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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

EDITORIAL 09.03.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month march 09, edition 000774, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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




































































It's only those who lack moral courage and are weak in spirit who fail to admit their mistakes and offer to make amends. Sadly, Mr Manmohan Singh, who happens to be the Prime Minister of India, is one such person. Nothing else explains why he should have so shamelessly sought to pass on the buck for his horribly wrong decision to appoint Mr PJ Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner while responding to the Opposition's demand for a clarification in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday. The Supreme Court's watershed judgement striking down the appointment of Mr Thomas as the decision to select him for the job was "non-est" (something which does not exist in law) because the pending criminal charges against him in the palmolein import scandal disqualified him as a contender for the CVC's post makes it abundantly clear that the Government erred, and erred grievously, in overlooking facts. Mr Singh is sufficiently intelligent to understand that the Supreme Court's verdict, apart from dislodging Mr Thomas from office, is a scathing comment on his choice and hence his conduct: He was adamant in pushing through his candidate for the job. Mr Singh now insists, as has been his practice, that he was 'unaware' of the charges pending against Mr Thomas. Worse, on Tuesday he blamed the then Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, Mr Prithviraj Chavan, for omitting the information from the note that was put up to him. Apart from the fact that shifting the blame for his own mistake to someone else is a cowardly and dishonourable thing to do, his statement shows him up as a person whose integrity is not beyond reproach. Even if we were to accept his claim that Mr Chavan failed to keep him fully informed, how does he explain his disregarding the Leader of Opposition's repeated attempts to draw his attention to the criminal charges pending against Mr Thomas? He need not have insisted on appointing Mr Thomas after Ms Sushma Swaraj let it be known that she would record her dissent rather than agree to the appointment of a tainted babu as the CVC. By making an elaborate case in his own defence to prove his innocence, Mr Singh is only spinning what is referred to as a web of deceit. Caesar divorced his wife on mere suspicion; to her credit, she did not take recourse to little white lies.

A leader must have the gumption to stand up and admit responsibility for decisions that Mr Singh would feebly describe as "errors of judgement". If that courage is absent in a person, he does not have the right to lead, or presume to lead. Indeed, no institution or organisation, least of all the Government of India, can afford to have a spineless person who gracelessly blames everybody else except himself or herself for a deed committed by him or her. The decision to appoint Mr Thomas as the CVC was entirely that of Mr Singh and nobody else. Not only should he be forced to accept the entire blame for that decision, he must also tell the nation what were the compulsions that made him back a politically connected babu with a tainted record. If he fails to do so, we can only presume that there were no extraneous reasons for him to insist on Mr Thomas's appointment at the expense of the executive's institutional prestige and dignity. Which would mean it was not an "error of judgement" at all, as Mr Singh claims it to be.







The Bangladesh High Court's decision on Tuesday to uphold that country's central bank's decision to remove Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus from the institution he founded, Grameen Bank, has expectedly received mixed responses. Supporters of Mr Yunus, who include a long list of influential international power-brokers, are outraged by the treatment meted out by Bangladesh to "one of its jewels" while the Government of Bangladesh has claimed the verdict as a vindication of its just and equal rule. Unsurprisingly, the court ruling which came after three days of heated arguments by lawyers and only hours after Mr Yunus stated that he was willing to consider a smooth transition of leadership at Grameen Bank, is already being contested by the defence. Irrespective of the final outcome of the appeal, there is no doubt that this is one court battle that will be closely watched. On the face of it, the case is all about technicality — why was the 70-year-old Mr Yunus still Managing Director of Grameen Bank when local laws stipulate 60 years as the age of retirement? But since Grameen Bank was formed under special laws, does the age stipulation apply? Either way, it is hard to ignore that the Government and Bangladesh Bank took more than 10 years to realise that Mr Yunus was way past his retirement age even though the organisation was regularly audited. Little wonder that in his petition to the High Court, Mr Yunus claimed that his dismissal last week by Bangladesh Bank, the country's central banking authority, was arbitrary and illegal. The High Court, however, found that the Grameen Bank board's appointment of Mr Yunus as Managing Director for an indefinite period in 2000 lacked legal authority. Bangladesh Bank has claimed that it never approved the appointment as is required by law for all public sector institutions — the Government of Bangladesh has a 25 per cent stake in Grameen Bank.

Technicalities apart, there have also been some worrying allegations that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has taken the opportunity to discredit Mr Yunus' credibility. It is an open secret that Sheikh Hasina has been resentful of Mr Yunus ever since he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his pioneering work in microfinance. Sheikh Hasina had felt that she was a more deserving candidate as she had worked for a peace treaty in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Naturally, when Mr Yunus brought home the prize, she was not pleased. To make matters worse, he floated a political party around the same time that rumours of a military coup to remove her Government were doing the rounds. Sheikh Hasina reportedly never forgave Mr Yunus for encroaching on her turf even though he quickly abandoned his political aspirations. Whatever the truth, it's a mess Sheikh Hasina can do without.









While India has chosen to forget the sacrifices of its soldiers in foreign land, Sri Lanka has erected a memorial in honour of the IPKF's fallen heroes.

I was on the lookout for Harpal's name. Like all those who knew him I too had been devastated by the loss of the Ropar Khalsa. He had that infectious persona. I had last seen him at his unit mess, during the 1987 cricket world cup. Even as the country partook in its cricket craze, there were those who didn't have that luxury, as they were at war for India.

Harpal didn't want to remain in the rear, looking after his unit ladies and children. An officer of 1 Para Commando, Harpal lost his life during Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka. His battalion, like countless others, had been part of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force that ended up fighting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam when they had gone to keep the calm in the island.

Nothing captured the irony and the idiocy of the situation more than an officer injured early in the fighting telling me later, "I was injured by the LTTE who were using arms and ammunition supplied by India, and saved by the Sri Lankan Army who had been supplied by the Pakistanis." But it is not for the soldier to question political decisions, however bizarrely they may turn on their head.

A dear friend, Harpal had been the subject of the first article I had written about the IPKF in my early days as a journalist. It was on ode to Harpal, by name, and through him to all the others of the Indian Army who had fallen in a battle they had hardly prepared for.

So when I learnt of the memorial to soldiers of the IPKF, a visit there became inevitable. To bow my head, say a prayer, pay respect, and search for names that carried memories of fondness. And there it said — Capt H Singh PARA. Touching, and I was grateful.

Standing at the foot of the memorial I gazed in awe at its beauty and solemnity. Officers and jawans etched in perpetuity, white on black, and from across the country. There are Kashmiri names, just as there are Naga names. All casualties of a political decision to battle those they had gone to protect.

Every infantry regiment, and more, was recorded there. Tank men who volunteered for infantry duties, and didn't come back to India are remembered for their valour. I saw the name of Col Chabra, whose son now dons the same uniform of the same battalion as he did while fighting for his country. It was humbling to stand before them, all together in memory, for posterity.

When the awe and pain of going through the names subsided, I couldn't believe myself that there was, finally, a state inspired and funded war memorial to Indian soldiers. The fact that a Government-created memorial could be so beautifully made was as hard to believe as seeing one constructed in the first place. It is not a citizen's initiative like, for example, the memorials in Chandigarh and Bangalore. It has been inspired by a national Government, funded and constructed by its agencies.

But, alas, in this case the state is not the Government of India, and the agencies that created it are not its PWD or MES. The credit is owed only to the Government of Sri Lanka, and the construction has been done entirely by the Sri Lankan Navy. And it has been done strikingly well.
Even as the Government of India resists the pressures of its soldiers and citizens to make a post-independence war memorial, Sri Lanka has recognised the significance of the Indian soldiers and sailors who died for its integrity from 1987 to 1990. The memorial has been made entirely from Sri Lankan funds, architectural consultants, and the contracting agency is the Sri Lanka Navy. Creditable when one considers the absence of any Government-made war memorial in India.

A plaque reads in English and Hindi: "This monument is dedicated to the members of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force who made the supreme sacrifice during the peace-keeping mission from 1987 to 1990 in Sri Lanka." Another plaque says: "Indian Peace-Keeping Force — Valiant were their deeds; Undying be their memories."

The IPKF memorial resides in the new capital of the country near Colombo, Sri Jayawardanepura Kotte. Past the Sri Lankan Parliament, the IPKF memorial is but a stone's throw from the Sri Lankan national memorial for their own war heroes, rows upon rows of names etched in eternity. They fought to the bitter end with the LTTE, losing hundreds of brave soldiers in the process. And it is touching the level at which Sri Lanka values the contribution of the IPKF, for such is the pride of place which they have given to, and erected a memorial for, the sacrifices made by Indian soldiers.

I recall vividly the coincidence of dates in 1995. In the space of a few weeks there would be the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II and the 30th anniversary of the 1965 India-Pakistan war. I remember formally asking the Ministry of Defence as to how India was going to mark the events, both of which cost precious Indian lives. A bureaucrat replied, without any trace of irony or humility for the dead, that India was a peaceful country and did not believe in marking events like wars. The classic ahimsa line.

I was aghast, especially since the British Government was taking all Indian Victoria Cross and George Cross winners to London for the big celebrations. And India was silent on its own contributions. That attitude persists even today.

India's attitude towards its soldiers, sailors and airmen can be gauged from the fact that a black plaque bolted on the IPKF memorial remains unlettered, blank. The Prime Minister of India was meant to inaugurate the memorial and have his name etched on this plaque. The inauguration was put off on account of political sensitivities within India, so the plaque remains bare and black.

Votes and political alliances are more important in India than respecting the memories of those 1,200 soldiers and sailors who lost their lives on account of the follies their rulers. The bare black plaque stares back at visitors, conveying a message of ingratitude, insensitivity, and disrespect. As true a reflection of Indian attitudes to fallen soldiers as there can be.

In the meantime, Sri Lanka honours Indian soldiers and sailors just as well as they honour their own.







As diplomacy and sanctions have failed to tame Libya's autocratic ruler Muammar Gaddafi who is guilty of trying to brutally put down a popular revolt against him, the US and Nato could be preparing for a military intervention. That's what happened in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Are we then heading for a fragmentation of what we now know as the Republic of Libya?

President Barack Obama has finally come out and said that all options are on the table for Libya, including military options.

Now that hopes for a quick and relatively bloodless overthrow of Col Muammar Gaddafi have faded, both internal and external pressure are being brought to bear in an effort to force the dictator out. Diplomacy has been tried. Sanctions have been imposed. Military force is all that's left.

The old term used to describe such actions, 'gunboat diplomacy', is no longer politically correct. Now 'liberal intervention' is preferred. But while the name may have changed, the methods have not. Libya appears to be maneuvered down the same path of action that culminated in the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia, which started on March 24, 1999, after a no-fly zone was announced.

Col Gaddafi is certainly not a likable person. You can even despise the man. But his opponents in the international community are going somewhat over the top, utilising a very familiar arsenal of trickery and guile. International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said on March 3 that the ICC will investigate Libyan leader Col Gaddafi and his inner circle, including some of his sons, for possible crimes against humanity in the violent crackdown on anti-Government protesters. Conveniently enough, the UN Security Council had approved the investigation on February 26, which was a necessary prerequisite, as Libya is not a signatory of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The most interesting aspect of this is, however, that the resolution was approved by 15 of the Security Council's 15 members, even though the United States and Russia have not ratified the ICC treaty, do not recognise its jurisdiction and therefore are not legal signatories, whereas China does not recognise the court at all.

The United States even insisted that the resolution be amended to include a clause exempting its citizens from the court's jurisdiction. It was a prudent, if hypocritical, move, providing cover for the United States in the event that it chooses to deploy troops in Libya as part of a humanitarian intervention.

The United States and Nato started gathering a strike force near Libya in early February. The amphibious assault ships USS Kearsarge and USS Ponce and the nuclear submarine Scranton passed through the Suez Canal and reached Libya's Gulf of Sidra by March 4. They are part of the group led by the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, which is said to be carrying some 42 helicopters on board. Libya is within striking distance.

So far, only Russia and China have spoken out against a military intervention. The other permanent members of the Security Council are insisting that all options are on the table, while acknowledging that any intervention must be approved by the UN.

The quest for UN approval is an essentially meaningless but nevertheless indispensable political ritual that always precedes violations of international law. The same thing happened before Nato's Operation Allied Force (Noble Anvil) in Yugoslavia.

In spring 1999, Russia and China blocked approval of a military operation in Yugoslavia, but Nato still bombed the country under the authority vested by its own charter. However, a broad interpretation of the charter allows almost any kind of intervention in any country.


Yugoslavia did not attack a Nato member state and therefore did not threaten the alliance. The decision to bomb Yugoslavia was made by Democratic President Bill Clinton. Some claim Mr Clinton was just wagging the dog — using the intervention in Yugoslavia to distract Americans from the Lewinsky scandal and the threat of impeachment Mr Clinton was facing for lying to Congress about the affair.

Mr Obama is not involved in any scandal and is already waging two wars — in Afghanistan and Iraq. He hardly needs to add a third. But helping the Libyan rebels oust Col Gaddafi will not necessarily lead to a war. The dictator only has the support of security forces that are dependent on his regime.

On the other hand, Mr Obama is facing a problem that would impact US interests more directly than Yugoslavia: Rapidly growing oil prices threaten to curtail America's economic recovery, thereby greatly reducing Mr Obama's chances for re-election next year.

Sending warships to Libya is only a demonstration of force meant to pressure Col Gaddafi. The United States and Nato need a convincing reason (or pretext) to intervene militarily.

The invasion of Afghanistan was justified by the September 11 attacks. President Bush was seen as having no other option. But there was no convincing reason to invade Iraq, just the manufactured pretext that Saddam Hussein was pursuing weapons of mass destruction. So far, there are no solid legal grounds to justify an invasion of Libya.

However, Col Gaddafi could provide the justification. No one in the West has said a military intervention is being planned, but no one has denied it either. Politicians are beating the drum for war, saying that an invasion cannot be ruled out if the bloodshed continues in Libya.

Recent reports from Libya claim that forces loyal to Col Gaddafi are attacking cities held by rebel forces, and that the death toll is in the hundreds. If the West continues to pressure Col Gaddafi, he will spill enough innocent blood to justify an invasion, which the Republicans in the United States are openly demanding.

The military preparations underway in the Mediterranean go beyond the simple redeployment of US warships 'just in case'. These preparations always have a critical mass — the line beyond which war becomes unavoidable.

There are sufficient material and financial incentives for crossing this line, and after all, the warships positioned off the coast of Libya are not children's toys.

USS Kearsarge is one of the world's largest assault vessels of its kind. It has dozens of helicopters on board, missiles, landing craft, and over 2,000 Marines. The ship was used in the Yugoslavian operation in 1999 to deploy Marines, reconnaissance groups and special forces.

USS Ponce and the nuclear submarine Scranton were also involved in Yugoslavia. Scranton-class submarines are armed with cruise missiles and are designed to land troops covertly and to conduct subversive operations.
The planes that bombed Yugoslavia were based on the aircraft carrier the USS Theodore Roosevelt, as well as Italian and French bases and aircraft carriers deployed by Italy, France and Britain. Similar warships and aircraft have approached much closer to Libya than they ever were to Yugoslavia.

Meanwhile, London has announced that it is sending in a SAS unit to save about 20 British oil workers stranded in southeast Libya (the SAS is an elite fighting force on par the US Navy SEALs or the Alpha counterterrorism unit of the Russian special forces).

This may be just the beginning.

-- The writer is a Moscow-based foreign affairs analyst.







While the people of Arab states are overthrowing dictators, Pakistan is sinking deeper into intolerant Islamic extremism. Emboldened by the meek response of the people to the assassinations of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, Islamist vigilantes will now become more brutal

At least with a dictatorship, you know where you are — and if you know where you are, you may be able to find your way out. In Pakistan, it is not so simple.

While brave Arab protesters are overthrowing deeply entrenched autocratic regimes, often without even resorting to violence, Pakistan, a democratic country, is sinking into a sea of violence, intolerance and extremism. The world's second-biggest Muslim country (185 million people) has effectively been silenced by ruthless Islamist fanatics who murder anyone who dares to defy them.

What the fanatics want, of course, is power, but the issue on which they have chosen to fight is Pakistan's laws against blasphemy. They not only hunt down and kill people who fall afoul of these laws, should the courts see fit to free them. They have also begun killing anybody who publicly advocates changing the laws.

Salman Taseer, the governor of the Punjab, Pakistan's richest and most populous Province, was murdered by his own bodyguard in January because he criticised the blasphemy laws and wanted to change them. He said that he would go on fighting them even if he was the last man standing — and in a very short time he was no longer standing. But one man still was: Shahbaz Bhatti.

Shahbaz Bhatti was shot down last Wednesday. The four men who ambushed his car and filled him with bullets left a note saying: "In your fight against Allah, you have become so bold that you act in favour of and support those who insult the Prophet... And now, with the grace of Allah, the warriors of Islam will pick you out one by one and send you to hell."

Shahbaz Bhatti was not a rich and powerful man like Salman Taseer, nor even a major power in the ruling Pakistan People's Party that they both belonged to. He was the only Christian member of the Cabinet, mainly as a token representative of the country's three million Christians, but he had hardly any influence outside that community. Nevertheless, he refused to stop criticising the blasphemy laws even after Salman Taseer's murder, so they killed him too.

That leaves only Sherry Rehman, the last woman standing. A flamboyant member of Parliament whose mere appearance enrages the beards, she has been a bold and relentless critic of the blasphemy laws — and since Salman Taseer's murder she has lived in hiding, moving every few days. But she will not shut up until they shut her up.

And that's it. The rest of the country's political and cultural elite have gone silent, or pander openly to the fanatics and the bigots. The PPP was committed to changing the blasphemy laws only six months ago, but after Salman Taseer was killed President Asif Ali Zardari assured a gathering of Islamic dignitaries that he had no intention of reviewing the blasphemy laws. Although they are very bad laws.

In 1984 General Zia ul-Haq, the dictator who ruled Pakistan from 1977 to 1988, made it a criminal offence for members of the Ahmadi sect, now some five million strong, to claim that they were Muslims. In 1986 he instituted the death penalty for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad. No subsequent Government has dared to repeal these laws, which are widely used to victimise the Ahmadi and Christian religious minorities.

Ahmadis and Christians account for at most five per cent of Pakistan's population, but almost half of the thousand people charged under this law since 1986 belonged to those communities. Most accusations were false, arising from disputes over land, but once made they could be a death sentence.

Higher courts generally dismissed blasphemy charges, recognising that they were a tactic commonly used against Christians and Ahmadis in local disputes over land, but 32 people who were freed by the courts were subsequently killed by Islamist vigilantes — as were two of the judges who freed them.

The current crisis arose when a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, was sentenced to death last November, allegedly for blaspheming against the Prophet Muhammad. Pakistan's liberals mobilised against the blasphemy law and discovered that they were an endangered species.

The murders of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were bad, but even worse was the way that the political class and the bulk of the mass media responded. A majority of the population fully supports the blasphemy law, making it very costly for politicians to act against it even if the fanatics don't kill them. Political cowardice reigns supreme, and so Pakistan falls slowly under the thrall of the extremists.

Being a democracy is no help, it turns out, because democracy requires people to have the courage of their convictions. Very few educated Pakistanis believe that people should be executed because of a blasphemy charge arising out of some trivial village dispute, but they no longer dare to say so. Including the President.

"We will not be intimidated nor will we retreat," said Mr Zardari on March 3, but he has already promised the beards that the blasphemy laws will not be touched. Nor is it very likely that the murderers of Salman Taseer or Shahbaz Bhatti will be tracked down and punished. You could get killed trying to do that.

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







Words carry weight. More than being just arbitrary symbols representing sounds and concepts, over time, words acquire a flavour of their own. They stir passions, instil sentiments, and direct the course of civilisations.

I want to talk about two words in particular — forward and backward — and the ideas and values they represent along with how they affect our way of thinking. Forward and backward are loaded words and they come with some heavy implications. Upon comparing them we find that there seems to be something inherently good about the future and something very shameful about the past. The future is generally seen as a place we ought to aspire for — a golden time of prosperity and happiness where today's problems would cease to exist. The past is perceived to be the source of all the troubles we have right now — it is a dark place populated only by the mistakes we made when we didn't know any better.

To be sure, it is just a matter of how much effort we put into our culture-consciousness. Given the nature of time, one can't help going towards the future. Being in touch with the past, on the other hand, requires effort.

But this seemingly simple dichotomy — at a deeper level — may be seen as the essence of the difference between the world views of the East and the West.

The Western view of history is linear — events that are fixed in an age gone by, never to return. This past is what has lead to the present and the present, in its turn, will lead towards tomorrow. This view of the world sees time as linear — as a sequence of events with a distinct beginning, a rather clean progression, and an ultimate end. This view may be seen as being supported by both Western religion and science.

Western religion, mostly Christianity, is based on distinctive historicity — a set of beliefs that root from an epochal event in the past (Christ's sacrifice) that set the ground for the coming of an epochal event in the future (the day of judgement). There is no deviating from this linear world view. It is, as they say, set in stone.

The science of the West, too, is a progressive phenomenon. Knowledge is seen as a constantly improving value. What we knew about the universe in the past was imperfect (and therefore inferior) compared to what we know today. Similarly, what we will know tomorrow will be a superior and more accurate set of facts. Here too, as in religion, the progression of events is linear.

The end result is that the West seems always to be in pursuit of a golden tomorrow that is perfect in every way. The past, by contrast, is all sins, ignorance, shame, and pain.

The Indian view of time is more complicated. The Hindu idea of itihasa is that of events which have happened, are happening, and will happen again. There is no epochal event that defines reality for all eternity. Instead, such epochal events are spread all through time, repeating themselves at regular intervals, as surely as seasons do. Since ancient times, India has never had a clear demarcating line between science and religion. The human quest for truth weaves in and out of all physical and mental disciplines. India's religion and science both agree with each other on this cyclic view of reality. While ancient Hindu cosmology speaks of universe upon universe being created, sustained and eventually destroyed in periods of time trillions of years across, Hindu mythology chronicles tales of gods being born in the human world age after age for all eternity.

In this view of the world, the past isn't just a cozy memory to be recalled with nostalgic fondness. It is as real as the present and as important as the future. Time isn't just a string of events happening one after the other, it is a wheel that goes around eternally. The human being (along with all his affairs) is a mere speck on the scale of eternity, but more than being a mere rider, he is also an essential part of the cycle of events.

These world views are reflected in the social realities of the West and the East. The child — the representative of the future — is the focus of the Western family. All energies are focussed on the individual of tomorrow. This individual, of course, grows up looking for answers in tomorrow and has something of a disconnect with his past.

The traditional family system in India, on the other hand, is not a unit by itself. It is a link that connects the individual with the past as well as the future because both are considered equally important. Elders see their ways continued in their children and children look back upon them for their sense of identity. It is, in many ways, a very fulfilling model.

The Western trend, now very prevalent in India as well, of sending aging parents to old-age homes is equivalent to cutting the individual's connection with his past.

The question regarding the need for the past is often raised. The answer is simple — you can't go where you want to go if you don't remember where you came from. Amnesia is not a traveller's best friend. The presence of the past is important because it puts things in perspective. Without a link with history, an individual's quest for identity can quickly turn into a blind dash in complete darkness.

The past is a cultural record. All societies big and small — from nations to friend circles, have a culture. In a group of friends, everyone knows each other's nature. Each friend knows the other's likes, dislikes, and limits. This knowledge builds up over time and guides the friend circle's behaviour. Without the solid base that is its culture, the friend circle, or any society for that matter, can not survive.

For example, I believe that the roots of most of Pakistan's problems today lie in its disconnect with its history. The state of Pakistan turned its back on the millennia-old history that it shared with present-day India and adopted and tried to make alien Arabic roots its own. To put it simply, because they forgot where they came from, Pakistanis have no idea where they are going.

It can only be a seriously warped public discourse that equates being past-conscious with being 'backward'. A large part of the reasons behind India being considered backward is the tendency among many of us to equate the Western way with progress. As if there is something inherently anti-progress about the Indian way.

It is possible to be Indian and progressive at the same time.

-- Vijayendra Mohanty is a Delhi-based writer, scholar and thinker.









The conflict in Libya has caused - and continues to cause - economic pain and hardship on a massive scale for its people. But its collateral damage is global in scope. Libya produces nearly 2% of the world's oil and its production is currently down two-thirds from the pre-crisis level of 1.6 million barrels a day. That in itself isn't reason enough to break out in a cold sweat, but fear can be contagious. Oil prices have hit their highest point since September 2008 and the knock-on effect has affected stock markets across the world. Indices in the US and Japan, Australia and Europe, have yo-yoed over the past few weeks. They have currently rebounded to some extent. But that recovery is, again, limited by oil prices.

In Libya the rebels control the eastern coast and the majority of the oil installations, while Gaddafi holds firm in Tripoli and his aircraft attack sensitive rebel positions such as near the Ras Lanuf oil terminal. The country is in a state of civil war, which could drag on interminably. Coupled with sanctions against Gaddafi's regime, this makes it impossible for international oil companies to operate here. And there's a larger crisis in the Middle East, caused by a toxic mix of regime autocracy, societies experiencing a demographic youth bulge, and large-scale unemployment. Concerns are mounting that the wave of pro-democracy protests sweeping across the region could impact OPEC heavyweights like Saudi Arabia and Iran. If they do so, all bets are off.

India's relatively robust market fundamentals will not help it escape the repercussions if this situation persists. The government already finds itself in a bind. If it passes on the global oil price rise to the consumer by hiking petrol and diesel prices, it will impact growth and already ruinous inflation. Besides, with state elections coming up, a price rise will be politically unpalatable. If it does not, under-recovery for state oil companies will make them sick.

Slashing customs duty on crude oil and excise duties on diesel and gasoline in the budget could have mitigated this, allowing the gap between global and domestic prices to be narrowed without placing too heavy a burden on consumers. But this wasn't done despite projections that the loss in government revenues through slashing duties would have stayed within manageable limits. It's up to the empowered group of ministers due to meet soon on the issue to take up these changes now - and to do so swiftly. Revenue losses to the government can be made up by fast-tracking the disinvestment process.







The failure to prevent the derailment of the Gyaneswari Express - despite police being cognizant of the conspiracy several hours before tragedy struck - highlights the pathologically dysfunctional state of the West Bengal police and bureaucracy. This worrying state of affairs is, in the main, due to the politicisation of the bureaucracy over 35 years of uninterrupted Left rule. Political dominance permitted the Left to erode the nation's iron frame by diluting its neutrality, resulting in a compliant bureaucracy. Defined by a fail-safe culture, the bureaucracy prefers playing it safe and failing rather than challenging the political leadership or showing initiative. This explains the inexplicable; in this case why the police didn't act despite having recorded conversations about derailing a train between members of a known Maoist organisation.

In doing nothing, the authorities - to all intents and purposes - aided and abetted what has been termed the nation's worst terrorist attack since 2008. A few simple tools were required to remove a 46 centimetre length of track and derail the Express which was then struck by a goods train travelling in the opposite direction. The result: 148 innocents dead and many more injured. The culture which enabled such a tragedy to pass needs to be combated. Politicians and bureaucrats can learn from the example set by some night watchmen in 2009. They foiled another Maoist bid to derail a train in Jhargram in West Bengal thanks to their alertness and initiative. Having noticed the Maoists, the night watchmen charged them, drove them off and then quickly informed the railway authorities. Alertness, initiative and bravery are obviously not dead. They're just stifled by West Bengal's politics.






The announcement in the budget of providing fertiliser and fuel subsides through cash transfer, if successfully implemented, can effectively reach the poor and reduce the burden of subsidies. There are, however, sceptics who question if this can be effectively implemented. The old-age pension and widows' pension schemes that involve cash transfer are, according to some, the least effective schemes in reaching the intended beneficiaries. Also, questions are raised whether cash transfer can work when many poor are illiterate and do not have bank accounts. It is also suggested that cash would be easier to siphon off. These are misplaced concerns.

Often when a new policy or measure is suggested, people point out all that can go wrong and say it is not perfect. However, the question that should be asked is whether it is substantially better than present policy or not.

So, let's look at how the present policy performs. A number of studies have shown that between one third to half of kerosene supplied through the public distribution system (PDS) gets diverted to adulterate diesel and does not reach the intended persons. Also, as per the National Sample Survey data for 2004-05, among rural households that get any kerosene from PDS, the bottom 90% of the households get around three litres per household per month. Some 25% of the rural households in all decile groups do not get any kerosene at all. Thus, 25% of the poor are excluded and nearly 75% of the rich are included. If we consider that 50% are poor, then only half of the 66% kerosene distributed through PDS reaches the poor. Thus, the poor today get only 33% of the subsidy expenditure by the government.

If all the poor households were to get kerosene - five litres instead of three - it would require around 75% of the kerosene that is currently supplied to the PDS system. The subsidy burden of kerosene would come down by 25%.

An effective targeting scheme, which is the key to this, can be based on Aadhaar, the Unique ID Card. Aadhaar is a smart card that carries finger prints and iris scan data. A person with the card can go to a shop and put his fingers on a small device that transmits the data to the Aadhaar computer system, which confirms within five seconds if the person is the same one as the card holder. It is thus not possible for anyone else to claim the entitlement associated with the card. The cards can be charged with their entitlement. The poor can go to any shop, buy kerosene at market price, pay the ration price in cash and the difference between market price and ration price is electronically transferred from the government's account to the trader's account. This way, there will be only one price of kerosene in the market and traders will have no incentive to divert it. Direct cash transfer would require a bank account for each family, while what is proposed here, just giving the entitlement through Aadhaar card, does not.

The key element in the scheme's success is identification of the poor. How do we ensure that this is done correctly? If the poor are identified in an open gram sabha, the errors of exclusion of the poor as well as erroneous inclusion of the rich can be minimised.

Can illiterate persons manage smart cards? Illiterate does not mean dumb. People manage their ration cards even today. A smart card is no different. Also, by now families without at least one literate person would be very few.

Finally, should kerosene or LPG subsidy be given as entitlement or as cash transfer that the consumer is free to use for anything? LPG is a clean cooking fuel and is a merit good that we want everybody to use. Cooking with firewood and dung causes indoor air pollution with significant adverse impact on health. The social cost of it has been estimated to be much more than the cost of subsidising LPG for the poor. When cash is provided, the poor may not spend it on LPG, especially if a man - rather than a woman - takes the decision on spending in the household as the burden of smoke from firewood is largely borne by women. In such a case, it is better to provide subsidy as an entitlement rather than as cash. One can argue that even when given as entitlement, the poor can sell it and convert it into cash. While this is possible, it would involve a transaction cost which would discourage people from selling it. If cash is to be given, it should at least be given to the woman of the household.

Thus, the announcement by the finance minister in the budget to give subsidy for kerosene, LPG and fertiliser in the form of cash transfer is to be welcomed if it is based on a mechanism that leads to effective targeting, empowers women and eliminates dual pricing. I prefer entitlement to cash transfer at least for merit goods where there are externalities.

We are generally averse to experimenting with new solutions. Why not implement this for Aadhaar card holders and test whether they are better off than ration card holders? In two to three years, we could be ready to implement a superior scheme nationally.

The writer is chairman, Integrated Research and Action for Development (IRADe).









On the cusp of realising a Free Trade Agreement with India, the European Union (EU) is already an important trading partner. The ambassador, Head of Delegation of the European Union to India, Daniele Smadja , spoke to Deep K Datta-Ray :

What does the Indo-EU FTA intend to secure?

The FTA is a very important agreement that would provide a firm springboard for a mutually beneficial expansion in the area of trade. We are very hopeful that it will be concluded this year as there is clear political direction from the highest levels. We are actively engaged in negotiations and we are also making rapid progress. But this is an extremely complex process which takes a lot of time and while deadlines are important, the EU puts substance before timing. We're at a critical stage and both governments are working towards a common ground. When realised, the FTA will also facilitate the temporary movement of professionals. This will be under Mode 4 of the WTO.

In trading matters, is there a jurisdictional overlap between the EU and its member states?
No! Trade policy is the competence of the EU. The 27 EU members cannot negotiate individually with India or any other country. The EU does the negotiating and i, for example, represent the EU's broad range of interests here in India. If European companies face trade barriers in India, then the EU takes it up with the concerned department on behalf of its member states. On the other hand, member states do trade promotion within the broad parameters negotiated by the EU. So you will see my colleagues, for example the German or the Finnish ambassador representing the particular interests of individual companies like Siemens or Nokia - and not so much me. There is a division of labour and we coordinate our positions at our monthly meetings.

To linger on trade, what can be done to expedite the FTA negotiations?

Once negotiations are completed, the European Parliament has to ratify the FTA. Our Parliament has to be satisfied with the result. In the case of the EU and India, we have one great asset. We are more complementary than competitors but there is a need for more dialogue, especially between parliamentarians. There is an EU parliamentary delegation for India which visits regularly to understand issues. We are waiting for such a reciprocal initiative in either the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha as this would improve communication. Better interaction amongst the most august of our institutions would also sensitise both parties about how to encourage, in a sustainable manner, trade and development. Both must take place, but it would be irresponsible to encourage them at the expense of social and environmental concerns.

Moving onto the social and political, does the EU perceive India as a model?

Our strategic partnership is very rich and includes many policy dialogues in areas as diverse as environment, energy, migration, culture, security etc. This is because we not only want to cooperate with each other but also want to learn from each other's experiences in developing our respective policy. Both the EU and India are committed to the same set of universal values, share the same motto 'unity in diversity' and place secularism at the centre of our society. But our approaches may be different. For example, the Indian experience, given its great civilisation, in dealing with cultural diversity is a source of inspiration to us, as the diversity of our society is more recent. Also the EU is still very much a work in progress and India too is moving very fast. We both, I think, can learn considerably from each other.








The recent exchange of jailed Maoists for a government official held captive by extremists on the Orissa and Andhra Pradesh border has revived the debate about the need to have a national hostage policy: what should be the state's response in a hostage situation? Should it give in to the demands made by the captors in order to obtain the release of the captives, or should it refuse to negotiate at all, as succumbing to pressure will inevitably encourage more hostage-taking in future?

Israel - a country which has been in a virtual state of war with its encircling neighbours since its inception - has always taken the tough no-negotiation line. India - a far 'softer' state than Israel where military service is compulsory and all citizens are conditioned to think of themselves as front-line troops - has invariably given in to the captors' demands, be it the recent case or the Kandahar hijacking drama of 1999. But with the escalation of threat perception from terrorists of various stripe - be they so-called religious fanatics or political extremists, such as Naxals or members of secessionist groups like Ulfa - does New Delhi need to take a call on a clear-cut hostage policy? There's an increasing demand in the country - both in the security establishment as well as among the common citizenry - that the central and state governments adopt a 'tough' policy on terror, part of which would be a refusal to yield ground in hostage situations, following the Israeli example.

Brave words. But impossible to live up to in the Indian context. In besieged Israel, security imperatives override political considerations; indeed, security imperatives shape politics. In the Indian state - which has many enemies both within and outside - politics continues to dominate everything, including security policies and issues.

India's political class, across the board, has a finely honed instinct for self-preservation at any cost. Keeping an eye on the electoral fallout while taking a tough call is an inescapable political compulsion in any democracy. But in India where the political class thrives on the grace-and-favour bribery of vote-bank politics, policy is invariably sacrificed for the sake of populism. No political leader would publicly advocate a hard, no-surrender

policy in hostage situations; it would be tantamount to committing political suicide.

There is a fundamental reason that the Indian state can't take a tough line in such situations. And that is that it is not just extremists or terrorists who take our citizens as hostages. Today, many would say that it is the state itself which holds hostage - and has done so since supposed Independence over 60 years ago - the millions of economically and socially marginalised citizens of the country who lack the most basic necessities of life, including food and shelter. While the government tom-toms India's 8.5% growth story, hunger and deprivation haunt the voiceless millions who voted UPA-II, and all previous governments, into office.

This is the real paradox of the Indian state: it is 'soft' on terror and terrorists; it is brutally hard on its own citizens. Perhaps nothing better illustrates this than the horrifying case of Aruna Shanbaug, a Mumbai resident who has been medically certified to be in a 'vegetative state', following a violent rape in 1973. Though doctors have confirmed that the coma she is in is irreversible and that she is virtually brain dead, Aruna has all these years been kept on a life support system despite pleas by her family and friends that she be released from this agonising and dehumanising living death. But according to the Indian state, the self-termination of life, or any abetment to do so, was till the recent Supreme Court judgment against the law. What hostage situation, perpetrated by any terrorist, could be more cruel than that?







By all counts, the raging debate on euthanasia will not die down even if the Indian Parliament is to pass a law on it tomorrow. Yet, the Supreme Court's order on Monday — clearing the way for passive euthanasia — is a big leap forward and will hopefully push legislators to tackle the issue without further delay.

The court made it clear that the guidelines for passive euthanasia (withholding medical treatment for terminally ill patients) would be in force until Parliament enacts a proper law. The court, however, is not in favour of active euthanasia that involves the use of lethal substances to end a patient's life.

Understandably, for the legislators too, it will not be easy: euthanasia, like life itself, is a grey area with too many conflicting views. Take for example, the view of religious leaders. While most warn the State against 'playing god', no matter what the medical condition of the person is, the concept of voluntary death does exist in Jainism and Hinduism (only for seers, one Vedic scholar clarified).

Among doctors, arguably this group is best positioned to take the all-important call, the divide is sharp. While most, at least publicly, swear by the Hippocratic Oath ('I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel'), there are also many experienced doctors who insist that 'quality' is more important than 'right' to life, especially in the case of Aruna Shanbaug.

The former nurse of Mumbai's KEM Hospital has been lying in a permanent vegetative state for the last 38 years. Passive euthanasia is not unknown in India. It has existed for years because often it's economics that decides the viability of keeping a terminally ill patient alive. But 'quality' of life should not be the preserve of only people like us who can decide for ourselves.

A certain standard of life must be there even for people as unfortunate as Shanbaug. A similar deep divide on euthanasia also exists among lawyers.  Whichever way we look at it, the Shanbaug case is one of the rarest of rare cases and, therefore, cannot be a template for future decisions on the issue.

The order will now prise open the debate a little more: why can't we have active euthanasia like The Netherlands? The oft repeated argument: the law can be misused by family members of a terminally ill patient. But aren't all laws open to misuse? There has to be strict safeguards and a case-by-case decision taken on medical evidence with some more-than-minimum requirement to keep a patient alive. After all, not all those like Shanbaug have caregivers as dedicated as the KEM hospital staff.





The big fat Indian wedding's added a little more weight going by the recent trend of couples wanting to write their own vows. So, in addition to seven swings around the fire and endless rituals, we must now hear the about-to-be-hitched telling each other all the things that they will do for each other.

We understand that newly weds Lara Dutta and Mahesh Bhupathi exchanged such pleasantries based on their respective professions. We feel that rather than twitter on in a cringeworthy manner about all the lovely things that you are committed to providing for your partner, one should be upfront and tell it like it is.

It could help remove several irritants on which the marriage could flounder after the first flush of love. One could be enunciate who gets what in the case of things going off kilter. This way, you will not have to fight for your favourite sofa and the affections of the pet dog when you decide to give the beloved the heave-ho.

It would also be wise to decide on who gets to sit on the recliner in front of the television and who gets to operate the remote. Wars have broken out on these issues in some households.

The banning of nauseating endearments and pet names in public could go a long way towards ensuring that one's dignity is intact. The strict regulation of familial visits from either side will instantly brighten the atmosphere at home. There is nothing more bone-chilling than the mother-in-law or barmy uncle turning up at the door with luggage to last three months.

The compulsory uttering of white lies on the appearance of the partner is a sweetener even as you hope you won't burn in hell for your exaggerations. A decision on what should be on the menu will eliminate that urge on the part of every spouse to go in for organic vegetables when all you want to do is sink your fangs into a leg of ham. These are just some ideas from us.

We are sure that you will use your imagination to come up with more innovative ones. It will keep the vow factor alive in your marriage.






A rough beast snaps at the heels of 21st century democratic governments every minute of their governing lives. That beast is the 24-hour media: constantly hectoring, constantly exposing. The Media are the constant inescapable opposition.

Because it's omnipresent, the media register absences even more powerfully than presences. When everybody's speaking, those who do not speak become extremely conspicuous. From Barack Obama to David Cameron to Nicolas Sarkozy, every modern politician has recognised the importance of constant innovative communication.

The UPA, by stark contrast — cocooned in the rarefied notion of its grand social contract with the 'rural masses' — must be the only democratic government in the world which scorns the media as a middle class irrelevancy. It is this scorn that is adding to UPA 2's image crisis.

One gentle sardar stands between the UPA and the relentless barrage of corruption allegations. One Blue Turban is the shield that the UPA can still muster against daily attacks on its credibility. The conventional wisdom is that Manmohan Singh is a lame duck prime minister.

On the contrary, politically, the PM is at his strongest ever at this time. Is there anyone else in the Congress who could have protected the party by sheer personal stature the way Singh is doing at the moment? Is there any other leader who could have stood up day after day against the Opposition and still be grudgingly spoken of as a 'good man' across the country?

Even the Opposition knows that there is no substitute for Singh at the moment, which is possibly why Sushma Swaraj, the true democrat she is, drew out from the PM the words that every citizen was waiting to hear, namely that he takes personal responsibility for the appointment of PJ Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC).

If the Congress was not hardwired into always blindly championing a Nehru-Gandhi, the party too would realise the USP of Singh and leverage the goodwill he commands. The Congress's and Singh's utter failure to use the media to project his persona has done untold damage to UPA 2. If the soft-voiced sardarji had been projected as a benevolent umbrella figure, he could have become the UPA's Vajpayee.

Direct communication between the powerful and the powerless is the zeitgeist. Twitter and Facebook are pushing at the gatekeepers of access and demanding a direct dialogue with those in power. But dinosaur-like UPA 2 suffers from a severe communication deficit. In the 40s, Gandhi and Nehru wrote about their personal and political struggles. In the 70s and the 80s, Indira Gandhi could get away with an imperious style with the press.

But as her elephant ride across a flooded river to the suffering residents of Belchi showed, she was a master of the photo opportunity. As for the BJP, Vajpayee's musings from Kerala and Goa, his delightful press interactions, the modern openness of LK Advani, who bravely thought aloud on Jinnah's secularism and paid a political price, the open disagreements post-2004 and the public wrangling over the role of the RSS — all point to a mentality geared to a much more open dialogue with the public than the lofty, cold, rather surreal, silences of the UPA.

When public outrage over the Commonwealth Games scams reached a fever pitch, the public failed to hear the voice of the PM, the leader of the Congress, the Delhi chief minister or the sports minister in any great detail. As the 2G scam exploded, it took months for the PM to address a rather formalised interaction with editors.

Yet, this is precisely the time the PM should speak about spectrum, about food inflation and corruption. The PM must set out the terms of the debate, set the governance agenda; not set the agenda behind closed doors to bureaucrats but frame the debate on current issues before the public so that his famed intellect enters every drawing room and every chaupal.

The joyless bureaucratic Vigyan Bhavan press conference held on the completion of the first year of UPA 2 told the public nothing about the government's thinking beyond platitudes about 10% growth and that Singh had no plans to retire.

On the PJ Thomas issue, the UPA's statements were like Chinese whispers — each whisper a cryptic phrase where a word or two changed with every repetition. Congress spokespersons called it a "legal error", the PM said "error of judgement", then "I respect the Supreme Court" and, on prodding by Swaraj, in an Oh-I-almost-forgot tone, "I take the responsibility." Is that all? A modern democratic government would surely present open and detailed arguments on why it appointed a controversial CVC.

The PM at least is heard occasionally. What about the Bihar elections and Rahul Gandhi? Why does the young Gandhi not tell the public what he learnt from the Bihar debacle, having campaigned so hard in a state where the Congress won a shocking four seats? Why does Sonia Gandhi not speak about 2G and the 'compulsions' of coalition politics in Tamil Nadu? In fact, why does Sonia not speak at all? Are the people so worthy of contempt that they do not deserve to be addressed as equals or given explanations?

The leadership of the UPA is showing a chilling detachment from the people.

Obama has seized a mike and conducted his own interactions with Mumbai students. Cameron has addressed the Infosys campus in Bangalore on Pakistan's export of terror. But the UPA's leadership continues to say virtually nothing, as if convinced that India's citizens are not really worth talking to.

Sagarika Ghose is Deputy Editor, CNN-IBN

The views expressed by the author are personal





It is now well understood that one of the crucial drivers of the crises in West Asia is the discontent of its youth. Arab countries have been unable or unwilling to provide jobs, education, opportunity and rights for their young and so, finally, they revolted.

Is there any lesson in this story for the US? Not directly; there is no analogy between West Asian dictatorships and American democracy. But if the troubles of Arab youth make us shine a light on the state of America's youth, the picture that emerges is grim.

 As countries get rich, you might assume that they focus greater attention on their children. Not in the US. The federal government's expenditures on children have shrunk as a share of the budget over the past 30 years. In 1960, about 20% of the federal budget went to programmes dedicated to the health, development and education of Americans under 18. Today it's 10% and falling.

By contrast, spending on the elderly has skyrocketed, doubling as a percentage of the budget during that time. Spending on Social Security and Medicare alone makes up close to 40% of the budget. In a decade, that share will rise considerably, perhaps to as much as half the federal budget. Whatever the exact percentages are, the conclusion is clear: the federal government spends between $4 and $5 on elderly people for every dollar it spends on children.

Why is this happening? To put it bluntly, children don't vote or make campaign contributions, and the elderly do both aggressively. Our political system is hyper-responsive to votes and money, so the natural consequence is that those who organise, vote and send in dollars are looked after.

The contrast between what we spend on the old and the young is part of a broader problem that threatens America's economic future. Look at the economic debate in Washington: we continue to avoid dealing with the large entitlement programmes and the largest domestic giveaways, such as the tax deduction for mortgage interest. No tax increases, such as a value-added tax or a gas tax, are possible.

Instead, legislators make a show of cutting the budget by trumpeting the savings in the much smaller pie of discretionary spending — slashing education, infrastructure, science and other such programmes. 

The net effect is that the US will continue to subsidise consumption and starve investment. This is exactly the opposite of what history tells us produces long-term economic growth. The American economy is already far too focused on consumption and credit. And not only will this approach have limited benefits to the budget, but we are cutting in precisely the areas where we should increase spending.

From China to South Korea to Germany, countries are making large investments for future growth when we are pruning such expenditures. The reasons are clear: there is no political will to take on the subsidies and spending that are consumption-related. Yet we need to find budget cuts, so lawmakers look to the easy place to find them: on the investment side of the budget. The result, however, will be disastrous for the country's long-term health. 

President Obama sounded this call for investment in his State of the Union address. His budget tries to preserve and even expand spending in key areas that will contribute to future growth. But he faces a Republican Party that is fixated by a budget-cutting mentality yet refuses to propose entitlement cuts, and in which a sledgehammer is preferred to a scalpel. And America's business community is sitting on the sidelines, betting its future on the growth in foreign countries (which themselves are making huge investments for their growth). 

America's growth and prosperity over the past few decades have been consequences of major investments made in the 1950s and 1960s. Some of those are the interstate highway system; a public education system that was the envy of the world; massive funding for science and technology that produced the semi-conductor industry, large-scale computing, the Internet and the global positioning system. When we look back in 20 years, what investments will we point to that created the next generation of growth for the next generation of Americans?

Fareed Zakaria is a columnist at the Washington Post



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






Photographs can be so telling. On Tuesday, this newspaper published a photograph of a group of manufacturers and retailers of readymade clothes uncomfortably clutching placards that said "Bandh! Bandh! Bandh! In protest against excise duty imposed on garments and made ups." Twenty thousand shops were shut down in Mumbai and Thane on Monday, according to the protesting organisations. Meanwhile, our beloved national carrier's put-upon pilots have been forced to air their multifarious grievances again: the Indian Commercial

Pilots Association, which represents a few hundred pilots from the former Indian Airlines and is certainly the whitest of white-collar unions, called for a 14-day strike from Wednesday.

Both these instances of white-collar activism are classic responses to reform by entrenched interests. The garment makers are outraged that they will have to pay excise on what they make — something, surely, that every industry should expect, especially with the Goods and Services Tax, which will hopefully make a detailed and complex list of exemptions history, on its way in. Their objections to paying tax clutch at various straws: that it is a "rejuvenating" industry, that 129 other products were not attracting excise earlier and they don't have to pay 10 per cent yet, that production is decentralised, that the GST is on its way anyway. What is nevertheless obvious is that this is a blatant attempt to demand government freebies for the sector in which you get your livelihood, and a demand that is being pushed through striking work — precisely the sort of action that, when taken by other sections of the workforce, understandably irritates white-collared workers and owners of capital.

Meanwhile, there are the oppressed pilots of Air India. They are horrified that, post-merger, the route rationalisation implemented by their cash-strapped company — which has just begged for handouts totalling several thousands of crores from the government — has cut into their compensation. In particular, they are incensed that their families aren't getting free international travel any more. It is difficult, hearing these tales of woe, to not have one's heart bleed. Indeed, Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi seemed to be moved, declaring that it was "a matter between me and my children." Yet we and the government should find it easy to harden our hearts. Reform and rationalisation cause discontent. When that discontent is focused among those who have been comfortable hitherto, cosseted and protected by the state, there are few arguments to marshal for it that are not going to sound self-serving and weak.






At what point does life end in a meaningful way? That is as ethically and politically fraught a question as, at what point does life begin? If a patient's life has become intolerable, and she freely requests medical assistance to end it, should such intervention be allowed? Or is it tantamount to murder? The extreme circumstances of the Aruna Shanbaug case have made it the definitive one for euthanasia advocates and opponents in India. Formerly a nurse in Mumbai's KEM hospital, she has been in a semi-vegetative state since 1973, when she was brutally sodomised and strangled. She has no speech, vision or mobility, but she used to scream for long hours. She has been fed and cared for by KEM's devoted nursing staff for decades now. Her fate had become the point of contention between journalist Pinky Virani and others who fought for Aruna to be delivered from her condition, and the hospital staff that wants to care for her "until her last breath by natural process".

The "right to die" debate rages across the world, and is likely to assume greater force in coming years as medical science advances. Many jurisdictions have sanctioned physician-assisted death under strict conditions. Advocates of euthanasia, or "merciful killing", frame it in terms of compassion and autonomy. Those who oppose it point to the inevitable slippery slope — would it lead to people being killed even when their severe suffering can be eased with palliative care, would it extend to people who didn't really want to die, how could it be ensured that such permission is not misused, if legalised?

Confronted with the complicated Shanbaug case, the Supreme Court has rejected active euthanasia as an option, but allowed for passive euthanasia — the withholding of life-sustaining treatment — in exceptional cases. This can be either explicitly allowed by the patient, or in cases like Aruna's where the patient is unable to give informed consent, by a panel of doctors, with permission from the high court. In doing so, the court has indicated morally relevant differences in each situation, and opted for case-by-case scrutiny. Yet it is also negotiating uncharted waters, and checks need to be put in place to rule out misuse or trivialisation. It is clear that we require a cogent legal framework — on what constitutes a case for passive euthanasia, whose permission is needed in cases when the patient cannot decide, and what procedure should be followed by the court. Parliament needs to weigh in on this debate.







Thou shalt not kill; but needst not strive/ Officiously to keep alive." Arthur Clough's famous lines, taken out of context, have been the legitimating thought behind non-voluntary euthanasia. In a landmark ruling in Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs Union of India, the Supreme Court has created a legal framework for passive, non-voluntary euthanasia under very strict conditions. High courts can now entertain petitions to withdraw life support of patients in what is known as persistent vegetative state (PVS). They will follow certain procedural guidelines in ascertaining whether such petitions should be granted. These procedural guidelines require a case to be heard by at least a two-judge bench and include seeking the opinion of a panel of three doctors, consulting relatives but not regarding their view as binding.

The case itself is searingly difficult. The extremes of human nature converge in the judgment: the extraordinary brutality of the crime that put Aruna Shanbaug in a vegetative state meets the quite extraordinary kindness of the KEM hospital staff. The judgment is balanced and clearly argued. It honours existing Indian law that renders active euthanasia and suicide illegal. It merely suggests that attempted suicide should not be criminalised. But in the absence of an elaborate domestic law, it relies on the "persuasive value" of foreign rulings, particularly Airedale NHS trust vs Bland from the United Kingdom. But as in any judgment on a difficult case, more questions will have to be resolved as the guidelines are implemented.

Although the court relies heavily on the Airedale case, it is something of a pity that the court did not provide more guidelines on dealing with issues concerning PVS that have arisen since the case was decided. The determination of when PVS obtains is itself contested. But while the court has set up a process, it can be asked whether it has given sufficient substantive guidelines to high courts. Even those jurisdictions that permit passive euthanasia have different attitudes towards different ways of letting die. Peter McCullagh's comprehensive study of the medical and legal issues surrounding PVS found that doctors across national jurisdictions have very different attitudes towards two ways of letting die. Some doctors make a distinction between the appropriateness of not treating acute infections and other life-threatening conditions on the one hand, and withdrawal of artificial hydration and nutrition on the other. So the question of appropriate method still remains. Courts will now enter uncharted territory when it comes to PVS.

Second, the ground of the judgment is very narrow, perhaps appropriately so. Although the discussion starts off with references to the right to die with dignity, conceptions of dignity play no role in the argument. The argument does not rest on the proposition that the justification for letting die is to mitigate the suffering of the patient or to honour their dignity. The worry about these arguments is that they open the door for voluntary euthanasia. The argument, in this instance, seems to go like this. Under certain circumstances (PVS), no interest is served by prolonging life and therefore there is no obligation to do so. Why is there no interest? Because it is futile to expect the patient can recover from PVS. The idea of "futility" is deeply complex. But the interesting question is whether the futility standard will be a necessary condition for courts to entertain any euthanasia appeal. Will this, rather than dignity or suffering-based arguments, underlie euthanasia jurisprudence?

Should this also play out in standards that should apply to when we should accept a patient's own refusal of treatment? The court leaves open the question whether not taking food consciously and voluntarily with the aim of ending one's life is a crime. But here's the complication. If it is not a crime, can the state "force feed"? If there is no obligation to prevent death as the court suggests, would force-feeding presumptively count as a violation of rights? The judgment hints rightly that we do not have a unified framework for thinking about these issues.

Third, the judgment reveals interesting attitudes towards the meaning of a patient's life. The court rules that Aruna's life not be terminated since the medical staff at KEM hospital are the only ones who can bring a petition in this respect. They are bearing the costs of the treatment and are quite happy to do so. But, more importantly, Aruna's continuing life has meaning for them. These are powerful considerations. But there is still something disquieting about the fact that PVS cases test the limits of any standard of life that is patient-centred. In PVS cases, usually costs are an important consideration. Where no benefit can come from treatment and the costs are perhaps prohibitively high, life may not be prolonged. Second, someone must wish it prolonged because the existence of the patient, even in PVS, is fraught with meaning. Both of these considerations unwittingly reveal the sense in which the value of life is not intrinsic. It depends, in extreme circumstances, upon costs; and it depends upon whether someone cares for you. When these circumstances obtain is highly variable. Judges cannot be expected to compensate for all the ethical irrationalities of the world. But this case is a stark reminder of how often life is valued, not from the agent's perspective but from the social valence placed upon it.

The judgment relies on the philosophical distinction between acts and omissions. To be very honest, there is a bit of re-descriptive casuistry at work in applying this distinction to PVS cases — the cause of death is not some underlying disease that is allowed to take its course; the cause is the act of withdrawal. We should be ambivalent about this distinction. For many this distinction leads to an evasion of responsibility. It allows us to get away with the thought that we are not responsible for deaths to others even though our acts could have possibly prevented them. But this distinction is a reminder of our own smallness and finitude. To say that there is no distinction between acts and omissions, and the prohibitions that apply to killing should also apply to omissions, would require us to be more than human. Perhaps those lingering at the edge of life teach us this: we still cannot fully make sense of the ethical structures we inhabit. But in the meantime we should be grateful that the court has at least given a mechanism with plausible safeguards to adjudicate these difficult questions. Few things are more inhuman than not even getting a hearing.

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi








Recently, one more damning piece of evidence has emerged to expose the flaws in the army's testimony in the Samba spy saga. The postmortem report of Havaldar Ram Swaroop in the Delhi government records has been finally traced after 32 years. It nails the army's lie that Swaroop, who died three days after being taken into custody by the Military Intelligence (MI) for interrogation, had died of a drug overdose. The report says the havaldar died while he was in a coma and that there were 39 fresh abrasions on his body.

Unfortunately, judging by past precedence, this fresh piece of evidence may count little in this case. It is now more than three decades since some 50 officers and jawans from the Samba Regiment posted in Jammu were falsely accused of spying for Pakistan, tortured, court-martialled and jailed for long terms. (The motive seems to have been three MI officers' attempt to ingratiate themselves with their seniors and cover up their lapse in not alerting the authorities of minor spying activities of a gunner named Sarwan Das.) The fact that the convicted spy Sarwan Das, on whose testimony all the Samba arrests were made, has long since retracted his statement and confessed that he had been held in a torture chamber and coerced by the MI to implicate others, now seems to be of no consequence. The Intelligence Bureau that was asked to investigate the Samba case dubbed it a hoax. Former IB chief T.V. Rajeswar tried to take up the issue several times with the government, but could make no headway.

It is a sad reflection on the system that once a false case is registered in the name of national security, it is almost impossible to retract, even if facts cry out for a mea culpa. When "national security" is cited, institutions meant to administer justice seem to get paralysed into inaction and take shelter in endless circumvention and passing of the buck.

Despite an amendment to the Army Act 1950, and the introduction of the Special Armed Forces Tribunal in 2008, the army still fights tooth and nail to keep its disciplinary proceedings outside the purview of any appellate body. Consequently, the Samba petitioners have been fighting in the courts for decades without making any substantial progress. True, it was in the context of the Samba case that in 1994 a three-member bench of the Delhi high court headed by the late Justice Sunanda Bhandare ruled that Section 18 of the Army Act read with Article 310 of the Constitution invoking the doctrine of presidential pleasure makes army justice subject to judicial review and this landmark judgment was later held up by the Supreme Court in November 1994. Again, in 2000, there seemed light at the end of the tunnel when judges K. Ramamoorthy and Devinder Gupta of the Delhi high court called the Samba spy case "a gross miscarriage of justice". They exonerated the two officers, Captain R.S. Rathaur and Captain A.K. Rana, who had filed appeals and set aside the court martial of seven other officers whose services had been unfairly terminated.

