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Monday, February 21, 2011

EDITORIAL 21.02.11

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 media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month february 21, edition 000760, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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









































































As popular protests against deeply entrenched autocrats continue to rage across West Asia, the fact that tiny Bahrain is on fire is of particular concern. Protesters in Bahrain were on a roller-coaster ride this past week as they went from being passionate and peaceful, rallying in Manama's Pearl Square for greater political rights, to being distraught and angry demonstrators after security forces launched a pre-dawn assault that killed several of them in their sleep followed by an Army takeover of key areas. By the end of the week, the Government backed down a step — on Saturday it recalled the Army from Pearl Square, allowing protesters to return to Bahrain's 'Tahrir Square', rejuvenated, with their song-and-dance routines. Additionally, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa also instructed Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, to begin negotiations with opposition activists whose demands seem to have changed since the protests began early last week. On Monday, the protesters were demanding political reforms that would lead to the establishment of a genuine constitutional monarchy. Bahrain has long flirted with Western-style democratic ideas and institutions, but in reality it is an absolute monarchy headed by King Hamad of the Al Khalifa family. Understandably, there is significant resentment against the ruling family, which is Sunni while a majority of the population is Shia. The Shias have long complained of discrimination in jobs, housing and civil rights and are equally resentful of the royal family's strategic decision to give citizenship to other Sunnis from the region in an obvious effort to negate the majority's influence.

A direct product of this policy is the non-native composition of Bahrain's security forces — the Army's ranks are filled with soldiers who are neither from the country nor Shia but Sunnis from poorer parts of the region who are given citizenship and are natural allies of the Al Khalifa family. Unlike the Egyptian military, Bahrain's security forces do not identity with the people and, therefore, did not hesitate from launching a violent crackdown on the protesters, which of course pushed them over the edge and resulted in demands for a total overhaul of Bahrain's political system. However, it is highly unlikely the protesters will be able to topple the regime; if the Khalifa family were to fall from power, it may not necessarily be positive development given Iran's vested interests. If removed, the royal family will possibly be replaced by a Shia administration aligned with Shia Iran. The fact that Bahrain is home to the United States' Fifth Naval Fleet — strategically positioned to counter-Iranian influence — only complicates matters further.

The events in Libya on the other hand can be more simplistically explained. Like their Egyptian counterparts, Libyans are tired of the 41-year-long rule of Col Muammar Gaddafi and his decadent lifestyle. Protesters have taken to the streets demanding more jobs, better pay and cheaper food but clearly they weren't the only ones with an eye on Egypt — Col Gaddafi seems to have learnt a thing or two about how to deal with rebellious mobs, and has therefore attempted to crush the movement with strong hand that has only led to bloodshed and anguish.






The proposal to set up a Broadcast Content Complaint Council to monitor television programmes and redress grievances of viewers and participants in shows is a welcome move. At least we are moving closer towards some sort of accountability by television channels which currently view themselves as above the law and beyond castigation. In the past, all attempts to ensure that television programmes conform to certain standards have failed largely on account of channels owners crying foul and accusing the Government of imposing censorship by other means. That is balderdash and such poppycock objections raised by television channels, their shrill anchors and politically-connected owners should have been disregarded with the contempt they deserve. The Broadcast Bill should not have been allowed to languish simply because television channels felt offended. Nor should the Government have agreed to bunkum called 'self-regulation' — nowhere in the world does that work, least of all in this country where television channels trip over each other for securing TRPs through the foulest of means. Self-regulation requires a certain integrity and honesty, both of which are glaringly absent in the Indian audio-visual media. In any event, if there's a Press Council to deal with the print media's violation of ethics of journalism, there's really no reason why the audio-visual media should be treated as a cut above and a class apart.

There are other aspects of the proposed council that should bother the people of this country. Why should the council be headed by a retired judge? The conduct of many of our judges leaves much to be desired; to suggest they are the paragons of virtue and rectitude is silly. Or is the purpose to generate post-retirement jobs for obliging judges? Similarly, who will decide who is a prominent citizen or a member of 'civil society'? The Government? And who will ensure those chosen are free of taint and unbiased? It is appalling that the Government should consider including chairpersons of various commissions, ranging from the National Commission for Women to the National Commission for Minorities. There is an implicit danger in the inclusion of these chairpersons who are essentially politicians seeking to cynically promote their own narrow political interests. It is entirely possible that these useless organisations which serve no purpose apart from creating jobs for busybodies will seek to play thought police. Worse, the malicious among them will seize upon the most innocuous comment or statement to manufacture fresh grievances. What if the chairman of the National Commission for Minorities were to decide that fair criticism of Islam amounts to Islamophobia? The proposal, therefore, is deeply flawed and merits further deliberation. Let's not rush into doing something that we will come to regret later.









Utter banality is palmed off as profound wisdom at conferences on national security. This reflects the attitude of the Union and State Governments towards policing India.

All Ministries of the Union Government routinely convene Chief Ministers' conferences which usually prove to be inconsequential as far as sum and substance are concerned. The Chief Ministers' Conference on Internal Security held in New Delhi on February 1 was no different from similar gatherings and jamborees.

In his address at the conference, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh banally noted, "I am happy to note that the National Investigative Agency, that was raised after the 26/11 terror attack, has gained much ground in unearthing the fake Indian currency notes networks operating from across our borders and in unravelling the activities of new terror groups... I compliment the Union Home Minister and his team for their proactive role in matters of internal security." He then went on to express his satisfaction over the fact that 2010 was relatively peaceful and saw few terror attacks and communal violence.

It is not that India has been free from terrorism in 2010. Knowing that the Government of India is soft on terror, the perpetrators of violence are constantly on the lookout for targets. If terrorists carried out an attack outside the Jama Masjid in Delhi, detonated a bomb in Varanasi and triggered a deadly explosion in Pune, the Maoists were not far behind.

Subsequently, the Indian Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the explosion at Sankatmochan temple in Varanasi. This was the second terror attack on the city, which was rocked by serial blasts in 2006 that left 28 people dead.

In strange turnaround, while addressing a conference of Chief Secretaries on February 3, Mr Singh sang a different tune and admitted that the internal security situation "has been tense in some parts of our country". He said, "There has been unacceptably high level of violence in areas affected by Left-wing extremism and in the Kashmir Valley... What is needed is a recognition of this problem, focussed attention on these issues and a commitment to improving the professionalism and the quality of our police forces… The police have to be equipped to have the morale and the capacity to deal with the problems of internal security."

Expressing serious concern over "the lack of ethical conduct and probity in our public life", Mr Singh added that it strikes at the roots of good governance, dents the country's international image and "demeans us before our own people… It is an impediment to faster growth. It dilutes, if not negates, our efforts at social inclusion … This is a challenge which has to be faced frontally, boldly and quickly".

A few months before this meeting, Union Minister for Home Affairs P Chidambaram had admitted at the 40th All-India Police Science Congress in Raipur that "Policing a country of over 1.1 billion people is not an easy task. Policing a country in a troubled neighbourhood makes the task more difficult. And policing a country with insufficient police stations and inadequate and an ill-equipped police force makes the task almost formidable."

According to official figures, the total number of sanctioned posts as on March 31, 2010, across all ranks in the police force, was 21 lakh. Of these, about 3,35,000 posts were vacant. Thus, the police-population ratio in our country is much lower than the international norm.

The States with low police-people ration are also those which are affected by Maoist insurgency. To address the problem, according to Mr Chidambaram, "the first order of business is to enhance the capacity of training institutes in the States to at least double the present capacity and to recruit at least double the number of policemen and women every year".

He conceded that most States barely have sufficient capacity to impart even basic training to new recruits. The Constitution of India lists law and order as a State subject. Therefore, the bulk of the policing job is the responsibility of State Governments.

What is most important to note is that the Central Bureau of Investigation cannot operate in a State without the consent of the respective Government. Any State Government can withdraw its consent at any time and thus close any case being investigated by the Central agency. This has happened more than once in our country.

The CBI's jurisdiction is only limited to Union Government employees who draw their salaries from Central funds. The CBI can only conduct an inquiry when a State Government grants permission for an investigation into corruption or other acts of impropriety, on a case to case basis.

Though policing touches the lives of all citizens, no State Government is willing to bring about the much-needed police reforms recommended by the Supreme Court on September 22, 2006.

Justice KT Thomas, chairperson of the Supreme Court-appointed Police Reforms Monitoring Committee, set up in July 2008, has said that not a single State or Union Territory Government wants to lose its power of appointment or transfer of police officers. According to him, he met State politicians who saw no reason in winning elections if they were not allowed to hold on to their power to choose their own police officers.

His committee, without exception, met with "laughing refusals" from State Home Ministers when asked if they would make room for the setting up of a Police Establishment Board. "The reason is very obvious. They laugh and ask me: 'Why did I win the election if I do not have even the power to decide my own police officers", he said. The way things are turning out in different branches of Government presents a dismal picture. One of the four pillars of a democracy is a prompt and effective justice system, which includes the police and the judiciary.

Despite having a mammoth number of commissions, committees and regulatory bodies, the country is going downhill. It is a matter of shame that it has been classified as the 87th most corrupt country in the world with an integrity score of 33 out of 100. The country has been looted by scamsters and the money, running into lakhs of crores, has been salted abroad in secret bank accounts.

The Government should remember that this is not the time to be afraid or timid because the challenges India faces are formidable. It can take up one problem at a time — like illiteracy, corruption, health or education — and focus on it for six months. In five years, it would accomplish what has not been done for the last six decades. But this calls for both courage and commitment, which our Government lacks in ample measure.







As Egypt erupted a few weeks ago, one fellow Muslim country insistently urged President Hosni Mubarak to respond to popular demands. That country was Turkey. The call was a sign of Turkey's growing confidence and stature in West Asia and beyond. Hobbled by economic and political chaos just a decade ago, Turkey is increasingly taking on the role of regional model, mediator and leader, with a solid economy and an evolving democracy.

It has sought to balance many of the forces that shape, and shake, the region: The East and the West, Israel and Iran, religion and secularism. As elections approach in June, results of a new AP-GfK poll suggest that Turkey's Government will pursue a path of relative pragmatism, despite fears of the influence of Islam on the state.

Turkey still aspires to join the European Union, but that once-strong vision appears to have faded. The poll shows that 52 per cent of respondents want Turkey to stay in Nato, and 50 per cent want to join the European Union. Yet 42 per cent have an unfavourable view of the EU, reflecting frustration with a process that has stalled partly because of European opposition and the slow pace of Turkish reform.

Views of individual European nations are positively acid. Only 16 per cent of respondents held a favourable view of Germany, and that was high. Other favourable views were at 12 per cent for Italy, 11 per cent for Spain, nine per cent for Britain, six per cent for France and just five per cent for neighbouring Greece, a traditional antagonist. European leaders fared just as badly.

"This dream of a rosy-pink Europe, once so powerful that even our most anti-Western thinkers and politicians secretly believed in it, has now faded," Turkey's Nobel laureate, author Orhan Pamuk, wrote in an essay published in The Guardian. "This may be because Turkey is no longer as poor as it once was. Or it could be because it is no longer a peasant society ruled by its Army, but a dynamic nation with a strong civil society."

A key question is to what extent Islam will change a society with a strong secular tradition, imposed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk when he founded the country in 1923 after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

For example, the Government recently imposed new restrictions on the sale and advertisement of alcohol, forcing sports clubs to stop putting beer ads on the jerseys of their players and ending the sale of alcohol on highways. Alcohol is banned in Islam. But in facing a barrage of criticism from pro-secular circles, the Government said the curbs protect young people and have nothing to do with religious sentiment.

The number of pro-Islamic television channels, which air programmes praising the virtues of Islam, also is on the rise. According to the AP-GfK poll, 85 per cent of respondents called religion an "extremely" or "very" important part of their lives. A majority, 63 per cent, said women should be free to wear the Islamic head scarf in universities.







India has signed two comprehensive economic agreements in quick succession - with Malaysia and Japan. They confirm that the Look East Policy, initiated by P V Narasimha Rao, is now entrenched in our diplomatic vision. Also commendable is that the agreements seek to go beyond trade in goods and ease the flow of services, people and money. In conjunction with the Indo-Asean free trade agreement signed in August 2009, they will serve to link the Indian economy more closely with the dynamic East Asian region.

India accounts, at this point, for less than 1% of Japan's trade. Surely it's a travesty that the world's third largest economy should be India's 11th biggest trading partner. The current agreement with Japan, however, should transform ties and upgrade them to a strategic level. Trade will go up because tariffs on 94% of trade items will be abolished over 10 years. Indian exporters will benefit in many trading sectors. Pharmaceuticals tell the story best. Japan's is the second largest pharma market in the world. Now that India can export generics, exports are expected to rise by 20% this year and Japan could account for 5% of total exports in four years.

But the agreement's significance transcends the specificities of tariff lines, to improve the entire trading environment. Japan's willingness to accommodate skilled Indian labour is a significant advance. However, the range of Indian professionals permitted to work in Japan must be expanded in future talks. Japanese investment and technology are expected to be crucial in building the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor, where Japanese companies could subsequently set up for a mutually profitable economic partnership. India's comprehensive agreement with Malaysia could be transformative as well. Although Malaysia is part of Asean - with which India has an FTA - the deal with Malaysia includes trade in services and investment as well. It allows, for instance, Indian IT and construction companies to invest in Malaysia, while easing movements of professionals between the two countries. Malaysia has formidable expertise in building infrastructure projects, from which India can gain as well.

The economic agreement with Malaysia should be the template for a similar deal with Indonesia, and eventually all of Asean. India's penetration of Asian IT markets, for example, is poor relative to its presence in western IT markets, particularly those of the US and UK. But given the economic downturn in western economies and the consequent rise in protectionist sentiment in the West, India must diversify its trade and economic links. East Asia is not only next door in geographical terms, it's among the most dynamic economic regions in the world.







After having dropped the Jinnah bomb, senior BJP leader L K Advani has gone against the grain of the party line once again. He has extended an apology to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, over unsubstantiated allegations that she and her family had wealth stashed in foreign accounts. With charges and countercharges flying on corruption, it is very important that hysteria shouldn't take over the debate. It would be doing the campaign against corruption a disservice to make out as if it's generic and all-pervasive, requiring little specific proof or marshalling of evidence. The opposition has done well to pin down the government on the 2G, Commonwealth Games and Adarsh scams, on which considerable evidence has emerged. But the debate needs to be civilised. Spiralling partisan rhetoric on the issue only leads to a sense of hopelessness.

For the sake of good governance, it is imperative that systemic measures are implemented to check graft. This can only happen if the government and the opposition debate reforms and raise the level of discourse. Very little of the current debate focusses on the structural reasons for corruption - for example, distorted land markets and discretionary powers that netas and babus have over deciding land use. Unless these issues are addressed, the incentives for corruption mount and no amount of breast-beating will help. Why does the current debate centre only on the holding of a JPC and not, for example, on how the Lokpal Bill can be reworked to make it more effective, or why police reforms are held up? A healthy democracy demands a richer debate, as well as a working relationship between the government and the opposition.









Many people wonder if the crisis in Egypt, leading to Hosni Mubarak's resignation on February 11, might spur similar popular upheaval for regime change in Asia. Asia has no shortage of potential candidates, including the biggest of them all: China. Then there are also Vietnam, Burma and North Korea.


In East Asia, one finds many recent assertions of 'people's power' that one saw in the streets of Cairo: the Philippines in 1986 and 2001 when surging crowds ousted presidents Marcos and Estrada respectively, and Thailand in 2008, when protests ended the remnant of the Thaksin Shinawatra regime. But the situation in Asia is quite different. Asia has already seen more transitions to democracy than the Middle East. Although many Asian countries are not paragons of liberal democracy, outright dictatorships in the region have fallen in number relative to the past and to democratic or semi-democratic governments.

At 30 years, the Mubarak regime held power far longer than any regime in Asia under the same leader. The leader's persona matters, as change of the top leader may mitigate popular anger even if the regime remains in place.
China and Vietnam have replaced their top leadership before they became lightning rods for popular anger. Indonesia's Suharto might have averted catastrophe for himself and his nation by following a similar path before it was too late, as Malaysia's Mahathir did a few years later. In Singapore, the ruling People's Action Party regularly replenishes its top leader, even Lee Kuan Yew, despite his high popularity.

Another obvious difference is that authoritarian governments in Asia, with the exception of Burma and North Korea, enjoy an impressive economic record. Although claims that authoritarianism promotes economic growth are highly spurious, there is less doubt that growth prolongs authoritarian rule. And economic downturns can bring about regime change, as happened to Indonesia's Suharto.

Egypt's economic performance under Mubarak has been highly uneven, compounded by corruption and rising inequities. Egypt demonstrates what democratic transition scholars have called democratisation's "snowballing effect". After being ignited by the Ben Ali regime's fall in Tunisia, unrest in Egypt threatens to spread to other countries. Jordan and the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia included, are understandably nervous. But such snowballing has rarely happened in Asia. A few years ago, democratic change in Indonesia spurred 'reformasi' in Malaysia. But its effect was limited.

Until his unceremonious exit, Mubarak was a model US ally. He played closely by the script written in Washington, maintaining peace with Israel, and fighting the war on terror, in return for $1.5 billion in annual US aid, much of it to support the military. Yet, the Obama administration, after an initial moment of confusion - perhaps underestimating the force of popular sentiment in Cairo - moved quickly and decisively to distance itself from Mubarak as protests mounted. In the end, it chose to side with the protesters. One lesson that America's Asian allies might draw is what it means to be a close US ally. This could be a real worry for pro-US authoritarian regimes in Asia: when the chips are down, they might be abandoned despite a record of steadfast loyalty.

Perhaps they need not worry too much. The Obama administration's response to Egypt does not have anything that might remotely suggest that the US will adopt a more vigorous policy of democracy promotion in Asia. The Economist magazine asks whether events in Egypt and the Arab world might vindicate George W Bush's policy of seeking regime change in
Iraq and promoting democracy in the Middle East. The answer has to be a clear no. Bush wanted to impose regime change from above, the Egyptian case is regime change from below. Bush's real motive was not democracy but revenge.

The crisis in Egypt is also a reminder of the debate over the impact of democratisation for conflict and violence. By Asian standards, the revolution in Egypt has been relatively peaceful thus far. According to Amnesty International, perhaps 1,000 people died in the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 in Beijing (the Chinese Red Cross estimates double that figure). Indonesia's democratic transition might have claimed 19,000 lives in various forms of violence, including communal strife, and secessionist conflicts in East Timor and Aceh.

The issue is not just what Egypt means for East Asia, but also what East Asia means for Egypt. In South Korea and Indonesia, Asia does seem to provide models for Egypt to achieve stability through the democratic path. Indonesia is a more relevant model. Like Egypt, it is a large Muslim nation and home to extremist groups like Jemaah Islamiyah that is more shadowy and violent than Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. While South Korea's democratic transition came with robust economic growth, Indonesia's took place on the throes of a severe economic downturn. The accompanying malaise of impoverishment, corruption and lack of accountability is similar to Egypt's predicament.

A major difference is that the Egyptian military is far more entrenched in special privileges - fostered by US aid - than its Indonesian counterpart in Suharto's heydays. But it is possible to imagine an Indonesian-style democratisation in Egypt that progressively reduces the military's role and encourages multiparty electoral democracy.

The writer is professor of international relations,
American University, Washington DC.







Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz was in India for the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit organised by The Energy and Resources Institute ( TERI). He spoke exclusively to Deep K Datta-Ray:

What're India's most significant problems in your intellectual and professional perspective?

Inclusive growth and making it sustainable. For instance, agriculture uses groundwater at an unsustainable rate causing developmental and environmental problems. As for inclusiveness, society is plainly not doing well. The challenges are multiple but NREGA was an important innovation. But the state can only do so much. Hopefully the private sector too will generate jobs. Your advantage is that even if the international situation isn't conducive, India's internal market can be a conduit for growth, resulting in inclusiveness because people now excluded will be incorporated into the growth process. There are several impediments to this - infrastructure, energy, education - but they're being addressed.

Resolving these issues requires scarce resources. Raw materials must be mined, for example, that in turn generates other problems. How's it possible to reconcile these issues?

The resource's value isn't helping locals, people in the mining areas. Instead they're left with the environmental problems of unsustainable mining. It's the visible manifestation of unbridled capitalism and as much the failure of governance. Resources should belong to the people and governments should represent the people, which means government can't permit the appropriation of public resources by the private sector. This is India's little window onto a global problem: the natural resource curse, the unexpected creation of inequality by rent-seeking distorting both economy and society. The solution is to tax coal. Unlike a tax on income or savings which leads people to not work or save, you can tax coal because it doesn't go away right?!

On resources, do you think the 'resource curse' might lead to a post-Soviet situation here, with oligarchs seizing control of resources?

I don't see that happening here because there are very important vehicles for inclusive growth. The problem's in public assets not being correctly managed. This breeds inequality and it's not just true about mines but also telecom. Spectrum could have been made into a public asset if it was auctioned publicly. Then a useful commodity would have been created which could finance growth and inclusiveness. But it's not just India that's affected. Government selling assets in a manner that gives favour is pervasive. In the US mining, oil and timber are problem areas while agricultural subsidies go to the wealthiest. I think mining and telecom are exceptions and on the whole things are pretty good here.

Given the issues you picked, is the problem the lack of governance?

Market forces don't create equality and equality-of-opportunity requires public education. Societies that succeeded in creating it, like Scandinavia, pushed education. Those that didn't, the US, have decreasing equality of access. Achieving this in a democracy is much harder than people think because it's not just about one-person-one-vote. There's the debilitating nexus between special interests, campaign contributions and revolving doors - when the same person hops between top jobs in government, the private sector and international organisations. This nexus is why the US has the best democratic government money can buy!

Is India going down this route? How can it be avoided?

Stop revolving doors because if someone's in a job but looking to get another, then they're looking to please the next employer, not the current one. Public funds for campaigns undermine the politics-private money link. Though in the US think tanks are politically aligned, their net worth is positive in a democracy where ideas must compete. And positive discrimination helped reform iniquitous attitudes generations old, meanwhile merit can be maintained by searching harder for qualified candidates from minority groups.







To stay relevant, the group of twenty (G20) economies that produce nearly nine-tenths of the world's output needs to come up with an early warning system for the next crash. The meeting in Paris last week of finance ministers and central bankers had one set of measurable indicators on the table, but it is unlikely to find universal acceptance. Two of the four indicators measure imbalances within countries — the public deficit and debt, plus the level of private savings. There is little debate over them. G20 countries have committed nearly $2 trillion to discretionary spending after the 2008 financial meltdown, which, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) study reckons, could have added 1.2-4.7 percentage points to the bloc's output in 2009 and 0.1-1 percentage point in 2010. But this process is not painless — the public debt in the G20 has climbed from 62% of its GDP in 2007 to 82% in 2010.

Since countries are at different points on the turnaround graph, fiscal rollbacks must occur at different times. When they do, they will have to be large: to regain its 2007 position, the world needs to bring down its fiscal deficit from 7% to under 1%, a process, the IMF paper says, that could drag on beyond 2016. An earlier G20 meeting in Toronto threw up two dates: 2013, by when the advanced economies will try to halve their deficits; and 2016 by when they should begin to stabilise their public debt ratios.

The other two indicators of economic health measure external imbalances — the current account balance or trade balance, or foreign currency reserves or real exchange rates. These are more contentious. According to the OECD, a club of the wealthiest nations in the world, emerging economies are holding $5.4 trillion in foreign currency reserves, nearly twice as much the amount held by rich countries. This amount represents the consumption the developing countries have forgone in their effort to flood the West with cheap goods. India favours adopting all four indicators, but China — sitting on the biggest stockpile of dollars in history — is resisting calls to float the yuan. It wants the dollar's hegemony to end. Time is running out for the G20, a group cobbled together to take the world out of a crisis, unless it can come up with a mechanism to avert the next one.





While we incessantly argue that all is not right with our political system, we barely expect holy men in robes, walking the earth with their bags of benediction, to come to the rescue. A grave malaise, however, might need an unusual remedy and when the country is as wracked by corruption as it is now, who should step in from the wings but Baba Ramdev, yoga guru and healer of maladies?

Having already announced his intention of launching a political party last year, he has now announced that the party will take a concrete shape in June. The express aim of this earthly mission is to create a political structure within the country.

Ramdev, currently on a Bharat Swabhiman Yatra across the country to impart political, social and spiritual education to people, has also spelt out that honesty will be the sole criterion of joining his party, an ambitious aim in a country that is forever sliding down the oily pole erected by global watchdogs like Transparency International. It would be interesting to observe how the guru, whose prescriptions of wellness combine traits from yoga, spiritualism and ayurveda to mitigate problems of the human body, locate and solve the problem of the larger body politic.

In the past, Ramdev had ranted against fast foods, soft drinks and Western pharmaceutical products (the last understandably, given his own ayurvedic product empire) that appa-rently pollute the Indian spirit and thereby weaken it. But now that he has positioned himself on a wider public platform, he should exercise greater caution, especially when condemning parallel religions. For example, his strictures against cricket, which he had described as a British import that encourages ogling and drinking, might not go down well this season, when the wind is in the willows. Unless he learns that politics is more than pontificating from a pulpit, his hope of eradicating corruption will disappear like his claims of curing cancers and Aids, in a wisp of smoke.







The revolution in Egypt was an extraordinary manifestation of long suppressed human freedoms finding expression. Ordinary Egyptians risked their lives to reshape their future and hasten reforms that will, in all likelihood, include free and fair elections for the first time in their nation's history. Most of us in India, on the other hand, have known nothing but democracy. Imperfect and noisy as ours is, we cannot begin to contemplate an alternative to it. By the same token, we are often guilty of extolling its virtues to sugarcoat our failures and inadequacies.

Perhaps it is time for a reality check.

For starters, the gratuitous stalling of parliamentary proceedings is counter-productive and amounts to a subversion of democracy. The best way of addressing national issues and making government accountable is to have a robust parliamentary debate and legislate for positive change. What we are witnessing instead is a potent mix of stubborn political opposition and public apathy that is crippling our democratic process.

A rapidly growing Indian middle-class should be a catalyst for positive social change and better governance by exercising its collective franchise at every opportunity. But this isn't the case at all.

A self-absorbed middle-class cares more about preserving its own narrow interests than helping shape a national agenda. Despite the fact that processes like economic reforms have allowed the middle-class to prosper, it is unwilling to ride out the bumps on the road to progress in its quest for instant gratification. A non-functioning Parliament in this context is a mere aberration far removed from everyday life. The truth is, however, that social mobility, infrastructure, urbanisation, price rise, inflation and the stock market — issues that directly concern the middle-class — are all inextricably linked and a function of governance with civic participation at its core.

According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, a Stockholm-based intergovernmental organisation, India's average voter turnout is about 60%, which places its voter participation at 85 out of 140 countries. Those numbers would be far less flattering it weren't for the poor that defy the odds to vote. Electoral data from the past 30 years indicate they turn out in large numbers to elect a new government while apathetic urban middle-class stays at home.

India's secure middle classes often complain about the quality of governance and politicians but are strangely indifferent to participative democracy. The danger here is that growing public apathy may enable political leaders to ignore voters altogether. This would be inconceivable in countries like the US and other industrialised democracies precisely because tax-paying citizens are more invested in public policy.

Americans, for instance, care a great deal about where their tax dollars end up and often influence their country's domestic and foreign policies by making their voices and votes count. In comparison, less than 4% of Indians pay direct taxes, which may explain a wider disconnect. Ironically though, even those Indians that do pay taxes care little about the returns on their tax rupees.

It is no surprise, then, that voter apathy dilutes the quality of the national debate and reduces it to a sounding board for local community issues instead of a space to address larger systemic ones.

There is always more political leaders can do to involve citizens in the political process. But civil society must also remain engaged over the long haul rather than just episodically. 26/11 is a case in point. The sense of outrage in the immediate aftermath of the attacks failed to translate into a force for sustained public opinion and a show of strength at the polling booth. A dismal 43 % electoral turnout in Mumbai just months after the attacks was another glaring expression of voter apathy despite polls and pundits predicting all time highs. Unfortunately, Mumbaikars frittered away the opportunity to build a coalition of the willing that could have so easily emerged from the rubble of 26/11.

Now is as good a time as any to put progress over partisanship and bring representative democracy back on an even keel.

(Milind Deora is a Member of Parliament. Nikhil Dhanrajgir is with the Netherlands Institute of Human Right.)

*The views expressed by the authors are personal





No Prime Minister in India's history has ever expressed helplessness in facing challenges that have come up during his or her tenure. No PM has ever sought refuge in compulsions in dealing with crucial national matters. No PM has admitted to the failings of his or her Cabinet colleagues while trying to absolve himself or herself. No PM has ever tried to correct his image at the expense of his party or his coalition partners. The reason is simple: the buck stops at the PM's office.

But at last week's press conference, Manmohan Singh achieved a number of firsts for any Indian PM. While trying to correct his image, Singh did not come out as the king he was during the major part of his tenure. He emerged as a man not in control who, however, instead of accepting his own accountability, blamed his party and colleagues for all wrongs.

What is his helplessness all about even if he considers it is due to the compulsions of coalition politics? If Singh is the PM today, it is only because the Congress is in a coalition government. Had the Congress got a majority, he would not have been the chosen one. But coalition politics is not a licence for corruption or inefficiency. If anyone feels as strongly about the evils of coalitions, there is no compulsion of being associated with such politics or the offices it brings along with it.

When the PM says he is majboor (helpless), is he not letting down the aam aadmi? Is he saying that he is helpless in serving the poor who elected his government and have great expectations? The poor would have wanted prices to be in check, corruption curbed and the influence of corporate giants contained.

Singh must realise that he is occupying a seat that was once occupied by a great visionary and statesman: Jawaharlal Nehru, the man who faced many challenges in his life including riots and a war with China. But he never said he was helpless. The same office was held by humble but strong willed Lal Bahadur Shastri, acclaimed for his strident defence of the country during the 1965 Indo-Pak conflict and someone who gave a call for 'missing a meal' every Monday so that food shortage could be tackled. He was never helpless.

Neither was Indira Gandhi, a leader whose mass base was astounding and who came to power after defeating Morarji Desai in the Congress parliamentary party (CPP) elections. She later also led a minority government after the Congress split in 1969 but did not yield to the pressure of the syndicate. She dug her heels to call for 'Garibi hatao' while nationalising banks and abolishing privy purses. She was never helpless when she even fought the Janata Party leaders with all chips down.

Even Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh, Chandra Shekhar, PV Narasimha Rao, HD Deve Gowda, IK Gujral and AB Vajpayee never displayed their helplessness. When their time was up, they just went but did not blame political situations, colleagues and circumstances. But perhaps all these leaders were from the political class and were not there after their tenures in other fields had ended. Perhaps they were made of sterner stuff. But they all realised and respected the fact that PMs can never show helplessness. If they were then what would happen to the country? If they lose relevance, they go.

Before going public with his limitations, Singh should have stated his piece before the CPP, which elected him as its leader and subsequently endorsed his elevation to the position of the PM. He must learn from his predecessors and dig in his heels to fight corruption and inefficiency. He must always remember that the buck stops at his doorstep. Between us.






As cricket's World Cup begins in right earnest, it is sobering to note the initial weeks will have fairly lacklustre fixtures. This will be even more so when the matches don't involve host teams. For instance, the West Indies plays Ireland on March 11 in Mohali. It is going to be a tough game to sells ads for or to gather TRPs.

In such a situation, how does one ensure a decent spectator turnout? Across the world, tournament organisers both sell tickets and distribute them to various sections of society — from students to former sportspersons to, inevitably, VIPs. It is no different in India, except here the juxtaposition of VIP and freebie cultures, particularly in places like New Delhi, gives the process a bad name.

This year, local cricket associations — affiliates of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) — have been turning away requests for complimentary tickets. They fear violating a judicial ruling. Recently the Supreme Court decreed officials of sports bodies are public servants and liable to be prosecuted under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The immediate implication of this is state and city cricket associations are snubbing politicians and schoolchildren alike. Nobody wants to be prosecuted for giving away a free ticket and 'causing a loss to public funds'. The sports official concerned would have to establish the tickets could not be sold at any price and in any circumstances and that the schoolchild or VIP selected for invitation qualified for a free ticket using objective criteria that disqualified any other schoolchild or VIP.

That may sound comic. Perhaps it would be justified as comeuppance for sports and cricket officials, widely disparaged in this country. Yet, consider other possible consequences. Two young spinners play league cricket in Mumbai. X takes 43 wickets in inter-club games in one season; Y takes 37 wickets. The Mumbai Ranji Trophy selectors pick Y and not X. Their subjective assessment is Y may have taken fewer wickets but is a better bowler. Besides, he is a handy batsman down the order.

The parents of X take the Mumbai selectors to court. They charge them with corruption and dereliction of duties as public servants, with ignoring facts and figures and not choosing the spinner who has taken more wickets. To take this to its logical absurdity, cricket selectors, like public servants buying a commodity for the government, would need to stick to the L1 principle: pick the lowest bidder for a contract, or the highest wicket taker.

No doubt those examples sound alarmist and silly. Nevertheless, they cannot be completely discounted in a country where going to court and dashing off a public interest petition are almost a bad habit. The Supreme Court intended to make sports bodies, especially those that sit on vast sums of money, more accountable. That desire is unexceptionable. However, to believe it can be achieved by declaring sports officials are public servants is stretching things. To prosecute a public servant above the rank of joint secretary, one needs to take permission from his appointing authority. Officials of, say, the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) are elected by representatives of constituent clubs. Will these clubs be asked to vote on a resolution that sanctions prosecution of, say, the CAB general secretary?

There is a larger issue to consider. What is the judiciary's mandate? The higher judiciary is among the most respected and cherished national institutions. Other than the odd aberration, the integrity of its leading members has been beyond reproach. It was in the mid-1990s that the judiciary's public standing rose far above that of the legislature and the executive. There were three reasons for this.

First, the Supreme Court threw up a series of brilliant judges. Second, India came to be governed by a succession of fractious governments that would often be unable to take decisions. They willingly ceded the executive's policy-making authority to courts. Third, corruption scandals caused disgust with the political class and led to the judiciary gaining the moral upper ground. Popular (and sometimes populist) this phenomenon — 'judicial activism', as it came to be called — also altered the balance between the three fundamental arms of the state.

Today, history is repeating itself. India is again ruled by a coalition in policy freeze, seemingly unable to decide on anything. A flood of scandals has weakened the political establishment. Once more, people are looking to the courts for salvation, in day-to-day monitoring of corruption cases or otherwise.

This is not ideal but it is a hard reality. In practice, there is no restriction or check on judicial reach or overreach at this point. As such, it is for the courts to self-regulate. Delivering justice and upholding the law is one thing, but are triggering conundrums that convert cricket officials to public servants worth it?

There are other examples. This week the Delhi High Court will hear a petition to 'quash the introduction' of certain new vaccines in India's universal immunisation programme even if government and public health bodies have approved these. It argues that none of these bodies is free of conflict of interest. Is it the judiciary's job to decide on which vaccines a child should get, and here, as in other places, supplant the executive? The good judges may want to ponder.

(Ashok Malik is a Delhi-based political commentator)

*The views expressed by the author are personal





T tion c wo Indian scientists -- Ajay Anil Gurjar and Siddhartha A. Ladhake -- are wielding sophisticated mathematics to dissect and analyse the traditional medita- chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six tion chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six monographs in academic journals, which plumb certain acoustic subtlety of Om that they say is "the divine sound".

Om has many variations. In a study published in the Inter- national Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, the researchers explain: "It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of [the] Om mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods but still pulsing at that slow rate." The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there's always a basic `Omness' to it. Both Gurjar, principal at Amravati's Sipna College of Engineering and Technology, and Ladhake, an assistant professor in the same institution, specialise in electronic signal processing. They now sub-specialise in analysing the one very special signal. In the introductoy paper, Gurjar and Ladhake explain that, "Om is a spiritual mantra, out- standing to fetch peace and calm."

No one has explained the biophysi- cal processes that underlie the `fetch- ing of calm' and taking away of thoughts. Gurjar and Ladhake's time-fre- quency analysis is a tiny step along that hitherto little-taken branch of the path of enlightenment. They apply a mathematical tool called wavelet transforms to a digital recording of a person chanting `Om'. Even people with no mathematical back- ground can appreciate, on some level, one of the blue-on- white graphs included in the monograph. This graph, the authors say, "depicts the chanting of `Om' by a normal per- son after some days of chanting". The image looks like a pile of nearly identical, slightly lopsided pancakes held together with a skewer, the whole stack lying sideways on a table. To behold it is to see, if nothing else, repetition.

Much as people chant the sound `Om' over and over again, Gurjar and Ladhake repeat much of the same analy- sis in their other five studies, managing each time to chip away at some slightly different mathematico-acoustical fine point. The Guardian






With the abduction of R. Vineel Krishna, district collector of Malkangiri, and his colleague Pabitra Majhi, a junior engineer, the Maoists have raised the stakes. As Maoist interlocutors use their captives to try to dictate terms, laying down preconditions for negotiations, the Orissa government's challenge is clear. It cannot but be aware of the possible repercussions of having the initiative swing to an unlawful and banned group, least of all one as uninhibited in taking innocent lives, as the Maoists are.

At one level, Krishna's captivity has rendered the state government helpless. The consequences for district-level governance are obvious. The depth of anguish at his abduction in Malkangiri highlights the new interfaces he was creating to address the grievances of the poor in an area seen by Maoists to be fertile ground for recruitment and one crucial for their "red corridor". The results of his outreach are evident from the spontaneous campaign to demand his release. Therefore, the apprehensions about the damage this episode could do to well-meaning initiatives by those connected to the administration. The Maoists are in this fight for "liberating" areas from the writ of government, and portraying the administration as hostile to, or at least uncaring of, the people is essential for their propaganda. This is why the government must watch the signals it sends out. For the Maoists this is as much a battle for turf and personnel as it is for raising morale, whether by staring down the state or by inviting escalation of police action. The Centre and the Orissa government, which in the past has been slow in taking the fight to the Maoists, should see Krishna's abduction for the tipping point it could be.

However, Krishna's abduction — at a time when he was out and about peacefully discharging his duties, and not in the messy crossfire of a security encounter — must carry a larger message to those who see the Maoists as inadvertently violent crusaders of a humanitarian cause. They must shed their insistent woolly-headedness in reading the Maoist project. That project, as this case amplifies, aims at nothing more constructive than the violent overthrow of the state. The Maoists have done nothing to show that it anyway involves meaningfully addressing the grievances of people brought on or ignored by the state — let alone, in, say, Krishna's case, applauding a helping hand from the administration.






A drastic lowering of diplomatic presence in a country is seldom looked upon as a positive sign. When India did so in Iraq in 2004, following a hostage crisis involving three

Indian truck drivers, it was squarely blamed on the security situation. It was felt it would be unsafe for an

Indian mission to function in full capacity, as Baghdad reeled from an upsurge of violence. After seven years, during which Saddam was hanged, Iraq saw two elections and the US withdrew its troops, India has decided to upgrade its diplomatic presence and send an envoy to Baghdad. And it is about time.

The imperatives for such a decision, which could not have been postponed any longer, are many — from the historical ties and the people-to-people contact that India and Iraq have enjoyed to the substantial presence of Indians in Iraq; from the new political and economic realities to the changed security situation in Baghdad. Iraqis are going through a crucial transitional phase, revelling in their new-found democracy, stabilising its institutions and restructuring the economy. India, as a major player in the region and looking to play a greater part as a world power with a place in the UNSC, cannot afford to be a passive spectator. It has to play a proactive role in helping Iraq move on. Our actions have to catch up with our ambitions.

Despite a diplomatic slackening, India-Iraq business relations have been thriving — and it only points to what a full-fledged diplomatic mission can facilitate. Iraqis are familiar with Indian brands, and a segment of Indian entrepreneurs in the Gulf is looking to the country with interest. It is up to the Indian government to create a congenial environment for them to re-enter Iraq. India has always had its influence in the region and we need to leverage it for bilateral benefit.






The finance ministers of the G-20 countries met on Friday and Saturday in Paris at an intriguing time for the organisation. The 20 large economies in the loose association all have different rates of recovery — and different priorities for the road ahead. Without adaptation to these different priorities, the G-20 would have lost its new-found relevance as the primary method of international economic cooperation; but also, it needed to ensure that it was able to focus on actually getting things done, rather than in dissipating energy between several unmanageable non-core priorities.

The Paris meet has not done too badly, given these constraints. The focus remained on strengthening the international financial system, and on what some call the "economic imbalances" that are blamed for the crisis of 2008. To that end, currencies — especially China's yuan — were the focus of discussion. India stayed out of the continuing international spat on the subject. In focus, too, was the nature of international capital flows, which concern many for two reasons. First, because surging capital flows could create asset bubbles, in real estate or in commodity prices, with all the attendant dangers. Second, because large capital flows could theoretically complicate monetary policy for countries with correctly-, as opposed to under-, valued currencies. Unsurprisingly, the Chinese finance minister blamed "malicious" capital flows for international inflationary pressures. The French hosts, too, wanted closer regulation of capital flows. The Brazilians have already imposed capital controls. India, on the other hand, has by most accounts carefully not intervened in foreign exchange markets — something that sets it apart from other emerging economies.

India's stakes in ensuring that capital can flow easily across borders is considerable. While we should be on guard against asset bubbles, it is nevertheless the case that the infrastructure deficit badly needs financing. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's robust defence of the freedom of capital in Paris was, therefore, welcome. It is also welcome that the G-20 called for "actions to strengthen local capital markets and domestic currency borrowing in emerging and developing economies". That is the long-term antidote to asset bubbles caused by capital inflows.







If Andhra Pradesh is seen as a bellwether state, useful to assess the drift of politics in the country, its neighbour, Tamil Nadu, has been anything but that. Trailblazer and an outlier on political and social counts, setting its own parameters, it was crying out for separation from the Indian Union till just about 40 years ago. But now, for the past 15 years at least, it has dramatically set the tone for the nation, rather than merely reflect what is going on in Bharatvarsha.

Think back on the reason why the Sitaram Kesri-led Congress first withdrew support to the United Front in 1997 — the DMK. In 1999, it was the AIADMK's turn to withdraw support from the NDA, which resulted in a general election. Thereafter, the party of all seasons, the DMK, took a strategic turn to the NDA, giving the BJP-led coalition stability. Then, in 2004, the DMK facilitated the UPA's victory. And that's where it remains seven years later.

With the 2G spectrum scam drawing A. Raja to jail and raids on a television channel owned by Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi's family, the DMK's affairs are once again casting a long shadow on national politics. The storm in Parliament over a joint parliamentary committee may be about to subside, with the Centre cornered by the opposition, but the looming election in Tamil Nadu (principally between alliances led by the DMK and the AIADMK) is going to provide another very interesting dimension to the "Spectrum Raja" debate. The party's performance in the assembly election is likely to determine the political salience of the 2G issue at the national level.

Tamil Nadu has always produced spectacular politics, or what they may refer to in Chennai as "super" spectacular politics — the word "super", given the passion that Tamilians bring to their politics, cinema and life in general, having almost passed into the Tamil lexicon, is abundantly and very appropriately used.

If the DMK-led coalition loses, it would break many political myths that prevail about the importance of the national partner in swinging results. The Congress, the one stabilising though marginalised national force in Tamil Nadu, has aligned alternatively with each of the Dravidian parties — which has then almost always been the game-changer.

This time, of course, there are several things that make this election for the assembly's 234 seats of great national significance. The first is the way the contest is structured. The nature of the coalitions in the pit has undergone a dramatic change from the last time round. The DMK is attempting to buck incumbency, at the Centre and in the state, despite not having a single-party majority in the state. For all the moans we hear from the Congress at the Centre of being in a coalition clutch it can't do much about, it is actually the Congress that can push the DMK about in the state, but has not done so. Aware of the precarious positioning of the alliance this time, the DMK has wooed the elusive and fickle PMK, not wanting to leave any end uncovered. The AIADMK has seen a steady erosion in its otherwise robust vote shares and support amongst women and in rural areas. Another stint in opposition could seriously dent the AIADMK's positioning in the state. The smaller parties may well drift off if the AIADMK fails to make the cut.

In the maze of star and screenplay writers scripting the political drama, the most interesting factor this time is the other cinestar in the fray. "Captain" Vijayakanth, of the DMDK (Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam), is a recent entrant, his party having been inaugurated only in September 2005, but it has slowly emerged as a factor. In assembly bypolls last year, which the AIADMK boycotted complaining about EVMs, the Captain held on and soaked up nearly 23 per cent of the votes, emerging as the main opposition. Even in the 2009 parliamentary elections and in the state polls before that, he cut into the anti-incumbency votes, clearly bothering Jayalalitha no end.

This time round too, Vijayakanth, nicknamed Captain after his film Captain Prabhakaran, is in talks with the Congress. Whether he chooses to merge his party with the

Congress, like Chiranjeevi's Praja Rajyam Party in Andhra, or continues to work as a "third pole" in Tamil politics, not allowing either of the Dravida parties to rule the roost and therefore help the Congress emerge as the net gainer, remains to be seen.

However, the key aspect of this election will be how the campaign on the "corruption" issue will play out electorally. The DMK has espoused the most radical of social and political ideas till just a few years ago. Yet a party of organised cadres rooted in "rational" ideas is now increasingly giving the impression of being One Family Inc, controlling almost all conceivable sectors of the Tamil Nadu economy.

But it has also been the party of governance, raising the already high bar in the state over the past five years by creating successful and sustainable social schemes, targeting women, the poor, minorities. The colour TV distribution (despite the beneficiaries including a retired IAS officer's wife) and employment fairs arranged by the party after the economic slowdown dovetailed into popular aspirations. The state government has even put in place a system of monitoring trucks of foodgrain by GPS, aimed at cutting back problems with the public distribution system in the state, and Tamil Nadu's delivery of cash transfers under the Janani Suraksha Yojana has been better than most other states.

How the AIADMK mines the slowdown in the DMK's rise-and-rise graph remains to be seen. The AIADMK is helped in its battle against the incumbent DMK by the national campaign against the perceived corruption of the evergreen DMK ministers at the Centre and the imprimatur of the Left to whitewash the charges of corruption that once buried the AIADMK chief herself under the woodwork.

But second-guessing the Tamil Nadu voter has always been hazardous. The only certainty is the promise of a "super"-duper blockbuster of a poll.








Like many other sports-driven Bollywood movies, Patiala House was disappointing in its complete departure from reality. It simply did not focus on on-field performances, which are central to sports movies that are serious in scope. And this makes one wonder why an epic cricket- (or even football-) driven film, one with mass appeal yet true to the sport, has not yet been made here.

Bollywood's sports-themed movies tend to focus more on society's limitations, with an "us against the world" theme, rather than giving us a build-up that looks more at the sport and less on the ancillaries. Sports movies don't typically succeed in Bollywood precisely because of the various subplots attached to them.

Lagaan is an exception, but more so because of the context. That can be slotted with landmark, politics- or social conditions-driven sports movies like Clint Eastwood's Invictus and Million Dollar Baby. In fact, of sports-themed Bollywood productions that used the basic ingredients, Chak De! India was the first of its kind. It embraced India's unity in diversity, and it focused on the underdog in a Cinderella-story setting. It tells a tale, as good sports movies do, that starts with despair, and ends with a feel-good, goosebumps-inducing moment of success or realisation.

That film's choice of sport and gender was an interesting one. Women's hockey has not typically garnered much attention in the past. But this turned out to be masterly. By focusing on a less-followed sport, the movie was able to build on controversial themes and subject matter, while at the same time remaining true to its script and overall theme. There was also limited scope for misinterpretation. On the flip side, the theme and sport, while liberating, also limited its appeal to less than a movie focusing on cricket or even football would have had.

The greatest sports movies are character-driven: Rudy, Raging Bull, Remember the Titans, Field of Dreams, Rocky and even Any Given Sunday. Passion, poetry and prophecies occur with a singular focus: the field of play. All other storylines evolve from this. In

India, a dichotomy exists between the athlete and how she is perceived. This is a problem, because a movie that points out the protagonist's character flaws and social awkwardness would be considered nothing short of heresy.

When it comes to our athletes, especially our national icons, we would not be indulgent of artistic licence in movies. Intrigue, sleaze, drama and cut-throat competition tend to be under-emphasised, because our athletes should be mythical figures of herculean proportions.

In Hollywood, sports-themed movies cover varied ground. Some go for Disneyfication of complex themes, focusing on feel-good moments. These are meant for family viewing, and frequently borrow from true stories of redemption and success. Blockbusters such as Remember the Titans, Miracle and a personal favourite, Cool Runnings, dealt with unorthodox themes and glossed over controversial topics/ mature subject matter by turning them into ancillary incidents that only strengthened the resolve of the athletes and coaches concerned.

Another popular approach is to create fictitious leagues and characters, and then build a parallel story around those. The star-studded modern-day epic Any Given Sunday created an imaginary parallel league to the National Football League. By keeping it fiction, Oliver Stone was able to delve into the underbelly of a professional sports league, with racial stereotypes, illicit affairs, drug-use/ abuse and other such ethical shortcomings factored into the actual field-of-play excitement. It was larger-than-life, thought-provoking, slick and provocative. And definitely more humane, gut-wrenching and closer to reality than most other "true-story" movies. It's impossible to envision any such movie about cricket (fact or fiction) making its way to the Indian multiplexes any time soon. This is due in no small part to the fact that professional sports leagues which act as island havens for superstars are too nascent for the movie-going audience to relate to.

Yet, each Bollywood production requires that the field of play, or the particular event of significance, be surrounded by topics including, but not limited to, colonial hangovers, autocratic patriarchs, religious and ethnic fault-lines. As long as that is the case, it will be difficult to find the perfect sports movie in Indian cinema. Not because there aren't enough moments of success — in fact, the 1983 Cricket World Cup victory is one of the all-time great storylines.

Ironically, India is where the US was in the 1930s and '40s when it comes to accepting the occasional mistakes of our athletes. No one could have imagined that there would be movies made about the Black Sox scandal, or Shoeless Joe Jackson — the legendary baseball player who was immortalised in Field of Dreams, one of the most critically acclaimed sports movies of all time.

Field of Dreams featured the inspirational line, "If you build it, they will come." Write a storyline that remains true to the sport and its intricacies. Then surround it with fewer stereotypes and more substance. As India starts experimenting, sports-themed movies too should evolve.

The writer is a Delhi-based sports









Among my father's papers, I discovered an old, weather-beaten booklet dated February 28, 1959, in Chandigarh. It is a speech that Dr Gopi Chand Bhargava, the then finance minister of Punjab (this was before Haryana was formed), made to the Vidhan Sabha presenting the state's budget for the year 1959-60. I quote from the last paragraph: "I also wish to record the appreciation of the government for the accountant general, Punjab, Shri R.P. Ranga who shared with us the burden of watching the financial interests of the state."

The accountant general, as some readers might know, is the representative in the state of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, a constitutional functionary. The said Shri R.P. Ranga was my father who had the reputation of being a tough but fair auditor. The contrast between a gentleman politician of the old school represented by Bhargava, who "appreciated" his auditor and who was conscious of the fact that the "burden of watching the financial interests of the state" was a "shared" one, and the current unseemly attacks on the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General who is seen not as a valued colleague but as an adversary, makes the stark case that our republic today disappoints the vision of our founders.

The independent institutions of our state have not let us down. The CAG is performing his appointed duty with vim, gusto and panache. The Election Commission has had its ups and downs. Sukumar Sen came up with innovative ideas like pictorial symbols for the illiterate voter and indelible ink to minimise electoral fraud; T.N. Seshan breathed fresh air into the institution; the current commissioners are willing to open-mindedly revisit the operation of the rugged EVMs, of which we should all be proud; this body has by and large met the aspirations of the citizenry of India with integrity and energy. The Supreme Court, despite the aberration of obsequiousness during the Emergency, has performed brilliantly against tremendous odds. The Kesavananda Bharati judgment ensures that we cannot have a repeat of the tragic happenings in Weimar Germany where a party was able to subvert the constitution using constitutional procedures. India cannot become a monarchy or a majoritarian state — at least not with constitutional blessings.

Over the years, the Supreme Court has emerged as the most significant source of optimism that executive tyranny will not curse this fair land of ours. The Court is a human institution and has inevitably been affected by prevalent societal norms. But, on balance, it has emerged as a many-splendoured institution. The finance commissions have time and again fulfilled their constitutional dharma by coming up with reports and processes that have been seen as progressive and fair — thus holding together our federal polity. Let's not forget that secessionism in erstwhile East Pakistan was fuelled by perceptions of financial exploitation and fiscal injustices.

Our armed forces have remained apolitical and independent. General Thimayya set the traditions by refusing to contemplate a coup d'état when he could have. Krishna Menon tried his hand at weakening the armed forces by indulging in favouritism. He over-promoted the clever General Kaul. This general might have been tempted to try a military takeover. Ironically, we have the Chinese to thank. Kaul never recovered from being correctly saddled with the lion's share of the responsibility for our battlefield defeat.

The RBI, after becoming the handmaiden of the finance ministry, has over the last two decades recovered its autonomy and functions with the sobriety and independence intended in its founding legislation, the classic Reserve Bank of India Act of 1935. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) started off without statutory teeth. Over the years, it has gained legitimacy, not only statutorily, but also by its actions in attempting to preserve a transparent capital market. China is doubtless ahead of us in hard infrastructure. But in the soft infrastructure of a working financial market, trust me, we are far ahead. When B.R. Ambedkar and Benegal Rama Rau worked out a Westminster model for our state, leveraging rather than discarding the provisions of the brilliant Government of India Act of 1935, they did succeeding generations a great favour.

In England, certain traditions have prevailed, which are specifically designed not so much to promote good government as to prevent bad government. The monarch cannot intrude into the House of Commons; the last one who did so was Charles I, and you might recall that he was subsequently beheaded. The duty of a judge is not only to enforce the sovereign's writ but also to ensure that the monarch or her functionaries do not persecute the citizens. The spirit of our own Constitution is pervaded by similar thoughts derived from the Magna Carta traditions of our erstwhile rulers. They may have jailed him for years, but Nehru had the good sense and the generosity of spirit to acknowledge this.

And today, what do we have?

Despite repeated pleas by our highest court that the police system needs citizen-friendly reform, our elected leaders remain unpersuaded. All they have to do is to implement the recommendations of the various commissions on police reform which they themselves have created. But this they will not do. The Supreme Court tries hard repeatedly to make the CBI an independent agency, not one to be used for political vendettas and the like. But this is not allowed to happen. To add insult to injury, it seems in order to publicly attack the CAG, to set up committees under the control of the finance ministry in order to emasculate the RBI and SEBI, to make SEBI dependent on discretionary doles from the government of the day.

One can only hope today's political leaders want to go down in history on the same side as Gopi Chand Bhargava, Ambedkar, Rama Rau, Thimayya and Nehru and not in the camp inhabited by Krishna Menon and Kaul. Let them not hurl India down the same slippery slope to which Hindenburg condemned Weimar Germany.








Ashwin Mahesh, climatologist-astronomer and a PhD in atmospheric sciences from the University of Washington in Seattle, last worked in the US as a specialist on Antarctic clouds and their impact on global climate change. When he returned to Bangalore in 2005, there weren't any Antarctic clouds to study.

