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Thursday, February 10, 2011

EDITORIAL 10.02.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



Month february, edition 000751, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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





















































1.      2001 Gujarat temblor: What lessons have we learnt from it? - Dr V Subramanyan





































































1.      SHADY DEAL

2.      NEW HOPE
























4.      .24 KARAT GALL
























2.      NO-FLY ZONE

3.      TOP 100

































































Although Praja Rajyam Party chief Chiranjeevi, a popular cine actor in Andhra Pradesh, presented a cheerful face while declaring his political outfit's merger with the Congress recently, the occasion must have been saddening for the matinee idol who had established the party hoping to emerge as a latter day NT Rama Rao on the State's political stage. We can be sure that he had dreamt of influencing national politics one day, just as NT Rama Rao had come to enjoy a much larger than life image beyond Andhra Pradesh. The high expectations he had aroused among his many fans while launching the party were all belied in the months that followed. After a promising start, the party began to flounder, especially when it abandoned its individuality and decided to hobnob with the Congress. Electorally too it did less well than expected, failing to convert the passion of the massive crowds that turned out at the film star's meetings into votes. So much so that the PRP ended up winning only 18 seats in the 2009 Assembly polls. Mr Chiranjeevi himself lost an election in the Godavari region, said to be the stronghold of the Kapu vote-bank on which he had so much depended. Over the last few months, the PRP's relevance was on rapid decline with the party failing to sensibly exploit the turmoil in the State triggered by the agitation for Telangana, rebellion by Mr Jaganmohan Reddy, and Mr Chandrababu Naidu's fast for farmers' rights. Perhaps Mr Chiranjeevi believes that the PRP's merger with the Congress will at least keep him relevant in State politics. Only time will tell if that happens, since the Congress central leadership is not known to allow its regional satraps to flourish — Mr Jaganmohan Reddy offers a good example. As a Congress member, the film star will have considerably less leverage to articulate independent opinions and could become a victim of collateral damage in case the party runs into trouble in the coming months. As against this, it is not clear what benefits Mr Chiranjeevi will derive out of the merger.

For the Congress, though, the development is one of several gains — at least for the moment. Through the merger, its legislative strength has been shored up with at least an additional 15 MLAs and that is crucial given the instability that threatens its Government in the State. Mr Jaganmohan Reddy until recently could sound credible when he claimed to have the power to bring down Mr Kiran Kumar Reddy's Congress regime, but following the PRP's merger with the party, that threat has abated for now. The Congress also has Mr Chiranjeevi's fan associations to work in its favour. But perhaps more important than all this is the fact that the party has managed to neutralise a serious potential rival at a time when it faces attacks not just from various political adversaries but also within. Congress veterans, adept at ruthlessly manipulating individuals and situations, will find it easy to control a political novice like the former PRP chief, though they may not push him too hard in the beginning lest the film star walks out in a huff. The PRP's dissolution has vacated political space in Andhra Pradesh that existing Opposition parties will scramble to occupy. The extent to which they succeed will determine not just their fate but also that of the Congress.







The wave of violence and arson unleashed by members of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha that swept through the Dooars area of Jalpaiguri on Tuesday, claiming the lives of two young GJM supporters, is a worrying example of the kind of disruptive politics that defines the separatist group's agenda. The fire-bombing and blood-letting has put the hills back on the boil and also caused irreparable damage to the ongoing tripartite talks regarding the creation of a new Gorkhaland State. It is also of little surprise that instead of reigning in its supporters who were on the rampage on Tuesday, the GJM leadership has instead decided to conveniently wash its hands of the shameful incident. In fact, on Wednesday it went a step ahead as the GJM's spokesman blamed West Bengal's CPI(M)-led Left Front Government for manufacturing the entire incident to damage the organisation's image. Nonetheless, as our leaders continue to play a mindless round of musical chairs, each refusing to take responsibility for the absolutely unnecessary violence that has shattered the vulnerable peace in the Darjeeling hills, the region remains engulfed in insecurity, fear and uncertainty. The hills were calmer on Wednesday but Tuesday's clashes have left an open wound that doesn't look like it will heal anytime soon, especially since the GJM has shown no signs of withdrawing its demands for the removal of the fortnight long prohibitory orders in Dooars area — the root of all the trouble. On January 18, the GJM had launched a "Long march for Gorkhaland" that would cover the areas they want incorporated in the new State but were stopped at Sibchu, the eventual place of conflict — a point of entry into the Dooars region, which is also inhabited by Adivasis who do not support the demand for Gorkhaland and had threatened violence. On Monday, the police dismantled 25 tents at Sibchu pitched by GJM members after forest officials complained of encroachment. In retaliation, the protesters cut forest trees and put up road-blocks. As the police confronted the protesters, a GJM member hit a woman constable with a khukri which led her colleagues to open fire, killing two activists. The GJM protesters then ran amok.

While the activities of the GJM are reprehensible, it is hard to ignore the response of Darjeeling MP and BJP leader Jaswant Singh. Since violence engulfed his constituency, all that Mr Singh, a GJM ally, has done to resolve the situation is to demand a CBI inquiry into the alleged police atrocities on morcha activists, and charging the West Bengal Government with an "inhuman nature". He is not off the mark on the latter, but surely he needs to do more to calm frayed tempers and help restore peace. Mr Singh has the stature to ensure dialogue takes precedence over violence.









Pious declarations by the Government and strident demands by the Opposition to get back money stashed away in secret accounts will not cure this disease.

The ongoing campaign in the media about the hoarded billions in Swiss banks that allegedly belong to hawala-patronising and black-money generating Indians is hotting up. However, this debate has blithely ignored the vital components of the very structuring of political and commercial life in India. Without knowing the specifics, these illicit riches are totted up, estimated to be a mouth-watering Rs 500 billion ($1.4 trillion) according to a report prepared by the BJP, and there's talk about liberating substantial development funds should this money be repatriated.

But even as we entertain such fantasies, we must realise that the stashing of such vast sums abroad is a symptom of a pervasive disease, and not just a collective act of deviancy from the honest norm. So, to get at these monies now or in the future would call for a sea-change in the way we run things in India. On the other hand, the UPA Government's claimed intention to get back this money from overseas might be no more than eyewash. If a few diamond merchants are somehow brought to book and their tax-evading monies are repatriated, no doubt some good will come of it, but it would certainly not cure the malaise. To slay this fiscal anaconda will take much more effort.

Consider that no electioneering or constituency 'management' or indeed the expenses associated with the day-to-day running of political party machineries can take place without the provision of an enormous amount of money. This money is much beyond the scope of the official 'party fund' charged in miniscule amounts from party members. It is also a cut above constituency allowances and figures stated in ridiculously out-of-date guidelines on how much a man or woman may spend in order to get elected in the first place.

The amount called for runs into tens of thousands of crores of rupees, much of it extorted from business and industry for party coffers in cash. It is 'ready money', legitimately required — both to cater to the inevitable costs of patronage-based loyalty among cadre and grassroots political organisers and workers, and the inflated costs of development in rural areas which mostly comprise constituencies. Also included in the picture is the cost of chartering private planes and helicopters that are routinely used by politicians for political rallies and constituency visits, along with the large fleets of vehicles required to ferry them and their staff on the ground.

On the other side of the fence, no business development can take place without substantial bribes being paid to a gargantuan babudom, a circumstance, to be fair, in place from Mughal times, with a suitably hoary, even sophisticated, tradition of bakhsheesh and patronage. Today, post the British overlays — its monopolies, duties, cesses, taxes, permissions, warrants, licences, exclusions, inclusions, requisitions over and above the old Mughal ones — we have tens of millions of un-sackable babus empowered with myriad levels of sanctioning authority and oversight.

Furthermore this bribe money — in small instalments for the humble — must be traceless. However, if more substantial sums are warranted for the powerful and exalted, they must be routed through labyrinthine benami courses, with a great deal of it being paid in kind in the form of property transferred, bought and paid for.

As far as the abundant overflow of liquid funds is concerned, to further secure the loot, it must be broken up into many separate transactions and sent abroad through ubiquitous unofficial banking channels. This must be done via time-tested and foolproof multiple points of exit to multiple destinations, secreted in dozens of bank accounts in as many benami 'front' names as possible. Obversely, they will be 'secret' and 'anonymous' numbered accounts. If one attempts to unravel this complex ball of twine in terms of evidence admissible in a court of law, it would certainly keep several generations employed.

The Swiss have built a nation on this secrecy. They hold tens of billions of dollars in accounts set up not only over centuries of Europe's turbulent past, but also between two World Wars with no apparent claimants. The money trail has gone cold, that too for several years now. While the account-holders mostly consisted of monied Europeans, others were Nazis, Indian princes, deposed dictators and so on. This unclaimed money makes for a significant chunk of the Swiss economy.

Such is the Swiss sophistication and success at their shadowy and secretive management of 'no-questions-asked' banking, that copycat tax havens have been established all over the world: They are mushrooming every day to cater to new destinations, such as a resurgent Africa. Collectively, they provide much comfort to those in need of their services.

Yet there is another side to this story. Egypt's beleaguered President Hosni Mubarak is rumoured to have stashed over $70 billion for the proverbial rainy day that appears to be now upon him. But, as in many such cases, he will be allowed to leave with his money for minimising turmoil and bloodshed, and Egypt will be happy to be free from him at last. Besides, Egypt allows for 20 per cent local participation in all joint ventures with foreign entities and many other Arab locations insist on as much as 51 per cent local 'sponsorship'. Consequently, powerful people become legitimate beneficiaries of their enterprise, notwithstanding that it is a concept different from the Western idea, grafted onto India, that one cannot, or certainly should not, benefit from one's position in the Government. But, due to local laws in Arabia, it is not illegitimate.

India is probably no more corrupt than the next nation, but it is burdened with untenable laws that most of the powers-that-be have seen fit to circumvent. The British were past masters at disguising their plunder: Sometimes via the East India Company and often through a procession of princely stooges. They played at Victorian rectitude, much like their putting pantaloons on the legs of their pianos, while indulging in unbridled licentiousness.

What we need to do is to revisit our outdated laws and amend them if we are to tackle the scourge of the black economy. It exists partly because the Government and its constituent party machineries cannot do without it and, to a certain extent, neither can business and industry in the present dispensation. A profligate and inefficient use of tax revenues with a huge Government living high makes for a very understandable desire to dodge taxes on the part of a long suffering public.









Societies where there are ethnic, religious and political tensions, where there is a history of past conflicts or rights abuses, where the institutions of civil society are weak, corrupt or non-existent, are likely to witness the outbreak of violence or abuse of human rights. It is in such arenas of man-made suffering that the UN and its bodies have to step in and work for the rights of all human beings

Recorded human history knows no other period which has witnessed so many convulsions and conflicts as the 20th century. Its history is replete with periods of human destruction and violations of human rights caused by slave-trade, colonisation, ethnic discriminations and religious fanaticism, giving rise to conflicts which mankind is still struggling to resolve. Competing political ideologies are no less responsible for carving out their own arenas of conflict and unrest. Terrorism and ethnic violence directly owe their existence to them.

Human suffering inflicted by armed conflicts like the two World Wars and the starvation, disease and deprivations that followed called for a new world order — a world order, giving central place to human dignity. The sense of self-preservation asserted itself and gave birth to the United Nations in 1945 which declared that its highest purpose was "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of wars, to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights… to establish conditions under which justice and respect for international law could be maintained… and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom".

Adoption of Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the General Assembly in 1948 represented a new discourse in Human Rights education and set common goal for achievement for all people and in all nations. For the first time human rights norms were integrated into solving conflicts and peace building measures.

The two major International Covenants — International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1979 — are landmark steps taken by the comity of nations to protect human rights both in conflict and post-conflict situations. Apart from seeking to reduce tensions and conflicts, these two covenants have generated awareness in the international community about the emerging range of human rights. In the past, it used to yearn for these rights; now it asserts itself in demanding their share in full measure. This is a new shift. A new creed. This is the beginning of a new era.

Conflict has to be understood as a fact in human existence. It can be variously described depending, of course, on the situations — political, economic, cultural and religious — prevailing in a particular jurisdiction. It is also understood as "the pursuit of the incompatible (or seemingly incompatible) goals by different individual groups related to different values, needs and interests". If not resolved timely and with foresight it has the potential of aggravating into visible struggles for rights or fully blown battles or wars as is the case in the Congo.

Societies where there are ethnic, religious and political tensions, where there is a history of past conflicts or rights abuses, where the institution of civil societies designed to provide redressal are weak, corrupt or non-existent; or, where there is political and economic instability, are fertile ground for outbreak of violence or abuse of human rights. It is in such arenas of man-made sufferings that the UN and all its bodies have to step in and work in tune with Mr Kofi Annan's words said in his address at the Harvard University in June 2004.

"It is in times of fear and anger, even more than in times of peace and tranquility, that you need Universal Human Rights, and spirit of mutual respect".

A watchful judiciary — in each international jurisdiction — plays a role which is vital and supplementary to the role of the UN for it has the mandate and capacity to act as a bulwark against local conflict situations and possesses the institutional strength to ensure rule of law.

Indian judiciary has played a crucial role in upholding the Fundamental Rights, the Directive Principles. There cannot be better statement of human rights and liberties than what is written in the preamble to the Indian Constitution. There cannot be a better recipe for conflict resolution than the Directive Principles of the Constitution aiming at promoting the welfare of the people "by securing and protecting as effectively as it may, a social order in which justice —social, economic and political shall inform all institutions".

Establishment of the Human Rights institutions consistent with Paris Principles holds a great promise and hope for protecting human rights and dignity. They can play — and, in fact, in some cases they are playing — a significant role in protecting human rights both during and in post conflict situations.

The determination of the comity of nations and their commitment to international covenants is critical to binding them together in their endeavour to integrate human rights approach during conflict and in post conflict situations. It is, of course, true that there are certain conflicts which are peculiar to each country depending upon their local conditions. Therefore, they have to evolve their strategies in accordance with their own laws but overall concern for fundamental rights, the dignity and worth of human persons and the equal rights of men and women have to inform and guide all our efforts aimed at conflict resolution.


The writer is a member of the National Human Rights Commission.







A curly-haired 23-year-old marching in her first protest; a Cairo artist and father of two young children who braved tear gas and gunfire to capture history with his video camera; and a 16-year-old girl struck by an errant bullet: The faces of some of those killed in Egypt's two-week old uprising are beginning to emerge.

A comprehensive count is a long way off as some bereaved families hesitate to come forward and human rights researchers complain of intimidation by authorities. A preliminary tally of 297 dead has been compiled by one rights group, based on visits to seven hospitals in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez.

The victims are Egyptians from all parts of society, say protest sympathisers — contrary to the picture painted last week by Egyptian Vice-President Omar Suleiman, who accused foreigners of instigating the uprising.

Details of the lives lost have been recounted on websites, in newspapers and on huge posters put up in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the centre of the revolt that erupted on January 25. "This gives the revolution a face," said reporter Mai el-Wakil who has begun writing a column, Faces of the Fallen in English daily Al Masry Al Youm.

The uprising began peacefully with rallies organised via Facebook and Twitter against President Hosni Mubarak's nearly 30-year rule. But skirmishes soon erupted between protesters and security forces. On January 28, major clashes broke out in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and elsewhere with troops firing tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to break up throngs of stone-throwers. It became known as the 'Friday of Anger'.

Ahmed Basiony, a visual artist, musician and teacher, had been in Tahrir Square from the start, compiling a video diary, said his friend, gallery owner Mohammed Allam. Allam said he and Basiony had talked almost daily about their frustration with Egypt's problems — poverty, high food prices, rampant corruption — but he was surprised by his friend's intensity after the uprising broke out. "He just needed to fight and to document," Allam, 26, told The Associated Press. Late on January 28, Basiony was separated from his friends. They found his body three days later in a hospital. Doctors said he had been hit by rubber bullets and apparently struck by a car, Allam said. He left behind a wife, a six-year-old son Adam and a one-year-old daughter Salma.

In his last Facebook post, Basiony wrote, "I have a lot of hope if we stay like this. Riot police beat me a lot. Nevertheless I will go down again tomorrow."

"If they want war, we want peace. I am just trying to regain some of my nation's dignity," read the post, according to Al Masry Al Youm. Among the demonstrators in Alexandria on that 'Friday of Anger' was 21-year-old Ahmed el-Hag and his 16-year-old brother, Baha. Their father, Magdy el-Hag, said he didn't know his sons had joined a rally in the city's Mohram Bek neighbourhood after Muslim prayers. When bullets began to fly, Ahmed, a recent university graduate, was among those struck. El-Hag said he was told later that a police captain from the local precinct screamed at the crowd, then fired directly at the demonstrators.

"My son got a bullet in the back and (it) went through his chest," the father said. "His younger brother suddenly found that his brother was not beside him, and looked around to find him bleeding on the ground." El-Hag said he had hoped that Ahmed would become a lawyer and bring him grandchildren. His death was a "catastrophe for the whole family".

Elsewhere in Alexandria, 16-year-old Amira el-Sayyed was inside a friend's house when shots were fired from the roof of a nearby police station to intimidate residents and prevent them from joining protests.

"A bullet penetrated and shattered the glass of the window where my daughter and her friend sat," said the girl's father, Samir el-Sayyed. He said he returned from work to find a large crowd outside his apartment building.

He buried his daughter quietly the next day because of the chaos at the time, but plans to join with other bereaved parents to eventually sue the Government. He said those responsible for the death of Amira, who had dreamed of becoming a scientist, should be made to pay for their crime.

At the other end of Egypt, in the southern district of Sohag, 23-year-old Sally Zahran, an English-Arabic translator, joined the protests for the first time on January 28. "She felt it would be safe at that point. So many others were going out on Friday," her friend, Aly Sobhy, told Al Masry Al Youm. He said Zahran was not a political activist, but wanted the situation in Egypt to improve.

The newspaper said the woman was beaten to death by pro-Mubarak thugs, who had been hired to confront the protesters. A huge photograph of Zahran, her smiling face framed by dark curls, is now on display, along with pictures of seven other victims, near one of the main entrances to Tahrir Square. Some show the victims in death, their faces bloody and bludgeoned. "His blood was not spilled in vain," read a message below some of the photos. On Tuesday morning, as the square slowly started filling, some stopped to linger before the posters or take pictures with their cell phones. Others were eager to pay tribute by talking about those they lost. Among them was Walid Abdullah, a 41-year-old graphic designer, who carried photos of his dead friend Mustafa Sawi, a 21-year-old university student, on his cell phone.

The Egyptian authorities, while promising to investigate the killings, have not released casualty figures or names of the dead. Instead, security forces have raided offices and seized laptops of two human rights groups trying to compile lists, activists say. They say reaching a final death toll will take a long time, in part because authorities have tried to disrupt the work. In last week's raid, security forces seized laptops and other equipment from two leading rights groups, and detained staffers and volunteers. Illustrating the challenge, even the identity of a man whose death was captured on video remains a mystery.

Shot from a cell phone camera, it shows the man walking from an Alexandria alley towards a group of black-clad gunmen in a nearby square. At some point, the man opens his jacket, as if to dare them to shoot him. They do, missing on the first shot and taking him down on the second.

Two women who filmed the scene told CNN that the incident had been preceded by clashes in the area. Another video shows the man's body being dumped in the back of a pickup truck and driven away.







The War on Terror launched by the US and its allies in the aftermath of 9/11 was flawed because it overlooked a crucial reality about terrorism: Terrorists are not sequestered in countries or regions but spread across national borders

International terrorism was at the forefront of global politics in the first decade of this young century. The concept is actually relatively new.

After the 9/11 attacks that shook America to its core, the Bush Administration declared war on "international terrorism" and sought to enlist others in the cause. This was initially intended to serve as the organising principle for a new international system. But really it was the same good-versus-evil dichotomy, with international terrorism taking the place once occupied by the Soviet threat.

It seemed at first that they might succeed. The broad coalition in the 'war on terror' overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan and drove them out of Kabul. But this was the high watermark for the coalition.

There was a design flaw in the 'war on terror'. A global counterterrorism campaign must be comprehensive and rooted in cooperation, but the United States ended up using it as a tool to maintain global dominance. That drive towards dominance included exerting pressure — hard and soft — on other countries to follow America's lead. But no one likes to be pressured.

Washington's dubious motivation was only part of the problem. Many began to doubt that 'international terrorism' really existed as a distinct phenomenon.

In the era of globalisation, we are more interconnected and interdependent than ever before. The 'martyrs' are no longer confined to the West Asia. They are found on the Moscow subway system and at Russian airports. However, the recent attacks in Moscow and Nalchik were not committed by the abstract international terrorists we are called on to fight. These attacks were carried out by specific Islamic groups from the Caucasus.

Terrorism, today, can have a global impact while still being rooted in local problems. International terrorism is, in fact, a collection of various separatist and nationalist movements. Each of these groups — in Russia, Indonesia, Sudan, Palestinian Territories, Afghanistan, China, India, Turkey or Yemen — is opposed to its respective Government and calls for self-determination or the overthrow of the current regime.

Even the unprecedented attacks of 9/11 were a specific extremist group's response to the US ambitions in the world, which successive administrations have been pursuing since the end of the Cold War. They see America as a global empire controlling vast territories, either directly or indirectly.

As such, Mr George W Bush's attempt to make international terrorism the focus of global politics was doomed from the start. First of all, the concept was overly broad and subject to various interpretations by different political leaders. Most Governments tried to use the perceived terrorist threat to expand their power. US intelligence agencies were granted greater authority, while Russia put an end to the direct election of regional Governors.

Second, because international terrorism is a manufactured concept, it could not bring countries together to work toward a common goal. Each new country joining the coalition against international terrorism brought its own interpretation of the concept. Again, this was to be expected, as there was no common threat in actuality. Terrorists are not a monolith, even if they do share some motives and means. As a result, the war on international terrorism is at best an empty slogan and at worst a source of irritation between countries caused by the inevitable double standards.

Third, there can be no one-size-fits-all solution to terrorism, because terrorism is rooted in local grievances specific to each country.

The purpose of a major terrorist attack is to undermine a specific Government, to make it look weak and ineffectual. Therefore, the initial reaction of the Government is always to prove its strength by striking back with sanctioned violence.

If a quasi-state is involved, such as the self-proclaimed Chechen Republic of the late 1990s or
the Taliban regime, it becomes the target of revenge. Both Russia and the United States sent in troops that ultimately succeeded in destroying the basic terrorist infrastructure in Chechnya and Afghanistan, respectively. But neither knew what to do next, when the surviving enemies fled and became ghosts in the hills, posing even greater danger.

No Government has found the answer yet. The illusion of stability brought by the use of overwhelming force fades very quickly, and it becomes clear that the new, unconventional war may drag on forever. Each new act of retribution swells the ranks of the enemy.

Eliminating the roots of terrorism is a long and complex process with no guarantee of success. The US learned this lesson in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan. Russia learned it in the mountains of the Caucasus. America can at least leave these foreign lands when the situation becomes unbearable, although the terrorists could strike again on the US soil. Russia is not so fortunate. Russia cannot leave the Caucasus, and so it will have to keep trying to find a balance between suppression and development in its fight against terrorism.

..The writer is the editor-in-chief of the journal, Russia in Global Affairs.









The government's show of flexibility on the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the 2G spectrum allocation is a significant development ahead of the vital budget session. Fearing a repeat of the log jam that besieged the winter session of Parliament, the government softening its stand will counter the growing perception of political paralysis. As Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee stated at the latest all-party meeting, no price is dearer than the running of Parliament. Disruptions during the presentation of the budget would have seen investor confidence plummet further.

A JPC probe is well and good, but there is also a pressing need to go beyond posturing and implement systemic reforms. At the heart of the problem is our approach towards allocation and management of precious resources. Ad hoc approaches have only benefited a handful of unscrupulous middlemen and shell companies. Discretionary powers of allotment enjoyed by those in positions of authority have bred a culture of crony capitalism. There is yet to be a proper audit of the total amount of spectrum available. Without such an evaluation any pricing policy is bound to be arbitrary, yielding itself to manipulations. The 2005 Isro deal with Bangalore-based multimedia company Devas is a case in point. Around 70 MHz of spectrum was to be allocated to the private firm for just Rs 1,000 crore when the government earned Rs 67,719 crore by auctioning a mere 15 MHz for 3G services. Whether land or spectrum, that state entities are sitting on sizeable chunks of limited resources that are much in demand incentivises murky dealings.

It is welcome that the government has decided to set up a high-powered committee to suggest a road map for the allocation of vital resources ranging from coal and water to spectrum and mining rights. However, more needs to be done to ensure accountability. In addition to doing away with discretionary powers of allotment, reforms demand insulating investigating agencies such as the Anti-Corruption Bureau and the CBI from political interference. No corruption probe can yield results if investigating agencies have to seek permission from the same people who are being investigated. It is also imperative to have independent, empowered ombudsmen at each level of government.

It is disappointing that lokayuktas in the states have little power to check impropriety within government. For the want of their own independent investigative machinery, they are effectively toothless. The proposed Lokpal Bill too is highly inadequate in terms of checking corruption at the Centre. Empowering such independent ombudsmen is a must to stem the rot pervading the establishment.







Cutting the Unique Identification Authority's (UID) budget may be penny wise but will, undoubtedly, be pound foolish. A well-designed UID-based system can work wonders in checking wastage in government schemes, earning far more money than was spent on it. Which is why UID shouldn't be starved of funds in order to make way for populist spending. But that's exactly what the Planning Commission appears to have recommended, slashing the UID authority's annual requirement of Rs 3,500 crore to Rs 1,400 crore. About half of UID's demand may be redirected to other ministries, which amounts to throwing good money after bad. Powerful coalition partners, such as Mamata Banerjee, want to offset their managerial ineptitude through massive budgetary increases. Meanwhile, Air India wants a Rs 2,000 crore subsidy despite getting the same last year and posting losses year in, year out.

Much more sensible is to maintain the UID's budget which will enable the rollout of Aadhaar. More than an identity card, budgeting for Aadhaar could reform society in significant ways. It could dramatically reduce the bureaucracy required to handle aid money and projects, thereby ensuring what is allocated to the poor is actually delivered to them. To cite a case in point, IAS officer Arvind Joshi was found in possession of 250 passbooks in the names of villagers. They had no idea and the implication is that Joshi - reported to be worth around Rs. 400 crore - was appropriating for himself funds meant for them. With Aadhaar, the underprivileged should be able to have funds paid directly to them. They will also be able to access the formal banking system. Clearly, the opportunity cost of not budgeting for Aadhaar is too great. It can't be put off. Pranab Mukherjee must hold the line in the forthcoming budget.








Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's 82-year-old president who started dyeing his hair early in life and hasn't stopped since, appears to want to stop time by insisting, like Louis XV, 'after me, the deluge.' For him - and there are many who buy his line of reasoning - the choice is stark. Let slip the iron hand with which he rules and open the floodgates of anarchy in Egypt, to be followed by something worse. Just as Louis XV was succeeded by the French revolution, Mubarak will be succeeded by a theocratic dictatorship with the Muslim Brotherhood in the driving seat.

But given Egypt's civilisational heritage and lively civil society in the present day, there is no reason to believe democracy cannot strike roots in Egypt as it has done in countless countries across the globe. Far from the spectacle of anarchy, protesters at Cairo's Tahrir Square formed a human chain to prevent the Egyptian Museum from being looted by vandals. That's very different from the Taliban blasting Bamiyan Buddhas with anti-aircraft guns. Muslims voting shouldn't become a spectre that haunts the movers and shakers of the world, even when such scare tactics are convenient for the purpose of keeping Muslim autocrats in power. The route to a peaceful and stable Middle East cannot be a permanent emergency in Egypt. If democracy is worth attempting in Afghanistan, surely it can work in Egypt.

The Middle East could be on the cusp of great change, which provokes interesting questions. Few predicted the collapse of the Soviet empire and most were astounded when it happened. If Egypt is the lynchpin of the Arab world as the USSR was of the communist bloc, what if the democracy movement were to win in Egypt, unleashing change across the Arab world? What would be the consequences for global geopolitics if a democracy wave were to break out in the Arab world over the next decade (as it did in southern Europe in the 1970s, Latin America and east Asia in the 1980s, and eastern Europe in the 1990s)?

Such a wave would most likely start from the poorer nations in the region. Democracy movements are tied up with economic demands, and oil-rich states have the means to buy off dissent. Partial democracy in the Arab world would inevitably redress the regional balance of power in favour of its poorer (but more populated) nations, enabling them not only to shake off ties of dependence and patronage tying them to the Gulf's oil-rich monarchies, but also to exert counter-pressure on them through the power of ideas. This could reverse the direction of flow of ideas in the region, where Saudi-funded Wahhabism has led to the growth of 'petrodollar Islam'. Since the poorer nations lack petrodollars, they would be obliged to develop their human resources in order to meet the economic demands of their people. If Egypt, a nation of 80 million, goes democratic, the best way to regain its historical pre-eminence in the region would be to develop its human resources, build a diversified economy and grow its middle class.

It's to be welcomed if Arab countries were to adopt the path that emerging economies such as India, Indonesia and Turkey have taken. Were west Asia and north Africa to join the growth poles of the world, it would foster the creation of a truly multipolar, integrated world community. Among the fringe benefits: a democratising Arab world would help arrest Pakistan's lurch towards radicalism.


Such a process is going to have several casualties. First, notions of European superiority will be done away with. Second, authoritarian regimes such as those of China and Iran will feel threatened by developments in the Arab world. In a sign of its nervousness, China has banned any use of the word "Egypt" on its micro-blogging sites. Third, when it becomes apparent that Islam and democracy are compatible, anti-democratic theologies such as those of Taliban and al-Qaida will lose traction. Of course this is going to be an uneven process. Certain countries might elect extremist Islamic governments. But they would be subject to the same standards of democratic accountability and delivering on economic issues as anyone else. They could abrogate democratic rights and curb the growth of the middle class after having used them to come to power. But then they would be under siege, as Iran is. Democracy is a genie that's tough to put back in the bottle, once uncorked.

Change is never pretty, but it's usually better to ride change than attempt to stall it. And in the case of democratising impulses in the Arab world, the overall trajectory of this change is benign. Egypt may be the land of the mummy, it doesn't follow that it can be mummified forever. It's not frozen in ancient or medieval history; it may be about to set history in motion. Liberals, at any rate, have much to gain from a democratic revolution in the Arab world. Western governments, as well as India, should commit themselves to the establishment of full democracy in Egypt. Supporting right-wing dictatorships in pursuit of a delusive "stability" will only create the conditions for their overthrow by radical regimes, an outcome that neither the West nor India wants.







The failure of every administration since Independence to address one of Indian society's glaring shortcomings - the lack of a uniform civil code - has come in for criticism again. And just like every time, the ruling dispensation will brush it off with specious arguments. But the fact of the matter is that leaving minority communities out of the ambit of reform of personal laws that has - rightly - been implemented for the Hindu community is not a show of secularism. It is, as the Supreme Court has pointed out in this instance, precisely the opposite, undermining the basic concept of the rule of law applying equally to every citizen in a democracy.

This is an issue that has come up of late elsewhere as well, such as in British Prime Minister David Cameron's speech in which he attacked a particular brand of multiculturalism in Britain. The same kind of multiculturalism - one that has less to do with the positive aspects of tolerance and inclusiveness and more with the creation of insular religious or cultural ghettos for political purposes - is the problem when it comes to personal laws in
India. It strikes at the root of liberal values, giving primacy to the community rather than to the individual and his rights as enshrined in the Constitution.

When the decision was first made by Jawaharlal Nehru's government to put aside the reform of the minority communities' personal laws, it may have been understandable even if divisive, given the horrors of Partition. But in the decades since, successive administrations have displayed both breathtaking cynicism and an utter lack of will, as in the Shah Bano case - despite repeated prodding by the Supreme Court. It is time to make this reform something more than an idealistic irrelevance languishing as a directive principle of state policy.







The latest reminder of the Supreme Court brings into sharp focus the debate on personal laws. The court's reminder, in fact, is going to please votaries of hardline Hindutva, who have often voiced the demand for a uniform civil code. Liberals and secularists, therefore, ought not to make common cause with them, but look deeply into the reasons why personal laws for minorities have been left unchanged.

A pluralistic society like India should follow a gradual and calibrated approach to a contentious issue like reform of personal laws, making sure that the demand for such reform comes first from the community in question. Anything else smacks of a top-down approach which we should be beware of. Our lawgivers have rightly resisted the idea of anything like interference in the personal laws of minorities in a top-down fashion. They rather left the issue for the future generations to decide. The state must first create positive conditions for minorities to help them move towards such reform on their own. Has the state achieved that? Let's face it, many of our minorities are lagging behind on most development parameters. The Sachar committee report, which makes this case for the Muslim community, is a case in point. And there hasn't been an equivalent of the Sachar committee for the Christian community, leaving us in the dark about what their condition is.

The present mood of intolerance and support for forced integration was also evident in David Cameron's speech slamming multiculturalism, largely responsible for creating the UK's vibrant and inclusive society since the 1990s. The 'muscular liberalism' that Cameron invokes amounts to foisting the majority's values on minorities. We can do without such displays of muscle.







Bryan Adams, the legendary Canadian guitarist and singer, will twang off one more India tour next Saturday, performing in Mumbai, Bangalore, New Delhi and Hyderabad. The 15 Grammy winner was iconic for a generation, but since it's been quite a while since The Summer of '69, he might have to tweak his other hit, and call it '80 till I die'. Regardless of this, pre-pubescent and pre-menopausal audiences will kill for tickets and standing-room at the stadia. Favourites may vary, but mine is the soggy 'Everything i do, I do it for you'.

This number is not restricted to lovers who conventionally do weird things and make exaggerated declarations. It could as aptly be the theme song of several other bands, ranging from Save the Tiger types to the latest gig of Tiger Moms. But i have another proposition. Now that we have completely jettisoned our socialist hypocrisies, and the 'Me First' generation has been accepted, celebrated and greedily emulated, we should launch a new cover version of the Bryan Adams hit, and call it 'Everything I do, I do it for me'. It would be more honest and find greater resonance among a larger number of people. You don't have to take my word for it. You just have to read the newspapers.

Hosni Mubarak had been lulling his people for 30 years with his croon of 'Everything I do, I do it for you', but a million mutinies now have forced him to come clean about playing dirty. He's the one at the centre-stage of global attention, being belted to belt out the corrected new version, 'Everything I do, I do it for me - and Gamal'. Indeed, non-fans have been thronging stadiums across North Africa, wildly stamping their feet and their respective dictators. The globally telecast hysteria makes a Michael Jackson concert look like the annual show of the Tinsukia Tots.

You don't have to be a North African despot to qualify as the billed singer of this confessional anthem. Being a Somali pirate will also do. These marauding hordes have been terrorising international waters - sometimes brandishing their blunder-buss, and flying their flag emblazoned with a thick skull and cross moans. Take their big time bungle in Mumbai last weekend. They attacked not a laden cargo ship, but a Coast Guard vessel out on an anti-piracy mission. At least today's non-romantic pirates, unlike their more plundering, palace-occupying counterparts, make no cross-bones about admitting 'Everything I do, I do it for me'.

Cricketers are not supposed to be singing this tune, but there they are in the strobe lights, also caught shaking their booty. Everything they do is supposed to be for the greater glory of country, county, or at least IPL franchisee. Instead, they are all grooving to 'Everything I do, I do it for sponsorships'. There seems to be another swelling chorus which sounds jarringly like 'Everything I do, I do it for match-fixing'. Just this week, the ICC said 'I see sleaze', kicked Butt, and imposed bans ranging from 10 to five years on the three tainted Pakistani players.

Of course, political tribes have always mouthed 'Everything I do, I do it for you', while gleefully singing 'Everything I do, I do it for me' under their breath and table. Not at all fussy about the venue, these public figures perform lustily one day at the Commonwealth Games, the next at an illegal housing society, and even at a nullah-widening programme. Committed pros that they are, their only endeavour is to attain higher and higher notes.







The middle path is usually a much-maligned option in any bilateral dialogue. But in the case of India and Pakistan, it appears the only viable one at present. The very fact that the atmospherics surrounding the talks between Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) meeting in Thimphu were upbeat, almost warm, is good news after months of gridlock on several crucial issues, the principal being terrorism. The fact that this could happen despite Pakistan's churlish attempts to rake up the issue of 'Hindu' terrorism and India's indulgent stand towards it speaks of a certain maturity and pragmatism that the region can't go forward as long as the big two are at each other's throats.

For Pakistan, it's clear that its ability to sabre rattle is getting limited by the day. For one, its internal situation is in a shambles with terror becoming a part of daily life. The country's civilian government exists only on paper with the shadowy ISI and army controlling everything. With India's initiatives on Kashmir, the K-card appears one of diminishing returns for the moment. And most worrying for Pakistan, its staunch ally - the US - seems to be in high dudgeon after an American citizen was arrested for killing two Pakistanis. Washington has petulantly suspended all dialogue with its favourite ally pending the release of the offender. Both India and Pakistan are aware of how much it would benefit them if the issues on the backburner like water-sharing, confidence-building and terror could at least be resolved partially.

That both are prisoners of internal compulsions has been the tragedy for the region. It's not been lost on Saarc members that this desperately poor part of the world has been held hostage to the tensions between the two nuclear-armed nations for decades. India, with its booming economy, can afford to wait and watch. Pakistan is not in this fortunate position. It is already being referred to as an almost failed State and the epicentre of terrorism. In this context, it would be downright foolish not to take advantage of the positive atmosphere generated at Thimphu and try and begin resolving outstanding issues with India. The late strategic guru K Subrahmanyam presciently referred to Pakistan's support for terror outfits as akin to nurturing a venomous snake which would turn on it sooner rather than later. This is an observation Pakistan should keep in mind in the run-up to foreign minister-level talks later this year. The middle path is fine for now, but it has to branch off into the high road in the not too distant future.






Roger Daltrey, then 21, first came out with a hit in 1965 that had the line: "I hope I die before I get old." Now, Mr Daltrey, 66 and living, has a way in which he can wheedle out of geriatric embarrassment - apart from trying the fashionable routine of pitching the 60s as 'the new 30s'. It turns out that fellow fogies with a sex and drugs and rock'n'roll past on their CVs are lining up not the fine white powder but notes that will help them lecture in institutions of learning. Steve Miller, who insisted through a hit song, "I'm a joker, I'm a smoker, I'm a midnight toker", recently checked in, no, not in Betty Ford Rehab Centre, but as an artist-in-residence at the University of Southern California's (USC) Thornton School of Music.

Mind you, this isn't something on the lines of Bob Dylan's oeuvre entering the portals of PhD studies. This is more like Axl Rose wearing something more substantial than hot pants to cover his now substantial girth and lecturing students on the 'diatonic structure in "November Rain" and the architecture of tempos through the device of multiple bridges'. The truth is that royalties, in this age of downloads, aren't that chunky from those still swinging from the 60s or even the 90s. But as the dean of the USC's music school sees it, bringing old rockers to students is something that a professor, "no matter how well intentioned, just can't do. It makes all the learning go beyond just theory".

And to prove exactly that point our very own Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad) recently concluded a discussion on whether Malaika Arora's item number 'Munni badnam' from Dabangg and Katrina Kaif's 'Sheila ki jawaani' from Tees Maar Khan can be deemed obscene. Why do we get the feeling that learning, whether in California or in Ahmedabad, is much more fun than it ever was before?









They were surveying me with interest, a group of 20-odd boys and girls from different parts of Jammu and Kashmir. They were in Delhi as part of an ongoing initiative by NGO Yakjah, the idea being if these people met and shared their experiences, they would forge a stronger bond and develop a better understanding of each other's issues and aspirations.

The ones from Kashmir were milling around me because many of them had never seen a Kashmiri Pandit in person before. They had only heard about them from their parents and grandparents. How could they? Their stories began just as our chapter in the Valley was coming to an end.

There was a girl who lived in the same locality - Kanya Kadal near Habba Kadal - where our house stood. And yet 20 years separated us, could-have-been neighbours. It wasn't their clothes, their English spoken with a Kashmiri accent (tchs and phhs), or their academic accomplishments (management, law and journalism students), or their uninhibited leg-shaking to 'Munni badnam hui' that surprised me. The internet can be a great leveller in many ways to many people.

What set these young people apart from Kashmiri men and women of my generation and the generation after that was the absence of hate for the 'other'.

They did not seem to care about the political bickerings over J&K, the question of belonging or not belonging to the Indian State and the tug of war with Pakistan. In fact, as we discussed the politics of the Valley, someone mentioned the acronym 'JKLF' which someone else opened as 'Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh Friends'.

What these young people did have was a passion for life, a refreshing curiosity, and most importantly they carried no dregs of hate.

An organiser told me how a young lady from Sopore had rushed out of her house to apprehend a group of stone-throwers last year when the agitation was at its peak. "She told me that she just wasn't convinced that the solution lay in hurling stones," said the coordinator. Another young man told me that he didn't care about India or Pakistan or freedom. "Freedom for me is the opportunity for self-development."

Some of their lightness rubbed off on me. As I drove away from the 'chill party', for the first time in many years I told myself I needn't worry about the Valley. It had found its safekeepers. Its future was in safe hands.






A lawyer from Chennai goes to Britain. He gets a degree from London School of Economics; returns to India to be a government officer; becomes a professor of economics; enters the legislative council; swings back to the government as director general of statistics; enters the private sector and serves as vice-chairman of Tata Steel and Tata Motors; re-enters quasi-public service as president at the Indian Institute of Science; then winds up as minister for railways and the finance minister of India.

In an India where public and private sectors are largely watertight compartment, this sounds quite a fanciful resume. Yet, John Mathai lived in an India that allowed talent to follow its fancies, to toggle between diverse careers and experiences. In 1950, he resigned as India's finance minister, accusing his prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, of wasteful expenditure and disagreeing with the need for planning. (Some irony here: the 1944-45 Bombay Plan, of which Mathai was one of the architects - JRD Tata and GD Birla were among six others - recommended State intervention in the economy and segued into the first five-year plan.)

Once the public sector and the civil service took charge of the commanding heights of the economy and India itself, the flow of talent between public and private service halted. Now, mindful of the revolution of expectations redefining public life and politics, governments eager to show results are trying to bring some shine back to the rusting frame of India's vast, largely inefficient, civil service.

Whether NDA or UPA, successive government haven't had the courage - or inclination - to restructure the powerful bureaucracy. In this era of coalition governments, it's hard to imagine something so drastic. Yet, it's obvious that national and state administrations require the disruptive force of innovation if they are to respond to the myriad needs and demands of emerging India. So, efforts to bring in 'outsiders' grow.

At senior levels, this is not new. In 1984, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi chose an Indian expat in the US to be his technology advisor. Satyanarayan 'Sam' Pitroda energised India's telecommunications revolution. In his latest avatar as innovations advisor to Manmohan Singh, Pitroda is trying to construct the National Information Infrastructure, a project to take broadband to India's panchayats, so that real-time, transparent administration can stretch from parliament to village.

There are others in the government's top echelons who have been hired from among India's global elite. India's chief economic adviser, Kaushik Basu, who is presently involved in writing the 2011 Economic Survey, is still a professor at Cornell University. Rhodes scholar and deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, gained lateral entry into the bureaucracy after a bright career at the World Bank. Nandan Nilekani, former CEO of India's second-largest technology company, Infosys, is chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India, the agency that aims to provide 600 million Indians with a 12-digit identification number by 2014.

Nilekani's organisation is a harbinger of the new civil service. At his agency, Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers work with engineers and other professionals - many on sabbatical, paid and unpaid - from a slew of private-sector companies, including Cisco and Intel. Why do they do this? As one investment banker from Singapore, now working for Nilekani, told me, "Where else in the world would I get an experience of this scale and complexity? Public service and a beefed-up resume."

Nilekani also heads an expert group that last week recommended that the government should use India's vast private-sector technology talent for public purposes: set up private companies (with a majority government stake) that will be nimble, flexible and independent enough to handle the complex job of grafting technology onto administration. For now, Nilekani's group has suggested these companies run projects that could handle various taxes, pensions and expenditure worth billions of dollars. It would be a pity if the government doesn't give the group more ambitious tasks. With five government officials, Nilekani and Nachiket Mor, president of a foundation for inclusive growth set up by ICICI, India's largest private-sector bank, the expert group is an amalgam of talent that represents the new world it seeks to create.

But how can this new world enter the lower and middle bureaucracies? How can they be infused with private-sector talent to ensure delivery of services?

The draft of the Right to Food Bill, the contentious effort to make food a constitutional right, has one suggestion - give people from any walk of life, between 35 and 45 years of age, a one-time, five-year shot at public service. The drafters of the bill, the National Advisory Council (NAC), have a great worry - it's all very well to provide a raft of new economic entitlements to the poor, but who will enforce these? Their answer is the district redressal officer, who will - and this is controversial, to say the least - sit in judgement over the district collector, the undisputed king of the district for more than a century. "You can select people from the pool of idealism across India," an NAC member told me. "This will be a mid-career, lateral entry [into public service]. Can we not find 700 idealistic people for 700 districts?"

This is laudable. It could also mean another layer of bureaucracy over the bureaucracy. The fundamental challenge remains: how does India increase the opportunities for professionals to enter public service on a large scale? When can a John Mathai waltz in and out of public service - as easily as he could more than 60 years ago?





The Karachi-Lahore divide in some ways mirrors the distinctions between Mumbai and Delhi. Karachi, the country's main port and financial centre, is a megalopolis of 20 million with harsh social contrasts and diverse ethnic populations, its violent mafia-led politics and a fight for space among mohajir groups, Sindhi nationalists and others.

Lahore, by contrast, is the old gracious capital of Punjab, the seat of Mughal culture and colonial education with a population half that of Karachi. Wandering down Mall Road, its main artery, no north Indian can remain untouched by the elegant mid-19th century red brick architecture of the high court, the GPO (General Post Office), Punjab University, the museum and Government College. Ahmad Rafay Alam, a young lawyer who now lives in the former house of Justice GD Khosla, took us into the beautifully preserved courtrooms where my wife's grandfather, Ved Vyas, practised law in the 1940s.

But something has ineluctably changed in Lahore, and dramatically since the Salman Taseer assassination. Its intellectual elite feel cowed down and despondent. No public prosecutor is willing to appear for Taseer whereas hundreds of lawyers want to defend his killer free of cost. Civil rights activists are gathering steam for petitions to the prime minister and chief justice to ask why State protection cannot be provided for a prosecutor. In the homes of the gentry, guests speak of the 'fundos' (fundamentalists) as the barbarians at the city's gates.

Fundamentally yours

"Lahore has been the headquarters of fundamentalist groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Hizbul Mujahideen and others since the 1990s," says Ahmad Rashid, the political analyst. "The city has taken a continuous hammering, with the Jamaat-i-Islami undercutting its institutions of education and culture." The political clout of the Sharif brothers, Nawaz and Shahbaz (the latter is Punjab's chief minister), he argues, comes from their proximity to the army and ability to buy protection from many fundo groups. Some 70% of Pakistan's army is made up of Punjabis and most chiefs of staff, including General Kayani, are Punjabi.

The infiltration of the 'fundos' is felt everywhere. A theatre director told me of the hard time she had to get permission to stage Girish Karnad's Tughlaq from a college screening committee. "They wanted to know why I had chosen an Indian play? I had to argue that Tughlaq was as much our ruler as India's."

The blasphemy laws have given the 'fundos' a new platform to unite, feed into political insecurities against a backdrop of economic stagnation and decline. Lahore's long night of mourning is fuelled by the frightening prospect of the 'fundos' so dangerously close at hand.

What Pakistanis want

What do Pakistanis want out of India? Beyond the unending cycle of enmity and friendship, or the warmth or frostiness of foreign ministers' handshakes, what is the taste, the scent and sense of India they most desire? Here is a brief listing of what our stuffed suitcases contained for friends (and friends of friends) in Karachi and Lahore: masala cashew nuts, bars of glycerine soap (sandalwood fragrance only), fresh paans, herbal cholesterol-regulating pills enticingly called Shuddha Guggulu, Kashmiri scarves and khadi kurtas.

An elderly acquaintance emailed to say he had been deeply pained to hear of the passing of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. Could we bring a couple of CDs of the maestro as "his celestial voice would be a balm and benediction in the troubled times we live in". How do you say no to that?

Sunil Sethi is the host of Just Books on NDTV










After the unprecedented instance of practically an entire session of Parliament being abandoned over the issue, there are signs that the government has lowered its resistance to a joint parliamentary committee to inquire into 2G spectrum allocation. With the budget session coming up, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee called an all-party meeting, and signalled the overture by saying that no price is high enough to make Parliament function. This deadlock is clearly unsustainable, and there is little doubt that the government must be inventive and large-hearted, if only in its own interest. No government can possibly recover its stride if a budget session is given over to serial adjournments. Vital pieces of legislation have been held up.

It is far from clear whether a JPC is the appropriate method to investigate 2G spectrum allocation. After all, the public accounts committee is seized of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report; it is headed by an MP from the opposition; it is extremely representative in composition. It has helped matters that the prime minister has announced a readiness to be available to the PAC for clarifications. Yet, the dubious advantages of a JPC apart, deadlock can be so debilitating that the Congress-led UPA needs to take stock of the bruising effect of this uncertainty. The opposition parties too must know that being seen as responsible for a this-or-nothing stalemate can carry a political price. The deadlock is not a zero-sum game, and it may well be that no party walks away from it with anything to show as gain. But, whatever the via media, something has to give.

Moreover, removed from the specifics of the current confrontation in Parliament, the fact of a whole session being virtually abandoned must serve as a call to reform. There is agreement all round that the legislature must be a more feisty arena for debate and contestation. Various steps to escape the party-specific gridlocks that regularly incapacitate proceedings have been suggested. Anti-defection legislation, for instance, is seen to have given so much power to the party whips that freewheeling debate has become a casualty. Vice President Hamid Ansari has suggested that the anti-defection penalties should be limited to just a few situations. If this is what it takes to give individual

MPs a stake in keeping the proceedings going beyond partisan standoffs, then his idea must be seriously studied.







Some privileges, although once or often given, must be taken away. Some privileges should not be there at all. That is a notion — moral, social and political — lost on many in the political and administrative class. That's why we are made to encounter some invocation of the cordon sanitaire or an exclusive red carpet every now and then. The latest in the category seems to be what Praful Patel, former Union civil aviation minister and currently heavy industries and public enterprises minister, appears to have granted himself in his last days in his previous office — the right to be driven up to the aircraft on the tarmac at all airports in India. Perhaps to tone down the sharpness of the self-privileging, the right has been extended to all former civil aviation minsters on condition they be ministers in the current government.

That extension doesn't really blunt the edges of the disapproval Patel may have to deal with, because it extends the sense of entitlement of those familiar too well with the corridors of power. This is not a crime we are dealing with, but the demonstration of an undemocratic mindset that the popularly chosen representatives and their appointed civil servants in our democracy seem to possess in abandon. In fact, anybody with an average celebrity often gets the idea that somehow s/he is immune to rules that circumscribe the lives and motions of the rest. This is reflected also in the way the establishment, and sometimes the public too, reacts when there's some real or perceived breach of the code, whether it be an Indian ambassador getting a pat-down at a foreign airport or another dignitary just being asked to wait in queue and do what others do.

After the global upgrade of airport security post-9/11, more and more VIPs were expected to undergo the full security check. Yet, the Indian list of VIPs exempted continued to lengthen, precisely because the new strictures seemed more tedious. Patel's last-minute tarmac order betrays this tendency. It's this tendency that the people who create privileges for themselves and their kind need to jettison. Democratic leadership, too, begins at home.






Where does the legacy of the Commonwealth Games lie? Delhi's infrastructure got a spectacular upgrade, its roads, pavements, public spaces. The stadia, that were by the end of the Games packed to capacity, are now quieter and less brightly lit, but there is the memory of a city that surprised itself by being so quickly seduced by sports other than cricket. The Games, it's important to recall, brought us a picture of a changing city, one forging a new solidarity in the light of its changed demographic — from a sarkari city obsessed with the administrative hierarchies of the Lutyens zone to one changed by the professional aspirations of the National Capital Region.

It has struck us as odd that the government has been so timid and resisted the logical next step, of consolidating this infrastructure and urban ethos by bidding for the Asian Games. Therefore, news that Delhi's administrators are signalling ownership of the CWG legacy is welcome. The New Delhi Municipal Council or NDMC, will upgrade 78 parks in Delhi to what they plan to call "Shera Maidans", after the CWG's schoolboyish tiger mascot, who continues to be beloved of the city's kids. Each of these 78 upgraded parks will have the "infrastructure required to support at least one sport, changing rooms, and minimum infrastructure like swings, for children to play".

The idea of a sporting event's legacy being a continual source of civic solidarity was in fact pioneered by an earlier CWG, Manchester 2002. Those were followed by years in which the sense that residents of Greater Manchester had ownership of the event was consolidated, through outreach programmes that extended the Games' benefits in time and space. That's what we need in Delhi, too.










Even as the mass demonstrations began in Tunisia, who would have thought that Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's regime would collapse so quickly? Who could have predicted that Egypt would witness such unprecedented popular protest? A barrier has fallen. Nothing will be the same again. It is likely that other countries will follow the lead of Egypt, given its central and symbolic significance. But what will be the role of the Islamists after the collapse of the dictatorships?

The Islamist presence has for decades justified the West's acceptance of the worst dictatorships in the Arab world. And it was these very regimes that demonised their Islamist opponents, particularly Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which historically represents that country's first well-organised mass movement with the political influence to match.

For more than 60 years, the Brotherhood has been illegal but tolerated. It has demonstrated a powerful capacity to mobilise the people in each relatively democratic election — for trade unions, professional associations, municipalities, parliament and so on — where it has been a participant. So, are the Muslim Brothers the rising power in Egypt, and, if so, what can we anticipate of such an organisation?

In the West, we have come to expect superficial analyses of political Islam in general and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular. However, Islamism is a mosaic of widely differing trends and factions, and its facets have emerged over time.

The Muslim Brothers began in the 1930s as a legalist, anti-colonialist and nonviolent movement that claimed legitimacy for armed resistance in Palestine against Zionist expansionism before World War II. The writings from between 1930 and 1945 of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Brotherhood, show that he opposed colonialism and criticised the fascist governments in Germany and Italy. He rejected use of violence in Egypt, even though he considered it legitimate in Palestine, in resistance to the Zionist Stern and Irgun terror gangs. He believed that the British parliamentary model represented the kind closest to Islamic principles. Al-Banna's objective was to found an "Islamic state" based on gradual reform, beginning with popular education and broad-based social programmes. He was assassinated in 1949 by the Egyptian government on the orders of the British occupiers. Following Gamal Abdel Nasser's revolution in 1952, the movement was subjected to violent repression.

Several distinct trends emerged. Radicalised by their experience of prison and torture, some of the group's members (who eventually left the organisation) concluded that the state had to be overthrown at all costs, even with violence. Others remained committed to the group's original position of gradual reform. Many of its members were forced into exile: some in Saudi Arabia, where they were influenced by the Saudi literalist ideology; others in countries such as Turkey and Indonesia, Muslim-majority societies where a wide variety of communities coexist. Still others settled in the West and came into contact with the European tradition of democratic freedom.

Today's Muslim Brotherhood draws these diverse visions together. But the leadership of the movement — those who belong to the founding generation are now very old — no longer fully represents the aspirations of the younger members, who are more open to the world, anxious to bring about internal reform. Behind the unified, hierarchical facade, contradictory influences are at work. No one can tell which way the movement will go.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not leading the surge that is bringing down Hosni Mubarak: it is made up of young people, of women and men who have rejected dictatorship. The Muslim Brotherhood, and the Islamists in general, do not represent the majority. There can be no doubt that they hope to participate in the democratic transition when Mubarak departs, but no one can tell which faction will emerge in a dominant position.

Neither the US nor Europe, not to mention Israel, will easily allow the Egyptian people to make their dream of democracy and freedom come true. The strategic and geopolitical considerations are such that the reform movement will be, and is already, closely monitored by US agencies in coordination with the Egyptian Army, which has played for time and assumed the crucial role of mediator.

By deciding to line up behind Mohamed ElBaradei, who has emerged as the chief figure among the anti-Mubarak protesters, the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership has signalled that now is not the time to expose itself by making political demands that might frighten the West, not to mention the Egyptian people. Caution is the watchword.

Respect for democratic principles demands that all forces that reject violence and respect the rule of law (both before and after elections) participate fully in the political process. The Muslim Brotherhood must be a full partner in the process of change — and will be, if a minimally democratic state can be established in Egypt.

Neither repression nor torture has been able to eliminate the Brotherhood. It is only democratic debate and the vigorous exchange of ideas that have had an impact on the development of the most problematic Islamist theses — from understanding of the Shariah to respect for freedom and defence of equality. Only by exchanging ideas, and not by torture and dictatorship, can we find solutions that respect the people's will. Turkey's example should be an inspiration to us.

The West continues to use "the Islamist threat" to justify its passivity and outright support for dictatorships. As resistance to Mubarak mounted, the Israeli government repeatedly called on Washington to back the Egyptian junta against the popular will. Europe adopted a wait-and-see stance.

Both attitudes are revealing: at the end of the day, lip-service to democratic principle carries little weight against the defence of political and economic interests. The United States prefers dictatorships that guarantee access to oil, and allow the Israelis to continue their slow colonisation, to credible representatives of the people who could not allow these things to continue.

