Google Analytics

Saturday, February 5, 2011

EDITORIAL 05.02.11

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at:

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Month february 05, edition 000748 collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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




























2.      17TH TIME LUCKY























































2.      T N NINAN






































6.      ON RECORD









2.      HOPE AT LAST





























4.      A $5,223 AIRLINE TICKET?





































































If wannabe super-power China wishes to be a credible force on the international stage, it must stop behaving like a rich, spoiled brat and instead grow up and behave responsibly. Leaked US diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks have shown that Chinese companies are continuing to sell Iran materials used to build conventional weapons of mass destruction and other small arms, which the latter promptly passes on to its militant friends in Iraq and Afghanistan. Consequently, insurgents in the region have been using those Made-in-China weapons, which include guns, rocket-propelled grenades and surface-to-air missiles containing Chinese-made components against the US-led armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as against civilian targets in the region. Needless to say, this has put a dampener on the already taut US-China relations. Worse still, Beijing's decision to covertly support Iran, a country that is known as the global sponsor for terrorism, will ultimately damage China's reputation as well as hurt its relationship with other countries across Western world. Ultimately, Beijing's supply of arms and military technology to Iran sets a bad precedent on nonproliferation issues and it is only a matter of time before other powerful but rogue states follow in its footsteps. The leaked cables have revealed that US diplomats feared that Chinese companies were also selling materials to Iran that could possibly be used to build nuclear missiles and other weapons of mass destruction. This is a very serious threat to regional as well as global security and it is imperative that China stops fooling around with Iran, or at least take responsibility and ensure that weapons of mass destruction do not fall into the hands of terrorists and Islamist militants.


The cables attribute China's slip-up to its failure to effectively enforce both United Nations Security Council resolutions on the sale of arms and weapons material as well as its own export control laws, but it is hard to believe that Beijing just carelessly sent a few boxes of guns and ammunitions to Tehran. If anything, it reeks of a Cold War-style strategic manoeuver that will not only undermine US influence in the region but may also add another potential West Asia theatre to its ongoing military engagements. No wonder, US officials had to undertake a major diplomatic offensive, as has been revealed by a "secret" cable sent out in September 2008, to pressurise Beijing into revising its arms deals with Tehran. Through its Ambassadors, Washington had to plead key European countries, such as Spain, Italy and Poland to convince Beijing to stop Chinese companies from selling ammunitions to Tehran, which it was distributing to terrorists in the region. However, it must also be mentioned that China is not the only rogue arms seller in the global defence industry and perhaps, predictably so: The arms business is a lucrative one and it seems like everyone wants a share of the pie, irrespective of its consequences for global security. The cables have sadly revealed that several small European Union nations have also failed to undertake stringent control measures when exporting arms and materials to countries such as Iran. Apparently, some countries had to be 'continually reminded' that the situation in West Asia is dangerous and if mishandled, could lead to a nuclear war.







It comes as no surprise that Goa has registered the lowest infant mortality rate among all states for 2009, because India's tourism paradise has consistently performed well in socio-health parameters for several years now. At only 11 infant deaths per 1000 live births the state's record is much better than the national average of 50 deaths. Compared to 2008, the IMR has dropped nationally, as several states, including the worst performing ones, have registered fewer deaths, but even the lower numbers continue to be a source of worry for health planners. For example, Madhya Pradesh recorded 67 deaths per live births, while Odisha and Uttar Pradesh —among the most backward states — had 65 and 63 deaths respectively. The latest estimates of the Sample Registration System, released by the Registrar General of India, also portray a direct correlation between literacy and healthcare rates, and Goa is good example of that link. The state has an average literacy rate of 75 per cent as compared to just 44 per cent in Madhya Pradesh. Education, therefore, is a powerful tool that empowers families to prevent infant mortality. This is even more evident when one compares Goa's 67 per cent female literacy rates to Madhya Pradesh's pathetic 28 per cent. Awareness, brought about by education, among women is essential in this case because the mother's health has a direct bearing on the chances of the child's survival.

Access to quality public healthcare facilities is another important factor in preventing infant mortality. Unfortunately, our public health system, especially rural healthcare, has been far from adequate in meeting the demand. While we are witnessing rapid expansion in quality healthcare in the private sector, with speciality hospitals catering to the sick at a fraction of the cost that patients would have to incur for similar services abroad, these are still largely out of bounds for the country's poor. In any case, checking infant mortality generally requires prompt and efficient primary healthcare services rather than super-specialty treatment facilities. Although we have some 24,000 Primary Health Centres across the country, these are plagued by a lack of doctors, since most licensed medical practitioners shy away from working in rural India. Additionally, these centres suffer from a paucity of funds and don't have even basic medical equipment. The Government must realise that primary healthcare is essentially its own responsibility and cannot be left to the private players. Unfortunately there has been a drop in Government spending on health which has stagnated at one per cent of the GDP. Contrast this with the World Health Organisation's recommendation that at least 5 per cent of the GDP should be should be devoted to public healthcare. While the Public-Private Partnership model and other alternative systems are welcome insofar as they contribute to strengthening the healthcare sector, they cannot be a substitute for Government spending and participation.









What's the truth behind the allegations against Ugyen Trinley Dorje? Is the 17th Karmapa a victim of high intrigue in his monastery?

It has not been easy to be Ugyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa. The previous Karmapa, the 16th of the lineage, who had taken refuge in Sikkim in 1959, was one of the most revered Lamas of his generation. A great yogi, he impressed all those who approached him.

When he passed away in 1981, he left his monastery of Rumtek in Sikkim, as well as hundreds of Dharma Centres in India and abroad, in the hands of four regents who were to provide spiritual guidance to the Karmapa's followers. When Situ Rinpoche, one of the regents, discovered a 'letter of prediction' said to have been written by the old Karmapa prophesying his rebirth in eastern Tibet and giving the time of birth and the name of his parents, a dispute erupted between Situ and another regent, Shamar, who was bidding for someone else.

The bitterness between the Rumtek regents took an ugly turn in 1992-93, when a petition was filed in the Sikkim High Court praying for an injunction to stop the recognition of the 17th Karmapa. More infighting was reported in 1994, when Shamar enthroned his candidate, Thagye Dorjee.

In the meantime, after conducting the necessary tests, the Dalai Lama gave his seal of approval to Ugyen Trinley Dorje, the boy found by Situ. Soon after, the Communist leadership in Beijing also decided to recognise the boy still living in Tibet. It was the first time in the history of the Communist regime that a 'reincarnation' (or 'Living Buddha' for Beijing) was officially recognised.

The issue got further complicated in January 2000 when the 15-year-old Karmapa unexpectedly reached Dharamsala after crossing several Himalayan passes in the midst of winter. At that time, many believed that he had been 'planted' by the Chinese intelligence agencies to create confusion over the 'Sikkim issue' (Beijing agreed to 'recognise' the State as a part of India only in 2003). Probably fuelled by the Shamar group, suspicions have remained since then in the minds of a few Indian officials.

On January 26, the story took a new twist when Rs 1 crore in cash was found in a vehicle intercepted in Una district of Himachal Pradesh. A Dharamsala-based businessman KP Bhardwaj was arrested for an alleged illegal land deal. Subsequently, the Himachal Pradesh Police seized Rs 5 crore in foreign and Indian currency (including some Chinese Yuans) from a room of the Gyuto Monastery, the seat of Ugyen Trinley Dorje, near Dharamsala.

The Office of the Lama confirmed the seizure: "This sum represents unsolicited donations that have been made by the followers of His Holiness the Karmapa from around the world to enable the substantial social and spiritual programmes of the Karma Kagyu order." It was further explained: "The Karmae Garchen Trust has sought to purchase land and build a new residence and monastery since 2007. When the Trust identified suitable land in 2010, it informed the office of the District Collector of Dharamsala and sought their approval to proceed with the purchase."

A 'no-objection certificate' from the Town and Country Planning Department of the Himachal Pradesh Government was apparently obtained. The problem is that it is difficult for non-State subjects to 'legally' purchase land in the area. It is probably why Mr PK Dhumal, the Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister raised the Karmapa issue with the Prime Minister during the recent Chief Ministers' Conference on Internal Security: "I have asked the Prime Minister and the Home Minister to clarify whether the Tibetans are our guests or refugees."

According to the Office of the Karmapa, an application was sent in 2002 to the Home Ministry for an account under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act; unfortunately it has not been granted as yet. Karmapa, a bright and intelligent young Lama, is today entangled in two issues: The large amount of foreign currency found in his monastery and the fact that he has been accused of being a Chinese 'agent'.

The second accusation seems unwarranted, but has unfortunately been going around. As many monks still come from Tibet, there could be some moles reporting the moves of the young Lama to China, but it does not mean that he is an agent or influenced by such people. There is also the possibility of the other postulant to the Karmapas' throne having informers inside the Lama's establishment. Who tipped off the police about the 'unaccounted' cash?

But if one looks deeper into the issue, who is benefitting from all these charges (frivolous for spying and probably right for poor accounting)? It is the Chinese Government. The last thing Beijing wants today is to see the Dalai Lama designate a 'spiritual' successor before he leaves this world. Beijing has been planning for decades for the Dalai Lama's succession.

The leadership in Beijing did not foresee that the boy had his own mind and that he would escape to India and take refuge close to the Dalai Lama. Now if the Dalai Lama would tomorrow nominate two or three 'spiritual' regents, it would be a great blow for Beijing; their plans to have a docile 'Living Buddha' in their hands (like their present puppet Panchen Lama) would be completely spoiled.

It is, therefore, clear that China is the first to benefit from the present messy situation in Dharamsala, particularly from the not-properly-accounted-for cash recovered from the Gyuto monastery. It is probably why the Dalai Lama has said that in the interest of all, a proper inquiry should be conducted. And if necessary, rectifications should be made.

In the meantime, a Tibetan delegation met the Chief Minister who asked them to stop their demonstrations in favour of the Karmapa: "The agencies are doing their job and should instead be cooperated with to find the truth," said Mr Dhumal. But the time has perhaps come for his Government to find a solution to 50-year-old presence of some 30,000 Tibetans who should be able to enjoy the same facilities as other Himachalis, provided they abide by national and local laws.

The Karmapa's immediate task is to concentrate his energy in educating his monks about the intricacies of Indian laws and to be fastidious about the financial administration of his monastery. This is crucial if he wants to clear the doubts raised by security agencies. He should not hesitate to ask either the Union or the State Government to bring to his notice any wrong-doings by his followers or staff and he should himself take severe action if such things occur. Let us hope also that he continues his wonderful work on the conservation of the environment of the Himalayas.








The Western powers have misread the message emanating from Cairo: the demand for democracy includes urge for economic equity. Supporting a sham post-Mubarak democracy would be worse than backing the dictator and lead to extinction of influence

The tumultuous struggles in Egypt have come as a sharp surprise not only to the Egyptian elite but to the entire world. This was preceded by a virtual revolution in Tunisia in which peoples' power displaced an unpopular, corrupt dictator. But Egypt is a much bigger country, with a huge army which has played a pivotal role in West Asia. The imminent fall of Hosni Mubarak has much greater significance for the region, and may well have a spread effect. The Jordanian King has already dismissed his prime minister and asked his successor to carry out political reforms.

The reasons for the revolt are manifold. During Mubarak's 30-year-old dictatorship, the rich prospered, but the lower middle class and workers and peasants suffered. Though recently the GDP has grown by 5 per cent, the fruits of this did not trickle down to the bulk of the population. The official poverty is 20 per cent and unemployment is high. Besides, it was widely believed that Mubarak was grooming his son, Gamal, as his successor. This was greatly resented as yet another assault on democracy. It led to massive street protests including in Tahrir Square in Cairo by ordinary citizens. On February 2, this led to a backlash and regime supporters attacked the protesters and despite the efforts of the Army, a number were killed. With an estimated 300 dead in earlier clashes, three in the latest and hundreds injured, matters seem to have reached a point of no return.

Can Mubarak survive this crisis? Unlikely. There is no stopping of the protests. The US and the EU have already signaled that there should be a peaceful transition to another post-Mubarak regime. Mubarak's formula that he be allowed to preside over the transition culminating in the next elections in September has few takers. The Army is clearly divided, with the soldiers often showing their public sympathy with the protesters. Significantly the casualties have not been at the hand of the Army, but the hated police and pro-Mubarak protesters.

There has been much skepticism and even fear of the moderate Muslim Brotherhood, who are a liberal Islamist party similar in many ways to the ruling AK in Turkey, which itself is facing popular protests. Israel is very worried since Mubarak was its major ally. Since the Camp David Accord, the Egyptian regime has had a strategic alliance with Israel. The post-Mubarak dispensation may not be so accommodating especially given the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. The greatest loss may be to the US. Egypt and Israel along with Saudi Arabia have been America's major allies in the region. The tumult in the Arab world is very bad news for the US. To cut their losses, the US and then the EU's call for an orderly transition is a desperate attempt to retain at least a foothold in these countries.

But a desperate Mubarak has not played ball. The censorship on local media and the attack and harassment of foreign media by pro-government forces is unlikely to help stabilise the situation. Enough telecasts have been made and watched for the common citizen to realise what is happening. This will further polarise the situation in favour of the pro-changers. Even Mubarak's former allies like the US and the EU are displeased since their journalists have also been attacked while showing what is going on in the Egyptian struggle for democracy.

Mubarak seems to be banking on the army but in such situations the army is often divided especially with the younger officers and rank and file not wanting to take action against their fellow Egyptians. The media has shown several such instances which is yet another reason it has been shut down. These emergency measures cannot continue for any length of time. Further, the earlier shutdown of the Internet and mobile phone networks was not effective. After days of detailed television coverage and commentary, the anti-Mubarak forces know that he is on the back foot. Moreover, the Western and other governments must have strongly expressed their displeasure against the Mubarak regime's treatment of their journalists and called for a peaceful transition.

Paradoxically, the Americans fail to assess the mass alienation of the people from the Mubarak regime and when they did they failed to realise the complete desperation of the old dictator. This is just an indication how much the Americans despite all their networks in these societies, have failed to gauge the popular mood. It is difficult to see how things will return to 'normal' in West Asia. Revolution is infectious and the media in other Arab countries have not been shut down. Even if that were to happen plenty has been shown already and the Arab street is fully aware of what is going on. The Egyptian experience, the events in Tunisia, in Jordan, in Turkey and other parts of the Arab world indicate the ability of alienated large masses of people to seek minimally reform from and maximally overthrow their government. Events are not over but all indications are that West Asia would now be a significantly different place. Just as the Tunisian revolt sparked off the events especially in Egypt, the experiences of the much bigger and powerful Egypt could influence all West Asia.

There is an important lesson in this for the West. When people want democracies they also include in their demand economic democracies. They have seen the real face of the neo-liberal reforms and are not prepared to accept the increasing class divide, impoverishment, inflation, unemployment and other characteristic outcomes of neo-liberalism. This is a lesson that the Americans would have to seriously consider. They have touted economic reforms as a panacea for all economic evils but things have not turned out that way. They have ignored dictatorship, in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc. in the belief that strong governments can survive with US aid to the civilian and military sectors.

The major lesson of Egypt is that this is a flawed untenable strategy and the US and the West need to profoundly rethink.

-- The writer is Professor, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University







Is Egypt on the brink of a new order? What would the implications be? A Saturday Special inquiry

Egypt, because of its huge population and central role in history has traditionally been the heart of "Arab Street" in world affairs. It has always been the cultural capital of the Arab world — Egyptian Arabic is understood throughout the Arab world, its television serials and films are standard fare for the average Arab and Egyptians work and live throughout the region. Anything that happens in Egypt tends to reverberate through the region — that is why we need caution and consideration.

The ultimate result, however, remains in balance. It is precisely this uncertainty which has caused governments around the world to be cautious in the positions they adopt. Understandably, they are hedging their bets.

This may be diplomatic and it may be realpolitik — but it is not good enough either for the people of Egypt or even, for the world at large. Whether the Mobarak regime manages to restore order or the protesters win out and forcefully usher in some form of popular government, the fundamental contradictions and challenges facing Egypt would remain. If these are not addressed adequately, any government that the Egyptians create for themselves may degenerate into the corruption, inefficiency and repression that they know so well. The hope and anticipation of this 'Arab Spring' may still turn to tragic disappointment. The poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz perhaps best summed up this predicament when he wrote:

Phir koi aaya dil-e-zar,

nahin koi nahin.

Rah ro hoga,

kahin aur chala jay ga.

More than a crisis in its heart, Egypt today has an opportunity — to re-assess where things have gone wrong and where they may yet go wrong in the future.

Modern Egypt has had a long and troubled history of being colonised by external powers due partly to its resources but mainly due to its strategic location connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea. From Ottoman Turkish rule, Egypt passed into being a British protectorate and then, in 1953, became a Republic. This was the beginning of Egypt's one party phase of 'Arab Socialism'. At each of these inflexion points only the elite was shuffled — the average Egyptian was nowhere in the picture.

Of course, Western support helped unrepresentative regimes consolidate their rule in the past but it is important to remember that it was the Egyptians themselves who created and enabled the continuation of such regimes. The despotic urge in any such regime would have sought out support — if not from the West or America, then from someone else. The proper focus for Egyptians and their true friends must be towards removing the causes and opportunities for illiberal regimes — and this will necessarily be a slow painstaking task.

One of the reasons why authoritarian regimes have been able to sustain themselves is what has been called the 'Islamic bogeyman'. The argument has been that it is only these regimes that can maintain stability and that without them, Islamist extremists would seize power and, perhaps, create a Sharia-ruled state.

However, this choice between absolutes is fundamentally flawed — it does not factor in socio-economic predicaments and it does not credit the Egyptian people with having the capability to decide what is best for them.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt for example could, theoretically, create a repressive theocracy. It certainly has the ideological base, the organisation and a large support base. Perhaps it might even have the desire. Even if outside observers fear the prospects of an Islamic revolution in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has been most conspicuous by its silence. We need to understand that silence — is the Muslim Brotherhood waiting for others to strike the first blow or, does it understand that it has a weakness that would handicap it?

The reality is that the Egyptian Army has a preponderant presence in the State and, in the absence of an external enemy, it has time on its hands. It may not easily give up its influence in politics, and nor would it easily yield power to religious extremists. Till date, the Egyptian Army may be a Muslim army but it is not an Islamic Army. Egypt needs to value and nurture this positive aspect.

More importantly, Egypt today faces a series of challenges that feed into economic stagnation and socio-political frustration. Successive Egyptian regimes have proved to be corrupt, exploitative and repressive. The result has been a growing divide between a very narrow elite and a vast mass of urban (and rural) poor.

At the heart of this set of problems is Egypt's demographic predicament — one that it shares with much of the Arab world. A large population of about 80 million makes Egypt a heavyweight in the region but, more than the numbers, it is the composition of this population that is important — the median age is around 24-25. This extraordinarily large and young cohort needs phenomenal investments in socio-economic infrastructure — in terms of education, health and employment which, till date, have not been forthcoming from the regime. Equally, young populations tend to be more assertive and demand a voice — this again has been increasingly frustrated by the single ruling party.

Egypt must think beyond regime change and work for a regime transformation. The long-term objective must be to cater to the needs and aspirations of Egypt's youthful population. If this cohort can be leveraged into a positive and productive future for themselves, we can hope to see a stable, peaceful Egypt. In the immediate future, Egyptians need to focus on a transition that nurtures and enables democracy. Go for democracy but only after laying the proper foundations for it.

For our part, we, from the outside must not try to seek favour with any potential regime but must begin to bet on the Egyptian people. In today's day and age, we must learn to applaud and encourage the individual in his society rather than particular regimes that we think look like us. If the present crisis in Egypt is to take a positive turn, regardless of which regime finally assumes power, it is important for the individual Egyptian to begin to have a voice and an opportunity to participate in making Egypt. That would be the true revolution.

-- The author is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi







It's nightmare time again for Washington and John Foster Dulles' prophesy over a Communist domino effect, which caused so much agony in Asia, may happen next time round with radical Islamism in West Asia

If the American foreign policy establishment is in tumult in the wake of the Egyptian uprising close on the heels of the Tunisian revolt, the reasons are not far to seek. There is a strong undercurrent of fear in Washington that Egypt, a bulwark of stability for American interests in a volatile region, could easily unravel with the abrupt departure of Hosni Mubarak, its autocrat of choice who has kept things on an even keel for it over three decades. The dangers are deemed real if an "Islamic fundamentalist" grouping like Muslim Brotherhood ends up grabbing power, whether singly or in a coalition.

There is also the fear that the whole of Arab Street could be in ferment soon enough. Sadly for the US, all the nations witnessing incipient or full-fledged revolt happen to be its valued allies. Egypt and Tunisia apart, Jordan and Yemen have had the first taste of their own "Day of Rage" protests. The mounting opposition prompted Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh to take a leaf from Mubarak's book and announce post-haste that he would not seek another term. Nor would he hand over power to his son. The one difference is Saleh has time till 2013, but one wonders if the Yemenis would be willing to wait that long. Bracing for a similar protest on Saturday is Syria, a nation with which the US is just mending ties after a six-year diplomatic rupture.

As Egyptian protesters prepared for their renewed push on Friday, the deadline set by them for Mubarak to quit, thoughts in Washington shifted to keeping the likes of Muslim Brotherhood at bay, if that is feasible. Although not a dominant force, with many estimating its national support base at 20-30 per cent, pundits have been focusing on its threat potential. While they want the transition from Mubarak to be smooth and stable, some officials worry that the Brotherhood's ultimate goal is to turn Egypt into an Islamic state. There is also the apprehension about preserving the landmark Israel-Egypt peace deal signed in 1979, should the Brotherhood come to power.

This prognosis is cause enough for jitters in Washington on what post-Mubarak Egypt could mean for it. Many observers indeed see a parallel between the Egyptian uprising and the Iranian revolution following the collapse of the Shah's regime in 1979. Resolute opposition to Iran being a key facet of the US foreign policy, any thought of an Iran-like denouement in Egypt is truly galling for Washington. It is against this backdrop that a great deal of debate has begun in the American media on the Brotherhood, founded in 1928 as an Islamic force to secure freedom from Britain and outlawed in the 1950s by Gamal Abdel Nasser's government.

In defence of Muslim Brotherhood, however, it is being pointed out that this body renounced violence decades ago and cannot be equated with the radicalism of the Taliban. It opposes terrorism and has condemned the 9/11 terror strikes on the United States. "Al Qaeda's leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, started their political lives affiliated with the Brotherhood but both have denounced it for decades as too soft and a cat's paw of Mubarak and America," says Bruce Riedel, former White House official and now senior fellow at Brookings Institution. "Living with it won't be easy but it should not be seen as inevitably our enemy. We need not demonise it nor endorse it."

All eyes are now on Mohammed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Nobel Peace prize winner, who sees himself in the unlikely role as Egypt's new leader of Opposition. A host of anti-Mubarak groups, including the Brotherhood, have come together on a common platform, but only time will tell that if the 68-year-old ElBaradei may become an acceptable face of change. Some of Egypt's long-time opposition leaders view him as a transitional figurehead at best. The man who has spent much of his life abroad descended on Cairo after the "Day of Rage" protests snowballed, forcing Mubarak to reluctantly announce that he would not run for office again. However, his refusal to quit before the end of his term in September is what has led to pitched battles between his supporters and pro-changers, who want his immediate exit.

For the United States, ElBaradei could be the perfect alternative, but the seasoned international bureaucrat is yet to win his spurs in Egypt's domestic turf. American media outlets have begun making a beeline for interviews, regardless of the doubts in some quarters that he is more of a scholar than one who can fit into the rough and tumble of Egyptian politics. But he seems to be saying the right things on behalf of the protesting masses. In a conversation with CBS anchor Katie Couric, he dismisses Vice President Omar Suleiman's offer for dialogue, asserting: "I will never get into a dialogue while Mubarak is in power."

-- The writer is Washington correspondent, The Pioneer








BY blaming the Narendra Modi led Gujarat government for adding fuel to the communal fire that erupted in the state after the Godhra tragedy of 2002, failing to check the communal violence and later coming in the way of dispensation of justice to victim families, the Supreme Court- appointed Special Investigation Team has put an official seal on widespread public perception in this regard.


Of particular importance is the fact that the SIT has held the chief minister guilty of partisan handling of the communal situation.


While the SIT thinks that the evidence at hand is not sufficient to warrant the prosecution of the chief minister and his functionaries, their report does raise some vital questions.


For instance, the SIT has said that the Gujarat government had destroyed police wireless records pertaining to the riot period and no minutes or documentation of the crucial law and order meetings held by the government was done.


Surely this could be the basis of criminal action. Doesn't this make it clear that the Gujarat government led by Mr Modi had something to hide? As for the Bharatiya Janata Party, it is shocking that its first comments on the matter are to criticise the leaking of the SIT report, not its substance. The party must realise that its government in the state and its mascot Mr Modi have reasons to hang their head in shame. The law may not be able to prosecute Mr Modi and his cronies, but the SIT report should leave no one in doubt about the moral and administrative failings of the chief minister in the terrible events. And if the party really cared for values in public life, it would ask Mr Modi to resign.



IT is not without reason that the information technology industry is one of India's growth drivers. The IT- BPO sector's output touched a phenomenal $ 76 billion this year, clocking a 19 per cent growth rate, and in the next, will grow at a similar rate. Software exports alone touched a remarkable $ 59 billion.


More important, it will add close to three lakh jobs this year, thus consolidating its status as one of the employment magnet sectors.


The IT sector's growth has not been a miracle; instead from an almost non- existent industry, it today accounts for a large part of India's services exports through diligent planning and capacity building, both human as well as technological. So much so that its processes are the envy of other industries, and some of the most respected firms in India belong to this sector.


A growing job market is good news not only for the youth demographic, but also for the economy as a whole as it fuels demand for products and services and contributes to overall economic well- being of society.


India needs to now transition from the BPO type of IT work to more knowledge- intensive sectors. For this it needs the kind of leadership and dedication that was provided by the earlier generation of pioneers.



ONE of the more ingenious arguments advanced by the government during the ongoing hearings in the Supreme Court on the appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner ( CVC) was that any individual, by virtue of being appointed to the rank of Secretary to the government of India, was deemed to be of " impeccable integrity." Without impugning the integrity of the individual in question in this matter, we beg to differ. Integrity lies in the eyes of the beholder.


And the civil service has done little to protect its image as a body of men of impeccable integrity.


The Cabinet Secretary, as the head of the civil service, is also supposed to be its conscience keeper. He, and his analogues at the state level, the chief secretaries, have sweeping powers of self- regulation.


The bureaucracy has given itself the powers to vet complaints against itself and also to sanction disciplinary action or prosecution.


However, these powers have seldom, if ever, been exercised suo motu to cleanse the system of rotten apples. In fact, using the device of the single directive, it has been used to prevent a clean up.








The higher you go, the more off-the-wall your demands get. At fame's dizzying heights, it's said Michael Jackson once asked for 24 hand towels, at least four hair dryers, 10 clothes rails and myriad raspberry-scented candles in a dressing room. And, given the glamour fraternity's outlandish tantrums, that was the least wacko of Jacko's demands. On his part, rocker Iggy Pop requested - so the legend goes - seven dwarves delivered backstage. From tanks full of live lobsters to high pressure sleep chambers, from kittens as furry flunkies to physicians-on-call with injectable drugs, from pink palazzos to blood diamonds, the rich and famous demand - and get - it all.

Guess what happens when we're at high altitudes, literally? Up in the air, lesser mortals join celebrities in acquiring a berth right to bizarreness! Common air passengers don't just make reasonable requests. Such as Indian evacuees from strife-hit Egypt begging not to be overcharged by India's public sector mascot of uncivil aviation. Or travellers demanding Delhi airport's security-related mock-drills be better managed to avoid giving hijackers ideas. Going by a recent survey of a foreign airline's cabin crew, flyers can also make outrageous demands, stumping in-flight staff. Rattled by noise, some want aircraft engines turned off. Others insist the captain "stop the turbulence". Still others want the windows opened to let fresh air in! Imagine such prayers getting granted 35,000 ft above ground. Hell, those parachutes had better work.

But if dancing divas can want uninterrupted supply of oxygen cylinders while touring, why can't air commuters want massages for Barbie dolls or burger joints-on-wings, oddball requests listed in the survey? Good question. Are flight attendants, then, the heroes of the service sector, bravely catering to the customer as crackpot king? Well, at ground level, they have competition from harried hoteliers. These hospitable hosts have been badgered to arrange anything from reiki sessions for pet pooches to giant-size beds for towering guests seven ft and above in height. What a crane in the neck.

Not surprisingly, at the Olympian heights of people's representation, politicians also make tall orders. Mamatadi, for instance, demands public thanks for wasteful sops even as the Railways stares at empty coffers. The PM wants lower food prices but adds he can't astrologically predict his wish getting granted by the constellations above. The Congress chief sensibly calls on geriatric politicos to renounce high positions. Only, in a country for old men (and ministers), who'll obey the high commander, herself four-time party prez? Finally, the BJP demands a joint parliamentary committee to fight graft. Psst...ever heard of the joint parliamentary casualty, Bofors and after?

Now, we all know that netagiri itself is moral high ground. But on its higher plane, people can't always square the soaring sermons of leaders with politically bumpy rides and electoral crash landings, with bad service in-between to boot. So, our reigning coalition and opposition had better end their on-going turbulence, which owes to competitive skyjacking of issues whose resolution needs co-piloting. Or must aam janata demand that parachute dive mid-flight?







With the 10th edition of the cricket World Cup kicking off on February 19, concerns have been raised regarding the format of the six-week-long marquee event. The bone of contention is the division of the participating teams into two groups of seven. This will see each team play a minimum of six matches in the first round-robin stage. The gaps in between matches up till the quarterfinals - around three to six days for each team - have been slammed by English batsman Kevin Pietersen. However, a closer look reveals that the format will enhance the quality of competition by benefiting the most consistent performers.

Luck plays a significant part in limited-overs cricket. But for a tournament as important as the World Cup it would be unfortunate if upsets were to determine the very outcome of the quadrennial event. A bad day in the field should not scuttle a good team's World Cup prospects. This is precisely what the format seeks to achieve. If there are unexpected setbacks, teams would be able to reassess their situation and mount a comeback. As pointed out by Indian skipper M S Dhoni, it would also give an opportunity to players nursing niggles and injuries to recover in time.

The format will also be a boon for the associate member nations in the tournament. Unlike the 2007 edition where they were assured a minimum of three matches, this World Cup will see them take on at least six quality opponents. With only nine Test playing nations, this is a step in the right direction. The World Cup needs to be used as a platform to generate greater interest in cricket and take the game to uncharted territories. The fear that the World Cup will rapidly run out of interest is preposterous, given that it is bringing the world's top cricketing teams to a subcontinent where the game is akin to religion.









When President Barack Obama spoke before the Indian Parliament last November, he said: "The relationship between the United States and India - bound by our shared interests and values - will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century."

During the president's visit, there was action backing up those words, including $10 billion in job-creating deals between American and Indian businesses and the Indian government; President Obama expressing support for India gaining a permanent seat on the UN Security Council; and an announcement of significant reforms to US export control policies - opening the door for increased high-technology trade and cooperation between India and the US.

This week, i am travelling to New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore to help 24 US companies walk through that door. These companies - more than half of which are small- and medium-sized businesses - are leaders in the civil nuclear, defence and security, civil aviation, and information and communications technology sectors. They are eager to find Indian business partners and to help India continue its remarkable transformation.

It was only 20 years ago that India's closed economy was plagued by persistent low growth. But beginning in 1991,
Manmohan Singh, then finance minister, began a historic opening up of India to the world. Trade barriers and tax rates came down. State monopolies were broken up. And the licence raj was greatly diminished.

The talent of the Indian people was unleashed, and the results speak for themselves. Annual growth rates of 8-10% became common. And Indian companies like Tata, Wipro, Infosys and Reliance became internationally renowned.

India now has 45 million entrepreneurs - most building small businesses, some building big businesses - but all contributing to an economy that boasts a middle class as big as the entire population of the United States. India has come along faster than anyone would have expected, and there are good reasons to believe these trends can continue.
Morgan Stanley predicts that over the next 20 to 25 years, India will grow faster than any large country in the world.

But there are bumps on the road to progress. India faces many challenges in ensuring that its educational system, infrastructure, and other services keep pace with its potential. For example, just 2% of Indian roads are paved highways. The electric grid, water, communications and transportation infrastructure have to be greatly expanded and upgraded.

The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that meeting the needs of India's cities alone by 2030 will require $1.2 trillion in additional capital investment. That's an astounding eightfold increase in today's per capita spending.

The message i hope Indian citizens hear this week is that US businesses can help India achieve its goal of providing a better standard of living for all its people. They can partner with Indian technology companies to build high-speed internet infrastructure, so doctors in rural India can seek instant consultations with a doctor in Delhi about a CT scan. They can provide cutting-edge technologies to modernise India's electric grid and power generating systems so the country can deliver electricity to hundreds of millions of Indian citizens. They can help India build the world's best planes, the roads and the rail lines to help transport Indian-made goods throughout the country and throughout the world.

But for our countries to realise the full potential of our economic cooperation, we hope India will address concerns many US and foreign businesses have about its commercial environment. Even though India has made tremendous strides to open up its economy, there are still too many tariffs and too many barriers to foreign participation in the Indian economy, including limits on foreign direct investment in key sectors, and inadequate protection of intellectual property rights.

These measures explain why India is still ranked only 134 out of 183 countries on the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Report. India's market barriers may seem to protect some domestic industries in the short term. But over time, these barriers will limit foreign direct investment and imports that can enhance innovation within Indian partner companies, and increase the standard of living for all of India's people.

I know there are fears in some quarters about foreign people, foreign companies and foreign money coming into India. Those fears have sometimes arisen in the United States as well. But the historical experience of the United States, and the recent experience of India, prove that those fears are unfounded.

The United States' key competitive advantage has always been our openness to the best ideas, the best products, and the best businesses, regardless of where they come from. As for India, two decades of explosive growth has coincided with the most ambitious market openings in its history.

If India continues its walk down the path of reform, if it continues to become more open to the investments and the innovations of foreign companies - like the 24 companies i have with me this week - it will stand a much better chance of meeting the needs of its people. And of helping to lead the global economy in the 21st century.

The writer is US commerce secretary.








Fifty-one matches involving 14 teams spread over six weeks. It seems the ICC has learnt nothing at all from World Cup 2007 in West Indies. That event was widely held to be the worst World Cup yet: dull, uneventful and excessively long. And so, in their wisdom, cricket's movers and shakers have switched to a format that promises to rob the tournament of even the tiny bit of excitement it managed to generate last time. Little wonder that Kevin Pietersen and several others are unhappy. The only possible explanation is that this is an attempt by the administrators to wring every last dollar from the entire exercise.

Consider the format. The number of teams has actually been reduced from 16 to 14. But instead of using this to tighten up the tournament, the ICC has promptly decided on a format that renders the entire first month of matches meaningless. With just two groups of seven teams each, the established Test playing nations are almost guaranteed to go through to the quarterfinals. The previous tournament's set-up of having four groups of four teams each at least gave the minnows some chance of making it to the next stage. But perhaps that was the problem from the organisers' point of view. Big draws like India and Pakistan being knocked out early meant less viewer interest for the remainder of the tournament. By making it tougher for the big names to be knocked out, perhaps the new format is simply a cynical ploy to keep viewer attention.

And what of the scheduling? This time around, teams have as much as six days between matches in several instances. This is likely to rob both players and spectators of any momentum they might build up. If a committee had gathered to deliberate on ways to make the World Cup uninteresting, they could scarcely have bettered this edition's set-up.







Non-resident Indians can now vote and run for office in their original homeland. This is unlikely to change the political landscape. Only those diaspora members who have Indian passports can avail. There is no postal ballot so they have to physically go back to their Indian homes. Nonetheless this is an important step: it allows for broader political participation, makes India's political classes take an interest in cross-border issues and helps bind India and its diaspora closer together. The first matters because the barriers to new blood entering the political system have been rising in India, resulting in the unhealthy growth of politics by bloodline. The second because the Indian system is slow to grasp the need to take up immigration issues. The third because the diaspora is an integral part of the new India story and needs to be cultivated in ways that go beyond the purely economic.

The caution inherent in the new policy will not go down well with all overseas Indians. However, studies have shown politically involved diasporas are not always a positive. Civil wars in the Balkans and Africa, for example, have been exacerbated by the willingness of diasporas to provide support for more extreme political views. This can be seen in India: diaspora funds help sustain Hindutva groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Persian Gulf workers have strengthened Islamic fundamentalist groups in places like Kerala. This is not to say that the influence of India's diaspora has not been overwhelmingly positive. India's software sector, the end of its foreign exchange woes and a good chunk of its greatly enhanced global image can all be partly attributed to overseas Indians. Opening the door just a crack will allow the Indian polity to judge the impact of the non-resident. The expectation is that most fears will prove unfounded, if for no other reason than the sheer size of the Indian electorate means one or two million more votes are unlikely to have much undue influence.

There is a larger question regarding the Indian concept of citizenship and its globalisation. India is among the few large democracies that does not allow its citizens any form of dual citizenship. It has no system of absentee ballot. And it has been slow in protecting the rights of Indians overseas, belated in negotiating double taxation treaties and overseas welfare tax exemptions for Indians. That there are votes, however minimal, to be gained and lost over such issues will hopefully galvanise politicians and bureaucrats to take them up with greater enthusiasm. India and its people are globalising rapidly. It is important that its polity keeps up.







When Mohamed ElBaradei stood up to speak at the HT Leadership Summit in 2007, he began by praising Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Known then as the former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) rather than a presidential challenger, ElBaradei declared that Singh was the "model of what a political leader should be".

As leadership change gets underway in Egypt, it is unlikely that ElBaradei will be looking to Singh for inspiration.

From being the 'leader other leaders love' (Newsweek, August 2010) to becoming a prime minister derided for a 'lack of political instinct' (Time, January 2011), it's been a quite a fall.

Nobody questions Singh's honesty, decency and intellect. Yet, for the first time there is a gathering view that the longest-serving prime minister of India, after Indira Gandhi, is simply not up to his job. Singh has been  silent on the hot issues of the day, whether it's the telecom scam or the issue of black money stashed in foreign banks. The Supreme Court has been asking what many in the country (including the BJP) are: why didn't the PM act earlier on Raja? What is the inhibition in revealing names of those who have illegal accounts?

Nothing Singh says or does seem to be able to shake off this growing vocal discontent. Perhaps this is because he says and does very little. On the tiranga issue, for instance, it was the BJP's voice that was loudest. For ordinary people, the Indian flag is a symbol of patriotism. So, when the BJP declares that it will hoist the flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar, most Indians find it hard to understand why this is a provocation. By speaking to senior journalist Harinder Baweja at Headlines Today, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah ensured that his voice didn't go unheard.  

Savvy politicians, Jairam Ramesh, for instance, aren't shy of being heard, whether on Niyamgiri or on Adarsh. P Chidambaram  isn't wary, whether it's setting the record straight over the selection of 'tainted' chief vigilance officer PJ Thomas or the rise of new terror groups. Kapil Sibal hasn't hesitated in communicating his vision on telecom policy or education. Whether you agree or disagree, the key here is communication.

For all her other faults, Indira Gandhi made the art of communication seem effortless: slipping into local tribal gear, speaking emotionally to connect with an emotional people. A large part of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's popularity comes from his oratory skills. Sushma Swaraj makes effective use of Twitter to get her point across. Nitish Kumar was warm and affable as he shared a meal with journalists at the Indian Women's Press Corps.

The absence of grand political gestures from Manmohan Singh, who has never won a direct election, ties in with his description of himself as an 'accidental politician'. But the issue goes beyond natural reticence. It involves the entirely political office of the prime minister. It involves the role of institutions in a democratic set-up. Singh's silence didn't matter so much during the life of UPA 1 (though he was remarkably vocal on the India-US nuclear deal). This time around, there is a national crisis of confidence where faith, even in the army and judiciary, has been shaken. As head of state, Singh should have been providing leadership. "When there is a crisis, we expect the prime minister to be the voice of the nation," says political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan.

In the age of television and social media, communication is the key to political success. Problem is that Dr Manmohan Singh has never seen himself as a politician first. He is an economist and an intellectual who gives the impression that he is above the hurly burly of political life. But the prime minister's office demands political expedience. At the very least, it asks for elected representatives to talk to the people who have voted for them. If Manmohan Singh wants his legacy to remain intact, if he wants to maintain the sanctity of his office, he might have to recast himself.

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





After holding up several high-profile development projects through 2010, environment minister Jairam Ramesh has, in just the single month of January 2011, cleared eight of them, including a mining project in a forest region his own ministry had earlier demarcated as a 'no-go' region.

Ramesh's metamorphosis comes following repeated rebukes from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, publicly and privately, telling him that his environmentalist overdrive was adversely affecting development.
While his clearance of Posco's Orissa project made headlines, Ramesh has also quietly okayed coal mining in a 'no-go' area in the same state, to provide the coal for a 4,000 MW Ultra Mega Power Plant at nearby Talchar. "Half of the mining area for which approval has been granted falls in a 'no-go' zone," a government official said, claiming it was the first project approved in a 'no-go' area.

"We have adopted a transparent and balanced approach while clearing the projects. There is nothing unusual," Ramesh told HT.

In January, Ramesh also cleared the Lavasa Lake City Project near Pune, which his ministry had stalled earlier, after imposing additional conditions. He has also conveyed 'in principle' approval — though the official sanction is awaited —for a ropeway project in the Girnair wildlife sanctuary in Gujarat, which had been held up for over two years following protests by wildlife experts.

"The rope-way if constructed will lead to the local extinction of the already endangered long-billed vultures," says a dissent note by two members of the standing committee of the National Wildlife Board, Divyabhanusinh Chavda and Nita Shah.

"Various alternatives are being considered," Ramesh told HT while discussing the ropeway project.

Yet another project okayed has been the Subarnarekha Multi Purpose Irrigation Project in Jharkhand, held up for over a decade following concerns expressed by conservationists. Ramesh has also agreed to approve a coal mining project in the Mahanadhi zone in Orissa, and another in Jharkhand.







It has become easy to believe that we need to choose in some imagined toss-up between the environment and growth. But that is a false, self-defeating choice — because the two reinforce each other. That is a point we seem to have missed in India. Some hold that to protect our ecological interests, we have to make hard, life-denying choices. Others worry that environmental concerns will inevitably stifle growth and poverty reduction. Both views are wrong. Yet we are beset by the possibility of a paralysing confrontation between people putting their faith in these two misguided sets of beliefs — a paralysis that will harm both India's economy and the vital need to protect its environment and, indeed, to roll back environmental degradation. We must instead internalise the third, more forward-looking way. The prime minister put it sensibly, when he emphasised the need for economic development to be sustained through solid environmental regulation. Rather than focusing attention on newer ventures, mostly more environmentally evolved anyway, isn't it better

directed towards those industrial units still in operation that are vestiges of the smoky, anything-goes environmental attitude of the past? We should look hard at, for example, old and dirty power plants, or incentivising them to convert to cleaner technologies. And at fixing our real, existing problems — carbon-belching factories, ruined rivers, denuded forests.

The concerns associated with growth, too, are actually those which will have positive environmental repercussions. For instance, boosting electricity generation and supply means we also reduce our use of diesel gensets, and the destructive subsidy system on which they depend. We would, too, shrink the need for wood-fire and coal-fire, and India's infamous black carbon, so dangerous and destructive.

There are myriad ways in which ecological improvements converge with growth-enhancing reform, and vice versa. The greening of industry frequently revs up commerce, and trade and income growth increases the space for environmentally sensible policy. Germany, for instance, has turned its environmental innovation into economic advantage,

exporting pollution control technologies. Greens need to embrace entrepreneurship and market forces; growth-boosters need to understand that preparing for a greener future will be profitable, too. We shouldn't allow a false choice between sustainability and development to be cynically used. Bust that tendency, in favour of a brighter shade of green.






After enduring a political and governance vacuum for seven months, Nepal has finally elected a prime minister, after 16 failed attempts. While Nepal's crisis is far from over, Kathmandu can at last get back to work and begin to set things in place. And given the huge challenges, the new prime minister, Jhalanath Khanal, will have to hit the ground running.

Madhav Kumar Nepal of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) had resigned as PM at the end of last June and Nepal had been under a caretaker administration since, pending the successful election of a PM. President Ram Baran Yadav last week directed the parliament to begin a fresh process, and the rules were changed — disallowing abstaining and neutral voting — to reduce the chances of another stalemate. However, without the last-minute withdrawal of Prachanda, leader of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), and the Maoist vote going to the CPN-UML, Nepal may still be without a PM. Speculation may continue about what deal has been struck. But, importantly, Nepal has a PM and a government, and it must make haste to get pending work done.

Foremost among Khanal's challenges is to meet the May 28 deadline for the promulgation of the new constitution, which has already missed its deadline last May. Second, in the absence of the UN mission, Khanal's administration must complete the disarmament and demobilisation of Maoist cadres still living in camps, awaiting all this while any turn of the tide. Third, Khanal has to address the challenge of integration — rehabilitating Maoist combatants and democratising the army. As a key stakeholder in Nepal's stability and peace process, India must offer Kathmandu all assistance so that its government and people consolidate the gains of democracy wrested in 2006.






Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed a conference of state chief secretaries on Friday, and highlighted the problem of food inflation. He said it posed a serious threat to India's growth momentum, and was "driven by an increase in the prices of vegetables, fruits, milk, meat, eggs and fish". He pointed out, too, that rising prices for these are "partly attributable to rising income levels". Growth has given us changing, soaring demand for "relatively superior" food items; as our poor become less poor, and begin to eat more and differently, leavening formerly starch-heavy diets with vegetables, and demanding more and more protein.

The problem of food inflation, therefore, is not a small, temporary one, but born of a structural shift. It needs an equally large restructuring in response. The prime minister said the country needs "increasing agricultural productivity and production", adding: "There is a need for a paradigm shift in our institutional arrangements." Look at onions to understand the challenge. Over the past decade, India has grown three times as many onions, from under five million tonnes to nearing 14 million. Productivity has gone up by almost 60 per cent. But prices, in the same decade, have gone up fivefold, on the back of rampaging demand.

What, therefore, needs to be done? All supply bottlenecks, of course, need to be cleared. The PM specifically mentioned state- and local-level taxes like octroi, which hamper the free movement of vegetables. But that will not be enough for the sort of paradigm change needed — only wholesale reform of agricultural production and pricing will. Government procurement policy warps farmers' incentives. If the profits from cultivating, say, sugarcane are set through political rent-seeking, but the profits from growing onions are not, how will the market signal to our farmers the increasing demand for onions? We need to increase the saliency of price signals in agriculture. Productivity must increase too: through increased research and development, better and more widespread irrigation, and the commercialisation and consolidation of land holdings. Until that happens, vegetable and protein prices, and thus food inflation, more generally, will continue to climb.








As a confused world tries to understand the tremors of Tunisia and Egypt, as they shake up much of the Arab world, old questions and fears re-emerge. Will this upsurge on the Arab street lead to democracy? Will it open the doors for Islamists? Finally, and most unfortunately, but inevitably, whether Muslim societies can handle, or even deserve, democracy.

It is on this last argument that Western powers have traditionally backed "modern" dictators in Muslim countries over almost 100 years, since the political re-modelling of the oil-rich Middle East began. The West's early allies were the ruling families of Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Post the Six-Day War (1967) they were used to secure Israel and keep some kind of peace, with a combination of incentives and straightforward bribery and, most importantly, backing against any democratic challenge. The Shah of Iran, the junta in Turkey, Pakistan's Field Marshal Ayub and later (though with some qualifications) even Saddam Hussein joined this category of friendly dictators. Sheikhs of the emirates followed into this loyalist club. With these, the West, particularly America, felt secure from the vagaries of democracy in such a volatile and vital Islamic region.

Even when the West promoted democracy in the Communist Bloc, it happily perpetuated the contradiction of backing dictators through the entire Muslim world, Pakistan included. The subtext, the innate belief on which this policy was based, was simply a lack of faith in Muslim states being able to handle or, I repeat, deserving democracy. Read with the stereotype of Islam being "fundamentally" undemocratic as it mixes "religion with politics" and national loyalties with the concept of the Ummah, this became a persuasive argument. How else can you explain the West being so proud of the democracy in Israel, while helping their friends deny it to Muslims in the neighbourhood? It is often said that the only Arabs with a free vote are the Arab minority native to the Israeli mainland.

This is now unravelling. How hollow do the Americans and the Britons sound asking Hosni Mubarak to respect his people's democratic impulses? How irritating — and humiliating — would they have sounded to the Egyptians and other Arab nations when they "imposed" democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan with free elections, while their own traditional allies continued to deny all of that to their own people? The times when hypocrisy as state policy could be perpetuated for ever are now over, particularly with technology making it impossible for dictators to keep their populations unexposed to global winds of change. In fact, the only regime that is still

managing to do this is North Korea; even the Burmese generals are shaky.

But this arrangement was still considered the "best, under the circumstances" for the Muslim world where dictators were mostly treated as "stalwart allies". The anger you see on the Arab street right now is not merely against corruption and domestic authoritarianism, some of it is also directed at these decades-old, unexplained, non-negotiated, non-debated policies.

The traditional Western notion that Muslims can't "handle"

and therefore do not "deserve" democracy has been a widespread one, shared by many among our Hindu Right as well. The history of military takeovers and coups in Pakistan, and subsequently also Bangladesh, was always a telling comparison.

It is a pity these people never heard or understood Faiz Ahmed Faiz's "Hum Dekhenge", the finest, sharpest and shrewdest call to a society's democratic impulse from any modern poet. They should even now hear it in the voice of the late Iqbal Bano (at when she rendered it in a Lahore stadium at the peak of Zia's dictatorship, arguably Pakistan's toughest, and the most "Islamic" so far. Listen then to the audience come alive, cheer, sing along and scream in joy and democratic defiance with the lines "jab raj karegi khalq-e-khuda, jo main bhi hun or tum bhi ho" (when power shall

return to God's people, like you and I) or, "jab takht giraye jayenge, jab taj uchhale jayenge" (when thrones are tilted, when crowns are tossed) — knowing exactly who all this was referring to. Almost every member of the audience was a Muslim — and had the same democratic impulse that any other human being anywhere in the world, and believing in any religion, would have.

Faiz's poetry to make such a serious argument, challenge such an old, ossified notion? How facetious can you get? So look at other evidence. Over the past five years, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India — which account for

almost half of the world's

Muslim population — have been democratising. Indonesia and Bangladesh are today model, almost secular, Muslim democracies, where even the armies fully back liberal governments. Pakistan is a work in progress, but the direction is right. Its people backed the judiciary's fight against an entrenched dictator and won their democracy back, howsoever flawed. This in a country where every coup has succeeded, and without a shot having to be fired. There is a much stronger judiciary, a media so loud and nonchalant it would make our screechiest TV channels sound like staid BBC, and the first stirrings of a civil society. In fact, Pakistan's democratic impulse is its — and the rest of the world's — best and last defence against its religious fundamentalists. The highest vote-share the religious parties have gathered in a free Pakistani election is a mere 6 per cent. The largest majority won by a Pakistani in decades was when Nawaz Sharif took two-thirds of the seats in 1997 — and he never mentioned Islam or even

Kashmir in his campaign. True to form though, the Americans always saw him, and his popular support, as a threat, and

continue to do so.

And finally, in India, the large Muslim minority is breaking out of the trap of bloc voting rooted in an anger-fear-resentment-grievance victim complex, to embrace the rising wave of aspiration in the national mainstream. A new Muslim middle class has begun to emerge. No Congress, no Mulayam (and wait for Bengal, not even the Left) can take their vote for granted. How else could the BJP win 91 seats out of 102 contested (the highest strike rate for any party in a real election in India, ever) in Bihar, a state in which 17 to 18 per cent of the electorate is Muslim? And watch the rise of a modern-educated head at Deoband, one of Islam's most conservative seminaries worldwide, stirring things up by suggesting Indian Muslims move on from Gujarat of 2002.

The same democratic yearning of this "Muslim" street is now spreading to the Arab world. Muslims around the world are fighting for their democratic rights and shattering the worst stereotype to bedevil their faith, that Islam is somehow fundamentally anti-democratic. You want to understand all this better? Go listen to that immortal Iqbal Bano rendering of Faiz again, and the crowd's response.







The impact of the global slowdown on India's growth has been well-documented. And what was most impressive was the quick recovery after the sudden sharp fall. GDP growth, which fell sharply from 9.3 per cent in 2007-08 to 6.8 per cent in 2008-09, bounced back quickly to 8 per cent in 2009-10 — and is expected to further accelerate in the current year. But what is less discussed is the impact of the slowdown on investments — which has serious implications for sustaining growth in the medium term. And so it is in this context that the most recent numbers on savings and investments, which were released earlier this week, become significant.

The investment numbers shows that, as in the case of growth, the macroeconomic recovery is yet to bolster investment to the levels reached in the pre-slowdown period. So, though overall investment in the Indian economy has picked up by 2 percentage points from 34.5 per cent of GDP in 2008-09 to 36.5 per cent in 2009-10, it still falls far short of the peak level — 38.1 per cent of 2007-08.

But what is more worrying is that even this marginal recovery in total investments, by 2 percentage points, is deceptive. This is because the overall improvement in total investment is mainly on account of the increased investments in valuables — especially gold and silver — and stocks or inventories. Any recovery in gross fixed investment — in machinery and equipment that are most critical for raising overall output and growth over the medium term — remains elusive.

What is surprising is that the Indian penchant for investment in gold and other valuables has in fact surged during the global crisis. In fact, the trends show that even while total corporate investments have stagnated over the last three years (barely moving from Rs 863,154 crore in 2007-08 to Rs 864,643 crore in 2009-10) investment in valuables, mostly gold, has more than doubled from Rs 53,592 crore in 2007-08 to Rs 113,374 crore in 2009-10. And, as a ratio of GDP, the share of investments in valuables went up from 1.1 per cent to 1.7 per cent during the period.

So, of the 2 percentage pick-up in the overall investment rate, the bulk is accounted for by the increase in investments in valuables (0.4 percentage points) and inventories (1.3 percentage points). Investment in gross fixed capital formation, or that share of investment which directly contributes to an overall increase in production capacities, has continued to deteriorate steadily. It has moved down from its peak, 32.9 per cent of GDP in 2007-08 to 32 per cent in 2008-09 and further to 30.8 per cent in 2009-10.

And the intensity of the continued decline in fixed capital formation is evident from the fact that both its two main components continue to slip. While the construction component of fixed capital investment went down from 18.3 per cent of GDP in 2008-09 to 17.8 per cent in 2009-10, that of the machinery and equipment segment, even more crucial for building new production capacities, has slipped from 13.7 per cent to 13 per cent during the period.

However, what is more worrying is that prospects for a turnaround on the investment front remain largely uncertain given the contrasting signals coming from the private sector. This is because, while the numbers on fixed investment coming from the corporate sector are positive, those from the household or unorganised sector — and especially from small-scale industry — remain negative.

Corporate investment, which accounts for roughly more than a third of total fixed investment, were hit by the slowdown, moving from 14.3 per cent in 2007-08 to 10.4 per cent in 2008-09. The numbers have now slowly edged up to 10.8 per cent in the most recent year. However, household investment, which accounts for a slightly larger share of fixed investment than does the corporate sector, has fallen sharply from 13.5 per cent to 11.5 per cent during the most recent period.

And the tough monetary stance by the central bank, which has pushed up rates seven times since March 2010, is unlikely to help. This is because it is investment by small firms and in the unorganised sector which is the largest component of what we call the "household sector", that will be most affected by rising interest rates. This is in sharp contrast to trends in the corporate sector, where buoyant recent demand for external commercial borrowing indicates an even further improvement in prospects.

All indications are that the rising interest rates are going to be a major stumbling block for reversing the current trends in investment — and then in growth — at least in the short term.

The writer is a senior editor with 'The Financial Express'







Black money — how much is it? Over the last few months, starting with the Global Financial Integrity (GFI) report on India, rumours have been rife that black economy in India is close to 50 per cent of the economy. And that three-fourths of this money has flown out of India — capital flight — and found a safe-haven in tax shelters abroad. The final draft of this seemingly authoritative report came out in November 2010 and was timed perfectly with the scam storm prevailing in India at that time. Recall that the story of the CAG report, and the Radia tapes, also broke in mid-November 2010. The cumulative effect of these events was to set the Indian government, politicians and civil society on fire. And not to be left behind, in response to a PIL, the Supreme Court has asked the government to release the names of the tax evaders with stashes abroad.