But when Ashwin Mahesh looked around, urban India presented an abundance of challenges. Tackling these complex challenges would be enough to satiate his own social and intellectual motivations. Mahesh founded a technology lab Mapunity to harness information and communication to promote public good.

"Urban traffic, law and order, healthcare, public administration — large-scale problems are all around us, and some of them can be fixed simply by trying," says Mahesh, a public policy professor at Bangalore's IIM and CEO of Mapunity. Mapunity develops affordable innovations to solve problems in the developmental sphere, an area that commercial technology companies have neglected so far.

Many solutions that Mapunity develops and passes on to governments, NGOs and private companies have a "public face". For instance, its traffic information system or healthcare system is built to be useful to the government but ultimately delivers value to the public.

One of Mapunity's successful solutions is an urban transport information system aimed at managing the transport requirements of large cities. The problem of traffic congestion can be solved by meshing together the big picture, the premise on which Mapunity works. "If you look at the traffic problem with a degree of visualisation, the cause and effect become obvious," says Mahesh.

The system weaves together several types of inputs: teledensity data from mobile towers, videos from police cameras at traffic junctions, location information from GPS-fitted buses and cabs. The technology provides the collaborative environment, depicting the real-time status on traffic conditions in neighbourhoods.

The mobile phone of a cab driver stuck in a bad traffic jam is sending out signals to his service provider's nearest base station. If the signals at a particular tower spike, it means the density of phones is increasing in the neighbourhood, providing an estimation of the congestion.

In Bangalore, traffic policemen manning a centralised traffic monitoring and management system have information pouring in from a network of maps, cameras, teledensity readings and GPS from city buses. Technology adds these and provides a visual of the traffic grid. The centralised office can thus track traffic density at particular junctions, advise on road blockages and accident sites and re-route traffic, deploy traffic police personnel to problem areas, tool around with the frequency of green lights at traffic junctions and so on.

The information can also be passed back to road users' cell phones advising them on congested routes.

The same inputs can be useful in emergency management, says Mahesh. For instance, Bangalore's GPS-fitted ambulances can be tracked in traffic. "We are trying to see if we can make smooth passages for all ambulances by turning traffic lights into green as they approach," says Mahesh. Mapunity's law-and-order solution is a collaborative tool in contrast to the paper-based communication tools that the police force currently uses. To nab a crime suspect, for instance, the solution helps map the suspect's movements across different neighbourhoods, allowing police to track his route and report back into the suspect's files. "The collaborative tool makes the work systematic," says Mahesh.

In healthcare, Mapunity's technology puts together simple solutions to promote public health. Vaccidate, that is currently in pilot use in a hospital chain in Bangalore, is a free online and mobile-based alert service that reminds parents about the vaccination schedules for their children. In another solution currently working in Chennai, government and private hospitals report into the system on what patients are being treated for. Health officials can thus track disease outbreaks early in the cycle.

Mapunity receives grants from foundations, corporate social responsibility funds from corporations and also raises money through selling its research and applications commercially.

Government and public institutions have always lagged behind the private sector in using technology. Mapunity has made a start in undoing this drift. "We will keep toying around with challenges in the socio-economic space without worrying about the boundaries — eventually they all start connecting to each other," says Mahesh.







It was sometime in November 1997. I was in New Delhi with a delegation of Pakistani journalists to attend a conference of the subcontinent's mediapersons, organised by the South Asian Media Association (SAMA, the precursor to SAFMA). One afternoon, the then prime minister, I.K. Gujral, invited the participants for lunch. While he met delegates from all South Asian countries, it was with the Pakistani journalists that he communicated the most and in a language that is as dear to him as it is to us — Urdu. He had to be politely reminded by joint secretary Pavan Kumar Varma (who has written a fine book on Ghalib in English) that journalists from other SAARC countries were not able to understand Urdu. He then expressed his apologies and switched to the language of the colonial power that once ruled over most of the subcontinent and continues to linguistically bind countries in the region.

When lunch was about to be served, senator Javed Jabbar (who led the Pakistani delegation) and I were invited to sit at the prime minister's table. I had read about Gujral's close friendship with Faiz Ahmed Faiz, so at the first gap in the conversation I requested the prime minister to tell us about Faiz, as he had known him closely for many years. He narrated an anecdote about the great poet: "I was India's ambassador to Russia, when Faiz was hospitalised in Moscow. The specialist attending Faiz had asked him to kick the bottle as his system could not take it anymore. He followed the advice for two or three days but couldn't resist the urge any further. He rang me up at my office, and asked me to arrange a bottle for that evening we were to spend together, as we did almost everyday. 'Khuda ke wastay, Faiz sahib aapko to doctor ne mere samnay sakhti se mana kiya hai (For God's sake, I was there when the doctor strictly asked you to stop drinking),' I protested. 'Arre bhai, mujhe peene se mana kiya hai lekin tumhe laane se to mana naheen kiya hai (My friend, he did tell me not to drink but he didn't stop you from bringing it),' was his reply." Before Gujral could have revealed more about Faiz, the conversation drifted to another subject.

Lunch over, three Pakistani journalists requested an interview with Gujral. Varma said the prime minister was busy and that he would be able to meet only two journalists. However, all four of us were asked to fax our questions, which we did the same afternoon. Mine were about Faiz, Urdu and the absence of cultural contacts between the two countries. The subjects were close to his heart, which is perhaps why I was selected. The following day I was at the prime minister's office.

About Faiz, Gujral said, "With Faiz I enjoyed a special relationship. I first met him when he was my teacher at Hailey College, Lahore. Then we became friends partly because both of us had leftist leanings. He was a highly endearing person in addition to being a poet par excellence. I remain among his greatest admirers." The PM said his brother, the artist Satish Gujral, has a Faiz couplet on the cover of his autobiography.

Last month I tried to contact Gujral through my friend Mani Tripathi and his wife Shashi, who were once the consul-general and the deputy consul-general respectively in Karachi. They had served as first secretaries when Gujral was Indian ambassador to the Soviet Union. Mani said his former boss was not keeping good health, but promised to get more out of him about Faiz.

Mani didn't tell me that in those days General Zia-ul-Haq had "declared" Faiz persona non grata and that the Pakistan embassy in the Soviet Union was avoiding Faiz like the plague. He, however, recalled that during Faiz's stay in Moscow, well-known Hindi poet Harivanshrai Bachchan (Amitabh's father) had visited the city. Taking advantage of the situation, Gujral arranged an evening with the two great poets at the Indian embassy. The listeners, including some Pakistanis living in the city, gave them a standing ovation.

Later in the evening Gujral asked Bachchan, "How come your poetry is replete with nasha (intoxication) and suroor (ecstasy) even though you are a teetotaller?" "My forefathers had taken so much alcohol that it is still very much in my veins, so I don't need to drink," replied the Hindi poet, evoking peals of laughter. The one who laughed most heartily was none other than Faiz, recalled Mani.

Once, Karachi-based literary critic Sibte Hasan was in Samnabad, then a Lahore suburb. A friend drove Faiz to the place where Sibte, a communist party cardholder and Faiz's old jail buddy, was staying. They had a good time recalling their days in pre-Partition India and subsequent years when they were both colleagues in the left-oriented Progressive Papers' Group. The following evening Faiz wanted to see Sibte again. So he took out his old car and went round and round the locality. Following him was the IB (Intelligence Bureau) van. Eventually Faiz gave up. He called the driver of the van and asked if he remembered the house he had visited the previous evening. The man laughed and said, "You went past the place twice." Faiz offered a simple solution, "For a change I will follow you."

That was Faiz for you — not just a great poet, but also a man worth his weight in gold.

The writer is a Karachi-based journalist







Rarely have we seen such epic clashes between the forces of light and darkness. We watch in awe as revolutions somersault through the Middle East. We see instantaneous digital communication as a weapon against oppression and, in the hands of tyrants who tap into its power, as a weapon for oppression. While the cloud spurs some people to reach for the stars, delighting in freedom of expression, it seduces others to sprawl in the gutter, abusing freedom of expression.

When CBS's Lara Logan was dragged off, beaten and sexually assaulted by a mob of Egyptian men in Tahrir Square the giddy night that Hosni Mubarak stepped down, most of us were aghast. But some online began beating up on the brave war correspondent.

Nir Rosen, a journalist published in The Nation, The New Yorker and The Atlantic, who had a fellowship at New York University's Centre on Law and Security, likes to be a provocateur. He has urged America to "get over" 9/11, called Israel an "abomination" to be eliminated, and sympathised with Hezbollah, Hamas and the Taliban. Invited to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2008 about the Iraq surge, he said he was uncomfortable "advising an imperialist power about how to be a more efficient imperialist power".

Rosen must now wish Twitter had a 10-second delay. On Tuesday, he merrily tweeted about the sexual assault of Logan: "Jesus Christ, at a moment when she is going to become a martyr and glorified we should at least remember her role as a major war monger." He suggested she was trying to "outdo Anderson" Cooper (roughed up in Cairo earlier), adding that "it would have been funny if it happened to Anderson too."

Rosen lost his fellowship. He apologised in a whiny way, explaining that he "resented" Logan because she "defended American imperial adventures," and that she got so much attention for the assault because she's white and famous. He explained in Salon that "Twitter is no place for nuance," as though there's any nuance in his suggestion that Logan wanted to be sexually assaulted for ratings.

He professed to be baffled by the fact that he had 1,000 new Twitter followers, noting: "It's a bizarre, voyeuristic Internet culture and everybody in the mob is looking to get in on the next fight." It's been Lord of the Flies for a while now, dude, and you're part of it.

The conservative blogger Debbie Schlussel smacked Logan from the right: "Logan was among the chief cheerleaders of this 'revolution' by animals. Now she knows what the Islamic revolution is really all about."

Online anonymity has created what the computer scientist Jaron Lanier calls a "culture of sadism". Some Yahoo comments were disgusting. "She got what she deserved," one said. "This is what happens when dumb sexy female reporters want to make it about them."

The 60 Minutes story about Senator Scott Brown's revelation that a camp counsellor sexually abused him as a child drew harsh comments on the show's Web site, many politically motivated. Acupuncturegirl advised: "Scott, shut the hell up. You are gross." Dutra1 noted: "OK, Scott, you get your free pity pills. Now examine the image you see in the mirror; is it a man?"

Evgeny Morozov, author of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, told me Twitter creates a false intimacy and can "bring out the worst in people. You're straining after eyeballs, not big thoughts. So you go for the shallow, funny, contrarian or cynical."

Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, says technology amplifies everything, good instincts and base. While technology is amoral, he said, our brains may be rewired in disturbing ways. "Researchers say that we need to be quiet and attentive if we want to tap into our deeper emotions," he said. "If we're constantly interrupted and distracted, we kind of short-circuit our empathy. If you dampen empathy and you encourage the immediate expression of whatever is in your mind, you get a lot of nastiness that wouldn't have occurred before."

Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, recalled that when he started his online book review he forbade comments, wary of high-tech sociopaths. "I'm not interested in having the sewer appear on my site," he said. "Why would I engage with people digitally whom I would never engage with actually? Why does the technology exonerate the kind of foul expression that you would not tolerate anywhere else?"

Why indeed?

The New York Times







The release of the new consumer indices by the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) is a landmark event in the evolution of the price statistics in India. It would provide a new and more useful tool for measuring inflation and guiding monetary policy. The three indices, namely rural, urban and combined, have taken rather long in the making, taking more than a decade after the National Statistical Commission (NSC) recommended these in 2001. The reason for the changeover were the major lacunae in the four existing consumer price indices, that for urban non-manual employees, industrial workers, rural labour and agriculture labour, which measured changes in the price of goods and services consumed by specific segments of the population and did not provide any data on the price changes at a macro level, either in the rural or urban sectors. Though the CSO has used the consumer expenditure survey conducted in 2004-05 for estimating the weights, the mandate is to re-estimate it every five years. And the results are more comprehensive. The new indices give numbers on the changes in the consumer prices of five product groups and 21 sub-groups in the rural, urban and combined areas at both the national level and in the 35 different states and union territories, as against the measurement of the trends in urban and the major industrial and agriculture areas under the earlier indices. But the new series will take at least a year to stabilise as the some of the states could not be fully covered even after the long gestation period, only after which the annual inflation rates would be computed for the new series on a regular basis.

Apart from the organised sector employees, whose dearness allowance is tied to the changes in the consumer price levels, the biggest gainer from the new improved indices will be RBI. The multiplicity of price indicators has made the choice of the primary inflation indicator a difficult task for the Indian central bank. Though the headline inflation index is the WPI in India, the favoured inflation indicator the world over are consumer price numbers. And the large diversity between the WPI and CPI in the recent period have made the scenario even more complex as the limitations of the data made the the policy analysis rather ambiguous. The new indices would also bring Indian price indicators closer to the indicators used by the Federal Reserve Board of the US, which primarily focuses on the CPI-U (a CPI for all urban consumers), which covers around 87% of the total population.

The 2010 base for the CPI does have a problem in the sense that the CPI is now lower than the WPI—the January food inflation according to WPI is 15% while the new CPI suggests inflation was a more manageable 6%. These differences in the indices need to be kept in mind while taking policy decisions.







Chandrasekhar Bhaskar Bhave will be a tough act to follow. In a short time span, of just three years, Bhave has managed to transform the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) into a stronger, more effective and probably even feared organisation. Under his chairmanship, Sebi has truly regulated the way a regulator ought to, without any fear or bias. It must be said that much of the stature that Sebi has now acquired is the result of Bhave's personal integrity and courage and the capital market regulator could lose much of the respect that it now commands, unless the new chairman, UK Sinha, is as assertive and uncompromising. Indeed, with several successful convictions, fewer cases lost at the Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT), quicker access to the capital markets and a new takeover code in place, Bhave has done a great job in the last three years, despite the many pulls and pressures. His list of achievements is a long one but he will be remembered most for having had the courage to take on big industrialists like Anil Ambani, with whose companies Sebi recently entered into a consent order following an investigation relating to trades in the Indian market with funds borrowed overseas. Indeed, it speaks volumes for the regulator that it even attempted to look into an insider trading case, relating to shares of the erstwhile Reliance Petroleum and that it has reportedly walked away from a plea bargain with Reliance Industries, on two occasions, because the amounts offered by the company were too small relative to the estimated profits of Rs 500 crore. Bhave has been able to say no where it was deserved; Sebi turned down MCX-SX's application to set up an equities trading platform because it believed that the promoters had control of more than 5% of the equity, of the proposed exchange, which was against the rules.

That Bhave is an able administrator, perceptive and balanced, and willing to experiment is seen in the many changes that he introduced; firms accessing the markets for the first time can have anchor investors, there's a level-playing field for retail and institutional investors, an option of a French auction for follow-on public offers and currency futures and options for those who want them. All that Mr Sinha needs to do is carry on the good work, continuing to reform the system while bringing offenders to book. Above all, the message to the market should be the same as his predecessor's: Sebi means business.






The news that China has overtaken Japan to be number 2 in the GDP ranks elicited the usual responses. People began calculating how soon China would overtake the US. But that sort of exercise is done on a calculator assuming current tends would continue forever. Twice in the last 60 years, we have had the US being threatened by someone taking it over. First was (and you'd better believe this) the USSR. Khruschev boasted in 1960 that the USSR will overtake the US in 25 years. "We will bury you in an avalanche of commodities" was the threat. Well we know what happened to the USSR.

Next was Japan and there were forecasts during the 1980s that Japan will be the largest economy by the end of the 20th century. Japan had MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry), which directed its industrial policy while the US had no official policy at all. So Japan, with an active government, a tightly knit business elite and an industrial strategy, was going to win. That forecast bit the dust in the 1990s.

China is the next and we shall see what will happen. We also have had predictions that thanks to the demographic dividend, India will overtake China by 2030. My own take on this is that there is no reason to assume that India's growth performance is guaranteed. Indeed, the last quarter of 2010 and two months of 2011 warn us not to take anything for granted. There are several strands that warn us that India is in a fragile position as far as the growth performance is concerned. Let me enumerate these.

First, the latest advance estimates for 2010-11. It came out as 8.6% but this was artificially boosted by the 5.6% growth in the agricultural sector. This was high due to growth from a low base of a drought ridden 2009-10. The underlying trend, if you adjust for that, would be roughly half the recorded growth and the GDP growth rate would come down below 8%.

Second, the persistence of inflation. Every time a high number comes up for inflation, we have the policy makers telling us it will come down in six month's time. We have had 18 months of this prediction. There seems to be no policy on the supply side and RBI raising interest rates will only strangle growth.

Look at the index of industrial production over the last six months. It has been very volatile. There seems to be no plausible explanations to why it is so. But in absence of any positive shock, the index is likely to bump along and we cannot rely on it for a boost to growth in 2011-12.

But more than any of these things it is the environment in the economy since last November which is worrisome. We know India is a corrupt country. But what has now happened is that partly due to the global context (as in the CWG scam being first spotted by the UK tax authorities), partly due to the sheer size and inter-related nature of successive scandals—2G, CVC, Radia tapes, Isro, CWG and even, in its own way, the IPL, Brand India is losing its shine abroad. Now I no longer meet breathless admirers of India in London but people asking if India is a safe place to invest, given its governance problems.

It is not enough to blame the NDA for the UPA's troubles nor does it help to be told by the PM, no less, at his press conference that the battle between the two parties is due to some criminal case in Gujarat being pursued or not. The sheer failure of governance at the Centre has eaten through the system. The Radia tapes have dented the reputation of business houses. How such taping could be sanctioned for such a length of time has to be investigated for its implications for human rights of all involved. But given the politicisation of CBI and other regulatory bodies, we shall never find out. In the meantime, the business houses will suffer. This will have repercussions abroad for them when they go out to do business. The OECD code of conduct on corruption is very strict as is the most recent Bribery Act that the UK has passed. The Radia tapes expose Indian businesses to prosecution by governments or shareholders abroad. Foreign investors have been getting around their domestic legislation and finding local Indian agents to do the bribery bit. But if they are going to be exposed by telephone tapping initiated by the government and then leaked arbitrarily, they may become wary of coming to India.

The same goes for the arbitrary ways in which 2G contracts are being called in for cancellation or repricing. The Isro-Devas deal may be cancelled for no reason other than saving the PMO's collective face. This is not the way a country based on the Rule of Law is supposed to function.

It will take a long time before Brand India is restored to its previous shine.

The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer






With an increasing number of trades and deceptive patterns adopted by manipulators, there is a need to have advanced technology driven surveillance systems working on a real time basis. Sebi has added more artillery in its fight against market manipulators recently by launching a Data Ware Housing and Business Intelligence System (DWBIS) for strengthening its investigation and surveillance mechanism. A data warehousing system typically works at the backend and helps in achieving business intelligence, which refers to the information available for making decisions. DWBIS is aimed at speeding up computation and data analysis and in turn helping detect instances of price rigging, insider trading and front running amongst other types of securities frauds.

As India continues to follow a strong exchange self-regulatory organisation (SRO) model (where Sebi is the primary regulator, relying on stock exchanges to perform regulatory functions extending beyond their market operations), stock exchanges continue to remain the first level regulator for detecting market manipulations. Sebi is required to be immediately informed of any doubtful movements, based upon which it may enquire, investigate and if required, take appropriate actions. Sebi on its own can also initiate an action based on the information gathered from other regulators, media, stakeholders or through its Integrated Market Surveillance System (IMSS) introduced around five years back.

Sebi's IMSS provides useful assistance in monitoring the markets and helps in finding deviances, analysing aberrations and leaves it to Sebi to identify the suitable cases for carrying out investigation and taking further action. But since the inception of IMSS and as also evident from the the recent annual report for the year 2009-10 published by Sebi, a need was felt to complement it with an additional system that could provide a better handle to investigations. This has been done by launching the DWBIS, which will integrate data available from stock exchanges and depositories into a single integrated data warehouse. DWBIS is likely to serve Sebi in a better way by assisting in identifying and investigating market manipulations. These are still early days and over the next one year, the new platform is likely to host pattern recognition algorithms, which will assist in identifying networked clients collectively indulging in manipulations.

Now there is a need to examine as to why, despite having one of the best technology and surveillance mechanisms in the world, the systems are not effective and culprits frequently escape convictions or there is an inordinate delay. This is because the core issues still remain unaddressed. We can apply technology and look for solutions, but this is not an automatic process, as unfortunately the technology can only help to an extent because decision making still lies with Sebi. Let's examine the concerns. First, availability of information on a near time basis and not on a real time basis. Second, delay in execution of the available information. Third, stringent laws on paper but impracticality resulting in fewer convictions or inordinate delays.

The wrong has to be discovered immediately and not merely on a near time basis so that a manipulation is discovered promptly and requisite repair work is done. This would help the investor's cause who would not continue to be impacted by the manipulators.

Sebi may technically be said to have more central and real-time surveillance systems than its US counterpart, the SEC. But delayed investigations and even more delayed findings vitiate the system. The recent front-running matters involving officials in two asset management companies pertained to the trading periods of 2007 or 2008, way before the final orders were made in 2010. What is required is efficient execution. The new systems and tools would prove to be helpful only in an event the execution is prompt.

There is a need to have strict but practical laws catching the front-runners, insider traders and other types of manipulators. Greater purpose would be served if we have laws that are more rational and reduce the unnecessary hassles obstructing and delaying the necessary convictions. The investigations need to be quick rather than running into years. There is also a growing need to keep a track of a large number of off-market transactions taking place outside the market systems. The infamous 'flash crash' of May 6, 2010, in the US market highlighted a need for having a more centralised and quicker surveillance mechanism. The SEC proposed adoption of 'consolidated audit trail' with FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority), given the responsibility of tracking trades in all listed US securities. In India, we don't have the problem of scattered trades as is in the case of the US, but what we probably don't have is the effective monitoring and expeditious execution.

With the introduction of DWBIS, the scope of surveillance will widen and are likely to unearth smarter manipulators, provided the concerns identified above are addressed. The new system should act as an ECG, but imagining that a good doctor is no longer required would create a false sense of security.

The authors are with Finsec Law Advisors







The combination of bizarrely implausible factors that led to the United States-led and United Kingdom-backed invasion of Iraq in March 2003 has been exposed yet again by one of its own proponents. The Iraq-born former chemical engineer Alwan al-Janabi has told The Guardian in detail how, when approached by an official in the German security service, the BND, in March 2000, he made wildly inaccurate claims about Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Mr. Janabi kept up the inventions for six months, and even thought they would go no further when the British and German secret services rejected his claim that the son of his former boss was a procurer of WMDs; the boy was in fact at school in the U.K. The ex-chemist says he was shocked when he heard his lies being repeated in the speech by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations Security Council. In that notorious speech, Mr. Powell made it clear that the invasion would proceed, and added more fictions about Baghdad's purchases of uranium ore from Niger and its links with al-Qaida.

Mr. Janabi says he was desperate for Iraq to be rid of Saddam Hussein and therefore uttered lie after lie about the regime. His capacity for invention is similar to that of the Bush administration's Iraqi favourite Ahmed Chalabi. But by saying that given the chance he would do the same again, he puts himself in the same class for self-exculpation as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Unlike Mr. Blair, however, he has not convinced himself that what he said about Iraq was true. What they both evade is the fact that if the evidence for WMDs had been strong enough, the U.N. would have been much more likely to legitimise further action against Iraq. Secondly, Mr. Janabi brings to light wider culpability for the war than is often acknowledged. Germany shared the lies with Washington; another blot on the record is that sceptical officers in the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and security agencies, made no impression on either George W. Bush or his British counterpart. It is not just that the White House, faced with post-invasion catastrophe in Iraq, blamed the CIA for intelligence failures and then tried to wreck it from inside. Nor is it just that Mr. Blair never discussed the case for war in the Cabinet. Instead, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair had a supporting chorus in large sections of the international media, and no British or American political institution could stop them. It remains highly unlikely that either of them will ever face justice over the 100,000 Iraqis who died for the indulgence of their fantasies.





It is more than two years since India and Pakistan inaugurated trade across the Line of Control that divides Jammu & Kashmir. In this time, the increase in the trade, indeed its survival through the tensions between the two countries after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, is a tribute more to the spirit of the people on both sides of the LoC than to any effort by the governments. In fact, after flagging off the trade in October 2008, India and Pakistan appear to have more or less left it to the people to figure out the next steps. As yet, the most elementary requirement of modern-day business transactions — a banking channel — is not available to the traders despite repeated representations to both governments. The reason: given their firm positions on how the map of J&K should be drawn, the two governments are unable to reconcile themselves to opening branches of banks from the other side, to traders dealing in the differing currencies, and to cross-LoC money transfers. As a result, the businessmen have had to settle for a medieval barter system, exchanging goods of equal value, arriving at their own formula for calculating the value of the Pakistani rupee against the Indian rupee. There are other difficulties too. Traders can call their associates on the other side only from three or four designated phone lines in the entire State. This severely restricts their capacity to fix values for consignments, and even to find out what and how much to send. Nor can traders travel freely to assess the needs of the markets on either side.

Despite these restrictions, and evidently driven by the people's yearning to reconnect with the other side of the divided State and the hope of some economic dividend, the trade has grown beyond expectations. At present, a basket of only 21 items — mostly agricultural and horticultural products such as fruit, dried fruit, pulses, and honey — can be traded between the two sides. The trade, routed between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad and Poonch and Rawalakot, takes place only on two designated days of the week. Even so, the average weekly trade is to the tune of Rs.20 crore. It has created new economic opportunities for communities on both sides of the LoC and helped to build trust across. Such linkages offer a good peace-making platform for India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. When the two governments sit across the table for talks in the coming weeks, they would do well to discuss measures to ease the restrictions on cross-LoC trade so that it can live up to its true potential as a confidence-building mechanism. Monetising the trade would give it a big boost, and both sides should find a way to do this as soon as possible.









On one pronouncement of his, you have to agree with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. His is not a 'lame-duck government.' Cooked goose seems the more appropriate soubriquet. However, not a single new scam worth over Rs. 1 lakh crore has surfaced for 10 days now. So maybe things are getting better. Yet, even a doting corporate media find that the Professor did not come out looking good from his interaction with a few favoured students. That is, electronic media chiefs and editors who have mostly adored Dr. Singh for nearly two decades. If even the largely free ride they gave him left him unnerved and defensive, it's a measure of how much things have changed. Not that the editors emerged looking better. If asking the right questions is at the heart of journalism, then somebody had a bypass. At no point did it occur to them that the corruption they questioned him on with some passion, flowed entirely out of policies and from a policy altar at which they have worshipped for years.

Some of the questions in fact indicated a need by worried editors to be reassured that those very policies would continue. For instance, a fear that there is "no big reformist wave coming from UPA II. Have we lost the will to take hard reformist decisions?" "No way," responded the Prime Minister. "We have not lost the will. We will persist." In asserting that what he (and the editors) view as "reforms" are on track, Dr. Singh speaks the truth. The chaos and corruption troubling the editors was the outcome of those very 'reforms', if they cared to see it.

Even on corruption, the questions ranged from those revolving around some Ministers' actions to a couple implying wrongdoing by people within the PMO or Cabinet. Nothing that suggested the country's basic direction under the Professor's guidance is destructive and dangerous. But once you've accepted the neo-liberal economic framework scripted since 1991 as wonderful and beyond reproach, then your questions get limited to asking who fluffed his lines. And as for corporate criminality, editors step on to that terrain only when left without a choice and at their own risk.

The first question, fair enough, was about the 2G scam and the lack of an auction in the sale of spectrum. There's something missing here, though. There was in fact an auction of spectrum — a successful one. Only it was not conducted by the government but by its corporate sector cronies who gave it away for a pittance. Having been gifted that scarce public-owned resource by the government, the cronies then auctioned it privately for astronomical sums of money. The argument that consumers today enjoy low prices because the privateers got it cheap is a fraud. Customers are getting those cheap prices even after this double sale. After the crony cabal milked huge profits in its own private auction. Had that process been cut out, consumer benefits would have been far greater. Also auctioned alongside were the government's individual Ministers, posts and integrity. Two auctions for the price of none.

Abstract query

The press conference saw one abstract query and a no less abstract reply on 'black money.' Not a single question on Indian illegal funds parked overseas in Swiss and other banks. None on why the government does not reveal the names it has in this connection. The illegal flow of such funds, according to the startling report from Global Financial Integrity, costs the nation Rs.240 crore every single day, on average. As much as Rs. 4.3 lakh crore (twice the highest estimate of the 2G scam losses) has been lost in just five years, between 2004 and 2008. And who are the main culprits? "High net-worth individuals and private companies were found to be the primary drivers of illicit flows out of India's private sector." Seems a good subject to ask the Prime Minister some questions about. But it didn't happen.

Nor was there a single question about the Amnesty/Immunity schemes his government seems to be planning for such criminals. This, even as it plans tougher and tougher laws for ordinary citizens, abridgement of rights for displaced persons, gutting of the public distribution system and arrests of those protesting the incredible price rise.

Nor, while on morality and corruption, was there a single question from the editors about the Prime Minister making Vilasrao Deshmukh Union Minister of Rural Development. A man castigated by the Supreme Court for protecting moneylenders in Maharashtra now controls rural development across the country. The Maharashtra government has even paid up the Rs.10-lakh fine imposed by the court in that case, signalling acceptance that wrong had been done while he was Chief Minister. Dr. Singh cannot plead 'coalition compulsions' here. Mr. Deshmukh is from his own party. If he remains in the Union Cabinet after the Supreme Court trashes him, it is only because Dr. Singh wants him there. There were no 'coalition compulsions' in brewing the CWG scam either, but that too wasn't touched upon in the questions.

It would, of course, be insane to expect the editors to raise a question on the nearly quarter of a million farmers who have committed suicide in this country since 1995, going by the data of the National Crime Records Bureau. Or on migrations out of villages going berserk. Or on worsening levels of unemployment. But there was not a single one on hunger either.

The only serious question on food inflation, linking that to its impact on the poor in a country with 8.5 per cent growth came from a foreigner. Now our editors present knew this to be a burning issue, even for their middle class audiences. Yet Sara Sidner of CNN was the only one to raise it. The other question on inflation related to the need for "the second [round of] structural reforms to be done in agriculture." Another query on price rise — not linked to hunger or poor people — was not answered at all. The Prime Minister was not challenged when he virtually equated losses in the 2G scam with subsidies to the poor. "If auctions are not taking place then what is the basis for you to calculate a loss? ... It is very much a function of what is your starting point. And also depends upon your opinion. We have a budget which gives subsidy for food, Rs.80,000 crores per annum, some people may say these foodgrains should be sold at marketplace. Will we say then because they are not sold at market prices, because you are giving them a subsidy, it is a loss of Rs. Rs.80,000 crores?"

Plunder and subsidy

Firstly, he equates plunder with the pathetic subsidies tossed at the world's largest hungry population. We rank 67th out of 84 nations in the Global Hunger Index. Secondly, subsidies for the super-rich soar each year. While food subsidies for hundreds of millions were cut by Rs. 450 crore in the last budget.

All those carping critics attacking direct cash transfers miss the point that the government has become really good at this. It routinely transfers billions of rupees, directly or indirectly, at each opportunity to the corporate world. And it is equally good at corporate karza maafi — Rs.5,000 billion under just three heads (direct corporate income tax, customs and excise duties) in the last budget. That's two-and-a-half times the 2G scam estimate. It also gets bigger with each new budget. The dominant media have never once raised a peep of protest against the corporate plunder of public money, thanks to the government Dr. Singh presides over. Nor did they in this conference with the Prime Minister. So Dr. Singh is understandably peeved when asked about the petty cash transfers of the 2G scam to a handful of hucksters. The Prime Minister wanted to know if the editors would view the Rs.80,000 crore his government commits to food subsidies as 'losses.' Actually, most of them do. Quite a few of them would like to see all subsidies directed at the poor to be wound up. The politically correct way of going about this is to call for the "streamlining of systems," or "proper targeting," or "efficiency." A demand never once made of the tsunami of subsidies given to a handful of super-rich (media owners amongst them).

One positive point: Dr. Singh announced no new Group of Ministers at his conference with the editors. Though one's probably required to conduct a GoM Census. That might help Pranab Mukherjee figure out how many of these he chairs. And spare him the embarrassment of having to ask "so which GoM is this?" at his next meeting. A 'lame duck' government? Not really. More like an integrity-challenged Cuckoo.








The turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East has helped drive oil prices up to more than $102 a barrel for an important benchmark crude, Brent, although so far there have been no significant disruptions in production or supply, according to experts at the International Energy Agency in Paris.

While Egypt and Tunisia have little oil, Libya is one of Africa's largest holders of crude oil reserves, Algeria and Iran are major suppliers and Bahrain and Yemen both border Saudi Arabia on the peninsula that produces much of the world's oil. Together, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain and Iran represent about 10 per cent of global oil production.

Oil markets are famously skittish, especially when there is even the possibility of disruptions in the Middle East and North Africa, which account for some 35 per cent of the world's oil production and a greater percentage of the world's known reserves.

That nervousness is likely to spread elsewhere, with so many economies still fragile in the wake of the worldwide economic downturn and with the possibility that higher crude prices could lead to further increases in food prices. The high cost of food has already led to unrest in several countries, even before political revolts began in the Middle East.

The increased price of energy is a "burden that can be a detriment to the global economic recovery," said Nobuo Tanaka, the executive director of the International Energy Agency.

On Brent and West Texas

Brent is a global benchmark crude oil that is produced in the North Sea and traded in London. It is typically the benchmark that is used to set the price for most of the oil from the Middle East. Another benchmark crude, West Texas Intermediate, closed at $86.20 a barrel on Friday. Each benchmark has an impact on gasoline prices in the United States, with the East Coast more affected by the Brent prices than other regions.

The reserves in the Middle East and North Africa (known as the MENA countries), while long important, have grown even more critical as demand for oil increases. Prices have risen about 30 per cent since September, reaching their highest level since September 2008.

Unrest in West Asia

Those who track oil prices are especially worried about the renewed turmoil in Iran and the possibility of unrest spreading from Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, which could have a major impact on oil's price and its availability.

Richard H. Jones, the energy agency's deputy executive director and a former American diplomat in the Middle East, said that about 17 million barrels of oil passed through the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz every day. "So if that shuts down, we're in big trouble," he said.

But so far, Mr. Jones said, the effects of the regional turmoil have been small. Egyptian production and transportation of natural gas have continued despite an explosion at a pipeline in the Sinai as the demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak were under way. (An Egyptian investigator said four gunmen bombed the pipeline.) Although there have been labour protests among workers at the Suez Canal, so far analysts have said there is no danger of the vital waterway being affected by the country's political upheaval.

The unrest in Libya, while serious, has not disrupted its production of oil. Mr. Jones and Didier Houssin, who runs the directorate for energy markets and security at the International Energy Agency, said that Libya was not a major producer, selling "only a little over one million barrels a day" and representing about two per cent of world production. If there were to be a disruption of supplies from Libya, "We can cope," Mr. Jones said.

Still, a Deutsche Bank commodities analyst, Soozhana Choi, said, "As anti-government protests have spread from Tunisia and Egypt to the streets of Bahrain, Yemen and Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) member countries Algeria, Libya and Iran, concerns about geopolitical risk and the potential for supply disruptions have returned aggressively" to the oil market.

Strategic reserves

The International Energy Agency monitors strategic oil reserves that total about 1.6 billion barrels, Mr. Tanaka said. The agency has sometimes released reserves to smooth out global oil prices, including in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf war of 1991 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The agency's chief economist, Fatih Birol, said that with Brent crude over $100 a barrel, "we are entering a danger zone," he said, with oil prices "creating inflationary pressures and risk for economic recovery."

For now, although oil stocks are declining with increased consumption, "there is still plenty of spare production capacity, especially in OPEC countries," Mr. Tanaka said.

Robert B. Zoellick, president of the World Bank, speaking on February 19 at a Group of 20 meeting, said that the Saudis in particular had indicated that they had significant spare capacity, which may help to keep markets calm.

But over the past two years, Mr. Zoellick said, "There is a much closer connection between food and energy prices." Part of the reason is biofuels, he said, but oil is also vital for fertilizers, transportation and agricultural equipment, especially in the developing world, where demand is increasing.

While the world is moving toward more renewable energy sources and re-examining nuclear power, it will be dependent on fossil fuels for years to come, Mr. Birol said. For the future, "90 per cent of growth in oil production will have to be met by MENA countries," he said. "If not, we're in trouble."

( Jad Mouawad contributed reporting from New York and Clifford Krauss from Houston.)

    © New York Times News Service








For eight years, government officials turned to Dennis Montgomery, a California computer programmer, for eye-popping technology that he said could catch terrorists. Now, federal officials want nothing to do with him and are going to extraordinary lengths to ensure that his dealings with Washington stay secret.

The Justice Department, which in the last few months has gotten protective orders from two federal judges keeping details of the technology out of court, says it is guarding State secrets that would threaten national security if disclosed. But others involved in the case say that what the government is trying to avoid is public embarrassment over evidence that Mr. Montgomery bamboozled federal officials.

A one-time biomedical technician with a penchant for gambling, Mr. Montgomery is at the centre of a tale that features terrorism scares, secret White House briefings, backing from prominent Republicans, backdoor deal-making and fantastic-sounding computer technology.

Signs were missed

Interviews with more than two dozen current and former officials and business associates and a review of documents show that Mr. Montgomery and his associates received more than $20 million in government contracts by claiming that software he had developed could help stop Al Qaeda's next attack on the United States. But the technology appears to have been a hoax, and a series of government agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Air Force, repeatedly missed the warning signs, the records and interviews show.

Mr. Montgomery's former lawyer, Michael Flynn — who now describes Mr. Montgomery as a "con man" — says he believes that the administration has been shutting off scrutiny of Mr. Montgomery's business for fear of revealing that the government has been duped.

"The Justice Department is trying to cover this up," Mr. Flynn said. "If this unravels, all of the evidence, all of the phony terror alerts and all the embarrassment comes up publicly, too. The government knew this technology was bogus, but these guys got paid millions for it."

Justice Department officials declined to discuss the government's dealings with Mr. Montgomery, 57, who is in bankruptcy and living outside Palm Springs, Calif. Mr. Montgomery is about to go on trial in Las Vegas on unrelated charges of trying to pass $1.8 million in bad cheques at casinos, but he has not been charged with wrongdoing in the federal contracts, nor has the government tried to get back any of the money it paid. He and his current lawyer declined to comment.

The software he patented — which he claimed, among other things, could find terrorist plots hidden in broadcasts of the Arab network Al Jazeera; identify terrorists from Predator drone videos; and detect noise from hostile submarines — prompted an international false alarm that led President George W. Bush to order airliners to turn around over the Atlantic Ocean in 2003.

The software led to dead ends in connection with a 2006 terrorism plot in Britain. And they were used by counterterrorism officials to respond to a bogus Somali terrorism plot on the day of President Obama's inauguration, according to previously undisclosed documents.

'It wasn't real'

"Dennis would always say, 'My technology is real, and it's worth a fortune,' " recounted Steve Crisman, a filmmaker who oversaw business operations for Mr. Montgomery and a partner until a few years ago. "In the end, I'm convinced it wasn't real."

Government officials, with billions of dollars in new counterterrorism financing after September 11, eagerly embraced the promise of new tools against militants.

CIA officials, though, came to believe that Mr. Montgomery's technology was fake in 2003, but their conclusions apparently were not relayed to the military's Special Operations Command, which had contracted with his firm. In 2006, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigators were told by co-workers of Mr. Montgomery that he had repeatedly doctored test results at presentations for government officials. But Mr. Montgomery still landed more business.

In 2009, the Air Force approved a $3 million deal for his technology, even though a contracting officer acknowledged that other agencies were sceptical about the software, according to e-mails obtained by The New York Times.

Hints of fraud by Mr. Montgomery, previously raised by Bloomberg Markets and Playboy, provide a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of government contracting. A Pentagon study in January found that it had paid $285 billion in three years to more than 120 contractors accused of fraud or wrongdoing.

"We've seen so many folks with a really great idea, who truly believe their technology is a breakthrough, but it turns out not to be," said Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr. of the Air Force, who retired last year as the commander of the military's Northern Command. Mr. Montgomery described himself a few years ago in a sworn court statement as a patriotic scientist who gave the government his software "to stop terrorist attacks and save American lives." His alliance with the government, at least, would prove a boon to a small company, eTreppidTechnologies, that he helped found in 1998.

He and his partner — a Nevada investor, Warren Trepp, who had been a top trader for the junk-bond king Michael Milken — hoped to colourise movies by using a technology Mr. Montgomery claimed he had invented that identified patterns and isolated images. Hollywood had little interest, but in 2002, the company found other customers.

A remarkable claim

With the help of Representative Jim Gibbons, a Republican who would become Nevada's governor and was a long-time friend of Mr. Trepp's, the company won the attention of intelligence officials in Washington. It did so with a remarkable claim: Mr. Montgomery had found coded messages hidden in broadcasts by Al Jazeera, and his technology could decipher them to identify specific threats.

The software so excited CIA officials that, for a few months at least, it was considered "the most important, most sensitive" intelligence tool the agency had, according to a former agency official, who like several others would speak only on the condition of anonymity because the technology was classified. ETreppid was soon awarded almost $10 million in contracts with the military's Special Operations Command and the Air Force, which were interested in software that Mr. Montgomery promised could identify human and other targets from videos on Predator drones.

In December 2003, Mr. Montgomery reported alarming news: hidden in the crawl bars broadcast by Al Jazeera, someone had planted information about specific American-bound flights from Britain, France and Mexico that were hijacking targets.

CIA officials rushed the information to Mr. Bush, who ordered those flights to be turned around or grounded before they could enter American airspace.

"The intelligence people were telling us this was real and credible, and we had to do something to act on it," recalled Asa Hutchinson, who oversaw federal aviation safety at the time. Senior administration officials even talked about shooting down planes identified as targets because they feared that supposed hijackers would use the planes to attack the United States, according to a former senior intelligence official who was at a meeting where the idea was discussed. The official later called the idea of firing on the planes "crazy."

French officials, upset that their planes were being grounded, commissioned a secret study concluding that the technology was a fabrication. Presented with the findings soon after the 2003 episode, Bush administration officials began to suspect that "we got played," a former counterterrorism official said.

The CIA never did an assessment to determine how a ruse had turned into a full-blown international incident, officials said, nor was anyone held accountable. In fact, agency officials who oversaw the technology directorate — including Donald Kerr, who helped persuade George J. Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, that the software was credible — were promoted, former officials said. "Nobody was blamed," a former CIA official said. "They acted like it never happened."

After a bitter falling out between Mr. Montgomery and Mr. Trepp in 2006 led to a series of lawsuits, the FBI and the Air Force sent investigators to eTreppid to look into accusations that Mr. Montgomery had stolen digital data from the company's systemsThe investigation collapsed, though, when a judge ruled that the FBI had conducted an improper search of his home.

Software and secrets

The litigation worried intelligence officials. The Bush administration declared that some classified details about the use of Mr. Montgomery's software were a "State secret" that could cause grave harm if disclosed in court. In 2008, the government spent three days "scrubbing" the home computers of Mr. Montgomery's lawyer of all references to the technology. And this past fall, federal judges in Montana and Nevada who are overseeing several of the lawsuits issued protective orders shielding certain classified material.

The secrecy was so great that at a deposition Mr. Montgomery gave in November, two government officials showed up to monitor the questioning but refused to give their full names or the agencies they worked for.

Years of legal wrangling did not deter Mr. Montgomery from passing supposed intelligence to the government, according to intelligence officials, including an assertion in 2006 that his software was able to identify some of the men suspected of trying to plant liquid bombs on planes in Britain — a claim immediately disputed by United States intelligence officials. And he soon found a new backer: Edra Blixseth, a one-time billionaire who with her former husband had run the Yellowstone Club in Montana.

Hoping to win more government money, Ms. Blixseth turned to some influential friends, like Jack Kemp, the former New York congressman and Republican vice-presidential nominee, and Conrad Burns, then a Republican senator from Montana. They became minority stakeholders in the venture, called Blxware.

New pitches

In an interview, Mr. Burns recalled how impressed he was by a video presentation that Mr. Montgomery gave to a cable company. "He talked a hell of a game," the former senator said. Mr. Kemp, meanwhile, used his friendship with Vice-President Dick Cheney to set up a meeting in 2006 at which Mr. Kemp, Mr. Montgomery and Ms. Blixseth met with a top Cheney adviser, Samantha Ravich, to talk about expanding the government's use of the Blxware software, officials said. She was non-committal.

Mr. Flynn, who was still Mr. Montgomery's lawyer, sent an angry letter to Mr. Cheney in May 2007. He accused the White House of abandoning a tool shown to "save lives." (After a falling out with Mr. Montgomery, Mr. Flynn represents another party in one of the lawsuits.)

But Mr. Montgomery's company still had an ally at the Air Force, which in late 2008 began negotiating a $3 million contract with Blxware.

In e-mails to Mr. Montgomery and other company officials, an Air Force contracting officer, Joseph Liberatore, described himself as one of the "believers," despite scepticism from the CIA and problems with the no-bid contract.

If other agencies examined the deal, he said in a December 2008 e-mail, "we are all toast."

"Honestly I do not care about being fired," Mr. Liberatore wrote, but he said he did care about "moving the effort forward — we are too close." (The Air Force declined to make Mr. Liberatore available for comment.)

Mr. Montgomery is not saying much these days. At his deposition in November, when he was asked if his software was a "complete fraud," he answered, "I'm going to assert my right under the Fifth Amendment."

© New York Times News Service





Scientists have estimated the first cosmic census of planets in our galaxy and the numbers are astronomical — at least 50 billion planets in the Milky Way.

At least 500 million of those planets are in the not-too-hot, not-too-cold zone where life could exist. The numbers were extrapolated from the early results of National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) planet-hunting Kepler telescope.

Kepler science chief William Borucki says scientists took the number of planets they found in the first year of searching a small part of the night sky and then made an estimate on how likely stars are to have planets. Kepler spots planets as they pass between Earth and the star it orbits.

So far Kepler has found 1,235 candidate planets, with 54 in the zone where life could possibly exist. Kepler's main mission is not to examine individual worlds, but give astronomers a sense of how many planets, especially potentially habitable ones, there are likely to be in our galaxy. They would use the one-four-hundredth of the night sky that Kepler is looking at and extrapolate from there.

Borucki and colleagues figured one of two stars has planets and one of 200 stars has planets in the habitable zone, announcing these ratios on February 19 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in Washington. And that's a minimum because these stars can have more than one planet and Kepler has yet to get a long enough glimpse to see stars that are further out from the star, like Earth, Borucki said.

To get the estimate for the total number of planets, scientists then took the frequency observed already and applied it to the number of stars in the Milky Way.

For many years scientists figured there were 100 billion stars in the Milky Way, but last year a Yale scientist figured the number was closer to 300 billion stars.

Either way it shows that Carl Sagan was right when he talked of billions and billions of worlds, said retired NASA astronomer Steve Maran, who praised the research but wasn't part of it.

And that's just our galaxy. Scientists figure there are 100 billion galaxies.







Recent newspaper reports involving students and teachers in Tamil Nadu and the neighbouring Union Territory of Puducherry raise several troubling questions. The incidents reported related to student-teacher relations, corporal punishment, pathetic school infrastructure and worse maintenance, and a shocking lack of basic amenities in government-run hostels in Chennai for Dalit students.

Two months ago, students housed in 17 Adi Dravidar hostels in Chennai run by the Tamil Nadu Government, brought to light the shocking state of hygiene and other elementary aspects of their living conditions by staging a massive demonstration on the city's arterial Anna Salai (which used to be known as Mount Road).

The coordinated protest, which showed the situation had crossed all tolerance limits, ended only after the Minister for Adi Dravidar Welfare, A. Tamilarasi, rushed to the spot and assured the students that their demands for basic amenities would be met. The traffic-stopping demonstration was well covered by the broadcast media and Chennai-based newspapers. The students organised a second rally this month.

The well-known problem with media coverage of such subjects is that it is almost always episodic, triggered by crises or emergencies or dramatic, traffic-stopping events. Chronic problems such as the state of government schools in urban as well as rural areas, or living conditions in hostels accommodating young people from oppressed or extremely disadvantaged sections of society are rarely researched and featured; and even when they are reported, they are treated as tame issues.

The exceptions, wherever we come across them, in print or on television or radio, are worth highlighting. Over the last seven weeks, The Hindu came out with three features on the abysmal conditions in over-crowded hostels in Chennai. About 1,200 students were found staying in a hostel meant for only 580. "The atmosphere is not conducive to studying," concluded one of the articles, written about five weeks after the agitation. Frontline (January 28, 2011) also highlighted the issues.

Two other recent events also drew media and public attention to insensitive, cruel, and inhuman practices that go under the signboard of 'discipline' in the educational field. One incident related to the alleged suicide of a student of a women's college in Chennai. The suicide followed a search reportedly conducted by some teachers on her on suspicion that she was responsible for a theft complained of by another student. Following an angry demonstration by students, the lecturers were arrested and subsequently bailed out. The second distressing incident was the death of a schoolgirl. A teacher allegedly held out a threat to the girl on suspicion that she indulged in malpractice while taking an exam. The teacher has been transferred to another school.

Awful consequences

It is not easy to establish causality in such cases. Callous, cruel practices that masquerade as disciplinary methods can cause tragedies; but sometimes thoughtless acts, or even a little insensitivity can have unintended but awful consequences — the loss of a young life or grievous harm. What is clear is that progressive educational reform must look deep into the pedagogic and management practices in schools, eliminate the awful and the undesirable, and put in place preventive measures to ensure the welfare of students as well as teachers.

But there is no mitigating factor in this distressing case reported this month from Puducherry ("Corporal punishment leaves eight-year-old Puducherry boy injured," The Hindu, February 15, 2011). The boy who was studying in a central school has been taking treatment for about two months now in a private hospital in Chennai for a "grievous" injury in his ear allegedly caused by a teacher handing out a "punishment." A case was registered against the teacher and a charge sheet filed in a local court.

Significantly, the incident took place two months before it was reported in the press. The delay in the information coming out has been attributed to a possible cover-up attempt by the school authorities. The report said a similar incident happened in another school in which a teacher "physically assaulted" a girl because she scored low marks in a subject. Proceedings against the teacher were dropped after he tendered an apology to the student.

What is clear is that eliminating the entrenched practice of corporal punishment, root and branch, will require sustained efforts from various sides — school managements, teachers, parents, government authorities, and prying journalists. A large number of cruel, inhuman and insensitive events have been reported from schools in north Indian States. But it must not be assumed that States and union territories regarded as progressive are free from such outrages inflicted on boys and girls in the name of educational discipline.

The high rates of dropouts at various stages of schooling are a key challenge for rising India where only 10 per cent of those who enter Standard 1 go on to higher education. Even in advanced States such as Tamil Nadu, 83 per cent of those who cross Standard 12 drop out. A leading factor that pulls down the retention rate, particularly in the case of girls, is the ill-treatment handed out to those who are branded ' unintelligent.' The absence of a congenial and encouraging atmosphere for studies has been identified as a reason for many students deciding not to pursue their studies. Newspapers, television, and radio must take a more serious interest in addressing such issues to enable more girls and boys to go for higher education. The media can also play a more effective role in providing encouragement and support to educational institutions in small towns and rural areas, just as All India Radio and Doordarshan used to do in the 1970s and 1980s.









The meeting of G-20 finance ministers in Paris over the weekend had, amid the usual platitudes on "strong sustainability, balanced growth, systemic stability", three important takeaways — indicators that could measure and tackle the core of the global crisis: trade imbalances and exchange rates (which is at the core of all trade transactions), and finally, the need to control volatility in commodities markets. On exchange rates, while India too, like the West, has objected to China's tight controls over the yuan, this country is also a victim of potentially destabilising capital flows. Stock markets in emerging economies, particularly India, collapse when capital flows out on negative cues in troubled or uncertain times. The communiqué released at the end of the Paris meeting rightly stresses the need to contain such volatility as it poses a major threat to global food security. It noted the need for long-term investment in agriculture in developing countries, and suggested that containment of oil price volatility should be extended to gas and coal.

The need for greater investment in agriculture was echoed even more stridently by World Bank president Robert Zoellick, who warned that the world was reaching a "danger point" and that soaring food prices posed the risk of "further political instability" across the world. Urging the G-20 ministers "to put food first in 2011", Mr Zoellick cautioned them that these soaring food prices could "lead to the fall of governments ... and societies could go into turmoil". If we want an illustration of what he was talking about, just look at real-time developments in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and now Libya ... these events are playing out right before our eyes. The fact that these countries are all under one kind of dictatorship or another just made matters worse there. Democracy might provide some immunity or safety valve — so that a government is not overthrown — but it may not prevent political or social turmoil taking place. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation had also raised an alarm over the neglect of agriculture at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year. India is among the countries which has grossly neglected agriculture, and even the money that is spent by the government on this sector mostly benefits the richer farmers with irrigated land. The vast bulk of India's agriculturists with non-irrigated land, whose fate still depends largely on the rains, get very little. It is estimated that neglect of agriculture costs India at least two per cent in GDP growth. The real test of whether finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has taken this warning seriously will be evident when he presents the 2011-12 Budget a week from now.

On volatility in commodities, it is regrettable India is not vociferous enough in getting at the root of the issue. This country is one of its biggest victims as we depend overwhelmingly on the import of oil, and often on other commodities, including metals, coal and even foodgrains. We should not forget that oil had once touched $140 per barrel — largely due to unhindered speculative trading. Voices have been raised against this in the past, by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries and others, but this is not just about oil. Commodity prices in general simply cannot be left to market forces alone. The finance minister should remember that given that his government will soon move the landmark Food Security Bill in Parliament, investment in agriculture might need to be trebled, if not quadrupled.






The Union Budget for 2011-12 — to be unveiled by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee a few days from now — is anxiously awaited by the Indian industry and trade as also by the public with a huge sense of anticipation.
The industry expects Mr Mukherjee to set in train measures to resuscitate the industrial economy, particularly the manufacturing sector. At the same time the aam aadmi, groaning as he is from the impact of food inflation, is in dire need for a modicum of relief.

Let's get to the basics. At a time when the global economy is still not out of the woods, it would be prudent for Mr Mukherjee not to tinker with the tax rates too much. In fact, he should tailor the direct and indirect tax measures to beef up domestic demand and ensure that there is no rollback of stimulus measures that have stood the test of time.

It is my considered view that the North Block should seriously consider abolition of surcharge and education cess, moderation of the corporate tax rate, removal of the cascading impact of dividend distribution tax (DDT), rationalisation of minimum alternative tax (MAT) as a specified percentage, retention of the peak customs duty rate of 10 per cent, reduction in the Central sales tax (CST) rate from two per cent to one per cent with effect from April 1, 2011. Also, the incentives for the private sector's contribution to agricultural growth, impetus to exports, information technology and the software sectors, and tax breaks for large-scale private investment in the social sector must be taken into account.