But subsequently, the petitioners found themselves hitting a brick wall. In 2006, an SC bench headed by Justice Arijit Pasayat directed the high court to re-examine the case of Rathaur and Rana on the principle of res judicata. In the light of the SC direction that "finality in law is of foremost importance", the Delhi high court duly quashed the cases of the two petitioners in 2007. Ironically, judicial propriety demanded that Justice Pasayat should have recused himself from hearing the case in the SC. Eminent jurist Soli Sorabjee acknowledges that a well-established judicial norm is that "a judge who had delivered a judgment cannot sit in appeal over that very judgment where it has been taken up in appeal". In March 2001, Justice Pasayat had dismissed the petition of Angoori Devi, the widow of Ram Swaroop, whose postmortem report has finally been traced, and this judgment was contradictory to the judgment by Gupta and Ramamoorthy. While Pasayat convicted Swaroop's superior Major R.K. Mirdha, the latter judgment had acquitted Major Mirdha, whose services were terminated after he refused to testify against the havaldar found dead in mysterious circumstances.

In October 2001, Sarwan Das voluntarily confessed before a Mumbai magistrate that he had given false evidence against the Samba accused. Nevertheless, Das's affidavit was not included in the documentation before the SC, despite the magistrate's order to do so.

Hopes were once again raised last year when the Samba cases were transferred from the courts to the Armed Forces Tribunal. But the tribunal now seems to have washed its hand of the matter on grounds of technicality. The accused are still running from pillar to post in the SC and the high court.







Karat vs Mamata

The lead editorial in the latest edition of the CPM's People's Democracy — a special issue on Bengal — interestingly recalls that the Trinamool Congress joined the BJP-led NDA ministry soon after the communal carnage in Gujarat in 2002. "Thus, it explicitly endorsed the BJP's communal pogrom in Gujarat. ...While being a part of the NDA, the Trinamool allowed the entry of communal forces into Bengal and facilitated the victory of some BJP candidates to Parliament," it says.

Today, the Trinamool is in the company of Maoists, it adds. Prakash Karat also writes that "so-called pariborton would lead to establishing the rule of the dominant classes and vested interests in the rural areas... This attack on the Left is, in actual terms, a class attack aimed... against the common people and the gains that they have achieved. The dislodging of the Left Front government is meant to facilitate the rollback of the relations in land which has been in favour of the poor peasants and rural poor."

There is also mention of her support to Gorkhaland. Karat says the Trinamool is providing support and sustenance to ethnic, religious and caste identities, whether it is the Gorkhaland movement or the demand for Kamtapuri.

Bardhan vs Mamata

In an article in his party's New Age, CPI General Secretary A.B. Bardhan on the other hand admits that Mamata managed to work up a "large following among sections of the people utilising certain errors and failures of the (Left) government." He says the Left forces in West Bengal have "introspected, identified their mistakes, self-critically reviewed their own style of work, and resolved determinedly to correct them and reforge their links with the masses."

Bardhan also attacks Mamata bitterly. He says that "to give her opposition a cutting edge she has had no scruples in joining hands with the Maoists, all shades of separatists and divisive forces to create a reign of terror and political instability in the state."

Bardhan notes that the "motley combination of TMC, Congress, Maoists and a crowd of groups and intellectuals with Mamata Banerjee as their head", which speaks of ushering in a change in Bengal, has not been able to come forward with a political manifesto or even a simple declaration about what changes they visualise. "All of us have seen her management of the railways portfolio. The railways are near bankruptcy today. She is trying to persuade the finance minister to bail her out and double the budgetary allocation this year. If this be a sample of her administrative skills, what can those people expect who wish to see her in the chief minister's chair?" he asks.

Transparency, not funding

"It is welcome that the government has committed itself to reform political funding. But the thinking, in terms of state funding of elections, is flawed," an article in New Age said, discussing one of the mandates given to a recently-formed anti-corruption GoM. Over a decade ago, a parliamentary committee headed by CPI veteran Indrajit Gupta made a strong case for partial state funding of elections.

The article argues that the "basic goal in political funding reform should be to achieve complete transparency as to how much parties and politicians spend and how they finance that spending. Reform of political funding is necessary, even if not sufficient, to tackle corruption."

It points out that politics is not just elections, as a political party has to keep functioning in between elections. "Its leaders keep travelling, its offices run, its full-time workers have to be paid, its meetings, conventions, etc, cost money. All this cannot be funded by the state... For the state to try and fund even a portion of the election expenses of recognised political parties would discriminate against new entrants and restrict competition... State funding of elections is not the answer."

It says parties can mobilise funds from patrons and well-wishers , but should make that information public. Besides, political expenditure has to be monitored from the ground up. "In every locality, explicit political activity can be recorded on a website, backed with photographs from ubiquitous cell phone cameras. Every party or politician must record, alongside, how much was spent on that activity and where that money came from... This must be open to scrutiny and challenge by rival political parties and voluntary watchdog groups."






There's a video of Dr Alia Brahimi of the London School of Economics greeting Colonel Muammar Gaddafi as "Brother Leader" at the school three months ago, and presenting him with an LSE cap — a tradition, she says, that started when the cap was handed to Nelson Mandela.

It may be possible to sink to greater depths but right now I can't think how. If only the LSE were an isolated case. I'm glad the United States and Europe have gotten behind the Bahrain-to-Benghazi awakening. But I've not heard enough self-criticism.

Hearings should be held in the US Congress and throughout Western legislatures on these questions: How did we back, use and encourage the brutality of Arab dictators over so many years? To what degree did that cynical encouragement of despots foster the very jihadist rage Western societies sought to curb?

The West has long known what the likes of Gaddafi and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak did. Hisham Matar, the acclaimed Libyan novelist, has a new novel out called Anatomy of a Disappearance. His father, Jaballa, disappeared in 1990, abducted from his Cairo apartment by Egyptian security agents who handed him over to Libya.

For more than a decade there has been no trace of this former diplomat, last seen in Tripoli's notorious Abu Salim prison. His crime was belief in democracy and freedom. He has vanished leaving a fine novelist aching for closure, demanding — if his father is dead — "to know how, where and when it happened."

There you have the Cairo-Tripoli axis. They were useful, Mubarak and Gaddafi, for intelligence and renditions and a cold Israeli peace in the case of the Egyptian; for oil and gas in the case of the Libyan. They were also killers. No law governs their captives' fate. They vanish — and then they are tossed into mass graves. Gaddafi massacred over 1,000 political prisoners at Abu Salim in June 1996. Was Jaballa Matar among them?

The entire Western world has been complicit in the pain of Hisham Matar, whose first novel In the Country of Men was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. The West has embraced every Arab dictator now being toppled by the people they starved of rights and life itself. Matar told The New Yorker this was "an appropriate moment for Americans to reflect on how they have for three decades allowed their elected officials to support a dictatorship as ruthless as Mubarak's. To ask, for example, what are the reasons that have motivated the current vice president of the United States to say, as recently as January 27, that Mubarak is no dictator."

I think Joseph Biden might answer that question.

There are many reasons I oppose a Western military intervention in Libya: the bitter experience of Iraq; the importance of these Arab liberation movements being homegrown; the ease of going in and difficulty of getting out; the accusations of Western pursuit of oil that will poison the terrain; the fact that two Western wars in Muslim countries are enough.

But the deepest reason is the moral bankruptcy of the West with respect to the Arab world. Arabs have no need of US or European soldiers as they seek the freedom that America and the European Union were content to deny them. Gaddafi can be undermined without Western military intervention. He cannot prevail: Some officer will eventually make that plain.

Timothy Garton Ash, in his book Facts are Subversive, quotes the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz who wrote: Do not feel safe. The poet remembers./ You may kill him — another will be born./Deeds and words shall be recorded.

Yes, the poet remembers, and Gaddafi's deeds — his crimes — will be recorded. One day we will know what befell Jaballa Matar and the numberless dead. Let's put names to the dead, dates to the crimes, and details to our complicity. I know the world is unjust: Nobody made a big fuss about Dr Brahimi's words three months ago. All the more reason to be severe in assessing lessons learned. ROGER COHEN







Saudis and Pakistan

When nothing else works in a Pakistani crisis, its establishment turns to the House of Saud. The Raymond Davis affair might be no exception. By any measure, Saudi influence on Pakistan's internal affairs is extraordinary. A WikiLeaks cable from 2007 cites a Saudi ambassador boasting that "we in Saudi Arabia are not observers in Pakistan, we are participants." Pakistan's prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, has reportedly said that he does not rule out the Saudi role in resolving the issue — through the payment of "blood money" to the relatives of two men Davis had shot dead.

American columnist David Ignatius, who has impeccable contacts in the Pakistan army, has confirmed the effort underway to draft Saudi and ISI support for it. Under the tentative plan, as revealed by Ignatius, Saudi Arabia "would invite relatives of the two men Davis killed to the Gulf. Payment to the victims' families could then be negotiated quietly. Once the next of kin had agreed to this settlement, the legal case against Davis for murder might be moot in a Pakistani court."

If the Saudis do ride in for the rescue, it will not be the first time. After General Pervez Musharraf ousted Nawaz Sharif in a coup in October 1999 and locked him up in prison, the Saudis stepped in to provide asylum to the deposed prime minister. When Nawaz Sharif broke the political understanding not to return to Pakistan for a decade and landed in a Pakistani airport, a Saudi plane was on the tarmac to fly him back.

When the US was cutting a deal with Musharraf to let the exiled Benazir Bhutto back, the Saudis injected Sharif back into Pakistani politics. The Saudis have no love for Zardari — a WikiLeaks cable from January 2009 quotes Saudi King Abdullah as saying that Zardari was a "rotten head" that was "infecting the whole body of Pakistan". If the Saudis do step in, it is not to help Zardari, but as a favour to the Pakistan army and the United States.

Saudis and Gaddafi

The reputed British reporter on the Middle East, Robert Fisk, has written that the Obama administration is asking Saudi Arabia to supply arms to the rebels in Libya fighting to save the territory they gained in recent weeks from the powerful counter-attacks by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.

There is not much love lost between the utterly conservative House of Saud and the terribly maverick Gaddafi. At an Arab League meeting at Doha in March 2009, Gaddafi abused King Abdullah. "You are always lying and you're facing the grave and you were made by Britain and protected by the United States," Gaddafi told the Saudi monarch. Before the microphone was cut off, the Libyan leader declared, "I am an international leader, the dean of the Arab rulers, the king of kings of Africa and the imam of all Muslims and my international status does not allow me to descend to a lower level."

The House of Saud might certainly want to oust Gaddafi, but is also said to be angry with Obama for abandoning Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. King Abdullah's fears that the Arab revolution will eventually engulf his own kingdom have turned out to be true.

Obama badly needs Saudi help in Libya. Amidst mounting pressures at home to act against Gaddafi, Obama will need to put an Arab face to whatever he does in Libya. On its part, Saudi Arabia appears to have delivered a statement from the Gulf Arab states to support a no-fly zone over Libya. King Abdullah, however, wants Obama to stop supporting the Arab revolution in Bahrain especially — Saudi Arabia's staunch ally and close neighbour — where a Shia majority is confronting minority Sunni rule.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Obama is all ears, and has settled on a differentiated policy towards the Arab revolutions. He will now apparently back "regime change" against adversaries like Gaddafi, while urging friendly rulers in Bahrain and Morocco to begin "regime reform".

Ides of March

The first test of Obama's "nuanced" approach to the Arab spring could come as early as this week. There have been calls to observe a "day of rage" this Friday in Saudi Arabia.

The demands for change in the insular kingdom have come from both Shias and Sunnis. In recent weeks, there have been small protests by minority Shia in eastern Saudi Arabia, home to much of the Saudi oil resources. Reform-minded Sunni intellectuals have also petitioned the king for political reform. The kingdom is on high alert this week, after banning protests and getting the clergy to declare them "un-Islamic", and warn that they could fan "sedition". If significant protests do occur in the kingdom, the Arab revolt would have crossed a very big red line.







It was flattering to be asked to write about Bengal's forthcoming elections, and although I am by no means an expert on the subject, I can certainly air the views of someone who is aghast at how India is being run aground, and how the people of Bengal behave like lemmings compelled by ideological indoctrination to plunge into the murky waters of the Bay.

For a while I thought of analysing our political predicament with characteristic and colourful Bengali satirical humour. But sadly, as thoughts unfolded, I discovered any such painting would be monochromatically coloured by the blood of our misguided youth and oppressed peasantry, shed to uphold placards of ridiculous demands and useless promises made by incorrigible leaders who have foisted themselves on us by holding a gun to our heads and putting the fear of a godless despotism into our souls, in the guise of Marxism.

We have been subjected to the backlash of political failure in the hands of Communists who believe, in Orwell's words, that in an era of untrustworthy bipeds, all animals are born equal — but a bunch are more equal than the rest. They crushed enterprise and entrepreneurship, destroyed infrastructure, killed whatever work ethic we babus possessed, and have now commenced a comical U-turn to attract industrial investment, like the complicated intrigue of the windmill in Orwell's Animal Farm that simply led to more senseless bloodshed.

Politics has many stale definitions, and the archaic principles of democracy have been hailed since Vedic-Greek times. That India flourishes as a democracy is one of the greatest miracles of social science. From nepotism to oligarchy, virtually two sides of the same coin, this past year has reduced us to being defined as the world's largest kleptocracy. Dr. Ambedkar's caveat that "democracy is only a top-dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic" reverberates through our filthy corridors of crooked and self-serving governance at the Centre and in the states.

Amidst all this, the Communist governors of Bengal have for years been riding waves of unbridled anarchy and perpetuating the myth of rebellion in the preposterous legend of Sisyphus. Someone clever once said that in an ideal 'Nowhere', the two Houses of Parliament would be filled with utopian manure and that "that government is best which governs not at all. And when men are prepared for it, that is the kind of governance which they will have." Philosophically I endorse that level of freedom. But then, am I the only one who thinks Bengal is not just ready for it philosophically, but has been a law unto itself, if I may use the term loosely, for three decades?

In 1913, a group of Indians had the courage to give up their ambition to make money and, in a small house on Hill Street in San Francisco, form the Hindustani Ghadar Party. Thousands gave it all up in the land of promise and returned to India to revolutionise political thought. Many were tortured and killed fighting for the cause. Years later, I met the Canadian founder of its reincarnation as the Communist Ghadar Party of India. It was formed on Christmas Day, December 25, 1980, as a continuation of the "Hindustani Ghadar Party — Organisation of Indian Marxist-Leninists Abroad". Their motto, their vision, proclaimed that, "it is the workers and peasants, women and youth, organised in their collectives, who should rule". They rejected the farce of social democracy in India and aimed at making the toilers and tillers the masters of India. Unfortunately this intellectual move to motivate the young has, for all practical purposes, fizzled out: a great pity.

On the 150th birth anniversary of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore it would be appropriate to point out that Tagore was one of the pioneers of rural reconstruction in Bengal and India. I invite readers to study Tagore's introduction to L.K. Elmhirst's Robbery of the Soil for enlightenment in this world of worthless acquisition and "greed".

Right now, there are many who feel Bengal is fumbling and bungling at a historic crossroads. All these years we've made a "left" at every crucial junction and the devil's taken not just the hindmost but made life hell for frontrunners as well. We can wrap ourselves around clichés that shove us between rocks and hard places and have us leap out of the arms of the devil and be cast into fearsome deep seas and no matter what sizzling frying pans tip us unto burning pits of fire, wherever we look, the horns of our dilemma seem ready to gore.

So what does one do to refute theories that claim we shall plunge into anarchy and chaos? From Mihir Sen to Bula Choudhury, Bengalis have never been afraid of plunging into the deep end, and have emerged winners, literally and metaphorically.

I think the writing is clear on the headstone of a regime that has long been dead and will soon be buried. And we shall all breathe easier when the offensive stench of political putrefaction leaves us. Mamata will be in charge. She is a veritable Kalighat pataka that has turned the guns on the perpetrators of Bengal's misfortunes. What's more, she has guts and the ability to deliver what we need most: A restoration of faith and belief in ourselves.

Bengal needs to resurrect its rural wealth in terms of its history, its art and craft, its traditions, its agrarian people's pride of place in society. Rural Bengal is our "sonar tari" and Mamata is the fresh and powerful wind in its sails. If we must have anarchy, let's take a different leaf from the annals of American civilisation, besides baseball caps worn back to front, KFC and the Big Mac, and imbibe and establish Thoreau's concept of green anarchism, agrarian collectivism and ultimately to create an awareness in our cities of the greatness of our countryside and our rural folk.

I chuckle to proclaim we're with a winner here in Paschim Banga and there's hope for us all.

It was Camus who said, "Throughout the whole absurd life I'd lived, a dark wind had been rising toward me from somewhere deep in my future, across years that were still to come, and as it passed, this wind levelled whatever was offered to me at the time, in years no more real than the ones I was living." Let's work to prove Camus was just an idle thinker and wasn't thinking of us when he penned those lines.

Banerjee is an actor, activist and writer who spends most of his time birdwatching in the Himalaya






Once it became clear the Supreme Court-monitored CBI wouldn't have any option but to question DMK chief Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi over the R214 crore given indirectly by DB Realty, one of the companies that benefited from A Raja's largesse, it was abundantly clear the Congress-DMK relationship was on rocky grounds. Never mind the pious statements made by various government functionaries saying the DMK was fully on board as far as the arrest of Raja and the subsequent investigations are concerned—the immediate crisis appears to have receded with the DMK ministers putting off their resignations. More trouble could occur if the CBI follows through on the new angle that has now presented itself, that Malaysia's Maxis, which owns 74% of Indian telco Aircel, picked up a 20% stake in the then telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran's brother's firm. It is possible, indeed likely, all concerned will have explanations for the investments. The point, however, is that the markets are skittish already and any news of investigations is certain to get them more morose—if that is possible, given how they reacted to FIIs pulling out a small fraction of their investments and the panic over what the developments on Arab Street are doing to global oil prices.

The government is in no danger of collapsing. Not only are efforts on to placate the DMK, but enough others—Mulayam Singh Yadav, J Jayalalithaa—had made it clear they're not averse to supporting the government. What's worrying is that things aren't fully in anyone's control anymore—the DMK, reports suggest, wants to postpone Kanimozhi's questioning till the time the elections are over, but the timing is something the Supreme Court will decide in case the CBI decides to go slow. Until the investigations are over, the markets and investor sentiment are likely to remain skittish. Too many large Indian corporates are involved in the 2G investigations for the markets to be able to easily ignore developments. Coupled with a poor FII outlook, especially now that the US economy is beginning to act like a magnet once again, that suggests weak investment outlook. All of which means the government needs to pull several confidence-building reforms out of its hat. A David Cameron having to write to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the delays in the Vedanta-Cairn deal can't be very good news.





With a fifth of India's urban population coming from migration each year, and the population of urban India set to rise almost three-fourths over the next two decades, a revolution is in the making. Urban India always earned a lot more than rural India, citizens in even small towns earn 50% more than their rural counterparts, but the scale is truly huge (NCAER analysis shows

Top 20 cities account for 10% of India's population, 20% of expenditure, 30% of income and 60% of surplus income!). With 40% of India's population likely to live in cities that will generate 75% of the country's income in the next two decades, the most obvious point is that the future has never been brighter for urban politicians. It is equally obvious that if urban India doesn't rise to the challenge—in the next two decades, India will have to create as many cities as it has in the last several hundred years—it could look like an extended Dharavi. About a fourth of India's urban population is in slums, and in places like Greater Mumbai the figure is as high at 54%.

The Report on Indian Urban Infrastructure and Services, chaired by Isher J Ahluwalia, puts a sum to what urban India needs—R39.2 lakh crore over a 20-year period at 2009-10 prices. Since that means little to the lay person, the committee simplifies this to say around 2.2% of GDP will have to be invested in urban areas by 2030. But as Ahluwalia has pointed out in a monthly series in FE for over a year, money is probably the least of urban India's challenges. Cities don't have any powers to levy taxes, and they desperately need to get their governance structures right—Pune and Chennai, among the best-run cities, meter just 16% and 4% of their water connections, respectively. Given that roughly half this amount is additionally required for O&M, the importance of getting governance structures right is critical—Ahluwalia's Postcards of Change is precisely about cities that have made such shifts and got a payback in relatively short periods of time. Since most urban projects, whether the Delhi Metro or the new airport, have been financed by huge dollops of land—250 acres for the airport and 960 acres for the metro—availability of finance cannot be the problem.

The Report talks of other solutions such as increased FSI since urban India's FSI is probably the lowest in the world. But the real issue is of the government ceding powers to mayor-CEOs who can design and run cities efficiently—a well-designed city can cut energy consumption by 40%; mayor-CEOs who can raise taxes to finance development … Just the land requirements and the environmental clearances required makes the mind boggle, Ahluwalia's committee is asking for really fundamental governance reforms—empowering urban local bodies to collect taxes, for formula-based transfers from the central tax pool. At the end of the day, the Report is about whether primarily rural-centric politicians are willing to give urban India the space it needs.





It's a pity that the system of learning through case studies does not exist in government. Why else would it flounder when it comes to cases of reviving loss-making Air India or BSNL, when it has a record of giving a package of as high as R8,000 crore to a public sector undertaking that revived within two years of getting this bailout? This may sound incredible but that's the sum the government provided to its largest steel maker, the Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL), in February 2000, when the company posted losses of around R1,500 crore. A few years earlier (1995-96), the same company had posted a net profit of R1,300 crore.

Imagine a scenario where a PSU that posted profits of R1,300 crore three years ago slips into making losses of R1,500 crore and runs to the government for a relief package. What would the latter do? The probable options are: set up a committee to look into ways of reviving it, hire a private sector CEO to turn the PSU around, fill its board with independent directors from the private sector to run it along commercial lines, ask it to cut costs without giving it the leeway to hire and fire employees and maybe grant a bailout package of around R2,000-3,000 crore by infusing equity. Most people, whether within or outside the government, should, however, know that none of this will work. It is almost certain that the PSU will squander everything and come back to the government a few years later for yet another rescue package. And the story will repeat itself at frequent intervals.

This is the kind of story that we are seeing play out with Air India today, and BSNL is on course to tell the same. If one delves into history, scores of such examples will be available. The government's record of reviving companies is dismal and yet it keeps attempting to do this. While most people are cynical about the government's bailout packages, the truly puzzling thing is that it hasn't tried to replicate the revival model that has actually worked. Of course, the case of each PSU will differ in details but there can be broad similarities in principles applied.

This brings us to the case of SAIL in February 2000, when the company's losses stood at R1,500 crore and it was saddled with around 1.6 lakh employees. Also, the steel market was down. With the exception of Tata Steel, every other private sector company was also posting losses. If nothing was done to save SAIL, it was clear that the company would not be able to survive. It is then that the government came out with probably the largest-ever bailout package of R8,000 crore, but only with stringent conditions attached. If the company was supposed to hive off certain non-core assets, there was a timeline attached to this. Further, McKinsey had prepared a restructuring plan for the company, which was adhered to. Of the plan's several components, the major ones were breaking the company into strategic business units like flat and long products, and hiving off its non-core plants like Salem Stainless Steel, Alloy Steel Plant, a fertiliser plant and captive power plants. With the company implementing the SBUs and a slight revival in steel markets, SAIL started getting back on track. By 2002, it was back in black and since 2003 the story has been different, so much so that the government plans to come out with SAIL's FPO either this fiscal or the next.

If one examines the restructuring approach adopted by the government towards Air India, it is quite evident that nobody has done a proper case study of the SAIL turnaround. Today, for all practical purposes, the Air India revival is a lost case with all the key lieutenants hired by the company to reshape it having put in their papers after a series of controversies. The case of BSNL is even sadder because, with proper interventions, it could replicate the SAIL success story. The company was started in 2000 and was doing quite well till 2007, but then started sinking because its procurement process was not in sync with the sector in which it was operating. After slipping into losses, BSNL has just enough money to last a year. This means that it's still not too late for the government to thoroughly examine its case, provide the required support and then attach timelines for achieving set goals.

Following the SAIL approach has another advantage. The government signals to the entrenched unions as well as the lobbies who are against privatisation that it has done its bit. But if the company does not revive even after this, the government has no option but to sell it off or close it down. Rather than doing this, the government has come out with a bizarre solution, which it calls disinvestment. Let's be clear that disinvestment, as we are practising it today, cannot revive PSUs. By selling off some 10% stake in the company, all that the government is doing is listing it on the bourses to make its financials transparent, while still controlling the company and its decision-making process. Anyone who thinks listing is the solution should look at loss-making MTNL, which is only 56% owned by the government and even listed on NYSE!

Strategic sale (bringing down government stake to 26%) is a better option but it is not politically palatable today. Anyway, since the government knows that its record of turning around PSUs is dismal, the least it can do before sinking money into them is to do a careful case study of whatever little success it has met. Apply the lessons.





The entire Arab world is quaking at the moment as the aftershocks of Egypt and Tunisia percolate through the minds of those striving for democracy. The populations of these countries, among many other important political demands for reform, are calling for more jobs and housing. As a consequence, the rulers of many of the autocratic regimes in the region are now promising long-overdue concessions.

These concerns are primarily political but many have economic underpinnings. They are not restricted to the very poorest in society, although their concerns are, of course, pivotal. Members of the middle classes are also concerned about employment, housing, pensions and retirement. Concerns have also been expressed in the aftermath of the financial crisis about trust in financial institutions. Can they be trusted to preserve and create wealth for the ordinary public rather than merely enriching the elite? The Arab world is an extreme example of the manifestation of concerns that are highly important for people in the bottom two-thirds of the income distribution globally.

Economics has moved towards thinking about these problems more broadly. What was once the purview of specialist economists studying narrowly-defined poverty reduction problems has moved into the mainstream. One way to come at these problems is to define them in terms of the largest financial choices that households make. For example, mortgage availability and choices, personal defaults and payday lending, retirement savings, equity market participation and mutual fund investment. These decisions are affected by two equally important questions. First, are financial institutions structured and regulated in such a manner as to encourage fiscally prudent and responsible choices by their clients? This question is being actively pursued at the moment by global regulators and academics alike; presumably it will be at the top of the agenda for the new head of Sebi.

The second important line of inquiry is about whether households have sufficient financial education to correctly make choices that are optimal. Here, there are also important issues to grapple with. The evidence is that there is significant variation across individuals in their level of financial sophistication. As John Campbell described in his Presidential address to the American Finance Association in 2006, "For a minority of households, particularly poorer and less educated households, there are larger discrepancies (between observed and ideal financial behaviour) with potentially serious consequences ... these discrepancies, or investment mistakes, are central to the field of household finance."

What investment mistakes are most common? To answer these questions, detailed data on households' investment decisions are important. Such data are available from countries such as Sweden, where there is a wealth tax and well-kept records that are made available to researchers. Using such data, academics have discovered that financial sophistication tends to be correlated with wealth, in the sense that wealthier households hold better performing portfolios. (Continuing with the theme that wealth and financial sophistication appear to go hand in hand, there is also evidence that wealthier households are quicker at refinancing their mortgages when it is optimal to do so.) Furthermore, poorer households tend not to participate in equity markets, even when they have the ability to do so. It is also the case that many households appear not to hold well-diversified portfolios, contrary to the standard precepts of finance theory. Ironically, this lack of diversification appears to eliminate some of the gain from participation in the stock market.

What can we take away from some of these results for policymaking in India? It is clearly the case that better financial education is an important ingredient towards improving people's economic lives, in addition to financial regulation and transfers. To go further with this important agenda, however, we need more research that is tailored towards the needs of emerging markets like our own. Thus far, most household finance research has concentrated on developed countries, mostly on account of better data availability. This gap can be rectified if we invest significant resources in collecting such data in our country (perhaps in combination with initiatives such as Aadhar), and make it available to interested researchers.

These questions are interesting intellectually as well as from a policy perspective. We are experiencing financial innovation at a much faster pace than developed countries, and it is critical to find out how our households are handling the new financial instruments that are becoming available. There are also significant questions about micro-finance and other investment products that have evolved to suit the circumstances of poorer households. The Malegam Committee report is a serious look at how best to regulate this sector, but research on this important area from the perspective of the customers is still ramping up. We should devote more resources towards answering these important questions.

The author is a financial economist at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford






"We could have dismissed the petition on the short ground that…the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution does not include the right to die," observe Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra sagely in the Aruna Shanbaug case. "However, in view of the importance of the issues involved we decided to go deeper into the merits of the case." Negotiating the grey ethical areas relating to euthanasia in a humane, progressive, and persuasive way, this detailed Supreme Court judgment lays down a broad legal framework for dealing with a subject that has not received the attention it deserves from the legislature. The court's decision on the immediate matter at hand — the plea that Aruna Shanbaug, the nurse who has been lying in a vegetative state on a Mumbai hospital bed since she was brutally raped and strangulated in 1973, should be allowed to die — is largely based on medical evidence. The evidence furnished by a panel of experts showed that while Ms Shanbaug may be in a permanent vegetative state (PVS), she is neither brain dead nor in a coma. The court also went into the question of who could initiate the move to withdraw life support to a person in PVS. Its answer is that such decisions can be taken by parents, spouses, and close relatives or, in their absence (as in Ms Shanbaug's case), the "next friend." Justices Katju and Misra held that her next friend was clearly KEM Hospital staff, "who have been amazingly caring for her day and night for so many long years," and not the petitioner who urged that Aruna be allowed to die in dignity.

Upholding the distinction between active euthanasia, which involves taking specific steps such as injecting a person with a lethal substance, and passive euthanasia, which is withdrawing medical treatment with the knowledge that it will cause death, the court has held that the latter is permissible in exceptional circumstances — for example, when a patient is kept alive purely mechanically and when he or she is "only able to sustain involuntary functioning through advanced medical technology." Citing a slew of international case laws on the subject, the Supreme Court has laid down a strict framework for the procedure to be adopted for non-voluntary passive euthanasia until suitable legislation is in place. All mercy-killing pleas should be heard by a two-member bench of the appropriate High Court and decisions may be taken only after seeking medical opinion from three empanelled doctors, who must examine the patient, his or her medical records, and also get the views of the hospital staff. Leaving such decisions entirely to a patient's relatives or doctors carries the risk that murders will be carried out in the guise of mercy killing. In its judgment, the court has struck a fine balance — it has shown great sensitivity in handling the heart-rending case of Aruna Shanbaug and her wonderful 'next friend,' the KEM Hospital staff, taken a progressive and empathetic view about dying with dignity, but subjected it to exacting and rigorous procedures.





Except for senior citizens, the Union budget has very few major initiatives on the personal taxation front. The Direct Tax Code (DTC), which aims to revamp the existing direct tax structure, will come into effect on April 1, 2012. In a limited way, the budget proposals aim at bringing about a transition to the DTC. The exemption limit for the general category of taxpayers has been raised from Rs.1,60,000 to Rs.1,80,000, providing a relief of a little over Rs.2,000. But by far the most significant initiative has little to do with tax rates or slabs. It is an administrative decision to reduce the qualifying age for senior citizens from 65 years to 60. With the exemption limit raised to Rs.2,50,000 from Rs.2,40,000, this new segment of senior citizens will get over Rs.9,200 as relief. The Finance Minister has also created a new category of 'Very Senior Citizens', 80 years and above, who will qualify for a higher exemption limit of Rs.5,00,000. This category can save on taxes up to Rs.26,780.

The tax saving for senior citizens may look significant. For many, however, it will be illusory. For one thing, one must have an income stream that is large enough to qualify for savings. Not many in the salaried class are likely to have a taxable income of more than Rs.2,50,000, after retirement. It is even less likely that there will be many taxpayers in the 80-plus age group with an annual income of Rs.5,00,000. Even more contrived is the logic that senior citizens can plan their taxes better by investing in tax-saving instruments up to Rs.1,20,000. Such instruments are essentially long-dated and even if senior citizens have enough income they would be ill-advised to lock their money in these. The Finance Minister is absolutely right when he says that senior citizens deserve special attention. Today's senior citizens depend on limited fixed incomes and did not have many opportunities to save and plan for their retirement during their working years. For instance, access to home loans and life insurance was minimal until not too long ago. That has made them extremely vulnerable after retirement. Government support to them ought to go well beyond tax reliefs and address the concerns of the aged in a holistic manner.








India was recently in the news for the wrong reasons. The serious threat posed by the newly discovered microbe, NDM-1 (New Delhi metallo--lactamase-1), resistant to many antibiotics, triggered alarm and panic. Predictions that the country will not meet the millennium development goal for child mortality caused dismay. They highlighted the nation's paradox. The country faces two conflicting challenges. The urban rich with their easy access to medical treatments often receive inappropriate antibiotic therapy. On the other hand, the rural poor, with their lack of basic medical facilities, find it difficult to obtain such medication. The former results in microbial resistance, while the latter in preventable deaths. The official reactions to both these problems and their implications were denials. However, after the short-lived indignation and outrage, it is back to business as usual, the old inertia with its deceptive calm.

Microbial resistance

Resistance of microbes to standard antibiotics is well known. Hospital-acquired infections, in circumstances where the use of antibiotics is high, are common. The development of bacterial resistance to antibiotics is natural and occurs due to adaptation to hostile environments. However, the rapidity of its development and increased prevalence of such resistance documented in many tertiary hospitals reflect a serious problem. In addition, the life-threatening nature of many infections, a limited availability of existing antibiotics and the absence of new ones in the drug development pipeline are causes for alarm. This is true for many bacteria, including those causing tuberculosis. It indicates the emergence of new and lethal dimensions for old diseases, which had effective and affordable cures. The increase in antibiotic resistance in community-acquired infections compounds the problem. It suggests that resistant microbes, usually found in hospital environments, are now prevalent in the community.

The misuse and abuse of antibiotics by physicians is serious. Inadequacy of training in prescribing rational antibiotic therapy is a major lacuna. Prescribing antibiotics for simple viral infections to prevent possible secondary bacterial infections is common practice among physicians, despite good clinical trials showing no value of such prophylaxis. Absence of sentinel surveillance and regular guidance for prescribing also makes practice difficult. Indiscriminate prescription of newer antibiotic medication while allowing for recovery in individual patients, risks development of microbial resistance.

The generally safe profile of antibiotics, their minimal side effects and short duration of the course of medication are factors that lend themselves to abuse. The pharmaceutical industry contributes to the problem by promoting the sale of antibiotics independent of patient need. Pharmacists readily dispense antibiotics without a doctor's prescription. A widely prevalent belief among the general population that all infections respond to antibiotics also perpetuates inappropriate use. Many fail to realise that the majority of fevers are due to viral infections, which do not respond to antibiotic therapy.

Poor access

The lack of surveillance of microbial resistance at primary and secondary hospitals and the absence of guidance in prescribing encourages the use of newer broad-spectrum drugs in situations were older medication would have sufficed. The poor state of the public health care system, the private sector with its focus on profits and deficiencies in the regulation and sale of antibiotics also muddy the waters.

While NDM-1 grabs the headlines, the true magnitude of the problem of antimicrobial resistance to common antibiotics remains unknown. Widespread multi-drug resistance essentially implies a return to the pre-antibiotic era and represents a major crisis in health. On the other hand, the lack of affordable access to basic medical facilities for the poor in Bharat complicates the issues. Pneumonia, an acute respiratory infection, is the leading cause of child deaths in the world and a common cause of under-five mortality in India. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that less than a quarter of children with pneumonias receive antibiotics, resulting in significant mortality. Similarly, mortality in adults with bacterial infections is also a major concern. The absence of adequate and timely antibiotic therapy due to a lack of access to affordable medical care (for the vast majority of the rural population in the country due to the urban-centric nature of our health care delivery system) contributes to preventable deaths.

The way forward

Urban and rich India, with its inappropriate use of antibiotics, requires strict practice guidelines, tighter regulation and an audit of antibiotic utilisation. On the other hand, poor and rural India needs improved access to antibiotics and affordable health care.

Rational antibiotic therapy prevents the development of resistant micro-organisms, superbugs and untreatable infections. Rational use will also result in a massive reduction in the cost of health care. High-income countries have managed to decrease the rate of antimicrobial resistance through a multi-pronged approach. Their well-regulated health-care systems allow for monitoring of antibiotic consumption and resistance, prescriber and consumer education and regulation of use.

Fighting antibiotic resistance in India with its inadequate public health care infrastructure, unenforced regulation and poor health education is a major challenge. Continuing physician education, guidance on prescribing and monitoring practice is necessary. Regulating the sale of antibiotics and microbial surveillance are mandatory.

India should start sustainable action to contain antibiotic resistance. It should raise awareness using the mass media. Hand washing routines, to prevent the spread of infection within hospitals, are observed more in the breach in most health facilities. These need to be made mandatory. Antibiotic sensitivity patterns, minimum inhibitory concentrations and a strategy of de-escalation of an antibiotic regimen should guide therapy in tertiary hospitals. The latter mandates a change to an appropriate "older" antibiotic rather than continuation of a newer broad-spectrum drug, after obtaining information on microbial sensitivity.

The formation and functioning of hospital infection control committees are obligatory. They should monitor hospital-acquired infections at surgical sites and secondary to the use of intravenous access, urinary catheters and ventilators. The committee should compile sensitivity patterns, recommend prescribing guidelines, audit practice and educate health professionals. Specialist hospitals should have consultants in infectious diseases who should advice in making rational choices for complex clinical situations. Modern technology allows for support in prescribing, tracking of antibiotic use and in containing the spread of resistance. In fact, it should be mandatory for hospitals to make public their rates of hospital-acquired infections and microbial sensitivity patterns, to allow for informed choice for patients.

The surveillance of microbial resistance should not be restricted to tertiary hospitals, as currently practiced. It should also involve primary and secondary care centres to identify local and regional patterns. The people of Bharat need a different surveillance network and practice guidelines tailored to meet their specific needs. Sentinel centres in primary and secondary care hospitals, with regional coordinating facilities, should be set up to help smaller hospitals. National and regional databases and advisory councils are mandatory. The implementation of such systems is the challenge facing the country.

The solution to improve access to basic health care for poor and rural constituencies may lie in a different set of practice guidelines. Regulation of antibiotic use for this sector must be balanced by adequate availability and access to such treatments. Antibiotic policies should factor in different microbial resistance profiles. Simplified antibiotic prescribing protocols for use by highly trained paramedical workers and nurse practitioners have been found to be useful in many low-income countries. Such strategies merit consideration for increasing access and availability in rural and remote parts of the country.

Another cause for concern is the use of antibiotics in the agriculture-food industry (e.g. poultry, pig, fish farming and in honeybee hives) where these drugs are used as growth promoters. Policies for rational use in this sector are also urgently required.

A decade has passed since the flagging-up of concerns about antibiotic resistance and increased mortality due to untreated infections. The divergent and complex demands of the different segments of the country have resulted in inertia and inaction. There is an urgent need to put in place suitable policies and mechanisms for reductions in antibiotic resistance and yet provide easy access to antibiotics in areas with poor penetration of health-care services. The challenges for India and for Bharat are different and demand different solutions. The country is yet to have a comprehensive antibiotic policy. Implementation plans remain on paper. The country needs carefully tailored strategies to meet the dissimilar challenges of its diverse contexts.

( Professor K.S. Jacob is on the faculty of the Christian Medical College, Vellore.)







Stung by criticism both within the country and abroad at France's slow response to the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions and the subsequent developments in Libya, President Nicolas Sarkozy has taken the bull by the horns, jettisoning his discredited Foreign Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie and appointing a seasoned politician, the former Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, to re-shape France's foreign policy.

Mr. Juppe, who held the post of Defence Minister at the time of the Cabinet reshuffle on February 27 (the fourth within the space of one year), has served as Foreign Minister before, and commands universal respect in France. He bargained hard and obtained the departure from Mr. Sarkozy's side at the Elysee Palace of Claude Gueant, a tough right-winger widely considered to be Mr. Sarkozy's Grey Eminence on foreign policy, who has now been named Minister for the Interior and Immigration, although the President's diplomatic Sherpa, Jean-David Levitte, remains in place.

Naming Mr. Juppe to the post became a hard yet inevitable choice for Mr. Sarkozy, given the rebellion within French diplomatic ranks. On February 22 a group of serving and retired diplomats calling themselves the "Marly" group published what can only be described as a diatribe against the President's foreign policy, saying it was "amateurish, impulsive and preoccupied by media considerations."

The writers of the article said that "despite loudly trumpeted announcements, Europe remains powerless, Africa escapes us, the Mediterranean snubs us, China dominates us and Washington ignores us. More seriously, the voice of France has disappeared from the world and our following of the United States perturbs many of our partners…. Today, aligned with the U.S., we are of interest no one since we have lost our visibility and our capacity for diplomatic manoeuvre…"

Trouble in Tunisia

The "revolt of the diplomats" was a consequence of a series of diplomatic incidents and gaffes including the sacking of the Ambassador to Tunisia, Pierre Menat, who was blamed for not anticipating the country's social unrest. After sacking Mr. Menat, the President named Boris Boillon, a 41-year-old Arabist, to the post in Tunis. But the new Ambassador, whose experience as the head of a French mission abroad was limited to Iraq, had a violent altercation with the Tunisian press corps for which he was forced to apologise on Tunisian national television.

Quick on the heels of this, came revelations that Foreign Minister Ms Alliot-Marie had offered ousted Tunisian strongman French expertise in riot control measures and had vacationed in Tunisia after the unrest began, using planes belonging to close Ben Ali aides. Worse, Ms Alliot-Marie issued a series of half truths to cover up her ties to the Ben Ali coterie and her family's business deals there. Such was the anger against France in Tunisia that the Minister who supported Ms Alliot-Marie was also forced out of office. It turned out that just weeks earlier, Prime Minister Francois Fillon, too, had accepted the hospitality of Hosni Mubarak during a family Christmas holiday in Egypt.

Damaged image

For weeks, French diplomacy was seen to be faltering in what is considered to be its sphere of influence, the North African Maghreb region of Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Libya and the Machreq or the Levant. Opinion polls indicated that 72 per cent of the French felt France's public image had been irretrievably damaged abroad. With his popularity ratings consistently low at 30 per cent, Mr. Sarkozy, who has been counting on foreign policy initiatives such as his presidency of the G20 to bolster his image at home in view of the 2012 elections, realised that urgent action was needed. Ms Alliot-Marie had to go with French diplomacy passing into more experienced and more capable hands.

Several of Mr. Sarkozy's foreign policy initiatives have gone wrong. In 2007, he announced the creation of a Union for the Mediterranean, an attempt to bind the 17 nations around the Mediterranean with the European Union through a series of specific projects and initiatives both cultural and economic. The objective was twofold — to give a sop to the Turks who had to be kept out of the European Union at all costs and to increase French influence amongst the Mediterranean rim countries while increasing controls on illegal immigration into countries such as Greece, France, Spain or Italy. However, the project never really got off the ground because of a lack of consultations with other EU partners and the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have severely compromised what remains.

More recently, by publicly criticising the 60-year sentence meted out by a Mexican court to a French woman accused of kidnapping, Mr. Sarkozy prompted the writer and former Mexican Ambassador to France Carlos Fuentes to describe Mr. Sarkozy as "the dictator of a banana republic." This is a classic example of how the French President's hyperactivity and desire to be centre stage at all times undercuts discreet diplomatic efforts to resolve tangled problems with partners.

In France's Fifth Republic established in 1958, foreign policy has always been the special preserve of the President. However, successive French heads of state, from de Gaulle to Jacques Chirac have relied heavily on precious inputs from the French foreign office and its impressive panoply of diplomats. These close ties between career diplomats and the President's office were vastly diminished, if not interrupted, by Mr. Sarkozy who has tended to run French foreign policy directly from the Elysee Palace with the help of a few close aides, bypassing successive Foreign Ministers and ignoring the advice proffered by French envoys abroad.

France has the second largest diplomatic service in the world after the U.S., but repeated budget cuts have crippled the service and demoralised the men and women working to defend French interests abroad. In July 2010, Alain Juppe and Hubert Vedrine, two of France's most respected Foreign Ministers, the first a rightist the other a socialist, jointly published an article calling for a halt to a further reduction in force in the French diplomatic corps. The effect of constantly trimming the Foreign Ministry budget and reducing personnel has been devastating, they said. "The instrument is at breaking point and the entire world has noticed this. All our partners are aware of it. … Other great powers do not similarly destroy their diplomatic instruments."

Priorities redefined

In his first speech after taking over as France's new Foreign Minister on March 1, Mr. Juppe redefined the priorities for French diplomacy: Re-founding the Union for the Mediterranean, increasing European integration and strengthening ties with emerging powers such as China, Brazil, India or Russia while anticipating the emergence of Africa in the 21st century. It would be a "strategic mistake" to withdraw from Africa with which France has historic ties, Mr. Juppe said. Given his past declarations on the subject, it was understood that Mr. Juppe would not allow any further trimming of the diplomatic corps.

Mr. Juppe has followed this up with strong words against the Qadhafi government and on a recent visit to Cairo he insisted on meetings across the political spectrum, from members of the Muslim Brotherhood to the group of young computer specialists and professionals who were instrumental in organising the uprising against President Hosni Mubarak.

But the loss of French influence in the world says Isabelle Lasserre, writer and journalist, author of a book on French diplomacy entitled French Powerlessness, began with the fall of the Berlin Wall and has continued unchecked since — the only highpoint, President Chirac's threat to use the French veto over Iraq, now definitely in the past. France has joined NATO's Integrated Command Structure without obtaining very much from the Americans in return. And France, once looked up to in West Asia because of its specialist understanding of the Arab world, now generates mistrust because of its new closeness to Israel.

Inevitable erosion

"During the Cold War period we were able to position ourselves as an independent voice within NATO. France handled German reunification badly, failed to grasp the importance of the 9/11 World Trade Centre attacks and has been unable to deal with globalisation. We have seen several foreign policy reverses, especially in Africa and the Arab world. But our increasing marginalisation on the world stage is due also to old tropes that have dominated our world view, both historic and colonial. In a certain way, we continue to see ourselves as an imperial power and our attitudes are shaped by that. We must come to terms with the fact that we are a second level power, that the days or empire are over and we must devise a new foreign policy that is in keeping with these new realities, by building bridges within the EY, for instance. Without which, we shall see an inevitable erosion of French influence in the world," says Ms Lasserre.

Whether Mr. Juppe is capable of reversing the tide and giving France its lost pride and glory is very much a matter for conjecture, especially if foreign policy continues to be seen through the prism of the old colonial relationship with Africa or the clientelism in West Asia. Nevertheless, in terms of the electoral timetable (France holds presidential elections in May 2012), Mr. Sarkozy is taking a considerable risk in naming Mr. Juppe. The new Foreign Minister has a prodigious reputation for efficiency and decisiveness. He is also respected by large numbers of voters from Mr. Sarkozy's own UMP party as well as from the centre and Left who admire him for his sober personal style coupled with his forthright criticism of attempts to use issues such as national identity or Islamophobia for electoral ends. This move by Mr. Sarkozy could lead to a draft-Juppe movement that would be difficult for the President to counter or resist.






As wealthier nations send boats and planes to rescue their citizens from the violence in Libya, a new refugee crisis is taking shape on the outskirts of Tripoli, where thousands of migrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa have been trapped with scant food and water, no international aid and little hope of escape.

The migrants — many of them illegal immigrants from Ghana and Nigeria who have long constituted an impoverished underclass in Libya — live amid piles of garbage, sleep in makeshift tents of blankets strung from fences and trees, and breathe fumes from a trench of excrement dividing their camp from the parking lot of Tripoli's airport.

For dinner on Monday night two men killed a scrawny, half-plucked chicken by dunking it in a bowl of water boiled on a garbage fire, then laboured to hack it apart with a dull knife and cook it over an open fire. Some residents of the camp are as young as Essem Ighalo, nine days old, who arrived on his second day of life and has yet to see a doctor. Many refugees insisted that they had seen deaths from hunger and disease every night.

Desperate contingent

The airport refugees, along with tens of thousands of other African migrants lucky enough to make it across the border to Tunisia, are the most desperate contingent of a vast exodus that has already sent almost 200,000 foreigners fleeing the country since the outbreak of the popular revolt against Muammar Qadhafi nearly three weeks ago.

Sub-Saharan Africans make up the vast majority of the estimated 1.5 million illegal immigrants among Libya's population of 6.5 million, according to the International Organization for Migration. Many were desperately poor people made even more so by investments of up to $1,000 each to pay smugglers to bring them across Libya's southern border for a chance at better work in its oil economy.

Their flight has emptied the streets of thousands of day labourers who played a crucial, if largely unheralded, role in sustaining Libya's economy. Their absence has played a role in halting construction projects that had been rising across the skyline.

They are trapped in part because most lack passports or other documents necessary to board a plane or cross the border. Few can afford a plane ticket, either. They say they are afraid to leave the airport or try their luck on the roads to the border for fear of assaults by Libyan citizens or at militia checkpoints.

They complain bitterly of betrayal by their home governments, which have failed to help evacuate them even as Egyptian, Bangladeshi and Chinese migrant workers who crowded the airport a week ago have found a way out.

And international aid workers, who have raced to minister to the hundreds of thousands camped on the borders, say the migrants trapped at the airport remain beyond their reach. The Libyan government's tight security and the threat of violence on the streets of Tripoli have apparently prevented any international aid groups from reaching the makeshift camps.

"We are operating out of Benghazi," said Jean-Philippe Chauzy of the International Organization for Migration, referring to the eastern Libyan city that is the headquarters of the rebellion. "But unfortunately because of the conditions we can't help them out of Tripoli."

The outbreak of violence in Tripoli around February 20 sent migrants of all kinds fleeing for the airport. Until recently, desperate hordes of all nationalities were sleeping packed together on the floors of the terminals or in the fields and parking lots outside. Guards with whips and clubs beat them back to clear the entrance.


Despite Mr. Qadhafi's brotherly pan-African rhetoric, racial xenophobia is common here. Many Libyans, ethnically Arab, look down on Chinese, Bangladeshis and darker-skinned Africans, in that order. Many African refugees here and in the camps on the Tunisian border say Libyans often addressed them as abd, or slave.

Perhaps as many as 100,000 refugees, most of them sub-Saharan Africans, have made it to the Tunisian camps, where groups like the Red Crescent, the Muslim counterpart to the Red Cross, care for the sick. The United States has lent planes to fly Egyptian refugees home from Tunisia.

But the crowds left at the airport, now almost exclusively African, have no such support. Some have been there for two weeks or more.

Several said that someone perhaps with a local charity, perhaps with the Libyan government gave them each a biscuit. On Monday, refugees holding bottles lined up at the back of a tanker truck dispensing water. — New York Times News Service






United States Vice-President Joe Biden is visiting Russia this week to try and "build on the 'reset' in U.S.-Russian relations," according to the White House official statement. It will be an uphill task for the two countries to accomplish given a raft of problems that have recently beset their bilateral ties.

After making a promising beginning with the signing of landmark nuclear arms pact New Start last year, the "reset" has run into rough waters over the U.S. missile defence plans for Europe, a new U.S. military base in Poland, and U.S.' support for Japan in its long-running dispute with Russia over Kuril Islands.

NATO's much-trumpeted invitation to Russia to cooperate on missile defences for Europe has boiled down to a demand to reconcile with the "phased" incremental deployment of a U.S. missile shield which by 2020 would have the capacity to target Russia's long-range missiles. Washington has rejected Moscow's proposal to jointly build the missile defence system or at least to limit it to shorter-range interceptors that would not threaten the Russian strategic arsenals.

"We will not accept any constraints on our missile defences," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed in her speech at a Munich security conference last month.

Moscow has threatened to pull out of the New Start pact if the U.S. deploys missile defences "capable of substantially reducing the effectiveness of Russia's strategic nuclear forces."

In a further blow to the "reset", Ms Clinton last week confirmed U.S. plans to deploy missile interceptors and U.S. Air Force units in Poland, and also "as agreed at the NATO summit, develop a contingency plan in the region." This refers to a confidential NATO plan, exposed by WikiLeaks in December, to deploy land, air and naval forces against a perceived Russian threat to the former Soviet Baltic states. The plan was approved in secret from Russia at the same NATO summit in Lisbon in November where the alliance announced "a new stage of cooperation towards a true strategic partnership" with Russia.

A new row broke out between Moscow and Washington last month when the U.S. backed Japan in its ratcheting up of claims to four Kuril islands awarded to Russia after Japan's defeat in World War II. U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry where he was told that U.S. meddling in the "bilateral dispute" between Moscow and Tokyo was "totally unacceptable."

The list of disagreements Mr. Biden will discuss in Moscow also includes further arms cuts, Iran and the crisis in Libya. Washington seeks to reduce tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, where Russia has a large superiority, but the Kremlin says the U.S. should first withdraw its nukes from Europe. Moscow also insists that post-Start disarmament talks must address U.S. plans to develop non-nuclear strategic weapons, to deploy space-based arms, and to build a global missile shield , as well as the NATO superiority in conventional weapons in Europe.

On Iran Moscow has refused to support stepped-up economic pressure advocated by Washington. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said any further sanctions "would amount to strangling of the Iranian economy" and Moscow "cannot support them."

Last, but not least, Russia has come out against foreign military interference in Libya even as the U.S. said it was considering this option.

"Libyans should solve their problems themselves, not with the help of arms, but solely by political methods," Foreign Mr. Lavrov stated on Sunday.

One way to judge how productive Mr. Biden's talks are with President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on March 9-10 is to see whether the sides announce plans for U.S. President Barack Obama to visit Russia.

The Kremlin said Mr. Obama's visit was scheduled for this year and Mr. Biden was coming to prepare it, but the White House declined to confirm such plans.




The Nelson Mandela Foundation and Google on Tuesday said they have begun digitising thousands of previously unseen Mandela files to make them available online.

"What sets this archive apart from other resources is that it will be made available for free to audiences around the world," said Achmat Dangor, the Foundation's chief executive.

A collection of Mr. Mandela's journals while in prison, private letters and notes he scribbled while seated at high-level meetings are some of the articles that will soon be released on the Internet.

The Foundation said it was negotiating with foreign governments and other institutions that hold some crucial Mandela documents to make them available for archiving.

"We don't expect them to hand over the originals, but we will accept copies," said Mr. Dangor.

Mr. Dangor added that some material may contain extremely personal notes or information about people who are still living.

"We will publish all of those, but in some cases highly sensitive material will not be published. It is not a question of censorship but sensitivity," said Mr. Dangor.

"We will endeavour to make it as comprehensive as possible," he added.

Google gave the Foundation a $1.25-million grant to undertake the project.

The process of scanning some of the fading documents has already started, said Sello Hatang of the Foundation.

He said the digitised work will be completed in phases, with the entire archiving process finished in a matter of months.

Mr. Mandela is currently recovering at his Johannesburg home after a brief hospitalisation in January.

The much-loved statesman and anti-apartheid hero who became South Africa's first African-origin President retired from public life in 2004. He only served a single presidential term from 1994 to 1999. — AFP








The issue of euthanasia was so far a distant matter being raised in the West, but the case of Aruna Shanbaug, who lies comatose for 37 years at the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, has thrust the difficult question right into our midst after a petition by writer-journalist Pinky Virani led a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court to pronounce on the subject on Monday. The subject is particularly difficult. It raises the question of religious or spiritual beliefs, but also enters the family realm. On one side is the poser: who but God can decide to take away life (in this case through withdrawal of life-support medicines and medical equipment)? However, those who are emotionally close to a patient who is not physically dead but for long shows no signs of stirring and may be what is called "brain dead" have sometimes asked: why allow physical suffering when the limits of medical science allow no hope of revival? The latter course has been referred to as "mercy killing", which can itself appear presumptuous to some. All societies have sanctioned killing, as in the case of a convicted murderer (although many Western countries have in recent years scrapped the death sentence), upholding the principle of "an eye for an eye" originating in early times. To that extent, society already plays God. But the reply to that is that the case of ordinary, innocent persons is to be judged differently from that of a murderer. Naturally, opinion varies on whether anyone has the right to kill even a murderer. Isn't that the province of the Almighty in all circumstances? The argument, of course, accepts that there is an Almighty. In short, these arguments are complex and call for debate within a society. Discussions elsewhere are helpful, but cannot replace those within a society in the light of the evolution of a specific society. In the Shanbaug case, the court did not allow Ms Virani's appeal for so-called mercy killing. It argued that the nurses and doctors of KEM Hospital, who have looked after their former colleague with loving care, oppose euthanasia in her case. But what if that were not the case? The court refrained from entering that discussion. It has thus not ruled on whether all patients in a "permanent vegetative state" deserve to have their life ended in a "passive" manner, that is, through withdrawal of life-support systems in a hospital, provided no foul play is suspected.
Although the Supreme Court has said the contention of "passive" euthanasia can be considered if medical experts can convince a high court that cure or even part-cure is an impossibility, it would appear the nation's highest court has been unable to lay down a principle. This aspect needs to be given due consideration if and when Parliament considers the issue. An extension of the argument made by the bench implies is that the time, effort and resources spent on someone who cannot be brought back to normal physical existence is a waste of society's resources. Is this heartless, especially if a patient's family or friends are ready to foot the bill? And what if those close to the patient are not in a position to pay? Should different rules apply in such cases?
On the question of "active" euthanasia, or injecting drugs that will kill on a patient's plea, the Supreme Court has said an unambiguous "no". Most of us are likely to agree. Can this be extended unequivocally to "passive" euthanasia? The point undoubtedly deserves to be considered, and debated across a wide cross-section of society. On Monday, the Supreme Court also took suicide out of the list of crimes. This again is wholesome.






When the Supreme Court is driven to asking: "What the hell is going on in this country?" (about black money stashed in tax heavens abroad), it is clear that the situation is bleak. The court's underlying ire is understandable because it had before it the case of Hasan Ali Khan, a Pune-based stud farm owner, which is a wonder of sorts and might even merit inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records. The facts are stark.

Since way back in 2007 it has been alleged that Mr Khan had amassed as much as $8 billion in Swiss banks, making him the biggest offender in this respect. Worse, investigations by appropriate government agencies have reportedly unearthed evidence suggesting that he had links with a notorious arms dealer and could have been involved in gun running and even funding terrorism, apart from money-laundering. Despite all this Mr Khan has been left completely free and untouched for nearly four years while, in the apex court's words, "even those who violate Section 144 (banning the assembly of more than five persons) are sent to jail".