The BJP had first introduced the draft conclusions of GFI at the time of the Lok Sabha elections in May 2009. Led by the octogenarian Advani, the BJP thought this was an issue guaranteed to win over votes. It set up an in-house cell to study the draft GFI report and make recommendations. Bring back the black money, the BJP thundered. There were few listeners as the BJP suffered a large defeat. But now with the CAG's wild-eyed and wild estimate of Rs. 1.76 lakh crore as the cost of the 2G scam, the claims in the GFI report have taken on a new meaning and urgency.

"Bring back the black money to help the poor of India," the BJP thunders now. And this in the name of the poor call has been applauded and duplicated by Rahul Gandhi as he thunders the same. For once, the right, Left and centre, all agree that about 50 per cent of India's GDP (around $500 billion) is stashed abroad and needs to be brought back. Think how much poverty all that will eradicat — and the government will be able to spend all this money on schools, hospitals, nutrition, and the poor. All wrongs will be made right.

The Ministry of Finance has also joined in. The do-something-do-good euphoria has seized Pranab Mukerjee and he has promised to address the issue in the forthcoming budget. He has called for research "bids" to study this important subject.

Clearly, the study of black money is an important issue. And tax evaders have to be punished. My estimate of black money in India is based on private income tax collections and details about the calculation are contained in 'Tax Compliance and Tax Rates' (in the book, India on the Growth Turnpike, Essays in Honour of Vijay Kelkar). And how much might total black money be in India in 2009? Only about Rs 1 lakh crore, and given our GDP is Rs 60 lakh crore, that is about 1.5 per cent of GDP. These numbers are shockingly small and especially small compared to the GFI estimate which seems to be universally accepted. The GFI numbers imply a black money flow of 7.5 per cent of GDP every year, that is, each year black money equal to five times my estimate flows into the Indian economy. Both numbers cannot be right. Which of these two numbers are closer to the truth?

The definition of black money is money that has some tax on it and is not declared. Besides personal tax, there are other forms of tax evasion — property tax, over and under-invoicing of trade, and non-declaration of corporate income. No doubt these forms of tax evasion are present but their magnitudes pale in comparison with the magnitude of income tax evasion. For example, corporate income tax collected in 2009 was Rs 2.6 lakh crore, an amount suggesting very little tax evasion.

Some back-of-the-envelope calculations yield an insight into the likely magnitude of black money from income tax evasion. In 2009, India's GDP was close to Rs 60 lakh crore; and income subject to income tax close to Rs 50 lakh crore. But this income accrues to the entire population, and even the poor. Only the top 20 per cent of the Indian population has incomes that make them eligible to pay tax. And this 20 per cent has 45 per cent of total income. Thus, those paying tax receive Rs 23 lakh crore as income. It is inconceivable and outright wrong to think that a third of the income received as taxable income is evasion of taxes. The average personal income tax rate in India in 2009 was about 10 per cent, that is, the government should have collected Rs 2.3 lakh crore as tax. In 2009, it collected Rs 1.3 lakh crore. Thus, the black money generated in 2009 was approximately Rs 1 lakh crore.

If the luminaries mentioned above are serious about their concern, then they should get ready to catch the aam aadmi taxpayer in this country — the one that earns less than Rs10 lakh a year, and especially the ones earning less than Rs 5 lakh a year (and more than Rs 2 lakh to be eligible for tax payment). This is the "missing middle" amongst Indian tax payers. It accounts for more than two-thirds of the black money in India. And the aam aadmi pockets this amount of around Rs 0.6 lakh crore or about 1 per cent of GDP.

Screaming about non-existent money accruing to the rich will not make this money come alive. What will do so is a lowering of tax rates — something the UPA government had promised before it chickened out for lack of thought and clarity and guts to face those who live by fictitious numbers.

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







Pakistan's turmoil intensifies fears that the jihadists will take over, or that it will descend into chaos. Meanwhile, Af-Pak frustrations encourage the search for alibis and novel solutions. India should "do something" — meaning eventually, settle Kashmir. Such urgings assume that fanaticism and authoritarianism flourish on fears and grievances regarding India, and that these would be cured if we reassured Pakistan. Though endlessly advanced, these theories need revisiting.

Justified or not, Pakistani mistrust of India is a reality, and undoubtedly fertilises army domination and religious extremism. But that is the very reason these forces promote the mistrust, and if India could indeed help change this, there need to be forces in Pakistan willing and able to make democracy, modernity and moderation triumph. The Pakistan the world desires must be desired and created by its own people. With full respect to many admirable individuals struggling against impossible odds, it is hard to see any real movement for reform.

Dominated by affluent and sophisticated families for many decades, Pakistan has so far avoided being shaped by them — is there a reason to believe they could succeed now? Moreover, unlike their liberal counterparts in India, have they ever differed from hardliners in what they demand of India? Can India reassure them by anything less than a major diminution of its sovereignty over J&K? What would be the domestic and regional consequences of India accepting such diminution? And would it be enough?

Just framing such questions carries the answers; but even if they are debatable, the facts on the ground are not. Pakistan's rulers are on record saying that India would be considered the enemy even if Kashmir were settled. Now, they deny knowledge of the framework worked out by the back-channel. The then-acquiescing army now reverts to its old ways. If there are domestic sensitivities, there are also many ways of quietly signalling the very rationale for the back-channels in which Pakistan now shows no interest. Instead, new reasons for tension are conjured up, the latest being that India is denying waters and also undermining Pakistan through Afghanistan.

We harm ourselves by not exposing such malice. Pakistan's water shortages result from its own mismanagement, and India is used as cover. As it objects to every scheme we undertake under the Indus Waters Treaty, Islamabad has begun internationalising specific complaints to strengthen its propaganda. Its Afghan charges against us are equally dishonest. It damages us by impressing some global opinion, which frequently urges us to dispel Pakistan's fears of our aims in Afghanistan. Actually, India would be perfectly justified in doing everything Pakistan charges, as long as Pakistan's actions against us are even worse. One wishes we had the will — and the efficiency. Given the way we function, the suspicion of pinpricks being administered without purpose are easily exploited to misrepresent a handful of our officials, in four long-established consulates, welcomed by the host country and performing legitimate visa and commercial duties, as hundreds of intelligence agents subverting Pakistan from 19 centres is pure mischief.

So too the accusations of India scheming to use Afghanistan for a pincer squeeze. Sixty years since Independence provide proof enough that India and Afghanistan, while having separate disputes with Pakistan — Kashmir and the Durand Line — never supported each other on these (indeed, Kabul's attitudes during the 1965 war disappointed us). It is perfectly natural for India and Afghanistan to seek close cooperation: we could do even more to help Afghanistan towards the stability the world desires if Pakistan's objections were seen through. The only country that seeks to work from Afghan territory is Pakistan: while alive to Pakistan's duplicity on terrorism, its aid-givers forget the original — and continuing — threat from terrorists has been from Pakistan's use of them to control Afghanistan and to undermine India. When the US lost interest in Afghanistan, after the former USSR withdrew, Pakistan made it their backyard, with terrorists as its instruments. Both Afghan instability and "Pak-Af" safe havens derive from Pakistan's ambitions to regain control of that backyard — looking forward to America withdrawing again. Accusations of Indian mischief are cooked-up red herrings, to draw attention away from Pakistani designs, which are the main obstacles to stabilising the region.

Pakistan's case on J&K derives plausibility from manifest dissatisfaction there against the situation which successive Indian governments have perpetuated through disgraceful mishandling. We cannot expect the world to understand, much less accept, our excuses.Of the two problems Delhi has regarding J&K, it must, and can, settle the one between Delhi and the Valley, but the Delhi-Islamabad problem is another matter. We must simply live with it.

It is a hard but inescapable fact of life that sometimes there are no solutions. Existing circumstances must change before solutions can become possible. To illustrate, economic cooperation would not only be mutually beneficial, it would develop an interest within Pakistan in good ties with India, making conceivable solutions that are unthinkable today. (Is that why the Pakistani rulers don't allow it ?)

Till circumstances change, one has to manage fallouts as best as possible. If a cancer cannot be cured, you can only deal with symptoms. Yes, Pakistan might well become more difficult; mad mullahs controlling nuclear weapons are not as likely as the alarmists project, but that too can come to pass if the still-powerful ruling classes of Pakistan refuse to prevent it. There is only one answer for us: to be so strong that even madmen will think twice before acting.

More than military and economic capabilities, strength comes from efficiency. India's greatest dangers flow from the irresponsible preoccupations of its political forces and the manifest inefficiencies of its governing apparatus — and the sorry temptation they present to others. If our political actors cannot get serious, we must worry more about ourselves than


The writer has served as ambassador to Pakistan, China and the US







Envoy or not?

The big story in Pakistan this week has been how to handle the American diplomat, Raymond Davis, who was arrested last week for shooting two men in Lahore. Daily Times reported on January 31: "The Punjab government and law enforcement agencies have taken all the weapons from [his] guards. It was... learnt the authorities... have taken unprecedented measures to protect Davis from any extremist or angry police guard... after the assassination of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer."

Dawn reported that President Asif Ali Zardari has turned down a demand to hand Davis over to the US: "President Zardari came under immense pressure when a six-member delegation of US congressmen called on him and sought diplomatic immunity for the arrested US national and said he should be handed over to the US government forthwith. The president reiterated the stance expressed earlier by PM Yousaf Raza Gilani and PML-N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif that the matter would be decided by the courts."

Three petitions have been moved in Pakistan's supreme court to remove Davis's immunity, reported Daily Times on February 1. The petitioners requested the court to direct the interior ministry to put Davis on the exit control list. The News added on February 2 that the Lahore high court blocked any move to "extradite" Davis. On February 4, The News reported that the "police presented its initial probe report before the high court saying Davis was not cooperating... another petition has been filed in a sessions court against bail in an illegal weapon case." Davis contended he acted in self-defence because he thought the victims had come to rob him.

The Express Tribune reported that Davis's remand had been extended for another eight days. It added that the US Embassy "took offence to the proceedings" on the grounds that Davis was "remanded in court without notice to the US government, without his lawyer present, and without translation assistance. "

Question marks are now being put on Davis' s diplomatic status. Dawn reported: "The US government, in a diplomatic dispatch to the government of Pakistan, admitted that not all administrative and technical staffers of embassies and consulates in Pakistan were given diplomatic status... sources in the Pakistan government said Davis's diplomatic status was dubious... The dispatch further stated that although not all embassy and consulate staffers in Pakistan have diplomatic status, it cannot be concluded that this annuls the diplomatic immunities under the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations. The US government further demanded Pakistan clarify the situation and to not leave the resolution of the issue on the courts."

Egypt, Tunisia, Pakistan?

With hundreds of thousands out on the streets of the Arab world, Pakistani newspapers suggested this week that the idea of a "political revolution" was gaining momentum in Pakistan as well.

Daily Times reported on January 3: "PM Yousaf Raza Gilani said... the situation in Egypt and Tunisia cannot be compared with that of Pakistan as 'our institutions are working and democracy is functional'." Daily Times, however, quoted a PML-Q parliamentarian, Marvi Memon, on February 1 as asking the government to "address the issues being faced by people otherwise a revolutionary move like that of Tunisia and Egypt was imminent in Pakistan... Memon... warned that corruption, extremism, unemployment, lawlessness, inflation, electricity and gas load shedding could set off the atmosphere of 'revolt' in the country."

BB messenger

The News reported on February 4: "The Benazir Bhutto assassination probe report is ready and available with top PPP leaders but will not be presented to the central executive committee of the party... The report was to be presented during the CEC meeting held on the third anniversary of Benazir's murder in December 2010 but it was not done because PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto had not reached the country..." The News carried a related report: "The two BlackBerry phones of... Benazir have been found from Bilawal House, Karachi, which could give important information regarding the assassination case..."







Inside Tahrir Square on Thursday, I met a carpenter named Mahmood whose left arm was in a sling, whose leg was in a cast and whose head was being bandaged in a small field hospital set up by the democracy movement. This was the seventh time in 24 hours that he had needed medical treatment for injuries suffered at the hands of government-backed mobs. But as soon as Mahmood was bandaged, he tottered off once again to the front lines.

"I'll fight as long as I can," he told me. I was awestruck. That seemed to be an example of determination that could never be surpassed, but as I snapped Mahmood's picture I backed into Amr's wheelchair. It turned out that Amr had lost his legs many years ago in a train accident, but he rolled his wheelchair into Tahrir Square to show support for democracy, hurling rocks back at the mobs that President Hosni Mubarak apparently sent to besiege the square.

Amr (I'm not using some last names to reduce the risks to people I quote) was being treated for a wound from a flying rock. I asked him as politely as I could what a double-amputee in a wheelchair was doing in a pitched battle involving Molotov cocktails, clubs, machetes, bricks and straight razors.

"I still have my hands," he said firmly. "God willing, I'll keep fighting."

That was Tahrir Square on Thursday: pure determination, astounding grit, and, heartbreaking suffering.

Mubarak has disgraced the twilight of his presidency. His government appears to have unleashed a brutal crackdown — hunting down human rights activists, journalists and, of course, demonstrators themselves, all while trying to block citizens from Tahrir Square. As I arrived near the square in the morning, I encountered a line of Mubarak's goons carrying wooden clubs with nails embedded in them. That did not seem an opportune place to step out of a taxi, so I found a back way in.

So did many others. At Tahrir Square's field hospital (a mosque in normal times), 150 doctors have volunteered their services, despite the risk. Maged, a 64-year-old doctor who relies upon a cane to walk, told me he hadn't been previously involved in the protests, but when he heard about the government's assault on peaceful pro-democracy protesters, something snapped.

So early Thursday morning, he prepared a will and then drove 125 miles to Tahrir Square to volunteer to treat the injured. "I don't care if I don't go back," he told me. "I decided I had to be part of this."

"If I die," he added, "this is for my country."

In the centre of Tahrir Square, also known as Liberation Square, I bumped into one of my heroes, Dr Nawal El Saadawi, a leading Arab feminist who for decades has fought female genital mutilation. Dr Saadawi, who turns 80 this year, is white-haired and frail and full of fiery passion.

"I feel I am born again," she said. She also suggested that instead of being sent into comfortable exile, Mubarak should be put on trial as a criminal; that's a theme I've heard increasingly often among pro-democracy activists.

There's a small jail in Tahrir Square for pro-Mubarak thugs who are captured, and their ID cards indicate that many are working for the police or the ruling party. Mubarak may claim that he's unhappy about the violence in Cairo, but he caused it — and the only way to restore order in Egypt and revive the economy is for him to step down immediately. I'm encouraged that the Obama administration is reportedly discussing with Egyptian officials ways to make that happen.

Countless Egyptians here tell me that they are willing to sacrifice their lives for democracy. They mean it. But I've heard similar talk in many other countries in the throes of democracy movements. Unfortunately, usually what determines the fate of such movements is not the courage of the democracy activists but the willingness of the government to massacre its citizens. In that case, the survivors usually retreat in sullen silence, and the movement is finished for a time.

Whatever Mubarak is planning, it does feel as if something has changed, as if the Egyptian people have awoken. When I needed to leave Tahrir Square today, several Egyptians guided me out for almost an hour through a special route so that I would not be arrested or assaulted — despite considerable risk to themselves. One of my guides was a young woman, Leila, who told me: "We are all afraid, inside of us. But now we have broken that fear."

The lion-hearted Egyptians I met on Tahrir Square are risking their lives to stand up for democracy and liberty, and they deserve our strongest support — and, frankly, they should inspire us as well. A quick lesson in colloquial Egyptian Arabic: Innaharda, ehna kullina Misryeen! Today, we are all Egyptians!







Kapil Sibal's admission, on the basis of the Justice Shivraj Patil report, that all licences issued by A Raja were illegal ('in deviation of extant policies', to use the exact phrase) is certain to throw the stock markets into a tizzy when they reopen on Monday. Not only will telecom stocks take a mauling, you can expect the same for other stocks related to telecom—this applies to real estate firms who benefited from Raja's largesse and also to banks who have lent to these firms. Given that there is no certainty about the future course of action, the uncertainty will remain for some time—Sibal has said he will refer the Patil report to the CBI, and government officials argue it's not possible to cancel the 157 licences (this includes the 35 'dual technology' licences) that were issued by the government, never mind whether the policy was legal or illegal. This is unlikely to be accepted by anyone, so the Opposition will up its attack, and it is unclear if the Court will accept it either—in any case, those arguing the case in the Court will certainly bring up the matter. Either way, the matter is certain to remain embroiled in the Court for some time to come. What the government has said it will do, though, is to try and ensure those firms who were clearly ineligible (as in the 85 instances pointed out by the CAG) or who did not even roll out their networks (pointed out by Trai) are penalised and, if possible, their licences cancelled.

Sibal has, expectedly, made much of the fact that the Patil report says the policies followed by the NDA were flawed as well—at his press conference, Sibal smiled and said that while Raja said he was following the previous government's policies, those policies themselves were flawed! As this newspaper has been arguing, this is mere obfuscation. There is no doubt the BJP violated its own Cabinet decision that all future mobile licences would be auctioned—indeed, FE was the only newspaper to highlight Trai chief Pradip Baijal's letter of November 2003 on this that led to the Tatas getting 9 extra licences at 2001 prices, and Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Dishnet getting 1 each. But important caveats need to be made here.

One, at the time the NDA did its little number, and when Dayanidhi Maran followed suit in later years, the demand-supply situation was very different. A total of 51 licences were given before Raja came on the scene in this illegal and non-auction manner. At that time, however, the government had enough spectrum to give out 208 licences (51 issued before Raja + 157 given out by Raja). So there was one application for each 4 licences that could be issued—this suggests the price, even in an auction, may not have been too high. Also, 21 of these 51 licences were in 'C' circles like Bihar and Himachal Pradesh where there were no bidders in 2001 and where the bids in the 3G auctions in 2010 were very low. In contrast, when Raja was doing his number, he had 575 applications for 122 licences (the applications were only for new mobile licences, not for the dual technology ones)—four applications for each licence, is the reverse of the pre-Raja situation, and would surely see auction bids soaring.

Two, the issue isn't about whether the NDA got it wrong (Maran, by the way, was the UPA's minister). It was about how the entire UPA went along with Raja. On November 2, 2007, Raja informed the PM that he had got 575 applications but didn't have the spectrum to give to all of them, and so was going to advance the cutoff date from October 1 to September 25. The PM didn't protest too much and while the press, including FE, made much of the PM asking Raja to go in for auctions, Sibal has said too much was being read into the letter, and the PM never really asked for auctions, but suggested it as one of the many options! Indeed, even today, the government's affidavit in the Court defends the no-auction policy on the grounds that auctions make phone tariffs rise. And for all the government's talk of Raja not listening to the law ministry, the government's affidavit makes it clear that his press release about advancing the cutoff date had been cleared by the law ministry; the telecom ministry's letter telling the CAG it had no locus standi in examining 'policy decisions', the affidavit says, was also cleared by the law ministry.

Spreading the muck around, Sibal hopes, will get the government off the hook. It does little of the sort. At the end of the day, he has admitted the 157 licences issued were 'in deviation of extant policies'. Few buy the government's argument that this is not a sufficient ground to cancel these licences—the argument being given is that it is not the private sector's fault that the government got the policy wrong! It'll be interesting to see how the government makes that one fly.







Black money—how much is it? Over the last few months, starting with the Global Financial Integrity (GFI) report on India, rumours have been rife that black economy in India is close to 50% of the economy. And that three-fourths of this money have flown out of India—capital flight—and found a safe haven in tax shelters abroad. The final draft of this seemingly authoritative report came out in November 2010 and was timed perfectly with the scam storm prevailing in India at that time. Recall that the story of the CAG report, and the Radia tapes, also broke in mid-November 2010. The cumulative effect of these events was to set the Indian government, politicians and civil society on fire. And not to be left behind, in response to a PIL, the Supreme Court has asked the government to release the names of the tax evaders with stashes abroad.

The BJP had first introduced the draft conclusions of GFI at the time of the Lok Sabha elections in May 2009. Led by the octogenarian LK Advani, the BJP thought this was an issue guaranteed to win over votes. It set up an in-house cell to study the draft GFI report and make recommendations. Bring back the black money, the BJP thundered. There were few listeners as the BJP suffered a large defeat. But now with the CAG's wild-eyed and wild estimate of Rs 1.76 lakh crore as the cost of the 2G scam, the claims in the GFI report have taken on a new meaning and urgency.

Bring back the black money to help the poor of India, the BJP thunders now. And this in-the-name-of-the-poor call has been applauded and duplicated by Rahul Gandhi as he thunders the same. For once, the right left and centre all agree that about 50% of India's GDP (around $500 billion) is stashed abroad and needs to be brought back. Think how much poverty all that will eradicate—and the government will be able to spend all this money on schools, hospitals, nutrition and the poor. All wrongs will be set right.

The ministry of finance has also joined in. The do-something-do-good euphoria has seized Pranab Mukherjee and he has promised to address the issue in the forthcoming Budget. He has called for research "bids" to study this important subject.

Clearly, the study of black money is an important issue. And tax evaders have to be punished. My estimate of black money in India is based on private income tax collections and details about the calculation as contained in Tax Compliance and Tax Rates*. And how much might total black money be in India in 2009? Only about Rs 1 lakh crore, and given the GDP of Rs 60 lakh crore, this is about 1.5% of GDP. These numbers are shockingly small and especially small compared to the GFI estimate, which seems to be universally accepted. The GFI numbers imply a black money flow of 7.5% of GDP every year, i.e., each year black money equal to 5 times my estimate flows into the Indian economy. Both numbers cannot be right. Which of these two numbers are closer to the truth?

The definition of black money is money that has some tax on it and is not declared. Besides personal tax, there are other forms of tax evasion—property tax, over- and under-invoicing of trade, and non-declaration of corporate income. No doubt, these forms of tax evasion are present but their magnitude pales in comparison to the magnitude of income tax evasion. For example, corporate income tax collected in 2009 was Rs 2.6 lakh crore, an amount suggesting very little tax evasion.

Some back-of-the-envelope calculations can yield an insight into the likely magnitude of black money from income tax evasion. In 2009, India's GDP was close to Rs 60 lakh crore; and income subject to income tax close to Rs 50 lakh crore. But this income accrues to the entire population, and even the poor. Only the top 20% of the Indian population has incomes that make them eligible to pay tax. And this 20% has 45% of total income. Thus, those paying tax receive Rs 23 lakh crore as income. It is inconceivable and outrightly wrong to think that a third of the income received as taxable income is evasion of taxes. The average personal income tax rate in India in 2009 was about 10%, i.e., the government should have collected Rs 2.3 lakh crore as tax. In 2009, it collected Rs 1.3 lakh crore. Thus the black money generated in 2009 was approximately Rs 1 lakh crore.

If the luminaries mentioned above are serious about their concern, then they should get ready to catch the aam aadmi taxpayer in this country—the one who earns less than Rs 10 lakh a year, and especially the ones earning less than Rs 5 lakh a year (and more than Rs 2 lakh to be eligible for tax payment). This is the "missing middle" amongst Indian tax payers. It accounts for more than two-thirds of the black money in India. And the aam aadmi pockets this amount of around Rs. 0.6 lakh crore or about 1% of GDP.

Screaming about non-existent money accruing to the rich will not make this money come alive. What will do so is a lowering of tax rates—something the UPA government had promised before it chickened out for lack of thought and clarity and guts to face those who live by fictitious numbers.

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

* For details about the calculations, see 'Bhalla, Surjit S, Tax Compliance and Tax Rates: India 1996-2010' in 'India on the Growth Turnpike, Essays in Honour of Vijay L Kelkar'





Never has a book on economics been so anticipated. John Maynard Keynes's The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was published 75 years ago today. Back then, there were queues outside the Economists' Bookshop in Houghton Street, London. Opening hours had to be extended to deal with the rush of those eager for an alternative to policies that had ruined the global economy.

The impact on the field of economics wasn't unlike that on the scientific community when Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859. Just as with Darwin's book, Keynes's shook the foundations of economic orthodoxy and had profound effects on his profession. The main thrust of Keynes's work was also met with outright denial from his peers, including close colleagues, who reduced his theory to what one described as "diagrams and bits of algebra." Above all, they denied the centrality of his theory of the rate of interest.

This "bastard Keynesianism," as British economist Joan Robinson called it, subverted and continues to block the Keynesian revolution both in vision and in method. Monetarists were concerned with the quantity of money. Keynes's overwhelming concern was with the rate of interest on money. He argued that monetary policy should always support the private and public economy, stimulate it, and prevent recession.

The centrepiece of his policy prescription was to sustain low rates of interest across the spectrum of loans: short- and long-term, real, safe and risky. Countering determined efforts to undermine these policy goals, Keynes used his position at the Treasury and the Bank of England, and his influence with US President Franklin D Roosevelt, to make this vision a reality. Interest rates were forced down from 1932; the bank rate was set at 2% until 1951.

To achieve this goal, which he argued was essential to sustained investment, growth and full employment, Keynes rejected the liberal-finance model based on deregulated international-capital flows. Instead he constructed a managed-finance model relying on domestic credit and restricted flows of international capital. From the end of the World War II until the 1970s, finance was managed, and low rates of interest prevailed. But with the celebrated move to free markets, this approach to finance was also rejected.

For the 30 years since 1980, policy has supported liberalised, deregulated credit creation and capital flows. Since the Golden Age of 1950 until 1973, the borrowing costs for US and UK businesses, adjusted for inflation, have doubled to about 6%, according to data assembled by Geoff Tily, author of the 2010 book Keynes Betrayed.

Under liberalisation, high rates of interest have been accompanied by the unsustainable growth of credit. This led to a series of excessive expansions and debt inflations and then severe contractions and debt deflations, beginning on the periphery of the global economy before spreading to Japan and South East Asia.

The contrast between the Golden Age and the Age of Liberal Finance has at root this upward shift in the rate of interest. In the UK, unemployment averaged about 2.5% in the Golden Age and close to 8% afterwards. Economic growth in the UK and the US averaged 0.5% higher per year during the Golden Age than in the liberal-finance era, according to their respective National Accounts authorities.

The global economy was finally ruined in 2007-09 as the financial system in the US and Europe imploded under the weight of accumulated private debt. Subprime borrowers were the first to buckle under the weight of "dear money"—costly, unpayable debts. The widespread belief that it was low interest rates that caused the credit crisis is indicative of how far economists have strayed from Keynes's theory and analysis.

Equally, the idea that interest rates are now substantially lower, stems from a focus on policy rates while the high, real rates paid by consumers and businesses are ignored. To reduce real rates of interest for both industry and consumers requires the full embrace of Keynes's approach to the global system: a coordinated effort to reverse financial liberalisation.

Only with finance restrained can there be prospects for public and private-sector expansion. Keynes's "General Theory"—not the "Keynesian" theory of textbooks and conventional wisdom—offers the same way out of today's crisis as it did in the 1930s. But the economics profession must begin a reappraisal of his central contribution to monetary theory.

And just as with On the Origin of Species, society must reconsider conventional wisdom and reconcile itself to the extent and scope of Keynes's vision.

Victoria Chick is emeritus professor of economics at University College London and a co-founder of Prime (Policy Research in Macroeconomics). Ann Pettifor is a director of Prime and co-author of 'The Economic Consequences of Mr Osborne'





Trai to the rescue


This is for all those who've lost faith in Trai. A journalist had an MTNL phone line that hadn't been working for many months and despite complaints to even top officials, it never got fixed. The PSU telco was efficient about its billing and continued to send them on time, and they got paid on time as well. Tired of this, when the journalist asked for the phone to be disconnected, MTNL refused to oblige. It took a call from the regulator for MTNL to get its top brass energised enough for the phone to start working again.

Sadly, the subscriber no longer wanted the connection.







The election of Jhalanath Khanal as Prime Minister of a majority Left coalition government in Nepal offers the young republic the best chance it has had in 20 months to finish the task of writing a new Constitution and completing its peace process. It is also a virtual slap in the face of those within the Indian establishment who spent the better part of a year working behind the scenes to keep the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) out of power even at the cost of political stability. Nepal's promising political journey, which began five years ago with the signing of the historic 12-point understanding between the Maoists and the other parties, went through twists and turns before and after the 2008 Constituent Assembly elections — and lost its way in the aftermath of the resignation of Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal or 'Prachanda' as Prime Minister in May 2009. Madhav Kumar Nepal of the Unified Marxists-Leninists became Prime Minister with the support of the Nepali Congress and a number of smaller parties but the coalition's adversarial stance towards the Maoists made the new dispensation dysfunctional from the start.

Mr. Nepal's resignation last year should have paved the way for a national consensus government led by the Maoists, the largest party by far in the Constituent Assembly. However, the personal political ambitions of various leaders within the UML, the NC, and the Madhesi factions, the Interim Constitution's rigid rules of business, and the unhelpful attitude of New Delhi combined to produce a repeatedly enacted farce. This involved the CA being asked to vote over and over again for the NC's Ramchandra Poudel, who was never able to muster support from more than half of the required 300 legislators. On Thursday, Prachanda withdrew his name and announced that the Maoists were joining hands with the UML of Mr. Khanal and the new coalition won easily. Top priority must now be given to crafting the new Constitution, which effectively means resolving key issues, notably the new state's federal structure and political system. Of equal importance is the peace process. With the departure of the United Nations from Nepal, the fate of the Maoist cantonments is now entirely in the hands of a special all-party committee headed by the Prime Minister. The fact that the Prime Minister is a leader the Maoists have backed opens a door for the speedy resolution of the integration question. It is in the interests of democracy that Maoist combatants be either integrated into a democratised Nepal army and into the security forces or demobilised and suitably rehabilitated. The NC and some UML leaders opposed integration. The expectation is that Prime Minister Khanal will have a more rational and helpful approach to this vital question.





The Internet is running out of addresses in the numerical format. The last blocks of addresses under the IPv4 or Internet Protocol version 4 system have now been allocated to different regional registries around the world. The IPv4 system provides for a massive 4.3 billion numerical combinations but strong growth in communications in many countries has depleted the stock. A numerical address on the Internet is required in order to be 'found' (as in the case of real property). The alphabetical web addresses of familiar sites such as Google or Facebook have a numerical sequence behind them, which is read by computers. The IPv4 combinations that remain, which number only in the millions, will be exhausted soon, badly affecting Internet expansion. As the Internet Engineering Task Force, the standards organisation for protocols, points out, the answer to this has been available for years. What governments, service providers, hardware manufacturers, and other stakeholders have to do is upgrade. The next version of the protocol, IPv6, has the capability of providing trillions of addresses, which can comfortably meet rising demand created by an explosion of connected devices such as smartphones. Already, more than two trillion addresses have been made available to network providers by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.

India, which has been alert to the issue of exhaustion of IPv4 addresses, is pursuing a National IPv6 Deployment Road Map, with a 2012 deadline for central and State government departments and public sector units to become compatible. Some of the Internet service providers have also been working to incorporate the new protocol in anticipation of a dry-out of IPv4 addresses. A strong partnership between the government and other stakeholders will ensure that there are no islands of incompatible networks. There will be no 'switching off' of existing operations: they will remain live while the new protocol will cater to growth needs. Moreover, the economic importance of the Internet has encouraged major commercial entities to work for IPv6 compatibility. An example of good national-level leadership is the China Next Generation Internet project, which has been promoting the new protocol since 2003. It has helped create the largest IPv6 network so far, used by a million students. Several other national strategies, notably those of the United States, Germany, Japan, Australia, and Brazil, are noteworthy. A test-run of the networks prepared so far will be done on June 8, 2011, designated World IPv6 Day. This will help identify issues that need to be addressed quickly.







Further delays in the resumption of dialogue with Pakistan will not make it easier to get satisfaction on the terror front.

Siddharth Varadarajan

An entire year has passed since the Manmohan Singh government decided it was time to find a way to break the dialogue deadlock and kickstart the process of engagement with Pakistan.

During this period, Dr. Singh has met his Pakistani counterpart, Yusuf Raza Gilani, once, Foreign Secretaries from both sides have met twice, and the two Foreign Ministers sat together once, in Islamabad in July 2010. That encounter ended inconclusively, even disastrously, with the Pakistani host compounding the visible lack of progress made in their talks with the impropriety of a public diatribe against his visitor. When the opportunity for a second ministerial meeting arose at the United Nations where both Ministers spent a week in the fall, cussedness ensured a suitable date could never be found.

At the root of the Islamabad fiasco was the fact that neither side was willing to risk upsetting political equations at home by appearing to concede too much ground to the other. Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi wanted to be able to tell the stakeholders who matter in his country — the military — that he had got India to agree to a calendar for the resumption of dialogue on Kashmir and Siachen. But India's External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna was not prepared to go that far. He wanted to calibrate any timetable for the resumption of talks on politically sensitive issues like Siachen to visible progress in the investigation and prosecution of those involved in the Mumbai terrorist attack of November 2008. What resulted, thus, was a stalemate.

On February 6, the two Foreign Secretaries will make a fresh attempt to press the reset button on the frozen process in Thimphu on the sidelines of a Saarc event. Unfortunately, they will meet under circumstances that are seemingly less propitious for a breakthrough with both leaderships under siege. In India, Prime Minister Singh is battling charges of dragging his feet in high-profile corruption cases and the Opposition's hostility towards him and his government has never been greater. In Pakistan, the killing of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and the open sympathy his assassin attracted from religious clerics and sections of civil society have vitiated the atmosphere and put the liberals and the entire secular political class — which forms a natural constituency for cooperation with India — on the backfoot.

On paper, the government of Yusuf Raza Gilani is likely to find a second helping of whatever fare India served last July as unpalatable as the first. India, too, may feel it has no option but to spurn the Pakistani demand for a clear timeline for the resumption of dialogue in the absence of headway in the 26/11 case. And yet, a deeper look at the dynamics within Pakistan and at the core interests of India ought to give both governments cause to re-examine their attitude.

In a speech to the Research & Analysis Wing on January 21, the Prime Minister's Special Envoy for Pakistan, Satinder Lambah, spelt out the government's policy dilemma. "Engagement," he said, "does not always assure us of a desired response, nor does it guarantee success. However, rejecting the process of engagement will not enable us to achieve our long-term goals."

In relation to Pakistan, India's principal goal today is the permanent neutralisation of terrorist organisations which operate with differing levels of support from the establishment of that country and launch attacks on Indian targets. The second key long-term goal is the establishment of normal relations with Pakistan. In his speech, Mr. Lambah made the only public reference the Government of India has cared to make in all these years to the back-channel negotiations which took place with Islamabad from 2004 to 2007. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's measures to improve relations with Pakistan were based on the principle that "borders cannot be redrawn but we can work towards making them irrelevant,'' Mr. Lambah said, adding that a lot of progress had been made. "The ball is in Pakistan's court. We will be willing to pick up the threads."

In my opinion, Mr. Lambah's words point the way towards the possibility of forward movement but only if both governments have the courage to acknowledge the illogicality of their current official positions.

Three paradoxes

India knows "rejecting the process of engagement" will not enable it to achieve its goals on the terror front and yet it is unwilling to talk until it sees satisfactory progress in the Mumbai attack case. A second policy paradox it must overcome is that it is reluctant to resume the harmless 'front channel' talks on Kashmir even as it is "willing to pick up the threads" on the far more substantive back channel if Pakistan agrees. Finally, Pakistan, which has spent the better part of the past six decades demanding substantive progress on the Kashmir issue must explain why it is obsessed with the immediate resumption of the formal process (even though it knows this will lead nowhere) but is reluctant officially to embrace the back channel process and formula which offer the best chance for a speedy, win-win outcome.

For the past two years, I have been part of a Track-II India-Pakistan dialogue process that the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in Delhi and the Jinnah Institute in Islamabad have been conducting. The meetings take place in Bangkok because neither government is willing to guarantee it will issue visas for all the participants coming from across the border, but that is the subject of another article! Besides strategic analysts and journalists, the 'Chaophraya Dialogues' have brought together senior retired military, intelligence and foreign service officers, many of whom spent their entire careers planning and executing moves against the other side. Even in the tense atmosphere which prevailed following 26/11, these dialogues always produced a broad consensus in favour of engagement. But this tended to stop short of a fulsome endorsement of the composite dialogue process and the back-channel. Indeed, several Pakistani interlocutors — whether from military or political backgrounds — seemed reluctant to endorse the back channel. The military men said the venture was General Pervez Musharraf's 'solo flight,' the politicians felt the process was tainted by its association with a dictator.

In our most recent round, however, both sides made some progress. "The absence of a formal and sustained engagement on the full range of issues confronting India and Pakistan is unhealthy, counterproductive and dangerous," the Indian and Pakistani participants declared in a joint resolution. "We welcome the forthcoming meeting of foreign secretaries in Thimphu and hope that the two sides will be able to prepare the ground for the resumption of a comprehensive and sustained dialogue." More significantly, the principle which Mr. Lambah spoke of — and which Khurshid Ahmed Kasuri, who was Foreign Minister in the Musharraf years, has also spoken of — found joint support: "We agree with the broad vision of India-Pakistan relations in which borders cannot change but can indeed be made irrelevant. We resolve that a dialogue between the two countries should include discussions on Jammu and Kashmir. The formal bilateral dialogue should be complemented by back-channel contacts. The people of J&K should be appropriately consulted in this process".

Terrorism, the resolution noted, is of deep concern to both India and Pakistan. "Indian concerns about the Mumbai attacks in 2008 have seriously affected the dialogue process. The perpetrators of the attack should be brought to justice at the earliest. Pakistan has deep concerns about the tragic loss of lives in the Samjhauta Express attack. India has to expeditiously prosecute those involved and keep Pakistan informed."

Taken together with the views of Prime Minister Singh's envoy, this resolution, which leading members of the strategic community in India and Pakistan approved, indicates a possible way forward. What is required is a process that can build on the Indian enthusiasm for the back channel with the Pakistani insistence on resumption of the front channel. One way to do this is to examine whether, after a suitable period of time, the two channels can be merged. After all, once the back channel reaches an understanding on broad concepts, translating it into actionable parameters will involve painstaking negotiation. It is significant that Mr. Kasuri made well-rehearsed statements during his recent visit to India to the effect that the Pakistani military brass, including Gen. Parvez Kayani, who was head of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate at the time, were kept fully briefed after each back-channel meeting with the Indian side. No one in GHQ, Rawalpindi, has refuted what he said.

On terror, the aftermath of the assassination of Salman Taseer has brought home to most Indians the degree to which the Pakistani state is caught in a vortex. A system which cannot ensure justice when a high constitutional functionary is killed is unlikely to be able to offer India much relief on 26/11. This is not to say India should stop insisting on progress. But tying the future course of our bilateral engagement to this futile pursuit is unhelpful and counterproductive. Liberal Pakistanis say the resumption of dialogue with India will strengthen them in their struggle against the jihadis and the 'establishment'. They may well be exaggerating their own influence and our own. In the worst case scenario, dialogue will turn out to be a placebo that will not help them or us. But India has nothing to lose by following their prescription.








When Zainab Salbi was in Afghanistan this summer she met a woman whose story she could not forget. Married at 15 and widowed by 16, Zarqouna was banned, like all women, from working or even leaving her house unaccompanied during the Taliban regime of the 1990s. One day, needing food for her baby, she defied the law to sell hats in the street, only to be caught by local Taliban members and beaten with the one pair of shoes she possessed.

When the allies invaded in 2001 and the Taliban were toppled, Zarqouna's life was transformed. She started work, sent her daughter to school and is planning to send her to college. But her new-found freedom and that of many Afghan women could be at risk if, as Salbi — founder of Women for Women International, an organisation that supports women in war-torn countries — and other campaigners fear, the allies pull out from Afghanistan without insisting on guarantees for women's rights.

This year will see the 10th anniversary of the U.S. and U.K.'s military intervention in the country. After a decade of war, and with no sign of the insurgency ending any time soon, western governments are talking about bringing their troops home as early as next year. Meanwhile, with the Taliban still controlling parts of the country and unlikely to be defeated, the Afghan government is making plans for reconciliation and reintegration with the hard line militia. This, fear Afghan women, could mean a reversal of all the hard-won improvements of the last few years.

Although Afghan women's rights were a prominent part of the rhetoric of invasion, today the treatment of women under the Taliban is increasingly being dismissed as part of local culture. This apparent change in attitude in the west is seen as a consequence of the British and U.S. governments' desire to extricate themselves from a messy, expensive and time-consuming war. Today, according to Salbi, who has testified before the U.S. senate, there is little appetite among U.S. politicians for protecting women in the region, despite support from the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Instead, she says: "There is a clear, clear opinion that women's rights were a) not that relevant and b) irreconcilable with peace in Afghanistan." Samira Hamidi, director of the Afghan Women's Network — an umbrella organisation for more than 600 women's rights groups and NGOs — has also noticed this increasing lack of interest and fears that once the troops pull out, the west will turn its eyes away from Afghanistan, even though "the insurgents still kill children, they still put poison in the food of school girls, they throw acid in the face of school girls, they burn schools. They still exist."

"Something most American male politicians have said — 90 per cent of them — is that it's just their culture and we can't do anything about it," adds Salbi.

Deniz Kandiyoti of the School of Oriental and African Studies' gender studies department disputes these claims that the culture is to blame. "These people have been tossed to the wind and displaced, the old society has been eroded. Girls being given away to pay for opium debts, that's hardly traditional. Now it is the people with the guns, the money, and the drugs runners who have power," she says. Few would argue that improvements have been made in women's rights in the last decade. On a recent visit to the U.K., Hussan Ghazanfar, Afghanistan's Minister for Women's Affairs, outlined the progress made: 57 per cent of women and girls now go to school, and 24 per cent of health sector workers and 10 per cent of the judiciary are female.

Yet activists say improvements are patchy and far from ideal — with healthcare, social care and freedom unavailable to many poverty-stricken rural women, many already living in Taliban-controlled areas. Even Ghazanfar admits: "Life is different in the countryside — the literacy level is different, traditional customs are stronger, and women have no financial or economic freedom there." Hamidi says most women she speaks to "are tired of war and killing", and fearful of the future. "If the situation goes bad again the women here have nowhere to go."

Three enemies

Politician Malalai Joya, dubbed the "bravest woman in Afghanistan" for speaking out against the warlords in the government after being elected to the Afghan national assembly in 2005, warns: "The situation of women is a disaster. Men and women today are squashed between three enemies — the Taliban, the warlords and also the occupation forces who are bombing from the skies and killing civilians, women and children. Now the Taliban are being invited into the government — there is no question the situation of women will be more disastrous and more bloody." Last summer, the Afghan government created a peace council to pursue talks with the Taliban. Ghazanfar says there are safeguards to protect the women in any deal, with the government of Afghanistan insisting the Taliban abide by the country's constitution, which enshrines women's rights.

But Kandiyoti is among those worried about the direction negotiations are taking. She points out that the Taliban continue to reject the constitution, and that the document includes a clause that says no law can contradict the principles of Islam. The government itself has appeared keen to promote what it sees as improvements in the Taliban's hard line on women, possibly in a bid to make negotiations seem more palatable. Earlier this year the Education Minister, Farooq Wardak, insisted the Taliban leadership was prepared to drop its ban on girls' schools. Yet Rachel Reid, Human Rights Watch's Afghanistan researcher, says: "There may be some low-level Taliban leaders who negotiate with communities that want girls' education, but there is no evidence to suggest that the leadership has done a U-turn." She points out that the ministry's own statistics show that 20 girls' schools were bombed or burned down between March and October 2010. At least 126 students and teachers were killed in the same period — an increase from the previous year. Meanwhile, night letters — missives containing terrifying threats — are still being sent to working women in Taliban-controlled areas.

President Hamid Karzai's government has traded women's rights for political power in the past. The Shia personal status law in 2009 was only toned down after women took to the streets in protest, sparking an international outcry. If implemented it would have meant women from the Shia minority sect could not leave their homes without their husband's permission or refuse them sex. The Taliban are not the only group in Afghanistan keen to destroy women's rights, says Orzala Nemat, a human rights activist. "Westerners think the only enemy Afghan women have is the Taliban, and when they go we will be liberated. But Afghan women have many men who are scared of women having power. These are warlords, conservative clerics, many powerful authorities sitting in key government positions." In this anti-female environment violence against women in general is rising daily, fuelled by the war, the poverty it brings, and the conservative values it leaves behind, according to Hamidi.

Campaigners say the only hope for women is to give them a chance to fight for their rights at the negotiating table. But with little political will among Afghan politicians, pressure for this must come from abroad, says Hamidi.

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011                                                                                                                                                                             ***************************************




A proposed oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast could substantially reduce U.S. dependency on oil from the Middle East and other regions, a report commissioned by the Obama administration says.

The report suggests that the 1,900-mile (3,050-km) pipeline, coupled with a reduction in overall U.S. oil demand, "could essentially eliminate Middle East crude imports longer term." The $7 billion project would carry crude oil extracted from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Texas.

The report, prepared by a Massachusetts firm at the request of the U.S. Energy Department, was completed December 23 and made public this week. The so-called Keystone XL pipeline, which doubles the capacity of an existing pipeline from Canada is projected to produce more than 5,00,000 barrels a day of crude oil derived from formations of sand, clay and water in western Canada.

. "Keystone XL will also create 20,000 high-paying jobs for American families and inject $20 billion into the U.S. economy."

Environmental groups pointed to another aspect of the report that said the United States could likely meet its demand for oil even if the pipeline extension is not built.

"Why rush a decision to build a giant pipeline that will be with us for the next 50 years?" asked Liz Barratt-Brown, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defence Council. "Aren't there other alternatives for our fuels that we can, and must, find in this time period?"

Lawmakers from both parties have written to the State Department for and against the pipeline, which would travel through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma before reaching Texas. Some of the strongest opposition is in Nebraska. The pipeline would travel over parts of the massive Ogallala aquifer, which supplies drinking water to about two million people in Nebraska and seven other States and supports irrigation.

— AP





Omar Suleiman, Hosni Mubarak's intelligence chief and now his Vice-President, is the keeper of Egypt's secrets, a smooth behind-the-scenes operator who has been intimately involved in the most sensitive issues of national security and foreign policy for close to 20 years.

As mass protests continued in Cairo and elsewhere, this discreet spymaster faced intense scrutiny both at home and abroad as he holds the key to the political future of the Arab world's largest country. Famously loyal to Mubarak, Suleiman looks likely to determine his fate.

Late on January 31 he went on TV to announce that he had been ordered by the President to tackle "constitutional and legislative reforms" and, crucially, to include opposition parties in the process. That looked like an attempt to defuse the crisis by starting a dialogue it is hoped will ensure the survival of the regime.

Twin messages

Suleiman's appointment as Vice-President on January 29 carried two significant messages: for the first time since coming to power in 1981 Mubarak had decided on a successor, squashing speculation it would be his son Gamal; and that successor has the full confidence of the military.

Suleiman, 74, is bald and moustachioed and despite his military bearing has a penchant for dark suits and striped ties. Acquaintances remark on his exquisite manners — as well as a taste for good cigars supplied by ever-attentive aides. "Suleiman is an imposing man," recalls former British Ambassador David Blatherwick. "He's pretty wily, very polished and extremely intelligent. People are scared of him, for obvious reasons." In 1995, two years after taking over Egypt's General Intelligence Service (the mukhabarat), he saved Mubarak's life during an assassination attempt in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, having insisted his boss travel in an armoured car.

He also played a key role in defeating the insurrection mounted by armed groups such as the Islamic Jihad, some of whose members went on to found Al Qaeda. In the mid-1990s he is said to have worked with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on handing over wanted militants, a practice that continued as "extraordinary rendition" after the 9/11 attacks.

For 30 years before that Suleiman served in the army, fighting in Yemen and in the 1967 and 1973 wars against Israel, rising to be director of military intelligence. He was trained in the Soviet Union — and later on in the U.S.

'Second most powerful man'

He believes fervently in the military and its view of Egypt's core national interests. This consummate insider is "the second most powerful man after Mubarak", in the words of commentator Hisham Kassem.

"Suleiman is a decent man, not a thug," one old acquaintance says. "He's very pragmatic, a subtle and smart guy. I don't think he has personal ambition other than to try to hand on the underpinnings of the regime to a worthy recipient." In recent years one of Suleiman's biggest preoccupations has been dealing with the volatile Palestinian file, mediating between the western-backed Fatah movement and the Islamists of Hamas — a group with special resonance in Egypt because of its control of the Gaza Strip and its links to the banned Muslim Brotherhood, which he is said to loathe. The Israelis trust him, not least because of his open line to the President. "Suleiman doesn't pull the strings in Egypt," a well-placed source told Ha'aretz. "He pulls the ropes." He has also been involved in the tangled affairs of Sudan and has mediated between rebels and the government in Yemen. The U.S. and other western governments still see him as a safe pair of hands, and are now in intensive contact with him and other top military men as Egypt's future hangs in the balance.

Suleiman is one of a rare group of Egyptian officials who hold both a military rank (lieutenant general) and a civilian office as a minister. Like other members of the military top brass, he is profoundly hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood, who he has described as "liars who only understand force". But the political manoeuvring to manage the crisis will almost certainly involve dealing with them as the largest opposition group in the country.

"Suleiman never had a role in national politics before," warns a former colleague. "The question now is how he will manage in this new situation."

© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011







Given the times we live in, it is not surprising that an effort to establish a financial institution run on Sharia or Islamic principles should arouse anxiety, not curiosity. Thus, a decision of the Kerala government to give sanction to the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation to start a non-banking finance company based on Islamic principles has been challenged in the Kerala high court. It is to the credit of the judiciary that it upheld the government's decision. The court rightly held that the joint venture with government participation was to be run in accordance with Islamic principles as well as the law of the land. As such, it could neither be seen to be at odds with the secular principles enshrined in the Constitution nor as a means to support or promote a particular religion. The high court pointedly noted that the government's intention was to derive commercial benefit from the enterprise, and that money from the exchequer would be paid to an institution which did not propose to engage in religious activities such as preaching or propagation.

Islam forbids making a living off interest as interest is not seen as accruing from an honest day's work done, unlike commerce or industry. Indeed, Muslim societies down the centuries have thrived on trade. If an observant Muslim abjures interest earnings, it is hard to see how this injures the spirit of a democratic, liberal and secular order in any manner, as the petitioners sought to suggest. From time to time established Muslim businesses in the country have desired to run commercial institutions, including banks, on the Sharia basis of eschewing interest payments. While the unrequited demand for such enterprises has not been quantified, it is well known that Islamic banking products are offered by leading banks in the West. Assets in this category were estimated at about $400 billion in 2008, compared to $100 billion in 2000 — a four-fold rise in as little as eight years. Many Muslims in India stay away from banks in the fear that normal banking practices are not in keeping with their religious norms. In order to mop up savings from such an extensive source, it makes sense to let banks tap into this vein. This should enlarge the country's capital base and help direct it to desired objectives. The high court order has permitted the setting up of a non-banking financial company. On the strength of this, it is possible to take the next step of moving toward Islamic banking within the confines of the normal laws of the land. All aspects of the Sharia are far from being violative of the spirit of modern democratic life. Indeed, in many respects, the guiding principles of Islam are meant to mould societies in the direction of equity. There is no need to be apprehensive about any of this in a country which has the second largest Muslim population in the world.

Unfortunately, atrocities are being committed on ordinary people — mostly on Muslims themselves — in the name of the jihadists who profess political Islam. It is probably this which raises concerns in many quarters about giving grounds to Sharia rules in any aspect of life. Such a sweeping view does not answer to the demands of rationality. Allowing for financial services in keeping with Islamic principles, in fact, is little different from permitting autonomously-run madrasas to operate in the sphere of education. While many now fear the spread of Islamic ideas and practices, there was a time when knowledge, thought and innovative practices in diverse fields routinely travelled from Islamic lands to many parts of the world, in particular Europe. Much of modern-day mathematics and science has been the gainer on account of this. To blame Islam for the sins of today's jihadists is silly and runs counter to the notion of pluralism.







"Don't call it a day

Its proper name is night...."

From Aisa nahin bolneka

by Bachchoo


In India on a scattered tour — no not taking in any literary festivals — I am reading Patrick French's book India, which is sub-titled Portrait of a Country. Somewhere near the beginning he writes about the truth of Indian caricatures and reproduces some jokes he says have been circulating on the Internet. Being in Kolkata as I write this, and having arrived in this city to chair a literary evening and a poetry launch, I shall only reproduce the one about Bengalis, even though the equivalent sequences about Malayalis, Tamil Brahmins and Gujaratis which he quotes are very telling and amusing:

"One Bengali: Poet

Two Bengalis: Film Society

Three Bengalis: Political Party

Four Bengalis: Two political parties".

French says that he will refrain from quoting the ones about Biharis and Uttar Pradeshis because he wants to avoid the ceremonial burning of his book.

Nevertheless, the formula of the joke is an invitation to make up one's own. I have essayed a couple about Muslims, Hindus and Christians, but will on the French Principle of Safe rather than Sorry, not put them in print here — not because I fear the newspaper will be bonfired, but because I don't wish, myself, to call it a day yet. Much safer to use the formula and make a joke against one's own identity. And being a Parsi here goes:
One Parsi: Constitutional

Two Parsis: Gay couple in Kolaba

Three Parsis: Joint family conference

Four Parsis: Central Bank's annual staff picnic


And the one about Sardarjis? Er — no, no! My dad always said never pick on easy targets. And I am not a Sardarji, but then I am a non-resident Indian (NRI) of sorts:


One NRI: World-rich-list entry

Two NRIs: Anti-racist society

Three NRIs: Clumsy Bhangda group

Four NRIs: Indian literary festival

What strikes one about these formulations is not only that they contain grains of truth coated in humour, but that Indians, except the real cissies, grievance-merchants and ambulance-chasers tolerate these caricatures without any obeisance to political correctness.

This may be because political correctness is a Western affliction, born as a guilty compensation for the outrageous histories of colonial superiority, slavery and racist persecution. The inhibition which causes the West to address the ex-colonials and the blacks liberated from slavery in respectful terms without any possible derogatory connotations is not a voluntary move in the great Western intellectual tradition. Political correctness came to the West through the success of protest and struggle. The Afro-American civil rights movement and the militancy of American black power were aimed at securing material rights, not at eliminating racist jokes. But the material rights are difficult for societies to bestow. Conscientious individuals within the society could re-educate themselves to at least give the black population the linguistic concession of not using derogatory terms to describe them.

Other political movements which characterised the movers as victims followed and expanded the taboos of political correctness to include, under their protective and prohibitory umbrella, all races, genders, sexual-preferences, sizes of people, disabilities and even mothers-in-law.

In Germany, the guilt of what the Nazis had done caused succeeding German governments to pass laws against Holocaust denial. Anyone who knows modern Germany knows that on this ground, the discourse of race or ethnic superiority, Germans tread very self-consciously indeed.

No such inhibition stops some nations and populations calling other people kaffirs or assuming, in violent contravention of any possible test or justification, that they are somehow "more chosen" than people or nations that hold different religious, moral or political beliefs. No political correctness towards minorities, women or anyone else there.

In India we have since gaining Independence, having been the underdogs of the freedom struggle, generated a strange brand of political incorrectness. It is very strange to explain to people whom one is arguing with what the phrase "scheduled castes" means. One tells them that it literally means people or sections of the Indian population who are mentioned in the "schedules" of the Indian Constitution.

What then are these "schedules"? Well, they are appendices to the Constitution which recognise that certain sections of our people, owing to the caste system and the existence of tribal populations who are not in the main dwellers of the plains, have been historically underprivileged. The Constitution of India seeks to identify them and mark them out for concessional treatment or special advancement. Hence the names "scheduled castes" and "scheduled tribes".

Okay, one has crossed that hurdle with one's interlocutor still wondering how the word schedule (pronounced "Sked-yool" if he/she is an American) can connote anything more than a timetable one has determined to follow.

Then there is the problem of the phrase "backward castes" and even "other backward classes". Nowhere else in the world would such a blatantly factual categorisation exist. The word "backward" in any nation's English, doesn't simply mean "deprived". It would be hard to convince a Westerner that people actually vie for these labels because they could confer political privileges on them. In a sense, these labels, which we bandy about without a second thought, may indicate that we Indians are averse to committing the sin of political euphemism.
While checking in to my hotel in Kolkata I was asked to produce some photo-identity. I wasn't carrying my passport or my Person of Indian-Origin card, both of which have photographs. It seems one can't get on flights or through some bureaucracies without this pictorial proof. Luckily, I had my British driving licence with the picture of someone who looks vaguely like me on it and produced the pink card for the perusal of the hotel receptionist and all was well.

"What do people who don't have passports and driving licenses do?" I asked.

The obvious answer was that they don't take flights and don't check into hotels so the question doesn't arise and Pritish Nandy, my host at the Kolkata occasion, said as much. "But what if they wanted to; would they provide a ration card or something with their photograph on it?"

"There are no ration cards anymore", said Pritish. "They call them BPL cards."

I asked what these were.

