to fighting inside Afghanistan. Thanks to Pakistan and US indulgence, the situation, instead of improving, has worsened with no end of fighting in sight. (NPA)

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

CREATE CAREER OPPORTUNITIES FOR COMP ENGINEERS

BY RAYAZA MALIK

 

The State Government created Department of Information Technology to carry out different activities pertaining to Computer and Information Technology. The purpose of creation of this department was to make the people aware of Computer Knowledge, deliver information to masses of remote areas, train officials of different departments and recruit Computer Professionals, Engineers, instructors and much more. However, most of the people are not familiar with this department.


The fact is that the Government of Jammu & Kashmir started the Computer Engineering course in the end years of 1990's, the selection for admission to which was made on the basis of Common Entrance Test (CET) conducted by J&K Board of Professional Entrance Examinations (BOPEE) previously known as J&K Competent Authority Entrance Examination (CAEE).The prescribed qualification for CET for all these professional/technical and medical courses was fixed as Higher Secondary Part Two (10+2).


It is pertinent to mention here that upto year 2005, all the candidates undergoing such courses except Diploma Course in Computer Engineering were awarded Bachelor Degrees as the admission to these courses was made on the basis of 10+2. The candidates who pursued the course of Diploma Computer Engineering on the basis of same qualification i.e; 10+2 were deprived of this privilege to consider themselves as equivalent to graduates which is absolutely a discrimination with this fraternity whereas they should have been considered equivalent to B.Sc.(Engg) on the pattern of 10+2+3 system as in other states of India.


But in the year 2006, the course of Three Years Diploma in Computer Engineering was separated from the class of its sister courses and its qualification for admission was prescribed as matriculation making its standard equivalent to other Diploma Engineering Courses undergone after matriculation i.e; after 2005 all the Diploma Engineering Courses do stand in one and same line.


Since this course is run almost in all the polytechnics of the state where hundreds of Diploma Holders complete the Course, there is no optimism for job in them. As per an assessment, presently, there are thousands of Computer Engineers who have been rendered jobless and each year the graph line is increasing which is proving fatal for the Engineers already waiting for their absorption. It creates anguish, pain and frenzy in the hearts of Computer Engineers.


For the last one decade, the Government of J&K has not framed any policy to advertise the posts for these dejected youth.


Since the Government has created and advertised a good number of posts of engineers like Civil (PWD/PHE), Electrical/Electronics (PDD) and Mechanical (MED) in the last 10-12 years but in juxtaposition, there is no share and scope of identification and advertisement of such posts for Computer Engineers which is an injustice and step-motherly treatment to them.


Recently, in the month of December 2010 the J&K Services Selection Board (SSRB) advertised thousands of posts for various departments and particularly in reference to Advt. Notice No. 08 of 2010 dated 24-12-10 approximately 400 posts of Junior Engineers (Civil) were advertised. Also, it has come to known that in near future the posts of Junior Engineers (Electrical/Electronics) and Junior Engineers (Mechanical) are going to be advertised by SSRB but there is no such provision for Computer Engineers.

Keeping this appalling and agonistic story in consideration it is appealed to the Chief Minster, Ministers for Technical Education and Information Technology to intervene in the matter and sort out and solve the problems of these skilled youth. That is, the Computer Engineers should be considered and given a status at par with Civil, Electrical, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers. The Diploma Holders in Computer Engineering whose selection was made on the basis of 10+2, as was done prior to year 2006 should be given a status of B.Sc.(Engg) on 10+2+3 pattern as is followed in most of states in India. The Police department may be directed to advertise the posts of S.I.(Computers) and prescribe the qualification as Diploma in Computer Engineering was done in year 2002. Diploma holders in Computer Engineering as should be considered for the posts of Demonstrators and Instructors in Polytechnics and ITIs respectively as their counterparts are employed for such posts in their appropriate branch of Engineering.


The government should constitute a committee of experts particularly of engineering background to classify and workout difference between fully technical qualifications i.e; B.E./B.Tech/Three Years Diploma in Computer Engineering run through Department of Technical Education and BCA/MCA, B.Sc./M.Sc.(IT) and other Graduation Courses in Computer which the candidates pursue in Colleges, institutes and Universities of state and country. B.E./B.Tech/Three-Year Diploma holders in Computer Engineering should be classified with their counterparts i.e; Civil, Electrical, electronics and Mechanical Engineers. The rules regulations and policies regarding their recruitment, upgradation, promotions, transfers, pay scales and perks, etc. should be framed at par with engineers of other departments. They should be absorbed in a single parent department of IT from where they can be adjusted in any department or organization on need basis. They should have the same share in quota of posts as other engineers have and should be considered and made to stand in the same line of engineers.


The Computer Engineers should not be amalgamated with BCA/MCA/BIT/MIT and such other Graduates and Post Graduates. Instead they should be adjusted against different posts deserving to them. For instance, they can be adjusted for various teaching posts like teachers and instructors in schools and lecturers/professors in different institutes, Colleges and Universities. Various computer related jobs like Computer Assistants, Operators, Typists, Designers, etc can also be provided to such youth.


Further, the Government should stop admission to Diploma Course in Computer Engineering in all the polytechnics until all the previous Graduates or pass-outs are absorbed and given employment as their career is absolutely in darkness and have no scope for employability.


Ultimately, the Government should refer these posts of Computer Engineers to SSRB, PSC and other Government organizations for timely advertisement so that this fraternity of trained professionals may heave a sigh of relief and emerge out of this dilemma of joblessness.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

CRIME AGAINST WOMEN

BY RAM RATTAN SHARMA

 

The problem of crime against women in Indian society is not new. Women have been the victim of suppression, torture and exploitation since post vedic period. After independence and after a long struggle for her rights Indian women have got social recognition and right to participate in social, economic, political and religious life. Inspite of constitutional protection, kidnapping and abduction, rape and murder, dowry deaths, female foeticide are taking place in the country regularly. Fashion and modernization. Man's supremacy, effect of TV serials films and cheap literature are also responsible for crimes against women. The family life of married pairs is spoiled due to lack of mutual understanding between husband and wife, mutual conflicts of husband and wife on sharing household responsibilities. The family conflicts affects the life and future of small children adversely. Divorce, separation and domestic violence on women make the husband and wife tense, depressed, short tempered frustrated female foeticide is affecting the sex ratio and the society, frustrated wife and husband usually become habitual of intoxication which poisons the social environment.


These crimes can be controlled through involvement of voluntary organizations and NGOs. The voluntary organizations and NGOs should be involved to provide counseling facilities to the married couples, so that mutual understanding could be established and certain major and minor conflicts could be settled between the couples. The Govt. of India and the State Government in collaboration with NGOs and mass media should initiate awareness programmes for women about their rights and the laws enacted for their protection against domestic violence, dowry harassment, rapes, in moral trafficking, female foeticide etc. They should be informed that the free legal aid is also available for poor and needy women. And the women help line numbers should be given in newspapers/TV/Road side hoardings to contact police in emergency. Though the state governments are providing the hostel facilities to the working women and studying girls, but the number of hostels is insufficient than their need. So the hostel facility needs expansion with adequate security system which could be done by the state governments in collaboration with NGOs and voluntary organizations. The self defense training programmes should be launched in all the schools and colleges. More and more self defense training camps should be organized for the training of working and non working women through out the country. Police should keep a strict vigil around schools, colleges, woman hostels, crowded places such as railways stations, hospitals, bus terminals, cinema halls, parks, so that the incidence of eve teasing, molestation and chain snatching can be checked and controlled. Simultaneously drivers and conductors of public and private buses should strictly be directed to take the bus straight to the police station in case of any female traveler is seen in danger while traveling in bus. Registration of marriages should be made compulsory. The case on account of domestic violence and dowry harassment should be registered by the police for taking legal action against the huaband and in laws on the complaint of only those married women whose marriages have been registered in registrar office. Besides this, a list of gift items should be given by the parents of the bride to the husband, crime women cell and income tax department at the time of marriage.


The national commission for women and the states commission for women should be given constitutional status with magisterial powers to deal strictly with the dowry seekers and the wife beaters. The national human rights commission should make efforts for the upliftment of women status and protection of women's rights in society. Rapists should be given life imprisonment, the honour killing should be declared as a horror killing and culprits should be given death penalty. The kidnappers and the abductors should be given imprisonment with heavy fine.


To make the life of a married women stable and peaceful empowerment of women is the need of the hour. They should also be given financial help as grants and loans to establish their own business. To make women economically independent and to make them aware of their rights and freedom and of laws protecting them from domestic violence. State Govt. and Govt. of India should open more and more educational institutes. Special attention must be given to educate the girls residing in remote, backward and distant areas of the country.


Until and unless the attitude of society is changed towards women, the problem of crimes against women cannot be controlled. Our society is a male dominant society. It is a man who is superior to woman. This type of attitude needs a change for good family life.

 

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

COLUMN

BLACK MONEY BLACK HOLE

A COMBINATION OF CARROT AND STICK IS NEEDED

Estimating black money has been a long time preoccupation of economists and tax collectors in India. Several books have been written and several government reports prepared. It is possible to suggest that the policy disincentives that may have contributed to black money generation, like high tax rates, have been moderated, if not eliminated, and that the incentive to declare income has gone up since the beginning of tax and policy reform in the 1990s. Chances are the avenues for black money generation may have also come down. Yet, as long as there remain tax differentials and reasons for not declaring one's income in full, there will always be some undeclared income and governments should be expected to seek to track and tap such incomes. Moreover, as long as political parties and business persons need cash to make the wheels of politics and business move, rather than cheque books and credit cards, there would always be an incentive to generate unaccounted funds. The incentives for generation of black money, therefore, remain and as long as such incentives remain, government should create disincentives that discourage firms and individuals from not declaring their income. It would be wrong to depend on penal action alone since this could give undue power to tax authorities who may end up misusing their powers. On the other hand, a pure incentives-based system of dangling carrots is not fair to honest taxpayers who declare all their incomes and pay taxes on them. A combination of carrot and stick would probably be the best way to deal with the problem.

It would appear from this week's statement of Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee that that is precisely his ministry's approach. The minister has not ruled out some kind of a one-time voluntary disclosure scheme that would enable tax evaders to bring funds home. At the same time, the government intends to work with foreign governments to ensure compliance at the other end. Mr Mukherjee is also right to state that there is no need for the government to go public with the data it has as long as income tax authorities are doing their job. The only thing the government must ensure is that tax authorities do not harass the innocent and let the guilty free for a consideration. To expect that there would be a dramatic surge in capital I nflows on account of either the carrots offered or the fear of the stick would be unrealistic. To begin with, all funds stashed away in foreign banks are no longer entirely illegal, with successive governments increasing the amount of foreign exchange an individual or a firm can retain abroad legally. Moreover, few firms and individuals would have their undeclared incomes only in the form of cash in banks. It would be more difficult to track down assets held by Indians abroad. A matter of greater concern ought to be the legal outflow of funds with Indians investing more abroad than foreigners investing in India! This can only be reversed when India becomes more attractive to investors and more of them prefer to keep their funds in India than in foreign banks where such funds may be exposed to greater risk.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

CHURNING IN SOFTWARE

NEEDED: STRATEGY FOR THE NEXT DECADE

A churning is taking place in the Indian software industry. Successive slowdowns and upturns through the last decade have separated the men from the boys. The leaders that have thereby emerged have put a big distance between them and the medium-sized firms with not much of a future for the latter. One of the latest manifestations of this is Patni, a large middle-rung firm, getting taken over by iGate which has decided to try and buy itself into the big league under the leadership of Phaneesh Murthy. Whether money can buy a slot in the premier league is not yet clear but what money plus capabilities can deliver is clear from the way Tech Mahindra is headed for the top league by appearing to make a success of the acquisition of Satyam. Most recently, the challenge posed by Cognizant, the silent 400-metre runner who combines stamina with speed, to the entrenched leaders has produced one of the biggest management shakeups in the industry with Azim Premji asking the two joint CEOs at Wipro to make way for T K Kurien. Girish Paranjpe and Suresh Vaswani knew and ran well the business as it was and still is. But tomorrow's needs are different. As the industry gets out of a recessionary market, the leading players must not only feel the need for a new paradigm but also must know what it is. The memo for the leaders of the next phase of the business is to identify what it will take to remain in the top league — not just to redeem a vision but to spell it out in the first place. Wipro's need for a turnaround strategy falls into place with the next generation, Rishad Premji, taking over as chief strategy officer.

For several years now, the industry leaders have been grappling with the challenge of transforming themselves from executioners to innovators. That this will have to happen along with competence in the next generation of technology, cloud computing, goes without saying. But do what with cloud computing? What business model will enable software as a utility to generate superior growth and margins? That is one of the challenges of tomorrow. The other is of the global incumbents, not just on the global arena but on the Indian home turf too. While IBM and Accenture are challenging the Indian challengers in India, between the two IBM is challenging Accenture too. Witness the induction of an outsider, Avinash Vashistha, as the head of Accenture in India. In this scenario, the two Indian leaders who are currently smiling are TCS and Infosys. The former's smile is broader as it is putting a distance between itself and the rest. Its ability to keep winning new clients and expanding the business with existing clients, the depth of its different capabilities and the core leadership team that S Ramadorai left behind constitute its winning formula. Infosys' smile, on the other hand, is a little wan as it is losing some of its premium pricing powers. Kris Gopalakrishnan and his successor will not be able to remain satisfied by executing with excellence in carefully chosen fields. They also have to define for their firm a strategy to meet the challenges of the decade ahead.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

ASIA IN WONDERLAND

SOME OF THE WEIRDEST, ULTRA-FUTURISTIC URBAN SPACE IDEAS ARE BEING TRIED OUT IN ASIA FOR THE FIRST TIME.

BARUN ROY

Having lost Taipei 101 to Burj Dubai as the tallest building in the world, Taiwan has another boggling idea, a 390-metre observation tower in the central city of Taichung that will look like a twisted tree of free-hanging elevators. Sounds crazy? But anything is possible in the quirky world of today's architecture, where buildings rotate, float, bend, or flow at the designer's will; and some of the weirdest, ultra-futuristic new ideas are being tried out in Asia for the first time.

Take Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, for example. Architect Moshe Safdie has hitched an entire ship deck of a park 650 feet up in the sky and slung it across three cascading, 55-storey hotel towers that resemble a deck of cards. At that height, the visionary architect has created 12,400 square metre of space, longer than four-and-a-half A380 Jumbo jets lined on end, where up to 3,900 people can gather at any one time, surrounded by 250 types of trees and 650 types of plants. There are restaurants and entertainment areas, as well as an infinity swimming pool three times the size of an Olympic one.

 

 Or consider Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid's Innovation Tower at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, to open this year. Hadid, known for her "fluid" style that mixes interior space with outer landscape, has designed a slightly tilted pile of irregularly stacked and shaped plates, giving it the look of a massive, tide-sculpted, but uncannily weightless, pebble. The podium, the tower, and internal and external courtyards merge into one another, while, inside, the building becomes one continuous upward, interactive cascade of showcases and events.

The proposed Taiwan Tower, designed by DSBA of Romania, will have photovoltaic cells covering its entire façade and vertical axis wind turbines built into it, making it the world's first-ever alternative-energy skyscraper. Eight propeller-powered and helium-filled observation "pods" will branch off and move up and down its stem, like floating bubbles, each able to carry up to 80 people at a time, giving the entire structure, and 1 hectare of parkland around it, a fairy-tale look.

But this time the Taiwanese authorities have more than just another isolated monument in mind. They are looking at the tower as the focal point of a major architectural redevelopment of 254 hectare of land around the former Taichung airport, which they believe will convert Taiwan's third largest city into a liveable international metropolis. Liveability is the driving force behind a growing worldwide movement known as new urbanism, of which Asia is becoming increasingly aware, where the goal is not simply to create totems of individual architectural excellence, but uplift entire urban environments around them to give residents a wholesome living experience.

New urbanism is also the inspiration behind a new port and cruise service centre in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, where US-based architects Reiser and Umemoto will be converting a dull, staid port area into a vibrant, 24-hour arts, shopping, dining, recreation, and leisure district. And up in a country town called Au-Di, 50 km from Taipei, Zaha Hadid's Next-Gen Architectural Museum, due to be completed some time this year, is going to redefine an entire hilltop with its seamless interface between architecture, landscape, and geology.

Hadid is the acknowledged high priestess of new urbanism and lyrical architecture. When the Dongdaemun Design Paza in Seoul opens as Korea's fashion hub later this year, turning a dense neighbourhood into a green oasis, she will have set another benchmark for Asia and the world. In her design, buildings curve and flow, the ground rises and dips to lend drama and wonder, and parkland folds unobtrusively into shopping/dining areas underground. It's architecture that inspires and reduces tensions, forming a "natural" habitat for residents within "hostile" urban surroundings.

Hadid follows the same concept of seamless fluidity at the newly opened Opera House in Guangzhou, China, which looks from outside as twin mounds on the ground overlooking the river and the dock area, engaged, so to say, in a whispered conversation with the surrounding landscape. The idea will be further amplified at another Hadid project in China, the 3.5 million square feet. Galaxy Soho office, retail and entertainment complex in Beijing, work on which has just begun. It's anchored around five continuous, flowing volumes that adapt to each other in all directions, creating a panoramic architecture without corners or abrupt transitions. Once it's completed by 2012, downtown Beijing won't be the same again.

"Our clients are increasingly calling for innovation," Hadid recently said of her Chinese projects. Asia is clearly ready, like never before, to embrace the new; and this passion for bold, futuristic architecture, combined with complex, fluid, organic geometries now possible to achieve through modern technologies, puts it – at least parts of it – on the verge of a magical transformation of its urban landscape.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

MOTHERHOOD STATEMENTS

INDICUS ANALYTICS

The National Population Policy adopted in 2000 emphasised the government commitment to safe motherhood, one of the objectives being universal coverage of maternal care. A critical component of safe motherhood is antenatal care (ANC) — access to timely care can go a long way in reducing maternal and infant mortality.

The District Level Household Survey (DLHS), 2007-08 collected data on the utilisation of ANC services for women who had delivered during the three years prior to the survey. According to the survey, 75 per cent of these women had received at least one antenatal care visit during pregnancy. In rural areas, the share was 71 per cent. In urban areas, 87 per cent of the women had received at least one ANC visit during pregnancy. Across India, about 55 per cent of those who had ANC visits received services from government health facilities, 36 per cent from private health facilities and 10 per cent benefited from community-based services that include NGOs, charitable trusts, home visits by trained personnel and so on. In general, government health facilities dominate, across all parameters, except in the case of women with 10 or more years of schooling and women in the highest wealth quintile. When it comes to the weaker sections, of course, the government health facilities are accessed the most.(Click for table) Yet, there are some states where overall private health facilities account for more than 50 per cent share — Daman & Diu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Goa and Karnataka. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh stand out as states with the highest utilisation of community-based services at 33 per cent and 27 per cent respectively; in fact in all other regions, community services account for less than 10 per cent of the ANC services accessed.(Click for graph)

It is important to note that though 75 per cent of Indian women received any ANC services, just 18.8 per cent received the recommended full ANC services, that includes at least three visits for antenatal check-up, at least one tetanus toxoid injection and 100 or more iron and folic acid tablets or equivalent syrup consumed during pregnancy. Goa ranks on top with full ANC services given to 91 per cent of the pregnant women. Kerala and Lakshadweep are next at more than 60 per cent coverage. The disparity is highest in West Bengal, Haryana and Punjab, where full ANC coverage is significantly lower than any ANC coverage. The states that are at the bottom of providing full ANC coverage are Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where less than 5 per cent of the expectant mothers get the full recommended care. Clearly, in these states, government health facilities are not delivering, while private healthcare, in whatever form it exists, remains out of reach for poor households. This also explains the relatively higher dependence on community-based services in these two states.

It was in 2006 that the government launched the Janani Suraksha Yojana, with special emphasis on low-performing states, identifying the ASHA, the accredited social health activist, as the link between the government and the women. The next DLHS will show how successful this programme has been in raising full coverage of ANC services amongst the underprivileged and reducing inter-state disparity.

Indian States Development Scorecard is a weekly feature by Indicus Analytics that focuses on the progress in India and the states across various socio-economic parameters

sumita@indicus.net

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

THE NEGLECTED SECTORS OF INDIAN ECONOMY

ARVIND SINGHAL

Over the years, a type of caste system has also made its way into the way the political (and bureaucratic) leadership looks at different sectors of the Indian economy and then allocates its attention. Most interest and attention are given to those sectors (and ministries) which are perceived as glamorous or pander to vote banks or have the potential to be "note banks" for the incumbents. Cabinet formation after formation and reshuffles in between see tussle not only for ministries such as finance, home, defence, and external affairs but also for petroleum, railways, coal, mining, and civil aviation. There is hardly much visible political manoeuvring or hard bargaining on ministries such as HRD or health care, and then ministries such as tourism or culture or renewable energy/atomic energy do not even excite the media.

However, if India has to achieve a steady, inclusive growth year after year for several decades, it cannot afford to neglect any single sector of the economy. Surprisingly, and sadly, one of the most promising sectors for delivering the maximum immediate and sustained benefit to the largest number of Indians, spread all across the country, including some of the least developed regions, is one of the many that has failed to attract its due attention from our political leadership and others who are involved in giving some direction to the development of our economy. This overshadowed sector is "tourism".

 

 With sustained growth in incomes, one of the fastest-growing areas of private consumption is leisure that includes tourism. Further, while the government ostensibly focuses more on foreign tourists, the real growth is in the number of domestic tourists which has steadily increased from about 525 million in 2007 to over 700 million in 2010. Further, while traditionally most of domestic tourism has been linked to travel for religious and social (e.g. weddings, bereavements) purposes, the recent trends indicate a faster growth in domestic tourism activity for leisure itself. Further, just about every state and Union Territory in India has something to offer for attracting tourists and hence, not so surprisingly, some of the otherwise less developed states of India such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh account for the largest chunk of domestic (and international) tourists.

With a contribution of almost 6 per cent to the GDP, the sector generates an economic output of more than $70 billion and an employment of more than 40 million. Yet, even in the tourism ministry's own annual report (on its website) for 2009-10, there is hardly a mention of its tremendous impact on India. Indeed, in its overview, it gives a brief mention to the number of foreign tourist arrivals and the foreign exchange earned by India but no data on the socioeconomic impact of this vibrant sector of Indian economy, and its incredible potential to create tens of millions of additional direct and indirect jobs all across India in the coming years. The jobs are created not only in hotels, food and beverage services, taxi and other transport and travel trade services but also on account of shopping and other spending done by tourists, providing a market for local craftsmen and other local and regional manufacturers of consumer products. Most of these jobs are created for local populations, and do not always require specialised skills or higher education. And finally, most of the spending by the tourists directly adds to the local economy rather than waiting for any trickle-down effect from the various populist schemes of central and state governments.

There are, of course, many piecemeal initiatives both at the central level and by different states. However, as in most things in India, there is no holistic thinking or futuristic, bold, integrated planning. To give the requisite support and impetus to domestic tourism, many other ministries and departments have to work in close coordination. For instance, transport connectivity (rail, road, air and sea/inland waterways) has to be aligned with the tourism potential of different parts of the country. Appropriate land use regulations have to be put in place and town planning done keeping in mind that many such towns will have a much larger proportion of floating population. Since most of the entities engaged in provision of tourism infrastructure at a local level will be very small and some medium enterprises, financing mechanisms have to be put in place to allow more of them to come up and grow. And finally, in addition to natural and existing tourist attractions, each state in India must think of creating some new ones that could include museums, aquariums, amusement parks, science and technology centres (like EPCOT in Florida) with some in public-private partnership. Indeed, the potential for transforming India through sectors such as tourism is far greater than many other sectors that undeservedly get more attention from politicians, and indeed, the business and other media. It would, indeed, be a wonderful day when a DMK or an NCP or a TMC will fight hard to get the tourism ministry!

arvind.singhal@technopak.com

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

EVADING THE POINT

IT SEEMS POINTLESS NOW TO ASSESS THE EXTENT OF TAX EVASION WHEN IT CAN BE REDUCED SIMPLY BY GREATER TRANSPARENCY IN THE MAIN STORES OF BLACK MONEY.

Even his worst critic would not accuse the Finance Minister of being frivolous. But it seems he can, when he wants to, come up with some dry humour. So, in spite of the gravity of the problem of black money, it is impossible not to smile at his decision to set up a committee to figure out how much of it is generated in India. Not only does it seem unlikely that any 'expert' can estimate the extent of tax-evaded income better than a non-expert, it also seems quite pointless to do so when tax evasion can be reduced simply by insisting on greater transparency in the main reservoirs of black money. For example, transactions in one of the biggest stores of value — land — are not merely the most opaque, they also very easily allow undervaluation for the purposes of registering ownerships. Why not place these transactions on the Internet so that these can be scrutinised by any one? Gold is easier to store – Rs 100 crore in black money can buy 500 kilos of gold, which can quite easily be stored (40 bars can be kept under the bed, if necessary). Undervaluation of the kind possible in land is simply not possible with gold, for a very good reason: there is no government intermediary that permits such dirty work at the crossroads.

It is also important to ask what sort of expertise is needed for the estimation of black money and who these experts are. The provenance of such experts would be critical. The last time such an exercise was done in the mid-1980s and a report produced, the only independent member of that committee quit in disgust because of what he said were efforts to downplay the extent of black money in India. That Committee had been based in the National Institute of Public Finance (NIPFP), which is funded by the Finance Ministry. This is not to say that the principle of 'he who pays the piper calls the tune' will prevail. But for greater credibility, it is probably best to ask someone else to carry out an exercise of this sort. On the whole, however, it would be best not to waste public money on it because no great purpose will be served.

Simply going by the thumb-rule, around half of the GDP coming from the services sector would be income that is not being taxed. The Government has always claimed that the absolute sums are very small but that is surely a piece of self-serving nonsense because the sector is so large — constituting about 55 per cent of GDP and largely untaxed. Even at a conservative estimate of 50 per cent, the untaxed portion comes to around $36 billon dollars because, if GDP is $1.3 trillion, the share of services is $71.5 billion. Of course, a part of this income comes from bribes. But corruption is not a problem for economists and econometricians to solve because there can be no economic incentives against corruption, only for it. 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

CASE FOR GENERIC FARM POLICIES

SHASHANKA BHIDE

The diversity of production conditions needs to be recognised and the potential for increased productivity across regions tapped better.

Generic support to raising overall production potential of agriculture is as important as specific programmes.

Indian agriculture is marked by huge variety in output and production conditions. There have been gradual changes in production patterns in response to policies, incentives, technology and production conditions. The coarse cereals gave way to rice and wheat, pulses to cereals and oilseeds, and oilseeds to some other crops.

The great diversity in farming conditions is both strength and vulnerability for the farmers, especially as they are faced with policies that seek to re-orient agriculture and the production patterns. The choice of what to produce is increasingly matter of public policy rather than merely the choice by farmers. Re-allocation of resources is not costless. Policies also do not get reversed easily once made.

Diversity does not necessarily imply wide range of choices for an individual farmer but wide range of situations in which farming is carried out.

Although it is hard to deny that at the core of agricultural development efforts, the objective is the overall development of agriculture, the policy approach is often driven by crises of specific nature. In this sense, the attention is on specific crops, regions or types of farmers.

Policy responses

Such an approach may be successful in meeting a specific crisis but may not address the diversity of farming conditions. What are the policy choices? Policies that address broad-based objectives, or those that address specific concerns of the day? When the crisis is one of excess demand or supply failures, leading to high prices, the policy objective is to facilitate production to meet demand for specific products. Such policy measures often override the concerns of the other producers.

When the crisis is in terms of low income levels of the farmers, the policy response may be generic, but will affect certain crops, regions or types of farms more than the others. Investments in irrigation combined with price incentives may promote production of specific crops such as sugarcane. Fertiliser subsidies, when they imply lower input prices, may help a wider range of producers.

Although there are, perhaps, hundreds of schemes and initiatives that address local issues relating to agriculture, significant policy attention at this level is likely only when there is sufficient political interest, depending on whether the number of farmers affected by these local issues is large enough. The diversity of farming conditions limits the choices open to the policy makers in reaching all the producers.

The current phase of food inflation would certainly lead to, quite justifiably, new initiatives to augment supplies of food. The policies will seek to promote production of food crops and discourage allocation of output for non-food uses such as biofuels.

There will be policies that will promote technologies for production of pulses and vegetables, for livestock products. However, it is important to recognise that many of these policies will imply that there will be simply re-allocation of resources and the excess demand will show up in some other areas. Cases of supplementary output without taking away resources from elsewhere would be few.

Prices and productivity

In this sense, generic support to raising overall production potential of agriculture is as important as specific programmes that seek to raise food production. Raising minimum support prices for specific crops shifts incentives where production of these crops is feasible. But if MSPs are raised for all crops, the impact of higher MSPs would be more in the nature of increasing farm incomes to some extent rather than increasing production. On the other hand, new high-yielding variety seeds for specific crops would impact production of these crops significantly. Better fertilisers or better application of fertilisers will lead to higher production for several more producers and crops.

Rural infrastructure

In this sense, the policies that help improve land quality, market infrastructure, credit, power and roads for the rural economy will have wider impact across the diversity of farming conditions, allowing farmers to respond to changing demand conditions. It will also allow the suppliers of inputs to reach wider range of producers.

The strategy for raising agricultural growth rate should be based on widely-shared growth with focus on widely-shared assets. This will help in raising the overall agricultural production potential than just some crops. The investments in rural infrastructure meet these conditions. However, building infrastructure in less developed and remote areas, should get greater attention as such areas face greater disadvantages in market access.

The rising income and demand will draw resources away from agriculture more quickly than they are likely to be brought back. Policies that augment these resources are necessary to sustain production capacity. It is hard to argue in favour of one set of policies to the exclusion of the other. But it is necessary to recognise the diversity of production conditions and ensure that potential for increased production is created more widely.

(The author is Senior Research Counsellor, NCAER. The views are personal. blfeedback@thehindu.co.in)

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

CYBER-SLEUTHING CHALLENGES

K.P. SHASHIDHARAN

 

A solid grounding in computer science, and knowledge of programming and network intricacies are a must for a competent forensic accountant.

In the ever-expanding cyber world, human activities increasingly depend on digitalised universe of the Internet, computers, handheld devices such as PDA, video, camera, BlackBerries, i-phones, i-pods and newer devices operating with 2G and emerging 3G spectrums. Along with e-business, e-governance and e-transactions, innovative technology-backed cyber crimes are also growing exponentially.

In the wake of increasing threat from cyber crimes that go beyond borders, it has become important for the forensic accountant to be trained as a cyber sleuth too. What is challenging is that the audit trails in the cyber world are like footprints on the sand, easy to be overwritten, making it beyond retrieval. It needs meticulous care and exceptional expertise to track down the criminals in the digital world.

Digital sleuthing

Digital sleuthing typically involves data extraction from a device involved in the crime; be it text messages, even deleted ones, address book entries, to-do lists, pictures, MMS, SMS, audio, video files; ensuring that evidence is admissible in the court of law; testifying as an expert witness; and testing the software packages that are used to recover the contents from the handheld device. There are precautions to be followed in handling electronic devices at crime scenes to avert evidences from getting corrupted.

While providing testimony, it is required to present the methodology and software used for evidence to computer scientists and law-enforcement agencies. Therefore, a solid grounding in computer science, andknowledge of programming and network intricacies are a must for a competent forensic accountant. Cyber forensics caters to the legal requirements to provide digital evidence before the court of law, meeting the legal requirements regarding evidence and procedural laws

Three stages

A digital forensic investigation generally comprises three distinct stages: the first stage is acquisition and creating an exact "forensic duplicate" of the media, often using a write-blocking device to prevent modification. The second phase usually recovers evidence material using different methodologies and tools used to analyse and reconstruct sequences of actions leading to conclusions. After the investigation, the investigator prepares a written report.

Digital forensics can be grouped into computer forensics, mobile forensics, network forensics, database forensics depending on the nature and devices used for extraction of data and information for providing to the court of law.

Computer forensics covers current state of digital artefacts such as a computer system, storage medium or electronic document and static memory such as USB pen drives. Computer forensics can deal with a broad range of information from logs such as Internet history to the actual files on the drive.

Mobile forensics relates to recovery of evidence from a mobile device. It has an in-built communication system, proprietary storage mechanisms and is useful for location tracking. Cell phone sleuthing involves extraction of data from a device used in a crime, be it text message, deleted ones, address book entries, to-do lists, pictures, audio and even the phone's location when in use, examining that evidence, ensuring that it is admissible in the court of law, testifying as an expert witness; testing the tools –the software packages that are used to recover contents from handheld device. Network forensics monitors and analyses both local network and WAN/Internet traffic for information gathering, legal evidence or intrusion detection. Database forensics focuses study of databases and their metadata.

Penal provisions

Exponential expansion of use of Internet and electronic equipment for e-commerce and e-governance has also given rise to innovative crimes such as video voyeurism, breach of confidentiality, leakage of data, e-commerce frauds like impersonation, identity theft, Phishing and so on. While the Information Technology Act 2000, amended in 2008, provides legal recognition to electronic transactions carried out for e-commerce, and e-governance, it also aims to prevent criminal activities based on computer and digital devices and ensure security and protection of personal data. Commensurate penal provisions are required to be incorporated in the Information Technology Act, the Indian Penal Code, the Indian Evidence Act and the Code of Criminal Procedure to prevent such crimes.

There is acute shortage of good cyber forensic experts in India. This is more so when projects such as national intelligence grid (Natgrid) and the crime and criminal tracking network and systems (CCTNS) are expected to be launched by May 2011 or so.

(The author is a Director General, Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General.)

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

TWO-WAY XENOPHOBIA

S. MURLIDHARAN

 

A more agile and imaginative use of the compulsory licensing regime would be in consumer interest.

Robin Cook's medical thriller, Foreign Body is, for a change, not a cautionary tale but about xenophobia — a failing or weakness hitherto generally attributed to the Third World, being displayed by the American healthcare industry.

A vastly entertaining and informative novel, it tells how a bunch of American medics, fearing flight of patients to India from the US, hatch a diabolic conspiracy to malign the fledgling Indian medical tourism industry by stooping to the extent of killing three American patients, who had come to India to avail of inexpensive but expert treatment at two private hospitals, in three successive nights, one at a time, through overdose of succinycholine, and promptly informing CNN post-haste for it to do its best in scaremongering.

And the recent admission of guilt by the Ivy-league Lancet institute that New Delhi flu was without basis points to the brewing xenophobia in the western world which is clearly envious of our medical tourism potential. To be sure, the book is not an unmitigated scaremongering exercise through and through. There are vignettes to be taken note of by our policymakers — doctors can't order post-mortem in India, only police or magistrates can and while morgues come under the Home Ministry, forensic pathology comes under Health.

M&A fears

While some American hospitals seem to be paranoid of the Indian hospitals out to ensnare its patients, in India there is a mortal fear of American and other pharmaceutical companies on the prowl seeking backdoor entry through the M&A route.

Two big-ticket acquisitions namely of Piramal Healthcare by Abbot Laboratories of the US and of Ranbaxy by the Japanese Daiichi Sanyo have, in particular, set the cat among pigeons.

And those who have consumer interest in mind are worried that drug prices may go up sharply to the detriment and discomfiture of the common man. The Health Minister, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, also has taken up cudgels for the common man, and seems to be wary of the untrammelled access to foreigners which the 100 per cent FDI through the automatic route regime amounts to.

There seems to be a move afoot to restrict the automatic route for FDI into the pharmaceutical sector to 49 per cent so that those coveting Indian drug companies with more than majority stakes are driven to approaching the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) for clearance. The idea is clearance by FIPB can be subject to reasonable restrictions including protection of consumer interests.

There can even be outright rejection of the proposal to take up higher equity stakes if the FIPB finds that no lifesaving drugs are being brought to the table although any tectonic shift to dirigisme would be considered regressive and conducive to fostering corruption inevitable in a discretionary power regime by the market enthusiasts. Besides, we would be, in the event, setting the clock back and bearing out and reviving the computer-chips-yes-potato-chips-no dichotomy.