On direct taxation, Mr Mukherjee ought to do six things. These are:

l Abolish surcharge and education cess. These have complicated India's tax structure. A good idea would be to consider allocating a part of direct taxes collection for educational projects in place of education cess.

l The need to reduce corporate tax rate to some extent: The global average corporate tax rate of 114 countries in 2010 is 24.99 per cent. While in India, corporate tax effective at 33 per cent, including surcharge and cess. This is imperative as in the competitive global environment, we must be in tune with others.

l Further, Mr Mukherjee should look at the removal of the cascading effect of DDT. DDT paid at the first level ought to be reduced in the hands of each subsequent level of holding subsidiary relationship, instead of restricting it only up to one level. Ideally, Section 80M, which we had till a few years ago, should be revived. Section 80M of I-T was scrapped in 2004. It allows a subsidiary company not to pay tax on dividend received from another subsidiary company.

l Budget 2011-12 also affords an opportunity to rationalise MAT as a specified percentage, say 50 per cent of basic corporate tax rate. Over the last four years, the rate has gone up from 10 per cent to 18 per cent, which has caused great anxiety.

l The industry would also like to see the North Block mandarins make the investment-linked incentive meaningful. This could be done by allowing the losses of specified business of the assessee to be set off or carry forward from his other profit-making businesses, instead of restricting it to only from his specified businesses.
l Finally, to reduce the cost of borrowing for industry, it should be possible to restore withholding tax exemption on interest payable on foreign commercial borrowings, as also the tax exemption of interest income of an infrastructure capital fund and an infrastructure capital company. I believe that the restoration of these exemptions will also help in raising long-term funds at competitive rates for the crucial infrastructure sectors.
As for indirect taxation, we in the industry would like to see retention of peak customs duty rate of 10 per cent for some more time.

Mr Mukherjee should also consider reduction of the CST rate from two per cent to one per cent with effect from April 1, 2011; evolve suitable mechanisms for speedy refunds of service tax, special additional duty (SAD) as also Cenvat (Central value-added tax) accumulations, which cannot be modvated and extension of the weighted deduction benefit on research and development (R&D) to the service sector.

Last, but not the least, there is a need to end the current impasse over the goods and services tax, which the industry is eagerly awaiting.

It is also imperative to grow agriculture at a fast clip. For this to happen, apart from the ongoing initiatives, there is a need to grant fiscal incentives by way of 100 per cent depreciation on all investments in physical assets, like infrastructure development in agriculture by the private sector and the entire agri-value chain and a tax holiday for 10 years. It would also be desirable to provide a weighted deduction of 200 per cent on any expenditure incurred on R&D in agriculture and provision of extension services in transferring the best agriculture practices for various crops.

Social sectors like healthcare and education also need a boost. For the healthcare sector, a tax holiday for five years in any of the 10 years of the inception of a project would be of great help. In education, the government should formulate a national policy for public-private partnerships (PPP) initiatives in the higher education sector. Also, private sector should be encouraged to set up higher educational institutions as a Section 25 company.

Rajan Bharti Mittal is the vice-chairman and managing director of Bharti Enterprises and president, Ficci








I have lived in Mumbai for a little over four years now and have shifted houses five times. My first home was in a rundown apartment in Bandra where exorbitant rents meant four of us had to share a cosy 1-BHK.


Until we got robbed six months later. With two laptops, an iPod, a Swiss watch and a month's rent stolen from inside our only cupboard, we had no other option but to move.


We found a cheaper and larger 1-BHK further north in Andheri. Just as we made to move in with our worldly possessions on a rainy monsoon afternoon, 'society members' told us we could not live there without a lease. Even if the landlord vouched for us over the phone from Dubai, they would not budge.


But here's the thing about the city: people understand moving problems and pitch in to help with the house hunt. Four of us moved our luggage into friends' apartments and crashed at another friend's place.


Within a week, we were settling into a nice two-bedroom apartment. Six months later, we were evicted.


Moving again, we found a smaller, dingier apartment where I stayed another six months before moving in with the husband. A year later, the landlord decided he didn't want to lease the place anymore and we were homeless.


I fell in love with my current home the moment I stepped into it. I have lived there for over two years. So when the lease was up for renewal and the husband was away on work, I agreed to sign the papers myself.


"Nahi, ladki ke naam pe contract nahi ban sakta," (The lease can't be made in a woman's name) the landlord's broker said.


I'm not exactly a feminist-type and gave him the benefit of doubt. He probably didn't want to make the extra effort to change the name on the lease. But when I went to meet him, he ignored me, addressing my broker instead: "Ladies log ka bahut nakhra hota hai."


Angered, I told my agent that I'd rather look for another place and he agreed. Two days later, he called to tell me the landlord's broker was willing to draw out the lease in my name. I relented, because I love my apartment.


My agent came for my signature and post-dated rent cheques. He got his share of the brokerage, but I haven't paid the other sexist broker yet.







Rahul Gandhi is increasingly finding space alongside Mahatma Gandhi on the same wall in Congress leaders' chambers. Many ministers from the party have placed orders for his gold-framed photographs for prominent display in their cabins in Mantralaya. Agriculture minister Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil was the first to sense the rise of the Gandhi son and offer him space on his wall. Others are now following his example.


A senior cabinet minister said, "I have already placed an order for half a dozen pictures of Rahul. I will put them up not just in my chamber but also at my residence." An interior decorator at Mantralaya said, "The photo galleries in ministers' offices are getting crowded. Initially, there used to be photographs of only Mahatma Gandhi and the president of India. Later on, some added Dr BR Ambedkar and prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. They were followed by Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, Gadge Maharaj, Chhatrapati Shivaji and Sonia Gandhi."


State envoy needed


Members of parliament from Maharashtra have said that chief minister Prithviraj Chavan should appoint a political leader at the Centre to aggressively pursue projects related to the state. BJP MP Prakash Javadekar cited the example of the Karnataka government, which had appointed a former finance minister in Delhi for the job.


A Union minister said, "It takes more than three months for a file to move from the department secretary to the Union cabinet secretary." This has led politicians to believe that things are unlikely to move fast unless there is a dedicated point man to apprise various departments of the state's concerns.


Sena's Air India campaign


Last month, the Shiv Sena was left agitated as Kiran Pawaskar, who once headed the Air India employees' union, defected to join the Nationalist Congress Party. It is now doing its best to fight for the rights of the Marathi community in the national carrier without its one-time point man. Senior Sena leader Bharatkumar Raut recently led a delegation to civil aviation minister Valayar Ravi to argue against the centralisation of the carrier's recruitment drive, which was being held region-wise until now.


He said, "Centralisation of recruitment in Delhi is bound to put eligible candidates in the rest of the country, including Mumbai, at a disadvantage."


The Union minister endorsed the Sena's charter of demands, adding that he himself once headed a workers' union whose concerns were no different.








The State is on the threshold of major re-alignment of strategies by mainstream political parties. Beginning with open factional rivalry in the State Congress camp, a show of strength through the medium of mass rallies seems to have tilted in favour of Azad faction. Moving a step forward in bolstering his image Azad made a sudden and sensational move in declaring his faction's unconditional support to the chief minister. He lauded the young chief minister for taking many important and useful steps in the direction of development and progress of the state. What seems to have inspired Azad in coming out so emphatically in favour of the NC is latter's deep dislike for Saifu'd-Din Soz, whom NC sees nothing short of a betrayer. But don't forget that in politics there are no friends and no enemies, there are interests. In quick response, the NC patriarch Farooq Abdullah hoped that his party had arrived at perfect understanding with Azad and his faction in seeing that the forthcoming budget session of the legislative assembly was concluded smoothly and with satisfactory results. To ensure this, NC has already made strong lobbying with the Union government to see that its 2010-2011 plan allocation of 6,000 crore rupees is accepted and funds released without delay. While the coalition is engaged in hammering out a strategy for conduct of impending affairs, the PDP, its rival, has also stepped up its political agenda. Both NC and PDP have held party meetings almost simultaneously and reflected on their respective initiatives. A comparative study of these divergent deliberations shows the yawning gap between them in their respective ideology and approach. In its one-day convention in Jammu, the PDP president opened a litany of complaints against the union government alleging that it was not serious in solving the "Kashmir issue". In a resolution passed at the conclusion of the convention, the PDP placed on record its "anguish at the inability of the Central Government to adequately respond to the crisis in J&K that has repeatedly manifested itself in different shapes of discontent and yearning for peace." The party is habituated to magnifying the situation in Kashmir and keeping alive its disputed status. Obviously, the party reflects the mind and sentiments of the separatists by painting India as the oppressor. It projects its self-rule formula as the only viable solution of Kashmir problem. While it has bagful of admonishments for New Delhi, the party never utters a word asking Pakistan to wind up training camps for Kashmir militants on her soil and stop their infiltration into the valley. It never asks Kashmir militants to bid farewell to arms and return to normal life and thus let Kashmiris live in peace. It has nothing to think and say about the threats to the freedom and independence of the country and to the state: its disloyalty to Kashmir nationalist ethos is discernible in how in a power point presentation it depicted parts of Aksaichin as Chinese territory: it is happy to offer olive branch to China and endorse her claim as a stakeholder in Kashmir dispute. PDP lionized paid stone pelting hooligans last summer. The self-rule document, which it has been brandishing as watertight formula for solution of Kashmir juggernaut was released in the US and not on the soil of Kashmir. Whose blessings did it have? Thus we find the PDP has no solid agenda for ameliorating the suffering of the people. Its agenda is of exacerbating tension, inciting disharmony and alienating people from national mainstream. On the other hand, NC also held a meeting of its Central Committee and then in a press conference both the patron and the chief minister delineated broad features of developmental plans that the coalition government intends to float or bring to completion. It has moved for ahead of the dispute syndrome to which its rival PDP clings so tenaciously. Any careful commentator will find a world of difference in the approach of the two main political parties of the State. The PDP has the freedom to do all that it wants to do if it thinks eroding the individuality of the state and the people of Kashmir is the mission it has to complete. There is the strong nationalist force also at work that would carry the state forward along the path of development and progress through democratic and secular dispensation. This competitive politics is good for the state because democracy in essence is the politics of competition. It sifts trash from real stuff.







Contrary to the rabid propaganda campaign unleashed by the separatists and their cohorts, thousands of young men from Srinagar and two other districts of south Kashmir, Kulgam and Anantnag thronged a recruitment rally of the Army on the first day of a week-long open recruitment drive, which began at the Sainik School, Manasbal in Ganderbal district on Saturday. The young men waited in queues for long hours to seek an entry into the venue, 35 km north of Srinagar, trying their luck in the Army. They braved intense cold conditions with intermittent rains throughout the day. The candidates from four other districts of Kupwara, Ganderbal, Budgam and Bandipore would be appearing for an on the spot rally or common entrance examination next. Those from Baramulla, Shopian and Pulwama districts are supposed to appear for the test on February 21. Nearly 900 appointments are being made through the open recruitment drive. The Army seeks to recruit soldiers (general duty), clerks, store keeper, technical and soldier nursing assistant, according to Army Recruiting Office, Srinagar. This gives a lie to what the separatists and their mentors across the border have been propagating. Thousands of aspiring youth want to be part of the national defence establishment where they have opportunity of rising to eminent positions. The Army is one institution in the country that is truly secular in construction and in function. Those who succeed in getting recruited will become part of broad national mainstream. They will share the benefits of being members of the vast army establishment. A shining future awaits them. The Army has introduced a slew of upgraded rules and procedures and it takes special care of recruitments from the State of Jammu and Kashmir. In the same strain, thousands of candidates had come for recruitment in the police cadres of the state some day ago. All this belies the negative propaganda of detractors that the youth of Kashmir are not friendly to the army.








According to the most recent estimates, Pakistan has doubled its nuclear stockpile over the last few years with its arsenal now totalling more than 100 deployed weapons. Pakistan is now ahead of India in the production of uranium and plutonium for bombs and development of delivery weapons. It is now producing nuclear weapons at a faster rate than any other country in the world. Pakistan will soon be world's fourth largest nuclear weapon state ahead of France and Britain and behind only the US, Russia and China. It is investing heavily in plutonium production capacity which will allow it produce more powerful new generation of weapons.
At a time when the US has pushed Pakistani military to shift its focus to the threat from extremist group from within its own borders, the recent reports once again underscore the India-centric threat matrix of Pakistan's military establishment.
The danger is that this expansion is happening at a time of great internal turmoil in the country and the rise in religious extremism. The fears of proliferation and possible terrorist attempts to seize nuclear materials are real and cannot be brushed aside. Along with the defeat of al-Qaeda, the Obama administration's Afghan war review of last year has mentioned Pakistan's nuclear security as one of the two long-term strategy objectives in Af-Pak. In State Department cables released by WikiLeaks last year, concerns about the vulnerability of Pakistan's nuclear material was evident.
As the Obama administration was starting to review its Af-Pak policy, an intelligence report suggested that while Pakistan's weapons were well secured, there was deep, continuing concern about "insider access", meaning elements in the military or intelligence services. The then US ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, wrote in a separate document that "our major concern is not having an Islamic militant steal an entire weapon but rather the chance someone working in GoP (government of Pakistan) facilities could gradually smuggle enough material out to eventually make a weapon."
Not surprisingly then that even as American officials were trying to persuade Pakistani officials to give up nuclear material, they were quietly seeking to block Pakistan from trying to buy material that would help it produce tritium, the crucial ingredient needed to increase the power of nuclear weapons. And yet a December 2008 US intelligence briefing to NATO noted that "Despite pending economic catastrophe, Pakistan is producing nuclear weapons at a faster rate than any other country in the world."
But any attempt by the US to force Pakistan on the nuclear issue will only generate further suspicion that the US favours India and wants to control Pakistan's nuclear weapons. This despite the fact that throughout the Cold War years, it was Washington that was critical in giving a boost to Pakistani nuclear programme by wilfully turning a blind eye to nuclear developments in the country.
Today, Pakistan accuses the West of double standards and discrimination as the pressure has mounted on Islamabad to sign the Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) aimed at banning all future production of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium. A successful conclusion of FMCT by the end of this year is a critical element of the Obama administration's non-proliferation agenda. In 2009, the US Congress passed a $6.5 billion aid package for Pakistan with the stipulation that the Obama administration provide regular assessments of whether any of the money "directly or indirectly aided the expansion of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme." The US has already spent more than $100 million helping Pakistan build fences, install sensor systems and train personnel to handle nuclear weapons.
Pakistan has more than enough nuclear weapons for an effective deterrent against India. As many as 110 odd nuclear weapons will not make Pakistan's nuclear deterrent more effective as compared to a deterrent based on about 60 weapons. Nuclear deterrence doesn't work like that. The higher number will be used by the military to enhance its prestige by claiming that Pakistan is ahead of India, at least in this realm.
For long, the US and the West have viewed nuclear weapons in South Asia with dread because of the possibility that a conventional war between India and Pakistan might escalate into a nuclear one. Indian and Pakistani officials, on the other hand, have continued to argue that just as the threat of mutual assured destruction resulted in a "hot peace" between the US and the former Soviet Union during the Cold War, nuclear weapons in South Asia will also have a stabilising impact. They point out the fact that despite several provocations, India and Pakistan have behaved "rationally" during various crises by keeping their conflicts limited and avoiding escalation. But since September 11, 2001, the nature of the problem for the West has changed in so far as the threat is now more of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal being used against the West by radical Islamists if they can lay their hands on it.
There is little hope that the rational actor model on which classical nuclear deterrence theory is based would apply as much to militant Islamist groups as it would to the Pakistani government. The present turmoil in Pakistan has once again raised concerns about the safety, security and command and control of its nuclear stockpile. The command and control arrangements continue to be beset with some fundamental vulnerability that underline the reluctance of the Pakistani military to cede control over the nation's nuclear assets to civilian leaders. It is instructive to note that of all the major nuclear states in world, Pakistan is the only country where the nuclear button is in the hands of the military. Moreover, senior civilian and military officials responsible for these weapons have a problematic track record in maintaining close control over them.
This poses a serious challenge to the Indian credible minimum deterrent nuclear posture. While India has little to worry about Pakistan's desire to have more than 100 nuclear warheads, the possibility of leakage from the state to non-state actors is a serious threat as it will undermine India's ability to maintain peace in the region. New Delhi will have to start thinking creatively lest it be overtaken by events on the ground. (INAV)








The three challenges before the economy in 2011 are rising prices of fuel oil and agricultural goods; and large inflows of foreign capital. These are also the cause of present all-round increase in prices. Most economists consider this price rise as a problem that must be tackled immediately. I, on the other hand, welcome this increase in price. Present price rise is not a problem. Rather, it is a symptom of good times.
Price of fuel oil is rising because demand from developing countries is increasing rapidly. Western countries are mired in slowdown for the last three years. Their consumption of oil is less. Yet the price is increasing because demand from the developing countries is more. This increase is especially beneficial for India. Increased incomes of the oil-exporting countries of West Asia will lead to more demand for workers from India. Second, we are getting a good share of their incomes in the form of investment in our share markets. West Asian investors were previously investing their incomes in London and New York. Now they are investing in Mumbai. Third, higher price of oil strengthens the developing countries against the developed countries. The developing countries as a group are exporters of oil while developed countries are importers. Higher price of oil leads to transfer of monies from the developed to the developing countries. Last, increase in price of fuel oil will lead to a reduction in use of fossil fuels. It will encourage the development of alternative sources of energy such as wind and solar power and help secure energy security of the country. We should, therefore, welcome the increase in the price. The Government should, in fact, phase out the subsidy on diesel and LPG and encourage lesser consumption of these fuels.
There has been a large inflow of foreign capital in our share markets in the last year. Indian companies are using money from Initial Public Offerings to set up factories. This is leading to higher demand for cement, steel, machinery and labour and to an all-round increase in prices. This increase is welcome because it is caused by increased economic activity. Yet there is need to be alert. It is possible that this inflow may reverse and destabilize our economy. Such had happened in 2008. The Sensex had crashed from 21k to 8k because Foreign Investors had sold out. The possibility of such happening again is high because economies of the developed countries are running on the respirator of stimulus packages. The Government should impose an 'exit tax' on Foreign Investors to prevent recurrence of such an exit. Investors repatriating money before three years should be required to pay a heavy tax. This will reduce short term volatile capital flows.
Another challenge is the increase in price of agricultural goods like onions and sugar. This increase is rather surprising. The monsoons have been favourable this last season. Stocks of wheat are in excess of our requirements which indicates that production of agricultural goods is plentiful. The increase in price of onions, edible oils and pulses appears to be due to global shortage. Agricultural land is being diverted for residential colonies, highways, Special Economic Zones, factories and airports across the world. Yet more agricultural land is being diverted to the production of biodiesel-corn in United States, sugar cane in Brazil and Jatropa in India. This is leading to less production of food. Simultaneously the demand pattern of food items is getting diversified. Previously the larger part of our people ate only grains and pulses. Now they have started consuming fruit, vegetable and milk products. But the farmer has continued to grow more wheat because he is assured of reasonable price under the Minimum Support Price programme. This has led to surplus production of wheat and shortage of other items.
The production of onions this year has been good. The shortage is mainly due to exports. This policy of opening the domestic agricultural market to global trade is fundamentally correct. It is unwise to sell onion in the country for Rs 50 a kg if the global price is Rs 150. It is equally unwise to force Indian consumers to buy apples for Rs 100 a kg if they are available in the global markets for Rs 50. We should encourage our farmers and consumers to respond to global price movements. We are depriving our farmers from benefitting from the high global price of onions by banning exports. We are again encouraging them to continue with inefficient production of crops that are available cheap in the global markets. The present policy is to ban exports when global prices are high and to make imports when global prices are low. The Indian farmer loses in both cases. He cannot sell at a high price in global markets due to export ban. He cannot avail of the high domestic prices when global prices are low. This policy is wholly anti-farmer and must be dismantled. But this must not apply to the few crops that ensure our food security such as wheat, rice, ragi and bajra.
The present all-round increase in prices is good. High price of fuel oil strengthens the developing countries vis-à-vis the developed countries. Factories are being established from capital inflows. High price of agricultural produce are benefitting the farmers and helping secure food security of the country. However, it must be accepted that the price rise affects large number of our people. Objective of economic growth is welfare of the people. Growth that harms people is not desirable.
We may look at the impact of price rise on the people by dividing them into three groups. The present price rise is beneficial for the farmers because the price of their produce is increasing. The price rise is harmful for the urban middle class because they have to buy goods from the market. But this should not bother us because incomes of this group have risen much faster than rest of the population. They can easily absorb the price rise. Problem is mainly of the worker who buys food from the market. The monthly salary of the housemaid who does cleaning in four or five houses in Delhi has increased from Rs 300 per month to Rs 350 per month. The prices have increased much faster. This problem should not be solved by reducing the prices because we will deprive ourselves of the various benefits accruing to us as explained above. The solution is to increase the wages of the housemaid. She can buy onions at Rs 50 a kg if her salary is increased to Rs 500 per month. The Government must give employment subsidy to industries, require use of manual labour in government contracts, increase wages payable under MNREGA to Rs 200 per day, provide tax relief to labour-intensive industries, etc. These measures will lead to increase in demand for labour and higher wages. That will neutralize the impact of price rise on the poor people.








The irregularities that took place during the second term of the UPA is a matter of regret and the economy continuing to grow despite adverse international climate is an achievement in a way summed up the record of the Government headed by Dr Man mohan Singh as Prime Minister. This came out very clearly in Prime Minister's inter action with media on the eve of the budget session of the Parliament.
The most outstanding feature of the Prime Minister's meet with media was total honesty and integrity which came out clearly as Dr. Singh dealt with tough questions relating to the functioning of his Government in second term during which it had been hit by many scandals relating to allocation of two G spectrum by Telecommunication Ministry, organization of Commonwealth game, Adarsh Society in Mumbai and deal of Space Department with a private firm for use of spectrum.
Dr Man mohan Singh admitted that his Government suffers from compulsions of the Coalition politics and things are not ideal but the alternative in the absence of any single party getting a majority of country being forced to go for fresh elections every six months will be worse. He advised media to be careful in their reports. They were free to comment but consider facts as sacred. He also added that India was not a scam ridden country. He admitted that running a coalition Government was not easy.
"Dr Man Mohan Singh said he is not as big a culprit as is being made out". He denied that he was thinking of giving up midway as he had a job to do. He also made it clear that he had no hesitation in appearing before any committee of the Parliament as he feels that the Prime Minister like Caesar's wife should be above suspicion. In the total interaction one thing stood out that Prime Minister made it clear that it would be wrong to depict as if there is a fire and the country is going to dogs.
He pointed out that it would be wrong to depict as if the corruption has suddenly grown greatly in recent times. He also tried to diffuse the issue of setting up a Joint Parliamentary Committee to look into the issue of allocation of Two G scam by Telecommunication Ministry. He made it clear that no backdoor talks are going on with Devas to keep the space spectrum deal on hold despite the decision to scrap the same.
He admitted that he made some mistakes but added that when ten decisions are taken he would be happy if seven proved to be correct. The basic issue raised by Prime Minister was that the Government would not spare anyone involved in corruption and action taken against them. This can not happen in a fixed time frame as we have rule of law where one has to proceed according to procedures laid down by law.
It appears that in an effective manner Prime Minister has laid down the line which the Congress and its allies are going to take in the coming budget session to meet the challenge offered by the opposition. It is also hoped that by the time session starts a fatigue factor with regard to scandals which had hit headlines for several months will set in and normal functioning starts. With JPC becoming a done thing, opposition will continue to have opportunities to embarrass the Government. The two important issues which will continue to haunt the Government in days to come will be corruption and inflation. Both admittedly have no easy solution. One hopes that inflation will fall to seven per cent in the coming months and action against the corrupt will become a reality in the next few months with CBI pursuing the cases earnestly under the supervision of the Supreme Court.
One fact, however, is clear that the current hype raised by opposition can not continue and there is also no prospect of BJP or any other party being able to start a public agitation on these issues. There are also question marks about the ability of opposition continuing its attacks on ruling party as a team as different groups have their own agenda and compulsions. The coming elections in four States will also have their impact on the situation.
One hopes that after the budget session Prime Minister will be able to reshuffle his Cabinet and it will function as a team instead of speaking in different voices. At the same time corruption which is seen as a growing menace is checked through some effective steps as suggested by UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi. In all these matters action should speak louder than words as they have become matter for concern for the entire country and shaken the confidence of people in governance by the present team.










Senior BJP leader L.K. Advani's apology to Congress president Sonia Gandhi for a BJP task force allegation that she and her late husband Rajiv Gandhi had stashed away wealth in Swiss banks comes as a surprise. Since the Congress is giving in to the Opposition demand for a JPC probe into the 2G scam, the BJP leader's gesture should help create a cordial atmosphere for Parliament to function normally. It is the Budget session and neither the government nor the Opposition can afford to play the politics of confrontation. Apart from the railway and Union budgets the government has to clear a backlog of important legislation, including the National Food Security Bill. Besides, people are fed up with frequent disruptions of Parliament and expect constructive and informed debate on important issues.


Indeed, Mr Advani seems to have mellowed with age. His letter to 10 Janpath was obviously posted without discussion over the issue in the party. His climbdown will naturally spoil the party hardliners' plan to keep up the pressure on the government over the issues of black money and corruption. It is also an admission of the fact that the report of the BJP task force on black money lacked substance. It was based on unsubstantiated allegations — carried in some Western tabloids — about the Gandhi family holding secret Swiss bank accounts. Had there been sufficient proof, Advani would not have accepted Sonia's denial at face value.


Nevertheless, the issue of black money needs to be pursued whole-heartedly. The Supreme Court is pressing the government to bring back the black money stashed abroad by Indians. While the opposition parties are asking the government to reveal the names of black money holders, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee claims the names cannot be disclosed due to bilateral treaties. The legal and procedural hurdles will have to be removed since the amount involved is mind-boggling. A study by the US-based Global Financial Integrity has concluded that India has lost Rs 20 lakh crore between 1948 and 2008. The government and the Opposition must jointly strive and cooperate to find ways to nail the offenders — no matter how big and powerful.









It is heartening that after prolonged negotiations, India and Japan have signed a Free Trade Agreement that sets the pace for a quantum jump in bilateral trade and investment. Considering that India currently accounts for a bare 1 per cent of Japan's total trade in value terms, this opens up huge possibilities for harnessing the massive potential for bilateral trade. Under the FTA, the two countries will scrap tariffs on goods that account for 94 per cent of the two-way trade flows progressively over the next 10 years. For Japan, the principal gain is that its auto makers such as Suzuki will have tariffs eliminated on car parts shipped to their factories in India. As for India, the FTA will ease access for generic drug makers to a lucrative market in Japan. Tokyo also plans to scrap duties on some foodstuffs — including curry ingredients, pepper and tea but will maintain high tariffs to protect its politically sensitive rice sector. Apart from auto parts, India will cut trade barriers on Japanese steel, electronics and machinery products.


The free trade accord is particularly significant because it will help Japan to reduce its heavy dependence on the Chinese market. In the new geo-political game of one-upmanship between India and China, this is a shot in the arm for India in strategic terms. Diplomatic ties between Japan and China have suffered lately after Japan arrested a Chinese fishing boat captain whose trawler collided with Japan's Coast Guard ships near the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by China. The added reason for heightened Japanese interest is that Japan's 2010 white paper on trade estimated that middle-income households in India will increase to 620 million people in 2020 from an estimated 190 million in 2010. The Japanese realize that with China's labour costs rising, India is attractive not only as a market but also as a production centre.


India must now use its enhanced clout to get Japan to agree to accept Indian nurses and caregivers at a time when almost one in four persons in Japan is aged over 65 and the aged-care sector is suffering labour shortages. Another key deal sought by New Delhi, on civilian nuclear cooperation, must also be vigorously pursued. 









In a rare case of its kind, a recently retired Lt-General has been cashiered from service and awarded three years rigorous imprisonment for committing irregularities while procuring dry rations. Lt-General SK Sahni, who was convicted in a general court martial, was, as Director General Supplies and Transport prior to retirement, primarily entrusted with supplying rations to Army troops, a majority of whom are posted in varied and daunting geographical terrains that includes glaciers, mountains, jungles and deserts.


It is not as if senior ranking officers have not faced court martial in India's post-Independence history. Maj-General rank officers have been cashiered for professional misconduct during war and, on one occasion, a Navy Chief was dismissed for defying the government in a civil-military supremacy tussle. But this is the first time that a Lt-General has been awarded a prison term. While it goes to the credit of the armed forces that they have taken action against a senior officer, the incident nevertheless reflects a serious issue concerning the internal health of the armed forces. A number of Lt-General and Maj-General rank officers are facing court martial or been named in serious acts of impropriety that range from sexual misconduct, fudging encounters with terrorists and Pakistani soldiers alike, financial corruption and land scams. Sahni is the second Lt-General to be convicted in a court martial in less than a month. Only last month Lt-General PK Rath, a former Corps commander, was awarded a severe reprimand and 15 years loss in seniority after being convicted in a land scam. Another Lt-General, who held the critical post of Military Secretary, is facing a court martial.


For any country, a professional military force serves as the last and ultimate bastion. It is therefore paramount for a state to have an armed force comprising officers and men of character, integrity and honour. The increase in the number of incidents of professional, moral and financial corruption, especially in the higher ranks of the armed forces, notably the Army, is an issue of serious concern which India, with all its security concerns and foreign policy ambitions, can ill afford. This trend needs to be quickly stemmed lest it leads to a downslide.


















In her brief 18 months' stint almost a decade ago, Ms Mamata Banerjee had just come to learn the ropes of the 1.4-million-strong behemoth called the Indian Railways. Even then she had not hesitated in taking some bold decisions such as opening up the railways' freight business to the private sector.


In a historic move, she persuaded the highly reluctant Railway Board mandarins to licence almost a dozen private players to run their container trains on the Indian Railways' tracks,  in direct  competition with CONCOR (Container Corporation  of India ), a railway subsidiary charged with handling the growing container traffic.


Set up more than a couple of decades ago, CONCOR has since grown by leaps and bounds with a string of more than 65 terminals in most of the major industrial towns, and is presently handling more than 2 million TEU's (twenty foot equivalent units) a year.


Running Rajdhani Container  specials within 45 hours between Delhi and JNPT (Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust) near Mumbai had been one of its USPs which enabled it to capture more than half of export container cargo from North India to western ports.


Of course, in her present "avatar" the first budget presented last year did  not  create any waves and in the run-up to the elections in West Bengal, whose chief ministership has been her primary target for quite some time now, she is not going to upset the applecart by making  any controversial moves either.


Introducing new trains, announcing surveys for new alignments, doubling, electrification, gauge conversion and other such tasks do not cost much and are always a safe bet for any Railway Minister, earning excellent publicity and providing a ready opportunity for "making friends and influencing people" across the vast 64,000-km rail network.


Her Railway Budget of last year contained no less than 52 new trains, considered below par for the course! She also introduced her own brand of inter-city express trains called the Duronto, a non-stop express train for long distance routes.


This year she has already announced 40 new trains and would perhaps add half a dozen Durontos to a long list of almost 9000 passenger trains currently running on the Indian Railways' highly congested tracks.


The growing importance of tier 2 and tier 3 cities has spurred a huge demand for the fast suburban services offered by MEMU (Mainline Electric Multiple Unit) on the existing electrified sections and DEMU (Diesel Electric Multiple Units) on other sections. The last budget had proposed 28 new trains and this year too a dozen new MEMU/DEMU trains would, perhaps, be on the cards.


Of course, her top priority would continue to be the projects in the pipeline for West Bengal, including her favourite one for developing the Hooghly river front in collaboration with the KPT (Kolkata Port Trust) and a number of other civic and private agencies.


In spite of the financial crunch, funds are not going to be denied for the on-going project of loco component works at Dankuni, West Bengal, and the 1131-km-long eastern leg of the Dedicated Freight Corridor which, starting in Ludhiana, is to end up not at Sonnagar, as earlier planned, but at Dankuni. This is being done as desired by Ms Banerjee, entailing an extra expenditure of about Rs 8500 crore!


One more of her pet projects, the DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) factory at Sankrail in West Bengal, is yet to take off for want of a suitable joint venture partner. The usual PPP (Public Private Partnership) route, highly popular with the babus of the Planning Commission, is also being actively pursued.


Of course, any major hike in passenger fares is out of the question, though Ms Banerjee would not be averse to soaking the rich by marginally hiking fares for the airconditioned class!


Freight tariff, however, is a different kettle of fish and would certainly witness some major surprises, in particular, the iron ore traffic, which has registered extremely handsome profits for  some of the major players in this business, and  Ms Banerjee would like them to contribute a part of  their windfall profits to the railways' long-term growth.


Ms Banerjee is also likely to announce the commissioning of a new coach manufacturing unit at Rae Bareli sometime in June. This has been in the pipeline since the days of Mr Lalu Yadav and has seen a steady progress over the last couple of years.


Set up to spur industrial growth in this part (Rae Bareli and the surrounding areas) of Uttar Pradesh, it will initially start assembling the LHB (Linke Haufmann Busch) coaches from sub-assemblies sent by the RCF (Rail Coach Factory), Kapurthala, in Punjab, and the ICF (Integral Coach Factory), Perambur, near Chennai.


Predictably, the Railway Budget, due by the end of the current month, promises to be more of the same, with scores of promises, commitments and plans, most of which will soon fall by the wayside and get consigned to   history.


Ms Banerjee had assured the railway family in the last budget that privatisation is ruled out, and that "Abhi to shuruat hai; lamba suhana safar baaqi hai". Whether she will be there to keep company for long is, of course, highly debatable!n


The writer is a former Member (Mechanical), Railway Board.








Amidst thickly forested hills overlooking the majestic Botanical Gardens in Ooty, nestles Hebron International School. The serene drive through the deep woods which leads to this institution reflects upon its character and soul. On my return from diplomatic assignment, it was late 1999, when I chanced to discover Hebron, while I was in search of a school for my daughter where she could continue with the IGCSE curriculum.


Hebron then was celebrating its first centenary. Its Headmaster, Mr Barcley, was the second-generation head. He was born and brought up in Ooty when senior Barcley was the Headmaster. There were others, the likes of Mr Green who had opted to teach in Hebron after quitting plush assignments in their native countries. Fired with missionary zeal, these legends had benchmarked Hebron into a unique "Centre of Excellence" where the values was the norm and "self learning" a way of life. Hebron primarily catered to the wards of missionaries and expatriate community.


It was late evening when I had gone to drop my daughter at her hostel dorm. As we were looking around for some help to lug her belongings to the first floor, suddenly a bright, cheerful teenager breezed past, but stopped in track; "Hai Aeshita! Let me help you". Before we could say "Jack Robinson" she had already picked up two packages and was hotfooting upstairs. Later, she introduced herself as Esther. Perceiving my concern and anxiety, Esther assured me that Aeshita is a part of the big Hebron family now and will be well taken care of.


Subsequently, I learnt that Esther was from Australia and her parents were missionaries in India. My daughter always spoke very high of Esther, particularly about her humane and helpful nature. Besides being classmates, both shared a common passion to be doctors. On one occasion, when I was at Hebron to attend its annual day function, I found Esther rather upbeat. She had thrown a treat for her classmates to celebrate the renewal of her visa since she considered India to be her second home. Esther was very keen to complete "A" levels in India before returning home to pursue medicine.


Recently when I read that Dara has been spared death sentence for the triple murder of Dr Graham Stuart Staines along with his two sons, Philip and Timothy aged 10 and 6, on the night of 22 January 1999, my thoughts flashed back to Esther. She was the eldest of three Staines siblings. Despite the grave tragedy of having lost her father and two brothers, Esther had chosen to stay on in India to continue with her schooling. The forbearance and courage displayed by the little adolescent was indeed remarkable. In fact, both Esther and her mother, Mrs Gladys Staines, had forgiven Dara for his sins. Esther always harboured a dream to be a social worker and serve the destitutes. She is now studying medicine in Australia.


The legal system has let go Dara with life imprisonment instead of death penalty, as the heinous crime apparently is not the rarest one. However, the act of fortitude and forgiveness on the part of Esther and Mrs Staines, unquestionably qualifies to be in the category "Rarest of the Rare".









A journalist throws open the wide front door of Al Jazeera's Doha headquarters, cell phone pressed against his ear. "They were arrested last night," he bellows into his phone. "We can't get through to the producers. All the material was confiscated, and some of the equipment was destroyed."


Inside the newsroom, the atmosphere is alive with energy. Journalists sit transfixed to their monitors, which show live feeds from central Cairo — where hundreds of thousands of protesters are on the brink of pushing another strongman from power and where Al Jazeera crews have faced repeated police harassment and detentions. Tapes are piled high in a corner, labelled in scrawling Arabic.


"This is our story," says one Al Jazeera English journalist, who asks not to be identified because he is not authorized to talk to the media. "This is the story that proves to the naysayers of the world what we can do. We took the lead and everyone followed. In spite of harassment, having our tapes stolen, people being beaten up. If you want to know about Egypt, you're watching Al Jazeera."


Over the past few weeks, much has been made of the power of Al Jazeera, the Qatari news channel launched 15 years ago by the Gulf Arab state's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani with the goal of providing the sort of independent news that the region's state-run broadcasters had long ignored.


It was Al Jazeera that first grasped the enormity of the Tunisia uprising and its implications for the region, and Al Jazeera which latched onto — critics would say fuelled — subsequent rumblings in Egypt. And audiences around the world responded: the network's global audience has rocketed. During the first two days of the Egyptian protests, live stream viewers watching the channel over the internet increased by 2,500 per cent to 4 million, 1.6 million of them in the United States, according to Al Anstey, managing director of Al Jazeera's English-language channel.


"This is a real turning point for us, in terms of recognition of the integrity of the product we're producing, and showing that there is a true demand for our content and information," Anstey said.


Al Jazeera, Arabic for "the island", has earned the resentment of leaders in the Arab world — as well as the admiration of many ordinary Arabs — almost from the day it launched in 1996.


The first Arab network to put Israeli officials on the air, the channel has also hosted guests as varied as Saudi dissidents, feminist activists and Islamist clerics. "When Israelis first appeared on our screens, people thought we were funded by the Mossad," one employee said.


In his final weeks in office, Mubarak made little secret of his anger with Al Jazeera's broadcasts of the protests against his government. The network broadcast live from Cairo's Tahrir Square throughout the 18 days of protest, despite its office being closed, journalists beaten and detained, and tapes and equipment confiscated and destroyed.


In phone calls with western leaders during the uprising, Mubarak complained about Al Jazeera's — and Qatar's — role in fomenting unrest, according to senior political sources in Europe. Mubarak told them he believed the emir was focusing attention on the unrest in Egypt at the behest of Iran. It's a complaint that has been made before over the years. Executives of the station dismiss the charge and say they are solely interested in good journalism.


Critics point to instances where Al Jazeera has pulled its punches as evidence of the political role it can play. Initially, the channel's coverage of Saudi Arabia — the Arab world's leading political and economic power — was extensive, but in 2002 the kingdom withdrew its ambassador to Doha partly in protest over Al Jazeera shows on Saudi politics. Relations between the two states were restored six years later, and observers say Al Jazeera toned down its Saudi coverage.


A July 2009 diplomatic cable from the U.S. embassy in Qatar published by WikiLeaks puts it this way: "Al Jazeera, the most watched satellite television station in the Middle East, is heavily subsidized by the Qatari government and has proved itself a useful tool for the station's political masters. The station's coverage of events in the Middle East is relatively free and open, though it refrains from criticizing Qatar and its government. Al Jazeera's ability to influence public opinion throughout the region is a substantial source of leverage for Qatar, one which it is unlikely to relinquish. Moreover, the network can also be used as a chip to improve relations."


Some experts suggest that Al Jazeera, like media organizations in many parts of the world, has probably already learned to exercise a degree of restraint rooted in self-preservation. "I think Al Jazeera itself conducts self-censorship to ensure no red lines are crossed," said David Roberts, researcher at Durham University in Britain. "But in general, the Qatari government is not cherry-picking stories or censoring. They let them run with any story they want, up to a certain point."


While Arab viewers dismiss the far-fetched notion that the channel is in bed with al Qaeda, many say Al Jazeera can appear sympathetic to extremist groups such as Hamas, which defeated the more secular Fatah in Palestinian elections in 2006. Tensions within the Arabic-language channel were highlighted last year when several female anchors resigned over its conservative dress code.


For a region whose authoritarian governments are usually able to squash stories they don't want published, Al Jazeera represents a sharp cultural shift, and, many believe, a positive one. Launched with a startup budget of $137 million and a target of generating revenue within five years, the network was able to draw talent from the just-folded BBC Arabic.


"They started with the right kind of culture," says Mohamed Zayani, professor at Georgetown University in Qatar and author of a book on Al Jazeera. "In terms of the way things were run, the structure was looser, less bureaucratic and red-tape laden. That was good, because it meant they could get things done. It's something very important in the business of news, where time is of the essence."


Its main backer has said in the past that he would like the channel to become self-funding. So far, though, advertising revenues have been decidedly hard to come by.


Whether or not Egypt proves a money-spinner for Al Jazeera, it has certainly earned the network a bigger share of Arab leaders' attention. "Perhaps, after garnering such plaudits for their role in Tunisia and Egypt — and particularly after they found so many ways around attempts to censor them — they will be accorded more fearful respect by other states," Durham University's Roberts said. "Now states might realize that they cannot simply turn off Al Jazeera. — Reuters







We all know about Egypt and Tunisia, where protests ultimately led to the rulers giving up power. In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak stepped down on February 11 following 18 days of massive protests. In Tunisia, President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country on January 14. Here are details of other major protests against authoritarian governments, rising consumer prices, poverty and high unemployment around the Middle East and North Africa:


BAHRAIN: Soldiers replaced riot police at Pearl Square, a road junction in the Bahraini capital Manama, which demonstrators had tried to turn into a protest base and which was stormed by policeon February 17. Three people were killed in the crackdown and more than 230 injured.


* Over a thousand mourners had gathered in Bahrain on February 16 to bury Fadel Matrouk, killed when police clashed with mourners at the funeral of another protester shot dead during an anti-government "Day of Rage" on February 14.


* King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, trying to defuse the tension, has said he will give 1,000 dinars ($2,650) to each family.


LIBYA: Hundreds of supporters of leader Muammar Gaddafi rallied on February 17, but witnesses reported unrest in several locations. There were clashes on that day in Al Bayda, near Libya's second city Benghazi, between government supporters and relatives of two men killed during an earlier protest.


* The riot, in the early hours of February 16 in Benghazi, was triggered by the arrest of human rights activist Fethi Tarbel, who had worked to free political prisoners, Quryna newspaper said.


* Activists had designated February 17 as a day of protests as it is the anniversary of clashes in 2006 in Benghazi when security forces killed protesters attacking the city's Italian consulate.


YEMEN: Fierce fighting between protesters and government loyalists left at least 40 wounded on February 17, the seventh day of demonstrations demanding an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 32-year rule.


* Protests spread on February 16, with hundreds of people taking to the streets of Sanaa, the capital, Aden and Taiz.


* The opposition has agreed to enter talks with Saleh, who is keen to avert an Egyptian-style revolt. He said he would step down in 2013 and pledged his son will not take over.


ALGERIA: Thousands of police in riot gear blocked off the centre of Algeria's capital on February 12 and stopped government opponents from staging a protest march that sought to emulate Egypt's revolt. They have said they will demonstrate every Saturday until democratic change is introduced.


* President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, seeking to prevent opposition calls for protests from building momentum, has promised more democratic freedoms and ordered new job-creation measures. Algeria said on February 16 that it would lift a state of emergency, in force for 19 years, by the end of the month.


IRAQ: On February 16, around 2,000 people took to the streets in Kut, 150 km southeast of Baghdad, throwing stones at Iraqi security forces. Some voiced anger at Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, echoing anti-government rallies in other parts of the Arab world.


* Three people were killed and dozens wounded when the protesters, demanding better services, clashed with police and set fire to government buildings.


IRAN: Supporters and opponents of the government clashed on February 16 at a funeral for a student shot dead during February 14's banned opposition rally.


* State TV showed thousands of government supporters at Tehran University for the funeral of Sanee Zhaleh, one of two people shot dead on February 14. Each side blames the other for the killing and claims the victim as one of their own supporters.


* An opposition website said at least 1,500 were arrested while taking part in the banned protests.


* A large majority of Iranian lawmakers signed a motion for two opposition leaders to be tried, calling them "corrupts on earth". The term "corrupt on earth" is a charge which has been levelled at political dissidents. It is a capital offence.


JORDAN: King Abdullah swore in a new government on February 9, led by a former general who promised to widen public freedoms in response to anti-government protests.


Source: Reuters








What does our current telecom muddle have in common with the US railroad industry? Much like the Indian phone industry in the past two decades, American railroads expanded at an astonishing rate in the 19th century, especially after the Civil War. Like our current telecom barons, American railroad construction was also undertaken by private companies and by its very nature it necessarily involved large land grants and intimate dealings with government for permissions and subsidies.


The penetration of the American hinterland with the railways changed America forever just as the rise of the easily available and cheap cellphone connection in India has had a profound social impact on the daily life of the nation.


 There was one more thing in common. By the late 1880s, even though millions were benefitting from the American railways, there was such a clamour against the 'robber barons' who were seen to be profiteering from their collusion with government that the US Congress was forced to legislate the industry with a bill. Though this new bill was intended to reign in corporate interests, the rail barons actually supported it. As Charles Adams, the president of Union Pacific Railroad, explained to a Congressman, "What is desired is something having a good sound, but quite harmless, which will impress the popular mind with the idea that a great deal is being done, when in reality, very little is intended to be done."


The Americans got their Act and created an Interstate Commerce Commission, much as we got our Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to act as a regulator, along with other checks and balances. This is where the parallels get even more interesting. The economist John Kay has pointed out that the US Commission established to reign in the cartels was first chaired by a lawyer who, before he took the job, had gained substantial experience acting on behalf of railroad companies as his clients.


 Not surprisingly, the US Supreme Court soon found problems with a ratefixing agreement between railroads and deemed it illegal. Those who were to police the regulations had seemingly come to view it through the prism of those who could benefit from it.


 Judging by what we know so far, this is exactly how A Raja and his cronies saw their reign in telecom. Except that they went a step further, turning manipulation into a fine art and that too, so brazenly. This is precisely why the Indian Supreme Court, like its American counterpart a century ago, is so angry at what happened in the telecom ministry.


 So what do we make of the prime minister's defence of his government with the TV editors last week? Did it adequately answer the tough questions on how things went wrong on his watch? Apart from wringing his hands at the compulsions of coalition politics, the PM has first and foremost clarified that his government as a whole, endorsed the policy framework for the sale of 2G spectrum. Echoing Kapil Sibal, the PM has emphatically questioned the losses calculated by CAG by equating the decision on low pricing of spectrum (at 2001 prices in 2008) to other subsidies given for public good. Raja may have gone astray, in this version, but that was a regrettable problem of implementation, not of policy failure.

This is fair enough but the problem with this line of argumentation is that it is too little too late. It also sweeps too much under the carpet. On the dubious first-come-first-served policy, which included controversially changing the deadline for submitting applications at short notice to 11 January 2008, the PM argues that this did not come up for discussion with him and was not brought before his cabinet.


This is a weak defence. So what if it did not come up in the cabinet? The stink coming out of the telecom ministry's arbitrary decisions was bad enough for everyone to know what was going on and widely reported at the time in the press. Manmohan Singh himself wrote to Raja in November 2007, forwarding various complaints and asking him to look into the possibility of an auction. If he suspected something then why just meekly trust Raja's subsequent reply that his dealings were transparent? The matter should not have ended there, with a mere exchange of letters and an acceptance of Raja's word.


In any case, the TRAI never endorsed the decision not to go for an auction, as the PM implies. The TRAI had, in fact, recommended multi-stage auctions as far back as 2003. It even pointed out in 2007 that marking entry fees at 2001 prices was incorrect and these should be reassessed with market mechanisms.


 One has to feel sorry for Manmohan Singh. Defending the indefensible is never easy, as the American regulators learnt a century ago. Eventually they evolved a system that became difficult to manipulate. That should be our cue.


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




After years of 'studying' India, Japan has finally taken a long-term strategic view of the bilateral relationship and has given its imprimatur to a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Arrangement (Cepa). This will surely boost bilateral trade and increase Japanese investment in India, but it will also strengthen people-to-people relations between the two Asian democracies. The Cepa is expected to more than double bilateral trade from $10.3 billion to $ 25 billion by 2014. While this is an impressive increase, it pales in comparison to the existing level of bilateral trade between India and China, estimated at $60 billion, or Sino-Japanese trade, estimated at $ 302 billion. So this is just the beginning and there is a long road ahead to be travelled. Japan's 97 per cent tariff reduction on goods from India will benefit India's exports. Given that non-tariff barriers are often an issue with Japan, it is significant that Japan has agreed to accord 'national treatment' to Indian generic pharmaceuticals. This could pave the way for Indian generics to enter developed country markets more easily.

The Cepa has merely formalised a process that has been underway for a few years, particularly with regard to Japanese investment in India. Japanese companies have been eyeing the Indian market with greater interest, especially in the capital goods sector. A recent survey of over 600 Japanese companies indicated that 75 per cent looked upon India favourably as an investment destination (compared to 72 per cent for China). While too much should not be read into these numbers, results on the ground attest to this changing perception. While Japanese automobile companies, such as Toyota and Honda, have had a presence in India for some time now, the capital goods sector has seen the entry of several world leaders, such as Mitsubishi, Hitachi and Fujitsu, establishing joint ventures with Indian companies to leverage the rapid expansion of the domestic power sector. Given that the Mumbai-Delhi industrial corridor has become the showpiece of the recent Indo-Japanese cooperation, the Cepa will make a real difference if it encourages Japanese FDI.


 It would be premature to characterise Japanese interest in India and China as a zero-sum game. However, Japan is increasingly wary of China's increasing assertiveness on the back of rapidly growing economic and strategic power. Increasing labour costs in China, particularly along the eastern seaboard, coupled with increasingly arbitrary decision making, has led to a rethink on further investment in China. India, with its large domestic market, rapidly growing economy and increasing availability of skilled labour, could emerge as an alternative. However, the investment environment still needs to be a lot more investor friendly, while the state of physical infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired. Above all, the India-Japan Cepa, along with similar trade agreements with South Korea and Malaysia, characterises a growing fatigue with multilateral agreements that are spinning their wheels. While bilateral trade agreements are a second-best solution, India must do its best to derive the maximum benefit from the possibilities that arise from Cepa and similar agreements.







One way of looking at the notification on admission and fees of business management institutions put out by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) last December is to view the sector regulator doing its job of protecting consumers' interests (i.e. prospective students) from venal institutions that are cashing in on the growing demand for a B-school education. But, in addressing a problem that it has been responsible for, in no small measure, AICTE has overreached itself. So, it is not surprising that the issue now finds itself in court. Of the eight rules that AICTE has set out, two can be considered somewhat logical. The first stipulates that the admission for all management education courses cannot start before March 31. Most mainline B-schools begin the admission process in January, two months after the Common Entrance Test (CAT), one of the widely-used admission tests, in October, but others start later, depending on the timing of other entrance tests. Such staggered admissions allow students to make multiple applications and then get transferred to their preferred institution, if they can. A vacant seat cannot be filled once the term begins, so the upshot is that a large number of seats go abegging each year.

AICTE is also probably correct in attempting to limit B-school fees. B-schools may argue, as they have done, that this amounts to unwarranted interference in their autonomy. But it is also true that soaring demand is putting a B-school education outside the purview of many less affluent students, and has promoted such frankly unethical practices as capitation fee. This has the effect of creating an uneven playing field for talent that is unlikely to help India Inc. But, in stipulating that fees be subject to a state government-led fee fixation committee, AICTE has come up with a sub-optimal solution. Experience has shown that state government interference in education tends to become so politicised as to verge on the destructive. It would probably make more sense for a centralised fee-fixation committee, comprising representatives of the regulator, B-schools, industry and educational professionals, with a clearer idea of balancing costs and quality.


 But these are only two issues that irk the over 2,000 B-schools that seek AICTE approval. The most contentious one is the stipulation that their admission tests be limited to CAT, MAT or an equivalent state-level test. This amounts to gross over-regulation. More so, since only the state-founded IIMs and about 150 privately-run B-schools actually use CAT; the remaining 1,900-odd institutions use a variety of tests, including those designed by XLRI and AIMA, all of which will have to be scrapped. Even assuming that this is done, with CAT now a computer-based test delivered by a private sector player, the danger of monopolisation cannot be an overstatement. sync with B-school functioning. For an institution that has played such a laissez faire role in approving B-schools of dubious quality, its guidelines appear to be designed to irk rather than enable institutions to focus on quality.








In the glare of media focus on issues pertaining to corruption and governance, an important foreign policy statement of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, made during his interaction with the television media last week, went out of public focus. In response to a question on India's stand on the unrest on the Arab street, the prime minister said: "India welcomes the dawn of democracy anywhere in the world."


 Heads of government like leaving behind ideas on foreign policy that strategic policy analysts construct into doctrines. If there is to be a Manmohan Singh Doctrine on Indian foreign policy, this statement would be the second leg on which such a doctrine would stand.

The first element of the doctrine was, in fact, enunciated in Dr Singh's very first Union Budget speech of July 1991, when he famously said: "No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come. I suggest to this august House that the emergence of India as a major economic power in the world happens to be one such idea."

Linking the idea of India's economic resurgence, its "emergence" as a "major economic power", to India's place in the world was a new and revolutionary idea that has come to define Indian foreign policy in the post-Cold War world.

While Jawaharlal Nehru did say to the Constituent Assembly in December 1949, "foreign policy is the outcome of economic policy" (for the full quote and text of Nehru's speech, see my book Strategic Consequences of India's Economic Performance, Academic Foundation, 2006, pages 453-464), Nehruvian foreign policy and that of Indira Gandhi came to be identified in the popular imagination at home and abroad more with anti-imperialism, third-world solidarity and non-alignment, rather than India's own national interests pertaining to its 're-emergence' as a vibrant economy integrated with the global economy.

This way of looking at the world was not yet in vogue, given the experience with colonialism and neo-colonialism, and India's emergence as a voice of the Third World. The end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of China, based on the notion of 'comprehensive national power' (CNP), in which economic competitiveness and human capability were important elements, altered India's own thinking about the role of economic performance in the manifestation of national power.

That the July 1991 formulation was not a passing thought but the expression of a new idea is further underlined by the fact that in his February 1995 Budget speech, Dr Singh returned to the theme when he said: "It is this vision, of a resurgent India taking her rightful place as an economic power house in Asia, which has inspired our economic policies."

India's economic performance since then and its economic interests have, without doubt, shaped Indian foreign policy options — both in the relations with major powers and with India's wider Asian neighbourhood.

However, India cannot be viewed simply as an 'emerging market' and a 'growing economy'. India's global personality cannot be simply that of an increasingly prosperous nation. India's aspirations cannot be those of a wannabe middle-class family — earning more, buying more, spending more. Nor should India be seen as an entitlement seeker, a newly status-conscious nation obsessed with identity and image, demanding a membership of the high councils of the world — be it the UN Security Council or the International Monetary Fund.

India must come to represent an enduring idea that the global community values and respects. It is this idea that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has tried hard to articulate over the past six years when he has repeatedly spoken of the relevance to people around the world of India's rise as a secular, plural and inclusive democracy.

Last week, Dr Singh said to his media interlocutors that "the world today appreciates that India is a democracy… committed to the rule of law, committed to respect of fundamental human rights, is trying to seek its economic and social salvation in the framework of democracy and a rapidly expanding economy."