"Below Poverty Line", Pritish said. Now shall we know even as we are known!







As President Hosni Mubarak fights for his political survival in an atmosphere singed by the flames lit in Tunisia last month, we have moved beyond the fate of one individual. His effort to dig in after offering a symbolic sacrifice of his next term in September after 30 years in power appears to be a footnote in history even as it is capable of prolonging the Egyptian misery. It was par for course that President Mubarak should first offer palliatives to win over protesting masses in Tahrir Square and then send in thugs to break protesters' heads, a familiar pattern of intimidating voters or stubborn protesters. The question is: What comes next?
With Egyptians continuing to demonstrate their fury, some aspects of the dramatic developments are clear in an otherwise murky scenario. Tunisians proved the unlikely heroes in what could be a new Arab renaissance but people in one Arab country after another were so totally frustrated with their lot that it needed a mere match to set off the conflagration. A predominantly young population is facing poverty, unemployment and large doses of repression, refined with national characteristics. Second, the Arab world is in the process of losing its distinction as being the only region seemingly unaffected by the winds of change sweeping every other nook and corner of the planet. The Yemeni leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh, a ruler of 32 years' standing, has sought to buy time by promising his people that neither he nor his son would contest the next election. Third, the dramatic role of the Al Jazeera satellite Arabic television channel, which has also spawned a sophisticated English language cousin, in energising the Arab street has been remarkable.

Undoubtedly, a combination of circumstances was responsible for the Arab phenomenon of autocrats ruling their peoples through emergency degrees for decades: American and Western interests (also Soviet interests during the Cold War) in the oil and gas riches and Washington's supreme interest in preserving Israel even as it is squatting on occupied Palestinian land since 1967 and absorbing more and more of it.
No wonder that Egypt receives some $1.3 billion of US military aid every year, next only to Israel's, for helping promote a phoney peace process and bottling up the Gaza Strip under Israeli blockade.
Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab countries with peace treaties and full diplomatic relations with Israel. Egypt, as the most populous Arab country and the traditional heart of the region, despite its somewhat diminished status, holds the key to the building of a Greater Israel. Despite periodic American lectures on democracy, in particular from President George W. Bush, Washington was quite content to rely on the seemingly permanent President Mubarak to guard the Israeli flank.

Among the most nervous over the prevailing Egyptian unrest is Israel, which would gladly give him asylum if he asks for it. But he has said he would prefer to remain and die in his home country.
The WikiLeaks revelations of the Israeli and Arab worlds were the most stunning of the lot, but whether the tsunami that has hit Egypt and the region can be described as the WikiLeaks Revolution, as it has been dubbed by some, or not, the scale of Palestinian concessions to Tel Aviv and Israeli disdain have come as a psychological shock to the common man in the entire Arab world. Perhaps it was a contributory factor to the Tunisian awakening and its knock-on effect on a range of countries, including Algeria, Yemen, Jordan and, most important of all, Egypt.

How the script will run from this moment — Friday (February 4) was dubbed (Mubrarak's) Day of Departure — is not entirely clear. As US President Barack Obama's comments on Egypt have got blunter each day, one scenario being promoted by Washington is for President Mubarak to step aside and his newly-minted vice-president Omar Suleiman, an old confidant and handyman appointed for the first time in 30 years for precisely such a contingency, to prepare for constitutional and other changes in consultation with Opposition leaders leading to a presidential election in September. In his first interview during the crisis, to Christiane Amanpour, Mr Mubarak said he was tired of his onerous burden and wanted to leave but only after ensuring that there was no chaos, not unexpectedly highlighting fears of the Muslim Brotherhood taking over. He was justifying his announced decision to stay till September.

There are particular circumstances of each Arab country infected by the freedom virus but they share many problems. Indeed, if Nasser was the leader of the pan-Arab movement that once galvanised the entire region, Al Jazeera is now playing this role. Amid the Arabs' many problems is the sense of hurt, seldom publicly expressed before in quite this fashion, to their dignity, which has been trampled upon by one ruler after another. Freedom is being doled out in small, often microscopic, doses in an often-arbitrary system of injustice. They are now being empowered by Al Jazeera.

There will doubtless be many twists and turns to this story of Arab empowerment. Every regime has built its own elite of vested interests who would hate to lose their power and pelf. In Egypt's case, the role of the Army needs to be redefined. Somewhat incongruously, it has a good equation with the people, perhaps because the conscripts come from villages and the Army compares favourably with the enormous security apparatus consisting of secret agents in plain clothes and vicious thugs. Whether a new era can be born in Egypt under the wings of the Army has still to be demonstrated.






Is life treating you badly? Are your parents or children giving you grief? Is your spouse cheating on you? Has your business partner duped you? Has A. Raja upset you? Don't worry. Turn to astrology.
Star gazing has now revealed life's basic truth: You can't trust anything any more. Forget snooping on your child's social life. Forget Facebook fraud. You cannot even trust real faces. Nobody is who you think they are. Not even your mother. Perhaps not you either. While you were not looking, the earth moved.
For example, I was a Libra. A nice, balanced, fair person. Now they tell me there was a mistake. I am not really a Libra. In fact, it's my father who's the Libra, and not a Scorpio as we believed. I am just a Virgo. My mother's not a Capricorn as she claims, but a Sagittarius. My husband's not an Aries, but Pisces. However, my daughter remains a Leo. She must have refused. She is given to shaking her baby head cutely and saying "No-no" in the sweetest but firmest way.

Your universe has changed, they tell us. Kindly adjust.

So who moved my universe? As always, the buck stops with mother earth.

She may seem all steady and firm, but actually she's pretty wobbly. Over thousands of years she has wobbled ever so slightly away from the moon and the stars around her. And thrown the zodiac — conceived about 5,000 years ago — out of kilter.

In short, your horoscope is out of date. If you still want to go by it, you need to update it.
Which is why some have suggested reintroducing the hitherto unused 13th zodiac sign, Ophiuchus. It seems that this large constellation has always been known, but was apparently set aside by ancient wise guys who settled for only 12 signs in the zodiac.

Now that the earth has moved significantly away from the planetary positions when the zodiac was set up, there is enough loose space to stick in Ophiuchus and tighten up the zodiac to fit our lives again.
Of course, the other zodiac signs have to move up a bit to let in the new member.
Get used to Ophiuchus. (No, not "Oh-f***-us" but "Oh-fee-you-cuss".) Ophiuchus or the Serpent Bearer is depicted as a man struggling with a huge snake. That's you if you were born between November 30 and December 17. In fact, if you wish to update your own horoscope, here's the new floor plan. See how rare the

Scorpios have become — they only have six days to beborn in.

Capricorn: January 21-

February 16

Aquarius: February 17-March 11

Pisces: March 12-April 18

Aries: April 19-May 13

Taurus: May 14-June 21

Gemini: June 22-July 20

Cancer: July 21-August 10

Leo: August 11-September 16

irgo: September 17-October 30

ibra: October 31-November 23

Scorpio: November 24-

November 29


Ophiuchus: November 30-December 17

agittarius: December 18-

January 20

Curiously, most Western astrologers seem unhappy with this suggestion. So what if the earth has moved? Their calculations were based not on the actual positions of constellations but on some mathematical calculation (which I failed to grasp) of the sky which was not affected by this planetary wobble. They will stick to their 12 zodiac signs, thank you. And you will get to read just that in the papers every day. Be happy with what you get. So if you have always felt that you were a Lion trapped in the body of a Virgin, there goes your chance of rectifying your future.

Closer home, the Indian horoscope does go by the planetary positions and changing constellations. It would be interesting to know how Vedic astrologers feel about this suggestion. Do they already take these shifts into account? Much has changed in the universe of late. Pluto has ceased to be a planet. And National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) has just discovered a new solar system with six planets around a star. Does any of this affect our Vedic astrology? Does it also affect Vaastu? Should we tear down our homes and build them anew to make them future-friendly?

Should we care? Yes, because we seem to bow to the powers of astrology more than to everyday reason. We even name our children according to the astrologer's chosen "first alphabet". In a country where even our leaders don't budge without an okay from the family astrologer, where raahukaalam paralyses even the most "progressive" politician, where a chief minister apparently sleeps naked on the floor to ward off evil, it may be time we gave this some thought.

If you like the fun of it all, there is a lot you could do. You could move to tarot readings. Or to Naadi — where apparently the life you live today had been written out on a palm leaf thousands of years ago. Or we could just embrace numerology and control the future by adding funny alphabets to our names. All else failing, there is always the soothsayer parrot. When faced with a paradigm shift in astrology, we clearly have an embarrassment of riches.

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






You may not know this — but there are some obvious differences between the Indian and the UK Parliament. To begin with, Indian Parliament lacks the equivalent for a Mrs Sally Bercow, the wife of the present Speaker in the British Parliament, which can only be described as a tragedy. In fact, if it were not completely impossible, perhaps the attractive Mrs Bercow should be cloned and exported so that other Parliaments could have as much fun as the British Parliament seems to be having.

Nothing can phase her and no amount of malicious publicity seems to stall the redoubtable and unique Mrs Bercow, who towers over her husband in reality and now threatens to overshadow him completely. So far, she has been irrepressible, rather like a free-spirited high-school student determined to show up the lapses in the institution to which she belongs. In the past she has regaled us with tales of her youthful exploits when she drank and enjoyed the company of men perhaps more than she should have. If she shocked the more conservative members of Parliament or of the general public, Mrs Bercow (good for her!) has shown little remorse.

But this time, on the occasion of Valentine's Day, Mrs Bercow decided to give her husband, the Speaker, a genuine surprise. She has appeared, clad in nothing more than a bedsheet, photographed rather pointedly in front of Big Ben, and has spoken about the wonderful boost their joint libido has received ever since her husband was elevated to his present post. I always suspected that the dour proceedings of Indian Parliament needed something to inject it with a little more vigour — and now it is obvious that it desperately needs a Mrs Bercow of its own. To begin with, one cannot imagine the spouses of the deputy speakers or the speakers of either the Lower or Upper House of Indian Parliament appearing in bedsheets to express their liberated spirit, alas. After seeing Mrs Bercow's photographs, this seems a great shame because it may provide some reason or incentive, at least, for the disgruntled parliamentarians to occasionally attend that August House, and perhaps remain there to do their work.

But more seriously, another discrepancy has now appeared between the working of the British and Indian Parliaments. Whilst Indian Parliament was stalled through noisy demonstrations and walkouts, here in the UK the Upper House was also "stalled" but rather more cleverly. Whilst discussing a bill on changing the electoral system and redrawing the boundaries of some constituencies, the Opposition in the House of Lords began one of the longest debates in their parliamentary history… forcing the members to remain in the chambers day and night. The continuing impasse has raised temperatures in the government while the Opposition spread out beds within the premises and geared up to remain there as long as they were required… Interesting, what?

MEANWHILE, AMONG the many controversial cuts proposed by the coalition government in the UK is the downscaling of the BBC budget. This reduction threatens the existence of some of the language services, including Persian, Tamil and even (ouch!) Hindi. Sadly, this means some very talented reporters will be forced to find other avenues. But there are others who feel that in places like India broadcasting is now a mature industry, hiring thousands of people, and perhaps with BBC vacating a valuable space, an opportunity has arisen for an indigenous broadcaster to take over the enterprise along with the staffers, if indeed the closure ultimately does take place.

That is a healthy and robust argument. What has been slightly disconcerting is the insidious insistence by those who would wish to retain the status quo — without considering that it is the British taxpayer who is actually paying for the broadcasts being beamed to a foreign audience. Once upon a time these broadcast services were crucial for spreading the news as media in the erstwhile colonies was underdeveloped: but now with the spread of mobile telephony, Internet and other services, people have alternative resources for news updates.
Reportedly, there has also been an effort to arm twist DfID, the Department for International Development, to part with some 25 million pounds to carry on with these language services. Even if this is "aid" being given to countries like India which do not really need it, surely it could be better utilised than being given to radio broadcasts…

ON A personal note, one of the highlights this week was to attend a glamorous fund raiser at the Connaught Hotel organised by the lovely and philanthropic Baroness Frances D'Souza and her daughter Crista for the Marefat High School in Afghanistan. The school, which was established by her in 2002, started with just a roofless hut and 30 students between the ages of seven and 60. It has been a tough assignment to keep the school going in dangerous circumstances, but Frances rarely gives up on anything! Probably never. A few years ago, the headmaster, Aziz Royesh survived threats of being executed as he was supposedly teaching "non-Islamic" subjects. But today the school has over 3,000 students with high aspirations — and more than half of them are girls. Educating girls like them will probably change the future of Afghanistan.

The night was fabulously entertaining and with a svelte and worthy guest list which included Cherie Blair, Jemima Khan, Fatima Bhutto amongst many others, quick auctions speedily notched up cash for helping the students, many of whom cannot afford to pay for the education they receive. It was a moment to celebrate: while the world continues to be in turmoil it is possible to create an oasis where a combined effort is made for balanced and peaceful development.

The writer can be contacted at










February 5 is the deadline for the directorate of town planning to submit its opinion to the state government on the proposed town planning (TP) schemes on more than 1,400 acres in the 23 merged villages in the jurisdiction of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC).


While this procedure is symbolic of paperwork and expression of opinions about TP schemes, nothing concrete is happening on the ground to take advantage of an old democratic way of urban planning.


TP schemes are a time-tested way of developing public amenities like roads, water lines, sewage lines, gardens and open spaces on the principle of 'pooling in' where every landowner contributes his bit for the common good. All plots are amalgamated, then land is taken away for common amenities and the remaining land is redistributed in proportion to the earlier holding. Thus, in this system, everybody pays and everybody gains.


This practice of TP schemes is in contrast with the prevalent practice of reservation on plots of land under the development plan (DP). In the system of reservation, authorities demarcate plots for public amenities. Such plots are to be 'acquired' by the authorities at minimal price, thus depriving the landowner of the commercial benefit of the land, while awarding his neighbours with public amenities at his cost and with increased value due to these amenities.


Hence, the plot owner obviously tries his best to get his plot de-reserved using all means. If he is successful, he saves his fortune, but society is deprived of public amenities. If he is not, he loses commercial benefit available to his neighbours, but society may get those amenities if the authorities show the will to acquire the land and develop the amenities.


Repeated failure in implementation of the DP of the city is a pointer to this reality. Pune has benefited from TP schemes in the past. Urban planner and chief of NGO Mashal, Sharad Mahajan, says the practice of TP schemes started in 1935 and Pune was the first among cities to implement them. Eight TP schemes were implemented: Deccan Gymkhana, Prabhat Road and Bhandarkar Road areas are examples of good TP schemes. In Mumbai, about 70 TP schemes have been implemented, mostly in the


island area.


TP schemes continued in Maharashtra until 1970. "After that, the builders became influential. Along with politicians they did not allow the TP schemes to be implemented in the state," says Mahajan. According to him, the DP is the overall framework for the development of the city and it is within the DP that TP schemes are necessary to develop civic amenities. The DP is for the whole city, while TP schemes cover areas of up to 500 acres. Thus, there can be 80 to 90 TP schemes within the DP of Pune city.


The PMC's DP of 23 villages was sent to the state government for approval in December 2005, which proposed TP schemes on more than 1,400 acres.


Instead of approving the DP and the TP schemes with it, the state government has again asked for the PMC's opinion on TP schemes. Interestingly, both the ruling and opposition parties in the PMC are supporting the concept of TP schemes. Delay in implementation of TP schemes is a major drawback of the










Home Minister Chidambaram was on two-day visit to Jammu. The leaders of both the factions of PCC flocked their office bearers and senior activists to the winter capital in connection with Minister's visit. Both camps of the PCC showed extraordinary rumbling among their ranks. Was something important and noticeable going to happen? It was given out that the Home Minister had come to Jammu essentially to take stock of state's security situation and receive briefs from security managers. Security is a subject of continual discussion at various levels of administration especially the Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi. Therefore security assessment could not be the real or only reason necessitating his visit to Jammu. On reaching Jammu, the Home Minister asked the PCC leadership to come forward with options for solution of Kashmir problem. He did not make specific mention of NC in the same vein. But as usual, mystery and ambiguity shrouded the message of the Minister to his party cadres and stakeholders. It is essentially party's internal dissensions and rumblings that necessitated his intervention. Why Ghulam Nabi Azad was left to be mauled by PDP during the second stint of Congress-PDP coalition, and why he was dislocated as PCC chief to be replaced by Prof. Soz has remained an untold mystery. He made a stunning revelation when he said that the party high command had consented holding two separate functions on 30 January to commemorate the martyrdom day of Gandhi ji in public rallies in Jammu. The questing is why should have the party High Command shown complacence towards factionalism in the sensitive state? Is this re-enactment of Machiavellian pastime of divide and rule? Is this an indication that within the PCC there is some serious thinking in one section about Chidambaram's truism of "unique solution to unique problem" and its rejection in the other? If yes, then one may presume of ideological divergence between the two factions rather than a clash of egos. The gap between the two factions has begun to impinge upon the credibility of the party in the state. In view of next Parliamentary elections, Congress, on principle, cannot afford to leave its house divided and factionalized. It is to be noted that Soz faction has at the same time raked the issue of rotational Chief Minister for the State although this was not on cards when the coalition was formed. Replacement of Azad by Prof. Soz as chief of PCC was the first signal of a rift surfacing within the organization. Observers presume that the real discord arises out of various options of solution of Kashmir issue hotly debated in the highest echelons of Congress. The sudden and surprising statement of Minister Sham Lal, for which the Congress High Command may reprimand him, has to be understood in that background. The Home Minister had come for damage controlling exercise. His visit directly to Jammu and not to Srinagar, too, has to be considered an indicator that it is in Jammu where the factional battle of the PCC is to be fought. It is the Jammu region that has sent maximum number of Congress MLAs to the State legislative Assembly. Belonging to Jammu region as he does, Azad believes it is the mainstay of his public profile. He thinks ouster of his protégé Sorori, from the State Cabinet was a conspiracy hatched by his detractors to weaken his voice in the Cabinet and his image among the people. In other words the inter-regional struggle for leadership primacy seems to be closely related to final disposal of Kashmir case. What would be the contours of that disposal remains a closely guarded secret. The question is whether the Home Minister is mediating for rapprochement between the two factions of his party in the J&K or is he gently but subtly pushing forward his agenda of "unique solution" to Kashmir issue and trying to sideline those among his own people who have serious doubts about it. If final disposal of Kashmir is the bone of contention between the factions of the largest mainstream political party of the country, it is a sad commentary on nationalist and consensual approach to the six - decade old problem. The Home Minister cannot play seek and hide and must take the nation into confidence before trying to be the dispenser of justice between its warring factions.







Pakistan government will withdraw the bill seeking drastic amendment to the blasphemy law. The bill was introduced by Sherry Rahman, former Information Minister of PPP. The draft bill had stated that death punishment for one charged with violating blasphemy law was inconsistent with human rights and international law, and thus should be discarded. Ever since the blasphemy law came into force from the days of President Zia-ul-Huq, only members of Pakistan's religious minority, especially the Christians have been made its target. In most of such cases there was personal vendetta behind the death sentence rather than real violation of the blasphemy law. Tabling the amendment Bill gave rise to furious reaction by religious extremists in Pakistan. The recent victim of their wrath was Salman Taseer, the enlightened Governor of Punjab province. Rabid fanatics have been openly warning that anybody attempting to dilute or dissolve the blasphemy law would meet with his or her death. The fear of deadly reprisal has gripped the entire ruling apparatus of Pakistan so much so that Prime Minister Geelani had to make it clear in the press that he would be withdrawing the Bill tabled last year. This leaves no room for doubt that Pakistan is fully in the grip of religious extremists. Who rules Pakistan? Previously the talk was of President- Prime Minister- Army triumvirate as three centres of power in Pakistan. But it appears that in reality the army-fundamentalist duo is running the show. As time passes, the fundamentalist-army combine will emerge the ultimate power holders in Pakistan.









Gen. Musharraf's Foreign Minister for five years and more, Khurshid Kasuri did some plain-speaking the other day in Chennai in a special address to the Asian Press Institute; it was all about Indo-Pakistan relations and how he wished that the two countries would pick up the bilateral dialogue from the point where it had snapped over four years ago. The two were so near a compromise that it had appeared to be a matter of days for the two nations to embrace each other.

He spoke of the days when newly independent Indonesia and Malaysia were at each other's throats with Jakarta thinking in terms of a takeover of Malaysia. Fortunately, for the region it did not happen and instead the countries in and around these two then hostile nations were now living as part of a homogenous, regional alliance.

Kasuri, an old India-Pakistan, hand was obviously overwhelmed by the thought of what might have been had the two countries bitten the bullet then. It must have been heart-breaking for him to recall the days when he had, envisioned India and Pakistan at peace with themselves, leading them to forming an alliance like ASEAN in the region. Kasuri pinpointed all the differences that had plagued Indo-Pak relations from the beginning, including Kashmir, adding that a solution to all these had seemed at hand then. He did indeed sound disappointed that all their painstaking efforts of just a few years ago should have gone to waste. Speaking on the issue must obviously have been painful, for he did end up asking his friend, the former diplomat, now MP, Mani Shankar Aiyer to read out the rest of his prepared text at the Chennai meeting.

Much as Kasuri hoped for resumption of a meaningful dialogue the rulers in Islamabad, particularly Gen. Kayani, the Army Chief appointed by Musharraf appears in mood to go with "the Musharraf plan" vis-à-vis India.
Kayani has in the intervening years shown that he sees India as the principal threat to his country. His so-called crackdown on the Pakistani Taliban in the North West was like pulling so much wool over the eyes of the gullible Americans a show but on to extract as much money and military hardware from them as possible. All in the name of Pakistani support to the American war on Taliban in Afghanistan. As I write Pakistan appears to be having its way in Afghanistan. The Foreign Ministers of the two countries have held lengthy discussions to forge a joint front between them.

While his Afghan counterpart agreed to joint talks with the Afghan Taliban Islamabad's friends), the Pakistani Foreign Minister did not lose the opportunity to mention his country's gain in terms of strategic depth as a consequence of their togetherness. The sop held out for the Americans was that Islamabad was only seeking to have a stable Afghanistan for President Obama to be able to withdraw his troops from the war-torn country. A friendly act, indeed! One that should earn them a further billions of American "thank you" dollars.

After all at the turn of the century Pakistan's total foreign exchange reserves stood at a measly billion dollars in the year 2000. Since the American intervention in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the ally, has received some 20 billion dollars in military aid, not to mention other hidden handouts known only to the military.

So, coming back to Kayani the agreement reached with the Karzai regime in Kabul is more than a boon. With the Americans set to disengage themselves in Afghanistan and the latter agreeing to talk to the Afghan Taliban, with Pakistan sitting at the head of the table, Gen. Kayani could not have imagined a more satisfactory situation. The Foregin Ministers of the two countries may have hailed the assessment as a victory for the region but the Pakistanis do not see India as a part of it. A succession of Pak leaders, mainly military, has always projected India as an interloper there.

New Delhi must understand that the civilian government of Pakistan is simply not capable of delivering on any promises it makes. The manner in which it has failed to bring the killers of the senior PPP leader and Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer to book tells more than a thousand words about the pusilinamity of the PPP led government of the country.

Concurrently the military is obsessed with Afghanistan, Taliban and evidently India. Kayani is not taking the internal domestic situation seriously. His worry may partly be caused by the domestic Taliban whose activities are arousing sympathy and the Army is not immune to it. That's why he would be more interested in wrapping up the Afghan issue. The threat of the domestic jihadi outfits and the local Taliban penetrating the Security Services must be most worrisome to the Army.
Once he has taken care of his western border Kayani have all the time to turn to his other obsession : India. India to him is an enemy, its Army the most potent threat to the existence of Pakistan. Much as the Pakistani civil society sees its role undermined because of the unholy nexus between the Army and the judiciary, Kayani is not particularly concerned at the moment with domestic issues.
The Pakistani scene has changed drastically post 26/11. For one, its adamant refusal to bring the culprits in Pakistan to the book has made India ever more suspicious of Pakistani intentions. It is clear that the political leadership in there doesn't have the gall to stand up to the jihadists., The Army, too, is in cahoots with the jihadists, something known to one and all.
Which makes so much nonsense of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's plea that India should not hold bilateral dialogue a hostage to the 26/11. To this the Indian External Affairs Minister's reply has been that steps to bring the Munbai attackers to justice would help build trust and create conditions for purposeful resumption of the dialogue. In this context there is little to expect from the Foregin Secretary Nirupama Rao talks has with her Pakistani counterpart in Thimpu at the SAARC regional meeting.
The Prime Minister's National Security Adviser, Shiv Shankar Menon will one hopes during his visit to Washington talk to the Obama administration about Pakistan, not just in the Indian context but the internal developments in including the growth of radicalism in Pakistan which is causing a virtual liberal retreat. The US in all likelihood might try to persuade India to resume its talks with Pakistan but Mr. Menon would be well within his rights to ask what exactly the US is going to do in creating the right conditions for it. I don't see Zardari & co. able to persuade Kayani, his ISI and the Jihadists to yield to American pressure. It's advantage Pakistan just now, what with Kayani having successfully persuaded Kabul to hold joint talks with the Taliban.








If the law makers become the law-breakers, what will become of the law seekers. If the custodian of rules and acts by their tacts commit such acts that the deserving people of the society for whom the rules and acts are made and meant, remain at bay, quite deprived and bereft at the receiving end, then the very aim and policy of the Govt. suffers and gets defeated.

True and very true and without an iota of doubt is the pathetic episode in respect of various selections, recruitments and appointments under Rehbar-e-Taleem (ReT), Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Rehbar-e-Zirat (ReZ), Rehbar-e-Sehat Health (ReS), ISM, NRHM, Anganwari, NAREGA and under many contractual appointments in various fields and Departments or organizations under J&K where, to the utmost shock of one and all among the various reserved categories of the state, not a single candidate of the reserved category has been recruited under the scope of reservation, although thousands of candidates of other communities have been selected under open merit in the above fields. May be some little number of category candidate would have managed to slip in because of their open merit. But the provision of reservation has been kept out of purview of the selection/recruitment process under the lame excuse and flimsy grounds due to self styled interpretation of the authorities, in the broad and glaring violation of the rules laid down in the Act i.e. the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation Act, 2004 Act No. XIV of 2004 on which are based all the SROs including SRO 294. At page No. 2 of the Act in chapter 1 under heading, "Preliminary" at S.No.2 'Definition' under Sub-clause (d) it is stated, "Available vacancies means the vacancies permanent or temporary, in any service and includes other posts under the Govt. Statutory Authorities, Autonomous Bodies and Public Sector Undertakings, owned and managed by the Govt".

This amply conveys that for any type of post or vacancy under the above mentioned organization/sectors managed and maintained by the Govt. (both Central or State Govts.) where the funds and the Govt. expenditure from the State or Central Exchequer is involved, the reservation criteria for reserved categories has to be provided and given at all costs, and not to be denied. Even as per the directions of the Supreme Court of India any recruitment process where SC/STs are not given any reservations the same be declared null and void.
When the Selection Authorities or the recruiting agencies at their sweet will care least for the Acts and the rules actually meant for the upliftment of reserved, categories, the injustice overpowers the justice to defeat the very purpose of the right policy of the Govt. meant to provide upliftment to the poor down trodden reserved categories under constitutional provisions for which there are always tall and lofty claims through proclamations.

When a defender becomes an offender towards his own side, the entire boat or ship is bound to capsize.
It is very unfortunate that selection and recruitment agencies or authorities at levels from top to bottom i.e. State level to District- level have totally ignored the selection/recruitment under reservation for the reserved categories in the above mentioned fields under flimsy plea that there is no reservation under these type of vacancies/ posts, as there is not such mention. But can the authorities show any single line in which it is mentioned that the provision of reservation is debarred, for the reserved categories, in these recruitments. No such mention makes it amply clear that the benefits must accrue to the sufferer, more so in the light of the rules as mentioned in the Act of 2004 and as per the directions of the Supreme Court of India.

Thousands of candidates stand absorbed in various departments under ReT, ReZ, SSA, NRHM, Health and Blocks and on contractual basis under open category during last couple of years, and now under the Govt. policy of regularization, most of them stand already regularized and many are in the process of being regularized which is indeed a healthy policy and decision, welcome to on and all. But what about the plight of the poor reserved categories who constitute 49 percent of the population. They neither got chance of recruitment under reservation at the initial stage under the monopoly of selection authorities, nor later on when the posts have been regularized or are at the stage of regularization - what a broad-day robbery of the standing rules and rights, and a mockery of the tall claims for their betterment and upliftment. Perhaps the selection/ recruitment authorities have been successful to dupe the Govt. and its policies altogether under their monopoly, malafide intentions and faulty interpretations.

The writer, a member of the J&K State Advisory Board for Welfare and Development of SCs, makes an emphatic appeal to the Chief Minister who is the Chairman of the State Adv. Boards for Development of SCs and STs, by inviting his personal attention towards this burning issue to deliver justice to the suffering categories deprived of the reservation benefit. The writer also appeals to the V.Chairman of State SC and ST Boards and to all MLAs of the legislature in general and to the reserved category MLAs in particular to look into this vital issue to right that wrong and expose the wrong doers.

The Govt. is requested to provide due share to the reserved categories under a crash programme exclusively for them by absorbing the reserved category candidates as per their due share against the total No. of open category candidates already absorbed and regularized.








We witness historical events as the media and information technology led by the internet boom and the social networks Twitter and Face Book bring about a revolution in Tunisia and Egypt as 'absolute' regimes tumble and I think this freedom 'virus' will spread to Yemen, Jordon and even to Saudi Arabia and to other countries where democratic values are suppressed. We see chaos in Pakistan and Afghanistan but things are relatively peaceful in both Tunisia and Egypt and the USA , Western Europe and many others who have used the Middle East for their own political and economic ends have limited options and can do little but to support the peoples aspirations for a democratic structure. The alternative is not pleasant or feasible and Iraq should be a good example for the global community. We have many a comparison being made to events in Egypt to us in India and I don't think you can compare a absolute system to a vibrant democracy like India where the ballot determines the power equations which govern the country at every level.

The technology revolution generates 'political' accidents like the 'Wiki Leaks' episode where all the State secrets of the USA were made public but it had a very limited impact in the global society and is largely forgotten and this speaks well of the strong democratic structure within the USA and will we do not have a perfect government [no such thing exists] we still have a democratic structure to match the Western World and we are shedding our feudal baggage at a quicker pace than before and this is resulting in events overtaking decisions across several fronts as the government and our archaic laws have not kept pace with our growth patterns across several spheres. We talk in terms of GDP growth and economic and wealth generation but we sometimes fail to realize that our favorable demographic pattern which we refer to in all our speeches and sermons covers several diverse disciplines all of which contribute to our emergence as a potential super power.. I believe the Congress party gained in 2009 on good governance over 2004 and so did many Chief Minister's cutting across party lines who were good performers with 'acceptable' personal levels of integrity and as we go on into the future, meritocracy will prevail over privilege based on a feudal past.

The government has little option but to proceed on logical lines both in the 2G scam and the CWG mess and besides those indicted on fraud and corruption there has also been a failure of effective governance. Several factors have combined to create a adverse mood the final one being food inflation but in every crisis there is a opportunity for redemption and negatives can be created into positives if the political party has credible leadership. The party is run by Sonia Gandhi and in the larger picture she has shunned the PM's post and well many may have their own thoughts on the subject the reality is that both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi by staying away from the power syndrome have public credibility and are not linked directly to the multiple scam's which dominate the media headlines. PM Manmohan Singh suffers on lack of governance but maintains high standards of integrity and action even at this stage can recover lost ground. The Cabinet changes was clearly a opportunity lost and while the reorganization of the party will deal with internal power structures the important decisions will be linked to the TN Elections and the electoral alliance in the State. No one believes that A Raja was the sole beneficiary of the 2G scam and the DMK first family has much to answer for and all the complex mathematics of electoral alliances cannot restore credibility and retribution. Dynastic politics has certain positives but multiple negatives when the Supreme leader weakens and is incapacitated by either age or illness and family wars and intrigues is a part of this structure and in Tamil Nadu almost everyone is aware of the power groups who owe allegiance to the sons, daughters and the nephew of the DMK Chief. The DMK first family assets and investments reflect more of a pattern of a highly successful business tycoon and less of a family devoted to the care and welfare of the poor and the weak and this financial mismatch cannot continue for very long and nothing lasts forever.

I sincerely hope that all Supreme leaders are watching events in Egypt as the people of all ages brave the Army, the police and the weapons on display in a show of force and for me the story of the decline of President Hosni Mubarak, his family and his estimated fortune of 25 billion was visible on the face of a young woman with her four or five year old son wearing a improvised gas mask joining the demonstrators on the first day and today on the seventh day we find young mothers with their babies camping on the streets and participating in the freedom movement and the Army and police stand as spectators and clearly are with the people and it is a miracle that no violence has erupted over the past few weeks. Amazing that leaders who have done their Nation proud do not know when their time is over and have to be humbled in a election , referendum or replaced by a internal coup in the party and in a system devoid of the electoral process the change can be quite violent and President Hosni Mubarak is risking more than his life by clinging to power. The King of Jordon dismisses the PM and his government and this sense of denial in a Monarchy is difficult to understand and you do not need a opinion poll to indicate the outcome of all this chaos.

We need to be on full alert as we do not know the outcome of all this in Pakistan and Afghanistan and with a uncertain situation in Iraq the Middle East is in turmoil and the statements of President Obama are no surprise and the foreign policy of the USA is in tatters and supporting Military Dictators abroad and supplying them with weapons can be quite lethal as we have seen in three wars with Pakistan. Change is coming everywhere and even in the USA supporting dictators abroad with sermons on human values and democracy at home may no longer be a viable option for the future.










The no-nonsense stand adopted by Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal has been instrumental in the banning of protest marches by the Tibetan government-in-exile, which were being taken out in support of the 17th Karmapa, Uygen Trinley Dorje. These protests were a classic case of role reversal, as if the government was committing some excesses, whereas it was the Karmapa who had been found to be breaking the law of the land. Even if the allegations that he was a Chinese mole planted into India for ulterior motive may be unfounded, the fact remains that foreign currency worth more than Rs 7 crore was found from his monastery, a serious offence. Not only that, he is suspected to be involved in many benami land deals. Such activities are illegal even in the case of a regular Indian citizen; all the more so in the case of a guest.


The Karmapa, who has been living here for the past more than a decade, cannot say that he was not aware of the laws of the land, because it is a well-established principle that the ignorance of the law is no excuse. The police, the Intelligence Bureau, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) have recovered records of land and financial transactions which are believed to be quite incriminating in nature. Under the circumstances, the widespread protests by the Tibetans were tantamount to exerting uncalled for pressure on these agencies and the administration.


Due to their ill-advised protest, the whole issue of whether the Tibetans had a refugee or a guest status has come to centrestage. India has all along gone out of its way to help them. This has been done at a considered cost to its limited resources. The least they are expected to do in return is to respect the laws of the land.









The food inflation surge to 17.5 per cent in the week ended January 22 has revived concerns about economic growth. As rising inflation drives the RBI to tighten money supply, leading to higher interest rates, it raises the production cost for companies and slackens demand. Lower growth means lower taxes and lower spending on health, education and welfare schemes. This part of the inflation fallout was highlighted by the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, in his address to the chief secretaries on Friday. He added a new dimension to the multi-pronged solution to inflation by suggesting the waiving of the mandi, octroi and other local taxes.


Since this will hit the shaky state finances, the governments in states will not cut taxes to cool prices. The so-called farmer-friendly governments in Punjab and Haryana levy high taxes on farm produce brought to mandis. States do not ensure a smooth movement of essential items. The regular supply of food items is often disrupted or delayed by frequent road/rail blockages. Hoarders take full advantage of the situation and create artificial shortages. The states have, by and large, failed to act against the middlemen holding the consumer to ransom. In fact, barring a few, the states have shown little interest in controlling price rise as it is the Centre that largely faces public wrath.


The Centre too cannot escape responsibility for bad food management. Apart from its failure to improve the food supply chain, encourage processing, marketing and scientific storage, the Centre has jacked up the import duty on some essential items. If the Centre lowers the import duty, the states may reciprocate the gesture and cut taxes, including those on oil. The imports of crude, pulses and edible oils can be better managed. The new minister in charge of civil supplies is yet to address issues like food supply bottlenecks and waste of food. There is a collective failure in revitalising agriculture and stimulating farm research to raise production and productivity.









The changes recently introduced in the rules for the Prime Ministerial election in Nepal have led to expected results. The Himalayan nation, which has been without an elected government for over seven months, has finally got a leader to head the new consensus government that will now be formed. Mr Jhalanath Khanal of the CPN (UML) emerged victorious during Thursday's voting by members of Nepal's Parliament following the last minute withdrawal in his favour by the UCPN (Maoists) candidate, Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal, alias Prachanda. This gesture by the Maoists seems to be the result of their realisation that the time for disruptive politics they had been playing so far was over. The amended rules provided only three attempts after which the election process would have got terminated, leading to a very complicated situation in new Nepal. Abstentions were also disallowed.


The inbuilt roadblocks in the election process, which were removed on January 25 by a parliamentary committee constituted for the purpose, had come in the way of the electoral college having failed to elect a Prime Minister even in 16 rounds. In Thursday's round, Mr Khanal got 368 votes while Mr Ramchandra Poudyal of the Nepali Congress polled 122 votes and the third candidate, Mr Bijaya Gachchadar of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, could win only 67 votes. Obviously, Mr Khanal has been successful because of the solid support he secured from the Maoists and some other members. His own party has only 108 members in the 601-seat Constituent Assembly.


Mr Khanal has tough tasks ahead. He has to begin the process of nation-building by taking along all sections of public opinion to ensure that his government functions as smoothly as possible. Nepal's economy has been passing through very difficult times after it got rid of monarchy. However, the most crucial item on the agenda of the Khanal government will be the constitution drafting process, which must be over by the extended deadline — May 28. Nepal's Constituent Assembly has to be replaced by an Assembly that will be elected in accordance with the new constitution. The Nepalese peace process has come back on the rails, but it has still to cover a long distance to eliminate the threats to the democratic dispensation.

















In the next Budget Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee will have to strive hard to reduce fiscal deficit because a big fiscal deficit gives wrong signals to investors. The current year's Central and state combined fiscal deficit stands at 8.5 per cent. If it is not shrunk it will ring alarm bells because several European Union (EU) members have witnessed a serious economic setback arising from big government debts last year. A wide fiscal deficit indicates unsustainable borrowing by the government, and because of the heavy interest payments involved on public debt, important items on the agenda for development get postponed.


In any case, the background for the Budget is good — India is likely to keep growing between 8 and 9 per cent according to experts, but inflation will remain a worry. For inflation control, the RBI has acted again (for the seventh time since March 2010) but mildly. The short-term lending and borrowing rates or the repo rates have been hiked by 0.25 per cent (repo rate is the rate at which the RBI lends short-term money to banks and reverse repo is the rate at which banks park their short-term excess liquidity with the RBI). The repo rate changes would affect the banks' interest rates and a small hike is better than a large hike as it would adversely impact the decisions of industry to invest and expand.


Already industrial growth slowed down to 2.3 per cent in November 2010 (compared to 12.3 per cent a year ago) which is alarming. The RBI has also predicted that there could be a slowdown in GDP growth, taking into account a slower growth in agriculture. Clearly, food inflation, which was 15.5 per cent on January 8, is not likely to come down much because of the RBI's move. It will come down only with a better supply of food items.


General inflation is also up at 8.4 per cent and this is due to a rise in the prices of manufactured goods. Indian industry is facing a severe problem of a rise in all input prices which has led to price hikes for almost all products this year. Higher petrol prices would add to manufacturing costs and lead to higher fuel bills. As oil prices have gone up to $100 a barrel, there may be another petrol and cooking gas price hike in the near future.


But the RBI has rightly emphasised that it is the quality of government expenditure and fiscal consolidation that will matter. For reducing expenditure, the first target may be the huge subsidy bill. The oil and food subsidies as a percentage of the total revenue expenditure take up 11.8 per cent. But these being politically sensitive, the government may tread cautiously — specially in dealing with subsidised food for the poor.


Where the government can save money is in dismantling redundant schemes. The Budget will also have to create a better environment for job seekers by giving technical and vocational training to youth through better implementation of Central schemes like the Swarna Jayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojana and the Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana. MNREGA will be continued because it gave employment to 4.32 crore households in village India last year. Some of the many training schemes that are hardly used can be scrapped to save public money.


There are many Central schemes for women and child development that are not functioning well. Many studies and news reports have revealed that there are big gaps in the women and child welfare schemes at the state level, and the urban poor are not benefiting from them. These have to be refurbished. It is shocking to hear that 56,000 children have died of malnutrition in urban Maharashtra in a year. Undernourished, anaemic women give birth to underweight children in slums who fall sick easily and die. The urban poor do not have easy access to clinics and are not able to give their children proper diet. Public health facilities should be enhanced and made accessible to the urban poor. Consolidating health programmes and getting them properly monitored and implemented would be important in the Budget.


To combat food inflation, more public spending is required in agriculture. Agricultural growth has not reached its full potential in terms of productivity. Around 58 per cent of the labour force is engaged in agriculture and yet its contribution to the GDP is around 12.3 per cent. Small farmers need access to finance and extension work to be able to survive through droughts. Crop failures and poor prospects of being able to repay the moneylenders are leading to suicides, with 17,368 farmers losing their lives in 2009 alone. The development of tribal areas would be important because only with paid jobs and prospects of a better life can insurgencies be reduced. Small and micro-level units also need continued support and access to loans on easier terms. In the unorganised manufacturing sector, investment declined by 42 per cent in 2008-09 due to the lack of access to credit because of tight market conditions.


Certain reforms are expected, especially in the opening of the multi-product retail sector. This being a delicate subject, as it involves the livelihood of millions of people in petty and small trading, will probably not be touched in the Budget, much to the disappointment of those who regard opening up the retail sector as important for attracting foreign investment.


More than before, this year the Budget should also focus on clean and green economy. Environmentally friendly technology will have to be encouraged in order to reduce India's carbon footprint. Alternate sources of energy will have to be funded further as India is likely to be most affected in the future due to climate change. Recycling of solid waste in construction and manufacturing industries will need encouragement. Eco-friendly technologies and procedures ought to be given incentives. In 2009-10, the government expenditure on adaptation to climate variability was around 2.6 per cent of the GDP. Keeping in mind the growing importance of the subject, more has to be spent.


India needs a colossal amount of investment in infrastructure, specially in increasing the connectivity between remote villages and towns. Various incentives have to be given to engage the private sector in highway development. More expenditure will also be needed to bridge the gap between the electricity demand and its generation, estimated at 12 per cent.


No doubt, the 3G spectrum has yielded a revenue bonanza but even so, the government will need more money for financing the much-needed development programmes. It is, however, important not to go in for populist measures that are mere vote catchers and provide opportunities for corruption and graft. Let us hope that at least fiscal consolidation can be achieved.








THIS apparently harsh winter took quite a toll of my many a close acquaintance.


No wonder this time a foolishly frightened me gave my routine morning walks a rather extended winter break.


Thus almost all the known people that I confronted during my morning walk at the lake that I resumed the other day, welcomed me with a quizzing "no-see?" expression on their smiling faces.


Apart from this the overall atmosphere at the lake, an interesting play of hide and seek between cuddly clouds and copper-disk like sun, a spirit elevating chirping of a variety of birds, a pleasingly cool breeze and an enchanting play of flute on the sound system installed there seemed to be offering me a wonderful welcome.


All this made me regret on two clear counts; one, that I missed such a natural bounty continuously for a couple of months, two, that I unnecessarily added a couple of kilos to my otherwise quite-in-control paunch.


Since I am a habitual bird watcher I enjoyed their amusing receptions the most.


The sparkling white swarms of ducks fed by many regular enthusiasts for varied reasons than their well being were gaily fluttering as usual. A variety of migratory birds too were trying to intrude into their groups mischievously.


Similarly, a lonely parrot sitting with a group of pigeons devouring a philanthropic feed was another interesting sight to devour. Not so strangely even the crows, unmindful of human presence to their close proximity, were adding to the overall environmental charm by their frisky 'hither and thither' playfulness, though in search of food.


Despite the fact that I saw many a 'one-for-sorrow' mynah, considered to be lucky if seen more than one, I missed upon my most favourite 'neel kanth' (the kingfisher) that I consider as my lucky mascot for inexplicable reasons and that I would occasionally confront at the other end of the lake in general.


However, while I was almost at the end of my walk and had reached the aged peepal tree I heard, with a pleasant surprise, a too well known sharp shriek from my best-loved blue-bodied bird that invited my attention towards a particular branch of the tree where it was perched rather complacently; and asking me perhaps the same question, "why no see?"!









Reforming election law has to be a process of continual change if it were to reflect the growing will of the vibrant democracy and its system of government. The perennial process of reforms envisages changes that can be divided broadly into two categories. One includes changes that we may call, operational reforms such as defects, deficiencies, disabilities, or deterrents, which come to light during the process of implementation of hitherto adopted and enacted norms. Invariably, such pitfalls can be remedied with relative ease.

This is primarily because herein the correctional course does not involve any change(s) in the policy perspective. The executive government or the Election Commission of India, therefore, can instantly sort out the problem through a little tinkering without requiring a reference to the legislature.


The other encompasses reforms which are often advocated by all political bigwigs, relate to the realm of systemic failures. These require rectification in the basic framework for realigning the law and the legal system in the desired direction. The consequential reforms, therefore, cannot be carried out without parliamentary intervention. If the proposed reforms impinge upon the interests of persons who themselves are the instrumentalities of change, such a measure usually results in the ever continuing state of suspended animation!


What should be done in this predicament? On the basis of our analysis of the Supreme Court decisions for 2009, published in December 2010 by the Indian Law Institute in its Annual Survey of Indian Law, we may abstract the following operational lapses that could be remedied instantly.


Under the present provisions of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968, once a political party is de-recognised because of its dismal performance at elections, it loses the right to exclusive claim to 'reserved symbol'. This is so despite the fact that the symbol has become completely merged, fused or identified with that party.


Consequently, the Election Commission, instead of making available such a symbol as a 'free symbol', should freeze it and bar its use by any other person or political party in future. Such a change, though seemingly slight or inconsequential, is essentially critical in avoiding the confusion in the minds of the illiterate voters who perceive the performance of political party on the basis of its symbol. Thus, for the masses, a symbol is not just symbolic but the manifestation of a party's philosophy and its performance.


The Returning Officers (ROs), as a statutory authority, exercise quasi-judicial powers while rejecting a nomination paper under the relevant provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, read with the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.


However, cases that come for judicial adjudication reveal that the ROs, who are invariably senior civil servants, in spite of clear legislative principles and detailed statutory instructions, in their decision-making fail to comprehend and translate them into practice.


This means they are required to be trained to appreciate, for instance, the functional purpose of the principle of presumption in favour of validity of nomination paper, the absence of which leads them to wrongly shift the burden of proof on the appellant rather than on the person who disputed the validity of nomination. Likewise, they need be educated about the functional ambit of summary inquiry by emphasising that examination of the merit of documents presented before him is not to be ignored.


Secrecy of voting and purity of election are critical concepts representing two values to be observed in the election process. They are distinct from and yet integrally related to each other. Secrecy of ballot prevents all undue pressures from outside and thus ensures free and fair election. However, if the ploy of secrecy is used to suppress a wrong coming to light and to protect a fraud on the election process or even to defend a crime, then it makes it imperative to construe and confine the secrecy right in a manner that promotes free and fair election rather than subverting it. This requires us to strike a balance between the two concepts. The Supreme Court has crystallised various principles showing how, in what manner, and to what extent a legitimate balance could be maintained between the two. As a part of the electoral reforms, the people need be informed and educated about these valuable concepts and their inter se relationship. Such a modest measure is bound to discourage frivolous litigation clogging our electoral system.


As a result of judicial exposition of various statutory rules regulating the conduct of elections in concrete fact situations, various principles have become crystallised. Such principles, to use the language of the Supreme Court, are "fairly well-established" and hardly need any "restatement." One, inspection of election papers should not be permitted as a matter of course. That would lead to making a roving enquiry for fishing out materials and derive undue support for one's own case, which is simply impermissible as a matter of public policy. For permitting inspection, therefore, a clear case is required to be made out.


However, despite this settled principle, the trial courts sometimes fail to observe these in practice. The Allahabad High Court in Fulena Singh v. Vijay Kumar Sinha and Ors. (2009) allowed the inspection of election papers "as a matter of course," without assigning any reason in support of its conclusion.


In view of the casual approach of the trial judge, the Supreme Court found it "very difficult to sustain such laconic and unreasoned order…" For fully comprehending the emerging principles of law, periodic meeting of the judges of trial courts, say, at the state or the National Judicial Academy, would be helpful. This, in turn, may provide the requisite fillip for improving our electoral system.


Filing of frivolous election petitions needs to be discouraged. This could be done by burdening the petitioners with heavy costs in certain cases. In G.S. Iqbal v. K.M. Khadar and Ors. (2009), where the margin of votes between the returned candidate and the petitioner was unbridgeable (it was close to two lakh), noticing the desperate nature of submissions made by the petitioner, the apex court dismissed the appeal and imposed upon him Rs 25,000 towards costs.


As an integral part of electoral reforms at the micro-level, dissemination of values inherent in the democratic system of government is important. The message must reach the electorates that in a democracy, their will is paramount. The election of the returned candidate, therefore, should not be interfered with unless there is a clear instance of flagrant violation of the norms that are meant to preserve the purity of election. This, indeed, is the message of the apex court in Baldev Singh Mann v. Surjit Singh Dhiman (2009).


The writer is the Director (Academics),Chandigarh Judicial Academy, Chandigarh








The Union Law Ministry and the Election Commission of India have started nation-wide consultations for making comprehensive reforms to electoral laws covering criminalisation of politics, funding of elections, auditing and financing of political parties, adjudication of election petitions, and review of the anti-defection law.


The consultations, on the basis of a 42-page document prepared by the Ministry of Law and Justice, were held at Bhopal, Kolkata, Mumbai and Lucknow. Chandigarh will host a consultation on February 5. A national-level consultation will be held at New Delhi on April 2 and 3. According to Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily, "Amendments have been made before. But, they were all piecemeal responses to contingencies. But, a comprehensive reform is being attempted for the first time." It is time to take stock of these consultations so that some midcourse corrections can be made to get the most out of the remaining ones.


The first consultation was held in Bhopal on December 12, 2010. The proceedings turned out to be somewhat disappointing. Of the nine persons scheduled for "thematic discussions", seven were bureaucrats (current and former IAS officers), and two were from the media. Even during open discussions, comments were taken mostly from the Collectors and other bureaucrats seated in the first few rows. Hardly any comments were taken from non-officials.


Most of the time was spent on technical issues such as preparation of voter rolls, EVMs, etc and not on substantive issues such as criminalisation of politics, political party reforms (such as inner-party democracy, financial accountability). Though the anti-defection law was included in the agenda, there was no discussion because the designated speaker was unaware of his topic.


The venue then shifted to the Vidhan Sabha where the discussion seemed confined to politicians. The most significant observation was the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister saying that the Rajya Sabha should be abolished as seats there were being openly bought and sold.


The feedback on the Bhopal meet was communicated to the Law Ministry and there seemed to have been an attempt at changing the process in the Kolkata meet. A plenary session in the forenoon was followed by three parallel sessions which also had nominated speakers with some time left for open discussions.


The Kolkata consultation seemed to be a little more open than the Bhopal meet. The next consultation was held in Mumbai on January 16. As in Kolkata, there was a plenary session in Mumbai with nominated speakers, followed by a very brief question-answer session and then three parallel sessions.


These also had nominated speakers leaving hardly any time for non-nominated people to speak. All this happened before lunch and the consultation ended with a brief summing up after lunch. Some participants felt that the consultation seemed to be an event where the organisers were keen to have their own say or at best listen to only some selected invitees.


Some of those who participated also felt that the ministry seemed to be going through the motions of holding consultations rather than seeking widespread opinions. One fact cited in support was the preponderance of the legal fraternity in the one held in Mumbai.


The whole consultation process being considered to be an almost exclusively a legal exercise is also indicated by the composition of the nine-member "Core Commi-ttee" constituted by the Union Law Ministry "to work as a nodal committee for electoral reforms". As a natural corollary to this composition, the Mumbai consultation was organised by Bombay University's Department of Law.


The Lucknow consultation was held on January 30. This turned out to be a "by invitation only" event. Some civil society members who have been working on electoral and political reforms were not allowed to enter the consultation premises on the ground that they did not have invitations or authorisation to enter. There was high, almost paranoid, level of security at the venue — the National Law University campus — and the preponderant attendees seemed to be law students and trainee judges.


The consultations so far have been far from "public". There is also practically no public information about the consultations. These seem to be events designed for politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers, and sundry invitees to listen to some selected "dignitaries", and for some pre-chosen folks to express their opinions.


Following the dictum about war and generals, it can be said that politics is too serious a business to be left only

to politicians. It would, therefore, help if information about the remaining consultations is disseminated widely and these are made open events where anyone interested can participate and express their opinion.


Only then will we get "nationwide" consultations that were promised on December 9, 2010, and an adequate sense of the changes needed in this area critical for our democracy.


The writer is a former Dean and Director In-charge, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad










At a time when a lot of noise is being made from Srinagar to New Delhi about winning hearts and minds of alienated population in Jammu and Kashmir nobody seems to be having time or inclination to think about how and why the existing confidence building measures (CBMs) are being allowed to die so quietly. To cite just an instance, the Cravan-e-Aman bus that reached Srinagar from Muzaffarabad across the Line of Control (LOC) on Wednesday did not have any passengers on board while only fifteen passengers travelled on its return journey. Volume of trade across LoC has also been following nearly the same graphical course. It is not that this sharp decline in travel and trade between the divided halves of what used to be the state of Jammu and Kashmir till 1947 has not been pointed out. Only that cries and shrieks have failed to produce any result. These path-breaking measures adopted with great fanfare about six years ago have almost vanished from the radar in so far as their substance is concerned. Plying of buses has actually been reduced to a formality to keep alive the facade of cross-LoC travel. So-called barter trade has similarly been choked by denying minimum facilities to traders to carry on this business. Reasons for declining travel and trade are too well known to need repetition. These have been pointed out time and again. Assurances from concerned quarters on both sides have also been made from time to time but only in word. None of these has so far been implemented although it does not involve any radical shift from the course already decided upon. It is common knowledge that the travel is hindered by needlessly harsh restrictions and cumbersome procedure in force to clear applications from intending passengers. Instead of facilitating travel across the LoC as is the ostensible purpose of this particular CBM, operational procedure adopted for implementing it has been so framed as to frustrate intending families. Officially, it has been conceded a long time back that the travel should be thrown open to all citizens belonging to J&K state as it existed in 1947 and not restricted to divided families. Although official version claims that there is no such restriction but practically applications are being cleared only for those who provide verifiable address of family relatives on the other side of the LoC. Clearance of application even for these restricted categories takes more than six months. Attitude of security and intelligence agencies on both sides gives the impression that the establishments are keener to discourage, rather than encouraging, travel and trade.
In fact, it goes to the credit and patience of traders that such an anachronistic transaction is still alive. Basic facility like currency exchange is not there. The traders from this side have no free access to telecommunication facilities to contact their counterparts on the other side which is an essential daily requirement. Barter trade in the second decade of 21st Century is commercial antiquity. Lack of interest in sustaining these CBMs typifies the disinclination at the top towards stabilising normalcy in the troubled border state. In the absence of direct India-Pakistan engagement (since November 2008) travel and trade across the LoC could have served as a great source of improvement in atmospherics. Failure to re-start even the internal part of dialogue shows how damaging the impact has been on the course of events on the ground. Two crucial CBMs launched as a bold initiative have been allowed to languish for want of follow up.

These disturbing facts lead to the conclusion that there is really no sincerity behind all this tall talk of restoring confidence of the alienated population. Absence of a law and order situation is being used as shelter for inaction. There is no movement forward on any front even as one hears terms like 'road map' and 'unique solution' being bandied about for the last three years. What is stopping the Government of India from unilaterally reinforcing the CBMs already in force, notably cross-LoC travel and trade? It has also been avoiding to resume dialogue with the separatist leaders under one pretext or the other. The attitude of indifference is becoming clearer with each passing day. Perhaps it is pathetically evident even in the failure of besieged Omar Abdullah whose frustration is now preventing him from repeating his earlier assurances to his own people that Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) would be removed, troop deployment ended in civilian areas and culprits in uniform responsible for murdering innocent citizens would be prosecuted 'during my tenure in office' before the next election. Ever since his 'second life' at the helm, a chastised Omar seems to have forgotten that lesson. But not his people who are only waiting and watching. No need to recall consequences of testing their patience for too long.