Citing the voices of dangerous Islamists to justify not listening to the voices of the people is short-termist as well as illogical. Under both the Bush and Obama administrations, the United States has suffered heavy losses of credibility in the Middle East; the same is true for Europe. If the Americans and Europeans do not re-examine their policies, other powers in Asia and South America may begin to interfere soon with their elaborate structure of strategic alliances.

The regional impact of Mubarak stepping down will be huge, yet the consequences are unpredictable. After the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, the political message is clear: with nonviolent mass protest, anything is possible and no autocratic government is safe and secure any longer. Presidents and kings are feeling the pressure of this historical turning point. The unrest has reached Algeria, Yemen and Mauritania. One should also look at Jordan, Syria and even Saudi Arabia: preventive reforms have been announced, as if there were a common feeling of fear and vulnerability. The rulers of all these countries know that if Egypt is collapsing, they run the risk of the same destiny.

This state of instability is worrying and at the same time very promising. The Arab world is awakening with dignity and hope. The changes spell hope for true democrats, and trouble for those who would sacrifice democratic principle to their economic and geostrategic calculations. The liberation of Egypt seems to be just the start.

Around the world, among Muslims, there is a critical mass that would support this move, the necessary revolution at the centre. In the end, only democracies that embrace all nonviolent political forces can bring about peace in the Middle East.

Tariq Ramadan, the grandson of Hassan al- Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928, is professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford

The New York Times








On Wednesday, the verdict stretched across news channels like a piece of gum that grows lengthier and thinner the more it is pulled. Typical. Once there's breaking news, it stays on the air for the next 24-48 hours, getting longer in the telling and flimsier on facts.

In this case, it began a little early. A Ghaziabad court's order on the closure report of the Arushi Talwar murder case made news on Tuesday and on Wednesday morning, well before it had been delivered. "Will Arushi get justice?", "Will the court order a re-probe?" demanded Headlines Today and CNN-IBN respectively early Wednesday. At around 10 am, CNN-IBN's anchor asked the reporter "outside the court" to recount yesterday's proceedings (something we'd already heard the day before). Two hours later, she offered him three possible outcomes and asked him to choose the most likely one, to which he replied: difficult to say because the court has not yet delivered its order! A case of anticipatory news?

The evening before the judgment, the Talwars appeared on Headlines Today. Rajesh Talwar had injuries on his face, and both his hands were in plaster. His wife Nupur looked like she was in pain. Rajesh described the nature of his wounds, how he could not close his right eye because of an injury, how an artery had been cut open in the assault on him by Utsav Sharma, and how "I almost died". Then he began to cry. You felt your eyes moisten too — a viewer would have to be a monster not to be moved by a person in such a visibly distressing condition. But you also felt awkward, intrusive: personal suffering is a private place nobody should intrude upon. You wanted to ask the Talwars why. Why had they felt the need to expose their wounds, their agony on TV.

If Yuvraj Singh's defence at the cricket crease had been as stout as it was when he faced Aap Ki Adalat (India TV), he would have a far better record. The combative cricketer was in a genial mood as he dispatched all hard-hitting questions beyond the boundary. Asked about getting into a bar brawl with fans in the West Indies last year, he patiently explained that a bar also serves food (he wasn't drinking?) and the players had politely asked a fan to back off. What about his reported involvement with Bollywood stars? Yuvraj looked abashed, almost coy, before he redirected the question to the stars. He wore the Indian flag on his tongue, repeatedly stating that it was his country, and his country alone, that mattered to him. National anthem, please.

Sourav Ganguly was an eager but coy schoolboy when Headlines Today asked him about his desire to work as a cricket administrator and/or coach of the Indian team. Yes, he said breathlessly, I'd love to be the coach.

In this season of film awards, there ought to be one for the most riveting performance in an interview. And the award goes to Suzanne, wife of Hrithik Roshan, for her frank and utterly disarming replies on Koffee with Karan (Star World). With an infectious giggle, she left nothing unsaid. Asked what she would do if she woke up as her husband, she promptly replied she would play the field for a day. Hrithik laughed but his hand reached out to restrain her. She revealed that women did flirt with him — and so they should — as did he. Hrithik protested but she was having none of it. So delightfully candid was she that when Johar awarded her his famous hamper, you thought she deserved another.

Far from the madding crowd of TV news and TV serials, there's nourishing soup for the soul. Yes, two-minute noodles have been advertising their new, fortified-with-whole-grains-and-vitamins fast food, but that's not what we're talking about. Last week, DD Bharti telecast live from the Khajuraho dance festival and on Sunday, the channel ran Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam without commercial breaks that normally last as long as the film. The Lok Sabha channel also broadcasts alternative, regional cinema, so all those who wish to watch something other than Dabangg, may like to check out the weekend schedules.







Cashing out
The slew of IT raids and the issue of black money seem to have given the RSS journal Organiser much to ponder. It came down heavily on Congress president Sonia Gandhi for her alleged "bonhomie with shady NGOs endangering national security" and accused her of creating a situation where "Indian business is getting choked in its own country."

"Sonia's aversion to private business in India (as distinct from private business abroad, a sector much assisted by that most effective of lobbyists, Ottavio Quattrocchi) has led to the Reserve Bank of India placing multiple restrictions on the access to funds of Indian corporates,while opening the gates for those from outside... Investment within India by major domestic corporates is drying up, and after the felling of the telecom sector (by the naked greed of a few political families), it is the turn of the information technology (IT) sector to feel the lash. These days, rather than concentrating on meeting the threat faced by growing Chinese capability in the IT sector, many Indian companies are expending their time in answering queries from the Income Tax Department,which specialises in paralysing businesses at a mere hint from those running the country (to the ground)," writes M.D. Nalapat.

In another article, Jay Dubashi argues that it is the black money returning to India that has contributed to rising inflation. "The fact is that some of the politicians and other characters have become so scared of being exposed as looters that they are bringing money home from their tax shelters. There is therefore so much cash around that the markets are inundated with it... And now that there is probably as much black money as white, prices are doubling every few months. This is why onions are costing twice as much as they did a few months ago, and why cricketers are being bought and sold at twice the prices they used to be traded a year ago," writes Dubashi. "Bulk of the money in cricket is black, which is why you have so many Congress and other politicians sticking to it like limpets. They want to bring back their loot before WikiLeaks and others shine their torchlight on it," he adds.

Another article, titled "UPA afraid of disclosing the money launderers' names", says that "the black money of Indian politicians and big businessmen does not remain permanently parked in foreign banks; a part of it keeps coming back to India, specially, during election times... If we seriously want to root out corruption from our political system, we have to make efforts to render all those places unviable where at present the slush money is being parked."

Who picked Thomas?
An article in the Organiser has criticised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the CVC's appointment. It sought to know whether the prime minister would make public the name of the person under whose "instruction" he appointed P.J. Thomas to that post. "What is gratifying is that the Supreme Court refused to be misled by the government's false and untenable contentions and did raise relevant questions to bring out the truth — the appointment of CVC is perhaps the only one in which Dr Manmohan Singh is in the line of fire... The prime minister will do well to tell the nation whether or not he was under instructions to appoint Thomas and no one else as CVC? If the answer is yes, will he please disclose the identity of the person who instructed him?" it asks.

Terror stories
The Panchjanya, the RSS's journal in Hindi, has an editorial on the suicide of a relative of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who was killed during 26/11. It lamented the government's attitude against terrorism, claiming that the act was a response to this attitude and the long legal process around the conviction of the 26/11 accused, Ajmal Kasab. In this context, the editorial has criticised Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh. "The way he (Digvijaya Singh) appears to be speaking up for jihadi terrorists and standing by people like Aziz Burney, who support them, would not be possible without the consent of 10 Janpath. This became more obvious when Rahul Gandhi declared 'Hindu fundamentalism' more fatal than the LeT, and put the RSS and the SIMI on the same footing," says the editorial.

Meanwhile, a special report in Organiser sought to know whether Digvijaya Singh would apologise to the country in the way that Aziz Burney, author of RSS ka Shadyantra, 26/11, apologised for his "vicious canard against the RSS".







Tehran after Cairo
As in the United States so in Iran, there is an agreement between the ruling party and the opposition on the nature of the unfolding revolution in Egypt.

In Washington, the consensus is real. The Obama administration and the Republicans are equally wary of Islamists hijacking a democratic rebellion. The fear that a regime change in Cairo could disrupt Egypt's long peace with Israel at risk unites the left and right of the American political spectrum.

In Tehran, the apparent political unity is misleading. Iran's ruling clerics have repeatedly claimed in the last few days that the people power in Egypt is inspired by the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, whose 32nd anniversary falls this month.

The Iranian opposition holds that the origins of the current mass upsurge in Cairo must be traced back to the popular protests in Iran in 2009 after a disputed presidential election.

Egyptians have rejected the widespread fears in the West and the disingenuous claims from Iran's ayatollahs that theirs is an Islamic revolution. Senior figures from the famed Al-Azhar seminary in Cairo have dismissed the notion that clerics will ever rule in Sunni Egypt in the manner that they have in Shia Iran.

The real question is not about Egypt importing the Iranian model — either the 1979 or the 2009 vintage. What is more material, however, is the short- and long-term impact of Egyptian protests on Iran's political evolution. We might get the first indications fairly soon, when the Iranian opposition plans to hold mass protests in solidarity with the democratic movements in Egypt and other Arab nations.

In asking for permission to hold these rallies next Monday, the leaders of the Iranian opposition are challenging the government in Tehran as well as testing the sustainability of their own movement, which was put down after a few weeks of protests.

Tehran's refusal to give permission, the opposition leaders argue, will expose the hypocrisy of the government. If Tehran does allow the rallies — permitted under the Iranian constitution — the opposition's capacity for popular mobilisation will come under scrutiny.

The Saudi reaction
If the government and opposition in Iran have welcomed the mass protests in Egypt, the establishment in Saudi Arabia — another pivotal nation in the Middle East — was quick and decisive in its denunciation. As Cairo erupted at the end of January, the Saudi sovereign King Abdullah called President Hosni Mubarak to express solidarity.

Saudi media quoted the king as telling Mubarak that "No Arab or Muslim can tolerate any meddling in the security and stability of Arab and Muslim Egypt by those who infiltrated the people in the name of freedom of expression, exploiting it to inject their destructive hatred".

The Saudi monarch's characterisation of the Egyptian protestors as "infiltrators" left little ambiguity about the kingdom's concerns about the wider impact of revolutionary change in Egypt. It also signalled a determination to stamp out any copy-cat movement, however weak and limited, in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi response has also had an impact on the Obama administration. Those in Washington trying to save the regime in Cairo, with or without Mubarak, argued that abandoning a long-standing partner in Egypt will undermine the credibility of US alliances in the region.

Parallels in Pakistan?
As Egypt's revolt enters the third week, there is some interest in the prospect of a similar turn of events in Pakistan. On the face of it, Pakistani people have endured for decades a system that is unresponsive and incapable of meeting their minimal needs.

But don't bet on mass unrest in Pakistan. Not because its democracy is "functional", as Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has claimed. In Egypt, the anger of the people is directed against an authoritarian system personified by three decades of Mubarak rule.

In Pakistan, the system is more loosely structured and capable of dissipating popular discontent. There are frequent elections that bring forth civilian governments. The civilians, however, never had the will or power to transform the system.

The Pakistan army, which effectively controls the state, has easily divided and manipulated the democratic opposition. Civilian incompetence has resulted in people welcoming undemocratic rule by army chiefs. While all military rulers have all incurred popular wrath, the army has successfully shielded itself as an institution from the negative consequences. Recall how General Pervez Musharraf went out in disgrace in 2008, but his successor, General Ashfaq Kayani, continues to ride high.

The danger today is not of Pakistan emulating Egypt, but of the US facilitating the export of the Pakistan model — of a "sham democracy with real power held in backrooms by generals", in Fareed Zakaria's words — to Cairo.







Telecom minister Kapil Sibal may have accepted the Justice Shivraj Patil report that said all 157 licences issued by A Raja were illegal, but this hasn't stopped Trai from making a recommendation that confers a huge benefit on these very firms that have already got 4.4 MHz of spectrum at dirt-cheap rates. Indeed, if the Trai recommendations are accepted, these 157 firms (it could be less if 69 of these are cancelled, as Trai has recommended) will eventually get their 6.2 MHz of spectrum at Rs 4,844 crore (including the Rs 1,658 crore paid for 4.4 MHz of spectrum) while Trai has itself valued this 6.2 MHz at Rs 10,972 crore! It gets even more curious. Trai has said that while companies should pay Rs 1,769.8 crore per MHz for an additional 1.8 MHz of spectrum, the going rate will be two-and-a-half times higher for those telcos who have more than 6.2 MHz. These firms, which include BSNL, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone, will pay Rs 4,571.9 crore per MHz for the extra spectrum they have.

Trai's recommendation is all the more interesting since, while demolishing CAG's estimates of losses last month, Sibal had said 2G spectrum handed out by Raja was just a third as efficient as 3G spectrum, so the CAG was wrong in calculating the losses based on the bids received in the 3G auctions. Sibal then reduced the CAG's loss estimate to a third on just this ground. Trai's recommendations do not say 2G spectrum should be priced at a third of 3G, but they're pretty close—for spectrum of less than 6.2 MHz, Trai has said a price of 53% of the 3G value should be taken.

Some of the older players like Vodafone, Idea and Aircel will benefit from the lower valuations put on 2G spectrum till a level of 6.2 MHz, as they have only 4.4 MHz in several circles (the biggest beneficiaries, of course, will be the 157 licences Raja issued). But most of them will also be badly hit. The initial lot of mobile licences for metros, for instance, will come up for renewal in 2014, the others will come up after that. So, the older telcos will have to renew licences at 1.4 times the 3G rates while the newer telcos will have licences at a fraction of these. Fortunes in the telecom space are all set to get reversed thanks to the Trai recommendations. Talk of policy-induced distortions.






The efforts made by the ministry of commerce and industry to reduce transaction cost of exporters by Rs 2,100 crore are a commendable move that will help them improve delivery, increase margins and boost overall merchandise exports. The ministry also needs to be congratulated for rightly shifting the focus from its relentless efforts to secure new sops for exporters to cutting costs and boosting the overall competitiveness of exports. However, the scope for improvement is vast, given that the average transaction cost to an Indian exporter is estimated to be a high $945 per container, which is more than double that in other countries like China ($460) or Malaysia ($450). So far, only 32 of 44 issues identified by the task force on transaction costs of exports have been taken up and action has been completed in just 21 areas.

Tackling the remaining issues, which are in the process of examination and consultations, will further boost the prospects of Indian exporters. In fact, according to the task force estimates, costs account for 7-10% of the export value and currently amount to roughly $13-18 billion. Of this, half are structural costs, which cannot be completely eliminated, like payments made for inland transportation and handling, and the remaining are addressable transaction costs on account of redundant procedures and delays, which was estimated to be approximately $6-7 billion.

The key role that transaction costs play in trade has been well documented and multilateral agencies have encouraged policymakers to co-opt such transaction reduction strategies for promoting trade. In fact, recent studies have shown that the boom in trade between Indian and China since the 1990s has been largely facilitated by the reduction in trade costs; an ADB study even estimates that reducing trade costs explained three-fourths of the expansion of trade between the two countries, spanning the period from 1990 to 2008, when the flows shot up from $2.5 billion to $33.6 billion. The study shows that the fall in trade costs was equivalent to a reduction in tariff rates from 117% to 44%. But a one-time reduction in costs, as is currently attempted, may have only a limited short-term impact and the government has to now follow up these measures with major reforms in management institutions, transport regulation and even building trade-related infrastructure to sustain the gains in the medium and long term and boost the India trade logistics to the global benchmarks.





Asia has an inflation problem. The sooner it comes to grips with its problem, the better. Unfortunately, the appropriate sense of urgency is missing.

Willingness to tackle inflation is impeded by Asia's heavy reliance on exports and external demand. Fearful of a relapse of end-market demand in a still-shaky post-crisis world, Asian policymakers have been reluctant to take an aggressive stand for price stability. That needs to change—before it's too late.

Excluding Japan, which remains mired in seemingly chronic deflation, Asian inflation rose to 5.3% in the 12 months ending in November 2010, up markedly from the 3.5% rate a year earlier. Trends in the region's two giants are especially worrisome, with inflation having pierced the 5% threshold in China and running in excess of 8% in India. Price growth is worrisome in Indonesia (7%), Singapore (3.8%), Korea (3.5%) and Thailand (3%) as well.

Yes, sharply rising food prices are an important factor in boosting headline inflation in Asia. But this is hardly a trivial development for low-income families in the developing world, where the share of foodstuffs in household budgets—46% in India and 33% in China—is 2-3 times the ratio in developed countries.

At the same time, there has been a notable deterioration in underlying "core" inflation, which strips out food and energy prices. Annual core inflation for Asia (excluding Japan) was running at a 4% rate in late 2010—up about one percentage point from late 2009.

A key lesson from the Great Inflation of the 1970's is that central banks can't afford a false sense of comfort from any dichotomy between headline and core inflation. Spillover effects are inevitable and once a corrosive increase in inflationary expectations sets in, it becomes all the more painful to unwind. The good news for Asia is that most of the region's monetary authorities are, in fact, tightening policy. The bad news is that they have been generally slow to act.

Financial markets appear to be expecting a good deal more Asian monetary tightening—at least that's the message that can be drawn from sharply appreciating Asian currencies, which seem to be responding to prospective moves in policy interest rates. Relative to the US dollar, an equal-weighted basket of 10 major Asian currencies (excluding Japan) has retraced the crisis-related distortions of 2008-09 and now returned to pre-crisis highs.

Export-led economies, of course, can't take currency appreciation lightly —it undermines competitiveness and risks eroding the country's share of the global market. It also invites destabilising hot-money capital inflows. Given the tenuous post-crisis climate, with uncertain demand prospects in the major markets of the developed world, Asia finds itself in a classic policy trap, dragging its feet on monetary tightening while risking the negative impact of stronger currencies.

There is only one way out for Asia: a significant increase in real, or inflation-adjusted, policy interest rates. Benchmark policy rates are currently below headline inflation in India, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. They are only slightly positive in China, Taiwan and Malaysia.

The lessons of earlier battles against inflation are clear on one fundamental point: inflationary pressures cannot be contained by negative, or slightly positive, real short-term interest rates. The only effective anti-inflation strategy entails aggressive monetary tightening that takes policy rates into the restrictive zone. The longer this is deferred, the more wrenching the ultimate policy adjustment—and its consequences for growth and employment—will be. With inflation—both headline and core—now on an accelerating path, Asian central banks can't afford to slip further behind the curve.

Asia has far too many important items on its strategic agenda to remain caught in a policy trap. This is especially true of China, whose government is focused on the pro-consumption rebalancing imperatives of its soon-to-be-enacted 12th Five-Year Plan. So far, the Chinese leadership has adopted a measured approach to inflation. Its efforts focus mainly on increasing banks' mandatory reserve ratios while introducing administrative measures to deal with food price pressures, approving a couple of token interest-rate hikes and managing a modest upward adjustment in the currency.

The mix of Chinese policy tightening, however, needs to shift much more decisively towards higher interest rates. With the Chinese economy still growing at close to 10% per year, the government can afford to take more short-term policy risk in order to clear the way for its structural agenda.

Indeed, China's dilemma is emblematic of one of developing Asia's greatest challenges: the need to tilt the growth model away from external towards internal demand. That can't happen without increased wages and purchasing power for workers. But, in an increasingly inflationary environment, any such efforts could fuel an outbreak of the dreaded wage-price spiral—the same lethal interplay that wreaked such havoc in the US in the 1970's. Asia can avoid this problem and get on with the heavy lifting of pro-consumption rebalancing only by nipping inflation in the bud.

Much is made of Asia's Teflon-like resilience in an otherwise tough post-crisis climate. Led by China, the high-flying economies of developing Asia are increasingly viewed as the new and powerful engines of a multi-speed world. While the jury is out on whether there has really been such a seamless transition of global economic leadership, Asia must face up to the critical challenges that may come with this new role. Inflation, if not addressed now, could seriously compromise the region's ability to meet those challenges.

—The author, a member of the faculty of Yale University, is non-executive chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia and has published 'The Next Asia'





President Hu Jintao sounded a warning note during his lunar New Year visit to North China's Hebei province. He urged the need for adequate measures for preventing drought and ensuring that the summer grain output does not suffer. His statement came on the back of Northern China being affected by severe drought for more than three months and worries over dips in grain output.

For a country historically emphasising and acting on self-sufficiency in agriculture, worries over dwindling agricultural output appear unusual. More so, considering China's exalted position in the world economy. The drought though draws attention to what many have feared for a long time: the lack of adequate water for supporting agriculture.

The dimensions of the drought are alarming. Official agencies indicate that areas in North China have gone without rainfall for more than 120 days. Rizhao in Shandong province is suffering its worst drought in the last 300 years. Beijing is not far behind—having not seen any rain or snow for almost 100 days now. There is little hope of rain kicking in over the next few days going by meteorological forecasts.

At stake for China is the entire winter wheat crop, spread over more than five million hectares. The Yellow river basin catering to the north and upper Eastern provinces of China is the worst affected. The drought, while harming wheat grain prospects, has also had other impacts. Lack of drinking water in affected areas has become a major worry. The crisis has not assumed alarming proportions as it is still winter. But with summer approaching, water shortages are expected to become more acute. As the water resources minister Chen Lei has pointed out, more than 60% of Chinese cities are short on water. A dry summer will make matters worse.

China's comfortable buffer stocks should prevent the supply scarcity from maturing into a food crisis. It can also fall back on imports if the need arises. But what cannot be overlooked is the distressing depletion of water resources. Along with urbanisation, depletion of water and lack of irrigation has led to total volume of arable land in China shrinking by more than 8 million hectares over the last 10 to 12 years. Persistence of the trend can have serious implications.

Irrigated area, as a percentage of total land area in China, has hardly experienced much increase over the last couple of decades. Surface water from the Yellow and Yangtze rivers has not been efficiently utilised for irrigation. Some analysts argue that this is on account of diversion of water resources to industrial use. Whatever the reason be, as the Chinese Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu pointed out a few months ago, China's irrigation system is in a poor shape, with more than half of the arable land lacking basic irrigation facilities.

Conservation of water resources, unfortunately, has not received as much attention as it should have from local governments in China. The provincial authorities have been more focused on larger income-generating projects in their territories that have 'visible' economic impact rather than water conservation and irrigation. The tendency is not difficult to explain. There are more career incentives for local officials in securing big income-generating projects contributing directly to GDP rather than measures yielding slow benefits over time. But with local governments responsible for funding the maintenance of existing irrigation facilities, unless incentives are corrected, efficient maintenance is unlikely.

Ironically, measures that led to rapid improvement in agricultural productivity and grain output in China have probably adversely affected irrigation facilities over time. The shift from collective to individual farming since the late 1970s, while offering incentives to farmers for increasing output, also led to the erosion of ownership rights of collectives over water resources. Ambiguous property rights were a deterrent for investment by local governments in water resources. At the same time, following major changes in the tax structure in 1994, tax revenues flowing to local governments from the Centre declined. This, in turn, affected their abilities to spend.

Lack of adequate surface water irrigation has forced farmers to rely more on groundwater. This has been accompanied by a steady increase in private ownership of tube wells. The situation is similar to well ownership in India's Punjab, where collective ownership of wells has steadily made way for individual ownership. And this is where problems have arisen in managing a public good like water through private means. Though several experts argue that the privatisation of wells has helped in offsetting water scarcity in Northern China, this has also probably led to the over-exploitation and depletion of groundwater tables. Returning to collective ownership though is not the solution since agricultural land use rights have been privatised.

The Chinese government has decided to spend 10% of its revenues from land transfer on water conservancy projects in 2011. This is definitely a welcome step. But despite best intentions, results might remain limited till distorted incentives are corrected in China's countryside.

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






Every well-informed schoolchild knows this is rising India's Age of Uninterrupted Scams. No government before the present United Progressive Alliance regime has had to deal with such a dizzying succession of exposés of corruption scandals — 2G spectrum, the Commonwealth Games, Adarsh Housing, money laundering, and the rest that have come tumbling out. The latest in the series is the Indian Space Research Organisation's deal — hatched in secret and sought to be covered up over a period of six years — to launch two customer-specific satellites and give away 70 MHz of high-value S-band for unfettered commercial exploitation at a scandalously low price of just over Rs 1000 crore to a private company, Devas Multimedia Private Limited. The transaction and its implications were first exposed by Business Line, the business daily of The Hindu group, in a detailed report published on May 31, 2010.

Despite Telecommunications Minister Kapil Sibal's defence of the indefensible, enough is known about the 2G spectrum allocation scam to place it at the top of the list of independent India's corruption scandals. But what is the essence of the S-band spectrum deal concluded in January 2005 between ISRO's commercial arm, Antrix Corporation, and Devas Multimedia which, it turns out, was born of an incestuous relationship with India's space programme? The agreement (the full text is available under Resources at relates to two customer-specific satellites, GSat-6 and GSat 6-A, which ISRO is contractually committed to design, build, and launch in order to make available to Devas the S-band spectrum for commercialising a range of multimedia, broadband services across India. What is special about the S-band, which is defined as radio waves with frequencies that range from 2 GHz to 4 GHz? According to "The 2.6 GHz Spectrum Band: Unique Opportunity to Realize Global Mobile Broadband," a 2009 report prepared for the GSM Association: "As mobile voice and data traffic increases, wireless operators around the world will require additional spectrum. However, as a finite public commodity, few bands remain available for new allocation to mobile wireless services and even fewer exist for global harmonisation of wireless spectrum assets. The 2.6 GHz band is one exception. The 2.6 GHz band (2500-2690 MHz), sometimes also referred as the 2.5 GHz band, was allocated by the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) in 2000 for terrestrial mobile communications services. The band provides an opportunity to meet rapidly rising demand for capacity to deliver mobile broadband services on a widespread, common basis across the world."

Armed with secret knowledge of what ISRO could do for it by launching customer-specific satellites to make available at a throwaway price a large chunk of S-band spectrum, Devas Multimedia — a venture founded in 2004 at the initiative of former officials of the Indian space programme and involving foreign investors — thought it had struck gold. In July 2008, it even sold a 17 per cent stake to Deutsche Telecom AG for $ 75 million (around Rs. 318 crore at the time) and over the next year was clearly looking forward to a time of unrivalled growth in valuation. According to a preliminary estimate by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, whose search for the relevant documents within the Department of Space has been actively obstructed, the presumptive loss of revenue to the government in the event of the Antrix-Devas deal going through now would exceed two lakh crore rupees (approximately $44.4 billion).

ISRO and the Department of Space have scored many successes and enjoyed a good, clean reputation over the decades. Fortunately, in late 2009 some outraged insiders blew the whistle on the secret deal — so secret that ISRO's chief, K. Radhakrishnan, had to admit at a press conference on February 8, 2011 that for reasons that were being "reviewed" internally, ISRO failed "explicitly" to inform the Union Cabinet that GSat-6 and GSat-6A were customer-specific satellites that would be "predominantly used for a novel and commercial application developed by Devas Multimedia in association with global experts." Towards the end of 2009, thanks to the whistle-blowers and perhaps not unrelated to the stink raised by the 2G spectrum allocation scandal, a view began to form at the top levels of ISRO that the Antrix-Devas deal must be annulled. The Space Commission also wanted the deal to be annulled and the Prime Minister was informed on an indeterminate date.

But nothing much happened until Business Line published its report in May 2010, which the CAG followed up conscientiously despite the bureaucratic hurdles placed in its path. Among the concerns registered by the CAG in its process of enquiry were the following: S-band spectrum was being given away without inviting competitive bids; organisational control systems were not followed; the Prime Minister's Office, the Cabinet, and the Space Commission were not properly informed about the contract details; public resources were being diverted to building two customer-specific satellites; and the contract terms deviated from the terms of previous contracts entered into by ISRO and Antrix. To cut the story short, the publication of the results of the special Business Line investigation, backed up by documents and other reliable evidence, in The Hindu and Business Line has brought the CAG's commendable efforts to light — and placed the nature, scale, and modalities of the S-band spectrum scandal on the public agenda. True to form, those at the receiving end have questioned the accuracy of the media reports or suggested they are overblown. It is a matter of satisfaction that the deal now seems to be heading for annulment — but no thanks to due diligence and oversight by a central government whose procrastination, lack of transparency, obfuscation, and indeed delinquency in this affair have shocked the nation.







Science and technology are now more important for the development of a country than ever before. Increasingly, however, the public seems to be suspicious of scientists' work.

In India, Minister for Environment Jairam Ramesh was led by public consultations to declare a moratorium on Bt Brinjal. Last year in Germany, opposition to nuclear power reached a new high. And in 2009, a vaccination campaign against cervical cancer in The Netherlands failed when the majority of 12-16 year old girls, for whom the campaign was designed, refused vaccination against the almost unanimous advice by scientists.

Do we need new forms of relating the public to science and technology? Do we need to innovate the social contract between science and society as it has existed since the times of Wilhelm von Humboldt's (1767-1835) autonomous university for the Bildung of citizens, or Vannevar Bush's ( Science The Endless Frontier, 1945) pure science that could be trusted to deliver the goods?

On January 27, 2011, the Dutch public's agenda on nanotechnologies, titled "Responsibly forward with nanotechnologies," was presented to Joop Atsma, State Secretary of Infrastructure and Environment, Government of The Netherlands. In this public's agenda, the people of The Netherlands speak out about their priorities for nanotechnologies research and development: what to do and what not to do, what do they fear and what do they hope for, how to balance the risks and the benefits? This public's agenda resulted from the Societal Dialogue on Nanotechnologies, held between January and November 2010.

Nano science and technology deal with the very small: building blocks smaller than one millionth of a metre are used for new materials and instruments. Several products in the market such as sunscreens, anti-bacterial surfaces, automobile tyres, and some anti-cancer drugs already incorporate them. The promised benefits are large, and there is no field of science and technology that does not have potential applications of nanotechnologies (hence the use of the word here in the plural).

But there are possible hazards, too. Scientific evidence points to toxicological risks. Nanoparticles of gold and silver seem to be seriously toxic, while gold and silver as bulk materials are inert and safe. This is worrying: there is scientific evidence of toxicity, but not yet absolute scientific certainty about that nanotoxicity. Unlike in the cases of asbestos or radioactive radiation, where we have absolute scientific certainty about the risks, nano-scientists do not yet have the complete story on nano-risks. But we know enough to be worried about the application of especially synthetic nanoparticles.

The most striking result of the Dutch Societal Dialogue on Nanotechnology is that now, after the dialogue, the general public in The Netherlands is more aware of the risks of nanotechnologies, and at the same time more supportive of the further development of nanotechnology.

At first sight this is surprising and in sharp contrast to the long-held views on the relation between the public and science. The standard views about the "public's understanding of science" and the need for better "risk communication" are that the general public does not understand science and technology sufficiently to appreciate its benefits, and that because of this lack of knowledge it irrationally fears new science. We now know, however, that the Dutch people are more fearful of a government that hides the potential risks of nanotechnologies than of those risks themselves — when monitored and researched well.

Let me give an example. Several hundred Tenth Grade students in schools around Maastricht worked during three months on nanotechnologies, often in their physics or chemistry classes. They started with laboratory experiments related to nanotechnologies and did literature studies using the Internet. They then broadened their agenda to also address questions of benefits and risks. Project groups prepared reports and films about the future of specific nanotechnologies, which finally were presented at a conference attended by students, teachers, some politicians, industrialists and scientists.

As a physicist and teacher, I was impressed by the level of knowledge displayed in these presentations; I was equally excited by the students' well-informed personal positions on the future of nanotechnologies.

They certainly did not all agree with each other. Some were suspicious of the multiplier effect that nanotechnologies might have on existing power relations: "Most developments are spurred by commercial aims, and multinational companies will acquire even more unchecked influence than they already have." Others especially valued the promises of better medical diagnosis and treatment. But the latter group asked for prudent studies of risks, as much as the first group concluded that nanotechnologies research should proceed.

Four elements were crucial in the set-up of the Societal Dialogue on Nanotechnologies. One element was that an independent committee was responsible for the organisation of the dialogue. This clearly added to the credibility of the process, since the Dutch government could not interfere and push its own agenda. Whether the price of a consequentially limited political clout was worth paying is still to be seen.

The second was that the committee created a three-step process of providing information, raising awareness and having the dialogue. This was necessary because knowledge about nanotechnologies amongst the Dutch people was weak. First, information had to be given and awareness raised, before a proper dialogue was possible.

The third element was that most of the substantive work was outsourced, to keep the organising committee credibly independent. Almost 40 projects performed the information, awareness and dialogue activities. The committee had a budget of euro 4.5 million (Rs. 28 crore) and selected these projects after an open call for proposals. A broad variety of scientists, NGOs, firms, and individuals was responsible for these projects.

The fourth crucial element was that the use of a broad spectrum of media (from TV and Internet to science cafés, theatre plays and teaching materials) and the participation of a wide range of people (from children to scientists, from fundamentalist Christians to Muslims, from patient organisations to industrialists) contributed to the solidity of the resulting public's agenda.

This set-up worked well. Parallel to the process of the dialogue, the knowledge and opinions of a representative sample of the Dutch population was surveyed. "Having heard of nanotechnologies" increased during the societal dialogue from 54 per cent to 64 per cent of the Dutch population, and "knowing the meaning of nanotechnology" increased from 30 per cent to 36 per cent. An analysis of the process brings the committee to conclude that it was especially the heterogeneity of means that proved successful. Rather than a naïve belief in the Internet as a "global panchayat," the committee used a combination of small-scale but specifically targeted activities, with large-scale broadcasting and publishing via TV, printed media, and the Internet (see

This dialogue thus yielded an interesting result that is potentially farther reaching in terms of its societal importance than the regulatory governance of nanotechnologies. A decade ago, the Dutch people opposed GM foods. Most analysts agree that this resulted from a public debate that many perceived as biased towards the pro-GM lobby. In contrast, the Dutch people are now in favour of cautiously proceeding with nanotechnologies, while recognising its risks. The general attitude certainly is not anti-science; but the public is not prepared, as in the 1950s, to give scientists a blank cheque either. Instead, a continuous critical appraisal of the risks and the benefits of science seems to be called for: a new form of democratic risk governance.

The mechanisms to provide such a risk governance of science and technology are not readily available. The Societal Dialogue I described is just one example. Countries need to experiment with such innovations of democracy, as much as scientists experiment with the new technologies that shape our world. It is unlikely that what worked in The Netherlands will work in India, and vice versa: the difference between the proverbial consensus-oriented Dutch and the equally iconic diversity-celebrating Indians may be too large. But the democratic issues remain just as pressing.

Can The Netherlands find ways of democratically coping with the oppositions around nuclear power: the 'new' benefits of lower CO2 emissions versus the 'old' risks of nuclear waste storage, the 'old' benefits of energy autonomy versus the 'new' risks of international terrorism? Can India find ways of democratically reaching a well-informed and broadly shared policy on Bt Brinjal by moving the current moratorium to a next phase?

(Wiebe E. Bijker is Professor of Technology & Society, Maastricht University, and was vice-chair of the committee that organised the Societal Dialogue on Nanotechnologies in The Netherlands.)






The universal drive for higher incomes in the face of mounting environmental destruction has heightened the expressed tension between fast growth and environmental protection. The perception of a trade-off between the two goals rests on the view often held — wrongly — that environmental protection, not environmental degradation, is the obstacle to rapid growth. The reality, however, is that it will not be possible to sustain high growth in the coming years without environmental care.


The reason is that we are facing a twin crisis — economic and environmental — and the two are highly interlinked. The spike in food prices, the second in three years, signals in good measure, pressures on production that are exacerbated by the deleterious effects of environmental devastation and climate change. While some may set aside the global risks of climate change as being distant, recent extreme weather events point to changes that may already be upon us.

To be clear, sustained growth has been the most powerful means to reduce poverty, especially in China, India and elsewhere in Asia. China's growth averaged 10 per cent yearly for the past 25 years, lifting some 400 million people out of poverty. Developing countries need to grow a great deal: their average incomes are one-sixth that of rich nations.

That said, climate change presents the greatest threat to sustaining high growth. In the past 100 years, the world economy expanded sevenfold, the global population increased from 1.6 billion to 6.5 billion and the world lost half of its tropical forests. Consequently, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are now 385 parts per million (ppm) and rising fast. This is close to the 450 ppm threshold beyond which it may be impossible to achieve the Cancun-agreed goal of limiting global temperature rise to 2° Celsius.

Natural disasters on the rise

National economies are already seeing the effects of climate on local agriculture. Natural disasters are on the rise: remarkably it is the hydro-meteorological events, not the geological ones that have shot up, suggesting the ominous link to global warming. The proximate reason for the doubling of wheat prices over the past year is the collapse of production in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere linked to unprecedented heat waves and floods.

The economic costs, including the losses caused by air pollution, water contamination and solid wastes as well as deforestation are estimated to amount to some three per cent of GNP in China as well as India, Argentina, Turkey and elsewhere. Strikingly, prevention is often far cheaper than cure — whether it's curbing industrial pollution, arresting deforestation or reinforcing structures in disaster-prone areas. Why then don't governments and businesses universally favour environmental safeguards?

One reason is that when it comes to the global aspects, no country, rich or poor, has the economic motivation or the political will to confront them alone. That's because only a part of the benefits accrue to those taking action, while others can grab a free ride. And even when the gains are local, they may only appear after politicians leave office.

Second, the split between what's good for society and what drives private interest is perpetuated as many policy and business leaders still do not view the environment as integral to the growth agenda. Mainstream economics has not been helpful in this regard. Most economic projections still assume that high growth can proceed independently of environmental action.

Third, policy often worsens the situation by encouraging the waste of natural resources. Growth models are silent on subsidies purportedly used to speed growth — farm subsidies of some $150 billion a year and subsidies to fossil fuels of $650 billion a year worldwide — that encourage energy intensity, emissions and waste. Cutting these subsidies would increase economic efficiency and improve the prospects for growth.

If high growth is to continue — be it in Brazil, China, India, or elsewhere — we need to fundamentally correct the calculus that environmental protection hampers economic growth. Economics can be highly influential in this respect. But mainstream economics must reverse its past advice and indicate that the drive for higher incomes can succeed only by including — not excluding — environmental care in growth policies.

( Vinod Thomas is the director-general of the Independent Evaluation Group of the World Bank. The views expressed here are his alone.)






Billions of trees died in the record drought that struck the Amazon basin in 2010, raising fears the vast forest is on the verge of a tipping point, where it will stop absorbing greenhouse gas emissions and instead increase them.

A major blow

The dense forests of the Amazon soak up more than a quarter of the world's atmospheric carbon, making it a critically important buffer against global warming. But if the Amazon switches from a carbon sink to a carbon source, that prompts further droughts and mass tree deaths, such a feedback loop could cause runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences.

"Put starkly, current emissions pathways risk playing Russian roulette with the world's largest forest," said tropical forest expert Dr. Simon Lewis, at the University of Leeds, England, who led the research published on February 3 in the journal Science. Lewis was careful to note that significant scientific uncertainties remain and that the 2005 drought — thought then to be of once-a-century severity — and the 2010 drought might yet be explained by natural climate variation.

"We can't just wait and see because there is no going back," he said. "We won't know we have passed the point where the Amazon turns from a sink to a source until afterwards, when it will be too late." Dr. Alex Bowen, from the London School of Economics Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, said huge emissions of carbon from the Amazon would make it even harder to keep global greenhouse gases at a low enough level to avoid dangerous climate change. "It therefore makes it even more important for there to be strong and urgent reductions in man-made emissions." The revelation of mass tree deaths in the Amazon is a major blow to efforts to reduce the destruction of the world's forests, one of the biggest sources of global carbon emissions. The recent use of satellite imagery by Brazilian law enforcement teams has drastically cut deforestation rates and replanting in Asia had slowed the net loss.

The 2010 Amazonian drought resulted in several states-of-emergencies declared and the lowest ever level of the major tributary, the Rio Negro. Lewis, with colleagues in Brazil, examined satellite-derived rainfall measurements and found that the 2010 drought was even worse than the very severe 2005 drought, affecting an area 60 per cent wider with a harsh dry season.

The researchers have 126 one-hectare plots spread across the Amazon, in which every single tree is tagged and monitored. After 2005 they counted how many trees had died and worked out how much carbon would be pumped into the atmosphere as the wood rotted. In addition, the reduced growth of the water-stressed trees means the forest failed to absorb the 1.5bn tonnes of carbon that it would in a normal year.

Applying the same principles to the 2010 drought, they estimated that 8.5bn tonnes of CO {-2} will be released — more than the 7.7bn tonnes emitted in 2009 by China, the biggest polluting nation in the world. This estimate does not include forest fires, which release carbon and increase in dry years.

"The Amazon is such a big area that even a small shift [in conditions] there can have a global impact," said Lewis.


He also expects the drought to have an impact on the animals that live in the region, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth.

Lewis said that two such severe droughts in the Amazon within five years was highly unusual, but that a natural variation in climate over decade-long periods could not be ruled out. The driving factor of the annual weather patterns is the warmth of the sea in the Atlantic. Increasing droughts in the Amazon are found in some climate models, he added.

This means the 2005 and 2010 droughts are consistent with the idea that global warming will cause more droughts in future, emit more carbon, and potentially lead to runaway climate change. "The greenhouse gases we have already emitted may mean there are several more droughts in the pipeline," he said.

Lewis said that the 2010 drought killed "in the low billions of trees", in addition to the roughly four billion trees that die on average in a normal year across the Amazon. The researchers are now trying to raise £500,000 in emergency funding to revisit the plots in the Amazon and gather further data.

Brazilian scientist Paulo Brando, from the Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazonia (Amazon Environmental Research Institute), and co-leader of the research, said: "We will not know exactly how many trees were killed until we can complete forest measurements on the ground. It could be that many of the drought-susceptible trees were killed off in 2005. Or the first drought may have weakened a large number of trees so increasing the number dying in 2010." Brando added: "Our results should be seen as an initial estimate. The emissions estimates do not include those from forest fires, which spread over extensive areas of the Amazon during hot and dry years and release large amounts of carbon."— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011





Scientists know from the geological record that the Earth's climate can change rapidly. They have identified a number of potential tipping points, where relatively small amounts of global warming caused by human activities could cause large changes in climate. Some tipping points, like the losses to the Amazon forest, involve positive feedback loops and could lead to runaway climate change.

Arctic icecap: The white icecap is good at reflecting the Sun's warming light back into space but, when it melts, the dark ocean uncovered absorbs this heat. This leads to more melting.

Tundra: The high north is warming particularly fast, melting the permafrost that has locked up vast amounts of carbon in soils for thousands of years. Bacteria digesting the unfrozen soils generate methane, a potent greenhouse gas, leading to more warming.

Gas hydrates: Also involving methane, this tipping point involves huge reservoirs of methane frozen on or just below the ocean floor. The methane-water crystals are close to their melting point and highly unstable. A huge release could be triggered by a little warming.

>West Antarctic ice sheet: Some scientists think this enormous ice sheet, much of which is below sea level, is vulnerable to small amounts of warming. If it all eventually melted, the sea level would rise by six metres.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011








With the Leader of the Lok Sabha Pranab Mukherjee holding a discussion with Opposition parties on Tuesday on the conduct of Parliament's forthcoming Budget Session, there appears to be a sense — communicated to the media by the Opposition parties — that the fog might be clearing on the issue of a joint parliamentary

committee probing the 2G spectrum scam, and that the government might be coming round to accepting the Opposition demand. However, this optimism might be premature. With the Budget Session less than a fortnight away, it is natural that political parties would return to the question of forming a JPC to probe the 2G scam, a demand initially made by the BJP and the Left and one which comprehensively derailed the Winter Session two months ago. The Congress had resisted a JPC probe. Instead, it professed its faith in Parliament's Public Accounts Committee, now chaired by senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi, doing the job. The government went out of its way to give the PAC an investigative adjunct to facilitate the inquiry, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh broke from precedent to offer to appear before the PAC. The BJP was not persuaded and continued to insist on a JPC probe. It is, however, evident that in recent weeks the political situation has registered some change. Other than the BJP and its NDA allies, the rest of the Opposition has subtly signalled leaving behind its insistence on the JPC issue by privileging the running of Parliament over the path the inquiry into 2G should follow, although at the formal level they have not abandoned the JPC demand.

In the last session of Parliament the JPC demand had gathered considerable force because the entire Opposition appeared united on it, and some parties that technically support the UPA government but oppose it on key issues also favoured the JPC route. That appears not to be the case now. The Left, and the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav, seem not to want to be on the same page as the BJP as elections are looming in Kerala, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. They realise that parties that stalled Parliament over the JPC issue have not earned public sympathy. Many who oppose the government are unhappy about Parliament not being allowed to function, particularly when the government has no difficulty about the 2G case being probed by the PAC. In short, the government is not avoiding a parliamentary probe.

In the event, the non-BJP Opposition is these days busy canvassing the importance of letting Parliament transact its business. After the Tuesday meeting some Opposition leaders had quoted Mr Mukherjee as saying that no price was too high to pay for the sake of letting Parliament function. It is this which raised hopes among a few about a JPC probe materialising. It is noteworthy that neither Mr Mukherjee nor his party has said anything to indicate that their position on the JPC has changed. Indeed, the fine sentiment about letting the House function applies to all parties, not just those on the ruling side. The remarks attributed to Mr Mukherjee at the Parliament House meeting might be no more than a rhetorical flourish. If the past is any indication — and this is true for Britain as well as this country — it is true that JPC probes drag out for long and leave people none the wiser at the end. A PAC inquiry under Dr Joshi might be a better way to deal with the 2G spectrum case.






According to the latest disclosures from WikiLeaks, in a remarkable display of unemotional national interest, the United States agreed to supply details of every Trident nuclear missile they had given the British to the Russians as a bargaining chip for the America-Russia Arms Control Treaty that US President Barack Obama will sign soon. The fact that the Americans also spied on British foreign ministers for gossip on their personal lives is par for the course. All intelligence agencies do this to all their friends.

The recent upheaval in Egypt has also seen another example of American real politics in action. For three decades, President Hosni Mubarak was the presiding deity in Egypt — he was plied with more than $1 billion annually, and democracy and freedom of speech or economic development were never serious issues. In fact, economic dependence helped American farmers — Egypt was the world's largest importer of wheat, and they bought most of it from the US, and its armed forces were totally dependent on US largesse and weaponry. Yet almost overnight, Mr Mubarak became persona non grata in Washington as the US prepared for a change in the leadership in Cairo. Not so long ago it was Cairo from where Mr Obama made his famous speech to the Muslim, essentially Arab, world in 2009. Mr Mubarak's possible fate should be a stark reminder to all dictators, allies, friends and wannabes that when a major power acts, it does so only in its perceived national interest. This is not a value judgment but a reiteration of fact.

The apparent suddenness of the uprising in Tunisia followed by Egypt does leave a few unanswered questions. Undoubtedly, there were genuine grievances — both economic and political — that the average person faced along with a repressive regime. But any movement of the nature seen on the streets of Egypt's major cities requires a leadership to guide the movement, co-ordination, organisation and funds to sustain it for some length of time because there is no "best before" date in such cases. The next question is whether there was a failure of intelligence or intent or was this ignored both in Cairo and Washington for different reasons.

Initially the impression was that the Mubarak regime was going to follow the Rangoon 1988 model to try and suppress the movement. The Burma generals had first withdrawn the police, then a mysterious jail break at Rangoon's largest jail, Insein, took place followed by looting and lawlessness, followed by an Army shootout to suppress the movement. A similar attempt to discredit the movement in Cairo did not succeed partly because quite early into the movement the non-resident Egyptian Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei was para-dropped into Cairo as the chosen leader of the movement — and as an acceptable alternative to Mr Mubarak. The Burma junta did not have to deal with Facebook, Twitter and cellphones. The only TV channel they had to contend with was BBC. The movement in Egypt gives the impression of being a largely urban affair — wherever TV could reach and not in small towns like Aswan, Luxor or in the villages.

Considerable credit is being given to social network sites for the spontaneity of the uprising. There has been enough Egyptian activity on the Internet for members of the US Senate to ask if the US Intelligence failed to notice that a revolution was taking place in cyberspace. The April 6 Youth Movement which gave a call for a "Day of Anger" on January 25 was actually set up on Facebook on April 6, 2008, and the Kifaya (Enough) Movement, associated with Egypt's largest Opposition party, the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood), which backs Mr Baradei's National Association for Change coalition, was set up in 2004. Thus the organisational levers existed when the anti-Mubarak movement was launched and the Ikhwan will be relevant in any future democratic dispensation in Cairo. Social network sites may help bring down a government or launch a movement but they cannot govern.

Recent commentaries from the US suggest an attempt to portray the Ikhwan as a moderate force. But this discourse is similar to the good/moderate Taliban discourse in the Afghan context — it ignores Ikhwan's essentially radical and violent creed. And in any case, future inevitability of having to deal with such groups defines this new discourse. A decline in terrorist incidents does not mean the movement is dead for they may merely be lying low; nor does an increase in incidents indicate that the government is losing. Nevertheless, there is far too much at stake for Europe and America in the region from the Maghreb to the Caucasus to let it slip away from its dominance.

The Ikhwan has taken advantage of Western beliefs in democracy and liberalism for its demonstrations and Western technology of the Internet and cellphones to organise the demonstrations. There is no need to establish ownership of the movement because any association with the movement would frighten away the West and the movement may well die. The Ikhwan probably assesses its opportunity to establish ownership of the government and that will possibly come in September by when Mr Mubarak would have gone. It therefore feels it is prudent to keep a low profile and just use the momentum till then. Meanwhile, it will make all the right and responsible statements about honouring past treaties.

Whatever happens in or by September, the region is not going to be the same. Israel, with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in the Lebanon, would be watching events in Egypt most closely to see if the Brotherhood emerges stronger. Jordan and Syria too seem restless, Iraq remains unsettled and the Yemeni President's future is uncertain at a time when the country faces an Al Qaeda-inspired insurgency. The Saudis may feel somewhat reassured that it is the Ikhwan which may have a future role in Egypt and not Al Qaeda. The Iranians would be both apprehensive about the emergence of a regime dominated by a radical Sunni organisation and triumphant about the decline of US influence. The Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei in one of his rare appearances at the Friday prayers supported the Egyptians' fight for dignity and honour while describing Mr Mubarak as a "servant" of the US. He described the developments as a "real earthquake", rather like Hillary Clinton calling these a "perfect storm".

It is still early days and no one has ever had a perfect storm. Come September and we may know better.

Vikram Sood is a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency






Two significant developments in the world of online media should make our media business sit up and take notice. The acquisition of Huffington Post by AOL (America Online) and the launch of the Daily, an online "newspaper" solely for the iPad by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation are significant milestones in the shape of things to come.

The AOL-Huffington Post marriage is a curious one. AOL is struggling to stay relevant, given that things have moved rapidly from dial-up (which is how AOL began) to broadband to wi-Fi, and after its high-profile merger with Warner, things haven't gone exactly according to the plan. Free email services like Hotmail and Gmail effectively dealt a body blow to AOL (which invented the phrase, "You've got mail"). Subscribers defected, hitting revenues, and though AOL has survived, it is dangerously close to extinction. Picking up HuffPost (and other news-related sites that have already been acquired) is a desperate gamble to stay in the race.
The irony here is that while AOL was a dynamic player even a decade or so ago when the dotcom boom was in full flow, it is now dying, while HuffPost is the new, shiny kid on the block.

And it is to the latter that the former has turned to be its salvation. Which means that media becomes "old" rapidly in this fast-changing world and loses relevance.

HuffPost in its five-year existence has become wildly popular as the go-to site for news, analysis and gossip, but interestingly, has still to generate profits.

It was started by socialite and writer Adriana Huffington and soon high-profile people were writing or blogging for it. But it was not all about celebrities. The site had hard-nosed reporting and analyses of current events, especially of the Washington "Beltway", the inside circle of the US capital where politicians, policymakers, lobbyists, journalists and other similar types operate. It is also quick to pick up trends — it began a special section on divorce which soon became a hit. Check it out to see how navigable it is and what a wide mix of reading matter it offers.

Soon there were imitators, the most well known of them being the Daily Beast, started by Tina Brown with the backing of media moghul Barry Diller.

The Beast is more gossipy and peppy and is a credible foe to the HuffPost, but again, it has not broken even.
The purchase of HuffPost by AOL for $315 million vindicates the conviction of all these investors that breaking even operationally is not necessarily the objective of such comprehensive online sites. The idea is to be an early (and credible) player in a universe that is going to grow so rapidly that those who don't react now will be left far behind.

Which is why Mr Murdoch, who faltered in the early days of the Internet, has launched the Daily. As a newspaper baron he must have surely figured out that falling sales and declining revenues mean something. Online is the way to go. But where he differs from the rest of the online world is that he feels content must be paid for. Both HuffPost and Daily Beast (and scores of other such sites) give away their content free, Murdoch, who has railed against this model believes in charging people to read. Subscribers must own an iPad and also shell out $39.99 per year to read this product. It will be updated once a day and, most important, will not be linked to the Web.

In short, the medium has changed, the rest remains the same. Mr Murdoch is betting that eventually people will not mind paying for quality content instead of the tons of free (and supposedly low-quality) information and analysis they get all over the Internet.

What are the lessons for India? Ask anyone from the media industry and they will tell you that India is different. Print products are thriving and expanding and the only competition is television. As long as literacy continues to increase, people will continue to buy newspapers, which are absurdly cheap. Additionally, the total number of Internet users in India is around 55 million and these include those who go to cybercafés to play online videogames.

There is thus no incentive to launch special news sites that will end up competing with the print products and even less need to create a special "newspaper" for the iPad or any such gadget.

All of the above is true. But the world doesn't change slowly; one day, when no one is looking, everything would have altered and the old ways suddenly look irrelevant. Laptops, iPads, Tablets, mobiles (550 million of them) will one day become the medium of choice for Indians; they will want their news and analysis instantly. A static and boring online version of the daily newspaper (which is what most news sites are) will not satisfy them. For one thing, these sites do not provide analysis of events. Already people are turning to Twitter to know the latest developments.

Media barons, executives and most of all journalists must, therefore, seriously ponder over international trends. Like it happened in the television business, some nimble entrepreneur will come from nowhere and launch the first independent online site that will satisfy the needs of the online generation.

Large organisations, which are comfortable in their zones, may then find it is too late to reverse the clock.

Sidharth Bhatia is a senior journalist and commentator on current affairs based in Mumbai




2001 Gujarat temblor: What lessons have we learnt from it?

Dr V Subramanyan


January 26, 2001, our Republic Day, turned out to be a day of unprecedented tragedy for thousands of residents of Bhuj and neighbouring villages in Kutch, Gujarat, for it was on this day, almost coinciding with the flag-hoisting ceremony in the morning that the most powerful earthquake in recent memory, of magnitude 7.9 on the Richter's scale, struck the region with such a devastating force that over 20,000 people lost their lives and several villages like Bhachau and Anjar were totally razed down without any vestige of their original prosperous living.


Not only that, the trail of devastation extended as far as Ahmedabad through many towns in Saurashtra and the shock was felt even in Mumbai, 700 km away. This then was the havoc wrought by the disastrous quake.


For all that, unlike the Latur-Osmanabad districts of Maharashtra which were believed to be immune to earthquake occurrence until the geoscientifc community was rudely woken up by a 6.5 M quake at Killari on September 30, 1993, the Kachch region was known to be highly seismic even in 1937 when it figured in the first Earthquake Map of India that appeared in a research paper which carried valuable information on earthquake-proof construction also.


It was pitiable therefore that, with all that valuable background information, the region still allowed itself to be ravaged by the unexpected and unwelcome visitor on that fateful January morning.


This only goes to show the total lack of awareness among the public of earthquakes and how to go about protecting lives and property in our country.


Sadly, the situation does not seem to have changed in all these ten long years.


As for the awareness about earthquakes, it needs to be created with some serious effort by the government authorities since about one third of India falls in seismically vulnerable zones with several of our cities and towns facing the earthquake risk like Srinagar, Shimla, Delhi, Dehra Dun, Uttarkashi, Guwahati,Shillong, Port Blair and Mumbai to mention a few.


In recent years there have been three major quakes — the Latur quake of 1993, the Jabalpur quake of 1997 and the Bhuj tremor of 2001.


Significantly, in all these places, there have been observable 'earthquake scars' on the ground left behind by the quakes like long cracks, displacements on the ground and roads, twisting of telegraph poles, rotation of bricks on the walls of wells, settlement and tilting of buildings, etc. Even if some of these have been lost with time, a few of them if still seen deserve to be preserved for posterity in what can be called 'field quake museums'.


This is what precisely the Americans have done in California which is their most highly seismic state due to the presence of the 'San Andreas Fault', an important geological feature of tremendous earthquake potential that runs all along the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles.This 'fault' had brought about the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and can be traced on the ground as a long crack for its entire length.


It had displaced several features in the region and some of them like the offset of a fence by some five metres at Point Raise has been preserved all these hundred years with proper annotations on boards fixed to the ground to enable any visitor to have a look at it and appreciate what the quake had done.