Compulsory licensing

It is amazing why we in India have not been invoking the compulsory licensing regime under which anyone can approach the office of the Controller of Patents for grant of licence to manufacture the patented drug in case the patent holder is, among other things, not meeting the demand for the drug at reasonable price.

In the pre-2005 era, there was no felt need for invoking the compulsory licensing regime because intrepid Indian companies were in any case stepping into the breach thanks to the process patent regime obtaining then. But post-2005 with India willy-nilly adopting the product patent regime mandated by the WTO, there is very little elbow room for practitioners of reverse engineering which process patent encouraged, and it is in such a milieu that the compulsory licensing cries for invocation

Two-way Xenophobia

Quite a few South American countries, notably Brazil, have been in the forefront in invoking this eminently consumer-friendly dispensation and one hopes the same Indian companies which relished challenging the existing patents in the US would develop stomach for making applications for compulsory licensing. Failing private initiative, government itself can step in and ordain other manufacturers to compulsorily manufacture the drugs after it gets the compulsory license from the patent holder. If this requires further amendments to the patent law, so be it.

Experience with operating competition law the world over shows that it is better to prevent abuse of monopoly rather than nipping an incipient monopoly in the bud because a monopolist usually also brings the best product and technology. Therefore in the field of FDI also except in sensitive sectors such as atomic energy etc, it would be advisedly better not to baulk at 100% FDI but to make

(The author is a Delhi-based chartered accountant.)

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

COME CLEAN ON FUTURES MARKET TOOLS

SHARAD JOSHI


On January 19, Dr. Saumitra Chaudhari, Member, Planning Commission and Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Committee, is reported to have made a statement to the effect that the inflation in commodity prices, particularly of vegetables, is not a natural market phenomenon, but one caused by artificial manipulations.

Mr Sharad Pawar, Minister for Agriculture, has maintained that the skyrocketing of onion and tomato prices is caused by crop loss on account of unseasonal rains. Dr Chaudhari seems to pooh-pooh this assertion. He argues that the variation in supply and demand, of the order of 2-4 per cent, cannot be the prime cause of high food inflation.

 

PRICE ELASTICITIES

 

Dr Chaudhari would have done well to cite some data on price elasticities of supply and demand for vegetables before making such a bold statement.

 

Vegetables, as a category, are extremely sensitive to even the slightest changes in both supply and demand. Prices of vegetables are highly sensitive to variations in supply as they are highly perishable, and are affected by climate as also the passage of time. These characteristics hardly lend themselves to artificial manipulation by profit-seeking traders, or recourse to stock-piling or hoarding. It is common knowledge that the destruction of the crop was of the order of 70-80 per cent and not 2-4 per cent.

 

SERIOUS ALLEGATIONS

 

What Dr Chaudhari intended to say came out more clearly in the keynote speech he gave three days later, at the "Future of Financial Markets (FOFM) Summit" in Mumbai .

 

In his speech, Dr Chaudhari virtually threw a gauntlet at all proponents of futures markets gathered there. He questioned the basic claim that futures markets perform the function of price discovery. "If one claims to make price discovery, one is claiming the ownership of prices," he said. He appeared to insinuate that the prices established on the futures commodity exchanges are susceptible to manipulation by platform owners and inside traders.

 

Unfortunately, it is not customary to question a keynote speaker; certainly not at the leadership summit of the FOFM that claims to be the "Davos" of financial markets.

 

The question that Dr Chaudhari has raised is not new. All opponents of markets, and futures markets in particular, in their own way question the price discovery function of markets. Biased Leftist economists have called futures markets a gamblers' den. Their mental apparatus can grasp the possibility of a Commissar in the Planning Commission deciding on allocation of resources and on fixing indicative prices.

 

Coming from an economist of Dr Chaudhari's eminence, the challenge cannot be allowed to pass. Market economists must come forth and establish the transparency of the futures markets and their price discovery function.

 

WORKING OF MARKETS

 

How do markets function? This is a question that has troubled economists since Adam Smith. With his pastoral upbringing, Smith got away with no better explanation than attributing the miracle of the markets to the working of an 'invisible hand'.

 

The less religiously inclined economists have tried to explain the metaphysics of markets through more or less sophisticated mathematics. The key to the mystery was provided possibly by an author who least claimed to being an economist.

 

P.G. Wodehouse, in one of his hilarious Lord Emsworth novels, marvels at how a young couple engaged to be married communicate to each other the possibility, the convenient place and the time of a rendezvous by a slight movement of an eyelid, an eyebrow or a lip.

 

That explains how thousands of semi-literate or illiterate operators in the market take a hundred decisions every day on prices and allocations that the Commissars in Planning Commissions, buried deep in piles of documents and reports, simply fail to do. In fact, the planning commissions of the world made the wrong decisions most of the time. This everyday miracle can be attributed to the distinctive capacity of individuals to perceive, analyse and store data.

 

ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY

 

How does the miracle work when there is no physical contiguity between sellers and buyers and all the data is put through keyboards and perforated cards? How software platforms search and match the best offers is abracadabra to the common public.

 

The champions of futures markets have only themselves to blame for the criticism. They have, for some reason, not made this software transparent to the public at large. The vital innards of futures markets platforms are a closely guarded secret.

 

Dr Chaudhari's challenge can be met by putting in the public domain full details of the software used by different platforms for searching and matching the offers by buyers and sellers. This alone will lend credence to the claim that futures markets perform the important function of price discovery and are not vulnerable to shady manipulation.

 

(The author is Founder, Shetkari Sanghatana and a Rajya Sabha MP.)  

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

TRANSITIONING TO IFRS

MOHAN R. LAVI

 

ICAI has issued a draft of the revised Schedule XIV to the Companies Act. Now, regulators need to act to provide some guidelines to the first set of entities that are to move to IFRS from this year.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India has sent out recently 35 near-final Indian Accounting Standards (Ind-AS) — the Indian version of IFRS - to the National Committee on Accounting Standards (NACAS) for deliberation and finalisation, to emable transition to International Financial Reporting Standards. Over the past year, it has trained accountants on IFRS and issued a draft of the revised Schedule XIV to the Companies Act. It is now left to the regulators to take this forward and legislate on them.

IFRS Taxonomy 2011

The International Accounting Standard Board (IASB) has issued IFRS Taxonomy 2011, the translation of IFRSs into XBRL (eXtensible Business reporting language) which is expected to be the language that filers of financial statements would be speaking with regulators soon. From an architectural framework perspective, the 2011 taxonomy is consistent with the architecture established for the 2010 taxonomy as part of the Interoperable Taxonomy Architecture project, which will support existing users of the taxonomy and also software developers. 

In terms of financial reporting content, the scope of the 2011 taxonomy has been expanded to include IFRS application and implementation guidance and IFRS illustrative examples that are commonly used by entities.  This is intended to reflect IFRSs more comprehensively, thereby supporting preparers of IFRS financial statements in XBRL format. One can view the Taxonomy as per IFRSs or as per the contents of the IFRS financial statements and there is one for small and medium enterprises too.

e-files

Taxonomies by themselves are nothing but electronic files but the IASB does not make it look like Greek and Latin to the common user. "The IFRS Taxonomy Illustrated" enables the viewer to have a look at the structure and content of the Taxonomy files. The Taxonomy files contain three columns — hierarchy, disclosure format and IFRS reference.

The hierarchy contains column headings that are numbered which represent the name of an IFRS or an IFRS component — Business Combinations for instance has been assigned the number 817000. The Taxonomy clarifies that these numbers are random and are in place only with the intent to providing ease of viewing and sorting. There could be multiple rows below the heading that contain elements belonging to the row component — description of factors that make up Goodwill in a Business Combination being an example.

The Disclosure format contemplates the possible formats a disclosure may take. These could be a text or text block, date, decimalised, positive or negative monetary value, shares, line items etc. A blank column denotes that no disclosure is required — a rare possibility under IFRS.

The IFRS reference Column acts like a ready-reckoner, providing corresponding IFRS/IAS paragraph and section number together with the nature of reference- which could be a example, disclosure requirement, presentation requirement or common-practice reference.

Having a draft of IFRS-compliant standards with them, regulators in India would need to act to provide some guidelines to the first set of entities that are to move over to IFRS from this year. Though an Ind-AS taxonomy appears some time away, they would have to give a nod to the draft standards issued by the ICAI, Schedule XIV and think of the necessity of a Schedule VI ( IFRS lays down only broad parameters for the format of financial statements) and deliberate on a new CARO ( not contemplated under EU IFRS) if felt necessary. Sector-specific regulators such as the Reserve Bank of India and the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority would have to do likewise. Since any new legislation takes time to adapt to, the regulators can ill-afford to think that March 31, 2012 is the date when IFRS-compliant financial statements need to be issued as Ind-AS 101 provides an optional waiver of comparative figures.

(The author is a Bangalore-based chartered accountant.)

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

CREDIT POLICY: GOVERNMENT MUST WALK THE TALK

AMARESH SAMANTARAYA

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced its Third Quarter Review of Monetary Policy 2010-11 on January 25. Consistent with market predictions, the repo and reverse repo rates under the LAF were raised by 25 basis points each.

The rationale for the policy move is stated to be containment and to prevent food and energy prices from spiralling over into generalised inflation and anchoring inflation expectations.

The baseline projection of WPI inflation for March 2011 has been revised upwards to 7 per cent. Continuous upward revision of inflation projections in the series of RBI Reviews this year is contrary to the assurances given by the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister and other senior authorities in the past that inflation would come down to an acceptable level. Of course the goal-post in terms of the due date kept shifting forwards.

Sceptical on impact

Some analysts are sceptical about the impact of the above RBI policy initiative to actually arrest current inflation, given the role of supply-side factors.

The RBI seems not to be in disagreement with this view. This becomes apparent from the response of the Deputy Governor, Dr Subir Gokarn, to a question on a mere 25 bps increase in policy rates, while inflation projection is at 7 per cent. He rationalised that inflation projection is a simple reflection of stronger supply-side forces, while policy action is in conformity with modest non-food manufacturing inflation — the indicator of demand pressure.

An argument for policy action, despite the supply-side characteristics of current inflation, comes from another source. The rationale becomes apparent if we read between the lines as regards the RBI's inflation analysis.

It is stated that food inflation is not limited to few items affected by unseasonal rains in some parts of the country, but that substantial increase in prices of several food items was observed even though their production was not affected.

Moderation in food price inflation as expected during a normal monsoon year did not occur; rather there has been sharp increase. This somewhat implicitly brings to the table the issue of the possible role of speculative and hoarding activities of traders in creating and sustaining high food inflation.

To the extent availability of easy money is fuelling such speculation and hoarding, a tight money policy will help discourage such activities. However, what will be more effective is micro-level assessment of misuse of banking funds by traders and taking up the issue with the banks to be vigilant in this regard.

TIME FOR ACTION

A large part of action to discourage hoarding has to come from the Government, moving beyond the compulsions of coalition politics.

To address structural issues related to current food inflation, the Government has to undertake urgent policy measures so that agricultural production is scaled up to minimise the supply-demand gap.

No more brainstorming sessions and lip service will help. It is time for action. It is time for building dams, inter-linking of rivers and better water management so that the losses to agriculture because of droughts and floods are minimised.

While the increased purchasing power of rural households, thanks to MGNREGA, is welcome, it is also imperative to ensure the availability of adequate provisions to be bought with this added purchasing power.

The Government should also wake up to the RBI's alert on surging current account deficit and its financing pattern, as also its own finances. Desired actions on capital flows, particularly on 'participatory notes' will also address some of the concerns raised by the Supreme Court on 'black money'.

(The author is a Reader, Department of Economics, Pondicherry University, Puducherry.)

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

LONG SHADOW OF HU'S VISIT REACHES DELHI

BY SUMIT GANGULY

Chinese President Hu Jintao's carefully scripted state visit to the United States has come to a close. Despite careful preparation on the part of the Obama administration little tangible progress has been made on the issues of greatest concern to itself. For example, Mr Hu made no commitment to change the value of China's currency, to ensure greater access to his country's burgeoning market, to address serious international and American concerns about the state of human rights and about tightening international sanctions on Iran. He did, however, without specifying a timeframe, claim that China had helped create as many as 14 million jobs across Asia thanks to its rapid economic growth. Simultaneously, he committed himself to buying as many as 200 Boeing aircraft for $19 billion as part of a larger $45 billion export deal with the US. Also, in the security realm, the joint communiqué did emphasise a shared concern about North Korea's uranium enrichment.

It may be of more than passing interest in New Delhi that the Indo-US relationship was not the subject of any remarks on the part of US policymakers or even political commentators. Instead the entire focus of the visit was on how the United States and the People's Republic of China would tackle a host of bilateral and global issues from America's yawning trade gap to climate change. Bluntly put, despite that fact that the US President, Mr Barack Obama, referred to Indo-US relationship as one of the "defining partnerships of the 21st century" for the foreseeable future, it is the Sino-American relationship that will occupy centrestage in global affairs. Indeed such an argument can be made without necessarily buying into what the former US national security adviser, Mr Zbigniew Brzezinski, referred to as G2, a Sino-American condominium to help manage key global issues.

That said, there is no question that thanks to the costs of the financial crisis within the US, the continuing trade gap and the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the US must necessarily tread with care when dealing with an economically robust and increasingly militarily-able China. On the other hand, it is equally important to underscore that China has a vital interest in access to the American market, to address growing American concerns about intellectual property rights in China and to avoid military behaviour that could seriously endanger the security of American allies in East Asia.

What does this new, emergent Sino-American relationship mean for the traditional allies of the United States such as the states of western Europe, Japan and Australia? Also, what are the implications for its new friends, such as India? This attempt at some form of rapprochement in Sino-American relations does not necessarily signify that the US is about to abandon its traditional partnerships with western Europe, Japan and Australia. These relationships, though not as momentous as the emerging US-China nexus, will remain significant. Nevertheless, it is possible to argue that a tectonic shift is underway in global politics and the implications for India are significant. Though China is a very long way from becoming an equal of the United States, the first Sino-US summit in 13 years has made clear that it has emerged as the single most important player in global politics after the US. In this environment, India's policymakers, face a demanding set of tasks. Categorically stated, unless India wishes to see itself consigned to playing the role of a regional power with only limited reach beyond the confines of South Asia it will have to move with both vigour and dispatch. To that end it will need to set aside internal policy bickering and focus single-mindedly on sustaining economic growth while reducing poverty. It will also need to devote much energy to dampening a range of domestic fires from Kashmir to its "red belt". Finally, it will have to embark seriously on a long-term strategy of military modernisation to ensure a robust military capability to meet a range of contingencies. Most of these goals are entirely within its ken.

However, addressing these issues alone, without carefully thinking through, and working toward what role it aspires to play in the emergent global order, will not guarantee it success. To that end it needs to go beyond the rhetoric of national autonomy and enlightened self-interest.

These principles, though sound, do not constitute an adequate guide to the conduct of the foreign policy of an emergent power. Instead policymakers will need to give careful thought of how India might find a way to manoeuvre in a global arena where the co-dependence of two dominant states will cast a long shadow on a host of global issues.

As India's leadership celebrates its 62nd year as an independent republic it may well be critical to think of where it hopes to find itself in the global order in the decade ahead.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

IN DEFENCE OF GRAFT

BY SRINATH RAGHAVAN

The court martial of Lt. Gen. P.K. Rath in connection with the Sukna land scam is a welcome move by the Army to set its house in order. This case along with the Adarsh Society scam has turned the spotlight on corruption in the military. It is widely assumed that these cases underscore the extent to which corruption from our public life has seeped into the armed forces. Isn't the military a mirror of the society it serves? This assumption is mistaken. In fact, the corruption highlighted by these cases stems from an increasing divergence between the armed forces and Indian society. And this growing civil-military gap could have other, more serious consequences.

It is commonplace to assert that armed forces reflect the societies from which they arise. But it is wrong. The fact is that civil society is based on an expectation of peace.

Military society, by contrast, is predicated on the expectation of war. If this weren't true at a fundamental level, there need be no hyphen between civil and military. It is this distinction that basically enables civil society to retain the option of using force in pursuit of its policies. Problems, however, could arise if the difference in attitudes and values between the civilian and military worlds (particularly that of elites) becomes too wide.

In the Indian case, a civil-military gap has existed from the outset. India's civilian elites have had no direct experience of military service. Interestingly, the drafters of the constitution explicitly provided for the possibility of conscription — a step that could have reduced the civil-military gap in the medium term. But the executive decided not to enforce compulsory military service in peacetime and to continue the tradition of a volunteer force.

The subsequent expansion of the gap can be traced to developments in both the civilian and the military end of the divide. Among the former, perhaps the most important changes have been in the realm of the economy.

The opening up and rapid growth of the Indian economy over the last two decades have considerably increased the disparity in economic profiles of the civilian and military elites. Prior to this, the military elites could take comfort in a putatively better social profile: "glamour" was an important motivator for officers joining the services. But India's vaulting economic growth has transformed the social profile of civilian elites and pushed it well above that of the military.

Prominent factors exacerbating the divide from the military side are the recruitment, training and personnel policies adopted by the military. The Indian military recruits its officers at a much younger age than most other democracies that have a volunteer force. The National Defence Academy (NDA) provides a combination of undergraduate education and pre-commission training. The cadets join at the age of 17-18 (it was 16 until the late 1980s) and are commissioned — after further training at the service academies — at the age of 21-22. To be sure, the services have a direct entry scheme which takes in officer cadets after their graduation from the university. But since the late 1980s the senior ranks of the armed forces are overwhelmingly staffed by officers who have gone through the NDA route.

By contrast, the Short Service Commission (SSC) schemes have largely been unable to serve their purpose. The idea of the SSC was to recruit officers who would serve for a fixed period of 5-10 years and then move on. The aim of the SSC, however, remains substantially unfulfilled. The important point from our perspective is that the number of military officials transitioning to the civilian world through this route remains small. Part of the reason for this is that the military provides little by way of serious preparation for an alternate civilian career. The army has a Directorate of Resettlement, but even its most sought after programmes (a course lasting a few months in a top business school, not a full-fledged MBA though) scarcely prepare officers for an increasingly competitive employment market.

The longer an officer remains in service, the more he is hurt by the absence of appropriate resettlement preparation. In consequence, many officers who attain pensionable service but face no prospects of career growth remain reluctant to retire. Moreover, many of them seek re-employment after retirement. The fact that even the most successful officers cannot hope to match the economic and social profile of their civilian contemporaries is surely a key driver for increasing corruption. It is the widening civil-military gap that is eroding the military's organisational values and discipline.

Corruption, however, is not the only consequence arising from this gap. Equally troubling are some of the ways in which the military is seeking to maintain and project its institutional identity and distinction. This can be seen most clearly in the military's approach to women officers, which both indicates and potentially accentuates the civil-military gap. Although women have been inducted into the military since 1992, they can serve for no more than 14 years. The military leadership is averse to granting them Permanent Commission owing to what are described as "operational practical and cultural problems". The military is unwilling to offer women anything more than permanent commissions in the legal and educational branches. This attitude forced some women officers to seek redress from the courts. In March 2010, the Delhi high court directed the government to grant permanent commissions to women officers commissioned before 2006. At the military brass' request, the government has appealed against this ruling. The contrast with the opportunities for women in the civilian sector (both private and government) is stark indeed.

The recent scams embroiling the military are indicative of a larger trend that could have deleterious consequences. Tackling the growing civil-military gap will require a creative set of policies that will foster a new balance between institutional and societal considerations. Such reforms are imperative for democratic control of the military as well as national security.

- Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

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CENTRE MUST HEED WARNING BY RBI

The balmy scenes in the floats of government outfits and several states in Wednesday's Republic Day parade, as well as the colour, pageantry and firepower projected by marching contingents and mechanised units of the armed forces, presented a picture of a confident nation at peace with itself — in stark contrast to our everyday reality: where citizens are forced to live with viruses such as inflation, corruption and social unrest. Was it because of this that the Prime Minister chose to maintain a stern demeanour all through the morning on New Delhi's Rajpath? Unless the government gets its act together, most of these viruses won't go away.

On Tuesday, the eve of Republic Day, the governor of the Reserve Bank, Dr D. Subbarao, sent out a clear warning: inflation was here to stay due to a variety of factors, both domestic and global. His prescription for controlling inflation — raising interest rates by a mere quarter per cent — has come in for much criticism from economists who feel that the unabated inflation, which worsened in December, warranted a much bigger rate hike to signal that easy credit will not be tolerated any longer. Credit or loans by banks has grown faster than what the RBI projected, while growth in deposits has slowed. Dr Subbarao felt anything over a quarter per cent hike would limit his leeway in case inflation remains stubbornly high in the coming months. The RBI's objective is limited to curbing inflation, which is spilling over from food to manufacturing. It is well known that monetary tools for controlling inflation are limited when it is caused mainly due to high food prices — particularly of items of daily consumption such as fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, fish, etc. The RBI chief stressed the need for "rapid action" to increase the output of several products whose demand is rising due to changing consumption patterns, reflecting increasing incomes. The government would do well to heed Dr Subbarao's warning: unless meaningful output-enhancing measures are taken, the risk of food inflation getting entrenched looms large.

The government should realise that food imports are not an easy option, given that global food prices have risen by 25 per cent in December, according to FAO estimates. The price of edible oils — has risen to 55 per cent, cereals 39 per cent and sugar 19 per cent. A top FAO official noted in Davos earlier this week that the current world food crisis could be ascribed to falling investments in agriculture. Much of the rise in food and commodity prices can also be blamed on speculation — it would be in India's interest to support the French President, Mr Nicolas Sarkozy's proposal to curb speculation in all commodities. The FAO official said he felt prices could get out of hand unless all futures markets were regulated — in fact he warned of the possibility of food riots like those seen in 2007-08. For the Manmohan Singh government, meanwhile, time may be running out — the importance of finding an urgent solution to the food crisis simply cannot be overestimated.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

PARADE & PATRIOTS

BY SIDHARTH BHATIA

Another Republic Day come and gone. What is it about January 26 (and August 15) that makes the country go all patriotic? The media, of course, gives the lead — newspapers are full of stories about the valour of our armed forces or with surveys showing what the young and the old think about their country. The old talk about their days when we were ruled by more noble and idealistic rulers (as compared to the current crop which is venal and corrupt), while the young say they believe in their country but are unhappy with the way things are going.

As if to bolster this feeling of robust patriotism, on January 26, we are treated to the parade down Rajpath, a hoary institution that has survived almost unchanged for over five decades. The same display of arms, state cultural tableaux and march pasts by schoolchildren who have been standing for hours, waiting for their turn. Nothing has changed, not even the Doordarshan commentators with their clichéd script that is designed to put the viewer to sleep. Some schools desultorily have a flag hoisting ceremony, but that number is surely dwindling.

On January 27, the whole thing is forgotten and we are back to being our normal selves. Patriotism, it seems, is a product to be kept on the front shelves for one at best two days a year and stored away in the attic for the rest of the time.

Perhaps we are creatures of habit. The march past is one stable feature in an otherwise tumultuous existence. It helps us forget the rottenness we see all around us for a while. The missiles and the flypast remind us that we are a military power, the cultural floats are a glimpse of our wonderful diversity and the children represent hope for the future. Maybe, the fact that the whole thing has essentially remained the same is itself a plus point; this is something that is still run by our bureaucracy, and not by some slick event management company that cannot think beyond fireworks and Bollywood. Remember the disaster that was the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games? The Republic Day parade is the one place where we can guarantee that there will be no A.R. Rahman.

Yet, it is difficult to escape the feeling that this momentary lapse into patriotism is a bit too pat and convenient. For one thing, it is fleeting and transient, with the afterglow disappearing within hours. Being loyal to the country does not extend to following traffic rules or paying taxes or respecting one's fellow citizens. Nor does our hyper-nationalistic mood allow for genuine difference of opinion; forget the Binayak Sen case, in which the state is doing everything in its power to show that it will not tolerate dissent. Try not standing up at a cinema when the national anthem is being played and you will find the collective wrath of the rest descending upon you. No, we must not only respect symbols, we must also show that we do. On days like January 26, we must announce it to the world on social media sites. Patriotism is nothing unless it is blared to one and all. But also, the question arises, why has patriotism become so closely entwined with militarism? We love our defence forces for the fine job they do, but can they be our only symbols of patriotic and nationalistic fervour?

This is, of course, not limited to Indians. The Americans will only use the word "hero" to describe their soldiers. In other countries the gung-ho nationalism may be somewhat tempered, but is no less real. In neighbouring Pakistan, the Army has become a monstrous commercial conglomerate but is still seen as a stabilising (and non-corrupt) force which ensures that greedy politicians are kept in check. In our own country, while cases of malfeasance by highly-decorated officers have come to light, the institution still retains much of its credibility.

This is not to cast any kind of aspersion on our defence forces. These are composed of fine men and women who do a great job in the most trying of circumstances. The life of a soldier (or a sailor or an pilot) is a tough one and most if not all acquit themselves with honour. But they are professionals first and last. Their job is to protect borders and that is what they must do.

Our job as citizens should be no less exacting. Democracy is not only about casting votes and Republicanism is not merely the day when the Constitution was adopted. Both of them demand obligations from each and every citizen. B.R. Ambedkar's Constitution, one of the finest documents of its kind ever written, gives us rights but also imposes duties. The supremacy of the rule of law is something that cuts both ways; the state must respect it, but so must every Indian. Republicanism also reminds us that individual rights are more important than those of the tribe; all over we see the ugly spectacle of communities emerging more powerful than the individual.

Internalising these tenets and practising them round the year is far more patriotic than getting up in the morning and watching, teary eyed, as those Agni missiles and folk dancers come up on your TV screen. That symbolism is important too, but if the message behind that is lost, then January 26 was nothing but one more excuse to take a break from work.

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

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

SALVATION LIES IN BHAKTI

BY SWAMI TEJOMAYANANDA

Devotion is of the nature of love. It is not mere physical attraction for a person or thing, nor is it an intellectual appreciation of their qualities. The abode of love is the heart. Thus, it is impossible to understand the nature of love through intellectual analysis or logical reasoning alone. Love is a treasure that we already have.

Every person in this world is seeking joy. That is why people run after money, power, sense pleasures and so on. But these joys are transient. What people are really seeking is permanent bliss and that is only to be found in the Lord. He alone is the source of all bliss. Until we develop total love for Him and discover this nectar of joy, our search will continue.

It is said that if spiritual life is a tree, its flowers are self-control and discrimination — the knowledge of right and wrong. Once these are cultivated, it culminates in the fruit — knowledge of the self. Without the juice, any fruit would be tasteless. Similarly, knowledge without devotion is dry and uninspiring. Thus, the nectar of this knowledge is devotion, or bhakti, to the lotus feet of the Lord. Unless this knowledge culminates in devotion, total love for the Lord, it is not complete. Devotion, thus, is the fulfilment of all spiritual endeavours.

There are two kinds of love in this world, attachment (asakti) and devotion (bhakti). Asakti, attachment to material objects or to people, is finite and limited to the objects of our desire. Excessive attachment leads to one's downfall, as one may even do things that are illegal or immoral in order to acquire what is desired.

Bhakti, on the other hand, is devotion to a higher cause, for something higher than ourselves. The reason we find it so hard to love others is our sense of alienation. We consider ourselves to be superior and different from others. It is only when we begin to think of others as equals that we rise above our personal limitations. It also makes us see the Lord in all. So bhakti, the highest love, is love for the supreme Lord and is the means to progress on the spiritual path.

But why are we unable to love God? It is because we do not know who or what God is. It is difficult to love something or someone whom we do not know. Some people think of God as a judge, while others think of Him as a servant who is supposed to do their bidding. But God is neither! He is the "self" in all beings. He is that without which nothing can exist, the underlying support for the entire creation.

Now, there are innumerable ways in which love for the Lord can be expressed. Some meditate on the self in order to realise God within them. There are some who worship Him with their work and so on. All ways of worship are good, but the most important ingredient in all is love. Worship without love is mechanical. It is the attitude of sincere love that turns any activity into devotion for the Lord.

The beauty of bhakti is that we have the freedom to worship God in whatever way we wish. We can worship God in whichever form we may choose — Rama, Allah, Jesus or the formless and infinite Reality. The only requirement is that we must absorb our heart in the Lord. He then can assume whatever form we want Him to have.

The unique feature of the path of devotion is that no special qualifications are needed for it. Anyone can develop love. Through total devotion to the Lord, devotee arrives at the cessation of mundane thoughts and the mind is saturated with thoughts of the Lord at all times. Actions performed with such a single-pointed mind are a service to the Lord, so they are always unselfish. This leads to purity of the mind. Also, the devotee feels the Lord's presence in everyone, including himself/herself. This leads to the concept of unity with the Lord and with all beings.

— Swami Tejomayananda, head of Chinmaya
Mission Worldwide, is an orator, poet, singer, composer and storyteller. To find out more about Chinmaya Mission and Swamiji, visit www.chinmayamission.com [1].
© Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

TRICOLOUR POLITICS

A BID TO SHATTER 'FRAGILE' PEACE

M. Ashraf

For the last three summers, Kashmir has seen unprecedented mass protests.
In 2008, it was the Amarnath land transfer and the economic blockade of the Valley by Jammu agitators. In 2009, the Shopian alleged rape and murder case set off widespread disturbances. And in 2010, the Machail fake encounter and the killing of an innocent teenager, Tufail Mattoo, acted as the trigger. These are symptoms; the disease is much deeper.

For over two decades, Kashmir has been plagued by violence.

The entire Valley virtually got converted into a huge concentration camp. Cordon-and-search operations, frisking, night raids and real or fake encounters became routine. The entire population, especially the youth, was brutalised. This phase resulted in extreme alienation of the population from India. Everything that is Indian became a symbol of hate.

The agitations of the last three years, especially the one which continued through last summer, convinced the Central government that the Kashmir conflict needs resolution, not management. It was publicly admitted that economic development alone was not going to cool Kashmir. The basic problem is political and needs a political solution. Several initiatives were taken to reach the alienated population of the Valley. Measures for demilitarisation of civilian areas, review of draconian legislation and release of prisoners were initiated. Several parliamentary groups, official and non-official, as well as civil society initiatives, are at present underway. There is some sort of "peace" in the Valley. It is debatable if this is real or just a lull before the storm.
The "peace" can be made permanent if the initiatives already taken are implemented honestly on the ground.
The BJP suddenly decided to shatter the fragile "peace" by its so-called unity march.
In fact, the Ekta Yatra is not going to bring unity but disunity in the country. The BJP is trying to show to Kashmiris that they own Kashmir, whether the Kashmiris want this or not. The choice of Lal Chowk, which has historical and sentimental attachment for a Kashmiri, is like showing the red rag to the bull of azadi. This is the place where Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru promised Kashmiris the exercise of the right of self-determination.
The BJP needs to be reminded of a saying of an illustrious Hindu son of Kashmir, Pandit Kalhana: "The country of Kashmir may be conquered by the force of spiritual merit, but not by the force of soldiers".

- M. Ashraf, a retired IAS officer and former director general of tourism, J&K

No, bid to silence all separatists

R. Balashankar

It is hard to agree with the motion. There was no need for the Centre to panic or for the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Mr Omar Abdullah, to feel outraged over the BJP decision to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on Republic Day. It is the right of every Indian citizen to unfurl the tricolour anywhere in the country. Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. Only pro-Pakistan secessionists in the Valley dispute this and hoist the Pakistani flag whenever they want to.
Neither the Centre nor Mr Abdullah have tried to stop this. It is these elements who get paranoid when nationalist forces assert the country's unity and territorial integrity in Kashmir.

The Ekta Yatra would have been a happy triumph for nationalism had Mr Abdullah and the Centre cooperated and welcomed the proposed flag-hoisting. It would have given a fitting rebuff to the separatists and reassured the nationalists in the Valley. For the BJP, Kashmir has emotional and ideological appeal. Its founder president Dr Syama Prasad Mookherjee became a martyr in the fight for Kashmir's full integration. Its national president, Mr Murli Manohar Joshi led the Ekta Yatra from Kanyakumari to Srinagar in 1992 to unfurl the tricolour at Lal Chowk on Republic Day. In 2008, the J&K unit of the party led by Mr R.P. Singh repeated the feat. As long as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was in power and Mr Abdullah's National Conference a partner of the BJP, he had no problem in flying the tricolour. Now, in the company of the Congress, he is parroting the separatist line. Is the Congress helping the national cause or pandering to separatists? Will the Congress abandon unfurling the tricolour at Red Fort if some loony fringe threatens violence in the capital? The state cannot go on molly-coddling the separatists.

Mr Abdullah and the Central government unleashed a reign of terror to frustrate the BJP programme. By arresting its leaders, preventing them from entering Kashmir, diverting trains and turning the state into barracks, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and Mr Abdullah have gladdened the hearts of separatists. They will notch up brownie points and applause from pro-Pak secessionists by serving their cause. If the state and Centre had joined hands with the nationalist forces, it would have sent a clear message of keeping the nation one. They have no feelings for the pride of the nation, and the sensitivities of the patriotic people of India.

- R. Balashankar, editor, Organiser weekly

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

EDITORIAL

CHOPPY WATERS

''A JOINT PALK BAY AUTHORITY IS THE NEED OF THE HOUR.''

 

The reported killing of two Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan navy threatens to roil the warm bilateral relations between Delhi and Colombo.The first incident occurred a fortnight ago, when a fisherman from Tamil Nadu was shot dead in the Palk Straits. Another incident occurred on Saturday, a second fisherman was killed in the seas off Kodiakkarai in a particularly gruesome fashion. He appears to have been strangulated. The Sri Lankan navy has denied a hand in the killings. The Indian government has taken up the issue with Colombo and the latter has promised to probe the matter. Still the issue could turn explosive. There are any number of elements in both countries that would like to exploit the issue for narrow political gain. With Tamil Nadu going to the polls in a few months, political parties can be expected to stir emotions on the issue to win votes. Delhi and Colombo must act quickly to ensure that things do not spiral out of control.


For decades, fishermen in Tamil Nadu have faced problems at sea. The India-Sri Lanka Maritime Boundary Agreements of 1974 and 1976, which ceded Kachchaitheevu Island to Sri Lanka, shrank the waters in which Indian fishermen could legally catch fish, eroding in the process their traditional livelihoods. Then came the Sri Lankan civil war when Indian fishermen were caught in the crossfire between the Lankan navy and the Sea Tigers. The end of the civil war has brought new problems for them. With the ban on fishing on the Sri Lankan side of the Palk Bay lifted, Sri Lankan fishermen are now competing with their Indian counterparts to catch fish. Their paths are crossing and conflicts are growing.


Inter-state diplomacy can prevent to some extent unpleasant incidents such as the recent killing of fishermen. It is important that the Rajapaksa government show zero tolerance towards any provocative acts that his naval personnel or citizens might be engaging in. But more important are solutions from below ie mechanisms and measures that fishermen of the two countries come up through a dialogue with each other. Experts have been calling for the setting up of a Palk Bay authority consisting of officials, fishermen, environmental and marine experts from both countries. Conflicts erupting in the waters off the Indian and Sri Lankan coasts are tearing the two neighbours apart.


They should be bringing the two countries together to address common concerns.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

SMALL STEPS

''THE RBI ACTION WILL ONLY HAVE A PARTIAL EFFECT.''


The  hike in the repo and the reverse repo rates by 0.25 per cent, announced by the Reserve Bank of India as part of its third-quarter monetary policy review, was not unexpected.It is  only  a moderate response to the problem of high inflation. There is a view that the RBI should have been more aggressive and made steeper increases in the rates. But it has given clear indications that there will be more hikes in the coming two quarters or even mid-course. It had hiked policy rates six times in the last one year and probably hopes to get the better of the situation in the next few months.


The bank has made it clear that containing inflation is a priority. It has said that the stance of the monetary policy is to contain the spill-over of high food and fuel inflation into generalised inflation but this is extremely difficult in the backdrop of a combination of high inflation, a wide current account deficit and loose fiscal policy. The problem is compounded by the contradictory nature of the policy prescriptions for high growth and containing inflation. The apex bank expects inflation to be around 7 per cent and the GDP growth to be at 8.5 per cent by March.  With the interest rates going up as a result of the rate hikes, money supply will be reduced, credit will be diminished and demand will get suppressed. This may bring down prices.