Severe man-power shortage coupled with strife in Kashmir valley and in some parts of Jammu region has adversely affected the working of the municipal committees in carrying out their day-to-day cleanliness and sanitation operations in most parts of Jammu and Kashmir during the past more than a year. This shortage pertains not only to the man-power required in the form of sanitation workers but also technically skilled personnel who are needed to drive the vehicles and machines engaged in these operations. No recruitment has been done during the past many years despite the fact that the proposals were put up before the highest authority in the government. The clearance for recruitment of sanitation workers and technical hands has been pending with the concerned authorities for years together. It was only the emergency situation in the beginning of last year that these workers were to be engaged in thousands when majority of them had either retired or deserted the civic bodies for better opportunities in other organizations within and outside the state. Jammu Municipal Corporation alone suffers from shortage of technical staff in hundreds if not in thousands and similarly, at least a thousand sanitation workers are required even to carry out

routine jobs in the city limits. The areas on the outskirts of the city and adjoining rural belt has been left to fend for themselves on the plea that they are to be taken care of by the local civic bodies which are hardly in existence after the terms of the elected bodies expired early last year. Same is the case with most elected bodies in Kashmir region where strife during the past more than a year has been having a telling effect on the sanitary conditions of the urban and rural areas alike. The summer capital city is wearing the look of a war torn town where no sanitation operation appears to have been taken in hand by the authorities for the past many months now. The efforts of the residents in their own localities have contributed only in creating new dumping grounds instead of removing the garbage already piled up for so many days. The man-power shortage and strict enforcement of restrictions on one pretext or the other on almost every citizen of the valley have not allowed anybody from undertaking these operations for maintenance of basic hygiene in the cities in particular. Any sort of human disaster is likely to happen if sanitation operations are ignored for long in the valley and many areas of Jammu region even during the winters.






WITH unremitting euphoria gushing forth from Tunisia and Egypt I went looking for Henry Mencken's exact words that might describe my reluctance to flow with the tide.

"A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin," he barked at me from what I imagined must be a flower-bedecked casket. Let me see if my self-alleged cynicism finds endorsement in the turmoil affecting those countries that strongly look to me like non-oil-producing parts of the Afro-Arab world.
Several questions come to mind at once. Is the upsurge part of the ongoing big game between China and the West for the untapped spoils - primarily oil - of Africa? If so, why did it take four decades or more of dictatorship for people to come out on the streets in the affected countries, and why now?

The Americans and, by implication, Israel, had self-admittedly 'missed' the Iranian revolution, so are they more prepared this time to not let things slide out of control? And what are the guarantees that the secular-religious alliance, which appears to be spearheading the movement in North Africa and is resonating elsewhere - Jordan and Yemen, for instance - will not implode with its contradictions or turn upon each other?

And finally, given that everyone with a big or remote stake in the unfolding drama wishes to settle the crisis in their favour, what is in it for Iran? Would there be an effort by the more deeply entrenched West to revive Arab nationalism - secular or religious - to become its cat's paw for an anti-Iranian upsurge? Or have the Chinese queered the pitch for the West already?

Clearly, there are no easy answers but let me attempt the last questions first. The timing of the upsurge in Tunisia and Egypt has by chance coincided with the revelations of a humiliating surrender of the Palestinian struggle by the West-backed moderates in the West Bank. With Hezbollah fortifying itself in Lebanese politics recently and Hamas handed a winner by the exposed diplomatic shenanigans, Arab despots and their 'revolutionary' successors alike would need to work for greater credibility with the Palestinians before any of them can begin to wean the issue away from Iran's grasp. Until then, a blow by any Arab state against Iran would fall short of the credibility bar.

On the other matter, why have the Chinese blanked out the turmoil from their Internet? They have done what they naturally do: switch off in times of flux. China has been camping in Africa since the days when it checkmated Soviet advance in the continent. As part of this effort, China provided arms and military equipment and helped build roads and railroads.

Since the late 1990s, China's policies towards Africa have been closely linked to the objectives of its major state-owned company, China National Petroleum Corporation, in tapping African oil and gas. China had invested in 27 major oil and natural gas projects in 14 African countries by the end of 2005.

Subsequently, its oil imports from Africa increased at an annual rate of 30 per cent, slightly higher than that from the rest of the world at 26 per cent. Angola accounted for half of China's oil imports from the continent and narrowly overtook Saudi Arabia to become China's top crude oil supplier. Leaning on Africa was part of China's move for a back-up to the volatile Gulf.

There is no genuine reason not to see the happenings in Sudan, which borders Egypt, as intertwined with the overall unrest witnessed in Africa. The western-led religious bifurcation of oil-rich Sudan is part of the game. China has benefited from its experience in Sudan. About half of China's equity oil comes from Sudan, and 65 per cent of Sudan's oil exports go to China.

It was not without reason that French President Nicolas Sarkozy called a meeting of African states in Nice in June last year where for the first time he tacitly acknowledged the success of China's expansion in Africa by calling on French businesses to emulate it.

Without mentioning Beijing by name, Sarkozy declared it was time for Europe to use infrastructure investment along with development aid and fight to increase its influence in Africa once again.

"Africa is our future . the African continent is asserting itself more and more as a major player in international life," said Sarkozy. The summit spurred Europe's new drive to step up its investment in Africa and imitate China's successful formula of undertaking infrastructure projects and supporting private investment to win hearts and minds.

In a battlefield, which Africa is poised to become as Nelson Mandela's sagacious presence wanes with age, winning hearts and minds would be a maudlin strategy. Scorched-earth tactics are a better option. Tunisia, a French outpost, and Egypt, an American buffer zone for Israel, were required to be overhauled as political vehicles for a larger strategy.

There is a flaw in the game plan though. China has the demeanour and the capacity to sleep off the North African revolution, which it suspects is heading for a tame draw. There are too many interests including among the so-called revolutionaries to accept anything more adventurous.

Lessons from history back up this view. Right from the democracy movement against Zia's dictatorship in Pakistan or the Janata Party experiment against Indira Gandhi's totalitarian rule, left-right alliances have ended in victory for the right. Iran was another example where the communist Tudeh party was the bulwark of the revolution before it was hijacked by the mullahs. Tudeh was decimated.

In Egypt and Tunisia, the stakes are too high for an Islambouli prototype to be ushered in. That leaves the secular protesters to do their bit - to check the food crisis and runaway inflation when they are given power. But we didn't need revolutions to run food ration shops, did we? I wonder what Mencken would have said.

The writer is Dawn's correspondent in Delhi.

jawednaqvi@gmail. Com







In life people like to get your jugular, which generally is your weak spot, and that weak spot is what you always considered your strong spot!

I go through this often as a writer; in the middle of all the mail I get from my readers, sits one which tells me in no uncertain words that I am a lousy writer.

"Lousy writer?" I ask myself. And suddenly my self-esteem which has taken a plunge shouts from a thousand feet below, "Yes a lousy writer!"

A few days ago, this came in the form of my voice: I was made to feel I had the worst voice in the world. I came home forgetting I had been the voice for many performances, including some prestigious ones, and had also lent it for a famous lady tabla player's recording of her CD and so many, many other occasions:

Like a deaf mute I drove back home.

It was toward evening that day, a friend met me with this story of a five hundred rupee note:
A well-known speaker started off his seminar by holding up a 500 rupee note. Looking at the room of two hundred people, he asked,

"Who would like this 500 rupee note?"

Hands started going up. He said, "I am going to give this note to one of you but first let me do this." He proceeded to crumple the note up. He then asked, "Who still wants it?" Still the hands were up in the air.
"Well," he replied, "What if I do this?" And he dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, now all crumpled and dirty. "Now who still wants it?" Still the hands went into the air.

"My friends, you have all learned a very valuable lesson. No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth Rupee 500/-."

Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way. We feel as though we are worthless. But no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value.

"So Bob how do you feel?" asked my friend after telling me the story and noticing that my spirits had lifted.
"Just a minute," I said as I burst into full-throated song, a verse from the Sound of Music:

I have confidence in sunshine

I have confidence in rain

I have confidence that spring will come again

Besides what you see I have confidence in me!.

"Bob!" said my friend wearily as he looked at me, "Maybe I shouldn't have told you this story, the world was a better place without your singing..!"




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






Policy makers in the industrialised economies moved away a long time ago from focusing on headline inflation — reflected through the wholesale price index. They recognised that this is influenced by volatile movements in food and fuel prices — as India is discovering. So policy makers shifted focus to the underlying inflation trends, or core inflation. The wisdom of this is now evident in India; the regular headlines on soaring food inflation (a cumulative price increase of over 40 per cent in the last two years) serve to highlight the stress on household budgets, but there is little that the government can do about onion and vegetable prices if farmers do not respond to the incentive provided by higher prices and produce more. Macro-economic policy has to focus on the underlying inflation trends, yet there is hardly any attention given to this in even the business press.


 Consider the inflation data for December. Wholesale price inflation was 8.4 per cent, with food prices up 13.5 per cent and fuel 11.2 per cent. Non-food manufactured items were up only 5.3 per cent. If that last number reflects India's version of core inflation, the question to be asked is the Goldilocks question: is it too high, too low, or about right? But the question is not asked because the government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) continue to focus their forecasts on the over-all inflation rate. At this time last year, they were forecasting 5 per cent inflation by March 2010. That was not to be. Then the RBI put out a target of 5.5 per cent for March 2011; it has now changed that to 7 per cent. But the forecast continues to be with regard to the headline inflation rate, which the RBI cannot control (did anyone anticipate Egypt, and its impact on oil prices?). Surely, it is time policy makers shifted their focus to core inflation.

Time for some perspective. The inflation rate in India over the past decade has averaged 5 per cent. The RBI would like that trend rate to drop to the 4-4.5 per cent range. If one assumes that long-term inflation in food and fuel will be more than in other items, core inflation would have to be about 3.5 to 4 per cent. So it would appear that the underlying inflation trend (at 5.3 per cent in December) was 1.3 percentage points too high, and the RBI is right to be tightening monetary policy.

But the manufacturing sector does not function in a vacuum. It is affected by rising prices of commodities, which are its raw materials. In an environment of sharply rising fuel and food prices, and of commodity prices in general, producers of manufactured goods will be forced to increase their prices too. Thus, car companies and producers of consumer non-durables announced price hikes recently. It is unreasonable, therefore, to expect core inflation to be 3.5 to 4 per cent when overall inflation is not 4 to 4.5 per cent. When wholesale prices are 4 percentage points higher than the ideal, is it unreasonable if core sector inflation is 1.3 percentage points higher than the preferred trend rate?

If the RBI aims to hit a 7 per cent headline number by March when oil and food prices continue to climb, as they did in January, the only way to achieve the target headline number would be through a really tight monetary policy and much higher interest rates that will shrink manufactured product inflation to no more than about 2 per cent. That will crimp demand with a vengeance and take away pricing power from producers. But is that what the country needs, or wants — especially when the impact on food and oil prices will be marginal?








Exogenous shocks like rising global fuel prices and bad weather can start feeding into the general price level, if food prices rise sufficiently for labour to demand higher wages


When the Union minister for what was then a comprehensive portfolio covering both Food and Agriculture said he was responsible for the prices of five stockpiled commodities, and not for "tomatoes, onions or lady finger", he put his finger on the central structural problem with the current inflation, which is that no one really seems to know where responsibility lies.

It became necessary for the prime minister to convene meetings of officials concerned, when such a group should have been routinely wired into the system. A government cannot function if it requires the personal intervention of the prime minister to sort out problems ranging from unfinished sports venues for major international meets, to the price of onions.

There is the macro problem of the general price level, which at its core measures the inflation-generating dynamic in the system, responsibility for which is shared between the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the Union Ministry of Finance. Superimposed on the core are the exogenous shocks that can come from a rise in world fuel prices (going on right now), or from adverse weather events (like the unseasonal rains which destroyed the onion crop in Maharashtra). These non-core elements in the price rise can begin to feed into the core, if food prices rise sufficiently for labour to demand, and succeed in getting, higher wages to preserve some fraction of their earlier purchasing power (also happening).

Decisions with respect to fuel and food carry difficult trade-offs. Whether to let the rise in world fuel prices pass straight through the system, or protect the consumer with a subsidy buffer or reduced domestic fuel taxes, is basically a fiscal issue. There are also trade balance implications of a subsidy buffer, which prevents the consumption response to a price rise from restraining imports. Everything depends on how long the world fuel price rise is expected to continue. Then there are choices within fuels, of whether to subsidise diesel but not petrol, whether to phase in the price rise and at what rate, and what long-run structural changes in the transportation system are planned as an alternative if the personal fuel-powered vehicle is ruled out as an option for most people.

The exogenous shocks in agriculture this time, it is true, came from the horticultural fringes rather than the main foodgrain crops. But it is this fringe that needs the closest monitoring. Crops in India are divided into those carrying minimum support prices (effectively, not just nominally) and the rest. The situation is further confounded by the fact that effective support is operative only in selected regions. When the farmer is faced with a choice between price-protected and other crops, the choice is dictated wherever the land is capable of producing both. Horticultural crops carry the highest price volatility, as all consumers know, and from a purely risk perspective, would be the least attractive crop for a farmer to grow. These, therefore, need the closest watching for area sown, expected arrival on the major mandis, and contingency options for failure of arrival.

The onion crop failure this time should have been fully foreseen officially, but was not. The wholesale traders on the other hand did, and stepped in to hoard. There clearly was a key absence of the kind of official market intelligence which should have picked this up. The rain which destroyed the crop signalled the problem sufficiently in advance for imports to have been arranged well ahead of time.

Data feeds of this kind into price projections have to be routinely structured into the system, completely protected from the political coloration of whoever may hold the ministerial portfolio at the time. The information basis for inflation control must be technically driven, with no possibility for political interference. At the end of the day, inflation control is a political issue, where inflation tolerance and the willingness to test that tolerance are necessarily subordinate to the ideology of the government in power. But the technical information that feeds into it has to be clearly separable.

While it is true that foodgrain inflation has currently tapered off, foodgrain price levels today, relative to five years ago, reflect stagnation in productivity, at a time when rural wages have risen. Whatever the nature of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) works in place, they have not had any discernible impact on agricultural productivity. The poor offtake of employment under the scheme in some states like Goa and Punjab is a reflection of the disparity in rural incomes over the country, and should have been a matter of pride to the states concerned. Instead, the MNREGA is being seen as an entitlement to public employment that should be equally accessed across states. As initially conceived, the scheme was meant to redress inter-regional inequalities at a nationally uniform wage. Even though the original Act of 2005 specified only a uniform nominal floor, and explicitly stated that the wage offered could differ by region, the implicit intent was to permit cross-state wage variation with reference to a spatial price index, such that there is real uniformity in the offered wage across the country. The underpinning for the cross-state pattern of new wage rates legislated in January 2011 is not clear at all.

Food has now very simply been priced beyond the reach of many people in terms of levels, even if food inflation has slowed relative to non-food. The boundaries of entitlement to food security have to be drawn in such a manner as to benefit those who cannot get food security through a workfare scheme like the MNREGA. Unless the direct food entitlement is directed to the residual poor, who are unable to access the MNREGA because of disability, or locational disadvantages, there will be a horrible divide between those with access to both, and those with access to neither. The MNREGA by its very design requires a clustering of claimants. If the Food Security Bill targets the scattered poor, it will be both fair and fiscally manageable.

The author is honorary visiting professor, ISI Delhi







Partners, not rivals. That's how the two men who lead India and China, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Premier Wen Jiabao, described the relationship this December. Yet just two weeks later, two other men on a motorbike laid bare the difficulties of achieving that goal. After reports that Chinese soldiers had transgressed into the Demchok area of Ladakh, fears of an "incursion" set off alarm bells. It took statements from the ministry of external affairs, the army chief and even the air chief to put things into perspective. The incident, small as it was, and diplomatically controlled as quickly as it was, is just one of many pinpricks on the India-China road that deflates relations, and diverts New Delhi from both the nature of the "rival" and the avenues for "partnering" it.

Both aspects came sharply into focus on a recent visit to Beijing, to attend a conference organised by the international department of the Chinese Communist Party and the Observer Research Foundation. China, especially its youth, wears its nationalism on its sleeve. According to a Pew survey in 2009, 87 per cent of Chinese respondents were satisfied with the direction the country was headed in. That adds up to considerable gross domestic confidence, a sense of zonghe guoli, that is, of China becoming a "comprehensive, major power". Much of the confidence comes from the world's recognition of China's strength. In 2009, China became the world's largest exporter. In 2010, it became the second-largest economy. In 2011, it will be the world's debt-keeper. When Vice-Premier Li Keqiang travelled to Europe in January, he was given a head of state's reception, after China's bailout of Spain's national debt, and saving Greece and Portugal from bankruptcy. China now holds an estimated 10 per cent of the eurozone's national debt. A CCTV report called Li, "Europe's knight on a white charger." President Hu's trip to Washington too was dominated in the press by China's trillion-dollar holding of US securities.

Perhaps the greater sense of pride, and a greater sense of worry for the world, is the confidence of the People's Liberation Army (PLA). China now has the world's largest army, with 10 per cent of the world's military personnel marching in its ranks. The PLA is seen as driving China's external relations too — from the flexing of muscles in South China Sea that rattles Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and Indonesia, to the stapling of visas for Indians and sending troops and nuclear reactors to Pakistan. As one US-based Chinese professor put it, "Economically, China and these countries have never been closer. Strategically, they've never been farther apart."

Eventually, it is this new face of brash China that India must recognise and engage with. After all, India will soon develop its own confidence as a power whose growth rate will soon outstrip China's, and one that will have a demographic edge after 2015 (with China's one-child policy burdening its youth six-fold — two parents and four grandparents for each child to support). While foreign ministry officials and their think tanks in Beijing will stick to the old themes of boundary disputes and India's asylum to the Dalai Lama, interactions with the younger party leadership are marked instead by new possibilities.

So, instead of concerns over tunnels and roads constructed close to the Line of Actual Control, the conversation turned to the joint control of the $2 billion Myanmar gas pipeline agreed on last year. ONGC's international arm OVL and GAIL are investing more than a billion dollars for a 12.5 per cent stake in the pipeline to be built by China's National Petroleum Corporation.

Also in discussion was the possibility of jointly developing hydel projects in Nepal, especially projects that India already holds lien on. Three Indian and three Chinese companies are vying for the Nepali 450 MW Upper Tamakoshi Hydropower project, for example. Since most of the hydropower generated in Nepal will have to be bought downstream here, India may do well to use the technological expertise of the country with the world's largest hydropower capacity, China, for win-win solutions.

Finally, it is the possibility of bringing Chinese Railways across the Himalayas to India that excites officials in this "New Chinese" dispensation. In 2010, China produced the fastest train in the world, and began to make good on its dream of a rail-line from Kunming to Singapore, cutting across Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Taking advantage of China's considerable abilities in rail-building will require many in India to let go the fear factor and consider what such infrastructure could mean for developing our north-east instead.

"India and China must show the world they can work together," Ai Ping, the Vice Minister for South Asia in the CCPC's international department told CNN-IBN, "They must get together and do one big infrastructural project

in the region."

Ai's focus on partnerships beyond the two countries is futuristic, and a far cry from the present situation where China is outbidding India on port, road, mines and electricity projects in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, while India has blocked granting contracts to Chinese companies in the recently concluded TAPI gas pipeline from Turkmenistan.

The interesting part is young Indians and Chinese aren't waiting for the governments to collaborate before finding ways to deal together. Language for starters: On this visit our delegation functioned at official meetings without interpreters for most part, and hundreds of Indians now throng Chinese language courses.

A young Indian businessman in Delhi who frequently travels to Shanghai, and is fluent in Mandarin, summed up the way forward in partnering a rival who is also a close neighbour. When asked if there was an upgraded, Chinese equivalent to the worn-out phrase "Hindi-Chini bhai bhai", he said, "Xiongdi shuiyou xiaofeng er bufei yiqing". "Big friendship," he explained, "mustn't be disturbed by small winds."

The writer is deputy foreign editor, CNN-IBN








K Subrahmanyam was amiable, conscientious, dedicated, forthright, talented and an inspirational thinker. Civil servants after retirement generally go to seed. But Subrahmanyam never retired. He gave so much to life and got so much out of it; he was a man of great moral passion. He was creatively consistent and so often right. He was a pioneer. Subrahmanyam single-handedly educated us on the complexities of security and strategy. He was in my judgement a one-man think tank. But he was also an institution builder. I cannot claim intimacy, but I knew him reasonably well. A conversation with him was a lesson; a memorable experience. The tributes paid to him are a testimony to his national stature. I recall a laudatory centre piece he wrote in The Times of India about my role as secretary general of the 7th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit held in New Delhi in March 1983.

I got to know his son, Jaishankar, when I was external affairs minister. He is one of the brightest stars of the Indian Foreign Services. I extend my sincere condolences to the family.

The turmoil in Egypt is a seismic event. Is it a revolt or a revolution. Either way, Egypt has changed. Mr Hosni Mubarak is a strong and stubborn man. The conclusion that his authority is diminished, his image tarnished and his current policy discredited, is inescapable.

Ten days ago, I spoke to an Israeli academic friend in Haifa. I asked him if Tunisia would have an impact on Egypt and other Arab nations. He answered that this was most unlikely. The regimes in Cairo and Amman were sensible, stable and strong. A week later, I called him again. He said everyone was completely surprised when Cairo exploded. Every Israeli was anxious and worried. It is well known that Israel has one of the best secret services in the world. Both Egypt and Jordan have diplomatic missions in Israel. No other Arab country does. The intelligence agencies of Israel, the US, Egypt and Jordan are in touch almost daily. Yet, all were caught off guard.

The US is confronted with a very worrying situation. Mr Mubarak is, or was, the favourite Arab leader in Washington. As one of the largest and most populous Arab countries, it is the heavyweight in the Middle East. The US, Egypt and Israel are the powerful trio for containing Iran. If Mr Mubarak were to go, then the US foreign policy in the Middle East will be most adversely affected. The peace process will be indefinitely halted, and Arab nations will be jittery.

Mr Mubarak began as a NAM supporter. He attended the 7th NAM Summit in March 1983. As secretary general of the summit, I saw him at close quarters. Soon he embraced the US. He forgot about the Nehru-Nasser-Tito era. He lost interest in India. Awarded the Nehru Prize in the mid-nineties, he did not turn up to collect it for nearly 15 years.

What is happening in Tahrir Square does President Mubarak no credit. He has let loose thugs in the Square to hit at the anti-Mubarak protesters. Yes, he has provided stability, but at what cost? His announcement that he will continue till September is both incomprehensible and staggeringly arrogant. His political antenna is facing the wrong way. Although the Egyptian economy is doing reasonably well, 40 per cent Egyptians live on $2 every day. Unemployment is nearly 10 per cent.

A peculiar Arab phenomenon is that the Arab dictators do not retire. Mr Mubarak has been at the helm since 1981; Mr Gaddafi since 1969; Mr Bouteflika of Algeria for over 20 years. The president of Yemen has been misruling for 33 years. Mr Ben Ali stifled the Tunisians for 23 years. Mr Assad senior was president of Syria for 25 years; he was succeeded by his son.

I am asked, "Could this happen in India?" My answer is an emphatic "No". Democracy has taken root in India. In the Arab world, it hasn't. Our diversity is our strength. The experiment of Emergency strengthened the democracy of India. There is no dictatorship here.

Why do Americans send third-rate and insensitive diplomats to India? Of course, exceptions are there: Ambassadors Chester Bowles, Ellsworth Bunker and J K Galbraith. The American woman in the US establishment in Hyderabad should be recalled.

A series of discourtesies has been inflicted on Indians by the US establishment. Ambassadors Meera Shankar and Hardev Puri were recently shabbily treated. Now the Indian students in a bogus US university are reduced to a semi-criminal status. Prominent Indians have been denied visas. Let me name just one — Prof Goverdhan Mehta, Fellow of the Royal Society, the president of the Indian National Science Academy.


The government should have handled the Karmapa issue with greater sensitivity and confidentiality. No doubt, irregularities have been committed but ham-fisted dealings are no way to go about in such cases.








Ahdaf Soueif, the acclaimed Egyptian writer, and possibly the best-known internationally after the late Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, has been in India at least a couple of times recently. I met her briefly at the Jaipur Litfest last fortnight but, in May 2010, shortly after she won the first Mahmoud Darwish award, named in memory of the Palestinian poet, I recorded a long interview with her. Our conversation was both literary and political because Soueif, like Nadine Gordimer, Mahasweta Devi and Arundhati Roy, is both novelist and activist; it is worth recounting some of what she said to understand what has gone so horribly wrong in that ancient and troubled land.


 A few words about Ahdaf Soueif: she has been a professor of English literature at both Cairo university and colleges in Britain and writes in both Arabic and English; she is a passionate crusader for Palestinian rights, starting the Palestine Literature Festival and publishing her collected essays in Mezzaterra: Fragments from the Common Ground (2004). But much of her fame rests on her bestselling novel The Map of Love (2000), a romantic story, with two timelines set in 19th century and contemporary Egypt. The two stories are interlinked; in the first, a young Victorian widow travels to Egypt and marries an Egyptian nationalist who is murdered by a conservative political faction; in the 1970s narrative an American researcher comes to Egypt to excavate her past and that of her Palestinian lover. Will the past again tragically revisit the present? Among the many unsettling questions the novel raises is how much or, in fact, how little Egypt has changed in the past century, especially in its volatile relationship with the West. Here is the writer on the subject: "I was struck by parallel ideas of the world becoming a smaller place. The other thing I was struck by were the demands of the Egyptian people as expressed in popular feeling. In 1882 there was an uprising in Egypt against the rulers; today there are similar resentments."

Nineteenth century Egypt, a satellite of the Ottoman empire, became a British protectorate in 1882 at the instigation of Muhammad Tawfiq Pasha, until the army revolution of 1952 led by "free officers", of whom the charismatic but autocratic Gamal Abdel Nasser became leader and introduced Arab socialism. But the repressive hand of the "free officers" became heavier: first under Anwar Sadat and, since 1981, under the increasingly authoritarian former air force commander Hosni Mubarak. In Ahdaf Soueif's words, "Today many of the demands are actually the same — an end to foreign influence, paying off of Egypt's debts, running the economy to benefit its own people, a free press and so on. These continue to be the same demands of 110 years ago." Asked about political freedom, she bluntly replied: "Everybody knows that elections in Egypt are not free and fair. For example, the mechanism by which a candidate is selected for the presidency is not really conducive to democratic choice. Also a large section of the population is uneducated. So there is no way that we can describe Egypt today as democratic."

Indians can feel comfortable in Egypt because of a certain familiarity, from the chaos of modern Cairo to the line of ancient monuments to words and phrases in spoken Arabic; but travel deeper, away from the Nile delta, into the western desert or across Sinai as I have done over several trips in the last 20 years, and it remains a parched and backward place, blighted by ancient poverty. There is a robust middle class but joblessness, rampant corruption and other frustrations have turned them into sympathisers of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, many of whose votaries languish in jails. In the cities the battle of the hejab has won, turning a liberal, cosmopolitan society into ultra-conservative, Arab-influenced milieu. Prescient though her writings are, even Ahdaf Soueif could not have predicted the mammoth scale of protestors demanding change in Egypt.







Like it or not, Islam is the charged centrality in our daily news headlines. Not just the Arab world or Afghanistan, it seems to lie behind a broad range of international disorders: suicide attacks, car bombings, military occupations, resistance struggles, riots, jihads, fatwas, guerrilla warfare, threatening videos and 9/11. But can these things be taken as an Islamic phenomenon without taking into account the principal elements of the ground situation in different parts of the world? What if Islam never existed? Remove Islam from the path of history, would the world have been a different place: no clash of civilisations, no holy war, no terrorists? What if that weren't the case at all?

Graham Fuller, a former CIA station chief in Kabul who later became a professor of history and author of numerous books on the troubled Arab world including The Future of Political Islam now comes with A World Without Islam (Little Brown/Hachette India, Rs 595) in which he says the world wouldn't be much different from what it is today: "deep-rooted conflicts that still exist over ethnicity, economics, warfare, armies or geopolitics … don't have anything to do with Islam and indeed existed long before Islam came into existence."


 In his attempt to investigate whether there was something unique in Islam that breeds violence and conflict, Fuller divides his book into three parts. Part One, "Heresy and Power" spans the rise of Mohammed to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire; Part Two, "Meeting the Civilisational Borders of Islam" has chapters on Islam in India and China and Islam in the West: Loyal Citizens or Fifth Column?: and Part Three, "The Place of Islam in the Modern World" with chapters on colonialism, nationalism, Islam, and the independence struggle and war, resistance, jihad and terrorism. As Fuller puts it, "I try to run through a whole lot of events and take Islam out of the equation and see what we are left with." But these chapters are a kind of bird's eye view of events; they cannot be taken as a definitive account of the histories of the period.

What it all boils down to is the idea that there is a continuity of geopolitics and grievances across the whole Islamic world that doesn't need Islam to explain it. Rather, Fuller sees Islam – actually religion – as a banner in that Islam provided the organising principle for the Muslim empire that took over much of the world.

To elaborate his point that it is politics that calls the shots in the final analysis, Fuller takes the struggle over oil and energy in the Middle East as a case in point. "If the area were Chinese, would the region be any more accepting of big western oil companies trying to come in and dominate these things? And he adds emphatically: "I don't think so," with which most of us would agree. Fuller hastens to add that while he believes nothing would change with or without Islam, he was not advocating a world without Islam. All he was focused on was the nature of the struggle between the East and the West and whether "Islam plays a significant role in that".

It is politics that decides the course of events, which he means the struggle to control natural resources and the means to have access to them. If this calls for tough diplomacy leading to military action, as often happened in the past, so be it: it is always self-interest dictated by vital economic interests that determines the course of history.

Thee underlying theme in book is the relationship between religion, power and the state. Fuller argues that the close relationship between religion and the state over much of western history has affected Christianity and Christian history vastly more than it has affected Islam and the Islamic world. For us, in India this would be hard to take because all round us from north Africa down to Malaysia we see the rise of Islamic states with other religions marginalised into the background. This makes many believe here that Islam is the most assertive force in both state and society, even in the secular West.

It isn't surprising that Fuller has thrown in his bit on the clash of civilisations debate. He looks into the relationships between Islam and other major civilisations — Western Europe, Orthodox Russia, Hindu India and Confucian China, and the shifting accommodations that were reached between them; "cross pollination resulted" which suggested that Muslims managed their relationships with other cultures and religions with far greater sophistication than "commonly portrayed in more lurid and simplistic confrontation scenarios". This would be accepted by secular historians here and where clashes took place they were more in the nature of "ethnic confrontations which may or may not have been augmented by religious differences on either side".

The last part of the book examines some modern aspirations of the Muslim world, beginning with a look at the history of the Muslim struggle against colonial powers. Since much of the book is situated in the Middle East, it is the struggle against western imperialism that is elaborated here. But this has similarities with the anti-imperial struggles particularly in Asia, thereby providing a common bond between Islam and several other cultures that were confronted by the West. Fuller's conclusion is simple: If there is a "problem with Islam" there is a problem with the West as well.







From Egypt to Jordan, from Yemen to Nepal, people are angry with rulers and politicians and are finding new ways to register their protest. In Egypt and Yemen they are on the streets. In Nepal, they are slapping politicians. Shoes have also been used.

Devi Prasad Regmi, a disgruntled supporter of the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), could not have known, when his right hand came into contact with a left cheek in January 2011 in Itahari, that the smack he was delivering was to the future Prime Minister of Nepal, Jhalanath Khanal. All he knew was a sense of deep frustration at the political leadership of Nepal, for having been unable to elect a prime minister after seven months and 16 attempts. Khanal (who later forgave his assailant) said: "Gnats and flies make no effect at all" (sic).


 Khanal was elected prime minister after Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal "Prachanda" opted out of the contest, and the Maoists voted en bloc for the CPN-UML. Khanal got 368 votes, of which 238 came from the Maoists. So clearly, the tail is going to wag the dog.

A previous meeting in Kathmandu attended by the Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-UML, where Prachanda proposed his candidature as PM, paved the way for Khanal's election. Both groups said they would be ready to support Prachanda if he abided by three conditions: announce the exact number of Maoist combatants in camps and on the streets; spell out the modus operandus of integration of combatants into the Nepal Army; and take irreversible steps to segregate Maoists from official state militias.

That Prachanda opted to reject these conditions and told his party Khanal should be supported is significant. His party colleague, Babu Ram Bhattarai, appended a note of dissent on behalf of his followers — so a section of the Maoists has deep reservations about the move.

What does that say about Khanal's future? And what implications does his appointment have for India?

First, rather than becoming prime minister, Prachanda decided that the Maoists can still reclaim power from the streets through mass mobilisation and protest campaigns which include a calibrated use of violence and intimidation. This premise is yet to be tested, and now, since they are supporting the government, will get even less chance to be tested. On the other hand, there is even less compulsion on the Maoists to transform themselves into a democratic party upholding the rule of law. The pressure to implement past agreements – renewed at least 14 times – to return property seized during the war and dismantle the paramilitary Young Communist League is now absent.

What does that say about the peace process? It gets even more gridlocked. Earlier, the Maoists used to say that India was the regressive force in Nepal, because New Delhi wanted its proxy in Kathmandu. Now, because a Maoist-supported government is in place, this argument is no longer valid. If anything, there is a Maoist proxy in place in the prime minister's palace, known as Baluwatar. The portfolios and names of his ministers have not been announced yet. But it can safely be conjectured that a large number of Maoists will now become ministers.

Democratic parties like the Nepali Congress are now in the opposition. So are a majority of the parties representing the plains (Terai), known as Madhes. Madhesis are seen as being influenced by India. How will the government handle Madhesi politics? A splinter group of Madhesis is likely to join the government. Will this make ethnic politics in Nepal more cohesive or less? In terms of ground-level politics, violence on the open India-Nepal border cannot be ruled out.

A standoff between the Nepal Army and the government of the day cannot be ruled out either. After all, Nepal's current crisis was triggered by Prachanda's sacking of Chief of Army Staff, General Rukmangad Katowal, who was seen as the main hurdle to the integration of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) with Nepal Army and the consolidation of their power base. General Katowal was dismissed without Cabinet approval. This unilateral decision led to the collapse of the Maoist-led government. Now a regime is in place that represents the very same forces.

The only variable is the prime minister. Jhalanath Khanal has long argued that there can be no political solution in Nepal without the Maoists. In this he does not have the full-throated support of his own party. But now that he is prime minister, will he be able to take some hard decisions? Will he be his own man? Will Indian business still be singled out for "violation" of Nepal's laws? Will the UML-led government in Kathmandu keep its pledge of correcting the trade deficit between India and Nepal by buying petrol and other items from other countries? Will demands to rewrite treaties between the two countries be revived?

India's experience is that governments in which the tail wags the dog are rarely stable. Moreover, they get very little done by way of tough decisions. So Nepal may have a prime minister and government in place but is likely to be headed for another spell of suspended animation.







Global growth may be rebounding, but labour markets are not, or only very weakly and unevenly. Global unemployment is at a record high for the third year in a row and shows no signs of abating in the near future. Weak labour markets are dragging down growth and threatening the recovery.

These findings, part of the International Labour Organisation's (ILO's) Global Employment Trends 2011 report, cast a long shadow over the jobs recovery.


 Only in certain developing countries such as Brazil, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Uruguay have unemployment rates fallen below pre-crisis levels. For most of the world, especially for the developed economies, the jobs crisis is far from over.

In 2011, global unemployment is estimated to remain stubbornly high, with more than 200 million people out of a job and a global unemployment rate of 6.1 per cent.

Young workers are in an especially vulnerable position. The global youth unemployment rate stood at 12.6 per cent in 2010 and in some countries it exceeds 30 or even 40 per cent. In the developed countries and the European Union region, it is estimated at 18.2 per cent, while in North Africa it stands at 23.6 per cent and in West Asia at 25.1 per cent. The ILO has long been warning that high youth unemployment and underemployment could turn into social unrest and threaten social cohesion. This is now happening in some countries.

Technically, the economic crisis is over, but the jobs crisis is certainly not, especially when we look beyond open unemployment.

Unemployment numbers do not include discouraged workers: those who have lost hope and are no longer searching for a job. The ILO estimates there are 1.7 million young people in this category in 56 countries with available data. There is also the quality of jobs and incomes to consider: involuntary and part-time employment continues to grow, with the uncertainties and lower incomes that this entails. The same goes for long-term unemployment, and the associated destruction of human capital and employability, which threatens to turn a cyclical phenomenon into a structural one. In developing countries, the positive long-term trend towards reduction of vulnerable employment and working poverty has been interrupted by the crisis.

This is not to say that the policy response to the economic crisis has been wrong. Without the vigorous fiscal and monetary stimulus measures introduced by governments, there would not be an economic recovery to speak of.

However, we shouldn't let the current economic growth mask the fact that the jobs crisis is not yet over. With 205 million unemployed worldwide in 2010 – almost 28 million more than in 2007 – and with many millions more stuck in vulnerable employment or working poverty, how real is the rising tide of economic recovery for workers and people?

It is clear that the world is not all on the same boat: some are in yachts, others in dinghies; others do not even have lifebuoys.

Unless we want to see more pictures like those coming out of Tunisia in recent days, employment growth must become a number one priority for governments around the world.

Placing employment promotion at the heart of recovery efforts makes perfect economic sense: it boosts aggregate demand, increases growth potential and strengthens the foundations for a sustainable future. So, what is needed?

First, this was a crisis of aggregate demand and the key question for recovery is how to boost it again. Where consumption and investment remain weak, the only remaining driver is fiscal and monetary stimulus. But a combination of public austerity and private deleveraging is not a good recipe for job creation. This is not to say that, particularly where debt-to-GDP ratios and fiscal deficits are "too high", fiscal consolidation should not be a top policy priority. However, in such cases, a credible fiscal strategy within a medium-term framework seems better than "shock treatment".

In economies where investment is still below pre-crisis levels, policies and incentives are needed to stimulate private investment, innovation, improve competitiveness and boost labour productivity. As for consumption, a policy of wage increases in line with productivity growth would avoid deflationary pressures while supporting the income of wage earners.

Large export-oriented emerging economies need to rebalance growth by boosting domestic consumption, something which is already happening but could be accelerated by increasing social protection and better aligning wage growth with productivity growth.

Other measures to help stimulate labour demand and accelerate a jobs-rich recovery include: ensuring credit flows, in particular to small and medium enterprises; investments in training; well designed temporary subsidies to hiring; active labour market policies to stimulate job search; entrepreneurship promotion measures; and public investments in infrastructure.

The global community set a very strong precedent at the height of the economic crisis by coming together to tackle the immediate effects of the recession. We can have a stronger and jobs-rich recovery by putting that same effort and commitment into making employment our number one goal.

The writer is executive director of the Employment Sector, International Labour Organisation









The Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) headquartered in Delhi was looking to recruit 416 tradesmen. A tradesman is a non-gazetted grade IV employee, typically tailor, cobbler or gardner. The pay-scale starts at Rs 5200 per month.


ITBP is basically a mountain trained force engaged in border vigilance and also relief and rescue. The ITBP had not recruited tradesmen for the previous three years, and this year's recruitment was to fill the backlog. They set up a recruitment camp near Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh thinking that they could wind up the work in a day. The recruitment process required applicants to come and register themselves, get a token for a physical test, and then go through other tests. To their utter shock, almost 2 lakh aspirants showed up at camp Bukhara, the site of recruitment. These youth had come from eleven states, from as far away as Malda in Bengal, on the border of Bangladesh. The recruiters couldn't handle the load, and soon stopped registration. So all hell broke loose as the youth felt unfairly shut out, not even getting a chance to appear for the test.


The fury of youth denied, knows no limit. They torched buses and destroyed property, and went home. Another tragedy awaited. Twenty job aspirants sitting on the roof of the express train were crushed to death, as the train passed a low lying bridge. More mayhem and bus burning. Criminal charges have been filed against 20000 youth, ITBP and railway officials, even district administration. The ITBP has suspended the recruitment, and gone back to inviting applications by email. Why didn't they think of that first?


In March last year, in Kalina grounds too there was a deadly stampede at a police recruitment mela where almost 50,000 showed up for about 1000 jobs. These mob of job seekers don't plan, they are not on facebook, nor do they know beforehand how big is the competition pool. But surely the job advertisers know, since in Mumbai they had sold 75,000 application forms in advance. One person was crushed, nay trampled to death when the gates opened in the morning to let job seekers in.


When there is such a mad scramble for even low paying government jobs, you wonder how robust is the economy, even though it is chugging along at a healthy clip of 9 percent. The fact is that our economy has not been able to generate "good quality" jobs in large numbers. These are jobs which are stable, and pay health and retirement benefits. Every year 2 crore new people enter the job market. But most of them end up working in temporary or casual jobs, with no long term stability, or health or retirement benefits. That's why half of India's workforce (of 45 crores) is actually self-employed. But if you asked them, most of them would prefer any day to get a secure job. Indeed the National Sample Survey indicated that 40 percent of India's small and marginal farmers would gladly leave farming, if only they could find gainful employment. Since 1990, there has been near zero growth in the organised sector employment. During this period, the national product has more than tripled, and workforce has almost doubled. So has the growth been jobless? Yes, mostly devoid of the growth of "secure" jobs.


Hence it is no surprise that whenever a small window opens up either in the police, or BMC, or in the railways, there's a huge scramble. Remember the violence against "outsider" job seekers? No wonder that the leader of MNS has asked Maharashtrian youth to focus on railway recruitment. That is, at least fill out the forms in large numbers. Without a stampede.







CIRCUMSTANTIAL evidence on who stood to gain from companies associated with the issue of telecom licences in 2008 is accumulating, as shown by the story in this newspaper on Friday on a chain of intercorporate loans leading up to a television channel owned by DMK chief Karunanidhi's family members. It is unlikely, going by past experience, that such evidence will suffice to establish a clear linkage, of the kind that will stand up to legal scrutiny, between malfeasance in the allocation of licences and professed commercial transactions between companies. Investigating agencies must probe further to establish the needed hard evidence. It is important to establish culpability in specific instances of wrongdoing. It is even more important to carry out systemic reform that will create space for political formations that do not depend on corruption for its financing. At present, for any political party to presume to take the moral high ground on corruption would be to invite derisive dismissal, with black references to pots and kettles. This is because, in the absence of an institutional means of funding, political parties have come to utilise corruption as the means to finance political activity: patronage is sold, as in the case of licences and leases or selective access to privileged information, state power is used to extort money from people in need of any kind of government service, or money is taken out of the exchequer through commissions on procurement, inflated contracts and under-delivery in government schemes. This has perverted the entire process of governance, suborning the bureaucracy and corrupting many civil servants as well. Money collected in the name of political funding has a habit of sticking to the collector for a major part, as well, converting politics as the shortest route from rags to riches for many. This system needs to change, and fast.


It is futile to expect any deus ex machina to bring about this change. The change has to be brought by the existing political parties and governments led by them. It has fallen to the UPA-II government to perform the clean-up. It must not shrink away from this task. It has the huge advantage of having at its head a man whose personal integrity no one questions. Dr Singh must take at face value UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi's call at the recent leadership meet of her party to clean up political funding and create a new law and IT-enabled audit and accounting framework to hold political parties fully accountable for every penny they and their representatives spend.






IN THE whole toing and froing between the government and Research In Motion (RIM), the makers of Blackberry, over access to Blackberry's closed user group traffic, what stands out is the government of India's total reliance on RIM's compliance to secure access to the traffic between two handsets that connect via an enterprise server. This is totally pathetic. True, in the case of a company that wants a slice of India's growing market for smartphones, the government might well be able to use browbeating tactics to extract compliance in the long run. But this reflects poorly on the government's technological savviness or preparedness to withstand cyber attacks. It is by now reasonably clear that Iran's nuclear plans have been dealt a major blow by deliberate infection of its critical computer systems with a sophisticated piece of malware, dubbed the Stuxnet worm. If a government cannot intercept the scrambled traffic between two phones without external assistance, can it protect itself against such sophisticated cyber attacks as the unleashing of the Stuxnet worm? Will a cyber attacker give either prior warning or helpful hints on identifying or remedying the attack? How does the government propose to defend India's vital security and nuclear establishments or even equally-critical commercial establishments from crippling cyber strikes? The answer is blowing in the wind, and it stinks.
    Without losing time, the government must give projects to all the Indian Institutes of Technology, the Indian Institute of Science and all the top software companies to develop the capability to monitor traffic and the means of cyber security. India must have indigenous capability for cyber defence and offence. It must have the intellectual capability and its deployment to corner a large share of the growing market for serious cyber security. What this calls for is the will to act, more than anything else. And the government must show its toughness in summoning this will to act, not against sundry hardware companies.








SECURITY bandobast at US airports has left many Indians rather ratty of late, what with enhanced patdowns ordered even for Indian envoys. However, the newest alternative to intrusive frisking is bound to leave at least the first few hundred people feeling like guinea pigs. The most sophisticated and expensive machines are often unable to distinguish the real bandicoots from the dormice in the rat race that is a modern day airport, so a simple mousetrap has advantages, if it can be demonstrably accurate. More so since rodents' opinions are obviously respected in the US. The entire country waited with bated breath on Groundhog Day this week to glean from Punxsutawney Phil, Dover Doug and other woodchucks' annual emergence from their burrows whether there would be six more weeks of winter, no matter what the weathermen had to say. If those furry forecasters can sniff out spring through mounds of snow with an average success rate of 90% as is claimed, there is no gnawing what mice can pry out in a scanner. Even if many may not think that a rat-down is a better bet than a pat-down, there does seem to be an element of poetic justice in employing a bunch of nosy mice to rat out drug couriers and carriers of bombs and explosives that cannot be detected by metal detectors.


Security forces everywhere are used to working with rodents anyway, as counter-intelligence and counter-insurgency operations depend quite heavily on rats, moles and weasels to ferret out information after all. The formation of a murine corps for special operations of this nature could be the perfect low-cost, low-energy — and therefore eco-friendly — way for countries all over the world to ensure that criminal vermin are sniffed out at the earliest.





SOCIAL sciences literature now recognises social, human, and cultural capital, in addition to economic and physical capital. Even though independent, different types of capital possess attributes of interdependency and reciprocity. Simply, this means that even social capital can be transmuted into economic capital. And, women groups repaying loans to microfinance institutions through frequent instalments in a group setting exemplify social capital at work.


The underlying idea, as Robert Putnam found in the Italian rotating credit associations, is that membership in associations (or SHGs) generates trust and norms of reciprocity. Typically, SHGs are small groups possessing 'thick trust' (trust based on personal knowledge of other actors in the group) that makes responses of group members predictable and enforcement of loan repayment relatively easy; therefore, attracting financial institutions to lend. Accordingly, in social capital — relationships of trust embedded in social networks — the poor have a non-monetised resource that metamorphoses into loans and the attractiveness of the SHG model is founded on inclusiveness, the unique democratic accessibility of social capital, because all other forms of capital exclude the poor, ignorant, and unpropertied.


Furthermore, researchers agree that social capital is a multidimensional construct having several forms and two forms of social capital — bonding (that links people together with others like them) and bridging (social ties that cut across differences such as caste, class or religion) — distinguished by Avis Vidal, are generally accepted. Bonding social capital promotes exclusive identities, gives precedence to the group over community and generates specific reciprocity; in contrast, bridging social capital is outward looking, promotes acquaintances with different and distant people and leads to generalised reciprocity. Importantly, as the work of Xav Briggs has shown, the outcomes associated with the two forms of social capital are different. Bonding capital helps the poor to get by or cope with particular challenges (social support), as opposed to bridging capital that helps to change the opportunity set and get ahead in life (social leverage). Presently, lending activities of MFIs are primarily confined to lend and enforce collections drawing down on the social ties found in supportive groups. Recently, Dr Rangarajan, chairman of the PM's Economic Advisory Council, also referred to the "flawed business model" in which the MFIs primarily leverage on the existing social ties to engage in multiple lending, that too for consumption.


Additionally, insights available from a recent MIT study (Abhijit Banerjee and others, 2009) in 104 slums of Hyderabad show the importance of context while designing interventions for the poor. The MIT study found that pre-existing conditions of households matter. In response to MFI loans, households with existing businesses increase spending on durable goods (e.g., investment). Households with high propensity to start businesses, finding loan amounts to be inadequate to start businesses reduce spending on temptation goods (e.g., tobacco, alcohol). And, households with low propensity to start businesses increase spending on nondurables spending (e.g., food, marriage, illness). Therefore, the challenge, in addition to broadening and deepening ties, is to design specific interventions that are based on the existing business activities of households and their propensity to engage in income-generating activities. The fact that the bonding and bridging capital interact and mediation by intermediary structures is possible provides a useful way to access outside resources (build bridging capital) to transform social ties to economic capital.


DRAWING from practice stories elsewhere, MFIs can work as intermediary organisations to design deep contextual interventions. Households having pre-existing businesses will require social ties that provide more than mere emotional support and everyday favours. More useful are bridging contacts that can help them to get a crucial new idea or news of an impending market downturn or provide political and managerial access. The value of such bridging networks lies in the fact that they are not passive bridges, but are active links relaying important information and are also capable of endorsing (vouching for) the poor having limited access to money and other scarce resources. For households with little propensity to do business, the MFIs intervention will include training and other support to help the households — including those with no formal schooling or language skills — to acquire and practise 'public life skills' to earn more than subsistence wages that only help them to cope with daily life.


Research by Michael Woolcock and others is increasingly pointing to the contribution of such linking social ties to help the poor to expand their opportunity set, for example, getting jobs through external contacts. Finally, for households with high inclination to engage in income-generating activities, getting ahead in life will require training and other support, such as leveraging funds from the government and locating funding sources to meet their complete fixed and working capital needs.


All in all, social capital is about relationships; therefore, freely accessible to the poor and the common availability differentiates social capital from other forms of capital. The MFIs have mainly limited themselves to using the existing bonding capital in groups to lend and recover. However, the simple but crucial support/leverage distinction and the fact that the two forms of capital interact and mediation by intermediary structures is possible have the potential to give competitive advantage to the poor by broadening and deepening their social networks and the MFIs can purposefully facilitate the development of meaningful bridging ties by working as intermediary organisations to help the poor to get ahead in life and move beyond the support networks that only help them to stay where they are and only cope with calamities of life.


(The author is an IAS officer.

    Views are personal.)






ARVIND Dham began steering the Amtek Auto group in 1987 when the company was merely supplying connecting rods to Maruti Suzuki. Now, the diversified $1.3 billion auto component supplier boasts of customers including Tata Motors, Hyundai Motor India, Ford Motors and Hero Honda. The company is targeting a turnover of $3 billion in the next five years, hoping to ride on the boom in the domestic auto market, says Dham, chairman, Amtek Group.


A string of acquisitions across Europe and the US have helped fuel Amtek's growth. The company expanded operations in the 1990s and added exports to its orderbook. It completed over a dozen acquisitions and three overseas joint venture partnerships with Magna Powertrain in Canada, Neumayer Techfor in Germany and Sumitomo Metals in Japan between 2000 and 2008.


However, the global financial crisis in 2008 and the recession that followed hurt the component industry and Amtek was no exception. Component makers scrambled as car sales in the US, the largest export market, almost halved to 9 million in 2009 from apeak of 17 million the previous year. General Motors was bailed out by the US government, while Italian carmaker Fiat bought Chrysler. Order books shrunk and the downturn in the auto sector impacted its operations in markets such as the Germany, UK and the US.


"Unlike the European component makers the Indian industry did not face problems of overcapacity. The strong demand from the domestic market helped us cope during the recessionary phase. It also gave strength to Indian auto component makers to make sound acquisitions overseas," says Dham, an architect who returned to India in 1985 from the US to join his family business.


GM has turned around now, though Chrysler has some way to go. It reportedly lost over $199 million in the last three months of last year as the costs to launch new models and interest payments on its loans from the government shrunk its profits. Amtek, on its part, has drawn up a shortterm plan to restructure its overseas businesses. "All our subsidiaries are making profits. We are looking at a diversified role of overseas subsidiaries and de-risking business by venturing into hardcore non-automotive sectors," says Dham, also known to be a risk-taker.


However, with major economies yet to come out of the woods, the $26 billion domestic auto component industry does not want to take any chances. It is banking on a huge demand from India and other emerging economies to boost revenues and shore up profits. The Indian economy is growing at over 8.5% and the economic fundamentals are strong. A sustained GDP growth will push up demand for auto components even further. "The potential is so huge that we will not be able to meet the demand even if we exceed our production targets," says Dham.


Car sales in India crossed two million in 2010. The company hopes to cash in on this boom, with over 62% of its revenues coming from the car segment. It hopes to capitalise on the significant capital spends over the last three years. Amtek's medium-term strategy for the auto segment covers improving utilisation is all sites and focusing on core strengths that include forging, casting and also niche products. The company that makes components for cars, two-wheelers and commercial vehicles in the auto-segment as well as for locomotives, aerospace and railway wagons in the non-auto-segments, is looking at further technology improvements through its joint ventures.


Currently, the auto segment accounts for over 82% of Amtek's revenues, with the balance 18% coming from the non-auto segment. The goal is to raise the share of revenues from the non-auto segment to 25% over the next three years.


Listed group company Amtek India has now become a subsidiary of group flagship Amtek Auto. There have been changes in equity structure as a part of this exercise, with private equity players Warburg Pincus and ChrysCapital raising their stake in Amtek Auto by 2% each recently. "We are also been working on restructuring its auto parts business to bring all local and global group companies under the flagship Amtek Auto. The attempt is to synergise the entire automative business. It would help the subsidiaries have a consolidated control over commodity purchases by the group," says Dham.









THE outcome of a longstanding cooperation between the The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) of Delhi and two French institutions, the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) and the French Development Agency (AFD), the 2011 issue of the annual work on sustainable development, A Planet for Life, is being officially released during the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit. While global discussions have often turned their attention to biodiversity, the climate, or environmental governance, our 2011 book focuses on oceans, considered as the new frontier of human activity.


Oceans have played a defining role in our history, our cultures, our economies, our capacity for innovation, our integration in globalisation. Links between continents, their role in great explorations and, in modern times, the trade of merchandise is also at the heart of the dynamics of globalisation. Yet, this theme is too often left to specialists. Today, technological innovation has made all oceans accessible to human beings. The distance from the coastline or their depths no longer constitutes insurmountable obstacles. For us, oceans are the next frontier. The question is clear: will we be able to do away with a predatory exploitation model and think up the sustainable management of these new resources? This article will illustrate three aspects of these links between the ocean and sustainable development.


The first aspect is the role of oceans as a stock of resources essential for human activity, partially unblocking the limitations of land resources. The promise of oceans is immense, from exploration and exploitation of marine biodiversity to the discovery and exploitation of old and new sources of energy, passing through the enhancement of knowledge of the planet or the development of sports or touristic activities. But the example of fishing reveals all the challenges that the use of these resources poses: a negotiated share of access, adherence to established rules, disciplined exploitation to avoid overexploitation and the exhaustion of stocks and respecting surrounding ecosystems. And the example of disasters arising from oil drilling or the transport of dangerous commodities emphasises to what extent risks should be better appreciated and responsibilities better defined. Because overexploitation is already obvious, as reflected in the depletion of certain stocks of fish or the pollution and destruction of ecosystems.


The second aspect concerns connections between oceans and the climate. We now know that oceans play a major role in the functioning of the planet's climatic system and that changes in the climate, particularly those arising from human activities, affect the capacity of the oceans to play properly their role as regulator, without which life becomes impossible. It also changes the balance between oceans and lands, a sensitive issue for many little islands threatened with disappearance. This understanding of oceans as an essential element of the planetary ecosystem reinforces the necessity of not only protecting them but also fighting climate change, and highlights the oceans both as an instrument and a goal of this fight. This brings us back to one of the constants of sustainable development: this is not about protecting an area — be it biodiversity, climate, or specific sites — but understanding that our modes of development have set interaction between human beings and their natural surroundings on an unsustainable trajectory.


The third aspect has to do with international collective action. However, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea now appears to be fragmented and incomplete in part. Its amendment responds to sets of problems similar to those concerning global governance: protection of threatened territories or, like the Arctic — containing considerable fossil resources — regulation of economic activities, such as fishing and sea transport, regulation of property rights, management of police and conflicts, etc. The freedom of the seas is often synonymous with non-law and the race for resources is faster than the building of common rules.
    Our book throws light on the recent transformations that have drastically changed today's maritime world, the complexity of organising its sustainable use as well as the perspectives that should lead to making tomorrow's activities compatible with the preservation of ecosystems. It offers suggestions for constructing a governance of oceans by drawing on regional experiences, shows the necessity of instituting new regulations for dangerous activities such as offshore drilling. Through the numerous challenges they throw to the international community, the oceans call for redefining the basis of fair, legitimate and efficient global governance. We would like this collective effort to contribute to nurturing the dialogue between our countries on sustainable development and governance of globalisation.