To be fair, once in a long while tax authorities did summon him for questioning, but each time he claimed to be ill, and this was always enough for the authorities concerned to let him be. At one time, in response to the public outcry that his "godfathers" were protecting Mr Khan for ulterior reasons, the police, when asked to find him, reported that it could not trace him. Anyone could, of course, have seen him betting at the Pune Race Course at exactly the same time!

It was in this context that the apex court followed up its earlier query with some sharp questions and comments: "We are asking a simple question for a simple answer… Why no custodial interrogation of the people about which (sic) you have information?" In fact, the court went on to inquire whether the government wanted it to appoint an officer to supervise custodial interrogation of Mr Khan. The judges then drew attention to something that is rather stunning, for it suggests that the powers that be may be impeding investigations in black money cases in other ways, too. "It is very unfortunate", said the judges, "that three key officials of the Enforcement Directorate investigating the black money scandal have been abruptly transferred mid-way into the investigations".

There is one other aspect of this curious case that hasn't yet been mentioned in the Supreme Court but has been raised in the Maharashtra Assembly and repeatedly published by the media without inviting any contradiction by anyone. Mr Khan is said to have had a meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi's political adviser, Ahmed Patel. If no such meeting took place, the wrong report must be demolished. But, if did, the country is entitled to know what transpired at it.

Under the circumstances, is it any surprise that most people believe that the ruling establishment is under some compulsion to leave Mr Khan and others of his ilk alone? Some are even suggesting blackmail.
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is the ablest and most experienced member of the Manmohan Singh government. He is the only troubleshooter that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and the Congress have. Yet, whenever the issue of black money in general, and Mr Khan's case in particular, is raised, he tends to lose his temper. Only a few days ago when some members of Parliament (MPs) expressed the apprehension that the Pune stud farm owner might escape, Mr Mukherjee angrily said that he would not be allowed to do so. And then he virtually screamed that the government had to act according to the law of the land. In view of the Supreme Court's observations, would Mr Mukherjee please explain which law of the land prevents him from subjecting Mr Khan to "custodial interrogation". All that has happened so far is that the tax authorities have made a demand on Mr Khan for tax and penalty amounting to `40,000 crores.

As was perhaps to be expected, after the Supreme Court's harsh observations, the Enforcement Directorate, at last, took Mr Khan into custody around midnight on Monday, barely 12 hours before the government law officers were to report to the apex court. What needs to be watched in future is how and at what pace the case is investigated and prosecuted.

On the issue of black money generally, Mr Mukherjee has so far got away by pleading the government's inability to disclose the names of even those crooks that have plundered national wealth by unlawfully hoarding black money in 77 tax havens that the government knows. The reason for the inability is quaint: the confidentiality clause in the double taxation avoidance agreements with the countries concerned. Tax evasion is not the only crime the owners of foreign hoards of black money are guilty of. Swiss banks do not consider tax evasion a crime but even they are prepared to disclose all relevant information if they are furnished evidence of any other criminality. Repeatedly, these banks have lamented that India does not furnish the required evidence. What an irony it is that in Mr Khan's case the documentary evidence forwarded to the Swiss authorities turned out to be "forged". Thereafter nobody tried to hunt for the real documents.

That apart, the fact remains that the UBS of Switzerland gave to the United States the names of 250 US nationals first and then of another 4,000 American citizens maintaining accounts with them without asking for any proof of criminality. More remarkably, Swiss authorities froze all bank accounts of Hosni Mubarak without anyone asking for it. In the case of Col. Muammar Gaddafi, all banks of European Union have followed suit.
Whatever has happened about black money so far is dismal, to say the least. Now, at least, let the UPA government tackle the menace as seriously as the Supreme Court wants it to.






Rapprochement was inevitable. It was always difficult to see the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) threat to withdraw support to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and break its partnership with the Congress as more than bluff and brinkmanship. Political compulsions have forced the parties to stay together — or perhaps hang together. The DMK is worried about a heavy defeat to the AIADMK-led alliance in Tamil Nadu. Some of its key leaders face corruption charges and are enmeshed in the 2G spectrum swindle. Out of power in Chennai, battling the Central Bureau of Investigation and the courts, it will need a sympathetic Union government.

As for the Congress, till even a year ago it was thinking aloud about going it alone in Tamil Nadu, and propelling a sort of third front in the state. The impressive participation in elections to the local Youth Congress sent the party's hopes soaring. However, enthusiasm has ebbed since then. The Youth Congress, far from becoming a platform for meritocratic young politicians, has been carved up between the children of senior Tamil Nadu Congress leaders, all of them trying to jump onto the Rahul Gandhi bandwagon. As a result, should it have gone to elections without the backing of either of the state's big parties, the Congress could conceivably have been reduced to a 12-15 seat caricature.

It is noteworthy that Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi waited for his rival, J. Jayalalithaa, to announce a seat-sharing arrangement between the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and movie star "Captain" Vijayakanth's Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) party. This contracted the options for the Congress. It made the AIADMK combine truly formidable and lessened Ms Jayalalithaa's need for the Congress as well as the number of seats she could possibly offer it. As such, the DMK gambled it could scare the Congress into submission.

At the root of the DMK's politics as well as its problems is its ruling clan. The Karunanidhi family has converted governance to a family enterprise. Crony capitalism — the link between facilitation of business by the government, benefits to specific individuals who may be related to policymakers, and kickbacks, in the form of cash or equity or contracts, to associates of the ruling establishment — is the defining mantra of the DMK's rule. It has also symbolised the manner in which its ministers have run Union government departments in New Delhi.

In the past five years, Mr Karunanidhi and his motley crew of children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews have gone further. They have developed an all-encompassing stake in the Tamil film industry, for instance. From production to distribution, no aspect of cinema is untouched by the DMK family. The biggest names in Tamil movies — iconic actors and directors — have been forced to accept terms. They have been "permitted" to make films, free of financial obstacles and engineered controversies, only when they have handed over distribution and similar rights to handpicked individuals and companies.

This has had bizarre consequences. The number of Tamil films that have, at least officially, done roaring business and been declared box-office successes and "super-hits" has exploded in the past three or four years. This is not due to some creative genius or once-in-a-generation burst of excellence. Much of it has been triggered by old-fashioned money-laundering. It is understood films running to empty theatres have been given the status of "sold out". Earnings have been inflated, taxes paid and black money converted to white. The tax returns of some in the DMK patriarch's extended familial network would be revealing. Those who were ordinary, middle-class doctors a half-decade ago are today film industry tycoons.

There are two implications to all this. First, while it may be convenient in New Delhi and in the national media to focus on just the 2G scandal, the fact is the DMK's troubles and fears don't begin and end at the Department of Telecommunications. Should Ms Jayalalithaa sweep the Tamil Nadu elections, then, given the vendetta tradition in the state's political culture, she could go after the DMK and its leadership. The previous time she did this was in June 2001, when she arrested Mr Karunanidhi himself, naming him as an accused in cases related to Chennai's "flyover scandal". The DMK had to appeal to the then Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government for help.

Given this, with the Left parties in Ms Jayalalithaa's corner and the BJP not likely to come to the aid of a discredited DMK, could Mr Karunanidhi afford to alienate the Congress and the Centre as well?
Second, in playing hardball with the Congress and being fairly open in asking it to bury, to the degree feasible, the telecom scandal, the Tamil Nadu chief minister is adopting a very 2G-centric approach. How comfortable would other stakeholders in the DMK family firm, those not connected to telecom policy and deal-making, be with this?

The telecom scandal is inching closer to Kanimozhi, the youngest and last of Mr Karunanidhi's children to enter politics. No doubt the DMK supremo loves his daughter. He has promoted her interests since 2007, when he sent her to the Rajya Sabha, out of a sense of both fatherly love and, insiders say, guilt because he felt he had not done as much for Ms Kanimozhi and her mother as he had for his two other wives and their children.
Getting on in years, his political innings drawing to an end, Mr Karunanidhi realised Ms Kanimozhi had to achieve in only a few short years what her half-siblings and cousins had had decades to do. Perhaps this made her factionalists — including the disgraced former telecom minister A. Raja — a trifle reckless. It has trapped Ms Kanimozhi in the 2G controversy and left her father extremely nervous.

However, not everybody in the DMK family has been comfortable with such a single-agenda mission. There are those — some of them DMK ministers in the Manmohan Singh government — who would rather Mr Karunandhi cut his losses, dump Mr Raja and Ms Kanimozhi and try and make the best of a tough election. Caught between competing wings of his family, trying to balance a parent's emotions with a survivor's pragmatism, the DMK chief went for broke. Did it get him anywhere?

Ashok Malik can be contacted at









At least with a dictatorship, you know where you are — and if you know where you are, you may be able to find your way out. In Pakistan, it is not so simple.


While brave Arab protesters are overthrowing deeply entrenched autocratic regi-mes, often without even resorting to violence, Pakistan, a democratic country, is sinking into a sea of violence, intolerance and extremism. The world's second-biggest Muslim country (185 million people) has effectively been silenced by ruthless Islamist fanatics who murder anyone who dares to defy them.


What the fanatics want, of course, is power, but the issue on which they have chosen to fight is Pakistan's laws against blasphemy.


They not only hunt down and kill people who fall afoul of these laws, should the courts see fit to free them. They have also begun killing anybody who publicly advocates changing the laws.


Salman Taseer, the governor of the Punjab, Pakistan's richest and most populous province, was murdered by his own bodyguard in January because he criticised the blasphemy laws and wanted to change them. He said that he would go on fighting them even if he was the last man standing — and in a very short time he was no longer standing. But one man still was: Shahbaz Bhatti.


Bhatti was shot down last Wednesday. The four men who ambushed his car and filled him with bullets left a note saying: "In your fight against Allah, you have become so bold that you act in favour of and support those who insult the Prophet....And now, with the grace of Allah, the warriors of Islam will pick you out one by one and send you to Hell."


Shahbaz Bhatti was not a rich and powerful man like Salman Taseer, nor even a major power in the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) that they both belonged to. He was the only Christian member of the cabinet, mainly as a token representative of the country's three million Christians, but he had hardly any influence outside that community. Nevertheless, he refused to stop criticising the blasphemy laws even after Taseer's murder, so they killed him too.


And that's it. The rest of the country's political and cultural elite have gone silent, or pander openly to the fanatics and the bigots.


The PPP was committed to changing the blasphemy laws only six months ago, but after Taseer was killed president Asif Ali Zardari assured a gathering of Islamic dignitaries that he had no intention of reviewing the blasphemy laws. Although they are very bad laws.


In 1984 general Zia ul-Haq, the dictator who ruled Pakistan from 1977 to 1988, made it a criminal offence for members of the Ahmadi sect, now some 5 million strong, to claim that they were Muslims. In 1986 he instituted the death penalty for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad. No subsequent government has dared to repeal these laws, which are widely used to victimise the Ahmadi and Christian religious minorities.


Ahmadis and Christians account for at most for five per cent of Pakistan's population, but almost half of the thousand people charged under this law since 1986 belonged to those communities. Most accusations were false, arising from disputes over land, but once made they could be a death sentence.


The current crisis arose when a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, was sentenced to death last November, allegedly for blaspheming against the Prophet Muhammad. Pakistan's liberals mobilised against the blasphemy law —and discovered that they were an endangered species.


The murders of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were bad, but even worse was the way that the political class and the bulk of the mass media responded. A majority of the population fully supports the blasphemy law, making it very costly for politicians to act against it even if the fanatics don't kill them. Political cowardice reigns supreme, and so Pakistan falls slowly under the thrall of the extremists.


Being a democracy is no help, it turns out, because democracy requires people to have the courage of their convictions. Very few educated Pakistanis believe that people should be executed because of a blasphemy charge arising out of some trivial village dispute, but they no longer dare to say so. Including the president.


"We will not be intimidated nor will we retreat," said Zardari on March 3, but he has already promised the beards that the blasphemy law will not be touched. Nor is it very likely that the murderers of Taseer or Bhatti will be tracked down and punished. You could get killed trying to do that.


The author's latest book is titled Climate Wars, and he lives in London







What is that one fixation that binds the taxiwalas, street vendors, passers-by across this city that we so lovingly pride ourselves in? It is the unabashed, selfish, slothful and uncouth act of spitting in public.


While in conversation with an environmentalist last week, it dawned on me that Mumbai is the hub of environmental debauchery simply because most of us nonchalantly consider the city to be open trash can.


Out of all the litter that people scatter in the city — orange peels and biscuit wrappers mindlessly thrown out of trains; plastic pouches and coconut shells flung into the sea, gutka sachets and bhel packets hurled on to the railway tracks — the filthiest way of contaminating the city's environs is people spitting the foul contents of their mouth on to pavements and walls.


Last month, I was delighted to see that the subway at Borivli I make use of daily was being renovated and painted to give it a spic-and-span white sheen. Imagine my distress a few days later when I saw the walls smeared with red spatter and stinking of urine.


One obvious reason why spitting still remains such an overriding tendency amongst the people is the lack of laws and punitive action to curb it. When one is innately aware that her/his action will not call for any punishment except for a few occasional ridicules, she/he is bound to be reckless about it.


How else can you explain the behaviour of the paan-chewing autowala who shoots out red spit more often than turning the handlebar?


Walking on the roads is terrifying because you may never know what kind of muck you are stepping on, and by the time you do, it might be too late (and messy!). Trash cans so generously provided by the municipality are a joke because instead of spitting into it, people spit on it. I have failed to comprehend whether this is a sign of lethargy or an expression of taunt.


One middle-aged woman I was grumbling to about this menace came up with a hilarious (though logical) suggestion to deter people from spitting in public.


She proposed that some such technology must be installed on subway walls and railway tracks that will send up an electric jolt (a non-fatal one, of course) on anybody who spits on them. In a country where there are still no adequate legislations on public hygiene, I thought this was a wishing for too much.


The nature of the human race is such that unless one is personally affected by a public nuisance, she/he will not muster to will or interest to act against the glitch. Our 'chalta hai' attitude does not put us out of harm's way; it just dodges harm for a while till repercussions finally strike hard.







It is a fact that our lives are surrounded and scattered with various "ifs". We always think: What if I had been educated in a better school. What if I was born in a different country, what if I had a better job, what if I had married somebody else, what if I had more money...


We allow scores of such hypothetical scenarios to overtake our lives, go into depression, convince ourselves that we have got a raw deal and paralyse our present as it is so uninspiring. It certainly cannot give us a modicum of happiness. That is why it is important to reign in our negative impulses and emotions and not allow it to drain our emotional energy.


Ultimately, everything is a matter of perception. It is attitude that really matters as it tempers you to think the right way, to see things in perspective and also give it a positive happy spin. But attitude cannot be built if we suffer from intellectual poverty. That is why even the rich are so restless, unfulfilled and pining for more.


We all have a choice to be happy or miserable. Some of us deliberately choose the second. Few opt for the first though it is easier. But we opt for the "let me be miserable" attitude complaining about everything around us, rather than fixing it. But if we are the ones who wear an attitude of fixing problems, walk easier as we have got to the root of the problem, fixed it and moved on.


How many of us do simple things like count our joys. Instead, we are always counting what we do not have, what we yearn for and how we are never getting what we want. Do we stop for a moment and think of what we have andhow precious it all is? Do not smother your joys wallowing in ingratitude and bitter memories. Instead, dive into the numerous happy ones replaying moments you cherish and visualise more such ones happening again. In the process what you have done is to use the moment to steer yourself towardscreating more such moments.


Ramesh Menon is a journalist and corporate trainer.







Seen The White Ribbon? Film buffs might have, because it won the Palme d'Or, the jury's highest prize in 2009 at Cannes, apart from a Golden Globe and a best foreign language film nomination at the Oscars. But instead of going into the long list of accolades it garnered, what I wanted to highlight is the subtext in its subject. This Austrian-German film captures abuse in its storyline; more specifically, the abuse of children.


It is a heavy watch — in fact there is a scene which quite frankly gave me sleepless nights: a toddler boy waking up in the middle of the night to stumble upon his teenage sister being abused… by their doctor father. And the bone chilling horror of the sequence was furthered in the manner the girl, still a child herself, overlooking her own pain, comforts her scared little brother about the blood on the bed. But here's the thing — why be numbed by the horror in a foreign film (an atrocity committed by a person in a position of trust), when statistics here, in our own country, are enough to bring on the tears?


Reports cite data from the National Crime Records Bureau, which charts an increase in sexual offences against children. In its 2007 study, 53% reported one or more forms of abuse. More worrisome: 50% of the abusers were known to the children, in effect: in a position of trust.


Watching a documentary on child abuse sometime back, I was horrified to see a rape-accused father tell the camera most unapologetically, 'Apna hi phool hai. Hum nahin chakhenge toh aur kaun chakhega?'


It is the existence of this kind of mentality that makes the new bill that the Union cabinet cleared last Thursday, dealing exclusively with sexual offences against children both important and necessary. The new law is said to cover all aspects of sexual assault against minors not covered elsewhere. It proposes punishment of three years minimum for fondling a child in an inappropriate way. Abusers could be jailed for up to seven years as well; in fact the proposal allows for not less than 10 years with provisions to extend to life imprisonment in certain cases.


The bill proposes safeguards as to the identity of the child — it will not be disclosed. Most remarkably it provides for uncompromising punishment to those misusing their position of trust around kids.


No wonder that this bill has been described as 'pathbreaking' in reports. Besides, its arrival is timely, especially for Maharashtra, which, according to a non-profit group's compilation, has the highest number of missing children in the country, apparently 13,000 in 2009. In fact, it has been reported that seven children go missing every hour in India, from the poorer sections. It would not be too off the mark to assume that many of those missing would at some point end up abused in some manner — as we all know, some in any case join the flesh trade/are sold into it. In this light alone, the bill is welcome.


Of all crimes committed, those against minors are widely regarded as most heinous. They get even more horrific, perhaps, if committed by people who are not strangers to the little ones. Little Red Riding Hood was told not to talk to strangers, (hence paid the price) as we instruct our babies, but what if the wolf is not the stranger, murky in form, deep in the woods… what ifhe's the friendly neighbourhood uncle, well known…trusted? Or, as in the case of the reported abuse of differently-abled girls in the Navi Mumbai orphanage, being highlighted at present, ostensibly in charge of their welfare?


In the hope then that this new bill will provide some measure of recourse to the victimised, whose trauma is underlined in news reports everyday. All the stories highlight not just how vulnerable the children are, but especially tell of little ones, not yet three or differently-abled, unable to even voice being abused by guardians, neighbours, kith and kin… in effect — people in positions of trust.








Media has its idiosyncrasy; it may overstate an insignificant event or understate a major event, all depending on its subjective approach. Sometimes readers are puzzled at these flip flops. But that is the reality about the fourth estate. One such example is the rather low-key protest by National Students Federation in Jammu for closing down the university library's sub-centre in Vinayak market. The news though unimportantly put out is neither insignificant nor worthy of trivializing. Contrarily, it is important to broach the subject of people's urge for acquiring knowledge and utilizing their time profitably. Existence of good libraries is a sign of culture for any society. From ancient times human societies have been interested in preserving reading material for the posterity, and no wonder, there are great and ancient libraries in the world that preserve most valuable fund of books. But library science has undergone sea-change both in its philosophy as an aid to search for knowledge and in its infrastructural design. Its scientific approach has made access to the material very simple and hassle free. Gone are the days when one had to rummage through hundreds of dusty shelves to locate a book.


Jammu university library is supposed to be the main fund house of largest collection and on a variety of subjects. It has a commodious building and not too poor an infrastructure. However, its digitalization and modernization system needs to be streamlined. University authorities have to do more to ensure that the library serves the purpose of its creation in letter and in spirit. Somehow, the interior of the library puts up a dreary look. Its monotonous environs need to be broken and replaced by vibrant and fresh lay out. A handsome children's corner should be there for the wards of the residential teaching and administrative staff. A mini planetarium would be a nice thing to add. Big globes, attractive magazine stands with displays, displays of latest arrivals, walls bedecked with replica paintings, flower vases in corners, a self-servicing coffee corner and a relaxing -cum-studying lobby would add to the grace of Jammu university library. There used to be a Kashmir Section once upon a time and that has almost disappeared or has been re-cast in a different shape. It needs to be revived with three main sections one each devoted to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh studies.


A word about the Jammu Public Library at Kachi Chhawni is not out of place. Frankly speaking, it is not a library but an outdated archaic museum with fossilized environs. Once this used to be the hub of all cultural and intellectual activities of Jammu city but has now fallen from grace and degenerated into a ghostly cell where thousands of valuable books remain buried under thick layers of dust inaccessible to reading public. Never ever does one succeed in laying hands on a particular volume he or she needs. Everything seems fossilized. Such is the lack of interest among the staff that one feels just wasting one's time in making a purposeful visit to the library. It has no attraction whatsoever for a reader. Though the library is located at a central place, it has no utility to the community if its present shape is not drastically altered. The old building should be pulled down and replaced by ultra modern multi-storey structure specifically raised to house a modern library, well ventilated, airy and with plenty of sunlight coming in. Fortunately, it has a spacious ground for big layout. It should be digitalized completely and equipped with ultra modern system. Since hundreds of books in this ancient library are in a fragile condition, their preservation and treatment along scientific lines should be undertaken immediately. The staff at the library should be deputed for refresher's course in their profession and skills. The library has to be remodeled and distributed into various sections with each section dealing both independently and collectively. A large basement will store all the books along systematic storage lines and books requisitioned have to be hauled up by a lift to ground floor for the use of a reader in the reading room. In short, we need a comprehensive plan for modernizing this library and the state government can approach the HRD Ministry for financial support. Jammu deserves to be given this big cultural boost in view of expansion of education and opening up of new branches and fields of leaning. Let sweet and fresh water flow from these fountains of knowledge.







March 8 is celebrated as Women's Day all over the world. It was accepted on the recommendation of the United Nations. The idea carried many aspects in its fold like motherhood, equal rights, partnership in development, support to social health etc. In European countries the women had to struggle long to win their rights and that too grudgingly. In many countries in the world, equal rights are not still given to women along with men. Most significant contribution to empowerment of women was made by the erstwhile Soviet Union which we can see even today. That was a great experiment. It hardly needs any proof to convince the world that no society can move forward along the path of progress if half of the population meaning the owmen folk is lagging behind. Countries and societies where woman are given a liberal treatment and are brought at par with men folk are among the most librated societies and at the same time prosperous ones. Conversely societies where women are given discriminative treatment and are not considered at par with men are definitely backward. In India, women have all the constitutional rights as men have and the Indian law allows no difference of gender. In that sense ours is one of the most emancipated constitutions and societies. However, on the ground, we have much that does us no credit in the context of treating women with respect, dignity and humanism. Instances of violence against women, kidnapping, rape and molestation have increased manifold. Sadly, law enforcing agencies, particularly the police, have come under criticism for slackness in the discharge of their duties. Gender discrimination is still observed in some cases. In particular our women folks in rural areas have not been spared the grilling chores of life on one hand and misbehaviour of the male folks on the other. It is true that on the level of administration strict instructions are given to all concerned to eradicate discriminative practices and the government discourages all actions that might be disadvantageous to the women. Even reservation for women in many branches has been accepted formally. But still we cannot claim to have done all that is needed to be done in this behalf. For example rape is a common crime committed against women but the laws are mild and punitive action is usually hindered. Harassment of women in offices and work places has become a recurring phenomenon. Since education has spread rapidly and employment opportunities for girls have increased manifold, instances of harassment of women have emerged a new menace. It is all right to celebrate the International Day of Women but it reminds us in this country and this state that we owe much more to women folk than just issuing statements and sweet rhetoric.







Yuvraj Karan Singh was born to Maharaja Hari Singh and Maharani Tara Devi on 9th of March 1931. Birth of Yuvraj was greeted with extravagant enthusiasm by the subjects of Jammu and Kashmir; irrespective of caste, creed or religion. Since there had been no issue from first three Maharanis, people had started fearing that if no heir was born to the Ruler, the British Government might invoke the notorious Doctrine of Lapse on their state and grab it clandestinely. Hence the birth of Prince was greeted immensely. Yuvaraj would have ruled the state as Monarch but it was not to be. Predicting independence in the offing, his father groomed him for a democratic role which kept him in the forefront of public life as Head of the State and Union Minister for 36 years and Member of the Parliament thereafter.


To groom him to meet challenges of life, Maharaja placed him in formal atmosphere at the age of 5 years. He was allowed to see his mother only for one hour every day. He was sent to Doon School in 1942. Being in Public School he had to make his bed and polish shoes and received a paltry sum of Rs 5 as monthly pocket allowance. Stay in Doon School helped Yuvaraj make the crucial transition from feudal to democratic way of life. He passed BA form S P College Srinagar, MA in Political Science from Delhi University with Fist Class First in 1957 creating university record still unbroken. He did Ph D from Delhi University in1961. His thesis of Doctorate was "Aurobindo-The Prophet of Nationalism"


Birth of heir apparent had not gone well with the British. They fomented and abetted Sheikh Abdullah led uprising against the ruler in 1931. Taking a leaf from Mahatma Gandhi's Quit India Movement, Sheikh Abdullah launched Quit Kashmir Movement in 1946. This was the connection of birth of Dr. Karan Singh and the political situation of J&K. He was catapulted into political life at the age of 18 when Maharaja appointed him Regent on 9 June 1949. State plunged into political turmoil soon after independence affecting institutions, individuals and families when it was invaded by Pakistani tribals and later during the process of transition from autocratic rule to democracy. Handling the crisis during the process of transformation post tribal invasion fell upon the young shoulders of Yuvaraj as Regent. Later he was elected as Sadar-i-Riyasat in 1950 and re elected in 1956 and 1961 and appointed Governor in 1964. Instead of ruling as Monarch, he led the state as a democratically elected head for 18 years before entering the national scene as Minister and after 64 years of independence continues to be Member of Parliament and respected member of the core group of ruling Congress. The post of Sadar-i-Riyast came into being with Dr. Karan Singh in 1952 and ended with him in 1964. He has another distinction of being the only Sadar-i-Riyasat of India. He himself abolished Monarchy on 15 September 1952. On 8 August 1953 he was compelled to dismiss the govt of Sheikh Abdullah and appointed Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad as the Prime Minister. His personal history and the history of J&K are intertwined and hence inseparable for each other.


He married Yasho Rajya Lakshmi; on 5 March 1950. She was grand daughter of Maharaja Sir Mohan Shumsher Jang Bahadur Rana, the Prime Minister of Nepal. Pt Nehru and Sardar Patel favored this marriage for strengthening relations with Nepal. She remains to be the last Maharani of J&K. They spent 60 years of happily married life together till she left for her heavenly abode on 24 May 2009.


Indira Gandhi inducted him in the Union Cabinet on 13 March 1967 as Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation. At that time he was 36 years and earned the distinction of youngest person ever to become a Cabinet Minister. In 1973, owning moral responsibility for an Avro crash, he resigned but Indira Gandhi did not accept his resignation. From 1973 to 77 he was Minister of Health and Family Planning and served as Minister of Education and Culture from 1979 to 80. In first ever world Population Conference in Buchrest in 1974 he coined the slogan of "Development is the best Contraceptive" which was widely appreciated. As a Minister of Health and Family Planning he presented National Population Policy in the Parliament in November 1976 and made statutory warning compulsory on Cigarette packs that 'Smoking was Injurious to Health'. He voluntarily surrendered his privy purse and whatever he had received, he put the entire sum into Hari-Tara Charitable Trust named after his parents.


He was elected to Lok Sabha from Udhampur Constituency four times from 1967 to 84. In the general election following tragic assassination of Indira Gandhi, he was persuaded to change his constituency to Jammu which he did on popular demand and foreseeing the events unfolding. He contested as independent candidate. Swayed by sympathy wave the result went in favour of Congress candidate which turned out to be watershed in the politics of Jammu region. In the retrospect people of Jammu realized that they lost a strong and effective leader who by virtue of his image and statesmanship could have ensured harmony in the state and prevented it taking an ugly turn in 80s and preventing migration of Pandits to happen. Hence they regret. Today Jammu is neglected, discriminated and leaderless because of its own doing.


In 1989 he was appointed as Ambassador to United States of America. In 1991 he became President of Auroville Foundation with Cabinet rank and in 1992 he became President of India International Centre (IIC). In 1993 he became Trustee of Green Cross International and in 1997 he became Co-Chairman of Indo French Forum. In 1998 he founded India Forum and People's Commission on Environment and Development which holds public hearings through out the country. He is active member of Author's Guild of India, Indian Board of Wild Life and many others. As Sadar-i-Riyasat and Governor he was Chancellor of University of Jammu and Kashmir. In 2002 he was appointed Chancellor of Jawahar Lal Nehru University and is presently Chancellor of Benaras Hindu University as well as President of Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).


In 1997 he was elected to Rajya Sabha and appointed as Chairman of Rajya Sabha Ethics Committee and Deputy Leader. He is member of National Integration Council, Executive Committee of Indian Parliamentary Group, standing committee of Home Affairs and Chairman of AICC Foreign Affairs Cell. In 2005 he was conferred with Padam Vibhushan.


He is respected as an experienced political personality, distinguished scholar, an accomplished diplomat and a profound interpreter of modern India. May he cross centenary and continue shinning as ever with splendid scholarship, statesmanship and aspiring leadership.


(The author is a columnist, political analyst and social activist)








India's external and internal security has been steadily deteriorating over the years despite diplomatic endeavours to win peace through dialogue with two of our most unpredictable neighbours -- Pakistan and China -- who are working in cohort and the continuing battle with Maoists and externally-sponsored insurgency in the north-eastern states, well as, the proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir. The government cannot, in these circumstances, afford to neglect strengthening the Defence Forces to safeguard internal, as well as, external security. Unfortunately, these forces have been starved of adequate and modern equipment for years which affects their ability to tackle any eventuality on external fronts and asymmetrical warfare in the hinterland.


Given this background, the Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has done little justice to the defence forces by granting a measly increase of Rs. 17,071 crore over the previous financial year's allocation to take it to Rs. 164,415 crore in 2011-12. The hike is only 8.47 per cent if the revised 2010-11 final estimate of Rs. 151,581 crore is taken into account. The nominal increase will not be enough for mass modernization, given concerns over the military build-up in the neighbourhood. It will only just cater for inflation, leaving little or nothing for either equipment acquisition or providing more facilities for defence personnel, who need to be better looked after, considering the hazards involved in their career.


In 2011-12, the country will be spending only 1.84 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product on defence, which is lower than even the previous low of 1.94 per cent in 2007-08. Thus, a spending of the order of 3 per cent of the GDP would be in order, but the Defence Ministry will be satisfied, for the present, with an allocation of 2.5 per cent of the GDP to meet the immediate needs of modernization of equipment and infrastructure development. Now that so many defence deals are being actively pursued and discussions have reached an advanced stage, adequate provision needs to be made for acquiring the equipment needed by the three services. No doubt, the Ministry spent Rs 833 crore more last year than what was allocated and, for the first time in years, did not surrender grants because it could not decide on what to buy due to red tape and cumbersome procurement procedures.


The Army is short of main battle tanks and the old Vijayanta and T-55s still continue in its inventory. The indigenously-developed Arjun has not come upto the Army's expectations in field trials, though it is being inducted gradually. Its mainstay remains the Russia T-72(M), an advanced version of the T-72, which is being inducted in numbers. But the backlog of old and unreliable equipment is so large that it will take years, at the current rate of production and induction, to equip the forces fully with the advance version. Same is the story about inducting an advanced ultra-light howitzer because the Army has not procured the reliable and fully battle-tested Bofors gun after the kickback scandal surrounding its purchase two decades ago.


The Ministry has moved closer to buying 145 US M777 howitzers with 25-30 km range which will come handy for supporting pare-Special Forces battalions. The two new mountain divisions being raised primarily for the eastern front with China will also be equipped with these ultra-light guns. The proposed sale will improve the security of India which, the US Congress has been told, continues to be an important force for political stability, peace and economic progress in South Asia. But the leakage of the report on field trials of the gun has caused embarrassment to the Defence Ministry, which has instituted an inquiry as to how such a secret document could have become public property. The acquisition has been dogged by controversy that has blocked almost every major defence purchase and one hopes the government will clear the hurdles and finalise the deal worth some $ 650 million in a transparent manner and at the earliest.


Coming to the Air Force, its Chief admits about 50 per cent of its equipment is "obsolescent". Which has seriously affected its ability to discharge the task assigned to it. The current squadron strength has gone down to 28, while the Air Force plans to have 48 squadrons as the basic minimum needed for the country's security, including capability to deliver nuclear weapons. By this calculation the Air Forces is short of 400 aircraft. Some experts, however, calculate an even higher number of 52 squadrons as the minimum force level for an efficient air force. It is argued that strength augmentation and quality upgradation are not adversary specific, but capability driven. As the country's interests have enlarged, the capabilities also need to match. For instance, the IAF infrastructure, which is now being built in the eastern and northern borders with China. Like activation of advance landing grounds and air bases is not targeted at an adversary at the moment, but only to increase the capabilities of the country overall.


The Navy also is grossly under-equipped and the stage is being set for acquiring Rs. 50,000 crore worth of submarines. It will be left with just half of the present fleet of 15 ageing diesel-electric submarines -- 10 Russian kilo class, four Germany HWD and one Foxtrot -- by 2015 or so. It has also been hit hard by the delay in the ongoing project 75 for six French Scorpion submarines at Mazagoan Docks, under which the vessels were to roll out one per year from 2012 onwards, with price escalation pushing the total cost beyond Rs. 20,000 crore. The six new submarines to be acquired under Project-75 India will be equipped with advanced propulsion systems, apart from stealth, land attack capability and ability to incorporate futuristic technology. The nuclear powered submarines Arihant will be operational by 2012 and will add a platform for underwater nuclear capable missile firing to the Navy and thus complete the nuclear triad for deterrence purposes.


All these programmes of acquisition entail huge expenditure for which the needed financial provisions need to be made in the Budget. The capital expenditure of Rs. 69,198 crore is thus grossly inadequate to meet the requirements of such acquisitions, even on installment basis, apart from other equipment acquired routinely for replacement or addition. (NPA)








After all, India is no Bangladesh or Ethiopia. India is a nation that can now fund its own development needs, has a defence budget of $ 36 billion, that runs a substantial foreign aid programme of its own and that it is one of only six nations with satellite launch capability.


Is not it ironical that India with its high ambitions to become a global power, a major country in South Asia which also happens to be a region that is home to more chronically food insecure people than any other region in the world, home to the largest number of hungry people?


But the land of paradoxes that India is, it is already a public scandal that India has no money, or so it turns out to be, to feed its hungry and that is home to 450 million poor. Our low ranking in the Global Hunger Index is despite the public distribution system (PDS) being in place, a scheme that caters to 65 million families below the poverty line and 115 million other families above the poverty line, and is supposed to act as a safety net for the vulnerable sections of our society.


It is quite evident already, due more to the findings of the World Food Programme and the M S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) that the high economic growth rates have failed to improve food security in India leaving the country facing a crisis in its rural economy.


The irony could be even starker if one compares the debate in Britain with the one that is raging in India - the one between the National Advisory Council (NAC) - that pitches for near-universal coverage of food security for the poor that it wants to be delivered through the old rickety PDS - and the Rangarajan Committee, (set up to review the NAC recommendations) seeking to scale it down on the grounds that the subsidy required to procure so much grain would be unaffordable to make it viable.


And there's truth in it. It has been estimated by the ministry of food and public distribution that the total food subsidy bill will balloon to a whopping Rs. 1, 10,600 crore if entitlements recommended by the NAC are incorporated into the Food Security Bill. The subsidy bill in the initial phase will be around Rs. 93,000 crore.


The ramifications could have serious implications on our economy already hamstrung by high government expenditure, unsustainable subsidies and steep interest payments. Rising food prices as a result of a demand-supply mismatch have gone on unabated, agriculture growth has been poor added with our wobbly PDS chains.


Wholesale food inflation has further spiked the prospect for India of meeting the Millennium Development Goals for food security by 2015. It demands very serious scrutiny why despite some of the important food-based interventions like the PDS, the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), and the Mid Day Meal Scheme (MDMS), India has about half the world's under-nourished children.


If one leaves aside the cases of multiple bungling and draws upon again on Britain's ethical dilly-dallying on whether India is really money-deficient when it comes to pay the poor, it helps to bear in mind that India can afford to embezzle Rs. 1.76 lakh crore in the spectrum scam, can spend a princely sum of Rs. 70,000 crore or more for the Commonwealth Games, draw Rs. 10,000 crore on a new airport from the exchequer, not to speak of tax write-offs running into many more crores of rupees. We talk of "exportable surpluses" while an unconscionable amount of foodgrains rot and people starve.


Still, once the Food Security Bill comes to be enacted, it will certainly become the most important step taken since 1947 in addressing poverty-induced endemic hunger in India. But comprehensive food security is not possible without a social safety net in place and innovative agriculture production programmes and without propping up mechanisms to ensure that food is available in the market. Besides, the targeted population has to have adequate purchasing power to gain access to food.


Overdependence on a leaky PDS - instances of targeted beneficiaries not getting their entitlements making "exclusion" errors widespread - as a matter of government policy has failed to address the problem of food security in our country because food security should ideally involve physical, economic and social access to a balanced diet, safe drinking water, environmental hygiene and primary health care.


On the eve of the Twelfth Plan (2012-17), it is important as well, as some scholars have rightly point out, to address the "non-tangible dimensions of deprivation," such as disadvantage, vulnerability, powerlessness, exploitation, marginalisation and alienation that generate and perpetuate poverty for certain sections of society irrespective of the accelerated growth and levels of development. INAV


(The writer is former Additional Director General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research)










While the Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Union government to explore the possibilities of involving the Central Bureau of Investigation in the probe against stud-farm owner Hasan Ali Khan and invoking anti-terror laws against him, Khan's lawyer was quoted as telling a court in Mumbai that the Enforcement Directorate had no evidence against his client and had filed no documentary proof to support the charges against him so far. While Khan was arrested on Monday night, no doubt, following prodding by the apex court , which wondered why the government had avoided his custodial interrogation, little hard evidence has surfaced in the public domain so far to substantiate the sensational charges. In the past, it is worth recalling, the government had sent teams to Switzerland to inquire into alleged accounts held by Khan in banks there. But the documents had been certified to be fake by the Swiss authorities then.


That the Central government agencies have mishandled the case is becoming clear. The Solicitor-General admitted to the Supreme Court on Tuesday that one of the police officers who had stepped on Khan's toes had been harassed by his supervisors. While the government readily admitted that the apex court was right in suggesting custodial interrogation of Khan, the Solicitor-General also assured the Bench that repatriation of the three deputationists to the Enforcement Directorate, who were investigating the case, would be expeditiously reviewed by the government.


But the war against black money cannot begin or end with Khan. While it is important to bring a wrongdoer to book, it is even more important to cleanse the system and book those without whose active support, Khan would not have flourished. Black money is a reality in India and there is plenty of it within the country to keep enforcement agencies busy besides what is stashed abroad. While the United States is said to have succeeded in obtaining details regarding 250 accounts from a solitary Swiss bank, giving rise to hope that India too would be able to bring back the amount allegedly parked there, it is worth recalling that the US has been fishing for details about 52,000 such accounts. What is more, the objective of the US is to impose taxes and recover penalties and not "bringing back" the black money home.









The law seems to be catching up finally with Justice Nirmal Yadav, a former Judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court and the Uttarakhand High Court where she retired on March 3. The CBI has at last filed the charge-sheet against her in the cash-at-judge's-door case under Section 11 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. She is charged with receiving cash of Rs 15 lakh in August 2008. The CBI's action follows the President of India's grant of sanction for Justice Yadav's prosecution. This case has evoked considerable debate in the media for the long delays at various stages from the very beginning. Apparently, there is a general impression that the powers-that-be had tried to give her an "honourable exit". Had she been charge-sheeted earlier, Justice Yadav would have been the first sitting judge of a high court to be booked in a corruption case. The President's action came on March 1, only two days before her superannuation.


More important, the CBI's tactic to bail Justice Yadav out earlier, apparently under political pressure, was exposed when it filed a closure report in December 2009 on the ground of "denial of prosecution sanction". However, Special CBI Judge Darshan Singh not only rejected the CBI's plea but also ordered reinvestigation of the case to bring all the guilty to book following a persistent campaign by the Punjab and Haryana High Court Bar Association. The Union Law Ministry has also drawn flak for the delay in obtaining the prosecution sanction. It is said that though Chief Justice of India Justice S.H. Kapadia had given his clearance for Justice Yadav's sanction in September 2010, the Law Ministry had not promptly forwarded the file to the President.


Despite all these delays, the ends of justice will be met and the rule of law will triumph only if Justice Yadav and others are prevented from circumventing justice and tried expeditiously. The judiciary is passing through a bad phase with many judges charged with corruption. Former CJI and National Human Rights Commission Chairperson Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Sikkim High Court Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran and Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court are all under a cloud. Surely, there is an imperative need for the judiciary to set its own house in order before pointing an accusing finger towards the executive and the legislature for various irregularities.








On the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day , Indian women must confront some disturbing facts --- beyond the blame game. Unlike their sisters in the West, they got the right to vote on a platter; the same goes for equal right to property and pay. Thanks to the foresight of our national leaders, post- Independence, women were given equal opportunities, at least on paper. Since this part of the world did not face horrors of two world wars, they were also spared from the dehumanising physical labour of industrialisation. Compare this with the realities in the West, women in America struggled for 72 years (1848-1920) to get the 19th amendment to their constitution which gave them the right to vote. Till date, women do not get an equal pay in the US. So, what did Indian women make of the equal rights during the last 63 years?


If we look at the surface, they have done well for themselves. They are visible on all the indices of social growth. Every year we project our Indra Nooyis and Kiran Bedis to congratulate ourselves. A 100 years back, when the struggle for equality began, women constituted 50 per cent of the total population. Now, at least in India, we need about 32 million more women to bring their numbers to 50 per cent of the population.


So, what has been their achievement? With all the choices offered on a platter, if women let their struggle slip into the hands of market forces, which trivialise a serious issue of social and political equality, bringing it to the level of concessional facials and jewellery deals, then who is to blame? From domestication, if they choose to be controlled by forces of consumerism, then their struggle for equality will remain trivialised, as it seems on the hundredth anniversary of International Women's Day — one more karwa chauth. Secondly, if they cannot even give birth to a child, without bothering about the sex of their offspring, then who can come to their rescue? 











Recent events, with action often being propelled only by media exposure and court directives, reveal the parlous state of governance in India. This is truly alarming and scandalous as much of what passes for lofty decision-making constitutes just bumbling along. The Supreme Court has removed P.J. Thomas as Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) consequent to bureaucratic mishandling of his papers as put up before the high-power selection committee.


The court has laid down future guidelines, stressing the overriding importance of institutional over individual integrity, though the latter is not unimportant. It has also questioned limiting high-level posts to government servants. This pernicious practice stems from a misplaced spoils system premised on wisdom and competence residing exclusively within the government.


The Prime Minister has properly taken responsibility for the Thomas muddle though no mala fides attaches to him. But he must now act and clean the Augean stables. This can only be done by building a national consensus as good governance cannot be a matter for partisan predilections. One question that must be asked in all these cases — and of the judiciary and investigating agencies too — is why the Thomas case and so many other sensitive matters drag on forever.


Liberhan and Nanavaty are outstanding examples of how not to do it. The Qattrocchi "closure" masks the deliberate sabotage of the Bofors inquiry early on, with the then foreign minister used to further a cover-up. Hasan Ali, a named multi-crore tax defaulter, is regularly at the gym and seen at the races but was allowed to roam around scot-free until the court had to bellow about "what the hell " was going on. The BJP may smile, but its conduct in Karnataka is equally reprehensible.


The breakdown of the criminal justice system is palpable, with even justices and former chief justices being arraigned, one such being the current chairman of the National Human Rights Commission. Another judge has remarked that "no government wants a strong judiciary". The Supreme Court has shared its agony over low provisioning for justice in the national budget. What comes in the way of greatly expanding the judiciary at all levels, with nyaya panchayats and honorary magistrates at the base? This, of course, will be useless without police reform and independence for bodies like the CVC and the CBI, which should have its own autonomous prosecution agency.


Much of this can surely be done within weeks by ordinance, on the basis of a broad national consensus that starkly exposes stand-out elements that patronise the corrupt and corruption, legislative ratification can follow. Undemocratic, some will exclaim! But is the persistent and massive loot of the nation's conscience and wealth a democratic virtue? And do we have the luxury of time with a billion mutinies on hand?


And why cannot the full gamut of police reforms, endlessly debated and refined for 30 years, be enforced at least in Delhi, Pondicherry and Chandigarh without further delay? It is a crying shame that even after the Home Minister's plaintive cry in Parliament that mala fide transfers have reduced the police to a "football", absolutely nothing has happened. The charade must end.


The font of corruption is undoubtedly electoral politics and the assiduous cultivation of the corrupt and corruption to amass funds from any and every source. Hence the criminalisation of politics and the politicisation of crime. With elections in five states slated for April-May, the corrupt are readying to gather their harvest. Let us see how many with criminal records are given nominations. The Election Commission is expanding and strengthening its election expenditure monitoring system — including paid news in which sections of the media are involved — and favours inserting a "none of the above" box in the ballot paper and introducing a run-off system so that the winning candidate is elected by a true majority of those voting. All this will call for long-pending electoral reforms that must include registration of political parties with a roster of paid members, annual elections of office-bearers and public audit of accounts. A simplified primary system on the American pattern may also be considered at the next stage.


The series of killings of whistle blowers across the country indicates that honest men and women are in danger of losing life and limb while the crooked flourish. This is an intolerable state of affairs and such criminal activity must be put down with an iron hand.


The sudden Tamil Nadu crisis is likely to blow over as the DMK has few options. The withdrawal of its Union ministers could facilitate a Cabinet reshuffle but should not incapacitate the government from vigorously pursuing governance and economic reform for that is what the country wants and will strongly support.


Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, the ruling regime has unfortunately launched a vendetta against the country's best known son, Mohammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank. The charges are trivial and run counter to the efforts being made to restoring the country's secular, democratic, liberal values that inspired its liberation movement. Friends of Bangladesh must hope that the government will realise its error and not allow its record to be sullied by a sorry witch hunt.


In Pakistan, liberal voices have been further intimidated by the brutal killing of the Minorities Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, in Islamabad. In Track-II dialogues, such spokespersons say they are fighting back but fall a prey to old mindsets when they talk of threats from across their "eastern borders". Yet they deny they need a permanent enemy in India to cohere. They cite a huge "trust deficit" and want India to put behind 26/11 but cannot plainly assert that Pakistan will live up to its 2002 promise of ending cross-border jihad, pleading that this is past history despite current incendiary pronouncements of the JuD/LeT. They say General Musharraf's peace formula was not based on any consensus, and the will of the J&K people must prevail. They welcome the restoration of dialogue, with the Pakistan Army fully on board, and their bottom line is that India cannot be an island of peace in a continent in turmoil.








I am sorry for the IAS couple Arvind and Tinu Joshi, who between them could salt away only Rs 360 crore worth of undeclared assets. It is insulting to all Joshis. The market rate for corruption, based on averages, has touched a thousand crores, the highest being Rs 1.76 lakh crore, whether the CAG has fudged it or not, and the Joshis could gather only 25 flats plus only 400 acres of land plus Rs 1 crore in cash. Fie on them! Even the desi girl Priyanka Chopra and the "almost God" Karmapa Lama had more than Rs 6 crore in hard currency.  Joshis! You being on the seats of power with the suffix of "Indian Acquiring Service" at the end of your names had only this petty hard cash in your possession. It is intolerable to us. And curse is on this colleague of yours who says, "This is a mind-blowing figure... hard to believe that officers can raise illegal assets of Rs 300 crore or even more. The Joshi couple has really produced a shocker."


I, on the other hand, propose that all Joshis take out street protest in the cities where they reside to tell the "famous" Joshi couple that it has lagged much behind the average loot in India and that has downgraded we Joshis who have always strived to be meritorious in our chosen fields. Arvind and Tinu! we, the kinfolks of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, vocal classical musician and Bharat Ratna; Prasoon Joshi, the top song-writer for films today; Genral BC Joshi, ex-Army Chief; Manohar Shyam Joshi, father of Indian soap-opera; Sharad Joshi, a reputed satirist and Padmashri; Pallavi Joshi, actor and winner of the National Award for Woh Chokri; Sister Nirmala (Joshi) of the Missionaries of Charity and many others, have no hesitation in saying that we feel ashamed of you for you could not gather even Rs 365 crore matching it with the days in a year, forgetting the leap year.


And Tinu! You are beaten by Neera Yadav, former Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh. She became the first woman IAS officer to be convicted for her bungling in NOIDA plot distribution. What Joshi blood flows in your veins if you are not ashamed of Neera beating you in the race to enjoy behind-the-bars scenes? I would suggest that both of you undertake the SWOT — strength, weakness, opportunity and threat — analysis of yours.


The world knows that your strength is to grab realty and liquidity; you have no weakness except that your hands and attaché-cases are a little smaller; you have the opportunity to go to the US for a corrupt there goes to jail and that in India such a person goes to the US. Moreover, you have degree from the university of education plus that from the universality of corruption — these degrees will take you far.  Threat — what threat? The judiciary is known as a blindfolded lady, but presently the government enjoys that privilege and appoints tainted CVC till the blind lady comes and shows the way to the government. So, fear not and enjoy the suspension period. You know, Duryodhan was killed by Bheem when he came out of suspended animation from inside a frozen lake. So, Joshi's piece of advice to Joshis is to stay in suspension and survive,  otherwise "I am sorry"








Amidst deepening security concerns, the cost of modern weapon systems has sky-rocketed. Increased military spending notwithstanding, India's defence budget remains among the lowest in the world in GDP terms. Crucial demands for weapons and equipment are pending; yet large chunks of the budget are surrendered each year and consequently, modernisation of the armed forces is suffering dismally

Lt. Gen. O.P. Kaushik (Retd)


In the budget presented before Parliament on February 28, a sum of Rs 1,64,415 crore has been earmarked for defence for 2011-12. The defence budget for 2010-11 was ` 1,47,344 crore and hence, this year's allotment is higher by about 11.6 per cent. Last year the defence share was two per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the proposed allotment for 2011-2012, though higher and still amounts to about two per cent of the GDP. It falls much short of expectations of the service chiefs who have been demanding three per cent of the GDP to meet the growing security concerns to the country.


India's defence budget has been rising steadily since independence. In 1950-51 it was Rs 168 crore. It increased to Rs 19,180 crore in 1993-94. Till 15 years after Independence, the military needs of the country were ignored by Jawaharlal Nehru, resulting in a humiliating defeat in 1962 against China. The defence budget at that time was kept below two percent of the GDP. Our defeat at the hands of the Chinese made it to rise four percent in 1962-1963.

Due to the latest weapons Pakistan then obtained from the US and China worth about Rs 40,000 crore, we were forced to increase our defence budget during 1987-88 to Rs 12,512 crore. China's infrastructure development in Tibet. enabling her to enhance her operational capabilities by four times, as also the ability for rapid modernisation of her armed forces, rang alarm bells in the minds of the Indian leadership, resulting in defence budget rising to Rs 1,41,703 crores in 2009-2010. It was again marginally increased in 2010-2011. The increase was less than four per cent vis-à-vis the previous year. Allocations made during this year is approximately 11.3 percent more than the last year.



Many factors have to be considered while compiling the defence budget. First among them is the threat to security, both external and internal. Rising inflation, declining value of the rupee, rapidly rising cost of modern weapons, salaries, organisational needs and prevailing economic situation effect allocations.


Our security environment today is highly critical and to say the least, it is in fact, imbalanced. To meet the challenge posed by China, we need three times the force than what we have today. Pakistan has been receiving liberal aid from the US on the pretext of fighting terrorism. The US administration, ignoring India's objections, has been deliberately building up Pakistan's military. China has been working overtime to boost Pakistan's military strength and hardware, including their nuclear capability. Recent acquisitions of nuclear capable F-16 aircraft and long-range weapon delivery systems give Pakistan an edge over India. It is because of this military preparedness that Pakistan dares to ignore all warnings from India on account of its indulgence in organising and supporting terrorist activities in India.


About 70 percent of the Indian Army is today committed in counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency duties in various parts of the country. We also have to contend with a volatile security environment developing on borders with Nepal, Mynamar and Bangladesh, as also the recent happenings in West Asia. These developments not only justify an increased defence outlay but also demand an enlarged financial package to build up our military capabilities to ensure uninterrupted and unhindered economic development.


There has been an unprecedented rise in the cost of modern weapons. A tank that cost Rs 6 lakh in 1980 now costs Rs 10 crore. The price of a fighter aircraft has risen from Rs 25 crore in 1980 to Rs 200 crore. In case of the Navy, the situation is much worse. A frigate worth about Rs 20 crore in sixties is now over Rs 2,000 crore. Due to the financial crunch, no new major weapon system has been purchased for the army since 1986. Indigenous production of weapons and equipment has been dismally slow and, in fact, has let down the aspirations of the armed forces. The navy's needs of surface-to-air guided missiles, aircraft carrier and replacement of old frigates are miles behind schedule. The air force needs total replacement of its ageing fighter aircraft and better surveillance equipment.


Manpower costs constitute a very large chunk of defence expenditure. About 62 per cent of revenue expenditure accounts for the salary bill and to say the least, the Sixth Pay Commission has left armed forces dissatisfied and discontented, a factor that a nation can ignore only to its peril. Mounting security threats have resulted in the military strength rising from about 2.3 lakh in 1960 to about 13 lakh today. And yet, as against an authorised strength of 46,615 officers, the army alone is short of 11,238 officers.


With unsettled borders with China and continuous hostile attitude of Pakistan, conflict can be imposed upon us much against our will and at a time-frame not of our choice. The army is overstretched due to commitments on the borders, counter-insurgency, aid to civil authorities and establishing law and order, resulting in stress and strain on soldiers who get much lesser time to take care of their families. To cater for lurking security dangers and to avoid overstretching, the government must sanction, at least 10 more divisions for the army. Foreign aid agencies may demand reduction in our defence expenditure and consequently, the size of the defence forces, but nevertheless we have to be concerned with our security and should abandon such conditional foreign aid. On our northern borders, China can today deploy 35 divisions as opposed to just six in 1962. We have only seven divisions guarding this border.


Despite the increase in defence spending, in terms of the percentage of GDP, our defence budget has been one of the lowest in the world. Last year it was 1.97 per cent and the proposed allocation for 2011-2012 will be barely two per cent. China and Pakistan have been spending about 12 per cent and seven per cent, respectively. Reports suggest that Third World countries are spending 3,000 billion dollars on defence every year. India's share is only one per cent of this whereas its population is 25 per cent of the Third World.


In the last three decades, very little could be spared for modernisation and improving our military's cutting edge. Of the total budget, about 48 per cent was utilised for salaries, 39 per cent for housing and other accessories including purchases of equipment, six percent on research and seven per cent on training.


In 1993, then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, had made a promise of giving roughly three per cent of the GDP for defence needs, but unfortunately that figure has not been reached till date. The three services chiefs' demands for this share has fallen on deaf ears. Many crucial demands for weapons and equipment are pending in the Ministry of Defence on account of procedural and bureaucratic delays, resulting in surrendering ` 7,007 crore as unspent during 2008-2009. On an average, roughly Rs 8,000 crore have been surrendered every year during the past seven years.


The impact of continuous surrendering of large chunks of the defence budget, delay in supplies from foreign vendors and the emphasis shifting to internal security, is that the army has almost lost its edge over Pakistan. Despite our objections, aid worth thousands of crores is reaching Pakistan from the US and China. The situation is likely to get worse and under these circumstances, India has no other option but to earmark at least three per cent of the GDP as an outlay for defence. We must remember, insecure nations cannot develop economically and socially, Nor can they take sustained, incisive decisions. Hence, a climate of secured external and internal environment is needed for all round development and to provide that, well equipped, well officered, well trained and fully content armed forces are an inescapable necessity.


The writer is a former Chief of Staff, Eastern Command








Charlie Sheen, at 45 and clearly losing his mind, has generated more headlines over the last fortnight than he has in his 27-year career. It is an alarming meltdown, but one peppered with such breakneck quotes that Sheen — who calls himself a warlock with poetry in his fingertips, among other things — has risen, in this age of viral infamy and tweeting towncryers, to the uncoveted albeit distinguished status of The World's Biggest Fool.

Lady Gaga and Sarah Palin must be overjoyed, or, perhaps, jealous. But dethroned they have been, because Sheen's insane ranting — "I'm an F-18, bro, and I will destroy you in the air and deploy my ordinance to the ground" — is just too unhinged to be anything but real.


This is a man who was caught with a briefcaseful of cocaine not so long ago, and while Hollywood has been chuckling at his hookers-and-heroin lifestyle for some time now, it is only over the last few interviews that the full extent of his dementia has come to light. And it's nutjobbery of the scale that keeps even the disgraced John Galliano out of the news cycle.


I can't help visualising West Wing's President Jeb Bartlet shaking his head, the 70-year-old Martin Sheen unable to comprehend just what his son is going on about, calling himself a winner with fire-breathing fists, and claiming to be filled with tigerblood.


Yes, tigerblood. Charlie says that is what runs in his veins, and makes him better than the rest of us. And — while not saying that those magnificent beasts have anything in common with the former Two And A Half Men actor —perhaps he's not the first celebrity to have it inside him.


And that might not be a bad thing, really. Because we thrive on celebrity misbehaviour, we always have. We want to see them drunk and disorderly, inappropriately dressed and candidly foulmouthed, falling, falling, falling — just so we can point and laugh. Just earlier this week we in Bombay had ourselves a snicker when a director had a few drops too many of tigerblood in his soda, abused a superstar on Facebook, and apologised the next day — the said superstar himself oiled in so much tigerblood his shirt has trouble staying on his body, and he has trouble staying on the roads when he drives.


Yet a very little bit of tigerblood isn't a bad thing at all. In an overtly correct and unfairly public life, a measure of errata — an outburst, a poor choice of words, going commando in a dress at a children's function and laughing about it later — helps both celebrity and viewer to take themselves less seriously. All the stars we admire the most occasionally indulge in a gargle, and it is only when they glug down too much that things really go awry.


It is, however, idiotically idealistic to expect moderation when it comes to any magical potion. Just think about how latter-day Elvis liked his steak tigerbloody.