Besides, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) issues several illustrated pamphlets on earthquakes for public consumption periodically and is constantly keeping the Californians focused on earthquakes with their research data that the next big quake is expected by 2030, most probably by 2015. The seismic awareness in USA is therefore quite high.


There is no reason why such an earthquake-awareness cannotbe created in our country in the interest of public safety


by our own Geological Survey of India and other government agencies.


The other part pertains to building our houses conforming to standard specifications and adopting special designs to make them resistant to earthquakes.Such techniques have been there for more than seventy years now and these should be employed without fail to see that the buildings are not damaged by earthquake waves since nothing else can be done to survive the quakes which are neither predictable nor preventable.


It needs to be emphasised here that the heavy death tolls in interior Maharashtra during the Latur quake (10,000) and in Kachch during the Bhuj quake (20,000) were entirely due to extremely poor construction of the houses using basalt rock boulders and mud and sandstone with similar mud respectively.


In contrast, reasonably good construction even if it was not anything special in Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh had ensured that the death toll was only about sixty during the quake of 1997.This should serve as an eye-opener for the whole country.


Existing buildings can also be seismically strengthened using appropriate methods available for the same.At the moment the degree of awareness and the intent to adopt life-saving construction techniques among the publicappear to be nonexistent from all accounts.Both these need to be attended to on a war footing.








Prime Minister's address to the 17th Commonwealth Law Conference in Hyderabad is conspicuous for a jib he took at the country's supreme institution of dispensing justice. It is extremely rare in the history of independent India that a Prime Minister says something in a suggestive manner for the ear of the Supreme Court. The independence of judiciary is the corner stone of any democracy. Prime Minister's suggestion may not be interference in the independence of judiciary as such, but it gives a peep into how uneasy the Government feels at the unraveling of scams, corruption and misappropriation that have dogged the UPA Government this summer. Acrimonious relations between the judiciary and the Government are absolutely unacceptable. PM's remark that the power of judicial review should not be used to erode the authority of other branches of the Government", opens a new debate on the jurisdiction of the elected prime minister in his relations with the judiciary. Though our constitution has clearly demarcated respective jurisdictions, and by and large, we never had infringements, yet in a developing democracy, there can be issues that would need proper reorientation within the ambit of the constitution. Prime Minister's comment has come in the background of mega scams like Commonwealth Games, 2G Spectrum, Adarsh skyscraper and the appointment of the CVC. In almost all of these cases, the Supreme Court has felt anguished on Government not taking timely action to forestall possibility of mismanagement that would end up in huge losses to the exchequer. In a developing country like ours, there can be irritants on which the judiciary and the executive may not see eye to eye. But that does not mean that the judiciary should compromise its position where law is to be enforced. The Government has political and administrative compulsions, and the judiciary, being an organ of the state is not oblivious to ground realities. But the judiciary has no political compulsions as such. It is this freedom from political compulsions that makes justice flow freely. In other words, the judiciary has the power of enforcing the law. At the same time the verdict of the Supreme Court in our country has the power of law. A case in sight is that of the former chief minister of Maharashtra against whom there has been the charge of interfering in the flow of law. The Supreme Court has rightly posed the question that how come a person who is charged with misusing his office, has been almost promoted and inducted into the Union Cabinet. There have been a number of nagging questions which the Supreme Court put to the Government in several cases of scam. These were embarrassing to the government which was not prepared to be forthright in convincing the Supreme Court of its action. It has to be remembered that unless all the organs of the sate function in unison and in coordination, the state cannot function properly. There should be no reason for the executive to imagine that the judiciary, being powered by the constitution, would do something that is likely to erode the authority of other branches of the Government. Accountability before the law is what arms governments with power and confidence. If the judiciary is not convinced on some actions and decisions of the Government when brought to its notice, the Government has no justification to doubt the intentions of the court. Judiciary protects the rights of the Government and of society and individuals through judicial review. If the Supreme Court hauled up Vilasrao Deshmukh, the former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, there was sufficient evidence for it to do so. By directing the Maharashtra police to go soft on the case of a Maharashtra Congress MLA, there is a clear case of misuse of office, and no judge of the Supreme Court can close his eyes to it. When there is a case of violation of the law, the court is within its jurisdiction to ask questions in order to establish the facts. The questions can be embarrassing but that is part of legal investigation. The fact is that after the right to information law was passed, the civil society has felt that it has a right to go deep into the facts of a case in which its interests are involved. The media has become active and provocative. In particular, electronic media and television have brought much awareness to the civil society about its rights and privileges hitherto denied to it. The Government has to be responsive and it has to understand the broad parameters of accountability. More often than not, the government is conditioned by party matters and policy constraints. It has to come out of that old mindset and readjust to new situations and new aspirations of the society. In doing so, it cannot ask other organs of the state to uphold the Government's views on certain issues of serious national concern. Scams of the magnitude now known to everybody are issues of national concern. Only an impartial and uninfluenced judiciary can protect the right of citizens.







Former Pakistani President, General Pervez Musharraf took abode in the UK after he relinquished office. He apprehended reprisal from his political enemies, both PPP and PML (N) group. In other words, he expected to be paid back in the same coin he had transacted with them when in power. But unable to reconcile to his non-entity status, the General has taken fancy to "democratic politics" and floated his political party not in Pakistan but in London. Hoping to open his shop in his native country, the General was planning to establish an active branch in Pakistan. His adversaries fearing that the former General still having a clout in Pakistan army and some sections of civil society, could prove a source of menace for them, contemplated his exclusion from Pakistan politics. The ruling PPP got him implicated in the case of murder of Benazir and the court proceeded with the matter. All this bizarre drama has been enacted to keep the General out of picture in Pakistan's current politics. The General has been paid back in the same coin which he had transacted for his adversaries. Known for his off the cuff remarks, the General had, recently in a press conference, admitted that Pakistan had inspired and abetted armed insurrection in Kashmir. Like a true Muslim he has spoken the truth after all.









It looks paradoxical that even after sixty three years of existence Pakistan , as a State , should feel insecure . Before partition ,the threat of Hindu dominance was made the driving force to have a separate home land for the Muslims of the sub - continent, where they would be the masters of their destiny. The continued emphasis on the religion in Pakistan, where non- Muslims count nowhere in the numbers, indicates the persistence of a fear psychosis . This speaks a lot about the flawed nature of the premise on which the country was created. The fear of insecurity has defined the country's internal and external policies right from its birth, in 1947. It has conducted the foreign policy with overwhelming emphasis on the relations with India . In fact India has been the main preoccupation of the foreign policy of Pakistan . Sisir Gupta quotes in his book India and Regional Integration in Asia , at page126, an excerpt from a high level study group , titled Pakistan and the United Nations , wherein K. Sarwar Hasan -the author of the report-says; " Robert Schuman ,former Prime Minister of France ,once observed that since 1871 the foreign policy of his country had been continuously dominated by one main preoccupation, that of ensuring her security and independence from her neighbor, Germany . Unfortunately, the foreign policy of Pakistan has in similar manner been dominated by considerations of security and independence from its neighbor, India ." The obsession with India lead the country to the military alliances with USA and some of the Arabian countries; and with the passage of time the State control went into the hands of the army . The army assumed predominance in national affairs with the help of religious fundamentalists . It used them in pursuit of regional strategic goal, in Afghanistan and against India in Kashmir. Correspondingly, these religious forces succeeded in gaining control over a significant section of the military establishment .


The killing of Salman Taseer, Governor of the Pak Punjab , has given rise to an argument that the situation has gone out of the control of the army and it has become helpless In the wake of this dastardly murder of a liberal politician , the ever so small number of the liberals in Pakistan civil society has gone in hibernation to protest the killing. More than the calm and cool composure of the assassin, it is the subsequent jubilation among the educated circles and making hero of the killer , notably, by the lawyers -who were in fore front of the movement to oust the military dictatorship - tells how deep the poison has gone in the Pakistan society . Salman Taseer had committed a 'sin ' of questioning some of the provisions of the Blasphemy law in Pakistan where under a Christian woman was convicted .


Well , this is not a new phenomenon in that country . As back as in the sixties of the last century , most of the Pakistani intellectuals were convinced of the inevitability of the ultimate assertion of Islam .Hence they sought relations beyond the sub-continent . W.N Brown writes in Pakistan and West Asia Pakistan Miscellany , Karachi.

Publications, Vol. 22, 1958 p 30 ; "Pakistan as a Muslim nation looks westward to the lands where Islam was born and became great . Western Pakistan , especially, illustrates the same phenomenon of association with western regions , which it had exhibited in the past . It feels itself culturally akin to those areas outside the subcontinent , rather than to the areas east of it , though they are geographically close to it and economically its natural partners." In past, the urge for Muslim solidarity has characterized the policies of the Pakistan governments . " Feroz Khan Noon , the then Pakistan Prime Minister , talked in 1958of Pakistan-Iran -Afghanistan federation-a slogan earlier given by the League leader Qayom Khan." Siser Gupta in India and Regional Integration in Asia , p 143.


The long history of Pakistan as an Islamic State - with the rule of Zia -Ul -Haque and the Afghan war has hardened the views of young Pakistanis, who are the sons and daughters of the expanding middle class. It will be really a devastating prospect if we have to take Malik Mumtaz Qadri - the alleged assassin of Taseer - as representative of the Pakistani youth. Showering of rose petals on him by the lawyers , coupled with fear of the mainstream politicians to condemn his act, portend the things to unfold. The intellectuals are not lagging behind to ride the band wagon of the militants. Well , in a way it is explainable in the country's context which defines nationalism by religion. Moni Mohsin , a Pakistani novelist - living in England- expresses her anguish over the conduct of her fellow Pakistani writers displayed in the wake of the gruesome murder of a liberal Constitutional functionary . She writes in an Indian news magazine : " I had not expected novelist Hanif Mohammad to do a random poll in Karachi and discover that most people he spoke to on the street outside his office do not condemn Salman's murder ." Commenting on the brutal murder the renowned cricketer and politician Imran Khan laments: " It is a sad day for the nation when political leaders are routinely targeted for their liberal views . It reflects a dangerous level of intolerance and polarization that has enveloped Pakistani society." Jason Burke -South Asian correspondent for Guardian, London - after analyzing the effects of the murder of Salman Taseer and the reaction of Pakistanis, in general, has raised a valid but disturbing question , " The murder asks : can a liberal find place in today's Pakistan "?


We see unabated tide of extremism and fanaticism in Pakistan .No doubt, there was a period when the civil society and moderates among the politicians, there, had started to assert in favor of reason and sense . Barring a few brave hearts , all have gone in hiding -post Taseer's assassination . All said and done, it is not the correct view that Pakistan is a failing State .It will not be so if we can consider only army and the bureaucracy forming the State , forgetting about other important pillars which really constitute a modern State . Nor is it going to fall apart geographically , any more , as some wishfull thinkers , here and there, want us to believe. For the sake of stability in the region Pakistan must have a viable and strong State , supported with all the five pillars. Given its current effective composition, the Pakistani State, undoubtedly , will look tottering, continuously in search of identity and plagued with the imaginary fears to its existence . That is the prospect the people living in the South Asian region must genuinely dread . A tilting State is perpetually in search of extraneous reasons to stand erect. For Pakistan, there can be no better option than to keep the imaginary fear of India alive in the minds of its people, and instability in Kashmir and Afghanistan going on . Ahmad Rashid - a respected Pak author and expert on the terrorism -is right when he says that it is high time when Pakistan army must look inwards to find the real enemy rather than pursue with the ill conceived notion that India is their foe no;1 This notion has brought the country to the immense grief .


The disproportionate emphasis on the religion and ignoring the ethnic aspirations of the populace may work up to a point. Stretched far beyond , it will become counter productive . Pakistan has experienced it in the emergence of Bangladesh as a separate country in the South Asia. If more evidence is required, Mohajar -Sindhi conflict in Karachi and bloody Shia- Sunni cleavage, everywhere in the country, should be enough . Apart from purely religious considerations, to unify the diverse ethnic, linguistic and geographic entities, comprising Pakistan, the Kashmir issue is made to serve a rallying cry. Moreover, the Pak army has developed a vested interest in keeping the pot boiling. Courtesy the issue, it has gained a predominant position. Kashmir as a problem serves Pakistani interests better than a Kashmir as a resolved issue . Therefore, if ever, anyone in Pakistan attempts a solution to it will find himself caught in the vortex. The job of the interlocutors is, indeed , daunting

(The author is former Principal District & Session Judge)








Neat and clean environment is an absolutely necessary for healthy living of human beings''. These days, however, there is lot of environmental degradation, which is discernible throughout the globe. In the light of the degradation of the environment, it becomes utmost important to conserve and ameliorate the same for the posterity. Moreover, modern concept of environment not only deals with natural environment, comprising its abiotic (land, air and water) and biotic (plants and animals) components, but also elucidates the social, religious, economic and cultural activities of human beings known as human environment.

The concept of conservation and amelioration of environment is not new for Indians. Indians have been imparting great reverence to natural environment since time immemorial. Every holy book preached that human being is part and parcel of the nature-only member of large cosmic family. Hence, one must not destroy the other members. Indians especially women-folk have been worshipping the trees, rivers and mountains since ages. Even the birds and animals are regarded to be closely related with God and Goddess and receive lot of respect from the people. Cow worship is still common among Hindus.

A study of the Indian history has evinced that right from the beginning of the civilization, the women have been worshipping of trees/plants like pipal and tulsi. These species are considered pious and planted in and around every Indian house. These plants constitute the source of peace, progress and prosperity. Certain death rituals are resorted under the pipal tree. It is rather believed that some rituals remain totally incomplete if for a particular period, the pipal tree is not watered daily.

Trees are also worshipped in different parts of India. In Bengal sal trees are worshipped, in Assam rubber trees, in Maharashtra coconut trees, in UP tulsi, pipal and mango trees, in South India neem and coconut trees. The leaves of mango trees possess esteem and highest position in Indian culture as they are used in every pious occasion, marriage and inaugural ceremonies and a number of worships. Likewise coconut is utilized in many religious and social functions.

In Kashmiri boy's mundan ceremony there is an ample use of Walnut. In performing Maha Mirtyunjaya Mantra Jaap, there is use of Bael Patar, Akdhatura and Bhang. Leaves of ball and bhang and flowers of ak, are mounted on Shiv Lingam during the aforesaid worship.

Inspite of the background, Indians quite akin to the people of other countries, have engulfed with greed and used all their mighties to everexploit the natural resources for their benefits, leading, thereby, to hazardous ecological imbalance.

Now in India, the environmental damage has reached a point where the existence of the man himself is in danger. We have cut down the forests for farming, fuelwood, fodder, food. Although accordance to Indian Forest Policy, 33 per cent of the total area of plains and 60 percent of mountains must be under forests yet unfortunately in the Himalayan mountains-north east hills and north west Himalayas, the figure varies from 17 to 28 percent, indicating that Indian Himalayas are themselves in grim situation.

The mighty Himalayan mountains are experiencing the worst ever environmental crisis. They face a state for rapidly depleting resources, particularly the forest resources. Owing to modern developmental activities most of the forest trees have been destroyed. Time is not far off when natural forest tree, species like sal in the outer Himalaya banj oak in middle Himalaya and Kharsu oak in High Himalayas will be threatened by extinction.
Among the north western Himalayan states, the forests of Jammu and Kashmir are the worst affected by deforestation, having less than 10 percent of the actual forest cover as per the Satellite Imageries. But as per the records of Forest Department, it constitutes about 20 percent of the total land and thus, is poorer by 40 percent as prescribed by the National Forest Policy. Deforestation's relentless march is stripping the Jammu and Kashmir Himalayas bare of its forest cover. From the majestic coniferous forests of Pir Panjal to the deciduous/mixed canopy of subtropical forests, the tale is alike i.e,discriminate destruction of the forest. This has turned the state into a vast and inhospitable wasteland.

The major cause of deforestation is rise in human population due to which more land is being converted into agricultural land, industrial and residential complexes. Forests are over exploited for timber, fuel wood and fodder. Forests are also cut to build up roads, railway tracks, tunnels, dams and engineering projects. Deforestation has damaged all the watersheds. Change in climate, more soil erosion and floods, loss of soil productivity due to land degradation, extinction of animal and plant species, are the other results of indiscriminate deforestation.

In Kashmir valley the change of climate was fist seen in 1998-99 when whole of the valley posed a severe drought and many of the farmers could not sow the crops. Similar was the situation in Siwaliks of Jammu including Kandi belt. Out of the total geographical are of Jammu and Kashmir, one third of the land is highly degraded. Of the various factors causing land degradation, soil erosion, indiscriminate use of fertilizers and pesticides, burgeoning human and animal population soil salinization/alkalization/acidification and faulty agricultural practices are the most potent. The ratio of NPK fertilizers has been worked out to be 66.5:18:1 in Jammu region and 21.2: 7.5:1 as against 4:2:1. This not only decreased the productivity of rice-wheat cropping system but also created health problems in soils and humans.

* Planting of trees on large scale, especially on road sides and industrial sites will ameliorate an environment as they absorb pollutantants like CO2 and other gases. While planting, the broad leaved tree species like pipal, borh, katrer dhaman should be preferred to grow.

* To divert the attention of rural people towards forests, release of an adequate quantity of gas and Kerosene oil to provide an alternative for fuel wood is the need of the hour.

* Adopt silvipastoral and other agroforestry system for degraded forest and waste lands.

* Introduce more palatable grass and legume species in degraded grasslands or pastures.

* All soil and water conservation measures-agrononomic, mechanical and biological be adopted.

* Attitude of the general masses towards animals should be like that of brethren rather than that of butchers.

Birds require to be watched and not to be killed.

* The habitats of animals and birds require to be protected.

* Save the forest from forest fires. Illegal falling of trees and overgrazing of the pastures be totally banned/stopped.

* There should be total ban to mass killing of wild animals. Substitutes must be searched out for animal products like skins, ivory tusks.

*Training programmes should be conducted frequently with regard to create awareness about the significance of environment.








What the Manmohan Singh Government and the Congress do not seem to realize is that the time has long gone when mere words and occasional belated action were able to deflect attention from widespread corruption. In an age of 24-hour news channels and a large and vocal middle class, the standard political ploys of an earlier period no longer work.

Sonia Gandhi's promise, therefore, about setting up fast-track courts to tackle sleaze and Manmohan Singh's rueful admission that corrupt practices erode good governance are likely to be seen as hollow words in the absence of purposeful steps. The fact that no initiative has been taken to implement the Congress president's pledge is a tell-tale sign that the Government and the party remain mired in their customary, self-serving lethargy where anti-corruption measures are concerned.

Similarly, the Prime Minister's observation at a meeting of senior civil servants that allegations of venality undermine the country's image and "demean us before our own people" may be seen as a demonstration of the speech-writer's skills rather than an expression of official will. Such cynicism is unavoidable when the government is entangled in a larger number scams than ever before.

Moreover, these pertain to the higher rungs of the administration such as former Telecom Minister Andimuthu Raja, former Commonwealth Games boss Suresh Kalmadi, former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan, former minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor and the present Central Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas. As if to confirm that such scandals are nothing new, an income-tax tribunal has referred to the kickbacks in the Bofors howitzer deal of the late 1980s paid to Italian businessman Ottavio Quottrocchi, who is known to be close to the Nehru-Gandhi household.

Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh may have found the resurrection of the Bofors saga "intriguing", as if to suggest that the tribunal is conspiring against the ruling party. But, to most people, the issue will only suggest the presence of conscientious officers. To compound matters, the government's reluctance to reveal the names of the account-holders of black money in foreign banks on the ground of confidentiality cannot but be seen by the lay man as an attempt to hide behind the fig-leaf of legality to save the blackguards who plundered the country, as the Supreme Court pointed out. Indeed, the prime minister's remark that judicial activism should not transgress into the domain of the executive will be regarded as a defensive reaction in the face of embarrassing disclosures.

Where the common man is concerned, it is the Supreme Court's unwelcome initiatives - in the government's view - which forced the ruling party to act against Raja. Otherwise, it is difficult to explain why he was arrested three years after the prime minister first wrote to him in November, 2007, to follow transparent procedures in allocating spectrum technology. The court has also done the right thing by indicting the Government for standing by Union rural development minister Vilasrao Deshmukh in spite of judicial strictures.
The point, which probably escapes the Government and the Congress, is that neither is trusted. Both have squandered the goodwill which saw them through two general elections. Even Manmohan Singh's personal integrity is no longer sufficient to salvage the government's reputation. The only course which can help it is quick and determined action against the wrong-doers, something which Sonia Gandhi apparently realized when she spoke of fast-track courts.

But allowing the law to follow its own course, as the saying (which is increasingly mocked) goes, will only make the Government sink further in public estimation. This would not have happened if the CBI had retained its earlier pristine reputation. But, since it is now seen as a tool to serve the ruling party's partisan purpose, its slow pace of work can seem deliberate.

It is only the Supreme Court and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) which have acted without impartially, thereby showing that the process of checks and balances, which is an invaluable aspect of democracy, is functioning satisfactorily. If these two institutions had failed to live up to their reputations, then India may well and truly have been a banana republic, a charge which Ratan Tata has levelled against the government.

That such an allegation could be made at all when the Government comprises some of the finest minds in the country today is mystifying. If anything, it suggests that the culture of corruption has become so ingrained - from the municipal corporation of Delhi with its 22,000 ghost employees to the corridors of power on Raisina hills - that few can escape its tantalizing coils.

Some of them grab the venal opportunities with both hands while others fail to act for various reasons, of which destabilizing the Government is one. But the greatest destabilizing effect is caused by the loss of moral authority, which can erode a party's political influence. The Congress at least should remember this lesson, considering how it lost a majority of 415 M.P.s in Rajiv Gandhi's time because of the Bofors scam. (IPA)



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





Developments around Darjeeling hills have taken a dangerous turn following Tuesday's police firing near the Bhutan border. The unfortunate death of three people including a teenager and two young women, all supporters of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha's demand for statehood, was precipitated by a slash of the Khukri on the face of a policewoman that led to 'panic firing' by the police. The GJM is prone to use its muscle power and in the past, forced Subhas Ghisingh into exile and incited its followers to kill Madan Tamang, both critics of the GJM. Tuesday's stand-off again exposed the inability of the police to adopt non-lethal means of crowd-control, much talked-about since the stone-pelting incidents in the Kashmir Valley last summer. Meanwhile, the state government's desperate plea for deploying the Army in the hill districts, for the very first time since the agitation for a separate Gorkhaland began in the eighties, also exposed how vulnerable the Left Front government is at the moment. With the Assembly election round the corner and faced with strong undercurrents of anti-incumbency, the state government has clearly ceased to govern.


The responsibility for the present stalemate rests squarely on the shoulders of the governments in New Delhi and Kolkata. Tripartite talks after all are going on for the better part of the last three years but they failed to find a middle ground between Kolkata's refusal to have another division of Bengal and GJM's insistence on not just a separate state but also the inclusion of three districts in the plains. Even when the two principals agreed on an interim body, the GJM insisted on nominating all its members while the state government stuck to its stand of proportional representation on the basis of panchayat polls. The GJM's demand to extend the interim body's jurisdiction over Dooars and Siliguri also remains a contentious issue, largely because a majority of the people in the plains do not seem to favour Gorkhaland.


The hill districts of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong have strategic significance and the government cannot allow the region to be held to ransom. Maintaining law and order is undoubtedly the responsibility of the state government but a lame-duck government in Kolkata calls for an intervention by the Union Home Ministry.









Haryana Environment Minister Ajay Singh Yadav has approached the Centre to stop Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and UP from polluting the Yamuna and Ghaggar rivers. The other rivers in the region — Ravi, Satluj and Beas — also stink. Given the callous neglect of the rivers as well as political apathy and even connivance in the contamination of water resources, it is heartening that at least one minister is seriously taking up the issue. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal too is pushing a Centrally-funded Rs 1,388 crore project to clean the rivers flowing through Punjab, but the results are not yet visible.


There are three sources of river pollution: industrial discharge, municipal waste and chemical runoff from agricultural land. The Haryana minister has taken up the issue of industrial pollution but is silent about the flow of chemical residues from the fields. There is need to spread awareness about the damage caused by the contamination of water resources. Cancer and water-borne diseases are common among people consuming untreated ground or river water. People of Agra get water from the Yamuna carrying all the poisonous waste from Haryana and Delhi.


No one has yet calculated in monetary terms the negative impact of the Green Revolution on human health in Punjab and Haryana. While the rich can use bottled water, the poor lack access both to clean drinking water and healthcare. Instead of spending heavily on medical treatment and water purification it is better to take preventive measures and plug all sources of river pollution — upstream as well as downstream. This requires strong political will – at the Central and state levels — for firm action against the polluters and green taxes to fund the save-environment drive. It is not enough to lodge complaints against the defaulters or make grand announcements for media consumption; politicians must genuinely address the issue.
















IF instances of uprightness make a headline, new benchmarks in bending over backwards are hitting fresh low-lines. Sycophancy is moving downwards — literally. From brown-nosing to bottom-licking and now shoewiping. When Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati accidentally stepped over a puddle after alighting from her helicopter at Naunakpur village, her personal security officer, a DSP rank officer, Padam Singh, took out his handkerchief and wiped mud from her sandals. While he was diligently at his shoe-wiping job, encircling the lady's feet in an uncomfortable squat, the lady continued to sign some files nonchalantly. Padam Singh 61, had been given an extension of two years by the government after he retired last year. He had a 15-year-long stint managing her personal security staff.


If BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) MLA Syed Kazim Ali did not find anything unusual about the incident, he was not wrong! Amma has been scoring over Maya for long. Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Jayalalithaa is known for showering her followers and ministers, who prostrate before her, with a benign smile of acceptance. In its zeal to please Maya memsaheb, the BSP painted capital Lucknow in the party colour, blue, for her birthday bash. Not only this, they are alleged to have coerced people to shell out money for the 25th founding celebration of the party, for which they had also allegedly killed a PWD engineer in Auraiya. Sycophancy has acquired new connotations. Yet these fail to shock us.


Across party lines and hierarchy, new tools of adulation are used to express gratitude and demanding favours in Indian polity. Pictorial spoofs of sycophant politicians; N D Tiwari, the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh picking Sanjay Gandhi's chappals at Agra; Maharashtra Chief Minister Shankarrao Chavan doing the same honours to Sanjay Gandhi, and many such incidents have left sycophants undeterred in their pursuit to please the boss by blurring the lines between loyalty, respect and shameless obsequiousness. Perhaps lack of faith in a system that rarely delivers justice at various layers of democracy promotes sycophancy of shoe-wiping nature! And, it isolates fairplay and uprightness further.









IT was at Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, one of the Gulf countries, that I read about the confidential records of Israel's negotiations with Palestinian leaders from 1999 to 2010. One could sense a feeling of shock in the Arab world how the Palestinian Authority could offer unilaterally the territories which meant so much to it. This was before Egypt was in ferment. However, I was sad to see that Tel Aviv had missed the biggest opportunity to live in peace, not only with the Palestinians but also all other West Asian countries. How could it reject the acceptance of all its annexed settlements, east of Jerusalem, except the one at Jahalul Hakel?


One could think of only one explanation: hatred of hardliner Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to strike an agreement with the Palestinians who he thinks have already been vanquished. Since he has built his political career on enmity towards them, he cannot reconcile himself to shaking hands with those who, though defeated, have offered the other cheek. Yet the rulers, however intractable, should know when to compromise, particularly when it is clear as daylight that there is no alternative to peace. Mr Netanyahu probably thinks that Israel has to stay as an uncompromising country to exist in a hostile environment. This is where he goes wrong because hostilities cannot be an end by themselves. Ultimately, there has to be peace.


Israel should have realised by now that the gun does not solve the problem. True, it can bludgeon any Arab country which raises its head against Israel. But someday the West Asian countries will put their act together, however unstable they may look at present, and hit back even at the risk of a bigger and more dangerous conflagration. Time is on their side.


I recall my visit to Israel some three decades ago. I had just toured Arab countries and had found them sipping coffee all the time and invoking Insha Allah after every sentence. But there was not even a semblance of preparation to avenge the humiliating defeat in 1967 at the hands of Israel. Still they had not forgotten the humiliation. They gave a better account of themselves, especially Egypt, in the war a few years later. I feared at that time the prospect of an unending war. With that uneasiness I went to Israel. I wanted to assess the mood and mettle of Israeli people. That they were building up their country impressed me. I was struck by their sentiment of togetherness. Still I thought how heavenly it would be if they could live in peace.


At Tel Aviv, I was invited by a couple for an evening meal. I shared with them my fears and forebodings. They looked towards their small sleeping child and said: "We want to live in peace. They (the Arabs) still threaten us that they would throw all the Jews into the sea."


Since I had talked to the Palestinians at Jerusalem as well as at the Gaza Strip, I could imagine their plight.

They had been driven out from their hearths and homes. They wanted a state of their own so that they would have an identity, a place of their own where they could live in peace and in dignity. I had imagined that they would never reconcile to the Jewish settlements outside the territory the UN had mandated in 1948. But there is a great change. Even the Arab world has come round to extend recognition to Israel provided it goes back to its original borders.


Yet I find that the fear Tel Aviv faces of annihilation influences Israel's policies. The beginning dates back to discrimination that the Jews have faced all over the world except India. I was India's High Commissioner in London in 1990 when a high-powered Jewish delegation met me to express their community's gratitude for not having suffered any discrimination in India. But I cannot say that for certain about the Jewish community. Some of those who migrated from India to Israel complained to me during my visit that they had experienced racialism, the whites looking down upon them because of their colour.


The sense of discrimination existed despite the communes where people ate together as a community. I found even the wife of the then Vice- President serving at one of the communes where I was driven by him to have breakfast. Israel has changed since. Nonetheless, I had mapped out a different future for it. A country which was born in blood and sand, I thought, would one day give the Arab countries technical knowhow and modern science to help them develop.


Perhaps when a nation feels insecure all the time, it loses sensitivity to the sufferings of others as the Israelis have shown with regard to the Palestinians. Details about the efforts aimed at peace for the last three decades have shown how far Mr Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestine leader, had compromised to have a settlement. Where do both Israelis and Palestinians go from here when the process of peace has been killed? This is a pertinent question. New Delhi, which enjoyed confidence of both at one time, is suspect in the eyes of the two. The US has the key.


But President Obama is so afraid of the Jewish lobby that he does not dare to annoy it as he has his eyes fixed on a second term. Mr Mahmoud Abbas has been strongly castigated by Hamas, the Palestinians Islamist movement. But he has stood firm. Things would fructify if Washington were to pick up the thread from where Mr Abbas had left it off. It is difficult to imagine that Mr Netanyahu would relent. His coalition has shrunk from 74 seats to 66 in the 120-member Israeli Parliament. Maybe, those who see peace as the only option for Israel would assert themselves and support another person to head the coalition which will pursue the peace offer. If Labour leader and Defence Minister Ehud Barak could split the ruling Labour Party, why could some others not do such things when they came to realise that Israel's affirmative answer would be too late?


The situation in Egypt should be of concern to Israel. If the Islamists come to have the upper hand there, as they have emerged in Tunisia after throwing out the old regime, Israel would have all the regrets for not having accepted the peace offer from the Palestinian leadership.








Those Indians who claim that they are not afflicted by the last-minute syndrome are probably fibbing. We have to admit that we always tend to put off things until the alarm bells start ringing loud and clear.


While the rest of the world habitually takes stock of the task at hand, plans for it, sleeps over it and then executes it, we relax and relax and then press the accelerator in a breathtaking fashion.


Whether it's an exam, a meeting, or a train journey, we postpone our preparation till it is time to press the panic button. The fact that we still manage to score when it counts and actually catch most trains indicates that we are extremely capable people.


Examples abound in each sphere of endeavour. When a bag has to be packed for a trip beginning early the following morning, we tend to pack it late at night. When a test or interview is upon us, we begin cramming with just hours to go.


When a rendezvous is to be kept, we laze around for an inordinately long time and then rush to make it, minutes past the appointed time, with some solid excuses at the ready.


One of the most innovative excuses that I heard at a meeting from a late-joiner was that he had been waylaid by the media for a byte since a film star had recently shifted into his apartment-block.


My wife is one who specialises in the art of utilising the 'last minute' most effectively. She is always running late for everything but somehow manages to tackle her responsibilities in the nick of time and never seems to annoy anyone, except sometimes, me! I sometimes wonder if such tendencies are hereditary, but I have managed to avoid asking her that question till today.


A few years ago, an upcoming seminar had the organisers in a real tizzy, for they hadn't tied up either the sponsorship details, or the chief guest or even the venue, and they had just a week in hand. Speakers had not been informed. Cards were still to be printed and distributed. Even the list of invitees hadn't been drawn up. All that the organising team was sure of was the seminar's topic: 'How to be more organised.'


With a major crisis looming large, they burnt the midnight oil and worked tirelessly. Hours before the morning of the event they had everything in the bag. There was nothing left to do. They trooped into the seminar hall and decided to catch some sleep.


So sleepy were they that none of them noticed the arrival of the chief guest until he was waking them up. The media was clicking away as they rubbed their eyes and the guests were rolling with laughter.


The "last minute" may thus not be a very reliable option, but it can certainly be a rib-tickling one.









THE picturesque mountainscape could lull any visitor into a willing suspension of disbelief but soon enough one senses the latent discontent. Tourists to Kurseong and Darjeeling are told they are lucky that there is no shutdown by the Gorkhaland Janmukti Morcha (GJM). Then follow the numerous signboards on shops and posters announcing the existence of Gorkhaland.


The irony and contradiction of the demand for Gorkhaland are symbolised by the announcement on the arched gate as the visitor enters Darjeeling and a poster barely 100 yards away. The arch defiantly proclaims: "Welcome to Gorkhaland" and the poster screams, "We want Gorkhaland."


Between the assertion of identity and the realisation that the region is dependent upon the West Bengal government, rather the Centre, for the fulfillment of its demands lies many a tale of betrayal, murder and even a reality show star. A minority population in the state, the Gorkhas are geographically far removed from the power centre. They are dominated by Nepali and Tibetan influences and a majority are tribals. They cannot be classified as any one tribe but are in fact a community of Gorkhali/Nepali speaking people in the geographic areas of Darjeeling and adjacent areas. Lepchas and Limboos are some of the early tribes indigenous to this area. While Siliguri in the plains is bustling with activity and shows signs of development, howsoever uneven, the hill people yearn for growth. It was the state policy of concentrating regional development to Siliguri (which was a huge Left vote-bank) led to the first Gorkhaland agitation under the GNLF, bringing to the fore the aspirations of a long-neglected community.


As Roshan Giri, the Secretary of the Gorkhaland Janmukti Morcha bemoans: "Unless the government accedes to the demand for a separate state there are no chances of the process of development gaining momentum." This is precisely what they had tried to verbalise in the recent talks with Home minister Chidambaram. The people of the area (Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong) have been consistently denied access to resources and participation in the process of development, be it by the now defunct Darjeeling Hill council, self-serving politicians or an apathetic state government. Says a resident of Kurseong, "We have been misled continuously by leaders who goaded us to ask for a separate state when we should have demanded development, instead". A sentiment that is voiced by a majority of common people who have no stakes (except the business of living peacefully) in the neglected subdivisions of Kurseong, Kalimpong and Darjeeling, the region its proponents claim, should comprise the Gorkhaland.


For the leaders (local, state or Centre) the region is a troubled spot, not a vote-bank to be nurtured. The three parameters of development that make life livable for the common man, electricity, roads and water (bijli sadak aur pani) are predictably missing. New technology, planning, policy and marketing systems seem to have passed them by and ostensibly the overwhelming feeling is that planners have no qualms about passing on the benefits of this region to people in the mainland. What adds to the residents' anguish is the 'Sikkim effect'. (See box)


The vicious cycle is they strike to make themselves heard but the numerous shutdowns and bandhs alienate the local population as well as the tourists who are hugely inconvenienced. Add to this the eight-hour power cut (because the residents of the area have not been paying either electricity or telephone bills for the past two years).


Darjeeling town has no hospital equipped with clinical or diagnostic facilities. There is no ICU or CCU, no ultrasound machine or CT scan facility. The hospital was set up in 1944 by the British and more than six decades after Independence there is hardly any change. With local effort money has been raised to install a CT scan machine but it is not enough. If someone has a stroke or a heart attack, one is lucky if one survives the three-hour journey to Siliguri, the nearest place with adequate medical facilities. In 2004, Dr PD Bhutia from Kalimpong, who was practising in Kolkata, describes how he wanted to pay back to the region by setting up practice here and tried to set up a CCU unit but the political uncertainty drove him to Siliguri.


Says Devaraj Dutta Roy, a Kolkata-based professional who has observed the movement over the years, "The only beneficiaries of this era were a new class of people called 'contractors' seemed anybody with a little influence (read those who led the violent agitations of the 1980s) amongst the GNLF could become one and land plum Public Works contracts..a source to channel state money and keep everyone happy." Numerous water supply and pipeline projects which were commissioned for the hills. Until today every house struggles to get a decent supply of water even once a day. These overnight lakhpatis lorded over and kept the rule of the tyrannical GNLF intact.) many locals do not give a damn about a separate state or an interim set-up leading to partial autonomy. The region has no medical college, engineering college or university. With a network of good schools, the youngsters are forced to go out for higher education.


The major industry, tea did not bring economic prosperity to the locals. The tea estates carry the baggage of the still operative master-slave matrix. Says Neelkamal Chettri, an activist for environmental rights, "Resources have never been ploughed back into the region. Tata Tetley, Unilever and ITC control the tea markets. While profits have soared manifold, there is no capital that is invested on the workers and their work practices remain the same. We might have ceased to be a colony but the process of de-colonisation has not impacted the workers in tea estates." Tardy and outdated laws such as the Plantation Labour Act of 1951 hardly ensure that workers get their due. The workers are paid a measly Rs 67 per day and own no assets like land or property. The resistance to official authority or government's lop-sided policies has invariably come from leaders with their base in the tea estates.


The archaic plantation law is now being reviewed by the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Plantation Management under the Commerce ministry.


Pasang Sherpa (who heads the tourist coordination committee in Darjeeling) talks of how 90 per cent of the tourist traffic has been hit by the frequent shutdowns, strikes and bandhs. He too echoes London-based Mona Chettri, working on a doctoral thesis on Identity and Development at SOAS, London, and asks what use is identity without development. For Mona, identity mattered so much that she decided to knock down the stereotypes about Nepalis and Gorkhas through her research project. For the well-heeled it can be identity but for the man on the street it is development or the lack of it that defines life. Gorkhaland is the story of successive governments denying people their right to local development. Frustrated of endless wait, people organise themselves to demand reasonably good living conditions, infrastructure in terms of roads, hospitals and educational facilities as well as decent job-opportunities. When this basic right is denied to them, they raise demand for a separate, autonomous state. We continue to deny them the basics, but then are ready to consider, even concede, the most illegitimate or unreasonable of their demands. When the people speak or articulate their demands through a groundswell of protest, we refuse to listen. When the situation gets out of hand, we approach "interlocutors" to initiate dialogue with the same people we had refused to listen to earlier.

Sikkim effect

Merely a three-hour drive and you have a state with an enviable pace of development, be it in terms of infrastructure, proactive administration or the happiness quotient of the people. The Sikkim effect (Sikkim is often regarded as a gift to India) has impacted the votaries of Gorkhaland. The neighbours enviously see the flow of funds into Sikkim since its incorporation into India in 1975 when Darjeeling was 20 years ahead of Sikkim. Now it is the opposite, says TK Dewan, former chief secy of AP (adviser to the GJM). There is more than Rs 1100 crore for a population of 5 lakh and less than Rs 50 crore for a poulation of 22 lakh.

Strategic location

The Centre and state have to tread cautiously in this matter by compulsion because of the strategic location of the region because it is contiguous, or nearly contiguous, to Nepal, China, Bhutan and Bangladesh. The vulnerable Chicken's Neck and Siliguri Corridor and National Highway 31A to Sikkim, along with the only road and rail links to the North-East along the Tiger and Sevok bridges, lie in this area. The Maoists have proposed a corridor from Nepal to Orissa and the Chicken's neck area is vital to their plans. Darjeeling is a major cog in this wheel, and therefore, any insurgency here would open up another front which can be very easily exploited by the Maoists and other NE militant groups. The Gorkhas' do-or-die spirit seems to have seen them through tough times. Even the late Field Marshal Manekshaw, who commanded a regiment of Gurkhas, had this to say: "If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or he is a Gurkha."


1980s: Subhas Ghising, spearheading Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), begins the struggle.

1988: Autonomous Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council is created, of which Ghising becomes a Chairman. He resigns in March 2008.

2007: Bimal Gurung, a former lieutenant of Ghising, launches a new movement, Gorkha Janamukti Morcha and gains support of the vast majority of West Bengal Gorkhas.

2007: Prashant Tamang, a little-known policeman from a small hamlet near Darjeeling, makes headlines on TV by winning the title of the Indian Idol. His win triggers the movement, again.

2010: Madan Tamang of the ABGL (Akhil Bharatiya Gurkha League) restarts dormant political activities.

2010: Madan Tamang is assassinated in the public square for speaking out against the sell-out by the GJM.

2011: Emboldened by the Sri Krishna report for carving a new state Telangana out of Andhra Pradesh, the GJM leaders are now threatening a hunger-strike from February 16.







CHIEF MINISTER Omar Abdullah's revelation while chairing thereview meeting of Kishtwar District Board hat his governmentwas actively working with the Centre to launch helicopterservices to the remote and cut-off reas of the Stateeminds one of the naivety of Marie Antoinette, the Frenchqueen who told the starving people of France who adstormed Bastille in July 1979 " if you cannot have bread, theneat cake." The people in most of the remote areas ack properroads withseveral of them totally inaccessible. The primaryneeds of these areas as also of most of other areas ofJammu and Kashmir are proper roads and adequate transportfacilities to enable them to travel from one part to heother. Since these areas lack even basic health facilities alarge number of people die every year as they cannotreach the hospitals in the capital cities where some kind ofmedical facilities are available. Even for common diseasesthey have to approach the district hospitals but cannotreach them due to lack of road connectivity.The manner in which the elitist rulers of the State havebeen spending huge amount to look after the interests of thericher sections of the people, while ignoring the basic needsof have-nots makes it obvious that their priorities are totallywrong. In most areas of the State, particularly in the hillyareas, the State authorities have not only failed to provideproper roads fit for traffic but have also not been able toarrange for adequate number of buses for the people to travelfrom one part of the State to the other. Every year a largenumber of people die in accidents in these areas due tolack of proper roads, adequate number of buses and poor trafficmanagement. What the common people need in theseareas are god quality of roads, adequate number of buses,healthcare facilities, foodgrains and other essentialcommodities, schools and play grounds for the children. Allthese needs of the people have remained ignored with theexcuse that the state lacks adequate resources to fulfillthese needs of the people. But when it comes to the questionof feeding the VIPS and looking after the interests of heaffluent sections of the people the State funds are madeavailable most generously.

Launching helicopter servicefor these areas cannot be the priority of any governmentwhich claims to serve the common people, particularly thepoorer and backward sections and those living in inaccessibleareas. Clearly, the people who cannot even afford to frequentlytravel by road cannot afford to utilize the helicopter servicescosting them a huge amount. Such a service canonly serve the purpose of the richer sections of the people.The successive regimes in the State have acted in apenny wise pound foolish manner by throwing the strings oftheir purses open to meet the extravagant needs of the politicalelite and richer sections of the people while expressingtheir inability to fulfill the basic needs of the commonpeople due to the lack of adequate resources. The Stategovernment has been spending huge amount every year on thepurchase and maintenance of aircrafts, helicopters and fleetof luxurious cars for the travel of the political bigwigs andsenior bureaucrats while most part of the state have beendenied roads and adequate transport facilities for the peopleto travel. Same is true of the government which doesnot think twice while spending several hundred crores on providinggolf courses for a handful of golfers while millions ofyouth and students have been denied even play grounds.Several parts of the State are without schools and most ofthe schools in the rural areas are without adequate numberof teachers, proper buildings, sanitation, libraries and playgrounds. Similarly most parts of the State have no basichealthcare facilities, sanitation, adequate stock of foodgrainsand other essential commodities. The State governmentpleads lack of adequate funds to meet thesebasic needs of the people. But when it comes to the questionof providing all kinds of facilities to the richer sections ofthe population or to keep the political and bureaucratic elitehappy and contended, those at the helm do not hesitate for amoment to spend generously despite the State's poor fiscal position.






THE recent spate ofdeaths of people in aseries of road accidentson Jammu-Kathua nationalhighway, which is under roadwidening project undertakenby the central government, isboth unfortunate and tragicfor the families, which havelost precious human lives.This is also tragic that theseaccidents are taking place inthe absence of traffic regulationby the concerned authorities,which are charged withthe responsibility of checkingtraffic violations by themotorists, as a result of whichthe number of accidents hasincreased. The road under constructionis posing seriousthreat to the lives of the people,who are using the highway
and its ancillary roads forcommuting between varioustowns and villages all alongthe length of the communicationline. Since the constructionis going on for the last twoyears, there is a problem of
missing signs and cut outs fortaking U-turn on the road dueto which motorists continue tomove on the wrong side of theroad and resulting in head-oncollision with vehicles comingfrom the opposite direction.
To top it, the supervisory andregulation of such traffic particularlyduring the peakhours is totally missing leadingto increased number ofaccidents and precious livesbeing lost for no fault of the
commuters. Every day in andday out there are accidentswhich are taking place due towrong driving and traffic
norms violations. The leastthe construction agencies andtraffic regulation departmentscan do is to put up
signs for guiding themotorists so that they do notresort to driving in the wronglanes that are hazardous for
their life. Moreover, highernumber of cut-outs for turningto side roads are neededfor the convenience of the
vehicle operators as also toreduce the option of wronglane driving. Unfortunately,complaints and problems of
the transport operators andallied government agencieshave fell on deaf ears of theconstruction companies. No
action has been taken by theconcerned agencies to put upadequate number of signboards for the motor operators
all along the nationalhighway. The people living inthe highway towns are alsofacing similar difficulties due
to delay and slow pace of workon the construction of alternatecommunication roads.The roads which should pavethe way for prosperity of itscitizens are proving otherwiseand claiming lives of innocent
people for no fault of theirs.







"Prisoners of indecision" was an epithet that Vijayalakshmi Pundit hurled at Lal Bahadur Shastri's government sometime in early 1965. One may debate over the question whether the expression had been then correctly used or not; but there is absolutely no doubt that it is true about the present government headed by out 'good doctor' Manmohan Singh. The nation is slowly and sadly coming round to accepting L.K. Advani's view that the present incumbent is the "weakest prime minister" we ever had. Even his best admirers find it hard to explain why he has apparently lost his grip over the team he leads. He is no longer a green horn in that seat. He is already more than six years in that chair, and is certainly better placed than before to meet any attack headed by the main opposition party the BJP. Still, the highest seat of authority in the country is apparently plagued by high level anarchy.

Every one in the centre is apparently free to speak out his and announce his policies and priorities, while none appears accountable for what he or his office does. Never before our country has been so rudely shaken by so many scams in course of only three months--the CWG in September, the Adarsh Society Building in Mumbai, the Karnatak Mining, and the mother of all scams, the 2G involving our telecom sector--yet none has so far been held accountable and punished except poor A.Raja who had to lose his ministerial berth and no more. The committee appointed to prove the CWG scam promised to complete the task within three months, but that dead-line was passed on 18 January. So, those who were foolish enough to take such public announcements in their face value felt frustrated. In fact, all of us who are foolish or naive enough to believe that ministers and bureaucrats are there to carry out their allotted tasks have by now enough reason to accept that they are fools, indeed.

It seems no one cares for what he or his officials say or do. With great fanfare the UPA I had announced in 2006 the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and had released Rs. 1.08 lakh crore for this purpose. But, on the 28th of January the union government was forced to admit before the Supreme Court that it had not carried out any account auditing at any level, although the aforesaid act had made it imperative for the authorities to do so, when the CAG carried out a sample performance auditing in 68 out of the 625 districts where the scheme has been implemented the fall out of non-auditing was clearly visible. The centre says that 4800 officials are being proceeded against and misappropriation of around Rs. 88 crore have been detected. Obviously, misappropriation in this scale would not have been possible, if only accounts had been audited annually on time. But, who cares? And, out of so many proceeded against none but a few small fries may be ultimately punished. None is naive enough to believe that the Rs. 88 crore misappropriated will ever come back to our national treasury, or that the concerned minister or senior bureaucrats will suffer in any way. After all, India is now free, and every one is free to use his authority or opportunity in any way he can.
Unfortunately, the list of such criminal carelessness does not end here. Just take up the case of the appointment of P.J. Thomas as the Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC). The very designation of the post and the wide authority its incumbent wields speak of the dignity the CVC carries. He is like the chief ombudsman who enjoys the right to probe every case of corruption and suggest appropriate action. So, the incumbent of this high post, obviously, has to be a man of considerable experience as well as of widely accepted high integrity. He should be, like the proverbial Caesar's wife, above suspicion. But, it came to light that as the then food secretary in the Kerala government he was implicated in some unseemly controversy regarding the purchase of palmoline oil, in the early nineties. A tainted person, even if proved innocent, is obviously unfit for this high post. Yet the man refuses to resign, and the centre shamelessly admits before the Supreme Court that his record as the food secretary of Kerala government had not been placed before the selection committee comprising the prime minister, the home minister, and the leader of the opposition, Sushma Swaraj. One wonders why was such an important appointment made in so careless a manner. But, it had happened.

Then there is the latest craze with the possible recovery of black money, especially what lies stashed abroad in foreign banks. This time the demand has been raised openly not so much by the opposition as by the accepted heir apparent, Rahul Gandhi himself. In response to this challenge many in the government are speaking in many voices. The finance minister in despair has virtually confessed that it is impossible to make a reasonable estimate of the amount stashed abroad, and therefore one expecting the home coming of that black money will have to wait indefinitely. No doubt, the present government alone is not responsible for the generation of black money and its outflow into foreign banks. But, it can be certainly expected that they strain their nerves to unearth the black money, both at home and abroad. The Swiss banks are no longer as secretive as they once were, and can be expected to cooperate with our government when convinced of the bonafide of our request in obvious national interest. Instead, our leaders have virtually raised their hands in visible despair.
Finally, the principle of collective responsibility, which is the virtual corner stone of modern cabinet government, has been given a good bye. Different ministers speak in different voices, often contradicting one another over the same or closely related issues. The public differences among Jairam Ramesh, Kamal Nath and Dr. Montek Singh Alhuwalia, Dy Chairman of the Planning Commission, once acquired the stuff that legends are made of. One minister grants permission to clear forests for starting a mining concern or an industry, or in the case of coastal Orissa the Vedanta University, while another minister, in charge of environment, with olds permission and threatens action for having started the project without his consent.

Instead of having a well-coordinated programme for sustainable development we are witnessing a running conflict between projects for development and concern for environment, while the prime minister maintains total silence over such unseemly goings on. He has more than once referred to the Maoist problem as democratic India's challenge number one. Yet, Mamata Banerjee, a senior member of his cabinet, openly asks for the withdrawal of the security forces from the Jangal Mahal of West Bengal, and holds not the Maiosts but the communists responsible for the trouble there. When petrol price was hiked recently she openly declared that she had not been consulted. The prime minister is apparently incapable of enforcing discipline among his cabinet colleagues. We all expected that he would reshuffle his ministry to make it more efficient and cohesive. But, while the nation waited for a big bang, the exercise ended in a whimper. No dead wood was thrown out. Only a few less important portfolios changed hands, and three relatively unimportant politicians were inducted into the ministry. Obviously, the Sonia-Manmohan duo has thrown aside an opportunity to revamp the central government. One feels like agreeing with what an U.S. embassy official wrote, according to the Wikepedia leak, about Sonia Gandhi that she "never fails to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity". This means that the government will continue to live for three more years with its vision clouded with uncertainly and hands tied by indecisiveness.

In fact no one knows whose voice and views are more important, the present prime minister or of Rahul Gandhi, believed to the prime minister in waiting. Sonia Gandhi gives the prime minister full support over every issue in public. Yet, it is a fact that with both the mother and the son constantly breathing down his shoulders, even though patronisingly the, poor prime minister lacks the confidence and the urge to assert himself. He knows, like the rest of the ministers, that he is in his seat because of the wish of some one else, and that he is keeping it warm for some one else. Under these circumstances one should not expect from the head of the government more of drive and dynamism. This means we are fated to drift ahead as before airing differences and often working at cross purposes.


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With global commodity prices rising again and expected to remain high, given the revival of global growth, it is entirely understandable that Indian firms have been aggressively scouting around for acquiring equity in commodities and fossil fuels, ranging from high-grade coal, iron ore, oil and gas to several non-ferrous metals like copper and nickel. The list of companies seeking to secure a share of the global resources pie includes downstream users like the steel and power industry as well as public sector companies such as NMDC and Coal India, which are essentially raw material producers. This "search and capture" strategy spans diverse geographies. For example, JSW Energy through the acquisition of CIC, a Canadian company, has secured access to 2.6 billion tonnes of high-grade thermal coal in Botswana. Similar acquisitions for coal by Reliance, Tata Power, GMR Energy in Indonesia, Mozambique, Australia are designed to secure fuel linkages to drive the companies' forthcoming power generation plans. Tata Corus has acquired mining rights to high-grade iron ore in Canada to support its European operations. ONGC, through its acquisition arm ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL), has a share in oilfields in diverse locations such as Sudan, Nigeria and Russia.

The motivations for this resource-seeking drive are equally varied. Take coal. While India has the third-highest coal deposits in the world, the quality leaves a lot to be desired, due to high ash content and low calorific value. Firms like NTPC and Tata Power, which have significant captive reserves domestically, are looking to fuel some of their forthcoming projects with superior imported coal. Other firms in the power and steel space, such as the JSW and Adani with no significant captive resources, have no option but to rely on imported raw materials. Unreliable supply from domestic producers and infrastructural bottlenecks that sharply increase transaction costs have also contributed to India Inc's increased interest in acquiring global resources. These global transactions by India Inc have obvious benefits for the resource-owning firms and governments, both in terms of large-scale infusion of cash and/or the resource rents. Developing infrastructure in the form of roads and ports primarily to transfer the mined output from the source to India creates permanent assets in the host countries, besides generating considerable local employment. Countries like Indonesia have upped the ante, by insisting that international firms set up downstream industry as a partial offset for resource sale. This in itself is not bad, but companies, especially in the power space, which planned on investing in India to leverage the capacity expansion already under way, would have to divert some of that investment to the host country.


 This largely market-driven expansion strategy that is predicated upon an increasing level of global engagement is not, all things considered, exceptionally risky, given the clear advantage for both the buyer and the seller. Unforeseen events, both political and geo-climatic, could radically derail the copybook scenario. For example, the recent cyclone in Queensland has sharply reduced the production of coking coal. As a result, prices of coking coal have shot up almost 20 per cent over the past month, while steel prices have increased by almost 14 per cent during the period. While prices of coking coal are expected to stabilise within a quarter, the fallout from a more cataclysmic event like a conflagration in the Middle East would have deeper and longer ramifications. India Inc needs to clearly plan for such contingencies.







A recent proposal of the National Advisory Council (NAC) that deserves policy attention relates to the supply of millet and other coarse cereals through the public distribution system (PDS). It is an idea whose time has come for many reasons. Apart from being nutritious, millet can also bridge the food gap likely to be created by the implementation of a food security law. Existing stocks of rice and wheat may not fully meet the food gap created by a country-wide PDS system implementing a right to food Act. The inclusion of millet is a good idea for several reasons. Millet, such as sorghum (jowar), pearl millet (bajra), finger millet (ragi) and other coarse staples like maize, barley, oats and the like may not match rice and wheat in grain quality, but they certainly score over them in nutritional value. In fact, these are now often described as "nutri-cereals". While the protein content of many millet is close to that of wheat, they are richer in vitamins, especially vitamin B, iron, phosphorous and many other key micronutrients. Besides, these are gluten-free alternatives to finer cereals which make them alkaline rather than acidic in nature. That explains why coarse cereals have been a preferred staple food in many parts of the country, especially in rural areas. Regrettably, they have been gradually edged out of the food chain largely because the government began supplying highly subsidised wheat and rice at cheaper rates. Despite policy neglect and lack of subsidies, millet and coarse grains have managed to survive, even if on a progressively shrinking acreage, because of their continued use as livestock and bird feed, and growing industrial uses such as for production of starch and alcoholic beverages.

An important feature of these crops is that they require much less water to grow than rice and wheat do and can be successfully cultivated in semi-arid tropics and on poor soils. The biggest factor in their favour is that these crops are innately more efficient converter of energy and plant nutrients into biomass, including grains. Many among them are, therefore, capable of delivering higher tonnage per hectare than wheat and rice with modern agronomic technology and improved crop varieties, including hybrids, which are, thankfully, available in large number now. Apart from these benefits, promoting millet and other coarse cereals would also be needed given that crop yields in irrigated areas have almost reached a plateau. If India is to meet the rising demand for nutritious food and if rainfed agriculture has to experience a revolution in productivity, this is where research in agriculture and price policy should focus. Water-guzzling crops like rice and wheat should, in fact, give way to millet and other coarse cereals in areas where the former are irrigated with groundwater, causing rapid depletion of underground water aquifers, to prevent today's grain bowls from becoming tomorrow's deserts.