(Jacquet is the Chief Economist of Agence     Française de Développement. Tubiana is the
    Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations)








IT WAS a polar bear that eventually led Ada Yonath to her Nobel Prize-winning breakthrough on crystalisation of ribosomes, which are cellular factories' crucial for protein synthesis of life. But before that came the Israeli crystallographer had to endure years of mockery and ridicule.


Her only fault was to have taken on a goal that everyone assumed was just impossible', she told your columnist recently while travelling together to the Indian Institute of Technology, Powai. It's the sort of saga one finds in great works of fiction, in C S Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia or Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy, for instance, where a lone heroine wages a battle of wits against orthodoxy entrenched in power and conceit. And she, too, gets help from polar bears.


Unlike Goldilocks, however, Yonath did not encounter her bears in the flesh and blood. Instead, while recouping from a bicycle accident, Yonath read about an article about bears and seized upon an observation that just before hibernation their ribosomes begin to cluster together in packed arrays to protect them from degradation. This allows protein synthesis to resume upon their reawakening.


In hindsight, Yonath surmised correctly that conditions could be recreated for an orderly assembly of ribosomes that would be compatible with crystallisation. But at that time she was roundly criticised for envisioning something that was deemed to be impossible.


"They gave me all sorts of names," she recalled, "dreamer', even village idiot'." But she could ignore her critics because of her strong personality. This came from early exposure to extreme poverty. Her father died prematurely. Her mother too wasn't well and there was a baby sister.


By 11 she was already working and taking care of her family. "Survival is far more complicated, much more demanding (than doing science)," she says. "You can always try another approach; even change your subject when a scientific strategy or experiment fails. But when you are hungry you are hungry!"


Yonath and colleagues had to make a staggering 25,000 attempts before they succeeded in creating the first ribosome crystals. But critics kept questioning. Some accused her of lying. So how did she keep her faith? "I had my results; plus my curiosity, not the desire for money or fame. Doing science itself was fun. The insights were pure bliss, bonus."







Corruption and shoddy policymaking in the coal sector have stymiedthe prospects of competitive bidding that would allow for better use of mineral resources.

Just a few days ago Mr Pranab Mukherjee expressed concern at the rise in commodity prices in world markets. He was looking in the wrong direction because domestic input costs have been moving upwards and are now set to rise considerably higher with the projected shortfall in coal production next fiscal. The Coal Minister, Mr Sriprakash Jaiswal, has confessed that output is likely to fall short of the projected demand of 696 million tonnes by around 83 million tonnes. This, of course, means that coal prices will rise in keeping with the tendency of other items, such as eggs and vegetables, to shoot up on extended demand. In any other economy, producers would have responded to the extra demand by increasing production, thus bringing down prices; India is different: policymakers step in, often rather late in the day to import the shortfall. That is what Mr Jaiswal intends to do with coal.

In agriculture, structural problems and a long history of indifferent investment may explain the inability of farmers to respond in true market style to rising demand, but there is little reason for the coal industry to do so, except that it is largely government-owned. That is a very potent factor explaining the deficit in the supply of raw material that is for industry what fuel is for a car. For decades the coal sector has been riven with corruption and sloth, made worse by local, mafia-type interests in the coal-rich States. Illegal mining has taken a toll, just as the inability of New Delhi policymakers to move the Mining Policy across Parliament has stymied the prospects of competitive bidding that would allow for a more efficient use of mineral resources under the ground. Meanwhile, and partly as a result of this slothful policy, the opposition to any form of exploitation in the regions rich in natural resources has muddied the allocation of coal blocks. The Environment Minister, Mr Jairam Ramesh's scheme to protect ecologically sensitive areas with "No-Go" coal block tags has got other policymakers pretty miffed and the fate of 193 coal blocks hangs in the balance even as the country runs up a looming shortage. Furthermore, the monopoly of Coal India, whose chairman admitted last year that 33 out of the 78 projects are unviable and need an additional Rs 5,000 crore to turn around, will only exacerbate the shortfall and provide the excuse to jack up coal prices.

When the Coal Ministry decides to import that additional 90 million tonnes, as it must, North Block should calculate the extra notches inflation will rise; most of all, the Finance Minister should know who to blame.






Cotton should not be made available cheaper to our textile competitors. CCI should sell without discount and on the same terms to all.

The textile industry and cotton farmers are once again in the clutches of the licence and permit raj. With the onset of the global financial meltdown, all commodity prices crashed, and cotton was no exception.

India, however, increased the support price of cotton substantially, by over 40 per cent (a pre-election year benefit given to farmers). This brought more acreage under cotton cultivation. As global prices were below our support prices, private traders could not buy seed cotton at support price levels from the farmers.

Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) and NAFED had to buy most of the seed cotton as a part of the support price mechanism. They did a good job, buying over 65 per cent of the cotton grown. Farmers were protected from the fall in global cotton prices.


However, CCI played havoc while marketing the cotton it procured. Its pricing was arbitrary. It gave huge discounts to very large traders with up to six months of interest-free carrying. Soon after making bulk sales at discounts, CCI increased prices, forcing mills to buy from those privileged traders.

To add to this, the Agriculture and Commerce Ministries came out with a curious policy of giving incentives to cotton exports with retrospective effect. It is alleged that 15 exporters benefited by over Rs 600 crore as a consequence of this incentive for the previous years' exports!

It is also alleged that the large recipients of this bonanza sold their DEPB scripts at much lower than market prices to nominated middlemen. The country lost over Rs 1,400 crore by way of unnecessary incentives to exporters, including deep discounts and long interest-free periods.

Meanwhile, exporters were able to sell our cotton to competitors in China, Pakistan and Bangladesh at up to 10 per cent lower prices.

While cotton exports were being subsidised, our government reduced the export incentives given to value-added textile exports such as yarn, fabrics and garments. At the same time, our competitors increased incentives to their textile manufacturers.

The Indian textile industry suffered as a consequence of this move for almost 18 months. The government and the Reserve Bank of India advised banks to reschedule loans.


The new Minister met various sections of the textile industry and came out with positive initiatives.

— CCI was asked to be more transparent. But as international prices are above support prices, CCI can no longer create havoc.

— Export incentives given to cotton were scrapped.

These moves were appreciated. But they led to too many vested interest groups approaching the Minister with a sector-specific agenda.

Instead of ensuring that cotton was not sold to our competitors at a lower price than to our mills, the spinners managed to get the export of cotton brought under licence and permits.

This caused domestic prices to rule at substantial discounts to international prices, making yarn exports hugely profitable at the cost of the farmer. This made yarn prices shoot up in the domestic market. The government acted by denying the refund of taxes paid to yarn exporters. Removing the artificially high DEPB was in order but denying the refund of taxes paid was curious.

However, yarn exports continued in spite of the tax refund being denied, as cotton prices were lower than international prices. Yarn manufacturing capacities increased at breakneck speed, at the rate of over three lakh spindles each month, with another 20 open-end machines being added each month.

The quantity of yarn available for exports rose steeply. Global cotton shortage and rising per capita income in developing nations provided a vibrant market for yarn exporters. The government denied the yarn exporters the tax refund but took it into calculation while arriving at the duty drawback given to fabric made-ups and garment exporters. The value-added sectors got Indian yarn at 3-4 per cent lower than the prices at which the overseas value-added exporters were purchasing Indian yarn.

But, strangely enough, garment exporters asked the government to bring yarn exports under licence and permits. They were trying to artificially depress the domestic yarn market and bring down input prices, which were, in any case, 3-4 per cent less than international prices. The government, having brought cotton at the behest of spinners under licence and permits, extended the licence and permit raj to yarn. The spinners got a taste of their own medicine.


Small garment exporters, which do not have adequate working capital funds, were dependent on credit from the fabric and yarn suppliers. This source has completely dried up, thanks to the change in market conditions.

Until a year and a half ago, the Chinese government was giving its fabric exporters high incentives and the fabrics imported from China were much cheaper than the domestic fabrics. Garment exporters were importing Chinese fabrics.

The fabric-making capacity in India did not grow as, until a year ago, yarn exports enjoyed 100 per cent more DEPB benefits than fabrics, making fabric exports non-profitable.

Fabric manufacturers were mainly catering to the domestic markets and a part of the garment and made-up exporters' demand. Today, as the anomaly in export benefit has been corrected, fabric exports are growing and investment in fabric making is once again becoming profitable.

However, as the TUF scheme has not yet been announced, investment is not taking place at the required pace.


The garments sector has to contend with the following problems: lack of working capital; domestic market eating into garment export capacities; increase in labour costs and slow modernisation; and high pollution costs due to economically unviable zero discharge requirements.

Therefore, a policy should address the following:

— Never make our raw materials or value-added products available cheaper to our competitors by way of prospective or retrospective incentives

— CCI should play the support price mechanism and, if and when our support prices exceed international prices, buy and sell cotton at prices linked to international prices. There should be no discounts for any customer, big or small.The terms should be uniform for all.

— Restore all refund of taxes to all sectors and remove quantitative restrictions at all levels

— Facilitate ocean-based marine disposal-based processing parks by involving the Environment Ministry, and

— Improve the databases and use them intelligently.

(The author is Managing Director, Loyal Textile Mills Ltd., Chennai.)



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




 "Don't call it a day

Its proper name is night...."

From Aisa nahin bolneka

by Bachchoo

In India on a scattered tour — no not taking in any literary festivals — I am reading Patrick French's book India, which is sub-titled Portrait of a Country. Somewhere near the beginning he writes about the truth of Indian caricatures and reproduces some jokes he says have been circulating on the Internet. Being in Kolkata as I write this, and having arrived in this city to chair a literary evening and a poetry launch, I shall only reproduce the one about Bengalis, even though the equivalent sequences about Malayalis, Tamil Brahmins and Gujaratis which he quotes are very telling and amusing:

"One Bengali: Poet

Two Bengalis: Film Society

Three Bengalis: Political Party

Four Bengalis: Two political parties".

French says that he will refrain from quoting the ones about Biharis and Uttar Pradeshis because he wants to avoid the ceremonial burning of his book.

Nevertheless, the formula of the joke is an invitation to make up one's own. I have essayed a couple about Muslims, Hindus and Christians, but will on the French Principle of Safe rather than Sorry, not put them in print here — not because I fear the newspaper will be bonfired, but because I don't wish, myself, to call it a day yet. Much safer to use the formula and make a joke against one's own identity. And being a Parsi here goes:

One Parsi: Constitutional lawyer

Two Parsis: Gay couple in Kolaba

Three Parsis: Joint family conference

Four Parsis: Central Bank's annual staff picnic

And the one about Sardarjis? Er — no, no! My dad always said never pick on easy targets. And I am not a Sardarji, but then I am a non-resident Indian (NRI) of sorts:

One NRI: World-rich-list entry

Two NRIs: Anti-racist society

Three NRIs: Clumsy Bhangda group

Four NRIs: Indian literary festival

What strikes one about these formulations is not only that they contain grains of truth coated in humour, but that Indians, except the real cissies, grievance-merchants and ambulance-chasers tolerate these caricatures without any obeisance to political correctness.

This may be because political correctness is a Western affliction, born as a guilty compensation for the outrageous histories of colonial superiority, slavery and racist persecution. The inhibition which causes the West to address the ex-colonials and the blacks liberated from slavery in respectful terms without any possible derogatory connotations is not a voluntary move in the great Western intellectual tradition. Political correctness came to the West through the success of protest and struggle. The Afro-American civil rights movement and the militancy of American black power were aimed at securing material rights, not at eliminating racist jokes. But the material rights are difficult for societies to bestow. Conscientious individuals within the society could re-educate themselves to at least give the black population the linguistic concession of not using derogatory terms to describe them.

Other political movements which characterised the movers as victims followed and expanded the taboos of political correctness to include, under their protective and prohibitory umbrella, all races, genders, sexual-preferences, sizes of people, disabilities and even mothers-in-law.

In Germany, the guilt of what the Nazis had done caused succeeding German governments to pass laws against Holocaust denial. Anyone who knows modern Germany knows that on this ground, the discourse of race or ethnic superiority, Germans tread very self-consciously indeed.

No such inhibition stops some nations and populations calling other people kaffirs or assuming, in violent contravention of any possible test or justification, that they are somehow "more chosen" than people or nations that hold different religious, moral or political beliefs. No political correctness towards minorities, women or anyone else there.

In India we have since gaining Independence, having been the underdogs of the freedom struggle, generated a strange brand of political incorrectness. It is very strange to explain to people whom one is arguing with what the phrase "scheduled castes" means. One tells them that it literally means people or sections of the Indian population who are mentioned in the "schedules" of the Indian Constitution.

What then are these "schedules"? Well, they are appendices to the Constitution which recognise that certain sections of our people, owing to the caste system and the existence of tribal populations who are not in the main dwellers of the plains, have been historically underprivileged. The Constitution of India seeks to identify them and mark them out for concessional treatment or special advancement. Hence the names "scheduled castes" and "scheduled tribes".

Okay, one has crossed that hurdle with one's interlocutor still wondering how the word schedule (pronounced "Sked-yool" if he/she is an American) can connote anything more than a timetable one has determined to follow.

Then there is the problem of the phrase "backward castes" and even "other backward classes". Nowhere else in the world would such a blatantly factual categorisation exist. The word "backward" in any nation's English, doesn't simply mean "deprived". It would be hard to convince a Westerner that people actually vie for these labels because they could confer political privileges on them. In a sense, these labels, which we bandy about without a second thought, may indicate that we Indians are averse to committing the sin of political euphemism.

While checking in to my hotel in Kolkata I was asked to produce some photo-identity. I wasn't carrying my passport or my Person of Indian-Origin card, both of which have photographs. It seems one can't get on flights or through some bureaucracies without this pictorial proof. Luckily, I had my British driving licence with the picture of someone who looks vaguely like me on it and produced the pink card for the perusal of the hotel receptionist and all was well.

"What do people who don't have passports and driving licenses do?" I asked.

The obvious answer was that they don't take flights and don't check into hotels so the question doesn't arise and Pritish Nandy, my host at the Kolkata occasion, said as much. "But what if they wanted to; would they provide a ration card or something with their photograph on it?"

"There are no ration cards anymore", said Pritish. "They call them BPL cards."

I asked what these were.

"Below Poverty Line", Pritish said. Now shall we know even as we are known!






Inside Tahrir Square on February 3, I met a carpenter named Mahmood whose left arm was in a sling, whose leg was in a cast and whose head was being bandaged in a small field hospital set up by the democracy movement. This was the seventh time in 24 hours that he had needed medical treatment for injuries suffered at the hands of government-backed mobs. But as soon as Mahmood was bandaged, he tottered off once again to the front lines.

"I'll fight as long as I can", he told me. I was awestruck. That seemed to be an example of determination that could never be surpassed, but as I snapped Mahmood's picture I backed into Amr's wheelchair. It turned out that Amr had lost his legs many years ago in a train accident, but he rolled his wheelchair into Tahrir Square to show support for democracy, hurling rocks back at the mobs that President Hosni Mubarak apparently sent to besiege the square. Amr (I'm not using some last names to reduce the risks to people I quote) was being treated for a wound from a flying rock. I asked him as politely as I could what a double-amputee in a wheelchair was doing in a pitched battle involving Molotov cocktails, clubs, machetes, bricks and straight razors.

"I still have my hands", he said firmly. "God willing, I will keep fighting". That was Tahrir Square on February 3: pure determination, astounding grit, and, at times, heartbreaking suffering. Mr Mubarak has disgraced the twilight of his presidency. His government appears to have unleashed a brutal crackdown — hunting down human rights activists, journalists and, of course, demonstrators themselves, all while trying to block citizens from Tahrir Square. As I arrived near the square in the morning, I encountered a line of Mr Mubarak's goons carrying wooden clubs with nails embedded in them. That did not seem an opportune place to step out of a taxi, so I found a back way in.

So did many, many others. At Tahrir Square's field hospital (a mosque in normal times), 150 doctors have volunteered their services, despite the risk to themselves. Maged, a 64-year-old doctor who relies upon a cane to walk, told me that he hadn't been previously involved in the protests, but that when he heard about the government's assault on peaceful pro-democracy protesters, something snapped. So early morning, he prepared a will and then drove 125 miles to Tahrir Square to volunteer to treat the injured. "I don't care if I don't go back", he told me. "I decided I had to be part of this."

"If I die", he added, "this is for my country".

In the centre of Tahrir Square, also known as Liberation Square, I bumped into one of my heroes, Dr Nawal El Saadawi, a leading Arab feminist who for decades has fought female genital mutilation. Dr Saadawi, who turns 80 this year, is white-haired and frail and full of fiery passion.

"I feel I am born again", she said, adding that she intended to sleep with the protesters on Tahrir Square. She also suggested that instead of being sent into comfortable exile, Mr Mubarak should be put on trial as a criminal; that's a theme I've heard increasingly often among pro-democracy activists.

There's a small jail in Tahrir Square for pro-Mubarak thugs who are captured, and their ID cards indicate that many are working for the police or the ruling party. Mr Mubarak may claim that he's unhappy about the violence in Cairo, but he caused it — and the only way to restore order in Egypt and revive the economy is for him to step down immediately. I'm encouraged that the Obama administration is reportedly discussing with Egyptian officials ways to make that happen.

Countless Egyptians here tell me that they are willing to sacrifice their lives for democracy. They mean it. But I've heard similar talk in many other countries in the throes of democracy movements. Unfortunately, usually what determines the fate of such movements is not the courage of the democracy activists but the willingness of the government to massacre its citizens. In that case, the survivors usually retreat in sullen silence, and the movement is finished for a time.

Whatever Mr Mubarak is planning, it does feel as if something has changed, as if the Egyptian people have awoken. When I needed to leave Tahrir Square, February 5, several Egyptians guided me out for almost an hour through a special route so that I would not be arrested or assaulted — despite considerable risk to themselves. One of my guides was a young woman, Leila, who told me: "We are all afraid, inside of us. But now we have broken that fear". The lion-hearted Egyptians I met on Tahrir Square are risking their lives to stand up for democracy and liberty, and they deserve our strongest support — and, frankly, they should inspire us as well. A quick lesson in colloquial Egyptian Arabic: Innaharda, ehna kullina Misryeen! Today, we are all Egyptians!





Given the times we live in, it is not surprising that an effort to establish a financial institution run on Sharia or Islamic principles should arouse anxiety, not curiosity. Thus, a decision of the Kerala government to give sanction to the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation to start a non-banking finance company based on Islamic principles has been challenged in the Kerala High Court. It is to the credit of the judiciary that it upheld the government's decision. The court rightly held that the joint venture with government participation was to be run in accordance with Islamic principles as well as the law of the land. As such, it could neither be seen to be at odds with the secular principles enshrined in the Constitution nor as a means to support or promote a particular religion. The High Court pointedly noted that the government's intention was to derive commercial benefit from the enterprise, and that money from the exchequer would be paid to an institution which did not propose to engage in religious activities such as preaching or propagation. Islam forbids making a living off interest as interest is not seen as accruing from an honest day's work done, unlike commerce or industry. Indeed, Muslim societies down the centuries have thrived on trade. If an observant Muslim abjures interest earnings, it is hard to see how this injures the spirit of a democratic, liberal and secular order in any manner, as the petitioners sought to suggest. From time to time established Muslim businesses in the country have desired to run commercial institutions, including banks, on the Sharia basis of eschewing interest payments. While the unrequited demand for such enterprises has not been quantified, it is well known that Islamic banking products are offered by leading banks in the West. Assets in this category were estimated at about $400 billion in 2008, compared to $100 billion in 2000 — a four-fold rise in as little as eight years. Many Muslims in India stay away from banks in the fear that normal banking practices are not in keeping with their religious norms. In order to mop up savings from such an extensive source, it makes sense to let banks tap into this vein. This should enlarge the country's capital base and help direct it to desired objectives. The High Court order has permitted the setting up of a non-banking financial company. On the strength of this, it is possible to take the next step of moving toward Islamic banking within the confines of the normal laws of the land. All aspects of the Sharia are far from being violative of the spirit of modern democratic life. Indeed, in many respects, the guiding principles of Islam are meant to mould societies in the direction of equity. There is no need to be apprehensive about any of this in a country which has the second largest Muslim population in the world. Unfortunately, atrocities are being committed on ordinary people — mostly on Muslims themselves — in the name of the jihadists who profess political Islam. It is probably this which raises concerns about giving grounds to Sharia rules in any aspect of life.







As President Hosni Mubarak fights for his political survival in an atmosphere singed by the flames lit in Tunisia last month, we have moved beyond the fate of one individual. His effort to dig in after offering a symbolic sacrifice of his next term in September after 30 years in power appears to be a footnote in history even as it is capable of prolonging the Egyptian misery. It was par for course that President Mubarak should first offer palliatives to win over protesting masses in Tahrir Square and then send in thugs to break protesters' heads, a familiar pattern of intimidating voters or stubborn protesters. The question is: What comes next?

With Egyptians continuing to demonstrate their fury, some aspects of the dramatic developments are clear in an otherwise murky scenario. Tunisians proved the unlikely heroes in what could be a new Arab renaissance but people in one Arab country after another were so totally frustrated with their lot that it needed a mere match to set off the conflagration. A predominantly young population is facing poverty, unemployment and large doses of repression, refined with national characteristics. Second, the Arab world is in the process of losing its distinction as being the only region seemingly unaffected by the winds of change sweeping every other nook and corner of the planet. The Yemeni leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh, a ruler of 32 years' standing, has sought to buy time by promising his people that neither he nor his son would contest the next election. Third, the dramatic role of the Al Jazeera satellite Arabic television channel, which has also spawned a sophisticated English language cousin, in energising the Arab street has been remarkable.

Undoubtedly, a combination of circumstances was responsible for the Arab phenomenon of autocrats ruling their peoples through emergency degrees for decades: American and Western interests (also Soviet interests during the Cold War) in the oil and gas riches and Washington's supreme interest in preserving Israel even as it is squatting on occupied Palestinian land since 1967 and absorbing more and more of it.

No wonder that Egypt receives some $1.3 billion of US military aid every year, next only to Israel's, for helping promote a phoney peace process and bottling up the Gaza Strip under Israeli blockade.

Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab countries with peace treaties and full diplomatic relations with Israel. Egypt, as the most populous Arab country and the traditional heart of the region, despite its somewhat diminished status, holds the key to the building of a Greater Israel. Despite periodic American lectures on democracy, in particular from President George W. Bush, Washington was quite content to rely on the seemingly permanent President Mubarak to guard the Israeli flank.

Among the most nervous over the prevailing Egyptian unrest is Israel, which would gladly give him asylum if he asks for it. But he has said he would prefer to remain and die in his home country.

The WikiLeaks revelations of the Israeli and Arab worlds were the most stunning of the lot, but whether the tsunami that has hit Egypt and the region can be described as the WikiLeaks Revolution, as it has been dubbed by some, or not, the scale of Palestinian concessions to Tel Aviv and Israeli disdain have come as a psychological shock to the common man in the entire Arab world. Perhaps it was a contributory factor to the Tunisian awakening and its knock-on effect on a range of countries, including Algeria, Yemen, Jordan and, most important of all, Egypt.

How the script will run from this moment — Friday (February 4) was dubbed (Mubrarak's) Day of Departure — is not entirely clear. As US President Barack Obama's comments on Egypt have got blunter each day, one scenario being promoted by Washington is for President Mubarak to step aside and his newly-minted vice-president Omar Suleiman, an old confidant and handyman appointed for the first time in 30 years for precisely such a contingency, to prepare for constitutional and other changes in consultation with Opposition leaders leading to a presidential election in September. In his first interview during the crisis, to Christiane Amanpour, Mr Mubarak said he was tired of his onerous burden and wanted to leave but only after ensuring that there was no chaos, not unexpectedly highlighting fears of the Muslim Brotherhood taking over. He was justifying his announced decision to stay till September.

There are particular circumstances of each Arab country infected by the freedom virus but they share many problems. Indeed, if Nasser was the leader of the pan-Arab movement that once galvanised the entire region, Al Jazeera is now playing this role. Amid the Arabs' many problems is the sense of hurt, seldom publicly expressed before in quite this fashion, to their dignity, which has been trampled upon by one ruler after another. Freedom is being doled out in small, often microscopic, doses in an often-arbitrary system of injustice. They are now being empowered by Al Jazeera.

There will doubtless be many twists and turns to this story of Arab empowerment. Every regime has built its own elite of vested interests who would hate to lose their power and pelf. In Egypt's case, the role of the Army needs to be redefined. Somewhat incongruously, it has a good equation with the people, perhaps because the conscripts come from villages and the Army compares favourably with the enormous security apparatus consisting of secret agents in plain clothes and vicious thugs. Whether a new era can be born in Egypt under the wings of the Army has still to be demonstrated.







THE general council of the DMK brazening out the arrest of its former telecom minister, A Raja, by terming it an opposition ploy to malign it on the eve of election to the Tamil Nadu Assembly ~ saying that it wasn't an indication of guilt ~ and the Congress iterating its fidelity to the DMK-led alliance in which it is a major partner, portends that the minister need not fear prolonged imprisonment. Sukh Ram, the first Union telecom minister to be arrested 15 years ago on a comparatively minor corruption charge, though convicted and sentenced to three years' rigorous imprisonment by the trial court, promptly obtained bail and his appeal against conviction is pending in Delhi High Court since 2006.  Shibu Soren, the only serving Union minister to be arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment by the trial court, was acquitted by  Delhi High Court and went on to become the Chief Minister of Jharkhand in 2008. Raja, a close associate of the ruling Karunanidhi family, with the full backing of the DMK and the alliance it leads, too can look forward to scaling greater heights in his political career, never mind the temporary setback inflicted on him. The CBI had no option but to arrest him for fear of being pulled up by the Supreme Court.


In its pyrrhic victory, the opposition seems to have lost sight of the immense harm done to national security and integrity by Raja in his single-minded pursuit of filthy lucre. By favouring Unitech and Swan in the allotment of 2G spectrum, Raja had opened India's telecom gates to Pakistan and China. Swan was given licences to operate mobile services in 13 of the 22 telecom circles in India on 10 January 2008.  Shahid Usman Balwa acquired Swan in partnership with VK Goenka and changed its name to Etisalat DB Telecom India Private Limited.


Within weeks, Raja helped Swan enter into a strategic arrangement with BSNL for free, called Intra-Circle Roaming Agreement, which helped the former strike a deal with the UAE-based Etisalat. Officers of the Wireless Planning and Coordination section in Sanchar Bhavan, who objected to the BSNL-Swan deal were shunted out. Etisalat sold 16 per cent of its shares to Huawei, China's telecom giant which already has a strategic alliance with Etisalat UAE. Balwa is suspected to be a front for Dawood Ibrahim, the man behind the Mumbai blasts, a proclaimed offender. The Etisalat group holds controlling stakes in Pakistan Telecommunications Corporation Limited, a joint venture with the Pakistani government.

Huawei Technologies, the Chinese telecom major, which now owns 16 per cent of the erstwhile Swan, is established and managed by Ren Zhengfei, a retired officer of the People's Liberation Army of China which fought the 1962 war against India and continues to make intrusions into our border areas. By the end of 2009, Huawei was the world's second largest telecom provider, ranking next to Ericsson of Sweden. The Chinese government considers the telecom sector to be one of the most strategically important industries and subsidized Huawei to the extent of $30 billion in 2009 against its total revenue of $22 billion. Huawei has drawn Congressional scrutiny for its efforts to expand in the USA. The issue now is no longer the revenue loss of Rs 176 lakh crore to the national exchequer, but of security, sovereignty and territorial integrity of India.



WITH yesterday's fellow-travellers now veering towards Trinamul, the Chief Minister has initiated moves to woo the Matuas, a subaltern group that boasts four million voters in crucial North 24-Parganas. Exactly a month after their spectacular rally ~ colourful if destructive ~ Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has laid the foundation of a college that has calculatedly been named after two of their icons. It is an open question whether this halfway house will serve to placate the Matuas ~ Hindus from Bangladesh ~ whose principal demand is for Indian citizenship. This is an issue that comes directly under the Centre's remit. It was just as well, therefore, that no airy-fairy assurance was advanced by the Chief Minister at Monday's ceremony. He certainly has been more realistic than his party's minister, Gautam Deb, and the Trinamul central minister, Mukul Roy, who shared the dais at the Matua rally in the last week of December. That itself illustrated the desperate anxiety on both sides of the political divide to woo this class group. The fact of the matter is that neither the CPI-M nor Trinamul can be sure of Matua support, so very crucial in the electoral stakes. The group's matriarch, Binapani Devi (Baroma) may have genuflected in the direction of Mamata Banerjee; but the attendance at the college function suggests that the Matua is testing the waters at a sensitive juncture, and that loyalties are split. So it is that while one section attended the Chief Minister's function, another abstained. The Matua may not trust either party if  the citizenship issue is not addressed. Short of that, any palliative may be no more than a cosmetic endeavour even if Mr Bhattacharjee claims that "we have performed our duty by establishing a college". That "duty" may have been discharged even without a demand being raised. The irony must be that the Matuas have emerged as a vote-bank for both parties even as the citizenship issue remains unaddressed. They are scarcely conscious of the constitutional implications. This class group may yet remain one of the imponderables on polling day.



ASSAM goes to the polls in April-May but the opposition Asom Gana Parishad is yet to speak from a position of strength. But its chief, Chandra Mohan Patowari, is confident of strengthening regionalism ~ which the party represents ~ and ousting  the "corrupt and arrogant" ruling Congress. If in the past five years it has been able to achieve precious little, people would wonder how it hopes to achieve that in the next few weeks. Since losing power in the 2001 elections, the AGP has, more or less, been a party in name only. It could not shake the Tarun Gogoi government in the 2006 Assembly poll despite aligning with the communal BJP. In the 2009 seat-sharing deal with that national party for the Lok Sabha poll, the AGP discovered to its dismay that the BJP benefited more than it did and unilaterally severed ties. Senior leader Atul Bora even described this as a mistake. Now the party is reportedly thinking in terms of aligning with regional outfits but that hardly can be a source of comfort because the bigger ones like the Bodo People's Progressive Front and Karbi Anglong's Autonomous State Demand Committee are not likely to join hands for the simple reason that the AGP has little influence in these regions. The Bodo People's Front, headed by Hagrama Mohilary, is a Congress ally. It is difficult to see the AGP making a last-minute opportunistic arrangement with the Muslim-dominated Assam United Democratic Front. The AGP has never been a coherent team after its first term in office (1986-90), with senior leaders maintaining their own coteries and loyalists. Patowary has dismissed recent reports of dissension within the party, but unless something serious had happened a senior leader would not have threatened to quit and join the BJP. Only a charismatic leader can clear AGP's major hurdle ~ that of refurbishing the party's image.








AS the Year of the Tiger fades, it has been a year of drama and change. The last Year of the Tiger was 1998, an unforgettable year for the Asian financial crisis. As the Tiger year fades, there has been a regime change in Tunisia and big demonstrations for change in Egypt. The Year of the Wood Rabbit in a metal year means that some of the Tiger volatility might remain. Surprisingly, from the perspective of investors, 2010 was quite a year of recovery, thanks to Uncle Ben and his printing machine.

I will not try to predict the future, but will use the Chinese New Year to reflect on an important publication that reviews the lessons of the last three years of crisis. We need to study the past to understand the future.
On 27 January 2011, after 18 months of hard work, the US Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) Report was finally published, a 633-page document with more appendices to be published soon. This is an important historical document because it was based on comprehensive evidence called by the Commission on almost all the major players in the crisis. Mark my words, the facts are more astonishing than fiction.

The majority view of the report listed the usual suspects: the crisis was due to human faults, with widespread failures in financial regulation and supervision; failures of corporate governance and risk management at SIFIs; excessive borrowing, risky investments, lack of transparency put system at risk; the government was ill-prepared to manage crisis and systemic breakdown in accountability and ethics. The trigger to the crisis was bad mortgage-lending standards and securitization; and contributors were OTC derivatives and rating agency failures.

This official document is elegantly written, richly filled with quotes from the insightful to the four-letter direct utterances. It rightly seeks to expose the facts, identify responsibility, unravel myths, and help us understand how the crisis could have been avoided. Despite some who tried to argue that no one could have foreseen or prevented the crisis, the report argued that the crisis was the result of human action and inaction, not of Mother Nature or computer models gone haywire. The captains of finance and the public stewards of our financial system ignored warnings and failed to question, understand, and manage evolving risks within a system essential to the well-being of the American public. Theirs was a big miss, not a stumble.

Even though the report commended the principal actors in doing their best to manage an incredibly complex crisis, it did not accept the view that regulators lacked the power to protect the financial system. They had ample power in many arenas and they chose not to use it. To give just three examples: the Securities and Exchange Commission could have required more capital and halted risky practices at the big investment banks. It did not. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York and other regulators could have clamped down on Citigroup's excesses in the run-up to the crisis. They did not. Policy-makers and regulators could have stopped the runaway mortgage securitization train. They did not.

Why did these regulators not act? Too often, they lacked the political will in a political and ideological environment that constrained it as well as the fortitude to critically challenge the institutions and the entire system they were entrusted to oversee.

Unfortunately, the report was split along partisan lines. The three dissenting Republican Party FCIC Commission members considered the report as too broad and rejected as too simplistic a view that too little regulation caused the crisis. On the contrary, they took the view that too much regulation may have been a cause. They pointed out that the report ignored the global nature of the current financial crisis and argued that the causes should look beyond the housing to the credit and other bubbles.

Another lone dissenter, Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute, identified US government housing policies as the major contributor to the financial crisis.

The complexity of the current financial crisis and its causes will give rise to more debates in the years to come. The majority view of the report was correct in identifying that the crisis was avoidable. However, the dissenters were also correct in identifying that the majority view was partial, by not putting the crisis in its global context.
Indeed, I feel that a serious omission of the report was not to point out that mainstream economic theory failed to provide a holistic and systemic-wide view of the financial system and its vulnerability to crisis, instead inculcating policy-makers and regulators to focus on partial analysis and silo-based views that inevitably missed the big picture and the relevant details. In the 2010 and 2011 annual meetings of the American Economic Association, the economics profession is finally beginning to address its own deficiencies and also its own ethics.

Larry Summer, President Obama's former Presidential Economic Adviser, had the most graphic quote on the causes and trigger of the crisis. He said the financial crisis was like a forest fire and the mortgage meltdown like a cigarette butt thrown into a very dry forest. Was the cigarette butt, he asked, the cause of the forest fire, or was it the tinder dry condition of the forest?

The real question is who was supposed to look after the forest in the first place?

Now that we know who is responsible for the financial crisis, how is it that no one seems to be accountable for what went wrong?

The Tiger has roared. Now we want to see if the response is that of a Rabbit. Kung Hei Fat Choy to all readers.

 ~ Asia News Network

The writer is the author of the book, From Asian to Global Financial Crisis






Karachi-based HM Naqvi, who bagged the first DSC Literature Prize for South Asia for his debut novel Home Boy, considers himself a born writer. Belonging to a family of artists, thinkers and poets, Naqvi began scribbling at five. He graduated from Georgetown University, attended a creative writing programme at Boston University, worked in the financial sector for eight years and taught creative writing at Boston University for two years. He has received a Lannan fellowship and a Phelam Prize. The writer is currently busy with his second novel. In Kolkata, after attending the recently-concluded Jaipur Literature Festival, Naqvi said the award had left him flattered and honoured.

What qualities do you think shaped you into a good writer?

I am a born writer. I think a writer can never be made. It is a quality with which he or she is born. But yes, one needs to be disciplined in order to pen down one's thoughts properly. Writing has to be practised every day. Again, a writer has to be a voracious reader first. I have always been an avid reader. Interestingly, the novel that one reads as a teenager, exudes different connotations as one grows older. However, I must admit that I am not reading much these days because I'm working on my second novel.

You had a passion for writing since you were five?

I am told that even before I learnt to write, I used to scribble on newspapers. In fact, I have been writing ever since I learnt to write words. I write to give expression to anxiety.

Is that how Home Boy came about?

Well, Home Boy can be described as poetry on a cocktail napkin.

The novel started at Manhattan bar. I found my thoughts scribbled as a verse on a napkin. Few days later, when I retrieved the napkin, I felt there has to be more to it. I began writing the novel in 2003 and it took me four years to complete it.

What made you portray the immigrant experience?

I was in the USA from 2003 to 2007 and had witnessed both New York and the post-9/11 crisis very closely. It had a deep impact on me. While writing the novel, I did not think of anything outside it. As you must be aware, Home Boy is the coming-of-age story of three young Pakistani men residing in New York and the crisis that they weather post-9/11. It is about a road trip that these men take during the tense times.

What about your next novel?

Currently, I'm working on my second novel. I started writing it in July 2010.

What is the plot about?

It is completely different from my first book. It's about history and metaphysics and the story is set entirely in Karachi. The story delves into contemporary political discourses in Pakistan.

When is it expected to hit the racks?

It will take at least another three years.

Is this your first visit to Kolkata?

Yes. I've been to Delhi and Lucknow but Kolkata has a different charm altogether. I'm really loving it. The city has a close resemblance to Karachi. The food, music and streets of Kolkata remind me of Karachi.

You are also a poet, any plans to write poetry in future?

(Smiling) I quit writing poetry almost 15 years ago. As of now, I do not have any plans but then much depends on circumstances and emotions

Are there any specific ideas that you wish to work on in your future novels?
Yes. My future novels would revolve around love, history and metaphysics. I have ideas for around six to seven books. Let's see how things work out.






Today, you must promise me that you all will work continuously to promote education among village women. You will also fight against gender discrimination and crime against children. Give kindness, give knowledge to people. India badly needs righteousness of the heart.

Former President of India APJ Abdul Kalam, at the centenary celebrations of Loreto College, Kolkata

We all need to be conscious of the fact that serious challenges and threats ~ primarily from left-wing extremism, cross-border terrorism, religious fundamentalism and ethnic violence ~ still persist.
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh during his inaugural address at the chief minister's conference at New Delhi.

We will continue to watch the events and it underscores that the transition needs to begin now.
White House Press secretary Mr Robert Gibbs on Egypt protests

The Left Front is responsible for the criminalisation of politics in Bengal. Since coming to power in 1977, they have hardly taken any initiative to usher in industrialisation but have allowed a free run to hardcore criminals.
Union finance minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee at a political rally in Behrampore, West Bengal

Projects such as these have considerable economic, technological and strategic significance for the country.
Union environment minister Mr Jairam Ramesh when his ministry gave the final clearance for Posco's 12-million-tonne-per-annum plant in Orissa

We discussed election preparedness. I am here for the next two days and I may give certain instructions to them.
Deputy chief election commissioner Mr Vinod Zutshi after his meeting with the chief sectary at Writers'

Eden Gardens is second to Lord's.

West Bengal Governor MK Narayanan regretting the ICC decision.

He is the Obama of cricket.

Cricketer Praveen Kumar when asked what made MS Dhoni a special captain

It's one of those venues where you really want to play in your career.

Cricketer Kevin Pietersen on Eden Gardens

If Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi could captain the Indian cricket team with an artificial eye, why can't I lead a normal life? Soon, I shall have a life as normal as my classmates.

Souvik Hajra of Asutosh College, who lost his left eye during campus clashes







While formulating a new land acquisition Act, the Centre will do well to incorporate norms which will keep government involvement to a minimum, writes biswadeb chatterjee


The Central government wishes to table a long-pending Bill on land acquisition in the coming Budget session of Parliament. The land acquisition Act, until it was amended in 1984, goes back to 1894. The amendment came about as many of its provisions, particularly regarding compensation, became outdated and no longer applicable in some states. The amended Act proved better in terms of minimising undue delays plaguing the land acquisition  process and in providing a realistic compensation by way of 12 per cent interest per annum for the period between issue of notification for the project and receiving the collector's award with a solatium at an increased rate of 30 per cent instead of the original 15 per cent. But the basic weakness of the 1984 Act stems from a provision that allowed states to frame their own laws, if they so wish, and from the stipulation that in case of a clash between the the Centre and the state concerned, the state law would prevail, making the Central Act redundant. To take advantage of this provision, most of the states prefer to issue government orders or adopt resolutions, sometimes sector wise and mostly for specific projects, instead of enacting full-fledged laws. Among the states, only Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Punjab have such policies with the Maharashtra Project Affected People Rehabilitation Act of 1976, amended in 1986, being the most comprehensive.
As such, there is no national land acquisition policy to suit the country's present needs. As neither the pre-Independence Act had nor the 1984 Act has provisions for acquiring land for private purposes, the states employ subterfuges to give the impression that they are acquiring land for public good when in fact they are doing the private sector a favour. Most importantly, that the new provisions of the 1984 Act are hardly honoured can be deduced from the violent protests ~ often leading to torture, intimidation and even deaths of people ~ that erupt almost always when the government moves to acquire agricultural land. Kalinganagar in Orissa, Singur and Nandigram in West Bengal and Khammam in Andhra Pradesh bear testimony to this. The time has come to frame a new land acquisition law that takes care of the interests of land owners and acquirers alike. Especially, when land needs to be acquired by the private sector. 

While political leaders like Miss Mamata Banerjee want land acquisition to be done as per open market imperatives, state governments feel that they should have a say in the process. To strike a balance, the Central government proposes that private acquirers should purchase 70 per cent of the required land directly and the remaining 30 per cent upon clearance from the state government.

Given the extent of economic reforms in India, land acquisition as per open market movements should be the norm. That there is certainly a case for such a thing becomes clear when we consider nationwide socio-economic uprisings against land acquisition bids. 

A 2008 study shows that of the 22 large-scale land acquisition bids undertaken to set up large industrial projects and SEZs during 1994-2008, only five turned out to be successful. While three were geared towards success and one temporarily stalled, four were abandoned and nine had failed. The failed projects were among those floated by the country's top industrial houses such as the Tata group, the LN Mittal Group, the Vedanta Group, Bhusan Steel, the Essar group and Posco. A follow-up survey shows that the failed projects had lacked the social consent to operate (SCO). SCO constitutes the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities to part with or share their resources and also their consent to do business in their community. This consent must be given freely and not coerced out and be obtained prior to taking significant project decisions with communities given access to accurate and comprehensive project-related economic, social and environmental information. The stakeholders must ensure that the consenter has complete understanding of the proposed project's impacts and benefits and also his/her right to withhold consent.

To secure the SCO, the private sponsors must take some important steps. First, following a few rounds of discussion on the proposal, they must ink a formal memorandum of agreement (MoA) with the state government concerned. Second, the private sponsors must directly initiate a dialogue with key local stakeholders, especially land owners, with the state government's role being limited to a mere facilitator with no involvement whatsoever of middlemen. The private promoters are expected to appreciate local issues and concerns and must demonstrate adequate commitment to begin a long-term relationship with the local community. This achieved, at the third stage, a conciliatory stance of both parties is expected to provide all necessary clearances for enable completion of paper works. That done, finally, the project is ready for implementation.

All these steps had been taken by the OP Jindal group when it acquired 4,860 acres of land at Salboni in West Bengal's West Midnapore to set up a 10-million tonne steel plant at an estimated cost of Rs 35,000 crore. The group first inked an MoA with the state government to float a new company ~ JSW-Bengal Steel (JBS). Then, it acquired 4,300 acres of fallow land directly from the state government and remaining 500 acres from villagers. Next, it formed a partnership with 700 marginal farmers offering them one job per family and an attractive compensation package combining cash and equity components equalling to Rs 6 lakh per acre. Soon after, the company completed all formalities necessary to start construction of the plant leading to it being accorded SEZ status by the state government. Finally, the company laid the foundation stone for the project on 2 November, 2008. In no stage was a middleman involved. And, the company accomplished all this in less than two years. But unfortunately, the project is currently in a limbo following a "purposeful" explosion targeting the convoy of the then Central steel minister.

As study of the failed projects indicate that their failure had a lot to do with too much involvement of the state government In fact, in such cases, private promoters were seen to rely on state governments to help them acquire private land. This made the role of the state government central to the acquisition process and that of the private promoters secondary, which facilitated the involvement of middlemen. Soon enough, systematic time lags and cost escalations made the private promoters put pressure on the state government, resulting in information asymmetry, wrong signals to the local community and their eventual alienation. The involvement of middlemen precluded any direct contact between the project promoters and the locals, thereby diminishing opportunities for appreciation or redressal of mutual concerns. This seriously jeopardised project implementation. Singur and Nandigram in West Bengal could serve as the ideal examples of all that could go wrong as a result of too much dependence on and/or involvement of the state government. 
As such, while formulating a new land acquisition Act, the government will do well to incorporate norms which, among other things, will keep government interference/involvement to a minimum. The new Act must ensure that productive lands are not selected for acquisition, direct communication channels are established between the locals and the project promoters, political alignments do not come into play, corporate communication is coordinated effectively, benefit is shared equitably and transparency is upheld. And, it's high time we had such a legislation.

The writer is an associate professor of economics, Durgapur Government College









These are times of transition in politics — from the Arab world to the tiny Himalayan republic of Nepal. But political parties often fail to seize the historic moment thrown up by people power. Nepal's transition from a constitutional monarchy to republicanism is not the stuff of partisan politics. If the transition involves a political tussle, it ought to be over what kind of a political system and government would suit the people's interests best. Unfortunately, during the two years since the end of the monarchy, Nepal's political parties busied themselves in a power struggle that almost betrayed the people's democratic aspirations. They set a record of sorts by failing to elect a prime minister in 16 rounds of voting in parliament after the incumbent, Madhav Kumar Nepal, offered to step down. The election of Jhalanath Khanal as the next prime minister should thus come as a great relief to the people and also to the international community. But whether it ends the period of political vacuum in Nepal may remain an open question for some time.

Mr Khanal's election was made possible by the withdrawal of the Maoist leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, from the prime ministerial race. Clearly, Mr Dahal did so as part of a strategy. It is easy to assume that the Maoists expect important gains for themselves in exchange for their support to Mr Khanal. They would like to get important portfolios such as home and external affairs and possibly even the post of the deputy prime minister. But their ultimate aim would be to influence the peace process and the drafting of the new constitution. Their insistence that the former guerrillas of the People's Liberation Army be absorbed in the Nepal Army and the police are enough indication of the Maoists' designs on the institutions of the new republic. Mr Khanal, who is the chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), must guard against attempts to sabotage the future of democracy in Nepal.

Yet the new prime minister will need the Maoists' help in concluding the peace process and drafting the new constitution as he did in order to be elected to the job. After all, the Maoists are the largest group in the country's parliament and have the power to stall the government's work inside and outside the legislature. Mr Khanal has the difficult task of forging a national consensus involving the Maoists, his own party, the Nepali Congress as well as the parties representing the indigenous ethnic groups. If the new constitution provides a federal structure for Nepal's future government, it will call for a major restructuring of the polity.

How Nepal's political transition takes place will be of crucial importance to New Delhi. India had a major role in ending Nepal's 13-year-old Maoist insurgency. It now has high stakes in ensuring that the democratic transition in Kathmandu is not hijacked either by petty politics or by a new version of the Great Game.







Soon after starting work in Singapore I asked a leading tax consultant there how to handle my modest Indian earnings from columns such as this. Since I was physically in Singapore, he said, the income would be deemed to have generated there and should be remitted and declared in my Singapore tax returns. However, the amount was so small after deducting India's 40 per cent withholding tax, paying bank charges and conversion to Singapore dollars that the Singapore authorities wouldn't bother if I didn't. But he warned they would know all about it. "The information will be used if they want to get you for some other reason!"

As the action against His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, shows, all governments operate in the same way. India's mix of rigorous rules and lax enforcement creates a huge armoury of coercive reserve weapons. Atal Bihari Vajpayee's famous comment about every parliamentarian starting his legislative career with the lie of a false election return was matched by Gayatri Devi of Jaipur's arrest not for opposing the Emergency but for infringing the Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act. Be you ever so law-abiding, it's impossible not to break the law. You do so whenever you buy or sell a flat, consult a lawyer or even see a doctor, since rare is the professional who accepts payment by cheque against a receipt. The system offers authority a million opportunities to nab anyone it wants to.

But why does it want to nab a 26-year-old monk who fled Tibet 10 years ago to avoid having to attack the Dalai Lama and cozy up to Beijing's anointed Panchen Lama? India's security brooks no compromise and the law must take its course if he is, indeed, China's "strategic asset" in "constant touch with the Chinese authorities". That is the crux of the matter, and our anonymous officials are belittling the national interest by making it incidental to supposedly murky financial transactions. No doubt they will say they are only upholding the law on foreign exchange, black money and benami property transactions, but their unattributed media briefings clearly suggest that the raids, arrests, questionings and seizures are intended to demonize the Karmapa. Comments like "He is not a Karmapa" and "We will not allow him to be the Karmapa" give the game away for they have no bearing on the financial improprieties that are supposedly being investigated.

Nar Bahadur Bhandari, Sikkim's former chief minister and present head of the Pradesh Congress Committee, is neither Tibetan nor Buddhist, has enough experience of smear tactics, strong-arm methods and judicial persecution to "sniff a conspiracy". No one mentions the Karmapa's Saraswati Charitable Trust into which all unsolicited cash donations would have been paid if permission to do so had not been withdrawn after the first $100,000. He then registered the Karma Garchen Trust but the application to receive foreign donations under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act has been pending since 2002. Forced to retain donations as they come, the monastery ensures that every penny, cent or yuan (under 10 per cent of the total despite the hullabaloo over Chinese currency) is "diligently recorded". Even one-yuan notes from humble Tibetans without access to any other currency are recorded. As for allegations of improper land use, every single government department cleared the purchase of a plot for a monastery and residence. The sellers' legally permissible demand for cash payment had to be met.

Bhandari's conspiracy theory explains official ambivalence about the Karmapa's status. Delhi's non-recognition of something that is for only Karma Kagyu Buddhists to decide makes no difference in religious terms and can even be commended as an admission of the limits of secular jurisdiction. But petty pinpricks like taking away minor privileges he previously enjoyed indicate malice. Leave alone the motorcades that even junior state ministers flaunt, the Karmapa has to check in at airports and go through security like anyone else. He accepts it with dignity though Delhi throws a tantrum when even a Bollywood star is subjected to the same routine at American airports. While the ban on entering Rumtek monastery, which his predecessor established as the seat of the lineage, is attributed to the court case filed by a rival, there is no justification for rejecting the pleas of Sikkim's government and people to let him visit the state where three other Karma Kagyu monasteries are clamouring to welcome him.

Rumtek and the oral teachings of gurus who received them there from the 16th Karmapa were additional reasons for coming to India. The Karmapa also sought the Dalai Lama's blessings and wanted to spread the Karma Kagyu message abroad like his predecessor. He could not do that from Tibet. "India, in contrast to communist China, is a free country, a democratic country that is based on the rule of law," he told his followers on Wednesday, advising patience because "the truth will become clear in time … There is no need to worry."

One explanation for the persecution is that a genuine fit of China-neurosis grips a government seeking to atone for ignoring floods of Saudi funds invested in mosques and madrasas. The government's Research and Analysis Wing peremptorily calls leading research institutions to demand details of whatever their academic guests from China said or did. It's like the policeman who turned up in my editorial office to ask that I should report everything the diplomat who was scheduled to call the next day said. When I threw him out, a civil servant friend warned that since the policeman had to submit a report, he would invent one about my talks with the diplomat! Like the supposedly seized Chinese SIM cards and the enforcement directorate's claim of records of conversations between His Holiness and Chinese officials which the Karmapa's office dismisses as "fiction masquerading as journalism".

Secondly, official agencies may be trying to whip up controversies to distract attention from the government's own stink of corruption. A mix of godliness, wealth and espionage involving a 900-year-old youthful monk whose adventurous journey across the Himalayas captured the world's imagination is more exciting than 2G spectrum. A third reason could be the letter an American devotee sent Sonia Gandhi, without consulting the Karmapa, condemning the "violation of his human rights" and the "blatant abuse of his freedom for religious expression". The recipient cannot have been amused, but one hesitates to think of the persecution as retaliation, especially since the Karmapa's office issued a conciliatory clarification.

The most bizarre explanation is that Indian intelligence always knew that China had created an eight-year-old Karmapa to be smuggled into India seven years later so that he could amass a fortune here and set up a string of Himalayan "China study centres" after another decade. Though the intelligence folk always knew he was "a security threat", they played along expecting reciprocal concessions. Instead, China's hardened stand on bilateral disputes provoked the intelligence outburst, "We have kept quiet for too long!" This theory prompted a veteran academic's comment that more centres are welcome because we should study our northern neighbour far more seriously.

The trump card is Delhi's reported wish to crown a rival claimant whose sponsor is believed to have civil servants and intelligence personnel eating out of his hand. "They can't shove a pretender down our throats!" exclaims an outraged Buddhist who marched for hours in Wednesday's show of solidarity with His Holiness. Such motivated arbitrariness would betray the pride with which P.V. Narasimha Rao once told me that no other country had shown similar hospitality to Tibet's people and prelates. It would also reduce India to the level of medieval European regimes that created popes to do their bidding and of China whose attempt to foist a make-believe Panchen Lama on Tibet made a farce of Buddhism's second highest incarnation. It's high time the prime minister intervened for the sake of India's reputation and to ensure that national security is not trivialized.


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





A hundred thousand youths came looking for jobs and a better future but went back home with their dreams crushed. Twenty of them were even more unfortunate. They never returned home, having been thrown off a speeding train and killed. These were young men who came to the Bareilly recruitment drive of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP). Either ITBP authorities didn't anticipate such a massive number of job aspirants or simply didn't care. Either way, their organisation of the recruitment drive did not give the job aspirants a fair chance. Infrastructure to handle so many people was totally inadequate. Many were unable to hand in their filled up forms and had to return home disappointed. Not surprisingly they were angry and frustrated, prompting some to go on a rampage. And there was worse to come. There were not enough trains and buses for the boys to go home, forcing many to crowd on to the roof of trains. And then tragedy struck. Scores of boys were thrown off the speeding Jammu Tawi Express, killing around 20. The terrible fate that befell these youth is distressing.

Rioting at recruitment drives is occurring with shocking frequency. The large numbers of people who show up at recruitment centres for a few jobs indicates how intense the unemployment situation in the country is. The insensitivity of authorities is shocking. They do not put in place the requisite infrastructure, in the process denying aspirants the opportunity to compete equally for the jobs. Agitated aspirants are then beaten up as was the case at a recent recruitment drive by the Jammu and Kashmir police in Srinagar.

The situation became a near stampede. This could have been avoided had the drive been conducted in a more organised way.

The Centre and the UP government are busy blaming each other for the chaos at the ITBP recruitment drive and the train stations thereafter. If only they would stop for a moment to ponder on how their poor preparedness for the recruitment drive contributed to crushing the dreams of thousands of youths and the death of 20. If they are unable to cope with large numbers, then they need to allow for staggered submission of applications and physical tests over several days. Denial of a fair chance at competing undermines faith in institutions and processes.






A breakthrough has been achieved at last in the long-standing political impasse in Nepal. Seven months after prime minister Madhav Nepal stepped down and 16 rounds of failed attempts at electing a successor, Nepal has finally got a prime minister. Jhalanath Khanal, chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) will be Nepal's new prime minister. The Maoists played an important role in breaking the impasse. Their leader, Prachanda, who contested several of the earlier rounds and failed to draw the required support to be elected, withdrew his candidature from the contest in the 17th round and extended support to the CPN-UML candidate. This is a pragmatic move. What kind of power-sharing agreement the CPN-UML and the Maoists have reached is not known but clearly the stability of the government will be determined by the conditions that the Maoists laid down for their support. Khanal will have to meet these conditions if his government should survive.

Khanal is a mass leader with a clean record. Importantly, he practices inclusive politics. This will come in handy as he negotiates Nepal's polarised political arena. Unlike other parliamentarians whether of his party or the Nepali Congress, Khanal is not anti-Maoist and believes they are part of the political mainstream today. However, the challenges before him are enormous. For one, there are powerful sections within the CPN-UML who opposed the deal with the Maoists. He will have to heal these rifts. Besides, he needs to get going on the writing of a new democratic constitution. A May 28 deadline for promulgating the constitution looms. He will need to get the support of the Nepali Congress too. There is the issue too of the future of over 19,000 former Maoists fighters, which hangs in the balance. They need to be integrated into the Nepal army. The Nepalese people are fed up with the political paralysis in the country. Khanal will have to provide strong leadership to keep the peace process alive.

Many Nepalese fear that given India's discomfort with the Maoists, Delhi will not be too happy with the new government in Nepal. There is some anxiety in Kathmandu about how India will react to the latest development. India must reassure the Nepalese that it is prepared to work with the new dispensation. Such reassurance will come if Delhi reaches out to Khanal's government and engages it fairly.