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




Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has ruled in favour of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), rather than the Competition Commission of India (CCI), regulating bank mergers and acquisitions (M&As). This is right as RBI has unique historical expertise in supervising the banking sector whereas the commission is a relatively newborn entity. As a transitional policy this may get applied to the insurance sector also with the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) being the relevant institution. However, in the long run and as the CCI comes to establish itself as a credible and competent organisation, with adequate inhouse expertise in the financial sector, there is no reason why the CCI should not be the institution overseeing all M&A activity, across sectors. The challenge of evolving a policy on consolidation among public sector banks is complicated by the fact that the government is the owner on both sides of a proposed M&A deal. There is some urgency in evolving a clear policy in this regard as the issue of further merger of State Bank of India (SBI) subsidiaries with the parent body is already on the table and Left parties, which seek to consider foremost the interests of the unions, are opposed to the idea.

Two such mergers — of the State Bank of Saurashtra and State Bank of Indore — have already taken place and the finance ministry and the bank management are keen to merge the remaining five. The mergers have so far gone through smoothly because the two merged banks were weak and the ministry and SBI sensibly when about the task step by step, digesting the fallout of one step before taking another.


 But the problem is that merging all of SBI's subsidiaries with itself is being touted as a good thing in itself because it will supposedly make for an Indian banking biggie with an adequately large balance sheet, which will facilitate lending to large infrastructure projects. The second, even more doubtful, reason cited is that mergers will reduce costs and overheads. First, you don't need real down-the-line operational mergers to get the benefit of a large balance sheet. That can be done by forming a holding company and publishing a consolidated balance sheet without changing operational realities one bit. As for saving costs and overheads through a merger, abolishing posts in public sector organisations is notoriously difficult. What usually happens is redesignation through change of nomenclature. Two real issues are not talked about at all. One is the operational efficiency of a behemoth, which keeps getting bigger.

Use of information technology helps but at the end of the day people have to manage people and real decentralisation is difficult to achieve. Inevitably, the attention given to personnel issues is inversely related to the size of an organisation. The other real issue is grassroots knowledge. Today, when initiating financial inclusion and making it a business success is the biggest challenge before the banking sector, knowing a region intimately is an invaluable asset. It makes for both quick expansion of basic banking and sound support to small and medium businesses. Several SBI subsidiaries have a deeper grassroots feel than SBI proper. What is ideally needed is a case by case approach — formalising what has been done till now by default as a result of multiple pressures for different sides. Merge something if it is weak but, not to speak of merging, give greater autonomy to healthy operations that have their feet firmly planted on the ground.







Opinion remains divided on whether or not the continuing instability in West Asia and North Africa (WANA) will continue to drive up global crude oil prices, and therefore India's oil import bill, or whether, in fact, there would be a correction based on OPEC addressing concerns about supply. Either way India cannot, as of now, take things for granted. A medium-term energy security strategy needs to be put in place, based on the assumption that India's growth and balance of payments can be potentially hit by a possible terms of trade shock. Given renewed concerns about global growth, it is entirely possible that there could be a slowing down of global trade and increased volatility in capital flows.

While things may not turn out to be as bad as what the pessimists expect, a new oil shock, India's policy planners must have a back-up strategy for the management of external shocks. Even without a future shock, India's present oil subsidy has become too big to finance. While the limits may have been reached to increasing only petrol prices, without touching diesel, kerosene and LPG, the Union finance ministry's ability to reduce duties on petroleum goods to cushion a further rise in the oil import bill is also limited. The government's carefully crafted fiscal consolidation strategy would go into a tailspin if it begins to reduce duties as a way of warding off the inflationary consequences of higher oil prices. Given that India and its government find themselves between a rock and a hard place as far as oil and petroleum goods price management is concerned, the best option for the government is to begin the process of increasing diesel, kerosene and LPG prices. Most patriotic Indians would understand if the moves are properly explained. Everyone knows what is happening in WANA and that the Jasmine Revolution is bound to hurt the Indian economy. Voters in Assam, Kerala, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu are essentially going to vote out governments that they are tired off. No angry voter in any of these states is going to turn hostile to the centre and its coalition partners because of a rise in oil and energy prices against the background of the situation in WANA. By delaying decisions on diesel, LPG and kerosene prices, the government runs the risk of destabilising the growth process and India's balance of payments. The medium-term consequences of these two would be far greater than the few votes that the ruling Congress may lose in a couple of state elections. The key issues in each of the states that are going to the polls have to do with state-level development and governance. The centre, on the other hand, must do what it must in managing India's energy security and economic stability.








Sanjeev Sanyal Fascists and socialists have one thing in common — the urge to impose rigid masterplans on cities. In 1950, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru invited Le Corbusier to design the new city of Chandigarh. Corbusier was specifically asked by Nehru to create a city that was "unfettered" by India's ancient civilisation. Enormous resources in land, material and money were poured into building the new city. At the same, rigid masterplans were imposed on existing cities. Delhi was masterplanned in 1962 into strict zones according to use. However, the static masterplan is to the city what socialist planning is to the economy. Both cities and economies are organic and rapidly evolving eco-systems. Just like the Mahalonobis model of central planning damaged the Indian economy, the country's urban thinking was severely damaged by Le Corbusier's philosophy that buildings were machines for living.


This mechanical world-view is echoed in the Delhi masterplan of 1962, which proclaimed that "there is undesirable mixing of land-uses almost everywhere in the city". Just as the government had the right to control the economy through licenses, it also had the right to tell people where to live and where to work. The problem is that such an approach cannot create a living eco-system. New industrial cities such as Durgapur never took off and today's successful cities are still those with British-era roots.


Even Chandigarh, the expensive poster-child of masterplanning, has generated little of economic or cultural value after more than half a century of existence. Much of its apparent "cleanliness" comes from simply having left no space for the poor. Its apparent "greenery" creates a false sense of being environment-friendly but is mostly a result of gobbling a lot of land per capita. It remains a sterile and heavily subsidised city of tax-consuming bureaucrats that encourages neither entrepreneurship nor tax-generating jobs. This is particularly glaring given that it is the pampered capital of two prosperous states. Nehru had wanted Chandigarh to be the symbol of India's future. Instead, the face of 21st century India is a city that is chaotic, unplanned, infuriating but undeniably dynamic: Gurgaon.

A History of Gurgaon

Gurgaon lies to the south of Delhi and, according to legend, is said to have belonged to Dronacharya who taught martial arts to the Pandavas and Kauravas, cousins in the Mahabharat. Indeed, the name Gurgaon literally means the "village of the teacher". Despite its proximity to Delhi, however, the settlement of Gurgaon was never particularly large. Its population was estimated at a mere 3,990 in 1881 and nearby towns like Rewari and Farrukhnagar had much larger populations. The Gazetteer of 1883-84 tells that the British used Gurgaon as a district headquarters and that the town consisted of a small market (Sadar Bazaar), public offices , dwellings of European residents and a settlement called Jacombpura named after a former Deputy Commissioner. An old road connected Gurgaon to Delhi via Mehrauli. The road roughly survives as the arterial MG Road but the contours of British-era settlement can just about be discerned if one goes to busy marketplace in Old Gurgaon called Mahavir Chowk. One will also see the remains of an old serai used by caravans heading to/from Delhi. A few colonial era bungalows too survive.

For the first few decades after independence, Gurgaon remained a relatively small town in a largely rural district. The first major change came when Sanjay Gandhi, son of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, acquired a large plot of land to start an automobile company in the early 1970s. This is now the Maruti-Suzuki factory, but the project was not initially successful. From the early 1980s, however, a number of real estate developers, particularly DLF, began to acquire farmland along the Delhi border. The idea at this stage was to build a mostly low-rise suburbia for Delhi's retiring civil servants. Although the Maruti car factory did get going by 1983, no one really envisaged Gurgaon as an independent growth engine.

Laissez-faire City
The whole dynamics changed after India liberalised its economy in 1991. This coincided with the communications and information technology revolutions. As India globalised, a number of multinational companies discovered that call centres and back-office operations could be outsourced to India. Delhi was a good location for this because of available human capital and a well-connected international airport. However, the necessary real estate could not be created because of Delhi's rigid masterplan. The old planners had never envisioned white-collar factories. The outsourcing companies, therefore, jumped across the border to Gurgaon and began to build huge facilities for this new industry. This attracted young workers to Gurgaon and, in turn, encouraged the construction of malls and restaurants. As more corporate executives moved in, the retirement home format was abandoned in favour of condominiums. Schools and other educational institutions began to multiply. The pace of expansion can be gauged from a lone milestone that survives on MG Road under the elevated metro line (in front of Bristol Hotel). This is now the effective city-centre but the milestone still proclaims that Gurgaon is 6 km away.

The construction of Gurgaon was not planned although a "plan" did exist in theory. It was made possible by a combination of a lack of rules and the blatant disregard of rules. There was always a whiff of the robber baron. Yet, what was a sleepy small town till the mid-1990s has become a throbbing city of gleaming office towers, metro stations, malls, luxury hotels and millions of jobs. With a population of over 3.5 million, it is no longer a mere suburb of Delhi but a city in its own right.

I am not suggesting that Gurgaon does not have serious civic problems ranging from clogged roads and erratic power supply to the doings of unscrupulous property developers. I have more than enough personal experience of all these issues. It is true that, with a little imagination and foresight, Gurgaon could have been done a lot better. Nonetheless, it is hard to deny the bursting energy of the city. It is a good metaphor for modern India with its private sector dynamism, the robber baron element and a government that is struggling to keep up. Note that Gurgaon single-handedly generates almost half of the revenues of the state of Haryana and it is this money that partly pays for Chandigarh. Meanwhile, if Chandigarh ever makes it as a successful city, it will be due to the dynamism of Mohali and not the fascism of Corbusier.

The author is the President of the Sustainable Planet Institute







Sampoorn Kranti Express is a super-fast train service that connects New Delhi to Patna, covering a distance of about 1,000 kilometres in less than 15 hours. The speed is not high, but soon after Nitish Kumar introduced it when he was the railways minister in the United Front government in the mid-1990s, Sampoorn Kranti Express earned the reputation of a reliable and reasonably fast transport network for those who wanted to travel from the capital of India to that of Bihar.


The introduction of a Rajdhani train service between New Delhi and Patna, a few years later, gave travellers on this route a wider choice, but Sampoorn Kranti Express continued to offer a reliable train service preferred by many travellers. However, that image has taken a big hit of late. Travellers on this train — and they constitute the masses, not the better-off Rajdhani passengers — will tell you that Sampoorn Kranti Express is now a mere shadow of what it once used to be. What once used to be the train's biggest asset is now its most serious problem.


The train now runs late, on most days, and not late by just a few minutes or an hour, but often by five hours or even seven to eight hours. For every instance of the train running late, the railway authorities have a reason to explain the delay. However, what distresses travellers is the complete absence of an adequately constructive response to prevent or reduce such delays. If the Shatabdi reaches Lucknow an hour late, its return journey schedule stays intact. However, Sampoorn Kranti Express, this principle does not operate. A train that arrives late in New Delhi will also leave late for Patna in the evening. This is how it gets into a vicious cycle of late arrivals and late departures.

Indeed, the travails of Sampoorn Kranti Express epitomise a fundamental flaw that the Indian Railways has been suffering from in the last few years. Railway ministers are now obsessed with the populist idea of keeping passenger fares unchanged for as long as they think this is possible. The obvious incentive to do so is to ensure that the aam aadmi or the ordinary person should not feel the pinch of paying more for his railway fares and, therefore, gain political mileage for a government that owns and runs the country's largest transportation network. In the process, the entire focus is on keeping the fares unchanged, with virtually no attention to maintain a minimum level of service quality like punctuality, cleanliness and other basic passenger amenities.

The preposterousness of the entire approach should not be lost to anyone. What the Indian Railways and the government are doing is the ultimate insult to the aam aadmi of this country. The benefit the ordinary person gets from unchanged fares is more than neutralised by the lack of service quality like the trains running on time. A daily-wage worker, who returns to New Delhi after a short holiday in his home in Patna, loses a day's salary when his train reaches the Capital in the afternoon, instead of the scheduled time in the morning.

Today, the aspirations of the aam aadmi are not as simple as the government believes them to be. The aam aadmi is willing to pay a little more, if that extra payment ensures better quality of service. The experiments with private schools and health services run across small towns and even villages in different parts of the country show that the ordinary person today is not satisfied with inefficiently delivered services, even when they are free. The aam aadmi today would prefer better services even if that entails payment of charges.

Successive railway ministers have refused to recognise this changing reality. Instead, they are busy introducing new, often fancier, trains with apparently attractive names, while paying little attention to the need for maintaining the basic service standards of punctuality for the many existing train services.

Thus, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee introduces Duronto trains, little caring for the new trains like Sampoorn Kranti or Garib Rath, introduced by her predecessors Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, respectively. The Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains are an exception and continue to run on time on most days, but then these are not usually patronised by the Aam Aadmi.

It is time the Indian Railways realised that ordinary Indians too deserve punctuality for the trains in which they travel. Keeping fares unchanged, for more than a decade, reflects the Indian Railways' misplaced priorities. There is no harm in raising fares and in return assuring the aam aadmi better service.







As the world shrinks, domestic laws cross political borders and try to reach people wherever they are. Law-breakers also operate without borders, like hackers and those who secrete dirty money in dark corners of the earth. There are labyrinths of jurisdictions, as in the Julian Assange story, involving several governments, courts and nationalities. The Vodafone tax case in India has highlighted this complexity in public revenue matters.

It was this intricacy that led smaller benches of the Supreme Court to refer certain questions on the extra-territorial operation of Indian tax laws to a Constitution bench. The Attorney General demanded wide powers for Parliament, but the Supreme Court was modest in its interpretation and reined in the powers of the lawmakers in its judgment delivered last week in the case GVK Industries Ltd vs Income Tax Officer. The focal point of the decision was Section 9 of the Income Tax Act which deals with income "deemed to accrue or arise in India". They are (i) all income accruing or arising, whether directly or indirectly, through or from any business connection in India, or through or from any property in India, or through or from any asset or source of income in India, or through the transfer of a capital asset situated in India.


If this definition is not a rich enough harvest for chartered accountants and lawyers, the various explanations for it make it a confusion of clear thoughts. For instance, "in the case of a business of which all the operations are not carried out in India, the income of the business deemed under this clause to accrue or arise in India shall be only such part of the income as is reasonably attributable to the operations carried out in India".

Another such long provision deals with income by way of fees for technical services payable by the government or people.

If this is read in juxtaposition with the constitutional provisions, one would realise the dimensions of the tangled issue. Article 245, dealing with the extent of laws made by Parliament and state legislatures, says they can make laws for the whole or any part of the country. Then comes the rub: "No law made by Parliament shall be deemed to be invalid on the ground that it would have extra-territorial operation."

Two or more divergent and dichotomous views are possible. This was illustrated in the case Electronic Corporation of India vs Commissioner of Income Tax (1989), from which the present constitutional reference arose. One interpretation suggests that Parliament can enact laws with respect to only those causes that occur or are expected to arise solely within India. This is the rigid view. But another view is that Parliament is competent to pass laws on issues if they have "significant or sufficient impact" on or consequences for India. Yet another possible reading of the constitutional provision would be that as long as some impact or nexus is established with India, Parliament would be justified to legislate on such subjects.

The Attorney General introduced yet another interpretation that tried to put more power in the hands of the lawmakers. But it did not find favour in the unanimous judgment of five judges. It was the "polar opposite" of the former views. According to the law officer, Parliament has inherent powers to legislate for any territory, including territories beyond India, and no court in India may question or invalidate such laws on the ground that they are extra-territorial laws. Parliament is a "sovereign legislature" and, therefore, has full power to make extra-territorial laws.

The proposition is tempting, especially in the context of the government's posture of doing everything to unearth colossal amounts of sullied wealth secreted in tax havens. In the event, it was the court that reined in the apparent enthusiasm of the government.

Taking a via media, the Supreme Court stated that those extra-territorial aspects or causes, provided they have nexus with India, should be deemed to be within the domain of Parliament. Accepting the Attorney General's elucidation would lead to "extreme conclusions". The court categorically rejected his opinion that Parliament is empowered to enact laws in respect of extra-territorial aspects or causes that have no impact on or nexus with India. "We are unable to agree that Parliament, on account of an alleged absolute legislative sovereignty being vested in it, should be deemed to have powers to enact any and all legislation." This applies even when the government claims there are "serious security risks or law and order problems". Every exercise of power should be within the four corners of constitutional permissibility, according to the court.

The core issue is, thus, settled for the present. But the 80-page judgment is so complex with further definitions and exegetic erudition that it required a summary of conclusions which itself runs to 12 pages. If the world contracts further, the next judgment on this point would be longer.





Being given the soft option of resigning suggests he was being sheltered by top management but the government got rid of him for the wrong reasons

A Ranganathan

Aviation Safety Consultant

Could Baldauf have continued without a godfather's blessings? Was this the reason he was given the soft option of resigning instead of the sack, to protect his CV from being muddied?

A zero when turned around remains a zero. When Gustav Baldauf was brought in as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) in June 2009, the doosra that was bowled failed to deliver. He resigned and his resignation was accepted. The reason: Disciplinary action for criticising government policy, which could have resulted in sacking. Did the management protect his future by not sacking him?

When he joined, Baldauf played to the gallery by stating, "I know it is a different process. It is not a private company. But we definitely have systems in place. It is easier to work in a government environment. There is a big, big potential in this company."

He went on to say, "The stakeholder (the government) would tell the Board what it wants, and the Board in turn would tell the executive what to do. Everyone knows what the problem is. So we have to give them clear targets on which they will have to work and accomplish those targets."

He said plans had been put in place to achieve a turnaround for the organisation. "We have to break it (the plan) into pieces and implement it." On the sidelines of an International Air Transport Association conference, Baldauf said. "We need to make a three-year plan for turning around Air India. We will have to put an operational and financial plan together to make a clear road map. All information on the turnaround will be shared with the employees first before we make it public. I will also work closely with the unions." Did Baldauf live up to his words?

His two referees for this high-profile selection were Wolfgang Prock-Schauer, former chief executive officer (CEO) of Jet and a fellow Austrian national, who did himself no credit during the Jet pilots' dispute and economic crisis, and Pawan Arora, who unceremoniously exited the Directorate General of Civil Aviation for falsifying his credentials. Arvind Jadhav, the chairman and managing director (CMD) of Air India, knew about Pawan Arora a good three weeks before the Board meeting to approve Baldauf's appointment. Yet, he went ahead with the appointment and never questioned his credentials.

Baldauf brought in his own team on fancy wage packets when the airline was reeling under losses. Arora was rewarded with the COO position in troubled Air India Charters Limited and Stephen Sukumar was brought in as Chief of Training. Did Baldauf share this appointment process with the employees and the unions? When the Arora appointment was thrown out by the independent board members, Baldauf and Jadhav were present. Yet, they chose to let Arora continue in his position for another two months. Arora took several executive decisions with the CMD and COO's blessing. Wasn't that a case of indiscipline by the two? Did the government need more reason to give marching orders?

In June 2009, Jadhav said Baldauf would closely monitor day-to-day operations and initiate efforts to restructure routes. Where was Baldauf during the fiasco at Terminal 3 in New Delhi? Air India has slid to the fourth position in the aviation market in India during this short period. The motivation and morale of all employees are at their lowest level. Baldauf seems to have worked closely only with his chosen team and ignored the employees.

Air India has not learnt a lesson from the Caribjet scam in which the airline lost crores owing to the very severe and unreasonable penalty clause that was signed. Yet, Baldauf and his team called for fresh tenders for aircraft and engine leasing. The airline that does not have funds to pay employees' salaries is venturing out into a costly scam again. Who is responsible and accountable? Meanwhile, the COO had plush offices, three of them refurbished at more than Rs 30 lakh, and he spent weekends in Vienna. Could he have continued in this fashion without the blessings of a godfather? Was this the reason he was given the soft option of resigning instead of the sack, to protect his CV from being muddied?

Does the buck stop with Baldauf or should it go to the CMD and his coterie? If the management of Air India had acted in September 2010, the airline would have been saved the blushes.

Jitender Bhargava

Former Executive Director, Air India

Baldauf's exit from Air India, though well-deserved, should have been on the grounds of lack of performance and not for stating in the media what is just and true

From his unexpected arrival in Air India to his ignominious departure, it is difficult to find any one thing about Gustav Baldauf that can be described as having been done the right way. If his appointment in Air India for the onerous task of turning around the airline's fortunes was flawed, the manner of seeking his resignation was doubly flawed. Baldauf wasn't the first employee of a government undertaking to have expressed a view not palatable to the government. There have been many other instances but in almost all cases the defaulters have either been let off or at best reprimanded. Why did the government display exceptional high-handedness in the case of Baldauf?

The answer lies not in his having aired views in the media thus violating service conditions, but in the government's belated realisation that it had on hand a person to whom it was paying a handsome salary of Rs 3 crore a year but was getting precious little by way of performance. Baldauf's candid assertion that government regulations and interference did not allow him to deliver undoubtedly has enormous merit. That government's meddling in Air India's day-to-day affairs has been one of the prime causes of Air India's current pitiable state is too well known a fact to be recounted. As Baldauf couldn't have been oblivious to this harsh reality when he took up this assignment, the alibi of government interference to justify lack of performance simply cannot wash.

It is apparent that the government after realising the folly of appointing Baldauf, particularly after the exit of Praful Patel from the civil aviation ministry, whose patronage he reportedly enjoyed, was looking for a pretext to get rid of him. Considering that Baldauf had virtually nothing to show by way of performance on the operational front, the government should have logically dispensed with his services on that count rather than taking action on the specious plea of Baldauf having violated service conditions.

Baldauf's all-round lack of performance, including in areas in which there was no governmental interface, was evident to all. In the nine-month period that he was with the national carrier, Air India's operational performance has only deteriorated. In the domestic skies, Air India slipped from third to fourth position; the shift to T3 terminal was a grand fiasco; the product profile or quality of service showed no improvement whatsoever; no innovative work practices or systems were introduced in any operational field to enhance service standards or increase productivity of men and machines. It is certainly not my desire to suggest that Baldauf alone should be held accountable for Air India's lacklustre performance even by its own standards in the recent past. Praful Patel, Madhavan Nambiar, the then Civil Aviation Secretary who played an over-enthusiastic role in Baldauf's appointment, the Board members and Chairman Arvind Jadhav must take the blame for attempting an experiment of hiring the services of an under-qualified and inexperienced "turnaround" manager which was doomed from Day 1. Those responsible for selecting him ought to be asked to explain what they saw in Baldauf's track record to have found him eminently worthy of the challenging assignment with which he was entrusted.

The elapsed experimental time of nine months with him as COO has only seen the state of the airline worsening with more and more people now wanting to know if the airline has a future at all. A modicum of credence can, thus, also now be given to the widespread speculation that ensuring Air India's gradual decline while "appearing" to be doing its best to salvage Air India is all part of a grand design to eventually incapacitate Air India. Unless Vayalar Ravi can negate such pernicious designs of people within and outside Air India, the national carrier that was once the nation's pride will only head towards an imminent crash landing sooner rather than later. It is time those administering the airline took the bull by the horns rather than seek shelter under flimsy pretexts like they have taken for getting rid of Baldauf, whose exit from Air India, though well-deserved, should have been on the grounds of lack of performance – to serve as a lesson to others – and not for stating in the media what can only be described as just and true. The government has clearly erred in its action.









The first gains from the Indo-US nuclear deal are starting to get fired up. By the end of this fiscal year, public sector Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC) will generate 25.5 billion units of power, a 35% jump from last fiscal year. How can such gains come so soon, long before the first new nuclear projects start up? The answer is simple: many of the country's reactors were starved of fuel and were functioning well below capacity. The deal has let overseas suppliers, like France's Areva, which sold over 300 tonnes of uranium to NPC for a reactor in Rajasthan, to top up India's nuclear tank. No longer parched for fuel, our reactors are now running at full throttle, allowing NPC to generate close to its capacity of 4,680 mw. NPC has 19 reactors of which nine are built and fuelled by partners like Russia, France and the US. These are now running at 90% plant load factor, up from 50% levels even a year ago. All that has emboldened the government to project a target of 40,000 mw of nuclear power, nearly 10 times its current output. This is an ambitious target, but it can be achieved.
Around 900 mw of new capacity is ready to come online from reactors in Karnataka and Rajasthan. Another 2,500 mw will get fired up soon from two plants in Tamil Nadu. By 2017, nearly 3,000 mw more will come from plants in Gujarat and Rajasthan. These projects, about 6,500 mw in all, will more than double NPC's capacity in a relatively short time. But the really big push will come through the next few years when construction starts at seven different sites across India for large nuclear power projects. Apart from one indigenous project in Haryana's Gorakhpur, all the others will have overseas partners, like Russia's Atomstroy, France's Areva and Westinghouse and GE-Hitachi from the US. With such experienced and technically-savvy partners, these projects should move ahead rapidly. Once complete, they'll bring more than 14,000 mw of additional electricity to the grid. Over time, each of these plants will be scaled up, till nuclear power becomes a major component of India's energy mix, something that'll be a big boost for clean, efficient electricity generation in the country.









Public sector banks have reported a sharp increase in bad debts in their farms loan portfolios during the first nine months of 2010-11. According to data released by the finance ministry, State Bank of India reported bad farm loans of around . 3,717 crore, an increase of 80% compared to the previous fiscal year. Other banks fare badly as well, with State Bank of Bikaner and Jaipur reporting an astounding 2,000% increase in non-performing assets (NPAs) on agriculture loans in April-December 2010. This does not quite square with either the better-than-trend 5.4% rate of growth in agriculture GDP during the year or the fact that farm loans are extended at subsidised rates of interest that are well below market rates of interest — for two good reasons. Over the years, farm loan waivers have vitiated the repayment climate in the agriculture sector. Farmers have little or no incentive to repay their loans when the loans of their neighbours who don't do so are waived. In any other sector, poor loan repayment would have resulted in banks cutting their exposure to the sector. But not in agriculture! Here, government-mandated lending targets compel public sector banks to lend, regardless of the outcome. Budget 2011, for instance, has enhanced credit to the agriculture sector by . 1 lakh crore, from . 3,75,000 crore to . 4,75,000 crore. Inevitably, the pressure to meet the target has meant compromising on the quality of loans, leading to a rise in bad loans.

While both these factors are specific to the farm sector, bad debts are likely to rise in other sectors as well. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, the RBI tried to counter the slowdown by keeping the system flush with funds. While this might have helped to ensure deserving borrowers were not starved of funds, it is quite possible, indeed likely, that many undeserving borrowers were also financed. A loan that makes commercial sense when real interest rates are low/negative will cease to do so when, as is inevitable, real rates rise/become positive. Banks (and the economy) must, therefore, brace themselves for a rise in bad debts all around, not only in the farm sector.






The month of March has begun and 2011 is already some 68 days old. However, we still seem to be living in 2010. The scams of yesteryear dominated the Prime Minister's latest press conference. And both the entertainment and the news channels keep replaying scenes from last year's movies while telecasting film-award ceremonies. When the channels are not showing scenes from M y N a m e i s K h a n or D a b a n g g, they are telecasting snippets from T h e K i n g's S p e e c h or T h e S o c i al N e t - w o r k. Even for those of us who believe that "it's the economy, stupid" that matters, more than 58 days of 2011 passed in a limbo before the long-overdue step into the future in the form of the Union Budget for 2011-12.

March is just the right time to begin the new year, especially in the world's most populous democracy where the weather is pleasantly warm and conducive for spraying each other with coloured Holi water. Even from a strictly movie-award-ceremony point of view, it makes more sense to say Happy New Year when the disappointment experienced by film stars and their fans over awards not won is left behind in the old year. Phonetically speaking, a year that begins with March sounds good despite the English poet Masefield's libellous reference to 'the mad March days' in his poem C a r g o e s. There is much to be said for beginning a year with a month called March — not just retired colonels but the military top brass of today would approve. Imagine leaving the 2G scam, the Adarsh scam, the CWG scam, etc, behind us while we resolutely march into a future where we can all live happily together ever after in a perfect democracy with a stable economy, a secular polity and a scamless society. March on, India! Even if it is, in the short term, to the cruellest month.






While presenting Budget 2011, Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee pronounced that the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST) will be a landmark reform in the indirect tax system of the country. However, he felt that the decisions on the introduction of GST have to be taken in concert with the states.
Since the implementation of the GST requires Constitutional amendments to empower both the Centre and states to levy the proposed tax, the finance minister announced that he proposes to introduce the Constitution Amendment Bill in the current session of Parliament.

It is felt that it would be more in tune with the spirit of cooperative federalism if the states are taken into confidence before the Bill is introduced in Parliament. This is crucial if we look at the progress of the dialogue between the Centre and the states.

In the recent meetings of the empowered committee (EC) held on December 6, 2010, and February 11, 2011, there has not been much headway on the proposed Bill. In fact, there are many roadblocks to having a consensus between the Centre and the states on certain clauses of the Bill.

The Centre has already proposed three drafts of the Bill in the recent past. In the first draft of the Bill, circulated in July 2010, the central government had introduced changes in the Constitution for levy of GST in place of excise by the Centre and sales tax by the states. Necessary changes were proposed in the Union and the state lists and the related clauses.

For the administration of the tax, the Bill suggested creation of GST Council of India and Dispute Settlement Authority by a Presidential order. While consensus has emerged on the clauses regarding sharing of taxing power, special powers and devolution of tax, disagreement arose with issues relating to the proposed GST Council and the Dispute Settlement Authority. This was primarily due to the fact that in this first draft, the Centre had proposed that the Union finance minister will have veto power in the GST Council. It also proposed that the changes in the GST could only be carried out with the consent of the finance minister and a two-third majority of the states in the Council. After the states strongly opposed the proposals, the finance ministry came out with a somewhat watereddown version in a second draft that stated that every decision of the Council would only be taken after members present at a meeting reached a consensus. As this draft did not find favour with the states, in its attempt to break the deadlock, the Centre has sent the EC a third draft of the Bill, which proposed the creation of a GST Council through an Act of Parliament instead of a Presidential order. Also, it is proposed that the decision of the GST Council would be recommendatory and not binding on the states. However, the issues regarding the composition and functioning of the GST Council have not been spelt out.
Of the 26 states present at the recent meeting of the EC on February 11, 2011, 10 states had opposed the third draft. Some states felt that the second draft was better than the third one because it clearly laid down the functioning and composition of the GST Council. While the Madhya Pradesh finance minister said this would destroy the fiscal autonomy of the state, Gujarat finance minister was of the view that the new draft amendment is retrograde in nature and completely against the principles of fiscal federalism.

The bone of contention preventing consensus on the Bill is the issue of fiscal autonomy of the states. As is evident, the existing division of tax powers between the Centre and the states is such that the former collects 66% of the resources leaving a meagre 34% for the states. Hence, the states do not want to surrender their tax power any further.

In this context, the states feel that the structure of GST Council, as proposed in the Second Amendment of the Bill, is biased towards the Centre. Also, the Third Amendment leaves the structure of the Council undefined, and this is all the more dangerous. The states, therefore, want to have a Council that defines the structure before the Bill is passed and the same should provide equal authority to them.

On the other hand, the Centre seems to have the view that if the states are given more powers, they might harm the interest of the Centre in due course, and the Centre would not be able to do anything to restrict the same. To remove this deadlock and to get the ball of GST rolling, this paper suggests that the GST Council should be constituted on the pattern of the present EC that has had an excellent track record of reforming the tax system over the last decade.

Accordingly, the proposed council should comprise the Union finance minister and all the finance ministers of states and the Union territories as its members. However, unlike the present EC, which is a society registered under the Societies Registration Act, it should be a constitutional body and should have a defined regulatory authority with strict punitive powers. In the above composition of the GST Council, the Centre would not be in a dominating position but the revenue interest of the Centre would automatically be taken care of due to the fact that any change being effected would affect the Centre and the states in a similar fashion. Hence, the council would not be able to take a decision against the interest of the Centre.







A J MAJUMDAR FORMER JOINT SECRETARY, CBDT Increase Scope of Profit Computation

Since Independence, the government adopted the easy route of promoting growth through tax concessions as it was unable to provide adequate infrastructure and conducive environment for economic growth. Incentives were provided to the manufacturing industry, exports, scientific research, rural development and so on. The concessions gave rise to zero-tax companies that made huge commercial profits and declared substantial dividends. However, the shortfall in tax collections triggered the government to collect tax through alternate taxation since 1984.


Today, commercial profit, as declared under the Companies Act, subject to certain adjustments, is taken as the best indicator of the ability to pay tax. And the minimum alternate tax (MAT) is levied in place of normal tax, on such book profit if it exceeds the income computed under the Income-Tax Act by 10%. It has proved to be a convenient tool for corporate tax collection, and rate of MAT has risen from 7.5% in 1988 to 18.5% in 2011.
The provision for credit of such tax in subsequent years was brought in later to counter criticism against MAT. The concept of book profit is to determine the true commercial profit sans all the incentives under the law. Dividend can be declared to shareholders under Companies Act only out of such profit. But liberal provisions of the Companies Act may allow a company to window-dress its final accounts to reduce its book profit and, instead of dividend, compensate shareholders through issue of bonus shares or appreciation in value of shares. This may lead to avoidance of MAT liability.

To prevent such manipulation, it may be possible to get back to the scheme that was introduced in 1984, i.e., to raise the income assessed by all the incentives including enhanced depreciation allowance, granted in computation of total income. This should be done across the board, not on a selective basis. MAT can then be levied at a reasonable rate not exceeding 15%. Credit for such ad-hoc levy should be given with interest for an indefinite period till it is exhausted, to keep the promise of incentives to companies under the law.



Over the last three decades, minimum alternate tax (MAT) has been reappearing in different avatars, but always marred by disputes. The government's dependence on MAT is understandable owing to dichotomy between book profit and the taxable income. However, corporates often cannot fathom as to why provide tax incentives in the first place, and when companies avail such incentives, force them to cough up MAT!
This is more severe where there is a breach of promissory estoppel, e.g., recent imposition of MAT on developers and units in special economic zones. In spite of MAT credit available, it impacts cash flows that is critical in today's world where cash is king. Prudently, most countries do not have MAT or similar provisions. The existence of zero-tax companies that earn substantial book profit is often viewed with scepticism. Though a good track record of book profit is a necessity from a commercial and capital market perspective, but at the same time, book profit is also prone to manipulation.

Historically, the objective of MAT was to tax profitable companies that can pay dividend to their shareholders but do not pay tax. But currently, profitable companies are being subject to MAT even when investments are made in eligible tax-incentive sectors or areas. If MAT is a must, then it should be imposed only on such book profit as has been retained and not deployed back for the growth of the industry. Further, the definition of book profit should be simple and one should resist the temptation of carving out multiple adjustments including setoff of brought-forward loss and unabsorbed depreciation.

With the Direct Taxes Code's overarching goal to make tax provisions simpler, one could do away with MAT especially as there are no incomebased tax incentives now. If tax is a must, then instead of a high MAT rate of 20%, the government could explore a two-rate structure, i.e., one for normal companies, and a reduced rate for profitable companies that avail investment-based tax incentives. Clearly, MAT on book profit has no place on a statute where the tax incentives have almost been eliminated.








World Bank president Robert Zoellick recently listed nine measures that the G20 should adopt under its current French presidency. These range from improving information about grain stocks and developing better weather-forecasting methods to strengthening social safety nets for the poor and helping small farmers benefit from tenders from humanitarian purchasers such as the World Food Programme.

These measures tackle only the symptoms of the global food system's weaknesses, leaving the root causes of crises untouched. They may mitigate the consequences of peak prices, but they are inadequate to avoiding the recurrence of shocks, for which the G20 should act on eight priorities.


One, support countries' ability to feed themselves. Since the early 1990s, many poor countries' food bills have soared five- or six-fold, owing not only to population growth, but also to their focus on export-led agriculture. A lack of investment in agriculture that feeds local communities makes these countries vulnerable to international price shocks, as well as to exchange-rate volatility. Second, food reserves should be established, not only for humanitarian supplies in disaster-prone, infrastructure-poor areas, as Zoellick proposes, but also as a means to support stable revenues for agricultural producers and ensure affordable food for the poor. If managed in transparent and participatory ways, and with regional coordination, food reserves can be an effective way to boost sellers' market power and counteract speculation by traders, thereby limiting price volatility.
Third, financial speculation should be limited as well. While not a cause of price volatility, speculation on derivatives of essential food commodities significantly worsens it. The major economies should restrict derivatives as far as possible to qualified and knowledgeable investors.

Fourth, many cash-strapped developing countries fear that social safety nets, once put in place, may become fiscally unsustainable, owing to a sudden loss of export revenue, poor harvests or sharp increases in prices for food imports. The international community can help overcome this reticence by establishing a global reinsurance mechanism, with premiums being paid, at least in part, by the country seeking insurance.

Fifth, farmer organisations need support. One major reason why the majority of the hungry are among those who depend on small-scale farming is that they are insufficiently organised. By forming cooperatives, they can move up the value chain into the processing, packaging and marketing of their produce. They can improve their bargaining position, both for input purchases and for the sale of their crops. And they can become a political constituency that cannot be ignored.

Sixth, we must protect access to land. Each year, an area greater than France's farmland is ceded to foreign investors or governments. This land grab, which is occurring mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, constitutes a major threat to the future food security of the populations concerned. Whatever gains in agricultural production result from these investments will benefit foreign markets, not local communities. The G20 could call for a moratorium on these largescale investments till an agreement on appropriate ground rules is reached.

Seventh, the transition to sustainable agriculture must be completed. Weather-related events are a major cause of price volatility on agricultural markets. In future, climate change can be expected to cause more supply shocks. And agriculture is also a major culprit in climate change, responsible for 33% of all greenhouse-gas emissions if deforestation for cultivation and pastures is included in the tally. Governments must support agricultural systems that are more resilient to climate change, and can contribute to mitigating it.
Finally, we need to defend the human right to food. People are hungry not because too little food is being produced, but because their rights are violated with impunity. Victims of hunger must be allowed to access remedies when their authorities fail to take effective measures against food insecurity. Governments must guarantee a living wage, adequate healthcare and safe conditions for the world's 450 million farm workers by enforcing the conventions on labour rights in rural areas, subject to independent monitoring.

Hunger is a political question, not just a technical problem. We need markets, of course, but we also need a vision for future that goes bey nd short-term fixes. The global food system will always need firefighters. But what we need more urgently are architects to design a more fire-resistant system.

(Olivier De Schutter is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food)
© Project Syndicate, 2011






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



The issue of euthanasia was so far a distant matter being raised in the West, but the case of Aruna Shanbaug, who lies comatose for 37 years at the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, has thrust the difficult question right into our midst after a petition by writer-journalist Pinky Virani led a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court to pronounce on the subject on Monday. The subject is particularly difficult. It raises the question of religious or spiritual beliefs, but also enters the family realm. On one side is the poser: who but God can decide to take away life (in this case through withdrawal of life-support medicines and medical equipment)? However, those who are emotionally close to a patient who is not physically dead but for long shows no signs of stirring and may be what is called "brain dead" have sometimes asked: why allow physical suffering when the limits of medical science allow no hope of revival? The latter course has been referred to as "mercy killing", which can itself appear presumptuous to some. All societies have sanctioned killing, as in the case of a convicted murderer (although many Western countries have in recent years scrapped the death sentence), upholding the principle of "an eye for an eye" originating in early times. To that extent, society already plays God. But the reply to that is that the case of ordinary, innocent persons is to be judged differently from that of a murderer. Naturally, opinion varies on whether anyone has the right to kill even a murderer. Isn't that the province of the Almighty in all circumstances? The argument, of course, accepts that there is an Almighty. In short, these arguments are complex and call for debate within a society. Discussions elsewhere are helpful, but cannot replace those within a society in the light of the evolution of a specific society. In the Shanbaug case, the court did not allow Ms Virani's appeal for so-called mercy killing. It argued that the nurses and doctors of KEM Hospital, who have looked after their former colleague with loving care, oppose euthanasia in her case. But what if that were not the case? The court refrained from entering that discussion. It has thus not ruled on whether all patients in a "permanent vegetative state" deserve to have their life ended in a "passive" manner, that is, through withdrawal of life-support systems in a hospital, provided no foul play is suspected. Although the Supreme Court has said the contention of "passive" euthanasia can be considered if medical experts can convince a high court that cure or even part-cure is an impossibility, it would appear the nation's highest court has been unable to lay down a principle. This aspect needs to be given due consideration if and when Parliament considers the issue.






When the Supreme Court is driven to asking: "What the hell is going on in this country?" (about black money stashed in tax heavens abroad), it is clear that the situation is bleak. The court's underlying ire is understandable because it had before it the case of Hasan Ali Khan, a Pune-based stud farm owner, which is a wonder of sorts and might even merit inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records. The facts are stark.

Since way back in 2007 it has been alleged that Mr Khan had amassed as much as $8 billion in Swiss banks, making him the biggest offender in this respect. Worse, investigations by appropriate government agencies have reportedly unearthed evidence suggesting that he had links with a notorious arms dealer and could have been involved in gun running and even funding terrorism, apart from money-laundering. Despite all this Mr Khan has been left completely free and untouched for nearly four years while, in the apex court's words, "even those who violate Section 144 (banning the assembly of more than five persons) are sent to jail".

To be fair, once in a long while tax authorities did summon him for questioning, but each time he claimed to be ill, and this was always enough for the authorities concerned to let him be. At one time, in response to the public outcry that his "godfathers" were protecting Mr Khan for ulterior reasons, the police, when asked to find him, reported that it could not trace him. Anyone could, of course, have seen him betting at the Pune Race Course at exactly the same time!

It was in this context that the apex court followed up its earlier query with some sharp questions and comments: "We are asking a simple question for a simple answer… Why no custodial interrogation of the people about which (sic) you have information?" In fact, the court went on to inquire whether the government wanted it to appoint an officer to supervise custodial interrogation of Mr Khan.

The judges then drew attention to something that is rather stunning, for it suggests that the powers that be may be impeding investigations in black money cases in other ways, too. "It is very unfortunate", said the judges, "that three key officials of the Enforcement Directorate investigating the black money scandal have been abruptly transferred mid-way into the investigations".

There is one other aspect of this curious case that hasn't yet been mentioned in the Supreme Court but has been raised in the Maharashtra Assembly and repeatedly published by the media without inviting any contradiction by anyone. Mr Khan is said to have had a meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi's political adviser, Ahmed Patel. If no such meeting took place, the wrong report must be demolished. But, if did, the country is entitled to know what transpired at it.

Under the circumstances, is it any surprise that most people believe that the ruling establishment is under some compulsion to leave Mr Khan and others of his ilk alone? Some are even suggesting blackmail.

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is the ablest and most experienced member of the Manmohan Singh government. He is the only troubleshooter that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and the Congress have. Yet, whenever the issue of black money in general, and Mr Khan's case in particular, is raised, he tends to lose his temper. Only a few days ago when some members of Parliament (MPs) expressed the apprehension that the Pune stud farm owner might escape, Mr Mukherjee angrily said that he would not be allowed to do so. And then he virtually screamed that the government had to act according to the law of the land. In view of the Supreme Court's observations, would Mr Mukherjee please explain which law of the land prevents him from subjecting Mr Khan to "custodial interrogation". All that has happened so far is that the tax authorities have made a demand on Mr Khan for tax and penalty amounting to Rs 40,000 crores.

As was perhaps to be expected, after the Supreme Court's harsh observations, the Enforcement Directorate, at last, took Mr Khan into custody around midnight on Monday, barely 12 hours before the government law officers were to report to the apex court. What needs to be watched in future is how and at what pace the case is investigated and prosecuted.

On the issue of black money generally, Mr Mukherjee has so far got away by pleading the government's inability to disclose the names of even those crooks that have plundered national wealth by unlawfully hoarding black money in 77 tax havens that the government knows. The reason for the inability is quaint: the confidentiality clause in the double taxation avoidance agreements with the countries concerned. Tax evasion is not the only crime the owners of foreign hoards of black money are guilty of. Swiss banks do not consider tax evasion a crime but even they are prepared to disclose all relevant information if they are furnished evidence of any other criminality.

Repeatedly, these banks have lamented that India does not furnish the required evidence. What an irony it is that in Mr Khan's case the documentary evidence forwarded to the Swiss authorities turned out to be "forged". Thereafter nobody tried to hunt for the real documents.

That apart, the fact remains that the UBS of Switzerland gave to the United States the names of 250 US nationals first and then of another 4,000 American citizens maintaining accounts with them without asking for any proof of criminality. More remarkably, Swiss authorities froze all bank accounts of Hosni Mubarak without anyone asking for it. In the case of Col. Muammar Gaddafi, all banks of European Union have followed suit.

Whatever has happened about black money so far is dismal, to say the least. Now, at least, let the UPA government tackle the menace as seriously as the Supreme Court wants it to.






Not so long ago, we joyfully celebrated Oman's 40th anniversary.

Almost everyone — but especially the young people here in Muscat, the capital, and in small towns — decorated their houses and cars with stickers and fliers in support of the government. As an academic I usually like to watch from the sidelines; this time, I joined in and decorated my black Toyota Camry with the national colours of red, white and green. Together, we rejoiced over what we have achieved since His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said came to power in 1970.

Never would I have thought that just a few months later Oman would find itself part of the "youthquake" now sweeping West Asia. Never would I have imagined that demonstrations in our peaceful, media-shy nation would end up on the front pages of newspapers around the world and mentioned in the same breath with the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

So what happened?
On February 18, a small protest was held in Muscat's Khuwair neighbourhood, where most government ministries are situated, expressing thanks and professing loyalty, but respectfully asking for more job creation and a few other changes. This was followed by letters posted online on the Omani Sebla (our local social network) that also requested relatively small social and political reforms but with respect and love for country, people and leader. So far so good.

But then the protests in Sohar happened. In that northern city, during a February 27 rally, the police and protesters lost control: there was violence and vandalism; some reports indicate one person was killed, others say two. We were all stunned.

The government, though, was quick to take the right action by promising to create 50,000 jobs, provide aid for registered job seekers, reshuffle the Cabinet, improve the social welfare system and allow citizens more say.

Most important, it responded to the people's request for dialogue. As the government was doing damage control, and as Omanis were trying to grasp what was going on, I kept answering my overseas friends' emails, explaining that Sohar was an anomaly, a lapse in judgment, a momentary loss of control.

Then a sense of shame swept over Oman. We do have problems, we all agreed. But doesn't everybody? What country doesn't suffer from unemployment? Censorship and monopoly control are also problems in many nations.

But the bigger question was this: Is this how we as Omanis try to effect change — vandalism and shootings? And after 40 years of living in peace and prosperity, is this what we want to broadcast to the world? Is this how we repay the wise leader who has done so much for Oman and its people?

Westerners may not understand the kind of love that Omanis have for our Sultan. But ours is a visionary leader who brought our country out of the dark ages and into a state of modernity; Sultan Qaboos bin Said has placed Oman at the forefront of many Arab countries, if not of the world, in terms of rights for women, people with disabilities and foreign workers and in providing free education and healthcare for all. These efforts have allowed Oman to strike a unique balance between traditional values and progressive development.

Then three nights ago, I received a text message from a colleague that has been circulating ever since: it was a heartfelt apology to His Majesty written by an anonymous Omani.

Facebook and Twitter might have helped bring down Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt. But here in Oman, where we are masters of cellphones, using them every Friday to send holy greetings and jokes, we used text messages to get back on track. The text apology sent this message: Stop! We clearly have problems but let us not forget that after 40 years of building our country, we have to ask not just what our country can do for us, for it has done a lot, but, as John F. Kennedy eloquently stated decades ago, what we also can do for our country.

I finally got it. There is a clear disconnect between Oman's forward-thinking government and the young people who grew up with — and thus take for granted — free education and free healthcare. My own university is a cutting-edge institution in West Asia thanks to the foresight of the government.

Somewhere along the way, the older generations of Omanis forgot how to talk to our young, to instil responsibility and to share our story of the trials and tribulations we went through to make Oman not only one of the most beautiful places in the Arab world, but also a better place to live. In our zeal to protect a generation from the hardships of the past, we failed to impart a sense of appreciation.

Recently, in one of my college seminars, a student screamed that Oman needed to give those with disabilities their rights. I had to remind him that laws establishing their rights already exist, along with everyone else's. The problem was that he didn't know about those laws and that some private and public institutions don't abide by them. That's something we all have to figure out how to fix.

So what I and my fellow Omanis have learned from the protests is that we need to talk, peacefully, respectfully and responsibly, about our past, present and future; about our recent disconnect; and about our shared investment and responsibility. And that is what is happening in Oman — we are talking!







Rapprochement was inevitable. It was always difficult to see the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) threat to withdraw support to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and break its partnership with the Congress as more than bluff and brinkmanship. Political compulsions have forced the parties to stay together — or perhaps hang together.

The DMK is worried about a heavy defeat to the AIADMK-led alliance in Tamil Nadu. Some of its key leaders face corruption charges and are enmeshed in the 2G spectrum swindle. Out of power in Chennai, battling the Central Bureau of Investigation and the courts, it will need a sympathetic Union government.

As for the Congress, till even a year ago it was thinking aloud about going it alone in Tamil Nadu, and propelling a sort of third front in the state. The impressive participation in elections to the local Youth Congress sent the party's hopes soaring.

However, enthusiasm has ebbed since then. The Youth Congress, far from becoming a platform for meritocratic young politicians, has been carved up between the children of senior Tamil Nadu Congress leaders, all of them trying to jump onto the Rahul Gandhi bandwagon. As a result, should it have gone to elections without the backing of either of the state's big parties, the Congress could conceivably have been reduced to a 12-15 seat caricature.

It is noteworthy that the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Mr M. Karunanidhi, waited for his rival, Ms J. Jayalalithaa, to announce a seat-sharing arrangement between the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and movie star "Captain" Vijayakanth's Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) party. This contracted the options for the Congress. It made the AIADMK combine truly formidable and lessened Ms Jayalalithaa's need for the Congress as well as the number of seats she could possibly offer it. As such, the DMK gambled it could scare the Congress into submission.

At the root of the DMK's politics as well as its problems is its ruling clan. The Karunanidhi family has converted governance to a family enterprise. Crony capitalism — the link between facilitation of business by the government, benefits to specific individuals who may be related to policymakers, and kickbacks, in the form of cash or equity or contracts, to associates of the ruling establishment — is the defining mantra of the DMK's rule.

It has also symbolised the manner in which its ministers have run Union government departments in New Delhi.

In the past five years, Mr Karunanidhi and his motley crew of children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews have gone further. They have developed an all-encompassing stake in the Tamil film industry, for instance. From production to distribution, no aspect of cinema is untouched by the DMK family. The biggest names in Tamil movies — iconic actors and directors — have been forced to accept terms. They have been "permitted" to make films, free of financial obstacles and engineered controversies, only when they have handed over distribution and similar rights to handpicked individuals and companies.

This has had bizarre consequences. The number of Tamil films that have, at least officially, done roaring business and been declared box-office successes and "super-hits" has exploded in the past three or four years. This is not due to some creative genius or once-in-a-generation burst of excellence. Much of it has been triggered by old-fashioned money-laundering. It is understood films running to empty theatres have been given the status of "sold out". Earnings have been inflated, taxes paid and black money converted to white. The tax returns of some in the DMK patriarch's extended familial network would be revealing. Those who were ordinary, middle-class doctors a half-decade ago are today film industry tycoons.

There are two implications to all this. First, while it may be convenient in New Delhi and in the national media to focus on just the 2G scandal, the fact is the DMK's troubles and fears don't begin and end at the Department of Telecommunications. Should Ms Jayalalithaa sweep the Tamil Nadu elections, then, given the vendetta tradition in the state's political culture, she could go after the DMK and its leadership. The previous time she did this was in June 2001, when she arrested Mr Karunanidhi himself, naming him as an accused in cases related to Chennai's "flyover scandal". The DMK had to appeal to the then Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government for help.

Given this, with the Left parties in Ms Jayalalithaa's corner and the BJP not likely to come to the aid of a discredited DMK, could Mr Karunanidhi afford to alienate the Congress and the Centre as well?

Second, in playing hardball with the Congress and being fairly open in asking it to bury, to the degree feasible, the telecom scandal, the Tamil Nadu chief minister is adopting a very 2G-centric approach. How comfortable would other stakeholders in the DMK family firm, those not connected to telecom policy and deal-making, be with this?

The telecom scandal is inching closer to Kanimozhi, the youngest and last of Mr Karunanidhi's children to enter politics. No doubt the DMK supremo loves his daughter. He has promoted her interests since 2007, when he sent her to the Rajya Sabha, out of a sense of both fatherly love and, insiders say, guilt because he felt he had not done as much for Ms Kanimozhi and her mother as he had for his two other wives and their children.

Getting on in years, his political innings drawing to an end, Mr Karunanidhi realised Ms Kanimozhi had to achieve in only a few short years what her half-siblings and cousins had had decades to do. Perhaps this made her factionalists — including the disgraced former telecom minister A. Raja — a trifle reckless. It has trapped Ms Kanimozhi in the 2G controversy and left her father extremely nervous.

However, not everybody in the DMK family has been comfortable with such a single-agenda mission. There are those — some of them DMK ministers in the Manmohan Singh government — who would rather Mr Karunandhi cut his losses, dump Raja and Ms Kanimozhi and try and make the best of a tough election. Caught between competing wings of his family, trying to balance a parent's emotions with a survivor's pragmatism, the DMK chief went for broke. Did it get him anywhere?

* Ashok Malik can be contacted at [1]






South Asia, in the midst of a demographic transition, is at risk of suffering from a crippling pandemic of noncommunicable chronic diseases (NCDs). However, a recent World Bank report has highlighted that the region is at a critical juncture where urgent action at the local, domestic and regional levels can turn the tide.

India, the subcontinent's economic and political hub, is the only country that can lead such regional efforts.

Indian leadership would not only enhance the country's domestic public health response, but boost its often mercurial regional image and demonstrate its unique ability to lead.

South Asians face a huge challenge in NCDs (cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and chronic respiratory diseases). The demographic transition is supposed to be a blessing for countries as death and birthrates decrease, life expectancy expands and the prevalence of communicable diseases declines. Naturally, longer life expectancy results in an increase in noncommunicable disease.

However, South Asia presents a special case. The region is faced with what is termed "a dual disease burden". The rate of noncommunicable disease is rapidly expanding amidst a persistent (though declining) rate of communicable disease.

Already beleaguered health systems will be even further stretched by diseases that require long-term, often life-time treatment. The World Bank also found that South Asians have their first heart attack six years earlier than the global average. This means that in South Asia, cardiovascular disease is taking an even larger chunk out of what would otherwise be healthy and economically productive years of living. This problem is particularly salient for India. The country's demographics have been hailed as an economic "trump card", particularly against China, a strategic rival with a rapidly ageing population.

From 2006 to 2015, the estimated loss of national income caused by NCD mortality will be in the realm of $237 billion, according to the World Health Organisation. NCDs are already racking up daunting direct costs. One study by the Cameron Institute estimates that in 2004, Indians spent $9.1 billion (or 3.3 per cent of the gross domestic product) on out-of-pocket expenses related to managing NCDs. These ever-increasing costs could drive many Indian families back, or further into poverty, reversing the advances in poverty reduction of the last 20 years. South Asian countries share a number of risk factors for NCDs, including poor childhood nutrition, weak health infrastructure, high tobacco use and inconsistent food labelling.

While many of these issues will need to be addressed at the national level, several challenges require regional collaboration. Harmonising standards on tobacco advertising and taxation, improving regional food labelling and bargaining collectively on essential drugs are a few areas that could be tackled by a regional coalition.

As the pre-eminent South Asian economy, tobacco and food products for the entire region are designed around Indian preferences and regulations.

Additionally, India, one of the largest producers of generic drugs, is the only country in the subcontinent that can work with industry to ensure access to essential medicines. With its growing network of non-governmental organisation and research organisations, India would also be ideal to lead a South Asian effort to collect, analyse and disseminate epidemiological surveillance data. Many though will suggest that India itself has too many challenges to help its neighbours.

Despite recent successes in improving relations with Bangladesh, India's influence has been waning in South Asia as the US and China become more engaged in the region.

By demonstrating leadership on chronic diseases, India would be willing to partner with its neighbours on an issue where the smaller countries obviously have the most to gain.

As a member of the UN Security Council, India could be the first major country to truly champion NCDs and begin to take a greater role in global health diplomacy, where it has been largely absent.

South Asian countries need to take the threat of noncommunicable diseases seriously and now is the time to act. When it comes to regional challenges and potential solutions, only India has the political and economic influence to take the initiative. The world's largest democracy will benefit from an improved public health response and begin to demonstrate that it is truly a "regional power".

* Daniel J. Barker, research associate, Council on Foreign Relations, New York , and
fellow, Institute for International Public Policy (US)








IFthe upshot of last weekend's Politburo meeting is any indication, the CPI-M's electoral strategy in Bengal is set for a pronounced anti-Centre tilt. Though it is still not clear whether the Karat lobby will craft the campaign plank, suffice it to register that the Politburo and central committee have reportedly advanced a pregnant advisory to Alimuddin Street ~ to soft-pedal the party's relentless tirade against Mamata Banerjee. The distinct change in the goalposts comes in the wake of the realisation that excessive attacks on an individual could turn out to be counter-productive. Convincing the voter is a different proposition altogether. The CPI-M is acutely aware that it will be on a sticky wicket if its strategy is confined to ranting at the Bengal Opposition. Hence the decision to convince the voter that the national government is wallowing in corruption and no less crucially "playing with the livelihood of the poor". Hence the resolve to step up the drumbeat against scams and inflation. Hence also Mr Prakash Karat's demand at the Politburo meeting that the Centre must cancel the Spectrum licences and conduct an auction to recover the lost revenue. This is distinctly at variance with Mr Biman Bose's clean chit to the Prime Minister in the aftermath of the Supreme Court quashing the appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner.

Rather than trenchant swipes at the personal level, the party has effected a calculated shift in strategy, with the focus on the Centre's ineptitude and worse. This was once the standard campaign plank of the Left; it was relegated as the party moved away from the people in pursuit of an industrial fantasy. Its flirtation with the Congress during the first UPA was another constraint. Targeting the Centre's misrule will be a studious deviation from the Bengal line. It has now been acknowledged that the working class, the core support base, is disenchanted in the aftermath of Singur and Nandigram. Which explains the decision to reconnect with workers, both industrial and agricultural. There comes a point beyond which the juice can't be extracted out of a lemon. For the Trinamul, the deserted village of Nandigram is now the right choice for a rail industrial park. For the CPI-M, it is not the chief minister-in-waiting but the Congress-led Centre which appears to be the enemy No. 1.