Budgets just aren't what they used to be. Where are the major tax reforms and important economic reform announcements that used to drive the budgets of the 1990s? These days they are notable by their rarity. Even when such announcements are made (and repeated in several successive Budget speeches) heralding the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the Direct Tax Code (DTC), the promises are not borne out by performance. Postponement is the order of the day. Perhaps governance, in general, has got harder over time and economic policy (including budgets) simply reflects that broader reality.


 It certainly doesn't help when there is entropy in the official structures charged with budget-making. Thus the venerable institution of the "budget group" (BG) in the finance ministry seems to have greatly weakened since 2003, if it has not been disbanded. The BG consisted of the three departmental secretaries of economic affairs, revenue and expenditure (with the senior-most designated as finance secretary) and the chief economic adviser. In the old days, the BG would begin meeting in late November, both by itself and with the finance minister (FM). The frequency of meetings (coordinated by the additional secretary, budget, in the department of economic affairs) would gradually increase and rise to a crescendo in January and February, with many meetings on tax issues held in the inner sanctums of the two revenue boards rather than in FM's chambers.

The competence and cohesion of the BG was deemed to be a significant element in successful budget-making. Its continuity between November and next April was taken for granted. Not so in the last two years. Last year the revenue secretary was allowed to superannuate in the middle of the process. This year, ten days ago, it was the turn of the finance secretary (also head of the economic affairs department). I do not recall any comparable case in the twenty-five years prior to 2010. Of course, if the BG's role has been diminished any way, the disruption from the exit of individual members may be less.

Turning to substance, what are the five or six major challenges facing the Indian economy on which some serious policy action could be taken in the Budget?

First is the continued stubbornness of inflation, especially in food articles. It has been many years since food inflation has been in double digits for two successive years. Thus far, the government has mainly left it to the RBI to battle inflation through a series of small increases in policy rates. The government has not explicitly tightened fiscal policy, although its failure to spend authorised amounts has contributed to a short-run liquidity squeeze. Thanks to this, high inflation (which boosts the GDP dominator) and the massive bonanza from spectrum auctions, the Centre's fiscal deficit in 2010-11 is likely to be well within the 5.5 per cent of GDP target. The deficit is slated to drop to 4.8 per cent in 2011-12. Given the stickiness of inflation, the forthcoming Budget should target a lower fiscal deficit in the range of 4 to 4.5 per cent of GDP. This would make for a more balanced monetary-fiscal mix and lighten the pressure on RBI to undertake further investment-discouraging increases in policy rates. The Budget should also announce a set of measures to strengthen the supply chain in agriculture and reduce restrictions on trade and marketing, including on foreign direct investment in retail.

Second, India's current account deficit in the balance of payments has widened substantially in the last three years (to 3.7 per cent of GDP in the first half of 2010-11), while its financing has relied increasingly on more volatile components of capital inflows. Aside from more active currency management by RBI (which is necessary), the recommended reduction in the fiscal deficit should help reduce the current account deficit. In addition, significant reforms/improvements in policies relating to natural resource management (notably, mining and hydrocarbons) could spur more stable, direct investment inflows.

Third, India faces a huge challenge of a "youth bulge", also referred to as the "demographic dividend". Government estimates suggest that the annual increment in the labour force is about 12-13 million a year, of which only 10 per cent or so is finding jobs in various organised sectors. The remaining 90 per cent is condemned to eking out a precarious living in various forms of casual/informal activities. The single-most important antidote to this growing problem would be to reform our currently anti-employment labour laws. This reform would also provide a powerful stimulus to labour-intensive manufacturing (for both exports and the domestic market), which has been languishing in recent years, dragging down both employment and overall manufacturing growth. Successive governments have ducked this issue. It would be a huge and long overdue step if this Budget were to confound expectations and announce reforms.

Fourth, in his Budget speech a year ago, the finance minister had stated "if there is one factor that can hold us back in realising our potential as a modern nation, it is the bottleneck of our public delivery mechanisms". The plethora of scams and scandals during the past year have certainly amplified concerns about India's rickety and corrupt public delivery systems. Oddly, this does not seem to slow the burgeoning of government entitlement programmes, where hundreds of thousands of crores are spent to ostensibly help the poor and the weak, but most of the money (Rajiv Gandhi used to say 85 per cent) winds up with various intermediaries who have become adept at milking the vulnerable delivery systems. This Budget could announce serious moves towards targeted cash transfer systems based on the Unique Identification programme that has been gaining critical mass in recent times. Simultaneously, the Budget could formalise forward movement on the recent announcements by the Congress party president to improve governance and reduce corruption, including through initiation of state funding of elections.

Finally, with each passing year that reforms in agriculture remain stalled, rural distress mounts and the disparities between the rural poor and the urban rich become increasingly glaring. The broad thrust of necessary reforms has been outlined by successive high-powered committees. The challenge is to find the political will for implementing changes.

Will this Budget announce serious measures to meet the five challenges outlined above? If the past is any guide, it might be prudent to harbour low expectations, while nurturing hopes for pleasant surprises.

The author is honorary professor at ICRIER and former chief economic adviser to the Government of India. The views expressed are personal









Food inflation continues to run amok, and very clearly, the government does not seem to have any clue on how to rein it in. A year ago, poor rains in 2009 were projected as the primary cause. However, 2010 saw one of the best monsoon performances in several years and yet, the food price inflation has remained in double digits, barring for a month or two. Within the food basked, the sharpest increase has been in the price of vegetables and fruits, and it is here where the government's cluelessness is most visible. Other than the usual knee-jerk reactions entailing banning exports of some products such as onions, short-term imports from neighbouring countries, and some tinkering with import duties, there is not much else to show by way of any ground-breaking new idea or action.


 Indeed, a deeper analysis of the underlying demand-supply shifts over the last few decades could have given very early warning signals to the successive state and central governments but sadly, other than compilation of incomplete, relatively outdated and sometimes unreliable cultivation and production statistics through a plethora of agencies, there has been little reflection on the demand side changes and also on the increasing challenges on supply side that include increasing urbanisation which has steadily reduced the area (on the periphery of cities) under cultivation for vegetables in particular, and depletion of groundwater tables in some of the more agriculturally productive states such as Punjab. Hence, while the gross area under cultivation for horticultural products has increased two-fold in the last 20 years (and output doubled too), the demand has risen much faster on account of the rapid economic growth which has taken almost 300 million Indians out of poverty line even as the population also increased by a similar number (about 300 million). Hence, effectively, India has to provide for an additional one billion or more meals per day in 2011 compared to what it needed in 1991. By 2020, India's population will further increase by more than 150 million, and if the economy continues to grow at the same pace as it has in the last 10 years, another 150 million or more may be pulled above the poverty line, requiring an additional 600 million or more meals per day.

Rising incomes also lead to higher consumption of vegetables, fruits, proteins (pulses and meat) and dairy products which again leads to a higher acceleration in demand, beyond just the population increase and addition of more meals per day for those who have just moved above the poverty levels.

With pressure on land increasing every day, it is nearly impossible to have any further dramatic increases in area under cultivation for agriculture in the coming decades. Water shortages and depletion of water table are likely to put further stress on agricultural output. Hence, without losing any further time, the government and its planners have to burn midnight oil to come up with bold strategies that can deliver some results in the near, medium and long term.

In the near term, the easiest and simplest actions are just to do with two fundamental policy changes. One is relating to scrapping of all restrictions on marketing and movement of agricultural and horticultural products within India and eliminating some of the spoilage on account of innumerable stops at various octroi and other check-posts by totally removing such local taxes on perishable produce. The second relates to encouraging modernisation of distribution and retail system in the country without getting into a totally irrelevant debate on the origin of the massive funding required for this modernisation in the entire farm to customer supply chain.

In the medium term, the solution is to offer hundreds of millions of Indians "ready to cook" or "ready to eat" food. While the government has often spoken about the importance of the food processing industry and efforts have been made to encourage processing of food, it must now come up with some ground-breaking policy initiatives that can generate massive investments into food processing which can take the relatively low-grade raw material output from the Indian farms and convert the same — preferably at the source of production or very close to it — into products having higher shelf life and which can be transported to retail outlets without an expensive cold chain.

In the long term, India has to work on a two-fold strategy. One initiative has to further increase the focus on coming up with new high-yielding seeds, including genetically modified ones, to usher in a quantum increase in productivity. The second one should be for securing India's food needs through strategic (rather than reactive) imports since it is unlikely that India can achieve food security in future through domestic production alone.






Green star over China

China, along with South Korea, is a strong contender for leadership of the global clean-energy market

Barun Roy

Here's one fact that's bound to make the world sit up and take note: More than a quarter (26.53 per cent to be exact) of China's total installed electricity generation capacity, according to China Electricity Council, now has clean-energy origin, including hydro and nuclear. That's a huge progress for a country whose search for alternative energy got into serious stride only a decade ago. In the US, no more than 15 per cent of all electricity produced domestically last year came from clean sources.

Here's another: China is now the global leader in wind energy, with 41.8 Gw of wind power capacity installed by the end of 2010, surpassing the US' 40.2 Gw. More than half this capacity is already grid-connected.


 This shows how determined China is to win the global clean energy race and fulfil its environmental commitments. It's going to spend $755 billion on clean energy development over the next decade. Last year alone, it invested $34.6 billion, the largest chunk of the $243 billion invested globally. By comparison, the US spent $18.6 billion, the UK $11.2 billion, and the rest of the European Union $10.8 billion in 2010.

China's total installed power capacity currently stands at 962 Gw, of which 10 Gw is nuclear, 213.4 Gw is hydro-based, and 41.8 Gw is wind-based. Solar capacity is still small but is building up. Construction is to begin soon on what's billed as the world's biggest solar power plant, a 2 Gw facility in Guangdong province. By 2020, China's nuclear capacity is expected to reach 86 Gw, hydroelectricity 320 Gw, wind energy 150 Gw, and solar energy at least 2.5 Gw.

Of course, coal, oil and gas remain critical, and China is fully aware of the deep environmental implications of its conventional fuel dependence. As much as 1,000 Gw, of its projected power capacity of 1,600 Gw by 2020, will still have to be based on fossil fuels to meet its energy demand. That's why energy efficiency is as high in Beijing's mind as the push for alternative energy. China is said to have cut its coal use by nearly 2 billion tonnes over the past five years by replacing small, inefficient thermal power plants with bigger and technologically superior ones.

The other country in Asia where "green" growth is the state religion is South Korea. Bent on meeting at least 11 per cent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2030, against 5 per cent this year, South Korea has used the bulk of its $38 billion economic stimulus package to promote "green" plans and will spend 2 per cent of its annual GDP over the next five years for the same purpose.

It has set a target of 1 Gw of solar capacity by 2012 and recently unveiled plans for a massive, 2.5 Gw wind farm to come up over the next ten years in the West Sea off Jeolla Province. With an investment of $8.3 billion, the wind project, the biggest announced wind power project in the world, will be fully commissioned by 2019.

As China and South Korea write the clean energy story for Asia, investing billions of dollars into new research and development as well as greener transportation and better manufacturing technologies, a different but equally significant story is unfolding for them — the prospect of their leadership of the global alternative energy market. It's already causing worries across Europe and the US.

Last year, half the world's production of solar panels came from Chinese manufacturers, who now have 43 per cent of the global and 23 per cent of the US photovoltaic panel market. Five of the top 10 solar panel makers in the world are from China, and, indicative of things to come, the US' third largest solar panel manufacturer, Evergreen Solar, recently shut down its factory in Massachussetts and moved its entire operation to Wuhan in China.

South Korean companies are late in the game but gearing up strongly. Encouraged by falling world prices of solar panels – by two-thirds in the last three years – and anticipated spurt in global demand (Standard & Poor's reckons global solar cell capacity will increase by a whopping 39 per cent to 23.2 Gw this year from 17.1 Gw in 2010), these companies are investing heavily in developing their new-energy businesses and even buying assets abroad. Samsung, for example, is to spend $20.6 billion on solar cell production and other growth projects over the next decade. Posco has teamed up with a California company to build a 300 Mw solar power plant in Boulder City, Nevada, able to service some 60,000 households.

Placed against BP's recently published Energy Outlook 2030, the significance of these developments becomes immediately clear. According to BP, between now and 2030, renewables' contribution to energy growth will rise from 5 per cent to 18 per cent, and the demand for alternative energy will overtake the need for oil for the first time ever.







Enrolment in schools has increased substantially over the past few years. Out-of-school children now account for a little over 3 per cent of rural children in the age group 6 to 4 years, down from 6.6 per cent in 2005, according to the Annual State of Education Report (ASER) 2010 (Rural). For most states, the battle is on to reach out to difficult-to-access areas, to reduce the dropout ratio and, more crucially, to raise the quality and effectiveness of schooling.

Government data provided through the District Information System on Education (DISE) shows government schools continue to play a dominant role in education, with 75 per cent of the children in classes one to five enrolled in government schools in 2007-08. There are, however, huge state-wise variations. Five states/Union Territories – Lakshadweep, Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and Tripura – had more than 90 per cent of children in classes one to five classes enrolled in government schools. At the other end of the spectrum were Manipur, Nagaland, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Puducherry, Meghalaya and Kerala where private school enrolment exceeded 50 per cent. The latest ASER report points out that in rural areas the trend to enrol children in private schools has increased over the years. In 2005 16.3 per cent of children in the age group six to 14 years attended private schools; by 2010, this share rose to 24.3 per cent. Here again, states differ — according to provisional estimates for 2010, Manipur and Kerala have more than 50 per cent of the children in this age group enrolled in private schools, while this was less than 6 per cent in West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar and Tripura. (Click here for graph)

Interestingly, ASER 2010 also shows that in Tripura, West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, more than half the children enrolled in classes four to eight attend paid tuition classes. These are states with a very high share of government school enrolment, indicating that there could be major constraints of access to private schools, while parents understand the limitations of public schools and are willing to make that additional payment towards tuition. Clearly, the poor service delivery in government schools in these states doesn't match the aspirations and needs of the people in rural areas.

There is, of course, a marked difference in the learning abilities imparted in government and private schools, as ASER tests have consistently shown. Fifty per cent of class-five children in government schools could read class-two text — this was 64 per cent in private schools. ASER also shows a decline in reading and arithmetic abilities in both government and private schools over time in rural areas. Private schools, therefore, also suffer from significant drawbacks.

Over the last decade, there has been a big push to increase the number of schools, enrolment and facilities in schools. Although it cannot be denied that progress has been made, it is important to recognise the fact that as more and more children join the schooling system, there has to be a clear focus on raising abilities, especially at primary levels to ensure that these early years do not go to waste and basic levels of learning are imparted universally.








In his Foreword to The Chawls of Mumbai, sub-titled Galleries of Life (ImprintOne 2010), Charles Correa writes, "In cities around the world, housing for workers usually gets short shrift. It evolves under the strictest constraints – of cost, space, materials, and so forth. Yet ironically, this is what generates its singular character, specific to that city and to that time." He goes on to describe the housing provided for workers in India by both government and private agencies as "brutal". And, with the rest of the thinking population, he laments that, for instance, the mill areas, once a vital part of the life and economy of the city, have been replaced by "the kind of meaningless buildings that could be built anywhere. In that sense, truly they dishonour the sites on which they stand."


Edited by Neera Adarkar, The Chawls of Mumbai is a lively (if pricey) volume offering varied perspectives—personal stories of people who lived there, sociological and literary perspectives. There's an essay on the depiction of chawls in Bollywood films, and occasional references to Marathi writers who have recalled chawl life in bitter or nostalgic tones. There are architectural drawings indicating the distribution of space in various types of chawls, an essay on working-class housing in Britain, photographs, among them the historic one of Tilak at a public meeting during the Ganesh festival in 1890, in the courtyard of Shantaram Chawl, Girgaon. The meeting was attended by Mahatma Gandhi and Mohammad Ali Jinnah. And there's part of the film script of Kiran Nagarkar's Ravan and Eddie.


I came across some interesting and unexpected comments in the essays. Neera Adarkar, the editor (she is an architect and urban researcher), talks of "rightly opposing the political imposition of the nomenclature Mumbai over Bombay by the chauvinist political party…" Arvind Adarkar, currently Director of the Academy of Architecture, Mumbai, writes, "My teenage years, at least for a short while, were influenced by the presence of the Shiv Sena in Girgaon. The Shiv Sena started vocational guidance coaching classes, operated ambulances…and compelled the government to act on local civic issues…" But in 1969, when the Shiv Sena attacked South Indians and their establishments, Adarkar decided that what he had witnessed "cured me of the charisma of the Shiv Sena".


Namdeo Dhasal, who like many other writers, lived in various chawls at one time or another writes about the problem of common toilets for an entire floor of families. (He doesn't say whether they had running water or not, but from what I've seen, I assume not). He mentions a poem he wrote "which describes the whole business of defecating in a slum. It is an extreme kind of experience. It would be difficult for people who live a normal urban life, or for the well-to-do, or the monopolists of literature who guard the status quo of literary traditions, to imagine these things that lie beyond their life experience."


For Smruti Koppikar, a journalist in Inner Spaces, Women's Voices" says, Chawls were designed by men, meant for men…Mumbai was, and grew, predominantly as a city of male migrants. Increasingly, men brought their mothers and wives to the city, to the chawl life, pitchforking many of these women into completely strange, unfathomable, even unhygienic and unlivable conditions."


And today? In "Overview", Sandeep Pendse, Neera Adarkar and Maura Finkelstein conclude that "the current rulers certainly prove themselves to be more 'colonial' in mentality than the white British. They too wish the 'natives' were not there, as citizens; that they would quietly perform their tasks and disappear into the woodwork…Postindustrial re-urbanisation or renewal of cities has brought in planning in a massive way. That remodelling is, however, predicated on a notion of a city without the poor and without the toilers."









DEVAS Multimedia, a Bangalore-based company, is being accused of scamming taxpayers to get a large chunk of radio spectrum at below market prices. While it is true that state-owned Antrix Corporation, the business end of Isro, signed an agreement with Devas, several government agencies shot this down. The telecom ministry's no-go, as early as 2007, is crucial: a unit called the wireless planning cell (WPC) within the ministry is the agency that allocates radio spectrum to different users. That is why, ultimately, no spectrum was given to Devas; no money, however little, changed hands and no taxpayer got scammed. If Devas and some people within Antrix had dreamt up a scam, their plans never came to fruition. It is possible to find out the people responsible, but it might be hard to convict them of a crime that, luckily, was never committed. The Devas incident by itself is relatively trivial, but it sheds light on one very important aspect of policy: spectrum ownership and its allocation.


The government now chops up the entire wireless radio frequency range into 22 different user groups, including mobile services, radio location, astronomy, maritime and aeronautical radio, television broadcast and many categories of satellite communication. This is an anachronism and will become more so, as technology platforms for wireless communication converge rapidly. It will become pointless, for example, for the space department to own and control large chunks of bandwidth as communication technology improves. Today, at least 11 different categories of the spectrum are reserved for use in various functions for satellites, like broadcast, earth exploration, radio navigation and so on. The Devas incident should be an eye-opener: the company was asking for radio frequency reserved for satellite communication to beam WiFi applications for smart phones. As communications, wireless and data transfer technologies converge, the government should take off its blinkers and devise a policy that allows any user to dynamically bid for chunks of spectrum that are available at any time. A spectrum exchange is an idea whose time has come.






REPORTS say the all-party meeting, called by the Leader of the House, Pranab Mukherjee, has made some progress on resolving the impasse following the Opposition's insistence on a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the 2G spectrum allocation issue. Indications are the government might agree to the demand after a debate on a motion it moves in Parliament, with the Budget session due to start on February 21. There is an immediate need for a compromise so that Parliament can function, given that core issues of governance and democracy are at stake. To that end, the Opposition must act on its stated commitment to ensure Parliamentary functioning. That said, it is the Opposition's right and responsibility to raise issues to make the government accountable. Indeed, in this instance, the Opposition can take some credit for mounting the kind of political pressure that led to the ouster of A Raja from the telecom ministry. But to further obstruct the functioning of Parliament would mean subverting the very idea of a participatory democratic system and the role of the House itself. The government, on its part, must acknowledge the depth of the trust deficit that has emerged after the spate of scams, and must take even more unambiguous steps to punish the guilty.


It is clear that the tussle over the JPC, and the stalling of Parliament, are part of a political battle on managing public perceptions over corruption. But there also is logic in the argument as to just what a JPC might achieve, given that any report from such a body has no penal consequences. The fate of the last two JPCs, on the Bofors and Harshad Mehta scams, is testimony to that fact. In any case, the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, looking into the 2G allocation, is to be examined by the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, headed by senior BJP and Opposition leader Murli Manohar Joshi. It is as much of a presumption to assume the JPC will succeed as the idea that the PAC will fail. It is critical that India is rid of systemic corruption. But that can't be a plank to be used politically while trampling all over Parliament. Let there be a debate on the JPC in Parliament, a genuine one, not displays of obduracy.








THE ban on the telecast of foreign cookery shows by Iran's state-run TV channels is clearly more than a fatwa on that western disease: obesity. Imposed as part of its general distrust of unhealthy western practices, the idea probably is to protect fundamental Iranian cuisine from the dishy, silver-tongued cookery evangelicals favoured by the food channels to peddle their persuasive mantras to achieve culinary nirvana. It's but a small step from hamburgers and hotdogs, pastas and pizzas to going the whole hog, after all. It is not surprising, therefore, that Iranian authorities are taking a dim view of the conversion of righteous believers to the idolatrous cults of the domestic goddess and other alluring kitchen divinities. An added concern, surely, would be the unnecessarily lubricious nature of some of the programmes, wherein the spice and steaminess of some of the food has less to do with the nature of the ingredients than the appearance, personality and mannerisms of those proselytising celebrity chefs. Many of these shows then end up stirring up more than just a good sauce or stew, hardly making it the stuff of healthy family viewing.


However, banishing treacherous foreign cuisines from television screens in totality may not be the best way to ensure that the Iranian palate does not hanker for perfidious flavours. Far better would be to see to it that the average Iranian himself rejects any foreign recipe that does not conform to his idea of taste as the redoubtable Indian has done time and again. Iranians should simply follow the Indian model of adopt and adapt, cleverly turning potentially dangerous foreign infidels into perfectly palatable desi icons, like the keema pizza and aloo tikki burger.





SINCE the credit crisis unfolded, India's policymakers have been aggressive in quickly returning growth to pre-crisis levels. We believe the ideal outcome for India would have been to manage GDP growth closer to its potential of 7.5-8% for the first 12 months immediately following the credit crisis — and then gradually to push growth higher as investment growth accelerated, lifting potential growth. However, as we have highlighted in this column earlier, this aggressive approach from policymakers to push growth with the support of fiscal and monetary policy has been accompanied by macro stability risks in form of: (a) rise in inflation; (b) high current account deficit; and (c) tight interbank liquidity and disruptive rise in short-term rates. We do believe that the loose fiscal policy is more to blame than monetary policy for these macro imbalances


As the policymakers continue to walk on a tight rope in a bid to push growth, avoiding any major instability risks would have required a supportive external environment. Unfortunately, the sharp rise in global commodity prices and food supply shocks have made the task of managing the macro imbalances even more difficult. CRB metals and CRB food prices have increased by 49%, and 36% respectively since June 2010. Strong demand and rise in food and other commodity prices have ensured that headline inflation (WPI) has remained above the RBI's comfort zone of 5-5.5% for the past 13 months. Headline inflation averaged 9.2% during this period. While loose fiscal policy, coupled with supply shocks, has been the key driver, a delay in monetary tightening only added to complexity of inflation management. We often hear the argument from investors that considering that WPI inflation is highly influenced by global commodity prices and food, why should the RBI respond to this supply-side inflation. We believe that in an environment where domestic demand growth is strong, the chances of supplyside pressures translating into rise in inflation expectations are high.


Once inflation rises, the RBI needs to hike policy rates to ensure that banks hike deposit rates in time. While policymakers have delayed policy rate hikes (resulting in banks delaying deposit and lending rate hikes) to avoid an adverse impact on growth, the rise in inflation expectations meant that households have shied away from bank deposit, eventually invoking a disruptive rise in cost of capital. For instance, bank deposit rates have risen by 150-200 basis points over the past two months compared with the 150 basis points rise cumulatively in the preceding 12 months.


In other words, policy rates needed to rise in response to the rise in inflation (even if it was driven by supply-side) to contain the rise in inflation expectations and ensure that domestic saving rate is maintained to fund domestic investment. In any case, we believe that, though late, the bulk of monetary policy tightening has now taken place with short-term market rates already at peak levels. We expect lending rates to follow the deposit rate hikes with the usual time lag.


Why fiscal policy reversal is more critical? An aggressive rise in government spending which boosted consumption at a time when credit crisis had pulled investments to GDP down has been at the heart of India's recent inflation problem. As the global credit crisis impaired capital markets, investment declined from 38.1% of GDP in FY2008 to 34.5% of GDP in FY2009. More importantly, the most productive investment component — private corporate capex — declined to 11.5% of GDP in FY2009 from a peak of 17.3% of GDP in FY2008. In the face of this decline in investment to GDP (read: production capacity), the central government pursued a massive 4% of GDP increase in total expenditure (read: consumption). The Centre's fiscal deficit has risen from 2.5% of GDP in FY2008 to 6.3% of GDP in FY2010. While the headline deficit has fallen in FY2011, thanks to one-off revenues, we estimate that central government expenditure relative to GDP in FY2011 will remain close to peak levels of 15.5% of GDP.


WE believe that government expenditure in India tends to be less efficient and is biased towards boosting consumption by way of transfer to households. In F2011, we estimate that about 86% of total government expenditure is revenue expenditure. While investment to GDP has risen from the trough levels, it is still far from pre-crisis peak levels. Hence, the continuation of such high levels of government expenditure in nature of consumption in FY2012 will only add to inflationary pressures.


The government needs to follow its pre-guided deficit reduction plan. In its medium fiscal plan published in 2010, the finance ministry indicated that central government will aim to cut its deficit to 4.8% of GDP in FY2012 from an estimated 5% (Morgan Stanley estimate) of GDP [excluding one-off 3G and broadband wireless access (BWA) revenues the deficit will be 6.4%] in F2011. We believe achieving this reduction in deficit will be difficult without a meaningful cut in government expenditure growth in FY2012. Even at 4.8% of GDP, the government's overall borrowing programme will remain at broadly similar levels to FY2011. Note the deficit numbers above do not include the potential rise in off-Budget subsidies in oil and fertiliser. In FY2011, the government had the support of $35.5 billion, including $23 billion from 3G and BWA licence fees and $12.5 billion of open market operations (OMO) involving buy back of government securities by the RBI. However, in the absence of this one-off support, the bond market may suffer badly if the government does not follow its pre-guided path on deficit reduction in FY2012, resulting in crowding out of private sector investments.


Some argue that the growth in government expenditure will remain high as there are five state elections this year. There is a possibility that the government will target high expenditure growth with one-off revenue ideas. However, boosting expenditure growth via one-off revenue growth will push consumption growth when capacity utilisation is already tight, keeping inflation pressures alive. In this context, we believe the Budget announcement on February 28 will assume significance. We believe the government needs to target single-digit expenditure growth of 6-7% in FY2012, which would be the lowest in seven years.


(The author is Asia Pacific economist     and managing director with     Morgan Stanley, Singapore)








SOON after the Tunisian people cast off dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and forced him to flee the country after decades in power, Egypt's foreign minister Ahmed Abul Gheit was asked what he thought of the chances of a mass uprising against the long-standing rule of President Hosni Mubarak. His answer was characteristic of all dictatorships that assume, over time, an aura of infallibility. "It's all nonsense," he said. Just days later, events in Egypt proved the fallacy of that supercilious remark.


Far away in Beijing, the Communist Party leadership was not taken in by any such complacency. As popular unrest spread from Tunisia to Egypt and Yemen, the Chinese authorities noted the contagion in the Arab street with increasing alarm. For them, the protests were one of those split-screen moments that took place during the Tiananmen Square in 1989. Comments mentioning Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation in December fanned the unrest in Tunisia, and Tahrir Square in Cairo were blocked on microblogging sites, and government-run newspapers are now giving scant coverage to the Egyptian protestors' demand for democracy and an end to corruption. As these demands echoed the Tiananmen Square of 1989, whenever Tunisia and Egypt are mentioned these days in reports, it is only to depict the protestors in an inglorious light.


Such responses have been the default position of the Chinese leadership, especially since the advent of the social networking and microblogging era. The Chinese have experienced this during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in the 'year of anniversaries' in 2009 and during the July 2010 upheaval in Xinjiang. Popular uprisings — anywhere — are even more galling when the authorities pride themselves on China's 'peaceful rise'.

At first glance, it seems the Chinese authorities were over-reacting. They have no good reason to lose sleep over the political convulsions in North Africa, where it's the combination of mass misery and decadeslong tyranny that has proved combustible. The striking fact about contemporary China, apart from its economic miracle, is the popular apathy towards political change. It seems that the passion and fervour the prodemocracy movement raised in the three months of 1989 have simply evaporated. If 'consultative authoritarianism' brings stable economic development, nobody would have the stomach for democracy.


The Chinese people may remember the dark days of the Cultural Revolution when millions were uprooted from their homes to work in the rural collectives in sub-human conditions. They also remember the disastrous Great Leap Forward in which an estimated 30 million people died of starvation, even though China was exporting grain at the time. No one desires a return to the great unknown. Various other factors, too, contribute to the resilience of the Communist Party's power, including regime institutionalisation, suppression and cooptation of the political opposition, and stringent restriction on democracy through what theorists call the technique of "thoughtwork".


But these are merely comforting thoughts for the Chinese leadership. Even though it periodically alternates between tom-toming its growth record and nationalism arising out of the country's newly-acquired power and wealth, it is acutely aware of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the 'colour revolutions' that swept different authoritarian regimes out of power. The resilience of the Communist Party's power rests, above all, on its ability to increase the people's standard of living. But then, the either-or trade between wealth and fundamental human liberties is more delusional than it would appear. Tunisia's ousted strongman had also ensured economic growth, but it was a sudden high blip in inflation, which eroded the standards of living, that lit the spark of popular fury.


The growth model anchored on large state-owned companies, a minimum 8% rise in GDP, mainly driven by export industries, and tighter political controls has not significantly improved China's report card on inclusive development. High inflation was one of the reasons that triggered Tiananmen, 1989. And if growth slows, unemployment rises and inflation shoots up, one can expect the unexpected in China too, microblogging or no microblogging.








YET more laws and VIP visits to the hospital beds of the victims or families of the deceased, as the case may be, will not stem the rising tide of crimes against women. Only democratic politics can. Political parties that are serious about the subject have to move beyond blaming the police and the government of the day, understand the issues involved, internalise the values that will make a difference and get its cadre and followers to actively enforce these norms in public life.


In India, it is easy to get inured to the raw deal that women get: female foeticide, neglect of infant girls leading to higher mortality and stunted bodies and brains, girls being withdrawn from school on reaching puberty, child marriages, privileging of sexuality, when it comes to women, over all other attributes as a human being, demands for dowry, often leading to violence, frequently fatal, in the marital home, a widespread notion that male hands have the licence to wander over the woman's body in crowded public spaces — these are unpleasant but commonplace parts of the Indian reality. Yet, some recent incidents shock even those who have slid into weary cynicism.


ADalit girl in UP is kidnapped, supposedly rescued by an elected representative, raped by the putative rescuer and then framed in false cases and put in jail. Another Dalit girl is attacked when she resists an attempt to rape her: her ears are chopped off and she is grievously stabbed several times. In Kerala, which ranks the highest in social indicators among states, a one-armed beggar pushes a young woman, lone passenger in a women-only compartment of a passenger train, out of the train after she resists his attempt to snatch her purse, jumps out after her and rapes the unconscious and badly injured girl.


These incidents have led to public outrage and media outcry. These tend to be evanescent, lasting till the next outrage or scam hogs the headlines, leaving the basic issues unattended. What are the basic issues? Gender inequality, layered by social inequality, is the basic issue. This gets compounded by poor laws, worse enforcement of the law and lax policing.


The plight of the unfortunate victim of violence in Kerala has raised questions about policing, the propriety of attaching the 'ladies' compartment' at the very end of the train, the failure to extend the length of railway platforms to match the length of trains, how unsafe it is for young women to travel unaccompanied and so on. The ridiculous extension of the discussion is, of course, in the realm of examining the position of the stars before a woman sets out on a journey.


Why not address the basic issue of gender segregation of public spaces, like train compartments? The act of segregating women into a separate space is based on the presumption that when men and women are placed together, men will indeed misbehave. Only taking such misbehaviour for granted can lead to the prescription of a separate space for women. Does such taking of male misbehaviour for granted send out a signal of helplessness against it, if it does not legitimise such misbehaviour altogether?


Mental disorder apart, conduct in society is determined by social norms, which in turn depend on social values, and the disposition to abide by social norms.


Values that see women primarily as objects of sexual desire, with no right to agency of their own, lead to behaviour known as eve teasing. The opposite value is neither denial of sexuality nor sexual anarchy but democratic equality, the woman's right to be treated on par with men as they go about the business of life, including in sexual choice.


This is blasphemy as far as traditional society is concerned. But democracy calls for such apostasy. A political party's commitment to democracy is not complete till it actively commits itself to women's equality as well. It is imperative to appreciate the difference between ensuring the security of women, conceived as a noble duty somewhat on par with preventing damage to precious paintings by visitors to a museum, and working for women's rights.


Policing will be a necessary part of both. But policing to enforce a societal norm is different from policing to secure the safety of objects. The democratic movement of Kerala has, quite clearly, failed the women of the state. The youth organisations, trade unions, etc that mobilise themselves on any number of issues do not act to enforce what they all would agree is an acceptable societal norm: women's equality with men.


Things are more difficult outside Kerala. Organisations that can sensitise their own members and society at large, and act to converge conduct towards desired societal norms, do not exist. They have to be created, there is no shortcut.


Political parties that take up women's equality as an integral part of democratic advance are likely to be pleasantly surprised to find a huge vote bank rooting for them. But this calls for a democratic movement, which is different from electoral mobilisation or the magnetic draw of charisma.









SHAKESPEARE supposedly pooh-poohed the primacy of names. "A rose by any other name smells as sweet," the Bard declaimed in Romeo and Juliet. But branding experts have a different take — names play so vital a role in the business of identity that people are willing to go to war over them!


As the play itself shows so poignantly, 'Capulet' is as different from 'Montague' as life is from death. And paradoxical as it may seem, the so-called love hormone oxytocin seems to play a crucial role in fostering xenophobic attitudes based on 'us-versus-them' differentiation. A recent study by Dutch scientists claims to have shown that their country's bad attitude towards Muslims and Germans may be fuelled by the brain hormone. Dutch men were made to inhale oxytocin or a placebo before being subjected to a battery of tests designed to measure social attraction and empathy.


One of the tests involved pairing of Dutch, German or Arabic names with either positive or negative words. Next, the subjects had to select which of the names they would save or sacrifice in hypothetical life or death situations. Those who inhaled oxytocin seemed to be quicker on the draw when it came to choosing Dutch names paired with positive qualities. They were also more likely to sacrifice Arabic and German-sounding names. Their conclusion was that oxytocin supports or enhances bonding and supports "in-group" fidelity.


Their study also put a question mark on the argument that oxytocin was "an indiscriminant love drug or cuddle chemical". The latter is an oxymoron. If anything, decades of research have found that oxytocin promotes selective rather than indiscriminate social bonds; for example, the hormone makes a mother ewe care only for her fleecy lamb even as it inspires male and female voles to mate for life.


Now the million-dollar question is whether such exclusive loyalties confer evolutionary advantage over more inclusive or non-xenophobic mindsets? Again, oxytocin seems to soften fear of novelty that might cause us to automatically reject unfamiliar situations and strangers. So, how does one explain the findings of the Dutch study? Perhaps, the scientists looked at the effects allegedly wrought by the hormone without paying attention to the social context.


 So, what may have come across was a heightened sense of familiarity rather than a burst of racial prejudice.









The Budget is crucial for the opportunity to craft new policy initiatives that send out the signal of an improved investment climate.

In the run-up to the Budget and till the Finance Bill is passed, policymakers may need to pay heed to three separate and unconnected events that will impact the Indian economy and influence policy. China raised its benchmark rates marginally, as a result of which the one-year deposit rates climbed to 3 per cent and lending rates to 6 per cent. On the other side of the world, the American economy showed signs of prospective step-up, with construction companies confident about rising home sales, the impact of which will be felt all across the economy. And, in India, portfolio capital is pulling out in probable anticipation of more lucrative returns back home in the US. What do these events foretell?

The Chinese move to curb inflation and the spike in benchmark rates, the third since October 2010, is not the last word on the rising threat of overheated asset prices. The official response to an overheating economy has been more tardy than the Reserve Bank of India's has been to domestic prices, but then Chinese officials have to contend with a far more modest rate of inflation compared to India's double-digit spikes. Even so, the Chinese economy might well witness another round of hikes in policy rates and higher reserve requirements on the banking industry as the asset price bubble is far from having been pricked. In the event, during the current year, Chinese growth rates may be tempered just as the US economy begins to build up. For India, the two movements spell a challenging opportunity for business. With China's headway in exports, India will have to fight hard not just to retain its existing markets but also branch out into newer markets in the global economy. Inflation in India is worrying because it is not as demand-driven as the Chinese one; being primarily fuelled by supply constraints, it is less amenable to monetary interventions and will hurt India more than it would a China that is free of supply glitches. As for the third event, the fading charm of Indian stocks may have to do with US portfolio managers re-jigging their portfolios for the recovery back home, but policymakers can take heart from the keen interest foreign direct investors have in the economy, both for infrastructure and retail trade.

Against this backdrop, the Budget is crucial for the message it can send out for fresh investments in the core sector and not just equity injections in or buy outs of, existing firms. They would call for substantial policy initiatives for a more conducive investment climate than the present one.



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL





Our Father, who art in pixels,
linked be Thy name,
Thy website come, Thy Net be done,
on Explorer as it is on Firefox.
Give us this day our daily app,
and forgive us our spam,
as we forgive those
who spam against us,
and lead us not into aggregation,
but deliver us from e-vil. Amen.

Nothing is sacred anymore, even the sacred. And even that most secret ritual of the Roman Catholic faith, the veiled black confessional box.

Once funeral homes began live-streaming funerals, it was probably inevitable. But now confessions are not only about touching the soul, but touching the screen.

With the help of two priests, three young Catholic men from South Bend, Indiana, have developed an iPhone app to guide Catholics through — and if they are lapsed, back to — confession.

It shot to global success, ranking No. 42 on the bestselling app list, according to iTunes.

The trio got the idea, surprisingly, from the Pope.

When I was little, the nuns urged us to find the face of Christ in pictures of landscapes — snowfalls and mountains.

In a letter last May, Pope Benedict XVI urged priests to help people see the face of Christ on the Web, through blogs, websites and videos; priests could give the Web a "soul", he said, by preaching theology through new technology.

"Confession: a Roman Catholic App" is not a session with a virtual priest who restores your virtue with a penance of three Hail Mary's and three extra gigabytes of memory.

Rather, its developers say, it's a "baby steps" programme that walks you through the Ten Commandments, your examination of conscience and any "custom sins" you might have, then after confession (purportedly) wipes the slate clean so no one sees your transgressions.

"We tried to make it as secure as possible," said Patrick Leinen, a 31-year-old Internet programmer who built the app with his brother, Chip, a hospital systems administrator, and Ryan Kreager, a Notre Dame doctoral candidate.

You still have to go into the real confessional at church to get absolution, and, hopefully, your priest won't be annoyed that you're reading your sins off of a little screen and, maybe, peeking at a football game or shopping site once in a while.

"The whole point is to get you to go to church," said Leinen. He and his fellow programmers got help from two priests, the Rev. Dan Scheidt, the pastor of Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mishawaka, Indiana, and the Rev. Thomas Weinandy of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

They also got an imprimatur — billed as the first for an iPhone and iPad app — from Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne in Indiana. The app offers different questions depending on your age and gender.

For instance, if you sign in as a 15-year-old girl and look under the Sixth Commandment, one of the questions is: "Do I not treat my body or other people's bodies with purity and respect?" If you sign in as a 33-year-old married man, that commandment offers this query: "Have I been guilty of masturbation?"

Children are asked if they pout or use bad language. Teenagers are asked if they are a tattletale or bully. Women are asked if they've had an abortion or encouraged anyone to have an abortion and if they're chaste. Men are asked about the latter two, as well.

The app also tailors the questions if you sign in as a priest or a "religious". For instance, if you say you're a female and try to select "priest" as your vocation, a dialogue box appears that says "sex and vocation are incompatible". So much for modernity.

Under the Sixth Commandment, men and women are asked: "Have I been guilty of any homosexual activity?" Priests, however, are not. They are asked if they flirt.

Father Scheidt assured me that the app "isn't a morality textbook. It's just meant to prompt discussion".

"I have always allowed cheat sheets in the confessional for people who want to be sure they get all of their sins," he said of the ritual that can prompt so much anxiety. "Essentially, this provides an electronic list. Human relations are shifting more and more to being mediated by some of these gadgets. If this is the bridge for people to have a more meaningful encounter about what's deepest in their heart, I think it's going to serve the good."

He said when he was giving confessions on Tuesday evening, he was surprised when a parishioner came in with a phone glowing with the Confession app.

"Seeing somebody looking back and forth is initially a little strange", he said. "But I found that it really caused the person to focus and recollect more."

At least we know now that Nietzsche was wrong. God isn't dead. His server may be down though.






According to the latest disclosures from WikiLeaks, in a remarkable display of unemotional national interest, the United States agreed to supply details of every Trident nuclear missile they had given the British to the Russians as a bargaining chip for the America-Russia Arms Control Treaty that US President Barack Obama will sign soon. The fact that the Americans also spied on British foreign ministers for gossip on their personal lives is par for the course. All intelligence agencies do this to all their friends.

The recent upheaval in Egypt has also seen another example of American real politics in action. For three decades, President Hosni Mubarak was the presiding deity in Egypt — he was plied with more than $1 billion annually, and democracy and freedom of speech or economic development were never serious issues. In fact, economic dependence helped American farmers — Egypt was the world's largest importer of wheat, and they bought most of it from the US, and its armed forces were totally dependent on US largesse and weaponry. Yet almost overnight, Mr Mubarak became persona non grata in Washington as the US prepared for a change in the leadership in Cairo. Not so long ago it was Cairo from where Mr Obama made his famous speech to the Muslim, essentially Arab, world in 2009. Mr Mubarak's possible fate should be a stark reminder to all dictators, allies, friends and wannabes that when a major power acts, it does so only in its perceived national interest. This is not a value judgment but a reiteration of fact.

The apparent suddenness of the uprising in Tunisia followed by Egypt does leave a few unanswered questions. Undoubtedly, there were genuine grievances — both economic and political — that the average person faced along with a repressive regime. But any movement of the nature seen on the streets of Egypt's major cities requires a leadership to guide the movement, co-ordination, organisation and funds to sustain it for some length of time because there is no "best before" date in such cases. The next question is whether there was a failure of intelligence or intent or was this ignored both in Cairo and Washington for different reasons.

Initially the impression was that the Mubarak regime was going to follow the Rangoon 1988 model to try and suppress the movement. The Burma generals had first withdrawn the police, then a mysterious jail break at Rangoon's largest jail, Insein, took place followed by looting and lawlessness, followed by an Army shootout to suppress the movement. A similar attempt to discredit the movement in Cairo did not succeed partly because quite early into the movement the non-resident Egyptian Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei was para-dropped into Cairo as the chosen leader of the movement — and as an acceptable alternative to Mr Mubarak. The Burma junta did not have to deal with Facebook, Twitter and cellphones. The only TV channel they had to contend with was BBC. The movement in Egypt gives the impression of being a largely urban affair — wherever TV could reach and not in small towns like Aswan, Luxor or in the villages.

Considerable credit is being given to social network sites for the spontaneity of the uprising. There has been enough Egyptian activity on the Internet for members of the US Senate to ask if the US Intelligence failed to notice that a revolution was taking place in cyberspace. The April 6 Youth Movement which gave a call for a "Day of Anger" on January 25 was actually set up on Facebook on April 6, 2008, and the Kifaya (Enough) Movement, associated with Egypt's largest Opposition party, the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood), which backs Mr Baradei's National Association for Change coalition, was set up in 2004. Thus the organisational levers existed when the anti-Mubarak movement was launched and the Ikhwan will be relevant in any future democratic dispensation in Cairo. Social network sites may help bring down a government or launch a movement but they cannot govern.

Recent commentaries from the US suggest an attempt to portray the Ikhwan as a moderate force. But this discourse is similar to the good/moderate Taliban discourse in the Afghan context — it ignores Ikhwan's essentially radical and violent creed. And in any case, future inevitability of having to deal with such groups defines this new discourse. A decline in terrorist incidents does not mean the movement is dead for they may merely be lying low; nor does an increase in incidents indicate that the government is losing. Nevertheless, there is far too much at stake for Europe and America in the region from the Maghreb to the Caucasus to let it slip away from its dominance.

The Ikhwan has taken advantage of Western beliefs in democracy and liberalism for its demonstrations and Western technology of the Internet and cellphones to organise the demonstrations. There is no need to establish ownership of the movement because any association with the movement would frighten away the West and the movement may well die. The Ikhwan probably assesses its opportunity to establish ownership of the government and that will possibly come in September by when Mr Mubarak would have gone. It therefore feels it is prudent to keep a low profile and just use the momentum till then. Meanwhile, it will make all the right and responsible statements about honouring past treaties.

Whatever happens in or by September, the region is not going to be the same. Israel, with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in the Lebanon, would be watching events in Egypt most closely to see if the Brotherhood emerges stronger. Jordan and Syria too seem restless, Iraq remains unsettled and the Yemeni President's future is uncertain at a time when the country faces an Al Qaeda-inspired insurgency. The Saudis may feel somewhat reassured that it is the Ikhwan which may have a future role in Egypt and not Al Qaeda. The Iranians would be both apprehensive about the emergence of a regime dominated by a radical Sunni organisation and triumphant about the decline of US influence. The Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei in one of his rare appearances at the Friday prayers supported the Egyptians' fight for dignity and honour while describing Mr Mubarak as a "servant" of the US. He described the developments as a "real earthquake", rather like Hillary Clinton calling these a "perfect storm".

It is still early days and no one has ever had a perfect storm. Come September and we may know better.

- Vikram Sood is a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency





With the Leader of the Lok Sabha, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, holding a discussion with the Opposition parties on Tuesday on the conduct of Parliament's forthcoming Budget Session, there appears to be a sense — communicated to the media by the Opposition parties — that the fog might be clearing on the issue of a joint parliamentary committee probing the 2G spectrum scam, and that the government might be coming round to accepting the Opposition demand. However, this optimism might be premature. With the Budget Session less than a fortnight away, it is natural that political parties would return to the question of forming a JPC to probe the 2G scam, a demand initially made by the BJP and the Left and one which comprehensively derailed the Winter Session two months ago. The Congress had resisted a JPC probe. Instead, it professed its faith in Parliament's Public Accounts Committee, now chaired by senior BJP leader, Mr Murli Manohar Joshi, doing the job. The government went out of its way to give the PAC an investigative adjunct to facilitate the inquiry, and the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, broke from precedent to offer to appear before the PAC. The BJP was not persuaded and continued to insist on a JPC probe. It is, however, evident that in recent weeks the political situation has registered some change. Other than the BJP and its NDA allies, the rest of the Opposition has subtly signalled leaving behind its insistence on the JPC issue by privileging the running of Parliament over the path the inquiry into 2G should follow, although at the formal level they have not abandoned the JPC demand. In the last session of Parliament the JPC demand had gathered considerable force because the entire Opposition appeared united on it, and some parties that technically support the UPA government but oppose it on key issues also favoured the JPC route. That appears not to be the case now. The Left, and the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav, seem not to want to be on the same page as the BJP as elections are looming in Kerala, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. They realise that parties that stalled Parliament over the JPC issue have not earned public sympathy. Many who oppose the government are unhappy about Parliament not being allowed to function, particularly when the government has no difficulty about the 2G case being probed by the PAC. In short, the government is not avoiding a parliamentary probe. In the event, the non-BJP Opposition is these days busy canvassing the importance of letting Parliament transact its business. After the Tuesday meeting some Opposition leaders had quoted Mr Mukherjee as saying that no price was too high to pay for the sake of letting Parliament function. It is this which raised hopes among a few about a JPC probe materialising. It is noteworthy that neither Mr Mukherjee nor his party has said anything to indicate that their position on the JPC has changed.






Shows a loser's desperation

In politics, one plus one does not equal to two. With the merger of the Praja Rajyam (PR), the Congress remains the same while the PR gets decimated. After the PR proved to be a damp squib in the polls, several veterans deserted it and its founder Chiranjeevi's brother, Yuvarajyam leader Pavan Kalyan, went into a shell.

Chiranjeevi was indeed a superstar with a mega fan-following. However, that substantially depleted with improper distribution of party positions and irrational choice of candidates to contest. While Chiranjeevi's U-turn on Telangana reduced the popularity of the PR in that region, it did not substantially help him in other sub-regions either. Will Chiranjeevi carry anything into the Congress other than a small slice of support from his own Kapu community?

With the number of TV channels in the state that are hostile to the Congress increasing from two to four or five, anti-Congress comments are used as weapons by both the TD and the Jagan Mohan Reddy group.

That the 126-year-old Congress is anxious to embrace the three-year old PR reflects its inferiority complex and defeatist tendency. In its eagerness to have someone to pull in the crowds, the Congress is not bothered about the message that it is sending out.

After Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy's death, perhaps the Congress high command believes that there is no one to lead the party in the state. Instead of nurturing a state leader, Delhi preferred Chiranjeevi. It is strange that the Congress showed more confidence in him than its own leaders.

- Prof Madabhushi Sridhar, coordinator, Centre for Media Law and Public Policy, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad

Congress now seems relaxed

Chiranjeevi saw an opportunity in the Congress crisis. But he landed in the Congress while the latter is on a difficult wicket.

Will Chiranjeevi become part of the problem or part of the solution for the Congress? I think the merger of Praja Rajyam will benefit the Congress. First, Chiranjeevi will be an added strength for the national party. This is especially so as the merger will enable the Congress government in AP to come out of the numerical crisis in the wake of the revolt of some party MLAs who have a proximity to Jagan Mohan Reddy. The majority of PR's 16 MLAs are now added to the Congress kitty. With this, the Congress has immediately moved into a comfort zone. In this situation, the party expects to stem dissidence and bring stability. The stability of the government will dissuade some MLAs from joining the Jagan camp.

The virulent manner in which the Jagan camp reacted to the news of the Congress-PR merger shows that it is jittery over the development. It is a well-known fact that his Kapu community strongly rallied behind him in the last election though one cannot call him a leader of any particular community.

As the state polity is divided three ways, even an incremental addition to the traditional Congress vote would turn out to be a dividend for the Congress. The Congress may perhaps be hoping that Chiranjeevi's entry into its fold would steal the thunder of the Jagan camp and make prospective deserters think twice before jumping ship. The Congress will now apply a carrot and stick policy towards dissident MLAs and MPs.

- Prof K. Nageshwar, member of Legislative Council






The problem with most middle-class political movements is that they know whom they don't want, but rarely do they know what they want. This is the case as well in what is going on in Egypt and in other Arab countries currently in the grip of uprisings. Rest assured all these are largely middle-class driven uprisings, emerging from what is called the "blocked elite" — i.e. an educated middle class that feels it has what it takes to become a power-elite but its path is being blocked by a corrupt, unfair and autocratic regime.

Thus whenever this blocked elite does manage to stir up a movement, it is almost always focused on a single personality, and not necessarily the system as such.

The rallying cry in the troubled Arab nations is against despotic individuals, but nobody has a clue what is to follow. The protesters, largely coming from middle and lower middle-class strata of society have so far failed to produce their own organisations that can systematically suggest a political and economic plan and an alternative to what the hated individual symbolises.

Though such movements might be able to topple these individuals, they end up creating a vacuum that is often filled by political entities that may also be against the toppled individual, but their ways are not necessarily in tune with the ideals of politics and society of the middle class. But the question arises, what exactly are middle-class ideals?

In the classical sense they should be democracy, economic stability, good governance and the maintenance of law and order. But in the post-modern world such ideals have become blurred, especially in Muslim countries where the middle class has largely begun to perceive democracy as something akin to populist chaos or a way for the West to impose its own political agenda and values.

The irony is that only a handful of Muslim countries have a democratic system in place, and the most organised opposition to autocratic regimes there is coming from the religious Right.

But in the last two decades or so, though the religious Right has made a lot of headway in penetrating the psyche of the Muslim middle class, people are still not quite sure whether to support the religious groups on political basis as well. The same is the case in Pakistan, in spite the fact that it is one of the few Muslim countries that has seen a number of democratic set-ups. Nevertheless, even here, though religious groups have made deep inroads into the middle-class psyche and this class usually airs these groups' thoughts and anti-West rhetoric, it usually ends up supporting the so-called moderate conservative parties like the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), while the "masses" (at least as voters) have always kept religious parties at bay by voting for various democratic and quasi-secular political parties.

But the vacuum created by even the most positive action by the middle class in most Muslim countries remains. Two examples in this context can further strengthen this theory.

The first is the 1977 protest movement in Pakistan against the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto regime and the other is the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The movement against Bhutto was born out of the frustration the industrial and middle class faced due to the (democratically elected) Bhutto regime's widespread nationalisation policies and its perceived favouring of Sindhis.

The frustrated middle class, which till then was largely liberal and also had progressives in its midst, was not politically organised. For the better part of Bhutto's regime a significant section of the young, urban middle class aligned itself with the Jamat-i-Islami's student wing, the Islami Jamiat Taleba, on campuses and then squarely fell for the religious parties' movement against Bhutto in 1977.

Though this movement raised Islamic slogans, it was really entirely aimed against an individual, Bhutto. Bhutto's gradual weakening in the face of this middle-class uprising generated a vacuum that was conveniently filled by the military, that took over using the same abstract slogans used by the movement, and preying upon middle-class fears of political chaos.

In Iran, the groundwork for what erupted into a full blown revolution against the Shah was undertaken by various secular-liberal and Leftist groups, so much so that influential Iranian Islamic activist-scholar Ali Shariati borrowed heavily from Leftist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and Marxism to attract middle-class attention against the Shah.

The result was desperate groups of middle class Iranians squarely aiming against an autocratic individual, without any alternative plan as such — until the vacuum was filled by the organised political clergy who replaced an autocratic and corrupt monarchy with a faith-based and reactionary regime.

Today, urban middle classes in Muslim countries have begun to shape themselves into vital economic and political entities. But as seen in Egypt and also in Pakistan, this class has failed to elaborate exactly what it wants as a political and economic system. In Pakistan it is somewhat repulsed by populist democracy, fearing that a popularly-elected government too may end up blocking their upwardly mobile ambitions as does an autocratic one.

In the process this class continues to linger as a fragmented set of malcontents, willingly alienated from mainstream political entities, and thus, always susceptible in the end for settling for either the desired rule of an unelected technocrat, or worse, being hijacked by Right-wing aspirations that promise them a check on populist masses-driven "chaos".






The concept and the meaning of this simple sounding word — shanti — goes beyond the realm of our imaginations. To imagine that this concept was given a few hundred thousand years ago, a time which, according to most historians, was a time when the world was roamed by uncivilised barbarians! It defies a logical mind how "uncivilised barbarians" could even imagine shanti — the importance of which even the present day civilised world cannot comprehend. Obviously one need not be a genius to understand who was more civilised.

Our ancestors not only discovered the power of this word but also the way to have complete peace, complete shanti, which is not just being at peace with ourselves but to have peace all round. To elaborate, they realised that being at peace is not possible if only we ourselves are at peace, but there must also be is peace around us. We, the selfish beings of today, cannot think beyond ourselves and just want peace for the self, failing to understand that if there is disturbance around us we can never be peaceful.

Waves, which a being radiates at all times directly, affect his/her immediate environment and the state of the being is dependent in a major way on its immediate environment. A disturbed being will radiate disturbed waves which would affect the complete creation generally, and the immediate environment of the source specifically. Thus, it can be assumed that a person who is in a disturbed state of mind will radiate disturbances. Shanti has the effect of calming it down and making it a law-abiding cell from a rogue cell. For what is shant can never walk the path of destruction...

A point of view, an event, or a situation can be clearly seen and understood if there is no disturbance around. Even a slight disturbance blurs reality. For example, if there is a coin at the bottom of a river bed it can only be seen if the water is clear and still. Even slight ripples and waves affect the clear view.

The key to shanti is stilling the brain, taking the brain to a state of point zero, when even the movement of eyeballs ceases to exist. This is undoubtedly the most difficult state to achieve. Just imagine the power of the person who is able to sit still in a thoughtless state. That is the state when all ripples have died down and the vision is crystal clear.

Anyone who is calm and at peace, or shant, creates a serenity around and people feel good in such people's company. Those who are disturbed or ashant create disturbance around them. This can be explained by the following example: Thousands of years ago our sages had perfected the state of stillness. For them this state was so profound that their age too had come to a standstill. At that time some of them decided to move closer to normal beings, so they moved their dwellings closer to villages. Of course, this also led to an increase in interactions with the local community, as they were worshipped by the locals. After some time the practitioners realised that they were ageing. Looking deeper they realised that these interactions and all the worshipping had touched their ego somewhere and created a ripple. Such a slight ripple in such advanced yogis was enough to distort their vision momentarily, immediately having an effect on the physical.