But the RBI action will only have a partial impact as a good part of inflation is a result of inadequate supply. Increasing the supply of goods and commodities in the short term is not possible and the RBI in any case has no role in it. The government 's actions and policies become critical in this context. Since food, energy and commodity prices are expected to remain high even globally, the government's fiscal management will be an important factor in containing inflation. The high current account deficit has to be brought down and supply constraints eased so that the monetary measures get the best results. It is likely that the RBI is waiting for the government to take some effective action in these areas through the Union budget before it goes in for another round of rate hikes.

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

DON'T FEAR FII INFLOWS

BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA

Foreign companies often sellout their factories and repatriate the monies received as was done by Sinar Mass.


The nature of foreign investment coming into the country is changing rapidly. Foreign investment comes in two ways. Foreign companies often establish factories in India. They remit monies for this purpose. This is called Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) because the investment is made directly by the principal. Control over the Indian factory rests with the foreign principal.

 

The foreign principal decides what goods will be produced, at what price they will be sold, whether the manager will be an Indian or an expatriate, whether the profits will be reinvested or repatriated to the foreign headquarters, etc.


The other way in which foreign investment comes is through Indian share markets. These investors are called Foreign Institutional Investors (FII). They earn by buying and selling shares when the prices are low and high respectively. They also earn some monies by the way of dividends. The control over the company in which money is invested remains with the Indian owners.


The inflow of FDI was large previously. An amount of $164 billion has been invested in India in the 10 years ending at March 2010. FII inflows were less in comparison. Only $70 billion FII had been received in that same period. The situation has changed dramatically since April 2010. FDI of only $15 billion has been received till October last year. FII inflows were nearly three times at $51 billion. This indicates that foreign investors preferred FDI previously and have now shifted their preference to FII.


Analysts are expressing concern at this change. The main apprehension is that FII money can reverse suddenly and cause a collapse in our share markets and devaluation of our currency as has happened earlier. But it is necessary to understand the overall advantages and disadvantages of the two types of investments in order to take a position on this matter.


First issue is regarding efficiency of production. FDI comes with advanced technologies. Foreign companies start making advanced products in the country. As a result domestic manufacturers are forced to upgrade their technologies. For example, only Ambassador and Fiat cars were manufactured in the country till the 80s. These cars gave an average of 12-13 km per litre.


Production of Maruti-Suzuki cars started in the country in 1985. This car gave an average of 18-19 km. This forced Indian manufacturers to make fuel efficient engines. Today the 'made in India' Indica is giving an average of 22-23 km. The entire domestic automobile industry has been forced to technologically upgrade because of the coming of FDI.


It must be admitted that certain technologies are patented by foreign companies. These technologies can be available to us only through FDI. But such technologies are limited in number hence FDI may be preferred only in those select industries.


Integration with India


There is a difference in the impact of FDI and FII in other aspects. First difference is in the depth of integration with the Indian economy. Foreign investors have a spontaneous tendency to employ foreign managers and engineers and also use imported components and raw materials. Maruti-Suzuki, for example, imported many components from Japan for nearly two decades. The tendency of Indian businessmen, on the other hand, is more towards using Indian personnel and components as being done by Tata Motors in the manufacture of Indica and Nano cars.


Second difference is in profit repatriation. The objective of both, FDI as well as FII, is to remit profits to their foreign headquarters. This remittance is made of dividends and capital gains. Both FDI and FII remit dividends. The difference is that FII remittance simultaneously leads to increased payment of dividends to domestic shareholders. Say a FII bought shares of Tata Motors. The company was able to establish a new factory with this money and pay higher dividends. The domestic investors who bought shares of Tata Motors also benefited from this higher payout. FII, therefore, leads to greater spread of income in the country.


Both FDI and FII wish to repatriate capital gains as well. Foreign companies often sellout their factories and repatriate the monies received as was done by Sinar Mass which sold its paper factory in India and took the money home. FIIs also sell their shares and repatriate the monies earned. Yet there is a difference between the two.

A factory established by a foreign company suppresses and hurts domestic companies. For example, establishment of Maruti Suzuki led to the closure of the Premier Motors that was manufacturing Fiat cars in the country. Thus FDI has a negative impact on domestic companies.


In contrast, FII has a clearly positive impact on domestic companies. It provides more capital for them to grow. FII is better than FDI on this point as well. FII is, therefore, better than FDI due to deeper integration with the domestic economy and wider spread of dividend earned.


FIIs have one major disadvantage. They can quickly sell their shareholdings and cause a collapse of our share markets as happened in 2008 when the sensex was driven down from nearly 21k to 8k. The consequent remittances of proceeds also lead to a collapse of our currency. The rupee declined from 40 to 50 in the wake of this exit. The collapse of the share markets should not worry us much. Such losses are in the nature of speculation and speculators should be ready to bear consequences of the same.


The decline of our currency can be managed. The RBI should build greater foreign exchange reserves to meet such a situation. The money remitted by exiting FIIs can be made up by bringing back part of these reserves. There is no reason to fear FII for this reason.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

IN  PERSPECTIVE

BANKING ON THE COMPETITION MYTH

PAUL KRUGMAN


The US is in a mess not because the companies lost their ability to compete with foreign rivals.


Meet the new buzzword, same as the old buzzword. In advance of the State of the Union address, President Barack Obama has telegraphed his main theme: competitiveness. the president's economic recovery advisory board has been renamed the President's council on jobs and competitiveness. And in his Saturday radio address, the president declared that "We can out-compete any other nation on Earth."


This may be smart politics. Arguably, Obama has enlisted an old cliche on behalf of a good cause, as a way to sell a much-needed increase in public investment to a public thoroughly indoctrinated in the view that government spending is a bad thing. But let's not kid ourselves: Talking about 'competitiveness' as a goal is fundamentally misleading. At best, it's a misdiagnosis of our problems. At worst, it could lead to policies based on the false idea that what's good for corporations is good for America.


About that misdiagnosis: What sense does it make to view our current woes as stemming from lack of competitiveness?

It's true that we would have more jobs if we exported more and imported less. But the same is true of Europe and Japan, which also have depressed economies. And we can't all export more while importing less, unless we can find another planet to sell to. Yes, we could demand that China shrink its trade surplus — but if confronting China is what Obama is proposing, he should say that plainly.


While America is running a trade deficit, this deficit is smaller than it was before the Great Recession began. It would help if we could make it smaller still. But ultimately, we're in a mess because we had a financial crisis, not because American companies have lost their ability to compete with foreign rivals. But isn't it at least somewhat useful to think of our nation as if it were America Inc, competing in the global marketplace? No.

Consider: A corporate leader who increases profits by slashing his work force is considered successful. Well, that's more or less what has happened in America recently:


Employment is way down, but profits are hitting new records. Who, exactly, considers this economic success?

Still, you might say that talk of competitiveness helps Obama quiet claims that he's anti-business. That's fine, as long as he realises that the interests of nominally 'American' corporations and the interests of the nation, which were never the same, are now less aligned than ever before.


Take the case of General Electric, whose chief executive, Jeffrey Immelt, has just been appointed to head that renamed advisory board. With fewer than half its workers based in the US and less than half its revenues coming from US operations, GE's fortunes have very little to do with US prosperity.


By the way: Some have praised Immelt's appointment on the grounds that at least he represents a company that actually makes things, rather than being yet another financial wheeler-dealer. These days even GE derives more revenue from its financial operations than it does from manufacturing. GE Capital, which received a government guarantee for its debt, is a major beneficiary of the Wall Street bailout. So what does the administration's embrace of the rhetoric of competitiveness mean for economic policy?

The favourable interpretation, as I said, is that it's just packaging for an economic strategy centred on public investment, investment that's actually about creating jobs now while promoting longer-term growth. The unfavourable interpretation is that Obama and his advisers really believe that the economy is ailing because they've been too tough on business, and that what America needs now is corporate tax cuts and across-the-board deregulation.


My guess is that we are mainly talking about packaging here. And if the president does propose a serious increase in spending on infrastructure and education, I'll be pleased.


But even if he proposes good policies, the fact that Obama feels the need to wrap these policies in bad metaphors is a sad commentary on the state of our discourse.


The financial crisis of 2008 was a teachable moment, an object lesson in what can go wrong if you trust a market economy to regulate itself. Nor should we forget that highly regulated economies, like Germany, did a much better job than we did at sustaining employment after the crisis hit. For whatever reason, however, the teachable moment came and went with nothing learned.


Obama himself may do all right: his approval rating is up, the economy is showing signs of life, and his chances of re-election look pretty good. But the ideology that brought economic disaster in 2008 is back on top — and seems likely to stay there until it brings disaster again.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

COMPULSIVE COMPARISON

 NAMITHA ANNAIAH

 


Since my neighbour is single and incorrigible, we indulge her a little bit.

 

Witty and absurd — that's what I would call our neighbour. And bollywood stars are a huge obsession with her. She has a colourful way of describing people: slotting them by their looks, shape and size and invariably comparing them to a film star or occasionally to something weirder.


Now, a wedding hall is a perfect place where she can unleash this talent of hers. A couple of men walk into the venue and she is all set to bracket them. One guy according to her has the classic good looks of Vinod Khanna, while the other one looks roguishly handsome like Jackie Shroff. Eyeing another fair smart girl sitting ahead she quips, "Look at that girl over there, she's so fair that all her features seem to have merged and her face looks like one big idli."


Since my neighbour is single and incorrigible we indulge her and take in her comments with a pinch of salt or should I say a bushel. She doesn't spare her own self either. One of her favourite line goes like this: "If only my nose was a little longer I would have looked like Zeenat Aman."


Once at a small gathering, we neighbours were at the receiving end. Looking at my sister she said, "You are the Pooja Bhatt of your family." An observation which I must say was spot on. Another young girl she commented looked like Aishwarya Rai minus her light eyes while yet another one Kareena Kapoor because of her close-set eyes. When it was my turn to be graded, I was all fired up expecting a name like Sridevi or perhaps Madhuri to crop up.


I was stumped when I heard the final verdict. She took a long look at me, sighed and then said, "Every time I look at your hair and those naughty brown eyes I'm reminded of Julie; she was such a sweet thing."

Now, Julie happened to be her dead Pomeranian dog!

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

DOES GOA HAVE NO CLOUT WITH CENTRE?


On the eve of Republic Day, the central government announced a record 128 Padma awards, including 13 Padma Vibhushan awards, 31 Padma Bhushan awards and 84 Padma Shri awards. Not even one of them was for a Goan. According to media reports, no less than six persons were recommended for a Padma award by the Goa government. Obviously, all six were ignored.


Just a week or so earlier, the Union Cabinet was reshuffled. Three new ministers were inducted. Not one of them was from Goa, which is probably the only Congress-ruled state in the country that has no representation in the central ministry.


Does Goa have no clout whatsoever with the Centre? What other conclusion can one draw when this state's point of view is consistently ignored?


Take the example of the Navy. According to Rajya Sabha MP Shantaram Naik, the Indian Navy is illegally occupying land in Goa. He says the Navy's occupation of the land on which the Dabolim Airport stands has no sanctity of law. And now, the Navy seeks to acquire two islands and a beach for so-called 'defence purposes', even though there is no justification for this. The Navy's proposal has sparked popular outrage, forcing the Goa government to stall these requests. Now, frustrated by the delay, the Navy has apparently invoked Section 17 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1984, which empowers central government agencies to acquire land without the consent of the state government. 


The Navy, it is evident, does not care for either Goa's government or its people. That is why it is bludgeoning its way forward, despite its complete inability to justify its claims, in the face of massive opposition from the Goan people.


Mr Naik has warned that if the Navy makes use of the enabling provision to acquire land directly against the express wishes of the government and the people of Goa, the situation in the state may not remain conducive for peace and tranquility. He has described the Navy's move as "open defiance of the authority of the people of Goa and the state of Goa".


But what does this incident say about the Goa government's (in)ability to influence the central government in matters as vital as this?


And then there is the Mormugao Port Trust (MPT), which claims huge foreshore and water areas in Goa, including the entire Zuari Bay up to the Zuari Bridge, areas to the south of the port till Velsao, as well as a large area in Betul, which is also a minor port under the state government. Quaintly, this includes the foreshore areas of all the Navy installations in the Mormugao taluka. How does the MPT react to the Navy acquiring land in its claimed jurisdiction? That it has not objected is a strange paradox. But that is another issue. The point is that the state government, except for engaging in an active and effective policy of non-cooperation with the previous MPT Chairman Praveen Agarwal, has not been able to convince the Centre about its position in the matter.
Or is it that in all the above cases, the Goa government has not really tried to put its point of view across forcefully enough to the central government?

Most other state governments convene meetings of all the MPs of the state – regardless of party affiliations – when matters that affect the state as a whole are at stake, and prepare a strategy to lobby in New Delhi, so that the whole state talks to the centre in one voice. Has Goa made any attempt of this sort, whether it is for any of the above issues or to press the 'unanimous' resolution passed by the Legislative Assembly demanding 'special status' for Goa? 

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

CONGRESS ON BACK FOOT

THE PARTY MUST PULL UP ITS SOCKS AND REINVENT ITSELF, POST HASTE, SAYS ERVELL E MENEZES

 

With the next general elections steadily approaching, the Congress is losing its hold on the people as recent events have proved so clearly. The "Mr Clean" image of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is being tarnished and Congress chief Sonia too also seems to be drifting. The 2G spectrum scam and Singh's initial reluctance to sack former Telecommunications Minister A Raja took its toll and so did the recent cabinet reshuffle. It is, therefore, prudent that the party pull up its collective socks and reinvent itself, post haste.


That the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is even worse off may give it a sense of security, but you never know when political equations change. Time should not be frittered away. If Rahul Gandhi is to take over the reins of power in our dynastic system (they say that a good percentage of our elected MPs are kin of existing politicians) he better act fast and show his mettle.


The skyrocketing rise in the prices of essential commodities is just alarming and everyone is trying to pass on the buck. Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Dr Montek Singh Ahulwalia has attributed this rise to overall prosperity and a faulty distribution system of vegetables. But he does not pinpoint the malaise. If memory serves me right, it was the onion prices (this time up to Rs90 a kilo) that brought down the BJP. Does the Congress want to follow suit?


They only give lip sympathy to the aam admi, especially our own (hardly the right term) wordatarian Chief Minister Digambar Kamat. Union Railways Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has disowned the recent petrol price hike. She says her party, the single largest constituent of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) at the Centre, was neither consulted nor informed of the hike.
Even the hike is not done rationally. Why have diesel and cooking gas prices not raised simultaneously? Apparently, it was a considered political decision. The government has shown its indifference by piling the petrol hike misery on the onion price hike wound. If there was no option left before the government, one could understand the disparity.


But this is not the case. The taxes that accrue on petrol, is nearly half of the overall price. They could have easily reduced taxes, instead of inflicting a double whammy on the people — skyrocketing prices of both food and fuels. But they chose not to.


If that is not enough to show their indifference to the aam admi, they have chosen to raise the price of Aviation Turbine Fuel used for passenger aircraft, by just two per cent, while the price of petrol was up by 200 per cent. If this is not discrimination, what is?


Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar is also washing his hands off the rise in onion prices. The very fact that Pawar is still retained as a minister is surprising indeed. It seems that both he and Praful Patel, both National Congress Party members, are a liability. That Patel has been divested of the Civil Aviation portfolio (his daughter will feel the pinch) is a job half done, as is the case with the entire reshuffle. The suspect must be axed as the Sonia-Manmohan combine is fast getting impotent, though it is Sonia who must accept the blame, as Manmohan is merely a puppet, for all practical purposes.


There is little evidence of governance in Goa too with the Congress and NCP always squabbling like kids. But the Congress does not need to fight with anyone. The infighting is legendary in the party's legion. Chief Minister Kamat is dithering as always. How long can he do the tight rope act? A major problem seems to be the wanton sale of land to North Indians and this is growing rapidly with the role of the Delhi mafia. With strong links within the government, the privileged few are buying sprawling bungalows, building others, and acquiring land in connivance with the bureaucrats, who are invariably from the North.


They say that these land sharks fly into Goa soon after the monsoon, on their scouting missions. Socialite-architect Bina Ramani is alleged to go cycling around and looking for sprawling Portuguese-type bungalows or land which can be bought at a price. It is a simple economic law of demand and supply. They say that a Bangalore company has bought 20 lakh square metres of land in Mandrem, where also the Srivastava Family Trust, through its director Shyam Luthra, has acquired 2,05,931 square metres of land. Ravina Kohli from Bandra has bought 13,853 square metres of land in Morjim. The list is much bigger but most of the names sound North Indian. May be they have the money power or the power of having the right contacts. Or both. Therefore, it is termed as Punjabi mafia or the "Ho Ja Re" culture.


Another instance of giving scant regard to the aam admi is the move to privatise the District Hospital in Mapusa. Health Minister Vishwajeet Rane seems determined to do so and thus the inordinate delay in its reopening. It is ready since May 2009 and the government is believed to have spent Rs65 lakh on its maintenance.
The hospital has so far cost the government Rs46 crore and since it isn't functioning, yet the warranty on some super-speciality equipment has already lapsed, without being used. Former Health Minister Dayanand Narvekar has warned the government to change the decision to coincide with Republic Day.


A former Health Minister himself, Narvekar should know better. He surely has a point, though his track record has been bad, that's putting things mildly.


Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh's move to protect the dwellings of traditional coastal communities like fisherfolk and tribals, is subject to their not being used for any commercial activity or being sold or transferred to non-traditional coastal communities. The move has naturally been welcomed by Goa Environmental Minister Alexio Sequeira. But what about ancestral houses built in the 19th century? Should they also not be given the same right?


That the Minister has taken cognisance of the need to protect the environment is commendable, but then, it is up to the government to enforce these laws. Ramesh has earned the wrath of many politicians and industrialists, because of his hard stand on ecology and illegal mining in Karnataka. Goa could be his next target.
But the grapevine has it, that he is being removed, the rumour no doubt floated by vested interests. Will he remain in power, is the million rupee-question? Time will tell, to use the cliché, but it is not at all surprising in this beautiful, bountiful paradise of ours where laws are infringed.

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

SIMPLE PLEASURES

BY MARC DE SOUZA

 

We know of the rise of technology, but have we ever pondered over the decline of simple pleasure? I am not against labour-saving devices, but something struck and startled me and made me think.
In the old days, before folks used washing machines or launderettes, they used to scrub their clothes on a stone slab. It was not wonderful work, but what was wonderful was that they sang as they scrubbed.
We never hear anyone croon over the washing machine unless they are high, of course, which does not count!
I still remember my mother's laundry in the village, hanging clothes, fluttering like flags of different countries, clothes dangling in the backyard: Pants, shirts, dresses, handkerchiefs and the lot. Her life was definitely an open book and so was her laundry.


Maybe because of her, I am tempted to hang clothes outside for the sheer poetry of it, so that I can feel the smell of the wind in freshly dried sheets on the line with face buried deep. She taught me to observe, to look carefully at things, however small and important, around me. Also to tell the character of people, just by looking at their clothes.


Think of our own modern, but nevertheless complicated city home. It is comfortable enough when everything is working well, but how helpless we are when it isn't. Many so called civilised people are just an extension cord away from the Stone Age. What artificial lives we have to live!


Every time I replace a piece of household equipment, the new one is flimsier than the last. More metal parts have been removed and replaced by pliable plastic, which manufacturers claim that the product has been improved, in the interest of efficiency, cost, fashion, style, and so on. But the customer knows that plastic parts melt, warp and crack, casings chip, flake and stretch. And, being nobody's fool, the consumer knows that plastic is cheaper than metal.


There is nothing intrinsically wrong with development. God made man to think and grow, and we were not created to live in a primitive manner.


But neither is there anything noble about modern industrial societies with their collapsing values, decaying families, vanishing morals and frustrated, angry aimless children.


Not to forget the nuclear weapons with which the superpowers threaten each other, and everyone else.

 

Development has been a very mixed blessing!


I do notice that it takes a mere concerted effort now to find and enjoy the good things in life. Once, everything seemed as fresh and new, as the first school. But after a while, life begins to become more duty than adventure, more 'have to' than 'want to'. We can be teenagers forever. It is hard work being an adult.
Think of all the umpteen simple pleasures you had known, which hadn't survived the rise of technology and had died away. Although I try to keep in step with the times, I feel loyal to the old traditions which restimulates me along the way.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

LIE'S DAMNED LIES, AND POLICE STATISTICS

POLICE WOULD DO BETTER TO FOCUS ON WHY ITS STANDING WITH PUBLIC IS IN THE SORRY STATE IT IS, AND WORK SUBSTANTIVELY TO IMPROVE IT.

The Israel Police seems blissfully satisfied with its own performance. On Tuesday evening, when releasing its comprehensive 2010 report, it praised itself profusely and awarded itself top marks for "significantly improving" its service to the citizenry.

Here are some sample stats: The number of files opened has dropped to 50 per 1,000 people – the lowest ratio for 30 years (presumably indicating lower crime rates); the likelihood of apprehending miscreants is up by 37%; and there has been a 41% decrease in car thefts from 2006, a 36% decrease in burglary incidents and 22% less reported violence.

In all, according to the police, things are looking up regarding public safety and property protection. Furthermore, the police claims successes in its battles against drug dealers, organized crime and corruption. It gauges these successes thus: a 67% increase in the number of cases opened by its narcotics squads, 89 indictments in the organized crime category during 2010 (versus only 31 in 2008) and 180 bribery investigations during 2010 alone, 69 investigations against "public figures" and 32 against mayors.

Additionally, it says, its homicide sleuths are nabbing more killers. For the first time in five years the police solved more murder cases than were left unsolved (81 closed cases as against 64 still open).

BUT ARE things indeed as upbeat as the top brass seems to suggest? The data it presented is open to contradictory interpretations. Without wishing to rain on our constabulary's parade, we must nevertheless note that the marked decrease in the number of cases opened can also be read as being other than a sterling success.

It may, instead, point to exasperation, if not outright despair, with the police. This is particularly pertinent in the realm of the unglamorous, far-from-the-headlines, grinding struggle against what is loosely described as "minor crime" – the sort of crime which ordinary citizens are likelier to encounter in daily life.

It is here, in the popular perception, that the police's crime-busting record is hardly impressive. All too often, policemen don't visit, much less collect fingerprints, at burglary scenes. This is a considerable disincentive for calling the cops. Car thefts are likewise low on the list of police priorities, again dissuading many crime victims from phoning the station.

Hence, does the lower number of files attest to less crime or merely to less reported crime? It's an open question.

Another issue is the time-frames chosen for purposes of statistical comparison. There is too little consistency for comfort. On occasion current figures are juxtaposed with those of many years ago; elsewhere, the comparisons are more recent. The suspicion is that the choice represents whichever backdrop best enhances the police image.

 A case in point is the police assertion that there is a 37% higher probability that crimes will be solved today than was the case early last decade. Yet in comparison to the past three years, there is a drop in the success quotient, not a rise. According to police statistics, moreover, there was a 7% drop in murders during 2010 in comparison to 2006. But this is decidedly not so in comparison to 2009. No fewer than 139 individuals were murdered in 2010, while in 2009 the number stood at 126. The choice of 2006 as the statistical baseline rather than 2009 cannot be dismissed as incidental or meaningless.

The identical numbers-game was played in reference to traffic accidents and traffic fatalities. The police report claims a 25% drop in accident numbers between 2006 to 2010 and a corresponding 15% fall in the number of fatalities. Yet when compared to 2009, we find a 7% rise in the number of accidents and an increase from 370 dead to 394.

To be sure, not all circumstances can be controlled by the police and numerical fluctuations can frequently signify very little of substance. What is troubling is the sense of an attempt to spin these numbers for the sake of better PR. The police would do better to focus on why its standing with the public is in the sorry state it is, and work substantively to improve it.

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THE JERUSALEM POST

COLUMN

WASHINGTON WATCH: PRICE OF PEACE

BY DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD 


COST TO EVACUATE SETTLEMENTS UPWARDS OF $24 BILLION DOLLARS; ARMY AND REDEPLOYMENT WILL BE BILLIONS MORE.

Map making seems to be an increasingly popular pastime in the Middle East these days. The Palestinians claim they prepared a mapped vision of the two-state solution, but that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu refuses to look at it. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is reportedly preparing maps that will give Palestinians an interim state on land they already control, but no more. Now a leading Washington think tank has unveiled a series of maps detailing proposals for borders.


The central question in all this cartography is what to do about nearly 300,000 Israelis living in some 120 West Bank settlements. Documents released Sunday by Al-Jazeera show Israelis and Palestinians may have made more progress toward an agreement – at least with the prior Israeli government – than previously known, but the reality is that the peace talks are comatose, and each side is conditioning their resumption on terms it knows are unacceptable to the other.


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to meet with Netanyahu until all settlement construction is frozen, which Netanyahu has rejected by sanctioning a new building spree.

The Al-Jazeera documents revealed that Abbas is much more flexible on that issue in private than in public, and that may land him in big trouble with the Palestinian public to which he has made unrealistically maximalist promises, not only on settlements but also on refugees, borders, Jerusalem and security.

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy has published a report by senior fellow David Makovsky detailing three scenarios for redrawing borders that would allow Israel to retain the maximum number of settlers in a minimum number of settlements, along with 1:1 land swaps that would give Palestinians the equivalent of 100% of the West Bank.

"Territory is not the only issue on the peace agenda," said Makovsky, "but a breakthrough on this issue may open the door to progress on the others."

He estimated it could cost nearly $1 million per family to relocate settlers inside Israel's new borders based on the 2005 Gaza withdrawal and on a family size of 5.3 (more for smaller families).

Any West Bank withdrawal will be more complex and more traumatic than the one in Gaza that saw radical rabbis ordering their followers to resist and soldiers to disobey their commanders.

In September 2005 Israel evacuated 8,500 settlers from Gaza, plus another 500 from the northern West Bank at a cost of $2 billion. Five and a half years later, an estimated 70% still do not have permanent housing.

West Bank evacuation for civilians will cost between $11 billion and $24 billion, depending on the extent of the land swap and the number of people affected. The cost for the army and overall redeployment will be billions more.

GUESS WHO'S expected to foot the bill. The American taxpayer. That could create a problem. Current US law prohibits spending American aid beyond the 1967 border; it was written specifically to prevent using foreign aid for settlements.

Netanyahu recently forced the US to withdraw an offer of $3.5 billion in advanced stealth planes and other equipment in return for a 90-day settlement freeze, when he insisted on deal-killing conditions. Meanwhile, senior US diplomats are in Israel discussing security needs in the event of a peace agreement.

Makovsky briefed top Israeli, Palestinian and American officials on the report, but declined to characterize their responses.

The WINEP scenarios envision removing most West Bank settlements (77 to 88 out of 120), but only a minority of settlers (60,000 to 94,000 out of 300,000). That's because most settlers live in major settlement blocs near the 1967 border, which are expected to be annexed to Israel in any peace agreement.

In a land-for-land deal, each side gets something tangible, said Makovsky. It is "not realistic" for Palestinians to demand that all settlers be removed.

 

 The Washington Institute report does not deal with the nearly 200,000 Jews who live in east Jerusalem.


Some in Congress may question why Americans taxpayers should help foot the bill to remove settlements that every president has said never should have been built in the first place.


On top of that, American taxpayers will be expected to increase the hundreds of millions already going to help the Palestinians build their state. Arab leaders will be expected to chip in, but so far they've been more generous with pledges than checks.


I'm not arguing against withdrawal. To the contrary, I think it is long overdue and in the vital interest of Israel's survival as a Jewish, democratic state. But it may not be realistic to think Congress and the administration, facing unprecedented budget shortfalls and intense pressure to curb spending, will serve as the new ATM for an agreement.

The longer both the Palestinians and Israelis delay, the higher the price of peace.


bloomfieldcolumn@gmail.com

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

COLUMN

RATTLING THE CAGE: THE BRAVE, VISIONARY LEADER - AND BIBI

BY LARRY DERFNER


What does the world see from the current Israeli leadership (in contrast to the previous one)? Intransigence.

With all the different takes on Al- Jazeera's "PaliLeaks" documents, one thing I think is beyond debate: Never in history have Palestinian leaders seemed so moderate, so flexible, so accommodating to Israel.

All the issues the Palestinian Authority negotiators supposedly would not budge on, they more than budged on – they took very long steps toward meeting the Olmert government's positions on Palestinian refugees, the Temple Mount, the Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, settlements and borders.

All the allegedly sacred, nonnegotiable, door- die demands of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his team turn out to be quite negotiable. And if that's not enough, on their commitment to fighting terror, they're shown to be firmly, actively, eagerly on Israel's side against Hamas.

None of this comes as a big surprise to anyone but badly informed Palestinians, which is why the 1,600 documents leaked by Al- Jazeera are recognized as credible, despite the PA's denials. (Maybe especially in light of the PA's denials.)

The Western world now sees very vividly that the current Palestinian leadership was serious about negotiating peace. And what does it see from the current Israeli leadership (in contrast to the previous one) ?

Intransigence. Even now. The Netanyahu government's case against Abbas is that he's rigid, he refuses to negotiate, and now that Abbas is shown to have been so flexible a negotiator that he's being called a quisling, who's the rigid one?

Our fearless leader, Nyetanyahu. In his eyes, the glass of Palestinian moderation isn't 95 percent full, it's 5% empty.

The PA agrees to "the biggest Yerushalayim in Jewish history," in negotiator Saeb Erekat's words – they accept Israeli sovereignty over every Jewish neighborhood in post-1967 Jerusalem except Har Homa, and how does the Prime Minister's Office spin it? By pointing to Abbas's demand for a construction freeze in these neighborhoods, then crowing that the leaks show this demand to be "ridiculous."

Wrote Yediot Aharonot's Nahum Barnea: "It turns out that Netanyahu is the first prime minister of Israel to ridicule the Palestinians for their willingness to concede."

THE WORLD now has a good idea of Abbas's "map" – his proposal for dividing the land between Palestine and Israel – as well as the map proposed by the Olmert government. But what is Netanyahu's map? No one knows, except that it includes all of Jerusalem, both the Jewish and Arab parts. As for the West Bank, if Netanyahu is willing to give the Palestinians even an inch of it, he's never said so publicly and there's no record of him saying this privately, either. He's wiped a decade of peace negotiations off the table, and just can't understand why the Palestinians aren't eager to start again with him from square one.

This week, with Al-Jazeera doing its thing, Abbas, Erekat and the rest of the PA are under fire from outraged Palestinians; they're trying to hold back all those who are unwilling to concede – and what's the conclusion in Jerusalem? That the Palestinian leadership "has not prepared its people for peace, reconciliation and the compromise required."

In other words, Abbas shouldn't have waited for Al-Jazeera, he should have gone public with the kinds of concessions he was offering, he should have exposed himself to the cries of "collaborator" a long time ago. The problem, in official Israel's view, is that the PA leadership just hasn't had the courage to take risks for peace.

This will play, of course, in most parts of Israel, in the right wing of Diaspora Jewry and in the US Congress – but nowhere else. In the rest of the democratic world, the PA's stock has just gone way up and Israel's has taken yet another dive. (Except for
Tzipi Livni, who emerges as the Israeli heroine of this story, a potential partner with Abbas for peace.)

The tragedy is that the PA leadership, this brave and visionary group, may not survive the effect of PaliLeaks. If Abbas and his people are brought down, they will be replaced by Palestinian leaders who will never remotely approach the kinds of concessions that the Al-Jazeera documents reveal.

 If the leaders of the democratic world had Abbas's courage, they would lay into the Netanyahu government right now, they would single it out as the obstacle to peace, they would tell this Israeli leadership to either resume negotiations where they left off under Olmert, or the days of diplomatic niceties are over and the ones of naming and shaming begin.

That's not going to happen, though, because the leaders of the democratic world don't have courage. What's much more likely to happen is that Abbas, sooner or later, will be finished, he'll be replaced by Hamas or other radicals and the glass of hope for peace will truly be empty, completely.

And later, in retrospect, which national leader will be remembered for his intransigence? Which national leader's vision will be remembered for having been ridiculous?

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

CANDIDLY SPEAKING: ON ISRAELI RACISM AND BIGOTRY

BY ISI LEIBLER 

 

IS IT LAMENTABLE WE HAVE BECOME IMMERSED IN THIS INTERNAL DEBATE WHICH PROVIDES GRIST FOR THE PROPAGANDA MILLS OF OUR ENEMIES.

As Jews, we were brought up to reject all forms of hatred and religious prejudice, and this was reinforced by the Holocaust. Revulsion of racial prejudice and the oppression of minorities was seared into our consciousness.

However, in Judaism as with all religions, there are components to our tradition which are open to interpretation. One is the biblical precept enjoining us to uproot the evil nation of Amalek. But throughout the ages, even when focusing on the malevolent aspects of a Haman or a genocidal Hitler, our sages avoided explicitly designating any nation or race with the term Amalek.

Anti-Semites have accused us of racism because of the traditional Jewish bar to intermarriage, and our reluctance to proselytize. But the reality is that this is utterly unrelated to racism.

A convert to Judaism, irrespective of his racial origin, has always been held in the highest possible esteem, and we are enjoined by Halacha to treat him or her as an equal.

We live in troubled times, when societal tensions are exacerbated by apprehension and fear. But it is lamentable that today we have become immersed in an internal debate over racism – largely motivated by crass political demagoguery – which is providing grist for the propaganda mills of our enemies.

Our adversaries abroad have for a long time been trying to label us as racists or worse, as practitioners of "apartheid." Among the most outrageous accusations is that the Law of Return – enabling any Jew to settle here – is a manifestation of racism.

To refute such calumnies, one need only walk through the streets of our major cities and observe the extraordinarily colorful parade, ranging from those with the Slavic physiognomy through the entire racial kaleidoscope to black Ethiopian Jews. We truly represent a modern melting pot of diverse races.

There are those who also accuse us of imposing apartheid on Arab citizens. Like the early Jewish migrants to the US (and to this day Afro-Americans and Latinos), Arabs are at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder. Undoubtedly there is a need for greater efforts to raise their status, but they elect members to the Knesset, enjoy equal rights under the law, and fully benefit from the welfare state.

Anyone doubting this should visit our hospitals, especially in Jerusalem, and witness the medical treatment and facilities provided to every Arab Israeli on absolutely the same level as Jewish Israelis.

OTHER CRITICS point to a recent survey which found that many Israelis are prejudiced against Arabs. Well, what a surprise! We live in a country surrounded by Arab states that have repeatedly launched wars against us, dispatched suicide bombers against our civilians, and rained missiles on our territory. Their media and mosques unceasingly promote the vilest form of anti-Semitism, and relentlessly proclaim their determination to destroy us. In PA-administered areas no less than Hamastan, children are brainwashed from kindergarten into believing that the greatest religious sanctification for a Muslim is to become a martyr and kill Jews.

In addition, even our "moderate" peace partner Mahmoud Abbas pledges that like our other Arab neighbors, not a single Jew will ever be permitted to live in a future Palestinian state. The PA has also instituted a law which makes the death sentence mandatory for any Palestinian committing "high treason" by selling land to a Jew.

Yet our elected Arab MKs provocatively support those seeking our destruction. Most of the Arab political establishment commemorates Yom Ha'atzmaut as "Nakba," a day of mourning.

The head of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, Sheikh Raed Salah, calls for the overthrow of the Jewish state, openly supports Hamas, incites hatred, and continuously issues treasonable proclamations.

IN SUCH a poisonous climate, despite determined efforts by governments of all political orientations, and the judiciary, to diminish ethnic and religious tensions and confrontations, the emergence of prejudice is inevitable.

It would make an interesting exercise to speculate how other countries would respond to an ethnic minority whose political representatives and many of its religious leaders publicly side with enemies committed to their annihilation. Or whether under such circumstances any other country would countenance having an Arab judge presiding over the trial of a former president charged with rape.

It is also to our credit as a democracy that the government and mainstream media continue to condemn any manifestations of prejudice against Arabs, and that Arab citizens still enjoy the same rights as Jewish citizens. Besides, the majority still insist that they harbor no prejudice against Arabs, and would oppose any form of discrimination against them.