EVEN if the standard alibi of being quoted out of context is cited, simply unacceptable are the comments of the Foreign Secretary that Somali pirates would be encouraged to raise their ransom demands in the light of vocal protests being made by the families of Indian merchant sailors who have been in captivity for months. Just about everyone in this country ~ arrogant babus excepted ~ would concur that publicity alone shakes the government out of lethargy. Particularly when it comes to providing relief to small numbers (since there are no electoral implications) of Indians in trouble abroad. So for the senior official to suggest that the families suffer in silence when their men are being ill-treated by captors only confirms the impression that the human interests of aam aadmi fail to strike a chord in the corridors of diplomatic authority. The track record points to a consistently poor performance of the external affairs ministry ~ be it Indians languishing in Pakistani jails, fishermen from Tamil Nadu being shot at by the Sri Lankan navy or Indian students being bashed up Down Under ~ and now the mandarins of South Block would like such travails to be patiently borne. For that ensures that their incompetence, or worse, does not get exposed. Sure the record will point to the minister having "raised such issues" with his opposite numbers, but as Dr Manmohan Singh keeps telling us, "the proof of the pudding…"

Nobody can deny that the international community has collectively failed to deal with either the cause, or the effect, that has made Somali piracy such a menace. But the Indian government appears bereft of a policy to deal with the "local" spillover. Despite the fact that seven per cent of all merchant mariners are Indian ~ so there is every possibility of them being part of the crew of vessels hijacked in extended regional waters ~ no mechanism is in place to deal with ransom demands, coordinate with the shipowners, provide relief to their families and so on. The Indian Navy's effort some years ago to play a key anti-piracy role was scuttled by timid bureaucrats, now it has been reduced to a bit-player ~ effective though its patrols in the Gulf of Aden have proved. On recent occasions the defence and external affairs ministers have taken varying lines ~ and the minister for shipping has opted for the silence the Foreign Secretary recommends for anxious, heartbroken families. There are exceptions, but our missions overseas are filled with indolent, self-seeking diplomats; the African continent has more than its share. The Secretary would do well to introspect.




THE disgrace is collective as must be the nature of the scam. Neglect of tribal welfare has been bad enough; defalcation of scholarship funds transforms misgovernance to crime. And so it is in West Midnapore. The backward classes welfare (BCW) department has charged as many as 12 secondary schools in the district with what it calls "pilferage" of funds earmarked for the district's impoverished tribals. The schools have been withdrawing funds on the basis of fake names of students, and the eventual number of purported beneficiaries has been far higher than that quoted in the official list.


A year after the scandal was brought to the notice of the government, neither the backward classes department nor the school education department have been able to ascertain the details of the swindle. Although the inquiry was ordered a month ago, there is still no indication as to when the report will be available, if at all. It may be under the hat for sometime yet as this isn't the moment to take the lid off a pretty kettle of fish. Prima facie, the authorities of the 12 schools, the panchayats and the district administration are accountable, the last entity for the incredibly slack supervision. There is a disconnect too in the allotment and disbursal of funds. While the BCW department allots the money, it is the school education department  that is the disbursal authority. And between the two stand the panchayats and the school authorities. Clearly, this rigmarole has facilitated the fiddle and the government remains delightfully clueless. It isn't even aware of the volume of funds that has been swindled over time. It is a fiddle that is reminiscent of "ghost" employees in Kolkata Municipal Corporation. A welfare scheme,  purportedly to educate the children of subaltern families has floundered on the rock of corruption. Small wonder why the Maoist is literally up in arms against what passes for development. This is the severest indictment that the national government's flagship universal education scheme has suffered.









People generally assumed that India was seeking a global role. It now seems that the global community seeks an India role. In a perceptive newspaper article, foreign affairs analyst Raja Mohan has pointed out how obsolete New Delhi's myths about conducting foreign policy appear to be in today's real world. India's commitment to avoid interference in the internal affairs of other nations is not only hypocritical in the light of several of its own previous actions. It is also self-defeating given the emerging world order. The fact is that there already exists a global order even though it has not been sufficiently institutionalized. However, the human rights enshrined in the United Nations Charter do commit nations to bear responsibility for events occurring even in other countries. As a recent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC), New Delhi is painfully coming to grips with this reality.

Beyond the responsibilities that devolve on New Delhi on account of its UNSC membership, India's growth in recent years compels a fresh appraisal of the emerging world order and the role India can play in it. It was possible in the past to take shelter behind the principle of non-interference to betray Tibet and democracy in Myanmar. It will be no longer possible to ignore India's participation in the affairs of the emerging Arab world. New Delhi does not have to seek a West Asia role. Events are sucking India into the unfolding drama of the Arab world. Two recent incidents indicate this. 

After Foreign Minister SM Krishna rightly said that India will not intervene in Arab affairs unless invited to, the Muslim Brotherhood requested India to help Egypt conduct the forthcoming elections slated for June. Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Qureshi should start assembling a team comprising if necessary even retired Election Commissioners (ECs) to perform the task. Even though the CEC's hands will be full with next month's assembly elections in India, attending to the Egyptian invitation will be of paramount importance.
Conducting the election would inevitably require the EC to determine what electoral norms must be observed by Egypt's political parties. Thereby a subtle influence on the very nature of Egyptian democracy would be exerted. Indo-Egyptian ties were further strengthened by Cairo's cooperation in helping India evacuate trapped Indians in Libya. The Indian embassy has posted a delegation at Egypt's border with Libya to issue new traveling papers for those whose documents were lost in Libya. Indian ambassador in Egypt, R Swaminathan, declared that the exercise will continue until all Indians in Libya are safely evacuated.

Meanwhile, former Libyan Ambassador to India Ali Al-Essawi supported the rebels against President Gaddafi and resigned his post. The pro-democracy National Libyan Council (NLC) has approached Al-Essawi to head the foreign affairs department of NLC. Al-Essawi is functioning from an undisclosed location in New Delhi coordinating efforts to garner international support for NLC and the democratic movement in Libya. India in spite of itself has got drawn into the Libyan democratic movement. If at any stage President Gaddafi seeks the extradition of Al-Essawi would the Indian government oblige? Not a chance in a million. Indian public opinion would never allow it.

For years to come, West Asia and South Asia will continue to be the focus of global attention. India is at the heart of South Asia. Regretfully it has until now abdicated its responsibility to initiate measures that defuse tensions. New Delhi rests content with the big powers taking care of the situation. Despite better empathy with the peoples of the region and greater stake in the region's future the government has taken no worthwhile initiative to break deadlocks. This scribe over the years has suggested concrete policy initiatives to defuse tension in Afghanistan, establish accord with Pakistan and resolve the nuclear crisis in Iran. Possibly the suggestions were not feasible. But should not the Ministry of External Affairs have supplanted those proposals with better initiatives formulated by its policy makers? Can the need for India to take the initiative be denied?
Even after former President Musharraf tried to break fresh ground with peace proposals New Delhi offered no counter-suggestions or response. This scribe had repeatedly urged New Delhi to seek a dialogue with the Afghanistan Taliban because it could be separated from Al Qaida. The opportunity to use Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the Pakistani politician closest to the Afghanistan Taliban, as a conduit had presented itself. New Delhi remained inactive, urging the US not to withdraw its military from Afghanistan in order to resolve the crisis! Now the US itself has concluded that the Taliban cannot be equated with Al Qaida and a tentative effort to initiate peace talks with it has commenced. How long will New Delhi continue to respond like a bystander in the affairs of its own neighbourhood? Events in West Asia are now compelling India to wake up. New Delhi needs to formulate a vision agenda about the kind of nation, neighbourhood and world that it wants to create. The Indian economy in recent years has shown growth. But New Delhi has yet to act  fully grown up.      

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist






After twenty years of rather benign relations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) is asking India to show its mettle in security and political cooperation. With Russia and USA joining the expanded East Asia Summit (EAS) later this year in Indonesia, Asean is leaning towards India as a new countervailing force in the strategic landscape of Asia.

As India rises both in terms of political and economic clout, the overall expectation of Asean also rises. As the world's largest democracy, India needs to be more assertive and come out of its shell. At last week's Asean-India Dialogue III in New Delhi, Indian and Asean participants from track one and two agreed unanimously that India needs to do a lot more to consolidate relations with Asean in the next twenty years. Obviously, the Asean side wants India to be more engaged in non-traditional issues such as climate change, food and energy security and the realisation of Asean Connectivity.

To be fair, there has been tangible progress in their economic cooperation. An Asean-India Free Agreement in goods was signed in 2009. A comprehensive one that covers service and investments is expected later this year. When Indian commerce minister Mr Anand Sharma met his Asean counterparts last week, they immediately agreed to achieve a trade target of US$70 billion by next year, up from US$40 billion in 2010.

Both sides also planned a summit to commemorate their 20 years of relationship in December next year. All Asean leaders will travel to India to meet with Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to map out their relations. Last week, hundreds of diplomats, businessmen and investors from Asean and other countries also attended the week-long Asean fair, organised by the Indian private sector, to showcase trade and business opportunities in the combined 1.5 billion-people market. The Indian ministry of external affairs set up an Asean department last August to handle exclusively the foreign policy towards regional organisations.

In dialogue forum, Thai foreign minister Mr Kasit Piromya was succinct in saying that the peaceful rise of India will benefit the region and the world, making India's partnership indispensable for Asean. "Together, Asean and India can jointly shape a more balanced and dynamic regional architecture," he said.

While most Asean and Indian participants strongly echoed Mr Kasit's views, quite a few, however, preferred a more assertive India. For instance, some Indonesian and Philippine participants even went as far as to urge the Indian navy to patrol the South China Sea and safeguard its freedom of passage and navigation. Such an overture immediately drew shrugs from Indian former diplomats, who remembered vividly previous concerns expressed by Asean of the so-called threats by a formidable Indian blue navy.

The new attitude reflects the grouping's growing confidence towards this South Asian nation as well as the fruit of a longstanding Look East policy. It has taken both sides nearly two decades to appreciate each other. Gone are the days of mutual suspicion and mistrust. Back in 1975 and 1980, India even refused to enter into dialogue with Asean because it was considered a tool of the "Imperial West". When the world shunned Viet Nam-backed Cambodia in 1981, India was among a few countries to recognise Phnom Penh. Bilateral relations were then frozen for over a decade.

After India was admitted as a dialogue partner in 1992, it became a full dialogue partner in 1995 and moved on to hold a regular summit from 2002 onward. In 2003, India surprised Asean by signing the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation along with China. It was India's most significant foreign policy achievement to date. The ascension quickly increased the overall level playing field of China and India with the grouping, which eventually led them to become founding members of the East Asia Summit in 2005.

Since then, apart from the free trade agreement, Asean-India ties have moved at a snail's pace. In comparison, the China-Asean relations have grown in leaps and bounds over the same period. China has invested unlimited financial and human resources to promote bilateral ties. Currently, there are 48 committees that cover the whole gamut of Asean-China cooperation while the Asean-India side only has around 18 committees.

Moreover, the Asean-India plan of action for their strategic partnership in the next five years is considered rudimentary when compared to a similar Asean-China plan of the same duration. The latter contained all key elements of so-called holistic relations. Beijing even offered to cooperate with Asean to promote best practices and capacity-building related to human rights. On the contrary, New Delhi chose to avoid the issue of human rights altogether in the plan of action.

It is interesting to note that the call for a more engaged India in the security arena was based on the desire to create "dynamic equilibrium" ~ the concept advanced by Indonesia, the Asean chair ~ in the region. Asean believes that the grouping's political and security status would be further strengthened if major powers, especially India, would be more forthcoming in supporting Asean's positions and argument at the upcoming EAS, especially on global issues affecting peace and stability in the region. In this connection, India's position on nuclear non-proliferation and the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty would be critical.
Asean feels that India has been obsessed with China's growing influence in the region. In the process, India has overlooked the broader regional architecture that it can help shape and formulate. Deep down, Asean fears that expansive and closer Asean-India security cooperation as envisaged by track two would be misinterpreted as a united front against China's rising power.

That helps explain why Asean has been so eager to have India on its side when the grouping engages the world's major powers all at once at EAS. In the early days of Asean-China relations, China often backed Asean's views and positions on international issues without any reservation. As China's stature in the world grows, its strategic views are no local confined to the region.

Asean hopes that with the support of India, increased dialogue and engagement among major powers using the Asean-led EAS as a fulcrum, would further promote the longevity of Asean's centrality.  

the nation/ann

As India rises both in terms of political and economic clout, the overall expectation of Asean also rises. As the world's largest democracy, India needs to be more assertive and come out of its shell, writes
kavi chongkittavorn







A demanding cancer patient from the secretive Brunei royal family. A celebrated Singapore surgeon accused of overcharging the patient. Accusations that there were hefty mark-ups on bills of other doctors who helped the surgeon treat the royal patient. A Singapore government official who was the complainant, raider and prosecutor. A change of rules mid-way through a disciplinary inquiry into the allegations.
These tantalising strands of a potboiler of a story have come together to form a sensational court case in Singapore to shake the country's image as a squeaky clean and upright island in the sun.
 The story has its beginnings in the patient, the Brunei Sultan's cousin and sister of the Queen, seeking the help of surgeon Dr Susan Lim (photograph right), who is married to Indian-born star banker Deepak Sharma, for breast cancer treatment in 2001. Things took a turn for the worse after the royal patient, Pangiran Damit, died in 2007. Brunei's health ministry went to its Singapore counterpart to seek a reduction in the Singapore $24.8 million bill (Rs 88 crore) the surgeon charged for treating the patient from January to July 2007.
This bill was reduced voluntarily to Singapore $12.1 million, of which $3.3 million was for third party costs and payment for other doctors.  All the other bills before 2007 (coming to about $14 million) were paid without a fuss. The plot gets thicker from here on. On receiving the request from Brunei, Singapore's Director of Medical Services, Professor Saktutha-nan, decided to make a complaint against the surgeon to the Singapore Medical Council, of which he is the Registrar, and start a disciplinary inquiry into "overcharging by a medical practitioner".

 At the same time, Professor Satku ordered five raids on the surgeon's clinic at the Gleneagles Hospital.  The case got into another twist when the three panel members of the disciplinary committee stepped down on the first day of a closed-door hearing in July 2010 after accusations that they had pre-judged the case.
 The inquiry was suspended. At the same time, the rules were re-written to say there was no obligation on the part of the council to inform the defendant of advice given to the disciplinary committee regarding the charge. The order to start a second inquiry was given. Dr Lim went to the High Court to say such an inquiry should not be held.

It was in the High Court last week that details of  how intractable the patient was came to light. Pangiran Damit was a very difficult person to deal with as she was petrified of most doctors and hence her demands on Dr Lim were way above normal. Once, she had refused to fly to Singapore for treatment. Dr Lim had to set up an Intensive Care Unit infrastructure and fly it by private jet to Brunei.

Then, there was a request for a massage chair to be installed in her hotel suite at the Hyatt Hotel in Singapore before the visit of the Sultan, only to be removed an hour later. Dr Lim was required to be on 24/7 standby and had to be available at a moment's notice if Pangiran Damit wanted to see her. This extended to the time when Dr Lim had undergone eye surgery and was recovering in a hospital bed. Pangiran Damit insisted that the doctor be by her side, despite the possibility that Dr Lim could be blinded in one eye if she moved around too much. Dr Lim had to be transported in that state to attend to Pangiran Damit.

There were also accusations that Dr Lim had marked up by the bills of other doctors who had helped Dr Lim to treat the patient. This was denied by some of the doctors who submitted sworn affidavits. During his four-hour submission, counsel for the medical council argued that the second inquiry should not be stopped since, "if the doctor is guilty, she would not get off scot-free. If she was innocent ~ if there was a fee agreement and she rendered such a good job for the patient who trusted her ~ those facts would emerge. Dr Lim would then come out as pure as the driven snow", he said.

A few hours after the proceedings ended, the medical council announced the appointment of Professor Chew Suok Kai as its deputy registrar and said he would be taking over Professor Saktu's duties. This is a post which previously did not exist. A provision was made in the law and sanctioned in the Singapore parliament in January 2010. The public will have to wait till 28 March, when the High Court hearing re-convenes, to find out which way this case will go.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Singapore







The resolution which was moved by Mr Gokhale in the Imperial Legislative Council in favour of the creation of an Opium Fund probably represents an opinion which has been very widely held among those who devote any attention to the finances of the country. His proposal was that any surpluses which are derived from the extraordinary prices now realised for opium should be set apart as a special fund in order to mitigate the blow which the Indian revenue will receive when the opium exports are altogether extinguished. At present, owing to the diminution of the supply of Indian opium, the finances of the country are being disturbed by an embarrassing surplus, but, as the reduction of the cultivation of the poppy proceeds a point will be reached when enhanced prices will not compensate for the smaller quantity of opium sold, and ultimately, if the agreement with China is of the character anticipated, the revenue will cease. It is conceivable that this catastrophe may occur in three or four years. Unless a Reserve fund is built up which can be drawn upon to ease the crisis fresh taxation will almost certainly be called for, a respect which no one regards with satisfaction. As against the decision of the Finance Member to apply 2,000,000 pound of the Opium surplus which has accrued this year to the extinction of unfunded debt Mr Gokhale argued that no urgent need existed for the reduction of debt. He contended that the unfunded, unproductive debt of India was gratifyingly small in comparison with that of other countries, and expatiated upon the low rate at which India is able to borrow, a rate more favourable than that of Japan or Italy. Having thus demonstrated the strong financial position which India occupies he proceeded to develop a proposition which he has frequently advanced, that the application of surpluses to the reduction of debt, combined with a policy of imposing fresh taxation to meet any deficit, was unfair to the present generation of taxpayers.







Accepting responsibility for an error is another way of saying sorry. This is exactly what the prime minister did when he told Parliament that he had made an error of judgment in appointing P.J. Thomas as chief vigilance commissioner and he accepted full responsibility for this mistake. This might be read as a very noble and gracious gesture befitting a man of Manmohan Singh's stature and integrity. What will go unnoticed is that the prime minister expressed his regrets on the wrong issue and by so doing he diminished the authority of the government he leads. The appointment of the CVC is an executive prerogative; what documents are considered relevant for the appointment should therefore also be a part of the prerogative. There is no proof as yet that Mr Thomas is guilty as charged. He is, as of now, innocent by the laws of the land, and has the reputation of being an honest officer within his peer group. It is indeed unfortunate that the case against Mr Thomas has dragged on for over a decade. By delaying justice the judiciary has underlined the saying, justice delayed is often justice denied. If the judiciary had pronounced its verdict with reasonable swiftness, the present problem would not have arisen at all. As the matter stands, there is nothing to show that there were any mala fide motives behind Mr Thomas's appointment. By admitting a public interest litigation, the Supreme Court cast a shadow on the prime minister's integrity and on an innocent officer. The prime minister had no reasons to regret this since he had acted within the ambit of his prerogative and out of the best possible motives.

There was, however, a different aspect of the same issue that the prime minister should have noted. In appointing Mr Thomas, the prime minister and the home minister, P. Chidambaram, ignored the principle of consensus that is so critical to democratic governance. This principle has been set aside in other appointments as well — for example when Navin Chawla was made the chief election commissioner and more spectacularly when an unknown lady was made the head of the Indian State. Mr Singh succumbed to the lure of using the principle of majority. In the appointment of Mr Thomas, he could have easily followed the suggestion made by Sushma Swaraj who was a member of the high-powered committee and was in favour of appointing any of the other two candidates who were on the short list.

By ignoring consensus, Mr Singh embraced controversy. It is ironic that the prime minister sought controversy when consensus was possible; and he has conceded ground to the apex court when confrontation would have borne the stamp of his executive authority. India expects more from its scholar prime minister.






Mercy in action is a troubled concept, it is far from unstrained. The judiciary in India has taken quite some time to agree to passive euthanasia — the withdrawal or withholding of treatment to a terminally ill patient — under certain strict conditions. In its active form — through the use of drugs usually with the help of a physician — mercy-killing remains illegal, according to the Supreme Court. The right to die with dignity that is the fundamental argument for euthanasia is not quite at the forefront of the court's decision, for one of the implied conditions is the patient's "vegetative" state. But the judgment is still welcome. The advance of medical science and technology has turned euthanasia into a crucial issue. But apart from the religious objections to it, the highest professional and social integrity is required for euthanasia to be above all questions. In a country as varied in education and neediness as India, with dubious ethical standards at all levels, euthanasia poses certain dangers.

The judgment legalizes what doctors and patients' families have been doing for years in rare but indubitably irreversible situations. The Supreme Court has fixed a procedure that entails an application to the high court by the closest relatives or friends and doctors, a review of the case by an independent panel of three medical professionals, a hearing and then the court's decision. This is, of course, the most transparent and legally safe process. But how practical is it? Law in India is agonizingly slow even when instructed to move fast, and in these cases delay would be self-defeating. It would also mean a new pile of urgent cases. Integrity, transparency, good faith and all possible care for the dying should originate in society, in families and in medical institutions. Independent procedures should be put in place in hospitals. The nation cannot depend on the courts for everything.






Apropos our decision to resume a "comprehensive" dialogue with Pakistan, the question needs to be asked why we want to play the same game with our neighbour again and again when we know that it does not want to play by accepted rules, or interprets the rules differently from us, or indeed sets its own rules of play. Pakistan also commits fouls with impunity, but that does not deter us from going into the field with it. We also enter the game under threat of constant violence by our adversary. When we give such latitude to Pakistan and our own play is so defensive and permissive, how can we ever hope to win the game?

The reference to the "Thimphu spirit" suggests that we believe there is a positive spirit that animates Pakistan in playing this game. Why we persist in believing this despite the experience of the past is not easy to explain. We have had before other versions of a similar 'spirit' — the Lahore spirit, the Islamabad one, that of Havana, Ekaterinberg and Sharm-el-Sheikh, and New Delhi too, but, despite the rhetoric and expressions of hope, Pakistan's game behaviour has continued to be unclean and malevolent.

We are the ones that make all the effort to create a positive environment before each round of play, despite Pakistan's bid to vitiate the atmosphere. We say we have no choice but to play an honest game, however dishonest the other side is. Our bounden duty is to play the neighbourhood team, we say, despite its reputation of being unsporting. We exhibit our great keenness to enter the field, always assuming that the game will be played with positive intent on both sides. We are glad to offer to do the extra running to make the game exciting if the other side were to show some seriousness in playing straight. We are even willing to acknowledge for discussion some imaginary fouls the adversary charges us with, so long as play can be maintained. Our bottom line, of course, is that refusal to play the game, whatever the level of fraud and deception on the other side, is not an option.

Pakistan garners many advantages in responding to our overtures to resume play after periodic suspensions because of its misconduct. As the wooed party it makes demands with regard to playing conditions. Because our urge to play gets regenerated time and again, it feeds Pakistan's conviction that its misdeeds will always get condoned eventually, and that whatever fouls it commits or rules it transgresses, the game will not be called off for too long. Indeed, the play will then resume from a new threshold of tolerance of its objectionable acts on India's part. By being invited to play, Pakistan also gets acknowledged as a credible team, and India's equal. When teams play, the cheerleaders are in the ring to make a noise. When the play stops they are disappointed and push for it to resume. India, as the supposedly stronger team, is then pressed to overlook fouls and violence and make the requisite gesture to the weaker side. And finally, Pakistan sees in every bout of play with an India that seems bereft of a winning playing strategy an improved chance of defeating its adversary — by scoring the goal it has long hoped for.

This is an elaborate metaphor for our diplomacy with Pakistan. We are once again engaging Pakistan in a dialogue, without learning salutary lessons from past dealings. When Pakistan resists our basic demands we gradually modify them under the cover of platitudinous references to compulsions of neighbourhood, of "no dialogue" not being an option, of a stable and prosperous Pakistan being in our interest and so on — and in this way the climbdown is sought to be concealed.

After the Mumbai attack, Pakistan, far from being on the defensive, has been adamant that India's step-by-step approach, with priority focus on terrorism, is not acceptable because it relegates the Kashmir issue to the background. It has insisted on the revival of the composite dialogue, as that would cover, besides Kashmir, the Siachen issue over which the Pakistanis feel aggrieved and want an Indian withdrawal. We have now yielded to its demand, though we are avoiding calling the renewed full spectrum dialogue "composite", as if description defines reality. We will be discussing Kashmir, peace and security, counter-terrorism, Siachen, Sir Creek, the Wullar barrage/Tulbul navigation project, economic cooperation and people to people contacts, an agenda that has an uncanny resemblance to the "composite dialogue" that we ostensibly reject. Pakistan's obstinacy has succeeded in extracting a major concession from us. To top it all, Pakistan has made the visit of its foreign minister to India contingent on "meaningful" results, implying that the onus is on us to produce results to its satisfaction.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has made no progress in bringing to justice those responsible for the Mumbai terror attacks, much less act against the India-directed jihadi groups. Indeed, it seems to have now threatened that the masterminds of Mumbai like Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi may be released unless a Pakistani judicial commission can come to India to authenticate Ajmal Kasab's confession. We are succumbing to these delaying procedural tactics that enable Pakistan to make the pretence of doing something in accordance with the law while doing practically nothing through legal manipulations.

We seem to be buying the argument that even if Pakistan wanted to act on our demands it would not be able to do so in the current conditions of domestic terror and mounting extremist sentiment exemplified by the largely approving public reaction to Salman Taseer's killing. As usual, we discover excuses for our adversary's inaction in order to justify resiling from our own position. Suddenly, even Hafiz Saeed, the bogey man of yesterday is no longer worthy of serious notice. The venomous head of the terrorist organization, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the spiritual architect of Mumbai, who advocated a nuclear strike against India a day before the Thimphu meet, and who has close links with the Pakistani political and military establishment, is now dismissed as "inconsequential". Because it is amply clear that the Pakistani government will not act against him, we feel obliged to change tack in order to clear the political decks for resuming the dialogue.

Why downgrade the centrality of terrorism by consigning discussions on it to the level of home secretaries? The home secretaries do not handle foreign policy, whereas terrorism is a foreign policy issue not only bilaterally with Pakistan, but also regionally and, indeed, internationally. The dialogue at the home secretaries level can be supplementary to the dialogue between the principals — in this case the foreign secretaries — with focus on evidence, documents, procedures, modalities of exchange of information, counter-terrorism matters and suchlike technical issues. The degree of integrality of the terrorism issue to the quality and substance of the overall India-Pakistan relationship cannot be in the remit of the home secretaries. The principals will discuss Kashmir though, giving this issue the centrality that Pakistan has been manoeuvring for.

Pakistan is exploiting the dialogue game to maul us as much as it can. Show it the yellow card and wait for its initiative to resume play if it wants to extract itself from its deepening mess.

The author is former foreign secretary of India






Come elections, come the advertisements — principally by the state's rulers who have to highlight the good work done by them in the preceding five years. Thanks to the electronic media, there is no getting away from such publicity blitz. Like it or not, one has to see these advertisements — changing channels is of no use as the ads are all over in every local channel. Perhaps there is nothing wrong in this, particularly since some of the claims are quite revealing and get the viewer, that is, the voter, to think. Take, for instance, the ad in which people are seen asserting that their purchasing power has gone up. The intention is obviously to let the world know the economic progress made by the state under the present dispensation. But then, the same ruling party misses no opportunity to draw attention to how the common man is suffering because of the "misdeeds of the rulers in New Delhi". Now, how can the two things happen at the same time? How can a Bengali voter enjoy more spending power because of the Left Front's good governance and yet be impoverished, as the Front constituents claim, because of the ruling Congress and its allies at the Centre? Also, it is common sense that if the man in Bengal has a fuller pocket now, then New Delhi's policies must have contributed to his happiness.

This obvious dichotomy, however, can cause little embarrassment to the Marxists. For the simple reason that the largest opposition force in the state also chooses to highlight the economic ills that plague the people. Though a partner in the Central ministry, the Trinamul Congress distances itself from the former whenever it feels it is wise to do so. While doing this, the TMC cannot join the Congress in bringing into focus the "successes of the United Progressive Alliance ministry". Advantage Left Front, at least on the publicity sphere. The detractors of the Left may insist that this is no real advantage, that the claims of progress will be ignored on the voting day. But that is for the future.

Equal responsibility

What is the ground reality? Whatever may be the reason and no matter who is more entitled to claim credit, the fact remains that there is a lot more money going around these days than ever before. There are simple indicators of this; in one's neighbourhood, the barber, the rickshaw-puller, the plumber and the small-time electrician, who constitute the aam admi, all have cell phones these days which was not the case even a couple of years ago. Like others, they also grumble about rising prices and yet they do not stop buying — when onion prices shot up and the vegetable hogged media time and space, there was no accompanying reports of sales going down. And the shops selling goodies are never short of buyers. Even in the districts the situation cannot be much different, judging by the fact that highrises and dazzling shops are no longer a preserve of the city alone.

So harping on just economic impoverishment, as the Opposition seems to be bent on doing, may leave many cold. This is not to suggest that poverty is no longer an issue in the state. But the emphasis before the coming election should be on the healthier state of the economy. To try and deny this might well be unproductive. Here also, the Centre has a role to play.

And this is the scenario in the other states going to the polls too, most certainly in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The economy is certainly on the move. Yes, there are still two Indias, but the positive has to be taken into account. Both rulers and their opponents in different states would do well to accept that they have had their roles to play. At present, development in West Bengal needs a joint effort, and this is a fact that should be accepted by a wider section in the political arena.


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The supreme court's ruling on Monday has brought some clarity to the issues involved in the idea of euthanasia which has for long been a subject of controversy. It will also serve as a basis for debate in the coming days. It is no surprise that the court has rejected the plea for mercy killing of Aruna Shanbaug who is in coma in a Mumbai hospital for the last 37 years. She is in a vegetative state and there is no hope of her recovery. But at present there is no law in the country to allow termination of life of a person who is in such a bad condition. The court's rejection of the request in her case was based on that. But it has made a distinction between 'active' euthanasia which involves medical action to terminate the life of person who is in vegetative state and has no hope of return to life and 'passive' euthanasia which involves removal of the life support systems of a person who is in a similar situation. The court has allowed passive euthanasia with strict safeguards.

What has been a major consideration in the debate on euthanasia is the possibility of close relatives of a terminally ill patient and doctors colluding to snatch the patient's property. The court has sought to rule out that possibility by laying down strict guidelines and conditions. The request for euthanasia has to be decided by a high court only after ascertaining the opinions of a panel of eminent doctors and other necessary consultations on a case by case basis. If the scope for misuse is eliminated euthanasia may be welcome in many cases where money, medicine or compassion cannot relieve the extreme pain or suffering of a patient who cannot be considered living in the normal sense. In fact, many doctors already do it when they discharge from hospitals patients who have no hope of recovery. There is now a greater acceptability for the idea of euthanasia than in the past.

Parliament has to enact a law which makes euthanasia legal  in rare and extreme cases. Till then the court's ruling will guide decisions in such cases. The government has been against  euthanasia of any kind but the union law minister Veerappa  Moily has said that legislation will be considered on the basis of the court's views and public opinion that might emerge from a debate on the issue.







Prime minister Manmohan Singh's acceptance of responsibility for the selection of P J Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner, which the supreme court has struck down, falls short of a full and meaningful sense of responsibility. The prime minister had, in his written statement in the Lok Sabha on Monday, failed to go beyond a sketchy account of the selection process but later admitted that there was an error of judgement on his part and he accepted responsibility for it. But he has not convincingly explained the error. There was procedural error as well as failure on the substantive issue of judging the eligibility of Thomas for the post. The supreme court has criticised the government on both the counts. The prime minister should have made the government's response clearer.

An error of judgment usually means a wrong appreciation of facts or a situation. What were  the facts that were before the prime minister which he misjudged? The government, through attorney general G E Vahanvati, had told the court that the fact of the existence of a charge-sheet against P J Thomas in the palmolein import case was not presented before the selection committee. This was only technically correct. In any case the question arises why no action has since been taken by the government  against those who failed to present all the facts  before the committee. Acceptance of responsibility is not complete if it does not lead to enforcement of accountability.

The prime minister also told the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday that he came to know of the charges against Thomas only when the leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj mentioned them at the selection committee meeting. That shows he and the home minister ignored  the case against Thomas even after they came to be aware of the case. That amounts to more than an error of judgment. The prime minister should clarify why the charges were not considered serious enough to reject Thomas' candidature. This should mean a full disclosure of the circumstances of  the selection, which is still lacking.  The issue of accountability is relevant here also. A general acceptance of responsibility without going into the specifics of the making of a wrong decision is not very helpful. An admission of mistake is meaningful only when there is a convincing explanation of how the mistake was committed.







The lackadaisical attitude of the Indian foreign policy establishment has prevented a deepening of India-Iraq economic engagement.

Finally after seven long years, the Indian government has decided that time has come to make its presence felt in Iraq by naming an envoy to the country. The previous ambassador to Iraq was withdrawn in 2004 when the security situation in the country was spiralling out of control.

And even as the situation stabilised in Iraq with largely peaceful elections last year and the US decision to withdraw its forces completely by the end of this year, New Delhi took its time to come to terms with the rapidly changing ground realities. After all, when it comes to West Asia, inaction is the preferred mode of action of the Indian foreign policy establishment.

India and Iraq have enjoyed longstanding political and cultural ties rooted in millennia old civilisations. Iraq had emerged as one of India's closest allies in West Asia by the 1970s. Not surprisingly, New Delhi not only opposed the use of force against Iraq in 1991 but also vehemently denounced the imposition of UN sanctions on Saddam Hussein's regime.

Saddam reciprocated by strongly backing India on the issue of Kashmir and on the 1998 nuclear tests. But Iraq's global isolation meant that India's economic ties with Iraq suffered significantly even though India tried to use the Oil-for-Food programme to expand trade with Iraq.

By the time of the Second Gulf War, India's foreign policy priorities had changed dramatically. Though it publically opposed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, New Delhi came very close to sending troops to post-war Iraq in support of the UN Security Council's resolution to help maintain security in the country. Though lack of domestic consensus prevented that from happening, India has contributed generously towards the reconstruction and development efforts in Iraq.

India has also been training the Iraqi government officials under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme and the Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOC) being the largest importer of crude oil from Iraq. Iraq is the third largest supplier of crude to India after Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Despite this, there has been no larger strategic restructuring of Indian foreign policy towards Iraq. India's response to the hanging of Saddam Hussein underscored the continuing salience of domestic political imperatives in shaping Indian foreign policy. When the death sentence against Saddam Hussein was announced India denounced it as 'victor's justice' and when he was hanged, India declared it an 'unfortunate event.'

Both these reactions were aimed at assuaging the Indian Muslim community that has been agitated over the Indian government's perceived dalliance with the US. Beyond that there was no attempt by India to engage the new political dispensation in Baghdad. This, despite the fact, that the Iraqi government had invited India to step in and help in Iraq's reconstruction with its technology and management expertise.

Great opportunity

Iraq is slated to be world's biggest oil supplier by 2015 and Indian companies have been looking forward to operating there. Iraqi businesses are also exploring opportunities for joint ventures with their Indian counterparts in the field of cement, petrochemicals, hotels, oil and gas upstream and downstream projects. But the lackadaisical attitude of the Indian government has prevented a deepening of India-Iraq economic engagement.

Compare this with China's growing profile in Iraq. In the past three years, Chinese companies have walked away with stakes in three of the 11 contracts the Iraqi oil ministry has signed in its bid to increase crude output by about 450 per cent over the next seven years. China has also renegotiated a $3 billion deal that dates to when Saddam Hussein was in power.

China has agreed to cancel 80 per cent of the $8.5-billion debt it is owed by Iraq even as the two countries have entered into trade deals valued at $3.8 billion over the last two years. In response to China's growing demand for oil, the Iraqi government decided to boost Iraq's crude shipments to China from about 1,44,000 barrels per day to 3,00,000 in 2010.

Since the 2003 war to topple Saddam Hussein, Chinese oil companies have been among the most eager to help develop Iraq's oil reserves with the state-owned Chinese oil firm China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) clinching some of the biggest deals in the Iraqi oil sector.

It has secured a second deal to help to develop one of Iraq's largest oilfields — the 4.1 billion-barrel Halfaya field in southern Iraq as well as the rights to develop Rumaila, Iraq's largest oilfield, alongside BP. It is also helping to restore production at al-Ahdab field. Sinopec, another Chinese oil group, has a strong position in northern Iraq, after its $7.9 billion acquisition of the London-listed Addax Petroleum, which has been exploring for oil in the autonomous Kurdish region.

Not surprisingly, BP and its partner CNPC will be the first companies to be paid back by the Iraqi government for developing Iraq's supergiant Rumaila oil field as part of the terms of the service contracts Iraq signed with the firms. Baghdad has to start paying back costs of developing these fields and remuneration fees when they achieve a 10 per cent increase in production.

India will have to seriously think about its role anew as a new Iraq emerges in a new West Asia. Delhi has an expanding set of interests in the region and Baghdad can once again emerge as a reliable partner if ties with it are nurtured carefully. Appointing an ambassador is a good, albeit modest, start.








Stagnant agriculture combined with population growth is obviously leading to food insecurity.
Why did Africa move from being a net exporter to a net importer of food in the 1980s when the prices of its key commodity exports tumbled and its agriculture slowed down? Its food trade deficit is now around $20 billion and, given the current rise in prices, could get much worse.

While it is vital to understand how the continent became a net importer, it is also important to understand how African agriculture can become more efficient and competitive.

A country can have a perfectly efficient and competitive agricultural system yet still be an important importer of food, or even a net importer. Europe, for example, exports 9 per cent of the world's food and imports 12 per cent. The United States exports 10 per cent and imports 8 per cent. Being a food export powerhouse does not preclude being a major importer too.

African agriculture needs to become more efficient, and in that efficiency it needs to discover specialisation.

As a fraction of the continent's total merchandise exports, African agricultural exports have also fallen sharply over the years, from 42 to 6 per cent between 1960 and today. But this in and of itself is not a bad sign. In 1960, agriculture comprised about 50 per cent of world trade; today that figure is about 6 per cent. All this says is that the world, including Africa, has industrialised.


One of the principal findings in a recent publication by the Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) is that African agriculture has been shackled by: first, colonial patterns of trade that have locked Africa into commodity exports; and second, macroeconomic and trade policies aimed at import substitution and food self-sufficiency that have achieved the exact opposite of their goal. In taxing agriculture and shielding it from international competition, these policies made African agriculture less competitive.

The publication documents incredible infrastructural bottlenecks in Africa, which for trade in perishables is a very serious problem. It also points out the limited regional food trade that exists in Africa, sometimes because of a lack of product complementarity though also because of a simple lack of regional integration. Indeed I have often heard it lamented that in Africa a food-surplus and a food-deficit country located side by side can be unable to trade with one another. Another problem is shortages of agricultural inputs, many of which are imported.

Another astonishing statistic from CUTS is that "about 80 per cent of trade in agricultural produce and food in the East African region is informal and not statistically recorded".

Stagnant agriculture, combined with a population growth rate higher than the world average, is obviously leading to food insecurity in Africa. In fact, expenditures on food there comprise a very high percentage of total expenditures and a far higher percentage than in the OECD. In Gabon, the figure is about 50 per cent. Clearly, then, food security is also about food affordability. Greater competition and international trade helps bring down the price of food.

African agriculture has clearly passed through various phases: state control and import substitution in the 1960s, when Africa's food deficit started building; then the structural adjustment era of the 1980s, marked by the gradual privatisation of state-owned farms; and then the dismantling of marketing boards for key commodities.

The CUTS study sets out a very important menu of recommendations for our consideration: increasing agricultural productivity, promoting regional trade, 'facilitating' trade through better infrastructure, and educating and building the capacities of farmers and traders. But this menu also includes the rapid conclusion of the Doha Round of trade negotiations, which is considered a priority.

Contrary to what some have been saying about international trade somehow being responsible for the plight of African agriculture, this publication, as well as several others, demonstrates that import-substitution policies and a lack of investment in agriculture have been the principal culprits.

In my view, here is how the Doha Round can make a modest contribution to helping boost African agriculture. It will give least-developed countries duty-free, quota-free access to export markets. It will deal with the colonial patterns of trade by reducing the phenomenon of tariff escalation: for example, the high tariffs imposed on processed coffee and chocolate relative to coffee and cocoa powder. The Round will also reduce the subsidies in the rich world that have made it difficult for Africa to compete in international markets and have flooded its markets with cheap imports. The world needs cheaper food, but food that is produced under conditions of fair competition. In short, the Doha Round will help level the playing field for Africa, correcting historical injustices in the world trade rule-book.







I somehow had to pass the practical exam to get my degree.

I had sincerely thought I had erased the memories of those torturous days. It had receded to my subconscious, buried never to resurrect again. But how wrong I was. The past does come to haunt you in unseemly ways and the way it comes unstuck leaves you dazed. But this particular experience of mine really takes the cake.

These thoughts flashed in my mind, when I saw the screaming headlined anchor story in a newspaper, "UGC says no to dissection of animals in labs; zoology teachers miffed." I could not agree with the University Grants Commission, the apex body for higher education in the country more.

I thought at last these mandarins in the power centre had woken up to reality to bury the nightmare I had experienced all these years. It was in 1974-75 when I was doing my BSc in Mysore Sharada Vilas College. One of my optional subjects was zoology and being final year students we were all forced into doing dissection.

Knowing that it played a big part in passing the exams, I did try to take the practical classes seriously.

As the attender in the lab came and placed all those cockroaches and frogs on the dissection table, my heart would skip a beat. I was no animal brigade man at any point in my life. Still to see the poor creatures, which God had made them all, being tortured was something I could never come to terms with. As a result, I turned out to be the worst dissector in the class. Every time one of those creatures was put on the table, I would start using the scalpels, scissors, forceps on them and to my horror discover that they still had some life and were literally being butchered by me. In not a single dissection class could I get anything right. But many others were happily coming out with beautiful dissections. This went on for almost the whole year. As I somehow had to pass the practical exam to get my degree, I decided to join practical tuitions in a college. There the results were no better.

To cut a long story short, when the time for the practical exam came, I was in a state of depression. On the day of the practicals when my classmate and I reached the examination hall, the invigilator looked sternly at us. Only then did we realise that we were ten minutes late entering the hall.

I was asked to dissect the fifth cranial nerve of frog and remove the brain of shark. I started my dissection thinking that it would end in disaster. But to my surprise, shock and joy, I had neatly carved out the brain of shark and split open the cranial nerve of frog. Somehow I passed out in flying colours in the practicals which helped me get a degree.

Now, that the UGC has decided to ban the dissections, my heart goes out to all the animals and I say a big no to all the zoology lecturers.








Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in political hot water. It is becoming more and more apparent that the next elections will not take place as planned at the end of 2013, but long before then. The list of his accomplishments is short and he's a dud in opinion polls. The reins of government are threatening to slip from his hands.

There was one momentary rise in Netanyahu's approval ratings: his media appearances during the Carmel fire. After that, his support quickly began to fade again, but Netanyahu keeps trying to reconstruct those moments.

And so he is trying to keep alive the image of the supertanker lent by the U.S. to douse the flames, forgetting about the light aircraft of local companies and a change in the direction of the wind that also contributed to putting out the fire.

The supertanker is in a way the younger brother of the Hercules C-130 transport plane, which came to symbolize the rescue of the Entebbe hostages in 1976.

A few days ago, Netanyahu tried to fly his supertanker into the socio-economic arena: addressing the lack of affordable housing for young couples.

Proposals for a solution are lying on the desks of the Knesset, but Netanyahu does not want to share the victory with anyone. He wants to look like the citizens' savior. And so Bibi the firefighter is now Bibi the builder.

Netanyahu's plan is a classic case of pulling the wool over our eyes. The system, which he speaks of derogatorily as "bureaucratic," is certainly atrocious but not impossible to navigate.

A complete disregard of the need for central planning and a discounting of opposition from the potential victims of the plans of land developers and other interested parties is likely to provide an opening for corruption and abuse.

It is possible to imagine how Netanyahu and his wife would respond if neighbors in Jerusalem or Caesarea suddenly built an unruly addition without consulting the authorities or neighbors.

The 18 months Netanyahu has budgeted for his plan are supposed to grant him political credit. If elections take place within the next year and a half, Netanyahu can claim he is moving in the right direction, since it is still too early to judge the results.

The positive aspect of Netanyahu's plan lies in the discovery that he can act quickly and energetically toward an important goal. But for some reason, he has not yet begun to implement this aspiration on the diplomatic front, not even to his legal obligation to evacuate unauthorized outposts in the territories.

Perhaps he truly believes that it is harder to tear down than to build.







Col. Oren Avman is the commander of the largest brigade in the Israel Defense Forces, the Kfir Brigade in the Central Command, which includes six battalions and thousands of soldiers - more fighters than there are in the entire navy. One of the battalions, either Haruv or Duhifat, will become a reconnaissance battalion in the coming year, when the Kfir Brigade gets upgraded to a high-level Infantry Corps brigade.

Before that happens, though, the Kfir battalions, along with other forces, can expect to find themselves in a tough conflict with the Palestinians in the West Bank. Though the clashes could begin at any moment, they are most likely to take place at the end of August or the begining of September, ahead of discussions in the United Nations about the establishment of a Palestinian state with extensive international support. Israel will be forced into a defensive position on two fronts: the diplomatic one at the United Nations and the security one, which will range from northern Samaria via Jerusalem to southern Judea.

On the ground, there are no clear signs of the imminent confrontation. A misleading quiet prevails, one that can be attributed to successes racked up by the IDF and Shin Bet security service and to the intensive activity of the Palestinian Authority security forces. But the absence of warning signs cannot be seen as an indicator of what is going to happen. Developments in the West Bank are not linear; they resemble a jack in the box that is liable to jump out at any moment.

Last week, Avman and the commander of Kfir's Duhifat Battalion took a trip from the battalion base in Beit El to an observation post overlooking the Ayosh Junction north of Ramallah. The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Raz Sarig, remembers being a young commander in the same battalion a decade ago and witnessing how quickly everything went haywire on the day the riots broke out in the territories at the beginning of the second intifada. That morning, he was peacably traveling through the same intersection as Palestinian cars; by the afternoon, he and his soldiers had to take cover from the bullets of snipers hiding among hundreds of protesters. And later still, the Armored Corps was called in for backup and the rocky area became known as Tank Hill.

Sarig knows just how immediate and abrupt the transition can be from economic growth and cease-fire to violent confrontations. Avman learned the lesson even earlier, in Lebanon, where he was the last commander of Beaufort Castle before Israel's withdrawal from the area in 2000. Despite preparations for the IDF's pullout from the security zone and the deadline set for it, there was nonetheless a sudden breakdown, in the form of a chain of events that began with a popular procession and led to the collapse of the South Lebanon Army and Hezbollah's exploitation of the circumstances.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad - and if not them, then the (as yet ) anonymous youths who will raise the banner of revolt and lead the next challenge facing Israel - will be even more tempted to do this in another six months or so. It's the spirit of the time, the spirit of the region, and in a campaign of both firepower and maneuver, it will be the belligerent move that assists the diplomatic storming of the United Nations, without a single shot being fired by the Palestinians.

Enough with popular rallies, to mass processions and the incitement of thousands or tens of thousands of people facing the world's cameras. Encouraged by the example of the Arab states over the last few months, the Palestinians won't worry about reducing international sympathy for them - a sympathy that, on the wings of the Goldstone report and the Mavi Marmara raid, will increase and keep the IDF from effectively using its weapons. Thus will the old Arab dream come true, that of using foreign intervention to help curtail Israel's military advantage.

The IDF did beat Palestinian terror, but five or six years have since passed and the children who have grown up did not experience Operation Defensive Shield and its consequences. The impression made by force has diminished. It took about the same amount of time for Egypt to go from being defeated in the Six-Day War to initiating the Yom Kippur War.

When the Palestinians make their effort to compel Israel to recognize a state whose borders have been agreed upon by the rest of the world, and even by a majority of Israelis, to what end will Israel's government send the IDF to fight them? What will be the reasons given for the army to keep the Palestinians in check, at the high price exacted by Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and their colleagues, including those who themselves are calling for a Palestinian state, even if not through these methods? What explanations will be given for orders to fire and missions encapsulated by the concept that it is good to die for our land (but not for our country )? Will it be justified by fear of the settlers and the right wing of the Likud party?

That which Avman experienced in Lebanon and Sarig experienced in the West Bank has also been experienced by their commander, Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who yesterday paid a surprise visit to the Kfir training base. Gantz is sandwiched between a government that is losing its way and an army that is at risk of facing a severe crisis of confidence. He must issue a staunch warning now against an unnecessary war that is bound to fail and that must be headed off by a peace initiative.







Seemingly unconnected, important events are taking place simultaneously across the Middle East and North Africa, in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan, Iraq and Algeria. One may wonder about what common denominator runs through these events, and why they are not occurring in other Arab countries.

The first explanation is geographic. It is not a coincidence that the lion's share of uprisings are taking place in North Africa. A revolution that knocks at its neighbor's door is more dangerous than one that is far away.

It is surprising that Morocco has so far remained calm, but the reason behind that may be that the country is ruled by a monarchy which enjoys relative legitimacy because of its link to the family of the prophet Mohammed. In addition, Rabat has taken certain liberalizing steps in recent years.

The second explanation is connected to the make-up of the population. North Africa (including Egypt ) consists of a rather homogenous Sunni, Arab population, but there are tensions due to national and religious differences in Bahrain, Jordan, Iraq and Oman.

In the Gulf States, a Shiite population lives under minority Sunni rule (Bahrain ) or under that of the anomalous Ibadi sect (Oman ). In Jordan, a majority of the population is Palestinian. Iraq contains a frustrated Sunni minority (in addition to Kurds in the north ).

In this context the question naturally arises about why stability has been preserved in Syria, controlled by an Alawi minority, which some do not even recognize as belonging to Islam. The answer lies in a third explanation: the response of the regime.

In the past, the Syrian regime has responded sharply to protest and opposition: the most striking example is the massacre of 30,000 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama in 1982. Syrians are afraid to challenge their government.

As well, the tough response of regimes in Algeria, Bahrain and Oman - not to mention Iran - enables them, for now at least, to survive the storm.

Libya is the only example in which a government's tough reaction has not managed to suppress revolt. This could be because the weak and divided army allowed the area around Benghazi to split away from Tripoli.

Other regimes, primarily those in the rich oil countries, have not yet had to use force, because their wealth enables them to buy the silence of the masses.

Those Arab countries which have not yet undergone revolutions are waiting to see how the uprisings in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia play out. Stabilization in any one of them, and a transition to democratic rule, will influence neighboring states first, and radiate out from there.

Developments in Egypt are of particular importance. Because of its centrality in the Arab world, Cairo - and not Tunis or Tripoli - is the litmus test of success for the Arab revolutions.

And so Egypt is, therefore, once again the center of the Arab world, as it was in the years of Gamal Abdel Nasser. The continued momentum there, the resignation of Ahmed Shafik's government and the appointment of a new one that is not identified with the old regime, testify to the fact that the revolution is continuing to move forward.

Citizens of the Arab world are following the events in Egypt with wonder, in the hope that the changes there will also bring changes to their countries, perhaps from the bottom up, and perhaps in the wake of significant reforms that come from the top down.


The writer is a professor in the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.







For several months we have been witness to various and sundry Knesset bills that have turned Israeli legislation into a circus. First some religious conversion bill or another, then a bill regulating admission to "Jews-only" communities; next, a bill against foreign boycotts of the settlements, and a loyalty law whose purpose is to deny citizenship. And all this, with an air of arrogance.

Which brings to mind the saying that the Arabs are gifted with a vivid imagination, intended not as a compliment to their literary skills but rather just the opposite.

The truth is that there is no greater slander than the one ascribing to Arabs a well-developed imagination. Compared to the "Jewish-democratic" imagination that has been developing for some years, the Arabs, especially their representatives in the Knesset, are notable for their lack of imagination. Again and again, they fall prisoner to the same, old, all-purpose slogans, incapable of extricating themselves.

The passage of the amendment to the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, as well as assorted conversion and housing bills, constitute a golden opportunity for a reevaluation of the Arab imagination.

When the yearning hearts of cabinet ministers and Knesset members turn democracy into a circus, these moments of grace should be turned to use. And since we are talking about circuses, I would like to enter the ring and try to be a thrilling, surprising acrobat, in the spirit of when in Rome .... You say we have a vivid Oriental imagination? Terrific. I'll give you that vivid imagination to the nth degree. Below are a few legislative initiatives to lay on the desk of the parliamentary circus of the "Jewish-democratic" state:

The first bill to be submitted to the Knesset shall state: "Any elected official who has been tried and convicted of breach of trust, abuse of office, giving or receiving bribes or of any offense involving moral turpitude shall be stripped of citizenship" Is this not a law we can all support? I'd like to see all those corrupting and corrupted individuals squirm - all those abusers of their office and sieg heilers. I'd like to see, for example, how cabinet members with the name, say, Yishai, would react. And how MKs with the name swindler and Asmodeus would respond.

The second bill shall be framed as follows: "The granting of Israeli citizenship to any individual, without discrimination on the basis of creed, race or sex, shall be conditional on fluency in the Arabic language." That, too, is surely a worthy proposal, is it not? I'd like to see the close-ups of the "Jewish-democratic" stammerers, old and new. I'd like to see how all kinds of spokesmen would react, whether some Lieberman or another Doberman.

Here's another revolutionary draft law: "Receiving citizenship on the basis of the Law of Return shall apply solely to Jews whose Jewishness is recognized in accordance with Jewish religious law" - in other words, someone whose mother was Jewish or who converted to Judaism in accordance with halakha, and who has no other religion. Converts will receive citizenship only if they have accepted the "burden of mitzvot" and maintain a religiously observant lifestyle. All this, so that no one would be tempted to think that Judaism is child's play, not to mention a matter for begging and baksheesh. As Ahad Ha'am said, "More than Israel kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath kept Israel."

And if Israel's "Jewish" Knesset rejects these proposals and continues with its conversion games in order to grant citizenship to "goyim," then so much the better. That would be an opportunity to offer the Palestinian refugees, for instance those in Lebanon, the option of undergoing a more lax conversion and to apply to "make aliyah" to the land of their forefathers. They would be welcomed back with a generous absorption benefits package and the state would see to it that they be sent on an official campaign of "Judaizing the Galilee." In so doing, they would finally realize the right of return to their historic homeland. They will settle and renew the destroyed Palestinian villages, both as Palestinians and as "Jews of Middle Eastern descent."

"For with wise counsel shall you make more" (Proverbs 24:6 ). So here are a few proposals from the vivid Arab imagination. And redemption shall come to Palestine, and to Israel.







Whether or not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu uses "a supertanker against the bureaucracy," as he calls it, to alleviate the housing shortage, a no-fly zone for supertankers already exists. It exists whether his idea crashes in the Knesset debates on housing reforms, or flies high above the railway line that's supposed to be extended to Irbid in Jordan - in the East, where there are no procedures or bureaucracy.

Here is its description, from an article in these pages earlier this ("Gilad Farm has been sacrificed," Karni Eldad, March 6 ): "At age 15, they expelled Elisaf Orbach from his home in Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip. He was paid a small amount of compensation and went to Samaria, to build a small, 90-square-meter house to meet his needs until he gets married and has children." Despite the sad continuation - "With his hands bound, on the way to the police van, Orbach heard a tractor destroying his house, five years after his house in the Gaza Strip had been leveled" - I clicked "Like."

The concepts and the division of labor did that to me: expulsion and settling. A small house and a comfortable future, and even a twist in the plot: The forces of evil (police, army, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak ) gang up on Elisaf and his friends and destroy all that good. And the Palestinians? In this story there are no Palestinians. Go see another movie.

Stealing land and illegal construction, evacuating a few buildings and rebuilding them, the state's report to the High Court of Justice that by the end of the year it would evacuate all outposts built on private Palestinian land - all this is not new. These events repeat themselves like the periodic table. And yet, who would have believed that Netanyahu would get stuck in his second term in the construction business, of all things: freezing construction in the territories, the real-estate bubble, the housing shortage and the sky-rocketing prices. And who would have believed that the housing shortage, of all things, would threaten his coalition?

A few days ago he was still acknowledging that the U.S. veto at the United Nations showed that Israel's status was in trouble. So to reduce political pressure, he sent up a trial balloon by talking to the media about a second Bar-Ilan speech on the peace process. The trial had not yet begun, Shas was already threatening to join in a no-confidence motion, and along came another trial balloon: the National Housing Commissions. Give that man a supertanker and he'll leap the bureaucratic hurdles.

If the Hebrew children's book "The Story of Five Balloons" had been written about Benjamin, the number of his balloons and their colors would have doubled, if not tripled, over the years. And that's how many would have burst. Netanyahu, to his credit or discredit, is still able to create news from a non-item and extricate himself from crises. But another day is waiting. The sun will rise from the region where supertankers do not fly - the territories. The occupation.

On the day this week when the BBC released a survey ranking Israel at the bottom of a list of countries by popularity, Britain announced that it had upgraded the Palestinian delegation's status in London. With this came, apparently coincidently, interviews with our ambassador to Britain, Ron Prosor, who is on his way to the United Nations. "After the fall of apartheid and the the Communist bloc in Europe," he told radio and television journalist Yaron Dekel, "Israel is meeting the need of the British, the Spanish and the Scandinavians to be against."

Here's the problem: The world is not interested in Israel's housing and bureaucratic problems, or in the achievements of its students in mathematics. The world is looking at how the only democracy in the Middle East conducts itself in the occupied territories. It's looking at events in Bil'in and Sheikh Jarrah, at the olive trees that are uprooted, and at the checkpoints. It's looking at the settlers who are shooting and setting fires, and at their leaders, MK Michael Ben-Ari, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Baruch Marzel, bullying their way through Jaffa and Umm al-Fahm.

The world is looking at Israel as it looked at South Africa during apartheid. And the world that doesn't know what Bar-Ilan 2 is will eventually find out. That's not unpleasant, it's terrible.


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



The Obama administration is throwing out so many conflicting messages on Libya that they are blunting any potential pressure on the Libyan regime and weakening American credibility. It's dangerous to make threats if you're not prepared to follow through. All of the public hand-wringing has made it even worse.

President Obama was talking tough again on Monday, warning that the West is considering all options, including military intervention. Just a day before, his chief of staff, William Daley, complained that "lots of people throw around phrases like no-fly zone; they talk about it as though it's just a video game." A few days earlier, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said a no-fly zone could require a huge, prolonged operation, an argument challenged by some military planners.