Our sages understood the deepest of meanings of shanti, which has been described in the following verse.

Om dehu, shanti antariksham
Shanti prithvi
Shanti (r) aapa
Shanti (s) ama
Shanti aushadhaya
Shanti vanaspataya
Shanti Vishwadeva
Shanti Brahma
Om dehu shanti(r)ive, dehu shanti(r)edhi
Shanti sarvagyam, shanti sarvagyam, shanti sarvagyam
Dehu shanti, shanti, shanti, shanti, shanti om.

(First there should be peace in the universe, then on mother earth, then within the plant kingdom, the medicines that we take should be at peace, the Gods around, and Lord Brahma should be at peace. We should be at peace like all of them. There should be shanti all around.)

Only when there is shanti all around, we can be at peace. This is the depth of the knowledge given to us by our ancient sages. This seemingly simple concept is the key to good health, success and wealth.

— Yogi Ashwini is an authority on yoga, tantra and the Vedic sciences. He has recently written a book, Sanatan Kriya: 51 Miracles... And a Haunting.

Contact him at [1]








Darjeeling has been placed on the powder-keg again, as it was 25 years ago. Tuesday's police firing has set the clock back after a semblance of order was restored barely a month ago. Having languished in suspended animation for as long as it has, even an interim arrangement in the Hills may now be impossible to achieve. The police action was hamhanded and thoroughly unprofessional. This is the only charitable construct that can be placed as the administration stumbles from Netai to the Dooars, indeed from South to North Bengal. Of course, both sides are guilty of precipitating the crisis ~ the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha for the khukri attack on a woman home guard. Equally, the response of the district police administration was reckless and mortally so. True, the GJMM had flouted prohibitory orders; but there is no indication that the unarmed morcha procession was sufficiently violent to warrant the firing. The latest tragedy in the Hills exemplifies the abject failure of the police in the task of mob management, a fundamental facet of law-enforcement. The offensive is a symptom of a bumbling administration that quite palpably has lost its moorings. The policemen acted with far greater indignation than they were entitled to. From Nandigram to Sipchu, the Chief Minister has come to preside over a trigger-happy department. And if it isn't the police, it is the cadres. This is the dominant impression that Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee may not be able to dispel at next Sunday's rally at the Brigade Parade Ground. The fallout has been disastrous; the Hills quite literally are on fire.


Was it really necessary to pull the trigger? Were the standard options ~ batons, teargas, rubber bullets and water cannons ~ available? Were they tried and found wanting?  Why did the police have to resort to the decidedly drastic and lethal? Answers to any of these questions are unlikely to be readily available not least because the less harmful options were not given a try. It was the nervous reaction of a generally inactive and politicised force. The immediate response of the Chief Secretary marks a virtual lack of confidence in the police. The paramilitary has been deployed and its strength may be beefed up by moving a part of the force from equally volatile West Midnapore. Still more ominous is that the state has requisitioned the deployment of the Army, reminiscent of the military mobilisation over a four kilometre area in Kolkata to rein in fundamentalists shrilling for Taslima Nasreen's ejection from the city (November 2007). If "Johnny Gurkha" is to save Bengal, the Chief

Minister's state police can now be confined to the lines.




EVEN while conceding that Indian politics often confirms the maxim about "many a slip between cup and lip" there appears some cause for optimism that normality will return to Parliament in at least the initial days of the upcoming Budget session. The track record would confirm that "normality" includes shouting slogans from the well, forcing adjournments, acrimonious exchanges ~ indeed everything that the term "unparliamentary" once suggested. For all their insistence that there would be no deviating from stated positions or compromise it is evident that when they met on Tuesday afternoon both government and opposition leaders were aware that public opinion strongly disfavoured continuing the stand-off that froze the Winter Session: a view also expressed in the President's Address on the eve of Republic Day. Since it is the government's responsibility to "run" Parliament, and it was conscious of the implications of a disturbed Budget session, it would appear to have been the first to step off the "prestige pedestal" that translates into political myopia and petty quibbling; for example, the supposedly subtle difference the Congress had tried to make between a JPC and the Public Accounts Committee. Happily, after the meeting Opposition leaders made a point of stressing that they were not projecting the outcome as a victory, refrained from their customary media-attracting stridency ~ but will they have the moral fibre to concede that the institution of Parliament has suffered severe punishment? When the stand-off had tempers raging Sushma Swaraj had quipped that disruption had proved more effective than debate. Tragically she might turn out to be correct, and have shown the way to more disruption in future.
Conversely, if the government does accept the demand for a JPC probe into the 2G Spectrum scandal ~ only Kapil Sibal contends there was no scam ~ questions will be asked why it had not done so earlier and avoided further widening of a fractured polity. One possible explanation could be that "developments" in the Supreme Court had forced it to seek some cover ~ further assault in Parliament would shred the tainted reputation of the UPA in general, the Prime Minister in particular. While the government's sole troubleshooter, Pranab Mukherjee, is seasoned enough to emerge little scathed from what would add up to backing-off, the incompetence of the ministers for parliamentary affairs stands exposed. Things need not have deteriorated to such a sorry pass. And what can be said of the Congress' spokespersons whose arrogant, inane fulminations could soon leave them stripped of credibility. Replacing Singhvi, Tewari and Natarajan would be mercy-killing ~ or would they regale themselves on their "Three Stooges" image!



Having cancelled the original question papers in almost all subjects for the forthcoming Indian School Certificate examination, there is understandably greater anxiety to ensure cast-iron security for the revised papers. Chiefly to make sure that the second set doesn't get jumbled with the first, a recipe for disaster. So far, so justified. Yet there is no matching anxiety to get to the bottom of the suspected fiddle that led to an unprecedented cancellation across the country only a couple of weeks before the exam. It must be puzzling too that the ISC authorities needed 48 hours to explain why the papers had to be cancelled. The initial speculation covered a variety of factors ~ "leak, major printing error, technical reasons". None of this, as it now turns out. A vehicle, conveying the question papers from the ISC headquarters in Delhi to some part of UP ~ the place has not been disclosed ~ was reported missing in transit.  Admittedly, the papers had to be cancelled as a safeguard against leakage. However, that risk remains substantial even after the release of a new set of questions in all the subjects. Leakage of the previous set can yet afford an idea of the trend of paper-setting this year. Indeed, the disappearance of the vehicle is no less serious than an anticipated leakage, one that needs to be probed as urgently as crafting the revised question papers. It ought not to be difficult to trace the vehicle, assuming that the number-plate and the documents are genuine. The involvement of the transport operators cannot be ruled out; somebody somewhere must have had a finger in what could have turned out to be an extensive scam. The disappearance of the vehicle shall remain a puzzle unless it is worked out with the seriousness that it deserves. This ought to proceed in parallel with the directive to school authorities to have separate security systems in place ~ one for the new set and another for the previous. The Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination has been remarkably prompt in cancelling the exam and despatching the revised question papers. Equally, it cannot evade its responsibility for the disappearance in transit.









Black money is harmful for the economy. It is expended largely on luxury and conspicuous consumption. It is also stashed away in foreign banks. Tax is not paid on these transactions. As a result, the government loses revenue. In turn, this impedes the development of infrastructure, such as roads.

However, the same black money can have a contrary effect if the government is corrupt and exploitative. Almost 45 per cent of the revenues of state governments are being spent on huge salaries for its employees. These employees exploit the system. They are being paid huge salaries so that they suppress the people's movements against corruption and extortion by politicians. Our politicians have spawned a huge welfare mafia to co-opt and stifle the voice of the disgruntled majority. Government teachers receive five times the salaries of private teachers; twice the number of students fail in the exams. Revenue is being leaked through scams such as Bofors, Spectrum and Commonwealth Games. In this situation, black money provides relief to the people from exploitation by the government.

It is generally believed that black money slows down the growth of the economy. Actually, the situation is just the opposite. For instance, ghee can be nutritious for a person who is healthy, but harmful for one who is sick. Similarly, it is all right if black money is controlled by a clean government; a similar exercise can be harmful if the authority is corrupt. Nearly 11 per cent of the national income is collected by the government in the form of taxes. An increase is beneficial if the money is utilized for the welfare of the people. The same increase is harmful if the revenue is  utilized for corruption.

There are two forms of black money, one that is generated by businessmen and another by politicians and officials. Let us first examine the first category. Say the country's income is Rs 200. Of this, Rs 100 is in black and Rs 100 in white. Of the latter, Rs 11 is collected by the government as tax. Of this, say, Rs 8 is used to pay salaries to government servants and siphoned off via corruption. The people are left with Rs 192 ~ Rs 100 from black money; they have Rs 89  after payment of tax and Rs 3 to be spent for their benefit by the government. Now examine the impact if black money is wholly eliminated and all economic activity is carried out in white. The government will now collect Rs 22 as tax. Of this Rs 16 will be used for the benefit of its employees and politicians. The people will be left with only Rs 184 ~ Rs 178  after payment of tax and Rs 6 spent by the government for their welfare. The people have become poorer because black money has been abolished.
I belong to a business family and my perspective may be coloured. I resigned as Professor, Indian Institute of Management, in the Eighties and started running the family's strawboard factory. I did business in white in the first two years. Tax rates were high. On a sale of Rs 100, I had to pay Rs 25 as excise duty, Rs 12 as sales tax and Rs 3 as other levies. Strawboard produced by me was expensive because of the tax commitment. I incurred a huge loss and had to change my ways.  I started selling strawboard at a lower price.

This was when tax rates were high and the bulk of black money was generated by businessmen. The situation has changed dramatically today. Tax rates have been reduced. Business enterprises are generating less black money. More black money is being generated by politicians and officials as in the Bofors, Spectrum and Commonwealth Games scams. Its impact is altogether different. The Swedish company that manufactured the Bofors gun paid a commission to certain politicians. The company increased the price of the guns to meet this expense. Or, say, a commission was paid in the allotment of Spectrum. The burden of this commission ultimately fell on the mobile phone user. Or, the fruit vendor on the train who pays hafta every week to the GRP constable. He has to sell the fruit at a higher price to recover this money. The consumer has to pay more because of the black money generated by politicians. In contrast, he has to pay less if the black money is raised by businessmen.

Those in business spend less on vulgar and conspicuous consumption. They buy less gold and deposit less in the Swiss banks. Businessmen are known to buy land, bricks and cement with black money and then establish factories. Politicians and officials, on the other hand, invest hugely in gold and property. Their deposits in the Swiss banks are high.

Corruption would be less harmful if politicians would use the money for building up their party. One politician correctly declared that it is not possible to run a party without black money. The problem arises when politicians and businessmen use the black money for unproductive purposes like buying gold or stashing away ill-gotten money in the Swiss banks.

We must distinguish between three types of black money. It would be an ideal scenario if the government is clean and black money is totally eliminated. The second instance is when a politician uses the black money to build up his party, and businessmen use it for investment. This is not particularly harmful. The worst situation is when the government is corrupt and businessmen, politicians and officials deposit the black money in Swiss banks. This is the major problem today.

The problem is not of bringing back the money lying in the Swiss banks. The problem is the generation of  such money by the politician-official nexus. Till the Seventies, politicians would come to my father before the elections asking for contributions. Now they rarely come before elections. They collect huge amounts from government contracts, the MPs' Local Area Development Scheme and other projects undertaken by the government.

We expect the politicians to bring back the money they themselves have stashed away  in Swiss banks. This is like asking the thief to do the policing.  This is perhaps the reason why the Prime Minister has declined to disclose the names of the Swiss bank account-holders. This will not do. We will have to find a solution outside the ambit of the government. Perhaps, honest businessmen should establish an agency like Transparency International in every district to expose the corruption among politicians and officials. We should honour and protect those selfless individuals who are fighting against corruption in their own limited ways. Asking the politicians to control corruption or to bring back money from Swiss banks will lead nowhere.
The writer is former Professor of Economics, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.







SOUNDS boring, the diplomatic jargon emanating from each and every Indo-Pakistani encounter. It was no different this time when the foreign secretaries of both countries met for the umpteenth time, on this occasion in the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu. As someone who has watched the futile turns and twists of innumerable Indo-Pakistani encounters at all levels of governance for more than four decades, I must confess that friendly relations must remain a mirage.

There have been occasions when one was tempted to imagine oneself witnessing history being made, but nothing of the sort has occurred, nor is there any hope of an immediate return to normality, of living as friendly neighbours. Kashmir somehow continues to remain a bone of contention. It need not have been so had the dramatis personae on our side, in the immediate post-independence years, relied more on their heads than their hearts.

Kashmir need never have been a disputed land had the leadership of the era cared to nurture the seedling of mutual trust between New Delhi and the State instead of letting it wither away because they did not know better. Be that as it may, the word from Thimphu now is that the foreign ministers of the two countries will meet (probably) in July this year. Why July? Why not April or May? Obviously, that a sense of urgency is not there and both sides know it is going to be yet another outing for the ministers, their staff and media personnel. I tried to find out what was really new that the foreign secretaries had discovered or agreed upon in Thimphu. I read their statements — above, below and between the lines. There is absolutely nothing new. Just repetition, exactly that, of similar statements made every time the diplomats meet. The verbiage may change if the talks are held at a higher level but in the end it turns out that words have lost their meaning when it comes to Indo-Pakistani exchanges.

I recall a senior a foreign dignitary telling me once how scared he was of having Indian and Pakistani diplomats serving together on any multinational committee of which he was a part. "Their capacity to fight long verbal duels on the placement of a mere comma or semicolon is not amusing," he told me.

Personally, I feel this obnoxious tendency owes its origin to the fact that it was passed on by a succession of British-trained peers. Obfuscation has since been developed into a fine art. That apart, you can always see how self-consciously the rival diplomatic delegations look into the cameras of the visual media, shaking hands in mock seriousness: there is not an iota of sincerity visible.

And, at the end of their labours, if you approach them as a group, you will surely be told the talks were conducted "in a free, frank and friendly manner". I remember Atal Behari Vajpayee, then Morarji Desai's foreign minister, telling me after one round of his talks in Pakistan: "Arre, wohi free, frank and friendly vatawaran likhiye." This when the talks had really neither been frank nor friendly.

Call me a pessimist, I don't really expect much to come out of the promised July talks, if these are held at all. One would, of course, have loved to see the two foreign ministers giving a positive direction to the broken dialogue, but the odds are against it. The much-bruised Manmohan Singh government would, of course, love it if Pakistan chooses to make the right moves.

The truth, though, is that the present government in Pakistan stands on very shaky ground. Given its weakness, the fear is that it may even try to put the process into reverse gear. For everything it does or doesn't do, it must have the army's okay. And General Kayani, unless he has changed his spots, is not keen to be seen as a promoter of Indo-Pakistani peace. When you speak of Kayani, you must include ISI chief General Pasha.
Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafez Saeed only last week promised to wage war against India (Kashmir) if we did not let him have his way. Kayani is not bothered by the fact that the international community has declared Saeed a terrorist outlaw. Add to this two other facts: the Pakistan Muslim League (N) and its leader, Nawaz Sharif, barely tolerate the Asif Zardari dispensation and the country's judiciary, in any case, hates his very name.
Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court Iftikhar Choudhary, in his inaugural address to the 17th Commonwealth Law Conference in Hyderabad (India), virtually declared war on the "undemocratic" government headed by President Zardari, whom he accused of not having undone the many constitutional wrongdoings of military ruler General Musharraf. The Chief Justice, in effect, put the Zardari government on notice that it act quickly to nullify the various proclamations made by Musharraf, having already shot down many of these in the court chamber itself. It was the judiciary that had brought an end to the constitutional deviations of the former military ruler. Justice Choudhary even hinted that the judiciary might intervene yet again to correct the government's many constitutional failures.

Zardari, let me recall, was a major beneficiary of Musharraf's proclamation absolving the former of all the alleged crimes committed by him during his wife Benazir's terms of office as Prime Minister.
The judicial threat weakens the Zardari government even further. This, in fact, makes the President almost powerless in tackling Army Chief General Kayani, who only recently gave himself a three-year extension. The PPP government in Islamabad cannot but be aware of its helplessness in the two-pronged threat their leader and President, Asif Zardari, is faced with.

Which, to my mind, makes it impossible for him to pursue any path other than one of confrontation against India. That keeps the army and the ISI happy for the moment. That may also be why his government appears to be helpless against the jihadi forces led by men like Hafez Saeed.

The writer is former Resident Editor, The Statesman, New Delhi






IT goes without saying that young people are a nation's mainstay and any damage to the polity hurts them the most. Sadly, whether it is the criminalisation of politics, the spread of the cancer of corruption, the rise of the cult of communalism or the dismantling of our institutions, youngsters have remained mostly passive observes. In fact, when our system took a knocking with the declaration of Emergency in 1975, all student activism seemed to vanish and/or young people did not register any protest. Then again, they have only too frequently allowed themselves to be used for factional and partisan ends, too readily succumbing to the whims of party bosses who mislead them with promises of greener pastures.

Admittedly, student movements have significantly contributed in the Third World countries of South and South-east Asia, Africa and Latin America. The governments of Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Indonesia and South Vietnam were overthrown by students' power. In Thailand, South Korea, Turkey and Iran, students successfully led national movements against authoritarian regimes. Youth power played a significant role in mounting agitations in 19th century Tsarist Russia, formed the backbone of revolutionary movement in China in the 1920s and '30s, and in Cuba in the '50s. In 1956, anti-Stalinist revolts in Budapest and Warsaw were sparked by student protests. The pro-democracy student agitation that led to the massacre in China's Tiananmen Square, and students' participation in protests against the King of Nepal, bringing him to his knees, are also demonstrative of youth power.

Back home, student movements have a fairly impressive history in India. The first student protest was mounted in the 1880s for holding ICS examinations in our country. The proposed partition of Bengal at the beginning of the last century sparked violent student agitations. However, it was Gandhi's first Civil Disobedience movement in 1920 that led to students across the country getting politically involved across the board. Subsequently, student militancy became an important component of the freedom struggle. Even in 1920, a large number of students left colleges and took up organisational work on behalf of the Indian National Congress. The first all-India college students' conference was held in Nagpur in 1920. There was a series of demonstrations organised against the Simon Commission (1928). Many youth leaders took up the task of organising industrial labour and became involved in trade union activities. With the intensification of the political struggle in the 1930s, the student movement acquired greater momentum. Student activists occupied themselves with social service, like holding adult literacy classes and spreading nationalist ideas among the masses.

It was with the Quit India call in 1942 that student movements came to be in full swing. However, after Independence, youth power lost much of its enthusiasm and protests were only confined to the redressal of local grievances.

Incidentally, the massive student turbulence in West Germany, France and the USA in the mid-1960s witnessed a spate of student demonstrations in India also. In the late 1950s, students expressed solidarity with political parties to demand better payscale for teachers. In 1962, students cried foul at China being declared an aggressor in the Sino-Indian war. In 1965, students joined the agitation against increased tram fares. In 1966, many students faced police lathicharges and died in the subsequent firing while protesting against the government's efforts to allow big landowners to hoard foodgrain. The Students' Health Home was set up largely due to the efforts of the beneficiary ~ students themselves.

As a result of a series of student agitations against corruption, the Orissa government was forced to resign in 1964. In 1965, rioting students in the south forced the Central government to reconsider its Hindi policy. Students displayed their power by inflicting defeat on Congress president Kamraj in the 1967 elections. The corrupt government of Chimanbhai Patel in Gujarat was rooted out in 1974 as a result of the Nav Nirman movement. Students provided the motive to Jayprakash Narayan's crusade and caused the collapse of the Bihar administration. In Assam and Punjab, extremists relied heavily on students for their cadres.

In Bengal in the '80s, though students supported the democratic mass movement pioneered by the SFI, the unemployment problem in the state, as also the withdrawal of English from the primary level, led to bitter resentment. True, students are not white collar workers, but they grow under the aegis of semi-autonomous government bodies. Besides, one has also to understand the connotations of the non-political and apolitical nature of humans. The symbiosis between an individual and his environment, as also between his individual demands and his responsibility to society, has to be properly digested. The problem has been all the more complex since college students generally have voting rights, which is to say that a student has to shoulder constitutional responsibilities too. So, students must understand their environment in terms of the totality and not only in the backdrop of claustrophobic hostel rooms.

The reality is something different. Indifferent staff, shortage of funds, dilapidated buildings, crippled hostel and library facilities and intractable goondaism on campus that oftens lead to gory showdowns serve to present a picture of higher education today. To add to the woes, students' unions that originally came up as primal forces to fight all these issues also seem to have, in reality, slipped into partial hibernation. The parameters of action remain impounded to serving their own vested interests. Despite the wishy-washy statements by leaders of different unions in favour of their relentless measures undertaken to alleviate the problems, students continue to fret in despair.

Political parties are keen on consolidating their bases and prepare a second line of leadership. They have, therefore, started patronising different groups of students. By providing them with funds and support, politicians build their pedestals for myriad political manipulations. Various political parties have capitalised on this and have gradually reduced the students to inconsequential marionettes. Backed by parties with conflicting ideologies, students often clash with each other. The sorry state of affairs is that many students' bodies do nothing about genuine student concerns because of their own selfish interests and so they find it hard to work together. If the different student groups do not bury the hatchet soon and organise a unified movement, they will have very few long-term grains. It's time they underwent a metamorphosis and transformed themselves into an unwavering companion of students.

Sadly, no help group seems interested in coming forward to exert and exercise its authority to guide young Turks on campus. Every year when a new session begins, representatives of students' unions greet freshers and divide them into different political groups while teachers and administrators remain silent spectators. Young, raw, immature and impressionable minds are misled to become part and parcel of the system. They begin to talk about the new world order and find themselves at a loss on whether to study for Cat, Mat Net or spend a few hours agitating against Gatt. With spectacular shopping malls around every corner, they find it hard to believe that Nehru and Mao were the best-dressed persons in their hay days. They become a confused lot.
Though the problem is deeply rooted in the students' psyche, it can be eliminated by the concerted efforts of students themselves and a determination on the part of the government to protect educational institutions from the grasping fingers of political leaders.

The author is Associate Professor, Gurudas College, Kolkata







THEY make a winsome, inseparable duo ~ Martyn Brown and David Rowe, the two Australians I bumped into in Kolkata lately. Their close kinship may occasionally take the wind out of the sails of other such Hollywood celluloid duos of the likes of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Bud Abbot and Lou Costello, Walter Matthau and Jack Lemon, but they are definitely never at odds with each other and get on like "two peas in a pod".


I met Martyn much before I did David. It was almost two decades back in a casual encounter at the bus stand in Jawaharlal Nehru Road in 1990. Six-and-a-half feet tall and sporting rugged features, he was waiting for a mini bus to take him to Jodhpur Park in south Kolkata where he was residing at the time. That casual encounter developed into an enduring friendship and though we parted ways he would occasionally write to me from Melbourne.


After nearly two decades, we met again and this time he was with David. Owing to occupational hazards, it was not a regular get-together but a street corner chance meeting involving a "Hi and bye". I knew nothing of what they did or what brought them to the city so often these days. I took them for ordinary tourists, but one fine day Martyn called and introduced David on the phone and invited me to their remote north Kolkata apartment in Paikpara, once a Naxalite bastion.

After traversing a labyrinth of lanes and bylanes, I finally got there and was welcomed into their longish suite by David who told me that Martyn had gone to fetch me from the Belgachia Metro station. We'd somehow missed each other but after some time Martyn joined us, looking much older, brown beard now all white. He was surprised how I'd managed to find their complicated location and arrive before he did. They had a laugh at my expense.

Sipping black tea, I noticed David was clean-shaven with a crop of stark  white hair. At first glance, the two of them seemed the same age but on closer scrutiny David looked younger, without the beard the other had. "It's luvly to have you as our guest todai," said Martyn. "Daived will take care of us as I am feeling particularly laizee to play host." His articulation of the English language made their Aussie origins amply clear.
From their conversation, I surmised that they were managing directors of Kali Travel Pvt Ltd, operating from Paikpara. For the past 13 years, they had been managing the agency at home as tourist guides. They required an Indian partner to give legitimacy to their trade in Kolkata and so they had roped in Debol Deb, their "Bong" connection. "But Kali Travel is our brainchild. We've christened it Kali because she is the only goddess that symbolises Kolkata and, rightly so, the spirit behind this City of Joy," David said.

As neither of them were permanent citizens, they shuttled between Melbourne and Kolkata to renew their visas annually. Their one regret was not being given permanent citizenship, despite crying themselves hoarse over the issue, despite the fact that "there are countless Indians who are permanent citizens in Melbourne". David said he spent half the year in Australia as a school teacher, ploughing his earnings into the agency.
Believe me, it is expensive not being a Kolkata citizen," he said. Martyn too invests the money he makes from his real estate business back home.

   Despite these setbacks and losses, their spirit is indomitable. What drives them to Kolkata is their love for the city's disorder, its unpredictability, mystery, quite unlike Melbourne or any other Western city, which, to them, is too organised and one-dimensional.

As the evening and our adda session wore on, David offered me some Scotch whisky as a toast to their success as travel agents and tour guides. Aside from trips to the Sunderbans, their itinerary involved cookery classes by the para's Bengali housewives, night trips along dingy lanes and visits to nearby villages. For tourists from France or the UK, they managed to organise meetings with Kumartuli artisans or a trip to a film studio when Satyajit Ray once worked.

As host for the evening, David rustled up some tuna fish and macaroni topped with grated cheese. That and the whiskey provided me enough food for thought. I left them mulling over other areas of discovery.







Popular movements often turn violent when their leaders lose the plot. That seems to be the case with the sudden eruption of violence in Darjeeling and the Dooars. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha's two-year-old agitation for a separate Gorkhaland state may not have always been as Gandhian as its leaders pretended. But it avoided large-scale violence and thereby distinguished itself from the Gorkha National Liberation Front's stir in the 1980s on the same issue. Also, Tuesday's violence by GJM supporters came at a time when its talks with the Centre and the state government seemed to have reached a crucial stage. Despite some differences, the three sides reportedly agreed on setting up an interim administration for Darjeeling. The eruption of violence at this stage, therefore, raises questions about the GJM leadership's commitment to the proposed interim administration. The violence seems to reflect the GJM leadership's failure to resolve differences within its ranks. While negotiating the interim set-up, the leaders faced two dilemmas — how to make it acceptable as an alternative to a separate state and how to reconcile themselves to the exclusion of the Dooars from the jurisdiction of the new set-up. The violence thus shows the leaders' frustration rather than their strength.

However, the GJM's failures do not make the deaths of two young women in Tuesday's police firing any less tragic. Since the GNLF began its Gorkhaland movement in the mid-1980s, scores of lives have been lost in Darjeeling. Arson and other acts of destruction have left the economy of the hills in a shambles. The worst victims of all these have been the common people who followed their leaders in the hope of a better deal for themselves. The spread of violence to the Dooars now threatens to destroy social and economic links between the hills and the plains. Even more disastrous for the people has been the state's complete retreat from the hills. Since the signing of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council accord in 1988, the state administration has ceased to exist in Darjeeling. It followed a suicidal policy of buying peace, first with the GNLF and then with the GJM, by suspending the rule of law in Darjeeling. The GJM and the governments in New Delhi and Calcutta must move fast to prevent any further eruption of violence. No new set-up can work if the rule of law is not restored in Darjeeling.






Like the famed ostrich, Indian institutions plunge their metaphoric heads into sand when faced with unpleasant truths. The government, unable to control under-age marriage, deter rape, or prevent teenage pregnancy, regularly takes refuge in numbers, juggling ages and pretending to rationality. Implementing the perfectly sensible laws that exist, or creating awareness about the urgent need for health, education and maturity in marriage and child-rearing are not tasks that any government has excelled in. Some of this may be because of inefficiency or indifference, but the driving reason is the quiet consensus within society, from which the elected representatives come, regarding under-age marriage, reproduction and the exploitation of women. Added to this is the politicians' greed for votes that finds status quo essential. This situation abounds in absurd problems. When the age of marriage for men was brought down to 18 from 21 to match that of the girls, it was also clarified that all marriages below 16, the age of consent, would be treated as void. So what happened to marriages in which the partners are between 16 and 18? The National Commission for Women and the additional solicitor-general have now suggested that marriages taking place when the partners are between 16 and 18 can be voided if one partner asks for it.

But that is just one answer to a tangle of questions — and hardly a comforting answer. Given the burden of community customs and beliefs, playing about with age alone will not untangle the numerous knots. For example, a wife under 15 can complain against marital rape. This time, it has been suggested that this age be raised to 16, the age of consent. Does this mean there is no marital rape over 16? Each law and its amendment merely acknowledge the fact that no law is actually implemented. This mind-numbing discussion would not have arisen had there been no under-18 brides. The pretence of clarification keeps adding to the general confusion. It allows a court to rule that if a girl below 18 claimed in court that she had married a man "voluntarily", her marriage would be valid. This may keep vengeful parents charging the man with abduction and rape at bay. But such judgments, while respecting the will and agency of one girl, make the situation of minor girls more vulnerable to parental coercion, marital exploitation and traffickers' greed in the long run.






The Bengal Club and The Telegraph panel discussion held recently in Calcutta addressed the serious issue of South Asia. What if Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka were to reunite to become United South Asia (USA)? The promise: No visa for USA.

What about the perils? Given the resistance that Pakistan has to the overbearing presence of India (Sunanda K. Datta-Ray) and taking into consideration the Indian view that Pakistan sponsors terrorism as a State policy against India (Ronen Sen), is it at all realistic to think of United South Asia? What has happened to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation? These questions, among others, were raised. Kanti Bajpai tried to present a possible Pakistani view by pointing out that for Pakistan it is important that a level playing field is created. It can be created if India goes down while others go up, or India breaks up into smaller units, or, less radically, if India makes generous concessions on all bilateral issues. An alternative view is that India play a stronger role in the region.

Positive response to the idea of coming together came from our eastern neighbour. Farooq Shobhan spoke in favour of moving forward with building blocks and strengthening sub-regional cooperation. Bangladesh could play a creative role in this respect. Not ignoring terrorism, trade imbalances, or other hindrances, he conveyed a sense of optimism. Did not Bollywood and cricket, he asked, create important elements of commonality? Pratap Bhanu Mehta took the discussion to a different level when he spoke of the entire region as vulnerable to the problems created by ecological changes, poverty, and wasteful expenditure on armament necessitated by persisting conflicts. Are these not reasons enough for regional cooperation?

In the discussion that followed, also through the participation of the audience, it became clear that, while democracy holds a positive hope in the region, it also creates problems with petty politicians serving their vested interests and missing out on the big picture. The promise of democracy, as it was pointed out, is the realization of the concept of citizenship which does not make distinctions across identities. If all citizens are assured of their rights, it becomes less important to claim these rights based on identity politics.

These are serious thoughts that deserve the attention of all thinking persons, even if at present prospects appear utopian and problems real. Any major idea that affects the destinies of millions of people needs to go through a period of gestation. Ideas develop in the minds of people, unlike babies in the wombs of their mothers, through a process that is neither straight nor predictable. Viewed in this manner, even a cynic will grant that the panel discussion mentioned here served a useful purpose.

We need to take the discussion forward. 'No visa for USA' or the name, United South Asia, may indeed be catchy but it hides a serious concern. If the countries of South Asia were to come closer, should it be in the form represented by the United States of America? This may be a wrong beginning to the debate. The manner in which the US was formed in my view does not hold the right model for this part of the world. We need to consider very different histories here. Moreover, the name United South Asia may allow the acronym USA but it does not even allow the presence of the word 'states' in the name and thus may suggest to some an even greater merger than is feasible or even desired.

The other model to consider in this respect is the model of the European Union. This may be more similar to the experiences of South Asia with the overarching European identity going along with the memory of bitter national rivalries that had to be overcome to initiate a meaningful discussion. There is much to learn from this model. Even this model may not be the right model for this region. What is the right model? Perhaps there is none that exists at present. Does it mean then that the whole idea is to be rejected? Are the people of this region so devoid of imagination that they cannot give shape, with a collective will, to the right model for themselves? There is much scope for creative thought here.

Who will be the creators of this idea? Who will carry it forward? It is clear that a major problem is vision deficit in this region. Pettiness comes with its own cost. It makes people blind to important issues, and, even worse, it diverts energy towards behaviour arising out of petty spite. The questions about the creators and carriers of the idea may be answered by suggesting that, in the absence of towering personalities, the burden falls on different persons from different domains. Intellectuals, policymakers, creative persons, journalists, civic activists, industrialists, politicians, and others representing social, economic and political life need to work together to create and carry forward the idea.

A valid question may be raised here. It may be argued that before we get carried away with the idea that exists only in a nebulous form as yet, we need to ask an important question: who will benefit from it? What has India, for instance, to gain from associating with a failed State like Pakistan? This kind of calculation can go beyond national boundaries. It may be asked: which classes or communities will gain by this idea? Answers to these questions may be attempted in different ways. Fragmented economic or political calculations, however, will not answer adequately the question about who will gain. For that purpose we need to consider the region as a whole and the people of this region. We need, as Mehta did, to ask: how can the problems of ecological threat or poverty be addressed adequately? Does the answer lie in conflict or cooperation?

Even if it is granted that the answer is cooperation, it may be asked: is it possible to go back in history? Can the mischief of Partition be undone? Can the countries of the region really reunite? To attempt to answer these questions, it will be important to realize the harm that is done by the word 'reunite'. It is important to understand that no amount of nostalgia will turn the clock back, nor is it desirable. Not all was well in the India that the British ruled. The region has come forward in many ways since that time, even when all the failings are noted. If the missing yoke does not ensure forced cooperation any longer, there is no reason for not trying to promote new forms of free cooperation. The critical point is to evolve new forms of cooperation that are freely chosen in the interest of the collective good. Once this principle is accepted, the dependence on the security of the past has to be done away with. A new solution has to be evolved to a new challenge.

Is history then irrelevant? No, it is not. George Santayana, the Spanish philosopher and poet, made the famous remark: "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." We need to learn from those aspects of our history which have brought us nothing positive. Communal violence, terrorism, criminal apathy towards the poor — all these features of the present and the history of this region have a lesson to teach us. To move forward when there are actual possibilities of giving this region peace and some prosperity across the board, there is a pressing need to go beyond pettiness.

Not that the history of this region has only negative lessons to offer. This region can offer not only for the people of this region but for entire humanity lessons on living together. We need just to look with unbiased eyes at our collective heritage. It is available in Upanishadic thought, Buddhist sermons, sufi chants, and in the voices of a large number of persons, notably Gandhi, who realized its true potential in the struggle against the inhumanity of colonialism. Small differences cease to be tyrannical once people resolve to live together for mutual benefit. In this resolve, there is no place for going down to enable others to go up. There is place just for one thought. All go down if all do not go up.






Truth may be unpalatable to some but not to most, one hopes. The truth is, two senior civil servants (they are colleagues and husband-wife duo in personal life) have reportedly amassed wealth running into more than Rs 350 crore. Yet there still exists doubts in the minds of their masters as to whether their actions are really culpable, illegal or mala fide enough to invite prosecution and punishment. The truth is also that they belong to the elite civil service, and, as such, are the re-incarnations of the ultimate-social-status-holding Brahmins of the past.

In sharp contrast to the 'Brahmin' civil service, there exists the 'non-Brahmin' non-civil service — service in the Indian army, which is in the grip of an unprecedented "corruption", thereby leading to some sort of "crisis of confidence, credibility, morale and honour".

Let us look into the case of lieutenant general P.K. Rath. Born in 1952, commissioned in 1972, the general had commanded the prestigious Fourth Infantry Division, which had a glorious record during the Second World War in north Africa and an equally inglorious record of being battered by the Chinese in 1962. Rath was given the command of one of the most important corps at Siliguri.

The very location of Siliguri's XXXIII Corps speaks for itself. Encircled by Bangladesh, China, Bhutan and Nepal, the "chicken's neck" corridor could well turn out to be the most vulnerable portion of India's map.

So if Rath has shown even an iota of mala fide intention, he has certainly erred. Hence the commander does deserve to be reprimanded and removed from his position. But look at the quantum of punishment. Even before the "mala fide intention" could be "implemented", the general is in the dock. His post-retirement pension stands drastically slashed.The general also loses his seniority by two years.

Clean up

What a blot in a three-star officer's 39-year-old career record. Rath has been given the "punishment which he so richly deserves". But has anyone thought of the potential repercussions of the punishment on the rank and file of the barracks? When the general is shamed, what will the soldiers do? Should they also follow their commander to be condemned en masse in a sensitive area?

General, you may be a good man but you have not been strong enough to lead 60,000 soldiers in battle. You have proved yourself to be a weak man, who could be manipulated to act wrongly, even if against your wishes. You have been a 'yes man' — trying to please your superiors without applying your mind. And that is the reason behind your downfall. But one pities you, because had you been like the erring couple of the civil service, amassing wealth worth Rs 350 crore plus, you would not have faced such loss of prestige and honour.

One salutes the Indian army for punishing an "erring" general quick and fast. But one is also disappointed that there exists today several senior erring officials and commanders in the army, which traditionally was, and still is, perceived to be a clean, professional and apolitical space.

In contrast, the civil servants of India are in a comfortable position because there is a lamentable lack of urge to govern impartially. How else does one justify the long list of grievances of the tribal people in the mineral-rich belts of India? Corruption in the civil services is condoned as being part of the 'system'. One takes no action against it.

It must be remembered that without an effective and visible prize and punishment policy, India may go the Tunisia-Egypt way. Indeed, when corruption is cancer, the country needs the hardest possible crackdown and not glib talk. Else, India's doom is only a matter of days.


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




More spectrum scandals are tumbling out of the government's cupboard. According to reports, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the BSNL were  involved in dubious deals that caused, or might cause, losses to the exchequer, as in the case of the 2G spectrum allocations. ISRO awarded a contract to a private company, Devas Multimedia, in 2005 by which the company reportedly got access to 70 MHz of scarce S-band spectrum. There was no public bidding. While no hard evidence of corruption has yet surfaced, the potential loss to the exchequer is estimated to be Rs 2 lakh crore. The Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG) is seized of the matter. BSNL appointed franchisees, which are shell companies, to roll out WiMax services without charging any upfront fee though it had itself paid Rs 8,000 crore as upfront fee to the government. The public sector telecom company's interests suffered in the process.

The ISRO, which is under the Department of Space, has said that its agreement with Devas is under review and steps would be taken to protect the national interest. But there are uncomfortable questions about why such a deal was entered into with a private company, giving away a national resource for a pittance. The Space Commission had recommended in July 2010 that the agreement should be scrapped. The law ministry had also sought its cancellation. There was no action for months to cancel the deal, even when the controversy over the 2G spectrum was raging. The department of space is under the prime minister and so he cannot escape responsibility for the improper deal. The PMO has denied any loss to the exchequer but then why was there a proposal to cancel the deal? The BSNL decision is being scrutinised now.

Even if the ISRO-Devas deal is cancelled, there is the need for an enquiry into the circumstances of the allocation of spectrum to the private company. Spectrum is a scarce national resource and the government and its agencies cannot make arbitrary allocations of it. There should be accepted norms and guidelines which should be strictly followed in the matter. Auctioning of the spectrum for bidders is an efficient and fair method of finding the correct value of the resource. Decisions should not be manipulated or shrouded in secrecy as it happened in the 2G spectrum allocation. Those who violate the law and cause losses to the exchequer should not be spared either.







There is hope for an end to decades-old militancy in Assam with the decision of the United Front for Liberation of Asom (ULFA) to begin talks with the union government. The talks are scheduled to start from Thursday. ULFA has made a major climb down as it has agreed to hold the talks unconditionally. The earlier position of the militant outfit was it would talk to the government only on the core issue of 'sovereignty' for Assam and in a foreign territory under the auspices of the UN. It had to drop these demands for various reasons. ULFA has perhaps realised that the demand for secession from the country is impractical and it cannot achieve it. The chairman of the militant group, Arabinda Rajkhowa, who was captured by the Bangladesh government and handed over to India, had accepted the reality of the situation after he was released on bail recently.

After the crackdown by the Bhutan government on the ULFA sanctuaries there in 2003 and the Bangladesh government's recent actions against its leaders, the militant group has lost much of its strength. It has also alienated itself from the people of the state with ruthless violence directed against innocent people. Even otherwise the demand for secession had never appealed to the people. However there is still a hard line faction in ULFA which has not accepted unconditional talks. General secretary Anup Chetia and 'commander-in-chief' are considered to be holding out. Chetia is in a Bangladesh jail and Barua is supposed to be in China. But the majority of the members of the outfit have favoured unconditional talks with the government. The talks are expected to be a long process spanning weeks or even months. It should be the effort of the government to bring around the hawks in the militant outfit and involve them too in the process. It may not be difficult to bring Anup Chetia back to Assam from Bangladesh. Once the peace process starts and shows results it will be difficult for the recalcitrant elements to continue to reject it. Assam is going to have assembly elections in April. The state and central governments and the Congress party should resist the temptation to make the talks an election issue. That will erode the credibility of the peace process and may become counter-productive.








What will Delhi do if Kashmi-ris converge on Lal Chowk and refuse to leave till the Abdulla govt quits and anti-terrorist laws are repealed?

Within days of the start of the uprising in Egypt political pundits in Washington had begun to ask why America's massive global intelligence apparatus had not been able to predict the uprising there and in Tunisia. Their criticism has the empty benefit of hindsight.

History has a habit of blindsiding human beings. It did so in St Petersburg in 1917; in Berlin in 1931, in Moscow in 1992. It tends to do so because although the causes of political change can be identified in advance, the change itself is almost always sudden. Anger that has simmered for years, even decades, suddenly bursts forth and spreads like wild fire. Then there is no stopping it.

Strategic analysts have ascribed the near simultaneous explosions of street power in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen to rising income inequalities, a sharp rise in the cost of food and widespread unemployment, especially among the youth.

But these have affected the four countries very differently. They cannot therefore explain the simultaneity of the uprising. A closer look shows that their single uniting factor is a revolt against governments that have become increasingly unrepresentative with the passage of time. The reason for this is not far to seek. All the protests and uprisings are taking place against regimes that are firmly aligned with the US and are therefore, tacitly or explicitly, willing to coexist with Israel.

Israel's relentless nibbling at the West Bank throughout the '90s, George Bush's  Iraq war in 2003, Israel's attack on Lebanon in 2006, and the unending economic blockade of Gaza for the past five years have made it harder and harder for the rulers to justify their policies. This has forced them to rely more and more heavily on repression to stay in power.

But repression cannot be selective: What may have begun as an attempt to suppress Arab radicalism after the assassination of President Anwar Sadaat, and the end of the First Afghan war, has ended by stifling all forms of political dissent. Repression has bred unaccountability and corruption. One needed only to add global recession, food inflation and unemployment to this deadly mix to make the pot boil over.

As I write, Egypt is on the cusp. The government is holding talks with the dissidents; after 45 years the Muslim Brotherhood has been  allowed to come out of the cold. The chances of an orderly transition to democracy are getting better. Should this happen the credit will belong not only to Egypt's suddenly empowered civil society but also in good part to President Obama.

Short term stability

Had Bush been in power the US would almost certainly have backed Mubarak and quietly supported a crackdown. But Obama understood within hours that siding with repression now would buy short term stability at the cost of long term chaos. He has therefore urged Mubarak to leave the seemingly safe harbour of authoritarian rule, for the heaving seas of democracy.

The change that is taking place in Egypt and has already taken place in Tunisia is reverberating around the world. King Abdullah of Jordan has changed his prime minister;  President Saleh in Yemen has called a joint meeting with all parties to craft a reconciliation. If this upsurge of democratic sentiment continues the political map of the Arab world will be changed forever.

Israel will be the first to feel its effect, for it will have to look for fresh ways to settle the Palestine issue. But Islamist extremism will be the second loser, for it too has fed upon the intransigence of authoritarian regimes and their willingness to tolerate Israel's  incessant resort to force.

But India will not escape the reverberations either. For it too must answer the question that Tahrir square has posed: what can even the most heavily armed state do when its own people repudiate it? This question needs an urgent answer in Kashmir valley, which has been in a virtual lockdown since June.

What will Delhi do if lakhs of Kashmiris converge on Lal Chowk and refuse to leave it till the Omar Abdullah government resigns, the  anti-terrorist laws are repealed and the army sent back to the barracks? Will it fire on them? Will it deploy water cannon and rubber bullets as the Egyptian police have done but the J&K police and the CRPF have not? Will it declare round the clock curfews, and try to prevent demonstrators from getting to Lal Chowk? Or will it forestall having to choose between these grim alternatives by giving democracy one more chance in Kashmir?

It is true that the Abdullah government is an elected government. But as more than one opinion poll in the valley has shown, it is also a government that has lost the support of most  of the people in the valley. Is it asking too much of a nation that prides itself on its democracy, to give democracy a chance to sort out the mess in Kashmir? As we are seeing in Egypt, the very least this will do is to empower the moderates and weaken the extremists clustered around  Geelani and Masrat Alam.

All that Delhi has to do is make up its mind. Once it does so it knows perfectly well what it needs to do. What it can no longer afford is to do nothing. Today it is like a deer caught in the headlights of a speeding train. It has to jump off the tracks as the time is rapidly running out.







One should underst-and that both droughts and floods are natural consequences of a warming world.
We're in the midst of a global food crisis — the second in three years. World food prices hit a record in January, driven by huge increases in the prices of wheat, corn, sugar and oils. These soaring prices have had only a modest effect on US inflation, which is still low by historical standards, but they're having a brutal impact on the world's poor.

The consequences of this food crisis go far beyond economics. After all, the big question about uprisings against corrupt and oppressive regimes in West Asia isn't so much why they're happening as why they're happening now. And there's little question that sky-high food prices have been an important trigger for popular rage.

So what's behind the price spike? American right-wingers blame easy-money policies at the Federal Reserve, with at least one commentator declaring that there is 'blood on Bernanke's hands'. Meanwhile, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France blames speculators, accusing them of 'extortion and pillaging'.

Climate change

But the evidence tells a different, much more ominous story. While several factors have contributed to soaring food prices, what really stands out is the extent to which severe weather events have disrupted agricultural production. And these severe weather events are exactly the kind of thing we'd expect to see as rising concentrations of greenhouse gases change our climate.

Now, to some extent soaring food prices are part of a general commodity boom: the prices of many raw materials, running the gamut from aluminum to zinc, have been rising rapidly since early 2009, mainly thanks to rapid industrial growth in emerging markets.
But the link between industrial growth and demand is a lot clearer for, say, copper than it is for food. Except in very poor countries, rising incomes don't have much effect on how much people eat.

It's true that growth in emerging nations like China leads to rising meat consumption, and hence rising demand for animal feed. It's also true that agricultural raw materials, especially cotton, compete for land and other resources with food crops. So both economic growth and bad energy policy have played some role in the food price surge.


Still, food prices lagged behind the prices of other commodities until last summer. Then the weather struck.

Consider the case of wheat, whose price has almost doubled since the summer. The immediate cause of the wheat price spike is obvious: world production is down sharply. The bulk of that production decline, according to US department of agriculture data, reflects a sharp plunge in the former Soviet Union. And we know what that's about: a record heat wave and drought, which pushed Moscow temperatures above 100 degrees for the first time ever.

The Russian heat wave was only one of many recent extreme weather events, from dry weather in Brazil to biblical-proportion flooding in Australia, that have damaged world food production.

The question then becomes, what's behind all this extreme weather?

To some extent we're seeing the results of a natural phenomenon, La Nina — a periodic event in which water in the equatorial Pacific becomes cooler than normal. And La Nina events have historically been associated with global food crises, including the crisis of 2007-08.

But that's not the whole story. Don't let the snow fool you: globally, 2010 was tied with 2005 for warmest year on record, even though we were at a solar minimum and La Nina was a cooling factor in the second half of the year. Temperature records were set not just in Russia but in no fewer than 19 countries, covering a fifth of the world's land area. And both droughts and floods are natural consequences of a warming world.

As always, you can't attribute any one weather event to greenhouse gases. But the pattern we're seeing, with extreme highs and extreme weather in general becoming much more common, is just what you'd expect from climate change.

The usual suspects will, of course, go wild over suggestions that global warming has something to do with the food crisis; those who insist that Ben Bernanke has blood on his hands tend to be more or less the same people who insist that the scientific consensus on climate reflects a vast leftist conspiracy.

But the evidence does, in fact, suggest that what we're getting now is a first taste of the disruption, economic and political, that we'll face in a warming world. And given our failure to act on greenhouse gases, there will be much more, and much worse, to come.








When a mob of Belgaum vegetable traders can destroy tonnes of vegetables bound for Goa and the local police just look on, it is time that the Goa State Horticulture Development Corporation (HDC) takes its business elsewhere. No doubt, Belgaum is the place from where Goa has been getting its vegetables for decades. But if the traders there want to conspire with Goa's profiteering vegetable vendors – who are upset that the Horticulture Corporation's outlets have downed their super-profits – and the local police just stand by, there is no reason to continue.

Belgaum is by no means the only source of vegetables. There is Sirsi, Kolhapur, Satara, Karad and several other places, all of which send vegetables everyday to distant Mumbai. They would jump at a chance to send some to Goa, which is much closer. Horticulture Corporation Chairman Sankalp Amonkar and Managing Director Orlando Rodrigues should waste no time in looking for alternate sources of vegetable supplies. All of Goa's veggies should not be in the Belgaum basket.

Belgaum's vegetable suppliers were apparently supposed to meet yesterday to decide whether to continue supplying vegetables to the corporation. They have every right to do so. But they have no right to obstruct any trader that wants to business with Goa. Similarly, Goa has every right to get its vegetables from elsewhere. Blocking transport of vegetables to Goa may cause Goans some temporary problems, but if Agriculture Minister Vishwajeet Rane, Mr Amonkar and Mr Rodrigues are as good as their word, it is Belgaum's traders who will lose if Goa buys vegetables from other markets.

However, the disturbing aspect of this whole business is that the government spends as much as Rs85 lakh a month on so-called 'subsidies' for vegetables. As anybody who has been to Belgaum and shopped in the markets there knows, there is a huge difference in both price and quality between the vegetables sold there and those sold in Goa. Except for onions during the recent crisis, it doesn't seem as if subsidies are required if vegetables are to be sold at reasonable prices through the corporation's outlets. Something doesn't seem quite right here.

It is this precise point that has been raised by the Opposition BJP, which has alleged that the corporation is buying vegetables from Belgaum wholesalers at a hefty commission. In response, Agriculture minister Vishwajeet Rane has announced an internal audit into the state horticulture corporation's subsidised scheme, to look into these allegations of cheating. But can an internal audit at all do justice to such serious charges?
There is no gainsaying that the corporation's outlets are a boon for Goans. They not only constitute a source of reasonably priced vegetables, but also provide employment to hundreds of Goans. But this cannot be an excuse for corruption and/or cheating. If Mr Rane and Mr Amonkar want a proper clean chit for the scheme, they must do more than hide behind an internal audit.

Bypass blues

Chief Minister Digambar Kamat has done well to assure activists from Curchorem that a special bypass road will be constructed for mining trucks. This will reduce the terrible congestion that the town faces, as well as deaths from frequent road accidents. An eight-day hunger strike by the activists has finally yielded results.
The government's earlier proposal, to four-lane the existing district road only for the stretch used by mining trucks, made no sense at all. Apart from the usual road-widening problems with houses along the road, it would have condemned Curchorem to face mining trucks driving through the town for the foreseeable future.







That incumbency has been weighing heavily on Congress' shoulders is amply clear and one finds it hard to even shrug them off with their many acts of commission and omission. It no longer has the off-white image, it wore in the first term of the United Progressive Alliance government. The Mr Clean image of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has taken a drubbing, and neither is Congress president Sonia Gandhi as credible, as she once was.

The Naxalite wounds are still festering in central India, especially in Chattisgarh, the 2G Spectrum scandal in which former Communications Minister A Raja was given an undue lease of life, before being ultimately shown the door, and now the Adarsh building scandal in Mumbai, where the rich and infamous, even ex-Chief Ministers Ashok Chavan, and Vilasrao Deshmukh are involved. How is corruption to be checked? That's something the high command must deal with, on a war footing.

Green-is-my-favourite-colour Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh too has come in the firing line with his wavering stand on a number of projects like Vedanta, Polavaram and Lavasa township. The Lavasa project, as we all know, is the brainchild of Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and he is quite likely to work towards its recognition. The green could well fade into brown, like the dust settling on the trees of a busy mud-track.
Says Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) "one expected transparent, participatory, environment-friendly policies and practices from someone who claims he believes in these values. When you don't see, that one is disappointed."

Another grouse against him is his inability to appoint people with the right credentials on the Environment Assessment Committee. The current Chairperson is believed to be a rabidly pro-large dams lobbyist which will only scuttle any move for a no-dam option.

As for our beautiful paradise of a state, it is like a gramophone record that has got stuck. The legislative assembly session has its regular share of shadow-boxing, meant to keep the aam admi pleased, because after 20-odd days, all will be forgotten. Or is it real this time? Is the angst reaching unbearable heights?
There has been a hue and cry over Home Minister Ravi Naik and his drug links through his son Roy and this not only from the Opposition but the Congress party itself. Former Power Minister Mauvin Godinho, still remembered for his power shenanigans over a decade ago, is now on the righteous side. Has the shaving of his moustache made such a drastic change to his image? As for Naik he just won't budge and he even has the nerve to mention another Roy (Fernandes), who was once secretary, to Fatima D'Sa of the NCP, and who is now in the wilderness, after his share of notoriety.

Health Minister Viswajit Rane has resigned from chairmanship of the Mapuca Municipal Hospital committee after pressure mounted against its privatisation by Aldona MLA Dayanand Narvekar, who wields considerable clout in North Goa. Does it mean that privatisation will be put on the back-burner? It is believed that no deal can be worked out in Mapusa and surrounding villages without Narvekar's tacit approval. He is also said to be the pioneer of the cards system (different colours) for allotting jobs. But then, most if not all, the Congress MLAs have a dubious record, don't they?

PWD Minister Churchill Alemao is under attack for allowing the National Highway No.17 to be broadened after having okayed construction licences in the same area. The Provorim residents are worried, if they too will have to pay toll for travelling short distances. It all seems to be hazy with each one trying to point a finger at the other, the only game in Goa. May be reducing the breadth of the highway in certain areas could be the only way out. It is something not done by highway purists, but then Goa is unique and calls for unique solutions.
Bus travel is another perennial problem, and one is sick and tired of bringing up the issue. The Regional Transport Office is impotent, and apart from occasional flashes of order (a couple of days at most), it is back to square one. One of our fellow writers Anthony Simoes rightly calls it "cattle class" and questions the need for the bus fares going up twice the rate of fuel prices. Sadly, we are saddled with this malaise and no one cares to set it right, and most of all the commuters bear the burden quite stoically.

The garbage issue is another long-standing problem, but former Corporator Patricia Pinto seems optimistic with the new drive to get the youth involved. An incinerator cannot handle the wet waste, she says. So they are being separated. She has also been to Maharashtra to learn how to treat the wet waste. The heartening aspect of the 'Chaka Chak' programme is that she did not figure in the pictures that came in the press unlike most of these do-gooders who first see that they are in the picture, to derive mileage. The NGOs can convert these pictures into cash. But we surely need folks like Ms Pinto and Dr Oscar Rebello, who have the interests of Goa at heart, but there are "Goan crabs" who try to pull them down.

Then there is the case of the custodial death of Cipriano Fernandes. The head of the Forensic Department, Dr Silvano Sapeco, has confirmed that Cipriano suffered two fatal head injuries. It is sad how the Goa police gained notoriety. What they should be doing is not done, but vice versa. One needs a thorough shake-up in the police force and it should be above political interference. Can that ever be achieved?

With all its handicaps, however, the Congress is a better option than the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which cannot distance itself from the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS), a rabidly right-wing unit bent on inciting religious strife.

A recent issue of "Tehelka" lays bare the confession of Naba Kumar Sarkar, also known as Swami Aseemananda, on the Samjhauta Express and 2006 Malegaon blasts.

"Since 80 per cent of the people of Malegaon are Muslims, we should explode the first bomb in Malegaon," he said, and goes on further "In March 2006, Pragya Singh Thakur, Sunil Joshi, Bharat Riteshwar and I decided to give a befitting reply to the Sankarmochan temple blast." If this does not typify Hindutva extremism, what does? And these folks have also been linked with the Goa bomb blasts by the Sanathan Sanshta, which accounted for the accidental deaths of two of their own men on the eve of Diwali 2009 and who are still behind bars in Goa. Chief Minister Digambar Kamat, in his inimitable impotent manner, is still dilly-dallying over it.







Protests have become a means to attract greater media attention as sensational news, noisy scenes, pandemonium and walk-outs are given extensive coverage in the media

"Democracy does not mean simply shouting loudly and persistently, though that might have occasionally some value. Freedom and democracy require responsibility and certain standards of behaviour and self-discipline,'' said Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru. This is quite relevant in the context of present-day Assam where democratic values were sacrificed during the budget session of the Assam Assembly recently. It was a noisy session full of arrogant and clownish activities. It gave the impression that these days there is no scarcity of humour in the political arena of Assam. This may attract people to visit Assam to enjoy these clownish activities!