Thus, when a number of unworldly rabbinical zealots made a deplorable call to Jews not to sell or rent apartments to Arabs on purportedly religious (not racist) grounds, the instantaneous condemnation by the government, media and other rabbis made it clear that such behavior runs counter to the will of the nation. On the other hand, it is preposterous to also describe as racist an admittedly crude call to young religious women not to indulge in interdenominational dating to avoid intermarriage.

THEN THERE is the issue of the African refugees. Our experience in having the world deny Jews a haven from Nazi persecution makes us extremely sensitive to the needs of all refugees. But the decision to limit the entry of potentially millions of African refugees while enabling the country to become a refuge for those that no other country is willing to accept is motivated not by racism but by a determination to survive as a Jewish state.

Besides, aside from having airlifted and absorbed an entire Ethiopian Jewish community many of whom were illiterate and living in the most primitive conditions, we have proportionately to our population unquestionably provided haven for more refugees than any other country in the world.

After all, Israel was founded by refugees from the Shoa, from Arab countries and other communities undergoing persecution.

Our deep-seated memory of the suffering of our forebears imposes on us an obligation to behave with greater compassion than any other nation.

We must impress upon our children that Judaism teaches all human being were created equal, and that no people are inherently evil or inferior. They should understand that radical Muslims have poisoned the minds of Arabs in the same way that the Nazis transformed the Germans into monsters.

 

They must be encouraged to extend a hand of friendship to Arab citizens who accept Israel as a Jewish state and seek to live in peace and tranquility among us.


We must also condemn the obscene manner in which our foes and many hypocritical liberals are employing Holocaust inversion to besmirch us as racists and accuse us of practicing apartheid, while closing their eyes to the culture of death, violence and bigotry perpetrated by our neighbors.


ileibler@netvision.net.il

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

BRING THE LOBBYISTS TO ORDER

BY SUSAN HATTIS ROLEF 

THE RECENT CONDUCT OF GAS LOBBYISTS HAS BROUGHT TO LIGHT FULL UGLINESS THAT CAN EXIST BETWEEN INTEREST GROUPS AND KNESSET MEMBERS.

The issue of the royalties due to the State of Israel from the massive gas fields discovered off the coast, and the question of whether retroactive legislation is legitimate, will be settled, as will the debate about whether the money should be earmarked for current budgets (defense, education, national debt, etc.) or placed in an investment fund that will serve future generations.

However, there is one issue which, while not directly connected to the gas issue, has emerged in its full ugliness in connection with the exploration and production companies: the conduct of the gas lobbyists.

Lobbying is a perfectly legitimate activity in any democratic system. Individuals and interest groups have the right to try to convince policy makers, both in the executive and the legislature, to take their interests and concerns into account.

Lobbyists operate in democratic parliaments the world over. Lobbying has reached its most sophisticated form in the US Congress, and it's estimated that there are more than 15,000 (!) lobbyists operating round the European Union in Brussels and Strasbourg.

However, the right to lobby must be regulated or there is a danger of misconduct and even corruption.

In the US, the rules for lobbyists in Congress were tightened several years ago following the Abramoff affair.
Jack Abramoff, a professional lobbyist, was convicted in 2006 of bribing persons in the administration and in Congress.

IN CONGRESS, as in the
European Parliament and the Knesset, all lobbyists are obliged to register, and when in the legislature wear a badge indicating their identity and affiliation. The Code of Conduct places strict limitations on what is allowed and what is forbidden in relations between congressmen and lobbyists, and there are rules regarding what is known as the "revolving door," requiring a cooling-off period before ex-congressmen can become lobbyists.

In the Knesset, new rules of ethics currently up for approval by the House Committee also place strict limits on what is allowed in relations between Knesset Members and lobbyists.

This is designed to prevent lobbyists "buying" MKs, or placing undue pressure on their voting. There is no doubt that once the new rules are adopted, the range of lobbying activities in the Knesset will be greatly restricted. However, this is not enough. Several years ago, when I prepared a comparative study on the operation of lobbyists around the world in preparation for the addition of Chapter 12 to the Knesset Law, which deals with lobbyists, one of the veteran lobbyists asked me with a smile: "In other parliaments, are lobbyists allowed to sit around committee tables, as we are in the Knesset?"

My answer was that not only are lobbyists not allowed to sit around the table, they are not allowed into the committee rooms.

The problem here is that lobbyists are invited to sit around committee tables by the committee chairmen themselves, not only when the committee wishes to hear what they have to say, but whenever an issue of concern to those who employ them is up for deliberation. This can result in a situation like that which occurred several weeks ago in the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee, where there were more gas industry lobbyists present than MKs. Yitzhak Tshuva, who holds a controlling stake in the Delek group, which has invested heavily in gas exploration, was also present and no doubt had an intimidating effect on the participating MKs.

There is no doubt that the presence of lobbyists in committee rooms should be restricted. It is also desirable that lobbyists abide by a code of conduct, such as the voluntary code that exists in the EU. Though lobbyists have not necessarily been engaged – visibly – in bad-mouthing Prof. Eytan Sheshinski (who headed the committee that dealt with the gas and petroleum royalties) and all those supporting its conclusions, other gas company messengers were.


This should not be allowed in a well-ordered democracy.

The writer is a former Knesset employee.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

OUR RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE JEWISH FUTURE

BY DANNY AYALON 

WITH THE CURRENT ASSAULT ON ISRAEL'S LEGITIMACY GROWING, THE JEWISH PEOPLE AS A WHOLE ARE BEING TARGETED.

There is a well-known sentiment along the lines of if there had been an Israel 70 years ago, there would have been no Holocaust. While this is undoubtedly true, perhaps for the generations who were born after the Holocaust it requires further explanation.

The 2,000 years of Diaspora left the Jewish people vulnerable to all manner of expulsions, massacres, pogroms and discrimination, culminating in the attempted genocide that was the Holocaust.

ON INTERNATIONAL Holocaust Remembrance Day we commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1945. This date is less than three years before the international community overwhelmingly endorsed the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty, through UN General Assembly Resolution 181, in our ancient homeland.

Unfortunately, some have attempted to paint our connection and right to a state solely on the ashes of the crematoria. This is as much a historic fallacy as it disingenuous. The international community had, through the Mandate for Palestine in 1922, recognized the "historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine" in order to reconstitute "their national home."

While there is little basis for arguing that the Jewish people's right to sovereignty in its historic homeland is based solely on the Holocaust, there is a clear basis for the assertion that the Holocaust would not have happened were Jewish sovereignty already existent at the time.

Israel's Declaration of Independence recalls the Holocaust as "another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by reestablishing in Eretz Yisrael the Jewish state, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew, and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the comity of nations."

However, going further, the declaration recalls the Jewish community of Mandatory Palestine's assistance in the struggle against the Nazis. This demonstrates an early pre-state commitment to rally in the service of any Jew who is in danger. That commitment has continued unabated.

Apart from opening the doors and welcoming Jewish communities across the globe regardless of their circumstance, many – like those in the Arab world and under totalitarian regimes – were in grave danger. The operation in Entebbe to rescue the Jewish passengers aboard an Air France plane in 1976 is the most famous example of the Jewish state's commitment to Jews in distress everywhere.

EARLY LAST year, the UK-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research polled 4,000 Diaspora Jews on their attitudes toward Israel. While an impressive 87% felt that Jews are responsible for ensuring "the survival of Israel," only 31% agreed that the State of Israel has a responsibility for "ensuring the safety of Jews around the world."

These figures appear to demonstrate the feeling that it is a one-way relationship. According to those polled, there are almost three times the number of Diaspora Jews who feel they are responsible for Israel as the other way around.

There is a Jewish dictum, "Kol Yisrael arevim zeh l'zeh" (all Jews are responsible for each other), that is important to note. While we are proud that Jews in the Diaspora feel a responsibility to Israel, they should be more greatly assured that the State of Israel feels an equally immense responsibility to Jewish people all across the globe.

All of us have a responsibility for the Jewish future, and no less so in our land. While we share the responsibility to defend its borders and physically build the nation, Jews in the Diaspora have a responsibility to defend Israel from those who seek to defame it.

With the current assault on Israel's legitimacy growing, the Jewish people as a whole are being targeted. It is increasingly easy to demonstrate that the "new" anti-Semitism, remodeled as anti-Zionism, is on many occasions a thinly veiled disguise for "old" anti-Semitism. Those who deny only the Jewish people, out of all the family of nations, the right to selfdetermination single us out.

Unfortunately, among these groups and individuals can also be found many Jews. However, this is hardly unique in a history which has repeatedly shown many Jews being party to their own destruction.

Sixty-six years ago, the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau were finally opened to set the poor wretched remainder of European Jewry free after years of unspeakable horror. Much of the world had turned its back on the Jews of Europe during those darkest of days, and even later refused to let this remnant return to its ancestral home. A sovereign Jewish state would have immediately travelled to the ends of the earth to rescue and fight for its people.

In 2003, IAF planes flew over Auschwitz-Birkenau in a highly symbolic act that perhaps more than any other represents the change from Jewish helplessness to independence.

Unfortunately, it was 59 years too late.

The writer is deputy foreign minister.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

AN ALLEGIANCE TO MORAL VALUES

BY GIDEON SAAR 

 

Historic lesson to be learned from Holocaust based on understanding of moral collapse in Europe during those horrific years.

Excerpted from the speech Education Minister Gideon Saar gave at the UNESCO International Holocaust Memorial Day Ceremony in Paris on Wednesday.

On Thursday we commemorate International Holocaust Memorial Day. The UNESCO General Resolution 61, adopted in November 2007, states that the Holocaust "will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice."

The moral and historical lesson that the human race has to learn from the Holocaust must be based on an understanding of the total moral collapse that took place in Europe during those horrific years.

The Nazi regime was ruled by insanity.

"We were faced with the question...," said SS chief Heinrich Himmler to his men in October 1943, "...what about the women and children? I did not consider myself justified to exterminate the men... and allow the avengers of our sons and grandsons in the form of their children to grow up. The difficult decision had to be made to have this people disappear from the earth."

Yet the Nazi government could not have executed its plot without deep, widespread cooperation throughout the continent – both by the nations and by the elite. Many cooperated, and so many turned a blind eye. At the same time, the doors to the countries of the world slammed shut to those seeking to escape Europe and find asylum in any possible destination.

Hitler marched forward, stage after stage, in his hate campaign against the Jews. Discriminating against them, forcing them out of society, branding them, herding them into defined territories and ultimately – obliterating them. He constantly looked for further and further extremes of feasibility in carrying out his satanic plans.

But at no point did he encounter any real barrier, obstacle or resistance.

The ease with which it was all executed is mind-boggling. Public officials, religious figures and intellectuals, scientists and academics, the entire body of European civilization – turned its back on its values and the most fundamental human code.

IN HIS monumental book The Years of Extermination, Prof. Saul Friedlander describes an incident in which a few elderly Jews (nine of them, according to witnesses) returned from the massacre at Babi Yar in the Ukraine and sat down outside their old synagogue.

No one dared approach them to offer food or drink. The punishment for doing so was liable to be immediate execution. One by one the Jews starved to death, until only two remained.

A passerby suggested that a German sentry shoot the two men rather than let them die of hunger. He thought about it for a moment, and then did so.

We are members of an ancient and proud people, which throughout history has contributed great spiritual, cultural and scientific assets to humanity in general, and to Europe in particular. After 2,000 years of being persecuted and murdered, we now have the privilege of living in a sovereign Jewish state.

We swore: Never Again. Upholding this vow dictates that we shall never relinquish our right and duty to defend our people by our own might.

The universal obligation to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy, the likes of which are unknown throughout human history, demands that we all remember what happened on European soil during those times.

Progress, technology and science did not stop the atrocity. To a certain extent, the opposite is true. They made it possible for the Nazi killing machine to commit mass murder of inconceivable magnitude.

Science can serve either good or evil purposes.

Only allegiance to moral values can guarantee the prevention of atrocities, and ensure a better future for the human race. Such an allegiance requires the willingness to stand up to evil, confront it and sometimes pay a price as well.

THIS KIND of allegiance can only be assured through education. I am convinced that the more we continue studying and teaching about what transpired during those darkest of days – as is happening in more and more countries – the better we can fend off moral numbness, which is always what allows man-made atrocities to take place.


I would like to conclude with a command from Deuteronomy (25: 17-19): "Remember how Amalek treated you when you were on your way out of Egypt. He met you on your way and, after you had passed by, he fell on you from the rear and cut off the stragglers; when you were faint and weary... Do not forget."


Let us fulfill this command.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

WAITING FOR THE NEXT MURDERER

THE FACT THAT EMIL GRUNZWEIG'S KILLER SPENT 27 YEARS IN PRISON SHOULD HELP TO DETER AT LEAST OF SOME OF THE NEXT WOULD-BE ASSASSINS.

Yona Avrushmi, who murdered Emil Grunzweig during a Peace Now demonstration in Jerusalem in 1983, was released from prison yesterday - after 27 years. If he had time to peruse the newspaper headlines, he might have read the warning from Police Commissioner David Cohen about murder being committed for political or ideological reasons.

Of course, it's only a coincidence, but one that raises questions as to whether the past will repeat itself, and whether the situation today is as serious as it was at the height of the disputes about the Lebanon War. Grunzweig's murder shocked Israel; afterward, there were signs of moderation in the public discourse and a lull in the verbal violence, but the Oslo Accords again aroused dormant or silenced forces, which brought about the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Since the murder of Rabin, there has been almost no similar crime among Israelis - a prominent exception was the attempt to harm Prof. Zeev Sternhell. Rabin's assassin, Yigal Amir, is supposed to serve a life sentence, literally, without his punishment being reduced. Amir will not be the next Avrushmi. But it's doubtful whether such a serious punishment will deter those plotting to harm political figures or other prominent participants in the public discourse.

The greater the fanaticism, the greater the readiness to commit suicide and the indifference to the fate of those who happen to be near the target of the assassination. The next murder attempt is likely not to involve point-blank pistol shots, as did Rabin's murder, nor sniping from a distance, but be a more powerful version of Grunzweig's murder. Avrushmi threw a hand grenade, which killed Grunzweig and injured others; the next murderer will be able to use explosive devices that cause numerous casualties.

The Israel Police and the Shin Bet security services, each of them in its own field and in accordance with its powers, must do their utmost to gather intelligence about those planning the next political killing, and to protect those who are being threatened.

Avrushmi's 27 years in prison, and the fact that Amir's life imprisonment has not been reduced, and is not expected to be shortened, should help to deter at least of some of the next would-be assassins. Murder for so-called "ideological" reasons, which is an assassination of democracy, is no less serious than an ordinary criminal murder - in fact, just the opposite is true.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

IN THE ABSENCE OF PARTNERS

IF INTERIM AGREEMENTS ARE NOT POSSIBLE, THE TWO SIDES MUST REACH INFORMAL INTERIM UNDERSTANDINGS THAT WOULD CREATE A TWO-STATE SITUATION DE FACTO.

BY ARI SHAVIT

If it weren't sad, it would be funny. Once every few years, some report appears about some Israelis and some Palestinians holding negotiations on some final-status arrangement.

If you examine the report carefully, you see immediately that the negotiations in question, like all the previous ones, failed to solve the problems of the refugees, Jerusalem and demilitarization. They provided no solutions to the Hamas challenge, evacuating the settlers or the weakness of the Israeli and Palestinian governments.

But since the newspapers' night editors are members of the same tribe, the morning headlines do not deal with what has not been achieved. And since the radio and television hosts are members of the same tribe, they don't ask the hard questions. Within a day, a cohesive picture of reality has been created - the good Palestinians were partners, the good Israelis were partners and the final-status agreement was within touching distance. If the bad Israelis hadn't come and ruined everything, we would be well into the age of peace by now.

It's funny, really funny. Only someone who doesn't understand the Palestinian tragedy could believe the Palestinian refugees would renounce their right of return to the houses and villages and towns they lost in 1948. Only someone who doesn't grasp the religious dimension of Palestinian identity could believe the Palestinian leadership capable of compromising on the Temple Mount and the heart of Jerusalem. Only someone who does not respect Palestinian nationalism could believe the proud Palestinian people would settle for a demilitarized, carved-up state with no army and no control over its borders or airspace.

We need to understand - not out of contempt for the Palestinians but out of deep respect for them - that they are still unable to pay the price of a peaceful end to the conflict.

It's funny, really funny. Only someone who doesn't understand the Jewish tragedy could believe the Jews capable of not demanding that the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state and renounce the right of return. Only someone who doesn't respect Jewish history could believe Israel would entirely give up its connection to the Temple Mount and the heart of Jerusalem. Only someone who doesn't understand the Israeli situation could believe the State of Israel would survive beside an armed Palestinian state with wide-open borders and wide-open airspace.

We need to understand - not out of contempt for the Israelis but out of deep respect for them - that they are still unable to pay the price of a peaceful end to the conflict.

It's very funny, but also very sad. We have been deluding ourselves for 15 years that we are very close, right on the brink. Once it was the Beilin-Abu Mazen document, once the Camp David summit, once the Geneva Initiative, once the Annapolis summit. And if only Yitzhak Rabin hadn't been murdered, if only Benjamin Netanyahu hadn't been elected, if only Ehud Olmert had had two months more.

But the truth is that the current peace-process paradigm is a false one. The proposed diplomatic horizon is a sham. There is no Palestinian partner for a permanent peace, no Israeli partner for a permanent peace and no chance for a permanent peace in the foreseeable future.

Thus if we don't want things to get very sad indeed - in other words, if we want to avert a disaster - we must think outside the box.

The Israelis must strive to end the occupation without endangering their state. To do so, they must make structural changes in their system of government, evacuate territory in the West Bank and receive guarantees from the international community.

The Palestinians must strive to build a viable state based on an ethos of life. To do so, they must continue Salam Fayyad's momentum, build the institutions of statehood and expand their control over the territories.

If both sides are capable of concluding interim agreements - wonderful. But if interim agreements are not possible, they must reach informal interim understandings that would create a two-state situation de facto.

The belief that one more round of negotiations would yield one more document that would finally bring peace has been disproven. Waiting for the perfect peace has become dangerous. After 15 years of stupidity, the time has come to say good-bye to the messianic paradigm of the end of the conflict. The only way to divide the country is to act both resolutely and cautiously to cool the conflict and end the occupation.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

UNTIL THE HORSE GIVES UP THE GHOST

NEVER, BUT NEVER, WILL ISRAEL BE OFFERED A BETTER DEAL THAN THE ONE NOW REVEALED - AND WHAT CAME OF IT? ISRAELI REJECTION. REJECTIONISM. NO, NO,NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT.

BY GIDEON LEVY

One upon a time there was a farmer who wanted to save on feed. Every day he would reduce the amount of food for his horse, see that it worked, and continue cutting and cutting until the horse had nothing to eat. The horse died.

This hackneyed tale has now been revived, emerging from the Palestine Papers leaked to the Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera.

The Israeli farmer closed his hand, and the Palestinian horse was fit to die. One of them saved, the other expired. The Palestinians had already conceded most of their world, and greedy Tzipi Livni insisted: what about Har Homa and Maaleh Adumim?

Terror has stopped, they're coordinating targeted killings to serve Israel. Selling their souls to the devil, they're for the closure on Gaza. Mahmoud Abbas explains, like an Israeli propagandist, that the return of the refugees will destroy the state of Israel. Maybe 10,000 a year, they're still trying - in vain. Livni doesn't agree.

They conceded most of the settlements in Jerusalem, the Old City is also no longer exclusively in their hands, and nothing. Betar Ilit and Modi'in Ilit are ours, and that's not enough for Israel, as if it has forgotten that the 1967 borders are the Palestinian compromise.

What more do we want? What more will Israel ask of the dying horse, a moment before it gives up the ghost? A Palestinian state in greater Abu Dis? Hatikvah as its anthem? And what will happen then, when the horse dies? A wild pony will emerge that will never agree to live under the conditions of the old horse.

Never, but never, will Israel be offered a better deal than the one now revealed - and what came of it? Israeli rejection. Rejectionism. No, no,no, absolutely not.

And yes to what? To continuing the occupation, perpetuating the conflict. From now on we can say to our children: For Har Homa we'll continue living on the edge of the volcano. That is the terrible truth. The settlers have vanquished Israel. It is not hard to imagine how possible it would have been to return the West Bank to its owners had there not been hundreds of thousands of settlers living in it.

Were it not for this enterprise, there would have been peace. Now that it is established, Israel is no longer able to get up on its feet and extricate itself from its stranglehold.

Generations of Israeli diplomats have held discussions with their Palestinian counterparts, understanding the gravity of the moment, and even becoming more flexible, until the fear of the settlers seizes them. Neither Israel's security nor the country's future concerns them, only the fear of withdrawal, and none of them can overcome it.

They're always close to a solution, within reach and yet light-years away. All the peace proponents through the generations, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert and Livni, were fearful of taking the only step that would bring peace: evacuating settlements.

After the night when the documents were released by Al-Jazeera, with Livni represented by an announcer speaking English with a particularly repellent Israeli accent, a major uproar could have been expected the next day, not only in the Palestinian street and in the Arab world, but also in the streets of Israel.

And what a (predictable ) surprise: the Palestinians and the Arabs raised an outcry against the far-reaching concessions of the Palestinian Authority, threatening to crush it once and for all, and in Israel: silence.

Who cares about another fateful missed opportunity? Who cares that for this West Bank Story of real estate, Maaleh Adumim and Ariel, we are condemned to more lives of war, danger and ostracism.

Who cares that for a decade our leaders brazenly lied to us, deceived us by saying that there's no partner, that the Palestinians are evading giving answers, that there is no Palestinian proposal, and above all, that Israel wants peace, not the Palestinians.

We eagerly bought the lies, and now that they've been exposed, we remain apathetic. Riots? Protests? Fury at those who missed the chance and misled the nation? Not in our backyard.

Now the horse will gradually die. Once we said that Yasser Arafat was the last obstacle to an agreement, and that if he would just be removed peace would come. Now his successor, Abbas, will also fade away, the most moderate Palestinian leader of all time, deceived, bitter and despairing.

In Har Homa another neighborhood will be built, in the Balata refugee camp another generation will rise, determined to wage battle, and in the streets of Tel Aviv - the good times will roll.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

NETANYAHU, BARAK AND THE NEXT WAR

NETANYAHU, FOR TWO TERMS NOW, HAS NOT TAKEN US INTO ANY UNNECESSARY WARS, AND SO FAR HASN'T GAMBLED ON ANY DANGEROUS MILITARY ADVENTURE.

BY ORIT GALILI ZUCKER

Four explanations were given last week for the move in which Ehud Barak dismantled the Labor Party and brought his new Atzmaut party into Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

One explanation holds that the move was intended mainly to extend both men's political survival, and thus heralds even deeper political stagnation than before. Another holds that a more compact and controllable government will enable the two to jointly advance a diplomatic agreement without being threatened with resignations. A third explanation is that the two will now be able to free themselves of political maintenance work and deal with the real threat - halting Iran's nuclear program. And the fourth holds that they won't do that either, because they're scared and can't make decisions.

In early 2009, I was a personal advisor to Barak in the election campaign. That campaign was unique in that most of it took place during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

After the operation, it turned out - to the dismay of campaign managers Shalom Kital, Shelly Yachimovich and Ophir Pines-Paz - that the votes Barak hoped to garner from it did not accrue to the Labor Party. The sense was that the operation's goals were not achieved: The Qassam rocket fire did not stop and kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit remained in captivity. Residents of the south, for whose benefit the operational orders were given, slaughtered Labor at the polls.

Three days after the disappointing results, I met with Barak. I handed him a document whose contents I thought up on the night the results were known. The document detailed the plan for the Labor Party's entry into Netanyahu's government. The rest is history.

A no less important part of the meeting was devoted to getting an answer from Barak to what in my eyes remained an unresolved question about Cast Lead, but which it had not been possible to ask while the fighting was going on: Why didn't he insist on stopping the operation after three days, given that he had already examined this option with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner?

After the fact, following the Goldstone report and the diplomatic, political and media damage we suffered by continuing Cast Lead, it should be clear that the Kouchner-Barak initiative was the only one that correctly analyzed the situation and, before anyone else, foresaw the consequences of Israel's entanglement if the fighting continued. But Barak's move was depicted then as undermining the serving prime minister, Ehud Olmert.

I asked Barak: Politically, you ultimately got nothing from the operation. You remained with the same number of parliamentary seats predicted before the operation began.

Barak explained that when an army is charging off to war, it is virtually impossible to stop it, and that he was in a bind: When a defense minister stops an army, he can be considered disloyal to the organization below him. He added that Olmert, with his abbreviated military record, was seized by a dangerous burst of adrenalin when he was given the chance to command a military move, just as happened during the Second Lebanon War.

So maybe peace is not on our doorstep with Barak and Netanyahu. But Netanyahu, for two terms now, has not taken us into any unnecessary wars, and so far hasn't gambled on any dangerous military adventure. Better to have a prime minister who is painted in the headlines as hesitant and fearful than a hasty and rash prime minister - or than an opposition leader like Tzipi Livni, who, as foreign minister at that time, insisted to her voters that she had acted like a real man in the Cast Lead war room.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

NOT A GOOD WOMAN

INSTEAD OF ADDRESSING MY ECONOMIC WORLDVIEW, NEHEMIA SHTRASLER PREFERS TO RELY ON A BUNCH OF SMEARS THAT ARE NOTHING BUT BASELESS GOSSIP.

BY SHELLY YACHIMOVICH

Nehemia Shtrasler is very worried. The public, economists and even senior figures at his own newspaper have stopped worshiping the extreme-right Thatcherist economic model, of which he is one of the last foolish proponents. Even Lord Stanley Kalms, who was Margaret Thatcher's senior advisor, now admits it was wrong.

Instead, all these people are talking about the worrisome concentration of power and capital in the hands of a few, about the unfairness and economic unwisdom of creating masses of poor workers, about the destruction wrought by privatization and the breaking of organized labor that Shtrasler so admires.

Instead of addressing my worldview, Shtrasler prefers to rely on a bunch of smears that are nothing but baseless gossip - except that gossip-mongers usually ask for a response, a journalistic act from which he evidently feels exempt. Had he done so, he would have avoided inventing a story that never happened.

But that is marginal, and it would be a pity to lose the excellent opportunity provided by his ranting, chauvinistic column ("is this how a woman who sees herself as someone who does good should act?" ) to make it clear what the Labor Party must become if it wants to live.

I came early to the meeting at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, and I was forced to hear attorney Ram Caspi, godfather of the system that mixes business with government, lamenting the tycoons' bitter fate. They're not having fun, he mourned. Leave them alone, he demanded, and even cried: "I want thousands of [Yitzhak] Tshuvas! Thousands of Sammy Ofers!" That is a strange cry, given that the essence of economic concentration is five oligarchs who are more powerful than the central government.

Shtrasler also loves and admires the tycoons. During the recent global economic crisis, he sought to affix blame. And guess who he found.

"Shelly Yachimovich must be happy," he wrote. "The financial crisis made her dream come true. The wealthy people she despises so much have been hit hard ... If we go into recession (and I believe that it won't come to that ), we will start praying that Dankner, Fishman, Leviev or Tshuva will come back ... Maybe then they will realize that the despised tycoons also ... had the vision that marched the Israeli economy forward..."

Shtrasler has difficulty internalizing the fact that the Labor Party must direct its attention, action and empathy to the unbearable burden that is crushing the middle class and the modern-day slavery of the working poor. He and his ilk would like to see Labor become diluted and disappear into Kadima and Likud, an ideological twin to those parties, a natural address for the tycoons' "distress," blind to the bitter economic and social processes threatening to fragment society. They would like to see Labor in the government, letting lose a political pronouncement from time to time but lacking the ability to act on it, instead of differentiating itself by dealing with challenging and complex economic issues.

A healthy, stable Labor Party is essential to democracy. But it will be rebuilt from its ruins only if it constitutes a sane and enlightened social-democratic alternative. So when Shtrasler calls a mainstream social-democratic worldview extreme "neo-Marxism," he is trying to push this debate from center stage to the wings.

I believe wholeheartedly that if true peace were to prevail, but Israel became an oligarchy of capitalists with an absolute majority of poor workers lacking human rights, we would empty the Zionist vision of meaning. The deeper poverty becomes, the more people have their social safety net stolen from them, the more they will be forced to fight for their physical survival - and then, they won't be able to be contributing citizens and taxpayers, thinkers and intellectuals, assertive in their critiques. Thus fascism and racism will grow.

Shtrasler must understand this: Before we set out to make peace, there has to be a state.

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

EDITORIAL

SO WAS IT A GOOD YEAR?

With the exception of Bank of America, the big banks were profitable in 2010, according to year-end reports filed earlier this month. But even standout results — like JPMorgan Chase's profit surge or Citigroup's first full-year profit since the financial crisis — were underwhelming on closer inspection.

One reason, as Eric Dash recently explained in The Times, is that profits reported at many banks, including Chase, were boosted by large withdrawals of money from reserves set aside to cover losses. To get a truer picture of a bank's condition, you would need to look at the banks' actual revenue, unaffected by loss reserves.

Industrywide, those revenues are off 17 percent from their peak before the financial crisis in 2007, according to Foresight Analytics, a research firm. The latest figures for the biggest banks — Bank of America, Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs — all show declining revenue from the prior year, from a 3 percent drop at Chase for 2010 to a 13 percent slide at Goldman.

The declines are worrisome to the extent that they reflect the weak economy, with businesses unable to expand and borrowers sidelined by unemployment and damaged credit histories. Looked at more broadly, however, reduced revenues should be the norm even after the economy has recovered because a system that is truly safer and more fair will inevitably produce slower revenue growth. That may be disappointing to bankers and some investors, but it would be a sign of progress.

In the run-up to the financial crisis, bank revenues and profits were driven by reckless trading and dubious lending. Curbing those abuses through the Dodd-Frank reform law and other new rules — in effect, reducing risk in the system — will cut into revenue.

For now, regulations governing capital levels, derivatives, credit cards and other products and activities, are in the early stages of development and implementation and have only begun to hit revenue. But if the reforms, taken together, do indeed reduce riskiness to the point that another crisis is unlikely, the banks will make less money, especially in the near term, as they're forced to alter their approaches. As that happens, the banks and their investors will undoubtedly clamor for relief from "overly burdensome" regulation. House Republicans are already vowing to dismantle financial reform.

Unless lawmakers and regulators stand firm, financial reform will fail. We were encouraged to hear President Obama push back in the State of the Union address, saying that he would not hesitate to enforce consumer protections and other rules in the reform law.

Dodd-Frank recognized that outsize bank profits depended on outsize risks and attempts to diminish that threat. If it works, the banks will still be big and multitasking, but not the money makers they once were. That would be a small price to pay for a more stable system.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

ONE NATION, INDIVISIBLE

Fifteen years ago, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit flouted Supreme Court law when it struck down affirmative action at the University of Texas Law School. Last week, in an act of redemption, the appellate court upheld an admissions plan for undergraduates at the University of Texas at Austin that takes race into account to encourage diversity. The plan was adopted after the Supreme Court again approved affirmative action in higher education in 2003.

Like many other universities, the University of Texas values diversity's many educational benefits. Students educated in a diverse university are better prepared for a diverse work force and for helping bring about what the Supreme Court called the dream of "one nation, indivisible."

When the Fifth Circuit said the university couldn't consider race in admissions in 1996, Texas passed the Top 10 Percent Law that used geographic diversity as a proxy for race. Any resident graduating in the top tenth of a high school class is assured admission to a state university. Four-fifths of the places in each University of Texas at Austin class have been for Top 10 students.

For the remaining fifth, the university assesses applicants individually through grades, test scores and so on. But it also looks at other factors, including socio-economic background and race. Students admitted this way turn out to be more competitive, not less. The average SAT score of these students at the university is higher than that of Top 10 students automatically admitted.

Two unsuccessful white applicants challenged this method, saying it discriminated against them because of their race. Rejecting the claim, the Fifth Circuit explained why the selective method is successful and why the Top 10 plan hasn't met the university's diversity goal although it has admitted a lot of minority students.

As Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote, "those minority students remain clustered in certain programs" — education and social work — "limiting the beneficial effects of educational diversity." While Top 10 plans successfully increase minority enrollment, some high schools don't prepare students well to meet requirements of the more demanding majors at the university.

When the Supreme Court said universities could consider race in admissions, it said they could do that, not that they had to. This ruling should give confidence to all universities about seeking diversity and merit.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

MR. MUBARAK IS PUT ON NOTICE

We sympathize with the frustration and anger that is drawing tens of thousands of Egyptians into the streets of Cairo and other cities this week, the country's largest demonstrations in years. Citizens of one of the Arab world's great nations, they struggle with poverty — 40 percent live on less than $2 a day — rising food prices, unemployment and political repression.

Inspired by Tunisia's so-called Jasmine Revolution, they are demanding a government that respects its citizens' voices and is truly committed to improving their lives. Tunisia's revolution should be a warning to all rulers who cling to power for too long and ignore their people's demands. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt clearly hasn't figured that out.

After huge demonstrations on Tuesday, Egypt outlawed public gatherings on Wednesday — but a large number of protestors defied the order and called again for Mr. Mubarak's ouster. According to news reports, the protestors came from all social classes and ideologies.

As authoritarian governments often do, the one in Cairo is deluding itself about the causes for the unrest, which had left two protestors and one policeman dead. Officials blamed the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition movement, which is formally banned but tolerated. Even if the Brotherhood had a role — the group denies it; the truth seems more complex — it is easy to understand why Egyptians are fed up.

Mr. Mubarak, 82 and in ill health, has been in power for three decades and is believed to be trying to fix it so his son Gamal can succeed him in elections expected later this year. Government projects that were supposed to benefit the poor only end up enriching the elite. Parliamentary elections in November were widely seen as fraudulent. Security forces, which beat and arrested hundreds of protestors, are widely seen as corrupt.

This is a delicate moment for the United States and Egypt, a crucial partner in Arab-Israeli peace efforts.

Mr. Mubarak may still have a chance to steer his country on a stable path without sacrificing it to extremist elements. That will require ordering security forces to exercise restraint against the protestors and — even more importantly — quickly offering Egyptians a credible, more democratic path forward.

President Obama was right to move beyond his predecessor's "democracy" agenda built around military intervention and empty rhetoric. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called publicly on Mr. Mubarak to make reforms and not to block peaceful protests. The administration needs to persuade him to accept the legitimacy and urgency behind the protests and begin talking to opposition groups. Egypt needs change. A peaceful transition would be best for everyone.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

REALISM WITHOUT THE BITTERNESS

BY DAVID FIRESTONE

With his lips pursed, body tense and applause sparing, John Boehner was restless in the speaker's chair during President Obama's State of the Union address. A few minutes after it was over, Mr. Boehner made his impatience explicit with a statement accusing Mr. Obama of having "accelerated the job-destroying spending spree in Washington."

Representative Paul Ryan, in a dour Republican response to the speech, warned of a nation at a "tipping point" and the prospect of becoming Greece and Ireland "just around the corner." And, in case the Republican disapproval wasn't clear enough, Representative Michele Bachmann unleashed her own Tea Party response, accusing the president of exploding spending and debt unlike anything in American history. To enhance the sense of persecution, she stood in front of the photograph of Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima and said that if they could "beat back a totalitarian aggressor," then present-day Americans too could "proclaim liberty."

It was hard to reconcile those remarks with the actual speech delivered by the man implicitly accused of being the new totalitarian. President Obama called for some relatively modest investments in clean energy, education and infrastructure. He asked only the wealthiest taxpayers, along with the oil companies, to make financial sacrifices, and he called for corporate tax reform. He proposed a freeze on most discretionary spending and acknowledged the need for long-term rethinking of Social Security and other entitlement programs to cut the deficit. He even vowed to veto earmarks. These were proposals squarely in the tradition of previous addresses by Democratic — and Republican — presidents.

What really distinguished Mr. Obama from the three Republican leaders on display in a single night was not the specifics in the speech. It was the cheerful assertion that if the United States is to regain its footing in the world, it will be government that stands it upright. In surprisingly sunny terms considering the struggle about to begin, he said it was government that had unleashed the engineering of the Space Age and the Internet era. It will be government, he said, that prepares good teachers, makes college affordable, and provides incentives for businesses to hire.