We are not eager to see the United States involved in another conflict in the Muslim world. Sending in American troops would be a disaster. But some way must be found to support Libya's uprising and stop Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi from slaughtering his people. On Tuesday, his forces appeared to be gaining momentum as they again turned warplanes against the opposition.

Even with overwhelming air superiority, preventing Libyan warplanes from flying would entail some risk for American and NATO pilots. And what happens if Colonel Qaddafi holds on? Will the United States and its allies continue to patrol the skies?

When the United States, Britain and France imposed an air cap over Iraq after the 1991 gulf war, they grounded airplanes and helicopters and stopped the massacres of Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south. It went on for 12 years.

The United States must not act on its own. As Mr. Obama and his team weigh the military options, they also need to be working diplomatic channels hard to see if they can rally a strong international endorsement.

Britain and France are drafting a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a no-flight zone. Whether it can pass is unclear. Russia said it opposes military action; China has been cool to the proposal.

NATO is consulting all week on Libya, with defense ministers planning to meet in Brussels on Thursday. Turkey and some other allies are balking at a no-flight zone.

A credible endorsement from the Arab world seems absolutely essential. For too long Arab leaders have privately urged the United States to act — against Saddam Hussein, against Iran — while denouncing American action in public.

On Monday, the Gulf Cooperation Council demanded that the Security Council impose a no-flight zone. Arab League foreign ministers should follow suit when they meet in an emergency session on Saturday. Egypt and some other member states have the military resources to participate.

There is more that the United States and its allies can do right now. NATO has expanded its air surveillance over Libya from 10 hours to 24 hours a day to gather information on Libyan troop movements. It should find a way to share relevant information with the rebels. Without firing a shot, it can sow confusion among Libyan forces by jamming their communications. All of the big states need to agree on ways to enforce the United Nations-imposed arms embargo.

The United States and its partners have taken important steps to pressure Colonel Qaddafi and his cronies to cede power, including an assets freeze and a travel ban. We doubt that Colonel Qaddafi will ever get the message. But with enough pressure, his cronies and his military might abandon him — to save their own skins.

The courageous protesters who overthrew Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia have inspired the world and left autocrats fearful — just look at China. It would be a disaster if Colonel Qaddafi managed to cling to power by butchering his own people.





The prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has long been the embodiment of Bush-era arrogance and lawlessness, and Barack Obama raised the hopes of millions around the world in 2008 when he campaigned on the promise of closing it. On Monday, that promise crumbled, the victim of Congressional spinelessness and President Obama's inability to create political support for a way out of the moral quagmire created by his predecessor.

The president announced that military commission trials for detainees would resume at Guantánamo after a two-year suspension. That became inevitable in December after members of Congress from both parties, in an act of notable political cowardice, banned moving those trials to the United States. The ban, inserted in a needed defense bill, also makes it virtually impossible to release prisoners to other countries willing to take them.

The White House says the president remains committed to closing Guantánamo, but, given the political cast of Congress, it seems likely that the prison camp will remain a scar on the nation's conscience for years.

Beyond the important symbolism of closing the camp, the more substantive issue was the system of indefinite detention that took place there. The president's decision to formalize that system, made official in Monday's executive order, was largely his own. It applies to 47 prisoners who cannot be tried because the evidence against them was classified or improperly obtained (usually through torture) but who cannot be freed because they are considered a serious terrorist threat.

The executive order requires regular review of those prisoners by an independent panel and access to legal counsel never granted by the Bush administration.

These are improvements, as is the more obvious requirement that procedures comply with international laws that ban torture and other forms of inhumane treatment. But the Obama administration has still chosen to accept the concept of indefinite detention without trial, which represents a stain on American justice.

The president made that acceptance clear in a speech in May 2009. To some degree, he was forced into it by the Bush administration's legacy of torture and abuse, which made some important cases impossible to prosecute. But the White House could have pushed harder to try some of these cases in the United States.

Last year, the administration essentially backed off its original fervor to try the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, in New York City after encountering nearly unanimous opposition from the area's Congressional delegation and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. (Most of those officials were Democrats, proving that groundless timidity is bipartisan.)

The torture has stopped, and it is good to know that this regrettable policy will not be applied to any future prisoners beyond the group of 47. Perhaps in the future, Congress will wake up and restore the rule of law to Guantánamo Bay, including the transfer of some prisoners to other countries. But, for now, the wound to the nation's reputation remains unhealed.






Germany's new interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, has gotten off to a disturbing, loathsome start. Just three days after Chancellor Angela Merkel named him to the position, Mr. Friedrich told reporters that Islam, the religion of four million Germans, did not really belong in Germany because it was not rooted in the country's long Christian history and way of life.

That kind of thinking — casting four million Germans out of some mythic community of true Germans because of their religion — is not just shockingly offensive. It makes it hard to see how Mr. Friedrich can ever succeed at his job.

He is the top federal official charged with enforcing the law and defending the constitutional order. That must include assuring that all German residents, including the country's substantial Muslim community, are guaranteed equal protection and encouraged to cooperate with his ministry in combating extremism.

Immigration is a difficult issue for Chancellor Merkel's center-right coalition that includes both centrists like President Christian Wulff, who rightly urges greater acceptance and integration, and rightists like Mr. Friedrich, who seems bent on sowing prejudice and mistrust. Chancellor Merkel has tacked this way and that, claiming last October that Germany's approach to multiculturalism had failed but avoiding the kind of divisive and provocative language used by Mr. Friedrich.

Until now, she had been careful to keep the sensitive Interior Ministry in the hands of enlightened centrists. Mr. Friedrich, who is neither, was named to maintain party balance within the coalition cabinet after the forced departure of the defense minister in a plagiarism scandal. Mrs. Merkel has now traded a personally embarrassed minister for a nationally embarrassing one.






 HOUSE VOTED: $324 million

 House Republicans voted to cut $83 million from President Obama's request for the Legal Services Corporation, the federally financed nonprofit program that provides civil legal help to low-income Americans.

The corporation supports 136 programs that operate 918 legal services offices around the nation. Their clients include victims of domestic violence seeking shelter and protection orders, families fending off evictions and foreclosures, veterans and the disabled trying to obtain benefits and elderly Americans who have fallen prey to consumer fraud.

The Legal Services Corporation says the House cut would force layoffs of at least 370 staff lawyers — almost 10 percent of the program's total. These offices, which already have to turn away many hard-pressed Americans needing legal help, would be forced to turn away many more. Some offices serving rural areas would have to close down.

Deficit-ridden states have cut their support for these civil legal services programs. Another source of financing — interest earned on lawyers' escrow accounts — has evaporated because of historically low interest rates. That makes federal dollars even more crucial. Given the economic crisis, and the long line of desperate clients, this is the worst time to be cutting federal support for civil legal services.







By the time you get to the end of this column, your brain will have physically changed.

You will either be on the Curve of Forgetting or the Path to the Memory Palace.

Joshua Foer's book "Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything" — just published and already No. 3 on the best-seller list — is both fun and reassuring. All it takes to have a better memory, he contends, are a few tricks and a good erotic imagination.

The 28-year-old author, who got a $1.2 million advance and a movie option, honed his mnemonic skills in the basement of his parents' house. He is the youngest of the famous trio of literary Foer brothers, so accomplished so soon that they give the hypercompetitive Emanuel brothers a run for their money.

Esther Foer, the president of a public relations firm whose parents were Holocaust survivors and who was in a displaced-persons camp in Germany early in her childhood, and Albert Foer, a think-tank president, encouraged their sons over family dinners at their home here in Washington. The New Republic's Franklin Foer told The New York Observer that the nightly conversation featured "its share of current events and historical discussion, and, you know, analysis of French symbolism ... but also its share of fart jokes."

Even in his early 20s, Joshua Foer was forgetting to remember a lot, given "the superficiality of our reading" and our "Sisyphean task to try to stay on top of the ever-growing mountain of words loosed upon the world each day."

Things slipped his mind — from when to use "its" and "it's" to his girlfriend's birthday to his plethora of passwords.

"I'm not sure if I know more than four phone numbers by heart," he says, citing a Trinity College Dublin survey showing that a third of Brits under 30 can't remember their own home land-line number. "Our gadgets have eliminated the need to remember such things anymore."

He notes that "with our blogs and tweets, digital cameras, and unlimited-gigabyte e-mail archives, participation in the online culture now means creating a trail of always present, ever searchable, unforgetting external memories that only grows as one ages."

Mark Twain once wrote the first letter of topics that he wanted to cover in a lecture on his fingernails. Soon we may be able to get Google on our fingernails to retrieve forgotten facts at a dinner party.

But what about internal memories? The experts claim that people of all ages can improve with technique, persistence, concentration and creativity. Foer set out to learn how to goose up the 3-pound mass of 100 billion neurons on his spine and ended up winning the 2006 United States Memory Championship in New York.

The basis of memory techniques is that the brain remembers visual imagery better than numbers, and erotic, exotic and exciting imagery best. So Foer asserts that you have to "take the kinds of memories our brains aren't good at holding on to and transform them into the kinds of memories our brains were built for."

Brains formed in the hunter-gatherer era are now trying to excel in the tweeting-blogging era.

"When forming images, it helps to have a dirty mind," Foer writes. "Evolution has programmed our brains to find two things particularly interesting, and therefore memorable: jokes and sex — and especially, it seems, jokes about sex."

He notes that Peter of Ravenna, author of the most famous memory textbook of the 15th century, said "if you wish to remember quickly, dispose the images of the most beautiful virgins into memory places."

Memory grand master Ed Cooke, a young Brit who claims to have an average recall, teaches Foer some strategies. If you have a list to remember, you put the items in a path throughout a familiar place, like your childhood home. Imagine a person performing an action on an object. And try to throw in something lewd or bizarre. If you need to remember to get cottage cheese, Ed tells Josh, picture a tub of cottage cheese at the front door and visualize Claudia Schiffer swimming in it.

Ed coaches him in a system of memorizing a deck of cards in under two minutes that uses both familiar old memories and thrilling new pictures. Foer said his images devolved into "a handful of titillating acts that are still illegal in a few Southern states, and a handful of others that probably ought to be."

The technique, he writes, "invariably meant inserting family members into scenes so raunchy I feared I was upgrading my memory at the expense of tormenting my subconscious. The indecent acts my own grandmother had to commit in the service of my remembering the eight of hearts are truly unspeakable (if not, as I might have previously guessed, unimaginable).

"I explained my predicament to Ed. He knew it well. 'I eventually had to excise my mother from my deck,' he said. 'I recommend you do the same.' "

Thomas L. Friedman is off today.







MANY American Muslims are fearful and angry about the Congressional hearings on Islamic radicalism that will start Thursday, with some arguing that they are a mere provocation meant to incite bigotry. But as a scholar, I view the hearings, to be led by Representative Peter T. King, the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, as an opportunity to educate Americans about our community's diversity and faith.

The topic is urgent, and the hearings overdue. It is undeniable that the phenomenon of homegrown terrorists appears to be increasing in frequency. A successful attack would set back relations between Muslims and non-Muslims for many years. The backlash would effectively sweep away the slow but steady progress in interfaith dialogue that has been achieved since 9/11.

Muslim leaders must acknowledge that many Americans are fearful of religiously motivated terrorism. Simply to protest the hearings and call for them to be canceled, as some have done, strikes many non-Muslims as uncooperative, or as intended to conceal dark secrets or un-American behavior.

Instead, Muslims should embrace the chance to explain their beliefs fully and clearly. We have nothing to hide. But members of Congress also need to act responsibly. They should avoid broad accusations, and be aware that the hearings will be closely followed worldwide. The actions of both groups will shape America's relationship with Islam, and the relationship of American Muslims with their country.

To better understand the Muslim community and its attitudes toward American identity, I spent much of 2008 and 2009 traveling the United States. My research assistants and I visited 75 communities, from Dearborn, Mich., to Arab, Ala., and 100 mosques around the country. We conducted hundreds of interviews, and compiled some 2,000 responses to a long questionnaire.

We discovered that well before the debate last year over a proposed Islamic center in Lower Manhattan, American Muslims felt under siege. We heard heartbreaking stories: schoolchildren assaulted as "terrorists," women wearing the hijab attacked, and mosques vandalized and firebombed.

Adding to their sense of being unfairly singled out were commentators in the news media talking as if it were open season on Muslims. Bill O'Reilly compared the Koran to Hitler's "Mein Kampf," and Tom Tancredo, a Republican who was then a congressman from Colorado, said the United States could respond to a future terrorist attack by bombing Mecca.

But I also saw much to encourage me during my travels. Muslims told me in the privacy of their homes that this country was "the best place in the world to be Muslim." A Nigerian in Houston said he placed Thomas Jefferson "at the top of my heart." The bearded leader of a major Muslim organization called Jefferson, a defender of religious freedom, a role model.

In Paterson, N.J., an elderly woman from Cairo who got an education in America after her Egyptian husband deserted her told us, "America saved my life." In the only mosque in the small city of Gadsden, Ala., we met a Muslim man who had lived in the area for decades and married a Christian woman. In a distinctively Southern accent, he summed up his identity as "Muslim by birth, Southern by the grace of God."

The Muslim community in America is not a monolith. Very broadly, it comprises three groups: African-Americans (many of them converts), immigrants (largely from the Middle East and South Asia) and white converts. And Muslims from every part of the world study and work in the United States.

Yet the diversity of the Muslim community is frequently obscured by ignorance and mistrust. We were often asked by non-Muslims whether Muslims could be "good" Americans. The frequency with which this question was asked indicated the doubts that many harbored. Too many Americans acknowledged that they knew virtually nothing about Islam and said they had never met a Muslim.

Representative King, the New York Republican who has called the hearings, has raised the issue of Muslim cooperation with law enforcement agencies. On our journey, especially in mosques, we confronted an underlying unease and suspicion toward these agencies. Frequently, even while we were being welcomed and honored, people would ask us with a nervous laugh whether we were working for the F.B.I. The community complained that crude attempts by the agencies to "study" them were both insulting and ineffective. They believed that thinly disguised informants who claimed to be converting to Islam were acting as provocateurs.

In a Texas mosque dominated by the Salafi school of thought — widely equated with religious fundamentalism — the congregants condemned terrorism. They complained that the agencies had used clumsy infiltrators instead of simply talking to congregants. "Homeland Security and F.B.I. put us under surveillance, asking people, 'Where are the terrorists?'" one interviewee, a Salafi who professed nonviolence, told us. "We know exactly where they are!"

At times, we did see evidence of the kind of extremist beliefs the hearing is intended to scrutinize. In one of the first mosques we visited in the Midwest, after I gave a talk advocating interfaith dialogue, I was accosted by members of the congregation who vehemently disagreed and dismissed my fieldwork because I had "white kids" with me. Later we learned that these men had threatened and assaulted other congregants who did not agree with them.

In our review of cases involving radicalized American Muslims, we learned that many homegrown terrorists said their actions were grounded in American foreign policy, particularly when it resulted in the deaths of women and children, rather than in their interpretations of Koranic precepts. In public statements, they expressed anger about American military and intelligence intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and other Muslim countries. For example, Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani immigrant who confessed to the attempted car bombing in Times Square last May, was motivated by a desire to avenge drone strikes in his native province.

If a civil, respectful level of discussion and debate is not maintained in these hearings, and if a demonization of Muslims results, the news coverage in the Muslim world could feed into the high levels of anti-Americanism in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan. This would play against the interests of American diplomats and troops in Muslim nations who have advocated the winning of Muslim hearts and minds.

To better inform the public debate, Representative King should invite religious and social leaders who have credibility in their communities. Equally important, he should include scholars who could present empirical findings and analysis with neutrality and integrity. Unfortunately, some of the names who have been associated with the hearings so far have neither research nor credibility to support them.

At the same time, Muslims must realize that to be truly accepted as "good" Americans, they need to more explicitly embrace American identity, culture and history — from political debates like Representative King's hearing to the ideals of this country's founders.

America, in turn, must realize its best aspirations by better understanding Islam. No appreciation of the founders is complete without an acknowledgment of their truly pluralist vision.

Akbar Ahmed, professor of Islamic studies at American University, is the author of "Journey Into America: The Challenge of Islam."







AS turmoil in Libya pushes up the price of oil, American consumers are once again feeling the sting of $3.50-a-gallon gasoline. But the impact of costly crude on our lives and economy extends far beyond the pump. Virtually everything we consume — from hamburgers, running shoes and chemotherapy to Facebook, Lady Gaga MP3s and "60 Minutes" — is produced from or powered by fossil fuels and their byproducts, all of which could grow more costly as the price of petroleum rises.

The problem is that there is no easy way to quantify how much total energy we consume. Fortunately, there's a great model already in widespread use: the nutritional information that appears on the back of every food product. Why not create the same sort of system for energy?

Americans use more oil than people in any other developed country, about twice as much per capita, on average, as Britons. Indeed, our appetite for petroleum, like our fondness of fast foods, has spawned a kind of obesity epidemic, but one without conspicuous symptoms like high blood pressure and diabetes. And because we don't see how much energy goes into the products and services we purchase, we're shielded from knowing the full extent of our personal energy demands — and unprepared when rising fuel prices increase the cost of everything else.

This illusion stems, in part, from a measurement problem: while we expect and understand labels on our food products that quantify caloric, fat and nutrient content, we have no clear way of measuring the amount of energy it takes to make our products and propel our daily activities.

There's no reason we can't have energy labels, too. For example, in Europe, Tesco, a supermarket chain, has begun a "carbon labeling" program for some 500 products, which displays the amount of energy consumed and greenhouse gases generated from their production, transportation and use.

We could do the same thing here, with labels providing a product or service's "daily energy calories." Along with physical labels, imagine a smartphone app — we'll call it "Decal" for short — that would scan a product's bar code and report how much energy it took to produce that item.

Like the nutritional data on the backs of food products, Decal would give consumers a user-friendly, universal measure that they could use to compare products or count their daily energy intake. For example, the app would enable an energy dieter to scan two otherwise identical loaves of bread and see which one required less energy to produce.

Decal would have applications beyond the grocery-store shelf. By synchronizing with onboard computers in cars, buses and trains, it could tell you how much energy you use during daily errands and commutes. It would sync to a smart energy meter in your home to evaluate how much power you're using and which appliances are the biggest guzzlers.

And at the end of the day, the app would generate your total energy diet: a Decal "score" that would quantify how many total energy calories you've consumed.

Once Decal took hold, the Department of Energy could recommend daily energy allowances, in the same way the Department of Agriculture recommends daily intakes of different nutrients. Experts could offer "diet" plans for energy-efficient lifestyles, and the Internal Revenue Service could offer tax rebates to families that achieve certain energy-calorie reductions.

True, not all Americans would adjust their energy intake. But many would, and we could expect producers to take up the program rapidly in response. After all, researchers have found that after food manufacturers were required in 2007 to state on their labels the amount of trans fat and saturated fat in their products, 95 percent of supermarket foods were reformulated with healthier fats. The effect would go beyond foods, too: by creating demand out of public awareness, Decal could help propel investment in energy-efficient innovations and industries.

Millions of Americans say they want the country to become more energy-efficient, but they're wary of government-enforced rationing. Decal would avoid such overreach by giving consumers the information to change things themselves.

What America needs isn't more cheap oil to feed a gluttonous economy, but rather better ways to use less. Any other path is the equivalent of ignoring our high cholesterol numbers and attributing our corpulence to a broken bathroom scale.

Amanda Little is the author of "Power Trip: The Story of America's Love Affair With Energy."







Some of the people of the North African country of Libya are in revolt against their wild dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, and conditions there are in chaos. But certainly one way for things to be worse so far as the United States is concerned would be an unwise U.S. military intervention there.


We deplore Gadhafi's oppression of his people. We hope he will fall, and that a better, freer government will take his place.


But nothing good is in prospect there, even though there are reports that Gadhafi is seeking some "way out" for himself.


President Barack Obama has authorized $15 million in humanitarian aid to the Libyan people. But reports that the United States and our NATO allies might engage in some military response to Libya's troubles are alarming indeed.


There is natural sympathy for the victimized people of Libya. And Europeans are significantly involved because of Libya's supply of much oil to Europe.


But Obama has said NATO is considering "a wide range of potential options, including potential military options, in response to the violence that continues to take place inside Libya." And NATO surveillance flights reportedly are increasing over Libya.


Nevertheless, military action that involves U.S. forces intervening in Libya is one option our president should reject.


We cannot solve Libya's serious problems, but we could invite many serious problems for the United States if Obama should make the mistake of involving the United States in military action there.







We all know about the law of supply and demand. When anything people want is much in demand, prices tend to rise, at least until there is a greater supply.


Well, as American motorists are demanding more gasoline supply, with spring and summer driving at hand, gas prices are rising.


But one other big price factor is trouble in the North African country of Libya, which is essentially in a state of civil war.


Libyan oil is refined to supply Europe a good bit of its gasoline. But as Libya's oil flow is disrupted by strife, that reduces supply and raises prices in Europe. That indirectly affects prices — and thus consumers — in the United States and throughout the world.


The cost of gas in the United States has risen by nearly a dollar a gallon from one year ago. The wholesale price of gas has jumped 38 cents just since Libya's violence began in mid-February.


We produce much oil and gasoline in the United States, but we put much of our oil off limits, too. So, we remain heavily dependent on foreign oil, and disruptions "there" raise prices "here."


Now we are being painfully reminded again, as we fill up our tanks and watch the price meters rise.







It is natural that there are wide-ranging opinions on the legislative effort to eliminate collective bargaining for teachers in Tennessee.


For our part, we do not believe government employees should engage in collective bargaining because those employees serve the entire public. There should never be any concern that public workers will go on strike or slow down vital government services to gain higher pay or greater benefits.


Still, we respect the First Amendment right of everyone on all sides of the debate to speak up in defense of whatever position.


But it is appalling that the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus chairman, Rep. Mike Turner, likened those who seek to end collective bargaining by teachers to terrorists!


Speaking to demonstrators at the Legislative Plaza across from the Capitol in Nashville, Turner urged Gov. Bill Haslam to oppose the effort to end collective bargaining by teachers.


"He has the power to stop this madness now," Turner said. "Gov. Haslam, if you're listening, please stop this terrorism against our teachers."


That's an outrageous statement!


The American people have seen the real face of terrorism. We remember well the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 of our citizens.


But terrorism has nothing to do with peaceful action by duly elected lawmakers representing the will of the people.


What is even more alarming than Turner's remarks is that they were greeted by "loud shouts of approval at the teachers' rally," The Associated Press reported.


They should, rather, have been condemned by everyone on both sides of this contentious issue. Trying to scare elected officials away from supporting a necessary piece of legislation by suggesting its supporters are terrorists has no place in legitimate debate.







It was Georgia vs. Kansas in Washington, D.C., a few days ago, and Georgia unfortunately came away with a broken ankle.


Well, sort of.


Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, who represents the congressional district of Georgia that is just across the state line from Chattanooga and Hamilton County, was in an apparently intense game of basketball at a Washington gym.


News accounts say he jumped while trying to reach the hoop ahead of fellow Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan. But Graves came down the wrong way, landed hard and broke his ankle. (For his part, Huelskamp says he managed to steal the ball from Graves and prevented him from scoring.)


Whoever was on the winning end of the painful episode, Graves plans to recuperate a few days at his home in Ranger, Ga. But he says he won't miss any votes in Congress.


We hope he does enjoy a speedy recovery. We would not want to be without his soundly conservative service for long.






Many Americans — and others around the world — recall a heartbreaking story from 2005 when Natalee Holloway, a pretty high school senior from a community outside Birmingham, Ala., disappeared while she was on a high school graduation trip to the Caribbean island of Aruba.


There were many theories about what took place after she encountered a local young man named Joran van der Sloot.


The FBI, scores of Dutch soldiers on the island (which is part of the Netherlands), numerous aircraft, many volunteer searchers and even divers scanning the ocean floor found no trace of Natalee.


There were several suspects in her disappearance, including Van der Sloot, but the case remains unsolved.


Now — six years later — Van der Sloot is in the news again.


He is suspected of involvement in the 2010 death of a 21-year-old Peruvian woman, Stephany Flores, with whom he was involved. She reportedly died of violence after she learned of Natalee's case by looking at Van der Sloot's laptop. Van der Sloot plans to plead guilty but to claim temporary insanity.


Thus a tragic story of 2005 has been brought into the news in 2011 — by another tragic story.









Among the democratic nations of the world, Turkey is arguably unique with its body of laws covering the scope of topics related to ongoing court cases and prosecutions that journalists cannot write about. We are not entirely alone, of course.

We, for example, argue from time to time for an interpretation of Ottoman history that were we a Swiss newspaper, would not be covered by protections of freedom of expression and would doubtlessly lead to our being charged in court.

Many nations have strict sanctions on publishing information that could violate national security, including the liberal bodies of law used in the United Kingdom and the United States. Turkey has similar rules and we find them sound in principle, although we worry they can be subject to abuse as is a concern in other countries.

Certainly we adhere to the law in all instances. But it is fair to say that we find some provisions of law more reasonable than others. Our recourse is not to violate the law we find unreasonable, but rather to advocate its change. Hence this matter of "reasonableness," our own legal experts tell us, is a topic appropriate for our commentary.

This matter of reasonableness is most acute when it comes to reporting, commenting or otherwise speculating on ongoing cases with the intent to influence the judiciary, or "yargıyı müdahale" in Turkish legal jargon. This is a highly subjective element of our legal system, capricious even. We don't like it. But we do take pains to abide by it while hoping that the maturation and evolution of our legal system will ultimately bring us closer to the norms found in most European countries. In the interim, however, we do in fairness note that it has also been the practice of the judiciary itself to refrain from comment on ongoing cases outside the courtroom.

This de facto balance of restraint, however, appears in jeopardy. This occurred Sunday in the wake of uproar at the arrests last week of a set of journalists, including our own Nedim Şener of Milliyet, on charges of membership in a terrorist organization. As we have reported, the prosecutor himself, Zekeriya Öz, decided to weigh in. This is unusual, if not unique.

He issued a warning that some publications could, by the tone of reporting, be seen to be abetting a terrorist organization. "Publications of this direction are being carefully monitored by us and (their reporting) is being carefully evaluated." For readers of a legal bent, we offer the Turkish for their scrutiny: "Bu istikametteki yayınlar tarafımızca özenle izlenmekte, hassasiyetle değerlendirilmektedir."

We offer no commentary on the prosecutor's possible intent with these remarks. That, as discussed, would probably be illegal. We do note, however, that the remarks constitute a watershed moment in Turkish judicial history.

The views expressed in the Straight represent the consensus opinion of the Hürriyet Daily News and its editorial board members.






It is philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, it is said, to whom we owe the term "a leap of faith." By this, we mean subjective beliefs people add on top of facts to arrive at religious or philosophical conclusions. And, if you ask me, it is not a problem at all to have a leap of faith – unless you impose it on others. That's why it is necessary to keep public discussions centered on facts rather than everybody's personal "leaps."

I might be sounding too philosophical, but I actually want to talk about a very current topic: the recent arrest of two journalists as a part of Turkey's controversial Ergenekon probe. I have been a defender of that probe, for I saw many facts behind it. But I also think that the case has just taken a worrying leap into a much more speculative phase. It might, I fear, have just taken a leap of McCarthyism.

Unfolding suspicion

Here is why. The Ergenekon probe began some five years ago, when many grenades (i.e., facts) were found in an Istanbul home. As the police dug it up, the links led them to some retired officers who were ready to "save the country" from the incumbent Justice and Development Party, or AKP, by all means necessary, including false flag attacks on secular targets. As the probe continued, facts multiplied, as guns, bombs and rocket launchers were unearthed from secret locations.

The civilian allies of these coup-craving officers were also factual, for their covert meetings with the would-be junta were documented. The political scene was also very telling, for, as journalist İsmet Berkan explains in his new book, there was a clear "whatever-happens-happens-just-get-the-AKP-out-of-office-coalition." (It might be worthwhile to note that Berkan is not a "pro-AKP Islamist;" he is rather as secular as one can be, and is the former editor-in-chief of liberal daily Radikal.) 

Yet that whole effort failed. The AKP, surprisingly and exceptionally, survived. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave his full political support to the Ergenekon probe to find out all those who conspired to overthrow his government.

So far, so good – to me, at least. But as the Ergenekon probe unfolded, the prosecutors, who were apparently enthusiastic about their job, continued to find new suspects for the investigation, whose "connections" with the more established suspects looked questionable. (They could just be like-minded buddies, but not necessarily co-coup-plotters.) That's when I began to speak about the possible "excesses" of the case.

The more worrying chapter for me opened with "Ergenekon's media branch," as the prosecutors and their defenders in the media defined it. The website Oda TV, which was raided a month ago, was obviously a creepy ultra-nationalist propaganda outlet, but how could we be certain that its editors were a part of the "Ergenekon terror network?" And did they really need to be tried under arrest?

The more worrying case was the arrest of Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık last Sunday, who did not even share the ideology of Ergenekon. They rather wrote books against Ergenekon! So, what was the deal?

The transcript of the hours-long interrogation that these journalists went through in the prosecutor's office, and which was somehow "leaked" to the media, show the prosecutor's logic: Apparently, a document was found in the Oda TV computers titled, "National Media 2010." It outlined a "propaganda plan" for, among other things, showing the Ergenekon probe as a show trial made up by the AKP and Islamic communities, and thus "de-legitimizing the probe." And, reportedly, the same document mentioned the names of Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık as journalist whose works can be used for that purpose – although these two deny the connection.

Remarkable logic

In other words, here is how the prosecutor's logic works: Ergenekon is a terrorist organization. Oda TV, which makes propaganda on behalf of Ergenekon, is also a terrorist organization. And those journalists who seem to cooperate with Oda TV are also terror suspects.

Faced with media reaction, the prosecutor also released a statement saying that there is some other "serious evidence" to arrest Şener and Şık – but evidence that "can not be disclosed at this time." So, just sit down, shut up, and wait.

To me, all this sounds unacceptable. First, there is something called "the benefit of the doubt," yet Şener and Şık seem to have not benefited from that at all. Unless it is evidenced that they wrote their books with a general telling them, "this is your part in our coup, son," or something as clear as that, they can't be rightly accused of being a member of a junta.

Secondly, and most importantly, why in the world have they been put in jail? They could just be questioned by the prosecutor and then let go, as their case could – and probably will – go on for years.

Finally, let me add that I see none of this as a conspiracy by the AKP government or a particular Islamic community to "silence opposition," as is claimed these days. (The AKP really does not need to silence opposition to win elections.) I rather believe that the prosecutors, the police, and all other authorities involved are quite honest and sincere in their over-suspicious way of seeing Ergenekon everywhere. But, alas, so was Senator Joseph McCarthy, in the way he saw Communist subversion everywhere.






I was totally surprised when everyone else was surprised at the recent wave of detentions of journalists on charges of being members of a terror organization that aims to plot coups and overthrow the government. That should have been hardly surprising in a country that ranks 138th among 175 countries in the international Press Freedom Index (right next to Ethiopia, which ranks 139th).

In fact, it would have had "news value" if there wasn't a single Turkish journalist in jail: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's "2011" is clearly a not-so-modest challenge to George Orwell's "1984."

Recently, the U.S. ambassador to Ankara, Francis Ricciardone, said he could not quite understand the arrest of journalists in connection with an alleged terror organization. Turkish prosecutors may have helped him understand it better now, with the new arrests including an international award-winning journalist along with several others.

I expect that Ambassador Ricciardone now agrees with Interior Minister Beşir Atalay who said press freedoms in Turkey were more advanced than in the United States. But Turkey's American and European friends must be grateful for such polite explanations from Cabinet ministers. After the June 12 elections all they will be able to hear from Ankara will be a simple "Go to hell!" The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is already journeying between the two sides of the thin line dividing self-confidence and arrogance in its "Western relations."

The kind of questions the prosecutors asked the "terror suspects" have already entered the public domain. Ironically, during the interrogations, there was an abundance of words like "article, book, book-writing, media, newspapers, computers, pseudonyms, notes, CDs, digital data, telephone conversations and mobile phone messages" instead of "bombs, guns and assassinations."

Among the evidence of crime are manuscripts of books to be published on Islamists' infiltration into the police force and the judiciary. The infamous "nutty professor" who is another coup suspect and was arrested in the latest wave sums it up: "Under Hitler's rule, they burned published books. Now in Turkey they are burning books not yet published."

Never mind… It was fun all the same to see the appalled European faces along with appalled "liberal Turkish faces" after the latest wave of arrests. You cannot be serious about your shock, gentlemen. What else did you expect when any possible thesaurus failed to provide you with sufficient words of praise for the AKP's "determined march toward advanced democracy." You can enjoy Turkey's advanced democracy now. Our colleagues in prisons certainly don't.

"Useful idiots" was how mass-murderer Stalin dubbed left-wing academics who enthusiastically supported his communism. Now it seems "useful idiots" were not a Soviet particularity.

Sadly, to the willing or unwilling blind eye of the useful idiots, this is a "religious war." It's not a war between two different faiths. It is not even a war between two hostile sects of the same faith. It is a war between two different practices of the same sect of the same faith.

With a powerful hatred of the "other" and enjoying a popular support based on "head-count democracy," neo/post-modern/whatever Islamists are fighting to create a unified form of observance – theirs. They are offering the enemy two choices: Convert to our observance of Islam, or you'll be crushed!

Several years ago, former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, who passed away last month, put it very honestly when he said "Islam's victory" would sooner or later emerge, "with or without blood."

At his funeral, his son, Fatih Erbakan, put it in a different way. In a speech to the crowd, Mr. Erbakan said his father had taught "Muslims in Turkey and the world that Islam is not only making your prayers, fasting and going on the hajj, but it is also to make jihad in the path of Allah and to work for the happiness of all humanity and for an Islamic union."

Mr. Erdoğan's difference is to put the same idea in much better wording – a wording that wins thundering applause from useful idiots.






As some of my readers know, I am a long-time supporter of Turkey's membership to the European Union. Frequently, I argue with antagonistic colleagues in European Parliament that Turkey is an asset, not a burden, and I work to unite Europe's leadership on the importance of Turkey's membership.

A favored argument by antagonists of Turkey's bid has always been that Turkey does not share Europe's values on fundamental freedoms and civil rights. Supporters of Turkey's bid in Europe, joined by consecutive American administrations, rebuffed them pointing to the advances Turkey was able to make in these fields and leveraged the promise of even more reforms. Sadly today, the world stands united in their concern for the relapse in fundamental freedoms and civil rights as part of the Ergenekon case.

Friends of Turkey have been strong initial supporters of the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases. The cases were seen as a historic opportunity to achieve accountability and justice in dealing with the darker pages of Turkey's past. Today, there are few left who continue to applaud these cases. Unacceptably high periods of pre-trial detention, the prosecution's failure to reach a single conviction after four years of indictments and systematic violations of civil liberties, have united proponents and antagonists of Turkey's EU membership in voicing concern.

Collateral damage of the Ergenekon case can be felt domestically as well. People of different professions and political orientation fear their phones are tapped as a result of acknowledged rampant wiretapping. Journalists apply self-censorship as a result of the arrests of colleagues without transparency or credible evidence of the crimes they are accused of. Statements by prosecutor Zekeriya Öz and others will not in itself change this. Even Prime Minister Erdoğan's trusted advisor and previous spokesman, Akif Beki, wrote "this time my conscience is not clear…" The president and some prominent Cabinet members joined in voicing doubts about the direction of the investigations followed by prominent proponents of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in newspapers such as Taraf. A dramatic decline in confidence in Turkey's legal system is now apparent throughout Turkish society while Turkey's recently gained positive perception abroad is continuing to fade.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – at times – has been an explicit and fierce critic of Turkey's legal apparatus in the past. Similarly, we as European friends of Turkey's democracy have voiced concern in the past when prosecutors filed motions to close political parties such as the ruling government party. Thus far Prime Minister Erdoğan is refusing to comment claiming the judiciary's independence. Granted, Mr. Erdoğan's renewed commitment to the independence of the judiciary should be applauded. Checks and balances, as well as a separation of powers are fundamental principles in liberal democracies. In a democracy however, that independence does not exist in a vacuum, and governments always have a responsibility. Although independence of the judiciary is a crucial element of any democracy, transparency, good governance, due process and guarantees of civil liberties, fair trial and free expression are equally important. If institutions systematically fail to implement such principles, a government can no longer justify in-action.

The only way in which Turkish institutions can regain trust from their citizens and the international community in the short term is by ensuring transparent processes according to international standards of rule of law. Necessary reforms which guarantee free speech and press have become even more urgent. Regardless of the verdicts that judges will independently give in the trials of the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases, the climate of fear places a verdict on all of Turkish society.

The European Parliament's report on Turkey will be voted on this week. It will highlight broader concerns with Turkey's lack of media freedom including the censorship and blocking of websites and blogs as emphasized by President Gül.

The European Parliament's main concern and focus are the people in Turkey, their rights, freedoms and opportunities. The historic opportunity to serve justice and reconciliation do and to restore trust both domestically and with the international community will be lost if the government of Turkey does not act.

* Marietje Schaake is a Dutch Member of European Parliament with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.






Thank you all…

I'd have thought of everything but not getting this sick. I was miserable. Thank God, I'm recovering slowly but need a few more days. What happened is past, let's focus on the future. All my friends and colleagues who called me, I owe you gratitude. Thank you very much.

The hardest exam

I don't remember any other case that has been this controversial and confusing, creating questions in the minds of at least a certain part in society. 

I can't think of any other case in which the judiciary has put itself first without taking the public opinion into consideration and openly showing this too.

See where we came from.

We started out with gangs that organize a conspiracy provoking for military coups. We continued with groups apart from the military preparing seriously to overthrow the political administration whereas it was none of their business.

But today I don't know where we are headed to.

Who is arrested and why?

Journalists are arrested without knowing the reasoning behind it. Conspiracy theories are produced for the sake of Ergenekon, questions are asked in investigations pertaining to wiretapping that one can't comprehend.

Prosecutor Zekeriya Öz insists on saying, "These people are arrested due to other activities not due to their journalism activities. You are making a mistake by stating your view without knowing the evidence we have on hand."

My point is a different one.

I don't want to talk about press freedom or working methods of journalists.

The situation is such that the process which started over three years ago and continues until the present day the list of applications adverse to the public's conscience has grown so big that the greatest impact is on the judiciary.

As long as the system cannot come up with stunning evidence and concrete data, as long as these people are left with nothing but pain it will be impossible to once more get our judiciary system up and running.

Our judiciary has taken on a historical risk.

I'd like to remind you of one last thing.

This ruling and boorish approach existed in the past. Back then people would be tortured and illegal practice applied in the name of protecting the secular system.

We thought these days were long gone.

We are deeply disappointed.

The government gets the bill

No matter where in the world you go, you'll find the same results for similar situations comparable to the ones experienced in Turkey.

The reality may be very different, the judges may be right and working on serious evidence but if the public perceives the events differently you may do whatever you want you won't be able to change their perception.

The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP's communication skills are strong, which of course stirs more from the prime minister's power to send messages to the public than from the party's governance.

But if you were to pay attention you'd see that from the start he was experiencing trouble in explaining.

He says, "Don't pull us into this. The judiciary is in charge of all developments. We don't have anything to do with it."

He blames the media and opposition for provocation.

The prime minister gives up explaining and the justice minister picks up. Then he gives up and the interior minister picks up.

But none of them is ever able to convince a certain part of the public.

And it is impossible to do so.

The Turkish public invoices the administrations in respect to issues concerning official decision, including judicial decisions. You may ignore it as much as you like.

You can't make them believe.

It has always been like that and always will be. This won't change easily.

Especially with President Abdullah Gül, in order to ease the discomfort in public, sending the message to the judiciary "People have started to feel discomfort due to some practices" reflects the point at which we have arrived.

This is going beyond a simple political fight. The country's basic balance is being disturbed. Reflections of these events will continue many years.

Leave aside loses of the administration just before elections, in order not to deepen all these wounds the administration needs to step forward saying, "Hold on, where are we headed and what is happening? Let's do some accounting with respect to harm that might result for the Turkish Republic."

Perception in public is progressively worsening.

Maybe the AKP does not believe what is happening and maybe it acknowledges the judges to be right but this would be misleading. What is important is the perception in public. And that perception is progressively negative.






The arrest of prominent journalists in Turkey on March 3, among them a recipient of the International Press Institute's "World Press Freedom Hero" award, is the nail in the coffin for Turkey's experiment with Islamists-turned-democrats. Included in the arrests was Ahmet Şık, a journalist whose work enabled the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, to launch the Ergenekon investigation in 2007 and pursue purported coup plotters. Şık was arrested for his alleged membership in Ergenekon. 

Sound like a nightmare? Indeed. The AKP experience has become a bad dream for liberal Turks who once supported the party because of their belief in its reform platform. And yet, it is possible for independent media to end this nightmare.

When the AKP, rooted in the country's Islamist opposition, came to power in Turkey in 2002 and declared itself a liberal force, nearly everyone, including the majority of Turkish liberals, gave the party the benefit of the doubt. At that time, the party pushed for European Union accession and followed a reform agenda. The AKP also reached out to non-Islamist constituencies, suggesting it had a pluralist understanding of democracy and alleviating concerns about its Islamist pedigree.

Nearly a decade later, things could not be more different.

The AKP's tactical transition away from its liberal outlook began in 2005. As Turkey began accession talks with the EU, the AKP decided that the talks necessitated reforms that would erode its popular support and thus shied away from pursuing EU accession. Following its landslide election victory in 2007 when it received 47 percent of the vote, the party redefined its pluralist understanding of democracy in favor of a more majoritarian approach.

The AKP no longer required a tactical liberal platform. It began interpreting its popular mandate as a blank check to ignore democratic checks and balances, cracking down on dissent by intimidating liberal businesses through selective tax audits and harassing its opponents and critics via the Ergenekon case.

The AKP's attempts to subjugate the media have taken other forms as well. The national police, controlled by the government, wiretap journalists and politicians on the grounds that they are connected to Ergenekon, a group accused of plotting a coup against the government.

The government's stance toward media is critical for Turkey's future, especially as the country faces elections in June 2011. Though Turkish media continues to be free, its independence is severely restricted by a ruling party that seeks political subservience. Without independent and free media, upcoming elections may appear free, but they will not be fair. 

Then, there is also the Ergenekon case. When the case opened in 2007, AKP watchers saw it as an opportunity for Turkey to clean up corruption and investigate coup allegations.

The case, however, has become much more than that. In a study published by the School of Advanced International Studies, or SAIS, at Johns Hopkins University, Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based analyst, described Ergenekon as a case that charges people "with membership of an organization which, as defined in the indictment presented to the court, does not appear to exist or to ever have existed."

Instead of prosecuting criminals, the AKP is using this fluid case to persecute its opponents. Since 2007, AKP-controlled police have taken more than 400 people into custody, including university presidents, journalists and women's rights activists, without evidence of criminal activity, only to release them without charge after a few days of harsh questioning. Following their release, most become docile intellectuals. Meanwhile, police have held some AKP opponents for years without charge – a strong signal to Turkey's intellectuals of the cost of not supporting the AKP.

Wiretaps are another tool for harassing liberal and secular Turks. In Turkey, it is a crime to wiretap private conversations or publish conversations captured by the police. However, pro-AKP media outlets regularly publish wiretapped conversations of the AKP's opponents, compromising their private lives and even alleging that they are "terrorists" connected to Ergenekon. The AKP does not prosecute these crimes, which terrorize liberal intellectuals.

Ergenekon has devolved into a witch hunt, reminiscent of the McCarthy trials in the United States. Most Turks refuse to even discuss the case over the phone or via e-mail; for fear that even speaking of the case might result in accusations of their involvement.

The state of intimidation has turned into a nightmare. However, things could still end well. Whenever Turkey goes through a political spasm, analysts warn about democracy's collapse. Yet, Turkey has survived numerous crises in the past, thanks to the media's ability to balance power. With coup allegations, the arrest of the government's opponents, and an ongoing media crackdown, only independent media can expose these crimes. Never before has media independence been so crucial to the Turkish democracy.







Was it two years ago, or more, I really cannot recall now. An officious prosecutor had come up with a ludicrous charge. He claimed that a fictional character in Elif Şafak's "Baba ve Piç" (Bastard of Istanbul) novel was insulting Turkish state and should therefore be sentenced under the Penal Code's contentious Article 301 regulating sentences for insulting the Turkish state.

I wrote in the paper at the time and told Elif Şafak on the phone. "I hope they sentence your fictional character… that is you… and place you behind bars." I had hardly finished my sentences a shocked Elif responded "Yusuf Bey!" Then I explained, if they place you behind bars the suffering of this country and people because of that nasty article will make headlines in Turkey and abroad once again and the government and its parliamentary majority even if don't kill that article all together as most of us would like to see at least will have to improve its wording and narrow the scope of the article.

The scope of that contentious article was narrowed and the crime of "insulting Turkishness" was changed to insulting the Turkish state over the years but that killer article and the elements in this society who to this day demand preservation of such primitive tools of hatred and enmity to non-mainstream elements, or minorities of all sorts were in joint liability in many crimes headed by the murder of colleague and friend Hrant Dink who was made a target with a court case under Article 301.

I have no idea where Elif Şafak is in the latest episodes of the Ergenekon, Sledgehammer and such thrillers some "men of law" are concocting with the help of what appears to be an "excellence in forged documents center" and placing behind bars almost all opponents of the government or intellectuals who dare to criticize the prime minister, the government or the religious-political ideology in power.

There is a very serious situation in this country. The "empire of fear" term has become an underestimation of the situation in Turkey if the huge population of journalists, academics, businessmen and of course retired and active military people of all ranks are taken into consideration. No one can any longer claim that what is being probed in Turkey is limited to those criminal elements in the military and politics and their collaborators in various segments of the society who conjointly were in efforts to plot a coup and overthrow the constitutional elected government of the country. There is definitely a merciless fight for power and a revengeful campaign waged by political Islam against a coalition of secular elements.

That is exactly why I think – though I strongly deplore the arbitrary treatment my colleagues have been subjected to – the detention and subsequent arrest of scores of correspondents, writers, including eminent journalists Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık might serve a good purpose. Indeed, already many eminent writers and journalists writing in the allegiant media have started showing signs that they might try to break chains on their tongues, pens and keyboards.

These writers and journalists have somehow felt the need to put aside their allegiance to the government and dared to describe Şener and Şık being sent to Silivri concentration camp also as a "sign" that "perhaps things have gone out of hand…"

What "things"? A revenge campaign?

At least these people have started to realize that they perhaps must think again on the complaints of opponents of the government as even their neo-liberal collaborators committed to support whatever might be harmful to the "Kemalist establishment" in the country were shocked with what has happened to Şener and Şık, two journalists who quite frequently were writing against Ergenekon, though were critical of the government also.

Of course there are very important people in the conservative, Islamist or neo-liberal media who still don't think there is a politically motivated judicial vendetta against all elements critical of the government or its political Islam ideology. There are perhaps some blind and deaf European allies of Turkey who perhaps still consider this country having a government advancing democracy and democratic freedoms headed by the press freedom.

Şener and Şık joining other journalists at the Silivri concentration camp will definitely help to explain better the how awful state of freedom of speech and freedom of press has become in Turkey under the Justice and Development Party, or AKP's, advanced democracy.







Faisalabad, the country's third largest city, has faced its largest terrorist attack in many years. Up until now, the populous textile-manufacturing centre had not been hit – blasts in Punjab, for the most part, took place in Lahore or Rawalpindi that houses the military headquarters. The explosion in Faisalabad resembled those that have occurred in other places in terms of its careful planning and execution. A car packed with explosives blew up at a CNG station, killing at least 20 people and injuring around 100 others with the numbers of both dead and injured expected to rise. Gas-filled cylinders at the station exploded and the building was almost completely destroyed. It is believed government offices, a police station and an army recruitment centre in the area were the target of the militants.

This latest blast indicates a growth in the ring of terrorism. The menace has expanded beyond the tribal belt and into cities everywhere. It is possible that terrorists chased out of their strongholds in Khyber-Pakhtukhwa have set up bases elsewhere. It is also likely that they are working with activists based in Punjab. We need to develop a broad-based strategy to tackle terrorism and hunt down those behind it wherever they may be in the country. The Punjab chief minister has already suggested that a national conference be held to discuss this growing crisis. The Faisalabad blast should help eradicate any doubt as to the need to call one and devise a plan to stop terrorism from growing and taking a still greater toll on lives. According to more conservative estimates, some 4,000 people have died as a result of bomb blasts since 2007. It seems obvious we have in our midst ruthless murderers ready to add to this number. The fanning out of activities to still other cities adds to the security challenge involved in netting them. There is no evidence that the efforts made so far have had far-reaching results. The militants remain capable of obtaining huge quantities of explosives, bringing them into cities and using them to create havoc. We need to ask many questions about the failure to stop them. It is only when the answers are found that we will be able to work out what methods to use against them and to prevent the trail of destruction which winds its way through the country from stretching out any further than is already the case.







Media images of students wanting to take their Matriculation examination on Monday but unable to because they have not been issued with a roll number tell a shameful story. A private TV channel said that as many as 40,000 students in Rawalpindi alone had no roll number, and there were many thousands of others similarly let down in Multan and other towns and cities across Punjab. The Lahore High Court has issued a notice to the Education Board over the mismanagement of the Matriculation Exams and the EB is now trying to place the blame for the lack of roll-numbers on the students themselves; saying that many had filled in forms incorrectly online.

This latest cock-up in the education sector opens a very large can of worms, both today and for years into the future for those unfortunate enough to have been caught up in this appalling catalogue of error. There will now be students who have sat the exam without a roll-number who are going to have difficulty proving it was they who took the exam when it comes to claiming results. How can any result of a 'second shift' of students in the evening be judged as fair to all when the students who sat in the morning may have a chance to talk to those who are to sit in the evening? And given the ubiquity of SMS-enabled phones in the hands of today's youth, is it not reasonable to assume that questions and answers are going to be flicking back and forth across the ether? With an emerging culture of verification in all things academic this could be very bad news even for those who are entirely innocent of any malpractice. Some students may have made a mistake filling their forms online – but 40,000? No, the fault lies with the Education Board, not the students, and reeks of chronic incompetence – an incompetence that should be rewarded with an immediate sacking. It will never happen of course and once again our young people have been blighted by the very system that was supposed to serve them.







The curious sight of hundreds of patients being treated on roadsides outside major government hospitals in Lahore has added to growing concern over the chaos caused by the strike organised by the Young Doctors' Association. The organisation is calling for better pay for doctors who work at government hospitals. Talks with the provincial government have so far failed to resolve the issue, with the YDA stating it would treat patients outside hospitals to avoid causing them to suffer as a result of the protest action which began last week. However, Outpatient and Emergency departments remained manned till Sunday.

The strike now on is just one symptom of the wider malaise afflicting the healthcare sector. Conditions at most government hospitals are dismal, patients need to wait hours to be tended to and there is a shortage of beds at many facilities. The poor state of medical education adds to the crisis as does the declining state of ethics and compassion among practitioners. As a result, most people in the country are forced to rely on hakeems or quacks who have established 'clinics' in cities and towns everywhere. This entire ambit of problems needs to be looked at urgently. There is clearly a great deal that has gone wrong. Somehow it needs to be corrected. The strike we are seeing is a reminder of this. While it has undoubtedly added to the problems of patients, the fact also is that citizens dependent on public-sector care suffer many difficulties on a consistent basis; so too do doctors, nurses and other hospital employees. All these issues need to be taken up, the existing healthcare policy reviewed, and a plan developed to offer people the basic care they so desperately need.








Asif Ali Zardari was never cut out for the job. True, Benazir Bhutto wanted him to lead the party till the election of a successor but nothing she said obliged him to make a grab for public office. He landed the job himself. Having got it, to the utter consternation of many, he should have tried to make a good job of it instead of the mess that he has created.

Admittedly, governance is not an exact science but by the time a politician reaches high office, he should have a fairly good idea of the public's view concerning the difficulties they confront and the remedies, particularly when public conviction is deep-seated and widespread. Besides, being a politician and well past middle age by the time he got elected to high office, he should have had a good idea of the kind of system that would work in his country and plans to bring that about.

When Mr Zardari took office, the foremost concern of the public was the economy. The exchequer had been ravaged by financial indiscipline which had peaked during the irresponsible caretaker set-up headed by Muhammad Mian Soomro. Virtually everything – be it gas, electricity or petrol – was being subsidised by a government on the brink of bankruptcy.

Mr Zardari's first task should have been to inform the people exactly how he planned to get the economy out of the hole that he had been bequeathed to him and the sacrifices expected of them and of the rich like him. In short, he should have moved quickly to show how he intended to impose fiscal responsibility, strike down avarice, corruption, economic exploitation, uproot privilege and ensure justice and economic opportunity to the masses.

But the economy was ignored and politics took centre stage. We were treated to a hideously contrived display of bonhomie between Mr Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. Their love fests were televised ad nauseam. The amount of (in)sincerity on display was gross. Had they acted naturally and gone their different ways, as any fool knew that they would sooner or later, there would have been less confusion.

For months, no one knew who would be calling the shots on the economy. And just as we were told it was going to be Dar, the PML-N decided to abandon the coalition. Resultantly, a sense of uncertainty took hold and this has grown ever since. Confusion was compounded with the arrival and untimely departure of Shaukat Tareen and it continues under the present incumbent who was fished out of Washington and who looks and acts like a duck out of water.

Mr Zardari must also have known that his reputation was another huge drawback. True or not, the allegations of corruption against him have acquired deep roots in the public mind. To address them, he should have picked men of impeccable repute to man ministerial posts and head financial institutions. Instead, he did the opposite. Sidekicks and ex-felons were appointed to key posts.

To the public, such insensitivity was appalling; it was akin to the egotism, pride, conceit and braggadocio that a petty landlord reserves for his inferiors. Repeated scandals involving his appointees and their public humiliation by the courts have stripped this regime of whatever respect it might have had and any vestiges of sympathy for Mr Zardari personally.

Mr Zardari should have also taken a backseat in the handling of the economy considering that he is neither an economist nor did he have any experience of economic planning at the national level. We would have been spared his numerous u-turns on issues such as the price of petrol, which, if traced on a map would outnumber the contortions of the Karakorum highway as it winds its way to China.

It's difficult to say what exactly Mr Zardari's economic philosophy is. At a guess, he is probably a proponent of the 'trickle-down' effect that is now in vogue. This theory has been explained thus: 'if one feeds the horse enough oats some will pass through to the road for the sparrows' (J K Galbraith). Left unexplained is what the 'sparrows' will eat while the 'horse' is digesting the oats.

Economic liberalism and the notion that market forces should be allowed to prevail may work in the west, where schemes exist to support victims of market trends and the ruthless competition they engender, but in poorer countries, they do not. Nevertheless, here the state is considered the mai-baap. And no government that leaves its offspring at the mercy of the market can expect to retain the distraught public's loyalty or their vote.

An additional difficulty in Mr Zardari's case is his proverbial generosity when it comes to distributing the nation's wealth; he reportedly does so while never forgetting to omit his friends or himself.


The sad fact is that that Mr Zardari should have known that economic conditions being so bad would eventually boomerang on him and his party. He has nothing to show on that basic issue. Every crisis (energy, water, unemployment, lawlessness) has worsened under him. His mishandling and mismanagement have contributed to that.

But not all of Mr Zardari's woes are self-created. In Pakistan we either 'elect' dictators or are saddled with military dictators. The fact that we can frequently replace the 'elected dictators' every so often is not the point. Handing over a country for five years to any one person except Aristotle is foolish.

Power in Pakistan is far too centralised. There are simply too many decisions that only the prime minister or president can legally take. To make matters worse, incumbents develop a fetish for power. They act like control freaks. They want to have the final say on just about everything even on matters about which they are perforce ignorant like, say, which variety of wheat seeds would best germinate in the dust bowls of Baluchistan. If they ever delegate authority, it is only to recall it when it suits their fancy. In short, they act like 'know alls', a trait which Mr Zardari reportedly possesses in abundance.

The chief ministers too regard themselves as the fount of all wisdom in the provinces. They hog the ministries for themselves; treat the minister entrusted with the portfolio as a factotum and hire and fire civil servants at whim. Shahbaz Sharif is the epitome of this particular failing.

I once asked Benazir Bhutto why she needed to sign off on the visit of two lowly officials to Kabul to service the communications system of our Embassy. I pointed out that this was an annual affair which any section officer who is able to read a calendar could decide.

'I need to know,' was her response.

'But why?' I persisted.

'Because it is in the Rules of Business,' was her reply.'But, prime minister,' I remarked, 'why do you not change the Rules of Business by moving a summary at the next cabinet meeting? Your predecessors had no compunction about tearing up the Constitution when it suited them. Besides you would be saving countless hours by not having to be bothered with trivia'.

'I need to know,' she reiterated and that was that.

Of course, no explanation was ever forthcoming for her stance, nor why we should persevere with the current dysfunctional system that produces over-centralisation and makes for bad decision making. The trouble is that if Mr Zardari were to blame the system for his lack of success, no one would believe him and there would be an outcry 'of a poor workman blaming his tools' but for once he would be right.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:








Interior Minister Rehman Malik's refusal to resign after the latest instance of a serious breach of security in the federal capital on the basis that "nobody resigned when Lal Masjid operation was launched" casts a long shadow on the democratic credentials of the incumbent government. Has he forgotten that the Lal Masjid operation was launched during the tenure of a dictator, or is it that he believes that this government is only a continuation of the policies and practices of the former despot? At the very least, it establishes that the governing mindset is moulded in the traditions of dictatorship.

The statement is also a testament to a palpable lack of morality that has been the hallmark of the incumbent administration. More than anything else, this has been aptly reflected in the government's persistent endeavours to confront the apex judiciary. Capping a spate of instances of its intransigence in the face of the Supreme Court's directives is its recent refusal to remove the Director General of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). This came immediately after the Parliamentary Committee, dominated by members of the PPP, refused to approve the Judicial Commission's recommendations with regard to the extension in the services of six additional judges of the Lahore and Sindh High Courts.

This has since been annulled by the SC and the government has been asked to issue the notification as per the original recommendations of the Judicial Commission. According to reports, the case of the DG, FIA, originally scheduled to come up for hearing on March 15, has now been advanced to the week starting March 7 after the government's expression of inability to do as directed. Are we seeing another confrontation building that would end with the government submitting ignominiously, yet again?