Marrying the idea of a rising economy with the very "idea of India" gives India's rise a moral imperative.

Critics might ask what is new with the idea of 'democracy' in the realm of international affairs. After all, the West, especially the United States, has promoted the idea for a long time. There is a difference.

The Indian idea of democracy is linked to two important values that India must underscore at all times, especially in the context of what is happening in the Arab world, and the European and Asian debates about multiculturalism.

First, that India values a form of democracy that is truly inclusive — based on the ideas of secularism and pluralism. This is important. It also has important strategic implications for India and for the rise of Asia, where religious extremism and political authoritarianism pose a challenge to the future of pluralism and liberalism.

Second, apart from respect for the rule of law, human rights and secular and plural values, Indian democracy also seeks to be inclusive. That is the strategic relevance of the idea of 'inclusive growth'. In the ideological battle between the discredited "Washington Consensus" on economic policy and the so-called "Beijing Consensus", it is an idea from India, a "New Delhi Consensus", so to speak, of inclusive growth that will finally prevail.

For it to do so, however, India has much homework to do in the fields of governance, given the renewed concerns about an 'ethical deficit' and a 'governance deficit'. The defence of pluralism and secularism remains a daily challenge for India, as the defence of inclusive growth and good governance. Defending them at home is vital for India's place in the world.








At the heart of the dispute between two modern-day kingdoms is a 10th century Hindu temple devoted to Shiva. Preah Vihear is in Cambodia – thanks to a 1962 verdict by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – but the traditional and the easiest way to access it is through the northern entrance, which lies in Thailand. The Thais, who never fully reconciled to the ICJ's verdict, were enraged in 2008 when another international institution, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), sought to designate Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site. The two countries have engaged in a number of armed skirmishes since then, with a 460-hectare tract of disputed land in the vicinity of the temple being the focus of the conflict.


 The dispute has come in handy for the various actors engaged in the extended political drama in Thailand. A few weeks ago, Thai politicians "inspecting" the border regions were arrested by Cambodian authorities for illegally entering Cambodia, sparking off a new wave of armed conflict. The two countries exchanged artillery fire and Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva despatched tanks to the border. Meanwhile, Hun Sen, Cambodia's battle-hardened prime minister, appointed his own son, a recently promoted major-general, to lead the forces defending Preah Vihear. He also called for the UN Security Council (UNSC) to intervene, a move that Thailand promptly rejected. The UNSC, as usual, lamely called for "maximum restraint", "permanent ceasefire", "effective dialogue" and passed the buck to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Yet, Asean, a regional grouping often celebrated for its pragmatism and competence, has been unable to keep two of its members from going to war with each other. It will now try to play peacemaker, but it is unlikely that it can achieve anything beyond temporary damage control. Cambodia has legal title, but Thailand is more powerful. Preah Vihear is intertwined with Thailand's domestic political turmoil, and because Asean cannot interfere in the internal affairs of its members, meaningful mediation will have to wait until the unrest, intrigue and ferment in Bangkok subsides. Even then, there is no guarantee that the Thais will allow their relative power advantage to be neutralised by accepting third-party arbitration.

Asean's failure to prevent the Thai-Cambodian border dispute from escalating into a shooting war calls into question its ability to take on the more challenging project of anchoring East Asia's security architecture. That's not all. Asean states have been extremely reluctant to maintain solidarity with their counterparts in the latter's disputes with non-Asean states. It is to the US that Vietnam and the Philippines turned last year when China upped the ante over the maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

But Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam – lower riparians of the Mekong river – have no one to turn to in the dispute over water sharing with China. Beijing refuses to be part of the Mekong River Commission framework. It has observer status but does not fully share hydrological information on each of the dams it is building, creating anxiety in the downstream countries where a vast numbers of people rely on the river for their livelihood. According to Ame Trandem, a campaigner with International Rivers, an NGO, "Environmentalists in the region have continuously requested regional leaders to bring the issue of the Mekong dams to the Asean platform." Countries such as Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines, she adds, "should publicly call for the Mekong River to remain free-flowing and healthy, while assisting fellow Asean countries to study less destructive and more sustainable energy options".

But getting China to cooperate over managing the Mekong river waters requires more than that. Timo Menniken, a German scholar, argues, "Efforts have to concentrate on constructing a balance of power than appealing to China's altruism." He calls for Asean to adopt a common foreign policy over the Mekong, bolster Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand with economic assistance and take up the issue with China at Asean-centred regional security fora. Driving a grand bargain with China, by "offering incentives in non-water fields in return for cooperative management of shared water resources" requires Asean to demonstrate solidarity that has hitherto been lacking. The Asean Foundation's Makarim Wibisono recently lamented that the "'we feeling' is still absent in the minds of Asean people".

As South East Asian countries become increasingly dependent on China, Beijing will succeed in co-opting Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and, perhaps, even Cambodia into joining its bandwagon. You can see why suspicions, disputes and conflicts among these countries will not be perceived as an undesirable state of affairs by China.

From Preah Vihear to the Mekong basin, from Myanmar to the South China Sea, the list of regional security issues where Asean is falling short is growing. It is likely that the business of providing a robust security architecture for the region will, as before, fall to non-members — this time the US, China and India.

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









By now India's finance minister must be busy putting the finishing touches to his Budget and Budget speech due next Monday. One often wonders whether Mr Mukherjee gets adequate time to ponder over the broader issues, distinct from the urgent ones. He is a workaholic, but even in normal circumstances, the Budget is a time-consuming exercise. Also, compared to other finance ministers, Mr Mukherjee bears a much heavier burden as the chairman of various groups of ministers, "empowered" or otherwise, to whom knotty issues are referred. He is also the UPA's troubleshooter in Parliament and for the unusually large number of sensitive issues currently in the government's lap.


 As it happens, the Budget is scheduled at a time of great uncertainty in the global political economy. There is also a growing debate on issues of growth and distribution (Jagdish Bhagwati vs Amartya Sen?), a point I will discuss later. Recent events in several Arab countries clearly have implications for global economy in terms of oil prices, the continued availability of the Suez Canal for global shipping and even food prices, as The Economist (February 5) recently argued. And the developed world is having its own, increasingly intractable, fiscal and growth problems.

Recent events in Tunisia, Egypt and neighbouring countries seem another manifestation of the well-known "chaos theory" in physics, which, sometime back, was also fashionable among financial market analysts. The theory argues (of course with a large number of equations) that the origin of a major event can sometimes be very insignificant — the standard example used is that of the fluttering of a butterfly over the island of Fiji that could well be the root cause of a cyclone over West Indies a couple of months later.

Take Tunisia. The civil unrest started with a policewoman seizing the hand cart of a vegetable seller and slapping him. The humiliation resulted in the latter's suicide, and that triggered street protests, which ultimately led to the president of 24 years abdicating and fleeing. And, the revolution in triggered unrest that led to the ouster of the Egyptian president and disturbances in other neighbouring countries (Jordan, Yemen, Syria, Algeria and so on). Will it spread to Saudi Arabia, a country that produces one of every four barrels of oil consumed globally?

To be sure, minor events trigger major consequences only when other, more fundamental conditions exist. According to Professor Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, who wrote a brilliant essay on developments in Egypt published recently in Newsweek (February 14), these conditions are: 


  • "fabulous wealth side by side with mass poverty" (recent analysis and research suggest there is strong correlation between income inequalities and economic crises, see Finance and Development, December 2010); 
  • "the vanity of the rulers and their wives and their children" (to quote a mundane example, how many of our VIPs follow, for example, security procedures at airports?); 
  • "The fortunes of the rulers… are the real weapons of mass destruction in the region".

Add to this crony capitalism, an alliance between rulers and rich capitalists, to loot the people; unemployment; high food prices; corruption; the unaccountability of the ruling class; and you have an explosive combination. As Tunisia and Egypt show, it does not even take organised opposition to bring down governments. Social networks like Twitter and Facebook and the power of the Internet are often enough to bring people to the streets.

It is striking that practically all of these factors seem to be present in our country. To be sure, we are a (non-functioning?) parliamentary democracy, unlike the Arab countries. But can this, by itself, compensate for all the other weaknesses? For how long? Is the annual 8.5 per cent GDP growth rate being assumed as the new Hindu Rate of Growth (as Raghuram Rajan questioned in an interview); that it will hold irrespective of what we do — or not do? As stubborn as 3 per cent once was? What happens if growth falters? Though food price inflation makes headlines daily, unemployment could well be an even bigger issue. To quote three recent instances: when the Mumbai Mahanagar Palika advertised for 700 vacancies for school teachers, it received 70,000 applications; Cidco's 40 jobs attracted 17,000 applications; and ITBP's 416 vacancies attracted 150,000 job-seekers at the recruitment centre. Tragically, many died in the travel rush.

In the face of the dire need for jobs, we seem to have become a people who spend far more time and energy blocking any change – a new factory or power station or seeds, the Goods and Services Tax, bureaucratic ways, labour laws and so on – than in pushing for or adapting to it. Too many social activists and well-meaning people have become extremely adept at this, and take pride in it. Can we create jobs without change? The song and dance over Incredible India in Davos is over; the hard task is just beginning.

Is our government in Delhi any more popular on the streets of Srinagar than President Mubarak was on the streets of Cairo?








In an address to the Berlin Agriculture Ministers meeting last month, World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director General Pascal Lamy said export restrictions are a prime cause of recent surges in global food prices, and countries should find other ways of securing domestic supplies ("WTO chief: Alternatives to food export curbs needed", Business Standard, January 23). Though export restrictions are an important contributor to rising food prices, they are by no means the only one. The search for cooperative solutions to global food shortages and price volatility has to be broader. An undue focus on export restrictions alone obscures the role played by equally important factors like those leading to the sharp decline in public investment in agriculture in small developing countries and an increasing flow of speculative funds into commodity markets.

In order for a discussion on this issue to be useful, it is important to begin by dispelling the notion that high and volatile global food prices are necessarily due to a misalignment between supply and demand. Global food production touched record levels in 2008 and 2010, and yet these periods have witnessed very high prices.


 What is not disputed is the suffering caused to the world's poor. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that just under a billion people in the world are now "food insecure" and lists 82 countries as being "Low Income Food Deficit Countries". The plight of these countries highlights a misalignment of another kind- between continuing high levels of production in several developed countries fuelled by the high levels of domestic support as well as export subsidies still permitted under WTO rules, and the sharp decline in public investments in agriculture in poor countries over the last two decades, largely due to policies imposed by World Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF) and bilateral donors. Such policy prescriptions were usually accompanied by calls for "liberalising" the agriculture sector by sharply reducing tariffs and removing other barriers to market access. This policy double whammy has led to a surge of imports of (usually) subsidised agricultural products into these countries, devastating their low-productivity agricultural sectors and rendering millions of people unemployed and hungry. It is obvious that any meaningful initiative to improve global food security must begin by seeking to reverse the effects of these policies.

Till recently, analysts have paid inadequate attention to the impact of the increasing "commodification" of agricultural products on global food prices. Commodity futures markets now play an important role in price determination of food commodities. As an interesting paper by Jennifer Clapp and Eric Helleiner points out, a series of deregulatory decisions in the US since the 1980s made it possible for large investors to move into commodity market investments through Commodity Index Funds(CIFs) and similar instruments. As a result, there was a large inflow of funds into commodity fund instruments, and investments in CIFs had swelled to $200 billion by 2008. This increasing financialisation tended to exacerbate food price volatility as investors continuously shuffled their investments to insulate themselves from the turbulence in global financial markets. There is growing consensus around the view that such investments have played an important role in recent food price spikes.

In recent months, the US has taken remarkable steps to regulate agricultural derivatives markets. These moves received a fillip after the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in July 2010. Among the various reforms introduced through this Act was a provision mandating regulators to impose position limits on all institutions on their total exposure, including in foreign markets. These reforms have been supported by domestic agricultural sector interests who aligned themselves with a broader coalition including domestic groups concerned about energy prices and prominent consumer advocacy groups.

It is important that the US reforms are discussed and debated in the wider global community concerned with food security issues with the objective of arriving at a global consensus on regulatory policies for commodity market investments. The G20 is the obvious forum for such a discussion. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is deeply committed to such an initiative and the next G20 meeting that France is hosting should, therefore, provide a good opportunity to build consensus around the issue.

It has been often argued that the Doha Round, when completed, will have a positive impact on global food security by providing much-needed incentives to developing countries to increase their productive capacities. There is a hint of exaggeration in this claim. Present levels of support in major subsidising countries like the European Union, Japan and the US are not expected to be impacted as a result of the negotiations. However, the improvement of disciplines and the lowering of caps on support are expected to reduce distortions to an extent. Similarly, in market access, the bulk of the products of export interest to developing countries are expected to be designated as Sensitive Products in developed markets, with the main increase in market access being effected through higher Tariff Rate Quotas (TRQs). The major benefits of the higher TRQs will be garnered by the most competitive exporters, not the poorest countries that need the access the most. The Doha mandate has little to address the issue of food price volatility, except for the Special Safeguard Mechanism which remains deadlocked. The issue of export restrictions is not a part of the mandate.

Developing countries like India should not shy away from a discussion on export restrictions either. A positive feature of the agriculture negotiations under the Doha Round has been the agreement on the issue of public food procurement in developing countries, an issue actively pursued by India. Food procurement operations taken up with the objective of fighting hunger and poverty can now be accounted for in the Green Box, thus keeping them away from any challenge on the issue of subsidies. India can now consider widening the ambit of foodgrain reserves to the regional level on terms to be negotiated with our neighbours. Such an initiative would go a long way in ensuring regional food security.

In brief, the global food security issue has to be addressed in an integrated and pragmatic manner, discarding the shibboleths and ideological baggage of the past. The positive approach to regulation of agricultural derivatives trading in the US and the commitment of President Sarkozy to such an initiative together provide a favourable background for addressing the issue in the G20. However, it is important that India provides the development perspective to the debate, especially by highlighting the need to address the investment deficit in agriculture in poor countries. Though trade can at times mitigate food shortages, it is important to bear in mind that food security concerns cannot be outsourced to the global trading system. The major challenge for developing countries is to improve agricultural productivity through appropriate domestic policy interventions. For this, they require a positive international policy environment, which, hopefully, the G20 can provide.

The writer is India's former Ambassador to the WTO, Geneva (2004 to 2010)








Before the debate between economic growth and environmental protection becomes pure noise, we need to get our priorities clear. It makes little sense to say that India's growth will drop from 9% to 5% if coal mining projects are stalled by the green ministry. India's growth is not driven by coal, though a large amount of electricity is generated using that fuel. But India can generate much more power using other fuels as well. The UPA I's main achievement was the landmark nuclear deal with the US. As the rest of the world steps up to supply technology and fuels to India, nuclear power will become a viable, clean alternative. Options like hydro electricity and gas also exist. Gas has become attractive after natural gas prices collapsed following the discovery and growth of shale gas in many places, especially the US. India can benefit from that price collapse if it changes the way it calculates the price of gas. Today, gas prices are linked to the price of crude oil. Instead, India should link it to the price of gas that's traded overseas. Once that is done, it might make sense to build more gas import terminals along our coastline than dig up forests for coal.


But many projects will still require coal, and for that the environment ministry has to take a cool look at what's at stake. As much as 40% of the area now designated as forests is actually waste or scrubland and there should be no problem in conducting economic activity in those areas. If mining is allowed in marginally forested areas, the government should think of the rights of people who depend on these forests for their livelihood. Legislation to protect these rights is in place, but local governments and businesses flout these laws with impunity, leading to much bad blood and the growth of extremism in these areas. This has to change. A just policy of compensation and rehabilitation will mean fewer complaints and more sensible land use. Finally, projects that threaten dense forests or fragile species, which no amount of compensation can bring back, should obviously be blocked. Any sensible policy should strike a balance between growth and the risk to the richness and sustainability of human life in this country.






Former Kerala minister Balakrishna Pillai has begun a one-year jail term for having caused the state exchequer a loss of . 2 crore in the early 1980s. He will also have to pay a fine of . 10,000. In jail, Mr Pillai will have to be content with the company of only one of the two others who were awarded the same sentence in the same case: the other is too old and unwell to be sent to jail, with the judicial verdict coming, as it does, nearly three decades after the offence, and at the end of around 20 years of litigation. Such a judicial process just cannot deter corruption. It is not enough for the Supreme Court to wax eloquent against other organs of the state. When the conduct of the judicial system itself is viewed with dispassionate objectivity, it will have to be admitted that the system aids and abets scams and scamsters. The wages of sin are just too tiny and too long in the coming for them to have any deterrent power whatsoever. While the incarceration of a former minister for his corrupt conduct while in office is more than welcome, what Mr Pillai's case illustrates is the gross inadequacy of the present judicial set-up to check corruption.

Fast-track courts for those in public life would help. If you commit a crime and are in, or seek to enter, public life you would be denied the insulation from effective penalty ordinary criminals get by virtue of the sheer length of the prosecution process. However, such privileging of (or discrimination against) politicians would violate the fundamental right of all citizens to be treated as equals before the law. We need to beef up, manifold, the strength of the lower judiciary, and revamp court procedure to make sure that cases are tried and disposed of with dispatch. There should be no reason for any case to take more than 20 months from initial framing of charges to disposal of the final appeal. With total government spending at about . 20 lakh crore, it would be silly to cite paucity of resources as an excuse for not acting to achieve this goal. Political will is the key. The Centre and the states should end squabbling over an all-India judicial service and start ramping up the number of judges.







Mamata Banerjee's recent barb in Kolkata that "goodygoody politicians try to control government from the backside but they will not come to the front" was an innovatively phrased barb, but was it lobbed merely to gain debating points? Rearguard action has been a recurring political theme these days, even if not in the manner alluded to by Ms Banerjee. With explanatory press conferences and apologies for unsubstantiated allegations emerging from major players, backtracking has become a preoccupation with senior politicians. But why is there a brouhaha over such behind-the-scenes activities? The backroom business has been a lucrative avenue in the form of BPO operations. Nor can the extension of that genre to include more shadowy revenue streams be seen as a new phenomenon. Only the revelations are recent. Thus, protestations by the purportedly outed perpetrators of various kinds of 'backside' manipulations — currently doing the rounds of interrogation centres round the country — that it is more a question of perception than of reality has merit. After all, what is normal behaviour for some is often deemed deviant by others merely because they cannot bring themselves to do the same. Ms Banerjee is not known for pulling her punches or punctuation, or indeed submitting to the restraints of correctness of decorum or grammar, so her statement could be construed as a wide-angled salvo, aimed as much at her friends and foes as at unspecified invisible instigators. However, her use of the term goody-goody was probably more targetted. For, just two months ago Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmed had said, "The Congress is willing to be candid about its mistakes. History cannot be just goody-goody. We have to deal with facts squarely. "







Even as the economy has recovered remarkably well from the impact of the global financial crisis, new challenges to growth have emerged in the form of rising inflation and interest rates. This makes it likely that the monetary policy environment will remain tight and hence, we cannot take growth for granted. India's economy has doubled in size over the last five years despite temporary ups and downs.

It is critical that the Budget 2011 remains supportive of this growth process and aims to ensure that the long-term growth momentum is not impacted by temporary factors. Further, growth must be supported by domestic capacity creation across sectors. Else, we will be dependent on imports and rising imports cannot be sustainable, especially at a time when the global economic situation can at best support a modest rise in exports.
The Budget must create a positive environment for raising the investment momentum. Investment spending has a virtuous impact on the economy as every rupee spent on capacity creation leads to employment generation which, in turn, creates additional demand — the so-called multiplier effect. Recent data shows that the rate of investment has declined from a peak of 38.1% of GDP in 2007-08 to 36.5% in 2009-10. This means that the recent acceleration in GDP growth has been possible due to improvements in capital efficiency. However, efficiency gains cannot continue for long and there would be a setback for growth if investments do not pick up.
A strong focus is needed to encourage investments and capacity creation in three sectors: manufacturing, infrastructure and agriculture and fiscal instruments could be used for encouraging such investment. Some suggestions include increasing the deprecation rate on plant & machinery from 15% to 25% and extending R&D incentives available under section 35 (2AB) to all sectors. This section allows 150% weighted deduction on expenses incurred on in-house scientific research. The weighted deduction should also be provided for contributions made by large corporates to the R&D fund of SMEs to encourage R&D among small and medium enterprises.

To boost investments in infrastructure, it is important to do away with the levy of MAT on infrastructure companies as it has diluted the incentives provided under Section 80-IA to the sector. Another suggestion is to widen the definition of infrastructure under Section 80-IA to include rural-based initiatives such as water harvesting, IT products, solar panels, etc. Further, the tax holiday under Section 80IA (4) should be extended to third party developers of infrastructure projects. The reintroduction of Section 10 (23G) of the Income Tax Act, which provided tax exemption of interest and long-term capital gains in the hands of infrastructure capital companies, would help raise funds for infrastructure.

In agriculture, a paradigm shift is needed to encourage participation of the organised private sector and raising agricultural productivity through the use of technology. This can be made possible through various tax measures, including 150% tax exemption on expense incurred on new technology and inputs, best crop raising practices, mobile vans exclusively devoted for conducting awareness programmes, soil testing, residue analysis, diagnostics and so on.

Another area where fiscal incentives can play a key role is in fostering skill development. While India has a large workforce, most of the new entrants lack relevant skills that would make them employable. Companies are, therefore, making massive efforts to upgrade the skill level of these young people to improve the efficiency of workforce. This effort should be treated as investment and given some fiscal incentives.
    Some tax relief should also be given to individuals so that their savings and consumption pattern remains conducive to investment and growth objectives. Households have been through a difficult period with rising prices of essential commodities. They should be given some relief by raising the tax exemption limit and also the limits on savings. Another good suggestion is to restore Section 80L that exempted interest income up to a certain limit from taxation. This would restore the attractiveness of bank deposits as a savings instrument.
Of course, the Budget is a balancing act and the finance minister must ensure that the tax exemptions do not end up increasing the fiscal deficit. It is critical to maintain the path of fiscal consolidation.

Finally, the Budget should also focus on removing bottlenecks in our investment climate. Managing an economy as large as ours requires mammoth execution skills and the finance minister must pay some attention to these areas. These include issues such as reduction in transaction costs, ensuring quicker approvals, removing hurdles to acquisition of land for industry and infrastructure and having a uniform taxation system across the country. Implementation of a uniform GST across the country will have a tremendous impact on the efficiency of the economy and also boost revenue for central and state governments.

Similarly, greater clarity on the role of the state in acquiring land and developing a transparent mechanism for making it available for industrialisation would go a long way in encouraging investment.

This year's Union Budget will be presented at a critical time — while the growth numbers have so far been positive, rising interest rates and raw material costs have made the outlook for the economy a bit uncertain. A strong policy focus on encouraging investments will help us overcome these uncertainties.








Maruti Suzuki India, the subsidiary of Suzuki Motor Corporation of Japan, has managed to stay on top in the passenger car market since its inception in 1983. However, the company has been forced to embark on new strategies to fight global competition. S Nakanishi, managing director of Maruti Suzuki, also an old hand in the company, has the task of ensuring that Maruti does not lose its dominance in the compact car segment.
Maruti's marketshare in India has dropped below 50% this fiscal year and that's bad news for the company. It failed to anticipate a huge spurt in demand, even as its competitors ramped up sales in emerging markets like India. Car sales in the Indian market vroomed and grew by over 30% in the first 10 months of the current fiscal. "We were caught off-guard as we did not anticipate such a huge spurt in demand," says Nakanishi, whose association with the company dates back to the early 1980s when Maruti launched the first 'people's car' in India. The good news though is that Maruti is still a jewel in the crown of the Japanese parent Suzuki. Currently, it contributes to more than half of the total profits of the parent company and the share is expected to rise in the coming years due to all the global commitments. The Indian arm expects to shore up exports to meet the worldwide commitments of Suzuki Motor Corporation. "We now foresee India as the main hub for Suzuki's worldwide operations. We already have A-Star being made only in India, but sold globally under Suzuki badge. In times to come, Maruti would be instrumental in the global fortunes of Suzuki and could also possibly make cars for the Japanese market," says Nakanishi, a lawyer by profession, who started his career as a sales executive at Suzuki Motor Company in 1971.

With the demand for cars stagnating in Japan, Suzuki is leaning more towards its overseas subsidiaries to boost revenues and shore up profits. The company has subsidiaries in Pakistan, Hungary, Indonesia and Thailand, besides India. These subsidiaries contribute to over 70% of the parent company's overall revenues. Suzuki had reported a nearly three-fold jump in its consolidated net profit for nine months ended December 31, 2010, at yen 42.61 billion (over . 2,350 crore) on the back of robust sales in Asia, mainly in India and Indonesia.
The Indian subsidiary's contribution to the overall revenues is expected to surge when Maruti ramps up production to 2 million cars by 2015. Currently, the company makes over a million cars every year. However, with the rapid evolution of technology, Maruti also faces the challenge of technological obsolescence. This has forced the company to launch new cars at frequent intervals to beat competition from carmakers such as Volkswagen AG, Renault-Nissan, Toyota, Ford Motors and General Motors.
"We are planning a 2020 vision for the company where Maruti would grab a larger share of the pie in the Indian market and also meet Suzuki's global ambitions. Besides contributing to more than half the production, Maruti would be the largest export hub for Suzuki's worldwide distribution network," says Nakanishi.
The company has already earmarked investments aggregating to . 6,000 crore for its expansion plans. A new R&D centre in Rohtak (Haryana) to develop cars indigenously is also on the cards. Maruti is known for small cars and has dominated the hatchback segment with a dozen compact models.

However, the company is not closing its options to make bigger cars and sports utility vehicles. It has just launched Kizashi, the biggest sporty sedan, that made its debut in the US, but not in Europe. "Just as in Japan and Europe, Indian customers will switch to bigger cars as incomes rise with economic growth. So, we will enhance choices for customers and increase penetration in these segments," says Nakanishi.
The company plans to develop future global models such as the Swift, Ritz and Sx4 in India and shift the technology base from Japan. "In times to come, new cars would need to have a global appeal. We are already developing cars in Japan for global markets. Similarly, cars developed in India will be shipped to all parts of the world. We plan to work on global designs and technology to meet world standards of safety and environment," says Nakanishi, who also was nonexecutive chairman of Maruti from 2002 to 2007.

Maruti's next challenge would be to develop alternative auto technology solutions like hybrid and electric vehicles at affordable prices as competition intensifies in the Indian market. It is also looking at the sports utility vehicle space for the Indian market and the company's R3 Wagon, similar to Toyota's Innova, is expected to hit the market early next year.










Aweek from today, all eyes will be rivetted on Pranab Babu as he rises to present his third successive Budget. What he says, and, more importantly, what he does in the 12 months beginning April 2011 (typically about 50% of what he says!), will determine the fortunes of a billion-plus people over the coming months.
Let me correct that! The success or failure of his Budget will depend only partly on what the FM unveils in Parliament on February 28. A large part will be depend on the success or failure of another budget presented exactly a fortnight earlier by US President Barack Obama in Washington.
The FM is unlikely to acknowledge that. What, admit to the 'foreign hand'? But the fallout of the extraordinary 'conundrum' of global events, beginning with the 2008 crisis, and our much higher integration with the global economy is inescapable: The outcome of Budget 2010-11 will depend to a great extent on what happens in the US; hence, the relevance of Obama's budget proposals last Monday.
Here, the good news is that the US is punting on growth. Like India, the US is battling one of highest holes in its public finances (11% of GDP in 2011), a large current account deficit (3.5% of GDP in the third quarter of 2010) and a rising public debt (over 80%).
But there the similarity ends. While the Indian economy has recovered quite smartly from the global slowdown (advance estimates suggest GDP growth will be 8.6% this fiscal), the US is not yet out of the woods (though annualised GDP growth is little over 3%, unemployment is still high, and foreclosures continue). More significantly, unlike Pranabda whose Budget proposals will go through almost unchallenged and often without any debate, Obama's budget for the fiscal year beginning October 2011 is really a proposal to Congress. It merely sets the stage for months of wrangling with Republicans who now control the House of Representatives and are strongly against large government spending.


There is no guarantee he will succeed. His 2011 budget failed to gather enough support, forcing lawmakers to resort to a stop-gap legal measure to keep funding the government. Failure to agree now would, on paper, result in the government shutting down after March 4 when the present deal expires. It could lead to a replay of the 1995-96 faceoff between President Bill Clinton (a Democrat) and the Republican-led House of Representatives.
That ended happily for the President. The public sided with him (remember, his famous, 'It's the economy, stupid!') and he was re-elected. But there's no certainty the US elections in 2012 will see a repeat of that. US recovery is still weak and unlike our FM who has a comfortable cushion of another three years before the next elections, Obama faces election in less than two years when the economy is likely to be a key election issue. No wonder, the President (for all his talk of cutting the deficit) has opted to go slow. Even assuming his proposals go through unchallenged, the $3.729 trillion budget for fiscal 2012 shows only a modest fall in the US budget deficit to $1.101 trillion in fiscal 2012 (beginning October 2011) from the previous year's $1.645 trillion. It is only by 2015 that the deficit is expected to fall to 3.2%.

The roadmap set out meets a pledge made to the G20 to halve the deficit by 2013 compared to January, 2009. But the tough part has been left to the next President, earning him the wrath of people like Erskine Bowles, the Democrat co-chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, for whom 'the budget goes nowhere near where it will have to go to resolve the US' fiscal nightmare.'

There is a five-year freeze on discretionary spending outside defence, a two- year freeze on federal civilian salaries, but spending cuts are expected to yield only $33 billion while the President has gone soft on additional taxes. The message is clear: growth first, deficit reduction, second.

What this means for us is that we will get another window of opportunity to piggyback on the US fiscal stimulus. But this window of opportunity may not be open for long. International rating agency, Moody's, has already warned that it might need to downgrade the outlook on US government bonds to negative faster than anticipated if the US does not manage to rein in its deficit more effectively.

For now, Obama has a breather. But if his gamble on faster growth to get him the tax revenues needed to get the deficit under control fails and Nemesis, in the form of a rating downgrade, catches up with him, all hell will break loose. The world will face another crisis more serious than in 2008. To be sure, that seems a remote possibility at the moment; a black swan event, if you will. But so was the collapse of Lehman! So, mend your roof while the sun is shining, Pranab Babu. Use the good times, they may not last, and address the structural weakness in our public finances in your Budget.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



The meeting of G-20 finance ministers in Paris over the weekend had, amid the usual platitudes on "strong sustainability, balanced growth, systemic stability", three important takeaways — indicators that could measure and tackle the core of the global crisis: trade imbalances and exchange rates (which is at the core of all trade transactions), and finally, the need to control volatility in commodities markets. On exchange rates, while India too, like the West, has objected to China's tight controls over the yuan, this country is also a victim of potentially destabilising capital flows. Stock markets in emerging economies, particularly India, collapse when capital flows out on negative cues in troubled or uncertain times. The communiqué released at the end of the Paris meeting rightly stresses the need to contain such volatility as it poses a major threat to global food security. It noted the need for long-term investment in agriculture in developing countries, and suggested that containment of oil price volatility should be extended to gas and coal. The need for greater investment in agriculture was echoed even more stridently by World Bank president Robert Zoellick, who warned that the world was reaching a "danger point" and that soaring food prices posed the risk of "further political instability" across the world. Urging the G-20 ministers "to put food first in 2011", Mr Zoellick cautioned them that these soaring food prices could "lead to the fall of governments ... and societies could go
into turmoil". If we want an illustration of what he was talking about, just look at real-time developments in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and now Libya ... these events are playing out right before our eyes. The fact that these countries are all under one kind of dictatorship or another just made matters worse there. Democracy might provide some immunity or safety valve — so that a government is not overthrown — but it may not prevent political or social turmoil taking place. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation had also raised an alarm over the neglect of agriculture at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year. India is among the countries which has grossly neglected agriculture, and even the money that is spent by the government on this sector mostly benefits the richer farmers with irrigated land. The vast bulk of India's agriculturists with non-irrigated land, whose fate still depends largely on the rains, get very little.

It is estimated that neglect of agriculture costs India at least two per cent in GDP growth. The real test of whether finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has taken this warning seriously will be evident when he presents the 2011-12 Budget a week from now.






The Union Budget for 2011-12 — to be unveiled by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee a few days from now — is anxiously awaited by the Indian industry and trade as also by the public with a huge sense of anticipation.

The industry expects Mr Mukherjee to set in train measures to resuscitate the industrial economy, particularly the manufacturing sector. At the same time the aam aadmi, groaning as he is from the impact of food inflation, is in dire need for a modicum of relief.

Let's get to the basics. At a time when the global economy is still not out of the woods, it would be prudent for Mr Mukherjee not to tinker with the tax rates too much.

In fact, he should tailor the direct and indirect tax measures to beef up domestic demand and ensure that there is no rollback of stimulus measures that have stood the test of time.

It is my considered view that the North Block should seriously consider abolition of surcharge and education cess, moderation of the corporate tax rate, removal of the cascading impact of dividend distribution tax (DDT), rationalisation of minimum alternative tax (MAT) as a specified percentage, retention of the peak customs duty rate of 10 per cent, reduction in the Central sales tax (CST) rate from two per cent to one per cent with effect from April 1, 2011.

Also, the incentives for the private sector's contribution to agricultural growth, impetus to exports, information technology and the software sectors, and tax breaks for large-scale private investment in the social sector must be taken into account.

On direct taxation, Mr Mukherjee ought to do six things. These are:

·         Abolish surcharge and education cess. These have complicated India's tax structure. A good idea would be to consider allocating a part of direct taxes collection for educational projects in place of education cess.
* The need to reduce corporate tax rate to some extent: The global average corporate tax rate of 114 countries in 2010 is 24.99 per cent. While in India, corporate tax effective at 33 per cent, including surcharge and cess. This is imperative as in the competitive global environment, we must be in tune with others.
* Further, Mr Mukherjee should look at the removal of the cascading effect of DDT. DDT paid at the first level ought to be reduced in the hands of each subsequent level of holding subsidiary relationship, instead of restricting it only up to one level. Ideally, Section 80M, which we had till a few years ago, should be revived. Section 80M of I-T was scrapped in 2004. It allows a subsidiary company not to pay tax on dividend received from another subsidiary company.
* Budget 2011-12 also affords an opportunity to rationalise MAT as a specified percentage, say 50 per cent of basic corporate tax rate. Over the last four years, the rate has gone up from 10 per cent to 18 per cent, which has caused great anxiety.

* The industry would also like to see the North Block mandarins make the investment-linked incentive meaningful. This could be done by allowing the losses of specified business of the assessee to be set off or carry forward from his other profit-making businesses, instead of restricting it to only from his specified businesses.
* Finally, to reduce the cost of borrowing for industry, it should be possible to restore withholding tax exemption on interest payable on foreign commercial borrowings, as also the tax exemption of interest income of an infrastructure capital fund and an infrastructure capital company. I believe that the restoration of these exemptions will also help in raising long-term funds at competitive rates for the crucial infrastructure sectors.

As for indirect taxation, we in the industry would like to see retention of peak customs duty rate of 10 per cent for some more time.

Mr Mukherjee should also consider reduction of the CST rate from two per cent to one per cent with effect from April 1, 2011; evolve suitable mechanisms for speedy refunds of service tax, special additional duty (SAD) as also Cenvat (Central value-added tax) accumulations, which cannot be modvated and extension of the weighted deduction benefit on research and development (R&D) to the service sector.

Last, but not the least, there is a need to end the current impasse over the goods and services tax, which the industry is eagerly awaiting.

It is also imperative to grow agriculture at a fast clip. For this to happen, apart from the ongoing initiatives, there is a need to grant fiscal incentives by way of 100 per cent depreciation on all investments in physical assets, like infrastructure development in agriculture by the private sector and the entire agri-value chain and a tax holiday for 10 years. It would also be desirable to provide a weighted deduction of 200 per cent on any expenditure incurred on R&D in agriculture and provision of extension services in transferring the best agriculture practices for various crops.

Social sectors like healthcare and education also need a boost. For the healthcare sector, a tax holiday for five years in any of the 10 years of the inception of a project would be of great help.

In education, the government should formulate a national policy for public-private partnerships (PPP) initiatives in the higher education sector. Also, private sector should be encouraged to set up higher educational institutions as a Section 25 company.

* Rajan Bharti Mittal is the vice-chairman and managing director of Bharti Enterprises and president, Ficci






John Drew believes, quaintly, that we are our brother's keeper.

US President Barack Obama does not seem to believe this quite as strongly. And, of course, many of the Republicans in Congress do not believe it at all.

Mr Drew is the president of Boston's anti-poverty agency, called Action for Boston Community Development, which everyone calls ABCD. In today's environment, people who work with the poor can be forgiven if they feel like hunted criminals.

Government officials at all levels are homing in on them and disrupting their efforts, sometimes for legitimate budget reasons, sometimes not.

The results are often heartbreaking. Community action agencies like ABCD are not generally well known but they serve as a lifeline, all across the country, to poor individuals and families who desperately need the assistance provided by food pantries, homeless shelters, workers who visit the homebound elderly, and so forth.

They offer summer jobs for young people and try to ward off the eviction of the jobless and their dependents.

More than 20 million people receive some kind of assistance from community action agencies over the course of a year. This winter an elderly man in Boston was found during a routine visit to be suffering in his home from frostbite of the hands and feet. The visit most likely saved his life.

We should keep in mind the current extent of economic suffering in the US as we consider President Obama's misguided plan to impose a crippling 50 per cent reduction in the community service block grants that serve as the crucial foundation for community action agencies.

The cuts will undoubtedly doom many of the programmes. (The Republicans in the House would eliminate the block grants entirely.)

It's a measure of where we are as a country that this has not been a bigger news story.
"I've been like 40 years on the front lines here and never saw anything quite like what we're going through now", said Mr Drew. "I go back to when President Richard Nixon tried to put us out of business. Ronald Wilson Reagan tried to push us off the table. They didn't succeed.

Quite frankly, I didn't expect that at this stage of the game we'd be facing these kinds of cuts from President Obama. And the Republicans in the House — well, they're just nihilistic. I don't know where the moral centre of the universe is anymore."

Community action agencies were established decades ago to undergird the fight against poverty throughout the US, in big cities, small towns, rural areas — wherever there were people in trouble.

It's the only comprehensive anti-poverty effort in the country, and the need for them has only grown in the current long and terrible economic climate.

President Obama's proposal to cut the approximately $700 million grant by 50 per cent is an initiative with no upside. The $350 million reduction is meaningless in terms of the federal budget deficits, but it is enough to wreck many of these fine programmes and hurt an awful lot of people, including children and the elderly.

It seemed like just a moment ago that these programmes were held in high esteem by the President, a former community organiser himself. Community action agencies received $5 billion in stimulus funds to train people to weatherise homes. They ended up being ranked eighth out of 200 federal programmes that got stimulus money in terms of the number of jobs created.

Now, suddenly, these agencies are dispensable.

The block grant money from the federal government is highly leveraged. The agencies secure additional public and private funds that enable them to support a wide network of programmes that offer an astonishing array of important services.

These include Head Start, job training and child care programmes, legal services, affordable housing for the elderly, domestic violence intervention, and on and on.

When these kinds of programmes are zeroed out, the impact is profound. Jobs are eliminated and vital services are no longer available. Poverty and its associated costs to governments increase. In terms of budgets, it's the definition of being penny-wise and pound-foolish. ABCD, for example, has been very effective in preventing evictions, working diligently with landlords, tenants and others to keep individuals and families from becoming homeless.

When such efforts are successful, they not only keep individuals and families in their homes, they keep taxpayers from having to foot the very expensive bill of housing individuals and families in shelters.

President Obama may be trying to score a few political points by presenting himself as a budget cutter willing to attack programmes that he has said he favours. But the price of those points in potential human suffering is much too high.

The President's budget director, Jacob Lew, said in the New York Times: "The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations".

I couldn't agree more.







The rank of an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer of the Chhattisgarh cadre is known by the number of cellphones he or she carries and not the number of stars on the lapel. An additional director general (ADG) rank officer holds five mobile phones, an inspector general of police (IG) takes with him four cellphones, a DIG (deputy inspector general of police) possesses three mobile phones and an superintendent of police carries at least two such phones.

Compulsions, not any official order, force the cops to arm themselves with a number of mobile sets.

Sources said intense rivalry at top echelons of police establishment has given birth to factionalism and senior officers often tapped the phones of juniors to find out if they are loyal. So all officers carry a couple of mobile phones, one official and the others "private" so that they can talk to friends and family without fear of being overheard. It will be fun for amateur mathematicians to guess the rank of an officer using the number of cellphones he or she has.

Amar Singh's striptease

Former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh has always sought publicity. But this time he even surpassed himself.
Mr Singh was addressing a press conference in Kanpur when a scribe asked him about the allegation that he had conducted his "Purvanchal Padyatra" by travelling in a luxury car.
Mr Singh explained that since he was unwell, he did travel in his car for short spells but vouched that he walked most of the way.

Sensing that the scribes were not convinced with his explanation, Mr Singh got up, took off his pyjamas and undressed in full public view to show a festering wound on his thighs to the stunned journalists. Channels that were airing the press conference live immediately shifted focus to the leader's face while others simply went off the air. "At this rate, Mr Singh will need a censor certificate before he holds the next press conference — particularly if there are women journalists around", quipped a senior journalist.

Honesty gets its due

Honesty is rare commodity in politics, but Rajasthan's rural development minister Bharat Singh has been rated as honest even by civil rights activists who usually cross swords with the government. It happened when Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama visited the Social Work and Research Centre (SWRC) at Tilonia village under Ajmer district. Mr Singh was among the people who came to see the Dalai Lama. He also stood in queue along with ordinary people to see the spiritual leader.

Social worker Aruna Roy introduced Mr Singh as an honest minister while the Dalai Lama smiled and blessed the minister who has often been targeted by his own party MLAs for his uncompromising stance on certain issues. Other Congress ministers were not amused by all this. "Tagging one minister as honest causes a big embarrassment all others", quipped a party worker. "They would have been happy if all ministers had been termed corrupt."

Guiding a wayward body

The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) seems to lack direction and order. Without a head for nearly six months following the retirement of former chairman Mohammed Shafi Qureshi, the commission is now rather footloose.

Instead of concentrating on the larger issues concerning minority development, the commission is taking up cases that seem rather "petty" in police lingo. Take for instance the complaint of a former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) professor in which he has sought compensation for a theft that occurred in his house while he was out of town. It should be noted that even the JNU had not bothered to consider this claim.

Things are so wayward that even the information board in Lok Nayak Bhawan spells "settlement" with just one "t". It seems newly-appointed chairperson Wajahat Habibullah will have his hands full running the body.

PM channels his irritation

During the recent interaction that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had with the media, the editor-in-chief of an English news channel was so hyperactive and rude that he was gently chided by the media adviser to the Prime Minister, Harish Khare. But Dr Singh remained unruffled during the press meet despite the editor's repeated attempts to "interrogate" him.

Post briefing, Dr Singh reportedly told the gentleman that he too watches the channel and had a piece of advice to offer. "Please highlight the positive aspects of the government's initiatives and not just keep harping on the negative side alone", said the Prime Minister. The editor, slightly put off, retorted by saying that he always does it.







 "Pharisaic attitude" is a phrase that is used for describing the mindset of those who are self-righteous and consider themselves superior to others, especially when it comes to religious and moral practices. The phrase originated from the New Testament of the Bible where we find Pharisees constantly interacting with Jesus often only to point out how he and his disciples broke customs and rules that the Pharisees and other Jews of the time meticulously observed. One of the two meanings of Pharisee in the dictionary is, "a person who is very proud of the fact that he has high religious and moral standards but who does not care enough about other people".

Jesus, along with his disciples, was becoming quite popular among ordinary people. The Pharisees saw this as a huge obstacle in their way to glory and fame. Once, as the Gospel of Mark describes, "when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault because the Pharisees and all Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders.

The essence of Jesus' teaching was always to free people from such external rituals and help them discover God's love, so quoting to them from the Book of Isaiah, which they regularly read and were familiar with, he retorted saying, "This people honour Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men". Jesus then continued, "For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men — the washing of pitchers and cups and other such things you do".

One could easily find the resonance of Jesus' teachings in what Swami Dayanand Saraswati taught. He was against many of the external rituals of the Hindu religion and he asked people to give up those ritualistic practices and return to the purity of Vedas. My association with Swami Agnivesh, one of the close followers of Swami Dayanand Saraswati, has opened my eyes further to this truth. I see him often shunning the external rituals, which ordinary people often think is necessary for their spiritual life.

It is common for ordinary folks like us to frequently believe that we can please God and fulfil his commandments by performing some external practices. It would appear that the words Jesus quoted, "This people honours Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me", might well describe our actions.

To press his point further about the futility of external practices, which were not restricted only to spiritual matters, Jesus imparts another teaching to his disciples saying, "Are you also as lacking in understanding? Don't you realise that nothing going into a man from the outside can defile him? For it doesn't go into his heart but into the stomach and is eliminated". (Thus he declared all food as clean). Then He said, "What comes out of a person — that defiles him. For from within, out of people's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, lewdness, stinginess, blasphemy, pride and foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a person".

— Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church. He was awarded the National Communal Harmony Award 2008 by the Government of India. He can be contacted at [1]







KILLINGS, assaults, abductions and arrests. Such has been the high-handed and hardly civilised manner in which the Sri Lankan authorities, its Navy in particular, have been dealing with long-standing disputes over fishing rights that Tamil Nadu is approaching foment and even the insular Bharatiya Janata Party has spoken in condemnatory tones. Yet New Delhi appears unable to come up with a more credible response than statements and telephonic talks at the ministerial level ~ after a "failed" visit of the Foreign Secretary to Colombo ought to have indicated that words would not suffice to remedy the situation. The release of the 136 fishermen from Tamil Nadu who had been arrested  and taken to Jaffna ~ many said to have been surrounded by their Sri Lanka counterparts and transferred to their Navy that was conveniently standing-by ~ does not  close the chapter. The situation is much too serious for UPA-II to ignore: even if circumstances have forced it into fire-fighting on several fronts. Whether increased diplomatic pressure or threats of economic-related measures is the best route forward is for the government to decide. But act it must if the spilling of blood in the Palk Straits is to be averted ~ what is to prevent Tamil Nadu fishermen from sailing in strength to assert what they believe are their traditional rights?

Though Indian defence personnel generally steer clear of politically roiling waters, resentment is building up: did they train Sri Lankan naval personnel so that they used their muscle on Indian fishermen? There is a genuine threat to peace in the Straits, definitive action is needed. It is the absence of such action that has caused a sore to fester. Action was required on two fronts: determination, if not some sort of demarcation, of the "dividing line"; measures to avert Indian fishermen from straying across, perhaps fitting a few boats from each harbour with GPS devices or other hi-tech systems. But since the somewhat trigger-happy Sri Lankan navy has been active in those waters, there ought to be a strong Indian naval/coastguard presence too, if only to get a message across. That is an immediate requirement. In the longer term a joint Centre-State fisheries protection force could be raised. India must deem itself duty-bound to prevent its fishing communities from being bullied. Sri Lanka cannot be allowed to get away with such belligerence. This is no David-Goliath situation: just exploiting India's diffidence in dealing with a smaller neighbour that is asking to be put in its place.



THE cry for democracy is doubtless the common strand in the Arab world, but at week's end Bahrain appears to be a rather different kettle of fish. However brittle the stability of the monarchy, it has over time served the West's interests. Historically, the country has been a close ally of Britain and is today the base of the US Fifth Fleet. To that can be added its strategic importance of holding three-fifths of the world's oil reserves. Ironically enough, the raging movement for democracy has been a mite unnerving for the democratic West. Over time, monarchist Bahrain has been an ally of the West in the manner of dictatorial Libya. The chorus of democracy has now rocked the boat of what Britain and the USA have deemed as agreeable stability. The attack on sleeping demonstrators was an expression of royalty's severity. In a word, the West faces a dilemma. Considerably profound is the religious facet to the present movement, one that has a direct bearing on the democratic chant. At the core is the disconnect; the majority Shia population is under the rule of a Sunni minority, reminiscent of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. It isn't only the whiff of jasmine from Tunisia that has sparked the uprising in Bahrain. This week also marks the tenth anniversary of the Shia movement for democracy; the pitch has become still more resonant  in the aftermath of the developments in Egypt. The National Reform Council, set up in 2001, has a largely notional existence. A parliament does exist, but is so irrelevant as to be a shambolic facade for democracy. It is the king who is the monarch of all he surveys. With the Shias in the vanguard of the struggle for democracy, the religious divisions can only widen as the movement gains momentum each day. The demand for a properly elected parliament and the release of political prisoners are central to a genuine democracy.

Last Thursday's mobilisation of tanks in Manama's Pearl Square is standard tactic of any king-cum-dictator to hold on to his rusted throne. The crackdown ~ after a temporary lull ~ shan't be able to stifle the voice of sweeping changes in the smallest Arab nation, at another remove from Egypt, the largest. Hence the caution sounded by the UN Secretary-General, Ban ki-Moon, not to use force against the protestors... ranged as much against the dominant Sunnis as the monarchy. The demand for political reform and the religious discord have rendered Pearl Square no less explosive than Tahrir Square.



HEROIC tales often remain untold. For while the list of winners of gallantry awards are duly published, the action for which they were "won" seldom get publicised. Though 16 years have elapsed, they have taken none of the glitter off the little-known story of a young army officer, Capt. (now Lt Col) DPK Pillay. It still reads like a tale in which courage and tenderness rose to chivalrous heights. Insurgency was rife then, and there was an encounter near a village in Manipur. Pillay was injured, but since the spot was miles away from a road a helicopter was called in to evacuate him ~ he insisted that a young girl and her brother who had been injured in the crossfire be flown to hospital first, the chopper could make a second trip for him. A year later, a sensitive commanding officer initiated the process by which he was awarded a Shaurya Chakra. Last year Pillay returned to the village which had since come "overground", met the girl whose life he helped save, and "understanding" the conditions which caused frustrated youth to take to gun he committed himself to working for its welfare. It was in pursuit of that goal that he recently accompanied the village leader to a meeting with the home secretary to seek construction of a small road to link the village to the network ~ a helicopter lifeline is not always available. The officer's story thus emerged only as a "sidebar" he sought no personal kudos, development of the village was all that mattered.

The significance of that saga lies not in its having remained unsung for those long years but in its serving as a reminder of what true courage is all about. In the heat of battle many a brave act is performed, but the one under focus is gilded with a sense of honour that once marked the Indian army distinct. At a point in time when the image of the army is being battered by self-inflicted injuries, the unearthing of such "nuggets" reassures the people, serves as a "target" for young soldiers to attain. It is a tragic truth that only lip service is paid to military icons. Only a couple of days ago life ebbed away from the 95-year- old Col Man Bahadur Rai, till then the oldest surviving winner of the Ashoka Chakra who had won pre-Independence decorations too. There are no reports of anyone in South Block issuing even a condolence message.









"Look at that weed, Nurse Caisse. If people would use it, there would be little cancer in the world." The veteran doctor's aside halted Rene Caisse. Could this be that secret Red Indian medicine a breast cancer patient had told her about? Her own experiments with those weeds resulted in a brew that cured her mother and aunt, who were suffering from cancer. Despite stern dismissals by the Canadian authorities, cancer patients continued to try Essiac (anagram of Caisse) Tea for decades.

That paradigm of a find outside structured medical research, western or traditional, and public acceptance, if partial, is archetypal of most popular alternative therapies in cancer medicine. It is common in societies with ambivalent attitudes. The recent tendency to euphemistically group together all such therapies as "Complementary Alternative Medicine" or CAM, have necessitated a cautionary debate. And the tendency does not differentiate between magic and medicine and the campaign to integrate CAM in modern cancer treatment.
Apparently the most obvious reason, in a country like ours, would be poverty and inadequate infrastructure to deliver modern cancer treatment. But that is not all. Use of CAM is a universal phenomenon and is better understood with a global perspective. Even after discarding certain human propensities towards mysticism and power of black magic, there indeed are real circumstances that lead even resourceful patients to CAM ~ a realistic prognostication by the oncologist being the foremost. Unable to extract "guarantee" from one clinic, patients flock to others, to novelties or miracle therapies like Essiac Tea. It is an escape route from the hassles of a multi-layered treatment through modern medicine. In comparison, the CAM therapist offers an endearing one-to-one interaction and benevolent assurances. Sometimes a belief that the chosen alternative therapy is superior ~ one that goes beyond the mechanistic approach of knife and shots ~ is  compelling. Many users of CAM view it as a supplementary to the ongoing allopathic treatment and thereby make the case for integrative medicine.

A look into the record of alternative cancer therapies would reveal a wide array of disparate drugs and devices. They were packaged as guaranteed to cancer cure and received with considerable public enthusiasm. So intense was the ardour about one such drug "Laetrile", researched and developed by Dr Kerbs Jr, a failed medical student, that actor Steve McQueen trekked to Mexico in search of  an unknown dental clinic selling the drug. It was by then banned in the USA. Ironically McQueen's rapid deterioration dampened public enthusiasm about the drug. If Nurse Caisse and Dr Kerbs claimed true researchers' toil, Harry M Hoxey was simply bequeathed, passed on by his farmer grandfather. One of his horses was said to have been cured of cancer by eating certain plants. Hoxey clinics once became thriving sanatoriums treating cancer with equine spotted herbal drugs. Citations of such therapies were widely visible. Our own city has witnessed such claims, even alluring advertisements to claim our attention. While some of them  are expressions of eccentric minds treading unconventional pathways, others are fortuitous discoveries of lost prescriptions buried in traditional systems like Ayurveda or Unani or classified family heritage. The most exotic are the "inspired finds", gifts to chosen mystics. All of them nevertheless claim to cure and cure forever.

Some would argue that it is unscientific to rubbish all CAM therapies as sham and invalid. After all it is a drug or a molecule that cures and there is nothing wrong if dedicated and altruistic men are engaged in a side "establishment". Stanislaw Burzynski and Max Gerson, both trained physicians, had tried to develop alternative therapies for cancer through well-established clinics and protocols. FDA has conducted clinical trials with Burzynski's drug Antineoplastones (not to be confused with "anti-neoplastins", a later drug from Kolkata) while Prince Charles and some elite unviersities have approved Gerson diet. Doctors at MD Anderson Cancer Center are examining an Indian homoeopathic medicine that claims to cause regression of brain tumors. The concepts in some erstwhile CAM therapies are crude or rudimentary due to the lack of proper focus or absence of requisite technology. Some widely promoted pharmaceutical's "latests" are actually refinements of old molecules detected in herbs and weeds by scientists or had been traditionally known to be indigenous or folk medicine. For example, the anti-cancer property of sea squirt Ecteinascidia, was known for a long time but a clinically usable drug effective in advanced sarcoma has only been recently possible. The principles behind the use of immune boosting drugs like Mistletoe and the logic of using shark cartilage to reduce blood supply to growing tumors are used in modern-day adoptive immunotherapy and anti-vascular drugs. The recent experiments in tumor destruction by direct needle insertion attached with a radio frequency ablator (RFA) or focused ultrasound is not much removed from the past ideas of electrotherapy or magnetic resonance used by old CAM practitioners in Europe.