The three Republicans portrayed government as a grim juggernaut that kills jobs and dreams and even, in Ms. Bachmann's nightmarish vision, enforces light-bulb standards. The only dream they presented was to cut and cut again. Mr. Obama cannot avoid the path toward eventual deficit reduction, but he is more likely than the doomsayers to persuade the nation to join him on the journey.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

TUSSLING OVER JESUS

BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

The National Catholic Reporter newspaper put it best: "Just days before Christians celebrated Christmas, Jesus got evicted."

Yet the person giving Jesus the heave-ho in this case was not a Bethlehem innkeeper. Nor was it an overzealous mayor angering conservatives by pulling down Christmas decorations. Rather, it was a prominent bishop, Thomas Olmsted, stripping St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix of its affiliation with the Roman Catholic diocese.

The hospital's offense? It had terminated a pregnancy to save the life of the mother. The hospital says the 27-year-old woman, a mother of four children, would almost certainly have died otherwise.

Bishop Olmsted initially excommunicated a nun, Sister Margaret McBride, who had been on the hospital's ethics committee and had approved of the decision. That seems to have been a failed attempt to bully the hospital into submission, but it refused to cave and continues to employ Sister Margaret. Now the bishop, in effect, is excommunicating the entire hospital — all because it saved a woman's life.

Make no mistake: This clash of values is a bellwether of a profound disagreement that is playing out at many Catholic hospitals around the country. These hospitals are part of the backbone of American health care, amounting to 15 percent of hospital beds.

Already in Bend, Ore., last year, a bishop ended the church's official relationship with St. Charles Medical Center for making tubal ligation sterilizations available to women who requested them. And two Catholic hospitals in Texas halted tubal ligations at the insistence of the local bishop in Tyler.

The National Women's Law Center has just issued a report quoting doctors at Catholic-affiliated hospitals as saying that sometimes they are forced by church doctrine to provide substandard care to women with miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies in ways that can leave the women infertile or even endanger their lives. More clashes are likely as the church hierarchy grows more conservative, and as hospitals and laity grow more impatient with bishops who seem increasingly out of touch.

Catholic hospitals like St. Joseph's that are evicted by the church continue to operate largely as before. The main consequence is that Mass can no longer be said in the hospital chapel. Thomas C. Fox, the editor of National Catholic Reporter, noted regretfully that a hospital with deep Catholic roots like St. Joseph's now cannot celebrate Mass, while airport chapels can. Mr. Fox added: "Olmsted's moral certitude is lifeless, leaving no place for compassionate Christianity."

To me, this battle illuminates two rival religious approaches, within the Catholic church and any spiritual tradition. One approach focuses upon dogma, sanctity, rules and the punishment of sinners. The other exalts compassion for the needy and mercy for sinners — and, perhaps, above all, inclusiveness.

The thought that keeps nagging at me is this: If you look at Bishop Olmsted and Sister Margaret as the protagonists in this battle, one of them truly seems to me to have emulated the life of Jesus. And it's not the bishop, who has spent much of his adult life as a Vatican bureaucrat climbing the career ladder. It's Sister Margaret, who like so many nuns has toiled for decades on behalf of the neediest and sickest among us.

Then along comes Bishop Olmsted to excommunicate the Christ-like figure in our story. If Jesus were around today, he might sue the bishop for defamation.

Yet in this battle, it's fascinating how much support St. Joseph's Hospital has had and how firmly it has pushed back — in effect, pounding 95 theses on the bishop's door. The hospital backed up Sister Margaret, and it rejected the bishop's demand that it never again terminate a pregnancy to save the life of a mother.

"St. Joseph's will continue through our words and deeds to carry out the healing ministry of Jesus," said Linda Hunt, the hospital president. "Our operations, policies, and procedures will not change." The Catholic Health Association of the United States, a network of Catholic hospitals around the country, stood squarely behind St. Joseph's.

Anne Rice, the author and a commentator on Catholicism, sees a potential turning point. "St. Joseph's refusal to knuckle under to the bishop is huge," she told me, adding: "Maybe rank-and-file Catholics are finally talking back to a hierarchy that long ago deserted them."

With the Vatican seemingly as deaf and remote as it was in 1517, some Catholics at the grass roots are pushing to recover their faith. Jamie L. Manson, the same columnist for National Catholic Reporter who proclaimed that Jesus had been "evicted," also argued powerfully that many ordinary Catholics have reached a breaking point and that St. Joseph's heralds a new vision of Catholicism: "Though they will be denied the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist, the Eucharist will rise out of St. Joseph's every time the sick are healed, the frightened are comforted, the lonely are visited, the weak are fed, and vigil is kept over the dying."

Hallelujah.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

UTAH'S GUN APPRECIATION DAY

BY GAIL COLLINS

This week in Washington, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey introduced three very modest gun regulation bills, including one making it more difficult to sell guns to people on the terror watch list.

Meanwhile, in Salt Lake City, the State Legislature is considering a bill to honor the Browning M1911 pistol by making it the official state firearm.

Guess which idea has the better chance of passage? Can I see a show of hands? Oh, you cynics, you!

Yes, a committee in the Utah House of Representatives voted 9 to 2 this week to approve a bill that would add the Browning pistol to the pantheon of official state things, along with the bird (seagull), rock (coal) and dance (square). Also, although it really has nothing to do with this discussion, I have to mention that the Utah Legislature has provided its citizens with an official state cooking pot, and it is the Dutch oven.

"This firearm is Utah," Representative Carl Wimmer, the Browning bill's sponsor, told The Salt Lake Tribune. He is an energetic-looking guy with a huge forehead who has only been in office four years yet has, according to one of his videos, "sponsored and passed some of the most significant pieces of legislation in Utah history."

Capitol observers say the Browning bill has an excellent chance of becoming law. Meanwhile, Lautenberg will be lucky to get a hearing. The terror of the National Rifle Association is so pervasive that President Obama did not want to poison the mood of his State of the Union address by suggesting that when somebody on the terror watch list tries to buy a gun, maybe we should do an extra check.

"But people are now commenting on the fact that the president didn't talk about it in his speech. That hasn't happened for years," said Paul Helmke of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, whose job really does require an inordinate amount of optimism.

Lautenberg's bills are extremely mild, and no one seems eager to argue in public against the one that would end easy access to 30-bullet magazines that allow someone with a semiautomatic pistol to mow down a parking lot full of people in a matter of seconds. Instead, they just refuse to come to the phone or toss out platitudes.

"The people that are going to commit a crime or are going to do something crazy aren't going to pay attention to the laws in the first place. Let's fix the real problem. Here's a mentally deranged person who had access to a gun that should not have had access to a gun," said Senator Tom Coburn on "Meet the Press."

Another of Lautenberg's bills would tighten a loophole in current law so a mentally deranged person who should not have access to guns could not go to a gun show and buy one without the regular security check. But never mind.

On Monday, the Utah State Capitol celebrated Browning Day, honoring John Moses Browning, native son and maker of the nominee for Official State Firearm. There were speeches, a proclamation, a flyover by a National Guard helicopter, and, of course, a rotunda full of guns. "We recognize his efforts to preserve the Constitution," Gov. Gary Herbert said, in keeping with what appears to be a new Republican regulation requiring all party members to mention the Constitution at least once in every three sentences.

It is generally not a good policy to dwell on the strange behavior of state legislators since it leads to bottomless despair. If I wanted to go down that road, I'd give you Mark Madsen, a Utah state senator who tried to improve upon the Browning Day celebrations by suggesting they be scheduled to coincide with Martin Luther King Day since "both made tremendous contributions to individual freedom and individual liberty."

But it's a symptom of a new streak of craziness abroad in the land, which has politicians scrambling to prove not just that they are against gun regulation, but also that they are proactively in favor of introducing guns into every conceivable part of American life. National parks. Schools. Bars. Airports.

"There is abundant research suggesting in cities where more people own guns, the crime rate, especially the murder rate, goes down," Utah's new United States senator, Mike Lee, told CNN.

Actually, there's a ton of debate about this, which is hard to resolve given the fact that, as Michael Luo reported in The Times, the N.R.A.'s crack lobbyists have managed to stop almost all federal financing for scientific research on gun-related questions. But Lee has definitely made the list of most creative commentators on these matters, ever since he dismissed calls for a calmer political rhetoric after the Tucson massacre by arguing that "the shooter wins if we, who've been elected, change what we do just because of what he did."

Feel free to say whatever you like about the senator's thinking. Be frank. Otherwise, the shooter wins.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

25 Years of Digital Vandalism

By WILLIAM GIBSON

VANCOUVER, British Columbia

IN January 1986, Basit and Amjad Alvi, sibling programmers living near the main train station in Lahore, Pakistan, wrote a piece of code to safeguard the latest version of their heart-monitoring software from piracy. They called it Brain, and it was basically a wheel-clamp for PCs. Computers that ran their program, plus this new bit of code, would stop working after a year, though they cheerfully provided three telephone numbers, against the day. If you were a legitimate user, and could prove it, they'd unlock you.

But in the way of all emergent technologies, something entirely unintended happened. The Alvis' wheel-clamp was soon copied by a certain stripe of computer hobbyist, who began to distribute it, concealed within various digital documents that people might be expected to want to open. Because almost all these booby-trapped files went out on floppy disks, the virus spread at a pre-Internet snail's pace.

Still, it did wreak a certain amount of low-grade havoc, freezing computers across the world. The hobbyists did it because they could, or to proudly demonstrate that they could, or to see what would happen, or simply because they thought it was neat.

This proved hellishly embarrassing for the Alvi brothers, whose three telephone numbers were often inadvertently included in the files, and eventually they had to cut all three lines. There were far too many angry callers, mainly from the United States and Britain. In short, the road to our present universe teeming with viruses, worms and Trojan horses was paved, a quarter-century ago this month, with the Alvi brothers' good intentions of securing their intellectual property.

At the time, I found it surprising that these virus-writers were apparently amateurs, civilians. I had imagined computer viruses as strategic military weapons, the business of governments, not practical jokers. Viruses might be sometimes purloined by specialist criminals looking for a big score but were never something one could cobble together at home.

But precisely the opposite happened. Virus-writers seemed, at least at first, to be in it for anything but money. The outcome was simply vandalism, as dull as someone smashing out the light fixtures in a bus shelter. Random bits of software or pieces of equipment would temporarily quit functioning. Random strangers were anonymously discommoded. Somewhere, I assumed, someone had a rather abstract giggle.

I wasn't impressed, however arcane the know-how that was required. But I was embarrassed at how thoroughly I'd missed this in my fiction: the pettiness of most virus-writing, the banality of the result. I had never depicted, much less imagined, anyone doing anything as pointlessly ill-intentioned. (I began to try, on the margins of my work, to remedy that oversight, if only for the sake of naturalism.)

Last fall, when I learned of the Stuxnet attack on the computers running Iran's nuclear program, I briefly thought that here, finally, was the real thing: a cyberweapon purpose-built by one state actor to strategically interfere with the business of another.

But as more details emerged, it began to look less like something new and more like a piece of hobbyist "street" technology, albeit one expensively optimized for a specific attack. The state actor — said to be Israel, perhaps working with the United States, though no one is sure — had simply built on the unpaid labor of generations of hobbyist vandals.

Stuxnet isn't spectacularly original, as computer worms go, and those Iranian systems aren't terribly exotic. They're like ours. As a result, I expect we'll see a wave of unpleasant backwash, with military money and technology beefing up the code, the digital DNA, of the descendants of Brain.

Any hobbyist worth his or her salt will, in turn, be admiring the Stuxnet code that shut down the Iranian centrifuges, looking to imitate and improve on it. And non-state players, from digital vandals to terrorists, will be casting an appraising eye, if they haven't already, at the computers that monitor and control more ordinary but nonetheless critical systems: water treatment and distribution, sewage, oil and gas pipelines, electrical transmission lines, wind farms and nuclear power plants.

Should the lights go out in our online bus shelters one day, or some critical control system go spectacularly awry, it may in a sense, however distantly, be because Israel found a way to shut down Iran's centrifuges. But in another way it will be the result of a bright idea two brothers once had, in the vicinity of Lahore Railway Station, to innocently clamp a digital pirate's wheel.

William Gibson is the author, most recently, of the novel "Zero History."

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

                                                                                                                                                                         OPED

FROM BULLETS TO MEGABYTES

BY RICHARD A. FALKENRATH

STUXNET, the computer worm that last year disrupted many of the gas centrifuges central to Iran's nuclear program, is a powerful weapon in the new age of global information warfare. A sophisticated half-megabyte of computer code apparently accomplished what a half-decade of United Nations Security Council resolutions could not.

This new form of warfare has several implications that are only now becoming apparent, and that will define the shape of what will likely become the next global arms race — albeit one measured in computer code rather than firepower.

For one thing, the Stuxnet attack highlights the ambiguous boundaries of sovereignty in cyberspace. Promoting national security in the information age will, from time to time, cause unpredictable offense to the rights and interests of innocent people, companies and countries.

Stuxnet attacked the Iranian nuclear program, but it did so by maliciously manipulating commercial software products sold globally by major Western companies. Whoever launched the assault also infected thousands of computers in several countries, including Australia, Britain, Indonesia and the United States.

This kind of collateral damage to the global civilian realm is going to be the norm, not the exception, and advanced economies, which are more dependent on advanced information systems, will be at particular risk.

What's more, offensive and defensive information warfare are tightly, insidiously coupled, which will significantly complicate military-industrial relations.

The expertise needed to defend against a cyberattack is essentially indistinguishable from that needed to make such an attack. The Stuxnet programmers are reported to have exploited proprietary information that had been voluntarily provided to the American government by Siemens, that German company that makes data-and-control programs used in nuclear power facilities — including Iran's.

Siemens did this to help Washington build up its ability to fend off cyberattacks. Will Siemens and other companies think twice next time the American government calls? Probably. Whether it's true or not, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, the United States is now in the business of offensive information warfare, along with China, Israel and Russia, among others.

It's not hard to imagine, then, the splintering of the global information technology industry into multiple camps according to their willingness to cooperate with governments on security matters. We can already see this happening in the telecommunications industry, where companies promote their products' resistance to government intrusion. At the same time, other companies might see an advantage to working closely with the government.

Stuxnet also raises sticky and perhaps irresolvable legal questions. At present there is no real legal framework for adjudicating international cyberattacks; even if victims could determine who was responsible, their governments have few options outside of diplomatic complaints and, perhaps, retaliation in kind. An international entity that could legislate or enforce an information warfare armistice does not exist, and is not really conceivable.

A similar question exists within the United States. Under American law the transmission of malicious code is in many cases a criminal offense. This makes sense, given the economy's reliance on information networks, the sensitivity of stored electronic data and the ever-present risk of attack from viruses, worms and other varieties of malware.

But the president, as commander in chief, does have some authority to conduct offensive information warfare against foreign adversaries. However, as with many presidential powers to wage war and conduct espionage, the extent of his authority has never been enumerated.

This legal ambiguity is problematic because such warfare is far less controllable than traditional military and intelligence operations, and it raises much more complex issues of private property, personal privacy and commercial integrity.

Therefore, before our courts are forced to consider the issue and potentially limit executive powers, as they did after President Harry Truman tried to seize steel plants in the early 1950s, Congress should grant the White House broad authority to wage offensive information warfare.

By explicitly authorizing these offensive operations in appropriate, defined circumstances, a new statute would strengthen the president's power to provide for the common defense in cyberspace. Doing so wouldn't answer all the questions that this new era of warfare presents. But one thing is sure: as bad as this arms race will be, losing it would be even worse.

Richard A. Falkenrath, a principal of the Chertoff Group, an investment advisory firm, is a former deputy commissioner for counterterrorism for the New York Police Department and deputy homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush.

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

THOUGHTS AFTER THE STATE OF THE UNION ...

 

INVESTMENTS BOTH PARTIES CAN AGREE ON

The battle lines were drawn over "investment" vs. "spending" even before President Obama delivered his State of the Union address Tuesday night. The White House had leaked Obama's plan to call for investments in education, infrastructure and other priorities, and Republicans pounced.

"Investment, as you know, is a Latin term for Washington spending," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

 

Well, sometimes. A lot of spending that had nothing to do with building the nation's future has masqueraded as investment, but there are plenty of things that both parties should readily agree made this a better and stronger country. Take the interstate highway system, which helped stitch the nation together and speed commerce — and was championed by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s.

 

Just as successful businesses have separate capital budgets, even a deficit-strapped government should back worthy long-term goals. The president laid out several that merit bipartisan backing.

 

One is education. The No Child Left Behind law was a compromise between a GOP president (George W. Bush) and a Democratic senator (Edward Kennedy). There's no reason Obama and House Speaker John Boehner couldn't reprise those roles in fixing the law's flaws. Ditto the federal Race to the Top program, which uses relatively small amounts of money to encourage states to raise teaching and learning standards — standards developed by governors from both parties.

 

Another fertile area for cooperation is energy. Obama's call for utilities to generate more power with renewable sources deserves bipartisan support.

 

ABOUT EDITORIALS/DEBATE

Opinions expressed in USA TODAY's editorials are decided by its Editorial Board, a demographically and ideologically diverse group that is separate from USA TODAY's news staff.

Most editorials are accompanied by an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature that allows readers to reach conclusions based on both sides of an argument rather than just the Editorial Board's point of view.

 

Then there's basic research. No recent technology has transformed business and daily life as much as the Internet. No, Al Gore didn't invent it, but it did grow out of government research into ways to speed communications. Improving today's information superhighway is as important as maintaining the interstate highways of yesteryear.

 

Sometimes an investment is exactly that. The trick is to know when, and make it possible.

 

Obama ducks a pair of hot-button issues

 

The talking heads spent much of Wednesday chewing over what President Obama said in his State of the Union speech. Far less discussed was what the president didn't say.

 

TWO OMISSIONS IN PARTICULAR WERE GLARING.

Obama uttered nary a word about gun control, despite the recent shooting spree in Tucson that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords gravely wounded and killed six people, including 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, whose parents and brother sat in the first lady's box.

Nor did the words "global warming" or "climate change" pass the president's lips, despite what Obama, in last year's address, called the "overwhelming scientific evidence." Instead, this year he called for clean-energy initiatives that would, among other things, "protect our planet."

 

Politically, Obama has good reasons to duck these hot-button issues when he's trying to shift toward the center. The National Rifle Association has made talk of gun control radioactive. And efforts to control greenhouse gasses are dead in the GOP-controlled House.

 

But still. Would it have been so tough for Obama to call for stepped-up efforts to separate mentally ill individuals from rapid-fire weapons? Or to endorse a ban on the sort of 31-bullet clips used by accused Arizona shooter Jared Loughner? After all, such magazines were included in the assault-weapons ban that expired in 2004 — a ban that Obama, in his 2008 campaign, said he wanted to reinstate.

 

As for climate change, perhaps the middle of an usually cold and snowy winter wasn't the best time to raise it. But the threat remains. Worldwide, 2010 was the warmest year on record.

 

Skepticism about proposed solutions is one thing; denial of the clear-cut science, the position of many newly elected Republican lawmakers, is quite another. Even if an all-out attack on the problem isn't in the cards, Obama can promote interim steps as complex as clean-coal technology or as simple as painting rooftops white to reflect the sun.

 

When difficult issues arise, a president is supposed to lead, not bend to the prevailing winds or to powerful lobbies.

 

TAX SIMPLIFICATION CARRIES DUAL APPEAL

In calling for tax simplification, President Obama identified a particularly useful area of common interest between Democrats and Republicans. Both parties realize that the corporate tax code is driving jobs overseas, and that the individual code is driving people to distraction. Each wastes billions.

In the quarter-century since the code was last streamlined, piles of deductions, exemptions and exclusions have turned the code into an unholy mess. It is less a road map for raising the money needed to run a government than it is a statement of which interest groups have clout in Washington, and which do not. If America wants to "win the future," as Obama said Tuesday, it needs to confront this Kafkaesque document.

 

Reform has a second, tactical, appeal as well: It could help break the partisan logjam on deficit reduction. On the left, one hears frequently about how Congress shouldn't cut benefits. On the right is the clarion call that taxes should never be raised.

 

In fact, both spending cuts and tax hikes will be necessary to bring the $1.5 trillion deficit under control. Benefits are on a runaway spending trajectory. And taxes receipts are at 60-year lows.

 

Some Republicans have expressed a willingness to allow tax revenue to rise so long as rates stay the same or go down. This could be done by trimming the many deductions, exemptions, exclusions and other loopholes that cost the Treasury more than $1 trillion per year, just in the individual code.

 

Industries ranging from housing to agribusiness have come to view Washington as a profit center that can be mined for advantageous tax policies. Tax reform gets at some of their most cherished revenue streams.

 

The 1986 tax simplification showed it's possible to get bipartisan consensus for such an undertaking, and most of Obama's deficit commission signed on to a similar approach. Making April 15 less taxing for filers, however, will take a more sustained and energetic commitment than the lip service Obama gave to the issue Tuesday night.

 

RUMBLINGS ABROAD TEST AMERICAN IDEALS

With the Iraq war winding to an end later this year, Afghanistan strategy settled for the moment, and Iran's nuclear threat looking less immediate, President Obama had the luxury of focusing his attention closer to home Tuesday night. He devoted 80% of his speech to jobs, jobs, jobs. But the respite from foreign turmoil seems certain to be brief, particularly in the Middle East, where American policy is most sharply at odds with its ideals.

For the past two days, thousands of demonstrators have filled Egyptian streets, hoping to replicate the popular uprising that toppled an autocratic regime in nearby Tunisia. The protests looked a lot like those the Americans cheered as the Soviet rule collapsed.

 

This time, though, U.S. policy is on the other side. If Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's regime falls, an Islamist regime would likely follow. So the State Department responded to the demonstrators by issuing a statement in support of the Mubarak government.

 

Meanwhile, Tunisia remained in turmoil, and in Lebanon, Hezbollah, which the United States lists as a terrorist group, effectively got control on the government — by democratic means.

 

It could well be that Mubarak will succeed in putting down the rebellion by brute force. China crushed democratic forces after the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising, and Iran did the same last year.

 

The U.S. is not China or Iran, but it's doubtful average Egyptians see a distinction, other than one of hypocrisy. From their point of view, Mubarak's three-decades rule could hardly be viewed as anything but a suppression. Deprived of any democratic outlet, anger has festered and taken on a strongly anti-American tint. If the regime is overthrown — weeks or years from now — the consequences stand to be grim, including an end to peace with Israel and, in the extreme, Osama Bin Laden's dream: a country his allies control.

 

Abruptly abandoning Mubarak might assure that outcome. But the United States can support democratic succession and foster non-radical opposition.

 

Such a change would come with significant risk. But in the end, a foreign policy that stands in opposition to American ideals — in Egypt as elsewhere — is one that is doomed to failure.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

NEED TO FACE FINANCIAL FACTS

There was a lot of pomp and circumstance in Washington this week as members of Congress heard President Barack Obama make the annual State of the Union address.

But one very important fact is really not sufficiently on the president's "radar." Our able Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander was one of too few national officials to call attention to it.

Alexander went right to the point when he said, "We are borrowing 42 cents out of every dollar we spend in Washington, so the president and the Congress have to work together to reduce spending and the federal debt."

Individuals and families obviously could not long borrow such a high percentage of their spending without being forced to face painful realities. Our government can get away with not facing financial facts longer than "we, the people" can. But ultimately, borrowing 42 cents of every dollar we spend will put us all in deep trouble.

We don't want higher taxes. Taxes already are too high. The need is to cut spending. For political reasons, that's hard to do. But much of our spending is really unnecessary. And a good deal of it is actually unconstitutional.

We have a national debt of more than $14 trillion! That figures out to mean that each one of us -- individually -- owes a roughly $45,000 share of that debt. And it is rising by the second.

Do you feel comfortable knowing that? Wouldn't we feel better if our government spent less, taxed us less and piled up less debt for us eventually to pay?

When and how will we even begin to face our federal financial facts?

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

A DIFFERENT 'SEATING ARRANGEMENT'

 

Usually when all members of Congress are seated together in the U.S. House of Representatives chamber for a State of the Union address, we see Democrats and Republicans grouped by party, each group applauding -- or not applauding -- noticeably at different times.

 

But for the State of the Union address Tuesday, Democrats and Republicans were generally "paired" in seating. After all, they have to work together. Most are friends, despite political differences. And they all "behaved."

 

We certainly don't expect unanimity in voting. There are legitimate political differences. But wouldn't it be good if we had more honest, sensible cooperation and less partisan posturing?

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

MOST STATES OPPOSE OBAMACARE

Public opposition to ObamaCare has reached a remarkable milestone: A majority of the states are now suing to fight this federal takeover of the medical system.

Several more states recently joined the massive legal action against ObamaCare that is being spearheaded by Florida, a heavily populated, politically moderate state with a high percentage of senior citizens.

Taking part in the Florida-led lawsuit are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

In addition, Virginia and Oklahoma are suing individually.

So all told, at least 28 of the 50 United States will be pleading their case that ObamaCare is a dangerous and costly expansion of federal power over the lives of the American people and an appalling violation of the authority of states, under the Constitution's 10th Amendment.

Of local interest, new Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal pointed to the catastrophic $2.5 billion cost with which ObamaCare will saddle his state over the next decade. Tennessee's recently departed Democrat Gov. Phil Bredesen had similar concerns.

Federal court rulings so far have been mixed, though one court has ruled that ObamaCare's requirement that virtually everyone buy government-approved medical insurance is unconstitutional. It is highly likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately rule on ObamaCare.

What is remarkable is the diversity of the states that are suing to have ObamaCare overturned. They are not only conservative states. The list also includes liberal states such as Michigan and Washington. States large and small -- in both area and population -- are suing, and they stretch from the Deep South to Alaska and from Maine to the Desert Southwest.

So far, Tennessee is not among the states suing to stop ObamaCare. But the Volunteer State will not escape the calamitous cost if the law stays on the books. It would be best if Congress overturned ObamaCare on its own. But with Democrats likely to block repeal, Tennessee should keep its legal options open.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

FP4 UNION NUMBERS SLIP AGAIN

It would have been hard to imagine half a century ago, when more than a third of American workers belonged to labor unions, that union membership would decline to less than 12 percent today.

But that is exactly what has happened.

The newest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics are in, and they are not good news for Big Labor. In 2010, labor unions across the country lost 612,000 members. The unionized percentage of the U.S. workforce fell from 12.3 percent in 2009 to 11.9 percent last year.

In the private sector, union membership plunged from 7.2 percent in 2009 to 6.9 percent in 2010. That is "a low point not seen since the infancy of the labor movement in the 1930s," the Associated Press noted.

Very unusual is that unionization of government workers fell -- down 1.2 percent, to 36.2 percent. That wasn't because government workers were purposely avoiding unions, but because years of excessive spending have finally started catching up with lots of state and local governments, forcing layoffs of government workers.

We do not believe that government workers -- who serve the whole public on taxpayer dollars -- should be unionized. But two statistics from the latest unionization figures stand out as alarming:

* First, the percentage of government workers unionized was more than five times the percentage of private-sector unionization: 36.2 percent versus 6.9 percent. (Taxpayers are funding all those government workers' union pay and benefits.)

* And second, even though the private-sector workforce is far larger than the government workforce, the total number of government union members was higher than the number of private-sector union members: About 7.6 million government employees are in unions, compared with only 7.1 million private-sector workers who are union members.

The fact is, unionization efforts in the private sector are simply not having much success today. Many Americans remember the recent near-collapse of major U.S. auto manufacturers. Was that collapse all the fault of unsustainable union compensation packages? No. There were also poor automobile "styling" decisions, competition from high-quality cars made by foreign manufacturers and some bad management practices by the American companies. But sky-high union wage contracts played a key role as well.

Workers in other sectors of the U.S. economy are not eager to face similar consequences from unionization. We don't blame them.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - DON'T GAME THE SYSTEM, FIX IT

If there ever was a politician's proposal deserving of quick death and burial, it surely is the proposal by the main opposition's legal scholar, Süheyl Batum, to offer candidature to two Ergenekon suspects currently imprisoned and on trial. There are various versions of the plan said to have been sent up as trial balloons by the senior member of the Republican People's Party, or CHP. But essentially the play under consideration would have made journalists Mustafa Balbay and Tuncay Özkan, both behind bars for roughly two years, CHP candidates. Assuming their election to Parliament, which would require a bit of engineering to assure them favorable spots on electoral lists, they would then be free, effectively immune from prosecution as sitting lawmakers.

The proposal is absurd and has been so labeled, thankfully, by other party leaders including party Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. But we must wonder how it ever got into the public domain in the first place. And that the idea apparently remains alive somewhere on the agenda of the CHP Central Executive Board, and could return for discussion in April, is astonishingly shortsighted.

Not that we think Balbay and Özkan should be behind bars. Their unending detentions while their trials continue is travesty to justice. So is that of other suspects who pose no immediate public threat nor are likely to flee. Months of detention without indictment followed by years of detention without conviction has become the norm in many cases, as witnessed by the ongoing scandal surrounding Hizbullah suspects.

But suspects they are, even if their case has been poorly handled from its inception. And the charges against them, if proven, are grave and include conspiracy to overthrow the government. Years of imprisonment while the case languishes, however, is another matter.

So the suggestion to end-run this process with an effective grant of immunity is arrogant and lacking in temerity. The CHP should be striving to fix a broken system, not game it. Batum's trial balloon has robbed his party of credibility and stature.

That the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is now moving ahead with a unilateral plan to expedite court proceedings with a radical reshaping of the judiciary, including appointing hundreds of new judges, raises its own set of disturbing issues. It smacks of court packing, but Batum has effectively undermined the CHP of the authority to mount any cogent policy response or suggestion.

That the CHP's leadership has distanced itself from the idea of immunity for Ergenekon suspects is correct. But once again, the genie of polarization has been released and there is little to return it to the bottle. Once again, cheap politics denies Turkey the debate on intelligent and meaningful judicial reform that our politics so desperately needs.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

SECURITY COUNCIL DREAMING

RICHARD REID

Turkey's two-year stay on the United Nations Security Council did much to reshape the country's image. Others now realize that it is an outspoken operator, with its own agenda – a significant player. Ankara's diplomats in New York were not the ciphers who often occupy temporary-member places in the ring of council seats. They can look back at opportunities shrewdly used, and an imprint made.

Other countries, bigger ones with more global weight, are looking toward New York through a different frame of mind. They want to get into the Security Council as permanent members. Each of the aspirants is lobbying hard for a seat among the Big Five – China, Britain, France, Russia, and the United States – who have been permanent, veto-wielding members since the U.N. was founded, and who do not want company.

Time and new power patterns, though, may be on the side of those knocking on the door of the world's most august club. Who are they? How strong are their cases? What are their chances? What are the criteria?

The countries most mentioned as deserving permanent council membership are India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Nigeria. Germany, Japan, and South Africa are also put forward.

As to criteria, one can't look to precedent because the Big Five members of today appointed themselves, after emerging from World War II on the winning side. By the logic of 1945 it seemed reasonable enough for those countries to constitute the power center of the new "parliament of nations." They took their seats before India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and South Africa were even independent nations.

But today's Security Council criteria need to reflect a map of global influence and population very different from the one when the Japan-Germany Axis was defeated. The U.N. had 51 members at its founding. Now it has 192. The world's population has more than trebled since 1945. Japan and Germany have become model global citizens.

In any case, widely accepted criteria will be hard to come by in today's political world. And in looking back, one can see that there was hardly perfect balance in the assignment of the original five council seats. Presumably the five arrived there because of their contributions to the Allies victory. If battlefield struggle was the criterion, only the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain, and China would have earned their seats.

Today population is the one criterion that most agree on. That criterion holds that Security Council membership should ideally and at least generally reflect the world's head-count. To an embarrassing degree it does not now. From a population perspective, India comes to the head of the line of those deserving membership, with Indonesia not far behind. A fixation on population, though, raises a ticklish question: do the half-dozen non-permanent-member countries with, say, more than 70 million people – like Turkey – merit council membership more than Britain and France, which have fewer?

To the extent that the U.N. is a global parliament, the Security Council should have representation from all, or at least most, regions. Yet today there is no representation from Africa or Latin America. That argues strongly for Brazil, and either Nigeria or South Africa, as reasonable candidates. Nothing can be done about the present Eurocentric composition of the Council – Russia, Britain and France will not be unseated – but it does expose the obsolescence of a power center disconnected from much contemporary power and influence.

Power and influence mean economic strength. Yet two economic powers, Germany and Japan, are absent from the council. Given the receding leverage of Europe, it can be argued, against Germany's candidacy, that another permanent member from that region is out of the question. The same kind of argument could be made about Japan and Asia, should India become a permanent member. Those points of view have some merit.

A seldom-discussed but vital factor here, however, is a permanent member-nation's ability and willingness to support the U.N.'s budget. Japan has amply demonstrated its readiness – for many years it has paid some 18 percent of the global organization's bills, second only to the 22 percent paid by the United States. Germany would clearly be able to pay a meaningful share. China, incidentally, has yet to pick up any U.N. bills in a significant way. It would be foolish to ignore budget support prospects in considering new permanent members.

If India, Brazil, or any of the other candidate countries enter serious membership negotiations, what about their right to the veto? They would want it, in order not to be relegated to a second tier. Nothing in the history of the Security Council has been more contentious than the veto. It gives any one of the permanent members the power to bring any action to a dead stop. Veto votes by the Soviet Union and the United States regularly paralyzed the U.N. during its early days. Vetoes still hold up council processes. What if seven or eight self-serving nations, instead of just five, had the veto?

That raises a larger question: whether an enlarged Security Council could get any real work done. Setting aside the virtues of representative justice, how could an enlarged permanent membership be expected to improve on the erratic performance of the current five? It would almost certainly make for a body more divided than it is now.

Finally, there is a decisive joker in the deck – the reluctance of any of the current five to see their leverage diluted by newcomers. Sixty-five years of mutual accommodation, despite sometimes bitter polarization, have turned them into reasonably comfortable co-tenants who know what to expect from each other and are unlikely to welcome bumptious arrivals. It took a world war to usher these five into their seats. It would take something almost as titanic to create new permanent seats on the Security Council.  

The nations may call themselves united in the proclamations on the tall green buildings overlooking Oyster Bay in New York, but in their corridors there's little unity to be found – as real nations go about the gritty business of looking after their own interests, and really nothing else.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

NATIONAL AND FOREIGN POLICIES NURTURED BY THE SAME SOURCE

CÜNEYT ÜLSEVER

Yesterday, I roughly talked about a benefit-cost analysis in Turkish foreign policy.

A short summary is Lebanon. Turkey has recently applied diplomacy for "unity and togetherness" in Lebanon. However, photographs depicting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu next to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in a secret meeting with him, broadcast to the world by Hezbollah, constitute the summary of what this diplomacy has yielded.

In the end, Hezbollah is in Lebanon; therefore Iran and Syria have taken a step forward, Iran has broadened its sphere of influence in the Middle East, Hezbollah has once again gained legitimacy in the world and effectively taken over the control of the government!

In this final piece of a three-day series, I insist that Turkey's adoption of an idealist foreign policy and departure from realist foreign policy is wrong and that it is dangerous.

I will analyze the connection between domestic and foreign policies today. However, let me first say:

1) Turkish foreign policy is not idealist at a universal level. For instance, Turkish foreign policy is never ever idealist in terms of universal human rights or universal values of democracy.

On incidents in Sudan, China and Iran or when Hezbollah or Hamas uses terrorism as "war methods," Turkey shows no intention of reacting. The country is using reality in a way to serve its own benefits on these particular subjects.

2) Domestic and foreign policies have been overlapping recently. This approach, however, does not mean seeking a foreign policy just for the sake of national populism.

Domestic and foreign policies are intertwined because both are being fed by the same guiding source: An Islamic mindset!

For centuries i) Western and ii) Islamic maps have been leaving their marks on an important part of the world.

The Republic of Turkey made a spot on the Western map, but because of the undeniable effects of six centuries of history, this country is also molded by an Islamic map as far as infrastructure is concerned.

Both the domestic and the foreign policies of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, aim mainly to drive forward the six-century-old Islamic road map without totally sacrificing the Western map.