Understandably, law and order is the most serious challenge that the government faces at this moment. Yet, the man in-charge of the concerned ministry is seen more involved in handling the political challenges that the government is confronted with, as the president's point man, than the work that he is supposed to be doing. This includes his frequent dashes to Karachi and elsewhere to pacify the government's allies who keep threatening to withdraw the critical support that it needs to stay in power.

There are other instances of the government dragging its feet on key decisions to strengthen the rule of law including the setting up of an independent election commission and a transparent accountability mechanism. The reasons are obvious: the government has so much more to hide than it has to show to the world by way of its democratic credentials and delivery. What it fails to realise is that this ill-conceived stratagem may give it a few more days to continue its corrupt rule, but it is adversely impacting the prospects of the democratic system in the country.

Amongst the three branches of the government, the judiciary relies solely on its authority of compliance. This is essentially a moral authority as the judiciary does not have the long arm of the law to enforce its decisions. If, therefore, the system is to be streamlined and, ultimately, strengthened, judiciary's decisions should be honoured expeditiously through unquestioned compliance. This is appropriately provided for in article 190 of the constitution which states: "All executive and judicial authorities throughout Pakistan shall act in aid of the Supreme Court".

The SC's moral authority has been given a boost by the unconditional apology tendered by its former Chief Justice (CJ) for having taken oath under the PCO. In his apology, Abdul Hameed Dogar stated: "With all humility and humbleness at my command, it is submitted that under abrupt, unexpected changes, confusion, misconception and misunderstanding, the order of November 3, 2007 could not be complied with which is highly regretted with repentance and sorrow". The SC, graciously, accepted the apology filed by the PCO judge and terminated the contempt proceedings.

The government should have initiated steps to further strengthen this authority. Instead, its decisions speak of its inherent undemocratic intentions which keep manifesting themselves in various forms. Its persistent refusal to implement the SC injunction with regard to the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) is a case in point. Coming after the legislature's refusal to authenticate the ordinance and make it part of the law, the SC's edict should have been complied with forthwith. It is now almost a year and the government continues to live in defiance of the injunction.

There were questions raised when Benazir Bhutto negotiated with a dictator to facilitate her return to the country which, ultimately, came through in the shape of the highly immoral and (now) unconstitutional NRO. All adverse impressions that were created could have been erased through constitutional and democratic conduct. Unfortunately, an environment of belligerent confrontation has been assiduously cultivated between the executive and the judicial organs of the state that has nullified all democratic pretensions of the PPP.

Confronted with serious existential challenges, national survival can only be ensured through voluntary subservience to the rule of law. That has not been the case so far which has damaged the country's prestige and sovereignty. It is ironic, though, that the 'sub-judice syndrome' is exploited in cases where it benefits the government to hide its real intentions, for example, the Raymond Davis episode. But, the same is construed as an attack on legislative authority when it concerns critical issues that may adversely impact the government's position. This duplicity should be addressed urgently as its continuation and consolidation could further bedevil national ability to successfully confront the existing challenges as well as Pakistan's position in the international comity.

The writer is a political analyst. Email: raoof








In his article, "The bill to kill Urdu" (March 5), Mushfiq Ahmad made some interesting arguments in favour of Urdu. The writer first argued that the bill pending in parliament seeking a national status for the eight languages is in fact a move to "kill" Urdu. Later on, the writer presents his argument regarding the official status of English. The article later on went in the direction of the old debate pursued by Urdu lovers and became Urdu vs English. What the writer intended in the very first paragraph was altogether missed; and the argument went somewhere else. He should have focused on his main thesis and explained to us how making the eight languages national undermines the importance of Urdu.

It is true that many learners are disadvantaged because of English as the medium of instruction in our education system, but the same is true for those whose first language or mother language is not Urdu. In Pakistan Urdu is the mother tongue of only 7.6 percent of the population. In spite of this fact, Urdu was exclusively made a national language in the very beginning, denying the same status to the majority languages such as Bengali, Punjabi, Pashto, and Sindhi. The founders of this country stuck to the Urdu-only policy, which caused the country to break up. If Urdu were not declared the only national language, we would still have Bangladesh as East Pakistan.

But Urdu was imposed as the sole language of Muslims and this attitude excluded the other languages, including Bengali, from the domain of Islam. Urdu is not very different from Hindi. It is a form of Hindi, and is still known as Hindi abroad. To distort this linguistic balance more words from Arabic were introduced into Urdu to make it appear different from Hindi, the language of the "core enemy" of Pakistan. Remove the Arabic words from Urdu and it would become Hindi. Although before Partition the flag-bearers of the separation movement used Urdu in their writings and their speeches, it was not the language representing all Muslims. If this is the thesis in favour of Urdu, then we cannot condemn English as most of the Muslim leaders, notably M A Jinnah, spoke and wrote in English. And the most influential of the proponents of Pakistan, Iqbal, wrote his books in English. So why this wrath against English?

Another naive argument in favour of one-nation-one-language is that giving space to more languages would ultimately give rise to separatism. Didn't the denial of national status to Bengali lead to the disintegration of Pakistan? East Pakistan became Bangladesh because the state did not recognise Bengali as the national language along with Urdu. Our founders turned a deaf ear to the demands of the majority and imposed their own will instead in favour of Urdu. This attitude led to language riots in East Pakistan, which ultimately ended up becoming Bangladesh.

In Pakistan more than 65 languages are spoken. Among them 27 are on the verge of extinction according to a UNESCO's report. These 65 languages are the real native languages of Pakistan. We have Urdu as our national language, but ironically it is not among them.

Urdu is one of my favourite languages but this does not mean that I must avoid my own language, which is the basis of my identity and culture. I like Urdu because Ghalib and Faiz wrote in it; I like Pashto because Rahman Baba and Ghani Khan wrote in it. But I love Torwali because I think in it; and because the first word I uttered was in Torwali.

Throughout the article, Mushfiq Sahib is driven by a utopian vision. He declares: "If we adopt Urdu as our official language, we may hope to lead the world some day, because then we will be thinking in our own language, and that will make us creative. Creativity is what takes a nation forward, not any particular language. The English-speaking world is dominant because of its creativity, not because it speaks English." This simply does not make sense.


How many people think in Urdu in this country? Thinking in, and understanding a language are different things. People think in their mother language. They perceive the world in it. For instance when I see a dog its image does not bring the Urdu word kutta to my mind, but the word in my mother tongue for the animal. I do not understand Mushfiq Ahmad's argument that Urdu will foster creativity in us. Creativity starts at the very beginning. A child creates and gives a meaning to the world in his/her own language. Creativity is best fostered in the mother tongue.

Urdu is, of course, the language of wider communication, and we very much want it to be so. But making it the single national language is not in the interest of the "regional" and "irrelevant" languages. In Pakistan there is a linguistic hierarchy. English is at the top, followed by Urdu, then the few regional languages, and the rest are virtually regarded as "irrelevant".

Urdu has also been used for indoctrination since the birth of Pakistan, and particularly since the Zia regime. The educational materials in Urdu are based upon hatred, confusion, propaganda and exclusiveness. In such a scenario one cannot opt for Urdu as the sole medium of instruction.

The elite prefer English for their children and for that they have established exclusive educational structures where the children are taught an alien culture in an alien language. This disconnects the learners from their indigenous culture. It also fosters in them a sense of superiority which creates many problems in the social fabric. This is totally based on the capitalist and imperialist West. There is another extreme which is very much shaped and groomed by the imperialist Arabs in the garb of religion. This also disconnects the learners from the roots of indigenous culture. In between these two there is the vast majority which is always fooled either in the name of a nation or religion. This is the class which is suffering. And this class is made the scapegoat at the altar of the ambiguous national interest. The two alien classes apparently fight each other at the cost of the one caught in between.

Language cannot be treated only as something which marks the user's identity. It has many factors: politics, power and education, including education used for oppression.

In education, the mother tongue can be of the greatest value. If we want to foster creativity in children we must start educating them in their mother tongues.

Keeping in mind the many political, economic, educational and cultural values in mind, Pakistan should not only recognise the eight languages as national but also recognise the over 65 languages. The pending bill in this regard is the first step; and all the diverse nationalities must endorse it.

The writer is an activist who heads an independent organisation, IBT, in Swat. Email:








For the last 50 years or so, the West has treated the Middle East as if it were just a collection of gas stations manned by its stooges. It was never interested in the Arab people or how they were governed. The US wanted the region to be a land open before it, without obstacles and without even the slightest wrinkle in the way. The Arab world was insulated from history. Well, history is back. The Arab world was asleep not dead. It has suddenly awoken and is living through a very exciting, effervescent moment.

Today the US finds itself "trapped in a region which it cannot fix and cannot abandon", where America is not liked, not feared, and not respected. It took President Obama four days to condemn the slaughter of hundreds of freedom fighters by Colonel Qaddafi. Even then, he spoke only vaguely about holding Libyan officials accountable for their crimes. Why did he fail to mention Qaddafi, the arch-criminal, the butcher of Tripoli, the man who will stop at nothing to hang on to power? Obama knows very well that sanctions are ineffective and will not prevent Qaddafi from slaughtering his people. There is not a lot of time. Why, then, is he temporising? Why is he equivocating on Libyan freedom from autocracy? Libyans have shown extra ordinary courage but it is unrealistic to expect them to bring the dictator down all by themselves.

Britain and France joined United States in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War in establishing no-fly zones in large parts of northern and southern Iraq to protect the Kurds from the "savagery of Saddam Hussein". There was no UN mandate for such zones. What prevents them from imposing no-fly zones in Libya?

Drone attacks kill men, women and children in Waziristan.

Let it not be forgotten that, not long ago, United States invaded Iraq, a sovereign, independent Muslim country, to topple a dictator and to impose democracy down the barrel of a gun. In the process it killed hundreds of thousands of people. Why is it reluctant to use force in Libya in support of a just cause?

The ambivalent, almost nervous, carefully calculated US reaction to the uprising in Libya reminds one of the broadcast from Moscow, calling for a general rising in Warsaw; the Polish rising in Warsaw in July 1944; the distressed Polish message for help; Stalin's grim reply withholding aid; the tragic end of the rising and the Martyrdom of Warsaw. Out of the 40,000 men and women of the Polish army about 15,000 were massacred by the German army. Out of a population of a million, nearly 200,000 had been stricken. Is Obama doing to the Libyan freedom fighters what Stalin did to the Poles in Warsaw?

History reveals that uprisings go viral and ricochet from nation to nation. Tunisia has lit the match and setoff an Islamic prairie fire that has set the whole region ablaze. Very soon, it will engulf Pakistan. That is almost a mathematical certainty.

So here we are, at last on the threshold of great events. The day is not far off when words will give way to deeds. The world of corrupt presidents and prime ministers, the world of usurpers and despots, the world of hereditary monarchs and kings, will be blasted by the wind from the Maghrib.

Think about where we in Pakistan stand today? Terror is the order of the day. Pakistan is experiencing the warning tremors of a mega political and economic earthquake. These are days without shame or glory in Pakistan. We have President Zardari. And little hope and no cash. We have a president who is facing corruption charges at home and abroad and whose moral authority is in shreds. At a time when the country is at war, President Zardari, the Supreme Commander, spends almost his entire existence in the confines of a bunker –

which he seldom leaves these days.

Our country is in grave danger. Pakistan looks exhausted, ossified and ideologically bankrupt, surviving merely to perpetuate its corrupt rulers. Never has the divide between ruler and ruled seemed so yawning, and perhaps never has it been so dangerous. The president and his prime minister are servile, obsequious, lackeys of United States, insecure, highly dependent on American support, too willing to sacrifice national interest in order to secure American help for themselves and remain in power.

It is hard to exaggerate the baleful impact of the Zardari-Gilani rule: the oligarch and the mafia who have stolen every asset of any value, the inflation that has ruined the middle class and the poor, the corruption that has corroded all values and humiliated every decent citizen; and the insecurities that have filled everyone with fear and anxiety. What will become of poor Pakistan?

We have a disjointed, dysfunctional and corrupt political system – a non – sovereign rubber stamp parliament, a weak, ineffective and corrupt prime minister, who changes his public statements as often as he changes his designer suits. Not surprisingly, Pakistan is rudderless and sliding into darkness.

Today Pakistan has a rotten socio-political system in an advanced stage of decay and decomposition; its rulers are unresponsive to the prime needs of the people; it lacks the will to defend itself because what its rulers represent is not worth defending; it is highly vulnerable to attack.

Pakistan shares many of the conditions that triggered the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. The Tunisian and Egyptians revolutions have shown how people can bring down corrupt rulers without firing a shot. It was a sea of peaceful humanity that washed away Hosni Mubarak and Zein ul Abedin of Tunisia and is threatening to topple Gaddafi.

Every once in a while I feel despair over the plight of the country but nobody wants to hear about it or do anything to avert it. We stand on a volcano. We feel it tremble, we hear it roar, how and when and where it will burst, and who will be destroyed by its eruption, it is beyond the ken of mortals to discern.

The writer is a former federal secretary. Email:,








In a discussion about the negative coverage of events in Fata, a friend used the media's favourite term "militants" for all the unfortunate people killed in drone attacks and bomb blasts in that area. Responding to our reservations about the use of this term "militants" for the victims, another friend stated that the FCR (Frontier Crimes Regulations) had been imposed by the colonial masters to regulate "criminals." Besides, have the tribesmen protested the FCR and made their voice heard against it – even once?

To take this argument to its conclusion, the Brits imposed the FCR upon the people of Fata and treated them like outcasts without rights because they deserved the FCR. But what went wrong with their successors, the various Pakistani governments, who did not honour the Quaid's pledge and instead decided on the continuity of the inequitable laws? Why were the Pakistani masters of that area, like the British colonial rulers before them, so unconcerned about their brothers in Fata?

The Pakistani rulers' argument is not convincing that the tribesmen did not agree to the repeal of the FCR for the protection of their tribal allowances, and for the freedom to keep their guns (as a license to kill each other). Even if this is presumed true, why did the new rulers agree to something which was not only unconstitutional and un-Islamic but against the interest of the country? Couldn't they assess and visualise its impact on society in the long run? If the keeping of guns could be made a criterion for imposition of the FCR, how about its extension to Karachi which is more of a badland than Fata, considering the number of murder and bloodletting that takes place in the city on a daily basis. Or was it that the brown sahibs who replaced the British wanted to retain the area's status quo?

Whose interest do we serve by clinging to the FCR in Fata? Does it help us in any way? Has it helped in the spread of education, in the growth of industrial development or contributed to the strengthening of relations with Afghanistan? The fact of the matter is that it helped no one. It only kept the area poor and its people uneducated, and thereby turned the area's backwardness into a fertile ground for militancy, which in turn is adversely affecting our relation with Afghanistan.

Why was the FCR not abolished right at the beginning when we knew that it was not in the interest of the country? Why is the present democratically elected government, which promised to scrap it, hesitant to do so? Why has the prime minister not amended it despite his earnest promise? It has also been added to the huge dung heap of broken promises made by him. Why has the president not implemented his package for Fata which he announced on Aug 14, 2009? I concede that this announcement did not constitute a part of the Holy Scriptures, like he once stated about the Charter of Democracy that his promise regarding that document was not a part of the Quran or Hadith. But a public announcement by a head of state is a solemn commitment and must be honoured.

The president's inability to implement his package for Fata has generated strong apprehension that a particular security agency prevailed upon him. What national interest would that agency serve by deferring development in Fata is beyond anyone's comprehension. The tribesmen have neither been disloyal nor conspired against the country even after suffering maximum losses from their own government in the last nine years of the war on terror.

The main stumbling block in the development of the area and permitting its people to interact with their brothers in the rest of the country is the Frontier Crimes Regulations which keeps the area totally isolated and out of reach for any development or influence by people from outside Fata. Let us hope and pray that the president fulfils his promise on the next Pakistan day this March.

The new governor of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa will be governing Fata not under laws that apply to all other citizens of Pakistan, but under the draconian laws of the FCR. As a governor he will uphold these dreaded, unfair laws whereas, as a lawyer, and a renowned one, he is supposed to work for the rule of law as applicable elsewhere in the country. I wonder how his conscience will reconcile to this dichotomy.

No one seems to be worried or concerned about the people of Fata or for the rule of law in that area. Everyone, whether civil or military, coming into contact with Fata through a posting to that area is only interested in enjoying the perks and privileges attached to his office. They are not bothered about the difficulties faced by the people. Every government, including the present one, has done nothing for the area, nor will it do so it in the days ahead. And why should it, when no one in Fata demands it and the so-called representatives from there keep mum on this issue in deference to government wishes.

The people of Fata are being treated as second-class citizens in their own country. They are accused of providing shelter to those responsible for the evil taking place in that area. And when they are killed they are bracketed with militants. They have suffered the most but got nothing in return.

Should they keep on waiting for others to do "favours" to them simply because they are not covered by the Constitution, without being allowed to do something for themselves? Shouldn't they fight for their rights? Shouldn't they protest against the atrocities committed by Islamabad/Rawalpindi against them?

Shouldn't the educated tribesmen in the main cities of the country raise their voice about the step-motherly treatment meted to IDPs from Fata, who are living in miserable conditions in Peshawar and Dera Ismail Khan? Shouldn't they stage protests against drone attacks and military operations killing innocent people, including women and children?

If responses to all these questions are in the affirmative, then let us begin by taking our MNAs and Senators to task and seek an account of all the personal favours bestowed upon them by the government until now. At the same time, we should raise our voices in protest both within and outside parliament.

Until the tribesmen decide to fight for their own rights, no one will do it for them. Nobody is going to deliver to them what is their due. Those living inside Fata cannot raise their voices because of the stranglehold imposed on them. However, nothing stops those of us living in the major cities of the country and abroad from raising the issue. What about those living in the Middle East, Europe and America? Why are they quiet? Why are they not highlighting the atrocities committed and the inhuman treatment meted out to their brothers under the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulations? Until they explain the factual position to the world, no one will believe that the residents of Fata are peace-loving. Until that position is explained, the outside world will continue to regard them as "militants."









Words often have an interesting history of their own; they mean different things to different generations and get upgraded or downgraded over the years. The most obvious word on a downward spiral in Pakistan today is 'reconciliation' which only three years ago meant survival, hope and eventual glory.

Reconciliation – the concept and the word – is indispensable to bankers, lawyers, social scientists and many other professionals. It is the glue that binds secular human transactions together. Yet, it also has a sacred heritage. Readers of the Bible would know its numerous uses to capture and convey a higher experience. "For if while we were enemies," we read in Romans 12 "we were reconciled to God"; here the word means the end of estrangement between the forgiving Lord and the sinful man through the agency of Jesus. Offering your gift, "first be reconciled to your brother and sister, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:24); here it defines the social compact. This ancient word, replete with law and love, is getting its bottom knocked out in Pakistan as it increasingly gets applied to all kinds of Faustian bargains. The Supreme Court alone seems to be concerned with its association with man's moral being.

We owe the present extensive use of 'reconciliation' to the late Benazir Bhutto. In a conversation with me Dubai , she used it to denote a comprehensive process to end conflicts in the world of Islam as well as the partisan contests that keep destroying Pakistan's democracy. Invited to speak at the launching in February 2008 of Bhutto's remarkable book Reconciliation: Islam Democracy and the West, I tried to highlight her rationale, programme of global reconciliation and her project for internal harmony.

On February 27, 2008, Mr Asif Ali Zardari hosted a lunch for the newly elected members of the three leading parties. The leaders seemed to be ready, as I wrote at the time, to "come to grips with the debris left behind by the tornado that struck Pakistan's constitutionalism on November 3, 2007". Many milestones in that constitutional restoration were reached but not without sad events that ran contrary to the letter and spirit of Benazir Bhutto's book.

Not surprisingly, the result is not reconciliation but a return to the kind of politics that demolished elected governments in the 1990s. For the broad masses, the word 'reconciliation' has come to mean fresh bargaining for partisan profit every few months. Bhutto had written in her book that extremism is fuelled by poverty, ignorance and hopelessness. Pakistanis today are poorer than before and hope seems to have died with her. Extremism claims hundreds of lives every month. Is this the note on which her putative followers are to end their five-year stint in power?

Like other major parties in the world, the Pakistan People's Party adjusts to changing dynamics. Benazir Bhutto realigned her father's left-leaning anti-imperialist party to the post- 1989 realities and the dominant neo-liberal global economic order. In Dubai, she spoke to me about how she would reconcile her relations with the West with the aspirations of her own people. Those who inherited her party, by right or stratagem, have not shown her ability to conceptualise the process; nor do they have her charisma or flair to connect with our downtrodden people.

The PPP does not appear to be able to articulate a national narrative. Our despairing people die a thousand deaths while, reportedly, the land is stalked by foreign secret agents and saboteurs all armed with lethal weapons and visas, allegedly, issued by our embassy in Washington. 'Reconciliation', with its sacred biblical roots, withers on the vine.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.









IN the backdrop of widely held belief that the political temperature would rise following expulsion of PPP ministers from the Punjab Cabinet, Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif called Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani over the telephone to propose a sort of All Parties Conference to discuss the grave challenges confronting the nation and to formulate a consensus strategy to overcome them. To make the exercise more relevant and meaningful, he has floated the idea of including leadership of both military and judiciary in the process.

The proposal of the Punjab Chief Minister, which must have the backing of Mian Nawaz Sharif, is significant as it has not only the potential to prepare a national response to the daunting challenges but would also pacify the growing political anxiety. Some quarters were forecasting the returning of politics of confrontation that the country witnessed in 1990s when PPP and PML took their political rivalry to a stage where governments of both the parties had to pack up midway of their tenure. But the reconciliatory tones adopted by Mian Shahbaz Sharif and Prime Minister Gilani augur well for the system and stabilization of the democratic process. In fact credit goes to President Zardari who first mooted the idea of Round Table Conference of all political parties to sort out critical issues with national consensus which was not responded positively by the PML-N at that time. We think it is time that the Government should go for the roundtable conference rightly proposed by the President in February without any loss of time. It must have a comprehensive agenda for deliberation including economy, financial health of the country, energy crisis, situation in Balochistan and Karachi, war on terrorism and issue of Raymond Davis. These challenges need to be addressed urgently by all as a single party cannot handle them. The political leadership and other stakeholders must be given comprehensive briefing about the dangerous fallout on Pakistan because of these problems. These issues must be deliberated at length and a way forward be charted out with consensus and inputs from all the stakeholders in order to avoid possibility of agitation by certain parties when the decisions were implemented.








VISITING Tajik President Emomali Rahmonov and President Asif Ali Zardari have spoken of boosting trade and energy connectivity to bring regional prosperity. President Zardari also offered the friendly country of Tajikistan access to Pakistani ports especially the Gwadar Port.

Promotion of regional trade and connectivity is in the interest of Pakistan, (CARs) Central Asian Republics and Afghanistan as it would be a win-win situation for all. Pakistan-Central Asia relations are based on geographical proximity, common history, religion, culture, traditions, values and destiny. Pakistan and these States can work together in matters of security, stability and development of the region. Pakistan and Central Asian States are also the members of Economic Cooperation Organisation and it provides a good opportunity to use this forum and sort out difficulties if any to boost trade. Bilaterally and through the ECO, many schemes and projects for intra-regional cooperation in trade and travel, industrial enterprises as joint ventures, banking and exchange of technology and technical know-how could be initiated to their mutual advantage. Presently the law and order situation in Afghanistan is a hindrance but once the regional countries decide to go for it, one is confident that a way out could be found. While the CARs would have shortest route through Pakistan for their trade with the rest of the world, they can also increase regional trade once the road connectivity is established and security ensured. Pakistan would have a vast scope to export its agricultural and industrial products to CARs and it can in return import hydel energy and gas to meet its energy shortages. Tajikistan has enough cheap hydel energy potential to meet the needs of Pakistan, Afghanistan and other regional countries. Several Pakistani agricultural products are already entering the CARs through Afghanistan including wheat and potatoes and once the security of road link is ensured, one is confident that there would be manifold increase in the bilateral and regional trade. As far as Pakistan and Tajikistan are concerned, there is a greater goodwill between the two at leadership and people to people levels and they need to strive for multidimensional relations. We hope that the visit of the Tajik President would lay a solid foundation for boosting bilateral trade and cooperation in other fields for the mutual benefit of the two countries.







AS was apprehended, mismanagement of unprecedented scale was witnessed in the holding of the ongoing matriculation examination by different boards of Intermediate and Secondary Education of the Punjab. The Online System of Registration introduced to ensure transparency in the process ended up in the opposite outcome with reports from different areas of the Province speaking of unauthorised appearance of candidates, arrests of dozens of candidates appearing on roll number slips with wrong entries, inability of the boards to deliver roll number slips to hundreds of students who were strangely allowed to take English paper without slips and eleventh hour change of timing from morning to evening.

Though Lahore High Court has taken notice of the situation by asking all the Boards to submit their remarks about online registration system and multiple choice questions, there can be no two opinions that the fault lies with the administration and management of the Board and not the system itself. It is the era of Information Technology and everywhere in the world processes and procedures are being computerised to ensure transparency and efficiency but here some elements, because of their vested interests, are trying to sabotage the new system that has the potential to eliminate corrupt practices in the examination system. Manpower is to be blamed for wrong entry of data but the blame is being apportioned to the system itself. It is regrettable that the Boards charge hefty fees from students but are not utilising their resources judiciously and candidates have to suffer because of their inefficiency, lethargy and corruption. Those opposing computerisation, in fact, want status quo as manual handling of the processes opens up chances of manipulation and palm-greasing. We have been urging the Punjab Government since long to look into the affairs of Education Boards thatare fleecing the people. There are also numerous reports about the change of papers of students and even change of results, low payment to evaluators resulting in delay in marking and announcement of results and extra-ordinary delay in issuance of certificates. It is time to hold a thorough inquiry into their working and introduce reforms to improve their working as per the modern day requirements.








Death is certain, but also uncertain as it is categorically bound to impede every living soul someday though randomly, hence uncertain. In other words, this randomness of chance that death will embrace someone carries with itself an admixture of elements both of certainty and uncertainty. Admitted, but contextually speaking, assassination of one human stands as ignoble and ghastly as of any other, we get informed though not sensitized in the light of Islamic precepts much drummed up in the castle of Islam; Pakistan. Not sensitized, in the very sense that Friedrich Nietzsche had to err blasphemy saying, 'God is dead'. These Islamic precepts postulate that killing of one person is tantamount to killing of whole of the humanity. So our departed soul Shahbaz Bhatti swayed with himself every individual; each conscience-conscious one. The killers, provided they claimed to be Muslims, did their utmost to subvert the very spirit of Islamic jurisprudence; albeit inadvertently.

The height of vehemence, the body rendered blooded by the bloody killers! This reminds of Saaghir Ludhyanvi's Urdu verse, 'ye kis ka lahoo hai kon meraa, ae rehber-e-mulk-o-qaum bata' (whose blood is this and who has been murdered, reply me O the leader of the state, the nation). Essentially, this assassination must be viewed through clear lens, regardless of race, color and creed, since human blood has its own dignity, sanctity and nevertheless; its own impact also. Belonging to majority or minority is primarily out of question, and the significance of being a human being and a Pakistani ought to remain at the upfront. The killers may be professional, could be an instrument of some foreign force; or they may be religious fundamentalists who largely remain degenerative towards image building of their religion. Killing is their religion and that is matter of fact, like Bernard Shaw wrote in his play Devil's Disciples, 'I am a millionaire and that is my religion'.

This is the very locus where killer is intoxicated by the opium of self-formulated irreligious beliefs and follows them religiously, this is what Karl Marx meant by 'religion is opium'. Again Saahir Ludhyanvi's verse reverberates, 'Gandhi ho keh Ghalib ho, ham dono kay qaatil hain' (we are murderers whether the person is the Hindu leader Gandhi or the Urdu poet Ghalib). But this land of castle of Islam is such where Islam is being politically victimized, people killing others in the name of Islam, the label, the slogan, the epitaph. Declare someone a blasphemer and award him a death penalty. But this is Pakistan where our lives are jeopardized, but what to do? Once again from Saahir, 'zameen sakht hai aasmaan door hai, baser ho sakay to baser kijye' (the earth is hard and sky is remote, so live with it if you can).

The premise as prescribed by assassins being that the very act or spirit of blasphemy triggered Shahbaz Bhatti's demise. Here one may erroneously render these killers hardcore Muslims, but a profound mind must deduce that the killers themselves must be on the diametrically opposite side of the sentiment, the very premise. Except for Ilyas Qadri the killer of governor of Punjab who admitted that he killed the governor out of his faith-based urge, the faith of intolerance against blasphemy. Candidly speaking, this is not intolerance against blasphemy rather intolerance against the law which through its own slow-paced mode penalizes blasphemer. Now number one, the reality behind Ilyas Qadri's claim has yet to be unearthed especially in the backdrop of some powers overdoing to get Sharif brothers indulged in the murder case. Two, what exactly blasphemy is and what is the appropriate way that one can express, register or demonstrate his intolerance; needs clarification. Whatever the degree and intensity of blasphemy is, the issue must ultimately resort to the court of justice. For, by killing the blasphemer for that matter, the latter only replaces the former probably as an even appalling sinner; becoming a killer himself.

Some critiques guess that the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti has something to do with the case of Raymond Davis, others connect it with the intention of creating tussle between Muslims and Christians, the analogy would be like another effort was exerted at Lahore against Ahmedis a few months ago. The latter stance however sounds holding greater deal of commonsense. Still others believe it to be a move so as to distort Pakistan's image in the outer world. Probably, all of these elements matter albeit in varying proportions. Yet, Islam entertains no reason to kill a human, except the court of law imposes a death penalty and executes through its own institutional setup.

In fact the interpretation of the Holy Qur'an and the Tradition of prophet Mohammad (S.A.W) has been subject to slight divergences, especially in the case of religious fundamentalists called 'Mullaas'. Behold, this divergence carries lesser amount of divergence compared with Christianity which the Christians themselves realize (Old Testament Vs New Testament). In Islam, the interpretations went so wide and astray that different sects started surfacing though without any major differences. Here, one extreme took a giant leap and gave birth to Ahmedis who were rendered outliers from the realm of Islam through constitution in early 70's. Regretfully, among the Muslim sects or individuals the terminologies like jehaad, shahadat and blasphemy for example have embraced varying meanings and implications which by and large depend upon the type of the religious institution one has obtained education from. This also depends upon personal mindset where these concepts are embedded. There is no dearth of such Muslims who hardly bother to consult some proper scholar before they venture upon some major deed, for ghastly ones they don't even consult with their own conscience. In brief, blasphemy against any prophet must be condemned and penalized, but only by the court of law and not by the individuals themselves; lest they become sinners and blatantly invite Allah Almighty's rage.

However, the coin has another side as well, why one tries to become a foolhardy opting for blasphemy? Is it a reciprocal act? No, this is not! We see a great degree of inter-faith harmony especially in Sindh where Hindus and Sikhs are peacefully living with Muslims and vise versa. The Youtube even contains videos where Hindus have been filmed commemorating Moharram at their houses. By the same token, Christians are also seen living together with Muslims. Rather, Christianity is closest to Islam compared with other religions of the world. The Muslims and Christians hold several religious concepts as common. So much so, both believe in Prophet Jesus Christ (peace be upon him), and Quran contains a complete chapter on the Jesus Christ's mother Hazrat Maryam (peace be upon her). At their religious occasions, Muslims and Christians both exchange gifts and edibles, then why indulge in blasphemy and jeopardize one's life or prestige? Again, why react to blasphemy in an illegitimate manner? A twist of tongue, change of heart or putting off thinking hat! 'For fools rush where angels fear to tread'. William Shakespeare








While Musharraf's and PPP governments Kashmir policy has harmed the Kashmiri's freedom struggle, Kashmiri leaders despite all odds have kept afloat the flag of freedom and self-determination. Syed Ali Gilani, Mir Waiz Mohammad Farooq, Abdul Ghani Lone, and several leaders of All Parties Hurriyet Conference and Mehbooba Mufti the head of the Peoples Democratic Party - the PDP have remained outspoken and articulate, yet determined to unshackle the Indian grip on Jammu and Kashmir. Their views are respected within and outside South Asia. They continue to speak fearlessly, and undeterred by Indian atrocities are determined to further the Kashmir cause, till the exit of the Indian military from the Indian occupied Kashmir.

Syed Ali Gilani has been subjected to torture, but has remained the steadfast in stressing that India cannot suppress Kashmiri's aspirations and urge for freedom. Despite daily killings and kidnappings, illegal detentions, merciless beatings and house arrests, India has failed to cow down and break the will of the men and women of Kashmir to remove the usurper occupier from the soil of Jammu and Kashmir. India has failed to break the indomitable spirit and courage of the Kashmiri youth to continue the freedom struggle undaunted.

Mehbooba Mufti in her press statement in Srinagar on Feb 24, 2011, stressed the futility of any unilateral, isolated or piecemeal decision by India about the resolution of Kashmir issue. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti called for a comprehensive solution of the Kashmir problem in order to restore sustainable and lasting peace in this region. Talking to officials and leaders of the Congress party, she reminded New Delhi to desist from unilateral or bilateral decisions, which have proved meaningless and counterproductive since sixty years. She emphasized that all stake holders especially Pakistan and the freedom fighters, whom she called separatists, be brought on board and should be part of the dialogue process, for a lasting solution of the long festering Kashmir problem. It is about time that India sees the writing on the wall. With one hundred thousand Kashmiri's martyred, and an equal number injured, maimed, orphaned and raped, there is no way that India can put the Kashmir issue under the mat. Astonishingly while throwing dust into the eyes of the West by misleading propaganda, India has brandished the Kashmiri freedom fighters as terrorists, and has justified its military carnage and slaughters as war against terrorism.

Emphasizing on involving the Kashmiri freedom fighters in discussions and dialogue for Jammu and Kashmir's permanent solution, Mehbooba Mufti said that, "The Separatists must be engaged and involved in the talks, and their views taken seriously and their demands addressed . The Separatists are indigenous Kashmiri youth and important stake holders, in the process, and a dialogue process minus the Separatists would be futile, and will not succeed to take the process to its logical end. Her forceful advocacy that a lasting resolution of the Kashmir dispute is impossible without a serious and purposeful dialogue with the Separatists- the Freedom Fighters is highly significant. For the opinion makers in Pakistan, and the Pakistani establishment talk of support for the separatists in a taboo. But despite frequent massacres the freedom fighters have remained undeterred.

Clearly the Kashmiri Freedom Fighters have become a powerful force in Jammu and Kashmir state, and cannot be ignored any longer. Mehbooba has correctly stated that considering the complexity and diversity of the Kashmir problem any unilateral roadmap by New Delhi will end in utter failure; as it always has. All sections of the population, all regions, sub-regions, the Freedom Fighters and Pakistan are vital stake holders, for an acceptable and workable solution of the explosive dispute. She correctly said that involvement of Pakistan in the talks is a must, because without taking the neighboring country on board dialogue process would be meaningless. Pakistan needs to put its own house in order, and simultaneously extend fullest moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiri politicians like Mehmooba Mufti, Mir Waiz Mohammad Farooq, Maulana Syed Gilani and others, who despite frequent arrests and detention have kept the flame of freedom alight in Kashmir. What has India gained by chaining Kashmir in military captivity since 1947.

PDP President Mehbooba Mufti explained that the "sense of siege that gripped the State of Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of partition has kept the occupied state economically stunted and the population deprived of jobs and business and trade opportunities. This sense of siege due to Indian military tyranny should be removed to help the region to regain its past premier position. To harness Kashmir's inherent potential as a business center, as it was before partition, it is important that Indian military leaves the state. As the socio-economic growth of the state has been restricted after the partition due to the plugging of all routes connecting Jammu and Kashmir with rest of the world, there is urgent need to open all traditional routes from Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh (which are through Pakistan) to make the state economy once again vibrant. The natural resources of Jammu and Kashmir need to be revisited and properly exploited for the benefit of the Kashmiri people. She demanded renegotiation of pro-Bharat biased trade agreements, made by the Srinagar government with various agencies.

In another positive development on March 04, 2011 Sardar Manmohan Singh the Prime Minister of India issued an important statement to the press in New Delhi to the effect that India is willing to resolve the long outstanding Kashmir dispute and all other outstanding issues with Pakistan, through negotiations. Stating that India has resolved to resume the dialogue process with Pakistan, he promised to enter the talks with Pakistan with an open mind. But the Kashmir dispute is a complex issue, and the people of Kashmir and their leaders (not Indian puppets) are equally important stake holders.

It will be wise to get the Kashmiri leaders on board when discussing the Kashmir problem. Senior Hurriyet Leaders, Azad Kashmir leaders and Mehbooba Mufti and all senior PDP leaders - Mahbooba Mufti, Muhammad Dillawar Mir, Moulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari and Naeem Akhtar must be invited to a round table conference on Jammu and Kashmir as soon as possible. The Pakistan delegation to the joint round table conference should have Jammu and Kashmir on top of the agenda, including the urgent need to have all the Kashmiri leaders on board.








People have a craving for democracy. In the past they sacrificed even their lives for the sake of it. They knew the founder of Pakistan had adopted democratic means to achieve an independent homeland for Muslims of South Asia, where they would be able to establish their own real democratic popular government to function with the will and sanction of masses, irrespective of caster, creed, or colour. The journey to democracy was long and fraught with problems which had to be overcome intelligently by leaders who believed in the common man's welfare. Successes were many but short-lived. One can cite the latest example in that context the formation of coalition governments in provinces and the Centre on a democratic pattern after the February 2008 elections.

The spirit of democracy was transparent most of time despite some misunderstanding between top leaders of two major partners in power set-up, the Pakistan Muslim League-N and the Pakistan People's Party. The start of the march towards democracy was promising in the light of the Charter of Democracy (COD) signed by Mohtarma Benzir Bhutto and Mr. Nawaz Sharif in London on May 14, 2006.

Through this Charter the elected leaders noted their responsibility to people to set an alternative direction for the country, saving it from its predicaments on an economically sustainable, socially progressive, politically democratic and pluralist, federally co-operative, ideologically tolerant, internationally respectable and regionally peaceful basis in the larger interest of the people of Pakistan to decide, once and for all, that only the people, and no one else, has the sovereign right to govern through their elected representatives, as conceived by the democrat par excellence, the father of the nation Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

The PPP-led coalition government began working with four critical challenges at hand: democratization of the state; detalibization of Pakistani society; restoration of the cohesion of federation; and the country's macroeconomic stabilization. The underlying idea of the policy of national reconciliation was, and remains, healing the wounds of a fractured federation guided by the spirit of COD, which is historically the third most important consensus document of the country. If the first two years of the life of the document are taken into account, one will come to know that practically the signatories were in power for 706 days (51%) since March 28, 2008. That means a short duration (as on March 3, 2010) but compliance of the people's government with the COD resolutions has been impressive if judged impartially.

The common man thought the stalwarts of new political dispensation would come up to his expectation as regards better socio-economic life and opportunities. He now blames the coalition partners for sleeping over the cause of the downtrodden. Most targeted for criticism by majority of the masses is also the PML-N who, they argue, worked at a snail's pace to address the social, economic and educational problems of the people, nor did its members in assemblies speak loudly in support of the poor.

What did the term 'friendly opposition' mean? Was the PML-N leader actually struggling for political power under the democratic umbrella? Did he have an axe to grind? Such questions have been answered by the newest modus operandi of the former prime minister. He announced parting of ways with PPP in the Punjab at a press conference in Islamabad on February 25, also disclosing that a new provincial cabinet would be formed without any PPP minister. He leveled a number of charges against President Asif Ali Zardari, including "no encouraging response" to PML-N's 10-point reforms agenda.

Removal of 13 parliamentary secretaries belonging to PPP and seven ministers is part of the plan of the Punjab government headed by Mr. Shahbaz Sharif who is reportedly habitual of obeying orders of his brother in the mutual interest. People ask one another: Does all this come under purview of the Charter of Democracy?

The PPP response to what the PML-N leaders have done to the newly woven fabric of democracy is encouraging anyhow. It has decided to sit on the opposition benches in the Punjab Assembly in good faith to serve the cause of the masses and make the PML-N administration accountable to them by playing an active and vibrant role. PPP federal ministers Raza Rabbani and Dr. Babar Awan and party's information secretary Qamar Zaman Kaira , told media persons in Islamabad on February 25 that "PML-N's much trumpeted 10-point agenda is part of PPP's manifesto and the federal government shall continue to implement it, there will not be any pause in this respect in spite of the unpleasant decisions of the provincial government, and there is no intention to table any no-confidence motion against the Punjab chief minister.

Students of political science say "this is heartening news as much as the PPP leaders' renewal of their pledge to follow the policy of reconciliation." What nullifies the allegations against the PPP-led coalition and President Zradari is Mr. Raza Rabbani declaration at the Press conference that his party will not become party to destabilize the current system. He is Federal Minister for Inter-Provincial Co-ordination.

The mass of people have expressed surprise over the decision of the PML-N top leader's decision to welcome back all those deserters who have been termed turncoats of the PML-Q. Even the common man continues to react impatiently to such a tactic widely condemned across the country in the past. This is, in fact, against the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan and the principles of democracy and morality.

The so-called 'unification group' of the members of the Punjab Assembly won the election on the PML-Q platform. It amounts to misconduct of rules to change party loyalty without seeking a fresh mandate from the voters of the constituency concerned under the banner of another political organization. Following such an unconstitutional, illegal and immoral practice in a fledgling democracy will eventually pollute the whole atmosphere and will mean killing a newly-born baby. God forbid, the entire system will collapse if such a nasty thing happens. Who will be the real culprit and who will catch him?

The freedom and democracy-loving people have already suffered a lot from such a malpractice, they have learnt many things from the mistakes of politicians, so they may find a way to get rid of such wrong-doers. People recall long association of Nawaz Sharif with General Zia-ul-Haq for political power, and accuse him of creating hurdles in journey to democracy. Simultaneously, they judge seriously the transfer of some presidential powers to an elected prime minister and parliament and president's effort let the democratic system function freely.







Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated in broad daylight in Islamabad on the 2nd of March, 2011. This is the second high profile killing in the Capital, first being of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. Another killing in the name of religion. So here we stand, naked in the eyes of the world, trying to defend our religion and what it really stands for. It seems that every sane voice will be silenced by the guns in the hands of those who will never understand what true Islam is and what it really stands for. The sane voices of reason are labeled as "enlightened" extremes and the ones with bullets are showered with roses. Where to go from here? Suffer silently or raise our voices and wait for the next bullet to pierce our body? Difficult choice for the ones who do not have faith in God.

Let's go back to the Holy Qur'an, the source of our religion and the guiding light for us to become better human beings. In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful, 30 Bullets were pierced in the body of a human being who belonged to Minorities. The Qur'anic injunction "There is no coercion in religion" (2:256) negates the element of oppression in the religious matters and forms the basis for the protection of minority rights. The Holy Qur'an says "(So) for you is your religion and for me is my religion (109:6). At another point it says "Had God willed, they had not been idolatrous. We have not set thee as a keeper over them, nor art thou responsible for them" (6:107) and "Do not revile those unto whom they pray beside God, lest they wrongfully revile God through ignorance" (6:108).

Holy Prophet (PBUH) said "Beware! If anyone dared oppress a member of minority community or usurped his right or tortured him more than his endurance or took something away forcibly without his consent, I would fight (against such Muslims) on his behalf on the Day of Judgment." (Abu Dawood 3:170). At another point Prophet (PBUH) said "Whoever killed a member of a minority community, he would not smell the fragrance of paradise though fragrance of paradise would cover the distance of forty years." (Ibne Rushd, Badiya-tul-Mujtahid, 2:299).

Islam propagates a society where all the citizens enjoy equal rights and religion does not become the basis for any discrimination. The history of Islam is full of such examples. For instance, once a Muslim, who was accused of killing a non-Muslim, was presented in the court of Hazrat Ali (RA). The evidence supported the accusation. When Hazrat Ali ordered the Muslim to be killed by way of Qisas, the relatives of the murderer made the brother of the killed forgive by paying him the compensation money. When Hazrat Ali (RA) came to know of it, he asked, "Perhaps these people may have coerced you into saying so." To this, he replied in the negative, saying that the killing would not bring his brother back. Since they were paying him blood money, it would help the family financially to some extent. The Caliph agreed to the deal but added that the principle underlying the functioning of his government was "the blood of those of our non-Muslim subjects is equal to our blood and his blood money is like our blood money." (Abu Yusuf, Kitab-ul-Khiraj, p. 187)

The problem somehow stems down to the basic fact that the majority of people teaching religion do not hold the requisite qualifications. Interpreting the religion becomes a serious issue when it is being done by individuals having limited or no-knowledge. Somehow the segregation of the modern education and that being taught at the religious seminaries has created a vacuum which is being exploited by the religious extremist elements on one side and the western influenced enlightened upper class on the other. Unfortunately we have not been able to build educational infrastructures to the level of Al-Azhar University (Cairo) which concerns itself with the religious syllabus, paying special attention to the Qur'anic sciences & traditions of the prophet on the one hand and on the other hand teaching all the modern fields of science to the students.

For how long we will continue to become hostage to the ignorance is anybody's guess. The real tragedy however is the silence of the masses amidst these atrocities and their choosing to live on their knees instead. Let's fight to save our religion, even if we are the last men standing. Isn't it not a cause worth dying for?

—The writer is a social activist.







The judiciary as a custodian of the constitution and guarantor of the fundamental rights of the people is not only considered as the most sanctimonious organ of the state machinery but also a foundation on which civilizations are built. All the religious and political philosophies ungrudgingly acknowledge and espouse the independence of the judiciary as a means to ensure social amity, political development, peace and progress in any society; lack of which can cause anarchy, chaos and upheavals. The independence of the judiciary, however does not imply absolute and unbridled freedom and trespassing into the domain of the responsibilities of the other institutions of the sate. The judiciary in the discharge of its constitutional role is bound to respect the principle of tri-chotomy of powers enshrined in the constitution itself. Similarly the other institutions of the state are supposed to remain within the confines of their constitutional and legal powers to promote the well being of the state. Any deviation from this principle by any institution is bound to create an ambience of confrontation between the institutions, to the detriment of the national interests.

Unfortunately the judiciary in Pakistan has not played its due role in the past. Its failure to assert its constitutional independence and the adoption of a subservient role to the whims of the dictators has been the major cause of political upheavals and instability that we have witnessed over the past 63 years of our existence. Thanks to the lawyers movement and the support lent by the civil society the trend has been reversed. The restored judiciary is showing remarkable zeal and enthusiasm in atoning for its abysmal past and establishing its independence as reflected in its decisions since its restoration.

However a close scrutiny of the decisions would reveal that the pendulum is shifting from one extreme to another. From judicial passivism we are moving towards judicial activism, prone to the propensity to play to the gallery rather than strict compliance and respect for constitutionalism. Take for example the decision of 31st July 2009 in which the Supreme Court nullified the Ordinances issued before November 3,2007 and between November 3,2007and 15 Dec 08 which were given permanence by the PCO judges. The SC also directed that since it had attributed invalidity to these ordinances, therefore, the period of 120 days and 90 days respectively prescribed in Article 89 and Article 128 of the constitution would be deemed to commence from the date of the judgment and steps be taken to present the said Ordinances before the parliament or the respective provincial assemblies in accordance with the law. According to a predominant view among the legal community the SC through its order, actually re-enacted these Ordinances which represented an encroachment on the powers of the President, who according to the constitution was the only legitimate authority to promulgate Ordinances.

Again in its decision on the NRO while declaring it null and void, the SC seems to have gone beyond its jurisdiction by ordering that Swiss cases be reopened knowing fully well that these cases pertained to the President who enjoyed complete immunity from any criminal proceeding in any court of law during his term of office as per Article 248 of the constitution. This part of the decision not only was contrary to the constitution but also created a lot of embarrassment for the government who has been unfairly accused of disobeying the court orders on the subject. The government view that while it held judiciary in the highest esteem, it could not implement the decision unless the immunity of the President was terminated by the parliament, is beyond any reproach from the constitutional perspective. Further, the court's forays into the domain of the executive in regard to the appointments and promotion of top bureaucrats such as DG FIA and Chairman NAB and its suo moto actions on a number of administrative issues— though enjoying wide public approval—are all matters to be handled by the executive. The lawyers, the civil society and even the members of the judiciary have waged a struggle for the independence of judiciary and constitutional rule in the country. The current judicial activism negates the very spirit behind that movement besides being in conflict with the constitution.

The Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani while talking to the eminent columnist in Lahore has rightly remarked "the constitution clearly determines the role of all state institutions which work within their ambit and are bound to follow the constitution". It is also hard to take issue with his remark that no institution but the parliament can change or amend the constitution. Article 239(5) of the constitution categorically says that no amendment made in the constitution by the parliament can be called into question in any court of law. Viewed in the backdrop of this categorical clarity, the SC observations on Eighteenth Amendment and its recent nullifying of the parliamentary committee's decision to reject the recommendations of the judicial commission for one year extension to six additional judges, are explicit examples of the judiciary going beyond its constitutional powers and challenging the amendments made by the parliament, which it cannot as per Article 239(s) of the constitution. This state of affairs does not augur well for the future of democracy and constitutional rule in the country as it is bound to create an ambience of confrontation between the state institutions.

All the state institutions, including the judiciary therefore need to strictly adhere to their constitutional roles. Needless to emphasize that people have high hopes from the judiciary but that does not justify its encroachment on the powers and functions of other state institutions. The judiciary while dispensing justice has to go by the constitution and the existing law and not by the public sentiment. Providing good governance and caring for the public sentiment is the duty of the government. The decision of the court on NRO has indeed set a direction to be followed with regard to curbing corruption, but it would be wrong to assume that it has ended or will eventually eliminate corruption in the country. These tasks are to be accomplished by the Executive and the Legislature by bringing in the necessary changes in the system of governance and devising an inbuilt mechanism to block the avenues of corruption. They need to perform their functions unruffled by the frequent encroachments into their territory by the judiciary. Pakistan today badly needs equilibrium between the state organs and their strict adherence to their defined roles.









Australian football fans noticed the way US President Barack Obama nonchalantly held the Sherrin in one hand, indicating he might be a natural at our great game, but the real point of a footy in the Oval Office was what it said about the familiarity between our nations. By taking a footy as a gift, Julia Gillard emphasised her message that we must always be "great mates" and the President reciprocated with his easy charm. The informal honour of the joint school visit heightens the formal recognition of the Prime Minister's address to congress, where tonight she will renew Australia's commitment to the broad relationship and the alliance.

Ms Gillard has focused optimistically on the future, describing the ANZUS alliance as "60 years young". But it is equally salient to point out that our special relationship dates back beyond 1951. From ancient lands and cultures colonised by the British, we share somewhat parallel histories, our's thankfully far less bloody but both forging modern, democratic, immigrant nations. Australians and Americans fought and died alongside one another in the Great War. We did again in World War II, Australia turning to our "great and powerful friend" in our hour of need so that together we could repel the Japanese advance on our region. Through conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and, now, Afghanistan, our young service personnel have fought the same foes and made the same sacrifices. Whatever our judgments about the merits and tactics of any of these wars, no one can deny that the motivation has been our shared commitment to democracy and freedom.

Mr Obama and Ms Gillard, both opponents of the Iraq conflict, have expressed a firm commitment to the perilous task in Afghanistan, where Australia is the US's largest non-NATO partner. Such tragic sacrifices rightly do not go unappreciated in Washington, and this bond of history was only underscored by Ms Gillard's announcement of an Australian contribution to ensure that Washington's Vietnam War education centre includes our shared stories.

The US remains the economic, innovative powerhouse of the world, with rumours of its demise greatly exaggerated. Australia, for its part, does not, as some say, punch above its weight. Rather, we are recognised by the Americans and others as a significant nation playing a suitably weighty role in global affairs. As the world's 13th largest economy, our continued strong economic performance is reason enough for others to seek our views. Our traditionally generous and brave contributions to combating global problems such as poverty, HIV-AIDS, natural disasters, climate change and the threat of terrorism tend always to increase our clout. The Americans know our role in pushing for free trade is especially important, as are our insights into the dynamic diplomacy and security issues of the East Asian hemisphere.

Whatever Ms Gillard's political problems at home -- and they may well have prompted the President to wipe his brow in relief that he has dropped his carbon-price push -- her US visit and the reception in Washington are appropriate and encouraging for the continued strengthening of what remains our pre-eminent relationship.






The centenary of International Women's Day is a chance to take stock about women's lives and contributions to society, and Australia has much to celebrate. The determination of women over the past 40 years to climb the career ladder, and indeed the opportunities extended by employers, have made Australia and the Western world better places. But while we salute the women making their mark in public life and the paid workforce, those who choose to be full-time homemakers and mothers deserve equal respect for their legitimate choices that enrich their communities.

The fact that young women are completing Year 12 in significantly greater numbers than young men augurs well for women's leadership, as does the situation in tertiary education, where female students comprise half or more of graduates in medicine, law and many other fields. These days, in a competitive, global marketplace with serious skills shortages, no smart company can afford not to recruit the best women (and men) on the basis of merit. Equal pay for equal work, appropriately, has been the law for decades. But while women still have ground to make up, the push to "close the gender pay gap" through such test cases as the one under way for private-sector care workers is misplaced social engineering.

At a time when Australia is led by a female Prime Minister, with three female premiers and growing numbers of female corporate chief executives, the complaints of the nation's highest office holder, Governor-General Quentin Bryce, about the "old boys" stranglehold over business are misplaced. We reiterate what we wrote when former governor-general William Deane was being lauded as the "conscience of the nation" in 2001: "A governor-general's personal views are no more or less legitimate than those of anyone else. To the extent that the office affords a governor-general some moral authority, forays into politics or other areas of public controversy only serve to undermine it." Over time, under-representation of women on boards should be redressed in the most effective way -- by merit. Quotas could give the impression of companies having to accept second-best to meet artificial targets and would be an insult to the increasing numbers of female directors earning their places. As Westpac CEO Gail Kelly says, proactive policies are preferable to legislative quotas.






Julia Gillard has learnt this week that politicians who ignore the lessons of history find themselves with historically low popularity ratings. Instead of taking a leaf out of John Howard's script on the GST, the Prime Minister has dug a hole for Labor by trying to fast-track a carbon tax-cum-emissions trading scheme. It is yet another sign of the failure of the Gillard and Rudd governments to put long-term strategic goals ahead of short-term political tactics. When Ms Gillard stood alongside Greens leaders Bob Brown and Christine Milne and independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor to announce the scheme a fortnight ago, she no doubt thought it would boost her image as a can-do leader of a minority government. But it seems no one thought about the electoral damage it would cause once the cameras disappeared and the reality of the tax -- or the fear of what that reality might be -- hit the public.

It took Mr Howard 15 years to introduce a consumption tax after the idea was raised by then treasurer Paul Keating at the 1985 tax summit. It became part of the Coalition's disastrous 1993 Fightback campaign but was pursued later by Mr Howard. At the 1998 federal election, which he won by the narrowest of margins, he claimed a mandate for the tax. That was when the real selling job began, with the tax legislated in mid-1999 and in operation a year later.

Ms Gillard may calculate she has three years to bed down the carbon tax. After her rocky start, she is likely to need that time plus luck to arrest the flight of voters from Labor revealed in Newspoll. With a primary vote of 30 per cent, the Prime Minister has discovered a carbon tax has not convinced voters tempted by the Greens to stick with her: the Greens are picking up support from people who are no longer prepared to trust the Prime Minister on carbon.

Unlike the GST, which at least simplified the tax system and could be sold as real reform, the carbon tax is hard to grasp conceptually. The government is struggling to show it will not add to household budgets. Unlike Mr Howard, whose passion for the GST was overt, Ms Gillard does not look at ease with the detail. Then again, no one in Labor, except Greg Combet, seems to have a clue how to sell this policy. Even the Climate Change Minister will need all his powers of persuasion to convince electors of the value of this tax.






SUPPORT for a no-fly zone over Libya is growing, as an extended and destructive conflict looms. Many of the leaders calling for this intervention, including our own, justify it on the grounds of humanitarian violations by Muammar Gaddafi, including attacks on civilians and the threat of mass reprisals, that have already been referred to the International Criminal Court. There is the alleged employment of foreign mercenaries with licence to kill, although this may turn out to be false and possibly deliberate disinformation. There is the displacement of hundreds of thousands of destitute foreign workers onto already over-burdened neighbours.

But let us be clear that this is also an intervention to tip the balance in the conflict. As the Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd, noted during his Middle East visit this week, a no-fly zone would not only protect people on the ground from air attacks, but would send a message to the Gaddafi regime that the international community is ''taking the actions available to it to support the people of Libya''. It would be the world making a judgment that Gaddafi has lost the legitimacy to govern.

It might also be added that the conflict is starting to centre on the control of Libya's oilfields and the infrastructure for export of oil and gas. Western assets and supplies are at stake, but the oil facilities are also vital for the quick recovery of the Libyan economy and its people's livelihoods - a point being made in favour of a no-fly zone by Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the Interim National Council and Libya's former justice minister.

No one relishes another armed intervention, especially since it would probably first require strikes at the air defence systems under Gaddafi's control. As we have argued, it would be much better if the Libyans can throw off their tyranny by their own efforts. But with the rebels themselves arguing for protection from air attack, and the Arab League now telling the French foreign minister that it accepts the idea of a no-fly zone, a consensus is building.

The question is whether this can be crystalised into a United Nations Security Council authorisation in time to prevent further suffering and damage. There is also the doubt whether a no-fly zone by itself will stop Gaddafi's offensive. Most of the air attacks so far have been off-target. The real threat to the rebels may be the tanks being massed by the Gaddafi loyalists; this was, after all, a theatre of armoured warfare 70 years ago. A no-fly zone may just be the first step.





THE Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, has celebrated the centenary of International Women's Day by relaunching, in effect, a campaign to get more women onto company boards. Certainly women are poorly represented on boards and there is a strong case that companies should seek actively to promote women who can be recruited to boards. Should they get more help than that, though? Should there be quotas to guarantee women places?

Bryce at first endorsed quotas, but later backed away, preferring what she called the "Australian way of affirmative action" which she described as recognising discrimination and deciding to take action, and in setting goals and targets for women's participation in boardrooms. Perhaps she was worried about appearing to intervene in a political debate in a way governors-general are supposed to avoid. If so, she need not worry: the role of women is hardly a contentious political issue.

The shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, showed as much with his contribution to an ABC television debate. He called for quotas to be imposed if companies cannot or will not bring more women onto their boards. His - and the Governor-General's - impatience is understandable, with just 8.4 per cent of directorships held by women - an embarrassing share which has barely shifted in recent years.