Prices of food products rose by over 20 per cent in 2009-10 and continue to rise; over 12 months in 2010-11, so did non-food articles. With rising crude prices and government wisely deciding not to hold back retail price increases, fuel and lighting have also risen. Electricity prices may not have risen but the losses of the distribution enterprises in the states have mounted to over Rs 60,000 crore because the necessary price increases have been withheld.

Many factors affect prices. Supplies fall short because of crop failures or reduced imports; world commodity prices rise because of crop failures in usually surplus countries; measures like the American subsidies to their corn farmers for producing ethanol from corn for adding to petrol, diverting land from other food crops; rise in crude oil prices and consequently of gas and coal; prosperity makes demand increase at faster rates than before; money supply increases, government deficits increase and add to the liquidity in the market; there is speculation and hoarding; large inflows of foreign investment funds add to the money supply.

What are the measures available to control inflation? Imports of the commodities whose prices are rising can increase if adequate supplies are available. Stern action against hoarding can release more stocks into the market. Government can cut expenditures and reduce deficits, measures that can reduce employment, incomes and demand, and will hurt growth; money supply can be tightened by raising the cash reserve ratios and statutory liquidity ratios held by banks with the Reserve Bank, thus reducing banks' ability to lend; interest rates can be raised, thus reducing the borrowings and reducing liquidity; foreign investment funds can be controlled.

What might be causing the inflation of the last two years? Demand has risen rapidly because of economic growth, infrastructure spending, and social welfare programmes like the national rural employment guarantee scheme. Even though the scheme is under spending, missing many deserving beneficiaries and theft, it has added to the purchasing power of the rural poor. Agricultural productivity in India has been falling for most crops and the inefficient distribution chain spoils much.

With rising demand, supplies have been short, and aggravated by bad decisions to export. While the Reserve Bank has been trying to control liquidity and reduce demand by raising interest rates, the money supply is not entirely within its control. Volatile foreign moneys flow in and out through mechanisms like the Mauritius and other small tax havens (free of short-term capital gains tax) and anonymously through participatory notes. These get converted to rupees and add to money supply. With the India growth story in contrast to the static or slow down in the rich countries, foreign funds are flowing more rapidly into India and affect liquidity and prices.

Failure of PDS

With India having over 300 million very poor, food and fuel inflation hurts them. These prices hurt urban and rural poor, and especially the large numbers of marginal farmers, landless labour, tribal people, etc. If public distribution were efficient, we could have reached money or cheap food to them. But the present physical public distribution with procurement, storage and distribution of grains, kerosene, etc, is inefficient, wasteful and corrupt.

Distribution of vegetables is through a few wholesalers who make windfall profits from speculation and rigging the market, also it does not benefit the farmer. Poor storage and transportation facilities lead to much wastage.

An appropriate policy to moderate inflation would include strong social safety nets for the poor that identifies targets and makes available cheap food and vegetables to them. Cold storages in rural areas and air conditioned transport are a must. For this purpose we must allow large retail chains to enter into distribution of fruits and vegetables.

We need a more sophisticated mechanism when shortages are required and also to enter international markets unobtrusively and in time so that imported food is available at affordable prices. The same must apply to industrial materials like palm oil for soaps and other chemicals and intermediates.

We must quickly introduce the goods and services tax so that there is uniform taxation around India on all products and also fuels. An independent regulator must closely scrutinise technical and financial performance of oil companies. The regulator must permit reasonable returns but not windfall profits.

Electricity regulators must do the same with electricity generation and distribution so that thefts are reduced, efficiency improved but tariffs are in line with costs and the utilities do not accumulate debts. Foreign money inflows must be made less volatile by taxing them when flowing out of India in say, less than one year.

The tax evasion routes and the tax shelters in Mauritius and elsewhere as well as the mechanism of participatory notes (also a channel for hawala), must be closed. This will improve tax revenues, reduce deficits and enable the Reserve Bank to control most liquidity fully and enable monetary instruments to control inflation. Government expenditures must be subject to continual audit by external private auditors so that the theft and waste are minimised, and they deliver what they are supposed to do.

The answers are well-known. But the problem is that the government does not have the will to act.








Every Republic Day morning and every Beating of Retreat evening I ask myself: "Are these displays which must cost our exchequer many crores worth our while?"


 They are the same year after year. The personnel changes, the pattern of display remains the same. Nevertheless, I remain glued to the TV on the morning of the 26th January and the evening of Beating of Retreat. So do most people I know.

There is a notable contradiction in our character. We like India to be known as the Land of Gandhi; we also want to show the world all the weaponry we have and what we can do to those who cast their evil eye on us. After flexing our muscles, we invoke the blessings of Bapu as an after-thought and end the 'tamasha' by playing his favourite hymn 'Lead Kindly Light'. India is not the land of Gandhi, it is the land of humbuggery and most of us — including myself — are humbugs.

Waste not want not

The year past while some states had bumper harvests of foodgrains, there were acute shortages in many others and people went hungry. The reason for this is that our methods of storing crops are out-dated.

We continue to use metal containers, gunny bags and warehouses. They rot and become food for insects, rats and worms. We do not use modern storage system, called vacuum poly system (VPS) of one tonne silos by which grains can be stored in the open without any cover of shelter and for five to 10 years without any loss. Many countries including USA, Canada, Brazil, China and almost all European countries resort to this method of preserving foodgrains.

I learnt about this through a detailed proposal by one Ashok Chawla who sent me a copy of a letter he addressed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar.

Fair prices

I have been all over the town

Met the king and the clown

Don't be despondent, do not frown

The prices of essentials will come down.

Be it vegetable, fruit or tea

Or the price of transport,

tuition fee

or humble jaggery, pulses

or ghee

The prices are headed fast

to a level

Where they are fated to be —

A level that Pawar wills and for which

The traders love to hoard

But you and I cannot afford

But what of that?

Eating will only make you fat;

So do not take a view, low

and dim

Fast, instead, three days

a week

And remain handsome

and slim.

(Courtesy: Kuldip Salil, Delhi)


I was once travelling from Rohtak to Gurgaon in the Roadways bus. The conductor was quite agitated and grumbling after having a tiff with a passenger over counting of the change. His loud declaration was: "I don't bother for anybody, even if he is the owner of many factories. I don't bother for anybody even if he is the owner of a fleet of cars. I don't even bother for the chief minister of the state." I could not but ask him, "Dear friend, you seem to be a gift of the gab. Can you tell me the source of your strength that you don't even bother for the chief minister."


He replied very non-chalantly, "The chief minister is no match for me. He distributes 90 tickets once in five years whereas I distribute 500 tickets daily of my own accord. Now you can measure the difference."

I was floored and kept quiet throughout the journey.

(Contributed by Ram Niwas Malik, Gurgaon)

Please don't laugh

In the US they invented a machine that catches thieves; they took it to different countries for a test.

In USA itself, in 30 minutes the machine caught 20 thieves; In UK, in 30 minutes it caught more than 50 thieves; in Spain, in 30 minutes it caught 65 thieves; in Ghana in 30 minutes it caught 600 thieves.

But India, they caught 'Nobody'.... in 15 minutes the machine was stolen.

I told you not to laugh....

(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, Delhi)







The eye has captured the imagination of artists, lyricists and movie makers.

A recent research article unfurled an incredible theory: the only feature that distinguished between a faultless mannequin and a human was the eye. Eyes were clearly a sign of life and vitality, however hard professionals worked to make dolls look like people. This revelation triggered off a host of optical reflections. The eye, black, brown, blue, green or otherwise is one organ that can seldom conceal tenderness, nervousness, love or animus, even if all other parts of the body conspire to lie. Clearly, eyes speak.

My mom, when in a nostalgic or particularly doting mood claims that my eyes were as focused as an adult's when I was born and would shrewdly take everything in! I must admit one thing though — nobody is really ready to vouch for the veracity of this fact. My usually undemonstrative dad once wistfully remarked, "You have got your mama's eyes, girl!"

The eye indisputably, has captured the imagination of artists, writers, lyricists, movie makers and even the laity. Those who have the good fortune of being called Meenakshi (she with the eyes of a fish), Sonakshi (the golden-eyed one), Mriganayani (the doe-eyed one) trigger much envy in me. Many Indian movies begin with a close shot of the leading lady's peepers replete with oodles of eye-makeup (quite raccoon-like), thick false eyelashes and much plucked, darkened and manipulated with brows; which probably make the gentlemen sigh in admiration and the non-celluloid women feel that their eyes look much better-naturally.

Recently, I came across a Hispanic proverb which claimed — "Blue eyes say love me or I'll die. Black eyes say love me or I'll kill thee", which had me seriously wonder why such desperate lethal qualities have been attributed to the poor black eye; possessed by majority of Indians and not guilty of any such transgressions!

Before the UPS was in vogue among the middle class, many an evening of power cut has been dedicated by my dad and me to singing the modified version of 'Gori tore Naina' (Goofy tore Naina) to our much male dog; the translation of which would roughly be "Gori or Goofy as in this case; thine eyes are beautifully dark and smoky, even sans Kaajal". The canine would carry on with scratching or any other equally unsavoury activity, totally oblivious that lovely songs were being sung in his praise!

Poet-lyricist Gulzaar personifies the eye and attributes human intents, characteristics and motives to it in 'Naina Thag Lenge'. Set in the backdrop of (mistaken) betrayal, the lyrics warn the listener not to listen to the eyes because they cheat, sting venomously, deprive one of sleep and sanity among other things.

Thus, there is adequate evidence that eyes indeed do speak. It is for good reason that Lord Byron had said, "…And all that's best of dark and bright. Meet in the aspect of her eyes..."








The resignation of health minister Vishwajeet Rane as the chairperson of the PPP monitoring  committee for the new district hospital at Mapusa, is nothing but an effort to hold off pressure from within his party and the opposition.

Clearly faced with allegations of irregularities and corruption over the manner in which government hospitals are sought to be managed and run in the PPP mode, ostensibly to modernize and upgrade health services in the country, the health minister has made a token attempt to clean up by appointing the health secretary as chairperson of the PPP monitoring committee. The Health secretary, whose close proximity to the health minister is open knowledge, will all but be a proxy for the health minister.

This brings us to a larger debate over the need to bring in part or complete privatization of the health sector. The crucial operative part of this debate is that we are taking of a people sensitive area like health where the parameters for decision making have to be different from projects under industry and commerce. At the end of the day, the role of most important P in the 3 P's is not public but private. The private partner in the partnership needs to make profits but overall contribute to the social cause.

From the way PPP projects in the health sector are being handled in Goa, there is very little confidence that the private part of the partnership will not be dictated by cold hard profit but by public service. And if there has been a failure it is this. The Health Minister either by doing too much to push private players in the health sector and doing too little – at least visibly- to display complete transparency in the process of inviting private players, has failed to win people's confidence. And he is on the wrong side of the time debate. He has indeed had time to display this transparency.

While consistent reporting on the subject will further unravel procedural lapses in the way the request for qualification for the Mapusa hospital project was issued or the fact that the law department did not vet it legally, the people of Goa have less complex but more important questions. In the ultimate analysis what is that people who cannot afford to pay exorbitant hospital bills asking. "Will we get basic health services free of charge? 


Will a sufficient number of beds be available for needy patients? What will be the cost of a heart bypass operation or a brain surgery?

Simply put, the PPP model in Goa, salutes the Private P and takes for granted the Public P. Part privatisation is welcome only when the partnership between public and private is equal. It cannot be a model where the beneficiaries are high premium paying health insurance policy holders or actually those who have immense wealth insurance.

Only once the above are addressed, will the immediate issues which are dominated discussions in the assembly be put into perspective. Issues like why was a consultant appointed for the North Goa districts hospital case by a committee headed by the health minister, need to be addressed. Secondly after a sufficient time lapse, we are still in the dark about the exact mode of the Public Private Partnership. Thirdly, the RFQ, as reported, states that companies with a turnover of a mere RS 15 crore for the last three years will be eligible while trusts and societies, to be eligible, will have to have a turnover of Rs 100 crores.

In the interest of transparency, let the Health Minister, as a test case put all the facts on the table and ensure that if the option of going to the old Asilo hospital was being taken away, the new option of going to the North Goa hospital to get themselves treated will not be a financial deterrent. After all, a hospital is not a holiday destination.

The people of Goa, urgently want another P to be added to PPP. Probity







When asked to write on business, the first impulse is to talk about corruption or the lack of infrastructure or opportunity. However let us look at the example of Israel. Apparently despite the daily bombings and killings in Israel, the front page dedicates itself to positive news, the sad or gory details are consigned to inside pages.
Why not kick off on a positive note? Why not talk of the growth drivers that have acted as a catalyst for business? The three aspects that I believe have had a positive impact on Goa in general and business in particular are roads, air travel and telecom in the last few years.

Any visitor from another part of India cannot but comment positively on the state of the roads in Goa. Yes, we want better but what we have is far better than most parts of India. The State has added bypasses to avoid traffic cutting throughthe villages, this in turn has allowed widening of the roads. One major advantage of this is the reduction in accidents which were a common feature of the narrow roads. 

The fact that one can travel between Margao and Panaji between 40-50 minutes despite the explosion of vehicles speaks volumes. The quality, of roads too have been by and large better almost throughout the year. For a nation resigned to the fact that every time the monsoons come our roads become lunar landscapes, Goa has indeed bucked the trend. Remo captured in song the telephone's scenario in Goa with his song "Graham Bell you are dead and it is just as well, if you heard the phones in Goa you would jump into a well'. The mobile has permeated into every strata of goan society. Owning a telephone is no longer a status symbol. Broadband, last mile connectivity and more importantly, easy availability are givens today.

Flying out of Goa some years ago, was an ordeal. If you did get a flight out it meant a minimum of three days. One day to go as the flights were only in the afternoon, worked the next day and flew back the third day. The timings of flights meant you could do nothing on the travel days, and two hotel room nights were needed.  Today, you can choose the type of airline – full service or budget. Do your work and be back in Goa by evening. If you need to go further say Delhi, you can be in Delhi by 11, catch a late flight to Mumbai and take the early morning flight to Goa. Voila! In 24 hrs you can do your work in Delhi and return. Not to mention the luxury of catching an international connection from Goa itself, saves you the trip to Mumbai, immigration customs etc. .

The Government cannot but notice the positive impact of improved communication on economic development and the fact that it has in many ways contributed to inclusive growth. Therefore while communication has improved, more can be done.

The improved road connectivity, backed with better public transport systems and the possibilities of improved or increased rail, bus and water connectivity should be explored. This will ensure people and produce in remote places can be transported easily, faster and more important cheaply.

Areas with less teledensity should be identified and all efforts made to ensure they are better connected either with stronger landline network or installation of towers to overcome geographical hurdles related to mobile connectivity.

The addition of a late evening flight from Mumbai/ Bangalore would surely increase productivity as currently due to traffic issues in these two cities, one has to stop work and head to the airport latest by 3 pm, earlier if you are in South Mumbai. Good communication, be it by road or telephone or air act as a catalyst for business, it drives business forward in geometrical proportions. With these improvements the business or economic development has been enormous. This in turn leads to inclusion of many who would otherwise be left out due to poor communications, especially those in more remote parts of the State.

Blaise Costabir, reluctant entrepreneur, now icon of Goa's industry, made Shakti Water Tanks a success by thinking differently because he looked for a way when 500 well wishers felt there was none.





1992 was when Goa started booming and saw a slew of small hotels thanks to the return of Goans post the Gulf war. My job brought me to this beautiful land as manager of a tourism company. The charm of Goa coupled with the prospect of a booming future in tourism led me to stay on and I have happily been a part of Goa and its transformation.

2011 Unfortunately, whilst the rest of the beach destinations around the world have grown in leaps and bounds, Goa is still pondering over whether to concentrate on beach tourism, hinterland or backwater tourism!!  This coupled with a host of allegations of murders, rapes, drug cartels & assorted mafias!

The number of rooms and room rates has not shown any notable increase as compared with our competition of beach destinations in the Mediterranean and rest of Asia. Being a charter destination, we need to be on par with the world on visa issuance, for which the local government must take it up with the centre!

Although tourism is one of the state's largest revenue modules, the powers that be have not been able to do much, thanks to an inconsistent government and a local Russian Roulette with the tourism ministry and bureaucracy.

The purpose of this article is not to criticise the authorities, but to create awareness amongst the people due to whom this industry has survived.

We have been so used to non-functional governments, more occupied with saving itself than being able to truly churn anything productive. Problems like the taxi menace in the south have been going on for over a decade and there is still no permanent solution in sight!

We do not have a fire fighting mechanism to counter the adverse media publicity for everything from rapes to mafias and drugs, things that are a part of tourism worldwide, but in Goa we allow them to rule our lives and reputations.

Priding ourselves on having one of the best coastlines in the country, we totally lack any world-class water tourism! Not a single tourist jetty exists in the state for water activities & tourists still only have the option of unsteady canoes! It's practically impossible to get a tourist boat licence (thanks to the anarchic licence raj), but the new mantra is to build marinas costing crores of citizens money!
We need to have a vision, created by the leaders of the trade, the TTAG, hoteliers etc. for whom this success is more than holding on to a chair.

Let us join hands to stem the rot in the system! As a Goa lover, I will be highlighting these various individual issues on a regular basis, that have been strangulating Goa's tourism. May better sense prevail…

Lyndon Alves, after years of gaining experience working all over the country, now lives in Goa and runs Sunset Getaways, one of the state's leading companies in the tourism and event business.








Paresh Baruah, it has now come to be known, is being treated as a guest in China and his presence there has been confirmed by the arrested head of a Manipuri militant group. The Centre must make it clear to Beijing that this courtesy given to Baruah is unacceptable

Will there be peace at last in Assam? Arabinda Rajkhowa, alleged chairman of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and one of India's most wanted fugitives who had long been living in Bangladesh but was finally handed over to Indian authorities by the Sheikh Hasina government and put under arrest, has been released on bail — whether wisely or not, it remains to be seen. He is reported to have said on release, "We are committed to peace. We are ready for unconditional peace talks."

Big deal. Rajkhowa is the sixth top jailed rebel leader to have been released on bail since May 2010. Barring ULFA's elusive commander-in-chief Paresh Barua, the entire top brass of the outfit had been arrested and now released, and they include vice-chairman Pradip Gogoi, publicity chief Mithinga Daimary, deputy c-in-c Raju Baruah and political ideologue  Bhimkanta Buragohain. Paresh Baruah, it has now come to be known, is being treated as a guest in China and his presence there has been confirmed by the arrested head of a Manipuri militant group, RK Sanayaima. The Government of India must make it clear to Beijing that this courtesy given to Paresh Baruah is unacceptable.

The question today is whether Rajkhowa really means when he says he wants peace or whether he is only marking time to reorganize his party and cheating Delhi.

ULFA's past has been disreputable, to say the least. It was organized on April 7, 1979, an entire generation ago with the specific purpose of establishing "a sovereign socialist Asom" through armed struggle under a spurious and feudal belief that Assam was never a part of India. Under strictly legal conditions, Rajkhowa and his colleagues deserve no mercy. ULFA's past has been criminal. It never had the full support of the Assamese people, one of the most lovable in all of India.

This was made clear in a front-page editorial in The Sentinel (January 6, 2011), a popular Guwahati-based daily, which asked a series of questions that condemned ULFA. Among other things, the paper asked: "Did Rajkhowa and his team seek any advice from the people of the State while floating their outfit in 1979? Did the people of the State advise the ULFA leadership to take up arms and stage a 'revolution' for them?" The paper, reflecting popular Assamese sentiment, said: "How one wished that the first thing that Rajkhowa would do after coming out of jail was apologize to the people of Assam for each one of the crimes" it committed, which were listed. The paper charged ULFA for "the underdevelopment of the State during the past three decades" and deterring "prospective investors from setting up their business in the State". Importantly, the paper charged ULFA with responsibility for the loss of so many innocent lives. All this is on record.

ULFA gave Assam a bad reputation that it most certainly did not deserve. Firstly, ULFA deliberately played into the hands of Pakistan's vicious ISI whose financial largesse enabled it to buy arms in Cambodia, paying for them in hard currency routed through Nepal. Pakistan not only facilitated the visits of Paresh Baruah and other ULFA leaders to Singapore, Thailand and other countries, but got several madrassahs and masjids sponsored by the ISI in the Sylhet and Cox Bazaar areas to hoard and transfer arms procured by it for delivery to ULFA. The ISI also provided ULFA cadres with arms training, funds, safe havens and moral support.

Since 1979 ULFA has been responsible for the killing of more than 10,000 civilian and military personnel, as also for extortion and abduction and terrorist attacks. In January 2007, it killed 62 Hindi-speaking migrant workers, mostly from Bihar. It has claimed responsibility for bombing economic targets like crude oil pipelines, freight trains and government buildings. The damage caused by the bombing and destruction of a five-million-litre petrol reservoir at Digboi refinery in Tinsukia has been calculated to be more than Rs 200 million. And throughout these years, ULFA maintained relations with other rebel groups like the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), Kachin Independence Army (KIA) of Myanmar and other similar organizations of questionable credibility. That has paid it no political dividends. It has only lengthened the distance between the ordinary and peaceful Assamese citizens and itself.

Assassinations like that of Surendra Paul in May 1990 (the brother of businessman Lord Swaraj Paul), the kidnapping of a Russian engineer in 1991 and of Sanjay Ghose, a social activist and a relative of a high-ranking Indian diplomat, and their later killing has merely served to outrage the Assamese people. ULFA has no friends except perhaps in some of the upper districts like Lakhimpur, Jorhat, Sibsagar and Tinsukia, but even here, it would appear ULFA's extortionist activities have lost it friends and supporters.

It is against this background that the government's policy of leniency is inviting more questions than answers. What is it that the government of India now seeks in its peace talks with the ULFA leadership? Any ordinary citizen would demand the following: (a) ULFA must surrender all arms and allied equipment wholesale, down to the last bullet, to the government; (b) it must similarly surrender all the financial resources that it had built up in the last three decades from various sources; and (c) it must identify all those ISI officials who had helped it as also all those madrassahs and masjids which stored arms and equipment for delivery. It must make amends to all innocent people who were killed and pay for the damages it did on government and private property. ULFA leaders must be told in plain words that if they do not concede all these demands, they must face the consequences. There can be no compromise. If a Chhattisgarh court can sentence Dr Binayak Sen to a life term of imprisonment on the basis of an archaic sedition law, surely ULFA and its leaders deserve no less?

The government must also see to it that all ULFA supporters now in hiding must also come out of their closets. On its part the government must give the utmost attention to the transformation of Assam into another Gujarat. Can it just be that what Assam now needs is another Narendra Modi for its economic transformation? The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in the circumstances, has a well laid-out role to play and it must play it.

MV Kamath






Every time former President APJ Abdul Kalam speaks to the younger generation, he exudes a new creative charm, highly inspirational, connecting with them in a way they find so simple and yet so intellectually stimulating. He was at Banargaon in Assam's Kokrajhar district on Thursday, interacting with youngsters at the 43rd All Bodo Students' Union's annual conference on ''Mission Quality Education''. While encouraging the students to work hard, he said, ''Everyone of us is born with potential. First have an aim in life. Then you continuously acquire knowledge and do hard work for succeeding in life. Learning gives creativity, creativity leads to thinking, thinking provides knowledge, and knowledge makes you great.'' Urging the young audience to be good human beings, the former President said, ''Where there is rightness in heart, there is beauty in character. Where there is beauty in character, there is harmony at home, there is order in the nation, there is peace in the world.'' He exhorted teachers to give their students the gift of quality life along with education. Dwelling on corruption, he asked the students to ensure that their parents desist from it.

The Kalam-ian discourse is, and has always been, pivoted on creative thinking that leads to innovation so essential for the making of a knowledge economy that India aspires to be, and a value-based education that can help one evolve as a man of honesty and integrity. His stress on creativity may be construed as a manifestation of his own creative engagements, be it in missile technology or education in general. He has engendered a new culture of thinking in the country, detached from the past conditioning and attuned to the needs of the times we live in. Students must follow him seriously. Kalam, by emphasizing the need for creativity, might be urging students to make the classroom a platform for out-of-the-box thinking. They can do so by raising a gamut of questions in the classroom, including from outside the prescribed syllabus by extending it further with insight and imagination. This will entail a lot of homework. After a lesson is imparted, let the student ponder on its various aspects, list a range of questions, no matter how absurd they might seem to be, and think deep and hard on how the sphere of knowledge acquired can be expanded. The teacher, in this creative scheme of things, ought to play the lead role by way of responding to his students' many and diverse queries and encouraging them to keep treading the exciting path of generating questions and knowledge. For this, of course, the teacher has to be a man of knowledge and creative thinking in the first place — that is, a quality teacher. But are not quality teachers becoming so rare a breed in the country? This calls for a dedicated governmental effort to incentivize teaching as a career option. The best way of doing this is a rigorous and transparent selection process leading to a well-paid job of imparting education, in the real sense of the term, to young and curious minds. Let such system also include an annual assessment of teachers. And when that creative business is started, all schools would do well to wake up to the need for subjects like moral science too. In schools that teach moral science as a subject, it is generally considered a tertiary affair. This mindset must change if we are serious about shaping the mind of the tender and impressionable lot in the right fashion. In the Kalam-ian realm of value-based education and creativity, moral science could be of equal importance as mathematics!







In his opening remarks at the chief ministers' conference in New Delhi recently, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram conceded that government forces were not able to make any major progress in the fight against Maoists in 2010. ''Looking back at 2010, my assessment is that there is a kind of stalemate,'' he said, adding: ''The State governments concerned cannot claim any major advance, nor should we conclude that the CPI(Maoist) has gained an upper hand. There have been casualties on both sides. The CPI(Maoist) remains a powerful and determined adversary and has added at least four companies to the People's Liberation Guerrilla Army.'' The Home Minister has said that the government's two-pronged policy of development and counter-Maoist operation will continue. But four questions will be raised time and again: How serious are the Centre and the affected States about development in one of the country's most neglected and backward zones (which has led to rebellion, though it is another matter that the rebellion has morphed into terrorism)? How well are the police and paramilitary forces engaged in counter-Maoist operations being given training to deal with guerrilla attacks? Are the security forces safe in the infrastructure at their stations amid the Maoist terror? And what kind of evolution the counter-Maoist intelligence apparatus has had in recent times, so that actionable intelligence is exploited to the hilt? These are the key areas that the state must excel in if it wants to succeed against Maoists.





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



When it comes to pushing the line between law and politics, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas each had a banner month in January.

Justice Scalia, who is sometimes called "the Justice from the Tea Party," met behind closed doors on Capitol Hill to talk about the Constitution with a group of representatives led by Representative Michele Bachmann of the House Tea Party Caucus.

Justice Thomas, confirming his scorn for concern about conflicts of interest and rules designed to help prevent them, acknowledged that he has failed to comply with the law for the past six years by not disclosing his wife's income from conservative groups.

In Supreme Court opinions, they showed how their impatience for goals promoted in conservative politics is infecting their legal actions. They joined in an unusual dissent from a court decision not to take a case about the commerce clause that turned into polemic in favor of limited government. In an important privacy case, NASA v. Nelson, they insisted the court should settle a constitutional issue it didn't need to.

Constitutional law is political. It results from choices about concerns of government that political philosophers ponder, like liberty and property. When the court deals with major issues of social policy, the law it shapes is the most inescapably political.

To buffer justices from the demands of everyday politics, however, they receive tenure for life. The framers of our Constitution envisioned law gaining authority apart from politics. They wanted justices to exercise their judgment independently — to be free from worrying about upsetting the powerful and certainly not to be cultivating powerful political interests.

A petition by Common Cause to the Justice Department questioned whether Justices Scalia and Thomas are doing the latter. It asked whether the court's ruling a year ago in the Citizens United case, unleashing corporate money into politics, should be set aside because the justices took part in a political gathering of the conservative corporate money-raiser Charles Koch while the case was before the court.

If the answer turns out to be yes, it would be yet more evidence that the court must change its policy — or rather its nonpolicy — about recusal.

One possible reform would be to require a justice to explain, in a public statement and in detail, any decision to recuse or not. It would be even better to set up a formal review process. A group of other justices — serving in rotation or randomly chosen — could review each decision about recusal and have the power to overrule it.

In the NASA case, the two justices issued opinions on a unanimous ruling that NASA can require background checks for contract workers. Six justices (Justice Elena Kagan was recused) said the court didn't need to decide whether there is a right to informational privacy.

Justices Scalia and Thomas, on the other hand, insisted that the Constitution doesn't protect such a right and the court should settle the issue. The Scalia opinion is a rambling, sarcastic political tirade. The Thomas opinion is short but caustic. This is the sort of thing that gets these justices invited to gatherings like Mr. Koch's.

About Justice Scalia, the legal historian Lucas Powe said, "He is taking political partisanship to levels not seen in over half a century." Justice Thomas is not far behind.

Both seem to have trouble with the notion that our legal system was designed to set law apart from politics precisely because they are so closely tied.





It's been more than three years since the Bush administration signed a trade agreement with South Korea. And for more than three years Congress has been balking at it. To overcome that opposition, the Obama administration got Seoul to improve the terms for American carmakers. Capitol Hill seemed happy — until it wasn't.

The agreement is the nation's most significant trade pact since the North American Free Trade Agreement and decidedly good for the United States. It would cement relations with an important ally in a dangerous region and boost American exports by at least $10 billion a year. Unfortunately, some powerful members of Congress, from both parties, seem more concerned about politics and narrow parochial interests.

The House speaker, John Boehner, is now suggesting that the South Korea deal must be passed "in tandem" with long-delayed trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. Those two deals face fiercer resistance from trade-wary Democrats. And it is hard not to suspect that Mr. Boehner is more interested in embarrassing the White House than using the South Korea deal to leverage the other two deals through.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Max Baucus, the chairman of the Finance Committee, which handles issues related to trade, said he remains opposed to the South Korean pact because it doesn't go far enough to open its beef market — an issue near and dear to his constituents in Montana. He is demanding that South Korea drop its ban on beef from cattle older than 30 months, imposed after a scare over mad cow disease in the United States.

Mr. Baucus warns that if the United States accepts South Korea's 30-month cutoff, other importers in the region, like China, Japan or Taiwan, could, too. Still, he is doing no favors to American cattle ranchers, whose exports to South Korea are soaring. The pact would cut tariffs on most beef by 40 percent, which would save them hundreds of millions of dollars.

President Obama needs to push the deal forward and argue its case with Mr. Boehner and Mr. Baucus. This shouldn't be that hard. The business community, an important Republican constituency, does not want the South Korean pact put at risk. And while Mr. Baucus may want to get more for the beef industry, if he pushes too hard, the industry, and the whole country, will lose out.

While he is on the subject, Mr. Obama should be gearing up to push Democrats to pass the Colombian and Panamanian agreements. They are also very good for the United States.





In a woeful signal to the new Congress, the House ethics committee has decided that when it comes to money and ethics, money nearly always wins.

The panel ruled there was no appearance of a conflict of interest committed by three lawmakers who held fund-raising meetings with financial industry executives and lobbyists at a time when Congress was voting on stronger finanical regulations.

That decision stands in shameful contrast to the panel's official admonishment in 2004 of Tom DeLay, the former Republican majority leader, after he attended an energy industry fund-raiser before an energy vote. It advised members against attending any fund-raiser that "gives even an appearance that donors will receive or are entitled to either special treatment or special access."

The quasi-independent Office of Congressional Ethics certainly got it, advising the panel to take action after investigators found discomfiting appearances of special treatment, even if there were no quid-pro-quo violations.

Questionable behavior included offers to donors of one-on-one meetings with lawmakers, close participation of Congressional staffers in fund-raising, and even a lobbyist's discussing both legislating and fund-raising with a Congressional chief of staff, according to the newspaper Roll Call. Even so, the committee agreed with its own staff's conclusion that the overlap of lawmaking and fund-raising activity was innocent "happenstance."

The ruling lets the Capitol's platoons of fund-raising consultants, lobbyists and Congressional campaign machines march forward in their nightly pursuits of money and influence. The three representatives — Joseph Crowley, a Democrat of New York; Tom Price, a Republican of Georgia; and John Campbell, a Republican of California — can rightly claim they have been fully cleared.

Unfortunately, the weakened standard is of a piece with the Supreme Court's decision to legalize unlimited corporate donations to federal candidates. The Republican House has voted to end the publicly subsidized alternative to big-money presidential campaigning. How low they can go? Even lower we fear.






When Mayor Michael Bloomberg began his campaign against cigarette smoking eight years ago, most New Yorkers breathed a sigh of relief. The great indoors — bars, restaurants, hotels, office buildings — all are now smoke-free by law, making New York City a healthier place. And, for those already addicted or tempted, the city offered kits to help people stop smoking and gruesome television ads to try to keep them from starting.

That antismoking campaign has been a great public service, but now the mayor and City Council have overreached. The council voted — 36 to 12 — to ban smoking outdoors in city parks, beaches and even plazas, including in Times Square.

No smoking at the crossroads of the world? The vortex of tourism that brings smokers and nonsmokers in great numbers? The site of the world's most famous New Year's Eve party, where who knows what goes on? All of this takes the mayor's nannying too far, even for those of us who want to avoid the hazards of secondhand smoke.

Already smokers are forced to huddle outside, these days perched on the city's gray, leftover snowdrifts. Starting in early summer, after the mayor signs the bill into law, they will not be able to stray onto the 14 miles of city beaches or into the city's 1,700 parks, not even Central Park or windswept Battery Park. Instead of smoking on Brighton Beach, what does a smoker do — take a boat out 12 nautical miles into international waters?

Some City Council members wanted to find a less-drastic solution — like having the ban but establishing smoking areas on the beach or patches of the park. It's not great, but it's better than an all-out ban. Also, the city would have to provide a lot more receptacles for cigarette butts and enforce antilittering laws in those areas.

Meanwhile, there is talk that the mayor and the City Council want even more, like banning smoking near doors of office buildings and apartments. They need to take a deep breath and remember that we tried prohibition 90 years ago. They called it a noble experiment. It turned into a civic disaster.






As if we didn't have enough wars, the House of Representatives has declared one against Planned Parenthood.

Maybe it's all part of a grand theme. Last month, they voted to repeal the health care law. This month, they're going after an organization that provides millions of women with both family-planning services and basic health medical care, like pap smears and screening for diabetes, breast cancer, cervical cancer and sexually transmitted diseases.

Our legislative slogan for 2011: Let Them Use Leeches.

"What is more fiscally responsible than denying any and all funding to Planned Parenthood of America?" demanded Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, the chief sponsor of a bill to bar the government from directing any money to any organization that provides abortion services.

Planned Parenthood doesn't use government money to provide abortions; Congress already prohibits that, except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. (Another anti-abortion bill that's coming up for hearing originally proposed changing the wording to "forcible rape," presumably under the theory that there was a problem with volunteer rape victims. On that matter at least, cooler heads prevailed.)

Planned Parenthood does pay for its own abortion services, though, and that's what makes them a target. Pence has 154 co-sponsors for his bill. He was helped this week by an anti-abortion group called Live Action, which conducted a sting operation at 12 Planned Parenthood clinics in six states, in an effort to connect the clinic staff to child prostitution.

"Planned Parenthood aids and abets the sexual abuse and prostitution of minors," announced Lila Rose, the beautiful anti-abortion activist who led the project. The right wing is currently chock-full of stunning women who want to end their gender's right to control their own bodies. Homely middle-aged men are just going to have to find another sex to push around.

Live Action hired an actor who posed as a pimp and told Planned Parenthood counselors that he might have contracted a sexually transmitted disease from "one of the girls I manage." He followed up with questions about how to obtain contraceptives and abortions, while indicating that some of his "girls" were under age and illegally in the country.

One counselor, shockingly, gave the "pimp" advice on how to game the system and was summarily fired when the video came out. But the others seem to have answered his questions accurately and flatly. Planned Parenthood says that after the man left, all the counselors — including the one who was fired — reported the conversation to their supervisors, who called the authorities. (One Arizona police department, the organization said, refused to file a report.)

Still, there is no way to look good while providing useful information to a self-proclaimed child molester, even if the cops get called. That, presumably, is why Live Action chose the scenario.

"We have a zero tolerance of nonreporting anything that would endanger a minor," said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood. "We do the same thing public hospitals do and public clinics do."

But here's the most notable thing about this whole debate: The people trying to put Planned Parenthood out of business do not seem concerned about what would happen to the 1.85 million low-income women who get family-planning help and medical care at the clinics each year. It just doesn't come up. There's not even a vague contingency plan.

"I haven't seen that they want to propose an alternative," said Richards.

There are tens of millions Americans who oppose abortion because of deeply held moral principles. But they're attached to a political movement that sometimes seems to have come unmoored from any concern for life after birth.

There is no comparable organization to Planned Parenthood, providing the same kind of services on a national basis. If there were, most of the women eligible for Medicaid-financed family-planning assistance wouldn't have to go without it. In Texas, which has one of the highest teenage birthrates in the country, only about 20 percent of low-income women get that kind of help. Yet Planned Parenthood is under attack, and the State Legislature has diverted some of its funding to crisis pregnancy centers, which provide no medical care and tend to be staffed by volunteers dedicated to dissuading women from having abortions.

In Washington, the new Republican majority that promised to do great things about jobs, jobs, jobs is preparing for hearings on a bill to make it economically impossible for insurance companies to offer policies that cover abortions. And in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry, faced with an epic budget crisis that's left the state's schools and health care services in crisis, has brought out emergency legislation — requiring mandatory sonograms for women considering abortion.






It is impossible to know exactly which embers spark a revolution, but it's not so hard to measure the conditions that make a country prime for one.

Since the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, speculating about whether the fervor will spread and to which countries has become something of a world-watcher's parlor game.

So I've decided to give over much of my space this week to providing more data for that discussion.

As The New York Times headline declared earlier this week, "Jobs and Age Reign As Factors in Mideast Uprisings." And the Economist Intelligence Unit's Index of Democracy has used levels of democracy to identify countries at risk around the world.

These are solid measures, but I would add spending on essentials like food (there is nothing like food insecurity to spur agita), income inequality and burgeoning Internet usage (because the Internet has been crucial to the organization of recent uprisings).

Seen through that prism, Tunisia and Egypt look a lot alike, and Algeria, Iran, Jordan, Morocco and Yemen look ominously similar.

Please, explore for yourself.






The data zealots have utterly discombobulated themselves.

They were expecting something on the order of 150,000 new jobs to have been created in January. That would have been a lousy number, but they were fully prepared to spin it as being pretty good. They thought the official jobless rate might hop up a tick to 9.5 percent.

Instead, the economy created just 36,000 jobs in January, an absolutely dreadful number. But the unemployment rate fell like a stone from 9.4 percent to 9.0 percent.

The crunchers stared at the numbers in disbelief. They moved them this way and that. No matter how they arranged them, they made no sense. Nothing even close to enough jobs were being created to bring the unemployment rate down, but for two successive months it had dropped sharply. (It dived from 9.8 percent to 9.4 in December.)

A baffled commentator on CNBC said, "I think there is an improvement in the economy, though you can't see it in today's payroll survey."

Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics, who is frequently very good at this stuff, said: "I think these numbers are meaningless. I don't think they mean anything."

What data zealots need to do is leave their hermetically sealed rooms and step outside, take a walk among the millions of Americans who are hurting to the bone. They should talk with families that are suffering, losing their homes, doubling up, checking into homeless shelters.

We behave as though the numbers are an end in themselves — just get the G.D.P. up or the jobless rate down — and we'll be on our way to fat city. But the numbers are just tools, abstractions to help guide us, orient us. They aren't the be-all and end-all. They don't tell us squat about the flesh-and-blood reality of the mom or dad lying awake in the dark of night, worrying about the repo man coming for the family van or the foreclosure notice that's sure to materialize any day now.

The policy makers who rely on the data zealots are just as detached from the real world of real people. They're always promising in the most earnest tones imaginable to do something about employment, to ease the awful squeeze on the middle class (policy makers never talk about the poor), to reform education, and so on.

They say those things because they have to. But they are far more obsessed with the numbers than they are with the struggles and suffering of real people. You won't hear policy makers acknowledging that the unemployment numbers would be much worse if not for the millions of people who have left the work force over the past few years. What happened to those folks? How are they and their families faring?

The policy makers don't tell us that most of the new jobs being created in such meager numbers are, in fact, poor ones, with lousy pay and few or no benefits. What we hear is what the data zealots pump out week after week, that the market is up, retail sales are strong, Wall Street salaries and bonuses are streaking, as always, to the moon, and that businesses are sitting on mountains of cash. So all must be right with the world.

Jobs? Well, the less said the better.

What's really happening, of course, is the same thing that's been happening in this country for the longest time — the folks at the top are doing fabulously well and they are not interested in the least in spreading the wealth around.

The people running the country — the ones with the real clout, whether Democrats or Republicans — are all part of this power elite. Ordinary people may be struggling, but both the Obama administration and the Republican Party leadership are down on their knees slavishly kissing the rings of the financial and corporate kingpins.

I love when the wackos call President Obama a socialist. Wasn't it his budget director, Peter Orszag, who moved effortlessly from his job in the administration to a hotshot post at Citigroup, beneficiary of tons of government largess? And didn't the president's new chief of staff, William Daley, arrive in his powerful new post fresh from the executive suite of JPMorgan Chase? And isn't the incoming chairman of Mr. Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness very conveniently the chairman and chief executive of General Electric, Jeffrey Immelt?

You might ask: Who represents working people? The answer, as Tevye would say with grave emphasis in "Fiddler on the Roof," is, "I don't know."

Maybe the data zealots have stumbled on a solution. They've created a model in which a radically insufficient number of jobs has resulted in a sharp decline in the official gauge of unemployment. If that trend can be sustained, we'll eventually get the jobless rate down to zero. People will still be suffering, but full employment will have finally been achieved.







ON and off for the past few weeks, thousands of youths draped in pink scarves and ribbons have been out protesting in Yemen's capital, Sana, making it look as if that country is next in line after Tunisia and perhaps Egypt for regime change. But conditions in Yemen for ousting another elderly strongman and his big, greedy family after decades of misrule are not proving as favorable as one might expect.

Indeed, Ali Abdullah Saleh — a former army officer who has been president since 1978, when his predecessor was assassinated by means of an exploding suitcase — is proving less of a klutz than his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak. Mr. Saleh continues to excel at the business of ruling Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, a task which he has often unflatteringly likened to "dancing on the heads of snakes." Yet, since Tunisians sent their longtime president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, packing, Mr. Saleh has been obliged to change his dance steps and quicken his pace; he has dropped income taxes, given out food subsidies and promised to raise the salaries of soldiers and civil servants and to provide jobs to college graduates.

On Wednesday, Mr. Saleh made two other vitally important political concessions: he would not tamper with the Constitution in order to extend his rule beyond 2013, nor would he permit his son Ahmed to succeed him. In return, he asked the alliance of opposition parties and civil society movements to call off a rally planned for the next day.

They did not, but the approximately 40,000-strong gathering at Sana University was an orderly affair. There were no angrily shouted demands that Mr. Saleh resign, no attempts to confront hastily mustered pro-Saleh supporters, no real efforts by the antigovernment forces to exploit the climate of anger and frustration generated by events in Tunisia and Egypt. Security guards at the university checked for weapons, turning away young men who had shown up armed with planks of wood. And it was all over by lunchtime, when rally organizers politely requested that participants roll up their banners and go home.

Given that President Saleh in 2005 pledged not to run again, and then changed his mind, trusting him to keep these latest promises is going to require generosity and immense restraint. A former government minister recently told me: "When he speaks to you he gives you his full attention and you are the only person in his world. He is very, very intelligent and he has a unique memory and he is not a bloodthirsty person — but he is one of the best liars on this earth."

In the south of the country, where a separatist movement has been simmering for four years, there is likely to be pressure to ignore Mr. Saleh's concessions and prolong the confrontation. The merger in 1990 of the Yemen Arab Republic in the north — home to Mr. Saleh and the tribes who have supported him in power — and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen has proved a disaster for the south. Southerners have suffered a land grab at the hands of their generally richer and more rapacious northern brothers. What's more, after 128 years as separate entities (the south under British colonial rule and then homegrown Marxism, the north as a backward theocracy and then a military republic), the two regions' manners, customs, education and values are not the same.

Another anti-Saleh constituency is the Zaidi Shiites, in the northwest, whose sporadically flaring insurgency has been a thorn in the regime's side for the past six years. The lively Yemen affiliate of Al Qaeda is Mr. Saleh's sworn enemy too, and though the group's plots against him have so far failed, it would be guaranteed to take advantage of any power vacuum ensuing from his removal. Finally, there are the young, the students and the unemployed. Moved and excited by events in Tunisia and Egypt, they may not be as easy to control in the weeks to come as they have proved so far.

Abdul Ghani al-Iryani, a prominent political commentator in Sana, told me that he believes Mr. Saleh will have to keep his promises this time: "The rules of the game have changed — he cannot not honor his word this time. Tunisia and Egypt have raised the bar." He thinks Mr. Saleh has six months to prove himself trustworthy. At the end of that time, revenues from his two main sources — Saudi aid and minor oil exports — will not be enough to foot the civil service wage bill, or the diesel and food subsidies.

Then he will not be worrying about polite opposition politicians but more likely about bread-rioters, hungry and unmanageable, exploding into violence.

Victoria Clark is the author of "Yemen: Dancing on the Heads of Snakes."








You may have heard dire claims that the United States "doesn't make anything anymore" — that our nation has shipped so many manufacturing jobs overseas that it's no longer possible to "buy American." Fortunately, those claims aren't correct.


Yes, a lot of jobs — usually those requiring little skill and earning lower pay — have been sent overseas where production costs are lower and environmental regulations are lax. But suppose you had to guess what country today has the world's greatest manufacturing output. You might assume it's Communist China, or maybe India, or Japan. But in fact, that honor still belongs to the United States — by a long shot!


Our country, with about 300 million people, vastly out-produces the second-biggest manufacturing country, Communist China. "U.S. manufacturers cranked out nearly $1.7 trillion in goods in 2009," The Associated Press reported. That is nearly half again the output of China, which has four times as many people as the United States.


And as Volkswagen's decision to build a production facility in Chattanooga shows, higher-skilled jobs — with

higher pay — are still being created here. In fact, the 136,000 manufacturing jobs created in the United States in 2010 represented the first net increase in those jobs since 1997.


In many cases, of course, jobs have been lost here not because they have gone abroad but because manufacturing processes have become much more efficient, requiring fewer employees.


"The story of American factories essentially boils down to this: They've managed to make more goods with

fewer workers," the AP noted.


It is obviously painful to any worker who loses his job because technology has made the job obsolete. But we dare not halt technological innovation! Sure, we could "create jobs," for instance, by declaring labor-saving tractors illegal on America's farms. That would force farms to hire more laborers, but farming would become far more costly and inefficient. That would make food prices skyrocket and reduce workers' purchasing power.


Plainly, blocking innovation is not the solution.


The reality is, American manufacturing has not been "destroyed" but has changed. It is focused more on high-tech goods requiring a skilled work force.


So the most vital things we can do to assure good jobs is provide a good education for our children, and keep taxes and regulation low, to encourage free-enterprisers to develop the goods and services our people want.







We are barely into 2011, so the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., and the Republican convention in Tampa, Fla., to nominate presidential candidates for the 2012 election seem far away.


The GOP gathering is set for August 2012. The Democrat convention is scheduled for September 2012. By holding their convention in North Carolina, Democrats hope to show they can compete in the conservative South. Barack Obama narrowly won North Carolina in 2008, but Democrats lost badly in the state in the 2010 midterm elections, with Republicans taking control of both houses of the Legislature.


Republicans, meanwhile, clearly desire the electoral support of the swing state of Florida.


Obama has the advantages of incumbency and name recognition, of course. He almost certainly will be the Democrat nominee — and will be able to raise lots of campaign money.

But who will be the GOP nominee?


Obama is vulnerable, and names such as Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin (and quite a few others) have been floated as challengers. All have strengths and weaknesses, but so far, no GOP hopeful has clearly risen "above the crowd" of potential candidates.


Will Obama waltz to a second term? Or will "lightning strike" and illuminate a Republican who offers such inspiring and sound leadership that he will capture the enthusiasm of voters in 2012?

Millions of Americans are wondering — and hoping.







There is a certain irony in the recent federal court ruling that ObamaCare socialized medicine is unconstitutional.


The law was struck down mainly because it requires virtually all Americans to buy government-approved insurance — and punishes those who don't. In fact, if that so-called "individual mandate" had not been part of ObamaCare, the federal court might have left the law intact.


So it is interesting to note that before President Barack Obama supported fining Americans who do not buy insurance under ObamaCare, he vigorously opposed those fines.


During the presidential primary campaign, then-Sen. Obama told a TV talk show host that his proposed medical plan differed from that of fellow Democrat candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton in one respect: He said that her proposal would punish people for not buying insurance, and his would not.


Here is the key quote: He said Sen. Clinton "mandates that everybody buy health care. She'd have the government force every individual to buy insurance, and I don't have such a mandate because I don't think the problem is that people don't want health insurance, it's that they can't afford it. So I focus more on lowering costs. This is a modest difference. But it's one that she's tried to elevate, arguing that because I don't force people to buy health care that I'm not insuring everybody."


Today, of course, the president stridently defends forcing Americans to buy insurance approved by the federal government — and punishing them if they do not.


But just think: If he had stuck with his original position against that "mandate," ObamaCare might not be under legal attack by 28 states — and it might not have been ruled unconstitutional!







What would you expect if you spent more than $5,000 for an airline ticket? You might think you'd be on a first-class trip to Hong Kong or New Zealand or some other distant, exotic location, with flight attendants feeding you lavish meals and catering to your every wish.


But under a federal program that subsidizes air service to about 150 small airports around the country, $5,223 is the cost to taxpayers to subsidize just one airline passenger flying from little Ely, Nev. — on top of the ticket cost paid directly by the passenger!


In fact, $200 million in taxpayers' money goes to the so-called Essential Air Service program to underwrite the cost of flights to remote airports, and even to some airports that aren't particularly far from larger, more efficient airports.


To put tiny Ely's $5,223-per-passenger subsidy in perspective, consider the fact that in 2008, a total of only 414 people took flights from Ely. Some of the planes were empty except for their crews. Does that sound like "essential" air service?


Some Republicans in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives have proposed killing this absurdly wasteful program. But lawmakers who support the subsidy are struggling mightily to keep it intact, and it has survived previous attempts to cut off its funding.


Whether expensive and unconstitutional programs such as this one survive will be one test of whether Congress is serious about beginning to cut our crippling national debt.









Jan. 27 was the remembrance day for the Jewish genocide, the Shoah or Holocaust. Last year the very first meeting in Turkey was held at the French Cultural Center in Istanbul. On that evening, literary readings around the work of Italian author and chemist Primo Levi, who survived the Nazi camps, in particular his book "If This Is a Man," were organized. 

This year for the first time a public commemoration ceremony was held, and officials participated in for the first time as well. An ambassador representing the foreign minister and the Istanbul governor attended the ceremony.

Again this year another noteworthy event was organized. A group of 200 people from 40 countries including Turkey paid a visit to the Nazi death camp located in the Polish town of Auschwitz on Feb. 1.

Auschwitz is the death site spread over a 170,000-square-meter area where 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, were annihilated in the worst conditions in a very short period of time during World War II.

A non-governmental organization called the Aladdin Project, based in Paris, organized the visit with the participation of many politicians and opinion leaders as well as eight French and Polish Jews who survived the camp. From Turkey, representative of President Abdullah Gül Yaşar Yakış, State Minister Egemen Bağış, as the representative of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Mevlût Çavuşoğlu and about 10 civil society representatives and journalists were in the group.

Sarajevo Mufti Mustafa Çeriç delivered an excellent speech on behalf of Muslims.

In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated Jan. 27 as an annual international day of commemoration to honor the victims of the Nazi era. Jan. 27, 1945, was the day the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz camp. Claude Lanzmann, the director of the nine-hour documentary "Shoah," told me that Nazis wiped out most of the other death camps before the end of the war.

The absence of witnesses to a murder is always "vital" to the murderer, every time, everywhere. Lanzmann told me the strongest bone in human body, the tarsi, composing the joint between the foot and leg, couldn't be burned in the crematoriums so they were broken into pieces by hammer after the incineration.

Crematoriums, as a state-of-the-art technology of the German industry then, had the capacity to burn 1,440 dead bodies in 24 hours.

There must not have been any more "perfect" combination of modernism and barbarism hand in hand. Lanzmann's documentary was shown once in Turkey at the Film Festival of the Istanbul Culture and Art Foundation, or İKSV, in 1985. Turkish viewers haven't had a chance to see it again, but I have just been informed by İKSV that at this year's festival the 544-minute "Shoah" will be shown again on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the festival.

Shoah is one of the worst shames of humanity. The purpose of the Aladdin Project is to emphasize the significance of the Jewish suffering and maintain the primary importance of Shoah against outrageous Israeli government actions today against Palestinians.

At this point, significant differences come to the fore. On the one hand descendants of annihilated European Jews – who are generally the most democratic ingredients of Israel – and on the other "sabra" Israelis who are mostly from the Middle East, far from any emphatic feeling, self-confident and ready to do anything for Israel including abuse and oppression of Palestinians. 

Our 80-year-old French-Jewish host, Auschwitz survivor Ginette Kolinka, told on Tuesday how although her family was using non-Jewish names, the Gestapo came to pick up them after pulling down his father and big brother's underwear and sent them to the concentration camp. A French Jew is as circumcised as a Palestinian Muslim.

Our other host, İzmir-born French Jew Rafael Esrail, stressed this controversy by saying that the Holocaust is of European making, adding that "Muslims have never deemed this treatment proper."

Auschwitz and Shoah are two inseparable horrific facts. Knowing and remembering the Shoah is a human responsibility going beyond the ongoing barbarism of the Israeli government. Visiting Auschwitz is vital in order to keep in mind what man can afford to his fellow human being.

Remembering this horror is vital, in order to stop today's wrongdoings as much as to commemorate the memory of the children and the innocent who were massacred in cold blood. It is also vital to learn that evil only creates evil, to recall that keeping hope alive and believing in humanity are no empty words, and to say that the latest product of the TV series "Valley of the Wolves" is no different than the Mavi Marmara slaughter in terms of mentality.






The uprising in Egypt against the country's decades-old dictatorship is truly historic. The almost 2 million people who rallied in Cairo's Tahrir Square, and elsewhere, are certainly on the right side of history. They demand freedom, democracy and bread – to which they have every right.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan stood on the right side of history as well, with his slightly belated yet still-inspiring speech of last Tuesday. Calling on Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak to "listen to the wishes of the people," and respect their yearning for liberty, Erdoğan gave the right message. He also presented an interesting example of how Muslim values can contribute to democratic culture. By reminding Mubarak that every Muslim will go to the grave "as neither a president nor a prime minister" but a humble man or woman who will be measured only by his deeds, he defied the basis of every tyranny: greed.

The freedom agenda

I believe Erdoğan needs to continue to enhance this powerful rhetoric of democratization in the Muslim Middle East. The fact that he is the only popularly elected leader in the region, and that he has strongly stood against Israel's war crimes against Palestinian civilians, gave him a popularity that is perfect to promote such an idealistic vision. 

Another leader who once grasped that very vision, and advocated it powerfully, was none other than George W. Bush. In fact, most people that I know hated the man for invading Iraq without any decent reason – and I was no fan of that invasion either. Yet I still found the less belligerent part of Bush's "freedom agenda" appealing. He, and his Secretary of State Condi Rice, rightly acknowledged the United States' historic mistake of supporting Middle Eastern dictators for the sake of "stability." They also realized that the United States should support democracy even if it brings anti-American forces to power. One reason that those forces had been so anti-American, after all, was that they had been suppressed by their pro-American dictators.

Yet, despite this "vision thing," President Bush failed to inspire the region because of the legitimacy deficit he suffered due to the war in Iraq – not to mention Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and the "black sites" of the CIA. For worse, his administration backed off from democracy promotion right after the election victory of Hamas in Gaza in 2006. So, that "freedom agenda" was short-lived, if not already shortsighted.

Yet the need for a freedom agenda is still there. From the events in Tunis and Egypt, we can clearly see that Facebook, Twitter and Al Jazeera are much better tools for advancing liberty than the bombs and guns of "shock and awe." But the Arab societies which enjoy these tools can still use inspirational words from authoritative voices. 

That is why Erdoğan, who is such a voice, will do his "civilization" – a term he loves – a great service if he continues to push for reform across the region. He should note that Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands is not the only problem in the region, and more Muslims suffer under the brutality of their own regimes rather than that of the Jewish state. 