The scientific community has in fact looked into many such drugs. The craze about Laetrile, for instance, led to large clinical trials and finally a  senatorial investigation committee, headed by Senator E Kennedy, conducted the test. Laetrile failed all trials and investigations, but did creditably for its investors. Most conferences of medical experts now devote separate sessions to discuss such therapies and international institutes have set up additional departments. But efforts at sifting ash to unearth hidden touchstones have largely gone unrewarded. Barring a few, which had merited clinical trials, no CAM therapy, used as the sole anti-cancer therapy, has been found suitable for clinical use to date.

   What is more disquieting is that most of these therapies are offered from outside established traditional systems of alternative medicine and through publications not in indexed journals, but the lay media. The official bodies or international journals of neither the Arurvedic and Siddha systems nor the homoeopathic system make any claims to have found a radical cure for all types of cancer. But  individual claims abound, typically advertising stories of despondent cases abandoned by famous hospitals and then cured after many years, often decades. Now and then such claims crop up, activating the media and thrilling the populace. Since no laid down criteria distinguishes the charlatans from the true practitioners of traditional established systems or scientists, even quacks can now don a respectable garb with the label of CAM and come to the bourse to trade.
   Another legitimate concern is the quality of CAM drugs sold in markets. No law or mechanism is in place for such drugs to ensure the quality, proportions of ingredients, or genuineness of "what is in the bottle". The purported belief about their being harmless natural products and also less costly is equally hazardous. Their effects might be deleterious when used in conjunction with chemotherapy in weak conditions. The cost of wasted time and then carrying the burden of a maltreated disease, its incidental expenses, and loss of active life-days again offsets the seemingly low cost.

That standpoint somewhat changes if we look at the CAM therapies that depend on general health boosting practices, like yoga, mind-body control, psychotherapy and counseling, dietary regulations and supplementations, immune boosting and cleansing therapies, vitamins etc. Although trials conducted so far have failed to show any survival benefit amongst breast cancer and other patients, there is also no valid scientific argument against taking a holistic view and using these measures with an aim to improve the quality of life and make patients more compliant to the rigours of cancer treatment.

 Therefore, the premise for coming together of other medicines with mainstream medicine should be built with caution and guided by the canon of not putting exigency before science. It must  also educate the public that cancer is a heterogeneous group of disease in a heterogeneous group of people and any therapy that claims to cure all types and forever is likely to be more a sham than shamanic.

The writer, a consultant surgical oncologist, is currently honorary secretary, Indian Cancer Society






Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of West Bengal's neighbouring state, has often asked the Central government to give his government greater control over the money the Centre gives it under the so-called sponsored schemes. The argument against doing so is obvious: that the money comes out of the Centre's revenue or borrowings and that the Centre has a right to monitor how it is spent. Whether right or not, it is the Centre that is giving the money; it is unlikely to stop monitoring just because a chief minister asks it to. The point has doubtless been raised in many meetings of chief ministers with the prime minister and the finance minister, hitherto without success. But the point Mr Kumar has been making is somewhat different from the one he is seen to be making; if he changed the way he is asking, he may have a better chance.

His point is that the Centre gives money under one of more than a hundred "schemes". These schemes are conceived in the red sandstone palaces of Delhi on the basis of what the Central ministers think is good for the country. What is good for the country is not good for every nook and corner; if the government in a corner wants to use the money for something different from what the Central government thinks it should, there should surely be room for a rational discussion. When Mr Kumar says, for instance, that Rs 400 crore is too small an allocation for bringing about a green revolution in eastern India, he is surely not being unreasonable. He pointed out how little the capacity of the Food Corporation of India is in Bihar compared to Punjab; surely the incentive to produce more rice in Bihar depends on how prepared the FCI is to buy the surplus. It may sound incredible that the Central government's employment guarantee scheme has created labour shortages in Bihar; but this is the observation not only of the chief minister but also of many farmers.

He has been saying these things for quite some time; but they do not register with the Centre. And the reason is interesting. The money is given under more than a hundred "schemes", each of which is a fief of one of the Central ministries. If the labels were taken off the money, those ministries will have nothing to do. Mr Kumar may think that would be no tragedy. But idle bureaucrats can cause much mischief. The Centre employs some 35 lakh people. They have little real work to do, since the Centre has transferred most of the social expenditure to state governments. That is why monitoring is the only thing that will keep them occupied. That, however, is a poor reason for doing it. A better alternative would be to abolish most Central ministries and departments. This country can be run perfectly well by half a dozen ministries.







A fire or two causing serious damage to life and property is a monthly feature in Calcutta. So commonplace are such incidents that it is easy to discern a pattern in their unfolding. The firefighters — mostly middle-aged, unfit, and equipped with gadgets that belong to a museum — arrive on the scene usually after the damage is done. Shortly afterwards, dignitaries troop in to inspect the scale of devastation. After routine expressions of condolence, these public servants make a clean exit, hoping that collective amnesia will run its course. Finally, those who are affected by the fire return, or rather resign themselves, to a life of danger and dread. The fire that broke out in a high-rise on Central Avenue on Saturday is set to follow this hallowed pattern as well. The residents, shaken by fear, have voiced their fury at the callousness of the building's owner, who hoarded inflammable objects on the premises. But as with the Stephen Court incident last year, it is unlikely that their protector, the State, will do very much to make their lives more secure.

The people's helplessness in the face of such administrative indifference is ironic in West Bengal, which boasts of a fire minister. In the last few weeks alone, Calcutta has witnessed a number of fires that could have been quickly brought under control or avoided altogether had the fire department done some smart thinking. The blaze that engulfed a cold storage in Maniktala after an incident of ammonia gas leak was unwarranted. Officials should have anticipated the danger after the leak and sealed the area with greater agility. But armed with two gas masks and bulky fire engines that could not enter the narrow lanes, the men in uniform were more of a liability than of any real help. As debates over the issuing of fire licence for all businesses stretch on interminably, civil society has no reason to silently suffer. The latter must be more proactive about making residences secure by adopting basic fire-safety norms.








This government is rhetorically committed to inclusive growth. However, the statements of its top economic policymakers, including the prime minister, demonstrate otherwise. Their primary emphasis is on growth. Inclusiveness is not the first priority. Thus the prime minister has said that he is concerned that inflation will affect growth, not that inflation, particularly food inflation for almost two years, harms the poor. Inclusive growth requires efficient government expenditures on social programmes. Merely increasing budget provisions is not enough.


The coming budget must tackle three major challenges: the two-year-old food inflation (approaching 20 per cent) and the year-old non-food inflation, the high fiscal deficits of governments at the Centre and the states, and the continuing deficit on the current account in the balance of payments. Also, there is the dismal state of electricity distribution finances, oil company pricing, tax evasion and the thriving hawala market, the pending goods and services tax, the direct tax code, stressed state government revenues and the impending implementation of the international financial reporting standards, and the amended company law, among others.


Agricultural production must rise. It has been erratic for years; government investment has been weak in building capital assets and the productivity of most agricultural products is falling. Water management and pricing, particularly groundwater, credit, storage, marketing, and improving realization for the farmer as opposed to the middleman, the size of land holdings and so on are issues needing urgent action. All these are known, as are the solutions, but actions have been lacking.


To tackle food inflation the government needs to curb speculation, keep a lid on exports of shortage items, ensure that public distribution actually delivers to those it is meant for, reduce indirect taxes that add to their costs, persuade state governments to do so and not go public about intentions to enter international markets. Non-food product prices have risen because of global factors — primarily crude oil prices, and consequently those of coal and other fuels. The budget should change from ad valorem to a fixed tax on all fuels and persuade state governments to follow a less extortionate tax policy on them.


The Reserve Bank of India has tackled inflation through monetary policy, raising liquidity and cash ratios of banks and raising interest rates. But the RBI does not have exclusive control on money supply. It is also affected by the flow of volatile foreign funds on which there is no control. A Tobin tax that compels inflows to stay in India for at least a year is essential in the budget if money supplies are to be controlled. It will also add to revenues. The government is afraid that this might hurt inflows by portfolio investments, growth and its India story of over 8.5 per cent growth each year.


The recent announcement that the government is examining the loophole of the exemption from short-term capital gains tax on funds from Mauritius is welcome but should lead to action to curtail it. The government must discourage institutional portfolio investments and change policies so as to encourage direct investments. Stopping anonymous participatory notes, opening out areas like retail, insurance and so on to foreign investment, more policy consistency (than shown in the treatment of the Oil and Natural Gas Commission royalty payments for the Cairn exploration) can help reverse the present trend of volatile foreign fund inflows.


Inclusion requires well-planned social welfare programmes to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to build their capability to earn a good livelihood and provide adequate food, quality healthcare and education to their families. Government programmes are abundant, such as the national rural employment guarantee scheme, the right to education, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the national health missions (urban and rural), subsidized foodgrain, sugar, edible oil, fuels, electricity, and so on. But a good part of the funds are diverted or stolen and do not reach the poor.


Over the last two decades, poverty has declined, purchasing power among the poorest and most deprived has improved; they sometimes buy manufactured consumer durables and other products, their diets are undergoing change as they begin to consume vegetables, fruits, milk and eggs. Of course, there are many millions who continue to be deprived, live in ramshackle huts with little protection against the elements, no private toilets, no sanitation, poor access to safe drinking water, and no regular source of monthly income. All the social programmes to improve the lives of the underprivileged are poorly targeted, with benefits reaching only some intended beneficiaries, with government funds supposed to be spent on them being stolen.


More funds are not the only answer. It is their effective spending. The budget should designate responsibility

for proper spending and make individual officers accountable. Social audits by user communities will also improve effectiveness. Large vested interests are involved in such stealing and require better monitoring and accountability.


In 2010-11, the government fiscal deficit will fall because of the sale of the telecommunications spectrum and the disinvestment of public enterprises. No doubt, disinvestments will continue, but true deficit curtailment demands reductions in government expenditures, mainly on subsidies and defence expenditures. The former requires eliminating the wasteful physical distribution of goods and services to the poor and vulnerable (that is, farmers), and charging cost related prices for all government-owned goods and services. Support to them must be made by direct cash transfers. Once again a government committee is examining this but the government must be able to brush aside thieving vested interests.


We have no civilian oversight, except by a non-expert bureaucracy, over defence expenditures. There are no non-government defence analysts who evaluate the value of any expenditure and look at defence expenditures on all services and on security in an integrated fashion. Considerable savings might be possible while adding to the efficiency of procurement if this were done. The budget could make a start in this direction by setting up civil oversight committees of economists, accountants and retired defence strategists for constant monitoring of defence expenditure and plans.


A budget should not merely enunciate government policy and its implementation through expenditures and through raising revenues, but must also show how the funds will be spent so that they achieve the outcomes they are meant for. We need Indian budgets to test out policies on a small scale so that all the pitfalls can be learnt and corrective measures incorporated in the budget to overcome them on a larger scale.


We need a major effort to stimulate exports and foreign direct investment, while encouraging local manufacture of imported items. We must stimulate production and purchase of locally produced heavy machinery — power plants, railway equipment and carriages, cement plants, mining equipment, large foundries, and so on. Increasingly, our imports are of such products, from China, Germany, the United States of America, Japan, and others. The budget must give special stimulus to investment in heavy plants and machinery on a large scale, with the most up-to-date technologies, collaborations, and with budgetary support through tax breaks and even subsidies as hidden as they are in China.


The budget must give stimulus to small-scale and cottage industries by enabling them to access credit easily, and encourage cooperative bodies and marketing channels. Tax and other benefits must be available to large organized marketing agencies that procure and export these goods.


The 2011 budget should not be a pedestrian budget but must chart out a bold new path forward to make India a major exporter of engineering and other goods and services, with a vibrant agriculture, with large-scale marketing of small-scale production, more foreign direct and less portfolio investment, a stable rupee, and stable prices.


The author is former director general, National Council for Applied Economic Research



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




The crisis over the arrest of 136 Indian fishermen by Sri Lanka has been defused for now with Sri Lanka releasing them. The fishermen were taken into custody last week when they entered Sri Lankan waters. A little over a month ago, two Tamil Nadu fishermen were brutally killed allegedly by the Sri Lankan Navy.

These incidents have ruffled India's feathers. While Sri Lanka is well within its rights as a sovereign nation to safeguard its territorial waters, arresting and killing straying fishermen was hardly the way to deal with the matter. After all, the two countries enjoy good relations. There are mechanisms to deal with tricky bilateral issues.

Besides, Colombo and Delhi have used dialogue to resolve contentious matters, even extending concessions to each other to improve ties. India, for instance, gave up its territorial claims over the Kachchativu Island in the 1970s in order to accommodate the demands of its smaller neighbour. A joint working group was recently set up to address the problems of fishermen. The arrest of the errant fishermen was seen therefore as a needless upping of the ante by Colombo.

While the release of the fishermen has eased tensions for now, Delhi must address the underlying conflict to avoid similar spats henceforth. Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen have been upset with the intrusion of Indian trawlers into their waters. This culminated in the seizure of 18 trawlers along with the 136 men on them.

This is basically a conflict between traditional fishermen and trawlers. It has been given a Sri Lanka versus India angle. Traditional fishermen from India and Sri Lanka have had problems with trawlers operating in the waters, whether Indian or Sri Lankan. A ban on trawlers has been suggested often by fishermen and environmentalists but governments have been reluctant to take on the powerful trawler lobby.

Politicians on both sides of the Palk Straits are seeking to draw mileage from the issue. Assembly elections are around the corner and political parties in Tamil Nadu are using the fishermen issue to score points. Across the straits, in Jaffna, Tamil politicians are seeking to revive their careers by pushing the fishermen to adopt confrontationist positions. Delhi and Colombo will have to step forward to calm the waters. Looking at the conflict through the lens of India-Sri Lanka relations alone will get us nowhere. Environment and livelihood concerns underlie the conflict and these must be addressed to calm tempers.







A spat between Pakistan and the US over the arrest of an American citizen in Lahore threatens to roil bilateral relations. Raymond Davis, an employee in the US consulate, has been in police custody since late January for shooting dead two Pakistanis.

He has admitted to the shootings but claims he did so in self-defence. To make matters worse, a US consulate vehicle that came to rescue Davis ran over a third person. The driver, also a consulate employee, is in custody too. The US is calling for Davis' release, claiming he is a diplomat with immunity from prosecution. Pakistanis don't agree.

Few believe Davis is a diplomat and want him to be tried in Pakistan.  Public indignation has been mounting over the US' trampling on Pakistani sovereignty, especially in the context of the escalating strikes by unmanned American drones in the country's northwest. And now the Americans are demanding that Davis be handed over to them when he faces murder charges in Pakistan.


On the face of it, the US enjoys enormous leverage in the ongoing tussle; it could shut off the aid tap if Pakistan does not concede its demands. However, cutting aid will only make the Pakistan government an even more recalcitrant ally in the 'war on terrorism'. It is more likely that the Americans will do another deal with the Pakistani establishment to get it to hand over Davis.

American officials will be tempted to spirit away Davis to the US, the way they enabled Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson to escape from India after the Bhopal gas leak. They must bear in mind that any such move will have serious consequences. It will only reaffirm American highhandedness in the minds of Pakistanis. Anti-American sentiment and public anger with American double standards is already high in Pakistan. This will mount if the US resorts to underhand means, backroom deals or bullying to get Davis out.

The Pakistan government is under tremendous domestic pressure to put Davis on trial. He faces two charges — murder and possession of illegal weapons. If he is to be tried in Pakistan, Islamabad must ensure that the trial is fair. Pakistani public anger with the US is understandable but this cannot be allowed to affect the delivery of justice. The Davis saga has the potential to derail US-Pakistan relations, destabilise the Pakistan government and undermine regional security.







No man, it is well known, is a hero to his valet. Nor is he much good before his dentist. You become vulnerable, in other words, when you either reveal too much or too little. The valet sees you waddle and slop out the bath, bellowing for attention; and it doesn't matter if you plug on a cigar, step into office and turn into a Winston Churchill.

The dentist sees only one dimension, the wince and aborted shriek at the plunge of pain. A dentophobic patient could well become a battlefield hero when a higher calling makes pain irrelevant.

A press conference can become, at its worst, a root canal drilling by a posse. Most press conferences emerge out of compulsion, not desire. The big question has to be answered, however, by the patient rather than a dentist: what do you do about the decayed tooth? The easy answer is to dull the pain with palliatives and carry on.

Manmohan Singh is no longer a prime minister led by his party. The switch came in his first term, when he forced his hesitant party to follow him on the Indo-US nuclear deal. He was ahead of the Congress even on Pakistan policy. This was confirmed in the general election when he got equal space on the hoardings. Obviously he consults his party president Sonia Gandhi on crucial issues, but their relationship is far more equal than it was when she named him the surprise prime minister of the decade.

But there is one political arena in which he has to bow before the party's decisions: survival of his government. It is the party which decides how far to strain the nerves that hold a disparate coalition together. The slightest disarray would unravel the government.

The party cannot afford a midterm general election just in order to preserve Singh's image of financial integrity. Singh understands politics, but cannot get himself to indulge in the political language needed to roll around a crisis caused by blatant and possibly unprecedented levels of corruption.

His nature drags him perilously close to the epicentre, and facts can be injurious to the health of a prime minister since he has, of course, been forced to compromise. He used the term 'coalition compulsions' but those compulsions are not about the individual who has been thrown into jail because of the telecom scandal, A Raja.

The fall guy

Raja is the front office boy; the problem is the DMK. The DMK made telecom its private property long before Raja became cabinet minister with the help of corporate honchos awaiting extraordinary pay-offs for their deals with him. The DMK has milked telecom with a consistency that must generate tears of envy from middlemen. Raja, at best, kept a percentage of the loot; most of the money was taken by the party and members of the Karunanidhi family.

Raja is the sacrifice thrown by the patriarch to the mob. His allotted destiny is the be the fall guy and keep his mouth shut, mafia-style, or there will be consequences. The problem is not Raja the individual, but DMK the institution. That is the tension that will test Manmohan Singh. Karunanidhi is being economical with the truth when he claims that he cannot remember receiving a handwritten letter from Ratan Tata praising Raja as the finest thing to happen to telecom since Alexandar Graham Bell. Nor are any disbursements made to the extended family without his permission.

The Congress has sent Raja to prison, ordered a CBI raid on Kalaignar TV (owned by the Karunanidhi clan) and hinted that Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi could be summoned for interrogation. It has also announced that it will ally with the DMK in the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections. That does not seem like a powerful denunciation of corruption. But it is explicable in terms of political survival. If the Congress fought the elections alone it would end up in desolate territory akin to its Bihar results.

The trade-off is flexibility in the campaign against corruption, but the prime minister used his press conference to suggest that he would be as hard as the law permitted. The CBI moved at his direction.


Key questions: how far can the CBI rush around without toppling the applecart? Those apples are high value. The CBI will hear names from those it is interrogating. It will act against the private sector with much display, but what about the politicians who live too close to the bone?

Is the answer to this paradox another paradox? The Congress would obviously like to repeat its alliance victory in Tamil Nadu, but could the way out lie in defeat? A re-elected DMK would blackmail the coalition at the Centre; a defeated DMK would be more compliant in Chennai and more obedient in Delhi. Being a hero is not easy, particularly when your valet is on the take.








Within a few weeks my father was well and strong enough to go home.

My father's heart attack was serious enough for him to be hospitalised. But when it was known he was in the hospital, many relatives and friends started to come to his room. He enjoyed the visits and spoke to all the visitors, but later in the evening he started having chest pain. His doctor was alarmed and put up a 'no visitors allowed' board outside the door. The next day his condition deteriorated and the doctor was very concerned when the tips of his fingers turned blue indicating poor blood circulation. That night was tense.

Towards mid-night, through sheer exhaustion my mother drifted off into an uneasy sleep. I was sitting nearby. He called me and he smiled and patted the bed and asked me to sit near him. I did that and then he said something which surprised me. He asked me to repeat two words 'élan vital'. Philosophy was his passion, and Henri Bergson was his favourite philosopher. There was always a book of Bergson's on his reading table
Henri Bergson (1859-1941) was a famous French philosopher whose concept of elan vital, living energy and life force which permeate the whole world  was dear to my father.

He had often talked of this concept to us and so those two words were familiar to us. On that day instead of the conventional Hindu divine names he wanted these two words to be repeated. I held his hand and repeated those two names, I do not know how long I sat there repeating 'élan vital' till he fell into a deep sleep. It was a beautiful experience.

The quietness of the night and the soft repetition of those two words, again and again. The next morning he woke up refreshed and the blue tinge on the tips of the fingers had gone. The doctor was also pleasantly surprised and took advantage of the situation to put him into a sedated state for the next week with nasal feeding. This gave him complete rest.

A few days later the doctor started reducing the sedation till one day my father opened his eyes and noticing the nasal tube he pulled it out. After that there was no looking back. His progress was steady and satisfying. Within a few weeks he was well and strong enough to go home. We had several more happy years with him.

Besides that strange and beautiful experience I learnt a valuable lesson from that episode. It was that it is not the words we say as prayers that are important, but the fervour and faith we feel when we say them. That is what makes them powerful. Now, remembering my father, I often say those words with faith and love and great gratitude to Bergson who conceptualised them.






Blackwater plays a major role in Pakistani fears, no matter how it endeavours to change its name.

There were lots of things to be afraid of in Baghdad in the bad old days — kidnapping, beheading, truck bombs — but nothing scared me more than trigger-happy Americans who careened out of the Green Zone, ready to shoot anybody and anything they saw as a real or imagined threat. Many were not soldiers, but private security guards under government contract who could, and did, kill with impunity.

On a recent visit to Pakistan, I found a country rife with conspiracy theories in which Americans are most often the villains. Blackwater plays a major role in Pakistani fears, no matter how it endeavours to change its name.

Some of these conspiracy theories are fantasies, but in the curious case of Raymond Davis, all of Pakistan's nightmares about Americans have coalesced. And this flame is fanned by the American refusals to reveal what Davis was supposed to be doing.

The facts are few and mysterious. Davis, 36, an employee at the American consulate in Lahore, was driving through town with a fully loaded Glock automatic pistol. Two men approached his car on a motor bike, Davis says, with intent to rob him. They were found later to have stolen cellphones.


Davis opened up on them with his Glock through the windshield and killed them both. Then he apparently stepped out of his car and photographed their dead bodies before he sped away. He was later arrested.

The case was further complicated when another car sped out of the consulate, apparently coming to Davis' rescue, killed a Pakistani on a bicycle and sped back to the consulate. Neither the car nor the driver have been produced for the Pakistani authorities to question or inspect.

Americans claim diplomatic immunity for Davis under Geneva Convention rules. But Pakistani law says Pakistan has a say in who has diplomatic immunity and who does not, and Pakistan deserves a full explanation.

There the matter stands, with the Pakistani courts threatening to try Davis for murder. The prosecution is saying that the shootings were not in self-defence. The Americans are hinting darkly that Pakistan will suffer dire consequences, cancelled visits to Washington and a cut in financial aid.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is in a spasm of anti-American fury. The question of what an American 'diplomat' was doing with a loaded gun, ready to use it, in the streets of a Pakistani city needs a lot more daylight than the Americans are providing. And, yes, it turns out that Davis was not a member of the US Foreign Service, but a gun-for-hire private operative attached to the 'technical and administrative' staff of the consulate, according to the US Embassy.

The business of private security has ballooned in recent years under very lucrative government contracts. The employees are often Americans, Britons and South Africans with military experience who can put their training to work for a great deal more money than usually awaits them in a fully civilian job. We also know that with US forces stretched to the breaking point, these mercenaries, unhappily, play a major role in guarding American installations and embassies abroad that were once guarded only by US Marines.

But in case after case, these private operatives have used lethal force, and it is not clear whose laws they are under. Hamid Karzai tried to have them all fired from Afghanistan, but couldn't do it, so important were these private guns to the American war effort.

The case of Raymond Davis plunged into even deeper mystery when the Pakistanis say they found maps on him of high security installations. The Pakistanis are suggesting he may have known the men whom he killed. The Americans, in the meantime, refuse any further explanation of his activities. The Lahore high court won't let the Pakistani government turn him over to the US Embassy until they have ruled on his diplomatic status.

The Davis killings have resonance with a population already infuriated by the frequent drone attacks that often kill as many bystanders as militants. What is 'collateral damage' to Americans is extra-judicial murder to many Pakistanis. The image of the careless American gunslinger is ingrained around the world through our greatest cultural export, the movies.

The best outcome would be for the Pakistanis to hand Davis over to the Americans under the terms of the Geneva Conventions, with the Americans giving a full explanation of what Davis was doing, and a worldwide crackdown on these private operatives who kill again and again with impunity or immunity.

And America should stop threatening Pakistan with loss of aid. The aid serves US interests, not just Pakistan's.








To people who grew up in the Soviet Union and the safe, predictable and drab environment of the 1970s and '80s, the Russia that emerged when communism collapsed was a complete surprise. Oligarchs, gangsters and separatists from the North Caucasus seemed to have appeared from nowhere, and over the past 20 years they have dominated the country.

What is remarkable, however, is that the three most popular Soviet films of the late 1960s and the early '70s — comedies made during the Golden Age of the Soviet Union — dealt with those three issues. All three were viewed by millions and are still shown regularly on television. Several generations grew up repeating catchphrases from those films, even though few even realize where they came from.  

"Kavkazskaya Plennitsa" ("Prisoner of the Caucasus") is set in a North Caucasus republic — Dagestan or even Chechnya. The action hinges on a local official staging a kidnapping of a young woman. It is all fun and games, and the film gets much comic mileage out of the locals' accents and quaint customs. But you get an eerie feeling watching this film after two decades of bloodletting in the region and devastating terrorism in European Russia.

Then there was "Brilliantovaya Ruka" ("The Diamond Arm"), another extremely popular comedy. Its ostensible subject is jewelry smuggling, and it has the look and feel of an Italian or French comedy from the same era. But it also features an underground millionaire who, not surprisingly, runs the local mafia.

Finally, the most prescient film of the bunch was "Dzhentlmeny Udachi" ("Gentlemen of Fortune"). It starred brilliant actor Yevgeny Leonov in a double role as a sweet, innocent preschool teacher who turns out to be a dead ringer for a nasty career criminal. To help them find a stolen object, the police ask the teacher to impersonate the criminal.

The thugs in the comedy are not especially scary, prisons are full of comical misfits, and thieves are unhappy marginalized men, yearning secretly to return to normal life. But there are some poignant moments as well. For example, one of the criminals, it turns out, grew up in an orphanage. In 1971, when the film was made, the social crisis in the Soviet Union was only just beginning. Over the next two decades, orphanages around the country would be filled with unwanted children, as well as kids taken from broken families and abusive parents. It is a situation that persists to this day, and often, graduates of those orphanages go on to homelessness, unemployment and eventually prison.

It is highly unlikely that the authors of those three classics identified the dangerous fault lines in Soviet society and showed them in the guise of innocuous lighthearted comedies. It was a more complex, even subconscious creative process. When we fear something, we often try to turn the scary into a joke. Remarkably, in one of the early scenes in "Gentlemen of Fortune," the nice teacher rehearses with the kids the Russian version of "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf."

Actually, the whole premise of the film is telling. An ordinary nerd-next-door Soviet citizen not only looks just like a career criminal, but the two are interchangeable. Or at least the preschool teacher can believably transform himself into a crime boss.

In all three films, the bad guys are eventually caught and removed from the scene by honest, highly competent policemen. With such police, society has nothing to fear. That, of course, was the greatest delusion of all.








Sozar Subari used to come across as a passionate, consistent and zealous defender of human rights when he was Georgia's ombudsman, but as soon as he crossed the line into politics he began to unravel.

On Feb. 15, Subari told a crowd at the opening of his newly created Georgian Party in Kutaisi that we can expect to see a repeat of Egypt events in Georgia, but not until the spring.

"The first events occurred in Egypt and Tunisia in the winter, and they will repeat themselves in Georgia in the spring," Subari said. "The public should unite to put an end to the authoritarian regime in Georgia as soon as possible."

Guys like Subari forget that the reason President Mikheil Saakashvili's National movement has consolidated power is because they let him — by pursuing a course of screaming "Down with the king!" instead of actually addressing the needs of their constituents.

When Levan Gachechiladze ran against Saakashvili in 2008, his platform was "Vote for me, and I promise not to be your president!" which was a clear demonstration of how Georgians understand the concept of democracy.

The rag-tag coalition of opposition leaders failed to bring down the regime with their two-bit replicate Rose Revolution in 2009 because all they could offer was vile slogans. Former Speaker of the parliament Nino Burjanadze showed people how democratic she was by shouting "No dialogue!" This was the same Burjanadze who backed Saakashvili's decision to send the cops in to beat those same people in 2007.

The difference between what is happening across the Middle East and what will not happen in Georgia again is that Georgia has not only been there, but it has proved these things can work. Despite what you think of Saakashvili, you can't deny that his government has turned the country from a failed state to a functioning nation with a clear vision for the future.

Saakashvili will finish his term, like it or not, and if the opposition doesn't want him to occupy the post of prime minister, then they are going to have to offer people something more than Egyptian-inspired protests






There is something perplexing in Russian legal history. We can almost never say with confidence whether the law stands up for what is right or whether it is just a sword in the hands of the powerful. To Vladimir Lenin, a feckless lawyer who founded the Soviet state, the law, stripped of moral grounding, was an instrument of control to be used by the ruling class. To Russian tsars, the system of selective prosecution was a means to punish those who fell out of favor and to clear the way for new favorites.

Yelena Baturina, the richest woman in Russia and wife of former Mayor Yury Luzhkov, is now under investigation and is likely to face criminal charges in the very near future. On Thursday, police with automatic guns raided her company, one of the country's largest construction companies. Later that day, the press service of the Interior Ministry's Investigative Committee said an investigation was opened in a $440 million embezzlement case involving unidentified individuals in which the funds ended up in Baturina's account.

In summer 2009, a company controlled by Baturina sold 58 hectares of land in the southwest of Moscow to Premier Estate, a company set up just three months before the deal. Premier Estate was then acquired by a British private equity group.

According to investigators, "some unidentified officers of Bank of Moscow" had fraudulently granted to Premier Estate, a company with charter capital of only $300, a loan of $440 million that subsequently appeared on Baturina's personal account. Prosecutors claim that the value of the land was overstated and that the company never intended to repay the loan.

The barrage of news stories and comments that few people really understand create a widespread sense that the richest woman in Russia has been caught red-handed and will, at last, be held accountable. The facts, however, suggest a more complicated picture.

The land was initially owned by Baturina, and there is nothing wrong in that the money ended up in her account. She sold the land, got the money and paid taxes. This transaction was carried out openly and was widely publicized in the media.

Premier Estate is not a small, fly-by-night company but a special purpose vehicle, or SPV, which is often created for development projects to separate the project's assets from those of its originators. The charter capital of an SPV is irrelevant. It could be $1 million, $100 or even $1. Focusing on the low sum of an SPV's charter capital as evidence of suspicious business activity is disingenuous.

According to reputable appraisals, the land is worth $560 million, a sufficient security for the loan of $440 million. Yet the price of land is of secondary importance. In project financing, the loan is paid from cash flow generated upon project completion rather than from its assets, whose value is usually insufficient. If criminal investigations were initiated against project finance companies where assets were deemed "inadequate," it would be impossible to develop any construction projects.

So far, it seems that the investigators do not have a case.

What we have had in effect is a taxpayer-subsidized construction industry. Privileged companies take the fruits, do not invest their own money and shift the risks onto the public. This is the real scandal. Neither Baturina's company nor the bank nor the equity fund has made any substantial contributions into the project. If the project fails, none of them would have serious losses. If it succeeds, they would make away with generous profits.

Prosecutors' implication that Baturina has orchestrated the swindle is an oversimplification and probably wrong. The infusion of public money into Bank of Moscow was approved by the Moscow government and the City Duma. Too many people were involved to believe that there was just one person behind the scenes.

The truth that nobody wants to face is that the country's development business may work just like that. Though there are those who certainly benefit most, the problem is not in a certain person but in the system.

Against this backdrop, it is hardly possible to distinguish between a genuine desire to bring order and fairness into this real estate market and an attack on those who fell out of favor, the goal of which is to take control of their assets on the cheap.





The Luke Harding drama turned out to be largely much ado about nothing. He returned to Moscow on Feb. 13, a week after his visa was summarily annulled at Domodedovo Airport, and he was put on the next flight back to London. Nonetheless, the incident tells us a lot about the Soviet mentality and incompetence of the Federal Security Service, which was ostensibly responsible for putting Harding on their "black list" and giving the orders to deport him because of his critical articles about Russia.

The agency's siege mentality has changed little since the Soviet times when any criticism by foreign journalists of the Soviet system was, by definition, "libel."

The whole episode resembled a Gogol comedy. FSB agents played the role of bumbling bureaucrats who clearly barked up the wrong tree. At least when they deported Natalya Morar, the investigative journalist for New Times who uncovered new facts about the Kremlin's slush fund for political parties, there was some logic, albeit from a KGB perspective. But Harding's deportation left everyone scratching their heads since his articles were not any more critical than what most other Russia-based foreign journalists have been writing about for the past decade.

The other Gogolian moment is that they picked the worst possible moment to annul his visa — a week before Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's meeting with British Foreign Minister William Hague. The Foreign Ministry was given the responsibility to manage the crisis and limit the damage caused by the FSB's major flub, and it deserves kudos for doing it quickly and effectively.

What can explain the FSB's zealousness in this case? There is a rich tradition in Russian bureaucracy called ugadat-ugodit — trying to please your boss by guessing what he wants. We saw it in the fall when overly eager bureaucrats started bulldozing kiosks in Moscow hoping that it would please the just-appointed mayor, Sergei Sobyanin. (It didn't.)

One of the most famous cases in Russian history of this phenomenon was when bureaucrats wanted to show Nikita Khrushchev how eager they were to fulfill his order to grow corn "everywhere" that they even tried to do it in the country's polar regions.

Likewise, perhaps "Operation Harding" was an attempt by overzealous FSB agents who wanted to prove to their bosses how vigilant they were in defending the motherland against "saboteurs and libelers."

It may also have been an FSB attempt to deflect attention away from the agency's numerous failures in preventing terrorist attacks, including the Jan. 24 attack at Domodedovo Airport. If the FSB can't catch Doku Umarov, the reputed leader of the radical Islamist movement who has claimed responsibility for many terrorist attacks, at least they can go after a prim, Oxford-educated British journalist — a fierce, barbaric enemy of the Russian people if there ever was one.

Perhaps the most ludicrous aspect of the whole affair was when Kremlin-friendly commentators floated the idea that Harding may have been a spy, a throwback to the spy mania of the Soviet period when all foreign journalists were suspected of being likely covers for CIA operatives. But what country allows a spy to come back a week after he has been kicked out?

In the end, the Harding Affair had little to do with Harding — they could have easily targeted any other foreign journalist who wrote critically of Russia — and everything to do with the primitive, Cold War-era mentality of the FSB. It is highly disturbing that, 20 years after the Soviet collapse, when the FSB doesn't like what a foreign journalist writes about Russia — and can't refute it in any way — the agency's only response is a patently Stalinist one: No person, no problem.








After hesitating until the very last moment, U.S. President Barack Obama decided to have his envoy veto the UN Security Council resolution condemning the settlements. The Palestinian-initiated proposal would have declared the Israeli settlement enterprise in the territories illegal. Fourteen members of the Security Council voted in favor of the resolution, and only the U.S. veto kept it from being passed.

The Palestinians lost the vote, but achieved their goal: They exposed for all to see the international isolation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's administration and embarrassed the U.S. administration by revealing it as two-faced.

In explaining the veto decision, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, denounced the "illegitimacy" of the settlements and stressed that Obama agreed with the resolution's sponsors but had to oppose it for political reasons.

Once again, the American superpower appeared to lose some of its prestige and international standing in order to defend the Israeli settlement enterprise, which enjoys the support of powerful patrons in Congress.

Netanyahu celebrated his victory over Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but he should view the U.S. veto as a warning. The world's patience over continuing construction in the settlements is wearing thin. The Palestinians are making suspension of building a prerequisite for negotiations, a position which has international support. Netanyahu's efforts to blame Abbas for the absence of peace talks is received with skepticism in light of the settlement building.

Netanyahu is now calling for a new arms race in response to the revolution in Egypt. ("The defense budget will grow," as he told the cabinet yesterday. )

Instead of fanning the flames in the region and further heightening Israel's isolation he should work to defuse tension, to listen to the international community and to present a practical program for ending the occupation and the conflict.

Instead of acceding to the demands of right-wing cabinet members and approving major building plans in the West Bank, he should recognize the diplomatic damage that the settlements cause Israel, and renew the construction moratorium.

That would be Israel's contribution to shaping the new reality in the region and preserving the status of the United States, which was injured by Friday's veto in the Security Council.








CAIRO - During the revolution, hundreds of people passed through an apartment in one of the tall buildings on Tahrir Square. One friend would bring another and they would go up to enjoy a high vantage point, use the bathroom, catch a fighter's 40 winks on whatever vacant bit of floor remained, escape the bullies down below and somehow remain in the area.

Presumably there were other apartments in the area like this one, but the owner of this particular unit - a man in his 40s - was known for his cynicism. This was manifested in his total lack of trust in the possibility that anything would change, doubts about the intentions of the people around him and impatience toward his friends. But all of a sudden, as the square filled with more demonstrators, and as the days of the revolution multiplied, he began to shed his layers of cynicism.

There is no doubt: Egypt has a lot of potential disappointment in store. The public that was united behind the slogan "The people want the fall of the regime" is now revealing its ideological and personal differences. It is easier today for the members of the upper-middle class who joined the rebellion to support the army's demand that the strikes stop, and to regard the striking workers - their fellow demonstrators - as now jeopardizing the national economy.

The talk of eliminating corruption might actually be covering up an intention to evade a fundamental change in distributing the national income. The fear that the army will steal the revolution will not be lifted for quite some time - certainly not before general elections are held.

Still, no disappointment will eradicate the Egyptian people's tremendous achievement. In Tahrir Square, cynicism was defeated. These are the masses who revealed that the regime was like a jelly cake, as one local journalist defined it: "Large in volume, but wobbly." The victory demonstration this past Friday explicitly told the army: "The people want a civil, not a military, regime."

This is not a one-time event that will fade away - a possibility raised on these pages by Aluf Benn ("Why was Israel clueless about Cairo?" February 18 ). Benn asks why the government, the intelligence community and academic experts predicted the continuation of "stability" in Egypt as opposed, for example, to an "extreme" leftist like Assaf Adiv, who last May predicted that "Egypt was on the threshold of a grassroots social revolution." The explanation is quite simple.

In the jargon of "leftists," the concept of "regime stability" - especially in reference to oppressive regimes - does not exist. This is a concept immersed in cynicism. It assumes that injustice, wrongdoing and hypocrisy can continue to prevail undisturbed, by means of buying people off, trickery and the cruelty of the security agencies. Naturally, believers in stability seek their information from the ruler and his cronies.

For leftists, "the masses" are always a collective with many faces, voices and thoughts - and can act as an agent of change. Therefore, for the left, they serve as the basic and main source of information. "Injustices" are not marginal stories posted on social networks (weird in the eyes of the respectable media ). "Injustices" for the "leftist" are not the story of a poor Egyptian (or a miserable Palestinian ), but rather of an illegitimate regime - whether created via military coups or born during a war 44 years ago - and of an occupation supported by an American veto.

The information about the waves of strikes in Egypt - from which Adiv concluded that the regime was not stable - was not underground. Nor does one need vast historical knowledge to understand that incredibly wide gaps between classes, as in Egypt, and the lies that the regime tells are merely ticking bombs.

It is the structural lack of interest in "the masses" that creates blind spots. When the consumers of information in the centers of power don't take an interest in the subject, but only in "how it will affect" them, and when injustice is seen as an annoying concept for them - the pages they read will be full of blacked-out lines.








The tremors in this region pose a threat, among other things, to a years-long effort to obscure the connection between the exposed and secret identities of Israel's community of Middle Eastern experts.

Take, for example, what happened late last week to Prof. Eyal Zisser, Tel Aviv University's incoming dean of humanities. Five years ago, he became a professor, a rank that affords a nice raise and international travel benefits. Where was the celebration held to mark this promotion? At his workplace: a secret enclave where the 8200 Military Intelligence unit was rejoicing: The citizen/officer, with a lieutenant colonel's salary, received a higher rank and wage, in the light of day, at a university just a few minutes' drive away. Except now the new humanities dean was being dragged to a television station to prophesy as an intelligence expert: After quoting Nasrallah, he mumbled something about how the Americans ruled affairs in our region, then lost control, came back and lost control again, but will come back. Ecclesiastes.

Hence our fears: In their academic roles, our Middle East experts know how to quote, and as army intelligence officers they know how to eavesdrop, but they don't eavesdrop on the right people. Like everyone else, they only grasped the essence of the Egyptian revolution after the fact.

While the Libyans bury hundreds of casualties, our media are mobilizing to save the dignity of the Middle East, lest it degenerate to a point where events will have to be interpreted as if this were Sri Lanka or Malaysia, each country separately, without the help of intelligence experts. Perhaps the day will come when we will even need to understand events in Iran with the help of sociologists, not via the commentary of our media experts who are listening to broadcasts in Arabic.

In the meantime, someone needs to explain to our people what the future holds, given that the region can no longer be envisioned as a monolithic whole. How will we grope around blindly and detect the elephant, and be sure that it is the target and we are the tank?

We longed for Hosni Mubarak's well-being, hoping that everything would go away, as if in a dream. Then, when his rule fractured irreparably, we made haste to blame Al Jazeera, which (we were told ) supports Islamicists. This explanation won a certain measure of popularity; nonetheless, we were gripped by fear: If Washington can dump Mubarak this way in his old age, we fretted, what will happen to us?

Nonetheless, seeking to belong to the family of democratic peoples, we joined in the celebration - beyond the separation fence, of course. And we found consolation when reminded of our friend, the righteous gentile, Bush, Jr., who brought ruin on a genocidal scale to the Iraqi people. We gave him credit for bringing democracy to the Middle East; we didn't consider for a second whether the atrocities in Iraq played a role in America's dwindling influence in the region. The righteousness of our ways is our holy bedrock.

Therefore when the confusion thickened, we went back to the beginning and regretted the historic injustice. Why was it that Mubarak, the peace lover, the money lover, who refrained from suppressing the demonstrations when they erupted (with only 300 fatalities ) - of all people, why was he the leader who fell from power, whereas Iran's Ahmadinejad remains?

So we went back to our Middle East experts, who taught us the mantra: Mubarak fell from power because he did not govern as a "Middle Eastern" ruler should govern.

That restored our self-confidence: There is a Middle East! It's of little consequence that we are talking about a fiefdom like Bahrain, or of an oppressive, religious, multi-ethnic dictatorship like Iran, which currently is buoyed by support which is stronger than that of the opposition. Nor does it matter that we are talking about a rich tribal state like Libya. Also we will ignore the general strike of Egyptian laborers that finally tipped the balance and toppled Mubarak in the last few days.

The important thing is that we have one Middle East, and we have an "intelligence" analysis to prove the point: that since Lord Kitchener conquered Sudan, and up until Operation Cast Lead, and in the squares of Benghazi and Tehran - order prevails with the help of live ammunition.




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



With the Middle East roiling, the alarming news about Pakistan's nuclear weapons buildup has gotten far too little attention. The Times recently reported that American intelligence agencies believe Pakistan has between 95 and more than 110 deployed nuclear weapons, up from the mid-to-high 70s just two years ago.

Pakistan can't feed its people, educate its children, or defeat insurgents without billions of dollars in foreign aid. Yet, with China's help, it is now building a fourth nuclear reactor to produce more weapons fuel.

Even without that reactor, experts say, it has already manufactured enough fuel for 40 to 100 additional weapons. That means Pakistan — which claims to want a minimal credible deterrent — could soon possess the world's fifth-largest arsenal, behind the United States, Russia, France and China but ahead of Britain and India. Washington and Moscow, with thousands of nuclear weapons each, still have the most weapons by far, but at least they are making serious reductions.

Washington could threaten to suspend billions of dollars of American aid if Islamabad does not restrain its nuclear appetites. But that would hugely complicate efforts in Afghanistan and could destabilize Pakistan.

The truth is there is no easy way to stop the buildup, or that of India and China. Slowing and reversing that arms race is essential for regional and global security. Washington must look for points of leverage and make this one of its strategic priorities.

The ultimate nightmare, of course, is that the extremists will topple Pakistan's government and get their hands on the nuclear weapons. We also don't rest easy contemplating the weakness of Pakistan's civilian leadership, the power of its army and the bitterness of the country's rivalry with nuclear-armed India.

The army claims to need more nuclear weapons to deter India's superior conventional arsenal. It seems incapable of understanding that the real threat comes from the Taliban and other extremists.

The biggest game-changer would be for Pakistan and India to normalize diplomatic and economic relations. The two sides recently agreed to resume bilateral talks suspended after the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. There is a long way to go.

India insists that it won't accept an outside broker. There is a lot the Obama administration can do quietly to press the countries to work to settle differences over Afghanistan and the disputed region of Kashmir. Pakistan must do a lot more to stop insurgents who target India.

Washington also needs to urge the two militaries to start talking, and urge the two governments to begin exploring ways to lessen the danger of an accidental nuclear war — with more effective hotlines and data exchanges — with a long-term goal of arms-control negotiations.

Washington and its allies must also continue to look for ways to get Pakistan to stop blocking negotiations on a global ban on fissile material production.

The world, especially this part of the world, is a dangerous enough place these days. It certainly doesn't need any more nuclear weapons.






There is no sound economic justification for the decision by Gov. Rick Scott of Florida to reject $2.4 billion in federal financing for the vital Tampa-to-Orlando high-speed rail project. Political pandering to his Tea Party supporters is the only explanation we can come up with.

Over a decade in the planning, the 84-mile corridor was on the verge of construction, with guarantees from private entrepreneurs that they would absorb any cost overruns and operating deficits for the state. They anticipated 24,000 new jobs and a cornucopia of business growth for recession-mired Florida.

High-speed trains are booming as basic necessities for the nation's global competitors in Europe and China.

The 90 percent federal share was nevertheless rejected by Mr. Scott, whose deliberations included a 30-minute meeting with Tea Party opponents of the project. Instead of waiting for a state study, as he had promised, Mr. Scott offered his own pound-foolish bromides, as he insisted that Florida would not chip in $280 million.

He contended that state taxpayers could ultimately be on the hook for the whole project — but had no evidence to support that claim. "I don't see any way anyone is going to get a return," he insisted, ignoring the fact that sponsors included eight business consortiums from 11 countries. They saw opportunities rolling from the Orlando airport to downtown Tampa, Orange County, Walt Disney World and Lakeland.

Mr. Scott isn't the only Republican governor who has decided to play politics with his state's economic future. New Jersey's Chris Christie killed off a much-needed mass-transit tunnel under the Hudson River, and lost $3 billion in pledged federal funds. Wisconsin's Scott Walker and Ohio's John Kasich made a show of rebuffing a total of $1.2 billion in federal high-speed rail help.

The Obama administration laced its disappointment with notice that Florida's financing — and economic benefits — will be shifted to other states where the demand is high. California and New York are lining up.

Meanwhile, Mr. Scott's fellow Florida Republican, John Mica, chairman of the House transportation committee and a prime supporter of high-speed rail, called the governor's decision "a huge setback." Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, aptly summarized the governor's fiasco: "This is eating our seed corn."






About 2.5 million residents of New York State, trapped at the margins of the economy, lack the basic skills that come with a high school education. To help these people — and strengthen the economy — the state must work with the cities to expand access to the relatively inexpensive programs that prepare people for the General Educational Development Test, which provides the equivalent of a high school diploma and gives low-skilled workers a leg up in the job market.

The City Council recently undertook a broad set of initiatives aimed at getting as many nongraduates as possible into preparation and testing programs. Earlier this month, for example, it began a $1.25 million pilot program aimed at the thousands of job seekers who will turn up at city-run employment centers this year without high school diplomas. Under the new program, those people will be introduced to the G.E.D. and given an official practice test.

Those who pass the practice test will get the next available seat in the G.E.D. exam, bypassing what is often a lengthy waiting list. Those who need more preparation will be referred to free prep classes. The Council's new program deserves to be expanded, but for that to happen, the state must do its part.

Last year, the state brought G.E.D. testing nearly to a halt by withholding $1.1 million intended to reimburse the not-for-profit groups that administer the tests. The reimbursement was catastrophically low to start: a mere $20 for each test taker, which can be as little as a fifth of the provider's costs, depending on the services.

The state money was partially restored after community groups pushed back, but the disruption, which went on for several months, is still being felt in the testing network, where seats are more difficult to find than usual. Even in tough fiscal times like these, the Legislature must be able to find a few million dollars in the $96 billion operating budget for struggling adult learners. It's a minuscule price to pay for helping vulnerable New Yorkers find a way into the economic mainstream.

The Legislature should proceed carefully on two new provisions recommended by the State Board of Regents. It is a good idea to require G.E.D. candidates to take the official practice test before taking the full seven-hour exam, but only if the state subsidizes the costs so that the tests are widely available. The provision that would require test takers to pay a fee must include a waiver for the poorest of the poor.

The last thing the state should want is for people who are qualified for the test to be barred by an inability to pay.







The administration last week released a sweeping report recommending many useful steps for conserving, even expanding, America's open spaces and making them more accessible to the American people. It is the sort of document destined to gather dust on bureaucratic shelves unless someone pays attention and follows up.

Congressional Republicans are making it impossible not to pay attention. Their budget resolution and the destructive amendments attached to it not only challenged the very premise of the report — that protecting wild lands from commercial development is essential to a nation's physical and emotional health — but also some of the important weapons that make that possible.

The report takes its findings from more than 50 public sessions across the country organized by senior officials like Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary. It says that increasing development threatens open spaces and wildlife habitat everywhere, and draws special attention to the need to protect places near big cities, like the Hudson River Valley, as well as dwindling farmland almost everywhere.

These and other recommendations will require greater collaboration between government agencies and private landowners (70 percent of the land in the lower 48 states is in private ownership) — and, in less budget-constrained times, the expansion of existing conservation programs, particularly those for farmers.

The greater priority now is to save those and other programs from the Republican assault. President Obama's budget for next year rightly asks for full financing of the $900 million Land and Water Conservation Fund, the government's main instrument for buying threatened open space. Last week, House Republicans reduced financing for this year to less than one-third that amount, leaving the Senate to salvage the rest.

There was other damage the Senate must repair. One amendment would prevent the Bureau of Land Management from recommending permanent wilderness protections for public land. The president's authority to designate new national monuments under the Antiquities Act survived by a slim margin, but some Republicans vowed to challenge that authority later this year.

In a perfect world this report would be required reading among House Republicans. Sadly, their headlong dash to weaken the nation's environmental protections would appear to leave them little time for it.






Manama, Bahrain

As democracy protests spread across the Middle East, we as journalists struggle to convey the sights and sounds, the religion and politics. But there's one central element that we can't even begin to capture: the raw courage of men and women — some of them just teenagers — who risk torture, beatings and even death because they want freedoms that we take for granted.

Here in Bahrain on Saturday, I felt almost physically ill as I watched a column of pro-democracy marchers approach the Pearl Roundabout, the spiritual center of their movement. One day earlier, troops had opened fire on marchers there, with live ammunition and without any warning. So I flinched and braced myself to watch them die.

Yet, astonishingly, they didn't. The royal family called off the use of lethal force, perhaps because of American pressure. The police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, but the protesters marched on anyway, and the police fled.

The protesters fell on the ground of the roundabout and kissed the soil. They embraced each other. They screamed. They danced. Some wept.

"We are calling it 'Martyrs' Roundabout' now," Layla, a 19-year-old university student, told me in that moment of stunned excitement. "One way or another, freedom has to come," she said. "It's not something given by anybody. It's a right of the people."

Zaki, a computer expert, added: "If Egypt can do it, then we can do it even better."

(I'm withholding family names. Many people were willing for their full names to be published, but at a hospital I was shaken after I interviewed one young man who had spoken publicly about seeing the police kill protesters — and then, he said, the police kidnapped him off the street and beat him badly.)

To me, this feels like the Arab version of 1776. And don't buy into the pernicious whisper campaign from dictators that a more democratic Middle East will be fundamentalist, anti-American or anti-women. For starters, there have been plenty of women on the streets demanding change (incredibly strong women, too!).

For decades, the United States embraced corrupt and repressive autocracies across the Middle East, turning a blind eye to torture and repression in part because of fear that the "democratic rabble" might be hostile to us. Far too often, we were both myopic and just plain on the wrong side.

Here in Bahrain, we have been in bed with a minority Sunni elite that has presided over a tolerant, open and economically dynamic country — but it's an elite that is also steeped in corruption, repression and profound discrimination toward the Shia population. If you parachute into a neighborhood in Bahrain, you can tell at once whether it is Sunni or Shia: if it has good roads and sewers and is well maintained, it is Sunni; otherwise, it is Shia.

A 20-year-old medical student, Ghadeer, told me that her Sunni classmates all get government scholarships and public-sector jobs; the Shiites pay their own way and can't find work in the public sector. Likewise, Shiites are overwhelmingly excluded from the police and armed forces, which instead rely on mercenaries from Sunni countries. We give aid to these oligarchs to outfit their police forces to keep the Shiites down; we should follow Britain's example and immediately suspend such transfers until it is clear that the government will not again attack peaceful, unarmed protesters.

We were late to side with "people power" in Tunisia and Egypt, but Bahrainis are thrilled that President Obama called the king after he began shooting his people — and they note that the shooting subsequently stopped (at least for now). The upshot is real gratitude toward the United States.

The determination of protesters — in Bahrain, in Iran, in Libya, in Yemen — is such that change is a certainty. At one hospital, I met a paraplegic who is confined to a wheelchair. He had been hit by two rubber bullets and was planning to return to the democracy protests for more.

And on the roundabout on Sunday, I met Ali, a 24-year-old on crutches, his legs swathed in bandages, limping painfully along. A policeman had fired on him from 15 feet away, he said, and he was still carrying 30 shotgun pellets that would eventually be removed when surgeons weren't so busy with other injuries. Ali flinched each time he moved — but he said he would camp at the roundabout until democracy arrived, or die trying.

In the 1700s, a similar kind of grit won independence for the United States from Britain. A democratic Arab world will be a flawed and messy place, just as a democratic America has been — but it's still time to align ourselves with the democrats of the Arab world and not the George III's.






Last week, in the face of protest demonstrations against Wisconsin's new union-busting governor, Scott Walker — demonstrations that continued through the weekend, with huge crowds on Saturday — Representative Paul Ryan made an unintentionally apt comparison: "It's like Cairo has moved to Madison."

It wasn't the smartest thing for Mr. Ryan to say, since he probably didn't mean to compare Mr. Walker, a fellow Republican, to Hosni Mubarak. Or maybe he did — after all, quite a few prominent conservatives, including Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum, denounced the uprising in Egypt and insist that President Obama should have helped the Mubarak regime suppress it.

In any case, however, Mr. Ryan was more right than he knew. For what's happening in Wisconsin isn't about the state budget, despite Mr. Walker's pretense that he's just trying to be fiscally responsible. It is, instead, about power. What Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to do is to make Wisconsin — and eventually, America — less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. And that's why anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators' side.