The above perception may sound too harsh, but this is true. Politicians may not care, but the people of Assam feel ashamed of what is going on. This is our tragedy. The politicians have completely forgotten the fact that there can be no mandate to disregard the prestigious Assam Assembly and its image. They have no right to inflict a dark spot on the image of Assam. But this is happening. This is happening in an unprecedented way in the State for mere political mileage. What can be more unfortunate?

So what really has happened during the budget session of the Assam Assembly that has brought the democratic culture of the State to such an unprecedented low? Actually nothing has happened except allegations and counter-allegations. It was all tussle between the ruling Congress and the Opposition, a bitter exchange of words, playing of cymbals as a mark of protest, and expulsion of a BJP legislator by the Speaker. Rest of the day's story was that the Opposition was asking for more mandate to the CBI to investigate the role of Congress ministers who allegedly violated Cabinet decisions while sanctioning funds to the NC Hills Council, while Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi was non-committal on the demand of the Opposition. In short, it was full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

But this was hardly anything new. On several occasions earlier, both in Parliament and different State Assemblies, democratic values and legislative decorum were brutally murdered. The recent incident in Assam Assembly during the budget session is a mere addition to the already sick order.

The question is not who is right and who is wrong. The question is the interest of Assam and a constructive debate over it. Non-functioning of Assembly means one thing beyond all other considerations: that our democratic leadership, irrespective of party affiliations, has no regard for the common people, their interests and concerns. But this is also true that for the smooth running of Legislature proceedings, a lion's share of the responsibility has to be shouldered by the treasury bench. After all, the Chief Minister is not only the leader of the ruling party but also the leader of the Assembly and the State as well. Disruption in the proceedings of the Assembly is a failure of the government in the first place, and then of the Opposition, no matter whatever be the reason behind it.

Parliament or a State Assembly is not a talking shop. It is visualized by the Constitution as an important instrument of socio-economic change. As such, it has to closely watch the functioning of the government and influence its performance for social good. How do members articulate their views? In our parliamentary system, there are a number of devices available for members to raise matters of concern and they should make full use of it. Members must make full use of all the available opportunities and participate actively in the legislative, financial and other businesses of the House, bringing their special knowledge, experience and insight in the shaping of public policy and contributing their share in the oversight and scrutiny of performance of the government. In this way they can respond to public grievances.

Ironically, in the present-day Assam, protests have become a means to attract greater media attention as sensational news, noisy scenes, pandemonium and walkouts are given extensive coverage. Thus important issues like legislative and financial businesses tend to get sidelined or ignored. The media must not forget its educative role in this regard. It should highlight accurately only the real issues and significant matters, debates and deliberations in the Legislature. That obviously does not include the clownish and ridiculous activities of irresponsible members that disregard the temple of democracy.

GMC Balayogi says in an article, "It is widely accepted that parliamentary democracy is a system of governance which has to evolve and grow taking into its fold the native realities and requirements. It necessarily involves certain broad parameters of working and envisages certain principles and policies of public ethics as its functioning base. The character and quality of parliamentary democracy depend very much on the quality and calibre of persons who represent people in the supreme institutions in such polities. Their behaviour should be such as to enhance the dignity of the legislature and its members in general. The degree of esteem in which the people of a country hold its lawmaking body is a sure sign of the success and maturity of its democratic process."

It will be better to keep in mind that protests, debates and discussions are essential parts of democracy. These are also parts of a political order. It keeps the momentum going, and democracy evolves with its true spirit. But this should not give the impression of a street quarrel. The prestigious Assam Assembly is neither a theatre hall nor a place for a circus show. It is the highest temple of democratic institution in the State, and nobody has any right to disregard it. At least our political leadership and democratic representatives should ponder that people should not feel ashamed of them.

But one should not put all the blame on the politicians alone as we the people make them our representatives willingly. The reason behind this shameful episode is that value-based politics has made departure. Politics now is a corporate business. Then what can the nation or society expect from such a system?

The people of Assam will definitely get an opportunity to exercise their franchise once again. They can give a message to politicians that they do not want self-seekers and clowns as representatives. Assam wants leaders who can really lead. This is tough but not impossible. Will the so-called intellectual class also ponder a little bit? That is perhaps the most vital question at this juncture.

Shibdas  Bhattacharjee

(The writer is a freelancer based in Halakura, Dhubri)





Now that the chapter of unprecedented decibel in the Assam Assembly is over, it is time for serious introspection. An innings of such noise in the wake of the many grave allegations of corruption against the Tarun Gogoi government would be accepted as a natural fallout. The principal opposition party in the State, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), must also prove its pro-activity as also express concern over the expanding architecture of corruption. However, the pandemonium this time betrays drift and confusion — going, of course, as opposition dynamism. On its part, the ruling Congress has behaved as if nothing had been wrong with the way governance had been delivered since 2001. The Congress would have us believe that the opposition parties, mainly the AGP, hankering after power, would do nothing but disrupt House proceedings. But what worth is any opposition if it does not register strong protests against misrule? Only, the AGP's was an inarticulate show. Has the AGP, out of power for the past decade, convinced the people of the State of its abilities as an opposition front and given them reasons to mandate it this time?

People are not going to vote for the AGP just because it has successfully managed to stall the proceedings of the last session of the 12th Assam Assembly. People are not going to vote for the AGP just because the likes of Prafulla Kumar Mahanta are pointing to the Congress' patronage of corruption in the State. People would vote for the AGP if its leaders were to go to them, explain to them the grand graft panorama, and convince them of the need for a change at Dispur. The electorate must have reasons to prefer the AGP to the ruling party. If the AGP believes that it will be voted to power merely because of the allegations of corruption that have so unfailingly surfaced against the Congress, we would say that the regional party is yet to wake up to the fact that voters would look for a better alternative and that, at the moment, it does not seem that a better alternative in the AGP has begun to charm them. And with former MP Sarbananda Sonowal deserting the regional party because of a ''nexus in the making'' between it and the Badruddin Ajmal-led All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) that came into being after the scrapping of the pro-Bangladeshi IM(DT) Act by the Supreme Court in 2005, a whole lot of people, who had fully supported the six-year-long anti-Bangladeshi agitation launched by the same breed of leaders who today steer the AGP ship, might throw a volley of very inconvenient questions at leaders like Mahanta and AGP president Chandra Mohan Patowary. A responsible opposition, however, would face such questions and answer them. The first inconvenient question, then, is whether in the AGP electoral scheme of things the AIUDF is not an untouchable despite the kind of post-IM(DT) Act genesis Ajmal's party has had. An answer is in order. And this naturally brings us to the issue of illegal immigration from Bangladesh to Assam: How concerned is the AGP and what is its agenda to weed out the swelling illegal crowd from the State, or is it that the party is driven by 'secular' considerations as it, like the Congress and in contest with the ruling party, tends to treat illegal Bangladeshis as Indian 'minorities' vote bank? How true is Sarbananda Sonowal?

The other question, of course, is whether the AGP has emerged stronger and more credible in the wake of the Assembly rowdyism, or whether a meaningful debate in the House could have added the much-needed sheen to the party. Ponder, ponder.





As far as the ruling coalition is concerned, the Supreme Court has an exasperating knack of raising awkward questions at the most inopportune times. For instance, that old question about what the government had done about implementing the Directive Principles of the Constitution that stipulated a uniform personal law is still hanging in the air. And now, just before elections in Kerala and Assam, the apex court has again pulled up the government for its failure to overhaul the personal laws of minority communities, saying that this was a reflection on its secular credentials. Unfortunately, though the phrasing of its queries and directives of the Supreme Court may be clear to the bureaucracy, it is not always lucid enough for the common people. What the Supreme Court was telling the government on Tuesday was that its attempts to reform personal laws are confined to the Hindus alone and that it leaves the personal laws of minority communities untouched. Can the government really call itself secular when it constantly discriminates against the majority in India in respect of personal laws? However, this time the apex court did say that the government's attempts to reform personal laws do not go beyond Hindus who have been more tolerant of such initiatives. A division bench of Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice AK Ganguly observed on Tuesday: "The Hindu community has been tolerant to these statutory interventions. But there appears a lack of secular commitment as it has not happened for other religions." The Supreme Court was hearing petitions filed by the National Commission for Women and its Delhi chapter. As a consequence of the government's failure to reform or amend the personal laws of minority communities, the responsibility for being secular has been thrust solely on the Hindus. For instance, Muslims are permitted to be polygamous in India when polygamy has been abolished even in several Islamic countries of the world. What such discrimination amounts to is that it makes secularism the responsibility of the Hindus alone, while the minorities can remain the mere beneficiaries of secularism.






Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has postponed until today the press conference where he will unveil economic steps to ease the burden of price rises, especially of fuel. It's good he postponed the briefing. That gives him more time to study the subject, and he won't unduly stress Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is in the hospital suffering from exhaustion.

Netanyahu met yesterday with Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini, Union of Local Authorities chief Shlomo Buhbut and Manufacturers Association head Shraga Brosh. They left disappointed. It turns out that Netanyahu listened to them but didn't meet all their requests or commit to immediately reducing the price of fuel and water. Netanyahu also didn't tell them he would immediately raise the minimum wage.

That's good, because an orderly government can't give in to pressure, some of it populist and misguided, without thoroughly examining what it means for the Israeli economy's strength and stability. Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer said this week that the budget framework must be kept in place to maintain economic stability at this time of crises around the world.

The economic truth is that Netanyahu and Steinitz are paying the price today for last year's generous policies. Netanyahu formed the Western world's most inflated and wasteful government, and a month ago he passed a budget that includes a sharp spending increase.

He and Steinitz surrendered to almost every demand. They gave generous budget increases to every ministry, dished out billions to yeshivas and their students, raised grants for the business sector, hired more people and irresponsibly raised public-sector salaries. They recently added NIS 700 million to the defense budget, and a month ago increased the budget for local councils by NIS 800 million.

All this has a price, and the price is tax increases. That's why they levied an exaggerated fuel tax. That's why they imposed value added tax on water. That's why they didn't reduce value added tax as promised - because in the economy there is no free lunch. We hope that this time Netanyahu will withstand the pressure and present small and measured steps. After all, it was he who declared that "my decision will be responsible and not populist."






Yoav Galant was lynched. Granted, he contributed his share to the lynch. He made serious errors, acted like a bully and showed no understanding for the new world we live in. But only a blind or wicked person would fail to understand that the way Galant was treated was unfair, inappropriate and unclean.

Had the attorney general been vetted as Galant was, he would not be the attorney general. Had the chief of staff been vetted as Galant was, he would not be chief of staff. Had Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon been vetted as Galant was, they would not have been prime ministers.

Galant was not vetted in an orderly, proper and egalitarian manner. He was marked, sighted and destroyed. Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant was pursued by a band of hunters.

The Galant operation was one of the most brilliant executions to be carried out in Israel in recent years. The target was detected at an early stage - a brave officer who knows the IDF is rotten, says the IDF is rotten and warns of the rot in the IDF. Immediately after sighting the target, intelligence was put into action - that is, a systematic gathering of slanderous material. After this material was gathered, the long strategic arm was activated - that is, the media.

Regrettably, the first media operation did not succeed. The Harpaz document did not yield the expected outcome. But the second media operation succeeded beyond expectations. Under heavy media shelling, the state comptroller and attorney general filled their assigned roles in the operation plan.

Thus the designated chief of staff was liquidated. Thus the danger that someone would clean up the deep rot in the IDF was eliminated. Until the missiles fall on our heads, we can go on saying the IDF was rehabilitated and the IDF is strong and the IDF is flawless. Until the missiles fall on our heads, we can believe the IDF's ethical flaws lie in a few plots in Moshav Amikam.

Was Yoav Galant worthy of being chief of staff? Galant committed grave acts, and his conduct should be harshly criticized. It can even be argued that he is unfit to serve as head of the general staff. The question is difficult, complicated and legitimate. What is illegitimate is the ugly, violent public process in which Galant was burned at the stake. There was no just trial here, just a magnificent execution operation.

The problem is not personal. The problem is that the normative system in Israel has collapsed. We have lost the legal golden-standard and the moral metal-meter. The stable-cleaning process of recent years was healthy and vital. But at a certain point, it was hijacked by interested parties and people with ulterior motives, who are manipulating it with total cynicism.

Consequently, we no longer have a clear, sane hierarchy of values. There is no equal application of equal norms to different people. It is easy to turn a light offense into a grave one and vice versa. It is easy to portray someone's gray as black and someone else's gray as white. Arguments on the issue become personal, sectarian, sensational exchanges of fire. Truth-seeking is replaced by persecution campaigns. The act of meting out justice is frequently unjust. The air is poisoned, the town square is contaminated, rivers of bad blood flow in the streets.

The Galant case is extreme, but it is not isolated. In Israel 2011, gathering slanderous material has become the name of the game. Selective enforcement has become an epidemic. The dooming question is not what you have done and how much you're valued, but whether the execution units direct their light beam at you. This is open season. Bands of hunters are roaming the streets, hunting anything that strikes their fancy. They are not looking for truth and justice, but are making use of processes posing as truth and justice procedures to eliminate rivals.

In the absence of a leader and sovereign, there is no one to put an end to the madness. In the absence of a moral legal authority, there is no one to restore reason, discretion, impartiality, proportionality and pertinence. There is no law, no judge and no limit. Anarchy is rapacious. Folks, it's human hunting season.






When a tank enters a residential neighborhood, sows fear and destruction, and the local kids throw stones at it, what is this called? "Disturbing the peace." And what do you call the detention of those stone-throwers, allowing the tank to continue on its way without any more trouble? "Restoring order."

That is how we have shaped our disgustingly laundered language to serve our one and only narrative; how we would describe to ourselves the misleading reality in which we live. Meanwhile, tanks are no longer entering residential areas; order is somehow being maintained in the territories without them. The occupier oppresses, the occupied people overcome their instincts and their struggle, and good order is maintained - for now. Stability.

Egypt also suddenly dared to "disturb the peace." Its people, who have had enough of the country's corrupt government and the tyrannical silencing of their voices, have taken to the streets. Riots. The Western world, including Israel, has tensed in the face of this great danger - the stability in the Middle East is about to be undermined.

Indeed, that stability should be undermined. The stability in the region, something which Westerners and Israeli have come to yearn, merely means perpetuating the status quo. That situation might be good for Israel and the West, but it is very bad for the millions of people who have had to pay the price. Maintaining Mideast stability means perpetuating the intolerable situation by which some 2.5 million Palestinians exist without any rights under the heel of Israeli rule; and another few million Palestinian refugees from the war of 1948 are living in camps in Arab countries, where they also lack any rights, hope, livelihood and dignity.

This so-called stability encompasses millions of Arabs living under criminal regimes and evil tyrannies. In stable Saudi Arabia, the women are regarded as the lowest of the low; in stable Syria, any sign of opposition is repressed; in stable Jordan and Morocco, the apple of the eye of the West and Israel, people are frightened to utter a word of criticism against their kings, even in casual coffee-shop conversations.

The yearned-for stability in the Middle East includes millions of poor and ignorant people in Egypt, while the ruling families celebrate with their billions in capital. It includes regimes, the bulk of whose budgets are scandalously channeled to the military, endlessly and unnecessarily arming themselves to preserve the regime - at the expense of education, health care, development and welfare. The stability entails rule that passes from father to son (and not just in the region's monarchies ) and false elections in which only representatives of the ruling parties are allowed to run.

It involves unnecessary, worthless wars, civil wars and wars between countries in which the people give their blood because of the whims and megalomanic urges of their rulers. It represses free thought, self-determination and the struggle for freedom. It consists of weakness, lack of growth and development, lack of opportunity for achievement and almost nonexistent benefits for the masses, whose situation is frightfully stable. In their poverty and oppression, they are stable.

A region rich in natural and human resources, which could have thrived at least as much as the Far East, has been standing stable for decades. After Africa, it is the most backward place in the world.

That is the stability we apparently want to preserve; the stability that the United States always wants to preserve; the stability that Europe wants to preserve. Any undermining of this stability is considered disturbing the peace - and that is bad according to our definition.

But let us remember that when Israel was established, this signified a huge disturbance to the region - one that greatly undermined its stability and posed the greatest danger; but it was a just disturbance, to us and to the West. Now the time has come to disturb the peace some more, to undermine the worthless stability in which the Middle East is living.

The peoples of Tunisia and Egypt have begun the process. The United States and Europe stuttered at first, but quickly came to their senses. They also finally realized that the region's stability is not only unjust, it is misleading: It will be undermined in the end. When the tank invades our lives, stones must be thrown at it; the infuriating stability of the Middle East must be wiped out.






It should be said explicitly: The United States is not interested in attaining peace in the Middle East. Peace in the region is not its top priority, and it has never corresponded with its interests. These things might sound strange to anyone who is not sensitive to the mood in the region. Whoever believes the Arabic television station Al Jazeera is a mouthpiece of radical Islam, which endangers American interests, is invited to refresh his memory and update his imagination, because this radical Islam has actually been fostered by various American administrations.

A simple question should be answered: How did the populist channel find a home in the small emirate of Qatar, of all places? It is well known that the largest U.S. air base in the Middle East is located in Qatar. The WikiLeaks documents revealed that Qatar was a base from which American bombers took off for missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that it is now offering itself to the United States as a base for an attack on Iran - and even expressed its wish to take part in a war against Iran and bear most of the costs of maintaining the base.

What's more, the ruler of Qatar, in a meeting with U.S. Senator John Kerry in early 2010, even expressed understanding for the Israeli position and the feelings of the Israelis - saying the people of Israel cannot be blamed for not trusting the Arabs, as their country has lived under threat for a long time. This is the same Qatar that gave a royal welcome to President Shimon Peres, opposition leader Tzipi Livni and other Israeli officials.

These stories, along with the emir's ties with Israel, are not reported by Al Jazeera. But at the same time, this populist channel continues to smear other Arab regimes for their ties with Israel. Sound fantastic? Not necessarily.

All the Bin Laden videos somehow find their way to Al Jazeera. This is because this station has another designated role: undermining the Arab regimes and creating a state of chaos. The chaos is what corresponds with American policy, because Washington wants the region engulfed in flames; it just wants to control their height.

The flames in the Middle East serve the American economy. In this context, it is enough to mention the $60 billion arms deal signed with Saudi Arabia last year - the largest in U.S. history. The deal will provide tens of thousands of jobs within American industries.

Given this background, it is easy to understand Washington's interest in continued tension in the Middle East. The tension pushes countries to sign large arms deals, which produce tens of thousands of jobs in the United States. As such, the American interest lies in its continued policy of inflaming passions - through Al Jazeera as well - to perpetuate concern within the Arab regimes, whose existence depends on American support. Thus the United States can continue claiming that promoting arms deals with the wealthy countries of the Mideast stems from concern for the region.

That is why the White House is not making any effort to press Israel or promote Israeli-Palestinian peace, because this could advance peace throughout the region. Such a peace, from the perspective of the arms dealers, could leave industries idle and cause the layoffs of tens of thousands of American workers. This is how Al Jazeera actually serves as a tool in the service of the American pyromaniacs.

That is the entire U.S. doctrine in a nutshell. The problem with the doctrine is that the American golem may again turn on its maker. There is already evidence of this on the ground.






Thousands of parents have been following with interest recent reports about admissions exams that are required of first graders in certain elite schools in Tel Aviv. I am one of those parents. I, too, hope that my 5-year-old daughter will receive the best education possible. I, too, hope that when her turn comes to take the test, the hours we have spent together in museums and at the opera and the discussions we have had about the future of the Middle East will pay off.

How do we take advantage of this hoopla over the question of a child's right to a worthy, enriching, and progressive education in order to delve into the real question: What constitutes a good education?

The current trend is to assume the role of an "involved" parent. Involving yourself in the life of your children usually means organizing enriching, cultural, or "artistic" activities. Many parents yearn for a cultured child, meaning a child who feels comfortable dealing with the power structures of Western culture and a child who knows how to express him or herself through art - in other words, a"creative" child.

But there is another aspect to this concept of being "cultured": It means being socially engaged, capable of critical thinking and blessed with leadership skills. It turns out there are many fun ways to nurture these traits in our children. When my daughter and I visited the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and took some abandoned dogs for a walk two weeks ago, we saw other families who also found in this experience a way to get their children to appreciate the potency of volunteering. When I donate some of my daughter's toys and clothes, I make sure to involve her in the process. She chooses the items that she wants to donate, and she accompanies me to my meetings with children her age, children who are thrilled to receive things she doesn't need. For my daughter, much like her peers in the "Mommy, buy me" generation, realizing that there are children out there who don't have the luxury of dreaming about things that already bore her is quite a disturbing experience. It's also much different from the experience she gets when we attend The Magic Flute opera.

We have it in our power to educate our children to open their eyes and see what needs improvement in our immediate vicinity. Is there a playground that is missing from a neighborhood? Perhaps a pedestrian walkway needs to be repainted? Maybe there is a hazardous ditch in the sidewalk that needs fixing? It is possible to work together to set goals and take action. The day I encouraged my daughter to notify the municipality of a leak in a water pipe in the public park was also the day she received her first citizenship lesson. When the pipe was fixed, she learned something about the power to foment change.

There are countless things to do with your children. The Society for the Protection of Nature offers beach-cleaning excursions. The secular among us are invited to spend a Shabbat without using electricity or money. Even reading the newspapers while holding a discussion about the news items encourages critical thinking among children.

At the entrance to the A.D. Gordon School in Tel Aviv, the school I attended as a child, there once was a sign that read: "Work is the path, man is the goal." We are living in an era in which, to judge by our leadership, work is not the path, and it is doubtful that man is the goal. Educating our children to greater social involvement and leadership is one of the first things that each and every one of us can do to impact the future of this country. To that end, we must believe that the goal of education is not to make our children have a better world. Rather, the goal is to empower our children to make the world better.




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



So many people now receive jobless benefits that 30 states have run out of their unemployment trust funds and are borrowing $42 billion from the federal government. Three of the hardest-hit states — Michigan, Indiana and South Carolina — have borrowed so much that they triggered automatic unemployment tax increases on employers, and the same thing is likely to happen to 20 more states this year.

The crisis could prove to be a point of friction between Republican governors and members of Congress. On Tuesday, the Obama administration unveiled a smart proposal to delay those tax increases and provide some relief to both employers and state governments. Congressional Republicans reflexively objected to the idea, which could produce higher taxes in three years, but this plan provides relief that might stimulate hiring now when it is most needed. Republican governors in desperate states like Michigan and Indiana are likely to find that more attractive than party members in Washington do.

Under the plan, which is subject to Congressional approval, there would be a two-year moratorium on the increased taxes that employers would otherwise have to pay to support the unemployment insurance system, which could save businesses as much as $7 billion. During those same two years, states would be forgiven from paying the $1.3 billion in interest they owe Washington on the money they have borrowed. The stimulus bill provided a grace period, but it expired last year.

In 2014, when the economy will presumably have recovered somewhat, employers will have to make up for the moratorium by paying higher unemployment taxes to the states. Specifically, they will have to pay taxes on the first $15,000 of an employee's income, instead of the current $7,000. But, even then, unemployment taxes will be at the same level, adjusted for inflation, as they were in 1983, when President Ronald Reagan raised them.

The administration is proposing to cut the federal unemployment tax rate in 2014 so that employers would pay the same amount to Washington as they do now. States, if they choose to do so, could collect more from each employer to repay the federal government and restock their own unemployment trust funds.

Republicans immediately derided the proposal as an irresponsible tax increase. On his blog, Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, criticized the higher taxes in 2014, but he did not mention the two-year moratorium on the automatic tax increases in 20 vulnerable states.

The proposal is not a bailout for the states or employers but rather a recognition that the automatic tax increases built into the benefits system could put a brake on hiring — and in precisely the states where employers need the most incentive to bring people back to work.

Over the next decade, as more people return to work and the states repay their debt more quickly, the proposal is expected to bring more dollars back to the federal government than the temporary moratorium will cost, so the long-term effect on the deficit should be positive. The full details of the plan's costs and benefits will be available when President Obama submits his 2012 budget to Congress next week. When he does, both parties should take a close look at the numbers and seize the opportunity to keep this fundamental safety net solvent.





While the federal courts consider whether the health care reform law is constitutional, there is an intense and even wider debate playing out in political and legal circles about the Constitution and Congress's power to solve national problems.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week on the reform law, two witnesses argued fiercely opposing views. Walter Dellinger, a former acting solicitor general under President Bill Clinton, made a compelling case for the law's constitutionality. He said that the commerce clause was the main source of Congress's power for regulating the nation's economy, an argument going back to Chief Justice John Marshall.

Randy Barnett, a Georgetown law professor, made a countercase based on what he calls "the lost Constitution," an interpretation that would limit much of that basic law, including the commerce clause.

He made plain that his attack on the health care statute is a means to severely limit the power of Congress, urging senators to reach their "own judgment about the scope of Congressional powers," regardless of "how the Supreme Court" has ruled.

To Prof. Dellinger, the Constitution's commerce clause gives Congress broad authority to regulate economic activity crossing state lines if the regulation is necessary and proper. The statute's linked provisions prohibiting companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and requiring most Americans to have minimum coverage fit that understanding.

Prof. Barnett contends that the mandate goes beyond regulating health insurance by regulating "inactivity" and penalizing people who refuse to buy insurance. He said that giving government that power would allow it to compel virtually anything.

We disagree, and so do years of judicial precedent. The Constitution contains limits on improper mandates by preserving a wide range of personal choices. And while the idea of penalizing people for not acting sounds ominous, it inaccurately describes the problem. When people don't buy health insurance — because they can't afford it or think they don't need it — the cost of treating them falls on the national economy.

Prof. Dellinger explained how one of the biggest controversies in American law can be resolved by applying mainstream understanding of the Constitution. Of the mandate, he concluded, "Will it lead to some extraordinary expanse of congressional power? It will not."

Prof. Barnett left no doubt that he was promoting a broader agenda. If the mandate is upheld, he warned sensationally, "Congress would have all the discretionary power of a king and the American people would be reduced to its subjects." His re-reading of the Constitution would remove that made-up peril. Based on no good reason, it would also fundamentally weaken government's ability to address many of the nation's most serious problems.





With states and cities in such a bad way, it is worth remembering how a previous generation rebuilt America during the Depression's bleakest years. The elegant George Washington Bridge opened in 1931. The Triborough Bridge followed five years later. Ribbons were cut for the Lincoln Tunnel in 1937, and La Guardia Airport opened officially in 1939.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey must have missed those history lessons. In recent months, he canceled the first new commuter rail tunnel between New Jersey and New York in 100 years. That project, with the federal government committed to footing as much as a third of the bill, would have created jobs and relieved commuting congestion sure to get much worse.

Now Governor Christie is trying to reroute $1.8 billion of the $3 billion the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had committed to the tunnel project to help pay for road maintenance in his state. Those repairs should be covered by the State of New Jersey, most easily by adding a tiny increase in its low gasoline tax.

That sensible idea doesn't sit well with Mr. Christie and his conservative fan club. Instead, he wants to take money from the one agency in the area that was created to build the big projects — new airports, bridges, ground zero, tunnels — that the region needs. Meanwhile, we are hearing whispers that Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York could also decide that he needs to cannibalize the Port Authority budget to help balance his budget.

The authority's 10 commissioners who are appointed by the two governors should resist any such pressure. Instead, the authority should work with Amtrak, the United States Department of Transportation, Congress and New York City to find another way to relieve commuter traffic between New York and New Jersey.

A plan, floated by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to extend the No. 7 subway line to Secaucus, N.J., is one possibility. An Amtrak proposal to create a new Hudson tunnel as part of a high-speed rail system is promising.

That idea has the support of Representative John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee — a refreshing contrast to some of his Republican colleagues who want to wipe out Amtrak's subsidy. We are glad some politicians are thinking about the future.







When we last wrote about National Collector's Mint, in 2004, the company was in trouble with New York's attorney general for selling Sept. 11 commemorative coins that it claimed were legal tender from the Northern Mariana Islands, supposedly struck from silver recovered at ground zero. It was a galling case of deceptive advertising for which the state extracted more than $2 million in fines and penalties.

The company, which sells its coins and collectibles out of Port Chester, N.Y., hasn't stopped trying to turn tragedy into cash. For the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it has issued a commemorative coin bearing images of the World Trade Center and the U.S.S. New York, a ship built partly from ground zero steel.

It costs $29.95, a price that is hard to justify, no matter what claims the company makes about the source of the coin's silver coating. It is not real currency and has not been authorized or licensed by the United States government.

The United States Mint is the only body that can make real United States coins. That mint, which has posted a warning on its Web site about the National Collector's Mint, will soon start selling the government's official 9/11 medal — also not legal tender — with profits helping to build the ground zero memorial.

Senator Charles Schumer and Representative Jerrold Nadler, both of New York, have urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the company claimed official sanction and broke any laws by doing so.

They point to how the mint aligns itself with outfits that sound official but aren't — like the Secret Service Uniformed Division Benefits Fund, a private group that runs a gift shop in Washington. The Secret Service recently sent the fund a letter telling it to stop letting the Collector's Mint use "Secret Service" in its advertising.

There is nothing wrong with companies selling memorabilia linked to moments of catastrophe or triumph, but both the law and basic decency should set some limits. These coins should come with big disclaimers: This product is 100 percent shame-free.






In Tahrir Square, I saw a young man holding a sign over his head. The sign urged President Hosni Mubarak to flee the country: "Hurry up! My arms are tired."

Lots of Egyptians seemed to feel the same way. They said they're sick of Mr. Mubarak and the entire regime — and are increasingly resentful that the Obama administration continues to seem more comfortable with the regime than with people power. My sense is that we're not only on the wrong side of history but that we're also inadvertently strengthening the anti-Western elements that terrify us and drive our policy.

President Obama and his aides were blindsided by the crisis from the beginning (as were we in the news media), and I fear that they've mishandled it since. When the protests began, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton described Mr. Mubarak's government as "stable" and "looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people."

Then our special envoy, Frank Wisner, called for Mr. Mubarak to stay in power, saying: "President Mubarak's continued leadership is critical." The White House has tried to backtrack, but it has been backtracking from backtracks so much that on Egypt its symbol might as well be a weather vane.

When well-known journalists like Anderson Cooper of CNN were being beaten up in Tahrir Square, the White House found its voice. But now that foreign reporters are no longer being routinely harassed, it has lost its sense of urgency. "Now" is no longer in the White House lexicon.

America seems to favor reforms under Mr. Mubarak's vice president, Omar Suleiman, while perhaps throwing Mr. Mubarak himself overboard. But Mr. Suleiman is every bit as much an autocrat as Mr. Mubarak himself, and our emphasis on stability, order and gradualism suggests a profound allergy to popular will.

That raises a basic question: Why does our national policy seem to be that democracy is good for Americans and Israelis, yet dangerous for Egyptians?

One answer is simple. American officials worry that Mr. Mubarak has for decades stifled any secular democratic opposition, so the only organized dissent comes from the Muslim Brotherhood. The fear is that if elections come too soon, before secular groups can organize, the Brotherhood will do well.

That's a legitimate concern, but it's one that the Egyptian opposition is fully aware of and has a variety of mechanisms to address. And a new opinion survey shows that the Muslim Brotherhood has only 15 percent approval and its leaders get just 1 percent support in a presidential straw poll (the candidate to watch: Amr Moussa, the chief of the Arab League).

To many Egyptians, the U.S. is conspiring with the regime to push only cosmetic reforms while keeping the basic structure in power. That's creating profound ill will. In Tahrir Square, I watched as young people predisposed to admire America — the Facebook generation — expressed a growing sense of betrayal. In a country where half the population is under 24, we are burning our bridges.

Americans, perhaps, don't fully appreciate that the regime is mind-bogglingly corrupt and instinctively repressive. On my blog,, I've linked to a video that appears to show Egyptian forces shooting an unarmed, unthreatening protester in cold blood and to another that apparently shows a government vehicle driving through a group of protesters, striking them and hurtling on. Those videos are heart-wrenching, and it is because of long experience with the regime's callousness that ordinary Egyptians don't trust people like Mr. Suleiman one bit. They think he's stalling in an effort to retain the system — and they're probably right.

Human Rights Watch has confirmed 302 deaths in the Egypt upheavals, based on visits to hospitals in three cities, and says the real toll may be significantly higher. To put that in perspective, that is several times the toll when Iran crushed its pro-democracy movement in 2009. And it's approaching the toll when the Chinese Army opened fire on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing in 1989. Yet when it's our ally that does the killing, we counsel stability, gradualism and order.

These are Egypt's problems to work out, not America's. But whatever message we're trying to send, the one that is coming through is that we continue to embrace the existing order, and that could taint our future relations with Egypt for many years to come.

Many years ago, when I studied Arabic intensively at the American University in Cairo, I was bewildered initially because for the first couple of months I learned only the past tense. That's the basic tense in Arabic, and so in any Arabic conversation I was locked into the past.

The Obama administration seems equally caught in the past, in ways that undermine the secular pro-Western forces that are Egypt's best hope. I hope the White House learns the future tense.






In troubled times it's important to pace yourself. There's only so much you can worry about at once, and we've already got Egypt, the weird weather, rising food prices and unemployment. Plus, the secretary of homeland security says the terror threat is really high. It would be at least reddish-orange if we hadn't gotten rid of the color code.

Good grief, maybe we shouldn't have gotten rid of the color code.

At moments like this, I find it soothing to make lists of things that we don't have to worry about at all. Such as:

Outrageous bills proposed by state legislators

In South Dakota, we recently learned that Representative Hal Wick, a Republican of Sioux Falls, dropped a bill into the hopper that would require every adult in the state to own a gun. In Georgia, Representative Bobby Franklin, a Republican of Marietta, introduced legislation that would eliminate the requirement that Georgia drivers have licenses, arguing that he was tired of "agents of the state demanding your papers."

And, people, you do not need to worry about it! These bills are not going to pass. Besides, if we worried about every nutsy idea tossed around in state legislatures, we would never have adequate time to devote to work, family and the fate of the Broadway musical "Spider-Man."

About 10 percent of a state legislature is composed of people who are totally loony. This is in a good state. It's possible that in yours, the proportion is much, much higher. That is probably something to worry about, but not today.

The point is, they only introduce these bills to get your attention. Resist. Although Representative Franklin is not making it easy, having also proposed that suburbanites be permitted to keep cows and other farm animals in their yards and that the state be required to pay all of its debts in gold or silver.

Glenn Beck's declining ratings

Honest. They're down.

Who will win the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll

The conservative activists are meeting in Washington at a gathering that will culminate in a much-anticipated straw poll. It is, in theory, our civic duty to follow their activities and determine if they will provide a boost for one of the Republican presidential candidates. Even though the poll has, in the past, proved to be about as good at predicting the future as Punxsutawney Phil.

Former Senator Rick Santorum made news this week when he said Sarah Palin was ducking the conference because she prefers events where somebody is paying her. One of the few joys of following presidential politics two years in advance of the election is that it gives you a chance to ponder hopefuls like Santorum, who prepared for this quest by losing his U.S. Senate seat by 18 percentage points.

But don't worry about Sarah Palin running for president. Even Sarah Palin doesn't know if she's running for president. Mull instead the news that Bristol is now said to be writing a memoir.

The fact that Congress isn't doing anything

Ever since the Senate reached a bipartisan agreement to speed up the legislative process, there has been not a single filibuster in the upper chamber. This may be partly because there have generally been no senators in the upper chamber.

Really, every once in a while they drop by to talk about a bill on the Federal Aviation Administration. And then they go home again.

Meanwhile, in the House, the powerful new Republican majority has continued its laserlike focus on jobs by arguing about abortion and failing to pass the bills it votes on.

"We're not going to be perfect every day," said Speaker John Boehner.

On Wednesday, the House argued about whether it should make the government repossess $179 million from our account at the United Nations despite the State Department's plan to have the United Nations use it to improve security in New York City.

This is supposed to be part of the G.O.P. budget-balancing initiative, and on that count it is somewhat like planning to lose 50 pounds by reducing your intake of kale. Mainly, it was an opportunity for Republicans to spend an enjoyable day complaining about international organizations dedicated to world peace.

"It's a disgrace that we continue to fund an organization like the U.N.," said Representative Connie Mack of Florida. Did you know his real name is Cornelius Harvey McGillicuddy IV? Also, he is married to Representative Mary Bono of California, who has now been the wife of two members of Congress, only one of whom once had a singing act with Cher.

But I digress. Despite the Republicans' rancor about international organizations, the leaders failed to muster the necessary two-thirds majority to get the bill through. It'll probably pass later, and would then be preserved in amber until sometime in the next millennium when the senators get around to it.

Works for me.







THE Egyptian people have spoken, and we have spoken emphatically. In two weeks of peaceful demonstrations we have persistently demanded liberation and democracy. It was groups of brave, sincere Egyptians who initiated this moment of historical opportunity on Jan. 25, and the Muslim Brotherhood is committed to joining the national effort toward reform and progress.

In more than eight decades of activism, the Muslim Brotherhood has consistently promoted an agenda of gradual reform. Our principles, clearly stated since the inception of the movement in 1928, affirm an unequivocal position against violence. For the past 30 years we have posed, peacefully, the greatest challenge to the ruling National Democratic Party of Hosni Mubarak, while advocating for the disenfranchised classes in resistance to an oppressive regime.

We have repeatedly tried to engage with the political system, yet these efforts have been largely rejected based on the assertion that the Muslim Brotherhood is a banned organization, and has been since 1954. It is seldom mentioned, however, that the Egyptian Administrative Court in June 1992 stated that there was no legal basis for the group's dissolution.

In the wake of the people's revolt, we have accepted invitations to participate in talks on a peaceful transition. Along with other representatives of the opposition, we recently took part in exploratory meetings with Vice President Omar Suleiman. In these talks, we made clear that we will not compromise or co-opt the public's agenda. We come with no special agenda of our own — our agenda is that of the Egyptian people, which has been asserted since the beginning of this uprising.

We aim to achieve reform and rights for all: not just for the Muslim Brotherhood, not just for Muslims, but for all Egyptians. We do not intend to take a dominant role in the forthcoming political transition. We are not putting forward a candidate for the presidential elections scheduled for September.

While we express our openness to dialogue, we also re-assert the public's demands, which must be met before any serious negotiations leading to a new government. The Mubarak regime has yet to show serious commitment to meeting these demands or to moving toward substantive, guaranteed change.

As our nation heads toward liberty, however, we disagree with the claims that the only options in Egypt are a purely secular, liberal democracy or an authoritarian theocracy. Secular liberal democracy of the American and European variety, with its firm rejection of religion in public life, is not the exclusive model for a legitimate democracy.

In Egypt, religion continues to be an important part of our culture and heritage. Moving forward, we envision the establishment of a democratic, civil state that draws on universal measures of freedom and justice, which are central Islamic values. We embrace democracy not as a foreign concept that must be reconciled with tradition, but as a set of principles and objectives that are inherently compatible with and reinforce Islamic tenets.

The tyranny of autocratic rule must give way to immediate reform: the demonstration of a serious commitment to change, the granting of freedoms to all and the transition toward democracy. The Muslim Brotherhood stands firmly behind the demands of the Egyptian people as a whole.

Steady, gradual reform must begin now, and it must begin on the terms that have been called for by millions of Egyptians over the past weeks. Change does not happen overnight, but the call for change did — and it will lead us to a new beginning rooted in justice and progress.

Essam El-Errian is a member of the guidance council of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.







ON Aug. 8, 1997, Michael Friedman, then a deputy commissioner of the United States Food and Drug Administration, announced a policy change that let loose the forces of direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical television advertising. In a move neither actively sought by nor much discussed within the industry's trade association, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the F.D.A. opened a vast and untested venue for drug companies' marketing departments by freeing TV drug ads of the previously unworkable requirement that they painstakingly detail side effects.

Nearly 14 years later, with parents confronting uncomfortable questions from their young children about "reptile dysfunction" and nearly $5 billion a year spent on TV ads for treating everything from toenail fungus to cancer, critics, the medical community and even the drug companies themselves are wondering if there is any way to put this genie back in its lamp.

In announcing the change all those years ago, Dr. Friedman said that it could "help promote greater consumer awareness about prescription drugs." But the evidence on the public benefits of broadcast direct-to-consumer drug advertising is mixed. Employers who pay the health insurance bills complain that the ads drive unnecessary use of medical care and steer patients to expensive brand names and away from generics. Doctors report feeling pressured to prescribe the most heavily advertised products. The drug industry and allies among patient organizations point out that, for many chronic conditions, the real issue is underuse of effective medicines and that generic drug use is at its highest levels ever.

Patients, however annoyed they may be with the ubiquity of the ads, also report valuing the information they receive. The ads appear to not only drive conversations between patients and doctors but also remind those who already have been prescribed medicines to take them.

But we've reached a point where the drug companies may be looking for a way to change the system. While big pharma's belief in advertising's benefits — both for their finances and for their customers' health — remains strong, direct-to-consumer ads are expensive, and companies often buy them merely to blunt the impact of their competitors' ads. In addition, many drug company chief executives recognize that the F.D.A.'s 1997 decision to allow the ads has, inadvertently, caused the public to view the industry as focused no longer on research but on sales — and made patients ask whether the companies are more concerned with profits than with safety.

At this point, however, the drug companies themselves are stuck with the ads. Despite the widespread belief that the pharmaceutical industry is a monolith, competitive pressures drive individual drug makers to advertise to make their products more sought after than substitute medicines to treat conditions like asthma, diabetes and, of course, erectile dysfunction.

A few years ago, Congress took a stab at regulating direct-to-consumer drug ads on TV, but some drug companies partnered with ad agencies and broadcast media owners and effectively blocked the effort. But even if Congress had tried harder, it is very possible that such regulations on advertising would have run afoul of the First Amendment in court.

A more effective way to limit the ads would be for Congress to pass legislation that would allow drug companies to cooperate with one another, and with physician and patient organizations, to develop joint ad campaigns that are specific to certain diseases and conditions but not to any particular drug. These ads would inform consumers about the disease; its treatment options, including pharmaceuticals; and how to gain further information not biased toward any particular brand.

A precedent for such agreements can be found in a 1920s law, the Capper-Volstead Act, which provides an explicit legal exception to the federal antitrust laws for agricultural producers, so that they can, among other things, jointly market their products. The law provides the government with broad powers to police these alliances to ensure that they do not provide a forum for companies to set prices.

With such cooperative agreements, drug companies could trim their individual marketing budgets. Advertising agencies and broadcasters would still retain some of the billions of dollars in drug ads that support programming, including news. And patients and caregivers would be spared the assault of promotional messages, often unintelligible warnings about side effects, and cloying images that make up much of current TV drug advertising.

Instead, we'd get unbiased information about the medical conditions we care about, and encouragement to seek out the medicines and vaccines that can help us maintain and improve our health.

Ian D. Spatz, a former vice president for global health policy at Merck, is a senior adviser to a law firm that has pharmaceutical companies as clients.








No one can say that Tennessee and the rest of the nation were not warned about the financial dangers of Congress' passage of the $862 billion so-called "stimulus."


Time and again, experts and "ordinary folks" alike made the commonsense observation that the stimulus would further bloat our national debt. They also pointed out that using stimulus funds to prop up state budgets would encourage states to put off hard spending cuts.


But those concerns were brushed aside as Democrats rushed to approve the stimulus on promises -- later disproved -- that it would vigorously boost the private sector and keep down unemployment.


Now the chickens are coming home to roost. As expected, some states failed to cut spending significantly after they got stimulus funds. And now, with the funds running out fast, some literally face the possibility of bankruptcy.


Even in conservative states such as Tennessee that behaved more responsibly, stimulus money only delayed, rather than eliminated, the need for deeper spending cuts. The heads of numerous state agencies went before Gov. Bill Haslam recently to spell out big new cuts that will be required to balance Tennessee's budget. Again and again, the loss of stimulus funds was cited as increasing the severity of the cuts.


Is that an argument for Congress to pass another stimulus? Certainly not! The first one failed miserably, leaving us in more debt and making government even bigger, but not holding down unemployment as promised. It didn't solve states' budget problems; it only put them off for another day.


Well, "another day" has inevitably arrived. And not only is the federal government unable to "rescue" the states with more stimulus spending, but it is saddling them with new multibillion-dollar costs related to ObamaCare. Nobody in Washington seems to have a clear idea how states are supposed to pay those costs -- which is probably why most of the states have sued to stop ObamaCare before it can do further harm.


What our nation needs isn't more federal spending but a hard dose of reality. We need to recognize once again that free enterprise is the engine of our economy, and that it cannot succeed if the federal government ignores the clear limits placed on Washington by our Constitution.


Have we learned that lesson yet?


We hope it does not take the eventual insolvency of programs such as Medicare or Social Security before enough Americans realize that out-of-control government spending, taxing and debt carry an awfully high price.







There are many challenges in life, but if we have jobs to support our families, we have a much better possibility of dealing with the rest of life's problems.


So it is good news that in a time of economic crisis Chattanooga has been leading the rest of Tennessee's major cities in job growth.


A big part of that good news involves our local Volkswagen plant, but there have been other local employment opportunities, too.


We should appreciate our good fortune and work productively to justify the investments that created those employment opportunities.







President Barack Obama recently reached out to American businesses while at the same time lecturing them on what he sees as their shortcomings. He told members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that he hopes to eliminate some burdensome regulations that hold back economic growth. In the same speech, he scolded businesses for not investing more money in the economy to produce more jobs.


It was an odd combination of remarks. How could the president talk about reducing regulation when thousands of pages of new regulations will be required to implement ObamaCare medical "reforms"?


As for companies' unwillingness to invest more of their earnings, the president has unfortunately helped create an uncertain business climate that discourages investment.


He did, reluctantly, go along with extending some Bush-era tax cuts. But he indicated that a big part of that tax relief should end soon.


So companies really do not have the financial predictability they need to invest in new enterprises.


Any business venture is risky, but adding uncertainty over tax policy multiplies the risk needlessly. The fact is, businesses are rightly fearful that in the near future, taxes will be increased, sharply diminishing the return on any investments they might make now. The way to reduce that growth-killing uncertainty is to stop putting artificial time limits on tax relief.


Obama also talks about reducing corporate tax rates, since the United States has among the highest rates in the world -- rates that hurt job growth. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that proposals to cut corporate taxes will get past the Democrat-run Senate. Just "talking" about tax relief doesn't "pay the bills."


The president seems bewildered that businesses aren't rushing to invest heavily in new ventures. But he is not improving the business conditions that encourage investment.







You may have read about a horrible case in Philadelphia in which an abortionist is accused of multiple counts of murder. Authorities say late-term babies were fully delivered at the abortionist's "clinic," then their spines were deliberately severed with scissors, killing them.


Several other employees at the facility -- which authorities described as a "house of horrors" -- have also been charged with murder.


And now, in a separate case, an undercover video has been released showing a worker at a New Jersey Planned Parenthood clinic offering "advice" to a man and woman who were posing as traffickers of underage girls.


This is how The New York Times reported on the video at the Planned Parenthood clinic: "The man says he is involved in sex work and wants to bring girls, some only 14 or 15 and illegal immigrants, for medical exams. The [clinic] manager says that 14-year-old girls should not admit their ages, because it triggers extra reporting requirements. 'For the most part, we want as little information as possible,' she says. Asked if the girls can obtain abortions, the manager replies that if they are under 15, they should go to another clinic where 'their protocols are not as strict as ours.'"


Of course, the clinic worker's response should not have been to "advise" the man and woman about anything! There should have been an immediate report to police about the alleged trafficking and abuse of children.


Planned Parenthood tries to present itself to the public as "respectable" and "mainstream," and it claims the behavior by the clinic worker was "isolated." But the employee in question was a manager at the clinic!


It is tragic that millions of babies have been killed purposely in our country since the Supreme Court's horrible Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973. At a minimum, Congress should cut off the tens of millions of dollars in federal tax money that Planned Parenthood gets yearly.


Why should U.S. taxpayers have to help finance any organization that provides "services" that so many people consider reprehensible?








Inspired by the apparent "yes it is/no it isn't" dispute between a prosecutor of the Dink murder case and the interior minister as to whether a new "investigation" of culpability has been launched, our morning news meeting turned to an investigation of synonyms.

When, we asked ourselves, is an investigation not an investigation? For as we reported Tuesday, along with the rest of the Turkish news media, prosecutors have at long last turned their gaze beyond the four-year-old "lone teenage gunman" theory as the explanation of for a colleague's murder. Interior Minister Beşir Atalay, however, says there is not an investigation; but as we report today, the prosecutor has even produced a case number.

Could this be in fact an analysis? A further delving into the facts? An examination of the investigatory record? An inspection, inquest, inquiry or probe? Expanded prosecutorial research? Deeper judicial scrutiny of the case, a sounding, even a survey? This is not just an English word game. All of these phrases have Turkish equivalents and if we investigate the legalistic Ottoman often favored by lawyers, the trove of synonyms grows exponentially.

The minister can call the matter what he likes. For the record, we took pains in our reporting to make it clear that the 28 officials to be questioned, including police and security authorities in both Istanbul and Trabzon, the hometown of the confessed triggerman Ogün Samast, are not suspects. "This is only a preliminary call to testify that may lead to more suspects," we said. 

As we report today, Fethiye Çetin, the lawyer for the Dink family confirmed the existence of the investigation. "The political authority needs to support an investigation like this," she said, adding that the confusion created by the minister is "unfortunate." We agree on both points. 

As we argued yesterday in this space, by any name the judicial authority must expand its vision in the languishing Dink case. This is critical in light of a number of new books and other revelations that suggest a trail of negligence, if not complicity, that may have emboldened Samast. It is critical because the European Court of Human Rights has formally concluded that officials were negligent in the face of clear threats to Dink's life. It is most critical because nobody – save apparently the country's top law officer – buys the notion that a teenager, frustrated by joblessness and enamored of nationalist websites decrying Dink, acted all on his own.

So we again repeat our basic premise: Turkey's justice system will never be redeemed in domestic or international eyes if concrete steps to reinforce the credibility of the official proceedings in this now-notorious case are not forthcoming. Call it an investigation. Call it a review. Just make sure it sound, thorough, fair and swift.

The views expressed in the Straight represent the consensus opinion of the Hürriyet Daily News and its editorial board members.







A man I know buttonholed me the other day – not in a bar, I don't go to such places – and took me aside to share this: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran is a Mossad agent. I showed no reaction, and checked his coat lapel for a flag pin, expecting him to tell me next that President Barack Obama is the real Manchurian Candidate. Instead he informed me that it was the Church of Scientology that put Pope Benedict into the Vatican.

On my way home I reflected on these pieces of news. I had to agree that if Scientology had wanted to ever get back into Germany after having been kicked out by the government, a good way would be to spot and bring abroad a rising prelate who looked to be on track for the papacy. Once he became Holy Father he could straighten out the Bundestag on that "cult" misunderstanding. And get the Church back into business in Germany.

Reasonable enough, I thought. But the Ahmadinejad information the man gave me – that the president of Iran had let Israeli spies into the Natanz nuclear complex to plant the Stuxnet bug, and would be awarded with a high Cabinet post in Tel Aviv once Israel occupied the Middle East – struck me as far-fetched.

I can't say anything about my informant, Dear Reader, for fear of compromising him and some of his affiliates.

There are, in seriousness, people all over the place, not least of all in Turkey, with feverish notions based on strings of half-factual dots they believe they have connected. To them, those connected dots make all things manifest. World events, and all the devious machinations behind them, are suddenly crystal-clear. It becomes evident, for example, that there were never any moon landings. What really happened was that NASA used top-secret imaging technology to make it seem that Neil Armstrong was scuffing around on lunar dust. NASA then kept this technology in the can for 40 years, before entrusting it to James Cameron to make "Avatar," on the sworn agreement that all proceeds from the film would go to Pentagon death-ray research.

Halfway through the past century the U.S. social commentator and historian Richard Hofstadter wrote a book called "the Paranoid Style in American Politics." He described the craziness – "the suspicious discontent" – that seizes much of the U.S. public at election time, as well as much of the rest of the time. Featured in the book were Senator Joseph McCarthy, the John Birch Society, and other conspiracy-mongers who saw a communist behind every tree. Much has been made of Hofstadter's thesis since the early January shooting of the Arizona congresswoman and several others. A fault of his book is that by focusing on the United States, it has too narrow a compass. The U.S. was, and is, far from the only nation to hatch conspiracy fantasies. France and Italy are perennially ripe with them. Turkey comes to mind.

People I know here believe that an enigmatic Muslim sage, a Turk living in rural Pennsylvania, has cosmic powers. Branching out from his homestead is an organization said to be as vast, well-funded, and well-concealed as any in the world. It's believed that his followers will use a network of Third World schools as a framework for global domination. It's no accident, people say, that this mild-seeming future hegemon is based in the United States.

The U.S. and its doings indeed occupy the main place in paranoid thinking. The most universal form of conspiracy theory is the belief that the U.S. controls virtually everything that happens in the world. In the U.S.' pay, or at its bidding, are the United Nations, the heads of all key governments, the masters of global finance, drug cartel kingpins, the Church of England and Somali pirates. An intricate playbook, scripted in Washington, orchestrates their actions and words. The script is cunning – it prompts these actors to insult and even assault the U.S. so as to deflect suspicion.

Now it is true that if one adds up the combat hardware the U.S. possesses, it comes to something like 15 times the military budgets of the world's other countries combined. And the U.S. does have 1,200 military installations and listening posts strategically located around the globe. The incomes of its great corporations are greater than the GNPs of most countries. But beyond that, any claim of U.S. omnipotence fades into myth.

Did the U.S. catch Osama bin Laden when it had him pinned down at Tora Bora? Can its biggest passenger aircraft maker finish a plane that is already three years behind schedule? Is little Lebanon paying any attention to Washington today? Is the Pentagon able to put a stop to the tens of millions of dollar that crooked contractors in Afghanistan are siphoning off each month? Was it part of Washington's global master plan to let New Orleans become a ghost town? Was the CIA able to foresee that the Chinese would unveil a ready-to-go stealth fighter plane the day of Defense Secretary Robert Gates's visit? Who in Washington knew that Turkey would kick over the traces the way it has? Does it really look as if the United States stage-managed the events in Tunisia?

Only twice in its history has the United States been close to measuring up to the delusions of the conspiracy theorists – in the years immediately after World War II, and 20 years ago, at the fall of the Soviet Union. Since then it has muddled along as much as it has succeeded.  

Behavioral science tells us that the ideas of conspiracy, and paranoid thinking, crop up most often among the insecure – among the fearful and those who smell betrayal in the air, who feel that their way of life, their country, is about to be swept away by evil incarnate, by some megalomaniac superforce. Reality tells us that there may be a lot of megalomania out there, and not a little evil, but there don't seem to be any superforces, not even the U.S.

In fact, the whole business carries a sense of nutty humor. I'll laugh out loud the next time someone fills me in on President Ahmadinejad or the pope.







In his first public comment on the unfolding drama in Egypt, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, worried aloud last week that the right analogy may be the Iranian revolution of 1979: "Our real fear is of a situation...which has already developed in several countries, including Iran itself, of repressive regimes of radical Islam."

The non-sectarian, non-party protesters in Egypt who have driven President Hosni Mubarak to the brink of resignation may lose control of their revolution just as the Iranians lost theirs to the ayatollahs, Netanyahu suggests. The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party that is particularly strong among the poor, might gain a dominant position in the new Egyptian government.

The Muslim Brotherhood have always condemned the peace treaty that Egypt signed with Israel 32 years ago, so they serve as a sort of shorthand in Israeli politics for the nightmare scenario in which Egypt cancels the peace treaty. In fact, you don't even need the Muslim Brotherhood to make the scenario credible: a majority of Egyptians dislike the treaty and would like to see it canceled.

Cancellation of the peace treaty would not necessarily lead to war between Egypt and Israel. It's not even likely to. It would certainly cause a huge rise in Israeli military spending, but the threat that a post-Mubarak regime would pose to Israel is more political than strictly military. As, indeed, is the threat from Iran.

The Iranian regime has never attacked any other country, but it does support the Hezbollah organization in southern Lebanon, whose militia fought the Israeli army to a standstill in 2006. The Hamas movement, a Palestinian party modeled on Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, could become equally formidable with militarily support from Cairo.

Hamas already controls the Gaza Strip, which shares a border with Egypt. With Egyptian backing, it might also overthrow the Palestinian Authority that currently controls the West Bank, for that body has been discredited by its corruption and its long collaboration with Israel.

Even without a war, therefore, an elected Egyptian government would greatly compound Israel's security problems. Hamas could end up in control of all the occupied Palestinian territories, and Jordan would have great difficulty in preserving its own peace treaty with Israel. No wonder Netanyahu is concerned.

But Netanyahu's own policy, which boils down to avoiding serious negotiations with the Palestinians and hanging onto the West Bank indefinitely, is not sustainable in the long run. Palestinians are already moving toward the view that no "two-state" solution is possible, and that the right strategy is to accept the unity of all of the former British mandate of Palestine.