The AKP government, in this mixture: 

1) Wants to create an impression protecting the rights of conservatives (Muslims): The aggrieved Muslims!

2) Pumps up an ideal/dream/aspiration/yearning to better represent Muslims in the world: The Green Apple!

3) Emphasizes the duty/authority of Muslim-Turks in a desired world: Neo-Ottomanism!

These objectives being pumped into the society and to the world create quite a successful "look" with the following two initiatives:

1) The AKP domestically makes a great deal of financial contributions to the "aggrieved" conservatives (the poor) in the areas of health, housing, transportation and education. This is not the only element but the most important element keeping the AKP at the top.

 2) With the leadership objective the AKP has set itself in the Muslim world, hot potatoes like Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas, which the West cannot touch by hand, are grabbed by Turkey and that provides comfort to the West. Turkey undertakes the task of a messenger.

In a multi-centered new world, a real/pragmatist foreign policy is being left behind, but actually what is being left behind is the road map of a Western mindset!

An Islamic road map with sauce from the West is the new guide for Turkish foreign policy!

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

THE NEXT ARAB-ISRAELI WAR

GWYNNE DYER

It's time to think about the nature of the next Arab-Israeli war. The release by the Arab satellite network al-Jazeera of 16,000 leaked Palestinian documents covering the past 10 years of peace negotiations has driven a stake through the heart of the already moribund "peace process," and we hear constant warnings that when the hope of a peace settlement is finally extinguished, the next step is a return to war. So what would that war be like?

Okay, back up a bit. What the leaked documents show is that the Palestinian negotiators were willing to make huge concessions on territory and other issues in return for Israeli recognition of an independent Palestinian state. They were well-meaning people playing a very bad hand as best they could, but the publication of these documents will destroy them politically.

The spirit in which they approached the talks is exemplified in the first document in the trove, a memo on Palestinian negotiating strategy dated September 1999. It urges the negotiators to heed the advice of the Rolling Stones: "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find that you get what you need."

According to the documents, in the past three years the Palestinians have offered to accept all of Israel's illegal settlements around Jerusalem except one (Har Homa) as permanent parts of the Jewish state. Israel annexed all of East Jerusalem after it conquered it in the 1967 war, but international law forbids that and no other country sees the annexation as legal.

The negotiators also offered to restrict the "right of return" of the millions of Palestinians descended from those who were driven from their homes in what is now Israel in 1948 to a mere 100,000 returnees over 10 years. They even offered to put the most sacred site in Jerusalem, the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, under the control of a joint committee. (It is currently administered by an Islamic foundation.)

Even these concessions were not enough to persuade the Israelis to accept a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders of the West Bank (including those parts of East Jerusalem still inhabited by Palestinians) and the Gaza Strip. They were enough, however, to make the negotiators reviled in almost every Palestinian home if they were ever revealed – and now they have been.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and his predecessor, Ahmed Qureia, were just pragmatic men trying to cut the best deal possible in very difficult circumstances. They might even have been able to sell these concessions to the Palestinian people, if they had come as part of a comprehensive settlement leading to the end of the Israeli occupation and an independent Palestinian state.

But in fact they got nothing for their concessions. The Israelis simply pocketed them and demanded more. Now that the details are known – leaked, almost certainly, by frustrated members of the Negotiation Support Unit that provided technical and legal backup for the Palestinian negotiators – Abbas and his colleagues are finished.

Even the Palestinian Authority itself, and the whole concept of an independent state for Palestinians in a fraction of pre-partition Palestine, may not survive this blow. Fatah, the faction that effectively rules the parts of the West Bank not yet taken for Israeli settlements, is well past its sell-by date as a national liberation movement, and may lose control of the area to the Islamist Hamas movement before we are very much older.

Hamas, which already controls the Gaza Strip, rejects negotiations with Israel and the whole notion of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as part of a two-state future. We are continually told by various pundits that these developments can only lead to war, and they are probably right – but what kind of war?

It would certainly not be like the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973, in which regular armies fought stand-up battles with lots of heavy weapons. Egypt, Syria and Jordan, the countries that fought those wars on behalf of the Arabs, have long since abandoned the goal of matching Israeli military power. They don't even buy the right kind of weapons, in the right amounts, to stand a chance against Israel on the battlefield.

We will doubtless see more Israeli punishment attacks in which a hundred Palestinians or Lebanese die for every Israeli, like the "wars" against Lebanon in 2006 and in the Gaza Strip in 2008-09. We may well see a "third intifada," another popular uprising against the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, probably accompanied by terrorist attacks in Israel itself. But we have seen all this before. It's nothing to get excited about.

In the long run, we may see some Arab states start working on nuclear weapons, to create some balance of forces between the two sides, but probably not for a while yet. In the meantime, the future for the Middle East is not mass destruction, but an unending series of Israeli military strikes that kill in the hundreds or thousands, not in the millions. Plus despair, of course...

*Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries. His latest book, 'Climate Wars,' is distributed in most of the world by Oneworld.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

JANUARY-FEBRUARY MURDERS

ALTAN ÖYMEN

In the month of January, we commemorate the slain Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink on Jan. 19, journalist Uğur Mumcu on Jan. 24 and then the late Diyarbakır security director, Gaffar Okan. At the beginning of the month of February, we remember the late editor-in-chief of daily Milliyet, Abdi İpekçi.

What's common in these murders is that all are plots and pre-meditated actions.

Chronologically, the first victim of these January-February killings is İpekçi (1979); then follows Muammer Aksoy (1990), Mumcu (1993), Okkan (2001) and Dink (2007).

The common thread is that all seem to have been plotted for so-called ideological reasons.

İpekçi was editor-in-chief in daily Milliyet and chief commentator for 25 years and an advocate of constitutional democratic order. He was trying to protect peace against escalating acts of terror at that time.

Aksoy one of the most active jurists of Turkey with his articles and books. He was the spokesman of the commission in charge of the preparation of the 1961 Constitution. Aksoy served as a parliamentary deputy in the period 1977-1980 for the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP. He was also the founding member of the Kemalist Thought Association in 1989.

Mumcu was not only a columnist for daily Cumhuriyet but, with more than 30 books, was one of the most exemplary researchers and writers of our country. In addition to his studies on our recent past, Mumcu's sense of humor was reflected in some of his writings. Along with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's revolutions, he defended the principles of a democratic, secularist and social state based on the rule of law. Mumcu exerted tremendous effort to uncover the truth in any subject he was working on.

I met Okkan when he was Diyarbakır's security director. He was a very well-raised, democratic police officer and was doing everything to provide peace and calm to citizens living in his jurisdiction. The people knew him for this and loved him for it. But of course, some were not very fond of Okkan. On the evening of Jan. 24, 2001, he and his friends were caught in hail of bullets. Apparently, those who were not very fond of him were among the perpetrators.

Finally, the last victim of this "January-February murders series" was Dink, the editor-in-chief and chief commentator of the weekly Agos.

I knew him as a colleague but was late to know him as a person. It was seven or eight months before his death that we had a conversation. It was so much pleasure to have a talk with him. Hrant was precious.

Yes, they all seem like so-called ideological murders. In fact none are ideological or political. All were barbaric, promoting ignorance and malice.

The murderers were caught in some of these cases. They were convicted. But not even one of these murders was brought to daylight as they should have been.

This is not all, of course. There are many other killings committed in other months of the calendar. Among them are Bahriye Üçok, Cavit Orhan Tütengil, Bedrettin Cömert, Ümit Doğanay, Çetin Emeç, Turan Dursun, Ahmet Taner Kışlalı and Musa Anter.

Light has not been shed on any of them. None of the perpetrators were caught.

I say not "all" perpetrators were caught because the list includes not only those directly involved in the acts of killing but also those who delayed the process or obstructed the law.

Investigations should be launched into all of them, one by one. Justice requires this; besides, it is the only way to stop similar delays from now on.

In this respect, the criminal complaint filed by Mumcu's wife, Parliamentary Deputy Güldal Mumcu, and their children, Özge Mumcu and Özgür Mumcu, at the Ankara Chief Prosecutor's Office the other day was critical.

This complaint and others about which we hear about in the news should be taken into consideration from now on.

* Altan Öymen is a columnist for daily Radikal, in which this piece appeared Wednesday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

PEOPLE LOSING TRUST IN POLICE

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

Interior Minister Beşir Atalay is facing hard times.

On one side he tries to increase the prestige of the police force and on the other side things are falling apart.

The police pretend they don't know what's going on.

What was reflected in the media is the latest example of the above.

Do you know what happened to Lt. Mehmet Ali Çelebi, who has been detained for 29 months as a result of the second Ergenekon case?

Çelebi handed his cell phone to the police as he was taken into custody. Then it turns out that this cell phone, in an illegal way, was turned on by the Istanbul Organized Crimes Unit for one hour and 23 seconds, and numbers added which belong to members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir community.

Do you know how the Organized Crimes Unit apologized?

It said, "…by mistake…"

Meaning, erroneously, accidentally switched!

Gosh, how could that happen?

You hand your phone to the police and find that they changed things around.

"Trusting the police" is a very complicated issue anyway. These types of events cause people to mistrust them even further. The police let themselves down, shooting themselves in the foot.

Arınç said something important, no one cared

Whenever Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç utters a word, it becomes news. And since he knows it, he always picks the right time and gets his message across.

During a recent speech in the Aegean province of Manisa, he touched on a very important point. The next day I thought he'd make the headlines and show up on TV shows. But no one cared. The news was not that as big deal as I thought it would be. But the issue of "sex and alcohol" mentioned in the same speech is still being discussed.  

He drew all the attention when during his speech at the general assembly of the Alaşehir cooperative of merchants and craftsmen, the call to prayer was heard and he said: "I was told via a fatwa that I could speak during the call to prayer. That is why I will continue my speech. It's a good thing when people stop talking and don't continue until it is over. This is sometimes perceived as abuse and sometimes as respect."  

I have always wondered about people who stop talking or delay a show until the call for prayer is over, even though there is no need for that. Arınç is right. The call to prayer is only an appeal. It is only a notification. But despite that, people always fall silent and the reason is not quite clear.

The prime minister stops talking as well. We witnessed it during an open-air speech in Istanbul. It was a meeting with respect to the European Union. When the call for prayer started the prime minister fell silent and waited until it was over.

I was curious why people would quiet down.

No one could really answer this question. Many replied, "I was showing my respect and if I continued talking someone would call me to account, that's why."

Arınç for the first time filled in the blanks.

If he had yelled at someone, he'd certainly made the headlines. But obviously this religious issue was not sexy enough for the media.

I was astonished at the US, not Israel

I read the media version of Israel's report on the Mavi Marmara incident and was not astonished.

Israel defended itself.

With a single-sided approach it explains that the Turkish ship was at fault. I couldn't find words to express what I felt. Leaving aside details, even a child would understand who wins a battle when a civilian group and the military fight.

Israel explained the situation to the United Nations through its own perspective.

You may accept or deny.

What I did not understand though was Washington's attitude.

The U.S. State Department stated that report was "unbiased."

First I couldn't believe it.

Then I understood the severity of the situation. I once more realized how blind U.S. administrations are with respect to the Israeli issue. I knew it but didn't expect it to be this severe.

Can you imagine, knowing unarmed civilians are attacked and murdered by Israeli commandos Washington finds this report to be unbiased?

This is really incredible. Even children would ridicule this. So this is how it goes; the rough side wins.

Where are the human rights?

Where is justice?

Who would trust the United States when it exhibits such an attitude?

Who would believe Israel is honestly after peace?

No one would.

I don't believe it either.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

TREND SEARCH FOR 2011 - I

ERSU ABLAK

As we near the end of January it is time to discuss the trends for 2011 and beyond. Claims regarding technological trends from research group Gartner can be seen in the adjacent columns. It represents a wonderful outlook on the future. I am sure many of the predictions will be realized in the United States. The situation in Turkey is more complex.

Turkey is a country of early adopters when it comes to gadgets. But services and software are totally different animals. You can observe this tendency especially in the mobile communications industry. Millions of people have 3G devices but the number of people who actually need and use the service on a regular base is no more than 20 percent. That is the major reason why mobile software firms are still small or medium enterprises, or SME's. 

An example to the most successful software implementations can be found in cloud computing. TTNET, being the leader in the industry, is pushing very hard to expand the usage of cloud computing. There are a number of services, such as Tivibu and TTNET Music, that enable users to download or stream media files. Superonline and other service providers have also followed TTNET. Even fast moving consumer goods firms are using media streaming services to promote their products. 

However the popularity of cloud services among end users didn't turn into a wide usage by firms. The very same people who use a cloud based service for personal needs didn't show the same kind of interest in using it for their businesses. Hopefully this will change in the coming months as more and more cloud based services become available.

The application market will expand to end users. Up till now, mobile applications – just the opposite of cloud based services – were mainly used by firms. Banks and the transportation industry are major customers of firms trying to create a market like Pozitron. On Wednesday İDO announced a new mobile ticketing application. In 2011 we will see more start ups in mobile applications and end user applications will become available around the globe.

Unfortunately, in Turkey social communication and collaboration has been hyped for no apparent reason. All the firms and agencies are talking about social media, but not many have successfully implemented any projects that are really worthwhile. I believe that in 2011, firms will be more logical in their choices and we will see more mature work.

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

FINANCIAL DISARRAY

 

The scene of looming financial disaster painted by the finance minister in his briefing to the parliamentary leaders of various political parties seems even gloomier than the images presented in the past. Mr Hafeez Shaikh has warned the budget deficit could climb to eight per cent of GDP and inflation which has already taken a huge toll on the budgets of virtually everyone, could soar to 22 per cent. This of course is hardly comforting news and the political leaders have been asked to come up with suggestions to help rescue the country and prevent what could be a collapse. It can be assumed that the finance minister was attempting to create the political unity he has said is essential if there is to be any economic salvation. The discord on the RGST and the reversal of the raise in POL prices, as a result of agitation from government allies, have of course reduced revenue and perhaps disturbed the planning of Mr Shaikh and his team. The finance minister has also quite rightly pointed out the need for greater discipline by the government. But the team running the financial business of the government must also realise that the needs of people too need to be taken into consideration. It was this concern which led to the outcry over price hikes from key opposition parties. Ordinary people simply cannot be made to bear the entire brunt of economic ruin that they have played no part in creating, and this has to be kept in mind when devising policies.


There is also another aspect to the issue. While the finance minister obviously wishes to create cohesion, by emphasising just how grave the economic crisis is, his comments act also to further reduce confidence in the country. Such confidence is vital to bring in the investments that are so urgently needed and also to dissuade people from taking money away from the country. This can happen only if there is faith that matters can be brought under control and future prospects made good. Mr Shaikh needs also to consider this, as does the government as a whole. Indeed, economic stability is tied in to good governance. It will not simply appear on its own. Measures such as the RGST, favoured by Mr Shaikh, are also unrealistic in times as tough as these. Instead we need to see a tightening of official belts, an end to extravagance and control on corruption. Unless this happens the economic situation will continue to worsen, making the task of recovery all the harder. It is of course people who will suffer as a result of this.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

WAR OF WORDS

 

The ongoing war of words between the MQM and the PML-N is growing uglier. In parliament, representatives from the two parties have exchanged jibes stemming chiefly from talk of martial law in Punjab. Both parties are guilty of fanning the flames and refusing to let matters calm down. It is hard to see how this bitterness can work in favour of either of them, and certainly it is something we do not need at a time when there are already many crises being faced on all kinds of fronts. In any democracy, a divergence of opinion is acceptable and indeed has advantages. It allows people to hear different perspectives and opposing views, which can enable them to reach their own conclusions.


Complete accord on all matters between political forces generally exists only in dictatorships, when it is imposed through the use of repression and coercion of various kinds. This is not something that is in the least bit desirable. But while mature debate is welcome, the childish bickering we have been seeing between the MQM and the PML-N is not. Both parties need to rise above this. Personalised barbs will get us nowhere at all. This is something quite obvious from past experiences. We need to focus instead on the challenges we confront. We need to hear constructive ideas in parliament on how problems can be solved. What we should be spared are bitter but meaningless attacks by political parties on each other which simply add to the tensions that mar an already tense political environment and serve no useful purpose at all.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

KILLER TRAFFIC

 

 The horrific death suffered by 32 people killed when their coach hit the back of a fuel tanker in the early hours of last Sunday will become just another statistic. The human misery caused by the crash will be forgotten by those not directly touched by it, and the fatality figure will be added to the national death toll. As if the deaths on the road were not bad enough the ordinary pedestrian is in mortal danger as well. The final figure is not yet confirmed, but it is likely that over 700 pedestrians were killed in Karachi alone last year, most of them while crossing the road. As our roads infrastructure expands so pedestrian space diminishes, and in the cities the pedestrian is marginalised as never before. On the open roads there is little regulation apart from on the little-used motorways and accidents like the one last Sunday are not uncommon. The standard of driving is generally poor with road-sense and discipline varying from absent to lax.


It would seem that more people die on our roads every year than at the hands of terrorists and extremists. But where is the fight to lower the number of such deaths? The zebra-crossings that were once introduced in order to make crossing the road safer have disappeared. Underpasses have become havens for drug-peddlers and drinkers. Footbridges over roads are often beyond the physical capability of the elderly or the infirm to use them – the very people they might have been constructed for. Coach- and truck-drivers work crippling hours; many use drugs to stay awake and when they fall asleep, as is alleged to have been the cause of the most recent tragedy, the effects are there for all to see. Motorcyclists rarely wear helmets. Traffic lights are considered advisory rather than regulatory. There is no development of a fire and rescue service to match the expansion of the arterial system. There is no road safety module in the national curriculum. We mourn the dead of last Sunday, but unless we collectively decide to use our roads more responsibly the casualty rates are going to increase exponentially.

 

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

TIME TO GIVE UP HIDEBOUND THINKING

 SALEEM SAFI

 

Pakistan is faced with numerous problems, but its complex and troubled relations with India and Afghanistan are the source of most of its problems. Our internal and external troubles mainly flow from this source.


Our strained relations with India compelled us to maintain our defence capabilities at a level not maintainable with this country's resources and capacity. Feeling the crunch, we looked to other support, and that inevitably turned Pakistan into a security state. A security state is unsuitable for the nurturing of civil society, and that is why democracy has not taken firm roots in this country.

The pursuit of the strategic depth doctrine on Afghanistan and the fierce competition with India to counter its influence in Kabul gave rise to the culture of extremism in Pakistan. This culture tarnished our image in the world community. The state's ostensible helplessness in the containment of this threat earned us the tag of "failing state."


So, any well-meaning leader in Islamabad who wants the country to develop a democratic culture, have an efficient state and achieve progress and prosperity will have to find ways to secure peace on both the western and eastern borders of Pakistan.


Tragically, these issues have never got the due attention of the political leadership, the intellectuals, the media and civil society. We have left the two fronts, Afghanistan and India, to the establishment, or at best to the Foreign Office.


The country's political and media personalities are not eager to keep abreast with new developments in both India and Afghanistan. A few think tanks watching both countries are not worth the name because they either serve as mouthpieces of the establishment or look to Washington and London for financial survival.

In this situation we cannot expect fresh thoughts and new ideas on these critical issues.


Pakistanis have been made to develop certain stereotypes about India and Afghanistan. News and analyses in the print and electronic media merely strengthen those trite and old perceptions. The people are frightened with threats that no more exist. The emerging and real threats spawned by the changing environments in India and Afghanistan find no mention in such debates, discussions and analyses.


For many years, India's priorities in the region, and the situation in Afghanistan, have undergone many radical changes. A few days back, an Indian diplomat came to my office. We hotly debated a range of issues, including Kashmir and Afghanistan. I told him that we cannot wrest Kashmir from the Indian clutches by force, but at the same time India will never be able to match us in Afghanistan.


He was unable to justify his country's role in Afghanistan. I told him that India's intention to exploit the situation of near-anarchy in Pakistan is suicidal, because Pakistan would not lose much in a possible war with India. If a war broke out between the two countries, India would be the bigger loser, because its dreams of becoming a superpower would be permanently shattered.

The diplomat stressed that India cannot afford a war with Pakistan. If it could afford such a conflict, then Kargil and the Mumbai attacks offered the best opportunities for a war with Pakistan. But I told him that, though unwillingly, India would be dragged into a war with Pakistan.


He was not convinced by this logic and asked how that would happen. I told him that India had provided to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates the means of triggering a war between India and Pakistan. India is playing into the hands of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates because it has signalled to the extremists and militants that a lone incident can derail the peace process between the two rival countries. So if Al-Qaeda and its affiliates felt threatened in the region, they would seek to cause a war between India and Pakistan as the last viable option. These groups have the capability of launching terrorist attacks and any Mumbai-like attacks in the future can trigger a war between the two nuclear powers.


During this discussion, I felt that the Indian establishment has not even thought of this possibility. Rather, they have the idea that, like in the past, Pakistan still controls the militants. I am certain that this new element in India-Pakistan relations has not been appreciated by our policymakers as well. And that is why we lack vision, direction and purpose to seek new avenues for healthy competition and better relation with India.


The ground realities have undergone a sea change in Afghanistan as well. For example, despite its being non-existent at the moment, we are still obsessed with the term "Northern Alliance" in that country. Most of the leaders of northern Afghanistan have turned against their friends of yesterday. Hamid Karzai, who used to play second fiddle to his Western friends, has now become a stumbling block in the way of the fulfilment of certain designs of those very friends, the United States and NATO.


Similarly, the Taliban are also a changed species. They were enemies of Iran in bygone days, but they have now established training camps on Iranian territory. During their rule in Afghanistan, they were against photography, but today they use video cameras, CDs and the internet as special tools in their war against the foreign forces in their homeland.


Similarly, we are told that the United States forces will flee Afghanistan, sooner rather than latter. However, against this perception, a few days back the US awarded supply contracts for ten years to keep its bases operative in Kandahar, Sheendand and Mazar Sahrif.


We need to get rid of traditional thinking on India and Afghanistan and determine new priorities in view of the new realities. We should do this with an open mind. This necessitates engaging collective wisdom. Unfortunately, we are victims of a huge gap between the views and beliefs of the military and the civil establishment on these issues. That gap should be bridged through discussion and constructive debate in order for Pakistan to forge a united approach on this critical juncture of our history.


We never needed this line of thinking so desperately. This is a difficult task, but not an impossible one. If we fail to do this, the fire will engulf the entire country, to the satisfaction of our enemies.


The writer works for Geo TV.


Email: saleem.safi@janggroup. com.pk

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

JUSTICE FOR MUKHTARAN MAI

 AFIYA S ZIA

 

During the peak of the lawyers' movement for the restoration of the deposed chief justice, a woman supporter from rural Sindh was interviewed on TV. She was asked why she would be remotely interested in agitating for the cause of the CJ and judicial independence. She gave two precise reasons, both revealing and critical.


The woman said that after the Mukhtaran Mai case, every rural woman who heard about it and realised that she herself faces potential threat of becoming a victim of an honour crime, carried the hope that Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry would take up her cause too and save her if need be.


Second, the woman interviewed reported that many men had started fearing the gaze of the judiciary into what was previously an internal, community justice system and so, were often wary of getting the attention of the CJ! So often they called for settling a case of honour prior to, rather than after murder of the woman.

While there is no way of confirming the exact validity of this ethnographic observation, the case of Mukhtaran Mai has carried an important resonance amongst Pakistani women and men and even at international levels, beyond her individuality. Also, through his one act of summoning Mukhatara's case, the CJ may have saved more lives than hers, without even knowing it.


One of the main contributions of the case includes the challenge she symbolises to parallel legal systems, such as panchayat and jirga justice. For years, the impact of these have been documented, yet the epidemic created by this informal 'justice' system continues to take, not save, the lives of faceless, nameless women and powerless men. That Mai, as an individual, broke this chain and doggedly pursued formal over informal justice, is a critical comment to the larger debate and divide of competing justice systems.


For those who argue that parallel legal systems 'work' and are culturally appropriate, this too can be confirmed by the case of Mukhtaran Mai. She is the evidence that these informal justice systems 'work' against the basic dignity and constitutional right of women and the powerless. They work to maintain a hierarchy that makes its own laws and to enforce a class-based, anti-women status quo. By virtue of this argument, the caste system also works, so does beating a child into submission, so let's make those legal too. Most importantly, the parallel legal systems directly challenge the constitution, the formal judicial system and its authority. They are not parallel, just illegal, unconstitutional legal systems.


If the restored judiciary has resolved to make the formal system of justice work, then our belief in a single legal system has to be strengthened by through judgments that highlight the constitutional rights of Pakistanis and not the parochial and oppressive rights of the 'judges' who sit informally and degrade people's human rights just to make an unfair system 'work'.


By fighting the jirga sentence, Mukhtaran also symbolises the possibility of reclaiming decision-making out of the hands of illegal arbitrators and depositing her faith into the formal legal system. This has and hopefully will continue to raise the hopes of the dispossessed, disappeared and deprived. If the judiciary can do that through just one case, it will be a historic lesson that could set incredible precedence.


The long years of her unlikely struggle also raised consensus in an increasingly divided and polarised society. The majority of ordinary Pakistanis, who understand injustice, were supportive and sympathetic to Mukhtaran's case. She also symbolised the possibility of individual courage and bravery. Remember, she had no political parties carrying out large rallies for her, just ordinary citizens and activists and one prescient judge.


Mukhtaran also reminded us of the fact that Pakistan's routine problems cannot be overshadowed and dismissed under the politically fuelled issue of terrorism and extremism. If our courts are to bring some sense of institutional control and independent agendas back into the attention of the public, then they can do this best by their primary duty, which is to dispense justice and therefore, protection for the citizen who has no other defender.

Perhaps the accidental contribution by Mukhtaran Mai was to strip the humane mask of a dictator in her journey to seek individual justice. Maybe this was the precursor to the collective rise against the same dictator in the form of the lawyers' movement. In any case, practically, Mukhtaran stood and fought against all odds at state levels but symbolically she did much more. She broke the myth that poor, rural women are just victims. She also crossed that important divide when a personal struggle achieves a public right. She converted it into a meaningful life by giving back literally, through her development efforts in her community and not by escaping for personal reprieve.


Symbolically, Mukhtaran has empowered other women to seek justice too. The least she deserves is to be recognised and rewarded by getting justice. None of this was possible without the attention and intervention of the sagacious judiciary.


For the sake of all women in this country and the system itself, let's hope that in the final round, justice is served. Our lives depend on it, literally and symbolically.

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

A ROOF FOR ALL PUBLIC SERVANTS

IKRAM SEHGAL

 

The major factor fuelling corruption is that public servants dread their life after retirement. Remaining honest and depending on their meagre savings and pension means they cannot maintain the same lifestyle they had been leading. Given today's prices and rents, they are not wrong, their abiding fear of not having a roof over their head commensurate to that what they were used to is more than justified. Present pensions translate into a meagre living, in today's inflated conditions. Being forced into a diminished lifestyle socially, even below the poverty-line, is a psychological bugbear driving even the most honest public servant into corrupt practices, he uses the present to make his future bright.


With a good salary, boarding and lodging and other perks, armed forces may be better paid but soldiers face early retirement, age matters in a physically exacting service. To compensate their "half career", soldiers are better rewarded than their civilian counterparts in terms of post-retirement inferiority complex. While the officer corps is provided a roof over their heads, nothing similar exists for soldiers down the line. One believes Kayani is now partially addressing this glaring anomaly, or should I say, absolute and abiding disgrace.


We only give lip-service to the "glory and honour" of our regiment (read country) coming first, the "welfare and contentment" of our command next and our own "safety and comfort" coming last. With most welfare directed towards the upper military hierarchy, a judicious distribution of the rapid depletion of available resources was always on the cards.


The army housing scheme was started by General Zia in 1985 to enable retiring officers to find respectable shelter to lead their retirement lives. To keep the element of incentive alive, a formal welfare policy was introduced by Musharraf as late as 2005; Kayani restored some balance by making 2008 "The Year of the Soldier".

Houses in the army housing scheme, later adopted by the PAF and the Pakistan Navy, were initially allotted to majors and lieutenant colonels, later it included higher ranks. The sizes and designs vary from rank to rank from majors, right up to brigadiers, the cost varying from station to station, design to design and in rare cases, size to size.

Majors and lieutenant colonels get ten to twelve marla houses, colonels get houses of fourteen marlas and brigadiers of one kanal. Major generals and lieutenant generals are given their own choice of station where land is available to construct houses of their own designs. Officers initially were required to become members voluntarily by paying initial membership fee.


Nowadays membership is mandatory, officers paying monthly instalments till they retire from service. The remaining cost, varying from Rs4 million to Rs5 million, is to be paid at the time of taking over of the house. The balance is met by the retired officers on computation of pension. Bereaved families get their house free of cost and the amount deposited is refunded. Unfortunately the cost of construction has increased abnormally; officers now have to cater for more than what is available after commutation, turning for inordinate loans to banks, paying huge monthly instalments and exorbitant mark-ups. The concept of welfare of forced saving and freedom from hassle of construction has now become not only infructuous but counter-productive as officers scramble to pay the difference.


To maintain that allotment of plots was meant primarily as an incentive measure, so that officers took more interest in their profession is nonsense; it is a sleight of hand to offset the balance left towards final payment for their house/apartments. Majors get one residential plot of one kanal with twenty three years of service. Lieutenant colonels get two plots of the same size and second anywhere in the country after twenty five years of service. Colonels and brigadiers get similar-sized residential plots after completing 28 years. Major generals get four residential plots of same size after 32 years of service. Lieutenant generals get different scale and sizes of welfare/incentive residential plots.


The rates of these residential plots vary from location to location in the country. This by itself is cause for considerable heartburn! Commercial plots are allocated purely on the basis of outstanding record of the officers. Barren agriculture land is also allocated in different parts of the country; conversion into crops cultivation benefits both themselves and the country as a whole.


No one should be given government owned plots and agricultural land except for extraordinary achievement, eg bravery in action. Welfare should not be confined to the armed forces and to officers alone, welfare is the right of all public servants. Instead doling out plots (government land) and making real estate brokers out of our officer corps, an innovative scheme to ensure a roof over the heads of all public servants on retirement would benefit both the country and people across the board.


No individual can really afford a house or an apartment on a public servant's salary, yet having a residential unit, preferably an apartment is a must, whatever his grade on the same concept as the army housing scheme for every public servant, uniformed or civilian. When the person completes the mandated service requirement, this must be guaranteed commensurate to the rank on retirement. Ten per cent of the salary should be deducted right from the start of their career irrespective of grade. The state must pay the balance remaining the construction cost, not through commutation of pension.


A retired person can survive on his full pension without being forced to live hand-to-mouth. Houses should be given only to Grade 22 or above, everyone else must get an apartment. The apartment units cannot be allowed to be sold for at least five years, however the individual can draw a loan to meet family compulsions, eg marriage of children, education, etc. And they should only be given apartments of several categories, with each category having minimum two, three and maximum four bedrooms configurations.


The state should plan new futuristic village-type townships near all towns and cities so that retired public servants can opt to live near their permanent homes. The annual requirement for retirees would be anything between 75000 - 100000 units, maybe even more.


The construction boom because of "housing starts" will fuel a tremendous economic activity in the country. With planned housing, quality infra-structure of water, sewerage, electricity, transportation, education, sports and medical facilities, etc should also be futuristic. Construction contracts must be given out to the private sector. Financial institutions and insurance companies can make the scheme more attractive and far more economically viable.


The economic activity generated will be a force multiplied by the services sector which will develop in the townships. With a roof ensured over his head on retirement, the public servant can devote his energies to achieve the reality of good governance this nation badly craves for.


There is an all-important caveat; anybody found indulging in corruption should be deprived of this "carrot". The stick should be severe punishment to ensure honesty is the touchstone of this scheme. That "Sword of Damocles" of gambling a commensurate roof over their heads on retirement would be enough "incentive" for public servants to stay honest through their career.

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THE TUNISIAN CONTAGION

IFTEKHAR A KHAN

 

After ruling Tunisia for 23 years, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has taken refuge in Saudi Arabia. He is ensconced in a palace covered by date palm trees in Jeddah. So another puppet of the West has gone to live in ignominy in the kingdom.


Ben Ali has followed the trail set by self-proclaimed Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada who, after ruling over Uganda for eight years (1971-1979), had made his last sojourn to the Saudi kingdom, where he died in 2003 and is buried. However, the Tunisian uprising has jolted the tinpot rulers and Western proxies in the Middle East.

As Le Monde reported, Ben Ali's wife Leila Trabelsi, a former hairdresser, took with her 1.5 tons of gold ingots to Saudi Arabia. What one holds against Muslims is their greed, which is unsurpassed. Could it be something like a genetic flaw?


However, 1.5 tons of gold, extracted out of millions of tons of ore, is now the proud possession of Ben Ali. All one wishes him is: May you live long to enjoy your pickings, friend.


What happened in Tunisia is no miracle. The change was in the offing because Tunisians, like large populations of many Muslim countries, have seethed in anger against their corrupt ruler and his repressive regime propped up by the West.


Although the Tunisian upheaval is just the beginning, it may well be the harbinger of freedom for the enslaved people in the Middle East ruled by assorted dictatorships and monarchies. None other than Moammar Gaddafi lamented Ben Ali's overthrow and told the Tunisians that they would regret what they did.


When public protests and sheer street power manage to dislodge a tyrant and force him to flee for his life, it is understandable that others like him in the neighbouring countries get jitters.


Similarly, Egypt's 82-year-old "Pharaoh," as defence analyst Eric Margolis calls Hosni Mubarak, must feel the tremors caused by Tunisian insurrection. He has already ruled the land of the Pyramids for almost three decades and now intends to install his son, Gamal.


But Hosni Mubarak's intelligence chief, Gen Omar Suleiman, will probably scupper his boss's plans, even if the aspiring intelligence guru himself is as young as 75.


After Israel, Egypt is the largest recipient of US aid in the region. The US provides financial support and military equipment to the Egyptian government just to keep the Egyptian people in check.


As a result, ordinary Egyptians disappearing during midnight knocks are a common phenomenon. Imperial power has assigned a similar role to the armed forces of many other Muslim countries in the region and outside it.

If we analyse the circumstances under which the Tunisian rebellion took place, it is manifestly obvious that the conditions there were similar to those existing in our own country – soaring food prices and unemployment, including that among educated youth, cronyism and outrageous corruption by the ruling elite.


Western politicians may have many shortcomings, including that of the heart and the cup, but cronyism and plunder by their families is not one of them. It's essentially a soft spot of good Muslim rulers and politicians alone.

Look for such signs in the present political dispensation. The sons and daughters of various shades of politicians are gearing up to rule over the hoi polloi with emaciated bodies and sunken eyes.


When the hungry are taking their own lives, Yousuf Raza Gilani – the lavishly dressed prime minister, who would be a matinee idol as long as he doesn't speak – announces the construction of parliamentarian lodges (along with 500 servant quarters) costing three billion rupees.


The only explanation that comes to mind is that scions of saints and saintly families, who never had to earn an honest two-time meal through sweat and hard work, would be unlikely to have respect for public money.


The writer is a freelance contributor based in Lahore. Email: pinecity@gmail. Com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

OUR OBSESSION WITH THE INANE

 KAMILA HYAT

 

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor


The furore raised by actress Veena Malik's appearance in an Indian reality TV show and her depicted relationship with a Hindu man seems to have driven anchors and some columnists in the country into a kind of frenzy.

The actress has been lambasted for 'unIslamic' conduct, for violating cultural norms and for venturing into India in the first place. While the 'Bigg Boss' show Veena appeared in must count as an especially mindless piece of inanity which has been widely criticised in India too, her right to take part in it should not really be under question.


She chose to do so of her own free will, hurt no one else by doing so and, of course, anyone following the antics was quite free to simply turn to another channel or keep away from the internet websites carrying content from the show. There is no reason why the whole matter should have aroused such a moral frenzy.


The attention devoted to what is, or should have been, a non-issue stems from the conservative, middle class morality that has spread across our television channels. It is also linked to the desire to attract viewership; a bearded member of the clergy pitted against Veena to attack her mode of dress or and her 'morality' apparently achieves just this.


Of course a Pakistani man cavorting with a Hindu man would not have raised so much as an eyebrow.