It is not as if the idea of increasing the number of women on boards is radical, or new, or destabilising, or revolutionary. It is simply common sense, elementary fairness, and a desire to see the best talent of half the population used to the best advantage. Yet competition for top positions is important too, and merit should be the sole criterion for promotion. Obviously, though, the figures imply that merit is currently not the sole criterion - that the selection process is skewed by various means in men's favour. Even so, quotas are a poor way to enforce change because they undermine the authority of the very women they promote.

In order for women to sit on boards on merit they must have had careers which equip them with the experience and skills to get there. That does require firms to encourage actively their able female recruits, and to make it possible for them to manage family and work responsibilities more easily. To that end, parental leave and childcare as well as other family-friendly measures are needed. Given the slowness of change, it appears attitudes among their male colleagues have to change, too. New ASX rules which require companies to publish their gender-equality performance are a reasonable start - and a sounder basis for progress than quotas.







GOVERNOR-GENERAL Quentin Bryce has not been one of Australia's more outspoken vice-regal representatives. She has mostly stuck to the daily duties of a job that is supposedly above the political fray: medal-pinning, ribbon-snipping, handshaking, uttering words of encouragement, and signing documents that her ministers tell her to sign. On the eve of International Women's Day, however, Ms Bryce became very outspoken indeed, igniting not one but two controversies with the same comment. The first was about whether quotas should be imposed to lift the representation of women on the boards of Australian companies, which is an abysmally low 10 per cent. The second was about whether, as an unelected person who notionally acts on behalf of the monarch as titular head of state, Ms Bryce should speak publicly on a matter of policy, and therefore on what is potentially a matter of partisan politics. That is not how the Westminster system is supposed to work.

It would be a great pity, however, if the second controversy were allowed to overwhelm the first. Yesterday morning incensed members of the professional commentariat were already erupting with remarks of the ''How dare she!'' variety, and there will be many who will try to use this constitutional smokescreen to divert attention from what Ms Bryce is saying. They would serve their readers and audiences better if they asked why it takes a forthright comment by the Governor-General to draw public attention to an issue of fundamental justice - an issue that most politicians in both major parties prefer to deal with evasively.

Ms Bryce said what is demonstrably true: ''… the old boys' network is a powerful one. No one gives up power and privilege willingly, do they?'' The usual defensive argument by the boards of large companies - that suitably qualified and experienced women are hard to find - is an indication that sexist attitudes still influence hiring and promotion more than corporate hierarchies are willing to admit. It is simply false that women are unqualified: in 2009, 59 per cent of Australia's domestic university graduates were women. As for experience, if women are not being promoted through the levels of the hierarchy, how might they be expected to gain it? Ms Bryce also accurately described admission to corporate boards as the result of private networking. In law, boards are responsible to their companies' shareholders, and that responsibility takes visible form in annual general meetings. But how many such meetings result in a turnover of board membership because of debate initiated on the floor? The question only has to be posed for the notion of shareholder democracy to be seen to be a fiction.

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The question, then, is how ''the old boys' network'' can be made to change. Ms Bryce, no doubt aware of the political minefield into which she was treading, had two answers. She said that ''in certain circumstances quotas are a valid measure'', but later qualified this judgment by saying that ''the Australian way of affirmative action is … setting some goals and targets''. Goals and targets already abound, however, and they have done little to make the pace of change more than glacial.

Opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey said on ABC television that he would support imposing quotas to ensure that at least 30 per cent of board positions are held by women. But his Coalition colleagues have not been rushing to endorse his views. And Sports Minister Kate Ellis, speaking on the same panel discussion program as Mr Hockey, reaffirmed the Gillard government's election pledge that women would make up 40 per cent of boards by 2015, but did not explain how this would happen. The government should set out its strategy clearly - and it should warn companies that if they do not comply, they will be compelled to do so.





VICTORIA does not have natural wonders with quite the international ''pull factor'' of the Great Barrier Reef or Uluru. Melbourne does not boast man-made structures with the global recognition of the Sydney Harbour Bridge or Opera House. The fact that tourism is nonetheless a big and growing business in this state should give the Baillieu government pause for thought as it comes under pressure to open Victoria's national parks to hotels, restaurants and other tourist facilities in an effort to encourage private investment in the industry.

The latest figures show tourism directly contributed more than $8 billion, or about 3.2 per cent, to the Victorian economy in 2007-08. When the flow-on effects are taken into account, the figures rise to nearly $16 billion or about 6 per cent of the economy. More than 100,000 Victorians were directly employed in the industry that year, rising to 185,000 when flow-on jobs were counted. Tourism in Victoria grew over the past decade, as did Victoria's share of the national tourism market.

To observe that the industry does not need ''fixing'' is not to criticise former Labor treasurer John Lenders for his decision last September to ask the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission to inquire into ''regulatory barriers to the development of the tourism industry and the creation of new tourist infrastructure, particularly in localities with substantial growth potential''. Of course Victoria should do what it can to maximise the financial potential of its tourism industry. But in doing so, the state's environmental heritage must not be sacrificed, and it is in that context that some of the recommendations in the commission's draft report are deeply worrying.

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The commission has nominated the Great Ocean Road, the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula as areas where tourism opportunities are being missed because of restrictions on private developments. It in effect calls for an end to Victoria's ''nature-based tourism strategy'', which states that new, large-scale private developments should not be sited in national parks. Instead, the commission wants to recast Parks Victoria as an advocate for entrepreneurs, facilitating applications for private tourist developments on public land, including national parks.

Politicians and private investors wanting to exploit the popularity of Victoria's glorious national parks should remember that people visit the parks for an experience they cannot get elsewhere. To open the parks to the sort of tourist developments already available elsewhere would risk killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.








George Osborne still has a fortnight before he delivers his budget; but even at this distance, and despite all the usual Treasury secrecy, it is possible to place three bets on what will happen on 23 March. First, the chancellor will do something about petrol prices. That much is clear from statements this week such as "I am looking, of course, at fuel duty … I understand how families are hit hard by the rising cost of oil around the world … and I am seeing what I can do to help". Such unusually heavy hints are difficult to back away from, and it appears more than likely that Mr Osborne will scrap the penny rise in fuel duty planned for April. The chancellor will most probably claim that he is simply undoing a tax rise designed by his Labour predecessor, without fully explaining why he initially accepted it.

Second, one can predict that any such move by Mr Osborne will be pounced upon by his shadow, Ed Balls, as being mere copy-cattery. Of course, Mr Balls will say, I was calling for this last month. What took the chancellor so long?

The final prediction one can make is that however Mr Osborne may present his U-turn or Mr Balls is congratulated for the snookering of his opponent, that will not make this reversal of policy any more justified.

The reason why politicians are coming under such pressure to act on fuel prices is obvious: by the AA's estimates, unleaded petrol will break the £6-a-gallon mark this week, while a litre of diesel is already going for an average of £1.37 (the equivalent of £6.22 a gallon). Brent crude has shot up by over $10 a barrel in the past month alone and, for as long as the unrest continues in the Middle East, it is anyone's guess how high fuel prices may go. That means motorists and businesses are likely to see big dents in their budgets and profits. And as Tony Blair learned during the fuel protests that marked the start of last decade, politicians mess with motorists at their peril.

None of this makes a cut in fuel duty the right decision. This surge has been driven by market jitters over instability in Saudi Arabia. If traders are satisfied that Opec's biggest producer will not face serious unrest, crude prices will drop back down again. And the party that battled elections under the slogan Vote Blue, Go Green should be responding to higher fuel prices by supporting low-income groups and investing in public transport – not by giving a taxpayers' subsidy to every motorist, whether they are a millionaire or a milkman. To do so even while cutting spending on welfare and public services shows a sense of priorities informed by politics rather than fairness or considerations of environmental sustainability. That cannot be right, whichever party comes up with the idea.






Policy failures come in many shapes and sizes. But they are almost invariably accentuated by the choices that have to be made in periods of financial shortage. Yesterday the coalition government found itself confronted by two of them, one in policing policy and the other in higher education. The failures are radically different in many details. But they have this in common: they are both serious failures, and they were both foreseeable. They could both have been mitigated by clearer policymaking at an earlier stage. Instead each has been allowed to fester and become more difficult to solve politically as well as practically. Downing Street must be thanking Prince Andrew for providing some distraction.

On the policing cuts, which could involve the loss of 28,000 jobs out of a total of 245,000 (including 12,000 of the present 144,000 frontline officers), it is important to say the following: Britain has more police officers than it needs. These cuts, or something like them, do not put the public at significant increased risk. They can also be justified on cost and efficiency grounds. Police numbers have increased under successive governments without proper regard to social need and without much clue as to what the new recruits should usefully do. The problem has been compounded by an equally cavalier approach to pay and costs – which goes right back to Margaret Thatcher's opportunist pledge to pay the police more than Jim Callaghan's Labour – and by a bipartisan reluctance, ever since, to submit the policing needs of modern Britain to objective strategic scrutiny through something like the royal commission on policing for which some have rightly called.

Compared with those in teaching, nursing and even social work, police efficiency targets – the basis on which the case for more officers ought to rest – have often been vacuous and self-reinforcing, hence the now legendary bureaucracy. Labour and the Conservatives are equally to blame, indulging in a bidding war to increase police numbers even while crime was falling steadily and the cost of officer training was rising. Most of this was a response to a fear of crime which was at odds with much, though not all, lived reality in most of the country. It has taken the pressure of spending limits to compel some of the long-overdue attention to cuts, costs and perks set out in Tom Winsor's report yesterday. But we still lack the clear consensus on national and local policing needs that a royal commission could supply. Without it, there is no reason why, when financial pressures ease, the same old mindless calls for more police will resume. Sadly, Labour's instinctive condemnation of the cuts makes that more likely.

If the problem in policing policy is drift, the problem in higher education funding policy is impulsiveness. It ought not to have escaped the finest minds in Whitehall last autumn that the massive cuts in teaching grants in the spending review would cause universities to make good the lost income by making larger increases in student fees than they had initially planned. Those increased fees inescapably mean increased loans, thus loading the Treasury with significantly greater expenditure than it had budgeted for. The higher fees would also irresistibly act as an increased deterrent to students from less well-off backgrounds, thus increasing the pressure for more effective equalising social access arrangements of the sort which the regulator Offa set out yesterday. The combination of increased momentum towards a higher fee bill plus the difficulty of enforcing an effective equal access policy points more strongly than ever to a two-tier higher education system for the affluent and the poor. Here, as in policing, the failure to think clearly has triggered unintended consequences – and that is being charitable. But both policing and higher education are too important to be treated in such cavalier ways.






Look hard enough, and you can find certain similarities between Niall Ferguson, the current holder of the Philippe Roman chair at the LSE, and Ram Guha, who, it was announced last week, will succeed him in September. Both men like to engage audiences wider than the nearest senior common room; both have a pronounced impishness; and neither shirks from controversy (Guha has described the polemics of Arundhati Roy as "ventures into social science … self-regarding and self-indulgent … and also self-contradictory"). But Guha, in both career and writing, is a far more various creature than most of his predecessors. He writes about cricket, ecology, subcontinental political thought, and the post-independence history of India (his 2007 blockbuster India After Gandhi has already become the standard text on contemporary India). He does books and columns, and has a nice line in engagingly free-range lectures. With suitable eclecticism, Guha did not train as a historian, but did his bachelor's and master's in economics before researching the social history of forestry in northern India. Nor does he go in for the hedged-in conclusions and assumed clinicalness of so many of his colleagues. India after Gandhi ends with an epilogue, Why India Survives, in which the emotional investment Guha has in his subject and his country is allowed ventilation. Guha claims to be "speaking as a historian rather than as citizen", but his real achievement is to show that one can be both – and still do excellent work.








Seventy-four new law schools have been established since 2004 under a reform policy for the legal profession. A new bar exam was introduced for graduates from these schools while the traditional bar exam, open to anybody, was continued. The latter, which had a history of more than 60 years, came to an end recently. It is important that the government improve the new bar exam so that passing it signifies competence in lawyers, judges and public prosecutors.


The government pushed a plan to let some 3,000 applicants pass the new bar exam to be held around 2010. The plan was based on the view of the government's judiciary reform panel that Japan should have a large number of people in legal profession who have wide social experience, expert knowledge in legal matters and a keen sense of human rights. But in 2010, only 2,133 people passed the exam.


In December, the number of lawyers in Japan surpassed the 30,000 mark for the first time. The government's plan calls for eventually increasing the number of lawyers, judges and public prosecutors to 50,000.


Although the new bar exam was designed for graduates of newly established law schools, the government has decided to revise it. Under the revision, people who are not graduates of such law schools can take the bar exam if they pass a preliminary test.


The shape of the preliminary test poses a difficult problem. If it is too easy, the raison d'etre of the new law schools will be destroyed. If it is too severe, it will only benefit people who have enough time and money to prepare for the test. Each time the preliminary test is given, its results must be closely examined to accumulate data to improve it.


The Japan Federation of Bar Associations is rather negative toward raising the number of lawyers, saying that demand for lawyers' services is not increasing under the current economic downturn. People who have newly acquired a lawyer's license have difficulty getting jobs. But it must be remembered that many people need timely and appropriate assistance in legal matters.







Political turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East triggered by the change of government in Tunisia is pushing up crude oil prices. Crude oil prices, which were rather stable in the range of $70 to $80 per barrel the past year, are now hovering above $100 per barrel.


Food prices are also rising. Rising food prices are said to be behind a series of antigovernment demonstrations in North Africa and the Middle East. High oil and food prices are likely to hit households and could put a brake on the global economic recovery.


About 60 percent of world oil deposits are in the Gulf coastal areas of the Middle East. For the time being there will be sufficient crude oil and oil products reserves. But if antigovernment protests intensify in oil-producing countries, speculative funds may move to push up crude oil prices.


In the past month, crude oil prices rose some 17 percent. The current level is nearly three times the level of mid-February 2009, five months after the Lehman Brothers financial collapse. Electricity and city gas bills in Japan will rise this month.


Food prices have been also on the rise due to an increase in demand in emerging economies, bad harvests caused by climate changes and inflow of speculative money into markets. The food price index of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization hit 236 in February, with 2002 to 2004 serving as the base years — a record high since statistics were first taken in 1990.


On March 9 and 10, U.N. organizations and Asian developing economies will have an emergency meeting in Bangkok to discuss how to deal with rising food prices. The Asian Development Bank fears that continued political turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East and rises in the prices of raw materials and foods could intensify inflationary pressure and push down the economic growth of the Asia-Pacific region.


In addition to crude oil and foods, iron ore and metallurgical coal prices are also rising.


The Bank of Japan should carefully watch the situation and strive to implement monetary policy that will prevent an economic downturn accompanied by price rises.








SINGAPORE — Since China's surging demand for oil started to exceed domestic production in the early 1990s, Beijing has been preparing for a range of possible threats to its energy supply — including turmoil in the Middle East.


The world's second largest oil consumer after the United States has part-financed and built, or is building, a network of transnational pipelines to import crude oil from fields in Central Asia and Russia.


Chinese state-owned companies are also constructing a 1,100-km pipeline through Myanmar to carry oil imports from the Middle East and Africa into southwestern China, bypassing the increasingly congested Straits of Malacca and Singapore.


This international waterway linking the Indian and Pacific oceans is the shortest sea route between Middle Eastern and African oil exporters, and East Asian economies that buy most of their oil from these exporters.


It is described by the U.S. energy department as "the key choke point in Asia" on the long sea supply line that brings oil in giant tankers to China and other leading economies in the region.


The two-way shipping channel is less than 3-km wide in the straits off Singapore. Despite coordinated patrols and other assurances from the coastal states, Beijing remains worried that this vital artery could be blocked in a crisis, ranging from a serious shipping accident to a terrorist attack or a military confrontation with the U.S. and its allies in the region.


Beijing's strategy of diversifying both its sources of imported oil and their routes into China is likely to be a partial success, at least in the short term. A study by the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) published last month calculates that China's total pipeline oil imports from Central Asia and Russia, and through Myanmar, could reach 1.44 million barrels per day (BPD) over the next few years. This would be 23 percent of China's projected total oil imports of 6.4 million BPD in 2015.


Although oil transported through the Myanmar pipeline by 2014 at a rate 440,000 BPD would still be from the Middle East or Africa, only about 54 percent of China's total oil imports would then come via the Malacca and Singapore straits, down from the current level of 77 percent.


Nonetheless, because China's demand for foreign oil is already so big and expected to get bigger, China will need a much more effective multipronged strategy than overland pipeline construction to achieve longer term oil security. This will involve using oil much more efficiently and building adequate reserves for emergencies, both of which Japan has done.


China must also shape its oil diplomacy as part of an overall policy to cope with increasing dependence on foreign countries for essential raw material imports, including energy, minerals and food.


The outcome of this debate in China will determine the extent to which the world's most populous nation uses its growing economic and financial strength to transform itself from a continental state to a continental maritime power deploying long-range military forces to protect Chinese interests.


Beijing must also decide the extent to which it will use its power cooperatively or coercively with other nations and in international institutions. This has important implications for East Asia because of China's extensive overlapping offshore claims with several Southeast Asian countries in the South China Sea and with Japan in the East China Sea.


China is expected to put aircraft carriers into service, possibly starting as early as next year. Its power projection capabilities will continue to increase. Scott Bray, senior China specialist in the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence, has summarized the outlook in this way: "China likely intends to use aircraft carriers to bring the air component of maritime power to the South China Sea and other regional areas to protect Chinese sea lanes (and) shipping, and enforce maritime claims.


Additionally, an aircraft carrier would likely be used in regional humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions."


Why must Beijing reshape its foreign and defense policies based to a significant degree on its energy interests? Since China first became a net oil importer in 1993, its dependence on foreign supplies has risen to 55 per cent in 2010 and is forecast by the IEA to reach 79 per cent by 2030.


The IEA expects that in the five years to 2015, almost half of global oil demand growth will come from China. Unless China can sharply reduce its oil use or find a cost-effective substitute for oil, it will continue to depend heavily on suppliers in the Middle East and Africa, many of them in politically volatile countries.


At present, seaborne supplies make up more than 80 percent of China's total oil imports, meaning that 40 percent of all the oil used by China to provide feedstock for refining and petrochemicals, and fuel its transport system, comes by sea.


Nearly all is the via the Malacca and Singapore straits. As the IEA points out, it is only the share of Chinese oil imports transiting the straits over the next few years that will fall, not the total volume. This is actually projected to increase to nearly 3.5 million BPD in 2015, from around 3.1 million BPD now, in line with rapidly rising Chinese demand for oil.


China's reliance on seaborne oil imports seems set to grow in the years ahead. This can only mean that Beijing's interest in the continuing security and reliability of the Malacca and Singapore straits as a key supply channel will intensify.


Michael Richardson is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South East Asian Studies in Singapore.








LONDON — "The enemy of yesterday is the friend of today . . . . [I]t was a real war, but those brothers are free men now." Thus spoke Seif al-Islam Gadhafi in March 2010, referring to the leaders of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an armed organization that had attempted to assassinate his father, Moammar Gadhafi, three times in the mid-1990s.


This may seem surprising. A few days ago, the very same man promised Libyans a "sea of blood" if his father's regime was toppled. Indeed, Seif al-Islam, an elegant, soft-spoken graduate of the London School of Economics, has now become a prime suspect in massive crimes against humanity.


People like me, who study the tactics of Arab dictatorships and the causes of their persistence, are less surprised, if at all, by this turn of events. Arab authoritarian regimes, unlike others that have given way to democracy, are incapable of self-reform; they have, however, mastered the tactics needed to prolong the life spans of their aging despotisms.


Creation of a hydra-headed security apparatus, mass murder of opponents (both real and imagined), widespread torture, and sustained censorship and repression are some of the common tactics used by Gadhafi, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, former Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Syrian President Bashar Assad, and other Arab autocrats.


But Gadhafi's regime became an international pariah mainly for a series of terrorist plots abroad, not for crimes against humanity committed against Libyans. Oil interests and the regime's "dovish" face in recent years successfully extended its life.


Gadhafi's dovish period coincided with the rise to prominence of his second son, Seif al-Islam, and his sister Ayesha, the latter becoming a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations. Seif cultivated a reputation for being a "reformer": He called for a national-reconciliation process with opposition groups, supposedly liberalized the media, supported charity and development initiatives, and most importantly, became a face that the West could talk to.


The two public fronts for those initiatives were Libya Tomorrow and the Gadhafi Foundation for Development. Behind them, however, Libyan Military Intelligence, headed by Abdullah al-Sanosi, was giving conditional support and setting the general direction for their activities.


The "reforms" proposed by Seif al-Islam included releasing some political prisoners, especially those, like the LIFG, who declared their allegiance to Gadhafi's regime. But concrete steps leading to government transparency and accountability, such as inquiries into oil wealth and state expenditures, or serious investigation of crimes against humanity, were all beyond his will and imagination.


Despite the cosmetic nature of the "reforms," other regime factions, most notably those led by Seif al-Islam's brothers Mutassim, al-Sa'adi, and Khamis, challenged them. Behind the brothers were other security agencies: the Internal Security Forces, the Revolutionary Committees, and, to a lesser extent, the Jamahiriya Security Apparatus (Foreign Intelligence).


When I visited Tripoli in March 2010 for a "national reconciliation" conference, the conflicting statements given by Seif al-Islam and security officials surprised me. The head of Internal Security Forces, Colonel al-Tuhami Khaled, another principal suspect in the crimes currently being committed against Libyans, refused to call the process a "reconciliation." For him, it was "repentance from heresy."


Given the recent wave of uprisings, it is more evident than ever that any "reform" initiatives undertaken in the Arab world previously were aimed only at sustaining repressive dictatorships and escaping punishment for criminal abuse of power. The reform "debate" within these regimes boiled down to a struggle between different branches of the security-military apparatus over the best way to preserve the status quo.


Arabs, of course, have known for years that their rulers were beyond reform. That is why, in order to have a chance to catch up with the rest of the free, developed world, many of them are now risking their lives to remove those regimes. What is happening today in the Arab world is history in the making, written in the blood, sweat, and tears of the victims of decades of violent repression.


When asked by a journalist what I would like to say to Seif al-Islam if I were ever to meet him again, I replied: "I hope to see you in the International Criminal Court, beside Mubarak and Ben Ali." Millions of Arabs of my generation and younger would probably give the same answer if asked what should become of the men who controlled their present and sought to destroy their future.


Omar Ashour is a lecturer in Middle East politics and director of the Middle East Graduate Studies Program at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter. He is the author of "The De-Radicalization of Jihadists: Transforming Armed Islamist Movements." © 2011 Project Syndicate








Special to The Japan Times

HONG KONG — There was much fanfare last month when Beijing reported that China had overtaken Japan to become the second biggest economy in the world. But this celebration was bogus — because the reality is that in real terms China has already become the biggest economy in the world, edging slightly past the United States.


The answer to how this can be true, only second last month and now the biggest in the world, is that the measurements are different. In market prices, China's gross domestic product (GDP) is $5.88 trillion, far behind the $14.6 trillion of the U.S. But in terms of output volume, China is worth $14.8 trillion, more than the U.S.' $14.6 trillion.


More and more international bodies, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, recognize the limitations of market exchange rates in assessing economic strength across international borders. You only have to look at the controversy over whether China's renminbi is manipulated, messaged or otherwise undervalued to appreciate this. The CIA World Factbook comments that, "Because China's exchange rate is determined by fiat, rather than by market forces, the official exchange rate measure of GDP is not an accurate measure of China's output."


Prices of goods and services are typically far cheaper in developing countries where labor and other costs are less. This is especially so for the wide range of things, including medicine, retail and construction activities, even haircuts and taxi rides, which are not traded across borders. Purchasing power parity (PPP) is an alternative measure of economic reality, using output according to volume rather than price.


But since 2005 the common PPP calculations have been flawed, argues Arvind Subramaniam, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, in claiming that China's economy is bigger than that of the U.S.


The IMF in October 2010 put China's GDP PPP at $10.084 trillion. Subramaniam takes issue with the IMF figures. He criticizes a major 2005 revision based on a project by the International Comparison of Prices (ICP). As a result of this, GDP figures for China and India were revised downward by 40 percent. The 2005 revisions form the basis for subsequent IMF PPP figures.


Many economists have cast doubt on the ICP work because of an urban bias in its price sampling in China: It used data from 11 cities and suburbs but no rural prices, partly because of the refusal of the Chinese authorities to allow collection of rural data. Subramaniam uses corrections for these biases in the latest version 7 of the Penn World Tables from the University of Pennsylvania, probably the most respected international comparisons of production, income and prices. China's PPP-based GDP has been revised upwards by 27 percent for 2005 (and India's by 13 percent) as a result of the corrections.


In addition, Subramaniam makes further adjustments to take account of what has happened since 2005, and this takes him into the controversial area of exchange rates. He argues that IMF data at face value lead to an "implausible" increase in the real cost of living in China relative to the U.S. (equivalent to a real appreciation of the Chinese currency) of 35 percent. Most of the real exchange rate indexes for China, including those of the Bank for International Settlements, as well as analysis of productivity differentials between China and its trading partners in the IMF's Article IV consultation last year, point to currency appreciation of 10 to 15 percent.


Having made adjustments of 27 percent for the revisions to the 2005 estimate and of 20 percent for lower cost of living rises, Subramaniam lifts the true PPP measure of China's GDP by 47 percent, giving China $14.8 trillion against the $14.6 trillion of the U.S. He concedes that the difference is so small as to be within the margin of error.


Subramaniam's claims are only slightly ahead of other respectable and respected forecasts. The Conference Board, the U.S. economic research association, said in November that China would overtake the U.S. by next year. Perhaps more worrying for the U.S., which has been used to being the world's top dog, is that the Conference Board predicts that by 2020 China's output will be almost half that of the U.S., and China will account for 24.1 percent of world output, against only 14.8 percent by the U.S.


What does it matter — or is it all a case of lies, damned lies and statistics (being the most damnable of all lies)? If you could put all the economists in the world together and get them to reach a conclusion, it would make little difference to the lives of anyone, whether in China or the U.S. It does mean that at a stroke China achieves a real symbolic victory. It also means that the per capita income of Chinese vaults to $11,047 (from $7,518 under the old PPP method and $4,283 at market exchange rates).


Of course, having a much higher income in real U.S. dollars does not give the ordinary poor Chinese an extra meal or haircut or even money for a taxi ride. China remains a relatively poor developing country because of its large and sprawling population, but these revisions do give it a significant lift up the global table. If other countries stay the same, the revision lifts China by 20 places to 72nd, just below Brazil and above Iran in the per capita league.


If China is the biggest economy in the world, it can also argue for a bigger role, for example in international institutions: why should the U.S. hold 16 percent of the voting rights and effective veto in the IMF and World Bank if China is bigger? But being the world's biggest economy also implies responsibilities and a spotlight that the rulers in Beijing may wish to avoid. If per capita income is more than $11,000 in real terms, what is the gap between rich and poor, and is Beijing doing enough to lift the millions of rural have-nots? Is it spending too much on the military? Is it captive of narrow mercantile forces that will lead it and the world into disaster?


Professor T.N. Srinivasen of Yale University argues that China tends to exaggerate its growth rate to demonstrate its strength and dynamism, but understates its level of GDP so that it can present itself as a poor country that should be exempted from bigger contributions to global public goods.


China's Premier Wen Jiabao and the mainland's security forces in their different ways, probably prompted by demonstrations in the Middle East rather than Subramaniam's GDP revisions, have belatedly realized that it is not only the quantity of growth that counts but its quality and where it is spread.


Kevin Rafferty is editor in chief of PlainWords Media








CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Doctors have long known that it is not just how much you eat, but what you eat, that contributes to or diminishes your health. Likewise, economists have long noted that for countries gorging on capital inflows, there is a big difference between debt instruments and equity-like investments, including both stocks and foreign direct investment.


So, with policymakers and pundits railing against sustained oversized trade imbalances, we need to recognize that the real problems are rooted in excessive concentrations of debt. If G20 governments stood back and asked themselves how to channel a much larger share of the imbalances into equity-like instruments, the global financial system that emerged just might be a lot more robust than the crisis-prone system that we have now.


Unfortunately, we are very far from the idealized world in which financial markets efficiently share risk. Of the roughly $200 trillion in global financial assets today, almost three-quarters are in some kind of debt instrument, including bank loans, corporate bonds and government securities. The derivatives market certainly helps spread risk more widely than this superficial calculation implies, but the basic point stands.


Certainly, there are some good economic reasons why lenders have such an insatiable appetite for debt. Imperfect information and difficulties in monitoring firms pose significant obstacles to idealized risk-sharing instruments.


But policy-induced distortions also play an enormous role. Many countries' tax systems hugely favor debt over equity. The housing boom in the United States might never have reached the proportions that it did if homeowners had been unable to treat interest payments on home loans as a tax deduction. Corporations are allowed to deduct interest payments on bonds, but stock dividends are effectively taxed at the both the corporate and the individual level.


Central banks and finance ministries are also complicit, since debt gets bailed out far more aggressively than equity does. But, contrary to populist rhetoric, it is not just rich, well-connected bondholders who get bailed out. Many small savers place their savings in so-called money-market funds that pay a premium over ordinary federally insured deposits.


Shouldn't they expect to face risk? Yet a critical moment in the crisis came when, shortly after the mid-September 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers, a money-market fund "broke the buck" and couldn't pay 100 cents on the dollar. Of course, it was bailed out along with all the other money-market funds.


]I am not advocating a return to the early Middle Ages, when Church usury laws forbade interest on loans. Back then, financial-market participants had to devise fantastic schemes and contortions to disguise interest payments.


Yet today the pendulum has arguably swung too far in the opposite direction. Perhaps scholars who argue that Islamic financial systems' prohibition on interest generates massive inefficiencies ought to be looking at these systems for positive ideas that Western policymakers might adopt.


Unfortunately, overcoming the deeply ingrained debt bias in rich-world financial systems will not be easy. In the U.S., for example, no politician is anxious to say that home-mortgage deductions should be eliminated, or that dividend payments should be tax-free. Likewise, developing countries should accelerate the pace of economic reform, and equity markets in too many emerging economies are like the Wild West, with unclear rules and lax enforcement.


Worse still, even as the G20 talks about finding a "fix" for global imbalances, some of the policy changes that its members have adopted are arguably exacerbating them. For example, we now have a super-size International Monetary Fund, whose lending capacity has been tripled, to roughly $750 billion. Europe has similarly expanded its regional bailout facility. These funds may prove to be an effective short-term salve, but, over the long run, they will likely fuel moral-hazard problems, and potentially plant the seeds of deeper crises in the future.


A better approach would be to create a mechanism for orchestrating orderly sovereign default, both to minimize damage when crises do occur, and to discourage lenders from assuming that taxpayers' money will solve all major problems. The IMF proposed exactly such a mechanism in 2001, and a similar idea has been discussed more recently for the euro zone. Unfortunately, however, ideas for debt-restructuring mechanisms remain just that: purely theoretical constructs.


In the meantime, the IMF and the G20 can help by finding better ways to assess the vulnerability of each country's financial structure — no easy task, given governments' immense cleverness when it comes to cooking their books.


Policymakers can also help find ways to reduce barriers to the development of stock markets, and to advance ideas for new kinds of state-contingent bonds, such as the GDP-linked bonds that Yale's Robert Shiller has proposed. (Shiller bonds, in theory, pay more when a country's economy is growing and less when it is in recession.)


Of course, even if the composition of international capital flows can be changed, there are still many good reasons to try to reduce global imbalances. An asset diet rich in equities and direct investment and low in debt cannot substitute for other elements of fiscal and financial health. But our current unwholesome asset diet is an important component of risk, one that has received far too little attention in the policy debate.


Kenneth Rogoff is a professor of economics and public policy at Harvard University, and was formerly chief economist at the IMF. © 2011 Project Syndicate









What a big predicament is now gripping the government. At a time when its coalition is weakening to the point of debilitating its policy-making capability, the government has to take a painful measure to reduce fuel subsidy in the wake of skyrocketing oil prices caused by the Arab political turmoil.

However the political situation is the government should decide immediately to take the bull by the horns, raising fuel prices, otherwise the fiscal deficit will rise to a critical, unsustainable level and heighten our sovereign risks. Export smuggling will also increase as the gap between domestic and international prices is now almost US$0.40 per liter.

The government should not entertain any delusion that the current wave of oil price rises would subside within the next few weeks because the oil price shock is not caused by economic factors but political uncertainty in the Middle East.

Remember the Arab oil embargo of 1973, the Iranian revolution in 1978 and the Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 that set off global oil crisis? Like the financial crisis in Asia in 1997-1998, the contagion of the political turmoil would continue to spread in the Middle East and North Africa, which together account for 35 percent of the world's oil output.

Given the market psychology, a serious supply disruption, or even the fear of it, could send the oil price soaring further amid the gradual shrinking of spare capacity in major producers. At its worst, the danger is a vicious circle whereby costlier oil and political uncertainty feeds each other.

Fuel subsidies are not only a matter of misallocation of scarce resources. The wasteful spending of tens of billions of dollars is also an insult to justice because more than 55 percent of the subsidies have been enjoyed by private car owners at the expense of the low-income and poor people.

We think the best of the three options proposed by a team of experts to the government on Monday is raising the price of subsidized fuel at least by 11 percent or Rp 500 to Rp 5,000 ($0.55) per liter or almost 40 percent below market prices so as not to cause shocking inflationary pressures.

But that is not enough. The government should go ahead with its earlier plan, already approved by the parliament last December, to ration subsidized fuel only to public transport vehicles and motor bikes. But the price of unsubsidized fuel should be capped at Rp 8,000/liter as suggested by the team of experts.

Anything less than these measures — raising the price of subsidized fuel and obliging private car owners to buy fuel at international market prices — would not be sufficient to cope with the oil price shock.

International prices now are already more than 25 percent higher than the $80/barrel assumed for setting the subsidized fuel price. The government has acknowledged that every $1 rise (from the assumed price) of the oil price will increase the budget deficit by Rp 800 billion ($88.8 million).

Yet more important in the long run is that when people are made to believe that the era of cheap fuel has stopped, they will begin to reorganize their lives accordingly and businesses will prefer using fuel-efficient machinery and invest in fuel-conservation programs.





The year 2011 has brought an interesting challenge for the Indonesian economy in the form of inflation or price increases of aggregate goods.

One major indicator for this challenge is the rise of the Bank Indonesia (BI) rate from 6.5 percent to 6.75 percent in early February. This was the first change of the BI rate since August 2009 and also gives us signals that in 2011 the central bank has started to beat the drums of war against inflation.

After a quick recovery from the global economic crisis in 2008, Indonesia has enjoyed an impressive economic growth of 4.9 percent in 2009 and 6.0 percent in 2010.

However the inflation rate rose much faster from 2.78 percent in 2009 to 6.96 percent in 2010. In January 2011 alone, inflation stood at 0.89 percent due to an extraordinary increase in agriculture products such as rice and chili.

Therefore, it seems reasonable that BI, as the guardian of macro and monetary stability, has started
to feel inflationary pressures and initiated a tight monetary policy characterized by an increase of the BI rate.

Another issue in the near future to worry about is the impact of the revolution that occurred in North African countries and the Middle East, which are well known as oil producing countries. Political instability in those regions can trigger volatility in world oil prices.

In fact, the price has passed the psychological level of US$100 per barrel at the end of February. This rise in world oil prices and low national oil production will always be an important factor pushing the government to formulate good policies, which includes reduction of the fuel subsidy from budget.

Actually the government already has a plan to reduce energy subsidies, including oil and electricity by 10-15 percent per year until the year 2014. This scheme includes the elimination of the entire subsidy in that year.

Although based on the report of OECD Economic Survey on Indonesia in 2010, the government
applies a fuel subsidy to help the poor so that they can meet their basic needs.

However, high fuel subsidies will disrupt the signal of changes in prices and may cause uncertainty in investment decision making.

Moreover, it will reduce the government's fiscal ability to finance development activities because if the world fuel price exceeds the assumption in the state budget, the government will have to cover the price margin.

The other problem is, if the government maintains the fuel price at a low level this will encourage people to consume more and more fuel.

It will also reduce the incentive to improve efficiency in energy use or research and utilization of other alternative energy sources. In addition, this subsidy is misplaced because in fact the cheap fuel price is enjoyed by consumers from the middle and upper classes.

In the end we must realize that the increase in the world oil price will force the government to reduce fuel subsidies. But after that happens the government will have to face a period of adjustment that brings two important kinds of homework.

The first issue pertains to the threat of a slow-down of macro-economic performance. History shows that every time the government cuts the fuel subsidy, economic growth slowed.

For example, in October 2005 when the price of premium gasoline rose by 87.5 percent from Rp 2,400 per liter to Rp 4,500 per liter as a result of the subsidy reduction, the country's economy grew 5.13 percent, lower than the 2006 and 2007 mark of more than 6.0 percent. This occurred because the increase in fuel prices triggered inflation, and especially a rise of production and distribution costs.

After the fuel price rises, the producers could not immediately raise their goods price. They wanted their consumers to continue buying their products even after the fuel price increase.

So the wisest choice for entrepreneurs was to cut the number of goods they produced while recalculating the cost of production and planning to increase the price of their products in the next period.

In the worse case, it may also be possible to lay off some of their employees to reduce pressure on production costs, which means fuel price hikes can lead to unemployment.

To deal with these problems, the government needs to think about strategic steps to shore up both the production of major industrial sectors such as steel, cement and mining as well as in the informal sector such as farming, fishery and also small and medium enterprises.

Loans with soft credit rates and simple processes or tax incentives can help entrepreneurs maintain production without having to lay off their employees.

The second homework which is also the most important task for governments is to maintain the purchasing power of the people, especially the poor.

It is advisable that the government implement policies that compensate for the decline of the real income of the poorest communities and prevent the poverty rate increase in Indonesia.

Referring to the past experience, direct cash assistance for the community is an example of a policy that can be well accepted by poor people, and has a proven capacity to reduce the economic turmoil due to a reduction in fuel subsidies. This policy is also practically effective, because the cost can be measured by the government.

These two government policy packages, which compensate for the increase in production costs and also  maintain people purchasing power, should be implemented simultaneously with continuous evaluations, so that they can reduce other problems that arise after fuel subsidies are lifted.

The formulation of appropriate policies becomes more important if the government delays adjusting the world oil price in the state budget.

Nobody wants to see the cost of subsidizing fuel prices rise more than the formulation of the policies either.

This subsidy is misplaced because in fact the cheap fuel price is enjoyed by consumers from the middle and upper classes.

The writer is pursuing a Master's degree in economics at Universite Paris 1, Pantheon-Sorbonne.






It is regrettable that the issue of infant formula milk contamination may only end up with a plan to conduct another investigative research. This plan clearly shows the government's non-compliance to the Supreme Court's verdict, which demanded three institutions publish a list of contaminated milk products distributed in 2003-2006.

To date, there have been no convincing reasons why the Health Ministry, the Food and Drug Supervisory Body (BPOM) and the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) refused to abide by the verdict.

The ministry assumes no obligation to publish, as it was not the institution that conducted the research, while IPB argues that they have no legal basis to publish its research findings to the public.

If viewed more closely, this case involves the interests of global corporations, and the foremost global producers of formula milk. Undoubtedly, there is a fear that these corporations will have to face legal suits filed by consumers when the research findings are disseminated. This does not include the decrease in worldwide consumer's confidence in several leading brands that would also lead to a decline in companies' profit.

In short, the adverse impact that would occur and litigation costs that must be paid by these corporations will be very big indeed. At the same time, the government's dependence on foreign direct investments has also been so high. This situation explains why the Health Ministry chose to ignore the ruling of the Supreme Court, and violated the public's right to information.

The ability of global corporations in influencing the government's public policies is not unusual. There are at least three different ways that are often carried out by global corporations in protecting their business interests in developing countries. And there have been many examples where the foreign corporation uses these means to secure their business activities in Indonesia.

First, foreign investment has the characteristics where capital can be transferred and factories can be relocated from one country to another. This situation requires host governments to maintain positive investment climate, because the opposite condition would lead to the relocation of capital to other countries.

"The lack of legal certainty would make the government become more powerless in regulating global corporations."

It is common that when many foreign investors are threatening to relocate their operations to another country, the government will im-mediately take measures to amend regulations on labor, taxation and business permits. Unfortunately, in many cases these measures are taken without taking into consideration the social impacts that may follow.

Second, foreign investment activities are usually conducted in cooperation with politicians or people who have access to government. This cooperation is generally done through the mechanism of joint operation contracts or by allocating shares ownership for a national company that has a direct or indirect affiliation with political leaders or government officials.

This cooperation is required by global corporations to ensure that the parliament and government will not enact any law or regulation that could adversely impact their business interests.

For instance, there was a joint operation between an Australian mining company and a national company which has affiliations with the leader of a political party. These companies invested in a natural gas exploitation project in Sidoarjo, East Java. Apparently, this project has been stopped due to the mud flow. Perhaps, because of the political influence wielded by the national partners, that foreign company can safely withdraw from this project, regardless of the fact that social and economic impacts are still felt by the communities affected by the mud flow up until recently.

Third, when unfavorable situations occur, foreign corporations will usually request their government initiate a "G to G" settlement. Indeed, there is no guarantee that the host government would immediately change its policy, but the bargaining power owned by governments from developed countries may at least force governments in developing countries to delay or replace the policy out of concern for the one that is less harmful to the interests of foreign investment.

The use of a G to G settlement by the foreign investor in an attempt to rescue their business operations in Indonesia is not unprecedented. This can clearly be seen when the government of one developed country express its disappointment against the ruling of the Commercial Court on the bankruptcy of a subsidiary of a Canadian insurance company in 2002. Eventually, that ruling was annulled by the Supreme Court. Whether it is true or not, the public might have the opinion that foreign pressure had influences the final ruling in the case.

So what should be done by the Indonesian government in addressing the pressures of global corporate power? The main problem in this country is the lack of legal certainty. The three ways taken by global corporations in securing their investment activity as described above occurs precisely because they believe that the rule of law in Indonesia cannot provide certainty on the limits of rights and obligations of persons and legal entities.

In the milk contamination case for instance, it is unclear who has the obligation to announce the research findings which may affect public safety. This is not to mention the issue of the legal protection of the researchers, and the producers themselves.

Obviously, producers must also be given equal opportunities to explain and prove that their product is safe for consumption. Unfortunately, the government has not yet provided a clear and fair accountability mechanism in this issue.

The lack of legal certainty would make the government become more powerless in regulating global corporations. There have been many cases in which companies with global brands have been willing to pay compensation and recall their products from the market. Similarly, there was a case where a global corporation in the mining sector was willing to abide by the court's decision to make restitutions following a leak of one of its pipelines. Can the same thing also happen in Indonesia?

There are many things that must be done, but among the most important issues is legal certainty. A legal certainty must guarantee that any act detrimental to the interests of the public will be made accountable through a transparent and fair mechanism.

The writer, a lecturer and researcher of international law at the School of Law in Airlangga University, Surabaya, is a PhD candidate at Macquarie University, Sydney.





Millions of Indonesians were fans of the late Corry Aquino, even when she was no longer president of the Philippines, because they regarded her as a perfect symbol of their resistance against Soeharto. Twelve years after her successful 1986 campaign of the people's power to oust dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who ordered the killing of her husband Benigno Aquino Jr. at the Manila Airport, Indonesians were eventually able to end Soeharto's dictatorship.

Now her son, President Benigno Aquino III is visiting Jakarta (although he could have come earlier since he won the election last May) as a part of an ASEAN tradition where the leaders of its member countries are expected to conduct introductory visits to other member countries. Many Indonesians however did not notice Benigno's visit.

His mother, Corry, had at least one good memory of Indonesia. Amid several attempts by the military to topple her, she hosted the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Manila in December 1987. Defying the advice of his generals, Soeharto decided to go to Manila for the summit. Only after Soeharto's decision other ASEAN leaders decided that the show must go on.

Talks between President Aquino and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono have special significance as both leaders have won direct mandates from voters, unlike the other eight ASEAN members. Both countries thus have the moral obligation to spread democratic values to the region.

At the meeting on Tuesday, President Yudhoyono said that he and Aquino agreed to boost cooperation in, among other areas, combating terrorism. Apart from terrorism, the Indonesian government and Indonesian people could learn from their guest how to successfully manage their migrant worker export business. While our workers are often abused abroad, Filipino workers have much stronger bargaining power against their employers and enjoy excellent protection from their government.

We should not be ashamed to learn from the Philippines on this issue as, the migrant worker business is too lucrative to ignore. But learning is not enough, as what is needed more is the government's strong protection of their workers overseas.








President Mahinda Rajapaksa speaking at the opening of an eye hospital last Friday again opened the eyes of the people to understand the importance of good health and a people-centered health service. He stressed that if people were not in good health, they would not be able to think clearly or work hard with commitment or conviction to contribute much towards the development of the country and become more productive for the common good of all. Political and other leaders need to understand that more than preaching from platforms and making promises that are not kept, they need to be good teachers of the people. For good teaching, example is vital and political leaders especially, with so much decision-making power at their disposal need to practise what they preach and preach what they practise.

To restore a health service where the well-being of the people is given top priority both in the public and private sectors, some vital structural adjustments are urgently needed. Instead of focusing on curative measures or setting up new hospitals, more attention needs to be given to preventive healthcare by educating the people on how to get good and nutritious food and quality medicinal drugs at affordable prices and how to change their lifestyle. By example, political, religious and other leaders need to teach the people about the wisdom and values of a simple and humble lifestyle to become healthy, wealthy and wise. One of the urgent structural adjustments needed in the health service is legislation to effectively implement a charter of patients' rights and responsibilities.

Patients' rights refer to what is owed to the patient as a human being by the healthcare providers and the State. Patients' rights and responsibilities vary in different countries and in different jurisdictions.  The prevailing cultural and social norms will determine the patients' rights and responsibilities in a particular country.

Assuring that the rights of patients are protected, requires much more than educating policy makers and healthcare providers. It requires educating citizens about what they should expect from their governments and their healthcare providers.





Yet, it is at the provincial-level, where power should rest for a still-fledgling party like the JVP has to set its sights on. Empowerment of the Provinces as a via media between western models of federalism and the Sri Lankan reality of 'unitary State' is what can deliver results

It is here that the JVP' bold and positive reference to the 'federal' word assumes added significance. The Sri Lankan democracy provided for on-course political corrections andchanges that were/are not available to and in countries such as Egypt and Libya, Tunisia and Bahrain. For an emerging/re-emerging section in the democratic polity to stay relevant and grow with it, it should be able to access power and use that power to deliver on the poll promises that had attracted the masses to the party in the first place.

It is anybody's guess thus as to why a party having created a mass-base, cadre-strength and organization-base delivery mechanisms suiting the democratic polity should still stick to dogma-induced violence just because a Lenin or Mao preached them, and benefited from them, in local conditions. 'Class' independent of the all-consuming 'caste' in the South Asian context was a dogma that did not win anywhere. Such parties were replaced by regional political entities that were dogmatic on record but pragmatic otherwise, or larger political parties with greater staying capacities. The JVP belongs to the second class.

That way, to JVP, from the days of founder Wijeweera, had externalised the 'enemy'.

Therein lay its internal contradiction. Having imported ideology from the communist world, it further externalised the party's agenda and focus by harping on 'Indian imperialism'. It should have instead sought to learn its lessons from the success story of the Indian model of 'democratic socialism'. Like the otherwise divided Pakistan that had made competitive anti-India rhetoric the raison de'taire of its very existence as a nation-State, the JVP is still paying for its folly, so to say.

Having failed to leap-frog into national politics, where its inherent limitations have since been exposed, the JVP needs to start at the grassroots-level all over again. Lowering its ambitions and goals to achievable and acceptable levels would imply that it starts with the local government. Here again, the upcoming polls could upset the party as much as thereare chances for reviving its hopes. In near-similar circumstances during the first Rajapaksa
presidency, the JVP, despite being a power-sharing partner of the SLFP, contested alone –and lost, all out.

Yet, it is at the provincial-level, where power should rest for a still-fledgling party like the JVP has to set its sights on. Empowerment of the Provinces as a via media between western models of federalism and the Sri Lankan reality of 'unitary State' is what can deliver results, not just for parties like the JVP, which still represent a substantial section of the national constituency, however limited its geographical reach could be. In a way, the 'Sinhala nationalist' stance of the JVP in the immediate past itself is an unintended via media, between the violent era from the past and political empowerment.

It is inevitable that the 'Sinhala nationalist' Southern Province is where the political battle will be joined. The Rajapaksas are already there. The 'reformist UNP is said to be considering more than a limited role to Sajith Premadasa, who belongs to the future generation and also to the Province. The JVP still has its reduced reach there. Without interference and influence by minority Tamil-speaking tri-denominational voters, Southern Province provides veritable possibilities, based on who or what becomes the electoral issue(s) in given circumstances.

The national polity having sent it back packing to the political past, the JVP should realize that any party is a product of its circumstances. Sri Lanka would not stand for violence just as it may not be as yet ready to accept 'federalism', even when accepted by the party.

Today, while looking at federalism that unites, the JVP has to clarify to the rest of the Sri Lankan polity and society what it means by the new terminology – and what it does not mean or imply.

Such a clarification is needed for the party itself, as frustrating as the current course could be, the JVP may be tempted again to seek a violent way out. Such a course is not only undesirable but could also prove disastrous. In the pursuit of political power, as a tool to better the lives of the common man, as all political parties of every hue continues claiming the world over, the current, transformational leadership of the JVP has to lay the road ahead, strong – and also long. It cannot whittle under weather.

N Sathiya Moorthy





Feminists are in self-denial. They don't wish to be associated with a stereotype. Fair enough.

Then, why can't we add fresh perspective instead of completely negating the terminology? This has provided a foothold for men. Male feminism goes contrary to women's empowerment  —  it is an external support system that grants women freedom. In effect, they become patrons. Rather than being women on our terms, this liberal male gaze seeks to envision an androgynous harem where men can be softened and women hardened.

This is at best simulation and at worst a cunning caricaturisation. By entering feminist territory there is every possibility of men distorting it to suit a male pattern of thinking. This is not the equivalent of women entering male professions; it is hitting at the core of a movement. It might seem like feminist insecurity, but the idea behind feminism is not to get men to pat our backs or fluff the pillow beneath our heads. We are not looking for 'pseudo women'.

Yet, despite the airbrushing in glossies, serious issues continue to hold on to set ideas. Women activists who intervene in domestic issues are termed cantankerous whereas men out to fight for similar causes become good Samaritans, even if they are the victimizers. Imagine a bunch of men discussing about how they can give dignity to women after having indulged in wife-battering. 

As regards feminism as an ideology, it would be better if they left it alone. Today when they have no choice but to accept its existence, they are willing to join the bandwagon. Some analysts have gone to the extent of saying that it liberates men from the pink versus blue syndrome or from holding back their tears. Seriously, since they were the power centres, they could have swapped colours and colonised the lachrymose glands. A few attempts have been made to glorify men in nurturing and prettifying professions, though again the object remains women. It's a bit late in the day for the benefactors in the garb of diamond merchants and beauty product sellers to (tell us about self-esteem. We found it when we became the glass ceiling. If feminism is indebted to anyone, then it is women. 

Farzana Versey is a

Mumbai-based writer





U. S. Assist. Secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs , Robert Blake last week issuing a warning to the Sri Lanka (SL) Govt. stated, 'UN Security Council reporting Libya to the International criminal court last week was a signal of global concern over human rights,' he added. He was not comparing Sri Lanka with Libya, but the Security Council's unanimous decision against Libya over the weekend underscored the resolve of the international community regarding crimes against humanity. What Blake implied was, if SL Govt. does not conduct its own war crime investigation, a war crime Tribunal will have to take over that investigation. 

It is the perception of the SL Govt. that, since the war crime issue will never go before the UN Security Council, SL need entertain no fears about an international investigation. The Govt. is of the view that as long as its friends , China and Russia are in the Security Council, America  will not be able to take up SL's war crime issues at the Security Council in view of the fact that China and Russia will block such an attempt.

Libyan Leader Gaddafi too had a similar conviction  and pinned great hopes on it banking on the support  and strength  China  and Russia could give him. He was of the opinion that if the Libyan issue goes before the UN Security Council, China  and Russia would forestall it.  To Gaddafi's consternation that fervent hope did not materialize. The Security Council including China  and Russia took an unanimous decision against the Libyan Leader. Indeed, Blake while requesting  SL to conduct a war crime investigation within SL had warned it to take a lesson from Libya. In other words he was pointing out not to neglect the war crime investigation depending on China and Russia.

The SL Govt. which is reposing confidence in China, Russia and its other friendly countries is flaunting its strength overly before America and the Western countries . Yet, it has become obvious following the Libyan people's  rebellion, neither China nor Russia will be able to come to the rescue of SL in a crucial and decisive moment. Libyan leader Gaddafi was also one of those leaders who placed tremendous amount of faith and hope on countries like SL apart from China and Russia. At the 40th Anniversary celebrations of the Libyan revolution, Gaddafi invited the leaders of his friendly countries. Among them he recognized  four  international 'true friends' : one of them was SL President Mahinda Rajapaksa; others were, Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani, Venezualan President Hugo Chavez Frias and the Philippine  President Arroyo. But, to Gaddafi's deep consternation, at the moment when he was in deep turmoil and trouble, none of his 'true friends' could lend him a hand. When Gaddafi spoke to SL President Mahinda, the latter too had told him to restore peace in Libya. Similarly he ought to have spoken to Pakistan, China, Russia   and Venezuela leaders. Yet , today none of them is in a position to assist him.

At home, the SL Govt. is reposing great hope and confidence  in Pakistan and Venezuela. Wherever Venezualan President goes ,  his favourite pastime is castigating America and the Western countries – the only option he has. In the event of an uprising against him, he would also have to meet with the same fate  as Gaddafi. The view of the SL Govt. is that it can with the help of the countries constituting China's 'string of pearls' including Pakistan, surmount any critical situation in the UN security Council by pressurizing China into supporting SL. Pakistan, China and Russia are countries which backed SL during the ethnic war. Nevertheless after the recent  Libyan people's uprising it has become clearly manifest that they are not in a position to render assistance to SL on the war crimes issue. These countries are well aware that they cannot afford to antagonize America and the Western countries, as they  do not want to  plunge their own countries into financial  straits and economic crises by offending them. Indeed, they supported SL during the war but that was  because of their motive  to  develop  their own economy – they sold arms and accumulated profits.. Hence, they cannot be expected to help SL on the war crime issue since  their  objective is  to safeguard their  own economic fronts.

This is the bitter truth. Therefore it is well for the SL Govt. to realize this bitter but stark truth and seriously heed Blake's warning. It is only India which can change the tough attitude of America and Western countries towards war crime charges. It is true India is a 'big brother'. It is also true that  in a family too a big brother bullies a 'smaller brother'. By trying to flaunt his superiority he goes even to the extent of bickering with him. He even expects  his smaller brother to act according to his wishes and needs. But when problems mount from outside he safeguards his younger brother nevertheless. This is precisely why he is considered a 'big brother'. Thus the only country which can ultimately provide support to SL is India . India too is well pleased when the war crime issue against SL snowballs internationally, for , it is only then SL will be disabled from taking a tough stand in relation to India when aligning itself with  Pakistan and China. India can demonstrate its 'big brother' role only in those circumstances. Mahinda once told the Indian media that India should not act like a 'big brother.' But as far as India is concerned it has to necessarily and  compulsorily show that it is a 'big brother' to Mahinda.







Islamophobia and those who promote it are a greater threat to the US than Anwar Al Awlaqi and his rag-tag team of terrorists.

Al Awlaqi, from his cave hideout in Yemen, can only prey off of alienation where it exists. Like some parasites, he cannot create his own prey. He must wait for others to create his opportunities, which until now have been isolated and limited.

Islamophobia, if left unchecked, may serve to erect barriers to Muslim inclusion in the US, increasing alienation. Not only would such a situation do grave damage to one of the fundamental cornerstones of the US democracy, it would rapidly expand the pool of recruits for future radicalisation.

The US is different, in concept and reality. Third generation Kurds in Germany, Pakistanis in the UK, or Algerians in France, for example, may succeed and obtain citizenship, but they do not become German, British, or French.

Being "American" is not the possession of a single ethnic group, nor does any group define "America." Not only do new immigrants become citizens, they also secure a new identity - the idea of "America" has changed to embrace these new cultures.

Problems remain and intolerant bigots, in every age, have reared up against new groups, but history demonstrates that, in the end, the newcomers have been accepted, incorporated and absorbed into the American mainstream.

This defines not only our national experience, but our defining narrative, as well.

We had to contend with anti-black, anti-Asian, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-immigrant and anti-Japanese movements. In the end, after creating their moment of pain, these efforts have always lost.

The Islamophobia we are witnessing is the latest campaign by bigots to tear apart the very fabric of America.

We know the groups promoting it. First, there is the well-funded "cottage industry," on the right, of groups and individuals with a long history of anti-Arab or anti-Muslim activity. Some of the individuals associated have been given legitimacy as commentators on "terrorism," "radicalisation" or "national security concerns" despite their bias and obsession with all things Arab or Muslim.

If they have provided the grist, the mill was run by the vast network of right-wing talk radio and TV shows and websites and preachers. They have tormented descent public servants, created protests, fomented hate crimes and produced fear in the Muslim community.

More ominously, their cause has been embraced by national political leaders and by elements in the Republican Party, who appear to have decided, in 2010, to use "fear of Islam" as a base-building theme and a wedge issue against Democrats for electoral advantage.

In the past only obscure or outrageous members of Congress were outspoken Islamophobes. After the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee embraced opposition to Park 51 as a campaign theme, it is hard to find a leading Republican who has not railed on some issue involving Islam or Muslims in the US.

This current wave of Islamophobia has played to the Republican base, while firming up that base around this agenda.

The danger is that to the degree that this issue has become a partisan and, in some cases, a proven vote-getter for the GOP, it will not go away any time soon.

It is this concern that has prompted inter-faith religious groups and leaders and a diverse coalition of ethnic and civil rights organisations to oppose Congressman Peter King's hearings that will deal with the radicalisation of American Muslims.

What they should know, is that in the process of targeting a religion in this way and engaging in this most "un-American activity", King and company are opening the door for increased alienation and future radicalisation.

Al Awlaqi must be smiling from inside his cave.


EDITORIAL from The Pioneer,