Some background: Wisconsin is indeed facing a budget crunch, although its difficulties are less severe than those facing many other states. Revenue has fallen in the face of a weak economy, while stimulus funds, which helped close the gap in 2009 and 2010, have faded away.

In this situation, it makes sense to call for shared sacrifice, including monetary concessions from state workers. And union leaders have signaled that they are, in fact, willing to make such concessions.

But Mr. Walker isn't interested in making a deal. Partly that's because he doesn't want to share the sacrifice: even as he proclaims that Wisconsin faces a terrible fiscal crisis, he has been pushing through tax cuts that make the deficit worse. Mainly, however, he has made it clear that rather than bargaining with workers, he wants to end workers' ability to bargain.

The bill that has inspired the demonstrations would strip away collective bargaining rights for many of the state's workers, in effect busting public-employee unions. Tellingly, some workers — namely, those who tend to be Republican-leaning — are exempted from the ban; it's as if Mr. Walker were flaunting the political nature of his actions.

Why bust the unions? As I said, it has nothing to do with helping Wisconsin deal with its current fiscal crisis. Nor is it likely to help the state's budget prospects even in the long run: contrary to what you may have heard, public-sector workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere are paid somewhat less than private-sector workers with comparable qualifications, so there's not much room for further pay squeezes.

So it's not about the budget; it's about the power.

In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we're a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we're more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.

Given this reality, it's important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.

You don't have to love unions, you don't have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they're among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years — which it has — that's to an important extent due to the decline of private-sector unions.

And now Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to get rid of public-sector unions, too.

There's a bitter irony here. The fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America's oligarchy. After all, it was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch. And now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis, using it to remove one of the few remaining checks on oligarchic influence.

So will the attack on unions succeed? I don't know. But anyone who cares about retaining government of the people by the people should hope that it doesn't.






MOUNT VERNON, George Washington's bucolic estate in Northern Virginia, has been an American shrine since his death in 1799. But after the Civil War, when its historic restoration began, the image of the first president began to be outshone by that of the 16th, Abraham Lincoln.

True, Washington's portrait still adorned classrooms from Maine to Mississippi, and his birthday remained an unofficial national holiday. But Washington seemed "formal, statue-like, a figure for exhibition," wrote Representative Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio, the future president, who visited Mount Vernon in 1866.

Lincoln, on the other hand, appeared more human, a man who had paid with his life to reunify the country and free millions of slaves. "Lincoln is overshadowing Washington," Hayes declared.

Today, of course, Washington is again at the center of the presidential pantheon. For that he can thank an unlikely group of allies: former slaves who worked at Mount Vernon in the late 19th century and who helped shape our modern beliefs about him — but only by hiding his complicated views on slavery behind the illusion of an Old South plantation.

Everything about the restored Mount Vernon was designed to render Washington a noble but approachable figure. Visitors could wander through his dining room and peer into the second-story bedchamber where he died. Another floor up, they saw the room where Martha Washington supposedly spent the rest of her life after his death, gazing out the window at her beloved husband's gravesite.

The estate was governed by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, but much of the daily work was performed by African-Americans who had been owned by Washington's descendants. They guarded the premises, sold souvenirs and refreshments and spoke with visitors about bygone days.

Gray-haired Edmund Parker, who had been brought to Mount Vernon as a teenage slave in 1841, stood at the tomb, recounting Washington's last days and the history of his final resting place. At the old kitchen, Parker's niece Sarah Johnson sold glasses of milk.

Parker, Johnson and others fostered an image of Mount Vernon as an antebellum Eden, complete with happy, welcoming slaves, an impression that sat well with post-Reconstruction America, where civil rights had taken a back seat to sectional reconciliation.

Living links to the past, they held forth with visitors on a range of subjects — but not the painful realities of slavery. Parker never mentioned the grueling field labor he had once performed, or that he had run away to Union lines during the Civil War. Sarah Johnson didn't explain that Washington's heirs had sold her and her 6-month-old child in the first year of the war.

And they did not disclose that their ancestors had not belonged to Washington at all; rather, they had come to Mount Vernon after the president died, brought by Washington's nephew and great-nephews, who had inherited the place. When asked about their origins, the former slaves would simply reply, "Belonged to the family."

These and other omissions helped paper over Washington's views on slavery, including his hope that the institution would one day disappear. Black employees sold copies of his last will and testament, but they never mentioned that Washington had used that will to free his own slaves.

However, if Parker and Johnson played down Washington's anti-slavery legacy for white visitors, they honored it privately by building new, financially secure lives for themselves. When Hayes returned as president for an overnight stay in 1878, Johnson served him a simple meal in Washington's small dining room. Earlier that day, she and her husband had managed the estate's crowded lunchroom, coordinating a team of waiters and collecting money.

A few miles off the historic grounds, the black employees of Mount Vernon sent their children to public school, attended a new church and shopped for staples in town. And they saved their earnings to purchase land of their own: when Johnson left Mount Vernon in 1892, she owned four acres just up the road.

Washington probably would have appreciated the sight of freed slaves pursuing their own goals on his estate. As an innovative farmer and astute observer of human nature, he had no wish to make Mount Vernon a shrine to a bygone past. He might instead have challenged white tourists to question why, in an era of supposed racial equality, its black employees felt the need to mask their life stories and aspirations behind a veil of old-style servitude.

The new Mount Vernon humanized Washington, but only by eclipsing the true meaning of him and his home for a changing nation: not a refuge from modernity but an incubator of it.

Scott Casper, a professor of history at the University of Nevada, Reno, is the author of "Sarah Johnson's Mount Vernon: The Forgotten History of an American Shrine."








IT is hard to tell when momentum shifts in a counterinsurgency campaign, but there is increasing evidence that Afghanistan is moving in a more positive direction than many analysts think. It now seems more likely than not that the country can achieve the modest level of stability and self-reliance necessary to allow the United States to responsibly draw down its forces from 100,000 to 25,000 troops over the next four years.

The shift is most obvious on the ground. The additional 30,000 troops promised by President Obama in his speech at West Point 14 months ago are finally in place and changing the trajectory of the fight.

One of us, Nathaniel, recently flew into Camp Leatherneck in a C-130 transport plane, which had to steer clear of fighter bombers stacked for tens of thousands of feet above the Sangin District of Helmand Province, in southwestern Afghanistan. Singly and in pairs, the jets swooped low to drop their bombs in support of Marine units advancing north through the Helmand River Valley.

Half of the violence in Afghanistan takes place in only 9 of its nearly 400 districts, with Sangin ranking among the very worst. Slowly but surely, even in Sangin, the Taliban are being driven from their sanctuaries as the coalition focuses on protecting the Afghan people in key population centers and hubs of economic activity, and along the roads that connect them. Once these areas are cleared, it will be possible to hold them with Afghan troops and a few American advisers — allowing the United States to thin its deployments over time.

A significant shift of high-tech intelligence resources from Iraq to Afghanistan, initiated by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former top commander, is also having benefits. The coalition led by the United States and NATO has been able to capture or kill far more Taliban leaders in nighttime raids than was possible in the past.

The United States certainly can't kill its way to victory, as it learned in Vietnam and Iraq, but it can put enough pressure on many Taliban fighters to encourage them to switch their allegiance, depriving the enemy of support and giving the coalition more sources of useful intelligence.

Afghan Army troop strength has increased remarkably. The sheer scale of the effort at the Kabul Military Training Center has to be seen to be appreciated. Rows of new barracks surround a blue-domed mosque, and live-fire training ranges stretched to the mountains on the horizon.

It was a revelation to watch an Afghan squad, only days from deployment to Paktika Province on the Pakistani border, demonstrate a fire-and-maneuver exercise before jogging over to chat with American visitors. When asked, each soldier said that he had joined the Army to serve Afghanistan. Most encouraging of all was the response to a question that resonates with 18- and 19-year-old soldiers everywhere: how does your mother feel? "Proud."

These changes on the ground have been reinforced by progress on three strategic and political problems that have long stymied our plans.

The first is uncertainty about how long America and its allies will remain committed to the fight. The question is still open, but President Obama and the NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, have effectively moved the planned troop withdrawal date from July 2011 to at least 2014, with surprisingly little objection. Congress and the American public seem to have digested without a murmur the news that far fewer troops will be withdrawn in 2011 than will remain. NATO is not collapsing because of Afghanistan. In fact, the International Security Assistance Force continues to grow, with one-quarter of the world's countries on the ground in Afghanistan with the United States.

Two more vexing problems are the corruption of the Afghan government and the complicity of some Pakistanis with the insurgency. While it is safe to assume that neither the Afghan nor Pakistani leaders will fundamentally alter their policies any time soon, we are changing ours. Previously, our policy options with Presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Asif Ali Zardari were limited to public hectoring and private pleading, usually to little effect.

Now, however, the coalition's military and civilian leaders are taking a new approach to the Afghan and Pakistani governments. We are establishing a task force to investigate and expose corruption in the Afghan government, under the leadership of Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster. We are also shoring up the parts of the border that the Taliban uses by thickening the line with Afghan forces, putting up more drones and coordinating more closely with Pakistani border guards.

Not since the deterioration in conditions in Iraq that drew our attention away from Afghanistan have coalition forces been in such a strong position to force the enemy to the negotiating table. We should hold fast and work for the day when Afghanistan, and our vital interests there, can be safeguarded primarily by Afghans.

That day is coming, faster than many Americans think.

Nathaniel Fick, a former Marine captain, is the chief executive of the Center for a New American Security. John Nagl, a former Army lieutenant colonel, is the president of the center.









Some of the most important things you can read in a newspaper are not just reporters' articles on the news of the day but legal notices about local governing bodies' upcoming meetings and other actions. Those "legals," as the ads are called, help prevent government from holding meetings or taking actions that few local residents know about. That makes legal ads vital to maintaining government transparency and to keeping the public aware of the activities -- good or bad -- of elected officials.


So it is troubling that Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield has persuaded state Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, and state Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, to introduce a bill that would let the city and Hamilton County pull legals out of the Times Free Press and simply run them on government websites -- where they are likely to be seen by far fewer people than the number who read them in the newspaper.


Dean and Watson have usually shown wisdom and excellent judgment during their time in the General Assembly, and the Free Press has been enthusiastic in endorsing them. We continue to believe they are effective and soundly conservative lawmakers.


But we must respectfully and heartily disagree with them on this matter, because the public's right to know is on the line.


The mayor's office says a law pulling the ads out of the paper is needed to save $75,000 that the city spends annually to run the ads.


We assuredly do not deny that the city of Chattanooga, Hamilton County and governments at all levels are having to tighten their belts during this time of economic crisis.


But the fact is, many people do not have ready Internet access, and the paper serves as a "one-stop shop" for legal notices. That is far preferable to forcing area residents to seek out multiple websites to find out about the official actions of local governing bodies.


It is also strange that the bill in question applies exclusively to legal ads run within Hamilton County, not the rest of the state. Ironically, the Times Free Press is one of the fastest-growing newspapers in the United States, yet the bill targeting Hamilton County is being touted as a response to declining newspaper readership. As Times Free Press President Jason Taylor noted, "Readership and print circulation are at an all-time high." So clearly, removing legals from this newspaper would mean fewer, not more, area residents seeing the ads.


Some may accuse us of opposing the legislation that would pull legals out of the paper only because of the revenue that the ads generate. But the Times Free Press has vigorously and repeatedly promoted open, transparent government in the far greater number of cases where the paper has no financial stake whatsoever.


Opposing legislation to remove legals and tuck them away, little noticed by the public, on government websites is about keeping local government officials accountable to local residents.


Public business should be conducted in public view.







The crumbling lock at Chickamauga Dam desperately needs to be replaced to ensure continued movement of barges hundreds of miles upstream from Chattanooga. That river traffic supports thousands of jobs.


And yet lock funding was left out of President Barack Obama's $3.73 trillion budget proposal for 2012. That's troubling. The lock is constitutionally a federal duty. By contrast, the president's budget would continue unconstitutional spending such as subsidies for farmers with up to $500,000 in annual income.


Whatever you may think of the Chickamauga lock and farm subsidies, shouldn't vital constitutional duties come before unconstitutional giveaways to the agriculture lobby?







For decades now, fewer and fewer American workers have chosen to form or join unions.


There are lots of reasons for that. Some have been put off by strong-arm union tactics or by Big Labor's support for extremely liberal political candidates. Others have shied away from unions after witnessing the near-collapse of unionized workplaces that had unsustainable compensation packages.


At any rate, union membership fell again in 2010, to 11.9 percent of the U.S. work force. And most union membership today is among government workers -- who shouldn't be unionized.


The continued decline of unions and of Big Labor's political influence recently prompted U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to jump improperly into the fray by suggesting unions need a bigger voice.


"As workers across the country continue to face lower wages and difficulty finding work due to the recent recession, these numbers demonstrate the pressing need to provide workers with a voice in the workplace and protect their right to organize and bargain collectively," she said in a press release.


We realize that a labor secretary appointed by a liberal Democrat president is certainly not going to be anti-union, nor should she be. But neither should she be advocating on behalf of Big Labor. She should seek only to uphold the law.


It is not surprising, though, that the secretary of labor is "taking sides" in favor of unions. Her boss, President Barack Obama, and the Democratic Party rely heavily on union campaign donations. Unions obviously expect to get support from the administration in return. In fact, while campaigning for the presidency, then-Sen. Obama declared that if elected, he would even join a picket line in Chicago to help unionize workers at a hotel there.


Unfortunately, what is in the best interests of Big Labor is not necessarily in the best interests of individual workers or of the United States as a whole.







When you think of the nation of Switzerland, you may think of its Alpine peaks, its high-quality watches or its renowned chocolate. You may also think of the peaceful nature of its people. Not only have the Swiss long stayed out of the wars that raged around them, but the rate of violent crime is low.


One other thing for which Switzerland is famous is its high rate of private gun ownership. By one estimate, there are 46 guns for every 100 people in Switzerland, according to Reuters news service.


But the rate of murder involving guns is low in Switzerland. In 2009, for instance, only one murder per 300,000 people was committed with a gun.


That's a pretty strong indication that gun rights are not the "cause" of violent crime. In fact, private gun ownership heads off many violent crimes, because criminals cannot be sure which of their potential victims might be armed.


It's not surprising, therefore, that the peaceful Swiss recently voted strongly against tight gun-control proposals. That makes sense. Law-abiding Swiss will retain their broad right to possess firearms, rather than leave guns mainly in the hands of criminals who do not mind breaking gun-control laws.


Not everyone desires to have a gun. Nor is everyone competent or responsible enough to own a firearm. But whether in Switzerland or the United States, responsible, legal gun ownership is not the cause of violent crime.









 "I was beaten by my husband and my brother-in-law. Just to make things worse, I was also beaten by the gendarmerie officer as he threatened me. I filed a complaint against all of them. There is no safety for my life in this village."

The quotation above is from a story we ran the middle of last year on a woman identified only as "Yosma A.," who had her nose cut off by her two brothers. Walk through our online archive, and similar stories of horror are almost routine. The recently married couple killed, allegedly, by the wife's brothers. A woman killed by her husband after unsuccessfully seeking official protection. In this case, the court concluded his repeated threats to kill her were not serious. And so many others.

As we report today, at least 20 women have died in domestic violence cases just since the first of the year. And the numbers appear to be rising.

This is not Turkey's problem alone; domestic violence is a scourge throughout Europe and the world. Laws strengthening the rights of women have been passed. Laws that until recently included such archaic provisions as reduction of rape penalties in exchange for the victimizer agreeing to marry the victim have been scrapped. And the government has taken steps, primarily through an agency that is formally part of the Interior Ministry and which runs two thirds of the approximately 100 shelters in Turkey.

But as we reported in our Weekend newspaper, the numbers of facilities to which women in need can turn are, by any measure, woefully inadequate. Although the law requires any municipality with more than 50,000 people to provide shelter services, only a handful actually do so. What services do exist typically do not include child care. In practical terms, this means shelters are not really a resort at all for most women.

"Right now, we are at a point where we should have been 15 years ago," said İsmail Barış, head of the government's main shelter agency. We admire Barış' candor but we believe much more can and should be done.

Municipalities that fail to meet their minimum obligations should be called to account. This is a job that, in part, falls to us and our colleagues in the news media. And a ribbon cutting ceremony for a facility without support or resources should not be allowed to suffice. Clerics must be encouraged to be more deeply engaged. More to the point, a comprehensive policy response should be part of every political party's platform as Turkey nears national elections. This widespread evil needs to be clearly confronted not only with the law, but with education and serious effort to increase public awareness.

In a society with consensus on most issues often elusive, this is one on which there should be no light between the views of political leaders. The abuse of women, including a growing murder rate, is a scourge that leaves no one untouched.







Why now? Why revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt this year, rather than last year, or 10 years ago, or never? The protestors now taking to the street daily in Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Algeria are obviously inspired by the success of those revolutions, but what got the process started? What changed in the Middle East?

Yes, of course the Arab world is largely ruled by autocratic regimes that suppress all opposition and dissent, sometimes with great cruelty. Yes, of course many of those regimes are corrupt, and some of them are effectively in the service of foreigners. Of course most Arabs are poor and getting poorer. But that has all been true for decades. It never led to revolutions before.

Maybe the frustration and resentment that have been building up for so long just needed a spark. Maybe the self-immolation of a single young man set Tunisia alight, and from there the flames spread quickly to half a dozen other Arab countries. But you can't find anybody who really believes that this could just as easily have happened five years ago, or 10, or 20.

Yet there is no reason to suppose that the level of popular anger has gone up substantially in the past two or five or 10 years. It's high all the time, but in normal times most people are very cautious about expressing it openly. You can get hurt that way.

Now they are expressing their anger very loudly indeed, and long-established Arab regimes are starting to panic. The fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, by far the largest Arab country, makes it possible that many other autocratic regimes in the Arab world could fall like dominoes. The rapid collapse of the Communist regimes in Europe in 1989 is a frightening precedent for them. But, once again, why is this happening now?

"Social media" is one widely touted explanation, and the Al Jazeera network's wall-to-wall coverage of the events in Tunisia and Egypt is another. Both are plausible parts of the explanation, for the availability of means of communication that are beyond the reach of state censorship clearly makes mass mobilization much easier.

If people are ready to come out on the street and protest, these media make it easier for them to organize and easier for the example of the protestors to spread. But this really does not explain why they are ready to come out at last.

The one thing that is really different in the Middle East, just in the last year or two, is the self-evident fact that the United States is starting to withdraw from the region. From Lebanon in 1958 to Iraq in 2003, the U.S. was willing to intervene militarily to defend Arab regimes it liked and overthrow those that it did not like. That's over now.

This great change is partly driven by the thinly disguised American defeat in Iraq. The last U.S. troops are leaving that country this year, and after that grim experience U.S. public opinion will not countenance another major American military intervention in the region. The safety net for Arab regimes allied to the United States is being removed, and their people know it.

There is also a major strategic reassessment going on in Washington, and it will almost certainly end by downgrading the importance of the Middle East in U.S. policy. The Arab masses do not know that, but the regimes certainly do, and it undermines their confidence.

The traditional motives for American strategic involvement in the Middle East were oil and Israel. American oil supplies had to be protected, and the Cold War was a zero-sum game in which any regime that the U.S. did not control was seen to be at risk of falling into the hands of the Soviet Union. And quite apart from sentimental considerations, Israel had to be protected because it was an important military asset.

But the Cold War is long over, and so is the zero-sum game in the Middle East. The Arab oil exporters choose their customers on a purely commercial basis, and they have to sell their oil to support their growing populations. You don't need to control them or threaten them to get oil from them; just send them a check. Besides, less than a fifth of America's oil imports now come from the Arab world.

As for Israel, its military value to the United States has gone into a steep decline since the end of the Cold War. Nor does it need American protection: it is a dwarf superpower that towers over its Arab neighbors militarily. So remind me again: why, exactly, should the United States see "stability" in the Middle East as a vital national interest? 

The revolutions of 1989 became possible when people in the Eastern European countries realized that the Soviet Union would no longer intervene militarily to preserve the Communist regimes that ruled them. Is another 1989 possible in the Arab world? Well, the Arabs now know that the United States will not intervene militarily to protect the regimes that rule them.








Last week I had a meeting with government spokesman and Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek. The purpose of the meeting was another subject, but the chat inevitably turned to relations between Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which, as you know, has become seriously strained since an anti-Turkish protest held there on Jan. 28.

Mr. Çiçek kindly answered my questions and reiterated the position of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which he had already shared with the Turkish public. He particularly underlined that his government has been lending the largest economic, diplomatic and political support given to the northern Cyprus since the Turkish intervention in 1974. He said Turkey now sends $600 million annually as a financial contribution to the northern Cypriot economy, whereas this number was below $200 million per year before the AKP.

In response to my question as to whether the timing of such a quarrel was right he replied that the need had existed for somebody to stand up and say that "the emperor is naked." In Çiçek's words, the need for economic reform is urgent because "northern Cyprus is expected to show a deficit of $325 million-375 million and risks running out of resources by autumn." At a time when there is a global economic crisis, he then warns, "it will either spend more wisely or will follow its airline into bankruptcy."

What his government is trying to do in turn is simply seeking mechanisms that will enable northern Cyprus to stand on its own two feet, maintains Mr. Çiçek. Actually, there already was an economic program that both governments have been working on for the last three years. Northern Cyprus' plans to sell off its telecoms and electricity providers and privatize a university are a part of this program. In such a milieu, Mr. Çiçek cautions against leveling accusations of "meddling in northern Cyprus' internal affairs." Yet, from Çiçek's remarks I got the impression that the AKP government possesses a strong determination for economic reform on the island.

To be honest, these are bitter economic realities that I have witnessed during my numerous visits to northern Cyprus as well. There is indeed an urgent need for the reorganization of northern Cyprus' economy, first and foremost for the welfare of the Turkish Cypriot community. But as I humbly told Mr. Çiçek, they should have better explained their intentions to the northern Cypriot public. They should have tried to obtain the support of the people. Hopefully, Turkey's new ambassador, Halil İbrahim Akça, will pay utmost attention to that need. A lack of communication seems to be the main problem right now.  

I finally asked Mr. Çiçek to comment on the rumors that the AKP government is planning to initiate a new opening with regard to changing the status quo on the island such as opening its ports to Greek Cypriot vessels. I let him know that numerous people among the Turkish Cypriots believe the recent quarrel was a well-designed campaign by the AKP to prepare the Turkish public in that regard. 

He categorically denied such claims. "I am a person," he said firmly, "who has dedicated his entire life to the Turkish Cypriot cause. How can I be accused now for selling it off? What I am personally trying to do is improve the living standards of my Turkish brethren there."

However, he seems to be more offended by the silence of the Turkish Cypriots, the Northern Cyprus government included, in response to such humiliating anti-Turkey slogans chanted by the protestors at the said demonstration.

Our Turkish Cypriot brothers rightly complain about the style subsequently expressed by the Turkish government in response to the said protest, but they should not forget that the slogans chanted have hurt many in Turkey as well. I, for instance, find it quite normal, as well as healthy, to have political movements that put a special emphasis on both communities' Cypriot identity on the island and even respect slogans that read, "Ankara [or Athens], take your hands off us; this land is ours, we will run it!" Yet, insulting remarks are indeed unacceptable.  

Hopefully, the organizers of the planned March 2 demonstration will pay special attention to that sensitivity of the Turkish people. Agitation is the last thing that northern Cyprus and Turkey need now. 







Emerging markets – Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Turkey and some 15 other countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America – account for a rapidly growing share of the world's population and economy. But their governments now face one of the major challenges of the 21st century: creating public-health solutions that match the speed and scale of urbanization.

The four largest emerging markets account for more than 40 percent of the world's population and have a collective GDP of nearly $9 trillion. It is expected that their economies will overtake those of the G-7 by 2030, and that, by 2050, Brazil, China, India, Mexico and Russia will, with the U.S., be the world's dominant economies.

Today, however, these countries' cities must contend with economic and social issues that are more acute, more urgent and of a vastly larger scale than those that confronted European and American cities in the 19th and 20th centuries.

A principal challenge is managing the consequences of the explosive growth of urban populations. More than half of the world's population now lives in cities. In my own country, Pakistan, Karachi is growing at a rate of 1,000 people per day.

Massive migration to urban areas, high unemployment, low incomes, poor housing and sanitation, inadequate infrastructure, and social deprivation are shared symptoms of economic hubs where population growth has not been reconciled with cohesive approaches to public-health policy. As government, business, and academic leaders agreed at a recent meeting held under the auspices of the Emerging Markets Symposium, the promise of emerging-market countries will not be realized if their cities, and consequently their economies, are sick.

A seminal 1995 report on human development by my compatriot, Mahbub ul Haq, stressed the differences between human security viewed as personal security and viewed as national security. He used human-development indicators rather than aggregate national indicators to measure economic and social progress. His fundamental proposition was that development is about people.

Nothing is more fundamental to human security than health, which permits human choice, enables human freedom and underpins human development. We often focus on health care and emphasize the roles of medicine and physicians. But health is also about wellness, the security of life and the capacity to work and learn. As the economist and philosopher Amartya Sen has put it, "Health is a precondition for functional effectiveness across a whole range of human activities."

Even as the disease burden in emerging-market cities shifts from infectious to chronic illnesses, urban populations remain vulnerable to epidemic disease, childhood diseases born of malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and mental disorders rooted in unemployment and poverty. They are also vulnerable to death and injury from natural disasters and traffic accidents – and to the health consequences of social disorder and breakdown.

The speed of urban growth and the resulting concentration of poverty have overwhelmed the capacity of some national and municipal governments to provide services – sustainable and affordable housing, clean water and sanitation and education – essential to urban public health. But the concentration of people and economic activity in emerging-market cities and megacities does offer invaluable opportunities of scale for building health-related infrastructure and delivering health-care services.

Several steps should be taken. Emerging-market governments must address critical issues arising from weak coordination within, and between, national and municipal governments on health and health-care policies and programs. They should consider reforms that include giving city governments the authority, resources and responsibility that they need to address health and health-care outcomes.

Anticipatory city planning, based on realistic demographic forecasts, patient registers and health-information systems, as well as participation in urban health-knowledge networks, needs to be implemented. Proven systems and reforms should be shared between emerging-market cities and successful new innovations and ideas should be adapted to local conditions.

This includes new and affordable technologies, such as low-cost mobile telephony for use by community-health workers. In Pakistan, for example, there are 60 million mobile phone subscribers in a population of 160 million. Mobile telephones can help deliver affordable urban health care by serving as diagnostic tools for taking pictures, and by their usefulness for writing prescriptions and monitoring the condition of patients in low-income areas.

In short, urban public health needs to be reinvented. The health of emerging-market cities – and countries – demands no less.

*Shaukat Aziz was prime minister of Pakistan. This piece was provided by Project Syndicate, at






The mostly Christian and animist southern Sudan voted almost unanimously last month to secede from the mostly Muslim and Arab north.

Am I, a Northern Arab Muslim, supposed to celebrate, although I have been called by some southerners an oppressor, a colonialist and a slave-trader? True, my grandfather had slaves from the south, but was that my fault?

More than half a century ago, I saw the first southern Sudanese, when he visited my village, Wadi Haj (population 100), near the town of Argo on the Nile River in northern Sudan, south of the borders with Egypt. An educational administrator, he was visiting the town's schools, and was making courtesy calls to the village elders when we, young boys, curiously followed him from one house to the other.

We were curious for several reasons. First, although we were all black, we were surprised by how very black he was. A teacher at our school who had taught in the south told us, "All of them look like this." The teacher showed us a gun that the government had given him when he was there to protect himself from threatening southerners.

Second, in a region that was 100 percent Muslim, non-Muslim visitors were a rarity. The southerner, who was respected and welcomed as a guest and as a government official, visited during Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, and news quickly spread that the "infidel" southerner was eating during the day.

Thirty years ago, during my last visit to my village before I immigrated to America, my father told me a family secret that I didn't know: My grandfather, an Arab Bedouin chief who died before I was born, had a few slaves from the south. He freed them just before he died, and their children and grandchildren lived in a nearby village. The following day, my father and I, riding on donkeys, visited their descendants. We were warmly welcomed and talked cordially about different subjects, but there was never a hint about slavery.

During my years in America, I had my share of being called the n-word (the equivalent of "abid"). But thanks to my father, I tried to stand on higher moral ground. I also realized that people all over the world and throughout history have been insulting each other. And since I had come to believe that the color of my skin doesn't have anything to do with my identity (and that the core of my identity is my faith), I felt that I had "liberated" myself from this "curse."

Throughout the years, I have had arguments with some black Americans about what I believe is their preoccupation with slavery, the color of their skin and the n-word. Many replied that I didn't understand because, as one of them said, "Your grandparents were not slaves and your parents were not discriminated against in Alabama or Mississippi."

For many years, I didn't follow the details of events in Sudan. But when I learned that the U.S.-sponsored peace agreement in 2005 had ended the war between the north and the south and called for a referendum on the partition of the country, I interviewed about a dozen leading personalities from southern Sudan. I wasn't ready for the surprises.

The first was how little I knew about my "brothers." The second was that most of them wanted separation. The third surprise was their preoccupation with slavery, the color of their skin and the "abid" word.

I told them of my debates with black Americans. I argued that in America blacks are both northerners and southerners. I argued that the blacks in America suffered more under the whites than the southern Sudanese under the northerners, but they didn't call for a separate country, that at present there was a black president. Now, these are my questions about the U.S. role in Sudan's partition:

First, why did the United States, as it has moved from slavery to reconciliation without breaking-up, not pressure all Sudanese leaders to keep their country united? Second, why did the United States neglect the part of the 2005 peace agreement that says: "The Parties shall work toward ...making the unity of Sudan attractive"? Third, why did the United States not seek higher moral ground so that Sudan could be an example of religious coexistence and a bridge between the Muslim world and Africa?

A few months ago, Time magazine had a cover story with the question, "Is America Islamophobic?" It mentioned that more than half of Americans had a negative attitude toward Islam and Muslims and that almost half of them said that Muslims believed in ideas contrary to basic American ideals of freedom and justice. The magazine said Islamophobia influenced domestic and foreign U.S. policies.

I believe that my adopted country's role in partitioning my native country was driven by Islamophobia. This makes me sad and angry.

*Mohammad Ali Salih is a correspondent in Washington for Arabic newspapers and magazines in the Middle East. This piece appeared on the Khaleej Times website.






In the light of recent developments in the Middle East, given the enormity of the tasks and complexity of the challenges ahead, Turkey's regional engagement has to develop into a real strategy. For the time being the declared policy doesn't go beyond a justification of aims. Sustainability and efficiency require strategic thinking. The weaker the power, the more important is the strategy. Strategy is about rationalization, about choices between what can be afforded and what is needed. The risk of being overstretched and left breathless calls for a priority setting in the process of multidimensional regional engagements, definition of intermediate aims and the development of tools and cooperation mechanisms. That can also help to clarify the messages of the Turkish approaches to the region. 

Turkish-Iranian relations

Turkey has an experience of Iran as a real country. Exports to Iran rose more than sevenfold, from $300 million to $2 billion, from 2002 to 2009. By far the biggest numbers of tourists to Turkey from the Middle East are Iranians – 1.38 million in 2009 – often seeking relaxation on the country's freewheeling Mediterranean Riviera. In so doing, they are exposed to a Muslim society at peace with the world, economically advanced and where Islamic traditions coexist with Western patterns of consumption, commerce and secular institutions. This makes it likely that Turkey is influencing Iran rather than vice versa, especially given that about one quarter of Iranians speak Azeri Turkish, and Turkish satellite television shows are seen all over the country.

It appears important to convince Tehran that this is not the time and place for defiance: There is a pressing need to adopt a more responsible tone in its foreign policy moving from a paranoid defiance to responsible cooperation. Today Iran is a fact in the Middle East and has a tremendous potential for disruption. It is not a predictable country, poses not only a regional problem but has become a global issue with multiple ramifications. Turkey is aware of the importance of figuring Iran in the regional security equation and believes the opening of channels of communication will make Iran feel less cornered and isolated and less tempted towards unpredictable actions. As a matter of fact, Turkey has become one of the rare countries in the region that is able to talk with Iran although the conceptually appealing approach of engagement has not yet produced in practice any great changes of Iranian policy. The fact that Turkey is strongly opposed to letting Iran develop a nuclear military program needs to be reasserted without ambiguity: The perception of a certain Turkish permissiveness is still widespread. A nuclear Iran will have a ripple effect in the Arab world and bring the end of the Treaty of Non-Proliferation regime in the region. The Iranian nuclear program is a national policy supporting the search for legitimacy and influence in the region. However there is no political utility in the use of the nuclear weapon in the context of the Middle East. It is also highly disputable whether an atomic bomb is the basis of the regional power today. The rhetoric, a reminder of the '60s, seems all the more outdated in the age of globalization. The choice for Iran is whether to become a new "North Korea" or "Japan."

Daring thinking about a new Middle East

Turkey's approach can help to shape a vision of a region in which security and economic interests are pursued pragmatically and within a framework of cooperation aiming at a normalization of relations. Although a full-fledged sub-regional cooperation framework is premature, countries have to come to term with their shared future

For countries such as Lebanon and Iraq penetrated by regional and external powers, stability will depend on more cooperation and less conflicts among its immediate neighbors. Syria has a strong interest in seeing Turkey, Iran and the Arab world cooperate. Acknowledging that Israel is a reality in the Middle East and has a lot to offer is equally important. As the most important economic power of the Middle East, Israel can have a highly positive impact on regional integration prospects. Rather than accept being portrayed regionally and internationally as a counterweight to Iran, Turkey's real contribution should be to try to bring Iran within the parameters of stability.

A regional momentum triggered from inside can develop the much-needed sense of accountability and ownership. Inclusiveness requires a healthy communication with all without any discrimination. The development of crisis management mechanisms through democratic and participatory methods based on dialogue and consultations can pave the way towards a system of stable and accountable states. A pragmatic approach can help to build trust and cooperation in the context of mistrust and mutually perceived threats.

Revisiting historical narratives

Turkey and Iran are two neighboring regional powers with imperial pasts. Despite confrontational relations throughout centuries, the two countries found a modus vivendi. The Turkish-Iranian border hasn't changed since 1639. A pattern characterized by cooperation and competition which is today at the basis of the Turkish-Russian relations can in the future applied to Turkish-Iranian relations. Iran has been suffering historically from regional isolation by the Arab world. Indeed, historically speaking, Iran has reasons for paranoia. Turkey can be a component in improving Arab-Iranian relations. The Arab nationalist discourse has been traditionally painting Turkey and Iran in hostile terms.

However it is of utmost importance for Turkey to avoid a romanticized version of the legacy of Ottoman history. Countries and nations in the Middle East have contradictory narratives of the Ottoman Empire and the First World War. Historical grievances are deep-rooted. The history of the Ottoman Empire from the perspective of the former Arab provinces will without doubt come as a surprise to many Turks. It is not uncommon that the Ottoman period is depicted in Arab historiographies as a dark age. Revisiting narratives will be all the more needed in a context in which, as in Egypt, revolutions against despotism and corruption will boost national unity, the sense of political and social responsibility and develop into a positive patriotic pride in the Arab world.

As paradoxical as it may seem, another major obstacle hampering the sustainability and efficiency of Turkey's activism in the Middle East is the poor imperial memory. Long centuries of experience in administrating Middle Eastern lands left little accumulation of knowledge. The nation-state-building process caused a further impoverishment of the legacy of Ottoman multiculturalism within the society. There is a pressing need to rebuild social ties and information channels and stop nurturing a certain sense of superiority and arrogance in the region.

* Burcu Gültekin Punsmann is senior foreign policy analyst at the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey, or TEPAV.






The scream of a ringing telephone pierced the deaf silence of the small hours of Sunday.

Still trying to determine whether it was a nightmare or I really was woken up with the ringing telephone, I answered "Hello…?"

The other end of the line was apparently having some trouble in making up his mind whether to apologize and hook off or to open up conversation.

 "Well… Ehm… Terribly sorry… Ehm… You were not sleeping, I hope? Sorry, terribly sorry… You were up, ha?" he said.

He was a friend of many decades. A colleague who long abandoned "active profession" and decided to become the "boss" or "slave of himself" and launched a publishing house and a news magazine.

"What's it Kıvanç?" I asked, "I was sleeping but woke up with the call."

He tried to cut the conversation short.

"Terribly sorry my friend… For the past two days we've hardly slept two hours. The entire family is trying to find a way to get some news from our uncle working in Libya… No news… Apparently there is a total blackout… All lines out are apparently cut. We may call, but no one is answering the phone. The Internet is down. God damn… Libya is down," he exploded, crying.

It was sad to see a friend of so many years crying on the phone.

"The Foreign Ministry has apparently sent some planes to pick up Turkish nationals… The ministry is not disclosing the identities of the Turks evacuated and planned to be evacuated… Turkish Airlines are refusing to give information on the passengers, saying they cannot disclose private information in the absence of a court order. The state airports authority has advised me to apply to court and get authorization so that they can provide me information about passenger lists… I am frustrated my friend," he said.

"No news is good news," I mumbled, trying to condone my friend.

Thinking that his uncle had been working somewhere around Tripoli and in a bid to distract his attention, I quipped: "Things appear to be terrible in Benghazi… The number of people who lost their lives in the events has exceeded 85-90 according to reports late last night … Tripoli was reportedly calm."

"My uncle had been working at a construction site near Benghazi… Several work sites owned by Turks or where Turks were working were attacked by revolting Libyans… Looting incidents were reported… We are very much worried for his security," he said, his voice trembling in anxiety.

Total silence…

As the day matured news started pouring in that several hundred Turkish nationals were repatriated from Libya and the number to be flown to Turkey would reach almost 700 by the evening.

In the afternoon, my friend, this time with a relaxed voice, was back on the telephone.

"He is back, Yusuf… He is back… He called from Istanbul. He was among the Turks flown in from Libya in the second group. Thank God, he is back…"

I was relieved as well. I did not have any relative in Libya. I did not live through the agony of the people who had relatives there.

"That's great news… Come over, let me offer you a coffee," I said and moments later we met at another café on Köroğlu Avenue, as my routine "office-café" is closed on Sundays.

"I wonder," my friend said, "what Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan will do with the 'Gadhafi Human Rights Award' he accepted a while ago with the advice of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu? Accepting it was a terrible gaffe as remembering the Lockerbie massacre and his criminal record, it was absurd to use human rights and Gadhafi's name in the same sentence in any positive manner… Now, after military units commandeered by his two sons are massacring Libyan people in cold blood in the streets of Libyan cities, would our prime minister be courageous enough to give back than blood-stained award… Could he do that?"

Realizing that the conversation had started pointing the direction of the Silivri concentration camp for critics of the absolute ruler, I advised my friend to better hush up and move on to a discussion on some magazine issues.

After all, this is a country of advanced democracy with advanced judiciary and a Gadhafi-awarded prime minister!









Spring tides tend to rise high, and the tides of the approaching equinox in the Arab world are higher up the beaches of repressive regimes than they have ever been. Over 100 people are now dead in Libya, and the state media was on Saturday quoted as saying that the government would meet protest with 'destructive force'. This it clearly has, with unconfirmed reports of snipers being used by the government to pick off leading activists, and women and children dead in some numbers. The protests against the Gaddafi regime are mostly in the east of the country and the capital Tripoli still appears to be a Gaddafi stronghold. Meanwhile, in the Gulf the protesters have once again set up camp in the Pearl Square as the regime appears, for the time being, to have drawn back from the violence that saw perhaps as many as a dozen dead in the last week. The government is offering talks to the opposition groups, but as in Egypt this is unlikely to satisfy the protesters who want change at the top and quickly, and not an offer to talk about how the status quo may be maintained. In both Libya and Bahrain there appears to be a hunger for popular revolt, and in both countries, and as in Egypt and Tunisia, this is a hunger fed by an absence of fear.

The stripping away of fear from within repressive regimes — the discovery by the populace that they can also be agents of change rather there mere subjects of repression — is a defining characteristic of the pan-Arab unrest. What is also of considerable significance is that in none of the countries that have 'lost' their rulers or those that may be about to is the unrest driven or led by those with a religious agenda. There is a religious – as in sectarian – underpinning to the protests in Bahrain, but it is led by secular rather than religious figures. The same was true in Egypt, where the government invoked the spectre of the Muslim Brotherhood as the bogeyman that would somehow hijack or usurp popular sentiment. That did not happen. What may happen in the event of free and fair elections in Egypt is another matter entirely; the point to be made is that these are essentially secular uprisings by a mass of people who feel they have little to lose but their chains. Other countries may follow suit with Egypt and Tunisia, and if Bahrain falls the really interesting question is around whether the US Fifth Fleet will have to be looking for a new home. The tides have yet to reach their peak.







Painful as it might be for Karachiites their much-loved city has got a large 'thumbs down' for being the least environmentally friendly city in the world. In a report issued by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) last Monday Karachi comes bottom of a list of 22 Asian cities because of its poor air quality, ramshackle transport systems, inadequate sanitation services and poor water supplies. Few who have been there will be surprised to learn that top of the list is Singapore, and Karachi was the only city in the group to be placed in the 'well below average' category. The index has other interesting data. Across the Asia region the number of people living in urban areas has increased to 42 percent in 2010 from 32 percent in 1990, and is projected to reach 50 percent by 2026 according to the UN. Asian cities may be expected to accommodate another 1.1 billion residents in the next two decades.

The drift from the countryside to the cities has increased in recent years, and in Karachi natural disaster in the form of the 2010 Great Flood has contributed to the surge. The city infrastructure was already creaking. Much of the potable water distribution system is over 40 years old and leaks about 25 percent of the water that passes through it. A mere 57 percent of Karachi has a sanitation system, compared to an index average of 70 percent; and the three sewage treatment plants operate at about 50 percent efficiency. There is no rapid transit or mass transit system. What transport there is, is old, inefficient and a major source of air and noise pollution. There is an environmental department but it lacks the teeth to enforce what regulations there are, which leaves the door open for encroachers, polluters and those who place industrial developments in residential zones. The city lacks the ability to monitor greenhouse gas emissions and its climate action plan only covers three of the areas evaluated in the index – waste, transport and energy; but not water, sanitation or buildings. Overall, a dismal picture is presented of a city that is not equal to the task of servicing the needs of its existing population, and showing little sign of being able to service future populations any better. There is a yawning void across the spectrum of city planning that is more tied to political expediency than creating a workable forward plan that would benefit all rather than 'favoured' sections of the population. As with so many other chronic problems faced by the country as a whole, Karachi is hostage to a crippled political system whose sense of vision is limited to its own drawing rooms.








The day Raymond Davis shot dead two men in Lahore, the Washington-based Pew Research Centre released a study according to which Pakistan is likely to overtake Indonesia by 2030 as the most populous Muslim country in the world. The Davis incident triggered a Pak-US diplomatic crisis which will eventually subside, but the Pew forecast that the population of Pakistan will soar to 256 million within nineteen years is a demographic time-bomb which could detonate even earlier if the economic situation continues to deteriorate.

Aristotle once said: "All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of the youth". Two-thirds of Pakistanis are below 30 and the government's priority should be absorbing the expanding labour force by investing heavily in education. But the leadership of the country seems to be either indifferent or oblivious to the gravity of the challenge.

On January 18, the Annual Status of Education Report Pakistan 2010 revealed the outcome of a countrywide survey of 19, 915 children undertaken by various organisations. The findings were as startling as the study conducted by Pew. More than half the children could not read a sentence either in Urdu or in their native language while 56 percent were unable to do double digit subtraction sums.

On a parallel track, the radicalisation of the youth is proceeding apace through the distortion of Islamic tenets in the madressahs (seminaries) where, in 2005, an estimated 1.5 million students were said to have been enrolled. Prime Minister Gilani promised madressah reform in his first address to the National Assembly but, true to form, the pledge has yet to be redeemed. The problem is far deeper because the canker of religious extremism is not confined to seminaries but, since the Ziaul Haq era, has also contaminated secular schools.

In my article titled "Cleanse, not reform, education" carried by this newspaper on July 25, it was elaborated that the prescribed post-1979 text books eulogise jihad and martyrdom. An entire generation has thus been indoctrinated to kill in the name of religion. It is, therefore, not surprising that murderers such as Mumtaz Hussain Qadri should be feted as a hero for shooting Governor Salmaan Taseer last month. So deep-rooted is this mindset that even members of the senate refused to offer fateha for him.

The slow poison of poverty and the appalling standard of education have eroded the hope of a better future for an overwhelming majority of the population. Around 80 to 90 million Pakistanis are under 20 and, according to the Planning Commission, a growth rate of 9 percent is required to absorb them into the labour force. The enormity of the problem is apparent from the current GDP growth rate of barely two percent which, it is claimed, generates only a million jobs per year. It is estimated that by 2030, the number of persons seeking employment will reach 175 million which is roughly equivalent to present size of the population.

The heart of the problem is economic mismanagement, the inability or the reluctance to increase revenues and the squandering of resources. Pakistan's current public debt inclusive of domestic and external liabilities stands at a staggering 9.47 trillion rupees which is equivalent to 66 percent of the GDP. Though this is way above the internationally acceptable threshold and there is a possibility that the country could default on payments, the Finance Ministry has brushed the issue aside and has claimed that the current level of debt is sustainable. It is least bothered that in the last financial year, public debt in terms of revenue increased to 4.3 times or that the debt servicing to revenue ratio stood at 40.4 percent as against the globally acceptable limit of 30 percent.

Not only does Pakistan have one of the lowest tax to GDP ratios in the world, it also ranks as one of the highest in terms of tax fraud. Incredible though it may sound, in 2005, the government actually refunded 60 billion rupees in sales tax claims against a collection of only 50 billion. Investigations undertaken by the federal tax ombudsman have revealed that the government has lost at least 37 billion rupees in revenues in the last four years because of the pilferage of containers en route to Afghanistan under the transit trade agreement between the two countries.

The extent of fraud becomes evident in the World Bank's Pakistan Tax Policy Report 2009 finding that tax evasion in 2007-2008 stood at an astounding 796 billion rupees. In addition to this, Pakistan's tax gap – the difference between the taxes owed and paid in time – reached 79 percent as compared to 9 percent in Britain and 22 percent in the US.

Against the paltry collection of revenues, the government has yet to drastically cut its expenditure. The recent downsizing of the federal cabinet to 23 inclusive of a minister of state is inadequate. Even the two biggest economies of the world, namely, the US and China make do with a much smaller cabinet.

Nevertheless, the reduction in cabinet size is welcome, though it is only a small step in a journey of a thousand miles. In the first three months of the current fiscal year, the government has already borrowed 579 billion rupees which has been justified on account of the damage caused by last year's devastating floods, rising global fuel and commodity prices as well as the financial resources the federal government has had to transfer to the provinces as per the National Finance Commission award.

Despite all the talk of national pride and sovereignty, the bitter truth is that the Pakistan economy is on life support and is heavily dependent on international assistance. The International Monetary Fund has extended Pakistan's Standby Agreement till September 2011. It has yet to release the last two tranches of 3.6 billion dollars and has indicated that the fifth review, which will result in the release of another tranche of 1.8 billion dollars, will be held in abeyance till the government imposes the Reformed General Sales Tax (RGST). The problem for the government is that the imposition of the RGST requires significant amendments to the Finance Bill and has to be passed by parliament and this is unlikely to be forthcoming.

The bottom line is that the international financial institutions and donors are increasingly reluctant to assist Pakistan if it does not take immediate measures to substantially increase its revenues. Should Islamabad default on payments, the country will no longer have access to international capital markets and foreign investment will come to an end. Much of the external assistance, which currently comes in the form of project aid, will be terminated thereby affecting the building of infrastructure with disastrous implications for long-term growth.

The problems are daunting especially with a population set to increase to 256 billion in less than two decades. The government has to move fast and generate its own resources. Only then, will Pakistan be able to move away from the shadow of its servitude to international donors and reclaim its sovereignty. Inaction fosters decay as Leonardo da Vinci said "Iron rusts from disuse; water loses its purity from stagnation, even so does inaction sap the vigour of the mind".

The writer publishes the Criterion quarterly. Email: iftimurshed@gmail. com








Just as India's United Progressive Alliance government seems set, awkwardly and belatedly, to concede the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the 2G-telecom spectrum scam, another scandal has broken out, involving the prestigious Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and a private company, Devas Multimedia.

ISRO subsidiary Antrix Corporation grossly undersold to Devas spectrum from the 2.5 gigahertz (GHz) frequency band called S-band. The sale of 70 megahertz (MHz) of spectrum would have caused a presumptive loss to the exchequer of Rs20,000 billion. This exceeds the damage inflicted by the 2G-scam, estimated by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), at Rs17,000 billion.

ISRO, long lionised for launching many rockets and satellites, now joins other Indian science and technology institutions of dubious integrity which hide behind technical "expertise" and abuse their power. On top of the list are the Department of Atomic Energy and the Defence Research and Development Organisation, which are pampered with $1 billion-plus budgets, but have never completed a project on time and without huge cost overruns.

ISRO has performed better than the DAE, but follows the same organisational model. Devas was floated by former ISRO executives, who exploited their contacts in Antrix to drive a skewed bargain.

ISRO was to design, build and launch two S-band spectrum satellites for Devas to offer a range of commercial multimedia broadband services across India. The CAG estimates the value of the spectrum at over $44 billion. Devas was to pay Antrix just $260 million for this.

No wonder Devas earned a premium of Rs114,000 on each of its Rs10 shares (on face value, that is) when it sold 17 percent of its equity to Deutsche Telekom in 2008!

The key here is the S-band. According to a telecom industry report, the S-band is unique: "As mobile voice and data traffic increases, wireless operators around the world will require additional spectrum. However, ...few bands remain available for new allocation to mobile wireless services... The 2.6 GHz band is one exception. ... [It] provides an opportunity to meet rapidly rising demand for capacity to deliver mobile broadband services on a widespread, common basis across the world."

ISRO was aware of the spectrum's worth. But it didn't inform the Union cabinet, the Department of Telecommunications or the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India about the deal. An insider blew the whistle on it in late 2009 and the truth came out gradually. Like in the 2G scam, the S-band spectrum sale was also made without competitive bidding. But in this case, ISRO scientists became salesmen and suppliers to their own organisation and took it for a ride.

Apart from causing a huge financial loss, the Antrix-Devas deal would have robbed many Indian public organisations of access to spectrum, including the defence services, paramilitary forces, the Coast Guard and Indian Railways, all of which had pitched for spectrum within the S-band for various purposes, including strategic communications and tracking trains.

Devas would have sold/leased the spectrum for high-definition television broadcasting, telecom services, mobile TV, broadband Internet, and navigation, to make a killing. The S-band spectrum would have appreciated in value, as it's virtually the only band left from which a substantial chunk of spectrum can be allocated to telecom companies.

ISRO compounded its malfeasance by trying to bury the report of a one-man Department of Space committee which inquired into the Devas-Antrix deal. ISRO overruled the committee's mid-2010 recommendation to annul the contract and airbrushed the various irregularities revealed.

ISRO is now in the dock. The UPA too has brought no credit to itself by appointing a committee to investigate the contract, consisting of former cabinet secretary B K Chaturvedi and Roddam Narasimha, member of the Space Commission, the policy-making body of the DoS.

Chaturvedi was a member of the commission by virtue of being the cabinet secretary, and had approved the deal. Narasimha's too is a case of conflict of interest.

This is the latest in an unending series of scams, including the Commonwealth Games, Adarsh Housing, the 2G-spectrum and money-laundering scandals, which have revolted the public and damaged the UPA's credibility.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could have partially restored the credibility had he sacked tainted ministers such as Vilasrao Deshmukh, Kamal Nath and Praful Patel, as he did with Telecom Minister A Raja.

In the latest reshuffle, Singh elevated Deshmukh to Rural Development, a ministry with a huge budget which ought to be used for the benefit of the poor. The same man had been indicted for shielding loan-sharks who have driven farmers to suicide in his home state (Maharashtra). He was removed as its chief minister. This shows deep cynicism. Merits apart, the UPA lost a course-correction opportunity.

The UPA government has failed to provide the public relief from rising prices, in particular high food prices, while parroting homilies about how inflation will level off, by October, November, January... People are relieved that onion prices have at last fallen. But Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar's first reaction is to allow onion exports, although recent exports of onion and grain were a major cause of the domestic price rise.

Exporting an annual average of 7.9 million tonnes of food grains in recent years wasn't wise. But no lessons were learnt. Why should they be learnt when there's a chance to make an illegal 10 per cent on exports?

Meanwhile, the UPA continues to pursue pro-rich, pro-corporate policies while illegally imposing destructive and predatory industry, mining and dam projects on the poor.

The UPA came to power by pledging a commitment to inclusive growth and equity. It reconstituted the National Advisory Council under Sonia Gandhi to help formulate policies and programmes that would provide India's disadvantaged people food security, basic healthcare, right to education and other amenities.

The NAC is meant to be fully autonomous. But the government is messing with it. Singh first asked the NAC to shed its insistence on a universal public distribution system for food security. The NAC formulated a two-tier structure of entitlements and prices to cover 90 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of city-dwellers.

But Singh wasn't satisfied. He appointed another committee to scuttle the whole plan of giving affordable food to underprivileged Indians.

The government also rejected the NAC's demand that work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act should be paid the statutory minimum wage! This violates several Supreme Court injunctions which say the minimum wage must be paid "in any event." It's "the lowest limit below which wages cannot be allowed to sink in all humanity." Paying lower wages amounts to "forced labour."

Singh quibbles over a few billions for the poor, but has no compunctions in giving away Rs50,000 billion in tax breaks and subsidies to corporations. This is a dangerous trend.

If the UPA continues to be so partisan towards the rich and ignore the poor majority, it will forfeit its legitimacy in the eyes of the people and invite their wrath—the way the National Democratic Alliance did via its "India Shining" campaign in 2004.

As parliament's crucial budget session begins, the UPA has a major chance to correct course. If it wastes it, it risks disaster.

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email: prafulbidwai1@








Nowadays we columnists are usually writing about the rotten state of affairs in the country – like the law and order situation, unemployment, the spiralling cost of living, and load shedding – and aiming our salvos at the incompetence and corruption of our rulers and politicians.

There is always something happening which keeps us busy: for example, the targeted killings in Karachi, Dr Zulfiqar Mirza's statements, Altaf Hussain's addresses to his party workers, the thrashing of a retired army lady doctor in Faisalabad, the beating of suspects by the police in Chinniot, the barbaric murder of two young brothers by a mob in broad daylight in Sialkot, important cases in the Supreme Court, the murder of Salmaan Taseer, Nawaz Sharif's ultimatums and subsequent retreats, the false promises and blatant lies of President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani, the Haj corruption scandal, the supposed 50,000 megawatts of power for the next five hundred years from Thar Coal, the supposed billions of dollars' annual income from Reko Diq, and the 8,800 MW nuclear power that will supposedly be produced over the next 20 years.

The latest is the case of Raymond Davis, who murdered two Pakistani young men in cold blood in a busy market area in Lahore on Jan 27. Journalists, analysts and anchorpersons are all offering their guesses and giving their points of view. Only the federal government knows the truth about his real identity and his activities and is probably, at this moment, working on a way out to send him back to the USA as a hero. This nation of ours has lost its self-respect.