There are countless other examples of the same kind of morality at play. Far more comment than was warranted has been drawn, for example, by the dance performance of a popular theatre actress at a charity raising event at the Government College University in Lahore. This should have been a matter only for the university administration and the student body.


Gradually, a certain kind of 'cultural correctness' is being disseminated by our TV channels which have, in this process, also succeeded in turning non-issues into issues. We hear, for instance, endless debate on political squabbles, the president's corruption and all kinds of other matters. But in this process 'real' issues are pushed far into the background.


While anchor after anchor holds forth in typically animated fashion about events we have heard discussed over and over again, the fate of flood victims, the high rates of malnutrition across the country and the rapidly expanding unemployment are rarely even mentioned.


The question of what makes news has become an increasingly crucial one. While corruption is an issue, there must be question as to whether it is really the only issue facing us, or if there are also others that deserve to be brought to public attention.


The TV hosts so outraged by Veena Malik's behaviour seem to have few qualms about airing clips from the controversial show in their own programmes. Perhaps they are after all not as concerned as they would seem about protecting people from the 'evil' of Indian programming.

We wonder too why outrage is reserved only for some issues and not for others. The clerics, and others, who have appeared on TV denouncing Veena Malik seem to have been left unmoved by other incidents, which take place at home and not across the border.


A short while ago, a horrific story appeared in the print media of a young woman lured away from the General Hospital in Lahore to see a 'pir' who she was told could cure her sick husband. The woman was then tied up in a forest in southern Punjab, 'auctioned' to the highest bidder and subjected to weeks of rape and torture before being 're-sold'.


She was able to escape only as the floods swept across the area. Her harrowing tale seems to have left everyone unmoved and not provoked any moral outrage from the good men who host the TV talk shows that millions watch.

There are other examples. In December 2010 a nine-year-old Christian girl was raped by a Muslim. This behaviour was not slammed as 'un-Islamic'. A few days ago a child of the same age was assaulted and murdered in Multan.


Such events of course take place regularly and inspire little more than the odd newspaper story.


Many other cases go unreported. And while there is much talk of 'Islamic' values the fact that women are compelled to prostitute themselves or men are forced to steal to put bread before their children seems to disturb the equilibrium of very few.


Indeed, everywhere in our society horrors unfold. According to the Edhi Foundation 1,000 infants, most of them girls, were murdered last year. Some may have been illegitimate. Others counted simply as a mouth families could not feed.


Small children, and their mothers, can be seen in many places searching through garbage heaps for food they can consume. Doctors working in communities report seeing women and children who are simply slowly starving to death. These facts do not drive clerics, columnists or commentators to the kind of frothing-at-the-mouth rage that Veena Malik has provoked.


This hypocrisy has serious implications. It reflects on some of the reasons why we have been unable to solve our most pressing problems. To do so requires that, first of all, we face up to the facts and not get obsessed with irrelevant matters such as the Veena Malik affair.


We need to focus on the many real issues which face our society. Our obsession with the kind of 'morality' we see at play everywhere in the media and at other places will simply not help solve any problems. If we think at any length on why the Veena Malik affair should concern anyone but herself it is hard to come up with answers.

Yet we have had a blaze of focus and comments on her deeds that tie in with the most retrogressive views running through society on relationships with India, cultural 'norms', the behaviour of women and the question of what constitutes morality.


It is sad that we have been reduced to this.


Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

TOWARDS ANARCHY

 M ZEB KHAN

 

What we know about the state institutions and their functions is through the electronic and print media. Notwithstanding so many TV channels, newspapers, and internet access in Pakistan, many events go unnoticed and many stories intentionally distorted. In everyday life, when one looks around one only sees white elephants and lame ducks all around. The dead end everywhere reinforces one's belief that this country is close to anarchy and cannot possibly be rescued through piecemeal interventions. Revolution seems to be round the corner, which may decide and seal the country's fate.


Let us begin with the law-and-order situation. Karachi bleeds with recurring targeted killings, extortion, robbery, and abduction for ransom. No one in high office is even ready to speak in the real sense against rampant crime, although politicians do use it in their blame-games. The law-enforcement agencies are completely ineffective, thanks to large-scale politicisation of the police and ethnic divisions in the entire city.

The situation in Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa is even worse. The army is over-stretched due to military operations going on simultaneously in FATA and other areas against the Taliban. To fully exploit the deteriorating security environment, the criminals commit every imaginable crime with impunity. More agonising is the alleged involvement of the police in criminal activities.


As in Karachi, the police in Peshawar may look busy, but do nothing. My car, duly locked, was lifted on Jan 19 from the Cantonment area, and is yet to be traced, let alone recovered. The lodging of an FIR does not move the government machinery into action, though it does produce typical, tailor-made consolatory remarks from police officers. The bosses of the criminal gangs are well-known but remain untouched because of political connections and institutional corruption. This produces loss of trust in government, and that produces anarchy.

More devastating is the state of the economy, which is in a shambles. Its dismal performance during the last three years has pushed two-thirds of the population below the poverty line. Persistent inflation, low GDP growth, unbridled government borrowing, rampant corruption, and the energy crisis have made life miserable for the common man. A hungry man is an angry man.


The rulers attribute the economic meltdown to the floods, terrorism, and the international economic crisis. But anyone can see that it is the myopic policies, pervasive corruption, and entrenched mafia that have the economic wreaked havoc in Pakistan. India and China have managed their economies well despite many challenges. Unless timely and right decisions are taken, which definitely may be unpopular, the economy would regress further in this age of globalisation, where only the fittest can survives.


We are a bankrupt nation even politically. A company goes into bankruptcy when its liabilities exceed its assets. Political bankruptcy emerges when personal interests take precedence over public interests, wheeling-and-dealing becomes the norm, moral principles give way to hypocrisy, when the trust-deficit between the rulers and the ruled widens beyond remedy.


"Political reconciliation" is the latest mantra for you scratch my back and I scratch yours. This is one of those things that are eating into Pakistan's body politic like termite. More catastrophic is the unscrupulous use of religion and ethnicity for political gains. These tactics are useful for the securing and protection of power, but eventually they usher in an era of anarchy. The only way for the reversal of this destruction trend is for leaders to rise above party politics and lead by personal example of sacrifice, integrity and public service.
The writer is assistant professor at FAST-National University, Peshawar. Email: zeb.khan@nu.edu. pk

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

A BRIDGE TOO FAR FOR HAWKER?

LABOR'S STRATEGIST HAS A JOB AHEAD OF HIM IN NSW.

Bruce Hawker has a reputation for rescuing unpopular Labor administrations. But the lobbyist who will now be a prime strategist for Kristina Keneally's government as it attempts to hold on to power in NSW may find this job too much for even his considerable political skills. Hawker left his job at the firm he founded, Hawker Britton, to freelance and will now be focused on the March 26 election. He is a master at running marginal seat campaigns and a technique known as "sandbagging" -- shovelling targeted goodies out to individual seats. That strategy is credited with helping South Australian Labor win power last year, even while it suffered a 7 per cent swing against it. Hawker was also a key player in the 2010 federal election and went on to help negotiate the power-sharing deal with the independents after the hung parliament last August.

In NSW, he faces an immense task to dig Labor out of the hole it is in after 15 years of kowtowing to public service unions, failing to address major infrastructure bottlenecks and urban congestion, and pursuing power as an end in itself. With opinion polls showing Labor's primary vote as low as 20 per cent, Hawker concedes to state political correspondent Imre Salusinszky in today's pages that the party is facing "political Armageddon".

None of this lets the Coalition off the hook. Indeed, Hawker is correct to argue that Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell must put his cards on the table and that voters should not give the Coalition a "blank cheque" at the poll. A Coalition that simply coasts to victory on the tide of anti-Labor feeling will not serve NSW voters. The electorate deserves better than the performance Mr O'Farrell offered this week when he refused to spell out his alternative vision for the energy sector. At a parliamentary inquiry into the debacle surrounding Labor's partial privatisation of electricity assets, the Opposition Leader was more intent on bagging the government than showing his own hand. Mr O'Farrell says he will tell all to voters later, but having played a key role in the defeat of former premier Morris Iemma's privatisation proposal in 2008, the Opposition Leader is in a bind.

Labor has no option but to try to make the opposition the issue, its own stocks being so dismal. This is cynical politics and is unlikely to cut much ice with voters, but the Coalition cannot hide behind Labor's poor polling.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

NO CLICHES PLEASE, IT'S AUSTRALIA

OSCAR NOMINATIONS OFFER A WARTS-AND-ALL IMAGE TO THE WORLD.

Some of the stereotypes of Australia are put to rest with the Academy Award nominations announced this week. Jacki Weaver's performance as an underworld matriarch in Animal Kingdom, an indie film set in the streets of suburban Melbourne, is far from the deserts and surf that crowd many Australian movies. Beyond cliche too is Geoffrey Rush's depiction of Australian Lionel Logue, the speech therapist who "cured" King George VI of his stutter. The King's Speech, directed by an Englishman, is happily free of too many stereotypes and Rush plays Logue straight, in a performance that should give him a good crack at the supporting actor award. Along with Nicole Kidman, nominated for best actress for Rabbit Hole, Weaver and Rush are professionals whose talent goes beyond national borders. The latter duo have also spent their careers mixing stage and film, giving countless Australians the chance to see them in live theatre. Not too many cliches either in the Australian nomination for best short animated film -- The Lost Thing, directed by Andrew Ruhemann and Shaun Tan, who wrote the original story. At a challenging time for the local film industry, these nominations for Australian talent are particularly heartening. They show the world the depth of the industry here as well as the diversity of Australia -- warts and all.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

OBAMA IS BACK ON TRACK BUT DUCKED THE DEFICIT

HIS SPEECH SPOKE OF ECONOMICS BUT FOCUSED ON POLITICS.

Barack Obama started the countdown to the next election yesterday when he invited the American people, including his Republican opponents, aboard his re-election rocket. This is "the Sputnik moment" of our age, the President announced, the moment when Americans must confront the international competition, just as their grandparents accepted the challenge when the Soviets were first into space in 1957. It set the tone of yesterday's State of the Union address, which demonstrated Mr Obama has learned the lesson of last November's congressional poll. The President knows he cannot repeat the rhetoric of last year's address, when he presented himself as an outsider in Washington, with a mandate to clean up congress. Despite Mr Obama's improvement in the polls and his well-measured response to the attempt on the life of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, unemployment of more than 9 per cent and a still stumbling economy are now his problems. Mr Obama knows he needs Republican help to fix them and so there was no repeat of last year's frequent references to stalled legislation. Although he acknowledged the rancorous rhetoric of debate, Mr Obama did not blame populists in the media and the Tea Party. And while there were appeals to American exceptionalism, the theme of the speech was that the United States needs to do better. He began with a call for "a new era of co-operation" between the major parties, which was repeated throughout the address.

It was all out of Bill Clinton's playbook, who faced a hostile House of Representatives and Senate after a first-term drubbing in the 1994 congressional elections. But while Mr Clinton, at Republican urging, went on to implement the greatest welfare reforms since Lyndon Johnson expanded the system in the 1960s, Mr Obama acknowledges the US now faces far greater challenges, not least to the nation's self-confidence. There was as much in his address about catching up as staying in front. "The future is ours to win. But to get there, we just can't stand still," he said. Mr Obama also pointed to problems in generating jobs when heavy industry is gone for good, of the need to restore infrastructure, to equal China's alternative energy investment, to match South Korea on internet access and to lift the US from ninth on the list of countries where people have a university education. These examples seem carefully calibrated, making a sense of national malaise manageable by presenting specific solutions. Some of the President's modest promises seem easy to accomplish: one million electric vehicles on the roads by 2015 and 100,000 new maths, engineering and science teachers in 10 years are not impossible numbers in a nation of 311 million. And some are carefully qualified, for example the commitment to supply 80 per cent of US electricity from "clean energy sources" by 2035, including clean coal and nuclear power, which are rarely what environmentalists have in mind. The one really brave promise is the one members of both parties will oppose, vetoing bills with pork-barrelling inserted by senators and members of congress. And then there is the deficit. Mr Obama says he will freeze discretionary domestic spending, reduce defence outlays, encourage private enterprise with a rewrite of the business tax code and cut government waste. Good, but not enough. His own advisers warn that by 2025 federal revenue will cover only interest payments and health and welfare. Mr Obama's speech appeared to quarantine such spending now and spoke only of a "bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations".

Will the speech play politically? Early polls gave it 90 per cent approval. This is due to Mr Obama's sober appeal for unity, promises that appear practical and his ability as an orator. Only a great speaker could bring the house down with a joke about over-regulating salmon fishing. While the venom of American politics ensures he will never recover his original lustre, the President's star shines bright in the political skies as the lead-up to the next presidential poll begins. But while Mr Obama did it for understandable electoral reasons, he ducked the deficit. The GOP was not the only elephant in the room yesterday.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

FOOLS RUSH IN WITH FLOOD LEVY

BARELY two weeks have passed since flash flooding destroyed the tiny town of Grantham in Queensland and yet the federal government has already fixed upon its response. Talk about rushing in. How it could be possible to determine the exact shape and size of a levy to help cover the cost of damage when floods have yet to recede in some areas is beyond us. Why Julia Gillard would opt for political suicide in whacking a new tax on almost everyone is entirely beyond us.

The levy, expected to be announced by the Prime Minister today, is likely to come in the form of a one-off increase to the Medicare levy in annual tax returns. The timing is obviously designed so that the costs hit early in Labor's second term of government and are hopefully forgotten by the electorate come the next election. It is symptomatic of a government with its eye on the politics, not the economics. So scared is this Labor government of earning the tag of a bad economic manager, it has put all its eggs in the basket of ensuring a return to budget surplus in 2012-13. Gillard has pinned her entire economic credentials on this false idol. By making a surplus the only game in town, she has bound her hands and left her government susceptible to knee-jerk reactions like this.

So what of the levy itself? It appears it will be applied not to profitable companies, but households; ordinary Australians battling with higher food prices and interest rates. It will hit consumers just as they are coping with those higher prices, the direct result of supply shortages caused by the floods. Retailers have been warning for some time that Australia's lopsided economic boom is just that - all strength in the mining sector and a strong mood of caution among consumers. In her haste to tighten the government's purse strings, Gillard risks entrenching this consumer conservatism even further. This will only deepen the two-speed economy.

It also confirms Labor as a lazy economic manager. When the economy is slowing, it pumps out money. When it needs cash, it whacks up taxes. Having lambasted the Howard government for wasteful and bloated government spending, it has made little attempt in government to cut into this fleshy underbelly of middle-class welfare, a bloated public sector and ballooning defence spending. Where are the hard decisions? We haven't seen many from this government. We have argued previously that cool heads and warm hearts should prevail in response to these floods. Instead we have got hot heads. 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

 OLD MEDIA FOX, YOUNG TORY LIONS

RUPERT MURDOCH is getting the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his Tory ministers where he wants them: behind closed doors to discuss his £8 billion ($12.7 billion) buyout of the satellite TV broadcaster BSkyB. The octogenarian tycoon has even cancelled attendance at the annual gathering of the rich and powerful at Davos to take command from his subordinates.

The bid to acquire the 61 per cent of shares that Murdoch's News Corporation does not already own raises competition issues, as well as exposing the seamy side of power and influence in British politics. Murdoch strives to stay above the seaminess, siloed in the ''red top'' tabloid newspapers of his empire, The Sun and the News of the World. But they are

the source of his power in British politics, and the moneymakers in print, much more than his ''quality'' press titles. The same is true in his main domicile, the United States, with Murdoch keeping at arms length from his rabid Fox television network.

But grubstreet is grabbing his corporate presence by the ankles. The slow-burning scandal of illegal communications hacking that started in 2005 and saw the News of the World's royalty writer jailed has now enveloped the paper's former editor, Andy Coulson, who has quit his job as the Prime Minister's media adviser. A queue of celebrities is forming, claiming that their phones were hacked and preparing damages claims against News.

It's not helping with BSkyB. The communications regulator, Ofcom, had pointed out that it would give News a 22 per cent share of the news market, second only to the BBC's 37 per cent, and well in excess of other private-sector news outfits. These rivals painted it as only the first stage of Murdoch's ambitions, ahead of getting the Tories to rein in the ''left-wing'' BBC.

Fortuitously, ''sting'' journalism has come to his aid. Reporters from London's Daily Telegraph posed as constituents and secretly recorded the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, a Social Democrat, saying he had ''declared war on Rupert Murdoch''. Cameron promptly transferred oversight of the BSkyB issue to the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, a Tory, who says he's ''inclined'' to refer it to the Competition Commission - but is willing to hear argument from News why he should not. Murdoch is now flying in to offer a ''guarantee of independence'' for Sky News. He offered similar guarantees in previous takeovers: all his ''independent'' outlets now speak with a suspiciously similar voice. To avoid being seen as totally in thrall, Cameron should insist on referral to the competition watchdog.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

EGYPT: RAGE AGAINST THE MUBARAKS

THERE IS ONE CRY THAT STANDS OUT IN EGYPT: DICTATORSHIP WILL NO LONGER HOLD US DOWN

It has been 34 years since Egypt was shaken by mass demonstrations on the scale of Tuesday's "Day of Rage". In 1977, Anwar Sadat's decision to cut subsidies on food and fuel ignited three days of rallies until the government relented and restored them. Today, the rage is directed against not just a specific act, but a whole sclerotic regime. Mass arrests will not stem it.

Like Tunisia, the revolt is leaderless. Egypt's interior ministry's first response was to blame the Muslim Brotherhood, but the banned Islamist group has played little part in the demonstrations. Nor has the Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, around which opposition to the regime at one time coalesced. There is a reason why a national unity government which includes the opposition has been so difficult to stitch together in Tunisia. It is because remnants of the old regime are trying to ride a tidal wave over which they have no control. It is only when they all go, and fresh elections held, that political calm will be restored.

The consequences of that happening in Egypt are slim. Egypt differs from Tunisia in many respects – its size, its traditional role as the Arab world's political and cultural leader, although that has lessened of late. But as a wave of protest, sparked by self-immolation, unemployment and high food prices, sweeps the Arab world from Mauritania to Saudi Arabia, there is one cry that stands out in Egypt: dictatorship will no longer hold us down. Jack Shenker, our reporter, got a brief taste of the beating and maltreatment that Egyptians routinely receive at the hands of plain-clothed police during President Hosni Mubarak's long years of emergency rule. If nothing else happens, the idea that the Arab world needs ageing dictators as a bulwark against the rising tide of Islamism has been holed below the water line.

The 82-year-old president is sensitive to calls that he must go. He has health problems, has been in power for nearly 30 years, and has no designated successor. Attempts to groom his son Gamal have been resisted by the army. Besides, a man like Gamal who has been at the centre of a privatisation programme will find it hard to meet growing popular demands to lessen the gap between rich and poor. In a cable written in May 2009 the US ambassador to Cairo, Margaret Scobey, predicted that the ageing president would seek a sixth term.

That surely must be off the agenda now. Mubarak is a survivor, but if he is the political realist Scobey portrayed him as, he must now realise that retirement at last beckons. This may only herald the arrival of another strongman like the intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. But in the end, only free elections will begin to address Egypt's political problems.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

REVIEW OF TERROR LAWS: NEW NAME FOR AN OLD PROBLEM

THE HOME SECRETARY'S ABILITY TO RESTRICT THE LIBERTY OF CITIZENS WITHOUT PUTTING A CASE AGAINST THEM HAS BEEN SUSTAINED

Goodbye control orders, hello terrorism prevention and investigation measures: a knowing laugh rattled around the House of Commons yesterday as the home secretary set out her plans. The government has debated, reviewed, paused, scratched its head and changed the language, but it has not found a way to abolish in full the distasteful practice of restricting the liberty of terror suspects without the prospect of prosecution or trial. As such it has fallen short of hopes of ridding the law of this particular bit of authoritarianism, though it proposes removing many others that have done more to destroy confidence within the Muslim community. The former director of public prosecutions, Lord Macdonald, appointed as a sort of official marker-in-chief of the Home Office's homework on terror laws, made his concerns about this clear yesterday in a report that otherwise mostly supported the government's plans. His endorsement has spared Nick Clegg the car crash the coalition feared.

Yesterday's Commons statement, and two accompanying reports – the Home Office review of security powers and Macdonald's critique – are the result of a deal between the demands of the security services and the requirements of the rule of law. In many respects, this deal is a very good one, but commending some of its parts is not the same as approving of them all. Unfortunately the government's proposals sustain – and by removing the need for regular parliamentary renewal arguably entrench – the home secretary's ability to restrict the liberty of citizens without putting a case against them or securing a prosecution. The terms of these restrictions are to be improved, and only a very small number of people may ever be subject to them, but the fact remains that control orders are not so much being scrapped as redecorated. This is a hard thing to stomach: certainly Liberal Democrats in the government fought to find an alternative, before running up against the fact that it is easier to hold absolute opinions in opposition than put them into practice.

As Macdonald points out in his elegant and level-headed report, "the British are strong and free people, and their laws should reflect this". Under Labour, this point was sometimes forgotten. Yvette Cooper, the new Labour shadow home secretary, would have done well to admit yesterday that the government is undoing some of the damage left by her colleagues.

It is to the coalition's credit that it has carried out a serious review that will improve the law without taking obvious risks with security. Concern over its proposals on control orders should not take away from this. In general, the balance of anti-terror powers should shift as a result from the routine to the exceptional. The maximum pre-charge detention of terror suspects has been halved, to 14 days. Stop and search powers are to be restricted, with the repeal of section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Bans on photography will be discouraged. Councils will no longer be able to spy on parents who want to send their children to a popular school. The threatened ban of groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir won't happen.

All this is excellent. On the successor to control orders, however, there is work to be done. Macdonald says that it "may be appropriate for the state to apply some restrictions" on people suspected of terrorist activity but who cannot be prosecuted immediately. The challenge is to make eventual prosecution the aim; the present system makes it almost impossible. He proposes a scheme more closely connected to the process of evidence gathering. The government wants instead to get rid of the worst of control orders – particularly internal exile and house arrest – and limit them to two years. But the precise terms of their replacement have been fudged. Campaigners should not fall silent on this, just as the state has begun to listen.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF … THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN

THIS WEEK'S SESSIONS IN DAVOS WILL NEVER BE AS INTELLECTUALLY STIMULATING AS THOMAS MANN'S NOVEL OF IDEAS

How many of the government ministers, the multinational executives, the NGO heads, the journalists gathered in Davos this week have read The Magic Mountain, the novel that gave their Swiss resort its renown? Not many, would be a safe bet. Thomas Mann's book of 800-plus pages comes complete with dream sequences and allusions to Goethe. A PowerPoint presentation on investment opportunities in Gujarat this is not. Yet should any of the powerbrokers chance upon a stray copy, they would find a story with more than a few resonances to their own situation. Mann really began his book after the first world war, an episode that could have put an end to an entire way of life. His cast of characters collected together a wide range of competing viewpoints and backgrounds, from secular humanist to Jesuit. The modern Davos man has been through his own life-threatening episode over the past couple of years; and organisers at the World Economic Forum also embrace greater diversity, welcoming "young global leaders" and even the occasional trade unionist. But where Hans Castorp took the narrow-gauge railway up through the Alps, today's chief executives prefer chauffeured limos or helicopters. Still, this week's sessions will never be as intellectually stimulating as Mann's novel of ideas. But the WEF organisers have the upper hand over the German novelist on one point – Mann could never have dreamed up a theme as baggy and bland as this year's Davos: Shared Norms for the New Reality.

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

THE MOSCOW CARNAGE

Coming from a country that has had its share of terrorist attacks, Indonesians fully understand the dilemma facing Russians in trying to carry on with their lives without letting their guard down. Monday's suicide bombing at the busy Domodedovo airport near Moscow, which killed 35 and left more than 100 injured, was a sad reminder that Russians will have to put up with the inconvenience of bag searches, metal detectors, and other security checks for the foreseeable future.

Our condolences to the victims and the relatives left behind. The target, an international airport, was clearly picked to draw maximum publicity. The victims were not only Russians but also international travelers. Whoever was behind this carnage and whatever their motives were, they are getting widespread international condemnation for their cowardice in killing innocent people.

Russia has been the target of terrorist attacks in the past, conducted by ethnic groups seeking independence from Moscow control. The last major attack came 14 months ago when bombs derailed a luxury train, killing commuters on the Moscow subway. Russia is no stranger to terrorism, and the authorities should have been more alert. No wonder Russian President Dmitry Medvedev came out strong, saying that the attack showed there were clear lapses in airport security.

The trouble in dealing with terrorist organizations is that they choose their targets and timing randomly. They can lay low for months or even years before their next attack. Usually, the longer the time, the less guarded the authorities and the people become. We have seen this in Indonesia between the two devastating bombings in Bali, and several in Jakarta.

The authorities in Jakarta and Moscow would do well to share information with the public — without being alarmists — about the changing levels of terrorist threats. The US, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, used color designations that people have become familiar with.

The Indonesian police have busted terrorist networks, most recently on Tuesday with the arrest of seven people in the Central Java towns of Klaten and Sukoharjo for possession of explosives, but we have no idea how successful they have been in defusing the threat of terrorist attacks. We can't help noticing though, and presumably terrorists do too, that the security checks have been relaxed at the airports, hotels and busy areas.

The Moscow bombings remind us that we should not let our guard down. Life goes on for sure, but we must keep our vigilance for a little longer.

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THE JAKARTA POST

IN THE KPK WE TRUST

After a long wait, we can hope for a thorough and credible investigation into the tax mafia network which has remained undisclosed following the conviction of former tax officer Gayus H. Tambunan last week, now that the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has joined the play.

And we should fight any attempts to disrupt the commission's mission for whatever reasons or pretexts. We should not believe in politicians and criminals who definitely will use all the resources they have to ensure that the commission is not allowed to thrive in its mission to uphold justice and the law.

Amid great distrust in the National Police and the Attorney General's Office in fighting the country's endemic graft, the KPK is expected not only to expedite the investigation, but also ensnare the big fish and the untouchables whom the conventional law enforcers have reluctantly dealt with in this high-profile case.

We have reasons to be upbeat as the KPK has just received new blood with the election of Busyro Muqqodas as chairman of the commission, following a two-year period in which the institution was without a commander in chief.

We have seen a lame KPK over the past two years as three of its five leaders were embroiled in legal matters which many believe were part of a systematic attempt to paralyze the corruption busters and their fight against graft.

Busyro has expressed his desire to use the tax mafia saga to ensure a successful debut as he seeks to become the anticorruption czar. It is imperative for the public to support this commitment and entrust him to take all necessary measures to uncover those behind the tax mafia.

There is no doubting the KPK's track record in combating corruption, as it has proved time and again its effectiveness in cracking down on bribery involving government officials and politicians.

Thanks to its independence from government intervention the KPK has become the vanguard of the nation's war on corruption since it was established in 2004.

Hope is abounding that the KPK will also change the course of play in the investigation into the alleged tax mafia. We share Busyro's belief that the case should not stop at Gayus.

Gayus should lead the KPK to bigger, more powerful players within the tax office and the national and multinational companies whose taxes he manipulated.

A rejuvenated KPK stands a great chance to restore the public trust if it manages to stay focused on tax crime, which is prone to politicization now that the House of Representatives is considering launching an inquiry into the tax mafia case. However noble the House's intentions, we must not allow them to seize the stage from the KPK.

The public is fed up with the political acrobatics that marked the investigation into the Gayus saga and paved the way for back-room deals among the power elites that have vested interests in the case.

That is what the KPK is missing and what makes it different, we believe.

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

ASEAN CHAIRMANSHIP HELPS INDONESIA BRING PEACE IN PAPUA

MANGADAR SITUMORANG

Having officially assumed the chairmanship of ASEAN, Indonesia brings forth an agenda of making ASEAN a people-centered community. This has proved that the widely held cynicism that views ASEAN as merely a forum for the Southeast Asia's government elites is baseless.

But what does this new approach really mean? What then is the role played by the government elites and notably the ASEAN Secretariat? And, with a very specific interest, does will the new agenda have any impact on Papua?

Indonesia's agenda of people-driven ASEAN aims at two central points. First, as Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa contends, ASEAN should address Indonesian interests and bring benefits to the people. The beneficiaries are the people, and no longer the states' elites.

Second, in line with Marty's statement, Indonesia's director general for ASEAN Djauhari Oratmangun emphasizes that Indonesian people groups, including in the business sector, academics, civil society groups and ordinary individuals, would likely become significant players. In other words, instead of being passive spectators, Indonesian people and the peoples of ASEAN member states should actively participate in making ASEAN truly a community of and for the people of Southeast Asian countries.

The people-centered ASEAN agenda, however, is not new. Asia and ASEAN history has plenty of evidence of various kinds of businesses that have operated beyond territorial borders for decades or even before ASEAN was founded. Cross-border movements of agricultural and industrial products (legally or illegally), capital and investment, workers, and even religious propagation, have made ASEAN one of the most dynamic regional associations.

Their movements have contributed significantly to local, national and regional economic growth. As the media reported tens of thousands of migrant workers from West Nusa Tenggara in Malaysia sent home US$1.1 million in remittance in 2009 alone.

Trade volume and value among ASEAN country members is growing steadily. Cultural interaction and understanding is developing. Positive growth is also found in the education sector shown by the increasing number of students and exchanging scholars across national borders within ASEAN.

The story is not all positive, though. Illegal migrants, smuggling, and various kinds of organized crime are also part of such regionalization. Many people move across cross-national borders without proper conditions and legalities. Not even sometimes with good intentions. This fact has partly contributed to the fact that conflict and insecurity in a country is likely to worsen because of "bad neighbors", to borrow one of Michael Brown's triggering factors of internal conflict.

There is no question that in the newly proposed agenda, the ASEAN country members and the ASEAN Secretariat are likely to focus on handling the unexpected practices by setting up tougher regulations while at the same time encouraging people to constructively participate in ASEAN.

It is in this context that we raise a crucial question: Is there any chance for civil society groups to help resolve the problems in Papua under Indonesia's agenda of a people-centered ASEAN?

The problems in Papua are not limited to independence or separatist claims made by a small group of indigenous Papuans, which the Indonesian government deems a non-negotiable issue. There are many issues that civil society groups are likely to be constructively engaged in to seek peaceful, democratic and just solutions in Papua.

Central to these are human rights problems. Different groups of local Papuans are still prone to continuing civil and political rights abuses, whereas the long-standing demands for investigating and trying human rights violations in the past have not been properly addressed. A number of political activists remain in jail as political prisoners without fair trial.

Some tribal groups are still grieving for their social and economic rights and cultural rights as well. As more and more business organizations — either national or international, run by civilian or non-civilian units with or without legal permits — come in and compete to extract the rich natural resources of Papua, the more likely local people will suffer by losing their land and cultural values.

Not only are they being marginalized by the large influx of people either from Indonesia's other provinces or foreign countries, indigenous Papuans are likely to be alienated or uprooted from their sacred land and environment.

Securing national integration, protecting economic interests, nationalizing different ethnic groups, and developing the region are the common political and legal arguments used to justify the entire "integration and development policies" in Papua which unfortunately have caused different local Papuans to be deprived of their basic rights.

There is no doubt that making ASEAN a people-driven organization also means giving space for civil society groups to work in Papua. Human rights activists, national and international journalists, and developing and empowering NGOs need to have access to visit and work safely and assist people in need in the region. This would be the very first instance for Indonesia's chairmanship of ASEAN.

We highly appreciate the Indonesian government's initiatives, promises and consistency in leading ASEAN by encouraging people to get benefits and to play a crucial role in the New ASEAN agenda. The Do What You Say You Will Do (DWYSYWD) formula (Kouzes & Posner, 2003) is one of the basic principles of international leadership. It surely will not be another lie.

The writer is director of Parahyangan Centre for International Studies (PACIS), Parahyangan University, Bandung..

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

ANTICIPATING VOLATILITY KEY TO FUNDING IN 2011

DANIEL MAMADOU

The continuing global economic recovery and markets' overall positive returns in 2010 have largely glossed over a year where sentiment swung wildly between fear and optimism.

While 2011 has carried the positive momentum forward, uncertainties around Europe's peripheral economies, rising inflation and challenges presented by shifting global capital flows present a number of risks to the funding strategies of Asia's corporations. Given the risks ahead, tapping the capital markets while conditions are favorable seems prudent.

We expect four key themes to dominate markets and therefore the cost of financing this year: inflation, interest rate hikes, global capital flows and capital markets volatility.

Inflation has been a key point of discussion ever since the extraordinary stimulus measures to tackle the global financial crisis were introduced. Inflation carries many risks, particularly from a medium-term growth perspective; yet the most keenly-felt short-term impact is a rise in borrowing costs.

In Asia, conditions seem ripe for inflation. Negative real interest rates, which our strategists calculate at a regional average of -0.7, seem inconsistent with the high rates of economic growth seen in 2010.

With currency stability the priority, rates are likely to remain low as long as the US Federal Reserve remains on hold. Credit growth has been strong and property prices have risen so fast in some markets that regulation has been tightened to avoid bubbles forming.

Given the large weighting of food and energy in Asia's inflation indices, most attention is being focused on the direction of commodity markets and whether price rises will cross over into core inflation, such as demand for higher wages.

Global grain prices have been steadily rising and while the outlook for food inflation was relatively benign only a couple of months ago, the price of various staples have begun to spike once more. Oil looks very much like edging higher should the global economic recovery continue. Should commodity price rises become entrenched, then the pressure for central banks to raise interest rates will intensify.

For corporations that rely heavily on bank lending, Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) should therefore consider an increase in benchmark lending rates this year. We currently expect interest rates in Indonesia to rise from 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent in 2011, however stronger-than-expected inflation clearly leaves an upside risk to this forecast.

Paradoxically, global demand for Asian assets has caused yields in the region's bond markets to fall, thereby lowering the cost of issuing new debt. January has been particularly active and given Asia's relatively stronger economic outlook and credit fundamentals, it is likely new deals will continue to be well-received.

While lower yields sounds like good news, there are two risks CFOs need to consider. First, central banks have a more complex task tackling inflation through rate hikes, given their effects are not likely to be as strongly felt. This increases the chance of policy error — either by hiking rates too fast or not enough.

The lowering of yields also tempts an expectation that borrowing costs will continue to move lower.

However, the spring of 2010 provides fresh memories of how volatility can rapidly take hold and shut capital markets for extend periods. Europe's sovereign credit crisis has not gone away and while we expect a default to be avoided, the potential for contagion to spread from Europe to the rest of the world remains.

While the influx of foreign capital into Asia's domestic markets has had the benefit of driving yields down, it is worth considering the effects even a partial reversal of these capital flows could have.  

Rising US bond yields — and the possibility of rate hikes before the end of the year — could dampen global investors' enthusiasm for directing capital towards Asia and emerging markets in general.

Monetary tightening in the US has been associated with many emerging market crises and while our strategists think a sudden US dollar liquidity squeeze in Asia is unlikely, a reversal of flows would see yields on Asian debt rise, thereby pushing borrowing costs higher.

So, rising borrowing costs, either through interest rate increases to tackle inflation or a drop in demand for Asian assets, are a real possibility that corporations should have contingency for in 2011.

The same logic applies to Asia's equity markets. Should inflation begin to rise faster than expected, or if central banks are too aggressive in tackling it, then we could see investor flows into Asia slow or even reverse. This would have a material impact on demand and affect the price companies looking to list or issue new equity can achieve.

The gulf in activity between the first and second halves of 2010 shows how volatility can easily derail the IPO market. While our strategists expect a positive return on Asian equities in 2011, this does not mean that periods of volatility won't appear. Given markets are fairly stable at present, it would seem prudent to ensure all the lead work for an IPO or capital raising is completed, allowing issuers to move quickly while market conditions are favorable.

We therefore believe it is important to be opportunistic and tap markets while liquidity is available; front-loading capital raising at the start of the year seems prudent. Sources of funding should be diversified and investor bases broadened. Should markets shut, then alternative funding structures such as private debt placements or loans secured by equity stakes could be considered.

Asia's markets have begun the year on a positive note. However, a number of potential challenges exist. Anticipating these risks, particularly that of a prolonged closure of capital markets, is crucial for maintaining a prudent funding strategy in 2011. Asia's corporations should plan accordingly.