In other words, Erdoğan's aspiration to be the "voice of the voiceless" will be much better realized if he also criticizes human rights violations in the Middle East, including the suppression of dissidents in not just Egypt but also Iran.

Same old police?

Finally, Erdoğan needs to see that his calls for more freedom in Egypt need to be in parallel with more freedom in Turkey itself. He in fact deserves credit for realizing many liberal reforms in the past eight years, but all of that still makes only a half-full glass. While the AKP has challenged and defeated some of the traditions of the Turkish Leviathan, it has also made peace with, or even adopted, some of them.

A clear example is the ways of the Turkish police. The days of systematic torture are, thank God, gone, but the police can be still brutal in other ways, as we have seen recently in the student demonstrations in Istanbul and the workers' march in Ankara last Wednesday. In both cases the police, in my view, used disproportionate violence and blocked what should have been free in a free country.

One has to admit that the protestors in these cases were not very civilized either. (In Ankara, for example, some workers started to throw stones at the police, igniting the whole conflict.) But there still is a problem with the authorities' limited tolerance. In almost every case, they want to allocate a certain part of the city for the demonstrators, whereas the latter want more, and soon clashes begin between the two sides. 

I really don't understand why things have to be this way. Why can't the workers march right toward Parliament, to protest a law that they despise? Why can't they denounce the government right in front of its very windows?

The AKP would be not only more principled but also wiser to give such broader space to opposition forces. They might hear some nasty words, but they can also enjoy the honor of advancing liberty – and present a "model" which would indeed resonate from Ankara to all the way to Cairo.







I visited Egypt 25 years ago.

Influenced by Lawrence Durrell's novel "The Alexandria Quartet," my first stop was Alexandria and then Cairo.

The Cecil Hotel in Alexandria, the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar, the Zamalek neighborhood, Tahrir Square and the spectacular Egypt Museum in Cairo, all of which Durrell mentions in the book, are the most vivid frames still living in my mind.

But today I am sadly watching on TV the "battle" in Tahrir Square.

Egyptians who peacefully gathered a week ago to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak are having hot encounters today among themselves.

Corpses are being dragged all around.

The Egypt Museum, which protects the most valuable heritage of the 7,000-year-old Egyptian civilization, is facing looting.

Mummies were taken out of their caskets and the gold mask of Tutankhamen was barely saved from looters, said the museum's director, Dr. Zahi Hawass.

Egypt, which cannot even protect a world treasure such as the Egypt Museum, is being dragged into chaos.

Turkey a key country

"If I leave now, Egypt will be in chaos," Mubarak said in his latest statement, but TV images from Egypt reflect chaos anyway.

Beside Egypt, "opponent voices" are now being heard stronger in Jordan and Yemen, even Syria as Turkey's name is uttered more often in foreign press.

Joshua Walker, a Middle East expert from Brandeis University, wrote in Foreign Policy magazine that Turkey has become a "key country" in the Middle East.

The title of his article is "Return of the Turks as Middle East kingmaker."

With the fastest growing and largest economy in the Middle East, Turkey is uniquely placed to play a decisive role in providing alternatives models for the newly emerging governments of the region, according to Walker.

And I have a study in front of me now that confirms Walker's piece.

 "Turkey Perception in the Middle East 2010," by the Turkey Economic and Social Studies Foundation, or TESEV's, foreign policy program was presented in the middle of the week.

This is a second opinion poll by TESEV about Turkey's perception in the Middle East. The first one was published a year ago.

Iran and economic dimension

In addition to Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, Iran and the "economic dimensions" of relations are also included in the second study.

Some 2,267 participants expressed opinions via face-to-face interviews in Iraq and by phone in other countries.

A summary of important results in this study could be:

First of all, sympathy towards Turkey in the Middle East is increasing. The sympathy percentage is around 80 percent, excluding Iran.

Secondly, the mediator role of Turkey in the region is acknowledged – on that the average percentage of eight countries remains around 78 percent.

Thirdly, participants have already realized Turkey's increasing influence over the regional economy.

Around 76 percent of participants in the TESEV research have used a product "made in Turkey." The percentage jumps to 87 percent in Iraq.

These products include textiles, food, electronic appliances and durable white goods.

Today Saudi Arabia, tomorrow Turkey

"Made in Turkey" products have been used the least in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is perceived as the strongest economy in the Middle East.

However, when participants are asked what will happen a decade from now, 27 percent see Turkey as the economic leader in the Middle East.

Even this result by itself proves how important Turkey is for the regional countries where part of the people suffer from poverty.

But there is something missing in the TESEV research that Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, leader Cem Toker voiced during the representation.

Israel, as a Middle East country, is not included in the survey.

After Toker asked why Turkey's perception was not tested in Israel, TESEV officials answered in a strange way: "Our financial resources are limited."






Egypt's transition toward a post-Hosni Mubarak era, as incremental and painful as it might be, has sparked interest in the "Turkish model" of democracy-craft, i.e. the art of conducting democratic affairs, which in Turkey involves the military playing a stabilizing role during the transition process while Islamist parties moderate through political participation. Can Turkey's experience be repeated in Egypt?

Turkey and Egypt have different histories, and it would be unwise to draw precise parallels between the two. However, Turkey's experience can provide lessons for Egypt after Mubarak.

The first: the military's role during the transition to multi-party democracy. Following the 1960 and the 1980 coups, Turkey established a political system in which the military and the civilians worked together during the transition to democracy. In both cases, the chief of the military became the president. Concurrently, a Cabinet, composed of respected, mostly non-partisan figures, was appointed to share power with the president. In both cases, an assembly was elected with a mandate to draft a new constitution. After the new constitution was approved in a referendum, free and fair elections were held in 1961 and 1983, thereby transitioning to democracy.

Should Egypt's transition to democracy follow Turkey's model, the military would take over the presidency and a civilian national unity government that shares power with the military would form. Mirroring Turkey's constitutional reform process, Egypt would draft a new constitution and prepare the groundwork for free and fair elections.

But, first, a caveat: Turkey had many well-established mass political parties prior to 1960 and 1980, whereas today, Egypt does not. During Turkey's transitional phase, these parties simply reconstituted themselves. Egypt has no well-established mass parties asides from the Muslim Brotherhood, which has used the sanctity of the mosque, a luxury denied to other parties, for grassroots organization.

Due to suppression in Egypt over the past six decades, major political parties would need to be reformed, or in some cases, formed from scratch. Egyptian elections held in the near future might be free and fair, but the political field between the Muslim Brotherhood and other parties would not necessarily be level, unless the liberal opposition were to receive political and financial support from the West on par with what the Muslim Brotherhood has been receiving and will receive from its international network.

The Turkish model provides another lesson – caveat emptor: Following a military-shepherded transition to democracy, the military's candidates lose in the polls in Turkey.

Still, while the military's weight in politics officially ended with the transition to democracy in Turkey, the military retained some influence. Even after free and fair elections were held to appoint a prime minister as the chief executive, the former head of the military who was president retained this now symbolic position until the end of his term. The transition to multi-party democracy was gradual; not black or white, but gray. In fact, the military's influence on politics dissipated, but did not entirely wither away until the rise of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government in 2002.

This brings us to the second aspect of the Turkish model: Will the Muslim Brotherhood be moderate, a la AKP, embrace secular liberal democracy and adopt a friendly attitude toward the United States and the West?

Turkey's experience with the AKP proves that this is plausible. However, it also shows that such moderation takes place not because the Islamists volunteer for it, but because strong checks and balances impose it on the movement. For example, Turkish Islamists decided to moderate, jettisoning their anti-American, anti-European rhetoric, and recognized secular democracy only after the country's Constitutional Court shut down the Islamist Welfare Party in 1998 and its successor, the Virtue Party, in 2001.

In this endeavor the courts were supported by the popular military, the powerful liberal business lobbies, secular parties and a vibrant pro-Western media. This process of moderation produced the AKP, which put forth a moderate political platform in the 2002 polls that looked more like the manifesto of a conservative democratic party than that of the AKP's illiberal predecessors. The AKP won the 2002 elections.

After almost a decade in power though, the AKP's moderation has reversed. The party has turned authoritarian toward the opposition: Anti-government protestors are beaten up by security forces, opposition figures are wiretapped, and independent papers get slapped with punitive tax fines lest their coverage of the AKP adopt a critical tone. Private businesses not supportive of the government are terrorized by selective tax audits. And the once-popular military is losing its appeal since the AKP came forth with the Ergenekon case, alleging that the military was involved in a nefarious coup plot. The AKP has effectively neutered the military. Not just high-ranking officers, but also the government's critics among academics have come under assault, ending up in prison without an indictment or solid evidence proving their involvement in a coup plot.

The AKP's successful assault on checks and balances ― as a final step, the party is reshaping the judiciary in its own political image by single-handedly appointing judges to the high courts ― that forced its predecessor to moderate explains how the party's un-moderation is possible. Whereas Turkish Islamists moderated because strong checks and balances forced them to do so, this moderation ended once these checks and balances were marginalized.

In other words, Islamists are moderate not necessarily because the political tendency is built into the movement's genetic code, but more frequently because moderation is imposed upon them. The lesson here for post-Mubarak Egypt is that the Muslim Brotherhood, if it were included in the democratic process, could be moderate and recognize liberal democracy, but only if strong checks and balances were to enforce its moderation. Turkey provides post-Mubarak Egypt with a useful list of dos and don'ts indeed; now Egyptians will have to decide how much to borrow from the "Turkish model" of democracy-craft.






"Normalization of history," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said while describing what has been taking place in Tunisia and Egypt. Indeed, Davutoğlu's great emphasis on the end of the Cold War and hailing of the post-Cold War period as getting rid of abnormal relations and borders in especially the Balkans and the Caucasus must be noted as an important portion of his strategic viewing of the upcoming new world's diplomatic order.

However, Davutoğlu said during a recent interview with Cansu Çamlıbel from daily Hürriyet that unnatural borders and anomalously powerful state structures in Middle East have survived to this day. The reason the change is finally coming to Middle East and Arab world now, according to Davutoğlu, is because "like the whole world, the Middle East lived through a communication revolution. Before, there were only official and semi-official television channels; now there are hundreds of private Arab television channels. The things that were recognized as signs of power before are now perceived as signs of weaknesses. People started to see the reason for this weakness in the state. WikiLeaks [Cablegate] drove this [belief] to the top. There are things deciphered [in the cables] about the foreign policies of Arab leaders that have shaken people's confidence and trust in their leaders and states."

When the Cablegate saga first began, only about two months ago, I argued with excitement about why these revelations are so thrilling and how big of an earthquake they will create across the world, contrary to those who saw the leaks as "overblown." Since, as a sign of serious testimony, Turkey's foreign minister confirms my early analysis about the monumental magnitude of the Cablegate revelations in terms of their decisiveness to help bring serious transition to the region, it is imperative for Turkish foreign policy-makers now to get ahead of the curve.

U.S. diplomacy ran hard to catch up with Egypt's revolution since its start on Jan. 25 and according to common wisdom among Washington's foreign policy wonks, it still barely responded to events a day behind. The Wilsonian diplomacy, which preaches values-based democracy as leading principal of early 20th century U.S. foreign policy, in essence offers substantial groundwork for U.S. diplomats for such sudden demands today. That is why, at the end of the day, the demand for freedom that made waves across Egypt echoed in Capitol Hill and found a bipartisan support in Washington among heavyweights of the Republican opposition and Democrat administration alike. Egyptians' loud outcry for universal rights cluttered Washington's post-World War mentality of going and staying in bed with dictators, and urged it to throw its iron handed Mubarak under the bus within a mere week. And this was done, despite its strongest ally in region, Israel's, deep concerns of post-Mubarak regime or no matter how bad the abandonment move looks to other U.S.-ally dictators in the region.

There is no doubt that last two weeks have been a delicate test for Turkey's conservative democrats, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP as well. Turkey's Prime Minister Erdoğan appeared not one day, but a week behind Egyptian revolution when he at last unequivocally told Mubarak to step down with an Islamic-blended message on Tuesday: "No government can survive against the will of its people. The era of governments persisting on pressure and repression is over ... All of us are mortals, transient things. All of us will die and will be judged on what we have done. Our resting place as Muslims is two square meters of earth."

Even though it was such a belated reaction, nevertheless the region's rising star's stance on the Egyptian people's side registered with the world media. The Egyptian test, in a way, was the easiest for Ankara for its well known not-so-good relations with Cairo for a number of reasons.

Davutoğlu's vision, in its originality which can be seen best in his book "Strategic Depth," published 2001, pursues "no conflicts" in the neighborhood and aims to bring peace and stability that can be cultivated further through increased economic activities and cultural exchanges. This vision appears more fragile now than ever if the domino effect continues to take a hold in countries like Syria and Jordan, with whose leaders Turkey enjoys great friendships, counter to Egypt.

Since Davutoğlu admits that changes in Arab world are triggered by social networking sites and transparency of information through sites like WikiLeaks, and we know that this transformation is simply irrevocable, Turkey's near abroad and strong friends' lands have a contingency to witness significant upheavals in coming times.

And that is why Turkey now must be a special voice as a leading democratic country in the region to spread universal and democratic values. Instead of a leader-by-leader tap-dancing-great-balancing act, while being fully aware of every country has its own set of circumstances, Turkey must begin honing its moral leadership and guide them by the best example.

That is why Turkey's critical post-June of 2011 general election period, in which a new and civilian constitution is expected to be created, will not only matter to Turkey, but to the whole region, especially for its success in terms of its inclusiveness and orientation toward freedom.

Ambassador Ricciardone's tough week

The United States' newly appointed Ankara envoy Francis Ricciardone was back in Washington this week for the U.S.' first-ever Global Chiefs of Mission Conference and had a tough week because of some very disturbing statements allegedly he made about Mubarak and Egypt's political scenery when he was serving as an ambassador in Egypt between 2005 and 2008.

I asked Ambassador Ricciardone this week following Turkish-Armenian concert what he thinks about allegations that he was too soft on Egyptian leader in terms of human rights. Ricciardone briskly described the allegations as "nonsense" and told me "don't believe," without going into details. He gave the same short response when I repeated other quotes from Foreign Policy magazine.

The third time I asked Ricciardone how he would now describe Egypt's level of political openness during his service years, he said: "While I was in Egypt, I noticed a similar situation vis-à-vis the construction of freedoms. You [in Turkey] made great progress rapidly and what makes me optimistic is that you want more... You want it and you will reach it. You will reach the desired point not by U.S. pressure but by the pressure you put on yourselves. We are friends and on your side."

Since the links provided to a Foreign Policy article about Ricciardone's interviews are no longer working (how, why and by whom?), we have no reason not to take the ambassador's words over the "alleged" quotes.

Turkish-Armenian concert

Probably for the first time in Washington, a group of Armenian and Turkish musicians got together two back-to-back nights this week to give two great musical performances.

While the first concert, at Cosmos Club, drew an Armenian audience as well as Turkish, two Armenian attendees I talked to following the concert were disputing the benefit the event; they argued that in such circumstances politics dominates the air and the whole meaning of the artistic performance gets lost.

On the second night, this time at the Turkish Embassy residence, even though the concert hall was packed by a Turkish and American audience, there were only very few representatives from the Armenian community but no participation from the Armenian Embassy. Still, pianist Ayşe Taşpınar, who took the initiative to put together the concert, soprano Garineh Avakian, violinists Petros Boyadzyan and Movses Posossian and duduk player Albert Vardanyan filled Washington with their epic musical performances which were ended with "Sarı Gelin," a folk song which they dedicated to the memory of Armenian Turkish hero Hrant Dink.






It was the Egyptian army's statement that brought it all back: "To the great people of Egypt, your armed forces, acknowledging the legitimate rights of the people ... have not and will not use force against the Egyptian people." In other words, go ahead and overthrow President Hosni Mubarak. It's all right with us.

It reminded me of the day of the first big anti-communist demonstration in Moscow in mid-1989. There had already been non-violent demonstrations in other communist-ruled countries like Poland and Hungary, but this was Russia. The enormous crowd filling the broad Garden Ring Road was visibly nervous, and I was staying near the edge of the crowd so I could dodge into a doorway if the shooting started.

Then I noticed that there were Soviet army officers, in full uniform, among the protesters. It was going to be all right: The military wanted change just as much as everybody else. Tahrir Square in Cairo today is the same: The army is with the people.

The army statement in Cairo rang the death knell for Mubarak's regime, even if he still insists that he will stay in the presidential palace until the election scheduled for September. That won't happen. A transitional government led by other people will organize the election. But the echoes of an earlier revolution set me to wondering: Is this the Arab world's 1989?

In 1989 the collapse of the old order started in the "satellite" countries, not in the Russian heart of the empire, just as the current revolt against the Arab status quo began in Tunisia, a relatively small and marginal Arab country. The Eastern European landslide only started to sweep everything before it in November 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall. So is Hosni Mubarak the Berlin Wall of the Arab world?

He certainly could be, for Egypt is the most populous Arab country, and the tactics and goals of the Tunisian and Egyptian peoples closely resemble those of the peaceful revolutionaries of Eastern Europe in 1989. The Arabs, too, are successfully using non-violent tactics to bring irresistible moral pressure on tyrannical and corrupt regimes, and they are demanding just the same things: democracy, justice and prosperity.

The non-violent formula worked in two to three weeks in Tunisia, and it looks like it will take about the same time in Egypt. At first the president is defiant and sends police thugs out into the streets to attack the protesters, but he cannot use massive violence because he knows that the army would not obey a shoot-to-kill order. Much like in Eastern Europe in 1989.

Then begins the retreat. First the president promises reforms. Then, when that doesn't work, he fires the entire government and creates a new Cabinet (but it's still full of hated regime cronies). Then he promises to leave power at the next election, but argues that he must stay for the transition period to guarantee "stability." Finally, he gets on the plane and leaves.

Tunisia has traveled that entire route since mid-December, and Egypt is passing through the next-to-last stage. Other Arab countries may be on the same road: The demonstrations began in Algeria and Yemen in December. They're only three weeks old in Jordan, but the king has just fired the entire government and appointed a new Cabinet with orders to carry out "true political reforms."

There are hold-outs like Syria, whose president, Bashar al-Assad, boasted last week that his regime is secure because it has a "cause:" confrontation with Israel. More to the point, the Syrian army probably would open fire on protesters, for it is dominated by the minority to which al-Assad himself belongs.

Iraq is so paralyzed by ethnic divisions after the U.S. occupation that no popular mass movement is possible. Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states almost certainly face no risk of popular revolution, for their people enjoy great prosperity because of their oil. Nevertheless, the pressure for change is palpable in most Arab countries.

Fully half the population of the Arab world might be living under different, more democratic regimes a year or two from now. The European 1989 delivered precisely that in just two years; why can't the Arabs do the same?

They can, of course, but the period after 1989 in Eastern Europe was not entirely happy. The immediate result, in most countries, was a fall in living standards, not a rise. One major country, the former Yugoslavia, was torn apart by war. There were various smaller wars along the ethnically fractured southern borders of the former Soviet Union and Russia ended up back under a gentler sort of authoritarian rule.

The risks for the Arab world are comparable: short-term economic decline, civil war and the rise of new authoritarian regimes, probably fuelled by Islamist ideas. Nothing's perfect. But what we are now witnessing in Tunisia and Egypt, and may also see elsewhere, is a great liberation not just from dictatorship, but from decades of corruption and despair. That's worth a lot.

*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.






 If you are a businessperson who has international contacts, you frequently have business lunches or dinners to entertain your guests in Istanbul. My expat friends living in Istanbul or those visiting from abroad usually ask me where to eat. If it is for business, it cannot be a place where the noise level is to high. The food and the service must be good. The waiters should have basic command of English.

Here is the list of my favorites for you, based on my 16 years of experience in Istanbul and personal taste. You can visit their websites and make a reservation if you like..

Upscale fish: Kıyı 

International food and best view: Ulus 29 

Rakı/fish & Topkapı view: Doğa Balık

Middle Eastern food and kebab: Köşebaşı

Ottoman cuisine: Konyalı

Contemporary Turkish: Borsa

During a visit to the Grand Bazaar: Pandelli

Steakhouse: Nusret or Beyti

Turkish meze (tapas) and music: Asmalı cavit 

Turkish meze, music and dance: Galata Meyhanesi

Fusion, music and dance: Bird

Italian: Papermoon

French: La Brise

Californian: Sunset

Chinese: Dragon

Japanese: Itsumi

Breakfast: Mangerie

House Cafe / Ortaköy

When you make a reservation, don't forget to mention that you need a standalone table. Otherwise, if you are two, they'll usually seat you in between a row of tables for two. In this case, both the parties to your left and right can listen to what you say. During one occasion like this, the gentleman at the next table was so interested in our conversation I could not stop myself from asking, as a joke, his opinion about the business idea we were discussing. He smiled and said the idea was great, but added he believed that Turkey was not ready for it! 

Enjoy your meal…

Zafer Parlar is the founder of istventures (, which supports international companies in their market entries and development in Turkey, as well as Turkish companies in their local operations and international expansion plans.






In our column of Jan. 15 that criticized the construction of the Greek wall on the Turkish border, we also criticized the construction of the U.S. wall on the Mexican border. But in our objective and fair reporting, we birds would like to inform our readers that the U.S. wall has now been scrapped.

On Jan. 14th, the same day that U.S. President Barack Obama announced an easing of restrictions on travel to Cuba, Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that the virtual fence was history. She said her department had concluded, after spending $1 billion on the first 53 miles, that the project failed to meet current standards for viability and cost effectiveness. So the infamous fence ground to a halt somewhere short of 700 miles as the project was transformed into a virtual fence that was supposed to use the latest technology to catch human beings trying to cross the 2,000-mile border. It's at last one correct decision taken by the Obama administration that we should applaud.

Let us hope that the Greeks may follow the example of the United States and cancel the project before they spend money that they don't have. It has been proven worldwide that walls are ineffective. So if they are, why build them? And to quote Napolitano in 2005 when she was governor of Arizona, "You show me a 50-foot wall and I will show you a 51-foot ladder."

We welcome the revolution of the Arab people against their authoritarian regimes. It was something that was necessary and a first step toward making the life of the Arab peoples much better than it is now. And if that happens, then the exodus of Arabs from their countries will decrease. We shall see whether or not they finally succeed. The revolt of the Arab people will not only create possible domino effects further within the Arab world, but might also influence more dynamic demonstrations by the people of EU countries facing serious economic problems. So do not be surprised if the revolutionary spirit spreads to Europe.

Ponder our thoughts, dear humans, for your benefit.






Calculations on the MHP

With the June 2011 general elections slowly approaching, the calculations from political parties are slowly starting to take shape.

Opinion polls indicate that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, will receive the highest number of votes in that order. Of these, however, only the AKP and the CHP are guaranteed parliamentary seats with the 10 percent threshold rule.

Since the BDP, however, is likely to join Parliament as independent deputies, there seems to be no problem with Kurdish representation in Parliament. The only discussion concerning the Kurds might be whether they will succeed in reaching 20 members or not.

As such, the most critical calculations will involve the MHP. Let's remember that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, "I want a two-party Parliament;" behind these remarks there are serious calculations.

The MHP remained outside Parliament in the 2002 elections, which returned just two parties, the AKP and the CHP. The MHP beat the odds in 2007 and sent 71 deputies to Parliament. 

The AKP ran some scenarios to see what kind of Parliament would emerge if the MHP failed to meet the 10 percent threshold and was left on the outside looking in. The study was based on the most recent elections and sought to determine how many seats could be transferred to the AKP if the MHP fails pass the hump.

If the MHP cannot overcome the threshold, the result helps the first party. The number-one party in most provinces also takes away the seats of the second party in other provinces as well, according to the study.

If the MHP remains below the threshold, as in the 2007 elections, the AKP study suggests that "about 50" of the 71 seats it held would be transferred to other parties. Thus, if the AKP essentially wins almost the same number of votes as in the 2007 elections, but the MHP fails to clear the threshold, then the AKP will bump up its deputy numbers to the 400-plus level.

The study also gave a few examples: The AKP would steal away five seats from the MHP in Istanbul, three in Ankara, three in Bursa, two in Adana, two in Antalya, two in Hatay, two in Mersin, and two in Konya if the MHP remains below the threshold.

If the MHP overcomes the threshold, according to the study, the AKP would need about 40-50 percent of the votes to achieve the number of seats gained in the 2007 elections, namely 341.

To change the Constitution on its own, the AKP needs 367 or more deputies and for that it needs at least 50 percent of the popular vote in the event the MHP enters Parliament.

Inside the government party, there are two different views concerning the MHP: The dominant view is that if the MHP is outside Parliament, the AKP could easily find a constitutional and legal solution. This group sees the MHP as an "obstacle in front of the solution" especially on the Kurdish conflict and a new constitution.

The other view is that if the MHP fails to clear the threshold it could take to the street and create danger. According to this group, it is better to have the MHP in Parliament for a historic solution period to the Kurdish question so as not to cause any social problems.

But without doubt the first group thinks alike with the prime minister and wishes to have a "two-party" Parliament. That's why all the calculations are being made with the MHP in mind.

Who knows? Perhaps many issues such as the new constitution, the presidential system, a solution to the Kurdish question will depend on whether or not such calculations come to fruition.

Deputies developing passion for riding sports?

Parliament's Presidential Council is looking at taking over the equestrian club next to the Atatürk Forest Farm, which is one of the most beautiful recreational areas in Ankara.

While relevant ministries are entertaining the idea and the rest of us wonder if deputies are developing a passion for riding, some opposition deputies put paid to the idea that representatives were hoping to move into more equine pursuits; instead, they said, the plan is to build a social facility on the vast woodland at the location.









The federal cabinet, as it currently exists, reflects the makeup of many of our loss-making institutions in that it is overmanned, stuffed with incompetents and costs a barrow-load of money every day of the week. This could be about to change, if, as hoped but not necessarily expected, the government seeks to bring the cabinet into line with the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. The 18th amendment says that the cabinet should be made up of no more than 11 per cent of the membership of the national assembly. The cabinet currently has 62 members. The National Assembly has 342 members; 272 of them elected the other 60 being 'reserved' seats. Simple arithmetic tells is that if one per cent of the total is 3.42 members, then 11 per cent would be 37.62 – which would still be a large cabinet by international standards but a lot less bloated than the 62 we are currently burdened with.

The cabinet arrived at this size in part because of the need of the government to accommodate its coalition partners, who all wanted seats at the top table the better to 'facilitate' their assorted cronies and party faithful when it came to sharing out perks and privileges. In times such as this, with the economy in dire straits and donor nations not looking kindly upon us – never mind the likes of the IMF and the World Bank which both take a dim view of our arrangements for governance – having a fat-cat cabinet is hardly likely to win friends and influence people. The PPP is the principal player in the cabinet and is faced with two choices, neither of them comfortable. Either the entire cabinet is to be dissolved and reconstituted from scratch, with a possible future maximum membership of 16, or the cabinet could be halved, bringing it in line with the 18th Amendment – and below the figure now permitted by the Constitution. The government has little choice but to downsize the cabinet. The PPP has lost popularity and credibility, and needs to rebuild both in the hearts and minds of the electorate. Cutting the cabinet may do that in the short term, but the danger lies in the alienation of coalition partners, who are not going to take lightly the losses they face. However the cake is cut there are not going to be enough pieces for everybody that wants one.







So, who killed Benazir Bhutto? Why did she die and who knew of the plot? More than three years after her death these questions loom as large as ever. Bhutto's own political party, even her widower, seem least interested in getting to the bottom of the assassination. Instead, they seem eager to hide the truth – or at least make sure ordinary people are not let in on it. Mysteries surrounding the murder are growing increasingly complex while suspicions continue to intensify. This is not a desirable state of affairs. A month ago the PPP Central Executive Committee, which met on the occasion of Benazir's death anniversary, was told the report from the enquiry team that probed her murder would only be presented in the presence of party chairman Bilawal Bhutto. It now appears there are no plans to present the report to the CEC. PPP members have come up with various versions of why this is so. Some say a 'special' session will be convened to present the report, some say they are trying to find out why it has not been put before the party's decision-making body. The interior minister, who claims he and the president alone have seen the report, has said it will be disclosed at the "right time". He has not specified when that may be.

So, what are the contents of the report that make it so sensitive? Why is there so much reluctance to share its contents even with top PPP leaders? This matter has caused considerable distress and raised important questions. What is being hidden and why? Whose names come up in the report? And do individuals such as former Intelligence Bureau chief Ejaz Shah figure? We may never know. There are other mysteries surrounding the incident as well. Two Blackberry phones used by Bhutto, which apparently went missing after her death, are reported to have been located at Bilawal House. It is said that the phones have been sent for forensic testing to Islamabad. It seems odd that it took this long for the phones to surface. The phones could prove useful in the investigation. But it is also possible that they have been tampered with. There are more questions than answers circulating. As things stand now, there is real reason to fear we may never discover the full truth behind an assassination that changed the political destiny of the country. Too many facts do not seem to fit together – and too many individuals in key places seem anxious to ensure the full story remains under wraps.







Attacks on shrines across the country continue unimpeded. On Thursday, a low-intensity explosion triggered a stampede at the shrine of Baba Haider Sain, located in one of the most congested parts of Lahore, just as the annual urs was underway. Two people died, 27 were injured. The pattern of this bombing seems similar to that seen in other such incidents. The spots targeted in these episodes include juice bars frequented by couples, CD shops, or areas where music or dance performances are carried out. Such explosions differ from high intensity blasts that target shrines, and are believed to be the work of groups affiliated with the Taliban. It appears that the central purpose of these attacks is to create panic.

What we see then, is terrorism of different kinds. Both have a highly negative impact on people's lives. It is alarming that the elaborate intelligence network that exists in the country has ostensibly failed to detect who is behind 'morality squad' bombings, that have become increasingly frequent since 2008. It should not prove impossible, over this long a span of time, to track down the perpetrators. Mercifully, the death toll at the shrine was not high. But these ongoing attempts to change the way people lead their lives is terrifying. A more determined effort must be made to bring such terrorism to an end. People need to have the freedom to visit shrines, to eat out at cafes, and to choose the kind of lives they wish to lead. No one should be permitted to make these choices for them.









The story of the Medusa begins in Paris in the year 1816. The French monarchy had been restored to the throne by the English after they had defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. In a show of support for the newly instated king, they offered the French the port of St Louis in Senegal on the West African coast. King Louis XVIII appointed a personal friend, Hugues Duroy de Chaumereys, as a frigate captain and tasked him to lead the fleet to take possession of the gifted port. He had never commanded a ship, to say nothing of a fleet. Throughout his career, Hugues Duroy de Chaumereys had worked only as a customs officer.

Woefully, the Muslim world today represents the tragic story of the Medusa, the ill-piloted French naval ship that ran aground because of its captain's blunders and his dependence on others for navigational guidance, leaving behind a tale of helplessness, desperation and death. The Medusa's wreck is still out there, lying stuck on the West African coast, and isn't going anywhere. The Muslim world today is in no better shape. Like the Medusa's wreck, it is just lying out there. It is aimlessly floating like a stricken ship, with no one to steer it out of the troubled waters.

Representing one fifth of humanity as well as of the global land mass spreading over 57 countries and possessing 70 per cent of the world's energy resources and nearly 50 per cent of the world's raw materials, the Muslim world should have been a global giant, economically as well as politically. Instead, rich in everything and weak in all respects, it is an inconsequential entity, with no role in global decision-making, or even in addressing its own problems.

Though some of them are sitting on top of the world's largest oil and gas reserves, the majority of the Muslim countries are among the most backward in the world. Poor and dispossessed Muslim nations emerging from long colonial rule may have become sovereign states but are without genuine political and economic independence. Their lands and resources remain under the "protective" control of their masters, the direct beneficiaries of their oil proceeds which are all invested in Western banks and fiduciaries.

They have no bone, no muscle even with large standing armies, and whatever wealth they possess is being exploited by the West. With the exception of very few countries, they are all politically bankrupt, having no institutions and under authoritarian rule. They range from dictators to kings to elected pseudo-democrats. They are all traditionally averse to pluralistic democracy and are without an established system of governance.

What aggravates this dismal scenario is the inability of the Muslim world as a bloc to take care of its own problems or to overcome its weaknesses. Its rulers have mortgaged to the West not only the security and sovereignty of their respective countries but also the political and economic futures of their nations. The rulers are too self-centred to reorder their political and strategic priorities and remain averse to allowing attitudinal transformation of their societies to genuine pluralism and democracy.

Every ingredient of political life in these so-called sovereign states has been faked; sovereignty is not sovereignty, parliament is not parliament, law is not law, and the opposition parties are as corrupt and wasted as the ruling parties. Even the independence following the colonial powers' handing over of the reins of government to local rulers was not true independence. But things now have come to the boiling point. The winds of change are already sweeping across the long-tormented Arab world. Alarm bells are ringing loud and clear from the Maghreb to the Arabian Peninsula.

A moment of reckoning seems to have arrived for autocratic rulers and dictators in the Muslim world. It started three years ago with a Pakistani dictator facing the wrath of his people and then fleeing the country. And now, for the first time in Arab history, a dictator has been ousted by a peaceful popular revolution. The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia that overturned the government of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in mid-January was sparked by the self-immolation of fruits and vegetables vendor Muhammad Bouazizi, a jobless young college graduate.

Bouazizi had been slapped in the face, when his unauthorised stall was disallowed by the police, and he was unable to hit back; the Tunisian people did it for him. Today Bouazizi's photos are everywhere in Tunisia. This surely has some food for thought for the people of Pakistan, who have constantly been enduring humiliation and deceit from their successive rulers of all brands.

A wave of popular uprising against repressive regimes is already sweeping across the Arab world. Egypt is going through a convulsive phase, with millions of people out in the streets calling for Hosni Mubarak's ouster. They are seen waving the Tunisian flag and chanting the most famous line of Tunisian poetry these days: "When the people decide to live, destiny will obey and chains will be broken." The Egyptian people have decided to live and are ready to break their chains. Images from Cairo's Tahrir Square clearly indicate that Hosni Mubarak's ignominious ouster is a matter of days, if not hours.

Meanwhile, other Arab countries with one-man regimes like Algeria, Jordan, Libya and Syria may just be the next dominos to fall. But the problem with dictators is that they want to hang on until the last moment. They usually do not die in bed. Not all manage an honourable exit. In fact, a dignified departure is always a difficult choice for them. And when they go, they leave behind a painful legacy for their peoples to suffer.

In Pakistan, for example, we are still suffering our self-exiled dictator's legacy. The notorious NRO was intended to kill two birds with one stone. He got himself re-elected president in violation of the Constitution and in the process discredited Pakistan's largest political party in the eyes of the people. If political transition in the Arab world is scripted from outside, as was done in the case of Pakistan in the form of the notorious NRO, the people may not see the desired change in their countries.

In Tunis, the alternative leadership is yet to be identified. In Cairo, Mubarak who in the 30 years of his rule never named a vice president, has now appointed his shadowy intelligence chief, former general Omar Suleiman, as his second in command. Another military figure, former air force chief of staff Ahmed Shafiq, was appointed prime minister. In Jordan, a cosmetic reshuffle is being attempted. The people, however, will not accept ad hoc arrangements which are too little too late.

How things shape up in the coming weeks and months will determine the future of the Muslim world which, without a real systemic change, will remain the Medusa's wreck. Mere reshuffling of the same old faces is no remedy. The situation will crystallise in the next few days, but from the events in Tunisia and Egypt, the uprisings so far appear to have been leaderless. No opposition party has visibly claimed credit for them, nor have there been any signs of military coups. In this chaos and confusion, one cannot rule out an Arab versions of Hamid Karzai being parachuted in these countries. Incidentally, who is this ElBaradei?

The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email: shamshad1941@yahoo. Com








For a moment, let us forget about Raymond Davis. And Aafia Siddiqui. And Drone Attacks. And US hegemony. Let us focus instead on the Diplomatic and Consular Privileges Act 1972 (the "Act"). This is a Pakistani law passed by a Pakistani legislature. Whether we like it or not, we are bound by its terms.

The Act incorporates into Pakistani law certain provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 and of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963. Two of the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations that have been incorporated into Pakistani law are Article 29 and Article 31.

Article 29 provides that a diplomatic agent shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. Article 31 provides that a diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving state. There is no qualification or conditionality stipulated for this immunity. It is wrong to state that immunity from criminal prosecution will not extend to a situation where a diplomatic agent is performing acts outside his official functions. This conditionality only applies to civil actions. In the case of civil litigation, the immunity enjoyed by diplomatic agents is qualified. For example, immunity from civil legal proceedings will not apply to an action relating to professional activity undertaken by a diplomatic agent in the receiving state outside his official functions.

Who qualifies as a diplomatic agent? This is defined in Article 1 of the Vienna Convention which has also been incorporated into Pakistani law. The head of the mission or member of the diplomatic staff of the mission qualify as diplomatic agents. A member of the diplomatic staff is a member of staff of the mission having diplomatic rank. The immunity from criminal prosecution also extends to members of the administrative and technical staff of the mission employed in the administrative and technical service of the mission (Article 37(2) of the Vienna Convention).

The immunity for consular officers is more limited than the immunity for diplomatic agents. Article 4 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which has been incorporated into Pakistani law, states that consular officers shall not be liable for arrest or detention, except in the case of a grave crime. Although, the phrase "grave crime" is not defined in the Act, it seems clear that it includes murder.

So, if you are a diplomatic agent, you enjoy absolute immunity from criminal prosecution in the receiving state. If you are a consular officer, you enjoy immunity as long as the offence is not a grave crime. This is the position under Pakistani law. Who decides if an individual qualifies for immunity? The answer is provided in Section 4 of the Act. This section provides that if a question arises as to whether a person is entitled to immunity under the Act, a certificate issued by the federal government stating any fact relating to that question shall be conclusive evidence of that fact.

Now, let us turn to the case of Raymond Davis. The US Embassy has issued a formal statement that claims Davis is a diplomat and demands his release. The ball is now squarely in the court of the federal government. It must determine the facts. Who exactly is this individual (since there appears to be some dispute about his identity) and what was his job? Is he a diplomatic agent, and if so, what was his diplomatic rank? If he is a member of the technical and administrative staff, was he formally 'employed' by the mission and is there any evidence of such employment? What was he employed to do? You would not normally expect an individual engaged in administrative or technical duties to be armed. These are questions that the federal government must formally put to the US Embassy. After obtaining all material information and evidence, the federal government must make a factual determination regarding Mr Davis' status. This is not a straightforward case where an officer who is clearly a diplomat and has diplomatic rank is involved in an alleged crime. Until a determination is made with regard to his status, it is appropriate for him to be held in custody by Pakistani authorities.

In light of the provisions of Section 4 of the Act, the determination of the federal government will be conclusive. However, if the federal government's determination is made in bad faith or is manifestly unreasonable, it will still be susceptible to challenge in the courts of Pakistan. It is therefore important for the federal government to carefully consider this question and reach a cogently reasoned decision based on relevant records and available evidence. Both the ministry of foreign affairs and the law ministry should be involved in this exercise.

The position currently being taken by the federal government is that this matter is sub judice and we must let the law take its course. However, the diplomatic status being claimed by Mr Davis is not, in fact, sub judice. It is only the possible criminal case against him which is pending before the local court and is therefore sub judice. Diplomatic status is not a matter determined by the local criminal court. It is a preliminary matter which the federal government should determine. Failing to take a position in this regard is an abdication of responsibility.

If the federal government continues to sit on the fence, the local criminal prosecution will continue without a determination concerning Mr Davis' status. This would be unfortunate and against all recognised conventions. During the course of these proceedings, Mr Davis would presumably raise no plea save that he is entitled to diplomatic immunity. The local criminal court will then need to determine whether this plea is sound. Who will it ask? The provincial government and prosecutor will not be in a position to provide an answer. The local criminal court will need to summon the federal government and ask it to respond to Mr Davis' claim.

The Author is a Barrister practicing in Lahore.







There seems to be a curious pattern in the Islamic world. For a long time, things continue unchanged until, suddenly, the tectonic plate beneath the surface shifts, and the established order crumbles. A seemingly small event sets off a series of radical changes that alter the very face of the region.

Take the revolution in Tunisia for example. It was triggered by a peddler who burned himself to death, and fast became one of the most decisive moments in recent Arab history. A month long peaceful protest led by middle class Tunisians toppled the country's dictator and set a precedent for the rest of the Arab world. A North African country of only 10 million set off democracy movements in a region characterised by long-established dictatorships.

In the Arab world, only two other events have had comparable impact: the creation of the state of Israel, and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after five centuries. The latter, in turn, triggered the creation of modern Arab states.

The Islamic world contains the world's greatest concentration of corrupt rulers, unelected monarchs, and military dictators, all supported by America. None would survive without American help. Not surprisingly, American support for tyrants in the Muslim world has turned millions of Muslim against the United States. In the past, there was some rationale for accepting authoritarian regimes in the Muslim world as long as they were anti-communist. Now that the Soviet Union is a thing of the past, what is the justification for supporting unelected, despotic, corrupt regimes?

A long-awaited revolution is now blazing its way across the Middle East. The entire political system dominated by authoritarian rulers, fabricated by Kitchener, Lloyd George and Churchill in 1922, is in imminent danger of total collapse. Egypt is in the throes of a mighty revolution. Jordan is in turmoil. So is Algeria. And the wind is blowing toward the East.

Which leads us to question: where do we stand today? The independence of Pakistan is nothing more than a myth. Sixty-three years after independence, Pakistan has a dysfunctional political system, a president facing corruption charges and terrified of his own people, a non-sovereign parliament, and an ineffective, corrupt prime minister. The opposition languishes in torpid impotence. Ostensibly, we have all the trappings of democracy – national and provincial assemblies, political parties, elected government but they play no real role in determining major policy decisions and are, for all practical purposes, quite irrelevant.

The Pakistan Mr Jinnah founded no longer exists. It disappeared the day corrupt rulers hijacked Pakistan. Thanks to eight years of General Musharraf's illegitimate rule, followed by over two years of Zardari's corrupt administration, Pakistan is now a ghost of its former self.

Today, people openly talk about the corruption, indiscretions, folly and vulgarity of the man whom fate has planted in the presidency. The good news is, President Zardari's star is already burning out. But he will stop at nothing to keep power. It seems that in the death throes of his regime, he will take Pakistan with him.

At present, all the conditions that precede major changes in history, exist in Pakistan. The country is fast approaching revolution. We are on the verge of a total economic and political collapse. The social contract between the government and the people has collapsed. The dialogue between the rulers and the ruled has broken down.

It is noteworthy, that of all the decolonised, newly independent countries, Pakistan is perhaps the only country that has lost its independence after gaining it. It attained freedom from British rule, only to turn into an American colony. Today it is not just a "rentier state," or a client state. It is a slave state, misgoverned by a power-hungry junta and a puppet government that is controlled by Washington.

After decades of corrupt, civilian and military dictatorships the state is so flawed that it needs to be dismantled and rebuilt, rather than fixed. It is not enough to sit back and let history take its course. The present corrupt leadership is taking Pakistan to a perilous place. This is a delicate time, full of hope and trepidation in equal measure. Today, there exists a political and moral imperative for all patriotic Pakistanis to fight for our core values, to resist foreign intervention in our internal affairs and to destroy the roots of corruption at the top.

The time has come when the ultimate sovereign – the people of Pakistan – must assert themselves. We have no alternative but to stand up and fight. If we succeed, and God willing we shall, we may be able to create a new corruption-free Pakistan. We may regain control of our collective destiny, and earn back the respect of the democratic world. We may become a proud and free country once again.

If people want a fundamental change, they must keep voting where it counts most – in the streets – over and again. A corrupt regime like the one in charge of Pakistan today, can only be brought down if enough people vote in the streets. In the event that people take to the streets in large numbers, the regime will have to choose between shooting its people or surrendering power. And this, is what the regime fears most. There is no other path for our country, but the one the Egyptians are treading today. There is no other solution.

The writer is a former federal secretary. Email:,









The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.

When one member of the US mission goes berserk, executing Pakistani citizens on the street, and a second tramples and kills another innocent citizen in a failed bid to rescue and recover the murderer, the outrage felt across the country is only natural. But we cannot allow such anger and the street consensus against the US foreign policy to prevent us from appreciating what really is at stake in the Raymond Davis saga. The primary issue of concern for Pakistanis at the moment is not whether Raymond Davis is a good man or a stooge, whether or not he acted in self-defence, or if his actions were proportionate to any threat he might have perceived. The issue at stake is due process, and the Raymond Davis case is a litmus test for rule of law and how it is upheld by Pakistan against the powerful and the mighty.

But in order to gauge our state's fidelity to rule of law, we need to ask the right questions. First of all, the Raymond Davis case shares no similarities with the Aafia Siddiqui case. The questions raised by the manner in which Aafia Siddiqui was apprehended, tried and sentenced by the US are legitimate and disconcerting, but not relevant to Raymond Davis. Aafia Siddiqui was not a member of Pakistan's diplomatic mission and thus comparing apples with peaches serves no purpose. Secondly, the history of treatment meted out to a diplomat of any country other than Pakistan, for any crime committed by him/her in the US, again has no bearing on the Raymond Davis matter. In international relations diplomatic ties between states are based on reciprocity.

Unless the US has denied the benefit of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations to Pakistani diplomats, ill treatment of diplomats from other countries should be of no consequence. And, thirdly, it is not the prosecution of Raymond Davis before Pakistani courts and the award of rigorous punishment thereafter that will determine whether rule of law has been upheld.

What will determine the sanctity and strength of our legal system is fair and neutral administration of Pakistani laws by our judicial system, including legal obligations under the Vienna Convention, without regard to the pressure being brought to bear upon the courts indirectly by the US on the one hand and segments of Pakistani media and political groups on the other.


In this regard there are at least four sets of legal questions that need to be raised. One, in what legal capacity was Raymond Davis serving the US mission in Pakistan? Two, what privileges and immunities are attracted by such capacity? Three, who determines the legal capacity of Raymond Davis and whether he is eligible for any privileges and immunities? And, four, what remedial measures can Pakistan take to ensure that something of this sort doesn't happen in future?

The United States claims that Raymond Davis is a member of the "administrative and technical staff" of the US mission to Pakistan. Pursuant to Article 1 of the Vienna Convention, members of the mission include members of the administrative and technical staff. Article 10 of the Vienna Convention obliges the sending state to notify the ministry of foreign affairs of the receiving state of "the appointment of members of the mission, their arrival and final departure, or the termination of their functions with the mission." Thus, to the extent that Pakistan's Foreign Office was notified by the US embassy that Raymond Davis had been appointed as member of the US mission in Pakistan, and such appointment had not been objected to by the Foreign Office, his status as member of the US administrative and technical staff and member of the US mission would be secure.

The second question, then, is whether a member of a foreign mission, who is not a diplomat but a member of the administrative and technical staff, can be arrested and prosecuted for a criminal offence. The simple answer is no. Article 29 of the Vienna Convention clearly states that, "the person of the diplomatic agent shall be inviolable" and "he shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention." Article 31 affords a diplomat absolute immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of a receiving state and qualified immunity from its civil and administrative jurisdiction. And then, sub-clause (2) of Article 37 extends the absolute immunity available to diplomats from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving state to members of the administrative and technical staff as well.

While immunity from civil and administrative jurisdiction afforded to such staff members does not extend to "acts performed outside the scope of their duties," immunity from criminal jurisdiction remains unlimited. Thus, in order to be immune from criminal prosecution before Pakistani courts for the murder of the two Pakistanis citizens, Raymond Davis doesn't have to be a diplomat. The only prerequisite for claiming such immunity is that the US embassy should have informed the Foreign Office that Davis would be serving the US mission in Pakistan in such capacity. If such notification had been issued, the only legal option for Pakistan is to formally ask the United States to waive immunity and allow Davis to be prosecuted. And in the event that the US refuses, Davis can be declared persona non grata and thrown out of the country.

Section 4 of Pakistan's Diplomatic and Counsellor Privileges Act, 1972, states that, "if any question arises whether or not any person is entitled to any privilege or immunity under this Act, a certificate issued by, or under the authority of, the federal government stating any fact related to the question shall be conclusive evidence of that fact." Under Pakistan's constitutional scheme of separation of powers, it is the courts that interpret and enforce laws. Consequently once the federal government takes a position on whether or not Raymond Davis is immune from Pakistan's criminal jurisdiction, it will be for the courts to confirm that the federal government's position is not marred by any legal error.

Most of us want to see Raymond Davis prosecuted and punished for the murder of Pakistani citizens. But let us not forget that it is not the award of harsh punishment but fair administration and enforcement of laws that remains a gauge of how just a legal system is. We must not allow anger, resentment, bravado or street opinion to affect the quality of justice produced by our courts. An adverse ruling creatively interpreting the law to deny Davis the benefit of Pakistan's Diplomatic and Counsellor Privileges Act might bring instant gratification for many but will put in jeopardy the neutrality and credibility of our justice system. And that will do us more harm than good.

Let us also remember that the Raymond Davis killings did not take place in a vacuum. Successive regimes in Pakistan have bent over backwards to appease the US. Our military and civilian leadership has allowed the US to control air bases in Pakistan, carry out drone attacks within our territory, import deadly weapons for the security of embassy staff, and conduct itself without regard to local laws. It is this continuing practice of treating members of the US mission as above the law that explains the Raymond Davis killings. The US has a history and tendency of disregarding municipal and international laws other than its own. So long as we willingly flout Pakistani laws to humour the Americans, why should the US pay our laws any heed?

Instead of being consumed by Davis' prosecution within Pakistan, let us ensure that we afford the US mission only such treatment as is afforded to the Pakistani mission in the US. And let us start by summoning the US ambassador to the Foreign Office and reminding him that under the Vienna Convention the US is under binding legal obligation to respect the laws and regulations of Pakistan.








Fragrance from the Jasmine Revolution, which overthrew Tunisia's hated President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, is spreading over the larger West Asia-North Africa region, especially to Egypt, Yemen and Jordan. By the time these lines appear, it's likely that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's oppressive 30-year-long reign would have ended.

Major events in Egypt, the Arab world's largest country, tend to shake the entire region. Tunisia is tiny beside Egypt. But its successful 29-day uprising was the Arab world's first real revolution. Unlike past putsches, "colonels' coups" and other regime changes, misnamed "revolutions," this was a mass uprising.

The uprising evoked the most resonance in Egypt, but it has shaken other Arab autocrats too. Nobody expressed their fears better than Libya's Muammar Gaddafi – the world's longest-ruling dictator – who arrogantly told Tunisians that bloodshed and anarchy had broken out in their country because they sacked Ben Ali far too hastily.

By all indications, Arab citizens are watching Egypt's protests with hope. It's ordinary people like them, not Islamists or foreign troops, who are challenging a dictator. Most people in the Arab League's 22 countries share the Tunisians' and Egyptians' disgust with corrupt dictatorial regimes, which don't provide basic public services or relieve food shortages and high prices.

The Arab states haven't done well by their people. Even the oil-rich ones haven't educated them and created social opportunity. Under external pressure and recent effects the global slowdown, many governments have further cut food and fuel subsidies, thus increasing people's suffering.

Most young Arabs are moderately educated, aware of the world, and aspire to jobs in a modern economy. Such jobs are a rarity. The youth have no future. Their frustration is aggravated by denial of liberties.

So, Egypt's upsurge could well be replicated in other Arab countries. People's bottled-up anger and frustration are the same everywhere, as is lack of freedom.

The democratic deficit in the Arab world is huge. Elections, if and when they take place, are typically rigged – as in Egypt recently, when the ruling party increased its parliamentary majority from 75 per cent to 95 per cent.

Only three Arab countries can be called some kind of democracy: Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories and Iraq. Lebanon is a plural society with Shias, Sunnis, Christians and Druze Muslims, which holds free elections. But its democracy has a denominational character, with the top offices being divided up between religious communities and powerful families.

The Palestinian Territories had free and fair elections in 2006. But, Hamas, which won a plurality, was excluded from the Palestinian Authority government. Its state power is confined to Gaza, itself an open-air prison under Israel's occupation. In Iraq, the democratic process runs within a constitution and broad-sweep policy framework dictated by the US after the 2003 occupation.

Most other Arab states are in paralysis, where some form of elected legislatures exist – as in Kuwait – but wield very little power, which is subject to the ruling families' will. Often, elections are held only as safety-valves to vent frustration.

Some of the richest Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar, are at the bottom of the democracy index. Saudi Arabia is at the bottom of the abyss.

The democracy deficit is often blamed on Islam, especially salafi "desert Islam", reinforced by ultra-conservative obscurantism. But other factors are more important: large-scale social destruction and creation of artificial states by European imperialists; tribalism and paternalism; oil money, which obviates the need to negotiate popular participation; the state's failure to tax the rich and break their stranglehold, and not least, foreign aid dependence.

The Western powers, led by the US, have sustained Arab autocracies for Cold War-related reasons, and now as part of the US's strategic alliance system to which Israel, followed by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, is pivotal. Washington has bankrolled Egypt with $3.5 billion annually since Anwar El-Sadat made peace with Israel in 1979, breaking its isolation in the Arab world.

Many Arab rulers will probably follow the Egypt model when faced with a popular upsurge. Mubarak dissolved his cabinet and appointed former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as vice-president. This only produced more protest, led by youth who chanted: "We don't want a new cabinet, we want you out".

Suleiman is a trusted US ally and long-standing CIA collaborator who helped implement the notorious policy of "rendition" of terrorism suspects to extract confessions from them under torture. Suleiman has been the main conduit between Mubarak and Washington, under whom torture has long been practised in Egypt.

The Egyptian people's anger is rooted in opposition to the Mubarak dynasty, police brutality, widespread poverty, lack of housing, high food prices, and unemployment. People under 30 make up almost two-thirds of Egypt's population. About 90 per cent of Egypt's jobless are under 30.

Discontent has now infected even the army. Soldiers refuse to open fire on protesting crowds or stop people from painting anti-Mubarak slogans on battle-tanks. Mubarak has succeeded in uniting different social strata through hatred, including trade unions, the Facebook-networked 6 April Youth Movement created in solidarity with industrial workers planning a strike, and sections of the middle class.

Numerous parties, including National Association for Change led by former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohammed ElBaradei and the Muslim Brotherhood, and secular parties too, support or join the protests. But none leads them, certainly not the Muslim Brotherhood.

Meanwhile, Egypt's millionaires are fleeing. And people are publicly telling Mubarak: "The plane is ready." A collapse of the Mubarak regime will almost certainly ignite protests in other Arab states and prove a transformative moment in West Asia-North Africa, radically reshaping it and opening a new democratic epoch.

Meanwhile, the West is caught in a dilemma. If it distances itself from Mubarak, it risks provoking a groundswell of protest and instability in an already volatile region. The West has a huge stake in the oil there. If it backs Mubarak, its loyal ally, and Israel's closest friend in the region, it will court intense popular hostility, as it did by backing the detested Shah of Iran in 1979. The second option would be suicidal.

The dilemma is especially acute for Washington. It vacillates between certifying that the "Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests" of the people, and calling for "an orderly transition in Egypt". While this implies Mubarak's departure, Washington doesn't accept the upsurge's terms.

Israel too is watching Egypt with great anxiety at the thought that it might lose an indispensable ally, whose cooperation is crucial in maintaining the Gaza status quo, and also confusion and divisions in the Arab world. Israel fears that a democratic radicalisation of the Arab Street would bring the Palestinian issue to the fore and stoke mass hostility towards itself.

If Egypt's next government decides to open the Rafah crossing with Gaza, it will break Israel's siege of the Strip. This could reverse Israel's hitherto-remarkably-successful strategy of pushing the Palestinian Authority's leadership into surrendering its primary claims to sovereign statehood and to land, accepting a series of Palestinian Bantustans, leaving illegal Israeli settlements untouched, and giving up the right of return of five million Palestinian refugees.

The situation is pregnant with big possibilities.

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email: prafulbidwai1








It has been one week since the Egyptian revolt began, and the mainstream American media have wheeled out many of their standard, self-appointed "experts" to illuminate matters. They attempt to solve the riddle of what could possibly have driven the thoughtless throngs into the proverbial "Arab streets", while providing their set of contrived scenarios about how things might develop. Even as our "experts" set about to demystify what they themselves have mystified, they are quick to turn to what really matters – the effects these events will have on the United States and our allies.

It is no wonder that most Americans are hopelessly in the dark. Middle East "news" in the mainstream is constructed so that people remain in a perpetual state of confusion and fear. A favourite question now being tossed to the experts is "what do Egyptians want?" If their expertise included anything but obfuscation, they might respond, well, what the hell does anyone want? We want to feed our families; we want our children to grow up with the prospect of a decent standard of living; we want to come out of college with some hope of finding a job; we want to have a say in the present and future affairs of our country. But that is expecting a bit too much of our controlled, corporate media and their favoured talking heads. If a serious treatment of the present matter is to be made, it requires a probing analysis of issues that interested parties would rather not be had. And so the cryptologists and fear mongers do their job.