The Israeli army effectively unified all of that land in 1967 and has dominated the Palestinian-majority parts of it ever since. But the Palestinian birth-rate is considerably higher than the Jewish population growth rate, even though the latter benefits from massive immigration, so the day is not far off when Arabs will outnumber Jews within the old borders of mandatory Palestine, i.e. all the lands between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

When that day arrives, say the proponents of the "one-state" solution, Palestinians need merely demand the vote throughout that territory, and Israel as we know it will be finished. It will become a civil rights issue in which Israel is cast as a new apartheid regime, and support for it will drain away even in the United States. Significantly, this is already the implicit strategy of Hamas.

If a new Egyptian government adopts this policy, Israel will not just have a bigger security problem. It will face an existential problem, albeit one that will only play out over several decades. What can Netanyahu (or any Israeli leader) do to avoid this outcome?

There is going to be a new Egyptian government very soon. It will probably not be dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, at least in the early days, for they cannot claim credit for the revolution. So there may still be a window of opportunity in which an Israeli offer to allow a Palestinian state on all the land beyond the country's pre-1967 borders could revive the "two-state" option.

It is unlikely to remain open for long, however, and it is hard to see how the Israeli electorate could be persuaded to jump through it in time. Netanyahu, given the character of his governing coalition, certainly could not do it, and it's not clear whether any other coalition of Israeli parties could either.

At a time when bold steps are called for, Israeli politics is effectively paralyzed. But then, it has been effectively paralyzed by the settlements issue for several decades already, and most of the time available for implementing a "two-state" solution has already been wasted.

Given that the emergence of two legitimate and universally recognized states in former Palestine, the larger of which would be Jewish, should be Israel's main security goal, it has been extraordinarily negligent toward its own interests.

And now it may be too late.






Crises first in Tunisia and then in Egypt have further reinforced the perception in the eyes of the West that Turkey is an attractive and unprecedented model for the Middle East.

The comments made in the West underline the components of the Turkish model, such as membership in Western organizations and alliances, dynamic economic growth, functioning democracy and a political class known for its strong Islamic identity, among others.

Turkey important for every case

The crises in Tunisia and Egypt are the harbingers of painful change in the Middle East in the 21st century.

The incidents must have taught everyone that authoritarian regimes backed by the military and the police, along with archaic monarchies dependent on oil, cannot live on forever in the region.

At this stage, the developments in Egypt seem open-ended. Undoubtedly, it is desirable for Egypt to set a first real example of democracy in the Arab world after going through critical changes.

Another scenario is the eventual emergence of an extremist Islamic structure following the transformation to democracy. A third scenario is the continuation of the current regime with military support along with a few touch-ups here and there; this, however, would ultimately deepen the conflict in Egypt and result in chaos.

Regardless of which scenario occurs, Turkey's importance and indispensability for the West will increase compared to the past. In the worst-case scenario, the balances in the Middle East will turn upside down; on such a volatile ground, Turkey will remain the only stable and durable actor in the region.

In an ideal scenario, Turkey as a "soft power" will be a source of inspiration for the region as Egypt moves toward democracy while the winds of democracy blow in the Arab world.

No model with incomplete democracy

In short, regardless of the wind's direction in Egypt, all roads lead to Turkey for the West.

But role models should be without flaw by default. If Turkey sets an example with its democracy, it should be a real model. At this point, let's take to heart the possibility Soli Özel of daily Habertürk voiced in his article last Sunday.

After noting that Turkey had become more important due to the crisis in Egypt, Özel said:

"As the strategic importance of Turkey increases, the quality and standards of democracy in the country could be put on the backburner, just like during the Cold War. In this case, those attempting to seek social opposition in Turkey will face difficulty… The quality of the new Turkish democracy will be overshadowed by the image of Turkish democracy."

Such probability shouldn't be neglected because we have numerous past examples in which the United States abandoned the idea of democracy in Turkey. Whether or not the U.S. will now exhibit a principled stance on the issue will only become clear in practice.

Moreover, U.S. decision-makers are expected to see that a democracy in decline (namely, through the suppression of press freedom, the weakening of the separation of branches and overt authoritarianism) will fail to be a model for the Middle East.

EU out of the equation

Let's not forget that Turkey has not become a model overnight. Turkey's difference in the region and its "soft power" is the product of a secular tradition, infrastructure and institutions of the Republic of Turkey.

All in all, Turkey will be talked about more in terms of the change in the Middle East. On the other hand, Europe will be talked about less. The European Union's inability to adopt an immediate stance in the case of the recent crises reveals that it's quickly diverging from being a global player.

The EU has remained behind Turkey and the U.S. in terms of influence in Mideast crises. And we hope that the EU decision-makers can benefit from the crises in a way to open their eyes and realize that by excluding Turkey from full membership, they cannot have any influence in the Middle East.

Otherwise, the EU might need magnifying mirrors in the future to look and feel powerful in world politics.

*Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet, in which this piece appeared Wednesday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.






Former Turkish Naval Forces Cmdr. Güven Erkaya was to me a very valuable officer. The famous saying "We live in a period of Unarmed Forces, not Armed Forces" statement belongs to him. He was very sensitive about secularism and believed in democracy.

Feb. 28, referred to as the 1997 "post-modern coup" was over, the winds of the West Working Group, which was founded to monitor whether the decisions of the National Security Council were implemented, ceased and Erkaya retired. From time to time we would meet and talk. One time I asked whether or not there was a danger of a coup on Feb. 28.

I'll never forget our discussion:

"It has become impossible for the military to make a coup. The General Staff, even if it wanted to, knew there wouldn't be any armed intervention," he said.

"So, the mention of a coup was an empty threat? Whatever happened to the tanks and harsh statements?" I asked.

"No, it wasn't a threat. You [the media], the fundamentalist segment and the public in general so strongly believed that the military could interfere in politics that we wanted to benefit from this belief. We abused this fear of the fundamentalist segment and thus forced the Necmettin Erbakan government to resign. We couldn't have made a coup. We didn't intend to," he said.

I did not believe him back in 1998-99. But later I read the same sentences in retired Ambassador Taner Baytok's book in which he wrote about his chat with Erkaya.

Now looking back I realize Erkaya told the truth.

A main opposition deputy leader, Süheyl Batum's words "the military is a paper tiger" reminded me of that moment in time.

Now, I understand that politicians, not the military, were the paper tiger. None of our politicians was able to step forward saying "NO." All were scared and took shelter. We find opportunities to go back in time and, with each event, see that it was the politicians who failed the class.

This is how we really lose Cyprus

This is also not the first time chaos has taken place in Cyprus.

Before the Annan Plan, university students on the TV show 32.Gün said "We are tired of Turkey," revealing a hidden truth which upset Ankara.

Whenever Turkey's attitude is criticized in Cyprus, Ankara would say, "We saved these thankless people and now they insult us."

Nobody would investigate the reason for their protests.

The latest protests were organized by the Cyprus Turkish Teachers' Union and the Cyprus Turkish Civil Servants' Union, who are not enemies of the Turks.

Has anyone ever asked the presidents of these two unions, Güven Varoğlu or Ahmet Kaptan, why?

Has anyone ever bothered to research where this discomfort comes from?


Since Cyprus is our backyard we are used to looking down on them.

They can't protest!

They need to be grateful!

And this is exactly where we are mistaken.

Let's not forget, we have no right to complain about disorder. For, we ourselves once established this disorder. If Cyprus is a haven for civil servants and financial aid is being wasted, then we are the ones to blame.

If channeled well, then Cyprus can manage itself. But the motherland needs to fix this disorder first.

To tell the truth, with this attitude we are little by little losing northern Cyprus, and we are not even aware of it. If we continue this course Greek Cypriots won't take it over but we will hand it to them.

Things protestors need to know

Let's take a look at the other side of the issue.

Northern Cyprus needs to realize that life can't continue like this.

I am among those who believe that with the refusal of the Annan Plan by Greek Cypriots we have missed out on the chance of finding a solution.

From now on northern Cyprus will probably continue with its own status. But this life cannot go on, sharing the money coming from Ankara. A reform from the ground up is inevitable. And this needs to be led by Turkey, and northern Cyprus needs to accept realities.

If this fight persists then Greek Cypriots need not wait on the EU.

After a while the island will be deserted.







In connection with the visit of a high-level information-communication-technologies delegation from Turkey, a Turkish-Swedish ICT Forum was arranged at the World Trade Center in Stockholm on Wednesday. The event was co-organized by the Turkish-Swedish Business Council, the Foreign Economic Relations Board, or DEİK, the Turkish Informatics Foundation, or TBV, the Informatics Industry Association, or TÜBİSAD, and the Swedish Trade Council.

The forum was of great importance for the Turkish ICT industry as I believe that Swedish executives, entrepreneurs and government officials are all geared toward an ICT-based future for Sweden.

Sweden's domestic industries originated in the 17th century from its vast natural resources of forests, rich iron ore and waterpower. Over the course of the 20th century, Swedish industry has evolved from traditional sectors with lower added value, such as wood and iron ore processing, to modern industries with a higher degree of skill and technology input, such as cars and precision and specialized engineering. The change of priorities became even more evident in the 1990s with the emergence of new research-intensive industries, such as information technology and pharmaceuticals, which replaced the more traditional engineering industries as the driving force of growth and business activity.

According to the Technology Report 2009-2010, released for the ninth consecutive year by the World Economic Forum, Sweden tops all the rankings. It is followed by Singapore and Denmark, which was in the No.1 position for the last three years. Switzerland (4), the United States (5) and the other Nordic countries together with Canada, Hong Kong and the Netherlands complete the top 10. Turkey ranks 69th, one step above Egypt.

There are reasons to why Sweden is No.1 in technology indexes. The country depends on exports and the main industries of the past cannot sustain its level of wealth. Therefore, new-age industries like designer products, sustainable energy technologies and medicine are all supported at the highest level. You can see it just by walking down the streets. There are hundreds of designer shops all around Stockholm that sell clever products combining technology and ease of use.

The country boasts some 3,500 clean technology companies that together book roughly $14 billion in revenue. A few decades ago, Sweden led the world in developing mobile technology through companies such as Ericsson. Now, with telecom sales flattening, business and political leaders think green technology could spark a new export boom - crucial to Sweden, where exports account for more than half of gross domestic product. "There is huge demand around the world for this technology," according to Anders Brännström, president of Volvo Technology Transfer. Exports, which make up about a quarter of their overall sales, have grown 75 percent over the last four years.

To further boost the industry, the Swedish government is earmarking $590 million for environmental projects over the next two years, including $180 million to commercialize green technologies. King Carl XVI Gustav has become the green industry's "biggest fan." I hope that one day we will be able to say that government officials of Turkey are fans of the ICT industry.

At the forum, speeches were scheduled by İshak Alaton, chairman of DEIK's Turkish-Swedish Business Council; Zergün Korutürk, the Turkish Ambassador to Stockholm; and a Swedish state secretary. After the opening remarks, the forum was scheduled to continue with presentations on issues such as the Turkish business environment, Turkey as a springboard, opportunities in mobile digital interactive marketing and "the Turkish market from the perspective of a Swedish investor."

I believe that this will be a first step to fruitful and long-term cooperation between the two countries. We have a lot to learn from Sweden's way of approaching technology and Swedish executives have a lot to discover about doing business in Turkey or with Turkish partners.






Elections are approaching fast. If, as planned, Parliament decides in early March or late February to go to the polls on June 12 – as has been declared by the country's absolute ruler Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – hardly four months later electors will go to the booths to decide among a list of candidates provided by the parties – that is party leaders – who should go to the country's next Parliament.

Some call the system in Turkey "representative democracy," some prefer to describe it with a more realistic "tyranny of party leaders." I simply prefer to call it "peculiar democracy" as not only – despite all the anomalies the system has – is it still some sort of a democracy but I also want to believe that there might be a day when this country grasps the opportunity of getting rid of that "peculiar" part and becoming a real democracy.

A lunatic and farfetched expectation difficult to be achieved, I know. But, hope is the ammunition democratic people of Turkey should always try to maintain if they ever want to succeed in this struggle for democracy. Obviously, many people would like it totally scrapped and this country no longer compromising on the "justice in representation" principle for the sake of the "stability in governance" principle, but the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, with Erdoğan now aspiring to introduce presidential governance and become the first president of that new governance system, put aside totally lifting it, would never ever agree to pulling down the incredibly high 10 percent national threshold to a reasonable level of let's say around 3 percent, 5 percent or even 7 percent.

If the predominant principle in politics is the Machiavellian doctrine of "the end justifies the means," who can blame the prime minister and his completely obedient political clan for trying to consolidate their grasp on Turkey at all costs? Until very recently wasn't the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, opposed to a reduction in the electoral threshold in hopes that the disqualification of all smaller parties – representing minority views that are of great importance in democratic governance – from sending deputies to Parliament because of the high electoral threshold would best serve the top two parties of the country, that is the AKP and itself?

Right, the CHP, thanks to the sex-tape scandal, changed its chairman and to some extent its mentality last year and started tilting towards becoming more democratic, less autocratic, more attentive to the woes of the ordinary people of the country and less pro-army. The end result? One of its deputy chairmen, a constitutional law professor, can still publicly complain that the military was believed to be a tiger (to defend the secular republic) but it proved to be a paper tiger. Of course everyone can make a mistake and there is no need to engage in a lynching campaign, but shouldn't that deputy chairman at least publicly apologize for the incredible gaffe he made? Should not he come up and say "Gentleman, I was wrong… Democracy should be defended by the nation… Governments should come and go through the ballot box"?

Free and fair elections are important… Not important, they are vital for democratic governance though democracy cannot solely consist of elections it requires as well a set of norms, principles and of course institutions. What has been happening in our neighborhood demonstrates that manipulating elections may help governments stay on for some time but they cannot cling on power for ever. In Turkey, thank God, for the past 60 years or so since the country moved on to multi-party democracy in 1950, despite all the allegations elections have been free and fair. This is an asset of Turkey.

For the past few days I have been examining a rather interesting public opinion poll conducted by the Infakto Research Workshop. Even though I tend not to take public opinion polls so seriously, it is apparent from the survey that economy and unemployment are the most pressing issues for the nation (75 percent). Security and terror follows that (41 percent). Inflation and poverty (35 percent) comes next. Are these the issues on the agenda of politics? In all these areas, ruling or opposition politicians are not interested at all. Erdoğan is hashing up artificial issues, such as insulting Turkish Cypriots, and distracting public attention from core problems.

If, of course, politics is not allowed to come down to the level of people, involvement of people in politics is limited to casting their vote once every few years and a tyranny of party leaders is maintained with the laws covering parties and elections, politics cannot become in that country the art of resolving the problems of the nation but instead turns into a tool to satisfy nepotistic aspirations.






Hardly. There are analogies that have been and will be drawn in the coming weeks between the recent popular uprisings, most notably in Egypt, and the events beginning in 1989 and continuing into the early 1990s that brought democracy to much of the former Eastern Bloc. In what is known as part of the Third Wave of Democratization (the first being in the early 1800s and the second being after WWII), the Solidarity movement in Poland informed the peaceful transitions in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the "Baltic Way", the transition to democracy in Hungary, and the reunification of Germany. It is no stretch to say that the political leadership and leaders of the opposition movements learned from one another throughout the tumult of the 1980s and into the 1990s. Much as social media today has been touted as a spur to democratic movements in the Middle East, pirate radio bombarded the Eastern Bloc with information about democratic successes in other countries, as well as the ominous alternative posed by Tiananmen Square. But where the wave following the fall of the Berlin Wall created a period of unprecedented security across the European continent, the current wave of uprisings could create a corridor of failed states stretching from the Democratic Republic of Congo to the frontiers of Europe in southern Turkey.

The Fourth Wave narrative goes something like this: Just as a host of Communist leaders – Jaruzelski in Poland, Honecker in Germany, and Nemeth in Hungary – were swept away by the Third Wave, the fall of Bakiev in Kyrgyzstan and Ben Ali in Tunisia and the uncertain perches of Mubarak in Egypt and Saleh in Yemen signal a new wave of democratization. The continuing crisis in Egypt, Saleh's announcement that he will not seek re-election, the reshuffling of the Jordanian cabinet and whispers of protest in Syria contain the promise of a "1989 moment" throughout the greater Middle East.

But important differences between recent events and the "1989 moment" are already apparent. Back then, Romania was the only country that experienced a violent transition to democracy – at least immediately. Things look different this time around, in great part because today's nondemocratic leaders appear to have learned from the Third Wave. Instead of tanks and troops and top-down repression a la Tiananmen Square the new oppressors of democratization are the Basij, the "pro-government protestors," the plain-clothes security personnel, the agents provocateurs inciting violence and instability.

As the Iron Curtain began to fall in Europe, leaders such as Honecker and Jaruzelski weighed the costs of violent repression on the stability of their regimes, essentially deciding between increased authoritarianism and liberalization. How can we talk about a "New Wave" when this group of regimes pass the decision between power and stability onto the protestors by creating environments of insecurity and fostering the conditions for state failure through tactics such as throwing open the prison doors, and sponsoring thugs engaged in street violence? The opposition movements are left to decide whether to continue to press for their ideal outcome while the apparatus of governance teeters closer to collapse, or to negotiate with the regime while facing the potential erosion of the movement's credibility. This is a grave picture.

Further complicating this "New Wave" is the role political Islam plays in the Western security circles. The transition of Soviet bloc states into the democratic fold was seen and understood as a victory against an ideological enemy: the vast USSR. Thus, democratization de-legitimated the Soviet style of governance as the massive bureaucratic state crumbled under increasing pressure for political liberalization, both internally and externally. In the "New Wave," things are different. In the eyes of the West (U.S. and the EU), the crowds are as likely to be its ideological enemies as are the regimes in power – autocracy in the presidential palace is balanced by the specter of radical Islam in the streets. Whether their fears are well-grounded remains to be seen, but many Western states – and publics – look to the electoral successes of Hamas and Hezbollah as establishing a worrying precedent in the region. This situation further complicates the analogy.

And for all the democratizing potential of social media, today's improved analogue to Radio Free Europe, its powers are particularized and circumscribed. While it is true that social media have increased the capacity of the population to hold autocrats more accountable – as many analysts have pointed out – they cannot solve pressing problems such as blocked social mobility and sky-high unemployment rates. This is in fact an important moment for people in the Middle East and Egypt in particular. Free expression is key for the well-being of every human. However, even if today's movements manage to oust dictators and move toward free and fair elections, the frustrations and grievances of the populations supporting the movements will not necessarily be addressed. Such a development might lead to further disillusionment inside these protest movements—and this time with democracy.

The characteristics of this "New Wave" matter for reasons that go beyond the potential satisfaction of seeing democracy flourish in new spots on the globe. Where in the past authoritarian leaders clamped down on their populations, snuffing democracy but maintaining security, there seems to be an emerging trend of authoritarian leaders letting their states collapse like poorly built houses of cards, with no guarantee of democracy or security. While it is possible that the Egyptian uprising may result in a Turkey-style democratic state, a corridor of state failure from Kinshasa to Beirut is also not an unlikely outcome. We recognize that there is true potential in these movements but a sober analysis of the situation is needed. That such stakes are now in play only underscores the necessity of reexamining the West's historical and dubious role in supporting the type of personalistic dictatorships that are now under siege, and the familiar cultural arguments that these states have never been – and lack the capacity ever to be – democratic. 

*Harris Mylonas is assistant professor of political science and international affairs and Wilder Bullard is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the George Washington University.








The humble table has featured large in national politics in the last thirty-six hours. The announcement by the president that he is to hold a Roundtable Conference (RTC) in the hope of evolving a broad based consensus on how to resolve the innumerable problems that beset us; has been greeted by a wave of apathy on all sides. It is an old management axiom that when you want to avoid doing something, call a meeting. If you really want to ensure that the meeting has zero productivity, then don't specify a date, and cap the whole thing off by not having an agenda. Thus, we have the prospect of the Knights of the Round Table swanning around in the murk, aware that the trumpet has sounded to call them to a meeting but having no idea where the meeting is to be or what they are to discuss beyond the shape of the table – which at first glance appears to be round. Words like 'broad based consensus' and 'critical economic issues' hang in the air, and we are assured that consultations are to be held in preparation of the RTC to ensure that the noble Knights are all reading off the same page by the time they find out the date, place and running order of the meeting.

A table which is large and rectangular and sits in the Cabinet Office, today finds itself empty. Prime Minister Gilani has accepted the letters of resignation of the 60-plus Cabinet members and the Cabinet now stands dissolved pending the appointment of a new group of avaricious toadies. The Cabinet does, at least, have the benefit of an agenda when it meets and has some idea what it is going to talk about. The PM presided over the last meeting of the present group and congratulated it on its sterling efforts; saying that 77 per cent of Cabinet targets had been met. He neglected to mention that the real reason the Cabinet was being dissolved was not a sense of pressure to bring it in line with the 18th Amendment – if only because under the 18th Amendment there is no requirement to 'right-size' the Cabinet until after the next general election – but the stink of corruption arising from its collective membership. How many will sit around the table when the process is finished is yet unclear, but there will be a core group of members of the old cabinet who will stay on and provide a degree of continuity. How the new Cabinet and the RTC will interact, whether a Cabinet agenda will emerge from the deliberations of the Knights of the Round Table is again unclear. Both groups go in search of the Grail of stability, consensus and fiscal probity. But there are no Lancelots or Galahads to be seen anywhere, and Excalibur is more sword than any of these men and women can lift.







The ramshackle state of industrial relations is once more exposed by the ongoing strike by PIA pilots protesting the sacking of eight of their number and the recent deal with Turkish Airlines whereby TA will take over some loss-making routes. By midday on Wednesday, there was chaos at Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi airports. Over a thousand were stranded in Islamabad with 12 international flights cancelled and the striking pilots threatening to march on Parliament House. There seems little chance of an early resolution as both sides have taken entrenched positions. The pilots maintain that things would not have come to this had the management discussed the matter with them when it first surfaced six weeks ago. The management, for its part, is adamant that it has every right to sack poor-performing staff and to do whatever it can to reverse the fortune of an airline in decline. Airport managers seem helpless in the face of angry passengers. Paramilitary forces have been deployed to keep order as chaos reigns supreme.

There is a depressing familiarity about all this that points to some deep-rooted deficiencies in the management of most, if not all, of our state entities and services. This is a time of sea-change in the way that our state enterprises are managed. Much of this change has been imposed by external forces such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, but the endemic crippling problems of PIA are the product of long-term mismanagement and incompetence; coupled with political interference. When rigour rather than profligacy is brought to bear, then the workforce and unions react to protect their position. This is their right, but it is not only the right but the binding duty of the managers of PIA to drag it out of the mire. The inevitable tension between those who seek change and a workforce desperate to preserve the status quo, is always going to lead to conflict unless, our professional managers learn to negotiate rather than start from a position of confrontation. For their part, unions and staff associations need to understand that nothing is forever.





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As part of a plan to implement at least some of the provisions of the 10-point agenda for better governance laid down by the PML-N, representatives of both the PPP and the PML-N have met the State Bank Governor to launch a loan recovery drive from each of the top 100 loan defaulters of commercial banks since 1971. The plan, agreed upon by Dr Hafeez Sheikh, Senator Ishaq Dar and Shahid Hafeez Kardar is clearly an ambitious one, but if it succeeds, even in part, it will have a significant impact on deterring those who may now be considering – or in the process of – borrowing money from banks that they have no intention of returning. This practice has continued for decades, has helped individuals build fortunes and robbed resources from the state.

It will be interesting to see if the recovery drive succeeds to any degree. The period being covered is an extensive one, and some who wielded power in the 1970s may no longer do so now. But to a large extent, the list of names remains constant – the same families and groups figure again and again. A number are affiliated with the two parties planning the recovery scheme. They would do well to set the right example by persuading those linked to them to be the first to hand over 'stolen' amounts and, by doing so, set an example for others to emulate. At the same time, alongside the recovery drive, the State Bank could also formulate tighter rules for banks on granting loans – thereby ensuring the loan write off we have repeatedly seen ends. There is every reason to believe that for now they will continue, and this is an alarming thought given the growing economic problems we face.









Pessimism about Pakistan's future was rife at a gathering of the liberal glitterati in Karachi the other day. The issue under consideration was Taseer's murder and the prospect that Qadri may get away with it. Nothing has so horrified liberals in recent memory; and when viewed in the 'them' versus 'us' context the chasm has never seemed greater or more impossible to bridge. To deduce from this that the end is nigh was only a small step and so, it seemed, as speaker after speaker including Pervez Hoodbhoy and Khalid Ahmed emphatically did. Taking up the refrain Zahid Hussain tried to inject a note of defiance or optimism by saying that there is nothing wrong with us that a miracle cannot fix; but as miracles don't occur his words only added to the pervasive sense of gloom.

Ahmed Rasheed and others who spoke after him felt that the presence of extremism in our body politic was the natural outcome of the Pakistani military's fixation with India. The military's idea of a national security state had not only drained Pakistan of its meagre wealth but worse had led us to co opt extremists as instruments of war and hence we could hardly complain that extremism is now pervasive in society.

Recalling what the speakers had said and the jolt that Taseer's murder has inflicted, Camus's words: 'he who despairs over an event is a coward, but he who holds hopes for the human condition is a fool' come to mind. Nevertheless, at the risk of being considered a fool let me hold out such a hope and suggest that all may not yet be lost.

Extremist movements in history, whether violent or not, such as the Diggers, Assassins, Calvinists, Zwinglists, Jesuits, Mormons, Menonites were, in a manner of speaking, the rough equivalent of our extremist lot. They never really amounted to much and petered out in due course. Even the Puritans, who banned drinking and dancing in England, remained basically a fringe movement. For that matter the Iranian clergy and the Taliban would likely be thrashed if free elections were held in Iran and Afghanistan? Because when they were held in Pakistan their presence was barely visible on the political radar.

A survey carried out by the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies in 16 private and public universities across the country last September showed that nearly 80 per cent of the surveyed Pakistani youth thought that the Pakistani Taliban did not serve the cause of Islam; more than 85 per cent believed that suicide bombings were prohibited in Islam; and 95 per cent favoured women education. Bleeding liberal hearts should have found comfort in these statistics, as mine did.

Let us also imagine for a moment that the PPP jiyalas who were beating their heads and throwing themselves on Taseer's coffin had taken the law into their own hands at the time and had got hold of Qadri and killed him. Or marched to his father's house in Pindi and burnt it down. What would have happened? Precisely, nothing. But would that have meant that the danger posed by extremism is over? Of course not, matters are not so simply explained.

Although our extremists are determined to force their ideology on the country, they cannot succeed on their own strength or on their political appeal, while their long-term prospects are poor. Their ideology has nothing to do with tackling issues that really matter to most people, such as governance, economic and financial problems, generating jobs, making the country attractive to investors, managing foreign relations, providing security and managing external defence without plunging the country in a self destructive war with other countries.

We have seen this ideology in action under the Taliban for about five years before 9/11 and how ill suited it is as a political force in the modern world. If the Afghan Taliban initially enjoyed some popularity, it was related more to people's despair because of the chaos created by the warlords in the mid 90s. The instability that they are able to create in some parts of Afghanistan today has more to do with the limited reach of Kabul, poor infrastructure, the absence of a modern nationally representative security force and, of course, the presence of an alien army of occupation. Pakistan is not Afghanistan and Kabul is not Islamabad and the American presence is negligible.

The rise of extremism in Pakistan has more to do with the handling of the economy, misplaced national priorities, wrong textbooks, no schools or teachers worth the name, delayed and denied justice, corruption and joblessness than the prattling of the mullah or the promises of ghazidom and paradise held out by the extremists. Life for the poor becomes intolerable when at the very moment that their plight is most acute they see their leaders living off the hog and robbing, while protected by the law and hordes of lawmen.

Developments outside Pakistan will no doubt also have an impact at home, just as they have done in the past when the mullah received all the support and funding they could get from abroad to promote their extremist brand of Islam. The impact of foreign influence can already be seen in the targeting of shrines and saints which are frontal assaults on the culture of this land which is so deeply rooted and intimately related to the spread of Islam itself. There are examples of such savagery in history but usually by foreign hordes and legions. Since their ideology and much of their funding has come from abroad, the Pakistani Taliban have become almost like aliens working at the behest of foreign masters.

We should also take heart from the fact that the popular and largely peaceful unrest in the Middle East has shown that the bulk of the Arab youth is much less interested in mixing religion with politics than with changing authoritarian systems that have marginalised them and in favour of democracy, respect for individual dignity and freedom of expression in order to make governance more accountable and transparent. It is governance and self renewal in the practical sense that are the thrust of the ongoing popular surge in the Middle East, not the old style politics of the mullah which has little or nothing to do with issues of governance.

Frankly our primary problem today is less extremism and more our dysfunctional political line up with mainstream political leaders unable to rise to the occasion. Most of them got into politics for self aggrandizement than to serve the country for a higher purpose. Even today they are bickering and pulling each other down over all kinds of issues like in the past although today we face an existential crisis in which the writ of the state is being openly flouted and democracy is under its severest test. It's not elusive miracles that we should be looking to save us when a modicum of common sense accompanied by a bit of strait laced courage would suffice.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:








"And he wore a kingly crown / And in his grasp a sceptre shone;/ On his brow this mark I saw: / I am god and king and law! / For with pomp to meet him came, clothed in arms like blood and flame, the hired murderers, who did sing thou art god, and law, and king. / We have waited, weak and lone for thy coming, mighty one! / Our purses are empty, our swords are cold, give us glory, and blood, and gold. / Then all cried with one accord; Thou art king, and god and lord!" (Shelly, "The Mask of Anarchy.")

The United States calls itself the global champion of human rights and democracy. But its interventionist policies have wrought death, misery autocracy and anarchy. No other country can stake a claim to the interventionist crown, so strong and blatant is the United States' global role in intervention.

Those who proclaimed Washington lord, king and law have ultimately brought ruin to their states and societies. Individuals like these are democratic America's autocratic allies. After they assume power through US intervention, military or non-military, their opulence grows phenomenally, while the fortunes of their countries and masses plummet, beginning with a slide towards economic ruin. Never are these individuals called to account for their crimes.

By the time Ferdinand Marcos was ousted in February 1986, the Philippine dictator had accumulated a personal fortune of 7,500 tons of gold. Leila Trabelsi, the wife of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, flew into exile with 1.5 tons of gold. Gamal Mubarak, the son Hosni Mubarak was grooming to succeed him, landed at Heathrow with 97 attache cases. Mubarak's personal fortune is estimated at $70 billion and his reportedly plane waits, engines running. Many others like him continue to thrive in power.

In the late 1980s Washington developed a novel mechanism of political intervention. It launched "democracy promotion" programmes around the world, the phrase being a buzzword for political interventions. These brought together an array of US governmental and non-governmental organisations, think tanks, financial institutions and private corporations.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) and several other branches of the State Department are allocated billions of dollars to be doled out to the "weak and lone with the empty purse." Either directly or via the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which The New York Times described as "a quasi-governmental foundation created by the Reagan Administration in 1983 to channel millions of federal dollars into anti-communist private diplomacy."

Political intervention has been partially outsourced to USAID and the NED. Organisations that receive USAID and NED funds include, among a host of NGOs (including some in Pakistani), the Centre for Democracy (CFD) and the International Republican Institute (IRI). These organisations and state and non-state actors coalesce into a complex and multimillion-dollar political "reform" network.

Many see US foreign policy as one displaying aggression, insensitivity and intrusion. It is also seen as based on hypocrisy and selective morality, which is blatantly evident in the criminal case of "technical adviser" of Raymond Davis. The Sept 11 attacks appear to have come as Godsend to the Bush administration, bringing with them demons in many forms, from Al-Qaeda to a nuclear Pakistan. The "war on terrorism" became the latest construct for America's historical aim of world hegemony.

The invasion of Iraq was part of a broader American effort to transform the Middle East through the use of military power. However, the $3-trillion war served to strengthen Iran, weakened US influence and increased the United States' military vulnerability, of which Afghanistan is a proof.

The adventure in Afghanistan, annually costing $1 million per soldier, became a US nightmare. It has seen a resurgent Taliban gaining military, moral and political dominance. The incessant drone attacks and bombings in Pakistan, the relentless "do more" arm-twisting to pressure this country to extend the war theatre to North Waziristan, the presence of hordes of unleashed Blackwater-type contractors and spooks of the kind of Raymond Davis. All these have worsened Pakistan's instability through its population's frustration and hatred with regard to the US.

"Governments deal with the US...not because they trust us... Some because they fear us....most because they need us," Defence Secretary Robert Gates commented following the Wikileaks barrage. "We are still essentially the indispensable nation." In the words of novelist and poet D H Lawrence, "the essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer. It has never yet melted."

The result is a total erosion of US moral authority, and a diplomatic and military decline. Now America has lost its economic clout too, with a national debt of about $10 trillion.

With the departure of President Bush, the world expected the realisation of the "change" promised by Barack Obama. This expectation was despite the fact that in 2007 the Democratic presidential hopeful had declared that "no president should ever hesitate to use force--unilaterally if necessary--to protect ourselves and our vital interests." These words had neocon guru Robert Kagan dubbing him "Obama the Interventionist" in a Washington Post column that year. Kagan also said, directly candidate Obama: "He wants the American military to 'stay on the offense, from Djibouti to Kandahar.' "

Egypt has received more than $50 billion since the Camp David Accord, yet its people loathe US policies. Ironically it was in Cairo that President Obama said on June 4, 2009: "I've come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect." Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Algeria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Pakistan, to name a few, all call for such a new beginning, a change in US policies based on mutual interest and respect. The Middle East upheaval presents an opportunity to President Obama, who has become a Nobel peace laureate since, to transform the United States' flawed foreign policy that only evokes hatred, thereby undermining US national security. Unless he wants the United States to end up losing, still persisting in the attitude of "I am god, king and law."


The writer is a freelance contributor.









Chitral and the Kalash valleys have a reputation for beauty and hospitality, their mountains, lush green valleys and sparkling streams shine out from travel posters of Pakistan.

In winter, however, the valleys are very remote, due to inclement weather and inaccessible roads. In past years, when tourists flocked to the valleys in summer, the inhabitants, along with the hotel migrants, sustained themselves for best part of the year from the income they made. Now, however, due to the insecurity following the invasion of Afghanistan by the Americans and Nato forces, there are few visitors from down country, thereby depriving both Kalash and Chitralis alike, much needed income generation. Their only other major source for income is the forest and their agriculture. With the constant destruction of the former, the latter has been very much affected. There is natural soil erosion in the area and this has been exacerbated by the torrential floods. Climate change is also taking its toll with fresh springs drying up every year.

The Kalasha in particular (along with Chitrali women) have been marginalised with low level of education, although that is now improving, low employment, lack of income generation, social exclusion, gender inequality and lack of control over one's health. All these factors have increased the vulnerability of these people. The provincial government over recent years has done its best to help both Kalash and Muslim communities, but their remoteness has always been a hindrance. Qualified teachers, medical personnel, good administrative officers do not wish to serve in such far flung areas. The Lowari Pass, blocked during the winter months, now has the Lowari Tunnel, but it is unfinished; the company building it and the powers that be have yet to settle on a proper schedule for the transport of vehicles and passengers from one side to the other, further frustrating travellers.

The tunnel has been the subject of conjecture for many years. Back in the eighties I went with an American survey team to study what had been built previously and had been abandoned some years before. The geologist amongst the group showed me the earthquake fault running on the edge of the arch at the opening of the tunnel on the Dir side. He shook his head and said this was no place to build a tunnel. Not only was the land unstable, but there was also water sediment. Now, many years later, the tunnel has 'opened', but not actually been finished. There has been no earthquake to destroy it, but where the other entrance is situated, on the Chitral side at Ziarat, flood waters have destroyed buildings, equipment and cost the life of an engineer.

A couple of years back, on one of the opposite banks of the nullahs, an avalanche took the lives of a number of Chitral Scouts. Last year I drove through the tunnel. Half the journey was done in the pitch dark. Our jeep ploughed through water most of the time. I gather nothing has changed except the tunnel authorities have admitted there are no more funds. One wonders how many more years before it is finished. Indeed, if it ever will be finished. Still the people from Chitral have only a certain time in which they can pass through the tunnel. The reason given last year was because the constant flow of traffic meant the labourers could not work. This year, the work has stopped except for maintenance. So why can't the people travel through the tunnel at the time of their choice?

In the final analysis is the tunnel the answer to the problem of the Chitralis? If and when the tunnel is ever finished will it really bring great benefit to them? Will it just be part of a long road to Central Asia sending out waves to the distant valleys of unwelcome visitors, fuel tankers to supply Nato or American troops (Afghanistan may be in the news for years to come), pollution (many of the trees on the Lowari Top which have not been axed are dying from the pollution emitted from the vehicles), terrorism in one form or another, or will it really answer the problems of the people of Chitral, both Kalash and Muslim? Would not a government subsidised helicopter service prove to be more viable and safer? Economically, the cost may be borne more easily than the billions that have disappeared down that long tunnel.

In such a scenario, where there is desperate economic pressure on the households to provide even the most basic necessities of life, a catastrophic event such as was seen with last summer floods, puts unbearable pressure upon the people. Although some of the people benefited from WFP and food distribution from other agencies, they are still in need of rehabilitation assistance in the short and long term. Perhaps the rehabilitation should come first before the completion of the tunnel. Also, it would behove the federal government to make sure that the tunnel, built at such cost, should at least provide the service for which it was meant.

Although just about every one has been effected one way or another, by losing their standing crops such as corn, some their wheat, which was waiting for the thresher, fruit trees, walnut trees, their grape harvest (the last two, cash crops) and have had land washed away (in some cases people have lost their flour mills and irrigation channels), and should be helped now and in the long term, We have to be realistic and help those that are the most severely affected.







More often than not, Western analysts routinely draw their perceptions from gossip on the cocktail circuit, mostly conforming to that reported by Embassy staffers. From time to time, someone will give views contrary to that which are fashionable, these are soon drowned out by contemptuous skepticism. Only when the streets come ablaze are the right inferences drawn- sometime it is just too late. The Tunisian Army did not intervene to save Ben Ali when his security apparatus failed to quell street protests and his mafia-like family was driven out of power, the analysts still failed to see the lurking danger in other Arab capitals. The images from Cairo's Tahrir Square said it all (and quite graphically), with civilians clambering onto tanks and armoured carriers it was all over bar the shouting. It is intellectual bankruptcy if anyone seems to think that Mubarak's Intelligence Chief, Omar Suleiman, the man responsible for most of Mubarak's excesses, has the answers to Egypt's cry for democracy.

Brigadier (late Lt Gen) Ali Kuli Khan Khattak, then Pakistan's Defence Attaché in Egypt, was standing only a few feet away when the assassin's bullet struck Anwar Sadat. Hosni Mubarak has wielded absolute power as the "Pharaoh of Egypt" for 30 years since 1981. Ruling Egypt with an iron hand, Mubarak beggared the country while becoming rich himself – he and his family are reportedly worth US$40 billion (and some change). Poor countries can hardly afford rich leaders but the same story is repeated in other family-run Arab "democracies", a fig leaf meant to hide brutal and corrupt dictatorships. The demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt did not materialise out of thin air or because of any single source of disaffection – it was a mass outpouring of pent-up rage accumulated over the years. These spontaneous uprisings mainly comprise common citizens that have been made "beggar and/or thieves" (beware of the 'Rage of angels') by the greed, nepotism, corruption and sheer callousness of their leaders. During the Annual Summit 2011 of the World Economic Forum (WEF) it was pathetic seeing those who used to fall over themselves to flaunt their close affiliation with the "royal" families of Mubarak, Ben Ali, King Abdullah, seek now to distance themselves by publicly disparaging their conduct- talk about rats deserting a sinking ship!

The revolt sweeping the so-called Arab "democracies" started in Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old street vendor. Working since his late teens to support his uncle (whom his mother married after the death of his father when he was only three), mother, and six siblings, Bouazizi earned approximately US$ 140 per month. His daily labour helped send one of his sisters to university. But Bouazizi did not have a permit for his vending cart and was forced to bribe the police who would routinely confiscate his cart. He had accumulated approximately a $200 debt in this manner. Bouazizi was publicly humiliated on December 18, 2010 by a 45-year old female municipal official named Hamdi who along with two of her colleagues slapped him, spat at him, confiscated his electronic weighing scale and threw away his cart. He was refused an interview when he went to the governor to complain. Frustrated beyond caring, Bouazizi doused his body with gasoline (or paint thinner, it is not clear) and burned himself. Taken to a hospital 70 miles away, he died 18 days later on January 4, 2011. President Ben Ali belatedly visited him in the "Burns and Trauma Center" before his death. The governor who had refused to see him was later shunted out, Hamdi was also dismissed from service and fled from her home town. All this was too little, too late, the anger simmering among the people exploded and Ben Ali became a wanted man. Interestingly all his assets and accounts abroad have been frozen.


Another self-immolation followed in Algeria. Tunisia's symbol of frustration was Mohamed Bouazizi, in Egypt it was Khaled Said a businessman who was beaten to death by plainclothes policemen because he protested police corruption..Eighteen others have since committed suicide in Arab countries, among them Abou Jaaffar, a 49-year-old restaurant owner who set himself on fire in front of the Egyptian Parliament.

As any young army officer detailed in "Aid of Civil Power" will attest, some distance must be maintained between the uniformed ranks and the mob in the streets. With protestors swarming the armoured vehicles at will and surrounding them, there was no way the troops were going to open fire. The statement by the Defense Minister and Armed Forces Chief, Marshal Tantawi (called Mubarak's "poodle" by younger officers according to cables from the US Embassy leaked by Wikileaks) that the "Egyptian Army would not fire on the protestors voicing their legitimate demands" only confirmed the perception that even if the troops were ordered to open fire they would probably not listen to their officers. Very wisely, the military hierarchy avoided putting their soldiers in the streets to this "acid test". This happened in Pakistan in 1977 when three brigadiers in Lahore refused orders to shoot at the crowd.

The "empire" had to strike back therefore organised pro-Mubarak demonstrators converged on Tahrir Square from all directions on Wednesday February 2. Comprising elements of the police, National Guard and other state security forces in mufti, they rained molotov cocktails and stones on the protestors in the "Liberation" Square. The intention was to create chaos and spark an armed insurrection in which innocents would become collateral damage. While the army's presence did prevent a greater bloodbath, the curfew order continues to be violated at will by both sides. The regime had to release Wael Ghonim, a Google executive, who sparked the January 25 movement with his Facebook campaign. Ghonim was received in Tahrir Square on February 8 by thousands of applauding protestors.

In Yemen, Abdullah Saleh promised not to run for president when his term expired in 2013 (Hosni Mubarak too promised that his heir apparent Gamal would not run for office). King Abdullah sacked his cabinet and similar to the turn of events in Egypt, reached out for the first time to the banned Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. With solid support in Jordan's largely Bedouin Army, Abdullah's Bedouin loyalists have been decrying the extravagant lifestyle of his Palestinian wife, Queen Rania – her 40th birthday party rivaled that of the Shah of Iran's extravaganza celebrating the Anniversary of the Persian monarchy in Persepolis in 1971. Egypt, Yemen, and Jordan are among the dominos because of the shocking level of disparity that exists in these societies. The opulent lifestyles of rulers and the elite are maintained while ordinary citizens have been rendered "beggars and/or thieves".

What about the ultimate domino in the Muslim world – Pakistan? Our military hierarchy excels in paying lip-service to "lessons learnt" and then blithely ignoring them. In stepping back smartly from the "fail-safe line" in Egypt by demanding an immediate transition, at least publicly, the US prevented the revolt in the streets from becoming a full-fledged revolution. The US certainly learnt some lessons from Egypt- but will it now stop supporting corrupt leaders in the name of "democracy", or whatever else they go by? Are we anywhere near the "fail-safe" line in Pakistan?

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email:








The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

Under growing pressure from donors such as the IMF and its own finance team, the prime minister and president have finally decided to trim down the size of the federal cabinet – which comprised about 60 federal and state ministers, making it one of the largest in the world.

The US seems able to manage its affairs with a cabinet comprising just 16 members – the vice president and the heads of 15 executive departments. Six other officials hold cabinet rank. The UK Cabinet has 29 members, and almost every other European country significantly fewer.

The state of governance here can only leave one wondering what the five dozen men and women who gathered for meetings were doing. Little evidence is available of success.

The cut-back aims to reduce spending. The finance minister and his men openly stated their alarm at the rate at which resources were being consumed by the government itself; the fondness of many ministers for limousines, seven-star hotels and 'favours' for friends has naturally acted as a further drain on already non-existent funds.

The size of the new cabinet will be smaller – but whether this more streamlined body can help tackle the many different kinds of dysfunction the state faces is anybody's guess.

For some time, Pakistan has been pulling further and further away from the global community. While the Raymond Davis affair has added a new strain on Pak-US relations, with hyped up anti-Americanism in our media complicating the picture, Washington has been making it increasingly plain that it does not trust Pakistan, believes it is sheltering militants and is not willing to hand over key members of the Taliban set-up which once ruled Afghanistan.

Iran and India have similar reservations regarding Pakistan's links with militants – and even Russia is said to have conveyed to Islamabad its suspicions that the recent bombing at Moscow airport, where a suicide bomber killed at least 35 people, was planned in Pakistan.

Combined with the fact that it is regarded as a global centre for terrorism is the perception that endemic corruption in the country leaves it virtually unable to operate.

Key international agencies involved in flood relief, believe the lack of transparency and accountability make it very hard to work with the official set-up. Many have opted to channel funds through autonomous organisations – cutting off the government from funds it would very much like to see in its accounts.

Questions also arise as to why there has been relatively limited support for Pakistan following the flood, and whether this will dwindle further whenever next the need for aid arises in the event of some other catastrophe. The thought is not a comforting one.

While much has been made of the 'victory' over the militants, doubts are beginning to arise over just how genuine a victory this is. Bombings continue, targeting both sectarian minorities and places such as shrines.

New, or perhaps re-named groups continue to emerge, there have been some disturbing reports of a planned 'come back' by the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah Muhammadi in Swat – the group which in the 1990s initiated extremism in the Valley.

Local residents speak of activists quietly building up caches of arms and perhaps waiting for the right opportunity. In the Mohmand Agency, fierce fighting continues and in South Waziristan and Bajaur there is a lack of conviction that the militants have been defeated or that they will not, one day, return.

Failure to initiate sufficient development schemes and employment opportunities in key conflict-hit zones have contributed toward this fear. So has the lack of an all out commitment that people speak of again and again.

In the face of growing extremism, as any batsman facing an especially fierce bowling spell knows, going entirely on the defensive is perilous. Yet, this is precisely what the government has done.

The withdrawal of Sherry Rehman's private member's bill seeking steps to prevent the abuse of blasphemy laws is the latest example of this approach. A frightened, submissive government can only encourage forces that insist the law must not be touched, even if this means dozens of innocent people targeted by their rivals end up in jail alongside those who are insane and require treatment, not penalty.

The shambolic state of the Salmaan Taseer case is a further example of this. It has proved impossible to find a public prosecutor who is willing to take up the case as potential candidates fear for their safety. The person currently appointed to take on the task says he has been offered no protection.

If this is the prevailing state in a murder involving a sitting governor, and a close personal friend of the president, it is easy to imagine how difficult it is for the average man or woman accused of blasphemy to obtain justice.

Moving away from metaphorical references to scared batsmen going on the back foot, even where cricket is concerned, in actuality, things are looking bleak. The ICC ban on Salman Butt, Muhammad Asif and, rather sadly, the teenager with so much promise, Muhammad Amir, is not unexpected.

But it comes as a confirmation of the extent to which the corruption that stains national life has ruined sport too. The fact that the blatantly racist 'News of the World' made the revelations adds to the embarrassment.

Worse still, is the refusal of so many to face up to facts and instead insist a conspiracy has been hatched against Pakistan by some quarters.

What is the way out of this mess? So far, no path seems visible. For all their rhetoric and talk of revolution that has followed dramatic events in Egypt, no clear blue-print for the future has been drawn up by any opposition party.

There is then, no immediate evidence of a savior in sight or of a magical elixir that can bring the systems of state out of their sorry condition.








The central justification of the US-NATO war against the Afghan Taliban – that the Taliban would allow al Qaeda to return to Afghanistan – has been challenged by new historical evidence of offers by the Taliban leadership to reconcile with the Hamid Karzai government after the fall of the Taliban government in late 2001.

In a paper published recently by the Centre on International Cooperation at New York University, Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn recount the decision by the Taliban leadership in 2002 to offer political reconciliation with the US-backed Afghan administration.

Citing an unidentified former Taliban official who participated in the decision, they report that the entire senior Taliban political leadership met in Pakistan in November 2002 to consider an offer of reconciliation with the new Afghan government in which they would "join the political process" in Afghanistan.

"We discussed whether to join the political process in Afghanistan or not and we took a decision that, yes, we should go and join the process," the former Taliban leader told the co-authors.

They cite an interlocutor who was then in contact with the Taliban leadership as recalling that they would have returned to Afghanistan to participate in the political system if they had been given an assurance they would not be arrested.

But the Karzai government and the United States refused to offer such an assurance, the interlocutor recalled. They considered the Taliban a "spent force", he told Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn.

Robert Grenier, then the CIA station chief in Islamabad, revealed in an article in al Jazeera (Jan 31, 2010) that former Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil had been serving as an intermediary with the Taliban on their possible return to Afghanistan in 2002 when he was "arrested and imprisoned for his pains".

The CIA sought to persuade the US Defence Department to release Muttawakil, according to Grenier. But Muttawakil remained in detention at Bagram Airbase, where he was physically abused, until October 2003.

The new evidence undermines the Barack Obama administration's claim that Taliban-ruled areas of Afghanistan would become a "sanctuary" for al Qaeda.

Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn suggest that the proposed reintegration of the Taliban into a political system that had been set up by the United States and its allies was "totally alien to al-Qaeda ideology but logical for the Taliban".

They acknowledge that the Taliban have welcomed the support and assistance of al Qaeda cadres in the war. But they argue in the new paper that the relationship is a "marriage of convenience" imposed by the foreign military presence, not an expression of an ideological alliance.

They also cite evidence that the Taliban leadership recognise that they will have to provide guarantees that a Taliban-influenced regime in Afghanistan would not allow al Qaeda to have a sanctuary.

They note in particular a Taliban public statement released before the London Conference of January 2010 that pledged, "We will not allow our soil to be used against any other country."

An earlier Taliban statement, distributed to news media (Dec. 4, 2009), said the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" – the term used by the insurgent leadership to refer to the organisation – had "no agenda of meddling in the internal affairs of other countries and is ready to give legal guarantees if foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan".

Independent specialists on the history of the relationship have long questioned that assumption, and have emphasised that the Taliban leadership was never very close to al Qaeda.

The new paper, based on both Taliban and jihadist documents and from interviews with Taliban and former Taliban officials, points to basic differences of ideology and interest between the Taliban and al Qaeda throughout the history of their relations.

Relations between Taliban and al Qaeda leaders during the second half of the 1990s were "complicated and often tense", according to Strick von Linschoten and Kuehn, even though they were both Sunni Muslims and shared a common enemy.

The writer is an investigative historian and journalist with Inter-Press Service specialising in US national security policy











WHILE the country is facing multifarious and complex problems, President Zardari has rightly decided to convene a Round Table Conference (RTC) of political leaders for consultations and to devise a collective strategy to overcome the challenges. After announcement for the RTC, the President telephoned some of the parliamentary leaders on Tuesday and their response was positive describing the move as a timely initiative.

It is a normal practice in modern democracies that in crisis like situations, the Government invites leaders of the coalition and Opposition parties to have their inputs in shaping the future policies. Pakistan is facing crisis after crisis including economic, price hike, unemployment, the issue of RGST, law and order problem particularly in Balochistan and Karachi, militancy and regional and international threats. There is a consensus that these issues cannot be resolved by a single party and collective wisdom and support of all stakeholders is needed for taking difficult decisions in the larger interest of the country. After President Zardari contacted them on Tuesday, leaders of MQM, PML-Q, JUI(F) and ANP expressed their readiness to attend the meeting and PML-N Quaid Mian Nawaz Sharif's reaction would be known after the President contacts him as well. However the leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in a statement said the conference would not serve any national purpose. Mian Nawaz Sharif after a meeting of his party in Islamabad also expressed his dismay over the lack of progress on the part of the Government in the implementation of his ten-point agenda. Statements by the two PML-N leaders indicate that the Party has difference of opinion with the Government on key issues facing the country. While the situation is expected to become clear in the next twenty-four hours about response of all the parties, yet we are of the firm belief that the Round Table Conference should be participated by all and every Party must give its viewpoint in a free and frank manner on all the ailments in the system and internal and external challenges instead of staying out and making critical statements for political gains. At this juncture when the economy is in dire straits, attempts are being made to destabilize the country and threats hurled from all over, there is a dire need for sending a loud and clear message that Pakistani leadership is united and would confront all challenges collectively setting aside their political differences.








THERE seems to be duplicity in the policies of the present Government, as on the one hand we have been hearing for long about plans to reform and restructure vitally important national institutions but on the other hand their conditions are deteriorating day-by-day, making a mockery of tall claims by the authorities concerned. Steel Mills is in a mess only because of wrong choices to head this strategic institution; Pakistan Railways was forced to close down dozens of routes and still it is incurring huge losses and now PIA is on the verge of collapse and if remedial steps are not taken it will crumble down any time.

The latest trouble in the national airliner caused by the decision of the top management to surrender many international routes to the Turkish Airlines brought its operation to a virtual standstill inflicting losses worth billions of rupees. There is substance in the claims of Pilots' Association that the proposed route-sharing agreement would render PIA into a feeder airliner and could prove to be a proverbial last nail in the coffin. Why on earth any passenger going to Europe would buy ticket from PIA to go first to Istanbul and then take a flight of Turkish Airline to reach to his destination incurring more time and money? Then it has rightly been pointed out that if losses are the reason then why the most loss incurring route of UK has not been included in the proposed agreement. The scandal has been brewing for months but unfortunately the authorities concerned slept over reports; rather there are reports that some of the high-ups were privy to what is happening behind the deal. The Opposition is alleging that Managing Director Aijaz Haroon, who is believed to be close buddy of President Asif Ali Zardari, is pushing the plan for unknown reasons despite the fact that the arrangement would financially cripple the airliner. No doubt, PIA has been suffering losses for the last several years but it is not merely because of operations on non-profitable routes. There are hosts of factors contributing to the existing state of affairs including world's highest employees vs aircraft ratio; corruption in purchases and ticketing; falling standards of service, bureaucratic attitude of its staff, inefficiency of its engineering department and political interference. As many of these factors can be set straight without investing any money, it is only question of commitment and vision to reform the organization, which seems to be lacking at the moment. PIA is considered to be ambassador of Pakistan and therefore it ought to excel in every respect and this can be done only if motivated and visionary leadership is assigned the task of steering its fleet, redundancies are purged and staff works with national spirit.









PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari has appointed Barrister Masood Kausar as 28th Governor of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. He is replacing Governor Awais Ahmad Ghani, who has not been given any new responsibility by the Government. Awais Ghani, during his two stints, we would put on record, one in Balochistan and other in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, was a role model Governor and his performance on both of his assignments has been par excellence.

Hailing from a family that played enthusiastic role in Pakistan Movement, Governor Ghani was from top to toe a symbol of nobility, personal virtues, soft spoken and a true Pakistani committed to the cause of the country. While in Balochistan, he took along all political forces during the most difficult times in the history of the Province and it is known to all concerned that he succeeded in developing strong personal rapport with late Nawab Akbar Bugti. The JWP leader was almost ready to strike an agreement with the Federation, a possibility that would have changed the course of history. It was because of his policy of reconciliation and moderate approach that he earned respect from almost all quarters in Balochistan and he pursued the same policy when he was transferred to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to serve as its Governor. He proved to be a non-controversial figure and rendered great services for the cause of the Province and the country especially during critical moments in the war against terror. His decent conduct, behaviour and personal traits added to the prestige of the Governor House and we believe other Governors representing the Federation should follow his footsteps. We would also recommend that in view of his experience and background, services of Awais Ghani should be utilized for some other important assignment.








Condemning acts of terrorism is one thing but unearthing the deeper motives that precipitate such acts, as cold-blooded murder of the Governor of Punjab Mr. Salman Taseer on 4th of January 2011, for his alleged condemnation of the law of Blasphemy and dubbing it as a 'black law', needs a much deeper analysis of the psyche of the killer. What impelled him to do so? All sorts of motives are being attributed by two sharply polarized segments of the society. The PPP die-hard activists smelling rat give simplistic explanation of a sinister design and a political motive to destabilize their government.

Conspiratorial theory simply comes to fill the vacuum in the mind, which in the absence of clarity with respect to the real factors that determine the act of the killer, comes in handy to find 'meaning' into the ambiguous situation. That the real killers were the political party's higher ups in power in Punjab who were utterly fearful of the insane bravery of the governor, a much too controversial a man, for his 'biting' comments against the Muslim League (N) government in Punjab and particularly, its party chief Nawaz Sharif. The impact of the Governor's incessant character assassination of the Sharif brothers had crossed the tolerance threshold and that the assassination of the Governor was done, not in Lahore but in the federal capital of Islamabad, was to escape the blame. The argument further goes that by eliminating the Governor, the Punjab government would function with relative ease and comfort. This mind-set of die-hard supporters of PPP government is mainly utilitarian in nature, as they enjoy power and positions due to their 'loyalty' to the party.