Today I am not going to discuss any of the topics I have just mentioned. I am going to touch on an important aspect of our TV debates. I mean the numerous debates that are broadcast daily on our various channels. Before actually discussing this, I would like to tell you about a small incident that left a permanent mark on my memory and which will lead up to the topic under discussion.

Most of you probably know that I went to Berlin in 1961 to study at its famous Technical University. After spending two years there I moved to Holland to continue my studies at the Technological University of Delft, as my fiance's parents were residing in Holland. I was a good student and in my final year of MS, Prof W G Burgers appointed me as his assistant to help junior students.

After I completed my MS, he appointed me as his research assistant. He was world famous in his field and was an extremely kind and affectionate person. His wife was German and had a PhD in chemistry. They had no children and were very affectionate towards my wife and me. Whenever Prof Burgers went to deliver a lecture, or to attend one, he asked me to accompany him.

On one such occasion we sat down to attend a lecture. The chairs were made of hard synthetics. They very neat, clean and durable, but were very uncomfortable. After a few minutes, Prof Burgers turned to me and said: "Khan, some uilskuiken (meaning owlet, or, as we would say, ullu ka pattha) thinks that if you sit on hard and uncomfortable seats you concentrate and study better."

An owl is considered to be a wise bird in the West, but like the proverb in our country, the Dutch use the same word for a stupid fellow. I never forgot what he said and whenever there was need for furniture, either at home, or for KRL and any of the other institutions established by me, I made it a point to personally check sofas, chairs and tables from the point of view of comfort.

This story brings me to the point of discussion. In many TV debates we see a huge, round table in the middle with the anchorperson and the participants sitting around it, often most uncomfortably with legs at awkward angles, as the shape of the table's legs do not allow them to sit normally.

Modern furniture of futuristic shape often goes at the cost of comfort and is a strange phenomenon. Some anchorpersons prefer to be perched up on high stools, which are so high that everyone has to sit either with his legs dangling or resting on metal footrests – hardly a suitable posture for serious debates.

There was once a weekly programme on TV. Often senior intellectual citizens were invited to participate. It made me very uneasy to see elderly, respected participants sitting on hard plastic chairs without armrests. When I could no longer restrain myself, I sent a letter to the anchorperson. After a week I saw that the uncomfortable plastic chairs had been replaced by soft comfortable ones with armrests. It would have been even nicer to have seen a small table in the middle with perhaps a jug of water, glasses and a box of tissues as well.

Another important aspect of these TV debates and discussions is the rather rowdy and uncivilised attitude of the participants. It makes you hang your head in shame when you hear some of our public representatives using nasty and uncivilised language; and all this in front of millions of viewers.

The participants, usually belonging to different political parties, indulge in verbal duals and trying to score points over each other. They shout at each other, don't allow the other party to give their point of view and keep on interrupting. This becomes even worse when interviews are being conducted via satellite. Everyone keeps on speaking or shouting simultaneously and no one can understand what anyone else is saying. The anchorperson does often try to bring some sanity to the discussion, but is usually unsuccessful in doing so.

I have pointed this out to quite a few anchorpersons and have requested them to lay down certain criteria, such as an arrangement whereby the sound of the first participant's voice is switched off when a second participant is asked for his views.

This should not be too difficult, as programmes are usually pre-recorded and the producer is there to coordinate everything. He/she can quite easily switch off the voice of the person who has just spoken when the anchorperson changes from one participant to another. That way we would at least be spared the noisy and rowdy scenes, as if from a marketplace, that we sometimes witness now. It is just another illustration of how undisciplined we as a nation are. Viewers are fed up with such scenes and some technique as the ones I have mentioned would allow the anchorperson to control the discussion, give everyone a fair chance to state their views and produce a more interesting discussion for the viewers.


The irritants I pointed out above may seem trivial to many, but they are an influence on our daily lives and the problem therefore needs to be addressed properly. Change should start somewhere and where better than at grassroots level. You can't keep on harping about such things as building dams when we can't even maintain our own streets and lanes. They have broken sewerage pipes, are full of dirty water and we use them as places to dump our garbage.










 "I don't know whether Mr Brown himself lived up to his criterion. Probably he didn't, otherwise he would have fared better at the polls. But if in our case the government of all the talents was the criterion, why have the ministers with the most serious of corruption charges against them and the most tainted of reputations been retained? In any event, the key portfolios remain unchanged – the Foreign Office, of course, is an obvious exception for obvious reasons."

"The weakness of your argument is self-evident. For one thing, mere allegations don't constitute evidence and media trial is no substitute for judicial trial. 'Innocent until proved guilty' is a basic principle underlying our legal system, as it is of all other civilised nations. Is there any order, decree or injunction by any court or tribunal convicting any of the incumbent ministers of corruption or abuse of power? In a word, the fact that stories of alleged corruption or incompetence by a ruling party parliamentarian abound is no ground for denying him or her the ministerial slot that he/she otherwise well deserves. Of course, where such stories have some substance, the leadership does act. Don't you remember some time back one minister got the sack and now quite a few prominent members of the outgoing cabinet have been booted out for not measuring up to the expectations of the top leadership?"

"This is precisely what I'm driving at. If there's an objective criterion for inclusion in or exclusion from the cabinet, the criterion has to be applied fairly and squarely, without bias or prejudice. All Maliks and Makhdooms, Rajas and Rajputs need to be treated even-handedly."

"It's not for every Tom, Dick and Harry to advise the powers that be what to do and what not to do. They know well how, when and whom to apply a given criterion. If they need some advice, they'll ask for it. The problem with people like you – the detractors of the popularly elected government – is that you wanted to see an altogether new cabinet just for the fun of it, which was neither possible nor desirable. Instead of finding faults with the new cabinet for one reason or another, why don't you appreciate that it's much smaller than the one preceding it? Hasn't the government satisfied that long-standing demand?"

"If the government has done so, it has merely made a virtue out of necessity. In the wake of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, several ministries are being devolved on the provinces so that the federal government's pie of the cake will shrink. Besides, it's only the beginning of the formation of the new cabinet. Subsequently, the body will be enlarged to accommodate the ruling party's allies, and even some of its disgruntled members. So, in the end, you'll have another large cabinet comprising a fleet of ministers, deputy ministers and advisors with all their substantial perks and privileges, salaries and allowances, staff and security."

"Well, much to its credit, the ruling party religiously believes that the fruits of democracy should be enjoyed by all political forces of note, so that no one has any cause for upsetting the applecart. Therefore, going by that logic, if anyone, anywhere, anytime needs to be inducted in the cabinet, fiscal discipline or good governance shouldn't constitute an obstacle. That said, given the scarcity of the slots, fierce competition would continue for making it to the cabinet and some of the brilliant faces may end up by being on the losing side. I already feel sorry for two of the most illustrious scions of the soil, who were again left out."

"Who are they?"

"Can't you see for yourself? One is the maverick spokesperson of the ruling party and the other is an MNA from Karachi. Both the lady and the gentleman are widely known and respected for their sagacity and manners."

"I know who you are alluding to. Yes, I was also taken by surprise at their not making it to the lucky lot. I trust the leadership will see reason and luck will smile on them in the days to come."

"Yes, I also do so. However, one decision compensated for their exclusion."

"What was that?"

"You are too naïve. It's the appointment of the new spin doctor of the government – the courageous, fearless, dauntless lady, who is never short of words in calling a spade a spade."

"You are right. I'm too naïve to get at the obvious."

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad. Email: hussainhzaidi@gmail. Com








The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.

On February 15, Obama called for the release of Raymond Davis, "our diplomat in Pakistan" during a press conference. He spent more than two minutes lecturing Pakistan on the importance of respecting diplomatic immunity. But he chose to remain silent on the key question how Davis could be accepted as a member of the US embassy staff when there is so much evidence emanating from US officials themselves that he was not. The "most powerful man in the world" did not issue any threats directly but did the next best thing by refusing to discuss the "specifics" in response to a (planted) question of how serious the US threats to Pakistan had been.

The truth is that Pakistan's record of respecting the Vienna Convention is impeccable. There are probably few other countries in the world in which diplomats are pampered more than in Pakistan. Some of our experts have spoken of inconsistencies between our domestic law, as embodied in the Diplomatic and Consular Privileges Act 1972, and international law, as codified in the Vienna Conventions. This is a mistaken view, based on the fact that this Act only reproduces some Articles of the Conventions, not the full text.

But there is a perfectly simple explanation for this "discrepancy". As is clear from the title of the Act, it is meant to incorporate in our domestic law only those provisions of the Vienna Conventions which deal with privileges and immunities and therefore derogate from the ordinary law of the land. The remaining matters covered by the Conventions are not inconsistent with our ordinary law and therefore have not been included in the Act. Our Diplomatic and Consular Privileges Act 1972 is actually a reproduction of the British legislation to give effect to the Vienna Conventions: Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964 and the Consular Relations Act 1968.

In fact, it is the US, not Pakistan, which is acting in violation of the spirit, if not also the letter, of the Vienna Conventions by its refusal to cooperate in the investigation of the third death which occurred when a car of the American Consulate which was sent to "rescue" Davis knocked down an innocent motorcyclist. Pakistani officials have written five letters to the consulate demanding information on the identity and whereabouts of the driver but have not received a reply. He and another US official in the car have already been whisked out of the country.

The help given by the American Consulate to the killer in evading justice is an extremely grave matter because it points to complicity by the US authorities. There is an instructive precedent to go by. In 1984 a British policewoman posted outside the Libyan embassy in London was shot dead, allegedly by someone in the embassy. The suspected gunman was smuggled out of the country the next day. And because of Libya's refusal to cooperate in the investigation, the British government expelled the entire embassy staff and broke off diplomatic relations with Libya. The least that Pakistan should do is demand the return of the American driver of the car and his passenger to Pakistan to face investigations.

On his mission to obtain the release of Davis, Kerry tried to pacify public opinion in Pakistan outraged at the US attitude. He offered regrets at the loss of life but there was no apology and no sign of genuine contriteness. He also promised that the US Justice Department would conduct its own full criminal investigation into the killings by Davis. But the hollowness of this promise was exposed soon after by an unnamed US official who told The Washington Post that Kerry's pledge was "not intended to signal that (Davis) is going to be charged and tried here". Even if there were evidence of his guilt, the official said, bringing charges against him in the United States "would be almost impossible". Kerry no doubt knew all this. His promise of an investigation must therefore be dismissed as a deliberate attempt to mislead the Pakistani public.

Kerry also asserted that the US position on the Davis case was not an expression of "any kind of arrogance". This is not borne out by the facts. Instead of trying to resolve the matter through diplomatic means, Washington has tried to pressure Islamabad through threats. What could be more arrogant than the ultimatum delivered by Munter to Shah Mehmood that if he did not agree to grant immunity to Davis, Hillary Clinton would deny him the great honour of meeting her in Munich?

Shah Mehmood was not of course the first foreign minister of Pakistan to lose his job because the Americans did not find him to be amenable enough. Musharraf's first foreign minister, the highly respected Abdul Sattar, was also replaced because the Americans found him not to be compliant. Condoleezza Rice recalled a meeting with Foreign Minister Sattar in June 2001 at which she "delivered what I considered to be a very tough message". In Rice's words, he "met that message with a rote answer and with an expressionless response". In plain language, he did not promise instant compliance with the "tough" demands she had made. As a consequence, he was made to resign in June 2002 "for health reasons".

Zardari's decision, first to gag Shah Mehmood and then to dismiss him at American behest, is unpardonable. Gilani, out titular prime minister, shares equally in the blame. By allowing Washington to dictate who Pakistan's foreign minister should be, they have covered themselves with more slime on their face. Equally condemnable – though not surprising in view of their past record – is the way Rahman Malik and Hussain Haqqani have been advocating surrender to US threats.

Shah Mehmood did credit to himself and the country by not caving in to Hillary Clinton's bullying. But his praise of his own foreign policy at a press conference last Wednesday was overdone. He no doubt deserves credit for having taken steps to return to Pakistan's traditional stand on Kashmir which Musharraf had abandoned. But the "strategic dialogue" with Washington, which he claimed as his achievement, has a largely US-dictated agenda with little "strategic" content. Similarly, Kerry-Lugar is a US "gift" to reward Pakistan for services rendered or promised. Shah Mehmood's main failing has been his failure to pursue vigorously our claim for access to civilian nuclear technology and to craft an effective strategy to counter India's campaign for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

We should now brace ourselves for more US pressure. The cancelation of the planned trilateral meeting between Pakistan, Afghanistan and US is no great loss. Pakistan's role in Afghanistan stems from our historical, geographic and ethnic links with that country. This is a ground reality that will not be changed because Hillary Clinton does not wish to host the trilateral meeting.

Similarly, Pakistan has little to lose if Zardari's planned visit to Washington is postponed. Its main purpose is to signal Washington's political support for the Zardari government and to strengthen his domestic position; and in return to get some more concessions from Zardari in their planned one-on-one meeting. The visit will not serve any of Pakistan's national interests. The same goes for Obama's visit to Pakistan which has been announced for later this year.

US military and economic assistance to Pakistan is a price that US pays for Pakistan's cooperation in the Afghanistan war. A cut in this assistance will jeopardise that cooperation which is of vital importance to US. It could also bring about a fall of the Zardari government. That cannot possibly be in US interest, because a government more submissive to Washington is hard to imagine.

US will no doubt keep hinting at all kinds of punitive measures. What we need in the face of these threats is strong nerves, a quality in which our leaders have not distinguished themselves so far.









Finding a skinny weeping urchin instantly attached to the outside of the rickshaw is not the best way to start a visit to one of Karachi's more prominent shrines to conspicuous consumption. He was not actively begging just clinging there and looking at me. Stone hearted that I am in respect of beggars, even I could not stop myself from reaching for the wallet. His eyes followed my hand. I took out a ten rupee note and gave it to him. He did not snatch it and flee as expected, but, still holding on he looked at it almost as if he could not believe what had happened and then slowly went and sat on the kerbside amidst the clutter and muck and parked cars – just looking at his ten rupees. Gathering my composure and laying an extra layer of concrete over the granite that is the core of my cardiovascular system – shopping commenced.

I was meeting a friend who I had not seen for over a year, and had opted to meet at this monument to consumerism rather than at some friendly café in Zamzama because I have become fascinated by the retail revolution going on around me. This all started with a makeover by my local supermarket a couple of years back, then a visit to another competing supermarket just down the road. Everything under one roof, fixed prices, barcode readers, helpful sales assistants who were sometimes so helpful that they had to be cautioned that it was not a good idea to come up silently behind a gora these days. And clean.

Maybe it was the 'clean' that really hooked my attention, but I noticed that places to shop were springing up all over the place, and when a prominent local chain of clothiers and outfitters set up shop in Bahawalpur it was clear that Something Was Happening. A visit three months ago with some of my family members to a new supermarket in Karachi was an eye-opener. Firstly, it was packed. A heaving mass of people shopping. Secondly the goods on display were of good quality. And thirdly they were selling like hotcakes. People were in the checkout queues laden with every kind of foodstuff and consumer good from vacuum cleaners to irritating wind chimes. Plus their groceries. There were couples with two trolley-loads of stuff. I stood back and watched for a while. Many people were paying with debit and credit cards. Not cash. They were a mixture of young and old. Some of them were clearly there as much for the shopping experience as they were to actually buy anything, and they wandered around wide eyed. Shopping as a spectator sport.

But last Thursday evening it was a leisurely stroll into a pen shop to inspect the merchandise; and wonder at spending the equivalent of a year's salary for one of my domestic staff on something I might only use to sign cheques with occasionally. Or lingering in a bookshop or marvelling at the staggering bad taste displayed by the average Pakistani woman in the matter of handbags, a particular peeve of mine – a taste deficit shared with the women of Lebanon and Syria, I might add. Somebody needs to take these women to one side and quietly let them know that 'shiny' is not an indicator of good taste or breeding.

All of which is a rather long way round to the point of saying that somebody, somewhere is building these malls and that there are enough people with disposable income to make them profitable. A fact lost on the boy who gripped my rickshaw in desperation.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email:








ONCE again President Zardari has highlighted the sacrifices given by Pakistan in the war on terror and asked the United States to ensure a balanced approach in the South Asian region. Talking to a US Congressional delegation and British Cabinet Minister Sayeeda Warsi Saturday the President particularly emphasised the need for preferential market access of Pakistani goods in Europe and US to overcome the massive losses it suffered and rid the region from the threat of extremism.

It is known world over that Pakistan suffered the most in the war on terror as thousands of lives have been lost in blasts and fighting the militants while extensive damage has been caused to social sector and infrastructure facilities. Over one hundred thousand Pakistani troops are deployed on Pak-Afghan border and in FATA and resultantly there has been extra pressure on meagre financial resources of the country. These are extra ordinary sacrifices being offered by Pakistan and need to be projected the world over more consistently because these sacrifices have caused severe set back to Pakistan's economy. Also because of Pak role in war on terror, the militants in revenge had carried out acts of terrorism which caused a major dent to the good name of Pakistan and resultantly not only the foreign investors are shy of coming to Pakistan but even the international sports teams have declared it as a no go area. Despite all these sacrifices, Pakistan got meagre financial assistance from the US while tall claims were made in the beginning to develop FATA to bring it at par with developed parts of the country. Though there are no parameters to gauge the colossal losses suffered by Pakistan yet a general assessment by the economists say that these are in the range of $ 100 billion. It would take years and massive resources to resettle the people displaced and the damages caused to infrastructure due to Pakistan's support to US in war on terror. Keeping this in view President Zardari rightly urged the American Congressmen to use their influence to secure for Pakistan enhanced market access as well as for expediting passage of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) legislation. In view of the immense sufferings it is responsibility of the world to recognise the sacrifices of Pakistan instead of raising an accusing finger and duly compensate the contributions it has made for the greater case of peace the world over.








A gruesome video released by the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) showed the militants ruthlessly shooting former spymaster Colonel Sultan Ameer Tarar (Retd), commonly known as Colonel Imam in the presence of Hakimullah Mahsud. The legendary figure had developed close relations and was seen as a highly respected figure by the Afghan Taliban who considered him as their mentor.


According to reports in the media TTP spokesman while claiming the responsibility of the killing of Col. Imam said that all previous reports about his death were untrue. Hakimullah Mehsud blamed Col Imam for capturing and handing over Arab fighters to the US. No one would buy this claim because the former ISI spy was a man of principles who himself fought for the cause of Afghans during Soviet occupation and the question arises why he was assassinated brutally? The reality is that there is a deep rooted conspiracy and this incident coupled with some other similar assassinations has been carried out at the behest of enemies of Pakistan. India and the United States are in league to create an atmosphere of hatred among the people of Pakistan against Afghan Taliban and they have recruited agents to carry out terrorist activities not only in tribal but settled areas to achieve their objectives. As a result schools have been blasted and innocent people lost their lives in the suicide attacks. The hired agents kidnap people and then demands are made for the release of their accomplices and for ransom. Col Imam went to tribal areas as he was confident that in view of his contributions and the goodwill that he enjoyed, he would be given due protection but was not aware that he would be waylaid by the agents of the enemies who get every bullet and dollar from their masters in Afghanistan. While we expect the government to take the people into confidence about the circumstances that led to the kidnapping of the legendary figure, it is all the more important for Afghan Taliban to clear their name from this most condemnable act.









THERE is no doubt that the wave of protests that started from Tunis and followed by Egypt has engulfed most of the countries in the Middle East where people with genuine grievances are coming on streets demanding reforms and change of governments. People have been killed in protests in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain but it appears that the western media is over blowing the violence and in a way encouraging more and more people to join the protests.

In Yemen the protests took a violent turn on Saturday when government supporters opened fire on a group opposing the 31-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, wounding at least four people. However the crackdown in Libya has proven the bloodiest where according to western media reports around a hundred people have been killed. The United States and its European allies in public statements have condemned the killings and in telephonic calls to the leaders advised the governments concerned to show restraint. The pronouncements by President Obama, British Foreign Secretary and others show that they have been implementing a well thought out plan to aggravate the situation in the Middle East and then turn it in a way to achieve their objectives. It started from the days of former Presidents Clinton and Bush who had called for restructuring and reforms in the Middle East. This policy is aimed at dealing with powerful rulers but if the regimes are changed through protests that would not only destabilize the concerned countries but create more troubles not only for the United States but also its colony – Israel. Therefore it is time that instead of over blowing the developments through the powerful western media, the need is to address the genuine grievances of the people and giving them their fundamental rights to have a say in the affairs of the Government. It is also an interesting case for the analysts and experts on the Middle East to analyze how and why all of a sudden such a situation has developed?







The United States has seemingly started to understand sensitivities of the Pakistani people over the killing of two young men in Lahore last month by its operative Raymond Davis, whose assignment in this country still remains a mystery. Although it continues to insist that he is a 'diplomat' with blanket immunity and should, therefore, be set free, yet its intimidating tactics and threatening tone and tenor to seek his release has somewhat dissipated due to the strong public reaction.

Threats on multifarious counts including that of cutting economic aid have turned into assertions to leave the incident behind and look forward as it's unable to justify his presence in Lahore carrying sensitive documents and sophisticated weapons without the knowledge and permission of the Pakistani authorities, if he is really a 'diplomat'. Its changing assertions about Raymond's attachment to the US embassy or its Lahore consulate have also exposed the hollowness of its claim about his status as well as immunity. Though President Obama has demanded Raymond's release, yet Senator John Kerry told newsmen before his departure for Washington after a two day crucial visit to Islamabad that he had not come to Pakistan to 'dictate or order anybody to do anything', but was here to listen and 'find a path forward so that we can live by the law'. Kerry's trip to Islamabad, in fact, represented quiet diplomacy to defuse the standoff. It's hoped that he was able to grasp the sensibilities of the Pakistani people on Raymond's issue.

Swift detention of Raymond Davis by the Lahore Police after he committed the murder of the two Pakistani youth and his production before the court for remand the next day has put both the US on weak wicket. The fact that it's up to the courts now to decide his fate has not only provided to Pakistan a sound basis to resist the US pressure, but has also slammed the possibility of its hush hush wriggle out through political and diplomatic arm twisting. It's really strange that the federal government has not yet taken any clear cut position on the issue of his immunity thus passing the buck on to the Punjab government to deal with the case. The indecision on its part has rather compounded the confusion about his diplomatic immunity. The contradictory stances of the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Interior on the issue has made the confusion worst confounded. Former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi insists that Raymond doesn't enjoy blanket immunity ( unanimous opinion in the Foreign Office) while Interior Minister Rehman Malik was of the opinion that he is a diplomat. PPP Information Secretary Fauzia Wahab had categorically declared at a Press conference in Karachi Press Club that he enjoys diplomatic immunity. It's not clear at whose behest and briefing did she made this statement. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif says that the Interior Minister had informed him on the night of the incident that document of his diplomatic status will be provided to the provincial government soon, which is still awaited even after three weeks. He also said that the Punjab government's five communications to the Federal Government seeking its intercession to get from the American embassy the driver and the vehicle that crushed a motor cyclist while rushing to Raymond's aid have not been responded. Prime Minister Gilani has, however, belatedly maintained that the courts will decide Raymond's fate. There is,n however, a general perception that President Zardari has already assured the US authorities that Raymond will soon be allowed to return home. His body language during a meeting with John Kerry lent support to the perception. PML(N) leader Nawaz Sharif has, however, accused the Federal Government of mishandling the case. Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a Press conference after relinquishing the charge of the Foreign Ministry that it's time for the government and people of Pakistan to raise our head rather than succumbing to the US pressure. He had placed the truth about the issue before the party leadership. He has, in fact, sacrificed his ministry for the sake of truth, he said.

Meanwhile, President Asif Zardari's proposal for the Round Table Conference has seemingly backfired as it won ridicule as a gimmick to sidetrack the real issues confronting the country from the political stakeholders. As the government lacks credibility due to its deceitful and tricky track record, the political stakeholders are obviously cautious about the real objective of the RTC proposal. A general feeling in the political circles, however, is that there is hardly any need for the RTC to build consensus on resolving the issues such as corruption, bad governance, high cost of living and mounting electricity and other utilities' charges. PML(N) leader Nawaz Sharif has rejected the proposal while and Opposition leader in the National Assembly Ch Nisar Ali Khan has termed as a joke with the nation. Other political parties have also shown lukewarm response to the proposal. PML(Q) leader Faisal Saleh Hayat has termed it as an inept move to hoodwink the masses. Gen® Hamid Gul feels it's a dishonest move.

Understandably, the real motive of convening the RTC was somewhat different from what wasH projected on the surface namely to discuss the country's politico-economic and security issues. The covert objective of the proposal was to bring the political stakeholders home about the US pressure for the release of Raymond Davis in order to win their support to oblige Washington. It's also a move to weigh the possibility of negative fallout of unilaterally accepting the US position about Raymand's diplomatic status and send him back home. The government has opted to seek political support on the issue as it's scared of taking such a decision on its own in the wake of strong public demand to bring the 'Rambo' to justice. There have been whispers in this connection in the official quarters as well. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who refused to fall in line with the Presidency on the issue has already fallen victim and has since been relieved of his portfolio for turning down US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's demand to recognize Raumond's diplomatic status. The next in line may be Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, who too differed with the US stance. He made it clear in a TV interview the other day by saying that had he been in his place, he would have never asked for diplomatic immunity. Meanwhile, the investigators probing the murder of the two Pakistani youth by Raymond have rejected his claim of shooting at them in self defence. The Lahore Police chief Aslam Tarin said on Friday that Raymond is guilty of committing murder of the two citizens of Pakistan. 'We have enough evidence to prove that it was a cold blooded murder', he told a Press conference. Raymond has been remanded to judicial custody for fourteen days. The government is, in fact, in a fix on the issue as the political atmosphere in the country is fully charged on account of multifarious issues including mounting cost of living as well as the blasphemy law with religious parties in full gear to launch movement against the government. Nawaz Sharif has announced that the government will not be given any more time on account of his ten point agenda. The situation may, therefore, turn into turmoil in the wake of the political upheaval in Tunis, Egypt, Algeria, Libya and Yemen.








Interestingly, the fall of the Mubarak regime coincided with the day, twenty one years ago, when Nelson Mandela was released from 27 years long internment. This was also the day when Shah of Iran's tyrannical regime collapsed, thirty two years ago. However, anatomy of Egyptian revolution is unique. It was contagious, spontaneous, leaderless, yet very powerful. Rapid mass mobilization overtook the traditional pillars of political and religious leadership of Egypt. Before the native leaders could come out of their slumber, it was all over. Western intelligence agencies failed to predict it, almost replicating the way as these outfits had failed to forecast the collapse of Shah of Iran.

Similar to the recent uprising in Indian Held Kashmir, the centre stage was dominated by the youngsters, born and grownup during Mubarrak era. Their internet skills were instrumental in maintaining communication amongst peers; the message spread across the country at phenomenal speed, inspiring the masses to join the struggle. Crowds came from across the country. There were young and old people, women in hijabs protesting alongside men, toddlers on the shoulders of their parents, jean-clad teenagers, religious as well as secular; Christians and Muslims alike. The labour and trade unions joined in the revolution, and so did the lawyers and doctors. Within a few days, number of agitators rose from under 200 protesters to millions. It was a national movement cutting across all social, political and ethnic divides. However, all of this did not fall from the blue. Though Tunisian uprising provided the vital spark for Egyptian jump start, under currents were operating in Egypt since long; turmoil was predicted by the titles of recent books like: 'Egypt on the Brink'; 'Egypt: The Moment of Change'; 'Inside Egypt: The Land of the Pharaohs on the Brink of a Revolution' etc. Like most of contemporary Afro-Asian public uprisings, Egyptian revolution has also fizzled out midway as armed forces have hijacked it; at least for the time being. There is a clear-cut disconnect between the apparent objectives of the demonstrators and the outcome. In all probability, it will not be possible for the military regime and the espousers of revolution to pretend as allies for an indefinite period. So far military's strategy has been to calm the nation and the world.

Ever since 'Camp David' accord, Egypt's armed forces have become heavily addicted to the US support. Egypt's regime has annually been receiving an average of 1.3 billion dollars as military aid. The US and Egyptian armies hold joint exercises bi-annually, in which a reportedly around 25 thousand American soldiers participate. Hence, it would be a bit naive to believe that Egyptian army has become a pro-people's force, that too overnight. As of now, the military regime retains the control of the country, the constitution has been suspended and the parliament has been dissolved. Military has announced that previous regime's much hated emergency law will be lifted when the security situation allows. Elections are promised in six months. Egyptians may be chanting that their country is free, but their struggle is far from over. Egypt is not free yet. The old regime and its apparatus are still very much in place and waiting for the dust to settle. The counter-revolution is emerging. The so-called "transitional phase" is being used to: buy time in order to erode and eventually evade people's popular demands; to preserve prevalent economic policies; to subvert the political aspirations of the public; and to tighten the straitjacket of external debts. Broader motivation and objective of the counter-revolutionary forces is to restore status quo ante minus Mubarak.

Fearful of a free election that may bring an Islamist coalition into power, counter revolutionaries are all set to sabotage the hard-earned victory of the Egyptian people by prolonging the military rule on one pretext or the other. One can not ignore the fact that same Egyptian army faithfully secured the Gaza and Sinai borders for Israel and stopped the flow of humanitarian aid to reach the stranded Gazans. Egyptian people cannot forget the betrayal of 1952, when their dreams to live freely in a dignified way were dismantled in the months following the ouster of King Farouq. Though army officers threw out Egypt's last monarch in 1952, soon after, 'Free Officers Movement' took full control of the country while those who had actively participated in the revolution were put behind the bars. Since that time, all of Egypt's leaders have been military officers; and both serving and retired generals are sprinkled throughout the organs of government. If ever the people of Egypt get a chance to vote in a free and fair election, they would, in all probability, throw up a nationalist government less secular, less pro America and less friendly towards Israel. Moreover, it would be more sympathetic towards Palestinian cause and would be poised to ease the sufferings of the besieged people of Gaza. These parameters run counter to the corporate interests of Egyptian military establishment. Next few weeks will be defining moments for Egypt. Old guards of the hated regime are still in charge. Ruling military council comprises of the people that were picked up by Mubarak. They may have agenda of their own which is likely to be at odds with the rightful aspirations of the masses. Much to the relief of Israel and America, the ruling council was prompt to declare that it would honour all treaty obligations.

The stakes are getting higher. The people of Egypt need to be aware that American and Israeli governments are hedging their bets. They are working hard to mould the outcome of the peoples' movement according to their designs. In an associated development, the US and NATO are also augmenting their naval presence in Eastern Mediterranean. This could be meant to aid the counter-revolution; it can also be used to intervene against a successful revolution. Nevertheless, the expanse of Egyptian revolt extends well beyond the borders of Egypt, encompassing the entire Middle East. Egypt has become the epicenter of change, though event did not start there, but in Tunisia. Now resistance is not limited to these two countries. Mass protests by disgruntled people have taken place elsewhere as well, notably in Algeria, Yemen, Jordan, Libya and Bahrain etc. Most of the regimes of Middle East are busy instituting anticipatory façades of reforms to pacify their people.

For decades discontent has been simmering throughout the Middle East over American support for Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine, and over its intimate connections with the repressive regimes. The spontaneous and epidemic like popular uprisings in the Middle East could be a way to avenge the collective humiliation that Arabs have felt since the Camp David accord and more acutely since American invasion of Iraq on mischievously tailored intelligence data.

—The writer is international security, current affairs analyst and a former PAF Assistant Chief of Air Staff.









Pakistan is passing through the decisive moments of its history. It is a time period where every aspect of social parameters seems to be intermingled into new doctrines and emerging paradigms. Is Pakistan the theater of new Great Game, which history has relentlessly repeated in concentric circles right from Penopolenesian wars.

Francis Fukoyma Magnus' "End of History" is very much unlike the thesis of Samuel Huntington neither the cultural differentials, nor the ideological one as usually perceived by everyone. These two theses of historical intent have a delimiting effect on the present Muslim populace all over the globe. Cashing upon these fault lines the Taliban are desperately ensuing alliances with anyone who can resist them in whatever capacity. Present truce cum alliance in the Kurram Agency with the local Shiites is a case in point. This is not mere idealistic vs realistic contest; it is much beyond the defined Rubicon. War in Afghanistan is entering the decisive phase, although no one can identify the exact phase due to extensive and perennial fog of war. No war in the history is fought under such dense conditions as that of the neo Afghan war.

Turn after turn this war is entering into a new arena of triumph, tragedy and trajectory. The latest development is even more horrific than anything known and palpated. Taliban in Afghanistan are gaining ground, even holding it for a while. The Afghan Taliban have proved to be an entity to reckon with in any serious conflict resolution mechanics.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan on the tactics of destructive chaos and mayhem is now probably trying to engage the Afghan Taliban. It might yearn a bad experience, but nevertheless, worth trying. The Afghan Taliban are also not an ambitionless people; they probably think in trans-frontier terms. After gaining foothold in all the border areas between Afghanistan andPakistan, they are trying to further consolidate their gains. The Pakistani territory to them is a poaching zone. The Afghan Taliban have recently reached an agreement with the Shiite population of Kurram Agency. The agreement is more of a truce with granting sovereign grantees to each after for operating in the area with impunity, if this is implemented as perceived than probably it can be called as another nail in the coffin of state. State loosing territory one after the other is an indicator that the ideological and physical frontiers of the state are under immense pressure. In Kurram the Shiite clans were resisting the ever increasing influence of the Taliban, who even tried to close their historical route from Kurram to Jalalabad and Kabul on the one side and towards other areas with far reaching outreach.

The Shiite Pathans are very brave, they resisted the onslaught in a dignified manner but probably they lost patience with the local administration. Whatever skeleton they had, local administration should have helped these Shiite lashkarwalas by giving them moral and material support. The policy agenda of political administration should have been to maintain a popped up status of Shiite Muslim. This could have proved to be a factor in homogenizing all segments of tribal society in resisting these extremists. Kurram is an important place in this emerging mechanics of pent up strategies of terrorism and counter terrorism. This war is the war of gaining time and geography. Time in this case is not an immediate issue whereas geography is. There were news for the last two months that Siraj Haqqani's younger son was busy negotiating with lashkars and those segments of Kurram who were not giving a comfortable nudge to the Taliban. Kurram Agency has a strategic location. It is just across Jalalabad and also the shortest route to Kabul.

The Lashkars and local Shiites of Kurram agency were the real stumbling block for the Taliban. Army is already busy in fighting the Taliban in different tribal agencies; the government should have supported the locals of the area who had been resisting the obscurantist. The recent agreement and truce between Taliban and locals of the area is analogous to the fall of Kurram. One after the other if this trend follows, then we will be left with nothing except the remorse and dejection over losing both the endowments, the time and territory.








During a speech at the Asia Society, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, admitted the fact that, "distrust lingers on" in the Pak-US relationship. She was also of the opinion that, there is a need on both sides to prevent this misunderstandins and disagreements. Infact, US is apprehensive that, pushing Pakistan to the walls may evaporate the gains, if any NATO and US forces have in Afghanistan. The Secretary of State also emphasizes Pakistan to stop fermenting anti Americanism sentiment among the Pakistani people. She lauded the Pakistani efforts in the global war on terror, particularly, in quelling the power of Al-Qaeda in the tribal area and in seizing their entry across the Pak-Afghan border.

Earlier the CIA chief Leon Panetta and counter terrorism chairman Michael Leiter, in their testimonies before the Senate Committee clearly admitted the Pakistani contributions in the global war on terror. Nevertheless, like other US officials, they too repeated the old US rhetoric of doing more. One of their finding was the complicated nature of the Pak-US relationship. These chiefs of their respective departments, however, were apprehensive that, Pakistan does not hurriedly follow the dictations of the US, rather, has started taking its own national interests in the forefront. The country has indeed started analysing the after-effects of any action, taken. In their views, this is an odd practice, not liked by the sole super power. The question arise, does not US safeguard its own national interests in the global politics. If yes, Pakistan has all the rights to do that.

These statements and analysis arise because of Pakistan's reluctance of handing over the US national, Raymond Davis, who committed the dual murder of two innocent Pakistani youth. Apart from this, Pakistan has refused to accept the US pressure to launch a military operation in North Waziristan Agency. Actually, in the midst of the mounting pressure for the release of Raymond Davis, President Obama during a press conference on February 15, 2011, emphasized Pakistan to respect the Vienna Convention and set free this US national, Raymond Davis. Referring to the relaxation in the said convention, President Obama said that, "We've got a very simple principle here that every country in the world that is party to the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations has upheld in the past and should uphold in the future. That is, if our diplomats are in another country, then they are not subject to that country's local prosecution." In the same breath, the President said that, "We expect Pakistan, that's a signatory and recognizes Mr. Davis as a diplomat, to abide by the same convention."

Following the President Obama's demand, Senator Johan Kerry, known for his soft corner for Pakistan, visited Pakistan to convince the leadership for the release of Raymond Davis. In his almost twenty-four hours brief visit, Senator Kerry conveniently met all the stakeholders in the Pakistani leadership and pursued the case of Raymond. While taking the principle stand, President Zardari told the visiting senator that, this case is not that simple, as being presented, rather it is a very complicated case.

Beside President, Senator Kerry had detail meeting with Prime Minister Gillani, leader of Pakistan Muslim League, Main Nawaz Sharif, Army Chief, General Kayani and Finance Minister. Pakistan feels that, Raymond David may have a diplomatic passport, but, in no case, he was a diplomat, as even accepted by US Embassy in Islamabad, that he is part of lower technical staff. This is official version of the US, regarding the nature of his duties in Pakistan, but reality is quite different. In fact, a lot has been revealed with respect to the suspicious activities of Raymond Davis inside Pakistan. Even on the day of this tragic incidence, he had meetings with militants, involve in the terrorist activities inside Pakistan. As one could know so far, this so-called diplomat had many links with the anti-Pakistan elements all over the country. The message Senator Kerry carried home that; Pakistani leadership would like the case to be decided by the Pakistani courts, under the Pakistani Constitution, as Raymond killed Pakistanis on the Pakistani soil. Indeed, the safety and security of its citizens is the primary responsibility of each country. Moreover, respecting the diplomatic norms is also the responsibilities of all member countries; which have signed the UN Charter and the Vienna Convention of 1960. However, should the Convention, give diplomatic immunity to the people, involve in heinous crime like killing innocent citizens of the host country, is a big question mark. Reportedly, US Think tanks and law department has also communicated to the State Department that, Raymond Davis, indeed, has no diplomatic immunity, therefore, try other options. Nevertheless, people of Pakistan, its analysts, academia and intelligentsia feel that, Raymond Davis indeed is a highly trained CIA operative, working for his organization, against the interest of Pakistan. It is believed that there are many CIA operatives, involved in similar type of activities all over the country, whose whereabouts are known to very few in Pakistan. After all Xe and Black Water, are meant to do something for US interest.

They have been found demonstrating their weapons openly in various cities of Pakistan. Raymond may be among those unlucky ones, caught up in another incident; otherwise, people might have forgotten the flocks of US national given diplomatic visas in 2009 and 2010. Had Raymond been a normal diplomat or even a technician in the US embassy having no secret information with him, there would not have been so much pressure on Pakistan for his release. Since U.S itself is the promoter of the human rights, therefore, how the murderer of four innocent citizens (two through direct fire and other two indirectly) could be persuaded for immediate release. As per information revealed after the initial investigation, Raymond has not cooperated with the police, rather preferred to remain silent or has been reminding the authorities that, he has the diplomatic immunity.

Senator Kerry expressed the hope that, the matter of Raymond Davis would be resolved in few days. He quoted the former Information Secretary of the ruling party, Ms. Fouzai Wahab, that, Pakistan acknowledges the immunity. However, it is otherwise and under the prevailing environment, it may be difficult for the Government to consider or support such an option. Should US take this individual issue so seriously to let deterioration in the bi-lateral relationship? US must realize that, it has lot of stakes in Pakistan, whereas, Pakistan can pull on without its help.

What all-Pakistani leadership is required to have strong nerves and stay united on the issues of national pride and national integrity? Any biases, a hasty statement, or personal interest may harm the national prestige and national interest in the long-term. 180 million people of Pakistan are very sensitive to this issue. In the international relations, sporadic and individual events should not dictate the relationship between the allies having long-term relationship. As Prime Minister, Gillani told visiting US delegate on February 19, 2011, that, the strategic nature of Pak-US relationship should be above the Raymond Davis or for that matter, the military operation in the North Waziristan Agency.


—The writer is an International Relations analyst.








The spotlight that remained glued to Afghanistan for the last so many years has suddenly shifted towards the Arab world where waves of demonstrations are sweeping several Arab countries. The wave was initially triggered in Tunisia as a consequent to self immolation of a young unemployed graduate Muhammad Bouazizi on 17 December and soon turned into 'Jasmine Revolution'. Cyberspace, Facebook and twitter played a role in stirring revolutionary fervor. Tunisian Army refused to fire on the protesters and stood on their side, which cooked the goose of autocratic ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Fed up of state repression, corruption, unemployment and un-Islamic practices, the determined protestors forced him and his wife Leila to flee on 14 January and take shelter in Jeddah thus ending his 23-year rule. He had desired to shift to Paris since France had all along patronized his way of governance but changed his mind after receiving a cold response. The couple took along 1.5 tons of gold ingots.


A government of national unity was formed in Tunis on 17 January but it was reshuffled on 27th and a transition government installed, which granted unprecedented concessions. It promised free elections within six months and declared full freedom of speech and adopted an amnesty law for those persecuted by Ben Ali regime. Responding to public protest, old faces of previous regime have been removed and the interim cabinet reshuffled, but till elections things would remain uncertain. Curfew has been lifted but not the emergency imposed on 14 January. More than 200 people died during popular revolt known as 'Jasmine Revolution' the ripple effects of which have been felt across North Africa and the Middle East. The overall situation in Tunisia is still in a fluid state and now it is up to the interim government to ensure smooth transition and bring a healthy change in the lives of deprived segment. The young demonstrators in Egypt galvanized by the events in Tunisia took to the streets on 25 January to get rid of the 30-year old dictatorial regime of Hosni Mubarak. On the 18th day of the popular revolt, the youth-led protest movement achieved a monumental victory by forcing Hosni to abdicate power. He handed over the power to his newly appointed Vice President Lt Gen Omar Suleiman and authorized Supreme Council of Armed Forces under Defence Minister Tantawi to run the state affairs. The Military has vowed to pave the way for democracy and to bring suitable amendments in the constitution but has so far not given a firm date for elections.

On 28 January thousands of Jordanians propelled by Muslim Brotherhood demonstrated in Amman and other cities of Jordan to press for political and economic reforms and demanding resignation of the ruling regime. They demanded constitutional amendments to curb king's power empowering him to appoint and dismiss prime minister. The situation in Jordon could have further deteriorated had Abdullah not hastened to take preventive measures like dissolution of ruling cabinet and forming a new one and announcing some reforms. Simmering is however continuing and may flare up again.


South Yemen had been a British colony till as late as 1967. After Ali Abdullah Saleh took over power as President in 1978, he worked towards integration and succeeded in uniting southern part with Soviet influenced northern Yemen in 1990. He was re-elected in 2006 for a seven-year mandate. Yemeni parliament is considering making him president for life. He has all along pursued pro-US and pro-Saudi foreign policy. The country is now plagued by upheavals caused by rebellious Shia's in the north and secessionist movement in the south together with heavy al-Qaeda presence. Central government controls only one-third of the country. Multi-directional threat to the regime is of concern to USA as well as to Saudi Arabia. Although Yemen has very little to offer economically but both are mindful of its geo-strategic location which helps in strategic economic gains. Yemen overlooks Gulf of Aden, connecting Black Sea to Arabian Sea.

The US has positioned Special Forces, activated CIA and sent weapons and equipment and used drones and cruise missiles to crush movements for independence and to push out Al-Qaeda elements which are active in entire Arabian Peninsula. Saudi regime is also taking direct action to help Saleh. The US has recently signed a $60 billion weapons contract with Riyadh to enable it to support Yemen and to counter Iran.

Some members of ruling party had lent active support to pro-government supporters in Cairo but Saleh's regime opted to extend support to the people who brought down Mubarak. Encouraged by the success of Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia and in Egypt, Yemenis staged a mass demonstration in Sanaa calling on Saleh to quit. The ruling regime has to some extent been able to contain Tunis like uprising with the help of Saleh's tribe armed with clubs and knives and backed by ruling General People's Congress who countered the protesters successfully. Saleh has called for formation of unity government and promised to step down when his term ends in 2013. However, his offers have not pacified the people and strength of protesters in Sanaa is gradually swelling.

People of Algeria languishing under autocratic rule of President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika since 1999 have also started to agitate. Success in Tunisia and Egypt has galvanized them to bring a change in their country as well. A beginning was made on 12 February when large number of protesters battled with the riot police in Algiers. Protesters want emergency imposed in 1992 to end, growing price hike and high unemployment to be controlled and democratic reforms introduced. The country has gone through a bloody revolution in the wake of cancellation of first multiparty elections in January 1992 by the Army at the behest of USA and brutal persecution of the Islamists resulting in loss of 200,000 lives. The Army had taken over to pre-empt takeover by an Islamist Party. Although the government has promised to lift emergency and to bring down food prices, protests are likely to gather momentum.

Bahrain which had won independence in 1971 was ruled by King Hamad. In the 2001 referendum, the country was transformed from Emirate into a constitutional monarchy and led to elections in 2002. The King named Khalifa bin Salman as the PM. The country has Shia majority but is ruled by Sunni rulers. In the wake of protests in several Muslim countries, people of Bahrain also got affected and came out on the streets on 15 February. Protest marches were led by opposition groups including Shiite bloc al-Wefaq in Manama and other cities. They demand resignation of the regime and amendment in constitution to allow people to elect the leader of the House rather than the King. They also demand formation of national unity government. Troop firing on the protesters resulted in killing of four dead and over 230 injured. Fifty persons of security also received injuries. Although protests have not gained any momentum, tempers are still high.

Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Gulf States are also feeling the ripple effect. Pakistan is saddled with similar problems on account of which several uprisings have taken place in quick succession. Internally, it is faced with Taliban insurgency in the northwest, secessionist movement in Balochistan, troubled Karachi, politically polarized Punjab, aggressive religious extremist forces, secular-Islamic divide, disturbed law and order situation, fragile economy, rampant corruption, increasing poverty, price spiral and unemployment. Externally, it is up against hostile India, unstable and not so friendly Afghanistan, unreliable and overbearing USA which is brazenly meddling in Pakistan's domestic affairs.

Beset with so many troubles, corrupt and inept government has done little to redress any of the social inequities. Unless emergent measures are taken, time is not far that social unrest may engulf the whole nation.

—The writer is a retired Brig and a defence, security analyst.








Paul Howes played to the gallery last week as he attacked Rio Tinto's management. But the Australian Workers Union national secretary showed a firmer grasp of political and economic reality yesterday as he rejected any move to revisit the mining tax. Mr Howes appreciates his members, as well as the nation, depend on profitable mining companies, and that punitive taxes are a disincentive to investment. On Sky News's Australian Agenda, Mr Howes showed that, unlike those campaigning in the Fairfax press and the ABC, he knows this is not the time to revisit the mining tax with a view to extracting more from the miners. The tax in its present form is the "reality we have to live with", he said. Labor's handling of the tax has been abysmal, with Julia Gillard forced to patch together a compromise ahead of the last election that will deliver about $60 billion less than the original model. The Greens want to go back to the well, spurred on by the strong profits reported by Rio and BHP Billiton. On ABC TV's Insiders, senator Sarah Hanson-Young linked the tax with the carbon tax debate and said it was time for a rethink on the way the mining tax was structured. She is wrong. Reopening this debate would be damaging to Labor and to Australia's business image abroad. The government should resist the pressure.







The contrast was striking, but perhaps not accidental. Tony Abbott was outrageously irreverent when he opened the batting at the NSW opposition's election launch yesterday, labelling Premier Kristina Keneally's government the worst since William Bligh was deposed in the Rum Rebellion of 1808. Few politicians could have matched the federal Opposition Leader's rousing rhetoric as he linked federal Labor with Sussex Street and the manifest failings of its past 16 years in power. Certainly not Barry O'Farrell, who didn't even try. The NSW premier-in-waiting was even more low-key than usual as he set out his stall ahead of the March 26 poll. Mr O'Farrell, poised for a historic victory against a party with a primary vote stuck on about 25 per cent, has clearly decided even a touch of hubris is a hostage to fortune.

The NSW Opposition Leader is right to think voters have had it with spin, broken promises and hyperbole. Mr Abbott exploited that notion, saying of his state counterpart, "he ain't pretty, but he's pretty effective". The state needs a competent leader, not a show pony or even an orator. Mr O'Farrell and his team will be judged -- at least in the short term -- on how quickly they ameliorate transport headaches and power costs, not on their wit.

In such a one-sided contest, the real challenge is not managing the next five weeks of campaigning, but the expectations of an electorate desperate for the state's broken services to be fixed. The opposition has committed to major transport initiatives, such as the northwest and southwest rail links, and to accelerating land release to address housing affordability. These policies will take time to bear fruit, and Mr O'Farrell moved yesterday to ensure his government is in a position to get some runs on the board quickly. He will spend $69 million on new police stations to improve street safety; add 135 express and semi-express train services to the system each week; and compensate low-income consumers for rising electricity costs. These energy rebates will be paid for by savings generated by merging the distribution operations of the three state-owned electricity companies into two. These proposals should improve the lives of voters in a relatively short time. But they are just the start of the hard work that lies ahead for the next premier.

The rot in NSW politics goes well beyond crowded trains or escalating power bills. The debacle over electricity privatisation is now the stuff of legend, a dreadful tale of union power exercised to protect the jobs of a small number of public sector workers to the lasting detriment of the state. The union thuggery that defined so much of NSW Labor in recent years will be reduced but not retired under a Coalition government. About half of government spending is on government employees, thanks in no small part to public sector wages rising, since 1997, by almost 10 per cent more than in the private sector and 5.6 per cent more than in the public sector in the rest of the nation. Mr O'Farrell's biggest challenge will be to reduce a bloated and expensive public sector and begin getting some real efficiencies into the delivery of services in health and education.

The Coalition's first job will be to get the state ticking over again but we urge Mr O'Farrell not to forget the deeper structural reforms that will be essential for the state's longer-term health.






Violence will do nothing to assist the clamour for change across the Arab world. Rightly, there has been widespread condemnation of the appalling brutality used to suppress demonstrators in Libya and Iran, where nothing better could be expected, as well as Bahrain, Yemen and other countries which share Western interests and strategic imperatives, but not Western values. In speaking out, Western governments have highlighted a central challenge in the crisis, namely, how to assist the process of change in odious states such as Libya and Iran while ensuring things do not get out of hand in places such as Bahrain, the home base of the US Fifth Fleet which plays a critical role in the post-9/11 world similar to Subic Bay after Vietnam.

Bahrain's strategic importance cannot be overstated. The Fifth Fleet is crucial in confronting Iran's brutal dictatorship. As well, it is critical to the battle against extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and maintaining oil supply routes through the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, and controlling East African piracy. Bahrain presents other challenges. Pearl Square's demonstrators are largely from the Shi'ite majority, which comprises 70 per cent of the population and is thoroughly fed-up with the autocratic and discriminatory Sunni regime of Sheik Hamad Al-Khalifa. Bahrain is linked by road to Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, which produces 80 per cent of the kingdom's oil and has a similar demographic, with an overwhelmingly Shia population dominated by Sunnis. Unrest in Bahrain could spill into Saudi Arabia, the spear carrier of US interests in the Arab world. It is a delight, of course, to see Iran's smarmy President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was claiming identity with the aspirations of Egypt's protest movement, now confronted by demands for liberation. Ditto for Colonel Gaddafi, who has been in power for 42 years too long.

Regime change is needed in both places. Much harder is trying to promote the clamour for a new order in the likes of Bahrain and Yemen while at the same time protecting Western interests. It is a challenge that still weighs heavily in Egypt, where the new ruling junta has worryingly named a constitutional commission that includes the Muslim Brotherhood, but no women, and is vacillating over allowing Iranian warships through the Suez Canal for the first time since 1979.

These are dangerously tricky times for governments everywhere. Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has pointed out how perilous the path to democracy can be and that, as in Iran, a democratic process can so easily be suborned into something quite different. As he told ABC TV's Lateline last week: "We should adhere to the universal principles of democracy . . . on the assumption that those who participate in those democratic elections are themselves committed to the continuation of a democratic process."

It is imperative to support legitimate demands for change. But it is equally imperative to ensure Western strategic interests are maintained. The balance needed is one that will test the most perspicacious of diplomats. In Bahrain, for example, Iran's catspaw, Hezbollah, is playing a role. So is the Muslim Brotherhood. Much is at stake. There, as elsewhere, extreme caution is needed. Otherwise the demands of people legitimately clamouring for change will be betrayed.








WHY abandon a winning formula? If Barry O'Farrell has built up an overwhelming lead in the opinion polls five weeks out from the state election by keeping the Coalition a small target and letting Labor sink itself by bungle after bungle, why blame him for keeping the picture of his proposed government rather hazy, and only sketching in few points of detail?

Yesterday's campaign launch at Penrith was designed not to impress Martin Place, but to spread the appeal of the Liberal Party into new territory in western Sydney. Penrith itself is the beachhead: a once welded-on Labor stronghold wrested away eight months ago after scandal forced a byelection.

The Coalition hopes this will be more than an aberration punishing Labor for its corruption and failed deliveries, but that it will break a voting tradition, cutting the cord between former blue-collar and new migrant constituencies as new generations develop more affluent lifestyles and outlooks - a version of the ''aspirational'' voters pursued by John Howard.

If it happens, Labor has only itself to blame for clinging to an early-20th century party structure, with its Premier running to report to a faceless committee in the Sussex Street machine and places awarded on its ticket decided by internal swapping of favours and political debts rather than popular appeal and talent. The changes reported to be recommended by Labor's committee of elders, such as John Faulkner and Bob Carr, opening up candidate selection, come far too late to help the party this time around.

The electoral goodies O'Farrell has offered will be welcome enough to households in his target area: some cash back from their rising electricity bills, insertion of more express trains into the railway timetable, some more teachers and assistants in schools, new police stations, and more money ''invested'' in hospitals.

But these incremental promises don't add up to the ''real change'' that is the Coalition slogan. Clearly O'Farrell is trying to minimise fears, but if NSW is in such a dire position, where are the sacrifices and savings to turn it around? O'Farrell will keep the electricity distributors but merge them from three companies down to two, saving $400 million a year, he says. Sounds easy - what other cuts, mergers and sell-offs does he have in mind for the public sector? How would O'Farrell marshal public and private-sector resources to build the new infrastructure NSW needs, after Labor's sorry run of failed partnerships? How would he adjudicate the battles between farmers and coalminers, between communities and bid developers?

We're all consenting adults here. Let's hope O'Farrell tells us more over the course of this campaign, giving us the full picture, so he's offering not just a vote against Labor but something more clearly positive.