President Mubarak used his own brand of fear mongering as he tried to justify the renewal of the "emergency law" every five years across his three-decade rule. The law allowed him to claim democracy in Egypt while running the country like a giant prison. But as he went on protecting Egyptians from themselves, young people of the Facebook generation managed to pull back the curtain. They revealed to the world that the mighty Wizard who was keeping the whole thing together was a shrivelled up old man. And what did the Egyptians do as "order" broke down? They united to protect each other; all segments of society came together to defend their streets and properties, to defend their homeland.

Western governments have been intimately involved in the innumerable injustices wrought on the Egyptian people during the Mubarak years. But who has time to sort through all of that when we have ghoulish "worst-case scenarios" to bandy about? And so we have a character like John Bolton, of Bush administration disrepute, rising from the political graveyard with predictions that in all likelihood "a radical, tightly knit organisation like the Muslim Brotherhood will take advantage of the chaos and seize power." And he quickly directs his prognosticator's spotlight onto the Christian minority, warning that they have reason to be alarmed.

This uprising does not belong to a specific segment of the population – and as much as some in the West might like to present it in a sectarian or partisan light, this is an Egyptian uprising. Christians alongside Muslims from all backgrounds and walks of life are participating in the protests, many holding signs featuring the "cross and crescent" that since the 1919 Revolution has symbolised Christian-Muslim national unity.

When Egyptians have risen and demanded their rights, they have done so as a people. This was the case during the revolution of 1952 as it was during resistance movements to British occupation in 1882 and 1919. Now we are witnessing a revolutionary moment in 2011, and the structure of Western mainstream discourse obscures the obvious.

A long time ago foreign powers, with the United States in the first place, cast their lot with the dictator. Now the Egyptian people are having their say.

The writer is an Egyptian-American Ph.D. candidate in modern Middle East history at Columbia University.











AFTER a long long time, it appears that both the Government and the Opposition have realized the need to address the real issues confronting the nation. This is evident from the efforts being made, now-a-days, by the two sides to overhaul and revamp the rotten system that has not served the cause of the country or the people so far. The austerity measures announced by the Punjab Government including merger of several departments and abolishing of 550 posts would result in net saving of Rs. 6.1 billion to the provincial exchequer.

Punjab already has the smallest of the Cabinets in the country despite being the largest Province and this prompted the Sindh Government to fire a battalion of advisors and consultants. Though under the 18th Constitutional Amendment, the size of the Cabinets would be cut down from the next general elections, it is encouraging that realizing the gravity of the economic woes of the country, there is realization to do it right now. It is understood that you can't expect cooperation from the masses or assistance from donors if you yourself are not ready to offer sacrifices. No doubt, there are coalition Governments both at the Centre and in the Provinces and varied interests have to be accommodated but it is now dawning upon all parties that the country can no more afford luxuries and visible steps will have to be taken to get things right. There are also moves aimed to arrive at a workable formula for fixing of prices of POL products as the existing one has only promoted unpredictability and price-hike every now and then. There is also discriminatory approach in the distribution and supply of gas to different parts of the country and to different sectors resulting in unprecedented shortage during the current winter that forced families to come on roads in protest. Hopefully, a satisfactory arrangement would be worked out to end the discrimination that is a cause of frustration and deprivation especially in the Punjab on this account. There is also a dire need to restructure the institutions that are eating up 265 billion rupees of this poor country and the process should be completed at the earliest but one hopes it would not be misused to hire favourite people for top management positions against packages running into millions of rupees. We believe that credit for these moves goes to Mian Nawaz Sharif-led Opposition that has offered ten-point agenda to the Government for introducing urgently required reforms in the system. It is, perhaps, for the first time that the Opposition, instead of blocking the way, is facilitating such moves, which augurs well for the economy and the country. We would also urge the Prime Minister and the Government and the Opposition committees busy in devising such plans to ensure meritocracy, which is key to resolving problems of the country.







THERE are ominous signs on the western borders but regrettably the Government as well as the Opposition parties seem to be oblivious of the increasing danger that could have serious consequences for security and sovereignty of the country. The Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) has confirmed clashes between Pakistani and NATO forces in North Waziristan resulting in martyrdom of a Pakistani soldier.

According to reports, the NATO forces resorted to unprovoked firing into Pakistani territory in Ghulam Khan area of North Waziristan and Pakistan registered a formal protest to the other side. The matter ended with the holding of flag meeting of the officials from the two sides but there is no guarantee that it will not happen again as we believe this is part of the deliberate campaign on the part of our so-called allies in war on terror to pressurize and humiliate Pakistan. Back in June 2008, Americans carried out air strikes destroying a Pakistani military post in the border area, killing eleven soldiers including a major. In September 2010, three NATO helicopters crossed from Afghanistan into Pakistan and attacked military outpost Mandato Kandaho, which is five kilometres inside Pakistani territory, killing three soldiers and wounding three others. It is understood that all these incidents were not a coincident but deliberate aggression and the situation remained under control only because of extreme restraint on the part of Pakistani troops, who did not retaliate. Americans have long been carrying out drone attacks killing hundreds of innocent people in FATA and other areas of Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and they have also been threatening, off and on, to launch ground assault as well if Pakistan did not cooperate in fulfilling their increasing demands. This situation is unacceptable but unfortunately neither the Governor nor the Opposition seems to be much bothered over the development, leaving it only to the military to formulate a response. This contrasts sharply to what the US Government and the civil society are doing to get a criminal, who killed two Pakistanis in Lahore, released and repatriated.







AS has been the practice for years, Kashmir Solidarity Day is being observed today in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir to express solidarity with Kashmiri brethren in their just struggle to resolve the long-standing Kashmir dispute. The observance of the Day is yet another manifestation of Pakistan's unflinching support to Kashmiris who are offering sacrifices for their birthright.

The Day this year is being observed in the backdrop of an intensified struggle in Occupied Kashmir where people have stood up against occupation forces as Indians are unwilling to move towards resolution of the conflict. Kashmiris have been resisting the occupation forces ever since partition but their struggle gained more strength since 1990 when it took new turn and was described as Kashmiri Intifada. In the backdrop of global concern about terrorism, Indians have been making attempts to equate this liberation movement with terrorism and Kashmiris gave up their armed struggle to pave the way for a peaceful and negotiated settlement. However, not to speak of any meaningful engagement either with Pakistan or Kashmiris, India even did not bother to thin out its high concentration of troops in Occupied Kashmir who are committing all sorts of atrocities. The frustrated Kashmiris have again stood up and are holding peaceful demonstrations and agitation that has crippled life in the State and Indians have clamped curfew in several districts in a bid to crush the movement. Though there is now greater awareness among the members of the international community to find a just solution of the long-standing dispute, the economic and strategic interests of influential powers are major hurdles in promoting a peaceful resolution. Therefore, Pakistani and Kashmiri leadership need to launch aggressive diplomatic campaign to shake the conscience of the world.








Kashmir Solidarity Day is observed on 5th February throughout Pakistan and across the world to express solidarity with Kashmiri brethren that the entire Pakistani nation is united in its support to their inalienable right of self-determination. Though their struggle continues since 1948, they took up arms in 1989 to counter India's state terrorism and, of course, to get rid of Indian yoke. Since then more than 93000 Kashmiris have been martyred and many more injured and maimed. But killings and atrocities committed by Indian armed forces could not weaken the resolve of the people of Kashmir, and they continue with the struggle for their right of self-determination acknowledged under United Nations Security Council resolutions of 1948 and 1949. It was provided in the resolutions for cessation of hostilities, demilitarization of the state and expeditious determination of its future according to the wishes of the people of Kashmir. It is now 62 years that international community has failed to get those resolutions implemented because of the apathy shown by the US

Because of its unparalleled scenic beauty, Kashmir is described as heaven on earth. But it has been turned into hell that would stretch Dante's imagination first by Dogra Raj and then Indian police and security forces that have let loose the reign of terror on Kashmiris. Historical evidence suggests that Kashmiris have passed through the longest ordeal and faced death and destruction. They had faced repression even before the partition when the British had sold Kashmir to Gulab Singh, a former governor of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh for 7.5 million rupees. Once again at the time of partition when people of Kashmir had dreamt of freedom, the plan of annexing Kashmir was contrived and implemented by Lord Mountbatten and Nehru, and Raja Hari Singh was coerced into signing the controversial document, as he was hesitant to go against the wishes of Kashmiris. India and Pakistan had three wars over the Kashmir dispute; and many rounds of dialogue including the stalled composite dialogue were held, but no progress could be made due to India's intransigence.

It is common knowledge that partition plan of 3rd June 1947 envisaged that over 550 princely states would join India or Pakistan keeping in view the aspirations of their people and geographical contiguity. On 19th July 1947, Muslim Conference had organized a convention and passed a resolution for merging with Pakistan, which stated: "This convention of Muslim Conference has reached the conclusion that geographical conditions, 80 per cent Muslim population, important rivers of Punjab passing through the state, language, cultural, ethnic and economic relations and contiguity of the state with Pakistan make it imperative to merge with Pakistan". India however occupied the State through military force and claimed it as an integral part of India. Earlier, changes in the Radcliff Award were made through intrigue by Lord Mountbatten by giving Gurdaspur to India otherwise India had no road link with Kashmir. After India usurped Kashmir, volunteers from Pakistan entered Kashmir to help Kashmiris in their struggle for freedom from illegal occupation. And it was India that took the matter to the UN under Chapter VI of the UN Charter dealing with Pacific Settlement of Disputes.

According to Tashkent Declaration after 1965 War and Simla Agreement after 1971 War, both India and Pakistan had agreed to resolve all disputes through bilateral dialogue. But it never meant that UNSC resolutions have become redundant. Anyhow, India has always taken the position that Kashmir issue is a bilateral matter, and refuses to accept third party mediation. Former President Musharraf had more than once expressed Pakistan's willingness to go beyond its stated position provided India reciprocated, but India did not respond to these gestures and no progress could be made towards conflict resolution. After 9/11, the US had come out with the doctrine of pre-emptive strike, and India mistook it as a carte blanche to all the 'big and mighty' and thought it could apply the same in this region. Since then India has been talking of a limited war; and in 2002 it moved its forces close to the Pakistan's borders. It was a war of attrition, and when India realized that Pakistan would not be cowed down, it ultimately withdrew its forces to the original positions.

In case, India continues to balk at resolving the Kashmir dispute either on the basis of the UNSC resolutions or any arrangement, which is acceptable to India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir, there can never be a durable peace in the region. The international community has to understand that Tashkent and Simla agreements were signed by Pakistan under duress. However, one should not ignore the fact that Article 103 of Chapter XVI of the UN Charter clearly states: "In the event of a conflict between the obligations of the members of the United Nations under the present Charter and any other international agreement, their obligation under the present charter shall prevail". India is focusing on confidence building measures to enhance people to people contact, cultural exchanges and economic cooperation, but these are not alternatives to the resolution of the Kashmir dispute over which both countries had three wars. International community should, therefore, help resolve the Kashmir dispute to avert the impending disaster because war between two nuclear states would not only impact the region but the world at large.

Some of right-thinking Indians also highlighted the atrocities perpetrated on Kashmiris. In 1990, Humra Quraishi, an Indian national, was asked by the editor of Tribune to go to Srinagar and report on the situation after surge in Kashmiris' struggle. She witnessed in Srinagar scenes of disaster; the army was everywhere letting loose the reign of terror that traumatized the people of Kashmir. In the author's note (preamble), she expressed her disdain for downplaying Kashmiris sufferings in print and electronic media in these words: "There is little space available to highlight the daily humiliation Kashmiris suffer, the plight of families whose young men have disappeared and the effect of the long years of turmoil on the psyche of young and old alike". She narrated heartrending stories of mothers waiting for their young ones who disappeared years ago picked up by the army and agencies. In her book, the first chapter was titled as 'Valley of death', she wrote: "Srinagar is a city under siege, every single day, for nearly a decade…There is a martyrs' graveyard in every mohallah of a town and every village, and an entire generation of young men and adolescents has grown up on the stories of their heroism and sacrifice".

There is no denying that state violence or counter violence never helps solve the problem but the big powers should understand the gravity of the situation and help resolve the Kashmir issue. However, it does not look like if they will do it because only when public protest fits into the geopolitical designs of the US and the West that they declare it a popular movement and honour it with the award of a colour label. The orange revolution of Ukraine, the rose revolution of Georgia, the cidar revolution of Lebanon and much earlier velvet revolution of Czechoslovakia would pale before the Kashmiris' movement for their freedom yet they were given colours by the colour-blind big powers. It has to be mentioned that in none of the above cases there was a UN mandate whereas Kashmiris have been given their inalienable right of self-determination by the United Nations Security Council in 1948 and 5th January 1949. International community should help resolve the Kashmir issue because tension between the two nuclear states would not only make the environment of the region perilous but also beyond.

—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.







On January 27, this year an American employee of the US Consulate in Lahore, identified as David Raymond, shot dead two Pakistani youths, while a third was crushed by the driver of a Parado jeep, who was called by him for help, at Chowk Qartaba. Persons, sitting in the jeep were also carrying weapons. Police arrested David near Old Anarkali Food Street after a chase and registered a case against him on two counts, while a case was also registered against unidentified people.

On the one side, the United States has called for the immediate release of the American diplomat, claiming that Pakistani authorities have detained the diplomat unlawfully and in violation of international law. On the other side, investigators and experts are the opinion that the under-investigation American involved in the murder of civilians in Lahore was in Pakistan on a visit visa and not on a diplomatic assignment—does not qualify for immunity from prosecution. Sources suggest that David Raymond including his companions were agents of the American CIA and were on an anti-Pakistan mission. In fact, he is part of the illegal activities of the Blackwater whose employees of entered Pakistan in the guise of diplomats.

However, with the help of Indian secret agency RAW and Israeli Mossad, Blackwater has rapidly established its network in Pakistan. It has recruited those Pakistani nationals who are vulnerable and can work on payroll. In this connection, the company has been giving high financial incentives to our people. In this context, some reports suggest that this notorious firm has been recruiting smugglers, employees of the security companies, experts of the psychological warfare, scholars and journalists in order to fulfill anti-Pakistan designs of America including India and Israel. It is of particular attention that a few days ago, Pakistani security officials have foiled an attempt by the Indian intelligence to enact a fake encounter for implicating Pakistan in incidents of cross border terrorism. The plan was unearthed when a suspect, working for the Indian RAW was apprehended in Sialkot border area, while attempting to cross over to India through the border security fence; an impregnable barbed wire obstacle. Entrance points on the fence are locked and controlled by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF). The suspect has confessed to work as an Indian spy who was tasked to recruit agents from Pakistan to work for Indian intelligence.

Well-informed sources indicate that the suspect whose name has been withheld for security reasons disclosed that his Indian handlers, Mr. Sharma and Mr. Amjad, had asked him to recruit a Pakistani national by offering a large monetary reward, preferably carrying a weapon and send him across the border through the border barbed wire fence after liaison with the BSF troops. Mr. Sharma had assured him that all the details of border crossing would be finalized by him and duly taken care off at his end. The suspect also disclosed that the Indian Intelligence had planned a fake encounter to kill the border crosser and exploit the episode as proof of subversive elements launched by Pakistan's spy agency, ISI crossing over from Pakistan to commit acts of terrorism in India. He also pointed out that he had held a few meetings with his Indian handlers in Islamabad as well.

Nevertheless, both the above mentioned events prove the involvement of Americans and Indians—under cover intelligence officers stationed in their Islamabad embassies and consulates, and are continuously engaged in espionage activities in grave violation of their diplomatic status. It is mentionable that in the last three years, Pakistan's security forces and intelligence agencies have caught a number of foreign spies along with sophisticated weapons, working against the integration of the country. In this respect, a number of times, arms and guns were also captured from Americans, traveling in the vehicles in various cities of Pakistan, camouflaged with dark mirrors.

Although Pakistan's security forces have successfully coped with the Taliban militants in the Malakand Division and South Waziristan, yet situation has deteriorated in the country where subversive events like suicide attacks, targeted killings, attacks on buildings, oil pipelines, sectarian violence etc. have intensified due to the presence of external spies. Notably, Pakistan's civil and military high officials have openly been revealing that RAW, Mossad and other foreign agencies are involved in supporting separatism in Balochistan and acts of terrorism in other cities of Pakistan. In this respect, on April 23, 2009 in the in-camera sitting of the Senate, Federal Minister to the Interior, Rehman Malik had displayed documentary evidence of Indian use of Afghanistan to create unrest in Balochistan. It is believed that the main aim of in-camera session was also to show the engagement of American CIA and other external agencies as part of a conspiracy against Pakistan because at that stage, Islamabad did not want to publicly point out America.


In this regard, Pakistan's Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit without naming CIA had revealed, "The evidence of foreign powers' involvement in the destabilisation of Pakistan will be shared with relevant countries." While in the recent past, Governor of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, Awais Ghani had disclosed that some world powers were trying to divide Pakistan, adding that if he were not a governor, he would have exposed them. During the Malakand and Waziristan military operations, ISPR spokesman, Maj-Gen. Athar Abbas has repeatedly indicated foreign hands in helping the insurgents in order to destabilize Pakistan.

It is notable that Pakistan is the only nuclear country in the Islamic World; hence the US, India, Israel and some western powers are determined to weaken it. Notably, despite American cooperation with Islamabad, its main aim along with India and Israel remains to de-nuclearise our country whose geo-strategic location with the Gwader port entailing close ties with China irks the eyes of these powers. Hence, they are in collusion to destabilise Pakistan. For this purpose, a well-established network of Indian army, RAW, Mossad and CIA which was set up in Afghanistan against Pakistan in order to support insurgency in the Khyber Pakhtookhwa and separatism in Balochistan have been extended. However, now, it has been expanded in whole of Pakistan as recent suicide attacks, bomb blasts and targeted killings in Karachi and Lahore have proved.

The fact of the matter is that CIA, RAW and Mossad are collectively working inside Pakistan. In this context, these secret agencies have been spending huge money to train and equip the militants who have been entering Pakistan on daily basis and have been conducting suicide attacks in our country, and assaults on our security forces including targetted killings—inciting sectarian violence. Besides, these foreign agencies have purchased the services of some Indian Muslims and Pakistanis. Those who did not come up to their terms have been neutralized or murdered. In this regard, in the past few years, some politicians, intellectuals, journalists and religious leaders have been killed by the agents of these external agencies, while some are on their hit-list. Their purpose is to create perennial unrest in Pakistan, while main aim remains to disintegrate the country.

Nonetheless, the incident in Lahore, arrest of an American, David Raymond, and the suspect from Sialkot border—working for Indian spy agency, without any doubt confirms the presence of a well-organized foreign espionage network, based in Pakistan and the same is run by CIA, RAW and Mossad including their undercover agents. While conducting acts of terrorism to weaken Pakistan remains their top priority.







Book Review

Name of the book : At Quaid's Service

Author : Syed Razi Wasti

Reviewed by : Tahir Farooqi

Published by : Jinnah Rafi Foundation, Lahore

Pages : 167

Price : Rs 400/-

At Qauid's Service is a biographical account written on the life of M.Rafi Butt. It deals primarily with the life and times of the young entrepreneur. the 1930's and 1940's were dominated by the preparation, conflict and aftermath of the Second World War, most of the focus of that era has thus been WW2 centric and very few texts provide a prospective on the culture of the very first Pakistanis, the populations that gave this country birth and struggled against insurmountable odds to survive.

Even fewer texts provide an insight into the dealings and preparations for the nation of Pakistan to become a state, along with all stately machinations and responsibilities, and virtually no text exists of the Qauid-e-Azams laborious 'behind the scene' plans to physically realize that successful, progressive Muslim homeland he saw in his visions. The book tells Pakistans tale from a very different perspective then the usual rhetoric. It is a story of young Punjabi entrepreneur, who demonstrated economic genius on numerous occasions and had garnered great success in a culture where the odds were stacked almost relentlessly against the muslims.

Born in 1909 in the Lahore, Rafi's father died while he was still at the young tender age of 16. Rafi had to take over his fathers surgical instruments business and soon displayed his knack for business and industry, expanding his humble business into an empire within a decade. Rafi went on to establish the Central Exchange Bank in Lahore in 1936 and expanding that venture into other cities of undivided India as well. Rafi travelled extensively to the US and Europe in order to discover the latest innovations in Industry. Rafi kept the Jinnah informed on any economic and industrial revelations that could aid the future state of Pakistan.

The book provides a vivid and unique account of Lahore in the 30's and 40's, along with names, places and independent accounts of the happening of the Muslim elites at the time of the Pakistan movement. The Qaide-e-Azam was a messiah to the masses but to the elites he was still a politician. M.Rafi Butt was a high flyer in Indian high Society and thus had an insider view of the way the elites saw Qaide-e-Azam and Pakistan. It details a story of how Jinnah inspired the youth of all segments of Muslim society and promised them that if they would follow him they will inherit a homeland with freedom, security and opportunity that couldn't even be dreamed of before. That sounds like regular political rhetoric, however the book shows how Jinnah planned on fulfilling those promises through captains of Industry like Rafi Butt who had the capability and the means to create an economy from the ground up. The book chronicles Rafi's various trips though Europe and the United States of America and displays the intensive efforts of the research teams to hunt down the long lost correspondence between Rafi and Jinnah on the progress made by the young entrepreneur in his quest to find allies and ideas for Pakistan's Economic base. Unfortunately Rafi died in an airplane crash around Vehari two months after Jinnahs death, at the relatively young age of 39, while his son Imtiaz Rafi was only two months old. had he died in the Qaieds lifetime, I'm certain Jinnah would have recognised his contributions and Rafi's legacy would not be lost to time for the next five decades.

The Jinnah Rafi Foundations research has been previously recognised by world leaders and diplomats as a passionate and important contribution to Pakistan's history and a tribute to its founding fathers and their intended idea of Pakistan.

The Research team led working relentlessly on the archives in Islamabad and London, supervised by his son Imtiaz Rafi Butt, who started research on his father, remarkable job done by a son to put his father in history where he belonged, with a unrelenting passion and zest for the truth.The late Syed Razi Wasti had done a marvelous a job with compiling and writing the book with the limited resources recovered from such a chaotic time in history , as partition was.








The conflict between India and Pakistan about where does the former princely state of Kashmir belong; if the Maharaja of Kashmir ever acceded to India and if this accession if it ever could lawfully happen in spite of Pundit Nehru himself agreeing with the UN Security Council to pass resolutions of withdrawal of Indian and Pakistani troops from Kashmir to facilitate to hold free and fair plebiscite under UN supervision and appointing US ex-admiral Chester Nimitz as plebiscite Administrator with all these measures of any accession claim can be valid or not is one of the core problems if not the core issue in the subcontinent.

This conflict is a result of hurried and thoughtless partition on part of the British whose Indian independence Act of 3rd June 1947 leaves the future of the princely states in doubt under a well planned scheme and a result of the double standards of Nehru and his Indian National Congress: on the one side they agreed to partition on the Muslims majority principle, on the other side they in violation of UN resolutions insist on the majority Muslim state of Kashmir occupation by India for whatsoever reasons, emotional ones of Nehru about whom his biographer Frank Morasse could not justify Nehru's stand on Kashmir, he cursorily passed it over by saying that Kashmir has become an emotional issue and article of faith because Pundit Nehru belonged to Kashmir or strategic ones for the hawks like Patel and others.

As a matter of fact the maharaja himself would have opted for independence and refused accession to India when approached by V.P. Menon. The Kashmiri people then as much as now- were left in the lurch. When in early October 1947 negotiations between Jinnah and representatives of the Kashmir National Congress for acceptance of a people's accession to Pakistan failed a military option was on the cards. But that was prevented by the fact that British had left the newly constituted Pakistani army under a British commander General Gracey whose loyalty was more towards the commander of the Indian army General Auchinleck rather than towards Pakistan and who refused to support the evolving Kashmiri Muslim uprising with regular troops. That was why Kashmiri's had to be backed up with irregular's fighters from the adjoining tribal areas of Waziristan under the command of Brigadier (later general) Akbar. On the 27th October India airlifted its troops into Srinagar, Mr. V. P. Menon writes that the first flight was dispatched to Srinagar with the instructions that if their was a single raider seen on the airfield you may return back without approaching/landing on Srinagar airfield, he writes that he was then glued to the radio till the time it boomed to announce that we have landed at Srinagar so he took a sigh of relief as if it was an act of dacoity, and then the first Indian-Pakistani war for Kashmir started leaving it divided among both countries the way it is until today while part of Laddakh - namely Gilgit, Baltistan were liberated by the local freedom fighters themselves. Until today, the 27th October is remembered by the Kashmiri Muslims as a 'Black Day' and 1st, November is celebrated as Liberation day in Gilgit and Baltistan, now enjoying provincial status.

The rest is history. India referred the conflict to the UN Security Council expecting to get a quick verdict in their favour. It was partly because of the weakness of the Indian position and partly because of the impressive pleading of this case by Pakistan 's Foreign Minister Sir Zafarullah Khan exposing the Indian conspiracy that the UNSC adopted resolutions one after another demanding cease fire, withdrawal of Indian troops and plebiscite so as to ensure the will of the Kashmiri people. None of the 27 resolutions that were adopted by the UN until 1971 were ever implemented and no action was ever taken to pressurize India to respect the UN verdict which they had been asking for in the first place.


Sine October 1947 the Kashmir conflict is looming over the heads of South Asia . It has provided for India and Pakistan developing a strong military while depleting the national resources of their respective countries. India being so much larger could of course sustain this effort much more easily that Pakistan . Both went nuclear with the connivance of the rest of the world. Between the late fifties and 1989 India had an opportunity and missed it badly to prove to the Kashmiri people that it was good to be part of India . It was in 1989 that an armed intifada of the Kashmiri's broke out which is going on until today. It is Indian wishful thinking that all this is a conspiracy hatched against them by Pakistan . People's revolutions are not organized from the outside as the 1965 experience is showing. It is the rejection by the Kashmiri's of a corrupt and undemocratic rule in Kashmir sustained by Delhi which made Kashmiri's reject Indian rule of their country.

The 26th January 2011 the Indian Republic Day can serve as an eye opener in this regard. As it had been the case the years before this national day had to be forced upon the Kashmiri's. The Indian government had to enforce a strict curfew in Muslim majority Kashmir . On a day when in the rest of India processions and meetings were going on celebrating this national day, while no processions and meetings were allowed in Indian Held Kashmir because the government knew that if taken out it would have been in protest against Indian occupation and not in favour of the Indian constitution. Local mobile phone networks were jammed and all roads leading towards Srinagar blocked. A procession of BJP nationalists from Jammu was prevented from entering Kashmir . This situation is ample proof that India has lost all support and the moral right to claim Kashmir as its own, one wonders the logic for not giving Kashmiri's their promised right for self determination when Christian in East Timor and Sudan have won their freedom very smoothly. Indians are controlling the valley and Muslim majority districts by use of brutal force against civilian population. We can read endless records of Indian brutalities towards the civilian population, of rape, murder and other human rights violations on a daily basis in the media. The world is standing by and flattering India for access to their huge market while closing the eyes over this ongoing genocide in Indian Held Kashmir.

One of the most unfortunate outcomes of this looming conflict is the radicalization of Indian and Pakistani Muslims. The transnational solidarity of Islam has been resulting in Muslims from India , Pakistan , Afghanistan , but also from Egypt , Bosnia and other countries joining the fight against Indian oppression. Radicalization and militancy have made its worst impact on Pakistan itself. The same way as the ongoing unresolved Palestinian conflict has been radicalizing Arab Muslims the decades of Kashmir conflict have done the same in the region and beyond. In Kashmir itself a two generations of young people have been born and grown up while never experiencing peace and happiness. For them fighting and weapons, death and brutalities are day to day normality. How can they be peaceful and teach peace to their children?

The solution of the Kashmir conflict is one of the pre-conditions for improvement of the relations between India and Pakistan as well as for any meaningful fight against militancy. But we have to keep in mind that this conflict is not a bilateral one but it has a third party: the Kashmiri's. They have been fighting and sacrificing their lives and their happiness. In any conflict resolution their input can not be neglected. Any calls of course for any other foreign intervention or mediation, be it the US or the UN, which has abundantly proven its incapacity or any support from the EU are out of question simply because majority of Kashmiri's are Muslim. The West dominated by Christians has its own interests which they will further in the first place and they don't want to know much about the ground realties in the subcontinent. A first half hearted step towards an easing of the situation if not towards a resolution has been taken by the last government by working for contacts between the two Kashmir 's through easing of visa restrictions and small border traffic along the Line of Control, which is only to deprive their birth right of freedom.

Therefore, solidarity with Kashmir today means in the first place keeping the interests of the Kashmiri's in mind and may be even putting them above our own, only then we can justify our commitment with the cause of free, fair and just solution of Kashmir problem, because this is also the promise of our elders and it is time for the West to see the wind of change blowing in Middle East & Asia because history records that nowhere peoples uprising has been crushed or controlled take for example – Bangladesh, Korea, Vietnam, Germany, USSR and now Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen. Earlier the Kashmir issue is resolved the better it will be for India and their supporters in the West.








Even after sixty-three years of our existence as an independent nation and having gone through macabre tribulations and sufferings, we refuse to learn from history. We lack the ability to make rational choices; our responses to the challenges are characterized by impulsive streaks; we have failed to develop a confederating urge that galvanizes and inspires the efforts of the nations to remain in quest for a purposeful change that is tinged with an unremitting desire to leave a healthy legacy for the posterity. We continue to live in the present, completely impervious to the need to maintain linkages with our past and choreograph our future as a nation in conformity with the national aspirations and the emerging realities.

Change symbolizes hope and success. The desire for change is an innate and instinctive trait of human beings and as such of the societies and nations. However, the desire for change needs to be stoked into a vibrant political creed and chiseled in consonance with the national objectives to unleash a positive and sustainable process of transformation. We, as a nation have strayed our path; the prevalent political system and the game of musical chairs between the politicians and the Generals has brought the country to the brink of a precipice that necessitates an impending shift in the way this country is governed. But the question is what kind of change we need and how it can be choreographed? We have seen the Generals in action; presiding over the dismemberment of Pakistan, destroying the political institutions, decimating the constitution, strengthening the culture of graft and entitlement, embroiling the country in regional and international conflicts endangering its very existence besides multiplying the avenues of corruption which ostensibly they used as a pretext to send the elected governments packing. And ultimately all of them were ousted in humiliating circumstances. In the backdrop of our experience with the Generals, the call by Altaf Hussain to the Khakis to lead the revolution is an absolutely preposterous proposition and an irrefutable evidence of the fact that our politicians have failed to learn from history. Only the sick minds or people with hidden agendas can conceive of a comeback by the Khakis. Revolutions wherever they have happened were essentially mass movements led by radical leaders and not by the men in uniform. History presents a strong testimony to the fact that positive and productive changes occur only through an evolutionary process and not through politics of blood-letting.

Unfortunately, the politicians also have failed to deliver and are responsible for the perpetuation of the colonial legacies like feudalism and the administrative structure that are absolutely incompatible with our national aspirations, essentially anti-people and averse to the vision of the Father of the nation. This system has in-built avenues of corruption and misuse of power. Our politicians have developed a vested interest in the continuation of this exploitative arrangement. The Generals and the politicians both have used this system to their advantage. The cumulative effect of the shenanigans of the Generals and the politicians is that Pakistan today stands at the cross roads, searching for its identity and unity that has been rent asunder. The challenges facing the country today are too complex and formidable to be fixed through a Revolution as conceived by Altaf Hussain or the mid-term polls being advocated by certain circles.

We certainly need change; a change that avoids disruption and traverses an evolutionary route within a democratic dispensation. Our major national dilemma has been feudalism and politics of graft and entitlement. It is estimated that nearly 250 National Assembly seats pertain to the rural areas where votes are cast not on the basis of issues or party manifestoes but on the basis of "Baradari" and loyalty considerations, giving the feudal elite the political power that they can use to protect their vested interests. We need to change the political culture dominated by these villains. Therefore as a first step towards change, the strangle-hold of feudal and Urban elite on power, needs to be undone through altering the way we elect our leaders and legislatures.

For a multicultural entity like Pakistan the system of proportional representation is a must to ensure the presence of all shades of opinion in the parliament. The introduction of this system will change the entire political landscape by eliminating the number game which is the hall mark of the present political dispensation and power wielding. The adoption of this system will end the clout of the feudal lords as winning horses and scuttle their chances to blackmail the party leadership for remaining loyal to their vested interests. People will be voting for the party programmes and the parties will be free to nominate really competent and deserving people for the parliament on the basis of the percentage of votes that they get. We may also opt for compulsory voting for every eligible voter. This will ensure enhanced public participation and reinforce the proposed system. Another area needing attention is the separation of judiciary from the executive at the district level, as required under article 175(3) of the constitution and strengthening the system of local government. These crucial changes do not need revolutions to take effect.

The PPP and PML (N) have an avowed commitment to work together for strengthening the state institutions and bringing systemic changes that conform to our national aspirations. They also owe it to the nation. We have already seen the fruits of collective wisdom in the form of eighteen and nineteenth amendment and the 7th NFC Award. The government has shown remarkable flexibility in accommodating viewpoints of the other political entities. The ongoing engagement of both the parties to find plausible solutions to the present challenges and also to deliberate on the systemic changes in the economic and political arena to put the country back on track, is an encouraging sign. Both these parties are in a position to winch the country out of the quagmire that it is stuck into, provided they act prudently guided only by the national interests rather than focusing on the party gains. They have a God given opportunity to fix the maladies and reform the system. Their failure to accomplish the task might consign the country to a never ending crisis.









The weather has dominated the news these past few weeks, but it is climate that is likely to preoccupy our politicians in the next few months. Putting a price on carbon is building as a test of Julia Gillard's political will as the government comes under pressure from business to deliver certainty to the market. The government's climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut, indicated the day of reckoning was nigh when he warned this week that Australia would only defer costs if it did not make a start on a carbon price. At a political level too, Labor, after three years of failing to put a mechanism in place, needs closure on a policy area that has seen votes seep to the Greens and helped undo a first-term prime minister in Kevin Rudd.

The Weekend Australian supports a market-based approach to managing carbon. We backed the model advanced by John Howard at the 2007 election and its clone -- the emissions trading scheme proposed by the Rudd government. We were less convinced by the former prime minister's rush to introduce an ETS ahead of the 2009 Copenhagen climate change summit. We argued that moving ahead of other nations could disadvantage carbon-based export industries and damage the economy. How right we were. Last year in short order, the US, Canada and Japan all backed away from or slowed their timetable for setting up national trading of carbon. Despite their rhetoric, the jury is out on whether India and China are serious about reducing overall emissions. But caution does not equate to inaction. Business needs to know where is stands: it wants a mechanism for pricing carbon that does not reduce Australia's export competetiveness. Global benchmarking is crucial and Climate Change Minister Greg Combet got it right last year when he asked the Productivity Commission to compare the effective carbon price across several countries. The report, due in May, will feed into cabinet's deliberations as it finalises its 2011 model. That month, Professor Garnaut will also deliver an update of his 2008 report. He says he is examining all options for pricing carbon. But the mechanism (most favoured is a hybrid model that fixes a price on emissions before a transition to a carbon market down the track) is less important than the government understanding it does not need to lead the world on carbon. It must not repeat the mistakes made by Mr Rudd, whose desire to lead internationally on an ETS had as much to do with his global aspirations as the national interest.

Labor's new resolve on carbon should serve as a warning to Tony Abbott. His dramatic rejection of the Rudd ETS late in 2009 was strategically useful in shoring up the conservative base. But it is far from clear that opposing a market-driven price on carbon will help the Opposition Leader in his bid to take enough votes from Labor or the Greens to secure power. If Labor can present a viable pricing mechanism that makes sense to business, it will be difficult for the party of business to reject it. Indeed, Mr Abbott could find that he, not carbon, becomes the issue in some circles. The Opposition Leader would be better off attacking Labor's crazy abatement programs, such as subsidised wind turbines taller than the Sydney Harbour Bridge, that produce electricity four times as expensive as coal-generated power. Wind power may cut carbon but at around $500 a tonne, compared with $15 a tonne by switching from coal to gas. The government recognises it is vulnerable on this front and recently canned some of its whackiest climate schemes, including "cash for clunkers". Labor is weak on direct action such as carbon capture through land and forestry management and the opposition should push for more action here.

The government's political skills will be tested in selling a carbon price to voters hit by higher electricity prices. The opposition's claim yesterday that a "hybrid" scheme would increase prices by up to $1100 a year, underlines how urgently the government must tackle the issue of compensation to householders and affected businesses. Labor needs a good story to tell voters, one based on sober assessment of the economic and export risks if Australia fails to move on carbon, not on the overblown rhetoric used by Mr Rudd.






Tropical Cyclone Yasi tested the strength and resilience of north Queenslanders to the limits this week. Now they are engaged in the backbreaking effort of rebuilding their lives, homes and businesses. Thousands of exhausted Brisbane, Ipswich and Lockyer Valley residents are three weeks into the same painful process. The impact on the Queensland and national economies of both catastrophes will be enormous, and the federal government has an obligation under national disaster arrangements to meet 75 per cent of reconstruction costs. Julia Gillard has responded effectively to both disasters and, as with previous calamities including bushfires and drought, it is appropriate that the nation shoulder the heaviest burden.

After watching vast amounts of their money wasted on the Building the Education Revolution and ceiling insulation program debacles, the ire of disgruntled taxpayers complaining on talkback radio about the flood levy is understandable. In the circumstances, however, the imposition of the levy is reasonable and responsible. The Prime Minister is correct in deciding not to increase the levy to help with cyclone reconstruction but to offset that herculean challenge with spending cuts. Labor has damaged its financial management credentials in recent years and it is in Ms Gillard's political interest, as well as the national interest, for her government to discover thrift and tighten fiscal policy.

Some southern-based commentators who venture north of the Brisbane Line only to cover elections have pointed out the obvious -- that the $1.8 billion to be raised by the flood levy could easily have been funded by borrowings. Economists concur. But Ms Gillard is a politician, not an economist, and not for the first time, some of the commentariat are misreading the politics of the sunbelt. After losing seven seats in Queensland last year, several of which were hit heavily by the disasters, Ms Gillard is undertaking some reconstruction of her own in the state.

Queensland has been difficult territory for her. She deposed one of the state's highest-profile sons, Kevin Rudd. And unmarried, childless career women with progressive social views and who do not believe in God are a better fit in Altona and many other places than in the socially conservative Queensland Bible belt.

Ms Gillard, as the former education minister, also carries odium from the BER waste in every state, and the ceiling insulation program was especially disastrous for Labor in Queensland. Three young installers died while working on the program in the state, where the take-up rate for the subsidised batts was high. About 30,000 homes became potential firetraps because of the use of foil. Last August, Tony Abbott, not surprisingly, won back Howard battlers in Queensland who had defected to Kevin Rudd in 2007. But the Opposition Leader has kicked an "own goal" that has dismayed many flood victims and others with his controversial online request for political donations to "help our campaign against Labor's flood tax" added by the Liberal Party to his email criticising the levy.

A political pragmatist, Ms Gillard would recognise that Labor will probably struggle to win seats in other states at the next federal election and could lose seats in NSW. That is why she will be intent on regaining ground in Queensland. For many Queenslanders, the January floods and February cyclone have had a far harsher impact than the 2008 financial crisis. For this reason, the response of politicians, federal, state and local, will be a factor in determining who uncommitted voters, in particular, favour at future elections. The levy should help Ms Gillard in Queensland.

If anybody pointed it out, Ms Gillard would have been heartened by the wide airplay given to the response of Chamber of Commerce & Industry Queensland (CCIQ) president and high-profile LNP member David Goodwin to the flood levy. Queensland business recognised that the levy was good for them, Mr Goodwin said, because four out of every five dollars for the reconstruction would be coming from interstate. It was also a benefit, as he said, that older infrastructure would be replaced and that part of the funding would be coming from the abolition of wasteful schemes, such as "cash for clunkers", that should never have been funded in the first place.

In confronting the economic impact of the floods and the cyclone, Ms Gillard is facing the competing aims of funding billions of dollars in reconstruction while boosting the government's economic credentials by working to return the budget to surplus. So far, she has got the balance right.






The extraordinary battle being played out in the centre of Cairo will decide the future not just of Egypt, but of the Middle East. The stability of the 80-million-strong nation and of the region is in play as protesters clash with pro-government supporters in Tahrir Square. The stakes are high, yet a week after the uprising began, it remains far from certain whether either Hosni Mubarak or Barack Obama will be able to deliver a sustainable outcome.

The Egyptian President is insisting that while he will step down in September, and meanwhile he intends to oversee the transition to a new leader; the US President is signalling he must leave before that, with a caretaker government working towards change. In the middle are the protesters in the square who, against the odds and despite the violence, are refusing to leave until Mr Mubarak surrenders office. The cry is for democracy: the risk is to the stability that has defined Egypt for decades.

That need for stability has driven the West's approach to Mr Mubarak's 30 years in power. He has been the strongman of the Middle East, whose ability to balance domestic demands and regional imperatives has made his nation a secular bulwark against fundamentalist Islam and the West's strongest Arab ally. But the past few days have shown that acceptance by Egyptians of the trade-off between rights and stability can no longer be assumed. A combination of economic woes and mass unemployment, along with dissatisfaction with a long-term autocratic leader, have spilled into the street. It is an uprising that appears to have taken by surprise everyone from the White House to the man being touted as the most likely transitional leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei. The lack of an organised political opposition in Egypt has become apparent in recent days, but however ad hoc these protests, and however weak the civil society, the mood for change cannot be ignored.

The immediate question is how to move forward, especially given the divergence of views between Washington and Cairo about the timetable for change and the role that should be played by Mr Mubarak. The Americans, anxious that immediate elections would open wide the door to the Muslim Brotherhood (outlawed but experienced in running independent candidates at earlier elections) in the absence of other strong opposition parties, appear to be looking for an interim government that would minimise Mr Mubarak's role and give everyone a chance to regroup. Time is needed anyway for changes to be made in the constitution to allow for more democracy. The 82-year-old leader is the sticking point. The respected Middle East commentator and former US ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, argued on ABC TV Lateline on Wednesday night that Egyptians will not accept a process overseen by Mr Mubarak because they "simply do not trust him to ensure there will be a free and fair election". In the short term, it is the military -- which continues to position itself on the side of the people, if not the protesters -- that will be most crucial in determining what happens next. The army did not intervene in the chaotic events in Tahrir Square yesterday as pro-Mubarak riders on horses and camels clashed with the anti-government protesters. But with the clashes continuing overnight, how long before anarchy forces the hand of the military?

Some have wanted to present Tahrir Square as the "Berlin Wall" of the Middle East, but popular protests do not always bear fruit -- witness the failures of the 2009 Green Movement in Iran and the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon in 2005. While Egypt is still in flux, it appears likely, as commentator Daniel Pipes wrote in this newspaper on Wednesday, that "the militaries will remain the ultimate powerbrokers" in the Middle East. Those impatient for change should remember that revolutions, even when successful, are unpredictable -- witness the deposition of the shah in 1979 that ushered in the Islamic republic in Iran. A post-Mubarak Egypt is inevitable, whatever the timing. The challenge for Egypt's powerbrokers is to increase popular participation in the life of the nation, but ensure that in the process extremist Islam does not secure a foothold.







THE debate has already begun over whether climate change and global warming caused cyclone Yasi, or somehow made it worse. It is an oversimplification. No direct link could ever be proved. This week is likely to see the longest sustained period of temperatures above 30 degrees since records have been kept. Is that proof climate change is happening? By itself, no, it is not. Weather statistics cannot prove a link. But as the government's adviser on climate change, Ross Garnaut, says, as global warming continues, larger cyclones will become more frequent. There will be more cyclones, and more of them will be as big as Yasi. There will be more long hot spells. Australia has just emerged from a long drought. There will be more of those, too, and longer ones, as weather becomes harsher around the world. The extreme events seen in the past 12 months in Europe and the US will become more common. Even if, as seems rather unlikely now, the world manages to keep the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere below its current target of 450 parts per million, the world's average temperature will still rise 2 degrees, with untold environmental consequences.

In fact Yasi offers a metaphor of sorts for the climate-change policy debate Australia has experienced so far. The threat - or in the debate's case, promise - builds out of sight with dire warnings as to its strength and likely consequences. It bursts on the scene in all its fury. There is a short period of intensity. Then it peters out, leaving a trail of confusion behind it. But despite the warnings, nothing much is changed. People shrug their shoulders and get on with their lives. In not very long at all, things are back to normal as if the debate had never been. Climate change? Last year's issue, surely. Can't we move on?

But though the debate has gone away, the problem has not. The arguments of climate sceptics are melting in the heat. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared last year to have equalled 2005 as the hottest year on record. The Earth has now experienced 34 years in a row with hotter-than-average temperatures. On Thursday we published a graph from the reinsurer Munich Re, which showed a steady increase in the frequency of extreme weather events from about 10 a year in 1980 to more than 40 a year now, a trend likely to push up the cost of insurance in Australia. Financial markets at least must acknowledge the reality of climate change.

Julia Gillard has set herself the task of putting a price on carbon for this term of her government, for which Ross Garnaut is doing some of the advance work. He is revising his report on climate change and updating it with the latest research. Garnaut's work is necessary - it provides an intellectual basis for the measures the government will need to take. But if Australians are to change their ways, and to cede the unenviable title of the world's worst greenhouse-gas polluters per head, it will not be enough. Australia's voters need to be convinced that change is needed, indeed desirable. Gillard will find that difficult.

As Prime Minister she has not shown herself particularly adept at either capturing the public's imagination, or communicating complex issues simply. She has instead become a female version of Kevin Rudd, assuming that once a report has been delivered, the case for change is made. The public has all it needs to make up its mind, and does not need to be persuaded further. The fate of the Murray-Darling Basin report shows how flawed that approach is on environmental questions. If even those whose lives are intimately connected with a river - farmers and residents of river towns - refuse to acknowledge that the river's health is of fundamental importance to them and action should be taken to protect it, how much more difficult will it be to persuade people of the need to take action against climate change? Gillard's strategy is to side with the Greens on climate strategy where Rudd's had been to appeal to the Liberals for bipartisanship. It remains to be seen whether it will prove any less divisive.

Meanwhile, this week some Sydney suburbs were blacked out in the heatwave. Residents turning on airconditioners drew so much power that the system had to be shut down temporarily for repairs. We can expect plenty more incidents of that kind as our technology, housing designs and patterns of energy use struggle to cope with the fierce new climate we are creating for ourselves.






ANYONE who has been waking up in the morning worrying about humanity's future on our dying planet can stop now. Astronomers have discovered a new solar system. So when this one wears out, and humanity has dumped one too many fridges in its front yard, we will be able to pack the family into the station wagon and blast off for somewhere more pleasant. At the moment the new solar system is called Kepler 11, and its planets Kepler 11a, Kepler 11b, and so on. But you can rest assured that some enterprising real estate developer will rename the nicest one something aspirational. We rather like the look of Kepler 11g, and have provisionally renamed it Dewhurst Grove. The best thing about Dewhurst Grove is that it is just 2000 light years away, virtually next door in interstellar terms. Mind you, even assuming you can get the Camry to approach light-speed - which may exceed the maker's advice - the children will probably get restive having to sit still in the back seat for 20 centuries. Our advice: make sure they have plenty of video games and healthy snacks






WHEN the qualities of a political leader are assessed, courage and a capacity for judgment are inextricably bound together. As Horace Walpole, the son of Britain's first prime minister, Robert Walpole, noted: ''resolution on reflection is real courage''. Walpole would probably have agreed, too, with the observation of a later British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, that ''courage is the rarest of all qualities to be found in public life''.

In her six months' tenure as Australia's Prime Minister, Julia Gillard's resolve and her judgment have been questioned by many, including this newspaper. And Ms Gillard is keenly aware of it. As she quipped to senior writer Michael Gordon, whose interview with her is published in Insight today, she feels that she is set ''more tests than the average VCE student''. It is an analogy that might be expected from a Prime Minister who says of her government's agenda that ''education is at the centre of it because that's what brought me into politics''. But it is also an unwitting reminder that the much-vaunted ''education revolution'' she began overseeing as a minister in the Rudd government remains more aspiration than reality. Thus far, the revolution has amounted to the serially defective My School website and a contested national curriculum that languishes in its draft stages. The even more contentious matter of revising the formula used to calculate levels of subsidy for private schools has been deferred until the government's next term.

Ms Gillard recognises, however, that deferral cannot be an option for every policy area in which the government seeks to make more than anodyne changes to Australian life. In particular, whether it overcomes the obstacles to setting a price on carbon emissions - a task the Prime Minister compares in scale to the economic restructuring of Australia under the Hawke and Keating governments - will dictate history's measure of her government's reformist credentials and of her stature as a national leader. Ms Gillard's previous rhetoric on setting a carbon price, which emphasised the need to build broad community agreement before deciding on policy, did not inspire confidence that she would persist in the face of concerted opposition. She is instinctively a deal-maker in politics, as her most notable successes as Prime Minister - negotiating the government back into power after it had lost its majority, and steering the national broadband legislation through Parliament - attest. But fundamental policy issues cannot be resolved by endless compromise, and it is reassuring that Ms Gillard now speaks of setting a carbon price in terms that recognise this to be so. The real test of her government's resolve, of course, will lie in the proposal it adopts when the scheduled round of multi-party meetings on climate policy is concluded.

The economy presents a different challenge to Ms Gillard's project of recasting herself as a decisive, rather than a diffident, leader. Earlier this week she told a Committee for the Economic Development of Australia lunch that the government intends to coax back into the workforce 2 million people who are unemployed or underemployed. It was a major speech, weaving together several strands of economic and social policy: the continuing skills shortage, the regional differences in prosperity that have been dubbed the two-speed economy, taxation and welfare reform, and the costs of an ageing population. But the speech was as notable for what the Prime Minister played down or did not mention as for what she said.

In the long term, skills shortages may be resolved by increased investment in training and increased workforce participation, but the problem is an immediate one; it can be alleviated only by increased immigration, a subject on which Ms Gillard prefers to remain coy. And, although it may be true that there are many people on benefits such as the disability support pension who could return to the workforce, reducing pressure on the budget and enhancing their own self-esteem, Ms Gillard did not spell out just how this far-reaching reform of the welfare system is going to happen. Finally, increasing workforce participation would certainly help more Australians to share in the wealth generated by the resources boom, but if that wealth is to be distributed with greater transformative effect what matters most will be the government's investment in new infrastructure. At a time of devastation from natural disasters the question of rebuilding infrastructure can hardly be evaded.

The government's reluctance to announce major new spending perhaps arises from the same fear that spawned its planned flood levy: it does not want to invite opposition criticism over delaying the return to a budget surplus. But by insisting that the arbitrary target of a return to surplus by 2013 will not be changed the government is effectively allowing Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to set the terms of economic debate. The Prime Minister would most forcefully demonstrate her resolve by denying him that privilege.







The real significance of yesterday's meeting of European leaders in Brussels did not lie in what was decided. On that score, the meeting was a bust. "Today we agreed no measures," observed one French official. "We fixed no measures, no objectives and no precise tools. All that remains to be negotiated." Anyone expecting Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and their counterparts to come out with a serious strategy (rather than a holding statement) to contain the eurozone's financial crisis will have been disappointed – yet again.

No, what mattered about yesterday's summit is this: it represented yet another step by Berlin towards asserting its own vision of how the eurozone economy should be run. German ministers now want the single-currency bloc to agree a competitiveness pact that will set out some basic rules for economic policy across all 17 member countries. And, in Ms Merkel's eyes, the solution seems to be relatively simple: for the eurozone to thrive in its second decade, Spain, Greece, Italy and all the rest need to turn into Germany.

That at least is the implication of the discussions around the pact. Officials are now talking about greater convergence of corporation-tax rates, pension regimes and, crucially, how much governments can borrow. Not all of this is new, of course. As far back as 1992 the Maastricht treaty stipulated that members of any future single-currency club had to stick to certain common standards, with yearly deficits no higher than 3% of GDP and total borrowing 60% of national income or below. What is being proposed now is a tougher and more detailed version of convergence – and one led by Berlin.

There are two things to say about this. First, if the eurozone is to survive much longer its economic rules do need an overhaul. The Maastricht criteria were always stupidly inflexible rules. No wonder that they were fudged to allow some countries to join, and broken by plenty of others once the banking crisis began. What is essential now is a thorough rethink of economic governance, including a procedure and permanent fund for countries in distress and much closer scrutiny of banks. Nor should the European Central Bank continue with its current ultra-orthodox monetary policy. If Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain (to name just those states in the financial markets' target sights) are slashing spending, the ECB will need to hold down rates for a long time to come.

The second thing to say, however, is that Germany is no model for the rest of the eurozone to follow. It is too reliant on exports, while its domestic economy remains anaemic. The euro rulebook needs a rewrite, true – but by more than one pair of hands.






It is right to be anxious about Egypt but not the weary, confused organisation that represents political Islam there

Fear of political Islam is the pivot around which debate on Egypt's future in the outside world often revolves. It is the spectre which a jittery Israel invokes, and it is still President Hosni Mubarak's last card in arguing that the system which he and his predecessors created should survive more or less intact, even when he is no longer part of it. Al-Qaida's Egyptian connections are remembered and the Iranian revolution's tragic slide into religious fascism recalled. Thus it is that many who cheer on the Egyptian demonstrators feel anxiety when they ask themselves what comes afterward.

Yet that anxiety is misplaced. It is misplaced in the very precise sense that it is right to be anxious about Egypt but not right to centre that anxiety on the rather weary, confused and unready organisation which represents political Islam in Egypt today. The Muslim Brotherhood will play a serious part in any new politics. But it is now less a radical organisation than a conservative one, striving to be relevant to modern needs, and divided on how far it can or should trim its policies.

Its leadership looks back on several decades of hard decisions, as well as of hard times under a president whose instincts always tended toward persecution or exclusion rather than reconciliation. The most fundamental such decision was to abandon violence, both in practice and in theory, at least on Egyptian soil. Distancing itself from violent means was, quite apart from the question of morality, the right thing to do if the Brotherhood was to have standing among Egyptians, who have consistently shown that they find such means abhorrent.

It earned the Brotherhood the hatred of al-Qaida, but that was a political help, not a hindrance. Since then the Brotherhood has oscillated between emphasising participation in what passed for normal political life in Egypt and concentrating on grassroots organisation and social work. It has been wrongfooted in both these strategies, first by Mubarak, who moved the goalposts – and fixed an election – when he deemed the Brotherhood to be doing too well, and second by more recent events.

Just as the Brotherhood turned away from formal politics, and its leadership was reshuffled to reflect that choice, a group of young Egyptians started a revolution all on their own. No doubt the Brotherhood will adjust quickly, bringing back the more flexible and liberal figures who were advocates of participation and of co-operation with other political groups. But, except in the event that there is a long-lasting repressive backlash in Egypt, it will never be able to say that it was at the forefront of the revolution in the way, for example, that Ayatollah Khomeini's followers in Iran were. Although the seeds of the Iranian revolution were sown by liberals, the brunt of the struggle was borne by the religious, and it was dominated by the commanding figure of Khomeini.

There is no Khomeini in Egypt and no equivalent, even, to the second rank of revolutionary politicians at that time in Iran, like Mehdi Bazargan and Mohammad Beheshti. In short, the situations are hugely different. Although the Brotherhood now looks like the strongest opposition group, with widespread estimates that it could get 30% of the vote in free elections, this may reflect the fact that President Mubarak suppressed secular parties more vigorously.

Given a period of free political activity, secular parties might grow quite rapidly. A clean sweep by the Brotherhood of the legislative seats and the presidency is a very remote prospect. The Brotherhood's positions on sharia law, the status of women, censorship, non-Muslim minorities, and on Israel, although modified, must still be worrying, but they will not automatically prevail. The new Egypt is going to be a mess, but not that kind of mess.







A suicide bombing at Moscow's Domodedovo airport last month has reminded Russians, and the world, of the country's continuing vulnerability to terrorist attacks. As in the past, the Russian authorities blamed Islamic extremists for the violence and promised retaliation. That reaction is certain to intensify the cycle of violence that has left a bloody trail of victims in its wake. Islamic extremists may have worn the explosives that killed 35 people and injured 168 others, but Russian terrorism cannot be blamed on militant Islam alone.

Sadly, Russians are not strangers to domestic terrorism. There were 29 suicide attacks in Russia in 2010; 19 terrorist attacks were "major," an increase from 10 the year before. In 2010, 108 Russians were killed by terrorists. In a national speech, Russian President Dmitry