It appears rather ridiculous that any political party would select this time to eliminate the Governor, when there was a political upheaval and the PPP government was quite wobbly and a change of the Prime Minister was in the offing. With the fall of the Federal Government, the President and the Governors could also be the casualties. In fact, the murder of Salman Taseer, if any thing it helped the present government as the political climate cooled down quite a bit and the issue of no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister got deflected. The PPP government quite successfully persuaded MQM to rejoin the federal coalition and the Muslim League (N) provided opportunity to the Government to abide by some of the norms of good governance. The Law Minister's naïve allegation hurled on the so called 'Takht-e-Punjab' (Punjab Government) for providing poor security as a deliberate motive to eliminate the Governor, appeared a farcical contention, as the responsibility of security fully rested on the federal government and not the government of the Punjab. It betrays the ignorance of the Law Minister, with respect to legal implications of the murder.

The killer Mumtaz Qadri has confessed that he murdered the Punjab Governor for religious reasons and that he had no accomplice in this act. The murder comes under religious terrorism quite different from nationalistic, separatist or secular ideology. Religious terrorism has become a very common feature as during 1995, 25 out of 58 reported cases had religious motivation and that 42% of known incidents were due to active international groups, who had very clear religious agenda (Nuclear Terrorism by Gavin Cameron 1999 p. 77). They were different from IRA, FTA or Armenian Groups, as even though they had religious component in their motivation they were essentially nationalists in orientation, Sikh militarism in India has a mix of religious and nationalistic aspirations but a typical religious movement is essentially different from secular and nationalistic groups. Hezbollah for instance is wedded to a single Muslim community, transcending Arab or Ajam identities. Qadri's case is different from organised religious movements, as it adheres to preservation of the law of Blasphemy, which exists in the Constitution of Pakistan, to protect the dignity of the holy prophet Muhammad (PBUH) based on the supreme love and respect, the believers have for him. As he is the last messenger of Islam's basic tenets and the holy Quran being revealed to him, any defiance and disrespect to the holy prophet tantamounts to disbelieving the Quran and the revealed divine faith and as such one becomes a disbeliever - 'Murtad' - liable to be hanged as per Blasphemy law very clearly laid down in the Constitution of Pakistan. Under conditions of excessive anger one gets prone to kill ones wife on suspicion of infidelity, a very common phenomenon, the West not withstanding. Anger sees no logic and seeks instant justice. That instead of killing the Governor, a case could have been instituted in the higher courts of justice is quite sensible but the religious extremists are a different breed. Seeking martyrdom is their favoured passion.

Any attempt to do away with the blasphemy law as being also propagated by Pope Benedict XVI or to make some amendments therein would be viewed with grave indignation. The Governor's alleged condemnation of the blasphemy law was beyond the tolerance threshold of a strong believer, based on sermon of religious preachers. Such individuals do not suffer from any attitudinal conflict between life and death. They are not the ones who are prone to making compromises in life. Ideals make their choices easy. 'Violence' is perceived as a means to an end. Any liberal or secularists view on blasphemy is viewed as affront to the holy prophet (PBUH), who stands as an ideal to be emulated. Ilam Din Shaheed was not a fanatic believer, but he could not bear the denigration of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by a Hindu, who wrote a scandalous book about him. He therefore killed the sinner without any remorse. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had offered his legal services to defend him but during the British period 'Secularism' gave license for the so called 'freedom of expression', which led to the hanging of Ghazi Ilam Din Shaheed.

According to Gavin Cameron "The upsurge in religious terrorism, especially since 1988, can in part be attributed to the wide-spread belief that the groups' respective religions lie at a vital historical point. This stems from increased globalization, and the perceived erosion of traditional values along with wide-spread economic and political upheaval and inequality leading to heightened feelings of fragility, instability and uncertainty about the future (p 78). Religions, therefore, become a barrier against such irreligious forces. This is true of all religions, with the exception of Buddhism, who use violence as a corrective mechanism. Both the Old and the New Testan and the Hindu Mahabharata are full of violent episodes. Christian White supremacists are as religious fundamentalists as are some Middle Eastern Muslims. The 'saffron cult' is a great promoter of violence in modern India. So are the Israelis, exceptionally violent in killing the Palestinians and illegally occupying their territories. A big change has occurred in the internal dynamics of the western countries where rise of the Right is a predominant factor. "The fall of parliamentary seats into extremists hands represents the biggest shake-up in European politics since the disappearance of communism." (Newsweek, Pakistan October 2010, p. 34).

Liberal ideology, must, therefore, tame itself to accept the religious factor as an essential element of Pakistani ethos and ideology. Accommodation between the two extremist groups is the basic challenge for a confident leadership to unite its splintering communities. Alas! that leadership is on the wane.

—The writer is Secretary General FRIENDS.








Egypt is the most populous country in the Arab world. Egyptians voted on November 28, 2010, in a lower house of parliamentary election. There was a crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood prior to election and hundreds of its members, including five candidates, were arrested. The Egypt's government took severe action against the independent media, harassed opposition candidates and refused to allow international poll monitors in an effort to tighten the party's grip on power. The election had been called more fraudulent than in 2005 by the independent observers. At least eight persons died in political violence. The government gave security officials free hand to prohibit or disperse election-related rallies, demonstrations, and public meetings, and to detain people indefinitely without charge. The civil society observers and media were unreasonably denied access to certain polling stations. The Cairo regime fought against the independent media and restrictions were imposed on opposition candidates. Even then the government believed that it had not affected the overall conduct and integrity of the elections.

The last election in 2005 was marred by widespread violence, police intervention, and fraud allegations by judges who supervised the election. In the previous parliamentary election, the Muslim Brotherhood group, led by Badie, won 88 seats in the People's Assembly. It captured 20 % of the seats and emerged as the leader of the opposition. The group could not repeat its performance because of negative tactics used by the government. About 41,000,000 registered voters were called to elect their representatives for the 508 seats. About 4000 independents candidates competed in this election. The Muslim Brotherhood made complaint that a number of candidates were disqualified from their ballot and their campaigns were disrupted by police action. The Muslim Brotherhood had 130 candidates left in the competition. It was very clear that this election was not a free and open contest. The election was chaotic and disorganized and there were complaints of rigging of votes, violations of rules and irregularities in several districts. Opposition supporters, in some districts, were physically driven away from the polls. The vast majority of Egyptians voters stayed away from the polls entirely. The turn out, according to independent sources, was less than 20 percent.

The ruling National Democratic Party was established in 1978. President Hosni Mubarak has been chairing the party since 1981. He came into office after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat.

In 2005, the party won 311 seats in the parliamentary election. In the 2010 election party promoted about 800 candidates to contest all 508 seats. The president appoints 10 further lawmakers. The legal opposition parties, Tagammu and Wafd, which enjoyed usually friendly relations with the government, were running about 300 candidates between them. The Al-Wafd party, the strongest 'legal' opposition party, is chaired by Sayyid al- Badawi. However, the party's decision to participate was seen by many as a pre-arranged deal with the NDP to make the Muslim Brotherhood group weak and ineffective. National Progressive Unionist (Tagammu) Party was founded in 1976 as the leftist wing of the former Arab Socialist Union. It is a coalition of Nassar's followers and Arab nationalists etc.

The party is chaired by Mohammed Rifat al-Saeed. The banned Muslim Brotherhood was established in Egypt by Hassan al-Banna in 1928 with an aim to revive the Islamic values. The brotherhood supported Nasser in 1952 revolution but the relations deteriorated after an assassination attempt on Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954, thus the organization was officially dissolved. Nonetheless, the organization has been tolerated under the label of 'independent'.

Restrictive laws, police intimidation, and politicians' arrests were the major reason of low cast in Egypt. People had been deprived of fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and fair elections. Moreover, government's ban on The Muslim Brotherhood lacked moral fibre.

In 2000 Supreme Constitutional Court gave ruling for full judicial supervision of every polling place. The regime paved the way for fraudulent elections by curtailing drastically the supervision of judges. In 2007, the government passed amendments to the Constitution to replace the judges by an election committee. This further lessened political rights of the politicians. As a consequence of these measures, some opposition groups called for a boycott of the legislative elections but did not succeed. Mohammed El Baradei, the former Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, campaigned for constitutional amendment so that independent candidates could run for the presidency seat. This seemed to be impossible in the Hosni Mubarak's regime.

Egypt is a poverty-stricken country whose economy has failed because of faulty policies of the government. A growing majority of Egypt's population earns less than $100 a month. Egyptians who have steady jobs and pensions are increasingly living in shantytowns and tents because they can't afford anything else. There is an immediate need of reform and change in the system. Everything seems to be wrong with Egypt after 29 year of Mubarak's rule. The situation is troubling. No one seems to be accountable to the public.

Egyptian journalists demand open access to public events without police intimidation so they can do their job independently. But this is not possible because of state of emergency in Egypt since 1981. The Egyptian regime looks like a dragon fighting against the people on the streets of Egypt. The election took place amid fears of more violence after weeks of clashes between police and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition movement. Finally, the fraudulent election lost its credibility.

On February 1, 2011, after a week of massive public demonstrations in major cities across the country, Egyptian President made commitment on Egypt's state televisions that he would quit and not contest next election. Nonetheless, he would oversee a "peaceful transfer of power."

The crumbling of President Hosni Mubarak's rule in Egypt is one of the most significant events in the Middle East. After violence and chaos and strong march in Egypt there seems to be a ray of hope at the end of the tunnel.

However, there are doubts in the minds of people whether he would quit even after his commitment to the masses. Elbaradei says " it's an act of deception by a dictator who doesn't want to go. He doesn't want to listen to the people...he is going to extend the agony for 6-7 months. He will continue to polarize the country. People could get more angry and resort to violence."

The general public opinion is that Hosni Mubarak, referred to as Egypt's modern pharaoh, has caused enough damage to the country and should step down immediately. The pressure from the army and the crowds on the street seems to be immense on Mubarak to quit the post. The army has announced that it would not fire on peaceful protesters.

Many protesters take the view that Cairo's presidential palace should be besieged to dislodge Hosni Mubarak. If Egyptians stay on the streets, probably Mubarak's next offer will be to accept opposition demands. It is hoped that President Hosni Mubarak would step aside and allow Egyptians to hold a free and fair election.









Two major Muslim Arab nations in West Africa are going through a period of intense rage and rebellious revolutions to over throw their corrupt and self serving dictators who have held their nations in their devilish grip for many long decades. Tunisia's Zeinil Abedin Ben Ali, who with his own and his wife's relatives had let loose a rein on terror in the country combined with rampant corruption for over two decades has run away from Tunis leaving behind the legacy of a ruined nation. Likewise Egypt's President Hosni Mobarak who has been ruling the country for over thirty years with tyranny and corruption sitting right across the oldest citadel of Islamic knowledge and wisdom Jamia Al-Azhar on the one hand and thousands of years old Pharos civilization with their Pyramids still looming large over Cairo is trying to save himself and his rule from people's rage who are defying death in the streets of Cairo but still coming out in thousands to topple the Dictator.

This fire will further spread in the Muslim nations which are violating God's code of life given in Quran which enjoins them to live their lives with justice and righteousness and share their wealth with the poor and the needy. In Surah Ale Imran God says: "You are the best community that has been raised up for mankind. You enjoin right conduct and forbid bad deeds." History is witness that those who violate this command suffer disgrace sooner or later. Islam is the first religion which demolished the evil institutions of monarchy, dictatorship and dynastic rule in the age of evil Roman and Persian empires and gave humanity the concept of good governance through consultation (Mushaverat) and election of the ruler (Khalifa) through Bayat (Voting). This, in fact is the first concept of democracy given by God in his Holy Book. Islam also commanded rulers to do justice to all without any discrimination and ordered equitable distribution of wealth among masses. Concentration of wealth in a few hands has been strictly forbidden and the rich have been ordered to share their wealth with the poor. In modern terms this is the blue print of a modern welfare state.

After assuming power, the Khulafa-e- Rashedin ruled strictly according to the edicts of the Quran, but with the advent of the Umiad dynasty they remained Khalifas in name only but became in the real sense dynastic monarchs and dictators like Hosni Mobarak and Ben Ali. They became usurpers of peoples' human rights and cruel and corrupt rulers. Now suddenly the people have woken up and risen against them. Hosni Mobarak who was sitting like the Rock of Gibraltar over Egypt for over thirty years has become shaky to the core with the push over by the millions of Egyptians who are overflowing the country with a vengeance to overthrow the dictator. All his gimmicks to install a new cabinet to consider the people's demands have failed. Above all the powerful army which has been the bedrock of Mobarak has refused to obey his orders to open fire on demonstrators and the US President Mr. Obama has refused to help him out. There is no alternative left for him but to step down. He is already 83 years old and has been in the presidential chair for about one third of his life; what more does he want? How long does he want to cling to power?

His predecessor President Anwar Sadat who fought a losing battle with Israel over Sinai desert alone without any help from his Arab neighbors ultimately decided to recognize the Jewish State to save his country ultimately paid with his life when he was shot by his own soldiers during a national day parade. Ever since then Egypt under Hosni Mobarak who succeeded Sadat as President has been a rock solid ally of the United States in the Middle East particularly on the issue of Israel. This self interest of the US compels it to support Hosni Mobarak despite his massive opposition in the country which became evident during the recent rage against his rule. America's relationship with other kings and dictators in the Middle East and elsewhere suffers from the same contradictions when people rise up against their rulers. President Mobarak has not yet paid any attention to President Obama's request. He has only agreed to continue till September when he will retire .He has announced that he will not take part in the elections, nor would he allow his son to succeed him. Despite increasing number of angry demonstrator gathering in Tahrir Square with occasional violence injuring hundreds of people and amazingly very small number of deaths, President Mobarak is still clinging to his position adamantly. It seems he will not change his stance unless something very drastic happens to dislodge him.

People's rage against the ruler of Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh who is also ruling for almost thirty years is also intensifying. He too has declared that he will stand down after the expiry of his present term of office but people bitten by dictators many times during their occupation don't believe them. In Jordan also large numbers of people are demonstrating against poor economic conditions, but they have spared King Abdullah so far.

This is the first time that people of the Muslim nations in the Middle East, who have been suffering under cruel dictatorships and hereditary monarchies have risen against them in a big way to win their rights of self determination and freedom to choose their rulers. If they win their battle in Egypt, as they have in Tunisia it likely that many other countries will follow suit. An Egyptian young man who was injured in the demonstration at Tahrir Square was again ready to join his fellow demonstrators the next day. A friend advised him to stay back as he was badly injured. He replied "if I don't join the demonstrators today I will not have any right to call myself an Egyptian." This is the spirit of revolution which seems to have awakened in the people of Egypt which is bound to lead the nation to victory.








You cannot open the TV, nor read a paper without more and more of news on Raymond Davis and his act, that has created international waves, promising to plunge Pakistan and America relationship in a tangle. A great deal has been written about the case; Raymond Davis's status ;whether a diplomat or not ,the act of the murdered which resulted in their demise in hands of Raymond Davis and whether or not Davis can be tried under the Pakistan Law. Interestingly, not one has made a study of the Vienna Covention 1961 which is being much discussed in light of the case to answer the questions raised and reach a logical conclusion.

I received a mail from a friend, he says,,QUOTE:The issue is not who the two Pakistanis were. The real issue is: The US media has confirmed what the US government is denying. Davis runs a private security firm. He is a military contractor. He is registered in Colorado as the owner of a security firm. What was his job in Lahore/Isb/Pesh? And can a diplomat carry an unlicensed gun? The indentity of the two Pakistanis is a distraction. The real issue is the identity of Davis and what was he doing here and can a 'technical advisor' have diplomatic immunity? UNQUOTE. The real issue, as the mail above shows, is a general ignorance of what diplomatic immunity is and IF it extends to personal acts of any nature committed by an individual even WITH diplomatic immunity.

ALL other questions,I consider to be a distraction. Diplomatic rights were established in the mid-17th century in Europe and have spread throughout the world. These rights were formalized by the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which protects diplomats from being persecuted or prosecuted while on a diplomatic mission. However, if we study the Articles of Vienna Convention 1961 , some interesting facts surface. One, The person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention.

The receiving State shall treat him with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on his person, freedom or dignity (Article 29 of the Vienna Convention 1961). Those who support the release of Raymond Davis on this ground obviously forgot to read the related laws within the Convention that takes away an absolute blanket coverage under the guise of "diplomatic immunity" to visiting/appointing diplomats.

Two, Article 38 of the Vienna Convention 1961 sets out to state that except insofar as additional privileges and immunities may be granted by the receiving State, a diplomatic agent who is a national of or permanently resident in that State shall enjoy only immunity from jurisdiction, and inviolability, in respect of official acts performed in the exercise of his functions. The above law clearly differentiates between an act carried out as part of his official duties and those done as a personal act. Any actions done personally and outside the ambit of official duties shall not be covered by "diplomatic immunity". Three, Article 37 of the Vienna Convention goes on to reinforce the above by stating "……Members of the administrative and technical staff of the mission, together with members of their families forming part of their respective households, shall, if they are not nationals of or permanently resident in the receiving State, enjoy the privileges and immunities specified in articles 29to 35, except that the immunity from civil and administrative jurisdiction of the receiving State specified in paragraph 1 of article 31 shall not extend to acts performed outside the course of their duties."

The question then is not whether or not those murdered were ISI agents, robbers or fruit sellers, the questions then is not whether or not Raymond Davis did or did not have diplomatic immunity- the question, my friends, is that was the act conducted as part of his official duties? If the answer is No, Raymond Davis cannot claim diplomatic immunity. The question that he may still be released owing to pressure from the US is a subject outside the realm of law.

The writer is a lawyer & university professor.








A pistol packin' private American security contractor on a motorcycle kills two Pakistani civilians allegedly attempting to rob him. Another Pakistani is killed when a US diplomat from the nearby consulate in Lahore, rushing to the rescue, goes the wrong way down a one-way road. This debacle is the new symbol of a hated US presence that feeds the propaganda mills of the growing Islamist forces in Pakistan.

To be sure, the US presence is constantly dramatised by the massive civilian casualties resulting from CIA drone attacks against suspected terrorist hideouts in the border tribal regions. But this is far away to most Pakistanis. The Lahore killings, in one of the nation's most populous shopping districts, have made "Yankee Go Home" the new battle cry of the heartland. This is an explosive issue because many private contractors are not protected by diplomatic immunity and, unlike US troops stationed in another country, are not subject to the Status of Forces Agreements — defining which country has jurisdiction over crimes — that would normally cover a case such as the Lahore shootings.

For the biggest Islamist group in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Raymond Davis case has been a propaganda bonanza. More than 20,000 people turned out for a Lahore rally to demand Davis' prosecution on murder charges. By a sombre coincidence, the shooting case has coincided with US government disclosures that Islamabad has been stepping up its production of uranium and plutonium and now has a nuclear arsenal of more than 100 deployed weapons, exceeding the Indian nuclear arsenal. US handwringing over this revelation is absurd. Where does Islamabad get the money for its nuclear arsenal? Directly from Washington in the form of the International Monetary Fund credits that keep Pakistan afloat, and from the annual subsidies of $1 billion given to the armed forces in the name of counter-terrorism. This nuclear capability is not in itself threatening to the US or to India unless it falls into the hands of Islamists, including supposedly well-screened employees of the nuclear establishment who are potential "closet" Islamists. It is the psychological impact of the shooting on these "closet" Islamists inside the nuclear establishment that makes the Davis case so damaging.

The US does need covert action in Pakistan, but this should be carried out by the FBI and the CIA, not by private operatives. Indeed, the CIA and FBI played a key role in getting Pakistan to crack down on al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups by confronting Pakistani agencies with communications intercepts pinpointing their hideouts. This was the case when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the third-ranking al-Qaeda leader, was arrested in March 2003 after a FBI tip.

What the US should do now is accept Pakistan's handling of the Davis case without interference and then phase out all private security operations to defuse Pakistani public opinion. The mini-drama over the Davis case might seem unimportant given the tumultuous events in Egypt, but it will have a direct impact on US interests and could affect US relations with Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the ruling army chief. He does not have to worry about an Egypt-style uprising because Pakistan is too ethnically fractured to organise a unified challenge to army rule. But Kayani would have to worry if the US patrons who subsidise him become more of a political liability than an asset.

Ironically, anti-American passions in Pakistan divert popular discontent from focusing on the army dictatorship that not only controls the country militarily but also a business empire with assets of more than $38 billion, ranging from real estate and insurance companies to airlines. The Davis case is useful to Kayani as a nationalist rallying cry, and he is likely to let the US Embassy protest in vain while the Pakistani legal process grinds on. The writer is director of the Asia Programme at the Centre for International Policy. — USA Today








It's early days, but Julia Gillard is showing signs she spent her summer wisely. Seven months after she first became Prime Minister, she has come back with a vengeance, dumping a host of wasteful green schemes and finally acknowledging the need for value-for-money in public spending.

Ms Gillard had only a short break due to the Queensland floods but she has clearly found time to think about the big issues. She had no choice: dismal ratings, culminating in this week's Newspoll showing a primary vote for Labor of 32 per cent, have forced her to think hard about her performance and begin to craft a framework for her policies. For the first time in her political career she has had to decide what she really believes in.

In tackling some hard policy areas, Ms Gillard is doing what her predecessor failed to do. Insulated, or so he thought, by high popularity ratings, Kevin Rudd spent his time trying to reinvent capitalism, reform the G20, get ahead of the world on carbon and secure a seat on the UN Security Council. Hubris and a personal rating as high as 72 per cent blinded him to the reality that elections are decided on the economy, not global rhetoric.

Ms Gillard does not have the luxury of good numbers. She must deal with problems or risk annihilation at the ballot box. A creature of the Melbourne Left, she must reinvent herself as a leader for the mainstream. The signs are good. She has come back swinging, forging ahead with a flood levy and a commitment to the surplus; and yesterday throwing down the challenge to indigenous communities to do their part in "closing the gap" with white Australia. Such pragmatism suggests she understands that it is in seats like Longman in Queensland, not in the inner-city Green belt that Labor's future will be decided. The Prime Minister may have broken down in parliament on Tuesday but she is beginning to show some steel in policy decisions. As political editor Paul Kelly wrote in this newspaper yesterday, slashing the green schemes is a "turning point in Labor's political maturity". The Prime Minister will have to make more tough calls if she is to convince the electorate she knows what Australia needs. Commentators like Liz Jackson of Four Corners may agonise over whether Ms Gillard has betrayed the old Melbourne Left, where she was nurtured, but sloughing off the shibboleths of market intervention, workplace regulation and big government is what she must do.

Like Mr Rudd, Ms Gillard was relatively inexperienced when she came into government as deputy prime minister. It is clear now that neither of them was ready for the deep challenges of leading the nation. In the end, Mr Rudd's arrogance and reluctance to spend his considerable political capital undid him. Ms Gillard has little to lose by staking out some clear policy positions and acting on them.

She is a dedicated politician and a hard worker. As education minister, she launched some courageous school reforms -- an issue she is passionate about. But as prime minister she has at times seemed a neophyte on broad economic issues, awkward on international affairs and unsure what she really believes in.

It is not easy for a leader to reinvent themselves in public, but that is the task Ms Gillard now confronts. On her side is a readiness to listen and learn -- and, ironically, a set of polling numbers that gives her no choice but to focus on the problems Mr Rudd felt he could ignore.






The government is right to talk about the nation-building aspect of improved national broadband access because it is crucial to address Australia's tyranny of distance. But this historical imperative is all the more reason Labor should stop and rethink its single-technology, public-monopoly model. The National Broadband Network could impose heavy costs, high risks and minimal flexibility on the public.

The Australian believes the NBN should be subjected to a cost-benefit analysis and while the government resists this sensible step, evidence against its model mounts. The Economist Intelligence Unit analysis we report today underscores the point, with a range of countries from South Korea and Japan to Spain and Sweden predicted to outperform Australia. Certainly the very distances that make broadband even more crucial in our country also make it more expensive. However, this report is a salient warning about the NBN's level of public expenditure, lack of private sector involvement and absence of technological diversity.

Perhaps the report's most startling warning comes in a graphic displaying the varying levels of government intervention in national broadband provision. Australia is at the top of this table with its model of "government control" sitting above even the communist superpower of China with its apparently more flexible model of "government stimulus". The report goes on to show comparative costs and Australia's $27 billion investment is by far the highest overall public sector commitment, exceeding even the US. Broken down further, Australia's investment of $2838 per household is 18 times higher than the US cost of $155 per household. The closest to Australia's per-household cost is the economic basket case of Greece, still less than half our figure. This timely study comes on the back of more public criticism from the director of policy and research at the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia, Michael Porter, telecommunications analyst Ian Martin, and US expert Jeffrey A. Eisenach from George Mason University. The critics tend to focus on the level of government intervention and its decision to bet everything on fibre-optic technology. It certainly seems to defy common sense for Australia deliberately to eschew all other options, like maximising the potential benefits of existing copper wire and cable television connections, in order to improve the financial viability of the NBN monopoly.

We must also question why Australia would proceed with massive expenditure almost exclusively on fibre to the home when the US aims to dramatically improve access through private investment in 4G wireless technology. Our huge investment involves public funds initially, in the hope that private investors eventually will take the NBN behemoth off the taxpayers' hands. We will see.

Governments of all persuasions spent much of the past two decades extricating themselves from non-core businesses, so it seems counter-intuitive to be risking vast amounts of public money to buy back in. Now that financial priorities are being revisited in the wake of our summer of disasters, there could be no better time for the Prime Minister to demand a reassessment of the NBN.







For decades, the teaching profession has been hampered by rigid workplace structures that failed to reward the best teachers and provided little incentive for them to remain in the classroom. After a certain period, the only pathway to more money was to move into administration or leave the profession. Consequently, high attrition rates have created serious shortages of teachers in some subjects and weakened learning. If well implemented, however, the national standards for registering teachers released by education ministers yesterday will do much to improve career paths and students' learning. The key to making the standards effective will be incisive, rigorous assessment of teachers seeking promotion to the highest levels of the profession -- highly accomplished and lead teachers. If authorities rubberstamp promotions on the basis of longevity of service rather than assessing applicants' professional knowledge, practice and engagement with students and staff, the new standards will mean little. School Education Minister Peter Garrett is right in planning to use the standards in accrediting teacher education programs. A career path promoting excellence will also enhance other reforms, such as devolving greater control to school principals, testing and transparent reporting.






FOR months a growing gap has been noticeable between the Gillard government's rhetoric on Afghanistan and the less rosy reality. Now, as the Herald revealed yesterday, we know that Defence is secretly preparing to reduce the number of Australian military personnel deployed in Oruzgan province, at present about 1500, as early as this year. This is despite repeated government statements stipulating 2014 as the earliest possible date. Last July, Julia Gillard said the best way of honouring Australia's war dead and wounded in Afghanistan would be "for us to stay the course … We do have to see the job through''. In October the Prime Minister reaffirmed that "we are there … because we do not want Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists". If so, why is the department in charge of the deployment planning to draw down? Obviously it is not because Afghanistan is going to become a terrorist-free zone any year soon. Defence sources speak of a "political imperative" and the need to reduce departmental spending by $20 billion over the next 10 years as driving the decision.

Twenty-two Australians have lost their lives in this conflict, and scores more have been injured. If Gillard wants to honour them she should start by giving Australians the unvarnished truth that our military commitment to Afghanistan is not open-ended. Whenever we leave, there will be doubts about the Afghan government and army's ability to defend Oruzgan, and at the national level back-channel talks are under way to explore whether a power-sharing arrangement with the Taliban is possible. The ''course'' Gillard speaks of is a figment of government spin. It does not exist, except as a face-saving cover for our eventual retreat and acceptance of the reality that we cannot indefinitely police Afghanistan, whether or not the United States would like to.

We have met our obligations under the ANZUS Treaty. When the United States was attacked, we stood by it and put our own soldiers' lives in harm's way. But that was almost a decade ago. The average Australian knows that if the Afghans cannot defend themselves after 10 years and billions of dollars of foreign military aid, they are unlikely to be so able in 20 or even 30 years. There is no support for a military operation of that duration in this country. It is just too easy for our politicians to hide behind homilies and breast-beating because they lack the courage to discuss unpalatable truths.

Defence is prudent to plan for withdrawal. With every passing month, the current level of Australia's commitment becomes harder to justify and sustain.






THE NSW Treasurer, Eric Roozendaal, wants to quibble with costings of Labor's so-called ''Fairness for Families'' package published in the Herald based on modelling by the National Centre for Economic and Social Modelling. To which we respond with this challenge: we've shown you ours, now you show us yours.

If the Treasurer is so confident of his numbers, there can be nothing for him to lose by releasing them. The centre's modelling suggests that just one element of Labor's package - boosting the NSW energy rebate - would absorb the entire $913 million set aside by the government for the package. What provision has been made for the second promise - to cap increases in government charges to inflation? This decision alone could potentially cost hundred of millions in forgone revenue.

The disregard this government has for the public's right to know is clearly on display. The handling of its power selloff is another case in point. It was not until media outlets began asking questions about the sale and the value for money it represented for the public that the government agreed to appear before an inquiry. Kristina Keneally admitted at the time that she had ''underestimated'' the public's interest in the sale and the effect on the state's finances. It appears she has learnt little since then.

Now she has announced a package with a curiously precise cost figure of $913 million, but failed to provide any account of that cost. She says that is the cost over four years. Which four years? She then fails to mention that as this is an open-ended promise - there is no end date specified - which means this is a promise that will drain all future budgets, a cost estimated by the centre at $423 million a year.

It is to be expected that economic modellers will come up with slightly different cost estimates, depending on the assumptions underpinning their modelling and the source data they use. What matters is that the assumptions and sources are clearly laid out so that one can make an assessment of their relative merit. Without this information, there is no basis on which to trust any promise the government makes.

The opposition is right to criticise the government on this point, but it too must commit to detailing the true costs of its policies. Labor can make all the promises it likes, secure in the knowledge it is unlikely to be around to implement them. The opposition must prove it can do better.





AIR travel has become commonplace, but its stresses have not disappeared. And, as Ballarat doctor Raveen Purba discovered this week, some of them are to be encountered on the ground rather than above it. In December, Dr Purba left Victoria for what was intended to be a 17-day visit to Malaysia. But her stay was extended to 44 days because of a painful illness, and on returning to Melbourne Airport on Tuesday she was shocked to discover that she owed a long-term parking fee of $879. It was a traumatic end to a holiday that had already gone awry.

Dr Purba's tale is only the most dramatic of many horror stories about fees that travellers using the airport, or those who must use its car parks to drop people off or pick them up, can tell. Those who manage to leave the short-term car park within 20 minutes of entering it can escape with a fee of only $3, but so short a visit is quite an achievement in an airport the size of Melbourne's. Just walking from the car park to an arrivals gate and back again would take up most of that time. Staying beyond an hour costs at least $20, and fees soar skywards from there: four hours costs up to $36 and for 10 hours it is $50. A week in the multilevel long-term car park used by Dr Purba costs $139.

With fees on this scale it is not surprising that Melbourne Airport's owner, Australian Pacific Airports Corporation, derives more than a fifth of its revenue from parking. As the chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Graeme Samuel, said this week, the airport can increase demand for its car-parking services by imposing excessive access levies on other parking venues and bus operators, thus affecting their prices and attractiveness to consumers. The consequence is that the airport can charge high parking fees, earning what in effect are monopoly profits. Melbourne Airport makes $103.9 million a year from parking, more than Australia's busiest airport, Sydney, which makes $95 million.

Sydney Airport at least has rail access, whereas anyone who travels the 22 kilometres from Melbourne to its airport - passengers, their friends and families, and airport and airline staff - must use the increasingly congested Tullamarine Freeway. To avoid the airport's gouging on parking fees, they can travel either on the Skybus, for a $16 one-way fare, or by taxi for more than twice that amount. Meanwhile, the freeway grows ever busier: in 2009, 14.6 million vehicles travelled on it, and by 2013 it is expected to be carrying 15.8 million. Yet calls for the introduction of real competition by building a high-speed rail link to the airport are routinely denounced by all the existing transport operators, partly for reasons of economic viability and partly for self-interested reasons - the taxi industry, for example, earns $2 million a week from airport fares.

The Baillieu government is not the first Victorian government to have won office holding out the prospect an airport rail link, a service that was first mooted in 1963, before the airport opened. The Bracks government made the same promise when Labor returned to power in 1999, only to abandon it in 2002. In 2000, Australian Pacific Airports Corporation had donated $18,000 to the Victorian ALP.

So Melbourne remains one of very few cities of its size in the world that does not have a direct rail connection between the CBD and the airport, and the anger and frustration of passengers like Dr Purba continues to grow. The airport may assuage her particular grievance with an apology and compensation, but it cannot erase the bad publicity it has received. Nor can governments continue to bow to lobbying by the airport's owners and road-transport operators without risk of electoral consequences. Air travel was once an elite preserve, with few votes to be lost, but now it is an option for most voters. Six shelved plans for a rail link in nearly 50 years are enough. The Baillieu government must find a way to make the much-postponed link viable.





THE focus is all on the commodities boom and labour shortages. The long-term unemployed are all but invisible. In December, 344,362 people had received Newstart Allowance for more than a year, up more than 7000 in a month and 37 per cent more than in late 2008. In the past eight years, only the Centrelink figures for July 2010 were worse. Last month, the number of unemployed people fell 3.2 per cent in the year to November, but long-term unemployed rose 15.6 per cent. One in five unemployed people has now been jobless for at least a year and one in six for at least two years. A third of a million people are apparently locked out of the workforce.

How can this be? Six months ago, newly installed prime minister Julia Gillard saw the long-term unemployed as a priority. In 246,00 families, she lamented, no one had worked for more than a year. The strong demand for labour has not improved their lot. The ABS reports that only 13 per cent of the long-term unemployed cite their health or a disability as the main obstacle to a job. While Ms Gillard talks about workforce participation, current policies, including high effective marginal tax rates, aren't helping to get the long-term unemployed back into work.

The longer someone is out of work, the worse it becomes. Skills get rusty, contacts are lost and employers assume the worst. This is so even if applicants once held down skilled positions, as many of the older unemployed did. Employers are calling for bigger migrant intakes while ignoring a labour source that any such increases will take years to match.

Australia's $4 billion work placement program is not doing its job. The long-term unemployed need better retraining and support to overcome their disadvantage, while employers and job service providers (who get better results with the short-term unemployed) may need better incentives to take them on. Last year, Employment Minister Kate Ellis called for ideas but all but ruled out more funding for better training and support. With the government funding nearly 350,000 Newstart recipients indefinitely, this is a short-sighted form of budgeting.

This week, Ms Ellis announced two ''innovative'' projects, offering training, mentoring and housing to a grand total of 132 people to overcome barriers to workforce participation. ''We need to continue pursuing a range of measures to give the long-term unemployed the skills they need to be full and productive members of our workforce,'' she said. The Age couldn't agree more, but these fine words are meaningless without policies that work to achieve this goal.







The truth is that Gordon Brown and David Cameron have both failed to stand up to the City

In 1974, Edward Heath asked: "Who governs – government or trade unions?" Four decades on, the up-to-date version must surely be: who governs – politicians or bankers? The result is all but in; and it does not look good for government ministers.

Take George Osborne's announcement yesterday of his deal with Britain's biggest banks. The way it was trumpeted by the chancellor, it took an effort to remember that the so-called Project Merlin settlement was actually the brainchild of bankers, not politicians. Or that it was brokered by the former boss of Barclays bank, John Varley. But this is an agreement that has been shaped by bankers and, whether on bonuses or lending, is agreeable to bankers.

The first objection to this settlement is a fundamental one: there is no logical reason for ministers to have any give-and-take with bankers. After all, it was only three years ago that the British taxpayer had to save an entire financial system; that the state had to pump in tens of billions of cash into two of the biggest institutions and underwrite the whole lot of them with hundreds of billions more, with guarantees and loans that remain in place today. British bankers are still in business thanks only to British taxpayers: to put it crudely, they owe us, not the other way round. For some reason, though, Project Merlin gives bankers the upper hand – just as with previous attempts at reform.

Look at the most important part of the deal, which supposedly lays down the law on how banks need to lend more. Yes, there is a commitment to £190bn of credit this year. But there is no target for new lending. Less than a year ago, Vince Cable described such compromises as "letting the banks off the hook". Yesterday the business secretary welcomed this deal as "a good step forward for British business". Then there is the small print: the lending "will be subject to its normal commercial objectives … as well as the availability of the required funding", while that £190bn will only be lent "should sufficient demand materialise". Nor is there any way of enforcing this target. As for bonuses, all new requirements for disclosure are both nugatory and voluntary. This is little more than a charter for the banks to carry on behaving exactly as they are at present. Except that the bosses of RBS and Lloyds can once again claim million-pound payouts.

Yesterday's parliamentary debate degenerated into an argument over which party had been weakest in tackling the banks. The truth is that Gordon Brown and David Cameron have both failed to stand up to the City. Less than three years on from the worst financial crisis in a lifetime, ministers of all stripes have simply let bankers get back to business as usual.





On the one hand there is vice-president Omar Suleiman, and on the other young activist Wael Ghonim

You only have to hear and see the two men for a few minutes to understand what is at stake in Egypt. On the one hand there is vice-president Omar Suleiman, with his clipped moustache and beautifully cut suits. Clearly intelligent, but also inherently slippery, his words are intended to be reassuring, but every now and then there is a hint of menace. He may well be less wily and less in control than he likes to appear, as our story today on the state of negotiations suggests, but this is still the face of a survivor, a fixer, and a believer in the authority over others of old foxes like himself which his own body language so obviously conveys.

Look at the other face, that of Wael Ghonim, the young activist who has some claim to have triggered the Egyptian uprising with his Facebook postings. It is almost bashful, even shy. There is no guile there. His insistence on the diverse nature of the protest movement and his refusal to grab at a leadership role show a pleasing modesty. His honesty in admitting that his own hopes had not initially included the removal of President Mubarak, his care to underline the fact that he was not ill-treated while in detention, and the emotion he displayed when shown pictures of some of those who died in Tahrir Square – all these speak of an open heart and an open mind.

His appearance on television on Monday night is certainly one reason why protesters went to Tahrir Square on Tuesday in such numbers. On the very day when the old regime was hoping the revolution would run out of steam, it instead gathered fresh strength. But Tahrir is now as much a cul-de-sac politically as it has become physically. It cannot be abandoned by the protesters because it is symbolically too important, yet just being in Tahrir is not enough. On the other hand, the regime cannot clear the square by the use of force because that would be the wrong kind of victory for them. Some protesters now want to march to parliament or to the headquarters of state TV. They may do so, but the real struggle is now as much about information as location.

In a quasi-authoritarian society like Egypt most people did not believe in the government-controlled media in any simple way. And they knew that they could expect little in the way of authenticity or sincerity there. But they studied it nevertheless for coded versions of what was happening. Now a stronger parallel media may be emerging, at the same time as those sections of the old media which had a degree of independence are getting bolder, and cracks are appearing even in the monolithic face of regime stalwarts like Al-Ahram. The return of al-Jazeera to the Egyptian airwaves this week, a concession the regime almost had to make, will reinforce this process.

Suleiman's first reaction was to try to seize control of the political narrative. With his allegations of foreign interference, he attempted to portray the protesters as innocents being used by malign outside forces. With his accounts of harmonious encounters with opposition groups, implying a general agreement on how to proceed was just round the corner, he tried to suggest a process of reconciliation was well under way. With his constant references to the president's wishes, and his juggling with paper committees, he tried to project a non-existent consensus on the need for Mr Mubarak to remain.

Not everything Suleiman has to say is wrong, but the version of events which he, and the regime more generally, offer is tendentious. The fact that it is now so contested is a hopeful development. The allegations about army mistreatment of protesters which we report today, for instance, could shift popular understanding about the real position of the military and affect events in a way not possible before. The people of Egypt can now look from one face to another and decide on their own which they are most ready to trust.







His view on why the European court opposes Britain's blanket ban on prisoners' voting rights deserves support

The Guardian leader column and the Conservative former lord chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, are not invariably as one. Yet Lord Mackay's views on the rule of law, which can be found in a Commons select committee report published yesterday, deserve wide circulation and support. Today, MPs from all parties will compete to denounce the European court of human rights ruling against Britain's blanket ban on prisoners' voting rights. Many will do so because they oppose a general right to vote; others because they get a rush of blood to the head at any ruling by any European court or by any court on human rights grounds. Some will be outraged on all counts. But Lord Mackay is less easily tempted. He told the committee that the key problem for the court was not our denial of votes to prisoners but the blanket nature of our ban – one which, among western European nations, is indiscriminately applied only in the UK, Ireland and Liechtenstein. Then he stressed a far deeper principle. "If we believe in the rule of law," he said, "we are just as much bound to observe the decisions of the European court on matters within their competence as we are to obey the decisions of our own courts in matters within [theirs]." Anti-Europeans will bridle at that, willing to ignore both our treaty obligations and the profound interrelationship between international and national law. Yet Lord Mackay is right, as also was Ken Clarke yesterday. MPs may be free to change the law. But they are not free to defy it.






The results of the "triple vote" in Nagoya last Sunday smack of political theatrics but serve as a warning to the current two main parties — the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party — to correctly respond to people's dissatisfaction.

Mayor Takashi Kawamura of Nagoya, who calls for a permanent 10 percent city residential tax cut and halving the number of the city assembly members and their salaries, won the Nagoya mayoral election, having resigned last autumn to try to renew citizens' trust. In a referendum instigated by him, Nagoya citizens overwhelmingly voted to dissolve the city assembly, which opposes his ideas. And, in the third poll, the governorship of Aichi Prefecture was won by Mr. Kawamura's ally Mr. Hideaki Omura, a former LDP Lower House member who calls for a 10 percent prefectural residential tax cut.

This tax cut won't bring any benefit to low-income people, who are exempted from the tax. Even if wasteful spending is cut, a permanent tax reduction will strain the city's finances and could reduce social welfare spending. Mr. Kawamura also plans to run candidates from his own local party Genzei Nippon (Tax Reduction Japan) in the March 13 city assembly election in an attempt to control the assembly. The assembly must be responsive to citizens' problems. Still his politics is clearly populistic, and he received the largest number of votes ever in a Nagoya mayoral election.

Mr. Kawamura and Mr. Omura also call for merging the Nagoya city government and the Aichi prefectural government to form a Chukyo metropolitan government. Meanwhile, Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto calls for creating an Osaka metropolitan government by dismantling the Osaka city government.

Sunday's voting results indicate people's deep dissatisfaction with the failure of existing parties, especially the DPJ and the LDP, to resolve serious problems such as the economic downturn and dwindling job opportunities. The voting results show that people seek to change the shape of Japanese politics through local government. Major parties' abilities will be severely tested in the coming nationwide local elections in April.





The results of the "triple vote" in Nagoya last Sunday smack of political theatrics but serve as a warning to the current two main parties — the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party — to correctly respond to people's dissatisfaction.

Mayor Takashi Kawamura of Nagoya, who calls for a permanent 10 percent city residential tax cut and halving the number of the city assembly members and their salaries, won the Nagoya mayoral election, having resigned last autumn to try to renew citizens' trust. In a referendum instigated by him, Nagoya citizens overwhelmingly voted to dissolve the city assembly, which opposes his ideas. And, in the third poll, the governorship of Aichi Prefecture was won by Mr. Kawamura's ally Mr. Hideaki Omura, a former LDP Lower House member who calls for a 10 percent prefectural residential tax cut.

This tax cut won't bring any benefit to low-income people, who are exempted from the tax. Even if wasteful spending is cut, a permanent tax reduction will strain the city's finances and could reduce social welfare spending. Mr. Kawamura also plans to run candidates from his own local party Genzei Nippon (Tax Reduction Japan) in the March 13 city assembly election in an attempt to control the assembly. The assembly must be responsive to citizens' problems. Still his politics is clearly populistic, and he received the largest number of votes ever in a Nagoya mayoral election.

Mr. Kawamura and Mr. Omura also call for merging the Nagoya city government and the Aichi prefectural government to form a Chukyo metropolitan government. Meanwhile, Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto calls for creating an Osaka metropolitan government by dismantling the Osaka city government.

Sunday's voting results indicate people's deep dissatisfaction with the failure of existing parties, especially the DPJ and the LDP, to resolve serious problems such as the economic downturn and dwindling job opportunities. The voting results show that people seek to change the shape of Japanese politics through local government. Major parties' abilities will be severely tested in the coming nationwide local elections in April.







DAVOS, Switzerland — As the dramatic events in North Africa continue to unfold, many observers outside the Arab world smugly tell themselves that it is all about corruption and political repression. But high unemployment, glaring inequality, and soaring prices for basic commodities are also a huge factor. So observers should not just be asking how far similar events will spread across the region; they should be asking themselves what kind of changes might be coming at home in the face of similar, if not quite so extreme, economic pressures.

Within countries, inequality of income, wealth, and opportunity is arguably greater than at any time in the last century. Across Europe, Asia, and the Americas, corporations are bulging with cash as their relentless drive for efficiency continues to yield huge profits. Yet workers' share of the pie is falling, thanks to high unemployment, shortened working hours, and stagnant wages.

Paradoxically, cross-country measures of income and wealth inequality are actually falling, thanks to continuing robust growth in emerging markets. But most people care far more about how well they are doing relative to their neighbors than to citizens of distant lands.

The rich are mostly doing well. Global stock markets are back. Many countries are seeing vigorous growth in prices for housing, commercial real estate, or both. Resurgent prices for commodities are creating huge revenues for owners of mines and oil fields, even as price spikes for basic staples are sparking food riots, if not wholesale revolutions, in the developing world. The Internet and the financial sector continue to spawn new multimillionaires and even billionaires at a staggering pace.

Yet high and protracted unemployment plagues many less-skilled workers. For example, in financially distressed Spain, unemployment now exceeds 20 percent. It cannot help that the government is simultaneously being forced to absorb new austerity measures to deal with the country's precarious debt burden.

Indeed, given record-high public-debt levels in many countries, few governments have substantial scope to address inequality through further income redistribution. Countries such as Brazil already have such high levels of transfer payments from rich to poor that further moves would undermine fiscal stability and anti-inflation credibility.

Countries such as China and Russia, with similarly high inequality, have more scope for increasing redistribution. But leaders in both countries have been reluctant to move boldly for fear of destabilizing growth. Germany must worry not only about its own vulnerable citizens, but also about how to find the resources to bail out its southern neighbors in Europe.

The causes of growing inequality within countries are well understood, and it is not necessary to belabor them here. We live in an era in which globalization expands the market for ultra-talented individuals but competes away the income of ordinary employees.

Competition among countries for skilled individuals and profitable industries, in turn, constrains governments' abilities to maintain high tax rates on the wealthy. Social mobility is further impeded as the rich shower their children with private education and after-school help, while the poorest in many countries cannot afford even to let their children stay in school.

Writing in the 19th century, Karl Marx famously observed inequality trends in his day and concluded that capitalism could not indefinitely sustain itself politically. Eventually, workers would rise up and overthrow the system.

Outside Cuba, North Korea, and a few leftwing universities around the world, no one takes Marx seriously anymore. Contrary to his predictions, capitalism spawned ever-higher standards of living for more than a century, while attempts to implement radically different systems have fallen spectacularly short.

Yet, with inequality reaching levels similar to 100 years ago, the status quo has to be vulnerable. Instability can express itself anywhere. It was just over four decades ago that urban riots and mass demonstrations rocked the developed world, ultimately catalyzing far-reaching social and political reforms.

Yes, the problems facing Egypt and Tunisia today are far more profound than in many other countries. Corruption and failure to embrace meaningful political reform have become acute shortcomings. Yet it would be very wrong to suppose that gaping inequality is stable as long as it arises through innovation and growth.

How, exactly, will change unfold, and what form will a new social compact ultimately assume? It is difficult to speculate, though in most countries, the process will be peaceful and democratic.

What is clear is that inequality is not just a long-term issue. Concerns about the impact of income inequality are already constraining fiscal and monetary policy in developed and developing countries alike as they attempt to extricate themselves from the hyper-stimulative policies adopted during the financial crisis.

More importantly, it is very likely that countries' abilities to navigate the rising social tensions generated by gaping inequality could separate the winners and losers in the next round of globalization. Inequality is the big wild card in the next decade of global growth, and not just in North Africa.

Kenneth Rogoff is a professor of economics and public policy at Harvard University, and was formerly chief economist at the IMF. © 2011 Project Syndicate







The Central Information Commission's (KIP) ruling Tuesday that the National Police shall disclose to the plaintiff, the Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW), information on 17 suspicious bank accounts held by police officers could be another boost to the enforcement of the anti-money laundering law and the fight against graft.

It was only a coincidence that the verdict was made on the eve of National Press Day on Wednesday and based on the 2008 Freedom of Information Law. But the ruling will serve as a judicial precedence to force public officials and institutions to be more transparent in their conduct.

The officers' accounts were among the hundreds of bank accounts which the Indonesian Financial Transaction Report and Analysis Centre(PPATK) found last year to be involved in suspicious transactions amounting to millions of dollars and reported to the police for further investigations under the anti-money laundering law.

However, the police leadership announced after a few weeks of "investigations" that only two of the accounts were found to be implicated in crimes, asserting that the other 15 accounts though holding hundreds of billions of rupiah were simply clean and clear as the money involved was derived from legitimate means even though the official salaries of the police officers ranged from only Rp 5 million to Rp 6 million a month.

ICW, flabbergasted by the conclusion of the police investigations, brought that case to the KIP and demanded that the commission ordered the police to reveal the information on the police officers' accounts. Earlier in August 2005, PPATK also reported to the police chief the bank accounts of 15 senior police officers suspected of involvement in transactions of money laundering involving hundreds of billions of rupiah. But nothing was heard of the results of investigations into those accounts.

However, the latest ruling by the KIP would make it more difficult for the police to protect its officers suspected of being implicated in money laundering practices. In the future the police can no longer ignore PPATK reports on suspicious transactions involving their members because corruption watchdogs or other civil society organizations could demand, through the KIP, full disclosure on such deals.

The KIP's decision was the second piece of good news related to the fight against corruption after the South Jakarta District Court's ruling last week which sentenced former senior tax auditor Bahasyim Assifie to 10 years in prison for money laundering and corruption involving Rp 65 billion.

Proper enforcement of the 2008 freedom of information act indeed could provide a breakthrough in Indonesia's commitment to reforming its bureaucracy, making the government more transparent and accountable to the public.

The law requires public officials and public institutions to provide the public wide access to information, documents related to the public interests, thereby promoting good governance and an open and democratic society and helping investigative reporting by journalists.

An effective enforcement of both laws — freedom of information and anti-money laundering — will greatly help the national campaign against corruption and other forms of malfeasance.




After the noisy, at times unruly and violent protests, Egypt appears to be settling down this week.

Some passionate anti-government demonstrators are holding their ground, but most have gone home and back to work. Some opposition leaders have opened talks with the government to follow up on President Hosni Mubarak's promise to step down in September.

Egypt is going through some major reality checks after the largest and most serious demonstrations Mubarak has faced in nearly 30 years as President. The economy was already bleeding before the crisis. Still, many Egyptians have lost their appetite for demonstrating and have instead accepted Mubarak's promise to leave.

Egypt is settling for reformation rather than a revolution. Going by the Indonesian experience after Soeharto resigned in 1998, reformation may be frustratingly slow, but a revolution would have carried the huge risks of unpredictable devastation, with no guarantee of democracy at the other end.

This may not be the ideal result for those still camping in Tahrir Square in Cairo. For them, nothing less than Mubarak's departure will be acceptable. They continue to play a crucial role as one of the pressure groups — as unorganized as they are — to help ensure that Mubarak will live up to his words.

In the absence of a legitimate parliament or credible opposition parties, the demonstrators are part of the ongoing political transition taking place in Egypt. Under the present circumstances, there probably is no more effective lobby than the street parliament. Their voices should be heard as the emerging and established opposition groups negotiate with the government, not only for Mubarak's departure, but also for the establishment of a credible government that will oversee a democratic election thereafter. The Egyptian military has stayed out of the fray, as it should, and continues to play the role of facilitating the transition to democracy.

If Egyptians are successful in this endeavor, and let's all pray they are, Egypt could provide a model of an exit strategy – one that is peaceful and dignified — for other dictators in the Arab world. Assuming that Mubarak is genuine in his intention to step down, he will be remembered as the leader who paved the path for his nation, and probably the rest of the Arab world, toward the transition to democracy.

That would be his legacy, which may just outdo the negative aspects of his 30-year rule.






"Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do" (Jeremy Bentham).

Corruption in Indonesia today is rampant and dismantling most living elements of the society. Serious endeavors to eradicate corruption have been launched since the Sukarno era.

The famous and powerful Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) was established under the administration of president Megawati Soekarnoputri. Corruption or abuse of power can be traced to many factors, one of them being the adoration of hedonism. Referencing philosophical concepts from the Ancient Greek era developed by icons such as Aristotle, Plato, Epicurus and Democritus, hedonism (hedone) means "pleasure" and is a philosophical foundation that underlines gratification as the cardinal aspect of life. The core idea of hedonism is that pleasure is good and desperately needed by human beings.

Hedonism is generally divided into three major categories: psychological hedonism, ethical hedonism and rational hedonism. Psychological hedonism states that one vital element in human life is to find pleasure and minimize pain. Ethical hedonism is the way people establish their own methods to achieve pleasure by adopting any means necessary. Rational hedonism is set up with certain standards to meet pleasure.

Hedonism as a set ideology was further developed under the influence of two historic philosophers: Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). The 19th century philosophers Bentham and Mill laid down their ideas of hedonism through the ethical theory of Utilitarianism. In Bentham's view, hedonism is "a pleasure that could be understood by multiplying its intensity and duration".

The density and duration are more important than its numbers. Most known by "quantitative concepts", Bentham introduced six indicators to identify what pleasure is all about: certainty, uncertainty, duration, intensity, remoteness, fecundity and purity (Bentham, J. 1789, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation). Bentham and Mill prescribed that "Utilitarian value stands as a precursor to hedonistic values in all that action should achieve great amounts of happiness".

Mill proclaimed his "qualitative approach" to understanding pleasure. In Mill's words, "there are different levels of pleasure, and that pleasure of a higher quality has more value than pleasure of a lower value".

Taking Indonesia as a nation that claims itself to be a "religious" society, very often pleasure is used to justify misconduct. This is a misleading perception to put God in the center of argument. But bad behavior evolving through the history of the nation proves that what we are doing is quite different from God's wishes. This sort of ideology develops through human civilization. It subsequently comes out with contradictory paradigms.

Advocates of hedonism adore consumerism as a strong token of social achievement. Therefore, any effort to gain more consumer goods is highly demanded and respected. On the contrary, those who gain less are classified as misfortunate. These stereotypes penetrate deeply within Indonesian society, where, respect for others is basically measured by the amount of luxury goods possessed.

Amid uncertainty over attempts to cripple down corruption, some social scholars pose ideas to introduce what is named as "shame culture". Shame culture refers mainly to a common awareness not to disparage values and norms operating in a society. Simultaneously, fellow citizens are obligated "to oversee" how others behave, either in the public or in bureaucratic realms. This mode of social control will not receive support because it intercepts basic human rights of citizens. From a judicial point of view, efforts to eradicate corruption here are still basically going nowhere. The reason for this is the growing skepticism in society on moral standards for people and institutions involved in the corruption eradication drive.

Wandering around in the crossroads, the war on corruption then prompts efforts to promote religious teachings for children as well as adults. Both moral and religious enforcements are a failure compared with the people's demands for corruption eradication. Pleasure is nothing to be hidden, but the way material goods are gained has led to corruption with perpetrators breaking laws and stealing things they are not entitled to.

Seemingly law enforcement is not the right weapon to torpedo widespread corruption. Hedonism in the minds of Bentham, Mill, Plato and other philosophers was not conceptualized to be adopted mistakenly. Not to put blame simply on hedonism as a push factor to engage in corrupt acts, but to a certain extent, misperceptions on hedonism is accelerating corrupt conduct in the community at large.
Hedonism is permitted by any religious or philosophical standpoint, but misusing hedonism to paralyze moral and religious obligations is certainly to be judged as a crime against humanity.

Unfortunately, corrupt people are not aware that corruption and hedonism are two sides of one coin.

The writer is a research professor at Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Jakarta.





Two international relations scholars, Ed Mansfield and Jack Snyder, suggest that one of the characteristics of transition to democracy is the weakness of state institutions and the tendency for political elites to use negative nationalism to gain votes.

In this case, the risks of internal conflict, and to some extent inter-state war, also rise. Countries experiencing such a condition, they argued, are categorized as incomplete democratization. On the other hand, consolidated democracy — as asserted by Juan Linz — reflects a condition in which none of the major political actors, parties, or organized interests, forces, or institutions consider that there is any alternative to the democratic processes to gain power, and that no political institution has a claim to veto the action of a democratically elected government.

Furthermore, democracy is classified into two categories: formal democracy, which relates closely to the procedures, and material democracy, the end result of democracy or, in other words, substantive democracy. Now, apply this concept to the case of Indonesia and ask, what can be inferred from it?

Indonesia's democracy presents an intriguing case to examine. Not only because its democracy is young and vibrant, but also because of the risk that would increase the potential for a stagnant, if not a setback, democracy. In this case, I would like to discuss the internal conflict within the society and the risks of Indonesia's failing democracy.