THE failure of the Angus & Robertson and Borders bookstore chains has reignited the argument over the federal government's policy aimed at defending Australian writers and book publishers. Free market purists say the decision by REDgroup Retail, which ran the two chains, to place them in voluntary administration is classic proof of the folly of protectionism; others that it has less to do with government policies, competition from electronic books and internet sales or high dollar than with bad business judgments by REDgroup and its creator, Pacific Equity Partners.

There is some merit in both views. The Herald has in the past supported the government's attempt to sustain a robust Australian literary culture and a viable local publishing industry, one healthy enough to gamble on emerging talent. However, it is undeniable that the threat to 129 bookstores across the country is worrying news for writers and publishers, not to mention readers. It does not help literature when people who sell the stuff go broke.

This does not mean the government should immediately bow to demands that it abandon the present parallel import restrictions. These give local publishers 30 days in which to publish a local edition of new foreign books. If they do, booksellers here cannot import the (often cheaper) foreign edition. The dual effect is to provide local publishers with a buffer of sorts while making books in our stores dearer than they could be and reducing our retailers' ability to compete against tax-free imports supplied by foreign online operators like Amazon.

Yet this story still has a way to run. Many financial analysts believe the REDgroup collapse is evidence not of an industry-wide crisis but of another private equity venture gone horribly wrong. It is still unclear how many of its bookstores will be closed, as opposed to simply passing into new and, hopefully, safer hands. There is surely an opportunity here for the many canny, customer-oriented independent bookstores to take up the slack, rather than leaving the vacuum to be filled by internet invaders and amazing electronic gadgetry.

Even so, the Gillard government's initial response to the REDgroup implosion - ruling out reopening the debate over the present import regime - was premature. Given the breathtaking pace of technological and cultural change, it should reconsider its options.







THE famed corruption fighter Tony Fitzgerald, QC, has observed that politicians' ethics are always tested by incumbency. The Baillieu government is facing an early test, on the issue of party political fund-raising, and failure would be a profound disappointment to Victorians who embraced Ted Baillieu's promise of a government worthy of unqualified trust.

In May 2009, the then opposition leader delivered a speech to the Victorian Liberal Council that set the tone for his campaign for the premiership. ''We face nothing less than a crisis of public integrity and trust in this state, an erosion of the civic culture for which Victoria has so long been so highly regarded,'' Mr Baillieu declared. He pledged to establish an anti-corruption commission to ''break once and for all the culture of corruption in this state''. The Age, a long-time advocate of such a commission, welcomes the new government's commitment to have it operating by the middle of this year.

But the Coalition's promise to restore trust in government was about more than the necessary institutional safeguard of an anti-corruption commission; Mr Baillieu offered himself as a leader who would meet and demand the highest standards of probity, transparency and integrity.

A particular focus of Coalition concern during Labor's decade in office was the improper practice of giving major donors to the ALP exclusive access to the premier and ministers. The Liberals attached notoriety to events organised by Labor's fund-raising organ, at which corporate leaders and wealthy individuals were offered private briefings by members of cabinet. The Coalition's position was clear: in the words of the then opposition's scrutiny-of-government spokesman Richard Dalla-Riva, such selling of access to ministers raised ''serious questions as to the potential for corruption''.

It was therefore surprising, to say the very least, when it was revealed last week that business leaders willing to pay $1500 a head to the Liberal Party had been invited to a private briefing this Thursday by Transport Minister Terry Mulder and Planning Minister Matthew Guy.

It took too long - more than 24 hours - for Mr Baillieu to call a stop to such functions, pending a new code of conduct for ministers that will include guidelines for participation in fund-raising events. As he prepares the code, Mr Baillieu should be in no doubt that Victorians will not have a government worthy of their unqualified trust until the nexus between access and donations is severed.





LIVEABLE cities are not just an accident; their evolution depends on planning and design guided by a vision for their development. Melbourne is a perennial contender for top place in the Economist Intelligence Unit's liveability index and is likely to be so again when the latest index is released today. This is because the many criteria for assessment develop over time; cities do not change overnight. The corollary of this is that cities must plan ahead to sustain their long-term quality of life. This is a welcome feature of the new Coalition government's urban renewal policy.

Planning Minister Matthew Guy has only sketched out a policy vision, but the focus on Fishermans Bend as ''Australia's first inner-city growth corridor'' could be a turning point in managing growth pressures. Melbourne's population has passed 4 million and is set to exceed 5 million by 2026. The population has doubled in 50 years. Most of the growth has been accommodated by expanding outwards. Last year, a supposedly fixed urban boundary underwent the biggest shift since its creation. This was done with the support of the Coalition in opposition. That invites scepticism about whether this government will do better than its predecessors in reining in developer-driven growth on the fringes.

The Planning Minister has, however, already announced an ambitious alternative vision, and a starting point. The location is Fishermans Bend, a mix of light industrial factories and vacant lots covering 200 hectares in the shadow of West Gate Bridge, which could accommodate up to 15,000 dwellings. The focus would be on affordable, higher-density residential housing, Mr Guy said. This is crucial, especially given the mixed legacy of the Kennett government's Docklands development, which catered for corporate tenants and upmarket apartments.

Although details are to be finalised over four years, the government appears to recognise the importance to future liveability of inner-urban renewal based on strong, well-serviced residential communities. Mr Guy sees a need for ''a higher-density style of accommodation closer to the city that is different to an outer-urban growth market, but one which might have a broader spectrum of people living there''.

This vision for Fishermans Bend is not without obstacles, including the cost of decontaminating land and coming to terms with big factories and employers, such as Holden and Boeing, and of course the port. The positive flip side is being close to work, city services, attractions and transport - an old freight rail corridor lends itself to public transport. Under the existing model of development, people are driven to settle on the fringes for the sake of affordability, only to suffer poor community services and long hours of commuting, which also adds to the strains on city roads and public transport. All these hidden costs of urban sprawl insidiously reduce quality of life.

Of course, if the lack of residential soul in Docklands holds lessons for urban renewal, so do earlier projects at the other extreme, such as Broadmeadows, the one-time ''model town'' whose Housing Commission blocks and lack of community facilities ranked among the Bolte government's greatest failures. The government will soon establish an Urban Renewal Authority, working in conjunction with government-owned developer VicUrban, to draw up a 20 to 30-year plan for Fishermans Bend, as well as E-Gate - the disused railyards in North Melbourne - and other inner-suburban brownfields sites. All these plans will benefit, as Mr Guy says, from honest scrutiny of past successes and failures.

Melbourne's perennial rival for world's most liveable city, reigning No.1 Vancouver, is a leader in urban renewal, with a focus on developing communities and public transport. Get the vision right now, and ensure the plan for affordable, higher-density residential communities isn't hijacked, and Melburnians can enjoy living in this city for decades to come.







LIVEABLE cities are not just an accident; their evolution depends on planning and design guided by a vision for their development. Melbourne is a perennial contender for top place in the Economist Intelligence Unit's liveability index and is likely to be so again when the latest index is released today. This is because the many criteria for assessment develop over time; cities do not change overnight. The corollary of this is that cities must plan ahead to sustain their long-term quality of life. This is a welcome feature of the new Coalition government's urban renewal policy.

Planning Minister Matthew Guy has only sketched out a policy vision, but the focus on Fishermans Bend as ''Australia's first inner-city growth corridor'' could be a turning point in managing growth pressures. Melbourne's population has passed 4 million and is set to exceed 5 million by 2026. The population has doubled in 50 years. Most of the growth has been accommodated by expanding outwards. Last year, a supposedly fixed urban boundary underwent the biggest shift since its creation. This was done with the support of the Coalition in opposition. That invites scepticism about whether this government will do better than its predecessors in reining in developer-driven growth on the fringes.

The Planning Minister has, however, already announced an ambitious alternative vision, and a starting point. The location is Fishermans Bend, a mix of light industrial factories and vacant lots covering 200 hectares in the shadow of West Gate Bridge, which could accommodate up to 15,000 dwellings. The focus would be on affordable, higher-density residential housing, Mr Guy said. This is crucial, especially given the mixed legacy of the Kennett government's Docklands development, which catered for corporate tenants and upmarket apartments.

Although details are to be finalised over four years, the government appears to recognise the importance to future liveability of inner-urban renewal based on strong, well-serviced residential communities. Mr Guy sees a need for ''a higher-density style of accommodation closer to the city that is different to an outer-urban growth market, but one which might have a broader spectrum of people living there''.

This vision for Fishermans Bend is not without obstacles, including the cost of decontaminating land and coming to terms with big factories and employers, such as Holden and Boeing, and of course the port. The positive flip side is being close to work, city services, attractions and transport - an old freight rail corridor lends itself to public transport. Under the existing model of development, people are driven to settle on the fringes for the sake of affordability, only to suffer poor community services and long hours of commuting, which also adds to the strains on city roads and public transport. All these hidden costs of urban sprawl insidiously reduce quality of life.

Of course, if the lack of residential soul in Docklands holds lessons for urban renewal, so do earlier projects at the other extreme, such as Broadmeadows, the one-time ''model town'' whose Housing Commission blocks and lack of community facilities ranked among the Bolte government's greatest failures. The government will soon establish an Urban Renewal Authority, working in conjunction with government-owned developer VicUrban, to draw up a 20 to 30-year plan for Fishermans Bend, as well as E-Gate - the disused railyards in North Melbourne - and other inner-suburban brownfields sites. All these plans will benefit, as Mr Guy says, from honest scrutiny of past successes and failures.

Melbourne's perennial rival for world's most liveable city, reigning No.1 Vancouver, is a leader in urban renewal, with a focus on developing communities and public transport. Get the vision right now, and ensure the plan for affordable, higher-density residential communities isn't hijacked, and Melburnians can enjoy living in this city for decades to come.





It will be only when Gaddafi's security forces cross lines that his maniacal grip will slip – but that moment could be far off

At the time, it was called the Libyan model, a turnaround so complete that everyone in the US from neocon to liberal claimed the credit for it. When Libya agreed in 1999 to hand over two suspects to the Lockerbie trial and then abandon its WMD programme in 2003, it was hailed an example of how a state once described by the CIA as an uninhibited supporter of international terrorism could come in from the cold. Everyone, not least the then prime minister, Tony Blair, flocked to shake Muammar Gaddafi's hand. Announcing a new relationship, Mr Blair said he had been struck by how the Libyan leader wished to join Britain in the common cause of fighting al-Qaida, extremists and terrorism. The other part of that common cause was a deal with Shell for exploration rights. Peace with Libya has been lucrative ever since.

Now that at least 200 Libyans have been gunned down by their own security forces in the last four days – and that has to be a conservative estimate – the "new" Colonel Gaddafi is looking very much like the old one. It is impossible to say how widespread the Libyan revolt has become. We know it has been taking place in Benghazi and four other cities in the eastern tribal belt, where his support has been weaker than in Tripoli. Before what is being called a massacre took place on Saturday, the colonel dispatched his son Saadi to the city, where he promised reform. In the same vein, an SMS message sent late on Saturday appealed to Libyans to stop the bloodshed. Having fired on demonstrators and then on the funeral marches that those murders generated, the Libyan regime will find that these appeals will have little effect. As Sir Richard Dalton, a former ambassador to Libya, said, the attitude of the regime is all or nothing. High-velocity bullets speak louder than words.

It will be only when Gaddafi's security forces refuse to obey orders or cross lines and join the demonstrators that his maniacal grip over his country will slip, but that moment could be far off. If the widespread reports of African mercenaries being used to shoot Libyans are accurate, he has few qualms about mowing down his own people. But by the same token, the very knowledge of what would happen to them at the hands of the secret police if they stopped now may have convinced most people in Benghazi that there is only one way, and that is forward. In a country where life is cheap, both sides in this conflict are locked in a fight to the finish. Unlike the falling regimes of Tunisia, Egypt or the still-standing monarchy in Bahrain, the US has little purchase on the Libyan leader. As a convert to the cause, the Libyan leader may still be considered too valuable to lose, as US influence in the region decreases. Nowhere is that truer than in the cockpit of the crisis, Palestine.

Palestinians are planning a day of rage in response to the veto the US wielded against a security council resolution condemning Israeli settlements. As Dr Hanan Ashrawi, the veteran Palestinian legislator, said, Barack Obama was vetoing his own policy. At one point in a 50-minute conversation with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, Mr Obama reportedly threatened to cut off US aid to the Palestinian Authority. Mr Abbas has backed down before in the face of US threats, most notably over the Goldstone report on the war in Gaza. Had he done so this time, he might well have shared the same fate as his former ally, Hosni Mubarak. Both the veto and the threat to cut off aid are firsts for Mr Obama, a sorry betrayal of his inheritance of a potential fortune in US power – the trust of the Arab street. Britain, Germany and France, all allies of Israel, voted in favour of the motion. With demonstrations taking place in the West Bank towns of Bethlehem, Tulkarem and Jenin, Mr Obama's ability to persuade both sides to return to the negotiating table is rapidly diminishing, and with it the prospect of progress.






It is being called a great national celebration, and a public holiday. But curiously, not a grand national holiday. Yet the odd coincidence of Easter and the royal wedding means that just three days off work will open up nearly a fortnight of free time from 22 April (Good Friday) to 2 May (spring bank holiday). This is indeed an opportunity for a grand national holiday, the radical proposal imagined by the shoemaker-socialist William Benbow in 1830. Benbow, a chartist, who was one of the earliest pamphleteers to articulate the idea of a labour theory of value, called for a whole month's holiday to promote the happiness and liberty of all mankind. "Equal rights, equal liberties, equal enjoyments, equal toil, equal respect, equal share of production: this is the object," he proposed, a period "to cease from manual labour, and to cultivate [our] minds". The holidaymakers, he thought, could feast on the largesse of the great liberal politicians of the time, the Cokes of Norfolk and Whitbreads of Bedfordshire, while the lord chancellor, Henry Brougham, would be their delegate to the Congress that was to run in parallel. Unhappily, it seemed Benbow had overestimated both the readiness of the liberal families to allow the workers to help themselves to their cattle and the enthusiasm of the workers for taking it. In 1840, despite speaking for 10 hours in his own defence, he was convicted of sedition and – although the evidence is inconclusive – seems to have died in prison soon afterwards.






Japan and the United States signed an agreement last month on a five-year extension of Japan's host-nation financial support to help cover part of the costs of stationing U.S. forces in Japan under the bilateral security arrangement.

Called "omoiyari yosan" (sympathy budget) in Japanese, the new special agreement extends by five years the current three-year arrangement that is to expire at the end of March and consists mainly of Japan's annual outlay of ¥188.1 billion, almost the same as the current amount. The government wants to have the new agreement approved by the Diet by the end of March.

Despite the parliamentary division with the Upper House controlled by the opposition forces, there seems to be no major obstacle to Diet approval of the agreement. In particular, unstable situations abroad favor efforts to secure effective activities of the U.S. forces in this part of the Pacific.

Recent military moves in China and North Korea lend strong support for measures to make the Japan-U.S. alliance even more effective. Viewed against this backdrop, there appears to be no particular reason for opposing the government's plan to continue shouldering part of the financial burdens on the United States.

But the quiet way of preparing the host-nation budget agreement has drawn public attention to the extraordinarily swift change in the Democratic Party of Japan's basic position on an important issue. This does not mean that we are arguing against the extension of financial cooperation with the U.S. Yet, we are reminded that, back in 2008, increasing Chinese military strength and North Korea's provocative moves were already posing threats to neighboring countries, encouraging debates in favor of closer ties between Japan and the U.S.

In this situation, the DPJ, which was struggling to become win more popular support to become the party in power, strongly opposed the host-nation support budget in the Diet. The DPJ argued that Japan's share of such financial cooperation with the U.S. was too prominent even if the party understood the importance of the bilateral alliance. It demanded establishment of a specific basis for disbursing such a huge budget.

Although the relevant bill seeking Diet approval of the agreement was rejected in the Upper House controlled by the opposition parties, it was subsequently approved under the constitutional stipulation that a Lower House decision pre-empts that of the Upper House concerning such an agreement.

However, no reform seems to have been made since then to further clarify the process of disbursement and to attain fair burden sharing between the two countries. By so saying, we would like to shed light on the DPJ's abrupt change in policy without a reasonable rewriting of its previous policy. In democratic and responsible politics, the end does not necessarily justify the means.

Japan's host-nation support budget reached a peak of ¥275.6 billion in fiscal 1999 and has since then been steadily declining. This is a welcome development. But the comparatively long valid period for the new agreement risks helping to fix Japan's burden at a level higher than is appropriate despite financial difficulties plaguing this country.

For months after the DPJ took power, Japan's relations with the U.S. were strained as the new Cabinet headed by Mr. Yukio Hatoyama was out of kilter with the U.S. over the proposed relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa. New Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who replaced Mr. Hatoyama last summer, apparently learned a bitter lesson from this and shifted to the policy of keeping a close rapport with Washington.

The draft host-nation support budget for fiscal 2011 (next April through March) consists of about ¥138.4 billion to cover wages for Japanese employed at U.S. bases, costs for utilities (lighting, fuel and water) within bases and costs for moving training; about ¥20.6 billion to cover maintenance and improvement costs for facilities offered by Japan; and about ¥26.8 billion to cover welfare and other measures for employees — for a total of about ¥185.8 billion, 1.2 percent less than the current fiscal year. Budgets to cover labor costs for local employees and expenses for lighting, fuel and water will be gradually reduced and allocated toward facility maintenance and improvement costs.

When the DPJ spoke against Japan's high share of financial support for the U.S. forces in Japan in the past, the party singled out, for example, golf courses and other similar facilities within U.S. bases as items that cannot justify their inclusion in the support budget.

At a press conference at the end of last month, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said the new agreement is "a special strategic agreement" signed in the context of Japan's security and diplomacy. He insisted that the host-nation support budget under the new special agreement is an arrangement to meet the real need of maintaining the Japan-U.S. alliance.

To show the agreement is appropriate, the DPJ government should clarify in the Diet the details of Japan's financial burden-sharing and the reason for the DPJ's change in policy on host-nation financial support.






Since last April, I've been spending my weekdays in Hikone, a city of Shiga Prefecture located by Lake Biwa. One day, while driving to my university, I was surprised to find four black swans in the outer moat of Hikone Castle.

These black swans, having red beaks with white at the tip, are identical in size and shape to white swans that live in the same moat, except in the color of their contour feathers. I asked why at the Tourist Bureau of the Hikone Municipal Government, and how those black swans had come to live in the castle's outer moat. Here is what I learned:

On March 3, 1860, Naosuke Ii, ruler of the Hikone Han (domain) as well as a "great elder" of the Tokugawa Shogunagte, was assassinated by soldiers who had defected from the Mito Han, outside the Sakurada Gate of Shogun's castle in Edo, now Tokyo.

This incident infuriated the Hikone soldiers so much that the confrontation between the two domains lasted for decades. Even after the Meiji Restoration and the subsequent abolition of feudal domains and establishment of prefectures, the cities of Hikone and Mito remained bitter enemies.

The two cities reconciled in 1970 by concluding a friendly cities agreement. Ironically, serving as mayor of Hikone at the time was Naoyoshi Ii, a great-grandson of the assassinated Naosuke. As a symbol of the bilateral friendship, swans from Hikone Castle moat were sent to Mito, which in return presented Hikone with plum tree saplings.

In 1987, when Hikone Castle hosted the World Ancient Castle Festival, black swans were presented from Mito City to Hikone City and they started living in the latter's castle moat.

Having been told this much, I asked further how those black swans had existed in Mito in the first place. The answer was that in 1978, Ube City in Yamaguchi Prefecture presented a pair of black swans, then living at its Tokiwa Park, to Mito City, and the black swans made Senba Lake within Kairakuen garden in Mito their home. I was also told that the black swans at Ube's Tokiwa Park had their roots in the city of Newcastle of New South Wales, Australia, which had presented them to Ube in commemoration of their becoming sister cities.

Being an economist, I was reminded by this episode of the book titled "The Black Swan," written in 2007 by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In Europe, a swan had long been conceived as a white bird. But a surprise came after 1770 when Captain James Cook from Scotland landed in Sydney, Australia, and declared dominium over the area. After that, settlers started to come to Australia. One of the things that surprised settlers most was the existence of black swans in Australia, something they had thought was impossible. The etymological origin of black swans goes back to that time.

This is why Taleb started describing as a black swan anything that is almost impossible to happen but would have major consequences should it happen.

It seems to me that the basic difference between the perspectives of Europeans and those of Japanese is indicated in the way they look at black swans.

When Europeans saw black swans, they regarded them as white swans that are black, which in their mind are an unexpected phenomenon because in their mind swans could only be white. Japanese saw black swans not as white swans that are black but just as another species of bird the size and shape of which are identical to white swans but the color of which is black.

Thus they named them "kokucho," literally black birds, as diffentiated from "hakucho," literally white birds, the Japanese name for white swans. This story shows that the existence of black swans did not come as as unexpected or exceptional to the Japanese.

I attribute this difference in perception to the fact that Europeans have been influenced by Platonism while Japanese have not. Platonism is the doctrine holding that objects of perception are real insofar as they imitate or represent ideas that will never undergo any change whatsoever through all eternity.

To the mind of Europeans, whose perceptions tend to be based on Platonism, a swan must have the form of a totally white bird with a long beak and a long neck. Over the centuries, they have seen millions of white swans and have taken them for granted as having a solid form. Therefore, they were utterly shocked to see their perception of swans completely overturned by just one observation of black swans.

It may be of interest to note that in Japan, natural sciences had not existed in any form until the Meiji Restoration of 1867, whereas in Europe, and in Britain in particular, Newtonian physics had already been born in the late 17th century. The existence of Platonism in Europe led to the birth of Newtonian physics there. Such physics was not born in Japan because it lacked Platonism.

Still, certain people are of the view that Taleb predicted the emergence of the global financial crisis of 2008 on the grounds that he worked as a financial engineer on Wall Street after graduating from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and that the 2008 crisis can be likened to the "black swan."

The fact of the matter, however, is that what Taleb is trying to say is that it is impossible to make predictions, especially on economic matters, on the basis of a model or a form or a pattern. The reason is simple: It is quite likely that one would encounter a "black swan."

Europeans and Americans, whose perceptions are based on Platonism, accept Taleb's teachings as most reasonable and understandable. Economists in Japan, on the other hand, do not think that an unexpected or exceptional "black swan" will come up. Therefore, they predict without any worry or concern a macroeconomic trend 10 years into the future or forecast exchange rates or stock market prices 12 months from now.

Moreover, the general public in Japan trust those predictions and forecasts coming from economists. This is because most Japanese do not think that a black swan is an exceptional thing and instead simply accept the bird as it is and as known by the quite descriptive, nondisturbing name of "kokucho" (black bird).

Takamitsu Sawa is president of Shiga University, Japan.







BEPPU, Oita Prefecture — During the heat of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, which successfully toppled the respective autocratic regimes of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, some incidents in Indonesia appear to have dimmed the prospect of democracy on this side of the Islamic world.

In Pandeglang, Banten, the Ahmadiya community was attacked by mobs that caused at least three people to die and others to get injured. In the same week, just a couple of days after the Ahmadiya incident, three churches were destroyed by angry mobs in Temanggung, Central Java.

Ironically, these incidents happened in the middle of World Interfaith Tolerance Week. The rise of Islamism in the world's biggest Muslim democracy reminds us of the warning from Farag Fouda, a prominent Egyptian progressive intellectual: Will the Islamic world pursue the path of enlightenment, or follow the path of orthodoxy and fundamentalism?

The responses to this issue of violation of religious freedom, sympathy and solidarity from people from all walks of life have been tremendous. In various online platforms, most notably Facebook and Twitter, intellectuals, public figures and laymen have expressed their solidarity toward their Ahmadi and Christian fellows.

This spirit has also moved a number of concerned citizens to immediately stage some demonstrations at Jakarta locations, including in front of the Presidential Palace. All of these street actions are driven mostly by the online activism of the middle class.

Unfortunately, the mindset of "blaming the victim" is still prevalent among a large part of the population, including public officials. It is not uncommon to hear some pejorative comments directed toward the Ahmadiya community, despite the discrimination and injustice that they have endured for a long time.

Fatwas or religious verdicts declaring Ahmadiya teachings as heretical were first issued by MUI or Indonesia's Council of Religious Clerics in 1980. Recently Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali, who comes from the Islamist Party (PPP) also supported the banning of Ahmadiya teachings and practices.

Because of these fatwas, regulations and even statements from religious and state authorities, vigilantism conducted by the Islamic fundamentalist groups and other political thugs seem to find support.

In democratic polity, citizens' participation is one of the most fundamental elements in the decision-making process. Nevertheless, democracy should not be understood merely as the will of the majority but also as the aspiration of minorities, including the Ahmadiya community. Thus, democracy should also be realized as the protection of minority rights, since majoritarianism alone will lead to the tyranny of majority. As a consequence, tolerance is inherently important in building a healthy democracy.

To make democracy flourish, it needs to be protected from anti-democratic and intolerant forces, because freedom cannot protect itself.

Sadly, these anti-democratic groups and associations are often protected by some particular political elites or public officials, politically or financially, for shortsighted, pragmatist interests, such as to garner more votes in elections — a proof of historical remains from the authoritarian era.

These violent acts toward Ahmadiya are not the first. They add to the long list of violent acts committed by state and society in Indonesia. It is not surprising that some observers on Indonesian politics, such as Henk Schulte-Nordholt (2002), argued that this is a continuation of the genealogy of violence in Indonesia.

Moreover, it is an indisputable fact that Ahmadis, Christians and other minorities are part and parcel of Indonesian society. They have been a part of Indonesia's social fabric even before the state came into existence officially.

In fact, these minorities have contributed a lot in the process of nation building. Regardless of different interpretations of these incidents and allegations about who is the true mastermind, to respect and protect their rights to live and freely exercise their religious beliefs are the duty and obligation of the state and society. It is true that these minorities, particularly the Ahmadis, have doctrines significantly different from mainstream Islam, but that does not validate any hostilities and even killings toward them.

What we need rather is constructive theological debates and dialogues in the framework of tolerance and appreciation toward diversity, as stipulated in Islam and other religions.

As next step to addressing the current problems of lack of religious freedom and tolerance in Indonesia, several steps should be considered:

First, the state should not be absent in defending religious freedom and minority rights as enshrined in the Indonesian Constitution and Pancasila, the philosophical foundation of Indonesian state. Attacks and killings in the Ahmadiya community in Banten and churches in Central Java are another example of state failures to protect its citizens.

Second, there is a need for "securitization" of this issue. Various proofs and analyses have led to the conclusion that these incidents, considering numerous factors, are possibly orchestrated for short-term political and economic interests. Therefore, it is important to bring this case into the proper legal process.

Third, Indonesian Muslims and the Islamic world in general need to do theological and historical reflection in response to Ahmadiya and other "post-Islam" religions, such as Bahafi and indigenous religions. It is necessary to have greater understanding and tolerance despite the differing views, even if such view is considered as heretic.

Last, democracy should be translated not only as electoralism but also as protection for civil and political rights. This case basically is a litmus test for the prospect of democracy, freedom and justice in the Islamic world

Iqra Anugrah, a master's candidate at the Graduate School of Asia Pacific Studies, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan, is active in various Islamic and student groups (twitter: @libloc). © 2011 Project Syndicate (







What a paradox it is. Bank Indonesia has been jawboning commercial banks to lower their credit interest rates after the monetary authority raised its own policy rate by 25 basis points to 6.75 percent early this month to curb rising inflation expectations.

Darmin Nasution, the central bank's governor, even asserted last week that he would personally be involved in monitoring banks' operating efficiency.

We believe the central bank does not want banks to use the recent policy rate rise as an excuse to raise their lending rates when their average net interest margin (NIM) — the difference between interest income earned and interests paid out to lenders — is already 5.8 percent, much higher than those in other ASEAN major economies, which range from 2.2 percent to 4.5 percent.

The rationale is that a lower NIM means lower credit interest rates, which in turn would bolster more business expansion and consumption to spur economic growth.

Darmin not only warned banks against raising their lending rates. He even prodded them to lower their credit interest rates, otherwise the central bank would summon their management to explain their cost structure.

The 27 percent increase to Rp 57.31 trillion (US$6.42 billion) in commercial banks' net profits last year seemed to strengthen the central bank's point of argument that there is indeed a broad  leeway for lenders to lower their NIM in order to cut credit interest rates, thereby reducing  businesses' costs of capital.

Certainly with an economic growth target of 6.4 percent this year, bank lending needs to expand faster than the 23 percent increase last year when the economy grew to 6.1 percent. Extremely high lending rates, ranging between 9 to 14 percent, acutely inadequate infrastructure and grossly inefficient logistics system have become a big disadvantage for businesses in Indonesia.

The interest costs Indonesian businesses have to pay are twice as high as those charged on their counterparts in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and China.  These high capital costs have deterred new investments because new businesses have to generate unusually high returns.

It is simply not fair and economically unwise to allow commercial banks to continue to enjoy net interest rate margins of 5 to 6 percent while a large chunk of their funds have been ploughed to the financial market.

The government, if necessary, should pressure state banks, which still account for around 40 percent of the industry's total assets, to act as the trend setter, leading credit expansion at reasonably low rates to the government-selected sectors.

 Seen from their multiplier impact on the economy, it is much better for the state banks to significantly expand lending to the real sector at relatively low credit interest rates, rather than booking high profits but at the expense of businesses.                        

However, only jawboning banks to lower lending rates may compromise the quality of their risk management. It is therefore most imperative for the government to reduce the persistently high business risks by accelerating reform measures in the civil service, taxation, customs and legal sectors.

It would be better for banks' credit risk management if the central bank keeps improving its credit bureau to provide lenders with more reliable, comprehensive information on debtors.





Much of the Middle East and the Arab world, ranging from Iran in the east to Morocco in the west, is on fire.

The blaze is spreading rapidly across the region fueled not by oil and gas, with which the region is flush, but by something far more inflammable. The fire is being fueled by a strong desire of the region's people for freedom, justice, good governance and prosperity. The conflagration has been kindled by a desire for democracy. You can plug an oil leak, but you cannot kill the flame of democracy.

Different countries have dealt with the fire in different ways. But the successful people power movements in Tunisia and Egypt tell us that nothing less than a change of regime can extinguish it. Governments in Iran, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria and Libya are dealing with the fire brutally, by killing their own people, while Jordan and Palestine have already made concessions.

Regimes may extinguish the flame temporarily, but they cannot put out the burning desire of their people for freedom. The fires will reignite again and again until people are truly free.

For much of the last 60 years, the Middle East has been a volatile region. The conflict between Israel and the Arab world was seen as the main flashpoint. But Israel is the last thing in the minds of most people in the Arab world today. They are too preoccupied with fighting gross mismanagement, human rights abuses and the massive corruption that has been inflicted upon them by their own leaders.

This is a battle that they must wage themselves. The brave young men and women in Tunisia and Egypt have told us that people must fight tooth and nail for freedom, much in the same way their predecessors fought for independence 50 or 60 years ago. The deadly clashes seen in the streets in Iran, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya indicate that some of these regimes and dictators are willing to kill to stay in power.

The rest of the world, including Indonesia, must not only watch, although intervention would be equally wrong. We can show solidarity, give moral support and offer prayers for the struggle for freedom and democracy. And we must lend our support as soon as possible to rebuilding these nations on democratic foundations.






Economic growth in 2010 was 6.1 percent higher than expected. Export and investment have been complementing consumption to support growth.

However, the contribution of government expenditure from the national economic accounting point of view is practically nil, as budget expenditure was very slow to be disbursed. Economic stability is threatened by higher inflation that forced Bank Indonesia (the Central Bank) to raise its BI rate, even though the source of inflation is coming from food, especially the rice price, not a monetary phenomenon. There is the expectation that economic growth could be higher at the level of around 6.3 percent in 2011.

There has been strong criticism that economic growth is only benefiting the few, mainly referring to the fact that non-traded sectors, such as telecommunications, retail trade, and housing and finance, have high growth. Meanwhile the traded sector, especially agriculture and manufacturing that absorbs most of the labor force, experienced low growth. Data shows that unemployment and poverty levels are declining.

Nevertheless, the quality of employment is very low as most workers still work in the informal sector.

Meanwhile, many people still live on the poverty line, while the absolute number is still very high at around 31 million people. Despite the inequality measure, Gini Index shows relatively low inequality, but this is measured using expenditure and is not based on assets owned. The perception is that inequality is getting higher.

The criticism is fueled by other pressing social issues such as the increasing social intolerance as shown by the attack of Islam's Ahmadiyah sect followers in Banten, and the church burning in Temanggung, Central Java.

There is no report or view that this religious intolerance is related to economic inequality. However, it has the potential impact to reduce investors perceptions on social stability in Indonesia. This seems related to more the incapability of the police to handle an organized attack by a certain group to the sect and other religious symbols. Meanwhile, the government and religious leaders have differences in seeing the problem. The government is practically inactive in protecting certain religious group from violent attacks.

The administration seems incapable of handling the social issue well. As a consequence, the popularity of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is declining with a low score in issues related to basic needs. The high inflation related to food price creates a strong concern among the general population. Social-religious intolerance has created a sense of frustration especially toward the way the police are handling the issue. All of these could derail the good economic prospect, if the government cannot improve the condition that affected strongly the life of the common people.

Meanwhile, political tension is heightening much earlier than anticipated. Despite the general election being still far away — in 2014, a serious effort to undermine the administration has been intensified. Certainly Yudhoyono can no longer run for a third term of presidency. But his political opponents see him as a king maker for the next presidential election, asking whether a presidential candidate will come from his own family or his political circle. Additionally, more and more politicians are put in prison by corruption watchdog Corruption Eradication Commission so that they see this as a systemic effort to undermine their political influence.

 Similarly to other big issues that block the realization of the good economic prospect, namely infrastructure, the high food price, social intolerance and early intensified political tension have a lot to do with the way the government works, and is not so much about the market and private sector that vigorously support the economic growth. If these issues cannot be handled well, they have the potential to undermine the good prospects for the economy.

Certainly, the high food price is a lot to do with the extreme weather and the increase of food price in the international market. But the failure of the government to improve the food security, distribution and infrastructure contribute significantly in forcing the food price to become much higher than what it should be.

Meanwhile, the early heightening of political tension is a consequence of the process of democracy toward its maturity. In this case, what the government can do is to keep the
political process as democratic as possible.

No doubt, Indonesia has high potential for economic development with higher quality growth that is accompanied by equity. The question is always about how to make it happen. The role of the market and the private sector has been quite good so far.

What is inadequate is the role of the government to contribute properly to economic growth and facilitate for the higher participation of the lower group in the economy, while at the same time provide adequate infrastructure and maintain economic stability, especially related to inflation.

While Indonesia is a pluralistic society, the state should guarantee this can continue, and give protection to any parts of society from arbitrary harassment from other groups of society.

The writer is a senior fellow at CIDES (the Center for Information and Development Studies), and the Habibie Center.






Indonesia has promised to become a world leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In 2009 the president committed to a 26 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to below business as usual levels.

Of this total, 14 percent would have to come from reducing emissions from deforestation or forest degradation (REDD+). External investments in REDD+ are expected to raise total emission reduction from 26 percent to 41 percent.

While international negotiations on rules for REDD+ are slow but ongoing, the Indonesian and Norwegian governments signed a letter of intent under which up to US$1 billion is available to assist in setting up a REDD+ system that also addresses peatland emissions. Part of the agreement is that Indonesia will implement a moratorium, or "two year suspension on all new concessions for conversion of peat and natural forest".

Promising as this may sound, the devil is in the details and a lot depends on how peat and natural forest are defined. Strong lobbies from the forest and tree crop plantation industry argue that the economy will be harmed if business as usual is interrupted.

According to news sources, definitions of natural forest and peat differ between drafts prepared by the REDD+ taskforce and by the Ministry of Forestry. Some of the key issues that need to be resolved are:
First, if the moratorium is limited to the "kawasan hutan" (Forest Estate), one-third of current emissions from change in woody vegetation will remain unaccounted for. The institutional mandates and types of permits issued by the government differ between "kawasan hutan" and the "other land uses" category, however.

Second, the draft of the Ministry of Forestry aims to allow for new plantation concessions in logged forests, where tree planting or conversion into monocultural tree plantations is presented as forest improvement.

The Ministry proposes a moratorium limited to protecting primary forests, and defines these as "natural forests untouched by cultivation or silvicultural systems applied in forestry".

Part of Indonesia's logged-over (secondary) forest still has high carbon stocks and is important for biodiversity conservation. It would help if a map of Indonesia can clarify where the moratorium applies.

Third, peatlands are immense storage houses for carbon and their protection from drainage and
fire play a crucial role in the reduction of carbon emissions.

Peatlands occur both within and outside of the forest estate and are source of emissions whether forested or not.

The Ministry of Forestry draft excluded any new concessions on peatlands deeper than three meter — which in fact already are illegal. A challenge is that existing maps of peat-depth are not very accurate.

All three issues come together in a place like the Tripa swamp along the west coast of Aceh where a block of high C-stock swamp forest on peatland, with high orangutan population density, is threatened by conversion to oil palm.

Part of the permits for such conversion exist, and the land status was changed a decade ago from "watershed protection" forest to "other land uses".
If conversion to oil palm takes place, it will be widely seen as failure of the moratorium and the

international commitment of Indonesia. Recent studies by the World Agroforestry Centre and PanEco/YEL provide details on the case.

Although it is a challenge to resolve all the above key issues in a country the size of Indonesia we believe progress requires that: a) the goal of reducing carbon emissions while supporting human well-being is kept in focus, b) the moratorium is clear and operational and c) it goes beyond restating existing regulations that have not prevented the "business as usual".

This leads to several recommendations. First, forests irrespective of their location and land status should be included.

Second, logged forests should be included and protected under REDD+ because they still contain high carbon stocks and biodiversity values.

Third, all peatlands should be included, irrespective of their depth. Fourth, the definition of forest should be made relevant to its purpose under REDD+, which is to reduce carbon emissions by avoided change in woody vegetation.

A simple rule could be that the moratorium applies to new concessions on all lands except those with an above ground carbon stock of less than 35 tC/ha that are on non-peatland.

This would be relatively easy to map and monitor. It would set clear rules to move forwards for now. It would buy time to think through the issues that relate to the lands that are included in moratorium and refine rules in future as needed.

Promising as this may sound, the devil is in the details and a lot depends on how peat and natural forest are defined.

Serge Wich works for PanEco & University of Zurich, Switzerland, Lian Pin Koh for the ETH, Switzerland and Meine van Noordwijk for the World Agroforestry Center, Indonesia. The opinions are from the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions they are affiliated with.






Finally Bank Indonesia raised its rate by 25 basis points, after successfully maintaining a 6.5 percent policy rate since August 2009, which was a tremendous record in the history of Indonesia's economy and mone-tary stance.

The central bank argued that there was an increase of expected inflation in the future, stimulated by a rise in global commodity prices, particularly extractive good prices (e.g. oil and coal), as well as the
government's plan to raise the gasoline price for the majority of fuel consumers by limiting private cars' access to subsidized fuel in April this year.

Generally, most central banks across the world, including Indonesia, have been implementing the standard interest rate and balance sheet channels of monetary policy in response to global financial crisis. The poole analysis confirmed that if financial markets are more unstable than good markets, then the central bank can best minimize the fluctuations of the business cycle (e.g. the real GDP and inflation rate) by using the interest rate as the instrument of monetary policy.

Nevertheless, our financial markets are in the shape of condition, considering the fact that the composite stock price index (IHSG) seemed to rebound in the peaked point of 3,500 basis points, given a one-off negative sentiment of the regional market in the wake of Egypt's political instability.

In terms of exchange rate policy, although the rupiah had been weakened as a result of temporary capital outflow, caused by concerns of market on rising inflationary pressures, foreign investors are now back by noting the value of net purchases amounted to Rp 215.64 billion (US$24.2 million) from the total purchase value of Rp 1.94 trillion.

Meanwhile, the Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS) recorded a year-on-year inflation rate in January 2011 that reached 7.02 percent, in which a rise in staple food prices contributed dominantly.

Based on the arguments, the financial markets looks more stable than good markets and therefore, it is better for the central bank to use money supply or the so-called quantitative approach as an instrument of its monetary policy. And, the central bank last month launched measures to tighten liquidity in the economy by increasing the statutory reserve requirement, lengthening the tenure of Bank Indonesia Certificates (SBIs) and imposing restrictions on banks' short-term external borrowing.

Here, we still see the credibility of bank Indonesia in a sense that the central bank sticks to its decisions about monetary policy and makes its decisions free from government or other parties' interference. In principal, credibility can hardly achieve because of time inconsistency problems (the prediction of future, which creates a conflict of interest between inflation, unemployment and economic growth) and political interference in the absence of independence.

Over the past 18 months, Bank Indonesia has successfully dealt with time inconsistency. But, it has suddenly encountered a dilemma either pushing the domestic expected inflation low, which is the primary interest of the market speculators, or assisting the government target to achieve 6.4 percent economic growth this year.

Put simply, according to the Philips curve, the higher the unemployment in an economy, the lower the rate of inflation and vice versa, so there would essentially be a trade-off between inflation and unemployment. In this regard, Bank Indonesia seems more interested in the idea to suppress inflation. One point should be questioned, was the recent inflation caused by a monetary phenomenon?

Milton Friedman (1953) believed that sustained inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon. Accordingly, monetarists tend to emphasize the importance of monetary policy and the view that inflation is essentially a domestic phenomena stemming from continuing increase in the money supply. In this theoretical framework, it can be hypothesized that inflation varies positively with the rate of change in money supply, and negatively with the rate of change in real income.

But, the fact that recent inflation stemmed from negative supply shocks such as a rise in oil prices, bad weather that intrudes the production of staple food, or even the worldwide shortages of grain rethought the idea of solving the inflation without non-monetary policies, which constitutes the authority of the government.

Thus, the provision of a fiscal room for subsidizing capital goods and raw materials that can enhance the sustainability of the food production and the search of new oil-well is very essential.

As Indonesia currently has the biggest interest rate in the Asian region, there will be net capital inflow coming. However, the government should not control this, as our economy lies in a strong position with good trade balance.

My concern right now is that the decision of Bank Indonesia to raise the interest rate would only benefit the speculators who can "frizzle" their investment in financial markets by unexpectedly shifting one financial instrument to another. In the past, Bank Indonesia ran open market operations, just to maintain the exchange rate as well as onset interest rate, and hence at the expense of the state budget.

A relatively stable price level is the principal goal of monetary policy, so it is extremely important that the central bank uses unconventional monetary policy measures to stimulate the economy in the
absence of an interest rate channel in order to restore consumer and business confidence.

Yet, without coordination from the fiscal sector, the rate of inflation cannot be halted.

The writer, an alumnus in a Masters of Applied Economics at The University of Adelaide, Australia, is a lecturer at National University (UNAS), Jakarta and economic policy researcher at Transparency International Indonesia. The opinions expressed are his own.









Three fishermen captured and later released by Somalian pirates last month, returned to Mirissa after a 17-day sea ordeal. Two of the original five fishermen team had been killed by the Somalian pirates while fishing in international waters about 2000 nautical miles from the Sri Lankan shore, it is said.

Meanwhile two more fishermen had been captured by the pirates a week ago.

While the Somali pirates threatened the fishermen and other shipping lines along the Suez Canal line, Egypt closed down the canal.

It now allows only Iranian ships along it.

While trouble rages in the regions seas, the relationship between Indian and Lankan fishermen is seeing a surprisingly unprecedented level of friction.

The 21 Lankan fisherman who were in custody for "illegally entering Indian waters" were released and handed over to the Sri Lankan Navy by the Indian Coastguard at the Indo-Lanka Maritime border this week.

Meanwhile 136 Indian fishermen had been released by the Lankan authorities on Thursday. The arrest of the 136 fishermen triggered a flurry of events which seemed likely led to the mutual release of the fishermen.

While taking a hardline feel the Indian Foreign Secretary S M Krishna on Friday urged Tamil Nadu fishermen also to keep off Sri Lankan waters.

The interesting part is that while the Indian PM said that "arresting is unacceptable" and Coast Guard Commander has said that "arrest was a better option." What he didn't say was "than what?"

The fishing issue between the two countries dates back probably to ancient times as the two lands were too close. The two countries have seen several moments of uneasiness in recent history over the fishing waters; the last major one being the Katchchathivu issue.

More perplexing is the point that when the war was raging in Lanka, such incidents were rare. But with the war behind our back for more than two years, one wonders why these arrests are taking place so often now. 

Historians also say that Prince Vijaya came to Lanka from India on a boat. This shows that unless and until a deeper understanding between the countries that are so close to each other, is arrived at, this arrest drama would continue to the misery of the fishing communities of both countries.

The incidents of transgression are only a surface phenomenon of deep rooted other problems- regional as well as bilateral.

Sri Lanka now coming almost entirely under Chinese patronage may shed some light-on the Somali pirates, the Middle Eastern unrest as well as Indian interest in fishing and the presence of Western naval fleets in the Red Sea.

On the same token, many question the presence of 34 naval vessels of countries in the Red Sea to "curb" the Somali pirates - impoverished Somalians, in dingy boats and second hand assault rifles.

And still they couldn't bring them under control. Conspiracy theorists blame it on the Vortex of Aden.







 "According to the findings of the Socio-linguistic Survey of Sri Lanka conducted for the Public Survey and Research Unit (PSRU) of the Presidential Secretariat by an Independent Research Institute in August 2010, 76% of Sinhala people living in majority Sinhala speaking provinces, 88% of Sinhala people living in majority Tamil speaking provinces, 89% of Tamil people living in majority Sinhala speaking provinces, 94% of Tamil people living in majority Tamil speaking provinces, 92% of Muslim people living in majority Sinhala speaking provinces and 96% of Muslim people living in majority Tamil speaking provinces were strongly of the view that their children should be proficient also in the other national language. "

Further citations and consequent conclusions by Sunimal Fernando, Presidential Advisor before the LLRC are as illuminating, yet the fact remains that the three-language formula has become operational only in record-books. Despite the sincere efforts of D. E. W. Gunaeskara when he was the Minister for Constitutional Affairs and National Integration in the first Rajapaksa Government, and the sops offered to officials for learning the local language whichever was not their mother-tongue, neither this, nor the use of English as the link-language, has gained noticeable ascendancy.

The problem becomes more pronounced in the Tamil areas, where the ethnic issue, war and violence had revolved around this very same problem, from the very beginning. In the so-called 'Sinhala area', which the national capital of Colombo is, the Tamils of Wellawatte, for instance, are not proficient in the official language. It has more to do with an innate unwillingness to learn the 'other language' than their possible inability – which has not been tested, to begin with.

The less said about the Sinhalese working in the Tamil areas, the better. Here again, it is not the lack of opportunities, as any housewife having to deal with traders and odd-jobs men would tell you. Or, a cop on the street would have to encounter, day in and day out. It is again a matter of attitudes. They all, Sinhalese  and Tamil, think only in their mother-tongue, and think only about the mother-tongue, as well.

Unacknowledged, the 'language row', the chief villain of the 'ethnic issue', flowed from the 'early-bird' English language advantage of the Tamil middle class that made them better-qualified for Government in the colonial era. This was unlike the elite Ox-bridge brigade most of whose members came from the Sinhalese upper class, though here again there was Tamil presence, if not dominance. The Muslim elite too did not lag behind.

It all had to change – and also changed that way -- with the advent of universal adult suffrage in 1931, followed by Independence in 1948. When numbers mattered in democratic elections, and the majority in the Sinhala community felt left out of a proportional share in the national-cake that Government jobs represented -- and distanced from the Sinhala elite in socio-economic terms – the 'Sinhala Only' Act became a consequence. The rest, as they say, is history.

The numbers game within the Sinhala community interfering with the English-educated elitist status quo in political terms in particular was/is another aspect of the same phenomenon. The two failed JVP insurgencies in as many decades, and the emergence of slain President Ranasinghe Premadasa, first, and incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa since are only the most identifiable aspects of the same.

Yet, the fact still remains that 'Sinhala-Only' has prevailed over later-day amendments, providing for a three-language formula. The Tamils, advantaged as they were in their knowledge of English and disadvantaged as they were by 'Sinhala Only' and consequent ethnic violence unleashed against them, sporadically but severely for three full decades from the mid-Fifties, could capitalise on their language skills – and in jobs where they could find them and in ways that secured their personal safety and ethnic purity. Canada, Australia and much of Western Europe, became their safe-houses, just as some of them also became the safe-house of the LTTE after a time.

(To be continued)






When Dambisa Moyo wrote a book claiming that aid was bad for Africa, many in the West were ecstatic. This was no right-wing, isolationist, middle-aged, white, male author, but a glamorous, young, black, female, African economist. 'Deaf Aid' won itself a load of publicity when it came out in 2009, not because its argument was particularly new, but because it came from such an unexpected source.

Moyo's new book, 'How the West was lost: Fifty years of economic folly — and the stark choices ahead', may be rather less welcome to Western audiences. The 42-year-old Zambian argues that we have become feckless, over-borrowed, and obsessed with consumer goods. Our governments have fed our foolishness with policies that meant well but ended badly. Meanwhile, China and the other emerging economies, which she dubs "the Rest," have been catching up fast and have so far made few of the same mistakes. At the end of the book, she controversially floats the possibility of the US defaulting on its debt.

There is no hint of schadenfreude in Moyo. She isn't gloating at the decline of the West. Far from it. "Having grown up in Africa and watched all the most amazing American and British TV and having lived in a time when going to America was a big aspiration, it makes it even more of an issue to say, 'You've got to get it right! How can you disappoint my childhood dreams?' At the same time, seeing what China's done in moving 300 million people out of poverty gives me so much hope for what's possible for my home continent of Africa."

Moyo's argument is that Western governments unwisely encouraged their citizens to borrow too much and sink the money into the unproductive investment of a home, with all the subprime consequences that we have seen since. They set up unaffordable Ponzi state-pension schemes. And they failed to incentivise young people to study mathematics and science at college. How can such societies then compete against the highly educated, prudent Chinese, who don't have the economic burden of a welfare state? Moyo condemns the short-term outlook of Western politics and half admires China's ability to make quick, tough decisions unencumbered by democratic constraints. She cites the moment when China killed 2 million birds in a matter of days to avert avian flu, while America failed to kill any. Given that bird flu killed no humans in America, perhaps the democratic process has something to be said for it. (The chickens are doubtless grateful, too.)

Khaleej Times













At a closed-door workshop on Sri Lanka organized by the United States Institute for Peace and the U.S. State Department in Washington D.C. in August 2009, a leading Sri Lankan Tamil activist and a moderate asserted that Diaspora agitation would stop immediately when '13th plus' or Tamil regional autonomy was conceded. He failed to mention that from the inception the 'father of Tamil separatism,' S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, saw federalism as a stepping stone to secession. The motto of his gradualist approach was: 'a little now, more later'.         

With strong backing of western governments and India, local Tamil politicians are demanding a political settlement from the Sri Lankan government. LTTE proxy and largest Tamil political party in Sri Lanka, TNA, originally supported Tamil separatism. However, in early 2010 it dropped the demand for an independent state agreeing to accept regional self-rule instead. On December 12, 2010, the TNA entered into a joint initiative with the Tamil Parties Forum consisting of the majority of Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka to engage in talks with the Sri Lankan government to reach a political settlement. The TNA has also offered party membership to youth in an effort to broaden its mandate.

While the regional power India is not offering to broker talks and a political settlement, it has been highly active in calling for a political settlement based on devolution of power to Sri Lanka's Northern and the Eastern Provinces. On a recent visit to Sri Lanka, Indian Foreign Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna reiterated India's commitment to 'meaningful devolution' to the Tamil majority areas. While in Jaffna, he is reported to have stated that devolution should be based on the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution. In addition, India has inaugurated an Indian consulate in Jaffna in the northern tip of Sri Lanka which is close to Tamil Nadu and where there is a large Tamil population and active support for Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka.

Not insignificantly, India has also inaugurated an Indian consulate in Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka which is a major site of investment of India's rival, China.

Informal dialogue has already taken place between the Sri Lankan government and TNA representatives on political decentralization.  Reportedly, a preliminary agreement has been made to give the Provinces 'exclusive powers over land and fiscal powers including the power to receive foreign direct investment with provision for the Centre to request and use lands necessary for other national projects.'

Agreement is yet to be made on police powers and the unit of devolution, possibly a compromise on the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces.  In theory a change of the Sri Lankan constitution to decentralize authority from the center to the periphery appears to be a logical compromise to both the separate state and the unitary state associated with Tamil and Sinhala nationalism respectively. The 'international community,' the Indian government, Sri Lankan NGO peace groups and left-liberals (including some members of the current Sri Lankan government) who espouse this federalist position are considered moderates. 

In the abstract, a change of the Sri Lankan constitution and the transformation of the state from a unitary to a federal governance structure does seem to be the way out of the impasse. However, sustainable peace building cannot be undertaken a priori simply in accordance with the interests of politicians, be they local or international.  Policymaking must be based on the demographic and socio-economic situation on the ground. Even if 'iron clad guarantees' against eventual secession are introduced into a political agreement, a Kosovo type situation could be repeated in Sri Lanka. The fundamental problem, however, is not secessionism or devolution but justice for all communities in the island. To be just, a settlement whether it be the unitary state or separatism, outright secessionism or regional autonomy, must accord with social realities and needs of all groups rather than aspirations of elites.

Devolution: A Just


The preliminary agreement between the Sri Lankan government and the TNA is based on previously failed and rejected agreements, notably the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 and the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution.  The 13th Amendment imposed by India was intended to resolve 'Sri Lanka's ethnic problem' by devolving power to the Northern and Eastern Provinces identified as the 'areas of historical habitation of the Sri Lankan Tamil speaking peoples.'  Instead of resolving problems, the Indo-Lanka Agreement and Indian intervention culminated in one of the bloodiest and most anarchic periods in the history of the island. It led to violent resistance by the Sinhala JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna) in the south and the empowerment of the LTTE, one of several Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups originally funded and armed by India, as the 'sole representative of Tamils'. What were the reasons for the unpopularity and the failure of the 13th Amendment?  What are the basic demographic and socio-economic ground realities? Sri Lanka is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with a highly uneven population distribution. The population is highly concentrated in the south especially the Western Province while the Northern and Eastern Provinces remain relatively under-populated. The latter two Provinces constitute as much as one-third of the island and two-thirds of the coastline.

But, the percentage of the Sri Lankan Tamil population for whom self-rule is being anticipated has significantly decreased.  The Sri Lankan Tamil population was about 12.6% of the island's total population according to the Census of 1981 but The Economist estimated that in 2002 the Sri Lankan Tamils were only 8% of the total population, that is, the same percentage as the Muslims. These estimates may change following the Census to be conducted in 2011.

There is concern on the island over the possible allocation of a large and valuable area of land to a Provincial Council dominated by a tiny Sri Lankan Tamil political elite.  This concern is compounded by the fact that the claimed northern and eastern regions are characterized by ethno-religious pluralism rather than exclusivity.

The Eastern Province is the home to Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslims, approximately one-third each. The Northern Province had a significant Muslim population and a smaller Sinhalese population who were driven out by the LTTE during the course of the war. On November 30, 1990, 75,000-100,000 Muslims were driven out of Jaffna overnight by the LTTE. 

To be continued tomorrow

Dr. Asoka Bandarage is Affiliated

Professor, Sociology and Public Policy at Georgetown University.



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