The writer is co-head of Capital Markets and Treasury Solutions, Asia at Deutsche Bank.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

TUNISIA MAY NOT FOLLOW INDONESIA'S PATH TO DEMOCRACY

GIORA ELIRAZ

Certainly it is too early to say if the current popular uprising in Tunisia will lead this country into democracy. Nevertheless, there is enough ground to assume that the dramatic scenes from the Mediterranean country, in particular the removal from power of an authoritarian ruler, Zine el-Albidine Ben Ali, have caught the attention of many in Indonesia, taking them almost 13 years back in time to the downfall of another authoritarian ruler, Soeharto.

Therefore, it is no wonder that The Jakarta Post editorial of Jan. 17 starts by saying: "The events unfolding in Tunisia are reminiscent of the fateful days of May 1998 in Indonesia that saw the collapse of a corrupt regime".

But what about Tunisia, populated dominantly by Muslims. Is the successful transition to democracy by Indonesia, a home to the largest Muslim community in the world, considered by the protesters there to be, in this way or another, an encouraging source for inspiration? As far as we know, the answer is no.

Millions of Muslims in contemporary Indonesia have a strong feeling of bonding with the huge Muslim communities in the Arab world and of closeness to them. Consequently, though living in an archipelago considered sometimes a remote periphery of the Islamic world, many of them are very attentive to the political developments in the Arab world.

But Muslims in both the Middle East and North Africa are much less knowledgeable about Indonesia; for most of them, similarly to most people elsewhere, it is almost a terra incognita that stretches far beyond the horizon.

Hence, though Indonesia is deeply engaged in a more-than one-decade-long process of building the third-largest democracy in the world, which is strongly and widely encouraged and supported by the huge Muslim mainstream in the country, this impressive process seems to catch only slight attention in the Arab world.

Indeed, news relating to Indonesia has a presence in the Arab media, but Indonesia's transition to democracy, per se, is never seen beyond the black and white print of newspaper stories.

The exceptions are very few, such as journalist commentaries, op-ed columns etc., whose writings attempt to draw encouragement from democratic achievements worldwide, including in Indonesia.

For certain people among them the case of Indonesia gives hope by providing evidence that the global process of democratization does not leave untouched countries with a predominantly Muslim population, which is compelling evidence of the compatibility of Islam and democracy and consequently an understanding that the current state of democracy in their region has nothing to do with Islam.

Varied explanations can be suggested for this phenomenon, among them: The Arab world has been affected in a limited way only by what is often described as a worldwide democratic revolution.

Certainly it has had an effect on the nature of the public discourse there; media gives preference to high-rating current reports, obviously democracy, to exclude events such as general elections, is not included in this category; reporting about a process of democratization needs a deep panoramic view into the given country. Such a view into Indonesia is a rarity in the local Arab media and is a product of mainly foreign experts, publicists and columnists.

The fact that Indonesia's transition to democracy has had a very limited presence in the Arab media stands in sharp contrast to the continuous reverberating of Indonesia's name in the background.

Quite often the name of Indonesia is noted in Arab media to signify the eastern border of the Islamic world; as a sort of a remote marker that clearly illustrates the hugeness of the Islamic world.

Thus such phrases often appear in the Arab media in varied contexts: min al-maghreb hata Indunesia ("from the Maghrib until Indonesia"), min aqsa al-Mashreq, Indunesia, ila aqsa al-Maghreb ("from utmost East, Indonesia, to utmost Maghrib), and min Indunesia sarqan hata al-maghreb gharban ("from Indonesia eastward until Maghrib westward").

The name of Indonesia is also mentioned often in overview reports that aim to show a global Islamic assertive voice and Islamic solidarity on a either religious or political basis. In such contexts and in other connections phrases that describe the huge number of Muslims in Indonesia are commonly used in the Arab media, for example, Al-dawla al-Islamiyya al-akbar ("the largest Islamic country"), al-balad al-Muslima al-akbar ("the largest Muslim country"), and akbar al-buldan Al-Islamiyah sukanan ("the largest Islamic country in regards to the population").

To sum up, whereas expectations are often expressed both in Indonesia and outside to see its impressive transition to democracy as a model for other Muslims countries, it is not included now in the associative realm of the advocates of democracy in Tunisia. Indonesia, as a contemporary complex of society, polity and culture, seems to be perceived there, generally speaking, as in many other parts of North Africa and the Middle East in ambiguous and abstract terms that are not much anchored in the current reality.

Dr. Giora Eliraz is an associate researcher at the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and affiliated fellow at KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies in Leiden.

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

US STILL CAUGHT IN STORM

 

President Barack Obama attempted to accomplish a lot in his State of the Union address at the White House on Tuesday night, as he called on the people of the United States to unite to counter the "devastation that remains" even though the "worst of the storm has passed".

 

He hoped to bridge the differences between the Democrats and Republicans over a series of contentious issues in the United States, from spending cuts and healthcare reforms, to tax subsidies for oil companies and offering children of illegal immigrants the chance to fulfill their "American dream".

 

He also made an effort to address the concerns of other countries - those holding US treasury bonds and countries vulnerable to extreme weather events - following international questioning of the US' resolve to reduce its huge budget deficit and its willingness to promote development in clean energy and contribute to tackling climate change.

 

Terrorism and preventing nuclear proliferation were also highlighted and he vowed to shape a world that "favors peace and prosperity", despite the fact that US defense spending remains the highest in the world, more than the total defense expenditure of the rest of the major economies put together.

 

But above all, the US economy and the necessity to keep it the world leader was the core of his address. In fact, Obama outlined an extensive roadmap, not only to try and sustain the economic recovery of the world's largest economy this year, but also giving directions to ensure its growth in the years ahead. He looked forward to the national election in 2012 and the years beyond, by setting a series of specific goals, such as "doubling US exports by 2014" or having "1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015".

 

Other targets included promoting education and research in science and technology and spearheading the clean and renewable energy industries, improving American infrastructure - from enhancing Internet networks to building high-speed railways - and fostering better trade relations with other countries, so as to increase US jobs and exports.

 

However, there was nothing really new in this year's annual policy address. These ideas have been deliberated and debated in the US ever since Obama came into the office, and this fact alone shows that the Obama administration will face tremendous challenges in carrying out these policy proposals.

 

After all, despite some signs of economic recovery, unemployment remains high at 9.4 percent, house prices have hit new lows, household debts are still high and states and cities suffer from budget constraints. There are also political obstacles. For example, the Republicans have said they will reject increased spending.

 

Whatever the high-sounding rhetoric, what is needed is real action to tackle the political and economic challenges.

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

LISTEN TO THE UNDERDOGS

 

Premier Wen Jiabao's showing up at the State Bureau for Letters and Calls on Monday was the first time a prime minister of the People's Republic visiting the bureau listened and talked to the petitioners.

 

Those present to register their complaints could not but be excited, telling the stories of their suffering to the head of the government in person - someone known for his passionate concern for the downtrodden - meant a better chance of having their grievances addressed.

 

The broader national audience, who saw and heard him on TV, also received the reassuring message the visit was intended to send - that the national government cares. This is exactly the message society's underdogs need to hear.

 

However, Wen's visit was not merely symbolic. As Premier Wen told his audience, the visit was part of preparations for his report on government work in the past year, which is due in March at the annual National People's Congress.

 

For what he wanted and needed to know, Wen made a wonderful choice of venue. He did not need to travel far to hear truthful accounts of what is happening at local levels. Some local authorities are notorious for concealing the truth from visiting superiors on fact-finding tours. In some ways, talking directly to the victims of abuse is a much better and cost-effective approach than arranged tours. At the State Bureau for Letters and Calls, Wen heard stories involving wage defaults, real estate demolitions, land acquisitions, and labor contract violations.

 

We are accustomed to Wen reaching out to unprepared ordinary people for the true state of affairs on inspection trips. We take for granted his unpretentious way in dealing with the underprivileged. But by listening and consulting with citizens who feel victimized by government functionaries the premier's visit was not intended to benefit only the lucky few. The more important purpose, Wen assured his broader audience, was to find out problems in government work, systems and policies, so as to deliver better service.

 

As usual, specific cases that attract the attention of a national leader have a greater chance of having a satisfactory ending. But we would also like to see more sensible proposals in his report on refining governance. More importantly, we need to see real changes. Premier Wen on Monday reiterated what he has repeated on many occasions - the government needs to widen channels for people to comment on government work, and create conditions for people to criticize and supervise the government.

 

Now we need mechanisms to ensure that officials at all levels listen to common citizens as the premier did.

 

Only when the government is ready to listen to people's voices, and face people's criticisms can its performance be more consistent with people's wishes, Premier Wen said.

 

We totally agree.

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

AMITY, PEACE AND PROSPERITY

BY TANG JIAXUAN (CHINA DAILY)

 

China and Japan should enhance dialogue and work together to build a strategic relationship of mutual benefit

The China-Japan relationship is at a crucial period and faces both opportunities and challenges. The common interests between the two countries far outweigh the differences and disputes. And the opportunities far exceed the challenges.

 

Both countries should bear in mind the general trend in the world, follow the tide of the times, work together to seize opportunities and overcome challenges with a view to bringing the China-Japan strategic relationship of mutual benefit to a new high and move bilateral relations forward in a sound and stable manner. To this end, it is important to adhere to the following three principles:

 

The first principle is peace. Both China and Japan should adhere to peaceful development and support each other's peaceful development. This is the important political understanding reached during President Hu Jintao's visit to Japan in 2008. I would like to stress that China is committed to the path of peaceful development and unswervingly pursues the win-win strategy of opening-up and the foreign policy of fostering friendship and partnership with neighboring countries. China follows a defense policy that is defensive in nature and never seeks hegemony or external expansion.

 

These are not abstract or empty slogans. They are the strategic choice and solemn commitment to the international community made by the Chinese government in keeping with the trend of the times, China's historical and cultural heritage, values, national conditions and fundamental interests. Japan has been following a path of peaceful development since the end of World War II and has made remarkable achievements that have brought huge benefits to the Japanese people. We hope that Japan will continue to tap into its own advantages and play a constructive role for regional peace and development.

 

The two countries should further enhance political mutual trust, especially in the field of security, and should view and treat each other's development in an objective and rational manner, and foster and enhance a sense of partnership. It has been confirmed in the fourth political document on the China-Japan relationship that the two countries are cooperative partners and do not pose a threat to each other. The two countries should honor the commitment with concrete actions and make the important political understanding a consensus of the general public.

 

To this end, the two countries should step up political and security dialogues and exchanges. They should communicate in a timely and candid manner and enhance dialogue on major issues in bilateral relations, domestic and foreign policies and development objectives, so as to deepen trust, dispel misperceptions and prevent any strategic misjudgment.

 

The two countries should bear in mind the larger picture and properly manage sensitive issues, especially

maritime and territorial disputes. Differences and disputes are hardly avoidable between neighbors having such

close contacts as China and Japan. We should draw from the great political wisdom with which the older

generation of political leaders in both countries approached the serious difficulties and obstacles our countries encountered as we tried to re-establish, improve and develop our relations after the end of World War II. History tells us that when it comes to sensitive issues, we should always bear in mind the larger picture of bilateral relations and address such issues through dialogue and coordination, manage disputes and frictions well, and keep to the right direction of bilateral relations.

 

We should appropriately manage the issue of the Diaoyu Islands according to the spirit of the important consensus reached by leaders of the older generation and the existing understanding of the two sides. At the same time, we should speed up the establishment of a management and control mechanism for maritime crises so that similar incidents will not happen again and cause serious disruptions to the overall bilateral ties.

 

The second principle is cooperation. China and Japan are partners rather than potential rivals. The two countries should strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation at bilateral, regional and global levels and keep expanding common interests in pursuit of shared opportunities, common development and common prosperity.

 

In bilateral relations, we should promote business cooperation as well as economic transformation and

modernization. To follow the trends of global economic development in the post-crisis era, we should

strengthen cooperation in energy, the environment, a green and low-carbon economy, circular economy, and high and new technology. We should strive to launch big demonstration cooperative projects.

 

In Asia, we should work together for a new chapter in regional cooperation. With accelerated regional cooperation in Asia, China and Japan, two major countries in this region, need to leverage our respective advantages, strengthen coordination and cooperation, increase converging interests and join hands to build a better Asia.

 

First, we should stay in close touch on major issues concerning the future configuration of regional cooperation and work together on a blueprint for the development of Asia. Second, we need to vigorously pursue regional economic integration and promote joint research on a China-Japan-ROK Free Trade Area (FTA), the building of an East Asia FTA and regional financial cooperation. We need to explore practical cooperation on connectivity in Asia and the development of the Mekong sub-region so that regional cooperation will always move on the track of mutual benefit. Third, both countries should commit themselves to pushing forward the process of Six-Party Talks and building a peace mechanism in Northeast Asia, upholding peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and should contribute to the denuclearization of the peninsula and long-term peace and stability of the region.

 

Globally, we should strengthen coordination and cooperation in international affairs. The two countries need to make the best use of such multilateral platforms as the UN, the G20 and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), stay in touch and coordinate with each other on global economic stability, the reform of the international financial system and improvement of global economic governance, and support each other in opposing trade protectionism. We need to carry out mutually beneficial cooperation on the UN Millennium Development Goals and global issues such as climate change, counter-terrorism, natural disasters and epidemic diseases. As two large importers of resources and energy, China and Japan need to encourage domestic businesses to conduct strategic cooperation in resource development, pricing, transportation and other issues.

 

The third principle is amity. The over-two-thousand-year friendly exchanges between China and Japan have established a deep foundation for the friendship between our two peoples. It is the joint aspiration of both the Chinese and Japanese people to pass on this friendship from generation to generation. In response to the declining positive sentiments between the two peoples, the two countries, with a strengthened sense of urgency, should further increase their efforts, adopt various measures and strive to turn the situation around as soon as possible.

 

We should keep innovating exchanges and enrich their content. Common cultural values should be championed. Popular culture and cooperation in the creative industry have a role to play in promoting cultural exchanges that can resonate with the public, encourage public participation and strengthen the bonds between our two peoples.

 

We should work together to foster an objective and friendly media environment. The two sides need to provide media groups with more upbeat, positive and objective information so as to enable understanding and form virtuous interactions between the Chinese and the Japanese peoples.

 

The author is a former state councilor of China. The article is an excerpt of his speech at the 4th China-Japan Forum on Jan 11.

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

NEW REALITY CALLS FOR SHARED NORMS

BY KLAUS SCHWAB (CHINA DAILY)

 

Following a decade characterized by an explosion of global challenges, and most recently a structural economic crisis, we now live in a completely new reality. Never before has the world faced so many serious challenges simultaneously. Leaders from all sectors of society are finding it increasingly difficult to navigate this new reality. Our old tools and models to address these problems don't work anymore. We are living in a world that is becoming increasingly complex and interconnected and, at the same time, experiencing an erosion of common values and principles that undermines public trust in leadership as well as future economic growth and political stability.

 

As we begin the second decade of the 21st century, humanity is at a crossroads. We can either continue to work as lobbyists for our narrowly defined self-interests and keep doing the same old things that got us into the crisis in the first place. Or we can act together as true global leaders, with long-term global public interest in mind and at heart.

 

Following the economic crisis of the past two years, we have now entered a new era of austerity and greater modesty. In this new reality, collective sacrifices must be made to safeguard and enhance our future. While a total collapse of the global financial system was averted, governments around the world have gone into huge debts to do so. In the short term, this is leading to higher taxes, reductions in social and public health systems as well as reduced investments in education and infrastructure.

 

As the economic center of gravity continues to move to the East and the South, it will create political, economic and social shock waves. And new global players - in particular non-state actors - are emerging at an unforeseen pace. This new fluid global power structure, marked by greater expressions of national interests, may lead countries to look primarily inward when attempting to solve any problem.

 

Looking ahead, the new reality will also be characterized by growing resource scarcity, and this will have serious implications on energy, food and water security. The traditional borders between business and government will continue to erode because neither governments nor civil society alone can confront the complexity of global challenges that we face.

 

All these dimensions of the new reality require first and foremost a common approach: Basic values and shared norms should be turned into positive forces driving our future. It also requires a new sense of "global togetherness".

 

This is why we will focus on shared norms for the new reality as the theme at this year's Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Norms are vital for providing fundamental guidance to decision makers who operate in this new reality, which still lacks an effective formal and globalized legal infrastructure.

 

They also provide the compass that can guide the decision-making of leaders and help ensure inclusive rather

than exclusive outcomes. Without such shared norms, our efforts of reforming global systems will lack direction and, in the worst case, prove to be ineffective. Shared norms will also help define a common vision for the future that we want to create.

 

International cooperation is everybody's business now. More than ever, the new reality underscores the need to create new bonds rather than new boundaries. We need new partnerships and alliances between public, private and civic life to tackle the problems that lie ahead.

 

We are more likely to succeed in managing global challenges if we take a practical, multifaceted approach, focusing at least as much on the "how" as the "what". It will force us to set aside our immediate short-term interests and take the long-term global public interest to heart.

 

This may prove to be difficult. But one thing is certain: We cannot keep doing the same old thing in a new era that requires new responses.

 

The author is founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum.

 

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DAILY MIRROR

     EDITORIAL

MAHABODHI- THE LATEST RUSE OF THE LTTE

As the LTTE international loses its political clout and with it a great source of income running in to billions of dollars, the desperation to seek the lowest means to survive can become obvious. The dastardly attack on four Buddhist priests and several others at the Mahabodhi temple in Chennai is a clear sign of this pathetic situation that the remaining LTTE activists outside have resorted to.

Causing damage to the tune of Rs 2 million and causing physical harm to the priests is clearly a desperate attempt by the LTTE sympathizers in Chennai in anticipation of a reprisal from Colombo. A counter attack on innocent Tamils in Colombo or elsewhere in the island, would have served perfect for these opportunists seeking some semblance of relevance in the global political path. We can not ignore the manner in which the LTTE gained all the political clout it did post July 1983 riots. Any political credence the terror outfit gained came necessarily following the killing of innocent Tamil people and the damage caused to their property in response to the killing of 13 Army soldiers by the LTTE in Jaffna several days before.

This however is history and one we need to ensure no room for repetition. Any room left for racial emotions to run high at this juncture can serve the petty political gains that the Mahabodhi incident seeks. It thus becomes incumbent upon the government to ensure that political opportunists in Colombo coming in the guise of nationalist elements do not make use of this situation for petty gain.

While the responsibility of Delhi need necessarily to remain with ensuring the security of every Sri Lankan domiciled in its South or visiting there during this time, the need to initiate severe action against the perpetrators can not be emphasized more. Equally significant is for religious leaders in Sri Lanka to act with responsibility and maturity in helping people's initial reactions to subside, and common sense prevail. How we all handle this situation at this critical juncture, will ultimately pave the way for the LTTE to lose the last battle its fighting outside the territorial waters of their dreamland of eelam- to seek relevance where terrorism no longer finds refuge.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

MAHABODHI- THE LATEST RUSE OF THE LTTE

As the LTTE international loses its political clout and with it a great source of income running in to billions of dollars, the desperation to seek the lowest means to survive can become obvious. The dastardly attack on four Buddhist priests and several others at the Mahabodhi temple in Chennai is a clear sign of this pathetic situation that the remaining LTTE activists outside have resorted to.

Causing damage to the tune of Rs 2 million and causing physical harm to the priests is clearly a desperate attempt by the LTTE sympathizers in Chennai in anticipation of a reprisal from Colombo. A counter attack on innocent Tamils in Colombo or elsewhere in the island, would have served perfect for these opportunists seeking some semblance of relevance in the global political path. We can not ignore the manner in which the LTTE gained all the political clout it did post July 1983 riots. Any political credence the terror outfit gained came necessarily following the killing of innocent Tamil people and the damage caused to their property in response to the killing of 13 Army soldiers by the LTTE in Jaffna several days before.

This however is history and one we need to ensure no room for repetition. Any room left for racial emotions to run high at this juncture can serve the petty political gains that the Mahabodhi incident seeks. It thus becomes incumbent upon the government to ensure that political opportunists in Colombo coming in the guise of nationalist elements do not make use of this situation for petty gain.

While the responsibility of Delhi need necessarily to remain with ensuring the security of every Sri Lankan domiciled in its South or visiting there during this time, the need to initiate severe action against the perpetrators can not be emphasized more. Equally significant is for religious leaders in Sri Lanka to act with responsibility and maturity in helping people's initial reactions to subside, and common sense prevail. How we all handle this situation at this critical juncture, will ultimately pave the way for the LTTE to lose the last battle its fighting outside the territorial waters of their dreamland of eelam- to seek relevance where terrorism no longer finds refuge.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

MAYHEM AT MOSCOW AIRPORT

The horrendous suicide bombing at Domodedovo airport, Moscow, has once again brought terrorism in Russia to the forefront. There is no doubt that the bombing was helped by breaches in the security that resulted in the mass mayhem witnessed at the busy airport.

 About 35 people have been killed and at least a hundred injured. While no group has as yet claimed responsibility, speculation is rife about the involvement of the Caucasian militants. Russia's past spate of terror incidents have always been tied up to separatists from Chechnya, the restive North Caucasian state.

Only last year, twin lethal suicide bombing on the Moscow underground allegedly carried out by female bombers from Dagestan — Chechnya's neighbouring state — had served a potent reminder of the festering issue of independence, that refuses to settle down despite considerable success in dealing  with  trouble by Moscow. Despite supporting a heavy-handed President, Ramzan Kadyrov, Moscow has been unable to extinguish the flames in Chechnya. There is growing resentment against Kadyrov, whose penchant for abusing power, human rights violation and financial corruption has contributed to the hatred against his regime, perceived to be an extension of the Russian government.  Many militants opposed to Kadyrov have spread across neighbouring states including Dagestan, North and South Ossetia. Moscow has over the past many years repeatedly linked the Chechen separatists to Al Qaeda, based on the presence of some Arab militants that had in the mid-nineties settled in the area. However, it is important to bear in mind that the fight for Chechen independence can be traced way back to the Tsars era. Years of suppression and persecution on basis of religion and ethnic identity has only strengthened the Caucasian separatists' resolve against Moscow.

Khaleej Times

In case, the airport bombing is found to be linked to Chechnya, it would be a reaffirmation of Chechen militant leader Doku Umarov's promise of bringing war to the streets of the Russian people, that he waged last year.

What is more worrisome is that despite supposedly tight security measures, gaps remain which have proven to be extremely lethal and destabilizing. The Russian government, instead of blaming security officials should  come up with  an alternate monitoring system which regulates existing security measures on a regular basis.

Moreover, troubled zones such as Chechnya may need more careful tending rather than being subjected to further strong-arm tactics  through emissaries.

Khaleej Times

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

 

 

 

 

PRICE VOLATILITY AND FOOD CRISES

BY JACQUES DIOUF

The present situation is different from that of 2007-2008, although recent climatic events may significantly reduce agricultural production next season.

Must history always repeat itself? We are indeed on the verge of what could turn out to be another major food crisis. The FAO Food Price Index at the end of 2010 returned to its highest level. Drought in Russia and the export restrictions adopted by the government, together with lower crop harvests than expected, first in the United States and Europe, then in Australia and Argentina, have triggered a process of soaring agricultural commodity prices on international markets.

Admittedly, the present situation is different from that of 2007-2008, although recent climatic events may significantly reduce agricultural production next season. The hike in prices concerns sugar and oilseeds in particular, more than grains which account for 46 per cent of calorie intake globally. Cereal stocks amounted to 428 million tonnes in 2007/08 but stand currently at 525 million tonnes. However, they are being seriously drawn down in order to meet demand. On another front, oil prices are at around $90 a barrel, instead of $140.

No doubt higher prices and volatility will continue in the next years if we fail to tackle the structural causes of imbalances in the international agricultural system. We continue to react to circumstances and thus to engage in crisis management. The underlying problems were identified in 1996 and 2002 at the FAO World Food Summits. On both occasions, the attention of the highest authorities of the world was drawn to the failure to deliver on commitments. If current trends persisted, the goals set by the world leaders of reducing by half the number of hungry people on the planet by 2015 would only be achieved in 2150.

There has been no decisive change in policy since 1996, despite the warnings by the Global Information and Early Warning System of FAO and those issued through the media. Yet, today there are still close to one billion people who are hungry.

We must therefore forcefully remind everyone of the conditions needed for an adequate supply of food for a population that is constantly growing and that, in the next 40 years, will require a 70 per cent increase in agricultural production worldwide and a 100 per cent increase in the developing countries.

First is the issue of investment: the share of agriculture in official development assistance (ODA) dropped from 19 per cent in 1980 to three per cent in 2006, and now stands at around five per cent — it should amount to $44 billion per year and return to its initial level that helped to avert famine in Asia and Latin America in the 1970s; the budgetary expenditure of low-income food-deficit countries on agriculture represent about five per cent, when this should be at least 10 per cent; finally, domestic and foreign private investments of around $140 billion per year should amount to $200 billion. These figures are to be compared to global military expenditure of $1,500 billion per year.

Then there is the issue of international trade in agricultural commodities which is neither free nor fair. The OECD countries protect their agriculture with a total support estimate of $365 billion per year, and the subsidies and tariff protection in favour of biofuels divert some 120 million tonnes of cereals from human consumption to the transport sector. Further, unilateral sanitary and phytosanitary measures and technical barriers to trade are hampering exports, particularly from the developing countries.

Finally, there is the subject of speculation that is exacerbated by the measures of liberalisation of agricultural futures markets in a context of economic and financial crisis. These new conditions have served to convert hedging instruments into speculative financial products replacing other less profitable forms of investment.

The solution to the problem of hunger and food insecurity in the world therefore requires an effective coordination of decisions on investment, international agricultural trade and financial markets. In an uncertain climatic context marked by floods and droughts, we need to be in a position to finance small water control works, local storage facilities and rural roads, as well as fishing ports and slaughterhouses, etc. Only then will it be possible to secure food production and enhance the productivity and competitiveness of small farmers, thus lowering consumer prices and increasing the income of rural populations who make up 70 per cent of the world's poor. We must also reach a consensus on the very lengthy negotiations of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and put an end to the market distortions and restrictive trade practices that are aggravating the imbalances between supply and demand. Finally, there is a pressing need for new measures of transparency and regulation to deal with speculation on agricultural commodity futures markets. Implementation of such policies at the global level requires the respect of the commitments made by the developed countries, notably at the G8 Summits of Gleneagles and L'Aquila, as well as at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh. Developing countries, for their part, must increase their national budget allocations to agriculture. And private foreign direct investment needs to be made in conditions that will ensure in particular, thanks to an international code of conduct, an equitable sharing of benefits among the different stakeholders.

Crisis management is essential and a good thing, but prevention is better. Without long-term structural decisions and the necessary political will and financial resources for their implementation, food insecurity will persist with a succession of crises affecting most seriously the poorest populations. This will generate political instability in countries and threaten world peace and security.

(Jacques Diouf is Director-General of FAO — Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.)

The speeches and promises made at major international meetings, if not acted upon responsibly, would only fuel a growing sense of frustration and revolt. The time has come to adopt and implement policies that will enable all farmers of the world, in developing and developed countries alike, to earn a decent income through mechanisms that do not create market distortions. These men, women and youths must be allowed to exercise their profession under conditions of dignity so we can feed a planet that will grow from 6.9 billion inhabitants at present to 9.1 billion in 2050.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

REGIONAL POLITICS AND SOUTH ASIA

BY D .S. RAJAN       

The evolution of Chinas South Asia policy needs to be studied not in a vacuum, but in relation to that country's overall foreign policy framework; the main determinant of Beijings external approach has always been its domestic priorities in different periods. In fact, the domestic and foreign policy linkages have continued to be a part of the statecraft of the People's Republic of China (PRC) ever since Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed founding of the nation in October 1949, saying that 'China has stood up'.  

Chinas South Asia policy could still be dominated by that nation's need for a 'peaceful periphery' in order to ensure the success of its modernisation efforts, by the projected time limit of 2050. But the PRC's concept of regional peace in South Asia appears not yet free from an anti-India bias. An assertive China seems to persist with its course of promoting Pakistan as an ally with a view to strategically limiting Indias rise within the confines of South Asia.

This assessment appears valid when the pro-Pakistan viewpoints being expressed by well-connected scholars in China of late, possibly reflecting official opinions, are taken into account. For e.g., an authoritative article in Chinese language (21 May 2010) captioned  "South Asia's Position in the International Order and Choice Before China", written by Professor Zhao Gancheng, Director of South Asia Studies, Shanghai Institute for International Studies has said that India's regional 'hegemony' is prompting China to 'reassess' its South Asia policy.

Giving a call, to 'redefine' India's position in South Asia in the interest of a stable and peaceful regional order, the write-up has alleged that India's current policies do not address the 'strategic autonomy' requirements of other South Asian nations. It has declared that the goal of China's South Asia policy will always be in favour of maintaining regional peace and stability and   is related to the emergence of a regional balance of power and the gaining of 'strategic autonomy' by all South Asian nations.  Indias strategic autonomy should not be detrimental to the corresponding autonomy of other regional powers and that India must rectify its periphery policy, which can enable other regional nations to accept its dominant position.

How India can respond to the evolving Chinas policy towards South Asia? New Delhis strategy should be based on the premise that Indias strategic interests will continue to be affected by Chinas policy to befriend Indias neighbours in order to protect its economic and security interests and counter a 'rising' India. It will be important for India to realise that Chinas new assertiveness could be meant to redefine its boundaries of its economic and diplomatic clout and military influence in the present international scenario. As signs that India is already thinking on the same lines, the country's Prime Minister has himself acknowledged that "China would like to have a foothold in South Asia and that India has to reflect this reality".

Under the circumstances, it will be desirable for India to get closer to its neighbours through measures like extending economic aid. As late Mr R.Swaminathan puts it, countries like Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have developed proximity- induced mistrust of India and intend to hedge their ties with India with some kind of balancing act with China. New Delhis aim should be to eradicate such mistrust and that will be possible if India is prepared to share its new prosperity with its weaker neighbours.

Recent instances like Indian high level visits to Sri Lanka revealing New Delhis intentions to reach out to Colombo economically augur well in this connection. At the same time, it would be necessary for India to continue its 'engagement' policy towards China on the basis of its sound assessment that 'there is enough space for both to pursue their ambitions of economic development'. No doubt, while doing so, New Delhi should evolve an effective regional strategy to neutralise, as the Indian Prime Minister calls it, Chinas policy of "seeking to expand its influence in South Asia at Indias expense".

(The Writer, D.S.Rajan, is Director of Chennai Centre for China Studies.)

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

CEDAW DISCUSSES HR OF WOMEN IN BANGLADESH, BELARUS AND SRI LANKA

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women last afternoon met with non-governmental organizations to discuss the situation of the rights of women in Bangladesh, Belarus and Sri Lanka. As part of its work, the Committee invites non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions to provide information and documentation relevant to the Committee's activities. This was the second of two meetings the Committee has held with civil society groups this session; the first meeting took place on January 17 when the Committee heard relevant information pertaining to the rights of women in Israel, Kenya, Liechtenstein and South Africa.

Speakers from non-governmental organizations in Sri Lanka said that the country had one of the world's largest populations of Internally Displaced persons and within this context women faced routine discrimination vis-à-vis housing, land and property. Speakers also said that for many years the international community had repeatedly expressed its concern with regard to sexual violence perpetrated against women in the country. The existence and legal denial of sexual violence as a crime was an expression of gender-based discrimination and patriarchal systems that needed to be overcome. Speakers also drew the Committee's attention to violence and discrimination faced by lesbians and other sexual minorities in Sri Lanka as a result of an archaic British law that criminalized homosexuality.

CHULANI KODIKARA, of Women and Media Collective, said that the representation of women in elected political bodies was extremely low in Sri Lanka. One major reason was the low number of nominations given to women by the major political parties. Sri Lanka was the only country in South Asia without a quota for women at the local government level. A new law which was tabled in parliament, but had not been passed, provided for a combined quota for women and youth with no specific guarantee of a minimum quota for women. Furthermore, this quota was discretionary and non-compliance would not result in any penalties. Ms. Kodikara requested the Committee to urge the State party to mandate a quota for women in local government.

JAYANTI KURU UTUMPALA, of the Women and Media Collective, said that with regard to conflict affected women, rehabilitation activities had been sporadic with mainly stereotypical vocational training such as sewing and beauty culture provided to former women combatants. Continued militarization and military dominance of civil administration had exacerbated the vulnerability of women to violence and harassment. Ms. Utumpala drew the Committee's attention to the violence and discrimination faced by lesbians and other sexual minorities in Sri Lanka, as a result of an archaic British law that criminalized homosexuality. This violence came in the form of homophobic articles in the media, familial violence and State sanctioned violence under Section 365A of the Penal Code and the Vagrancy Ordinances Act. Many joint suicides of young girls had been reported in the media.

SHYAMALA GOMEZ, of the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, said that Sri Lanka had one of the world's largest populations of internally displaced persons and within this context women faced routine discrimination vis-à-vis housing, land and property. Ms. Gomez said that the application of the "head of the household" concept had resulted in discrimination against women. This was seen in the aftermath of the tsunami when women were disentitled to property as a consequence of the "head of the household" rule, seen as synonymous with being male, and thus not being authorized to sign official documentation. Secondly, while the State had been giving land to landless peasants for many years, this process systematically excluded women.

Most often it was the man who applied for land and he was given the land as single ownership as head of the household which meant the land was not held jointly by a married couple, but solely by the husband.

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GULF DAILY NEWS

COMMENT

LESSONS TO BE LEARNED...  

BY JAMAL KANJ

 

A university graduate trying to make a living peddling a vegetable cart in the neighbourhood of Sid Bouzid did not realise his death would bring about a major political change in Tunisia.

 

Mohamed Bouaziz graduated from university with an inherent promise of a bright future; but like many of his compatriot young Arab graduates, his major challenge was not passing college, it was life's travails after working so hard to complete school.

 

The young Tunisian faced life with courage, instead of helplessness, he took his future in his hand and pushed a small cart to make a living for his young family. When police tried to hijack his only economic source, Bouaziz poured flammable liquid on his body and decided to end his life. His cart became the straw that broke Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's back.

 

It misses the point to think that the small vegetable peddler was the root cause for the political upheaval.

 

Bouaziz had no known political ambitions; all he wanted was to have a decent life under a government providing its citizens an opportunity to make a living.

 

He was one of several millions of frustrated Tunisians who saw no prospects for their future in the country they loved. Many of the young men dared the Mediterranean swelling waves seeking a better life on the other side of the sea. Bouaziz chose to stay at home where his burned body became the spark for a populous uprising bringing an end to a dictator.

 

I was watching TV when the news was interrupted with a live speech by Ben Ali. He looked edgy and sounded disoriented. He told the fuming Tunisians: I understood you now.

 

But after listening to his short speech, he came across as someone, who even after 23 years in power never understood his people. Along with restoring free media access, and in a "goodwill" gesture, he ordered his security men to cease using "live ammunition."

 

This was only after live ammunition failed to suppress the intrepid young Tunisians. The president then repeated, albeit 23 years late, his old promise for democracy and openness. But it was too little too late by then.

 

Not very long ago, the economy was described by a former French president as a "miracle."

 

Praise from the Bush administration showered on Ben Ali for his wise leadership and the economic success story in North Africa. This was at a time when international human rights organisations described the country as: no realm of civil society in Tunisia is safe from government interference. Tunisia was turned into a police state and a for-profit corporation run by Ben Ali's wife and her family.

 

Now the same countries that extolled him while in power closed their airspace for his plane and declared his family as "persona non grata" on their land. Others congratulated the people on their honour and courage.

 

There are two lessons to be learned from the events in Tunisia.

 

First, subsidies on food items benefit equally the poor and the affluent, while provide false economic pretence and bleed resources from projects intended to develop sustained economies in the long run. Along with more directed subsidies, good governance is a short cut to control prices by eliminating monopoly and public corruption.

 

Second, the US and the EU nations must realise that supporting non-democratic regimes under the pretext of "stability" and moderation (meaning acceptance of Israel) is a myopic view and an incubator to breed radicalism and volatility.

 

To that end, good governance is second to none for stability and sustained economic prosperity in the Arab world.

 

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